Monday, November 30, 2009

Wintry Trek

Hank in the Jeep

A big pastime last week at the mountain house was journeying to various remote spots, preferably locations that require at least some use of all-wheel drive to access. One day we went to the top of Cowee Mountain, to a fire tower there, a drive that involves fording three creeks. Dad said, "Y'all drive the Pilot, and I'll have the jeep with the chain in case I need to pull you out." It's possible that he was secretly hoping for that outcome, because in my experience, men have some special relish for anything that brings them into close contact with chain. (Matt's emergency tree surgery comes to mind here.) It could be a stuck car, snow chains, anything that needs an impromptu binding, tugging, or strapping.

That's Hank all bundled up to ride in the back of the open jeep. Usually the kids like that spot the best, but it was chilly that day. Hank didn't make it down to the valley before he complained that the wind was in his eyes. I think it could have been the dog butt in his eyes too, but we stopped on the road and I moved him into the other car. Then, bundled up like the little brother in A Christmas Story, he fell into a stuporous coma in the warm backseat. When we woke him up, he was a little pissy at being rousted out on top of a mountain and told, "It's time for our hike!" He looked around and said, "I don't want to go to this far, I want to go to a different far!" Even with the weird choice of words, I knew what he meant. But we did what any good parents would do and said, "Well we ain't carryin' you, so you have to walk." So walk he did, and he got with the progam pretty fast.

Walking up to Cowee

Please do not be alarmed by my giant head in this picture. I was wearing a baseball cap that I covered with a jumbo fleece hat. Like a head Snuggie. I look a little like one of those kids who has to wear a safety helmet at all times. But let's take a closer look at how Hank was equipped.


That's a small, travel-sized teddy bear and a sippy cup. Into the wild! He is truly my son, because I never step out of the house without a beverage either. Here are a few (okay, several) more pictures from that outing.

Two Fellows

Hank at the Gate

Cowee Fire Tower


Cowee View

Dad at Cowee


Road Uphill

I love how, in the winter, you can see far through the woods. We drove a long way on dirt roads, going up and up the mountain, and everything was just as brown and bare as it could be. The rhododendrons are always green, though, and when all the other leaves are gone, the huge rhododendron groves show themselves. It is hard to believe that it will all leaf out again. Anyway, we made it back over the three creeks, and nobody whined or fussed, and nobody needed to be pulled with a chain. Success.

Today I am a bit whiny and fussy, because I have the tail-end of a cold that may be settling into my sinuses. My hair kind of hurts, if you know what I mean. I think I need a toddy.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Didn't Hear of Anyone Being Trampled To Death, At Least

When I got up Friday morning, at the mountain house, I was told that a small party had set out to Wal-Mart. Apparently my dad had said he needed to buy birdseed. I couldn't believe that he was going to Wal-Mart on Black Friday. I called him. He was down off the mountain. I said, "Are you really going to Wal-Mart?" And he said, "Well yeah. . .hey, wait a minute. It's that Hell Day thing isn't it."

Hell Day. He is so adorable. So I said, "If you're really going, would you check the price of the Xbox Lego Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues"? He said he would. As it happened, they missed the terrible crush of humanity by a couple of hours, and the Xbox game wasn't even on sale (WTF Wal-Mart?), but they did get the birdseed.

Did you guys shop? In the store? Online? I never shop this weekend--I can't stand getting up early, and I think the whole Black Friday sale thing is overdetermined. But I do like to hear the war stories of others.

We are still in the mountains, until tomorrow. Which means, yes, I'm sitting in the Arby's enjoying the free wifi. 'Tis the season!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

In Which I Retell a Story

Happy Thanksgiving, my dears! I hope that at this point, you are relaxing on the couch with your feet tucked under you while other people clean the kitchen. To honor the holiday, I'm offering you a rerun of my Thanksgiving post from last year. It is called "recycling," and all the best bloggers do it, or that's what I'm telling myself. Anyway, this is one of my favorite posts. Enjoy!

We Are Not Navy SEALs: A Thanksgiving Story

Late last Thursday night I got a call from my sister Amy. Amy, who has posted here before, lives in Australia with her husband and two kids. There was much glumness in the family, because they weren’t going to be able to come to the States for Christmas. My mom had been giving me weekly reports on the degree of wistfulness she detected in Amy’s voice when the holidays were discussed. And her own voice was growing more wistful by the day.

Amy told me that she had a plan. A plan so crazy, she said, that it might actually work. If she booked a last minute ticket to Atlanta, could I pick her up Monday night, and spirit her up to the mountain house to surprise Mom and Dad for Thanksgiving? Um, yes, I thought I could do that. Her adoring husband agreed to hold down the fort there and give her a solo getaway, so the only trick was keeping the secret from Mom and Dad. This is easier said than done. Our mother is nearly psychic, especially about things having to do with her kids. I decided that the best plan was to speak to her as little as possible. The woman notices precise shades of tone of voice, choice of words, and what is said or left unsaid. I am accused, in the family, of having broken the news of Amy’s pregnancy by asking mom, “Have you talked to Amy lately?” So I just went into radio silence. My brother, who was in on the secret, declared that we would only refer to Amy, even between ourselves, as The Package. As in, “I’m on my way to retrieve The Package”, or “The Package’s hair looks really cute.”

So Monday night I picked up The Package. I was afraid that I would be unable to restrain myself from blogging about it. I hated keeping the secret from you, Internets! And indeed, on Monday night, Amy had to turn off her Facebook wall, because her friends in Sydney were posting things like, “Was your mom surprised?” and our mom is on Facebook. She’s hip like that. So we were plugging leaks right and left, worrying that our covert op would get blown wide open.

Tuesday, Amy helped host Pre-Thanksgiving with Matt’s family, then Wednesday afternoon we headed up to North Carolina. We had exhaustively discussed among ourselves the best way to go about the big reveal. We didn’t have a cake she could jump out of, so we were left with deciding how to configure the main elements: Amy, our minivan, the mountain house, Mom and Dad, and time and space. The simple way would have been to have her in the back of the van with the kids, and when Mom and Dad came out to open the doors to greet the kids, there she would be. Surprise! My brother Dave was more in favor of the Gradual Surprise, where Amy was let out of the car before we arrived at the house, and would walk up the road after we were in. They would either see her from a distance, thus prolonging the pleasure of realizing it was she, or she would come up to the house and let herself in. I hoped that in this scenario, neither of my parents would have a cardiac arrest.

