Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Let's Name Numbers

Well, hey there, you who have been so kind as to come by and read me all month. This was fun! And here's a thing: today was not only the last day of my Month-Long Blogging Festival, it was the last day of the six months that I have had no health insurance, the six months that I needed to have no health insurance in order to be eligible for the federal government's Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. 

Made it! Exhalation.

I feel like there are too few people here in the US who are willing to lay bare the details of this issue and how it actually works out in their lives. It is partly from a sense of shame, I think, or something that has us convinced that our insurance status and our insurability is a personal, private problem and not a social, structural one. That if you don't have insurance, you have failed. But hi, have we met? I'm willing to share, I certainly don't think Matt and I have failed, and I thought the details might be of interest to somebody.

At the beginning of 2009, Matt got some money from the sale of another company he'd worked for, and was able to leave the job he had here in Atlanta and start his own game company. We continued our family group medical and dental coverage through COBRA. For those who don't know, having COBRA coverage is like still being a member of your employer's group plan, only you pay the premium yourself, with no employer contribution. That cost $1100 a month for the four of us and lasted for eighteen months. Somewhere around the thirteenth month of that coverage, I got diagnosed with breast cancer and started the full ride of surgery and chemotherapy, paid for by insurance.

As the summer of 2010 wore on, and I finished my chemotherapy, we started to work on what to do about insurance when our COBRA ran out. I discovered that if Matt were to divorce me, it would extend my coverage another eighteen months. Yet we decided to stay married. He and his business partner got an insurance broker and shopped for small group plans to cover themselves, the kids, and any future employees. I stayed out of their group because I knew that, as small as the group was, with my medical history they would either be denied outright by the underwriters, or would be charged a jacked-up premium.

I figured that I was on my own, insurance-wise. I wanted to avoid the individual market like the plague, as it is not subject to even the meager regulations of group healthcare. (Of course, what I now know is that with a cancer diagnosis in my medical history, I am uninsurable on the individual market, for any amount of money.) Then I discovered HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. 

Listen, 'cause you might need to know this, and nobody makes this info easy to find. What HIPAA meant in my case was that, because I had: a) been covered continuously for at least the previous 18 months, and; b) been last covered by an employer's group plan; and c) taken their COBRA coverage for as long as permitted, I was entitled to purchase an individual policy from the company who had been insuring me, as long as I converted to the individual policy within 63 days.

Do you get that? This is huge. If you are reaching the end of your COBRA coverage, your health insurer (or in some cases, the state you live in) is legally required to convert your group policy to an individual policy. And the premium they can charge you has some slight legal restriction upon it, it isn't completely unregulated like the pure individual market. So if you can pay, you will not lose your coverage.

BUT, and this is a big but, if you have anything wrong with you at all, they will not tell you about this HIPAA conversion, and when you call and ask about it, they will know nothing about it. That last part is not an act; the frontline customer service people will not know anything about this. If you are lucky, you may reach a department manager who might know what you're talking about, but they almost never deal with this, it seems. I understood why when I saw their rate sheet.

Lemme back up and tell you that the first time I called the insurance company and said I wanted to see about converting my COBRA into an individual policy, they said, "Okay, we'll send a conversion packet out to you!"

But they did not do that. Not the first through fifth times I called. Reader, I don't even remember the details of all the ways I escalated this. I do know that I emerged from all of it as some kind of hardy swashbuckler. At one point I got to someone semi-knowledgeable and she said, "Oh, the state of Georgia will handle your conversion policy," and I had to explain that yes, Georgia will do that if your previous employer group's benefits were self-funded. If not, as in our case, the conversion policy comes from the company that provided the group coverage. I had already talked to the state insurance commissioner's office, and I told the company this. They were like, OH, okay, right, got it!

What I thought, over and over again, was, "What do dumb people do?" Seriously, what if you don't have the time, wits, patience, and capacities to deal with this stuff? And I was feeling well. What if you are really suffering and vulnerable? This goes way, way beyond being your own advocate, like we're always told to do. I have asked that exact question, what do dumb people do, to a few different medical professionals. They all say some variation of, "It is a catastrophe and they die."

Okay, so finally, I extracted a heavily photocopied rate sheet for various individual coverage scenarios. Matt took one look at it and said, "Oh, these are the 'fuck you' prices." And they were. To continue our group coverage for the four of us would have cost over $3000 a month. It was clear, patently clear, that they don't expect anyone to buy these plans. No way. But with Matt and the kids safely enrolled in his company's new small-group policy, I ran my finger down the page and found an single individual option for just me. It cost $1368 a month, and I signed up.

During that period, I had radiation therapy and reconstructive surgery. We paid that premium until this summer, when I got notice that at my one-year coverage anniversary, it would go up to $1800 or so. If it continued. I had the feeling that they were constantly looking for a way to rescind the policy and end my coverage. And that $1300 a month, on top of everything else, was really hurting us.

I just thought, "How are people doing this?" I mean, Matt and I were not improvident, we were not reckless. One or both of us has always worked, and we have had continuous insurance coverage our entire lives. We are thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Also, and I'm no Max Weber, but by most any definition, we find ourselves in the upper middle class, and were lucky enough to afford the higher and higher rates that we had to pay to get this far. And yet, even though I don't think we made any "bad lifestyle choices," this situation was a total colossal fucking nightmare. I mean over and above the nightmare of life-threatening illness. So how are people doing this?

I've read that half of all Americans have what are considered pre-existing conditions that affect their insurability.

Around that time, my mother showed me an article about the PCIP part of the health reform act. I had looked at it before and noted that one of its eligibility requirements is that you have been uninsured for six months prior to enrollment. That always seemed wrong and unworkable to me. But I'd reached a point where my active treatment was over and my health was good. And I didn't know what else to do. I might have tried to get into Matt's small group plan, but even if I could have been added to it without waiting for open enrollment period, I thought that when their open enrollment came around, my medical history would swamp their little boat, and I didn't want to imperil the coverage they had found for their families.

So I stopped paying my continuation premium. I talked to Matt about it. I worried and sweated over it. Then I was like, well, I'm doing this. I checked to be sure there was a medical rider on our car insurance. Then I tried to stay healthy. I thought if I broke an ankle or something, if it amounted to less than the premiums would have been, we were ahead. And if the worst happened and my cancer came back, well, I thought, that's what bankruptcy is for.

And so far, knocking wood, nothing bad has happened.

So now I can apply to be covered in the pre-existing condition insurance pool in my state, and it will cost $264 a month for the standard plan or $356 for the extended plan. These PCIP pools are a temporary measure, designed to bridge the gap between now and 2014 with the health care exchanges are supposed to come into being. Don't know how that's gonna work.

Whew. Did anyone actually read this? That's my story. I don't actually know what to say by way of closure. I hope there was some helpful info in here if you are in a position to need it.

Love you guys,
b

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Leverage, Baby

Two days ago, the garbage disposal in my sink made a terrible noise and stopped working. It did the humming thing but nothing was moving. I figured something was stuck in it, so I did the thing they tell you not to do: I flipped off the switch, put on a rubber glove, and put my hand down in there. I did this quickly, before two things could happen: 1) Matt could come into the room and yell at me for doing it--I mean, he is really, really against putting your hand in the garbage disposal, I've seen homeboy turn it off at the circuit box; 2) Poltergeists could possess the electrical wires in our house and turn on the disposal with my hand in it like they did in that movie Amityville Horror 4: The Evil Escapes.


So neither of those things happened and I got my hand down there and fished up some glass beads, big ones, like the size of mini marshmallows. They were the remains of a little glass Santa bracelet Laura had. How they got down the drain, I don't know, except that I do know because we keep so much crap on the counter above the sink, naturally stuff gets knocked in. I try to tidy that area, but everything that comes into the house lands there. It is a very bad system.

So some of the beads were whole and some were broken, and I was not holding enough beads to reconstitute the bracelet, yet I couldn't feel any more down where the impellers are. I withdrew to think and study.

During this time of contemplation, I half-heartedly stuck a broom handle down there for some reason. And I complained to Matt a lot. He said that he would look at it later.

