Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fun Toy Flursday: Cakewrecks

Tomorrow, we head up to the mountain house for the long weekend. A beloved friend from California is joining us, and we are bringing three computers, despite the fact that there is no internet up there. I guess you could say maybe we should be staying home and working? Oh well. Meanwhile, in honor of Matt's birthday this weekend, I offer you Cakewrecks, a collection of ill-conceived and/or poorly executed cakes. Please go have a slice of awesome.

Enjoy the weekend and stay sweet!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

So Much More Earth-Loving Than I Thought

I was just flipping through the "Fashion Rocks" supplement to Vanity Fair. I wish I had a parakeet, because that magazine needs to be on the bottom of a birdcage. But what caught my eye was a picture of some lovely hydrangeas in a vase, labeled "organic hydrangeas" from a fancy flower shop in NYC. The arrangement can be yours for $175. Hmm, I thought. Really? Now, a healthy organic rose garden would be a real accomplishment. But hydrangeas? It's not like they're hard to grow. Then I realized: our policy of neglecting or minimally maintaining our yard and flowering trees, shrubs, etc., means that everything that grows out there is organic!

Here are some hydrangeas from the giant bush next to our front door. I love these flowers, they grow like crazy, and I literally gave them away in buckets all spring. If you visited in March or April and stood still long enough, I probably placed a container of hydrangeas right on top of you. Excuse me, I mean, organic hydrangeas. And apparently I was way undercharging my neighbors. So I've got that going for me.

The $175 bouquet was on a page of fashion and decorating ideas supposedly inspired by Devendra Banhart. Now, he may be all tasteful and edgy and darling, but I doubt he's like, "Natalie, get me some hydrangeas like my Granny used to grow!"

Matt's and my only deliberate foray into organic yard care was the "organic fertilizer" he put on the front lawn. Lesson: organic fertilizer is dung, folks. Like, as in poop. So now when it rains it smells like the county fair out there. I guess we were the last people to know this. Our grass is a whole other post, but I won't do that to you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Beauty Autobiography: Sell a Child and Buy This Stuff

When I woke up this morning, and saw myself in the mirror, my first thought was, “Who is that enchanting vixen? Her pores are microscopic!” So I decided to tell y'all of my love for Origins skincare. Specifically, for the Dr. Weil Plantidote Mega-Mushroom products. (No, I did not make up that name, and I am not getting paid for this endorsement, but I am not against the idea. . .take a note, Origins).

Let’s just say the Lord laid it on my heart to tell you this. Plus, is having an awesome deal right now (more below). First, a brief history:

Through much of my twenties, my skincare regimen was minimal. In the shower, I washed my face with Dove soap. Then at night, I blotted it with a wet cloth. Then I used this Olay alpha-hydroxy lotion. This was when alpha-hydroxy and fruit acids had just been invented. Also, dirt was new and God’s dog was a puppy. Anyway, I thought that it was all about constantly sloughing off layers of skin. Or sometimes I didn’t do ANYTHING at night and tumbled, carefree, straight into bed. I only wore sunscreen when I was at the actual beach. So I looked fine, but who doesn’t in her twenties?

It dawned on me in my late twenties and early thirties, after having my first child, that I needed to, um, try a little. While I was actually pregnant, I felt like Charlize, but afterwards, not so much. My skin no longer felt as smooth as an angel’s bosoms. I hardly EVER wear foundation or anything like that, so how my skin looks all by itself is a big deal to me. Thus began a long relationship with Neutrogena products: Pore Refining Cleanser, Anti-Wrinkle cream, and Antioxidant this and that. I was naturally skeptical of more expensive stuff, and I figured that drugstore products were good enough. I was all about minimizing my pores and preventing wrinkles. And they worked great. Honestly, if I hadn’t moved on to harder drugs, the Neutrogena would still give me a fix. I still wear their sunscreen every day, even if it’s cloudy.

Then last year my awesome sister-in-law went to work at Origins. Though saying that Kate worked at Origins is like saying Michelangelo worked at the Vatican. She’s since moved on, but I really think that skincare and beauty is her spiritual gift. So she gave me some of the Dr. Weil products, in their pleasingly medical-looking containers, and I really liked them. Ever since Christmas (as with crack addicts, my first hit of Origins was free), I’ve been using the Plantidote cleanser, face serum, and moisturizer. And seriously, it is awesome. Then, last night, I took it to the next level. I used the Clean Energy cleansing oil first (it’s an OIL that washes your face, people. What a country.) Then I patted on some Plantidote toner. So two new products. And this morning, I was all tiny-pored and smooth—like noticeably so.