I was driving the van, and when we got up on the mountain road to the house, I was amazed at how bare the trees were. All of the leaves were gone, and we could see Dad on the deck (and he could see us, I think) from really far away. We were reaching the critical decision-making point, where Amy would either have to deploy or abort mission. Dad was walking around the house, ready to greet us, but I stopped the car where I thought there were enough tree trunks between us to obscure the car a little. Amy got into position, and I yelled, “Go! Go! Dive!” while she rolled out the door and ran around behind the car. I took off again in a spray of gravel while Amy pulled up her hood and crouched behind a tree. Did I mention that she is 14 weeks pregnant? Take that, Delta Force.

So I pulled up in front of the house and we all acted as naturally as we could while being greeted. Which was not working because I did not feel natural. I don’t think I will win any Oscars for playing myself. Inside, Mom followed Hank to his train table in another room, while Dad went back out onto the deck to check his rotisserie meat situation. I decided to go back out to the van to get my camera, and when I did, I could see Amy jogging towards the house. I ducked back inside and tried unsuccessfully to get everyone in the same room. The front door opened and Amy peeked in. When she saw me standing there alone, she closed the door again. So I started, in a so very natural manner, to say, “Hey Mom, come look at this!” I gestured vaguely in the air. “Hey Dad, come in here!” More gesturing.

Finally Amy opened the door again and walked in saying, “Boy, it’s cold out there.” I have never seen anyone more surprised than my Mom. She said later that she thought she was hallucinating, and she actually had her mouth hanging open. The way people look in comic strips when they are really surprised? That’s how she looked. Then Dad came in and made the same face. Then there was much hugging and kissing. We just finished eating dinner. Today is Mom and Dad’s 40th wedding anniversary, and we are all together, and we are very thankful for that and for many things.

Tonight there will be karaoke and hot tubbing, though sadly, not at the same time. I hope you and yours are having a wonderful day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Home Haircuttery

I don't quite know why my brother Dave brought his hair clippers to the mountain house, as he had a fresh haircut himself. But once they were on the scene, they were like the loaded gun in Chekhov's famous remark about playwriting and theatre. If you put a gun on stage, he said, before the play is over, that gun has to go off.

The Die is Cast

Last Saturday night, after a few whiskey-and-honeys, Matt and Dave began to discuss the idea of Dave cutting Matt's hair. But how short? That was the question. Then it seemed like a good idea for Matt to roll a die to pick the guard thingies that attach to the clippers. I hadn't taken much interest in the proceedings until there was an element of chance involved. He rolled twice, once for the top and once for the sides. He came up with a 6 and a 3, and we all decided that we could live with that.

Before the Haircut

Here's the before shot. As in, before Dave started cutting and also before he mentioned that he had never done this. Again, this piqued my interest in the proceedings considerably.

The First Cut

Now the sides.

Detail Work

Haircut, After

The "after" shot. We all thought it turned out quite well. Nice and short but no visible scalp. He did a great job around the ears, and I believe he used a #4 to blend the sides with the top. Cutting each other's hair: it's what dudes do, I guess. I give myself credit for urging them to wait until the light of day and sobriety to do the shearing. I think this should be a Thanksgiving tradition, as long as I never have to take a turn.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Items

Matt and Hank

We are still up in the mountains, and I'm sitting and blogging in the little public library, where there is free wifi. Laura is reading a Bailey School Kids mystery book next to me, and she keeps saying, "Oh my GOSH!" Sometimes I shush her and sometimes not. Other members of the family are at the bakery, or the wine shop, or the playground. These places are all practically next door to each other.

I wanted to tell you guys about some new reading material, Remarkably Domestic. My friend Beth, who lives in LA, has started a blog to share some of the many tricks up her sleeve. Whereas, at my house, I have something mysterious stuck to the inside of my microwave--I mean, it is hardened on there--and I'm trying to decide if maybe I can just live with it, meanwhile, Beth has designed and built, with her child, a large sifter to clean her sandbox. Beth, since you're going to do the 30 Day Shred, I'm going to follow your lead and put our sandbox on the to-do list, deal? So do go over there and say hi to her. I've told her so much about you all and what nice people you are.

Speaking of the 30 Day Shred, I was all good intentions when I left home on Friday afternoon. I got to the mountain house and realized I had forgotten my DVD, my shoes, and my hand weights. One might wonder how much I really wanted to continue shredding? So I skipped Friday night, and then Saturday I went and bought another copy of the DVD for my sister-in-law Katie. She and my brother have been shredding with me. Or, really Dave did it the first night, then last night he just danced a crazy jig in circles around us, giving us tips on our form. Sure, that sounds really annoying, but it was actually much more annoying. It also made me laugh, which makes it hard to hold a plank pose. Here's the happy couple right here, at a little waterfall we went to.

Dave and Kate

Last night, we watched 300, that movie about the battle at Thermopylae. It had a few more flying, severed heads than I really wanted to see, but it was perfectly decent entertainment. And I am certain that those Spartans have been doing the 30 Day Shred. Because, damn. And they must be on day 9,000 of it. And that dude from "The Wire" plays the bad guy, and Faramir from LOTR is in it. So, good times.

Oh, and because I forgot my hand weights and didn't want to buy more, I have been using one mayonnaise jar and one can of spaghetti sauce.

