Sunday, November 30, 2008

Five Things I Heard in the Hot Tub

I'm still sifting through the data from our holiday in the mountains. Sift along with me.

  1. Our friend told us that his dad and brother, who are in the real estate business in south Florida together, have not sold a single house in the last twelve months. Not one.
  2. My sister Amy and her husband regularly give gifts of personal lubricant to friends who are getting married. You see, they know a lot people who, believe it or not, postpone the Full Monty until they are legally wed. And Amy wants everything to go, um, smoothly. You want her on your team, people.
  3. Over 200,000 people have applied online for 7,000 jobs in the Obama administration. If you haven't already, here's where you can. Everybody else is doing it.
  4. Bear hunting season is underway in North Carolina, and in Jackson county, where we were, more bears have been killed so far than deer. Perhaps in revenge, a bear peeled the top off an outdoor freezer belonging to my parents' neighbor. The bear broke the hinges off the lid and made off with some frozen berries and fruitcakes.
  5. My brother Dave was asked, "What is your greatest fear?" He said, "A clown with a bow and arrow."

For more edifying lists, check out ABDPBT and the listing crew today:


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Brick and Mortar Life

On this blog, I never really have the urge to break the fourth wall and go meta, but today I feel compelled to share with you some of the material conditions of blogging over the Thanksgiving holiday. We are still up in the mountains of Western North Carolina at my mom and dad’s house. We’ve got a big crowd, and some more friends just arrived this afternoon. What are the requirements for calling a place “off the grid”? ‘Cause the house doesn’t have TV or internet access. The tubes don’t reach up here, apparently. I love that about this place, usually. It’s far from rustic—it’s very comfortable, but it requires us to unplug.

But NaBloPoMo and unplugged don’t really mix. So I’ve been taking daily trips down into town to find some free wifi. The public library has it, and so does Arby’s. Small town. Every day, there are several people who want to accompany me on this outing, usually with laptops in hand. It feels like the 21st century version of going into town for provisions, like coffee, nails, and lard. Only instead of every six months, we have to go every day. It’s fun, actually, and the only real event in otherwise unstructured time.

On Thanksgiving night, I went down the mountain with my mom and sister, only to find Arby’s closed, duh. They didn’t turn off their wifi, though, so I opened up my computer right there in the car. Then my battery died, so I sat on the sidewalk and plugged my computer into their outdoor outlet, thus leeching both wifi AND electricity. Amy said I looked like a hobo—a very well equipped hobo. With beautiful shiny hair. Or she didn’t say that part.

The only problem with the Arby’s blogging situation is that to pay for my table, I buy a jamocha milkshake while I’m here, and then I drink it. So this blog is making me fat. But I am loving it. I am loving the blog, the Arby’s, the hobo scene, the NaBloPoMo thing, and you, my dear Readers. The whole caboodle.

And I say again: have a great weekend!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Geocaching: The Family That Trespasses Together. . .

Instead of hitting the stores for Black Friday, we did some geocaching here in the mountains. Dad has gotten really into this in his retirement. Geocaching, if you don't know, is a kind of game where you use your GPS device to locate little hidden containers, or caches, that people have hidden in out-of-the-way places. You may leave little treasures in the boxes, and take something in return, or just sign in that you've been there. It is great--a more fun version of taking a walk. Some of the caches are what they call "park and grab," as in you don't have to go off into the woods very far, but sometimes, like today, you have to get out of bounds.

We had a multi-step cache that required a couple of waypoints, finally leading us to the site near here where a scene from the movie The Fugitive was filmed. Remember the part where Harrison Ford is on the prison bus, and it crashes into a train, and he gets away? That was filmed right by the Tuckasegee River here in Dillsboro, and the train cars and buses they used are still sitting down by the river. The clues and the coordinates seemed to indicate that the cache was hidden on the wreckage somewhere, but we couldn't actually drive anywhere near that part of the riverbank. Finally we realized that this little road must lead down there. The gate was open, Officer.
The Magellan was our guide, but notice that Dad has the target coordinates written on his hand. So high-tech! Turns out he wrote them down wrong, but we figured out where we were going. Sure enough, the coordinates took us right to the old bus used in the movie.

The bus says "Illinois Dept. of Corrections," because the movie was set in Illinois, of course, and the train says "Illinois Southern." So, we knew the cache we were looking for was a magnetic hide-a-key box, and it seemed like it could be anywhere on this bus, or possibly on the front of the train. The margin of error is such that the GPS won't take you to the exact, precise spot, so you have to get there and look around. But with all this wreckage, it was really hard to look everywhere. Here's Laura after I had relaxed my "No Climbing!" rule.

So this cache was unfindable, at least by us. We felt up that entire bus, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. We think it might have been taken by Muggles. Yes, the geocachers refer to non-cachers as Muggles. Laura loved that. Down at the railyard, she did find some stocking-stuffers, so it wasn't a total loss. Hurray for coal! So we need to read the online comments on that cache and get some more info. Then we'll regroup for another sortie. But it was really fun getting up close to the wreck, trespassing and all. I think this is great fun for kids, especially if they're with-it enough to work the compass and the GPS. Here's Laura helping pack up a cache that Dad hid.
That little toy with the dogtags is a trackable item. It will travel from cache to cache, with its location logged online. Really cool. And here's a cache's hiding place.
This was down under a suspension footbridge over the river, where you'd really have to be looking for it. Each cache has a friendly and helpful little note in it in case it does fall into Muggle hands. So, lots of fun for the family, and I think the community around it is really interesting. It's just pure play, you know? With no real reward and nothing to prove. I look forward to doing it lots more, and there are TONS of these things all around, so go to the website and check it out.

Hope you had a restful and fun Thanksgiving Friday!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

We Are Not Navy SEALs: A Thanksgiving Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cell Phones and Public Bathrooms: A Point of Etiquette

On the way up to the mountain house today, we stopped at McDonald's so I could go in and use the bathroom. Everyone else stayed in the car. There were two stalls in there, and both were empty, so I had my pick. While I was ensconced in my stall, a woman came into the bathroom talking on her cell phone. It sounded like the conversation had just started; I don't know if she had placed the call or received the call. But she was saying "Yes sir," and giving her name, and starting to ask some official-sounding question. The tone of her voice was that of someone in the supplicant position, like she doesn't often have to call "important" offices and ask for things. While she was trying to get her question out, which was something about her daughter's Social Security check, she went into the stall next to me and was seated. She continued to explain her question to the person on the line--she's divorced, and it seems that her daughter's check is going to her ex-husband's address instead of to her PO box.