I decided to see what the internets knew. I found this beautifully simple and helpful walkthrough. With its help, I realized that the flywheel wasn't turning, though the motor was getting power, which must mean that it was still obstructed by a bead stuck somewhere. The guide instructed me to manually turn the flywheel to dislodge the obstruction, which can be done from above (the broom handle method) or by sticking a wrench in the little wrench hole on the bottom of the unit. What stopped me from carrying out this plan was that the guide says, "Use the wrench that came with your disposal." I was like, huh? We don't got that wrench. And I'm not wise enough in the ways of wrenches to know an alternative.

Some time later, I said to Matt, "Do you have an offset wrench? We need to, like, stick a wrench in this little hole down here." (By now I'm having flashbacks to our ball cock conversation. Why does this stuff always happen in the kitchen?) Matt's like, "Wrench?" And I'm like, uh huh, and he's like, figure out what kind of tool I need and I'll take care of it.

That had me stumped. I mean, I had just very clearly with my mouth formed the word "wrench." I don't really know where to go from there. He went downstairs to work and I continued to live with the nonfunctioning sink with the tiny puddle of muck in it. This went on for another full 24 hours.

But Reader, just like the young sapling in winter, during this period of latency, I was gathering strength and summoning my internal resources for the surge of power--the new world that was to be born.

Also during that time, I drank a cup of coffee with Kahlua in it at 11pm and slept like CRAP last night. Smart women, foolish choices. That threw off my whole morning and made me feel like butt and I didn't work out with my neighbor today, and it rained a bunch and I made two separate trips over to the pool/dojo, arriving home at 8pm to a sink with a tiny puddle of muck in it. Somehow that damn thing was not fixing itself.

Oh my God, there has never been a longer story of small appliance repair! I am proud.

While Matt was up starting the kid-bedtime process, I stood in the kitchen and made a small keening noise. I groped the disposal with the rubber glove some more and pulled out another half bead. Then my eyes alit on a plastic bag of odds and ends Matt had used to take apart a bed in Chattanooga. 'Nother story. I looked into the bag and there was a little pouch of something called "hex keys." Reader, here was something familiar! They looked like the little wrenches that come with Ikea products, ie, the only wrenches I've ever used. I wiggled my fingers into the pouch and picked out the chunkiest wrench.

Sitting on the floor in front of the sink, I tried the wrench in the little hole. It seemed to fit. The guide had said that the flywheel will be hard to turn but then, when the blockage is moved, it will turn freely. And that's what happened. First the thing wouldn't turn, and then it made a terrible noise, like two pieces of metal with bits of broken glass between them. I got it turning easily.

Then, checking to see that the little red reset button was pushed in, I stood up and turned on the switch. But I didn't just flip it on and leave it! No, you gotta pulse it like a blender. On and off, on and off, while water runs. At first the disposal was making the awful grinding noise, but it was turning. So I kept pulsing until I was brave enough to leave it running. And it cleared the junk away and sounded normal.

I whooped. Then I hollered, "Who just fixed the garbage disposal?  ME. WITH A WRENCH. I am TAKING BACK THE NIGHT!" And I wasn't sure Matt had heard me, so I went upstairs and found him to tell him face to face. Then I tweeted it and then I put it on facebook. I almost texted my parents. And now I have blogged it. Hear me roar.

But it's funny, seriously, I studied the little diagram of the parts of a garbage disposal, and now it is in my head and it is mine. What was an opaque black box to me is now part of the mapped territory, and it will not trouble me again. Knowledge TRULY IS POWER, they were not kidding. Imagine if you could come to grok the workings of your car that way! Or something else hard! And there is information out there to help us learn! We have only to seize it!

Seize it!

(Jiggle it.)

Teach a man to fish!

Peace out,
B

Monday, November 28, 2011

You Mean, Like, Fudge?

One day before Thanksgiving, I pulled up in the preschool car line to get Hank. His teacher helped him into the car. Then she said, "Becky, I told Hank I would speak to you about this when it happened the third time. Hank has been using potty words."

I said, "Oh, he has?" I was Very Serious.

She said, "Yes, today he said the f-word."

I don't know what my face looked like, but I went, "He said WHAT?"

She hastened to reassure me. "No, no, not that one, the other f-word."

The other f-word?

???

I'm sure I looked as blank as a cloudless winter sky. She was very solemn. I waited. Then she explained, "The word for passing gas."

Oh, FART. Hank said fart.

You know, fart. The "f-word."

I just don't even. I began laughing and have never stopped. I laugh in my sleep and even while eating.

But what I said was, "Oh, got it. Okay, thank you Miss L, we will talk about it."

Hank was sinking further and further into his seat while this conference took place. On the way home I talked to him about controlling his words, that he knows the right way to talk and he has better manners than that, that when he acts rude, it is embarrassing to both of us, etc.

The thing is, right after she said, "Hank said the f-word," I thought that it was perfectly possible he had finally said "fuck" in his classroom. He's never said that at home, but he has certainly heard this word in his lifetime. And we all enjoy that CeeLo Green song. I finally had to download the bowdlerized version because the kids liked the song so much and always wanted to sing it. I have long held the position that I don't really care what words are in songs the kids like, they're just words, we need not act like they have magic evil-summoning powers. But I also don't want to have many car-side conferences about my children's vocabulary.

(Fart is a really crude word. I would secretly rather he'd said fuck. At least that word has a tradition.)

Hank and I agreed that this unpleasantness would remain between the two of us. But of course when he wasn't around, I told Matt. We enjoyed the incident even more in the telling of it. Matt was like, "But her calling that the 'f-word' is the most adorable thing that has ever happened!" I was surprised he didn't get in the car, drive back to the school, and hug her neck. I mean, honestly.

Let's watch our language out there.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Tried a New Workout DVD Today

I have had this DVD lying around for actual years, and I never even put it in the player until today. It's the Tracey Anderson Method Mat Workout. Have you heard of this girl? She is, like, a fitness guru to the stars. I think saw her on Oprah one time with Gwyneth Paltrow. Since I pretty much do everything that Gwyneth Paltrow tells me to do, I ordered the DVD.

I just went to Amazon to look up the link for y'all, and I see that not only is the DVD no longer in print, Amazon will give me $14 if I trade it in. I am SURE that is more than I paid for it in the first place. And moreover, this is who I am: I will buy a workout video and keep it, untried, until it is a valuable collector's item, and then, only then, I will offer you a review of it.

I'm not sure how to describe this workout, exactly. It's not a full cardio-and-weight interval workout like my beloved Jillian Michaels regimen. It works on the large muscles in your hips and booty, then your upper arms and shoulders, and then your abs. For the first section, you stand holding on to a chair and do all kinds of leg lifts. In fact, I wish Tracey had mentioned that we'd need a chair for part of the workout, because I did the warm up and then she was like, "Now you need a chair for balance," and I had to go to the dining room and bring back a chair, which got me all out of my zone, you know.  So she takes you through all these different leg movements, which are great, because the leg you're lifting is working, and the leg you're standing on is working too. I was starting to sweat during this part, even though it's hardly high-speed or seemingly very intense.

Then she says you're going to do some standing ab work, but what happens is that Tracey Anderson does a sexy little dance while you try to figure out exactly what's going on with her body. I think it is some kind of rib isolation move, but she doesn't really explain it much. So I just boogied very, very awkwardly while she got her groove on. I think when I do the workout again, I'll substitute a different move.

Then she does this arm section. OMGFG SHAZBOT!!!1! I thought, no problem. She's not even holding weights, she's just standing there waving her arms in tiny little circles, like you would if you were casting spells with two magic wands simultaneously. So I'm doing it along with her, la la la, and then it feels like my arms are going to just snap off and fall to the floor. My shoulders felt like they were on fire. And she just kept on going, with her little gyrations and her cutesy pouty face. I mean, how long would you think you could hold your arms up? It shouldn't be a problem, right? But if I'm sore tomorrow, it is going to be from that. GEEZ.

Then we got down on our mat and did a bunch more leg lifting, which was mostly manageable until there was this crazy part where we're lying on our stomachs, Tracey and me, and we've got our knees bent and our heels together, and we're supposed to crunch our backs and booties and lift our legs off the mat, which is awesome for you but I feel like I'm going to the light. And I'm all, "HALP!" and she's like, "Oh yes, ahhh!"