Are y'all getting in holiday mode? Have a good one!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bold Social Experimentation

I don't know if you're on the Facebook, but a few weeks ago I noticed something new. Over on the right side of the Home page, the one that has your news feed and all that, a little box of "Suggestions" has appeared, nominating friends that Facebook feels I'm not paying sufficient attention to, and offering ways I might reconnect with them. Have you seen this? Like, "You haven't talked on Facebook lately. Write on her wall." For me these helpful suggestions, rather than making me want to reach out to that friend, actually had something of an opposite effect. I asked my Facebook friends if they thought this Suggestions thing was weird. Here are a few highlights from that discussion:

  • It is very weird. If I haven't talked to them in a while, Facebook, there's probably a good reason.
  • Yes, here on my page the call to "Write on her wall" is preceded by "Make facebook better for her." Um, really?
  • Ooh, my page just told me to "reconnect" with Speaker Pelosi. Nancy, you have a very fine invitation to play Wordpath coming your way.
  • If you would stop ignoring your friends, you would not get that message.
  • I find the suggestions extra creepy. It's one step away from "Shouldn't you get that laundry done today?" and "Did you really need that second piece of cake after dinner?"
  • "Your friend has been down lately. Encourage her."
  • My page keeps telling me that my mom only has 9 friends, and I should suggest more for her. It makes me feel kind of bad every time I see it, even though I know she only wants 9 friends.
  • "Your friend has no Farmtown neighbors. Stop the hurting. And call your mother. Why are you so selfish?"
  • "You know that guy that you're facebook friends with 'cause he's married to your friend and it would be rude not to accept his friend request? Even though you think he's a tool and you think your friend could do MUCH better than the guy who cheats on her and would rather drink a fifth of whiskey than help her take care of their kids? Why doncha poke him?"
So the consensus seemed to be, yes, it is weird to receive friendship tips from Facebook Central Command. What struck me about the little suggestions was their imperative tone: "Write on her wall. Reconnect with her. Help make Facebook better for her. Help her find friends. Welcome her." Finally, I just caved. OKAY, ALREADY! I will reconnect and make Facebook better for all of them! I am only one woman but I will try! GEEZ.

I decided that maybe I should just do everything that Facebook said. Everytime I saw a new suggestion, I clicked over to fulfill its demand. I drew the line at friending people I did not know simply because we had mutual friends in common (everyone knows that a high percentage of those people are People You Hate, because if you have that many friends in common but you aren't friends already, well. . .), and I didn't "Become a Fan" of obscure things that my friends are fans of. I remain a fan of three things on Facebook: Michele Obama (hey girl), The Backyardigans, and Papa John's Pizza, for reasons that are between the Papa and me.

So I clicked, I wrote on walls, I reconnected. I let the love flow. I figured Facebook might know what's good for me and that, like when George Costanza decides to be "Opposite George," good and surprising things might happen. Mostly it was fun to go around and visit the pages of friends I don't chat with that much. I really hesitated, though, when it got to Nancy Pelosi. Yes, the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. She has a Facebook page and we are friends. And two other Facebook friends of mine are her friends (hey Gretchen), which means, of course, that when I gave in to Facebook's demand and wrote on Speaker Pelosi's wall, our two mutual friends would see that I had done that, and I would feel like a giant tool. Not that you're really a tool if you're into writing on the walls of famous public figures, but you are kinda. I did write on her wall, though. It was the Monday after the late-night health care vote in the House, and I left her a chirpy rah-rah note. I'm sure she was heartened by it.

Okay, so I did that for a few days. And did it work? Did flowers bloom in the desert of my neglected Facebook relationships?

Nope. Everyone except one person ignored me. One of the people who ignored me was my mom. The friend who did acknowledge my overture was an old boyfriend. I wrote on his wall to tell him that Facebook kept wanting me to suggest friends for him, but that I figured he wanted to be left alone, but that he should let me know if he requires assistance in that regard. He replied, "Thank you for your concern, but Smeagol and I are both perfectly happy here with our precious." That made me laugh. Thanks for that, Facebook.

It dawned on me eventually, duh, that what this little suggestion feature does is to generate more clicks and visits to Facebook. You get a message that some dude you used to work with has sent you a hatching egg, even though you haven't talked in a long time and you don't really have a hatching egg relationship, so you wait patiently for the egg to hatch, and then when it does, it's a teddy bear holding a sign that says "Be My Geisha." So who wins in that situation, except Facebook?*

Anyway, guys, thanks for making the internet better for me. We are going up to the mountain house this afternoon to stay more or less all next week. My brother and sister-in-law will be there, which will be a great time. I'm bringing my 30 Day Shred DVD, a new Little People nativity set I got for Hank, liquor, and magazines. Also the dog has had a bath, so life is good. I'll be checking in and blogging one way or another. Have a great weekend and don't forget to reconnect. Or even poke someone.

*Actually, my friend David sent me that exact teddy bear one Valentine's Day, and I have never stopped giggling about it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The 30 Day Shred, Day Twenty: Join the Shredding Army

People, yesterday I did my twentieth 30 Day Shred workout, in an exclusive local fitness club known as the basement of Pretty Neighbor. Then we each drank a single light beer, as is our custom. When I got to her house, I said, "Let's just get, as quickly as possible, to the part where we drink beer." It really should be my twenty-first workout, because I started 21 days ago, but I skipped the night that dude got his car stuck in our front yard and I ate a bunch of Wendy's. You know, progress in this life is sometimes uneven.

One thing that has really motivated me to keep it up is that some of y'all are doing it too. In addition to the folks I know about--Michele, Gretchen, Barbara--I think there are others. If you're shredding, comment and tell us how it's going.

So, visible and tangible results as of Day 20: My shoulders have muscles, y'all . Or like, there is this muscle that connects my shoulder to my neck. I bet there is even a name for it. I never saw that muscle before, not on my body.

I have two-pack abs. Two is good, right? I am pretty happy because I don't know if I'll ever get the other four. But right under my boobs, there is this twin pack of more-defined muscle.

My legs are just harder and firmer all over.

Now, invisible and intangible results: I feel great. I'm in a good mood most all the time. Not that I was like, on a downward spiral before, but this is a really distinct feeling of well-being. I can't really tell if it's physical or mental or both.

The struggle and sweat of the workout has become kind of. . .fun. Okay, fun might be too strong a word. Maybe the level right before fun. Satisfying, I guess. I definitely want to keep going.

It makes dieting easier. This workout goes really well with Weight Watchers. I didn't start back on WW right when I started shredding, but it's been a couple of weeks. There have been days when I didn't eat all of my points, even counting my nightly cosmo and my occasional post-workout beer with Pretty Neighbor.

We were talking about this today: this workout is just so short. You can do it, and keep it up, because it's so short. Twenty-two minutes, that works for me. My friend Brenda was talking about how she prefers a workout to dieting, and said, "The exercise is so easy in comparison--once you do your 20 minutes you're done for the day, but with eating you have all day to screw it up." How true that is. But the thing is, if you're trying to also lose some weight, like I am, the Shred is not going to get you there alone. It needs some kind of food management to go with it, but like I said, they work really well together.