I feel sheepish, and like I’m betraying my interests in frugality and simplicity. (You didn’t know I was interested in those things?) This isn’t one of those “great beauty uses for Vaseline” posts, though I love those. And for those of us who play the CVS game, it’s hard to imagine paying money for beauty products. I know. I’ve tried my share of free Olay, Garnier, and Boots products in the last few months. Meh. So I can’t tell you, “Buy this really cheap thing and it works!” I’m more saying, “Spend a wad of money on this Origins stuff and you will love it!” So aren’t you glad you came by?

Anyway, from now until September 3, shipping is free on the Origins site AND with any order you get a free sample set from either their Organics or their signature line of products. (The Dr. Weil sample sets are all gone.) And the samples are pretty big. For $66, you get a bottle of the Plantidote Face Serum, which will last you a year. That’s the key item, I think. Then another $30 gets you the Plantidote toner. Split those into two online orders and get two free sample sets, then you can try out the other stuff.

So if you are not happy with your complexion and/or your current beauty regimen, and you have some cash to spend on it, consider it, because I think you get a great return. OR, if you have an Origins store near you, just go in and ask for some samples and pay nothing. I am actually kind of low-maintenance, and I am not crazy for products, but I like this stuff. I’m just saying. You will notice a difference.

The only potential downside, other than the price, is that men might not like the smell. It doesn’t smell perfumy—but it has a more high-end, kind of fresh smell. Like some kind of greenery. I don’t know how to describe it. But when I got into bed last night, Matt said, “Mmm, it’s like I’m in bed with Dr. Andrew Weil himself!” So there’s that. But I will say, dude must really have a thing for Dr. Weil.

(This has been my first Works For Me Wednesday post.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

CSI: My House Edition

I came home last night from a week in Pensacola helping my mom, who is now home from the hospital. Matt and my wonderful mother-in-law kept the kids and house running while I was gone, and it was a huge load off of my mind to know that they were on the job. And Lord, was I glad to get back to my house and kids. Seeing their faces was like a drink in the desert.

So today I am in that phase of homecoming where you look around your house and try to figure out what went on while you were gone. I think of this as the forensic science phase, where you collect the evidence, interview the witnesses, and try to come up with theories about what went down--like, how did that stain get on the wall, why is the dog's bowl under the couch, and what did you guys eat all week? Kind of like the opening scenes of Law and Order, after they find the dead body, only without the body.

  • The first thing I noticed is that my little container planting on the front porch is deader than dirt. My fault. I forgot to ask anyone to water it, and I guess it didn't rain much. Oh well. I put the begonias on life support and I think they may revive.
  • The second thing is that all of my magazines have been abducted from the tables they were stacked on. Perhaps they are being held for ransom somewhere? You see, the proper number of magazines to have on an endtable, in my opinion, is infinity-plus-one. Matt thinks the proper number is zero, so I suspect he had a hand in their disappearance. UPDATE: while investigating the next item, I found the magazines--see below.
  • The most perplexing: what is that brown stain on the carpet in the book room? It is about six inches long and in sort of a dribble pattern, almost as though coke were spilled and allowed to sit.
Matt pleads ignorance of the stain's origins. I hope it isn't beagle-related, but it doesn't really look like that. I guess the next step is to moisten it and sniff it, then attack it with a cloth and a little Dawn liquid. Hmm. And there are my magazines, unceremoniously stashed on the shelf. That's a relief. Maybe I should just take the September Vogue and put it over the stain.
  • The laundry room floor was piled with a LOT of baby crib linens--much more than a week's worth. Matt explained that one night, he put Hank to bed in just a nightshirt and diaper--no pajama pants. The next morning, Hank's diaper was off and everything was covered in pee. Matt, ever the optimist, figured that it was a fluke--that Hank had not meant to remove his diaper. (One thing I love about Matt is that he always assumes the best about people.) So he put him to bed the same way the next night. With the same result the next morning. Laundry mystery solved, diaper lesson learned.