This is where it helps to note that this is not a beginner's workout, I don't think. Or you can start it if you're new to working out, but there are large parts where you're not going to be able to approximate what is on the screen. I feel that I've gotten to where I can do 90% of this Tracey Anderson thing only after months of working out pretty regularly. Yet she doesn't say much about the difficulty level of what you're doing or the strength that it takes. For a real, true beginner, I think it could be discouraging.

Then there's a more traditional ab section on the floor, where you are doing crunches, but your legs are straight. Then she's like, "Let's cool down," and I'm like, "We've been at this for at least 45 minutes, I don't have time for a cool down. My children are hungry."

To sum up:

Some of the moves in this are probably very effective. One reviewer on Amazon said, "I saw great results. Especially in the butt area." Yes, I would say that's right.

This is a workout that your significant other will want to watch you do.

She is not the clearest at explaining what the exact form is, but the camera is on her the whole time, so you can just watch her and figure it out.

It is no substitute for a workout that actually gets your heart rate way up while working those large muscle groups, but I could see doing it a few times a week in addition to my Jillian ripping/shredding. It's different.

I've come to the conclusion that any workout works if you do it.

I am 1% more like Gwyneth now. And Madonna. Girls, call me.

That was one thing I did today. It's my parents' 43rd wedding anniversary. Also our garbage disposal stopped working. That was also a workout, though a way less sexy-looking one, unless you're into the big yellow gloves. LOLZ forever.

Happy Monday, y'all.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

En famille

A few snaps from Thanksgiving Day.

Uncle Larry and Hank, and Buddy
Hank showing Uncle Larry his scrapbook.

Larry and Hank


Laura
You know she's engrossed when she doesn't look at the camera.

Aunt Sande
Aunt Sande

Matt and his mama
Matt and Betty

Birthday present
Betty gave me a piece of Roseville for an early birthday.

Betty and Andy
Betty and Andy
Are you still afield or are you back in place? We got home tonight, pleasantly surprised by the not-crazy traffic. Though I do think the billboards on I-75 between Chattanooga and Atlanta are some of the tackiest in the world. Besides advertisements for various massages, "massage services," and massage-oriented truck stops, one giant billboard simply said, "Hell is real!" against a background of flames. Uh, thanks for that important message.

I loved seeing the 'Nooga folks, but I'm glad we're back tonight. I need a day to do laundry and gear up for a busy week. Or, alternately, I need a day to ignore laundry and watch tennis. Whichevah.

I hope you have a renewing Sunday. Hell is real!

No it's not.

xoxo
b

Friday, November 25, 2011

Silver Birds


Here are the birds, newly silvered and at home in Matt's mom's house. I like how they turned out. Silvery! Hank helped me paint them (in a well-ventilated area). We also painted a leaf wreath, an ugly pitcher from Michael's, and the toes of Hank's crocs. The shoes just got a light misting though.

Today was another quiet day on Signal Mountain. The weather seems lodged in some perpetual mid-October of sun and mildness. Matt and I played a set of tennis back behind the country club. The kids helped decorate Betty's Christmas tree. We were remarking that people seem to gravitate toward the same shape of Christmas tree every year. Don't you think? Betty likes the round fat variety and I like the tall conical ones.

Matt and I were all set for a night out on the town, then we got in the car and remembered that we don't need to spend money on a night on the town at this moment. Adulthood is dumb, gah. So we got out of the car and came back inside. The kids were glad to see us back so soon. Then I put on corduroys, watched The Devil Wears Prada, drank bottles of fizzy water, and threw my empties in the corner.

Not the bottle-throwing part.

This has become one of those blogs where I tell you what I did every day.

We did not shop. Did you? I was thinking about the time my dad accidentally went shopping on Black Friday.

We'll be back home in the ATL tomorrow evening. Signing off, stay sweet!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bed Geometry

Happy Thanksgiving to you Americans! The rest of you, why are you so ungrateful?

I kid. I hope you had a nice day wherever you are.

That picture up there, which I know you're thinking was surely done by a professional graphic designer, was actually created by me to illustrate for you the sleeping situation here in Matt's childhood home. He just isn't compatible with a foot board. It's a good thing that I am comfortable sleeping with my knees bent all night long, though sometimes I do stretch my legs out and entangle them with his feet, or nudge him to turn over and bend his knees. And yet, no worries, we make it work. See, our stick figures are smiling.

We slept in and Matt's mom got up with the kids. I knew they were watching the Macy's parade on TV when I heard Hank yell, "WHOA, THAT IS SNOOPY!" I don't know if he'd ever seen it before.

Then I got out of bed to drink a cup of coffee and peel and slice sweet potatoes. While doing that I snacked on homemade pimento cheese spread. Matt's brother came in with these little bruschettas topped with fig preserves, pear slices, bacon, and muenster cheese. Dear sweet Moses. Then before long, it was mimosa time while the meal came together.

We had:

turkey
green beans
spicy creamed spinach
sweet potato-cauliflower au gratin
mashed potatoes
dressing, with oysters and without
giblet gravy
grape salad
rolls
a pecan pie and a pumpkin pie

It was all delicious and I ate some of everything. Then we lounged around the living room and visited with Matt's aunt and uncle, who had brought the kids early Christmas presents. Laura opened and then read the entire new Wimpy Kid book in the blink of an eye. Hank put together a Lego alien space craft. I sat in a wing chair and murmured and sipped coffee. I may have unbuttoned my jeans, discreetly.

Then we played Ticket to Ride, then we watched some of Elf, then the kids went to bed. Then I blogged. Tomorrow we will surely be more active, but it was a truly lovely and classically Thanksgiving-y day. 

Wishing you a cozy night with your sweetie.
xoxo
B

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Unstructured

Tonight we're in the house Matt grew up in on Signal Mountain, in Chattanooga. We lived in this town for the first five years of our marriage, and I still love it, even though that time feels like several chapters ago. I'd live in Chattanooga again in a minute. Every time we come to Signal Mountain, I make Matt drive down this one street so I can see if my dream house is for sale. It looks kind of like a big green barn. Back years ago, before we left to live in California, it was for sale. And I remember that the price was $340,000, and I thought, "Well just ask for the moon, why doncha? As though anyone could afford that!"

I don't know if it is still my dream house, but it was for a long while. Different dreams for different times.

We have no fixed plans for the next few days, except tomorrow is starting with mimosas in the kitchen, and I have to throw together that grape salad that I had at the neighborhood luncheon where I heard that my friend uses face cream made of foreskins. I am also making sweet potato-cauliflower au gratin.

Laura's been out of school all week, and her swimming is on break, so I've loved having unstructured and relaxed time with the kids. Laura's gotten into watching tennis with me, because this week is the ATP World Tour finals in London. We have various crushes and antipathies for the top players, and we giggle and moon over them. Other than that and blogging and exercising, I have not been up to much.

One year ago exactly, I brought you this post on grampoo. It is still helpful as many of us are traveling away from home.

Have a nice day tomorrow! I will be checking in, obvs.
Smooch.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Newest Oldest Thing

granny's table
My great grandmother's table.
My dad and my Uncle John have taken to making furniture in my uncle's backyard workshop. Or I think they are mostly chatting and drinking beer back there, and sometimes, incidentally, a piece of furniture is produced. They call their venture Mo Goodnuff, Inc, and have gone to great lengths to create promotional materials and an intricate and colorful biography for their founder and guiding figure, that tower of adequacy, Mo Goodnuff.

If you think those two have too much time on their hands, shhh! They give me things!

So the other day I mentioned that I wanted a work table for my office, and Dad pulled his granny's old table out of the garage. It had been gathering dust out there my entire life. The last time I remember seeing it actually being used in our house, I was three or four years old.

granny's table before
Before.
It was in rough shape. The top is over a hundred years old, but the legs, Dad said, are only fifty years old or so. We agreed they should be painted. I love that it isn't a "farmhouse style" table, it is a farmhouse table. His people were farmers and this was their table.