The other day at Costco we bought a bathroom scale. We hadn't had one before. So we brought it home and turned it on, and I used it the first week I did Weight Watchers. I lost the expected two pounds, and all was well. Then we moved the scale to a different part of the tile floor, and that two pounds was gone, gone with the wind. Overnight I went back up to my starting weight. I thought that I'd just screwed up my eating somehow, but then Matt said, "We shouldn't move the scale because the floor is uneven, and it will give a different reading." So I just sucked it up and endured the chiding message that Weight Watchers Online gave me when I entered my weight. Like, "Honey, what happened? Did you expect this result? If you didn't, let's talk about how you can do better. Don't cry, you'll get puffy."

So this is the continuing adventure of my sensibilities as I shred. I do recommend it. And I will let you know if I get a lot hotter.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Children Wearing Pajamas Out and About: Is This A Thing?

I am almost ready, depending on what y'all say, to declare this a trend: Children in the early evening, like between six and seven o'clock, out in public wearing their pajamas. And I don't mean toddlers, but rather 5-8 year olds, and I don't mean quick, obviously unplanned trips into the convenience store, but rather hanging out in places like Borders, or Michael's. Tonight we were at Chick-Fil-A about seven o'clock (Tuesday is kids eat free with an adult meal purchase, yo), and there was a little girl, probably seven years old, in her very cute flannel jammies with hearts all over them. She was eating, and then waiting in line for a balloon animal while her mom and dad ate.

Not that there's anything wrong with it. But are we doing this now? I just think I would have noticed before if this had been a common practice, and the fact that it's coming to my attention makes me think there's been an uptick in child public pajama wearing. Remember how, like ten years ago, college students were into wearing their PJ's to class? Maybe that trend has finally trickled down to the elementary set. I am not super duper fastidious about how my kids are turned out in public, certainly not by local standards, but I don't think I'm going to start bringing them out in their PJ's. It's just not my jam. For one thing, I don't understand the timeline of that evening for that family. I am willing to be persuaded that it is a great innovation in lifestyle engineering, though, if you know something I don't know.

Also at the Chick-Fil-A, Laura had two pickle slices that she'd peeled off her sandwich. (She never eats the pickles.) In the after-dinner lull, I said I'd pay her a dollar if she ate one. She refused, vehemently. Then she said she wouldn't do it for less than five. Matt jumped in and offered her three bucks to eat both, and she agreed. He tacked on the condition that she had to say, "That was a delicious pickle!" after the first one, and "That pickle was scrumdiddlyumptious!" after the second. We are such naturals at the parenting stuff.

And oh! Oh man. Oh man, the look on her face. The look on that little face as she chewed up that first pickle, pronounced it delicious, and then steeled herself for the second round, dreading the terrible pickle but enjoying the attention, and wanting the three dollars. . .I want to remember that look forever. If we had video of it, we could put it on a golden disk and send it out on a deep space probe. In the dim, far future, when our earth has gone still, and we have long ceased to be, I want alien civilizations to know that this, this was human life.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Paid Consumer Opinion Surveys, I Am on to You

Back when I got into hardcore couponing (I would say these days I'm softcore, about like Playboy or even those "boudoir" pictures with the soft focus and feathers), I read on several frugal blogs about getting paid to take consumer surveys. The way this works, basically, is you sign up with a survey company, and they send you emails every now and then that link to "screening questions," and if you answer those questions and get picked, you take a longer survey online, and get paid 4 or 5 bucks to do it. In the frugal blogiverse, it's all about how small amounts of money add up, and four dollars is nothing to sneeze at, etc. So I signed up, and I responded to every email that came my way. I thought, "Well shoot, I have tons of opinions, you mean I can get paid for these? Great!"

The first problem is that the opinions they want from you are like, really boring opinions. They're not asking you who is more attractive, Mike Rowe or Jon Hamm (Matt asked me that yesterday, it's a toughie), or which Jane Austen novel is the best (Persuasion, and I will fight you). Nope, people who pay marketing companies to do surveys for them want to know things like this:

When was the last time you bought lawn care equipment such as a rake, shovel, pruning equipment, an edger, wheel pump sprayer, grass seed, or fertilizer?

Me: I don't know what some of those things are.

Where did you purchase your lawn care equipment?

Me: It must have been at Home Depot, or Lowes, or maybe somewhere else. Are you sure this is the survey you want me to take?

Did store sales associates help you select your lawn care equipment, or did you select it yourself?

Me: I'm bored.

How much did your lawn care equipment cost?

Me: Honey, how much did, like, our rake cost?

Matt: Please ask yourself if you really want to be doing that.

So it's not a bucket of yuks, and this can go on for 15 or 20 minutes, easy. But the real issue with these surveys, I've decided, is that the "screening" questions that you answer--that they don't pay you for because they're not the actual survey itself--are actually in themselves a valuable source of marketing data. I wouldn't go so far as to say that in some cases there IS no "real" survey that you're getting screened for, but it does seem that the screening questions go on a long time (5-10 minutes sometimes) and elicit very detailed information about your consumption and habits. Another way to say this: I have answered so many questions about my menstrual cycle, its regularity, and my ways of managing it that you would not believe. Then I don't meet the criteria for the real actual survey, and I'm left wondering what else that survey could possibly have found out about My Uterine Lining and Me.

So I'm over it. I mean, it wasn't a scam in that when I did complete the longer surveys, they paid. The money would accumulate and I'd get a check for like $9. Like a birthday card from your great great aunt. And if you want to try it, Money Saving Mom's awesomely comprehensive blog, linked in my sidebar, has deets on it. This is a really popular activity among the froogies. There is even a survey company that is seen as the "exclusive" one to get in with. Like, they don't have their sign-ups open all the time, but every now and then, somewhere on the interwebs, a link will appear that takes you to their sign-up process. It's like Brigadoon, and it creates a lot of excitement in the shimmering moment it appears.

I won't say that all the surveys are totally boring. One I actually liked was watching a trailer for Prince Caspian a few times and giving feedback. I told them that the trailer had too much Reepicheep. And you know that Lowes commercial where the woman works at a fancy lamp store, but at lunch she runs to Lowes and buys the exact same lamp for less, while Gene Hackman caresses us with a voiceover? I watched that and gave feedback. Let me tell you, if my survey experience is any indication, a LOT of marketing money is being spent to study how women interact with big box hardware stores. I predict that soon there will be mani pedi kiosks in Home Depot.