By now there are at least two people waiting outside the stalls. Phone woman is actually giving her ex's social security number on the phone, and explaining again that she is divorced and here is the exact situation. I was ready to flush and go, but I felt hesitant to flush the toilet in the middle of her phone call. The sound of those power-flushing toilets is pretty unmistakeable. My neighbor had been actually using the toilet, I think, but now I thought maybe she was just sitting there to finish her conversation. But people were waiting for a turn. And I felt how frustrated they must be. My stall is a total mystery to them, and hers sounds like a phone booth.

Phone Lady began to repeat the story of her divorce, and she gave her husband's mailing address, and her own. (I guess identity theft is not in the forefront of her concerns.) I was peeking through the crack in the door, and I could see that there were three people waiting now. One of us was being rude, I thought, either Phone Lady for the entire situation, or me for enabling her and colluding with her bathroom-hogging by my reluctance to flush in the middle of her call. I decided to go ahead and flush--I was obviously more embarrassed for her than she was for herself, considering that when she started this call, or answered this call, she could have turned around and left the bathroom. So I flushed, and as I did, she raised her voice, very loudly now, to finish her sentence. I winced and felt sorry for a second, then I thought, "Why am I the one who feels responsible for this situation?" Then I gave it another flush.

So, if you must conduct a private and sensitive conversation in a public bathroom, don't camp on the potty the whole time. It is possible, probably, to hold the phone in one hand and finish your business and leave. Oh, or maybe just don't be in this situation AT ALL.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Random Purchases Tuesday, Also, Getting My Party On

I have cleaned two bathrooms, changed numerous beds, put the kids' rooms in order (Laura helped with hers), vacuumed the floors, and done all kinds of dusting and prettifying. I was totally ready to get into Thanksgiving mode, but something was lacking. Then my mother-in-law arrived with half a Honeybaked ham, and suddenly everything was perfect. That is some delicious ham. And that sucker cost $44. Is that possible? That's what it says on the little sticker. I've never shopped there so I don't know.

And since it's Random Thoughts Tuesday at Un-Mom, here is a picture of the little turtle I bought at Goodwill, which caused me to spray paint my fingers. Michele, in the comments of that post, said that she had happened to see this exact turtle at that exact Goodwill. Freaky. The turtle is hanging with some owls over the potty in the kids' bathroom. I gave the frame one coat of spray paint, and I was going to go back and do more, but I liked it this way. It has a pickled, sort of distressed look.

Now, more random purchases, all brought to you by the letter 'T'. A tiny fake tree that I got at Target for $5. Right now it's anchoring a display of Laura's pottery.

It is five dollars-worth of cute. And finally, ALSO at Target (could I please be more boring), they have little painted wooden vehicles up front. They are a buck. You know we didn't get out of there without some trucks. Not sure of their lead content yet.

So, 'T' is for Turtle, Tree, and Trucks. And Tuesday. Have a happy one!


Monday, November 24, 2008

You Cannot Beat That With a Stick

While waiting for the dog to get bathed and have her anal glands attended to--Happy Thanksgiving, Percy!--the kids and I took a spin through the dollar section up in the front of Target. Target, I have often said, is my safe place. It only makes me feel good, and never makes me feel bad, and today was no exception. In their section of junky holiday decor, they had two different felt garlands. You know how suddenly we're seeing these homemade letter garlands all around? Here's one example. Anyway, at Target they have felt garlands for $2.50. One says, "Happy Holidays," and there's this one that I got.

It's all felt. Each snowman is really cute. Not bad for $2.50, so go getcha one. While I haven't started decorating for Christmas yet, I went ahead and stuck this on the mantel. I'm calling it a transitional piece, I guess. When we break out the Christmas decorations, I'll move it, because I've got a different garland I like to put up there with the stockings. I have snow on the brain because my mom told me it's snowing at the mountain house, which is where we're going on Wednesday. Fun! First, though, we're having Pre-Thanksgiving here. And the dog is clean, Praisallujah!

I also swept through Publix with a sheaf of coupons in hand. Scored lots and lots of canned broth, canned veggies, French's onions (green bean casserole, oh yeah baby), bogo Hellman's, Club crackers, raisins, cake mixes, and I don't know what all. Spent about $52 and saved $57. CVS was a little meh. I got the free Maybelline make-up and some much-needed bogo All. Cassie had sent me a $3 off $15 coupon, for which I truly give thanks. I haven't really figured out all the Black Friday stuff happening at CVS. I usually don't shop at all around Thanksgiving. Is anyone taking the time to do that? I love to go to the movies on Thanksgiving night, but we'll be in the wilderness, so I don't think it will happen.

As always, thanks to Fiddledeedee for help in figuring out the Publix deals. Check over there to see what the Supersavers are doing. Sorry to be so brief, but I'm still cleaning house. Have a good night, y'all.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

3 Things Standing Between Perfect Contentment and Me

Because even though everything is fine, life could always be better.

1)I spray painted three of my fingers just now. This is my trouble with crafts: I have a great interest in homemade and crafty stuff, but I lack expertise, so I try to half-ass it. Yesterday I picked up a little framed needlepoint of a very 70's turtle at Goodwill, priced-to-love at $1.91. It is adorable and I'm sure you will see it, just like you will eventually see everything in my house. But I can't show you yet because I'm trying to spray paint the frame. It's out in the garage. I was too lazy to take the frame, glass, and needlepoint apart properly, because probably thirty years ago, someone put masking tape all over the back of the frame. So I did a quickie job of covering the glass with paper and post-it notes (really, I should put all these tricks in a book), and then when I got out to the garage, part of the paper started peeling up, so I grabbed a pencil and poked it down while I sprayed, and then I sprayed my fingers. They are a pretty celery green, and so far neither soap nor vaseline will get the paint or the sticky feeling off. Spray paint is not like regular paint. It is nasty. Why did I think vaseline would help? Oh yeah, because I was raised to think it was the cure for anything.

