Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Great Grandpas always give advice."

Laura and I are preparing to leave town for a funeral in Arkansas. Matt's Granddad, who was 93, grew ill just in the last few days and died last night.  Matt left home on Friday and was able to get there in time to see him and have one last conversation.

His name, Olen, is also Hank's second middle name. John Henry Olen.  The last few years, Granddad kept up his relationship with the kids by writing them letters.  Laura would write to him, giving him news and photos, and reliably, a letter came right back.  Granddad's letters to the children tended to be short and sweet, neatly typed in all-caps.  When he heard that Hank had started preschool, we got this in the mail:

Master John Henry,

I have been keeping up with your family through your grandma. They tell me that you are going to school now. This is the time to shift gears from being a little boy to a school boy. Mind your teacher as you did your mother. Your parents are both highly educated, sweet, and kind people. You be likewise. You have a lot of ability. Use it.

Great Grandpas always give advice.

I love you. You are a part of me.

PS: The world is changing--go with it or get run over.

I love everything about this but that postscript just kills me. Especially when I think about how much his world changed in his 93 years. One thing about Granddad is that he was always current.

Master John Henry is staying here with my parents; I decided the 20 total hours of driving was too much for him. But the rest of us will gather together in the next few days and see Granddad buried in the family plot in the tiny town where he was born.

Here's to Granddad Olen and to 93 years for all of us.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Little Pleasures

Here are a few things I'm enjoying right now:

The other day I got my toes painted a true purple. If you chewed Bubbalicious gum as a child, it's the color of the grape flavor. This is outside my usual toe repertoire and I'm really liking it.  Except that I went to preschool pickup yesterday wearing green flip flops, and the combination looked like spa day for the Joker.

"Downton Abbey" on Netflix Instant streaming.  It aired on PBS in January after having been on British TV last fall.  These were written by Julian Fellowes, who also wrote the screenplay for Gosford Park, another fave.  I watched the last episode last night, actually, and today I feel sad.  If you like period pieces and could give an explication of the hierarchy of servants in a great house, this is for you.

Still plugging along with my daily chapter of Les Miserables. I look forward to it every day. Something about stopping with just one chapter, it has some kind of magic.  I think I'd been Andrew Lloyd Webered into not realizing how good it would be.  I really hope this book indeed has 365 chapters. Can anyone confirm this?

The trampoline the kids got for Christmas.  The weather here has been so wonderful the last week, the kids are out there all the time. Last Saturday and Sunday, they stayed on it, joined throughout the day by different groups of playmates.  They are out of my hair, and I can monitor their activity by the happy shrieks. Also, the trampoline is nice for adult stargazing.

AND, since I've picked back up with the 30-Day Shred workouts, my abdominal muscles have strengthened and I can jump on the trampoline without feeling like I'm going to wee wee.  Too much information? Some of you ladies know what I mean.

What are your little pleasures this week?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Owl Lamp: How About Now?

Remember when I showed you this owl lamp I got out of a dumpster in North Carolina?

Owl Lamp

In that post I was thinking of spray painting it ivory and finding a new shade for it. I had reservations, though. I thought it might look a lot less interesting all one color. I wasn't sure what to do with the eyes, either.  I asked for your thoughts.  Click back there to refresh yourself.  Opinions ranged from "Yes! love it! paint it!" to "If you paint it you change the species!" and my favorite, "Put it outside, in a sturdy tree."

I pondered these things in my heart. I was a little daunted by the rewiring so I let it rest down there for a while. Then I was at Pottery Barn with my mother last week and they had a redorkulous sale on lampshades. this huge linen drum shade was sitting there for $11.  Marked down from $59. Good enough that I broke my streak of not having bought anything for myself or the house since Jan 1. It wasn't the solid color shade I'd been envisioning, but I thought it might make the as-is version of the lamp work.  Yesterday I brought the owls upstairs, dusted them off, and gave them new wiring.  Then I put the shade on and sat them in the dining room. Go ahead and tell me what you think.