Finally, saved on the camera, I found out what had really been going on on Daddy's watch:

He is SO the fun parent.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Well, That Was Awkward

Okay, so I am down in Pensacola sitting with my my mom while she's in the hospital. (She had surgery and is recovering very well--I think she'll be released soon.) Mom was lucky enough to have the hospital room all to herself for a few days, but early yesterday morning, in the small hours, they wheeled in a roommate, another lady about Mom's age who is suffering from kidney stones.

When I arrived in the morning to do my day shift (Dad takes the nights), Mom and Dad were huddled on one side of the room, with a curtain drawn between the two beds, and Marge the roomie was on the other side of the curtain. Quarters were tight. Each side of the room has one bed, one chair, and one TV, so at least you and your roomie don't have to agree on what to watch. Mom had the window side of the room, which is also the bathroom side, which will become important in a moment.

So while it wasn't super comfortable to be sharing the room with Marge, neither Mom nor I minded much. Mom and I chatted, and I read while she napped, or fielded calls on our two cell phones from family and friends. The only slightly irritating thing about life with Marge was that she got a lot of calls on the room phone. And she couldn't reach the phone from her bed, but I could. So I was up and down getting the phone for her and then hanging it up again. Yes, you read that right: I was ever so slightly irritated to be constantly getting the phone for this poor sick woman. More evidence of my uncharitable nature, I guess. Florence Nightingale, she don't live here. But my upbringing stood me in good stead and I did it with a cheerful countenance.

Then, THEN, while I was talking to my sister on the cell phone, Marge let out this trumpeting poot on the other side of the curtain. Reader, I am sorry, because it is in very poor taste for me to be writing this. So Marge pooted, LOUD. It was very very hard not to laugh or react at all. Then, the smell wafted over the curtain, and it was very very hard not to fall down. GOD FORBID THAT I AM EVEN DISCUSSING SUCH THINGS. So then, while I am trying not to break conversational stride with my sister, because Marge can hear everything, Marge pressed her nurse call button, and asked for help with "a bathroom problem." I became very afraid that Marge had had an accident. So Marge said nothing to us, and several minutes went by. Then Marge again called the nurses for help getting to the bathroom, because nobody had come. The humane side of me (I do have one) thought, "Should I help her?" Then I thought that it was probably a bad idea and perhaps outside of my skill set, and that I might make things worse and surely embarrass her more.

While I was thinking this over and wondering what social rules pertained to our situation, Jon the nurse came in and helped Marge. He helped her shuffle to the bathroom, right past the end of Mom's bed, naked. Marge had a hospital gown, but she was wearing it suspended from her elbows. Anyway. Of course, I averted my eyes so rapidly that I probably looked like I was having a seizure. After he closed the bathroom door on her, Jon looked at Mom and me and silently mouthed, "I'M SORRY!" I wanted to marry him in that moment, because it was adorable.

There are two punchlines to this story. I found out that early that morning, right after Marge had been admitted, she had done another naked bathroom walk past Dad, and while he was averting his gaze as though all their lives depended on it, she stopped at the foot of the bed and said his name. Then she introduced herself and he realized that HE KNOWS HER.

The other thing is that I emailed my friend David, immediately, from the hospital room because I needed to describe this spectacle to someone, and he wrote back, "Thank goodness you had a homo nurse to share that moment with you." (It may help to know that David is gay.) I was like, "HOW DID YOU KNOW THE NURSE WAS GAY? Does your 'dar work long distance, or what?" He explained that straight men don't comically yet silently mouth things like "I'M SORRY." I had to acknowledge that he was right, and then as I have so often, to appreciate his knowledge of human nature.

So that happened. What are y'all doing?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I Am a Lot Like Thomas Edison

The Thomas Edison of mixology, that is. In the Suburban Matron tradition of sharing my cocktail inventions with you, I give you the Briar Patch. (The Briar Patch is my parents’ nickname for their mountain house, where this drink was born.)

It’s still summer, but you’re sick of G&T’s. Check into the Briar Patch:

One shot of vodka over ice
The juice of half a lime—a few bits of pulp would be good too
Shake gently
Pour in a little Coke (or Diet Coke for the skinny version); as much Coke as you like.

Now drink while sitting under the stars. Or while watching a hummingbird. Or in the hot tub with your sweetie. Or just waiting for your pasta water to boil. I’ve tested it in all these situations with good results—it may have other applications as well. Further research is needed.