2) The house is a mess, and so far today, limited progress has been made, though Matt is valiantly blowing leaves right now. (I know, I know, leafblowers are a nuisance and they are bad for the planet. The first Fall we lived here, we raked. But you would not believe the biomass of leaves we're talking about. Now we blow.) We've got a busy week ahead, but I thought it would be more fun to spray paint my fingers than pick up Legos and do laundry. Matt's mom and brother are coming early in the week for a little pre-Thanksgiving house party, and I need to get my act together quick. Also I guess I'm dealing with some leafblower guilt.

3)I know I'm killing you with this Room Mom stuff, but late last night, I got this cry for help from my co-room mom about our auction basket:

UGH!!! You should see the PATHETIC amount of stuff that was donated. I’m going to have to make a little go a LONG way!! This is going to be embarrassing! :( What do you think we should do? Jan

I told her that I think she needs to stop being a crazy person, wait a little longer for parents to send things in (because the auction is not until December 6), and that she needs to not botch her every email communication with the class, because probably people didn't read her auction basket emails, and that the way she listed each little wooden spoon and bamboo skewer individually probably made people think we had a long list of stuff, but ABOVE ALL, she needs to wait a little longer for items to trickle in. This morning she responded

You’re right, parents must have thought we had enough stuff but I guess I assumed they would each STILL send in an item or separate $$. That’s why I think I screwed up by not being specific about class money. I bet most parents think that it’s for the basket too. I will add my stuff to the basket that I had bought for my husband for Christmas (I was making him a BBQ basket, that’s where I got the idea). I have all the receipts but I will “donate” most of it since a lot of it I bought awhile back and on sale this past fall. I got my husband a great gift yesterday to take the place of the Basket. Did you know you can have a regular photo turned into a painting? It’s all done by computer! I’m having a picture of my kids walking on the beach at Disney made into one. It’s big but it only cost $160. I can’t wait! I almost forgot, I had bought a whole set of dishes at CVS for almost NOTHING. I think it was 90% off. I can’t pass up a deal! They are plastic ones for a picnic or BBQ and I think they have a fish or shell shape. Can I add them to the basket? I still have a whole set of Christmas plates (from CVS) that I bought 2 years ago for 90% off. Do you know a needy family or where I can donate them? They are breakable so I don’t want to put them in a donation bin. Don’t worry, I’ll get the basket done today and it will be fine.

Does this email seem totally ADHD to anyone else? I do think she is very sweet, but she has a touch of The Nutso, and it's contagious. And apparently she didn't hear me at all when I said DON'T DO THE BASKET YET, WAIT A LITTLE LONGER.

So, fingers are green, house is a mess, co-room mom is a little kooky. All else is well, and I hope you had a lovely weekend.

For more list lovin', head over to ABDPBT:


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Slacker Fudge

You know how I'm endlessly in the kitchen, trying out new and ever-more complicated recipes and then blogging about it? By which I mean, I never, ever do that? Yeah. But, BUT, this was so fun and easy and tasty, I had to share. It's not even a recipe, hardly, it's more like a trick. It comes from Julie:

Slacker Fudge (that's my name for it--everyone can make up her own)

  • one 18 oz. jar of peanut butter (due to the shrinking grocery phenomenon, an 18 oz. jar may be hard to find, but the 16.3 oz. jar works fine too.
  • one tub of vanilla or chocolate frosting.

Peel the foil off the frosting and heat it in the microwave for twenty seconds. Have your kids combine the frosting and the peanut butter in a big bowl. They will love doing this. Then they can stir it up. Heat this mixture for 2 minutes in the microwave, then stir it some more and spread it in a 9x9 dish. Let it harden. It will get firm enough to slice into little squares like fudge.

It was really tasty! (And what is totally adorable is that Hank didn't understand the name of it, and kept asking for a "piece 'a pudge." Pudge is right.) Laura and her sleepover friend had fun making it. And then this morning, when her friend's mom came to pick her up, she tasted it and said, "Wow, we never make fudge." And instead of saying, "It was a lot of work, but I want to be the very best," I was all like, "Ohmigod lemme tell you how easy this is!"

So, a totally credible candy. I am definitely going to do this again. I could see packaging it up in pretty cellophane and giving it out to the neighbors for Christmas. Enjoy it, slackers!

Friday, November 21, 2008

We Encumber You With Kindness

Wow, the people at Publix REALLY want to push my cart out to the car for me. What is up with that? I mean, they have always offered to do it, and when I have Hank with me I usually take them up on it. But their desire has definitely intensified to near-uncomfortable levels. Today I went to the grand opening of a shiny new Publix near me, and I didn't even have the kids with me, and my buggy wasn't very full. The bagger girl assumed the cart-pushing position, like she was ready to speed out of there, but after the cashier handed me my receipt, I said, "It's okay, I can do it." She said, "Are you sure?" and I said something like, "Yes, but thanks!"

Then I wheeled towards the door, and a managerial type was standing there. She had overheard my exchange with the bagger, and she said, "Don't you want some help?" I said, "I'm really fine," and she said, "But I can bring the cart back." And I said, "Okay, you talked me into it, since you really, really want to." I smiled as I said this. Then we strolled to my car together, enjoying the beautiful, blue November sky, and unloaded the bags together. Then I got her phone number. Not really, but there must be some special spark between us for her to have wanted to help me so much. RIGHT?

This policy must really increase their need for staff, because the parking lot was full of Publix employees streaming in and out with people's carts. This Publix in general made my regular Publix look totally punk-ass. It wasn't huge like some I've been in, but it was all boutique-y somehow. And there was a jazz combo playing. But I am sure that was because they only opened yesterday. Everything was gleaming, and the shelves were stocked and aligned in a totally OCD manner, like remember that scene in Sleeping With the Enemy where Julia Roberts has to keep all the cans lined up just so? The husband from that movie must be in charge of this place.