Owl Faces

Hank Meets Owls

Owl Lamp Wing

Owl Lamp Shade

Now, I had planned to put it on top of Hank's chest of drawers.  The problem is that when he walked around the corner and saw it, he said, "AAHH!"  Then, a while later, he saw it again and said, "AAHH!"  Laura hadn't heard any of that, and when she came home, I said, "Laura, come in the dining room and look at my lamp."  She walked in and said, "AAHH!" I don't think it is really so scary, I mean, look at those sweet faces. I think it is startling in its largeness.  The picture with Hank gives you some idea.

So I don't know. Part of me is curious about what it would look like painted. But it's kind of growing on me as it is.  You know what? If I had a buffet or sideboard in my dining room, I would put it on top and leave it in there. Doesn't it look happy in that room?  Have I lost my mind?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

One Handed or Two?

When I was at the nail salon yesterday, I was watching the all the technicians work.  This is always a fraught space for me, because as much as I love having someone else tend to my toenails, part of me feels that when I'm in the chair getting a pedicure, I am one step away from lying on a Roman couch, being fanned and fed grapes by conquered Dacians.  I know. I have that feeling but I also know the forty-seven things that could be said to counter it.  Anyway, that's not what I came to say.

I was watching them work and it made me think about how my sister-in-law Kate used to work at Origins.  Though, as I've mentioned before, saying she worked at Origins is like saying Michelangelo worked at the Sistine Chapel. She is a genius with makeup and skincare, and she sold it like hotcakes because she truly cares about it and about helping people look good. I swear it's her spiritual gift. Now she's a therapist and it's really like she's just pursuing the same vocation in a different form.

Once she was trying out a new makeup product on me, and she remarked that, in the store, when you're showing a person how to apply makeup, you never touch her face with just one hand. Always use two hands.  That beyond the practical need to steady your hands for what you're doing, touching someone's face with one hand is disrespectful.

I thought about it and it seems totally true.  The one-handed touch communicates something totally different from a two-handed touch.  Don't you think?

Then I thought about how, in some cultures, it's rude to reach out for something offered to you with one hand. You show your appreciation by taking the thing--a gift, a business card, food--with two hands.  This might not be as codified in our culture as it is in, say, Japan, but I'm wondering if we think this way and follow this rule without realizing it?

I was having these thoughts and then I noticed that the woman next to me was getting a really strange pedicure with a crackle finish.  Have you seen this?  First they put a coat of white polish on, and then a coat of color, which crackled and showed the white underneath.  That drove all other thoughts from my brain except how to twitter it as soon as possible.  Then I couldn't stop staring at her feet.

Happy Sunday, sweetses.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wigs from behind the Iron Curtain

Last spring and summer when I was bald, my Hungarian cleaning lady, Fabienne, arrived one day with a giant shopping bag full of wigs. I did already have a wig--remember Codi?--but Fabienne thought I might like a little variety.

The wigs, she said, had been her mother's. Her mother is not dead or anything, she's just living in Richmond. I'm not sure why Fabienne has the wigs. I took them and thanked her. Later I realized that none of them would work. I stashed the shopping bag in a closet. Then last week, Fabienne texted me:
Hey Becky I got a haircut that's waaaay too short, do you have those wigs?
Realizing they were about to be out of my life forever, I raced to the mirror to photograph them. So I could show you.  Because that's how I think of our relationship: we show each other weird wigs.

If you are not at work, please do yourself a favor and play this video as you scroll down. It is the necessary soundtrack to these Eastern bloc beauties. You will not be sorry.

wig 1
Okay, this one is kind of cute.

wig 2
Sadly, this one is the closest to how my actual hair looks now.

wig 3
Oh my. Paul Giamatti as John Adams!

wig 4
I kind of like this darker color. Kind of Lisbeth Salander?

wig 4 again
This was supposed to be a sexy pout. Obviously I have no idea how to look sexy. Matt is a lucky man.

wig 5
How would we describe THIS choice specimen? Need help.

mother daughter wigs
Laura helping out.
By this time, Hank was upset at all my metamorphoses and was begging me to stop putting on wigs, and I bet you feel the same.