And just as much is being spent studying the television habits of children. I've answered lots of questions about my kids and their viewing. Usually I say that they start the morning with Regis and Kelly, watch through the day, and then at bedtime we have to drag them away from "Cheaters" on The CW. So I always get picked for those surveys. Back in the summer I got picked to preview these episodes of some kids' show about bears. They sent me actual DVDs in the actual mail. Then they wanted me to watch the episodes with Hank, then sit with him as I answered questions online. We were trying to get ready to go to Australia, and I thought of Tracy Morgan on 30 Rock: "I'm not gonna do ANY of that!" And then I didn't even send their DVDs back. I thought this would effectively sever my relations with Amalgamated Consumer Desire or whoever they are, but nope, they still email me "screening" questions. Just the other day I didn't get picked to talk about the grooming products I use on my pet.

So check into it if that's your bag, but I am dunzo.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Trouble in Paradise

Gretchen's post, "I Need A Little Backup Here," prompted me to share this story of spousal conflict.

It started after Matt put the kids to bed last night while I made a mama-time trip to TJ Maxx and SuperTarget. I know, we take our thrills where we can. At TJ's I had the satisfaction of finding and carrying away the Best Thing There. It is a Velvet brand tie-front cardigan/shrug thing. Kind of a ballerina sweater, only in black jersey knit. You know, where it only covers your rib cage and makes a big tie in the front? And it was $20 on clearance. I love that brand, and I never see it at TJ's. And on clearance! What is the matter with you people who live around here? So I came home feeling that I had slain the buffalo in the primeval hunt.

When I got in, Matt said, "Uh oh, Hank has finally figured out that he can get out of bed once we put him down. At ten o'clock, I was at my desk and I heard his little footsteps. He said, 'I sneaked downstairs!' He was very proud of himself."

I said, "Well, I'm just happy that he said 'sneaked' instead of 'snuck!'"

Oh Reader, as soon as the words had left my mouth, I knew that this was the equivalent of tossing a bucket of tasty chum into a shark tank. Not that Matt is a shark, but he strikes like a shark, the most loving and affable shark you could meet.

He said, "Hey, wait a minute. What's wrong with 'snuck'? I say 'snuck.'" I said, "It's wrong. It's not the past tense of 'sneak.' Or it's not WRONG, it's nonstandard." His eyes narrowed. Now I was in it. He is like Mark Twain crossed with a bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out anything hypercorrect or high-falutin'. So, a shark, Mark Twain, and a bloodhound, got it?

He said, "You set up Rock Band while I check on the status of 'snuck.' Then he strode towards the office, and I knew that he was going straight to that godawful It's the dictionary he uses because it has a website. I knew that it would be some liberal descriptionist thing that would uphold his defense of snuck. So I boogied into the book room and quickly scanned the shelves for my Bryan Garner Dictionary of Modern American Usage. We met in the office.

He looked triumphant as he gestured to this definition. He read aloud:
"From its earliest appearance in print in the late 19th century as a dialectal and probably uneducated form, the past and past participle snuck has risen to the status of standard and to approximate equality with sneaked. It is most common in the United States and Canada but has also been spotted in British and Australian English."
"Status of standard," he trumpeted. I was ready. I said, "First of all, that is not a prescriptive usage guide, and second, that is total bullshit." (Okay, not a strong rebuttal but I was so irritated.) His eyebrows went up. "'Total bullshit,' that's what you have to say?" So I brandished my Garner:
"Snuck is a nonstandard past tense and past participle of sneak common in American dialectical and informal speech and writing. The standard past form is sneaked."
"See?" I said. "It does not say you are a bad person for saying snuck. It says that it is nonstandard, which is all I am saying, and that if you use snuck you should do so advisedly, ESPECIALLY in writing." Reader, I know you are thinking that this should have put the question to rest. It did not. We embarked on a further exploration of the definition of "standard" as it pertains to spoken and written communication. Here are the highlights:

  • He accused me of being no different from an 1890's schoolmarm scolding the young folks for newfangled expressions like okay. I said that was a ridiculous comparison, and also that okay is merely informal, not a non-word like snuck.

  • I asked him if he would mark snuck on his students' papers if he taught college composition. He said he would not. And I accused him of educational malpractice.

  • We discussed the place on the nonstandard/standard continuum of the expression, "Shorties be sippin' like it's dey birfday."

  • I said, "You're just trying to find some way that I'm being a snob!" He insisted that it's just fine with him if I'm a snob but that snuck is most definitely a word and also I am a snob.

  • We brought up drug as a nonstandard past form of drag. I said drug and snuck were equivalently wrong in my view, while he thought snuck is far more valid and drug is totally redneck. Interestingly, Garner calls drug a specifically Southern form.

  • Dove as a nonstandard past form of dive was also brought up. I suddenly realized that I grew up saying dove, like "I dove in headfirst." I consulted Garner on this, and he only says, "Although dove is fairly common in AmE [American English], dived is the predominant form--and the preferable one." Nowhere in that entry does he use the language of correct/incorrect or standard/nonstandard. Hmm. He doesn't mark that as Southern dialect, but I think it is.

  • Matt said that we basically disagree on exactly how nonstandard snuck is. I think it's all the way nonstandard, and he thinks it's "knocking on standard's door." Marital concord was restored.

  • We played some Rock Band. I realized that I still know every word to the 1993 Belly hit, "Feed the Tree."
So that was the hot Friday night action at our place. Men, I swear. How can he argue with me when I'm making so much sense?!? Totally infuriating.

Please try not to have too much fun tonight, y'all.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sentimental Journey: Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Sentiments

A month ago Matt and I went out to California to go to a wedding, and then the next weekend we went to Boston to go to another wedding, and then there were some lovely mountain sojourns, with the result that I am seriously behind in dealing with my photos of all this gallivanting. A month is enough time for me to feel nostalgic for an experience, so I thought I'd put up some pictures from our days in California. David and Michael's wedding deserves its own post--that'll be next--but these are some snaps from a day we spent in Santa Cruz before all the festivities. (For those who are new to this blog, we lived in Santa Cruz for several years before we moved to Atlanta.)  I blogged about this town briefly, but here it is in living color.