Also, a squadron of managers was walking around in a group, being instructed by their big boss at various stations. When I found myself shopping near them, I suddenly felt self-conscious, like they were saying, "Let's observe the behavior of this average shopper as she compares two different sizes of French's onions." So then I would feel pressure to act my role well and not disappoint them. I did my best to embody the nonchalant but with-it consumer, absorbed in her own world and her important errands, but interested in value and convenience.

All the roleplaying, plus having my cart pushed, totally wore me out, as you might imagine. Don't worry, I revived with an iced coffee on the way home. Now Laura is having a sleepover, and it's taco night. Have a great Friday, y'all!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Room Momming: Notes from the Front

"So, how's the whole Room Mom thing coming along?" you ask. Well, when last we spoke of this, my co-room mom had gone rogue, and despite her limited computer skills, was firing off emails and making a grab for various duties that I thought were mine. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I quickly adapted to a new world order in which Jan is doing most of the annoying stuff and I am organizing parties.

Since she had decided to jump in and start collecting money, I decided to start getting the holiday party together. And Jan is also lining up classroom volunteers and collecting items for the class auction basket. To that end, she needed to email all of the parents, and I'd told her how to copy and paste all of the parents' email addresses into her mail. By this time, she had also been the recipient of a mass email that I had sent, which had all of the parents' emails, not blind-copied or anything. Then I get this email from her: "Hi! Can you check this and if it’s o.k., send it to all the parents? I received everyone’s email addresses (thank you!) but I still don’t know how to group them together into one email." Then she favored me with an emoticon.

Okay, so she's not a whiz with the email. Or with basic digital literacy. The teacher in me is always happy to help someone who openly confesses that they don't know something. So I edited (slightly) her memo and sent it to the class, leaving in the superscription thingie that indicated it was forwarded from her. But of course, most parents did not reply to her. They replied to me and told me when they wanted to volunteer. I just forwarded the messages to Jan so she could put them on her schedule.

Then Jan went totally silent for a couple of days. I started to feel guilty because she was doing most of the jobs. So I emailed her and said, "Hey, since you're dealing with the money, do you want me to take over the volunteer schedule?" I even started making a Google calendar for the class. I was going to send it to all the parents and maybe give them the ability to sign up directly for stuff, right on the calendar. Jan never responded to me. But then we got another email forwarded by the teacher, from Jan (who must still be trying to master the whole email situation), with parents assigned to different volunteer slots. So I guess she wants to keep being in charge of that. She is an interesting combination of flaky, friendly, spacy, and territorial. But I can deal.

So, our actual Room Mom activities: The holiday party will be at 8:30 in the morning. Can you believe that? It's such a big elementary school that each class has an assigned time, to minimize parking problems, I guess. So we're doing a breakfasty thing with mini muffins, mini bagels and spreads, and fruit. Jan is handling the craft. And for a game, I suggested the Dress Your Santa game: The kids get in teams of 4 or 5 and each team has a Santa, usually a mom or dad, (but they LOVE dressing the teacher), and they have tape, scissors, colored paper, crepe paper, and cotton batting or cotton balls. They get 5 or so minutes to race to dress their Santa, then everyone judges them. We'll have different categories--funniest, most creative, etc--so basically everybody wins. I thought that would be properly chaotic.

Our holiday auction basket is BBQ-themed. That was Jan's idea. I suggested a Winter Fun basket, where the basket would be a snow saucer, and we could have mittens and scarves, cocoa, ice skating tickets, tickets to ride the Pink Pig, and maybe a wintery movie or something. Jan wanted to go with the BBQ, and she kept saying she had some "great meat rubs." So she has collected a ton of stuff for that, and the basket is a cooler, which will be cute. I sent in this child's apron from Ikea:

Party, check. Auction basket, check. Volunteers are happening. I am actually going in to be the Mystery Reader tomorrow. And Jan's collected a couple hundred bucks already. And again, children in classroom, learning/flourishing. I think we are going to be just fine as soon as I get a handle on Jan's communication style.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Par-tay! Free Christmas Music from Amazon

Harken, my peeps! One of Amazon's FREE mp3 downloads right now is a Holiday Sampler with five great songs. It is really fun, especially the Les Brown "Nutcracker Suite." I've been listening to it while tearing apart a chicken carcass (for stock) with my bare hands. I feel a little Clan of the Cave Bear here, but more festive.

When you're on that Amazon page, down below you'll see several other free albums. The Celebrating 10 Years of Music is great if you like classical. I don't have an iPod, but one of our computers has big speakers, and I play music on it all the time. I think the Holiday Sampler mixed with the classical stuff would make a nice little playlist if you're having people over for some 'nogg. Or wassail. Do people still do wassail?

The excellent Southern Savers tipped me off to this and I wanted to pass it along. Free Christmas music makes a Works for Me Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

This Into That

It is a chilly day, and not much is happening in the 'hood. Even Oprah is recycling tired material. (Dr. Oz again, really?) So I'm sharing some of my recent housekeeping flubs and bloopers. Keely at Un-Mom is having a Random Tuesday, and this certainly fits.


I'm noticing a thematic connection among my mistakes around the house. Let's play This Into That!

I put: milk
Into: my vodka on the rocks
Instead of: into Laura's thermos
Extenuating circumstances: her thermos and my drink were right next to each other on the counter and I was working on both at the same time. A terrible waste of both liquids.

I put: Hank's t-shirt
Into: the toilet
Instead of: not putting it into the toilet
Extenuating circumstances: I had a paper towel in the other hand that I meant to toss in there.

I put: a scoop of dog food
Into: the washing machine
Instead of: into the dog's bowl
Extenuating circumstances: It's a front loading machine, and the dog bowl is right in front of it, and I shouldn't try to feed the dog and start a load of laundry at the same time. This one was a real pain.

Bonus Hank Edition!

He put: a little Ikea pencil
Into: the floor heating vent
Instead of: into his nose
Extenuating circumstances: I said, "Don't put that in your nose," and I should have said, "Don't put that in your nose or anywhere non-traditional."

So, do I have a neurological problem, or do other people do this? I need to multitask less and unitask more. Or hemitask.

Also, I've been meaning to thank Stiletto Mom for sharing some bloggy props with me. She gave me an award. Yay!