So then Fabienne came right over and showed me her too-short haircut, which was not too short at all and was very cute.  She told me she was going to a dinner party the next night where there would be a man she was interested in, so she wanted to wear the little dark wig.  I tried, as strongly as I could, to persuade her that her actual hair would look better than the wig. Then she came to clean on Friday and told me that she'd been wearing the wig for days. Trololololo!

This post is in honor of the fact that Tuesday afternoon I am getting a haircut. A HAIRCUT, PEOPLE.  This is a milestone.  I do want it to grow a lot longer, but my hair girl assures me that it would benefit from a little shaping and will grow out from there. You can bet you'll hear more about this.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Super Easy Custom-ish Valentines

Hank's Valentines

I wanted to do something the teeny tiniest bit crafty/personal for Hank's Valentine exchange and I remembered seeing this somewhere in the blogiverse a couple of years ago. I can't remember where; if anyone recognizes it I'll give credit. So stone cold easy. The picture is pretty much its own how-to.

Edited to add: Aha! It looks like this technique comes from Alissa at 24/7/365.  Cool.

I took several pictures of Hank holding his arm out in various ways.  You want your kid to hold his hand forward from his body so it will appear bigger in the frame.  Here was the picture I liked best.


Then I had prints made this afternoon, and used a sharp knife to cut little slits in the photos. That part takes some finessing.  Then I slid the suckers in and bibbity bobbity bang. Trompe l'oeil, doncha know.

We're writing little messages on the back.  I think this could be classed up by mounting the whole thing on cardstock, leaving a little border for the child's name to go on the front.  However, the round lolly does deform the picture a little and it might be hard to get it to glue flat.

Also, Mama has to watch Big Love tonight and we're all about the simplicity of this project as you see it here. I think it's cute. Maybe it will get a smile out of the kids.

Happy Valentine's Day, lovers!


Friday, February 11, 2011

That Troublesome Sleepover

I just had a feeling about that kid from the moment she came in the house last Saturday. Just a little bit bratty. And have you ever observed that when your child is hanging out with a less civilized playmate, her behavior begins to match her friend's? Yeah. At a couple different points in the evening, I pulled Laura aside for little one-on-one reality checks about her 'tude. Nothing major.

At a reasonable hour, the girls said they were going to stay in their room for the night. When Laura has a friend over, they sleep in Hank's room because he has more space, and he bunks with us.  Laura has her twin bed she's always had, but somehow Hank is living large with a queen-sized bed and a sofa in his room. He could host the hospitality suite for a mid-sized trade convention.  So I supposed the girls were tucked away for the night, and I went to bed.

Matt keeps late hours, and as he sat in the office, he heard strange noises overhead.  With the psychic powers that come with parenthood, he thought, "I bet those kids are climbing out the window."  He went upstairs to investigate and THAT'S EXACTLY what they were doing.  They'd pushed the screen out of one of Hank's windows--doing none too delicate a job of it, as one of the little tabs broke off--and were climbing out onto the little sloping roof underneath. 

Now, as harrowing as it sounds, this would actually be the best escape route from the upstairs in the event of a fire.  Our house is on a hill, and Hank's room is on the uphill side.  If I had to get out of the upstairs in an emergency, I'd climb out of his window, shimmy my legs down over the edge and drop down onto the grass. 

So, not a probably fatal thing to be doing, but do we want Laura and her friend to be going out there in the dark? NOPE. Matt scolded them and told them it was dangerous and under no circumstances were they to do it again.  Then, as he told me later, he was going to let it go, because it was definite mischief and bad kid judgment, but you know, once they thought of it, it probably seemed very tempting.  And kids don't have good judgment because of something to do with the amygdala, it's why they need us.  He thought, "I never actually told the kids not to climb out the window before." So he made himself clear and it was done. Anyway.   

Fast forward to the next morning.  Matt was still asleep and I knew nothing of any nocturnal defenestrations.  It was daylight, so the foster children had come over and were jumping on the trampoline with Hank.  I was engaging in some much needed coffee-sipping and Country Living perusal. The little kids came running in,  bubbling over with words.  They acted like they had the scoop of the century.  "Laura's on the roof!"  I was like, "wha?"  They said, "Laura's on the roof by Hank's room!"