Dad asked what color I thought for the legs and apron, and I said, "Get mom to pick out an antique gray." Some days went by. Then I got a text message with that top picture attached. "I ignored your color preference," it said. "If you don't like it, we'll keep it."

Isn't that service with a smile? He should really be a high-priced design consultant.

But I love the blue! Mom picked two colors from the Eddie Bauer paint line, Ballard Blue and Antique Blue.

granny's table


distressed
Authentically distressed.

I think they just cleaned and polyurethaned the table top, and it came back to life. The planks are cupped, but as Dad said, none of us will look perfect at 110.

I'm thrilled to have it. I just hope Mo Goodnuff delivers for free. From Florida.

Y'all cookin' today?

Monday, November 21, 2011

This Book Club Might Be A Tiny Bit Weird

There was no wine there, and it could have used some.

Earlier today I got an email addressed to the whole book club distribution list, about twenty people. It was from this lady whom I've never met or heard of, and it started out as just a note to let everyone know she wouldn't be at the meeting tonight. Even early in the message, though, I thought we might be riding a Crazy Train, because her explanation for missing the meeting was way too detailed. It's what we call a soft sign.

The hard sign came in the next paragraph, which read:
On a side note:  I'm sure everyone is wondering what happened at my daughter and son in law's home [in our neighborhood] last Monday and I'm aware that someone on [street] is causing alot of issues trying to find out. Please know that none of the neighbors nor their children were in any danger, we were very concerned for my son in law and fortunately everything has turned out well.  All I ask is that if you know someone is asking please ask them to respect my family's privacy as I know you all will. 
Um...do what now?

Hi Neighbor! Of what are you talking? I HAVE NOT THE PLEASURE OF UNDERSTANDING YOU.

The next message in my inbox was from Pretty Neighbor, forwarding me the above message with just a single comment: Why the face? I was all, it's like they WANT me to blog about them.

I'll just say that if her goal was for everyone to respect her family's privacy, this was an odd move, as it immediately caused a dozen people to leap onto the phone trying to scare up some information. I texted my tennis friend T, because she usually knows everything, and all she had was that there were five or six police cars outside this family's house on the day in question, and the wife of the house sitting cross-legged in the street. Pretty Neighbor's theory was Suburban Meth Lab, my theory tends toward Son-in-Law having a psychotic episode. Her saying that the neighbors weren't in any danger makes me think there was a gun involved. It seems clear that there is some episode of human pain and bad stuff behind this, but the way she aired it in this email is ridiculous.

When we got to book club, T opened with, "So what's up with that email?" Nobody had any hard intel, but EVERYONE said, "Why did she send that? None of us knew anything had happened OR were prying into it." Buzz buzz! But I bet they will do some prying now. If I were that woman's daughter (or son-in-law), I would be mortified.

Then there was, like, a book that we discussed, kind of. One of the organizers read aloud some of the questions in the "Readers' Guide" at the end of the paperback edition and people responded to them. I came clean right up front that I'd only read 106 pages of the book and I just couldn't get into it. This didn't seem to be a criterion for exclusion from the meeting. One girl said, "I know we've had meetings where nobody had finished the book." LOL. It sounded like the last half of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet might have been better, though. Sometimes in the discussion there were odd detours into unrelated subjects, but I think this is par for the book club course? It was fine.

I was glad Pretty Neighbor had finished the book, or we would have looked like assholes.

They were all nice ladies, even and especially the two older ladies who could not return my or Pretty Neighbor's calls for months. I enjoyed meeting them, and I enjoyed eating the snacks. Next month is The Red Queen, by that lady who has written a separate novel about every single Tudor, Lancaster, and York, or that's how it seems. Then, for January, I got them to agree to Serena, by Ron Rash. Yay!

Yes y'all, at my first book club meeting, I got a book on the schedule. Thug life.

xoxo
Me

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Well Then Come Right In

This evening at 5:55, Laura was at her friend's for a sleepover (she has the whole week off from school), Matt was in the basement working, Hank was finishing his first supper in the dining room, and I was walking in that mom circuit from the kitchen to the laundry room to the living room to the dining room. Do you have that circle in your house? I've worn a groove.

The doorbell rang. I opened it to see my two little foster children from two houses over, Conspiracy Guy's daughters. I greeted them. They never say anything at the door, like "Hello," until they're prompted. They just stand there with faces of mute expectation. After a moment they let it be understood that they wanted to come in and play with Hank.

Now, at 5:55 at my latitude today, it was dark. So I said, "Girls, do your mom and dad know you're here? It's dark, don't they want you at home now?" The little one shook her head. "They said we can stay until 7."

Oh, well that's all right then. Super, if your dad says that you can show up here at dark and stay for an hour, then what concern could I possibly raise?

Hank scrambled down from the bench and led them to the trampoline. After they'd jumped for about ten minutes, they all three filed through the back door, ready to begin the indoor play portion of the visit. I said, "Okay girls, it's nighttime. Time to go home!" And so they did.

(I probably would have let them stay out on the trampoline longer, but lately I have developed an intolerance for seeing able-bodied children sitting around on my furniture.)

Reader, if you had told your child that she could set out at dark to a neighbor's house and stay until 7pm, and then your child was sent home again in ten minutes, would you take any sort of lesson or mental note from that experience? 'Cause these people won't.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Stat Shot: Where Does That Guilty Feeling Come From?

Untitled


What's clouding your conscience?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Zip Zip Zip, From Tree to Tree

amy and me
Strapped.
Have you ever been on a zip line? Last month, when my sis and her family were visiting from Australia, four of us went zip lining in the Nantahala Gorge.

It is awesome. The first thing that happens is that you drive out into the woods. Seeing as you are already out in the woods, this will be a feat in itself. Then some rustic gentlemen help you don a complicated system of nylon straps. That is a novel experience in itself, potentially worth the price of admission. The gentlemen have names like Tbone, Porkpie, Grizzly, and Chad. One of them, perhaps Chad, will be playing an honest-to-God banjo while this is happening.

I liked the strapping-up part. Any safety fears I had went away when we got all that gear on our bodies. (Amy was still nervous though, I think.) Each strap could hold, like, a school bus, and it just feels pretty secure. And I first thought the helmet was unnecessary, but I can't tell you how many times I went on to conk my head against the cable.

Then we had a brief tutorial in how to start and how to stop. Starting is easy. But here's a fun fact: On a zip line, the brake is your gloved hand pushing down on the top of the cable. I was a little worried that there wasn't more technology involved. Push harder to stop faster. Do not grip the cable, however, as then your body will be traveling, quickly, away from your clenched hand, and your shoulder does not like that. I did that once, ouchy.

I had nervous butterflies for the first zip, but then it felt wonderful, not quite Segway wonderful because nothing in this mortal plain will ever feel that good, but still really good. Amy was a little scarified, so every time they would give us instructions or tell us about a line coming up, one of our guides would look at her and say, "Amy, don't freak out." Old Tbone and/or Chad really had an astute grasp on that girl's personality.

Hubbarts
Again, look at her selling it.
It's a great squirrel's eye view of the woods, but one tricky part is when you're out in the canopy and all ten or twelve people must stand on a platform the size of your kitchen table, if your kitchen table had a tree growing up through the middle of it. Your safety line is always clipped to a cable, but if you slipped off the edge, it would be a bruising experience.

Zipline platform
40 or 50 feet up.

Dave
My Zip Buddy, Brother Dave

zipline view
Up in the trees.
We did this for almost three hours, but I could have gone on longer. I discovered that by leaning way back in my harness and pulling my knees up, I could go faster, though sometimes this sent me in to slow spins that I could not control. And Amy was like, "How do you do that?" And I'm all, "I'm a natural."

Zipping


After Ziplining

Y'all, if you get a chance to do this, you should. It was great as a way to see the woods, and it was cool to get out and do something new and different with my people. We had lots of adventures that trip, actually. One thing I love about being in the mountains is that the adults get out and play. Aside: One of my favorite mountain memories ever was the time we found some fallen apples and took turns pitching them to each other and whacking them with a bat, just to see who could bust one into the most pieces. Then we went after some old potatoes. Why don't we do stuff like that all the time?