I only found Stiletto Mom a couple of months ago, but her blog is now a place I visit daily. And I love the little picture, which is the work of these folks. I need to pass this on, so I am giving a shout out to:

Sara, who has a newish blog about her rural life. Her outdoor adventures make Sarah Palin look like Paris Hilton. Go read and you'll see what I mean. And I love the name: We Love It, Don't We?

Keely, whom a lot of people already know is super fun, but it bears repeating. And I love her new blog design for Un-Mom.

Messy Mom, whose blogging chops I really admire. She always has something interesting to say. And I would love to hit the thrift stores with that girl.

There are many other people I would love to name, but it would start to seem like I'm stalking them. I love our big, crazy Inter-Web! Have a good Tuesday evening, y'all.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Feats of Daring Do, and Also Shopping

So what's the policy on tree-climbing? Perfectly fine, or dangerous and forbidden? Does the answer depend on how high up the tree the kid can climb? Because Laura has only now gotten to the age and strength where she can get way up a tree. This, today, is the tree that was pictured in this post last week.

That's Pretty Neighbor's daughter up there. I am not used to looking out my sunroom window (our sunroom is high off the ground) and seeing a child level with the window. So first I took their picture, then I yelled, "Get down! If you fall and break your neck, your mom will kill me!" Only it sounded so, so genteel the way I yelled it, and not at all like shrill, crazy backyard mom-screaming.

Then Hank and I went on our appointed rounds to CVS and Publix. Now, Cassie over at Envirosavings had outlined an ambitious three-transaction plan, and I was going to try to emulate her. But my lame CVS didn't have the L'Oreal Pro-Calcium whatchamathing (the second store I've checked), so I just did the part of the plan I really wanted anyway: the battery deal. The store had some Crest Pro-Health toothpaste back in, and I remembered that the secret limit was 4, so I got:
  • two Crests, $3.49 each
  • 4 packs of Duracells at $5.29 each
  • a pack of barrettes clearanced to $.99
  • two big double boxes of Airborne that were 90% off, making them $1.30 apiece (AND, AND I had been saving and nurturing an Airborne coupon for $2 off, so that was some really, really cheap Airborne. Even if it doesn't work as advertised, there are still some vitamins in there.

And I paid with:

  • 3 coupons for $.75/off Duracell
  • 2 coupons for $1/off Crest
  • 1 coupon for $2/off Airborne
  • $11.99 in ecb's (from the Revitalift last week)
  • $14.87 out of pocket

Got back $21.98 in ecb's, 15 for the batteries and $6.98 for the Crest. Good times!

My Publix run was modest: highlights were more of the bogo Ritz crackers, even though I'd already used the coupons I had. I can't quit you, Ritz. Also, there is a little "Holiday Planning" booklet on the Ritz display at my store. In the back are two coupons: one is $3 off wyb three boxes of Nabisco crackers and three 2-liter Coke products. With the Ritz being bogo, that's a pretty good deal if you drink Coke.

Fresh Express salad is bogo, AND in the Advantage Buy flyer, there's a coup for $2 off produce wyb two Fresh Express salads. Sweet! And the penny item was Publix cheese singles. I loaded up on more of the fifty cent mac and cheeses, but the rest of my stuff wasn't that couponable--a whole Greenwise chicken for $1.99 a pound, eggs, pears and bananas, more cheese, tortillas, milk, etc. When it was all said and done, I spent $32.61 and saved $27.88, which I think is 46%, but I'm not such a whiz with the maths. And Hank got to ride in car buggies at both places, and the Publix man at the bakery gave him a cookie.

The smarties at Fiddledeedee's Supersavers have racked up some impressive savings too, so check into it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

3 Reasons The Internet Needs To Be Over Now

1) Yesterday, someone came to this blog by Googling "hot pregnant women doing yardwork." I told those search terms to Matt, and he got this look of delight on his face. I think because he thought it was funny. Or maybe because those words do in fact conjure up a delightful mental picture. I don't know if there is p*rn out there for that particular predilection, but a glance at the first search results page would seem to indicate that there is not. So Mr. Dude (?) in Lewisburg, Ohio, I hope you eventually found what you were looking for, and I'm sorry I could not be of more help, but now I know what the next name of this blog will be.

2) That couple that got married in the online game Second Life is now divorced, because of an adulterous liaison that OCCURRED IN SECOND LIFE. Story is in the link, but the short version is: couple met in an internet chat room, married in real life and in a ginormous Second Life ceremony in 2005, wife grew suspicious, hired an online private detective (a what?) to snoop on husband's activities, wife sees husband's avatar having sex with a prostitute avatar, and they are getting divorced. Now the woman has taken up with someone she met in World of Warcraft. Good grief, Charlie Brown! Now, I know lots of women do consider it cheating if their husbands look at naughty pics online, like maybe those hotter-than-hot pictures of pregnant chicks pulling weeds and raking. I know this because Oprah says many women consider it cheating--I don't actually know any women who think that. But divorcing over that one incident of. . . whatever that was with the pixels and the avatars. . .is that kind of extreme? I don't know, but the whole thing gives me a pain in my head. I think these people are weirder than the pregnant yardwork porn people.

3) The insanely-detailed Dora the Explorer Wikipedia page. Here's how I came upon this. You see, I was pondering the question of whether the geography of Dora the Explorer is internally consistent. Like, if you collated all the maps from each episode, would you have a coherent and consistent map of Dora Land? For example, in the Boots's birthday party episode, they have to get to the party at Dora's house by going over the Troll Bridge. And, in the flap-book Super Silly Fiesta, the Big Red Chicken's party is also over the Troll Bridge, but it must be in the other direction, because they're starting in Dora's house. The Chicken's party is in a nondescript meadow, which I guess could also be the starting location for the Boots's birthday party journey. So they could be making the same trip in reverse. Except in Boots's birthday party journey they don't have to go past the Mixed Up Farm, like they do in the book.