In my tradition of photographing motel bedscapes, I offer you the Coastview Inn.

Coastview Inn Bedspread

This was no Borg's Motel (God I love that Borg's!), but it was a great little place with a straight up actual coast view--right smack across from the boardwalk--and it was fifty-something dollars a night. And not in a scary way.

Coastview Inn

It was really clean (I mean, except for the highly-suspect bedspread) and just what we needed for a ten-hour stay. We got in late, made drinks in those little plastic cups, and fell asleep laughing and watching The Jerk on their free HBO. What more do you want, picky?  I recommend a trip where you stay in one dive and one nice place. Each makes you appreciate the other. We seem to have made this a pattern.

Then we spent most of the day doing nothing in particular, stopping by some of our favorite Santa Cruz places.

Pacific Ave in Santa Cruz

Bookshop Santa Cruz

Bookshop Horse

That rocking horse has been in Bookshop Santa Cruz for I don't know how long. It looks well-used, doesn't it? Laura spent a lot of time as a baby playing on that thing while we browsed, and that was 8 years ago. I got a little sentimental seeing it still there, and thinking of her as a toddler. 

Updated to add: Ooh, I just remembered that in another post, I told you how I once walked in on a homeless man washing his ass at the sink in the women's bathroom in a bookstore.  This was that place.  So, you know, it's got public bathrooms.

Santa Cruz Clock

We always use to compare Santa Cruz to a town in one of those Richard Scarry books for children, like Busy Town. It's so small that there are really only a few places to be. If you want to find someone, and you have only the vaguest information about their whereabouts, like that they're "downtown," you can go find them. I miss that. I don't need many choices.

Some of my other favorite stores downtown. This first one is the Shoe and Sock Shop:

Shoe and Sock Shop

Surf City Barber Shop

Stripe in Santa Cruz

The Palomar

Matt at the Palomar

Back there, over Matt's shoulder, through those double doors, is the Palomar's late night taco and margarita bar, site of many a glad hour. If you can get a stool to perch on. I've seen this whole place be standing-room only.

That night took us away from the Coastview Inn to stay with friends in Los Gatos. They have grapes on their property, and like any good Silicon Valley techie types would do, they're learning to make wine in their garage. I got to help punch down the skins of the Cabernet Sauvignon. It was warm and it smelled delicious.

Garage Wine

Then we headed on up the peninsula to take residence in our wedding base of operations, the SFO Marriot. Bedscape for you, before:

SFO Marriot, Before

And after.

SFO Marriot, After

There, I think you've got the full picture. The wedding was one of the most fabulous I've ever been to. More pictures to come, unless you're sick of me or you sprained your scrolling finger. Ice and rest, my friends, ice and rest. xoxoxox--B

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Many Areas of My Expertise

I don't want to brag, but there are lots of things in my house that only I know how to do. Here are a few:

  • Only I know how to put the new roll of toilet paper on the holder. I know that even mentioning this is akin to a stand-up comedian doing jokes about bad airline food. But it is my truth.

  • Only I know how to answer my cell phone when it is ringing. If my phone begins to ring downstairs, and I am upstairs, no matter how much help and encouragement I shout out to my family members, the most they can do is run upstairs, carrying the phone gingerly in front of them like they are in an egg-and-spoon race. Despite their hurry, the phone is never ringing by the time it reaches me and my skillful phone-answering fingers.

  • Only I am able to hang up a wet towel so it will dry properly. This personal triumph came as a surprise to me, since Matt has a decided height and reach advantage. I didn't think I could compete. But his technique leaves the contest wide open. He holds the damp towel by one end and flicks it over the shower wall, letting go and leaving the room before the towel has come to rest. There are style points to be won with this approach, but the result is that the towel is bunched up and dangling, and only gets dry on the edges. But at least he doesn't leave them on the floor like the kids. Or not usually.

  • Only I am able to remember that Tuesday is the day that the garbage and recycling needs to go to the curb. That's on me.
Are you similarly talented? If so, this is your space to shout it out to the world. We all want to know about your accomplishments.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Scene in My Front Yard

What's in My Front Yard

I took this picture five minutes ago. That car down there on the right belongs to one of the artists doing some work for Matt. It has been raining here, steadily, since last night. The dude tried to back out of our driveway, which curves, but he went straight, completely left the pavement, and then couldn't get any traction on the wet grass, which then became mud. I bet that part of the yard is going to look awesome in the morning. If the HOA didn't like the imperceptible bare spot on the other side of our driveway, they are really going to want to see this.

What you can't tell from the picture is that, happily, he didn't run into the power box concealed in that pampas grass, and he didn't run over our neighbor Mindy's flower bed. You do not want to mess with that woman's roses. So it could have been worse. I came outside when both Matt and his friend were standing there, soaking wet, trying to shove boards under the front tires. I couldn't believe that the car was completely off the driveway. "Crappity crap crap CRAP!" I thought. But what I said was, "Oh well, why don't y'all go get us some Wendy's?" Because I am well-bred like that, people.

Then I looked up the Weight Watchers point value of an order of Wendy's fries. But that is a whole 'nother story.

Another rain vignette from my day: Hank likes to "help" me roll the giant trashcan out to the street, which is tricky in perfect weather conditions, and not at all a fun time in the rain. So he had his raincoat and Croc Mammoths on, and I had my raincoat and Uggs, so we went to the side of the house to get the trash can. I tried to pick up a cardboard box that had somehow fallen onto the ground, to throw it into the can, but of course the cardboard was wet, AND the box had been filled with trash, so the box fell apart and I had to spend a few minutes picking Kleenex and candy wrappers out of the mud at the base of the trashcan. While I was doing this with my free hand, the umbrella I was holding in my other hand got entangled in the holly tree beside the house. I had to tug it loose, which meant shaking the wet holly branches all over myself, a lot. Hank said, "Mama, why are you DOING that?" Yes, why?

Then he scampered off and stood in the gutter, letting the water run into his shoes. Which again, were not ordinary rubber Crocs, but the Crocs with the wooly lining. You might be surprised at how much water those linings hold. To paraphrase Anchorman, I mean, I wasn't even mad, because it was amazing.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Girls on the Lam

Everybody Gets a Medal!