To your health!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Please Share My Umbrella

Every weekday afternoon, I go up the hill to the corner to meet Laura’s school bus. This takes some doing, because I take Hank and the dog with me, and only the dog is on a leash. I enjoy this part of the day not just because we get to greet Laura and walk her home, but also because it is a chance to chat with my neighbors while we wait for the bus. We congregate on the corner, we stand and wait, and we disperse again with our kids. That is all. Yet it is possible to do it wrong. So since it's back-to-school time, I offer some thoughts on Bus Stop Etiquette:

It boils down to this: The bus stop is a social space. For a brief period in the morning and afternoon, an unremarkable corner in our neighborhood becomes a bus stop, which is a social space. Not in the way that a party is a social space, but when we are there, we are in society with others. We form a society of people who are waiting for their children. Accordingly, we are subject to conventions that govern our social behavior. The rules, happily, are not difficult to master—you don’t have to know which fork to use or how to introduce a bishop to an ambassador. The only rule is that you must acknowledge that this is a social experience, and engage, at least minimally, with your fellow bus stop attendees. A very little will suffice. Eye contact, a greeting, and you’re good. Chattiness and real warmth can come later—we have 180 days.

It seems silly to talk about this, because this is second nature to anyone who wasn’t raised in a barn. But it is in my nature to try to codify things that usually go unspoken, and it seems there are people who don’t know. If you sit on the curb fiddling with your cell phone, your back turned, and ignoring the group, I will judge you. I am sorry, because you are probably a really great person. But we are trying to have a community here. And we need you. “Geez Beck, lighten up,” you may say. Let people just do their thing once in a while!” There are plenty of places where you can act like no one else exists. Like while you’re shopping. But here at the bus stop, we have a lot in common. We live in the same place, and our kids go to the same school. That is huge, y’all. So make with the pleasantries.

Matt does the morning bus stop run, and he reports that the scene is slightly different. Fewer kids ride in the morning, so there are fewer adults about, and some of those are on their way to work. The increased bustle plus the early hour means that it’s a more businesslike affair, but some people try to avoid even the greatly reduced sociability of the morning bus stop. Matt says that one mom (who lives right beside us—more on her later) never makes eye contact with him or acknowledges the presence of other people at all. And one dad wouldn’t speak to him after an initial grunt, even when spoken to. After I interviewed Matt about his experiences and expectations of the morning bus stop scene, he invited me to spend a few days getting up at 6:30, in order to experience it firsthand. In the interest of this sociological study, I almost would. But instead I’ll take his word for it.

In the afternoon, the cast of characters includes my friend Normal Neighbor—I haven’t ever written about her, though I like her very much, because she’s nice and normal—whom I’ve been seeing at the bus stop for over two years now. Normal Neighbor and I are friends in 5-10 minute increments. We rarely spend more time than that together, even though her daughter often plays with Laura. Yet we transact a lot of business in that time—exchanging info about the kids, school, running our households, and various gossip (don’t make me defend gossip as a valid and indispensable cultural practice ‘cause I totally can). I am thankful for her and I look forward to our chats, and we help each other by picking up each other’s kids sometime.

Another member of our little society is the German au pair who lives with the family down the street. Actually, the family just got a new au pair, and we haven’t really talked very much yet. I thoroughly bonded with the old one, Steffi—she was totally a hausfrau in training and really embraced her role—but I am sure Fabienne will be interesting too, even if the dad of the family she works for thinks her facial piercing will make it “hard for her to fit in here.” (Dude, it’s not that big a deal.)

The point is that these few minutes at the bus stop are a great opportunity to exchange information or just build ties of civility with the people around us. Am I a freak here? What are your expectations for this social scene, if you have any, or do there seem to be different rules in your particular situation? If it takes a village, we’re the village, right? We don’t even have to like each other, but we have to be civil, in the fullest sense of the word. Okay, end of lecture. Now go forth and schmooze. Or just remark that, yes, it is still very hot out, but at least there is a nice breeze.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fun Toy Flursday: Write Your Own Timeline

Here’s an idea from Margaret Mason, the inimitable Mighty Girl. To me, this is fun to do if you don’t give it a lot of thought. Put down the first couple of things that come to mind when you think of each year or grade. Don’t edit yourself—just enjoy your trip down memory lane. Or cringe all over again at embarrassing things you did.