Or is it unfair to compare the geograpies of the book and the TV show? I mean, the creators of "Lost" manage to keep the island geography consistent across TV and web features, but maybe that's a lot to ask of Nick Jr? Also, Dora's cousin Diego appears from time to time in Dora's world, with all it's weird, lollipop jungle topography, but on his own show, he doesn't have to deal with any of that whimsy crap. He just ziplines around saving animals. I wonder if Dora is actually crazy? And what Dora experiences as the Sneezing Snake Lake is just a little puddle to Diego? With no sneezing snakes?

So in pondering this, I did a quick search to find out if anyone has reproduced images from all the maps in the shows. And I found the Dora wikipedia entry, which is obviously not written by the PR people who produce the show, but by an amateur enthusiast or enthusiasts. It goes on and on and has way, way, a lot of information. So this is not really a reason the internet needs to be over, but more of a "Wow, that internet is really. . .something." I am thinking that the adult who authored that Dora page needs to spend more time looking at yardwork fetish pics. I hear that stuff is huge.

I am sure there are about 97 other reasons I'm forgetting, so feel free to add yours. Also, it's List Lovin' Monday at ABDPBT. Check into it, sister.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Co-Room Mom Has Gone Rogue

Remember how I told y'all how I wound up being a room mom, and also what the job entails? And I've given you a glimpse of the quirky personality of my co-room mom Jan. Well, now Jan is a loose cannon, y'all. She's off-message and operating on her own. We had agreed on a clear division of duties: I was going to collect donations from parents, keep track of the money, and organize the class parties. Jan was going to coordinate the classroom volunteers and do crafts.

Early last week I saw her at school when we were both picking up from Jump Rope Club. She wanted to send an email to the parents about volunteering for reading groups, but she didn't know how to get all of their addresses into her email system. I said, "Well, you have that directory of all the parents that I sent to you as a Word file. It will take a couple of minutes, but just copy and paste all of their addresses from that document into your email. Then you'll have them in your mail and you won't have to do that again." Okay, she was going to try that. We also discussed how the PTA was still murmuring about their flat-donation fundraiser, and I wanted to wait until that was over to collect money for the class. I said that it was about time to start organizing the holiday party and the class auction basket, so next week, I would send an email about party stuff AND donating money. And she would send the email about reading groups. Fine.

So I was surprised to receive, a couple of days later, an email from Jan, forwarded to all the parents by the teacher. It was a big unbroken block of text talking about the party, the auction, the reading groups, AND saying that all parents should send in their donations made out to her. Whaaa? The really weird thing was that this missive was a .pdf attachment that Mrs. S forwarded. I have no idea how Jan managed to save her message as a .pdf, but apparently the goal of getting all the parents' emails into a message was not achieved. So the email arrived with no subject line, no text, and a .pdf attachment. It was like a Chinese puzzle box.

I didn't know if Jan misunderstood our plan, or just had a different take-away from the conversation, or what. So I waited a day, then went ahead and sent out an email to the parents saying, "You've already heard from Jan about x, y, and z, so let's talk about the holiday party," and so on. Jan emailed me right back saying, "Great job w/ the memo! I can never word things the right way so I’m so glad we are together in this!!" And she favored me with an emoticon:
She said that one mom had given her a check, unsolicited, and it seems that Jan panicked and decided she needed to collect all the checks. Or something. But if she is going to keep track of the money, it doesn't actually leave me a lot to do. I considered offering to take over the parent volunteering stuff, since she is now doing the money. Then I smacked my hand against my forehead over and over until I came to my senses. But maybe I am kind of a control freak, or more likely, words and tone are just really important to me, because I didn't like losing control of our communication strategy.

So that's what's up in Room Mom Land. Meanwhile, the children are learning and flourishing, etc. So all is well, I GUESS.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fun Toy Flursday: Double Tagged

I got simultaneously tagged by both Bren and Cassidy to tell 7 things about myself. And what the heck, it's Friday.

1) I love to sing karaoke. My sister and brother are the ones with actual musical talent, but I still like to belt it out. The louder the better.

2) My husband and I are fourth cousins. Or maybe fifth, we're not sure. We met in college, and didn't discover our ancestral connection until we were married. It's hot.

3) I'm writing a dissertation on British lit, and even though I won't have my Ph.D. until next summer, I'm applying for academic jobs this fall, just to see what happens. I love this work, and I love teaching, I'm sometimes haunted by the thought that maybe I should have been a medical doctor, because I think I would have really liked it.

4) I cannot take criticism. Or rather, I can and do take criticism about my work--I seek it out. And please always tell me if my haircut is funny or my pants look bad. But I can't be criticized about my parenting, my personality, or about manners or decorum. If you offer a critique of those things, I will argue you down until one of us is exhausted. And when someone praises or criticizes me, I'll remember exactly what they said forever.

5) I love giving gifts. When I think I've found a good gift for someone, it's very hard to wait for the gift's occasion. But I'm not all that into receiving gifts. Weird, huh?

6) Back when we had money instead of a house, I bought several beautiful purses that I don't really carry that often, but that I can't bring myself to sell. They are among my secret treasures. My current everyday bag is a nylon LeSportsac hobo that I got for $40 at TJ Maxx. No need to discuss how much the other ones cost. Also, I must confess that I judge women's handbags. Like, it certainly doesn't have to be expensive, but if it's tacky, that's all I see.

7) I love gossip. Just please tell me anything about someone you know. I don't have to know the person to be interested. Please.

Now you know everything, internets. And I'm tagging some real-life friends. Or that's not the right phrase. . .maybe brick-and-mortar friends? Kelly, Jane, and David. Tag, dudes. And happy Friday!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Best Ever Baby Jacket

When you're huggin' on your baby in the wintertime, it's nice if you're not huggin' on a stiff nylon jacket. This Hanna Andersson Best Ever Baby Jacket is my favorite garment that Hank has. It's one of those things you wish you could buy again and again. I'm breaking my pattern, for this Things I Love Thursday, to share this jacket instead of something I have around my house. But it does truly make me happy when I'm zipping him into this. It is the snuggliest, the cutest, and the best quality.
Cuteness to die for. And here's the thing--I got the 2-3 year-old size, which is roomy. He wore it last winter, and it was too big, but sweet. This year it is still plenty roomy, and I could even imagine him wearing it a year from now as a snugger layering piece. So a good value. It washes beautifully, and it has a childish look I love for tiny boys, as opposed to a Li'l Macho look. Every year they change the appliques slightly, and it comes in three colors. Buy it on sale. Right now it's marked down to $40, but we can do better, yes? I waited until midwinter and got it from Hanna Andersson for $24, about half the "regular" price. There are several on ebay, like this one, for $29.99, the Buy It Now price, with free shipping. I so wish Hank had a twin.