Here's a quick video my brother-in-law Jason took of me on our last zip run, which was about 600 feet. Or was it 600 yards? I dunno, it was really long. Observe my balletic grace. RIGHT?



Zip lining: gentle thrills and a fun time for all.

Love,
Me

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Few Little Projects

'Tis the season when I want to start spray painting crap. I've blogged about spray painting things white,  and I pondered whether to paint my owl lamp (it's in its pristine state as of this writing). This year I did not paint any pumpkins, as I have in the past, so I have an itchy trigger finger. Meet the next victims.

birdies

Anyway, this is becoming one of those spray painting blogs, but I can't help it, because I did not dumpster dive these birdies, my mother-in-law brought 'em to my house and said, "Help me figure out what color to spray paint these guys." Then she left them with me so I could study their personalities. What I've decided is that they want to be silver for Christmas.

This might be a good time to review my post from last year, How Tacky Do You Let Yourself Get For The Holidays. Pretty sure we decided that the sky's the limit. So those guys are going to be silver, and this very unremarkable metal wreath I have that doesn't show up against my front door, it's going to be silver too. Anything else that gets in my way?

Silver.

Also around the house, I've been slowly getting my dining room and office together following their repainting. I think that was in September? Geez. But these things need to ripen. I've had a few big fabric panels sitting folded on a shelf, like forever, that I wanted to frame and hang. The other day I finally did. These two are Marimekko, and as you can see they're the same design in different colorways.

marimekko panels

Here's a better view of where I'm going to put them, both together on that wall. I wanted a big bold thing going on there, and I think these fit that bill.

dining room in progress

After I got them onto the stretchers, I texted my friend David a picture of them and said, "I'm thinking of putting these right next to each other on the same wall. Or have I lost my mind? Talk me down." He said, "In theory, that's nuts. But I'm seeing it. Do it." So I'm going to hang them. I've left them leaning together against the wall so I could try them on, but now I'm ready.

I also framed the fabric I bought at Ikea that time my sister threatened to punch a guy. That's going in my office. I'll show a pic when I get it all together.

If you have a piece of fabric you'd like to make a wall hanging of, it is dead simple. You just need four of those wooden stretcher pieces (they have them at Michael's or art supply stores), an iron, and a staple gun. The trick is figuring out which part of the image to show, and then getting it straight on the stretchers. Then it's easy peasy lemon squeezy.

And if you have any little pieces left over and you don't want to waste them, you could do what my sister did and put them in embroidery hoops. Like so. This is in my sunroom.

embroidery hoops

I'm going to give this treatment to some old toddler t-shirts and sentimental things of the kids' that I still have. Like, cut out the design and put it in a hoop, then hang it on Hank's wall and leave it there until he goes to college. Then after he drives away, I'll walk into his empty room and sit on his bed. Then my eyes will land on the little embroidery hoop containing a piece of his old "100% Love" shirt, and then I'll have a good soaking cry. So thanks for that, embroidery hoops.

(I should say that my finally getting to the fabric panels was inspired by Aimee and her excellent 30 Days of No Procrastination project. Props to her!)

Y'all got any Holiday craftiness going on?

xo
b

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Mean I Really Love That Thing

Are you familiar with the Tervis Tumblers? I swear, this is not a paid post but it totally should be, because I have a significant and meaningful Personal Brand Relationship with Tervis Tumblers and I strive to be a Thought Leader in this area. Ooh, and I just saw on that website that the 16 oz. size comes with a handle now!

Okay, so these are these plastic cups that don't sweat, whatever. I have a set of six of them, and they're basically the glasses we use all day long now. Though I have six tumblers, I have only one snap-on travel lid. It is red. And by some unspoken understanding, nobody in the house uses it but me. I make a to-go coffee in the morning to fortify me for the preschool drop-off, I take a glass of water with me to my workout, and I've even been known to take a travel cocktail out of the house in my Tervis tumbler. That travel lid enables a non-stop beverage party.

Yet I only have one. Sometimes I can't immediately lay a hand on it and it takes a moment to find it. When my eyes alight on its red contours, hidden in the top rack of the dishwasher or in a drawer, I feel glad. It is just a piece of plastic, but I feel fondly towards it. That travel lid is my sturdy and good friend.

Twice now, TWICE, I have stood in a store where Tervis travel lids were sold, on the brink of buying another lid. It seems like a smart and prudent idea, in the moment, to double my supply of lids and perhaps avoid the pain of needing it and not having it. The way that parents of babies who use pacifiers strive to distribute NUKs in an even layer all over the house.

But I have picked up the new lid, held it, and put it back on the rack. Twice I have done this. My fear is that, once it is not a unique object that some dedicated portion of my brain keeps track of, but is a duo of identical objects, I won't pay attention to either one and they'll be clutter and I won't have a lid when I want one.

Is this, like, Brain Science? Or just my weirdness? I'm going to say that it is science. Please someone come along with a relevant citation, kthx!

It makes me think of that old nugget about how a man with one watch always knows what time it is, but a man with two watches is never sure. Oh yes, it's exactly the same.

Are there any unique objects in your house that you feel this way about?

My sister's post today is far more interesting and is awesomely about how her brain works. You should really read that post instead of this one.

(Too late, heh.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Those People Are Not My People

There is a certain species of parent who seems to crave attention and approval from her child's coaches and teachers. Attention and approval not for her child, even, but for herself.

Have you observed this?

This afternoon at Hank's karate class, I witnessed an especially squirmy sub-type of the attention-hogging parent. I don't even know what to call it. The mom who wants validation of her mothering from the youngish male karate instructor. The mother who wants to have just-us-girls laughs with this dude about the humdrum details of her domestic existence (that's what blogging is for, duh). And this karate teacher is like, a dude's dude, but in that also-great-with-little-kids way, so I could kinda see why she thought he might want to pull up a chair in her kitchenette and listen to how totally bananas everything is at her house right now, how she's just a cute poster kitten on a tree branch Hanging In There, but he does not want to pull up that chair. He does not.

Hank and I were at the dojo early. They like the parents to hang around and watch the class, because sometimes we help hold pads and stuff. I had just come from working out, so I was already parked in a chair having my cool down, and Hank was already in his place sitting on the edge of the mat, when the second mom came in. She was all blustery and hausfrau'd, with an actual red face from blustering around. Like, everything she does is done with maximum effort and you better know it. She made a whole kabuki thing out of finding her son's index card in the little file and all the other pre-class business, talking to herself at normal conversational volume the whole time. The teacher greeted her son, and she took that as an invitation to start talking in his direction. I had not yet tuned in to her actual words, but gradually the tones of their voices made me look up from my ancient Veranda magazine.

Blustery lady was standing at the edge of the mat, and Mr. Karate was standing on the mat facing her, but looking at a spot maybe to one side of her knees. I'm not sure of this guy's age. He could be 28 or he could be 35. It was clear that he'd given her his attention for a moment and was now trying to withdraw it. She said, "As if our lives aren't crazy enough!" I don't know what this was in regards to, but she clearly hoped he'd encourage her to go on. What he did was to look over at the children coming in the door and begin to shift his attention in that direction. I knew before she spoke again that she was going to repeat herself, and she did: "AS IF OUR LIVES AREN'T CRAZY ENOUGH!" At this point I began to feel a painful embarrassment for her, sympathy for him, and just pure pleasure to already be installed in a comfortable chair for this performance. I mean, I don't think I can convey the awkwardness of this.

When she spoke in that heightened tone, he dragged his eyes back to her and made some slight noise of encouragement. She never let him speak a whole word, but took that as her cue to launch into a long brag disguised as exasperation about how her son is now part of some science olympics thing, in which he is going to study rocks. I don't know, but it involves fourteen practices. She kept repeating that, "FOURTEEN practices." The way I have just told it to you is electrifying compared to her narration.