She did it! Laura made it to the finish line at her Girls on the Run 5K on Sunday. (Matt and I call it "Girls on the Lam," because it sounds so badass yet madcap.) She says she ran most of the way and "barely walked at all," so I think that's pretty cool. She had fun, and still had enough energy to do my "30 Day Shred" workout with me. Youth.

Matt took these pictures of the action.

Girls on the Run 5K

Coming Back into the Stadium

Last Sprint

That's her running back into the stadium for the final leg. And here's the finish line in sight. I don't know if I could have covered that distance in 36 minutes.

Almost There


I love that picture for the contrast between the intense look on her face and the frilly hair accessories.

Fleet of Foot!

For this picture, I said, "Show me how you crossed the finish line!" So, though it is not a huge distance, we are mighty proud. And Hank also represented the family quite well at The Wiggles show, standing up and shaking his booty--he actually said, "I'm going to shake my booty, Mom"--for the entertainment of our entire row. That was a fun concert, and my, those Wiggles do it up right. My favorite part was when they all got in Western gear, complete with their color-coordinated spangly cowboy outfits, and sang and danced to "Old Dan Tucker." Well hello fabulous!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

November Is The New October

Chattahoochee River

Geese on the Chattahoochee


Or that's what it feels like. It was so warm and beautiful Saturday. The kids were wading and running around at nearly five in the afternoon. Matt's mom and brother Andy are here visiting us, and we went down to the Chattahoochee River. Andy took these pictures. Hank brought along that plastic sword, but he didn't actually brandish it at the geese. It was just there in case things got out of hand. Question for you ornithologists: The geese have been hanging around all over these parts for the last month or so. Are they migrating, or is this where they have migrated to?

Laura Pensive Yet Sassy


While we were playing and hanging out, Matt was drilling Laura on her multiplication tables. When she got one wrong, she had to run a lap. Don't think this was, like, parental tyranny. She loved it. Kids today.

Laura Regards Matt Right Back

And she needs the practice, because today she's running in her first 5K race, the culmination of her Girls on the Run club. GOTR is a great activity, I think. Have you heard of this? As Laura describes it, "It's just something where a bunch of gals run." You know, "gals."

Matt will go to the race with her, because at that exact time, I'm taking Hank to see The Wiggles with a bunch of people from his school. Hank doesn't even watch The Wiggles, but he's very excited, even though Laura has convinced him that one of the Wiggles is dead. I keep telling her that Greg the yellow Wiggle just left to pursue other opportunities. But she is adamant. Anyway, wish us ALL luck!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Publix Has Hung Their Giant Wreaths, So I Guess Christ Is Born, Everybody

I know it's like a thing to be all like, "Wah! Stores stock holiday stuff earlier every year! Why can't we go back to the days when all we wanted for Christmas was a corncob doll and a shiny penny?" I know. Like we're all just pining for homespun authenticity and slow time, which we could have if it weren't for all this shopping! But somebody's gotta do it! And get your hands off that Spode Christmas ladle or I will end you.

So it's a thing. But seriously, I noticed today that my Publix has bedecked itself with huge evergreen wreaths, and hung tinsel candle things from all the lights in the parking lot. Inside there are more swags and furbelows over the display cases. What with Halloween stuff appearing as soon as back-to-school is out of the way, and then Christmas things right at the stroke of 12 on Halloween night, and then Valentine's Day is everywhere on January 1, which will cede shelf space to Easter on February 15, I'm starting to feel a little whipped from pillar to post. Like we're on a forced march. I know we don't have to buy what they're selling, but there is a way that seeing all that stuff in every store seeps into your consciousness and makes you think you're insufficiently festive if you're not feeling their calendar. Their tail is wagging my dog..

I would just like to stand up for November, and for Thanksgiving, which seems to have no presence in our mass retail culture, which I fear will cause it to lose ground in our shared emotional culture. Thanksgiving has always been destined to lose to Halloween and Christmas, because it's not really monetizable. People don't buy things for Thanksgiving, except food and maybe plane tickets. It also sells magazines, I guess. (Sidebar: the other night Matt said, "The dog vomited at the top of the stairs. It was bad. I had to use the Martha Stewart Living to clean it up. I thought that was funny." I said, "But I hadn't read that one yet!" And he said, "I think you could still go fish it out of the trash." Hmmph. So now I'll never know what all Martha is going to do with pomegranate seeds this month.) So it's not that I want stores to come up with a whole bunch of Turkey merchandise to sell us. I would just like for them to wait a mo' with the outdoor decorations. I want to take a breath and enjoy November for what it is.

Publix redeemed itself for me tonight, because I ran in there to get Matt some popcorn, and there were coupons hanging on some of the bottles of Perrier. Now, last year, in the summer of '08, those of us who were hard core couponnieres had a nice little Perrier racket going. Publix had $1 off Perrier coupons on the shelves, which you could take across the street to CVS, where if you bought two bottles of Perrier (for a dollar each) you got $1 in CVS Extracare Bucks. You could lather, rinse, and repeat that deal as much as you wanted, if I recall. I do remember that I practically bathed in the stuff and I loved it. So right now, the big bottles of Perrier, which are $1.59 at my store, have 55 cent coupons hanging on the necks. It's only the pink grapefruit variety. A dollar for the big bottle seemed reasonable to me, so I struck hard. Check your Publix if you're needing a classier chug-a-lug. And Joyeux Noël!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Still Shredding

So I'm still doing that thing with the video and the exercising.  Yesterday's workout made one full week of the 30 Day Shred, seven consecutive nights.  Even when I've exercised regularly in the past, I've never done it every single day.  I think the relentlessness of it might actually help me stick with the program. There's no thinking, "Oh, today is an off day," or "Do I feel up for spinning tomorrow?"  It just happens daily, rain or shine.  And at a certain point, you don't want to break the streak, you know?  I still haven't managed to do it any earlier than ten at night, but that's working okay.  

My method is to line up a reward for myself first.  I march into Matt's office (I do a whole lot of self-righteous marching before and after shredding I find) and say something like, "Okay, I'm going to shred and then we're going to do X." Whatever X is, like play Rock Band or have cosmos or make balloon animals. Something.  And the workout is so dang short. I mean, by the time you really want it to be over, it is.