Remember that jingle, "If they could just stay little 'til their Carters wear out?" Well, Carters ain't what they used to be, but I feel that way about this jacket, and about all the Hanna stuff we have. (I am about done with Gymboree, and I'm going to throw my affections to Hanna, but that's a whole 'nother story.) So think about it if there's a baby or toddler in your life who could be just a teeny bit cuter. That's my Things I Love Thursday!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How To Clean a Toilet the Right Way

In the weeks since we said goodbye to our cleaning lady, I've been refining my toilet-cleaning technique. And I'm convinced that commercials for toilet-bowl cleaners are misleading us with all their talk of disinfecting the inside of your toilet, as though you could keep it free of bacteria for any length of time considering what goes on in there. They're distracting us from the real issue, people. What you really want is for the inside of the bowl to LOOK clean, and for every other part of the toilet to BE clean. You know, the handle, the seat, the lid, the interactive parts of the toilet.

Allow me to digress for a moment on the subject of toilet-bowl cleaners. I bet that the home cleanser industry has done serious focus-grouping on the whole potty situation. Judging from the products on the market, it seems that people must have expressed anxiety with getting the toilet cleaner to cover the inside of the bowl. Like, a sprinkle of powdered comet won't do. I'm guessing the focus groups wanted a pepto bismol effect--coats, soothes, relieves--like, folks out there want to be able to cover the whole inside of the toilet bowl with the cleaning product. That's why we're getting more and more viscous toilet cleaners, with oddly-shaped spouts that are supposed to deliver the product up under the toilet rim, where it will then run down the inside of the bowl, fighting germs all the way. Lysol even has a product called Cling. It's a gel that promises to "stick to the bowl for better cleaning." Like, you're still going to need to use a brush on that, hon. Lysol also offers a bottle of cleaner with a even longer spout, called, seriously, Deep Reach. Um, we're still talking about cleaning the toilet, right? And not going right to the source?

Okay, so here's what I do:
  1. Remove everything from around and on top of the toilet, that is, the wastebasket and the Ikea catalog. Keep the wastebasket nearby, with a plastic liner in it, to hold the paper towels you're going to use.
  2. Glove up and bring a roll of paper towels into the bathroom.

  3. Flush the toilet to wet the inside of the bowl, and sprinkle in some Comet. Close the lid.

  4. Then, using the spray cleaner of your choice--409 works--spray the entire toilet: top and sides of the tank, back of the seat, outside of the bowl, and those weird spaces where it's bolted to the floor. Let it sit for a minute.

  5. Open the lid and seat and scrub the inside of the bowl, using your brush to get up under the rim. When you're satisfied, flush again and rinse the brush off in the water. Put the brush in its little brush holder, which becomes the dirtiest and most untouchable object in the entire house, right? (That's why I store mine in the garage.)

  6. Get a handful of paper towels and start wiping the toilet. Start at the top, with the tank lid, and work your way down. Use plenty of paper towels--don't skimp. Wipe every inch of the outside of the toilet, and pay special attention to the back of the seat where the hinges are. This part can go fast, because you just treat the whole commode as one big, dirty object.

  7. Now it's time to open the lid again and spray the underside of the lid, the seat top and bottom, and the rim of the bowl. Wipe everything with your paper towels. Remember, by this time you should have flushed the Comet away--if you haven't, mixing the spray cleaner with the comet will make noxious fumes. I don't know if anyone ever died while cleaning her toilet, but how embarassing.

  8. A nice finish to this is to clean the floor. I damp-mop with a sponge mop that I use only for the bathroom. But more paper towels would work too.

De-glove, wash your hands, and fix a drink. Announce to your husband, or whoever is around, "I just cleaned the toilet." No reason to let your work go unheralded.

Now that I'm doing this myself, I am interested in whether anyone has found some "green" bathroom products that work. Are there any that really do as well as their toxic counterparts? I had been using this Seventh Generation glass cleaner on my breakfast table, and it just did not cut it, so I went back to Windex. I am sorry, Mother Earth! But with a two year-old, I need the power of ammonia. I am seeking suggestions, though.

So that's my potty-cleaning strategy on this Works for Me Wednesday. Scoodle over there for more useful stuff.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It Was Pretty While It Lasted

This was the maple tree in our backyard, just one week ago.

It was crazy, riotous, gorgeous. While it was at peak color, it cast a reddish light into our sunroom. Every time I turned in that direction, I thanked the providential thinking of whoever decided to plant that tree in that spot, because it was framed so beautifully by our windows. Today ninety percent of those leaves are on the ground in big russet drifts, joined by the less spectacular oak leaves. Raking season is upon us.

This morning I realized that those pesky leaves can serve as a Toddler Exit Alert. I was upstairs making my bed. Hank was downstairs watching Dora (I thought), but in reality he was plotting his next move. I had my bedroom window open to air out the bedroom. I know it is chilly, but I like to do this--I learned it from that book Home Comforts. Anyway, suddenly I heard a sound like Sasquatch crashing through a thicket. I ran to the window and spied Hank trudging through leaves on his way to the sandbox and points beyond, wearing only a pajama shirt, a diaper, and Uggs. That stinker figured out how to open the back door, AND get around the baby gate on the back porch. He had even moved the gate back into place behind him. Luckily, the extraordinary crunching sounds gave away his departure.

We had a little talk about leaving the house without Mama. Like all of our little talks, I suspect it had no effect at all, though he cheerfully agreed to mend his ways. Maybe after the leaves are gone, I'll scatter tin cans all over the yard?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Coupon Shopping: Publix? Consider It Rocked

Hi friends. This NaBloPoMo 30 posts in 30 days thing is really something. I feel like I was just here. Are you sick of me yet? Don't answer that.