I went upstairs promptly and sure enough, the window was open, the screen was out, and Laura looked like the most busted child to ever know she was busted.  Like any good Southern mother, I hollered at them to get their butts inside right that minute. Then I was kind of low-key about it, probably for all the reasons Matt had been.  I told them it was a very bad idea and showed poor judgment.  Then I told them to fix the screen and I left the room.  I couldn't quite figure out why Laura looked like someone standing in a tumbril, being driven to the guillotine.

Still, I decided that she and her playmate had had enough time together, so I did something I've never done.  I texted the other mom and told her that her daughter was ready for a pick-up.  I told her that Laura was in trouble for climbing out the window and that all the fun had to cease.  She replied, "Gotcha."

Then Matt got up and the full scope of her error became clear.  We were both in disbelief that, having been told not to climb out the window, she CLIMBED OUT THE DAMN WINDOW.  We took turns.  I reached back into my parents' parenting playbook and gave her the speech about how in the not-too-distant future, she would want to go places and have freedoms, but to do those things she would have to show she could be trusted with small things.  Etcetera. She was contrite.  She also did some blame shifting onto her friend. We weren't having any of that.

And yet.  And yet, I do think this particular friend might be someone with whom she has a hard time making good decisions.  You know what I mean?  I don't want to be one of those mothers who says, "Oh my angel child could never conceive of such mischief," but the defying Matt and going out the window again?  That's not like her at all.  I think that this friend, because of her home circumstances, gets to be her own boss a lot.  Her mother seems beleaguered.  She is a really nice lady, and when I went to pick Laura up from the one previous playdate they had together, I was surprised to see that their house--in Fancy Land, no less--was almost hoarder-level cluttered.  Just a different kind of clutter from what we have over here at the end of the day.  The one detail that stuck out to me was that she was shelving books between the spindles of her staircase, as it went up from the living room.  Pathways blocked and things used for other than their intended purposes are both clutter warning signs, according to the doctorate in psychology I earned watching that show on A&E.  Anyway, so the mom, bless her, obviously has her hands full. I digress. 

So Matt told Laura she was grounded.  No screen time, no friends, no pleasure, just hair shirts and ashes and homework and swimming.  We've done one week of that and I think he's imagining another week to really get her attention.   

Do you believe what delinquents both of my kids are this week?  And people tell me I should write a book about parenting. Oh ho!

But you know, we have had a lovely week.  She comes home and with no distractions, we talk at length about her day, we spend a long time with her work, we just have more time together.  Yesterday she read to me for a long time as I cooked supper.  She is really the sweetest girl in the world.  I am hoping this experience will teach her to exit the house only by approved methods of egress.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This Kid, I Just Don't Know

When I arrived at the door of Hank's preschool classroom on Thursday, the teacher said, "We had an incident today."

An incident?  To me this word is reserved for two situations: there was a radiation leak at a nuclear power plant or somebody pooped in his pants.  I stood there praying it wasn't the second thing.

I steeled myself and asked, "Oh, what was that?"

In hushed tones, she told me that during lunch, Hank had figured out that he could blow on his blueberries and make them roll all over the table.  I'm thinking, okay, so this incident involves fruit, good.  Nobody is missing an earlobe or anything.

So he was blowing his blueberries around all over the table, into the other children's food and onto the floor.  Miss Chris asked him to stop.  Apparently he ignored her and kept working on the blueberry dispersal project.  She asked him to stop again, at least once.  I'm not sure how he responded to her, but he didn't quit with the blueberries.

Now, I would have gathered up those berries and taken them away.  End of problem. But she escalated in a different direction.  She couldn't put him in time out because Hank broke time out last week.  I gather that the teachers wanted him to leave the kitchen center and come to the writing center to do table work, and he didn't want to, and they threatened time out, and he eagerly took them up on it, preferring to relax in the armchair than to practice writing his letters.

So she didn't think time out was an option, I suppose. Faced with his recalcitrance over the blueberry issue, she said, "Let's go down to the office and see what they have to say about this."  Whoa.