So, at day 7, my results are: Mostly stuff only I can perceive.  My upper body is stronger.  When I reach down and pick up Hank, it's like he zooms up to sit on my hip.  And I don't make that attractive grunting sound while lifting him. My arms and shoulders feel firmer.  My leg muscles are definitely firmer, but if you've done any kind of exercise, you know that happens super fast. My caboose muscles are a little sore today, but that's new--I think I started going deeper into the squats last night.  Is this just so, SO much more than you wanted to know?  Also, my tummy is tighter, though I would not try to bounce a quarter off of it.  Only I can tell that,  I think.  I'm hoping some visible results are down the road.

I started counting Weight Watchers points again on Monday, and that's been fine.  I am mostly able to resist eating Halloween candy.  Except Laura had a dentist appointment on Tuesday afternoon that turned into her having two teeth extracted, and when we got home she was so miserable at how numb her face felt that I ate three mini snickers.  I don't know exactly how her discomfort led to my eating candy, but that was the chain of events as I reconstructed them.  I did tally up the points, of course.  Laura is totally fine now, but those snickers may be a part of me forever.  It's a delicate balance, this life. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Where's the Love?

Hank's preschool, which is run by a church, like all the good preschools around here, is right across the street from another church preschool. That one is the Big Red Church, while Hank goes to school at the Medium White Church. Hmm, "white church," I suppose it truly is. Oh ho ho. Anyway. Both preschools start at 9:30 in the morning, which means that the little road they both face must accommodate the simultaneous arrival of children for both schools: minivans bearing 500 kids turning off the big highway and getting into the car drop off lines. At Big Red Church, the one year-olds are dropped off on one side of the building, and the bigger kids are on the other side. At White Church, there's just one drop off line, but it's a one-way only loop. People are pouring onto the little road from the big highway, with some people U-turning to bring their one year-olds to the proper entrance of Big Red, and some people (poor souls) turning left into oncoming traffic to get into White Church's drop off line. Whatever, I only want you to understand that situation is best described as a total pigfuck. As we say in the South.

This morning, I had dropped Hank off and continued around the church to the exit, where I was waiting to turn left onto the little road that would take me back to the big highway. I was waiting patiently for an opening, as some people were still whizzing by to drop their kids off. Well, a woman in a gold Mercedes behind me was apparently upset that I was there waiting to turn left, as it prevented her from turning right onto the little road. Which she easily could have done if I hadn't been there, getting all in her way and ruining her morning. You see, in our universe, two objects cannot occupy the same place at precisely the same moment. And yet, there I was, at the front of the line, and she was behind me. So you see her problem. It has to do with physics.

I was admiring a flock of Canada geese that seem to be hanging around Medium White Church lately. They were all over the church lawn, bobbing and waddling. I was thinking, "Goose poop alert." Suddenly I heard a honking and a revving of an engine. Gold Mercedes zoomed around from behind me, flattening one of the little orange cones that the church puts up to keep people from turning in at the exit. As she cut narrowly in front of me, this lady gave me a really nasty look. I raised my hands in an exaggerated shrug, like a "WTH?" motion. And she stretched her right arm out towards me, perhaps to offer me a helpful hand gesture. But what happened is that she threw her cell phone against her passenger window. I could see it smack the glass as she careened away. I don't really know what was happening there. But how I wish her passenger window had been down.

This is one of my fellow parents at this Christian preschool. Sure lady, we don't know each other, but we are not all anonymous monads in our little bubbles. Maybe I'm not being fair. Maybe she had just spilled a beaker of acid in her lap. Or remembered that she hadn't set her tivo to record Regis and Kelly. But, could we all just relax a scoosh? And love on each other? As we say in the South.

Anyway, I gotta go brave the traffic to pick up his majesty. Goose poop alert! Have a good day and I hope y'all are feeling the love.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Good Lord at the Candy

Trick or Treaters

It's become commonplace to say that your kid got too much candy at Halloween. I mean, it doesn't take much to be "too much." But this year I just have to say, "Damn." Laura brought in the kind of haul that is only obtainable if there's a golf cart involved. Normal Neighbor's husband is a golf pro, and they have some kind of super sized golf cart. After we did a circuit of our nearby street on foot, which was all Hank was really up for given the rain, steep driveways, and his short legs ("That's my last house," he announced towards the end), these three girls got chauffeured around by Mr. Normal.

Laura didn't get dropped back at home until 9. So that was my child ringing your doorbell at 8:45, after you thought, "Surely it's safe to turn off the porchlight." Laura admitted, "I think some people were surprised to see us." Mr. Normal is not one to cut a party short, I guess. So she got 200 pieces of candy. I know this because she got up at 5:45 on Sunday morning to inventory it. According to my dad, who was trying to snooze on the couch (whole nother story) she counted it aloud, piece by piece, before the sun was up.

And this is the good stuff, too. No gummy hotdogs or any of that crap in this bunch of loot. Matt and I got one look at it and were congratulating ourselves on living in such a nice neighborhood. And no Halloween would be complete without the semi-creepy guy in the other cul-de-sac who gave out full-sized candy bars. Actually, he gave Laura two full-sized candy bars.

So the question is, do you have some kind of clever system for managing the candy consumption, or do you just let it rip? Matt and I kind of fly by the seat of our pants. All the candy is up on top of the fridge, but when the kids have asked for a piece, I've let them pick one. This will likely continue for a few days, until I get sick of having the stuff around. One school of thought is to let them eat a lot the first couple of days, and then it starts to lose its lustre, then one night the unloved remnant-candy goes in the trash. What are y'all doing?

When I was at the pediatrician with Hank on Friday, the doctor said, "Tell him the Sugar Fairy needs the candy to build her candy castle!" I said, "Oh, is that the story you use?" She said, "No, I just throw it away." So today, my cleaner Fabienne came (on Monday instead of Tuesday), and I was ruminating on the massive stash of candy. I said, "I guess I could just throw it away after a week or so." She gave me a look of disbelief. Then, in her Hungarian accent, she screeched, "Throw eet away???" I said, "Well, what are you going to do?" She said, exasperated, "Keep it in a beeg jaaahr and EAT IT! For as LONG as it takes!"

Mighty Knight

So are you going to put your candy in a beeg jaaahr, dahlink?