Then, THEN, the teacher, who I know used to be a geologist before he began teaching karate, opens his mouth and says, "I'll bring in some of my nice rock samples for him..." AND SHE DOES NOT LET HIM FINISH. She talked over, sideways, and through him, on and on. All on the theme of gracious sakes, she is the busiest mother in the world! It was so rude. And so BORING. I mean, you would have faked your own death at about nine points in this monologue. And the whole time, her body language was strangely aggressive, she was leaning forward into the mat, his space, and projecting at top volume. Aggressive, but there was a little Kathy-Bates-in-Misery about her too. ODD.

And oddly transfixing. I might have let my mouth fall open a little bit. I know because I saw myself do it in the giant entire-wall mirror.

It is a delicate distinction that I'm not getting across, but her performance wasn't that of someone who just talks too damn much all the damn time, it was that she somehow needed validation from Mr. Karate for all her hard work.

Fortunately, before Mr. Karate had to gnaw his leg off to get away, enough other kids came in that her effect was diluted. I kept my eye on her the entire class. Like, seriously, I kept looking over at her to see if she was going to do something crazy.

So I'm not sure if she is a subspecies of the Attention Hogging Parent, but she might be. What has your fieldwork in this area gleaned?

I think that, from the point of view of Laura's, and now Hank's, various coaches, I probably come off as almost aloof. I think it's partly because I want to bend over backward to not get in the coach's business. I don't want them to think that I need them to be my friend, or that I want to pump them for info/praise of my child, or that my idea of my own or my child's worth is even based on their impression of my child's performance. Whew, I will tell you, the mental gymnastics I've got going on over here are exhausting. But do you know what I mean? All of this adds up to a relationship conducted in a pleasant but distant mode.

But clearly, other parents have a different approach. They're the ones buttonholing the coach the minute he appears at the pool/field/court, preventing him from attending to the group with some unnecessary story of Aunt Fanny and a Russian sleigh ride. Then they're engaging the coach's attention whenever possible during the practice, then they're trailing after him and standing by his car, complaining or fishing for compliments or just chewing the air.

Speak to me of this.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mattress Open

Sometimes you lie down in your five year-old's room at bedtime and then three hours go by. Then you awaken, hot and resentful, a possible crick in your neck. Yes, a "crick." Do you suffer from these or is it a Southern malady? C-R-I-C-K. So I got me a big ol' crick in my neck and I'm lying there out of sorts and then the knowledge that I have to blog pulls me to alertness, gets me to my feet, and brings me in here to you, Reader.

I was dreaming that Matt put all the beds in the house on the living room floor, and we hosted a wrestling tournament called the Mattress Open. True dream.

In real life I would push for it to be a bit more Mattress Invitational.

Earlier, Pretty Neighbor asked me what I'd been up to today and I could not give a satisfactory answer. I do know that I went to her house for our twenty-five minute workout and it took two-and-a-half hours. First we had our preliminary chatting, which is tinged with procrastination. Then our combined five children, who are all in the house, needed to seek our attention for various things. Then we actually worked out. Then we drank a beer and had postliminary chat while it got dark. Some days that twenty-five minute workout can take as little as thirty five minutes to complete, but other days, we need the long form. I think everything in my day must have been similarly time-inflated.

She is farther along in Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet than I am, and she is not finding it so execrable, so I recommitted to finishing it.

The news of the evening was that Laura has been cast as Jacob Marley in the 5th grade performance of A Christmas Carol. This is somehow hilarious to Matt and me, and Laura is tickled. She feels that finding the exact right piece of chain will help her get to the emotional core of the character, and her "Scroooooge!" is really something to hear. Think of a pretend ghost from Scooby Doo, one unmasked by Shaggy and Velma at the end of the episode. Got it? You're there.

She wears the chains she forged in life.

For supper, I'd made a split pea soup that only Matt and I liked. Hank asked if it was "frog toes boiled in frog juice."

Somebody must have been boiled in brat juice.

Maybe I will be back tomorrow with something, anything, to say. Please continue to rock onward.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sugar And/Or Spice, As Needed

laura at dusk

One time way back in my blogging career, I got an email from a reader--nobody I knew--asking if it hurt Laura's feelings that I obviously favored Hank and that I might want to think about blogging about her more to balance things out and in addition I might want to examine my inner self to root out the source of this unfairness.

I was like, UM HUH WHAT NOW? And then I hit delete.

People on the internet can be so generous with their opinions. Their crazy, crazy opinions.

Can you imagine?

But let's check in with Laura. What is she up to?

Mostly swimming. A month ago, her swim coach called me and said he wanted to move her up to the next team. She was eager to do it, so I wasn't about to say no. This means a lot more swimming for her. They want 6-8 practices over each two-week period, and the practices are from 5:45-7:30, and now consist of a thirty minute dry-land workout, then an hour and fifteen minutes of swimming. It's a lot. And it's a logistical puzzle for me, the getting her there, and deciding whether to leave again or wait, to take Hank or not, when to feed everyone, etc. I am getting the Home Ec issues worked out, and Hank taking karate next door helps some too.

With this ramp up in commitment, we are now at that point that I think a lot of kids reach in their various activities at 10 or 11, it's kind of an up-or-out moment. Laura is enjoying it and shows no signs of burn-out, the exercise is unbeatable, and I've read and bought into that book Positive Pushing, so we are going for it.

Her week is pretty packed. She has chorus after school on Monday, and tennis on Wednesday, and then swimming the other three days. It doesn't feel like too too much, though, because chorus and tennis don't require extra transportation. That's the key for me. I feel like being in the car too much drains our life force.

Oh, this is fun: Laura and her friend are going to sing a duet in the school talent show, "What Is This Feeling" from Wicked. It's the "Loathing" song that the two sister witches sing. It's very funny, a perfect number for two sassy girls to do. Her friend's mom is fairly musical, and she said to bring Laura over and she'd help them learn their parts. I took Laura over there today, and they have a white baby grand piano in their living room. Handy for such occasions as these. When you see a grand piano, do you want to go over and drape yourself across it? Just me?

When I came back to pick her up, they did their act for me and I was amazed at how great they're doing. They have to audition in early December (this is serious business for elementary school) and then the performance isn't until February. I will try to arrange a live webcast of this event. In the car, Laura said, "Casey's mom has an Emmy! Lots of them! I got to hold one." And I was like, "She has an Emmy for music?!? She told me she was a music minor in college!" And Laura said that no, they're from her work at the Weather Channel. Oh, okay.

I think that white baby grand piano turned my head around. Gracious.

In her free free time, Laura is watching Biggest Loser on Hulu, and reading Beverly Cleary's autobiography, A Girl from Yamhill. She is also known to write a number 13 on her hand with marker, because that's what Taylor Swift does. And from dawn until bedtime, she never, never stops talking.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's All Ball Bearings Now

Last weekend I mentioned that I had tried and failed to fix one of our toilets, and that Matt brought home a kit of new toilet tank parts. Actually, he brought home two because our downstairs toilet takes two hands to flush. He thought since we were fixin' toilets, we'd do that one too. So the bag containing the two toilet kits sat in my breakfast room all week. We find that these chores need time to season.

This afternoon, though, I said, "Honey, do you feel like poking around in the toilet?" I thought it would be relatively simple to swap the bad parts for good ones. But he was upstairs for a really long time, then came down and went straight out the door to the hardware store. He came back empty-handed and said they didn't have what he needed. Then he went down to research the problem on the internet. I guess he was watching YouTube videos? I stayed away because I didn't want any part of the job to adhere to me. Then there was some more toilet-study time in the bathroom and then a second trip to Home Depot. By now it was getting dark. I had folded laundry, watched both of the semifinal matches from the ATP Paris tournament, gone to the grocery store (taco night!), and read the entire September Elle, the one with Gwyneth on the cover, all while the toilet situation was unfolding. So we both had important jobs to do.

Taco Night was well underway when Matt returned from the store, but he had business with both toilets. Then he stepped into the kitchen to give me a status report. Because he is the way he is, the report started with a lesson in toilet anatomy. Apparently there's a flush valve and a fill valve, and each toilet had a different thing wrong, and replacing the relevant valves was made difficult by our toilets' antique status. It seems that in the fifteen years since this house was built, toilet technology has moved on, and the inside of a toilet tank looks very different.