Yet Hank, as she described to me, bounced up happily and went with her, showing no shamefacedness, so she told him, "Hank, this isn't something to be happy about."  And do you know what that child said?

He shrugged and said, "I don't care, my mama loves me no matter what." 


I had such a hard time not laughing when she told me that.  I was of two minds. One mind thought, "Oh you priceless child! If you want to rumble with these teachers, we will go in together, buddy."  The other mind thought, hmm, since I can't expect anyone else to find him as charming as I do, we better fix that little 'tude.

I am so, so glad that he has gotten the message that we will love him no matter what, but I think he thinks he's discovered a loophole.

This was coming on the heels of a teacher conference I had last week, where I found out that Hank is the youngest boy in the class, and one of the youngest kids.  He won't be five 'til June, but several of the kids are turning six this spring.  I was surprised, it's supposed to be a fours' class.  I think he has little interest in the writing and table work they want them to do--a lot of it is not age-appropriate for four year-olds.  He just wants to do the fun parts.  Still, it is not like him to be defiant, so Matt and I jerked a knot in that, figuratively speaking.

It still makes me want to laugh and high-five him, though.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sleepover Rules

Laura has a friend here for the night. We've never had her over before and she is kind of annoying.  Her demeanor has a blend of impudence and smart-aleckiness that I find disrespectful.  Also she kept asking me to repeat myself while she stood before me listening to her ipod.  "But it's on really low!" she said, in response to my correction.  It makes me realize how much I enjoy Laura's usual crop of friends, who are polite and well-parented.  I even like the ones I don't know as well, the shy, quiet ones.  Shy silence is greatly, greatly underrated in this world.

Oh well. She'll serve as the example for some teachable moments after she leaves.

So what are your sleepover best practices?  I don't really do a whole lot different in the household.  Laura's at an age where she can be trusted to pretty much run her own show.  I feel obliged to keep Hank from exasperating them, though I expect him to be included in the early-evening movie watching.  Then he goes to bed at his usual hour and the girls can have some big-kid time. 

I am liberal about bedtimes. I know part (all?) of the fun of a sleepover is staying up late. The key for me is that I do not let them remain downstairs until all hours. About 10:30 or so, we tell them they have to be upstairs and relatively quiet.  Then it's adult time downstairs.  I want them to have fun, but I don't want to be in the middle of that fun.

It is rare that the girls outlast me, but the next phase would be telling them they have to be in bed and can read or talk as long as they want. This leads to tranquil snoozing for all.  And Laura knows she can get up as early as she wants, but breakfast will be self-service. 

We have a good record of sleepover customer satisfaction, with only one middle-of-the-night bailout.  Dozens served.  What's the deal at your house?

Friday, February 4, 2011

That Is A Certain Kind of Aplomb

We might need cheering up on this gray/rainy/disappointing Friday, so I offer this story:

A few years back, in the summer, I attended an academic conference that lasts a whole week.  Unlike other conferences, it's made up of professional scholars and also interested laypeople.  Usually the thing centers on just one novel.  It's like summer camp for grown-up nerds, really awesome.  I went to this for several years in a row, because the opportunities for hobnobbing, gossiping, and talking books are unparalleled.  Nobody's bed got shortsheeted, that I know of, but there are the usual camp hookups and feuds. There's even a dance, I'm not even kidding. Yet this is serious business. 

That year--I think the book was Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens--the actress Miriam Margolyes was there. You might know her as Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter movies.

My favorite role of hers is as old Madam Mingott in Age of Innocence, remember? A very funny lady, but somehow also august.  She'd come because she'd been in the BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit and is interested in literary matters.  She participated in everything and was just one of the gang.

One of the activities planned was a group reading of a mashup of some comic scenes from Dickens. Parts were assigned and people sat in a circle rehearsing together. Everyone was really excited to be reading with such a celebrated actress, and we were giving it our absolute best. There was lots of laughter and merriment.

And then there was a lull, and in that lull, an unmistakable bodily noise. More silence.