My first decade:

Age 1: The hair all over my hair sticks up so startlingly and constantly that a neighbor calls me Frankenstein Baby, which makes my Aunt Maggie furious.

Age 2: I have an adorable sailor bathing suit and my hair is still awesome.

Age 3: I love to play on the swing set. One day I drop a strawberry ice cream cone outside. I can still see it there, sad and melting on the ground.

Age 4. My mom is pregnant with a sibling. She looks like she has an actual basketball under her shirt. The baby will turn out to be my sister Amy. They ask me for name suggestions, and I say “Lisa,” which they dismiss immediately.

Age 5: I am in Kindergarten, having started at 4. My best friend is a girl named Angie Pickens, who is beautiful, and I wear lots of stripes. The lunchroom in my school is huge.

Age 6: First grade is interesting but perilous. I am learning to read, and Mrs. Simms, competent but stern, spanks me for watching the classroom toilet overflow.

Age 7: I stand up in front of my second-grade class to “share” about the book Heidi, which I haven’t actually read. Excellent preparation for grad school.

Age 8: I correct my third-grade teacher’s pronunciation of Halley’s comet, because I am insufferable. A girl named Michelle and I share Norman Ellis as our boyfriend, and we choreograph a dance to Devo’s “Whip It.” I also write my first poem, which now makes its world debut:

Spring is here
The days are warm
The flowers are in bloom;
The trees all have their new green leaves
And there’s no cause for gloom.

Age 9: Still insufferable, I win every weekly spelling bee in the 4th grade. I host my first slumber party for my birthday. We are all engrossed in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Age 10: Remember "prairie" skirts? I wear one on the first day of school. Tana Vollendorf, who is tan and beautiful, tells me, “I’m tired of being popular. This year I’m just going to be friends with you.” Hmm, okay. Also that year I learn what “sycophant” means, because my dad says my math teacher is one.

The next year, I will kiss Scott Martin while riding in his go-cart, which I regret to this day, and not only because he turned into an actual felon.

Now you go.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dew Drop Inn

This last weekend was the first weekend we’ve all been home together in a long time, so Matt and I were celebrating by scrambling around doing chores. We had received a “friendly reminder” notice from our Home Owners’ Association telling us that our front yard needs work or it will bring all our property values down. The letter said to do three things: Please mow grass; please edge between lawn and driveway; and please “redifine” the planted area at the right side of the yard.

Matt and I decided that the last part meant we needed to tidy up the pine straw covering our planted area, but I was intrigued by the possibilities inherent in the invitation to “redifine” that area. Perhaps we could redefine it as a more wild, less cultivated, natural buffer between our neighbor and us? Or as a place for hoboes to doss down while passing through? Maybe the HOA needs to be more specific if they want a certain result. But we don’t like to flout the rules, and I even appreciate the fact that this HOA keeps my neighbors from having junk cars out in their front yards, or those plywood garden decorations that look like fat ladies bending over. We want the HOA—we need them on that wall.

My part of the chores had consisted of changing all the beds, standing at the top of the stairs, and throwing the dirty sheets down onto the living room floor. The kids thought this was a great idea, and started carrying pieces of laundry back up the stairs to drop them again and again. This created a much wider distribution pattern of laundry across the living room. I didn’t want to spoil their fun by actually taking the sheets to the washer, so I turned to getting supper organized.

At this point Matt came in from a Home Depot trip and invited me to come see a new ladder he bought, so I scampered out there (come on, ladders are cool). While we were standing in the driveway, clad in our Saturday best (mine was a pajama top, Hawaiian shorts, and crocs), a BMW pulls up behind us. I didn’t recognize the car or the nicely dressed young couple inside it, so I thought they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I may have been giving them the stink-eye. When Matt greeted them, I realized that they were our Sunday-night dinner guests. Arriving on Saturday. Matt had invited two couples, one couple I knew and one I didn’t, over for a Sunday night dinner. And here were the Hamiltons, whom I didn’t know but who looked perfectly lovely. They were mortified when they realized their mistake. I had to laugh when Kelly, the wife, said to her husband, “From now on, I’m reading all the emails.”