I asked him what he meant, and he started explaining about how something called the "ball cock" was this and that and they don't do it that way anymore, and he just kept saying "ball cock" and I was tittering and saying, "Stop saying 'ball cock' hee hee!" and laughing like an eleven year-old Japanese girl. Ball cocks! And he went on because I think he was still honestly trying to get me to understand the technology. Then he reached an absolute crescendo that involved this actual sentence being said by him, "So, with the ball cock you really need to jiggle it, but the one with just the shaft and ring should take care of itself just fine."

!!!

I looked at him, looked deep into his soul to see if he was just messing with me, but he's a hard one to read.

Ball cock.

Sorry.

Jiggle it.

Okay, done.

So I think the toilet situation is resolved? The issue of my juvenile sense of humor is unresolved.

Did you have a good day? It was pretty low key here. I also took Hank to an early karate class--it was at 9 and I just never get out that early on a weekend morning, then I did some parental admonishing and adjudicating, cleaned the kitchen forever, straightened all the things, and ate a tablespoonful of Bonne Maman cherry preserves. Which is the best store-bought jelly. Listen to me, "store-bought." Like I am one of the freaking Waltons.

Good night, Johnboy!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Inappropriate Attire

Guess who was a minute late for preschool drop-off at the curb, and had to park and walk her child in wearing shortie compression shorts, her husband's sweatshirt, and Uggs? WINNING. I mean, these shorts, you put them on and you're still not really wearing pants. Perhaps I should not have set out into the world dressed this way, but I do not make my best decisions first thing in the morning. When I walked back into the house in this ensemble, Matt looked me over and said, "Well, I mean, each of those is technically an item of clothing. I don't see a problem."

Then, tonight, we had our mixed doubles practice at 7. It was nippy, somewhere down in the 40's, so I pulled on these spandex-y running leggings.


Yes, they have a sort of an outrageous tie-dyed pattern, but what are we, Amish? I thought they were cute, and they have a fuzzy lining, very cozy. But the following remarks were addressed to me by my lady teammates:

1) "I have to ask you where you got those." This was said not in a "I want some for myself" kind of way, but more in a "The selling of those pants is a crime against humanity and I want to know where to address my letter of protest" kind of way.

2) "Is there even a pocket in those?" No, that's what the jacket is for.

And, my favorite, from the "is there a pocket" girl's husband, who was not even playing on my court at that moment and spoke to me out of nowhere:

"Are those pants comfortable?" he said. I don't know exactly how to characterize this utterance, except it was odd to be addressed about one's pants by a male acquaintance. I answered that they were comfortable. Perhaps he wanted to seek out the male version for his own use? Or perhaps he's in the garment business and it was an impromptu focus group? Not sure. Then he spoke to me one other time while I was serving, some non sequitur, and I smiled at him and said, "You play on your court, and we'll play on ours." I said it sweetly 'cause I'm a lady and all.

But the Nike running pants are apparently some kind of Federal Case. WHATEVER, BITCHES. I can't help it if I'm fabulous.

Just classin' up the burbs on a Friday.

Weather has turned chilly, though it's still so beautiful and sunny. The trees were wonderful here this last week; it takes a long time for the oaks down here to get to peak color. Now the leaves are dropping like crazy. There's already a lot more light coming through the trees into my breakfast room. I have to get used to the way winter looks again.

Also, winter is going to look like my tie-dyed spandex ass. Maybe I will wear these to bookclub.

What have y'all got going on this weekend? Raking?
xo
b

Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Update On Some Lovable Characters

This was baby Hank in his first Halloween costume, a ferocious bear.

Costumed
Rawrr.

And here is my nephew Gabriel making that costume his own.


Urge to squeeze him...overwhelming! Seeing him in that bear suit, I know that my heart will go on. I love seeing the kids' hand-me-downs on other kids in the family. He and Hank do look remarkably alike to me. Anyway, Baby G continues to grow in stature and wisdom. I have a couple of little video clips from our time together in the mountains last month. If you like things that are adorable, you might want to watch.



Genius baby. Watch in high def for maximum cute.

And here is my sister absentmindedly holding him while I film her. This was pretty much the scene. One of us holding him and somebody else capturing the moment.



Baby Gabriel
G checks out Matt.
Hmm now. My post title promised you "characters" plural and I have only given you one baby character. Let's see. I've also been meaning to tell you how Normal Neighbor is doing with her cancer treatment. When I last mentioned her, she was in consultation about whether to have this somewhat investigative procedure. She and the surgeon decided not to do that (whew) and instead to do radiation therapy targeted at this one remaining lymph node. So she is about halfway through her 30 treatments right now.

When she was telling me the treatment plan, she was dreading the daily driving down into the city, and I agreed that it was an awful grind. But get this: some folks from her husband's club (he's a golf pro) have given her a car service. A large black man in a large black cadillac picks her up every morning and drives her to Emory, over an hour away. That has got to be the greatest gift you can give someone in that situation. Just awesome. These same friends have also got someone cleaning her house. Those friends are good friends to have.

So I think she is going to be okay, and that this will be the last thing. I hope it is. Her treatment has dragged on longer than mine did. It has been this entire year. At this point, my cancer treatment seems kind of like a bad weekend I had once.

Another lovable character: Frenemy Neighbor. One weekend night lately, Matt and the kids and I were up at the tennis courts. Matt and I were playing in earnest and the kids were whacking balls around. FN texted and asked if Laura could play, so I told her to just bring P up to the courts and the girls could hit. FN gets there, and instead of making the drop-off, saying hi, and leaving, she hangs on the fence and wants to talk to Matt and me. Now, we had not left our court positions and showed no inclination to chat. We were engaged in the playing of tennis. The fact that we kept calling out the score and playing points could have been a clue. But she was all talky talk talk with the talking. And then, THEN, a new and unsuspecting neighbor wandered up, and she turned her attention away from us and proceeded to suck the very life out of him. I enjoyed watching it, because what he was going through was what I must have looked like six years ago when we moved here. She gave him the full interrogation, whipping out her phone to enter his and his wife's contact info and quizzing him on their occupations and livelihood. She left him a desiccated husk. I say that in a loving way. She lovingly sucked the life out of him and I'm lovingly reporting it to you. I am all about the love.

So now you are up to date on some of the haps.
xo
b

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

And This Is A Problem Because...

hank with balloon

Hank's pre-K class has been having parent conferences and my turn was last week. His teacher, Miss L, led me to a coffee shop they have there in the church/school. It is called Holy Grounds. Yes it is.

So I am bright and eager to have this conference because I always love to chat about my kids, but I am not in any great suspense as to his "readiness" or academic performance. I can tell he is happy and busy there, and unlike last year, there is no fussing about going to school, praisallujah, so that is truly all the academic performance I care about.

Miss L began, "Hank is a very creative thinker, and I can tell that he really thinks about things." I can tell there is a "but" coming from the moment she opens her mouth.

As the wise PeeWee Herman hath said, "Everybody's got a big but."

"But," she continued, "he is very easily distracted." Full stop. I was caught up short because I was kind of waiting for something worse, like, "But...he shows a tendency towards cannibalism." I don't know, something. I asked her what she meant, and she explained that when he has work to do, like a worksheet that involves cutting and matching and gluing or something, he takes forever. I think that was her word, he takes forever because he will dawdle and draw the task out. She cited a time when a worksheet called for scissors and markers, and Hank sat and figured out every way to play with the scissors and markers together instead of starting on the work. Miss L said that, often, in order for a task to get finished, she has to sit with him and prompt him to focus on each step. Now cut, now match, now glue, now color, whatever. Miss L said, "Is he like that at home?"

"No," I said. "But we don't give him worksheets to do at home."  She said, "Well how about when you give him a job to do, like pick up his toys?" I said, "Well, I ask him to do a discrete thing, like put the blocks in the box or pick up legos, and then I have to prompt him about twice before the job is done, which is par for a five year-old boy, I think."

She seemed a bit skeptical that I wasn't engaged in a daily struggle with The Problem of Hank's Dawdling.