Then, Miriam Margolyes spoke up.  In her full, rich, voice, a voice used to commanding an audience, she said:

"It is I who has farted so dreadfully."

And, scene.

Everyone loved her even more after that.  And I still think of it from time to time, about that "dreadfully" and the nearly perfect anapestic rhythm of that line. The woman is a pro.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bad News on My Block

Remember back in December when I told you guys that my friend Normal Neighbor was having a breast biopsy? She was very anxious about it but it came back benign, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.  Then I stopped worrying about her health and entered a pleasant holiday stupor, forgetting that her doctor had told her she was pretty severely anemic and needed to have a colonoscopy after the new year.

Then I was flying to LA.  You know how when your plane lands and your phone picks up service again, you get that avalanche of text messages? One was from her.  It said:
Bad news from the colonoscopy this morning. It is cancer. Not up to talking right now.
I just sat there staring at my phone. Cancer? I thought, "She can't have cancer because I didn't even know this was a possibility."  It wasn't on my radar screen at all. I didn't know the colonoscopy was to rule out cancer. She's only 45.

While I was snowed out of Atlanta that week, she was getting prepped for surgery, fast.  When I finally talked to her, the day before her operation, she sounded upbeat, surprisingly so.  I recognized her state of mind as that dazed, not-too-down, busy feeling you get when you're dealing with a new diagnosis, trying to learn everything, and getting ready for surgery.  The mind is an amazing thing. There's something about all the activity that insulates you from the fear, at first. But she told me a couple of things that gave me a feeling of foreboding. The surgeon thought a couple of her lymph nodes looked like they might be involved, and there was a suspicious spot on her liver.

I got a sinking feeling as she told me that. It sounded to me like we were talking about Stage III disease, right out of the gate.  I did a bunch of googling "colon cancer staging" and "colon cancer prognosis by stage" and sunk even further.  I just thought, "How could it have gotten this bad without her knowing?" It brought up a lot of my own anxieties about cancer and about how, with breast cancer anyway, once you cross over into metastatic disease, you are no longer "curable."  I thought about how your life can change in one minute.  I felt miserable and scared for her.    

I didn't blog any of this because the situation wasn't really stable, and it all felt too raw.  I thought about how my blog name for her, "Normal Neighbor," doesn't do justice to what a sweet and reliable friend she is. 

She had surgery four days after her diagnosis, while I was still out west.  They found two cancerous lymph nodes and took a biopsy of her liver.  By the time I made my way home, she was almost out of the hospital. She felt better than before the surgery, now that the large tumor in her colon wasn't making her sick. And what's more, she and her husband seemed happy, relieved she came through the surgery, and optimistic.

I said to Matt, in so many words, that I didn't understand why they were in such a good mood.  He said, "You mean you think they're in denial?"  I said I didn't think they were in denial, but it was like they had reached some advanced state of acceptance and serenity, way, way fast.  I told him that I didn't want to be the friend who shows up at your house and says, "Don't you realize how serious this is?"  He agreed that I should not be that person.  He said that he thinks of them as "here and now" people, and that they're just focused on getting her good care.

And in the last couple of weeks, it's funny: talking to her and hearing that she is not in despair and torn up with anxiety, that she feels her treatments will work and she will be fine, it has made me believe it. She will start chemotherapy on Valentine's Day, and apparently it's not the kind that makes your hair fall out, which is good. But I was ready to speed over there with my wig, Codi. You know I was.

I thought about that Stephen Jay Gould essay about survival statistics, "The Median Isn't the Message."  That's worth a read if you don't know it.  And I remembered what one of you sweet blog friends told me when I was agonizing over my own cancer staging and prognosis:  Even if you're facing something with a one percent survival rate, there is no reason to think that you won't make it into that one percent. Indeed, it's hard to live any other way.

So I am still just shocked about this turn of events.  Fucking cancer, I swear.  I felt the need to tell you guys because it's definitely something going on in my life and my 'hood, and this is where I talk about that stuff.  But I am hopeful, I really am. 

Let's be alert to our bodies, but without being anxious and freaked out.  I'm trying to strike that balance. And let's be thankful for every day we have health.