I invited them to come in and have supper with us, because I had just put chicken and cornbread muffins in the oven. As when anyone stops by your house, you do a quick mental calculation of just how messy IS the place—is it fit to be seen or are there horrors too terrible for public view? (Flylady calls this CHAOS—Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.) I quickly decided that we were dealing only with kid clutter. And the fact that I was wearing a pajama top. But nothing was dirty or anything. Then I walked through the front door just slightly ahead of everyone else and saw the giant pile of laundry. Or it had been a pile when I’d dropped it from upstairs. Now it was more of a layer. Following the Suburban Matron Rule of Never Apologize for the State of Your House, I just did a graceful pirouetting all about the room and swept up all the clothes. It was graceful. Or it may have been. The Hamiltons were much too polite to notice any of this.

And I did change my shirt, but not immediately. I whipped up a salad and a veg and we all had dinner. And the Hamiltons were delightful company, and we were really glad that they came over. And I was also pleased that we had our act minimally together enough to be hospitable, and to offer them something besides crackers and the beer they brought. We spent a nice night talking and playing cards, and after they left, Matt said, “Your sprezzatura is beyond words.” A rave review from my most valued critic!

So what do you do with unexpected company? Do you keep special snacks on hand? Sheets to drape over things? Do you enjoy it or does it scare you?

They came back the next night, along with our other friends, and we had another lovely time. And the Hamiltons brought a bottle of gin this time—I really like those people!

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Today Laura and her friend were playing with a massive Lego castle set. I gradually became aware that they were having a little spat over something. Wanting peace in my home, I intervened.

Me: Girls, play nice! Why are you arguing?

Laura: We're not arguing! We're disagreeing about who is right.

Okay then.

She goes back to school tomorrow, and not a moment too soon, as she obviously needs a sharper interlocutor for her fledgling critical reasoning abilities.

Tonight we have to pick an outfit (gotta make a good first impression!), pack up her supplies, and make a cool little lunch. We have a new super neato lunchbox called Laptop Lunch--it's supposed to be sort of an Americanized bento box:

I am actually excited about packing lunches in this thing. Also it would be good if I found time tonight to trim L's bangs, or she may not make it up the steps of the bus. This may be tough because we're about to host a dinner party, so we'll see how that goes. Also a bath would be nice. Clearly we need another wife.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

In No Particular Order

We got back yesterday from a weeklong trip to Washington, D.C. and environs. Here are some lessons learned and noteworthy aspects of our trip:

  • I left my suitcase at home. I didn’t realize it wasn’t with us until we were at mom and dad’s place in North Carolina, with 100 miles of road behind us. I figured that would be the most distressing thing that would happen that day, but it was not (see next item). Actually, it was funny—I had carefully done laundry, thought about our itinerary, sorted my clothes, and chosen outfits and accessories. Then, as soon as I realized that my bag was really missing, I totally didn’t give a crap. It was kind of freeing. I had on jeans, sandals, an old t-shirt, a grosgrain belt, and dangly earrings. (Is there anything you can’t face if you have dangly earrings?) I hit a Wal-Mart for cheap panties, a tank top, and a toothbrush, and I was good to go. In fact, I spent the next several days explaining to everyone that I had reached a higher level of spiritual perfection than they, having shed my worldly goods.

  • A couple of days before our departure, Laura had a fever with no other symptoms. She rested and took acetaminophen. The fever went away and she perked up. I figured that it was the same 24-hour virus that Hank had had the week before. No biggie. But the morning we got up to head from North Carolina to D.C., she was hot again, and complaining of a headache. I dosed her with ibuprofen, and put her in the backseat of the van with a pillow and blanket. She slept a couple of hours and I thought all would be well. After she woke up (still feverish), she grew more and more miserable as the day wore on and the miles rolled by. My dad was driving, so I could tend to her full-time, but even alternating Tylenol and Advil did not seem to make her feel any better. She was still complaining of a headache and even crying.

    Finally, when we stopped at a rest area and she cried that the sunlight hurt her eyes, I crossed over into serious worry. I called her pediatrician on my cell, and the doc called me back about thirty seconds later. I was thinking meningitis. The doctor said she didn’t think so (no neck pain) but that she needed to be seen in the next few hours. Even before I was off the phone with the doctor, my mom had used the GPS to figure out that there was a hospital at the very next exit, so off we went, to a little ER in Front Royal, Virginia. Whatever I told those people really got their attention, because they tested L’s blood, urine, and hooked her up to an IV. Poor Laura! But she was brave. Four hours later, they had ruled out anything serious, but had no diagnosis for us. She was feeling a bit better from the IV fluids, and they sent us on our way. The next day (the first real day at our destination), she was more her old self. Here she is all better:

  • So did I overreact? I don’t know. I was in that parenting mode where you don’t care that you may be overreacting, or that what you are about to do will be massively inconvenient. (Thank goodness for grandparent support—Mom took Hank to a motel room while Dad stayed with L and me.) I just thought, “She has never been this miserable and something is not right.” And I have no idea whether our health insurance will play nicely with an ER visit in Front Royal. But I think I would make the same choice again.