It was instantly clear to me what is going on: Hank, when faced with a task he is not interested in, is giving it the slow play in hopes that the task will vanish or be de-prioritized. Miss L's point is that a child should learn to quickly dispatch with the "have-to's" (her phrase) to get to the "want-to's." That is no doubt true, but I've certainly never learned it and I don't think that particular virtue exists anywhere in my genetic line. We are all of us a bunch of dawdlers, doodlers, and noodlers. We make up for these defects with what other modest strengths we possess.

I said, "Do you think that what you're seeing is his resistance to doing the work?" I outlined briefly how, in his four year-old class, there had been an excessive amount of "tablework" and that Hank sometimes dug in his heels about it. I told her that those teachers had some less-than-effective techniques of managing it, and had once put him in time-out for not finishing his work in a timely way. And that time-out was just fine with him if it meant he could not do what they were asking. I did not tell her that he said, "I don't care, my mama loves me no matter what."

Miss L said she would never put a child in time-out for that reason, but that there wasn't a lot of this kind of work expected of them, and she wanted them to finish it. She talked about how this is a huge part of Kindergarten readiness--the ability to stay on task--and that if he didn't improve, he would be "lost next year" with the longer, busier day. At this point I said an inner "oh please." I just don't think so.

Now, before we say this teacher is crazy or has unreasonable expectations, I should make it clear that I think this is a much, much better program than his previous one. The amount of "written" work that comes home is very small. They are not a sweatshop of cutting and gluing like they were in the fours' class. They have an enriched curriculum going on, he is very into it and comes home talking about things they're learning and doing. It is not the crunchy U of Cal preschool that Laura was in, but it is good.

I guess I don't disagree that she is getting kids ready for Kindergarten. It's more that if a kid like Hank is not considered "ready" for Kindergarten, then Kindergarten needs to be different. I was telling Pretty Neighbor, I guess I am That Mom. Maybe you can't tell me anything about my kids that I will think is a problem. Or that's not true, it's just that my values for him are very different at this point. To me, the entire conference could have answered these three questions, the most important ones in my mind:

1) Is he happy during the day?
2) Is he sociable and kind?
3) Does he take correction or redirection cheerfully and easily?

That's kind of it. I just don't have any worries about the other stuff. I know his mind could light up this town, and believe me, when he wants to stay on task, the kid stays on task. He is like his daddy: infinite focus for what is important to him, you have to drag him by the feet for the rest. I mentioned this to Miss L, and she asked what Matt does for a living. I told her that he's a video game developer, and she got a look on her face like, "Okay, I guess that's a job." I loved that moment.

She did say that when he does it, his work is good, and in her "baseline assessment" of his development and abilities, he aces almost everything. He missed one question. When shown a picture of a frog, a key, a sun, and a mop, and asked, "Which do you have if you start with "turkey" and take away "tur"? Miss L said that Hank said "Turnip!" and laughed as though he'd told a joke. So he kinda missed the point there.

Longest post ever. And if I were new to this blog, I would be thinking, "Oh, this mom has one of those difficult kids who, while bright, is a total handful she is expecting the world to love dealing with." But I swear it's not true! Hank is the sweetest little guy in the world, and the most agreeable. But I would say that, gah!

And Miss L did appreciate his virtues. She commented on "what a nice little boy" he is and how he has an "interesting, almost adult vocabulary." When she described his vocabulary as "interesting," I assumed it's because he's been singing "Boom Boom Pow" at school again. It's his favorite song. You haven't really heard that song until you've heard Hank sing, "Them chickens be jockin' my style, they try to copy my swagger, I'm on that next shit now."

Okay, so okay. This issue of Hank being "easily distracted" is a thing and Miss L thinks it is a problem. So I told her that I would reinforce with him at home about how, when given a chore to do, even if it seems complicated or you aren't that into it, it is good to do your best and not waste time. And that is where we left it.

Then I came home and told Matt all about it, which required me to say, "I don't know, it's just that..." a lot. I don't know if Miss L and I got on the same wavelength or not. Am I weird? And Matt commented that I was missing the hippy preschool of yore and I said yes, everything was child-led there, which worked just fine for us. There can be no dawdling when dawdling is the point.

Another way of looking at this situation, for you Meyers-Briggs aficionados out there, is that most teachers are SJ's, and we are a family of N's. It is a problem, you know?

He is having fun and I'm going to keep him in this pre-K, but this teacher be jockin' our style.

I apologize for the length of this post; I did not have time to write a shorter one.

I love you all.
b

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

But When You Rub It, It Turns Into a Suitcase

Today the captain of our ladies' tennis team had a lunch at her house for us to celebrate the end of our season. Not that we had a particularly triumphant season, but that we got through it and nobody cried. This girl is wrapped a little tight--she's an anxious perfectionist about her house--but is a genius cook. These are good traits in a luncheon hostess. She made all the food herself: butternut squash soup, two different kinds of small quiches, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, grape salad, champagne. Simple, but good and lunchy. That's not what I came in to tell you though.

While we were eating--we were just eight at the table--my partner T told us that she uses a face cream made with cells from human foreskins. She was all, "I use a face cream made of foreskins. Yes, you know, foreskins. More prosciutto anyone?"

I enjoyed hearing this fact. So this is a thing? I thought it was only an episode of Nip/Tuck. We all complimented her on her skin at that point, and it is very lovely. The funny thing is that she is not the character you would expect to bust out with that personal grooming tidbit. I figured her for a Noxema girl, straight up.

Then talk turned to our tennis coach. She is what any non-stone blind observer would recognize as a butch lesbian. But she is long married to a man and is the mother of three children with him. She has home schooled them all and coached them to be excellent tennis players. This situation needed discussing, since we don't usually get together when we are not in her presence. I confessed that I found her kind of attractive, or that I responded to her masculine aspects. Several heads around the table were nodding. Then that situation needed discussing.

Then I got the name and price of the foreskin serum from T and then that was lunch.

Any interesting chat in your day?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Smell-O-Vision

Hank had some new playdough the other day, and I sat down at the breakfast table to open it up with him. I opened the first jar and held it up to my nose. I took a sniff, and as I did, I saw a face in my mind. It was as clear as could be, like a picture flashed on a screen. An older, almost elderly lady with white hair in an old-fashioned bouffant style, a smiling face, and crinkly eyes. Who was that? I closed my eyes and sniffed again. Same face in my mind's eye.

I lost track of what Hank was saying for a moment as I thought about that face. I was searching my memory for who that could be, or I don't know how to describe what I was doing. It was that strange mental operation you carry out when you're trying to place someone, a process that seems like feeling around in the dark, but which must have some logic and method that is hidden from us.

Very quickly it came to me that in my Kindergarten class, there had been an assistant teacher, and it was her face I was seeing. I just knew it. Now, I remember my head Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Gainey, very well, even though I was just four years old when I started school. But I swear to you, in thirty-some years I had never thought or remembered that there had been another teacher in the classroom that year. I couldn't remember her name and I can't now, but it was like the memory warmed in my hands and I knew it was right.

I've read here and there about smell being the sense most strongly linked to memory, and especially to long-term emotional memories. Something to do with the olfactory organ being part of the limbic system. I have often had a smell remind me of another time and place, but I have never had an intact, out-of-nowhere, and wholly forgotten memory surface like that.

I've smelled playdough countless times in my life. So what brought up her face right then? Maybe it was the added nudge of sitting down at the table with a little child? I don't know, but it is kind of mysterious and wonderful to me, the way the mind works.

Just the day before, I'd had one of my standard conversations with Laura, along the lines of, "Right now your brother worships you, and when you are both old, he will be your best friend. Daddy and I will be gone and you and Hank will be the only ones who remember each other as children. How you treat him now will matter all your lives. If you are dismissive of him or contemptuous of him on a regular basis, now while he's little and you have all the power, he might not exactly remember later but he will put the feeling in his heart."

Okay it reads a little heavier than it came off. But Hank overheard part of this and said, "What do you mean put feelings in your heart?" So I tried to talk about how we remember and learn from feelings and experiences that happen even when we're just babies. So then the playdough moment happened, and I thought, "Do we really forget anything, or is it all still there in some occult way?"

Anyway, this is fascinating to me. Has something like this happened to you? Tell me. Or write about it on your blog and come tell us so we can go read.

xo
B