  • Despite my ambivalence, and as was asserted previously by you, my dear commenters, an in-car DVD player is a good thing, like breathing is good, especially if you are traveling with a sick kid.

  • Washington, D.C. is quite toddler-friendly. There are wide open spaces everywhere. The monuments, of course, are quite amenable to running and recreational stair-climbing. And the zoo and the National Mall too, as you would expect. But I was surprised to find that Hank did just great in the National Gallery of Art. They provide a list of highlights to see if “you only have an hour,” or as they should say, “if you have a toddler with you.” Hank was happy to sit in his stroller while we took in the highlights on the first floor. Then there was plenty of space in the rotunda and in the underground concourse to run (plus a cool waterfall behind glass), which balanced out all the stroller time.

    I will say that if you are taking a toddler to an art museum and you can't or don't want to keep him or her in the stroller the whole time, let the kid be free in the section of the museum that has older, pre-twentieth-century paintings. They are hung in a traditional way, higher on the wall than a toddler can reach. In the Modern and Contemporary wing, the canvases are bigger or oddly sized, and are hung down to the floor. Plenty reachable. Hank was quite attracted to the Lichtenstein picture of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck—not so much the Georges de La Tour painting of the Penitent Magdalene. Also, in the Modern wing, the sculptural objects in the middle of the room just look like something to play on. I mean, come on:

    He thought he was at Gymboree. Of course, I was a Good Museum Mama and didn’t let him touch a thing. So we cut our visit a little bit short, but on the whole, it was very doable with a tot, and the National Gallery isn't even supposed to be one of the "fun" museums in the Smithsonian.

Now we are off to Open House to meet Laura’s new teacher. Enjoy the last days, hours, and minutes of summer, y’all.

Edited to add: I said that my mom used the GPS to find the hospital; my dad would like the record to reflect that he did that. While driving. Which now that I know that, is both impressive and scary.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Snips & Snails & Puppy Dog Tails

Today Nate wanted to play with this little finger puppet stage that we have. Ava was back in her room, and this was a rare one-on-one moment for him and me, so I grabbed the stage for him and put two felt finger puppets--a moose and a giraffe--on his stubby little index fingers. (The Ikea puppets, if anyone's interested!)

Nate held up his two little characters, I applauded, and the show began. Now, even though he's almost three, there's not a ton of talking going on yet, so he mostly began saying, "Heh-ro" to me and waggling his fingers. He did it in a growly, deep voice that reminded me of that Red-rum scene from "The Shining". He was a little short on ideas, so I started saying, "Why don't you guys have a nap, why don't you play, why don't you have some lunch, etc." Just trying to thicken the plot a bit and give him some ideas, I guess.

Rather than doing all the stuff I was suggesting, Nate decided to have the moose begin to eat the giraffe. (Which I suppose does make for a way-more interesting plotline.) One minute they were "helloing" each other, and the next, the giraffe lay on his side, and the moose was gleefully taking bites of his midsection. Complete with munching and swallowing sounds, provided by Nate. I started to laugh, "The moose is eating the giraffe?" "Yahhh!", says Nate. "But I thought they were friends." "No, moose baaad! Munch munch munch..."

I was struck (again) at the difference between boys and girls. Even at that age, Ava would've began constructing this social world--one puppet would've been the mom, the other the dad, there would've been a baby. There would've been elaborate bedtime rituals for each finger puppet, discussions of what to have for puppet-dinner, conversations about what to do at the puppet-park, or whatever. She has always been interested in the process of things--roles, and creating little worlds for her characters. Nate is so not having any of that! Let's just skip all the relating and get to the action, please! And it better involve cars crashing and/or carnivores.

To be honest, I was much more entertained by watching the moose eat the giraffe, anyway. Then, they had a nice bath and the giraffe ate the moose. The circle of life.