I wanted to share my fantabulous Publix trip from yesterday. I got more systematic about my couponing, and it made a big difference. A couple of things clicked for me. For several months now, I've been a more frugal shopper, but I've been kind of hit-and-miss with using coupons. I would plan grocery trips using Fiddledeedee and Bren and others, but if a coupon wasn't an internet printable, I was sometimes too lazy to go and find the right newspaper insert and cut out the coupon. Even though I might have the insert crammed in a drawer. I obviously need the remedial coupon class. I had not discovered Sharpie technology, and the fact that writing the date of the newspaper on the front of the insert makes this all much easier.

So yesterday I stood in my kitchen and went through about a bushel of coupon inserts that I had magically been storing in a tiny drawer. I wrote the date on each one, and made a pile of Redplums and a pile of Smartsource. Then I put each pile in a folder, and I sat down in front of the computer and spent just a few minutes with Fiddledeedee and Southern Savers. I remembered that my Publix doubles coupons of fifty cents or less. That means, I realized, that a newspaper coupon for fifty cents is just as good as an internet printable for $1. (Duh! I told you I need the remedial class.) So when an item is bogo, and I have 2 fifty cent coupons, that is a big savings. I knew my Publix doubled, but it never really hit me before.

Then I went on a delightfully child-free trip to Publix, and I spent $42.15 and saved $60.15. It was fun--lots of good match-ups. My store actually had those winter savings coupon booklets. Grab those and get the College Inn broth coupon and the Hunt's tomatoes coupon out of there. With coups, those 32 ounce cartons of broth were 40 cents each. Score! I got one of the Thai curry ones to try in addition to the regular chicken. Other highlights included those Bertolli pasta meals for $1.25 apiece. The bogo Nabisco crackers with coupons were like 40 cents each too. And I picked up some non-dairy creamer, the bogo canned tomatoes, and the Lysol wipes, among other things. The Last Tango peaches were 69 cents a pound at my store too. Ooh, and with the printable coups, the Stonyfield yogurt cups were like 16 cents apiece. Love it.

At CVS, I only did one transaction. Cassie at Envirosavings had custom-built a great CVS scenario for me, and I did the first half of it. I was pleased that my store had the Revitalift that paid $11.98 in ecb's. I basically rolled 10 ecbs into that. Joke's on you, L'Oreal! I am in a committed and serious relationship with Origins. Then, that store didn't have several of the things I needed to do my wonderful second transaction, so I panicked and bailed. I considered going to the other CVS, but to do that I had to actually drive by my house, and I realized I would only be going so I could use my $5/25 coupon that was expiring, and that it didn't really matter that much. So CVS was short and sweet.

Then, when Laura and I took a ton of clothes to Goodwill, we browsed around their kitchen section, and I found two Denby mugs and a creamer in the Potter's Wheel pattern, for fifty-five cents each. Like this:
The pic doesn't do it justice. I've been drinking my coffee from one of them today and loving the gorgeous texture of the stoneware. So that was it for my getting and spending. Hop over to Supersavers to see what the coupon gurus are up to.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

13 Bits of Info About My Mystery Neighbors

Some of this is stuff I've observed, and some is rumor. I have never blogged about the Mystery People, because it's hard to figure out how to construct a narrative about them. But a list, I can do. The scene is, the Mystery People are kind of our next-door neighbors--our lots adjoin, and from our driveway, we can look through the trees and see their house, but they face a different street, so we don't them all the time like we do Mindy and Conspiracy Guy. Lately they've been on my mind more because their daughters have started showing up to play with Laura. So, things as I learned them, and events in my dealings with them, in chronological order:

1) Shortly after we moved here in 2006, Matt was doing yard work, and he went around the corner to introduce himself and ask about some plantings along the property line. Matt says that through the window by the door, he could see a man sitting inside, ignoring his doorbell ringing. Just sitting there.

2) The exact same thing happened again some weeks later. Yard work, Matt ringing, dude not answering the door.

3) By this time I was acquainted with Normal Neighbor, and in telling me about the neighborhood, she told me that a man lived there alone. She said his name was Bill, and that in days gone by, she and her husband had been friends with Bill and his wife. Like, they did things together socially. Then the wife left him, because--AND HERE'S THE RUMOR PART--Bill had put the moves on a foreign exchange student who was living with them. Again, this is what Normal Neighbor says. She says she heard--we're at two degrees of rumor now--that this young teenage girl ran out of the house in the middle of the night, went to some people she knew down the street, and said that Bill would not leave her alone and was scaring her. Normal Neighbor heard this from the people who had befriended the girl. Bill and his wife had no children. I have never heard of a childless couple having a foreign exchange student and it seemed weird to me. Also, Normal Neighbor said that Bill now goes by William.

4) Frenemy Neighbor confirmed that there had indeed been a foreign student living with Bill and wife. FN said she was quite young--no more than 15--and that she had babysat Frenemy Neighbor's daughter. FN's only other contribution to the story was that she had been on friendly terms with Bill and wife, and then all communication ceased. FN didn't even know the wife was gone.

5) I had still never laid eyes on this guy, but the house always seemed as quiet as a tomb, and kind of unkempt outside. Not messy, just not cared for. My only thought about the guy was, is he really some kind of a creep, and should I be worried?

6) Then, a year ago in the spring, a woman moved in with him and brought her two little girls. The youngest is Laura's age, and the oldest is in 5th grade now. She also brought her mother, who moved into an apartment in the basement. I first noticed the little girls out riding their bikes. They were friendly and slightly ragamuffin-ish.

7) That spring the neighborhood held its neighborhood-wide garage sale, and I walked around a little chatting with people and browsing. I went up the hill through our side yard and Bill's backyard to meet the new lady of the house, Julie. He introduced himself as William. I stood on their driveway and said hello, and told them where I lived, and I bought a baby's bath chair from them. They were weird. It's hard to say why. They acted pleasant, but it seems like it was an effort. Maybe that they were really giving people the hard sell on their junk. Or, it was the hard sell for a neighborhood garage sale. Like, I paused to look at a framed picture of some ducks or something. Bill said, "Even if you don't like the ducks, that's a good frame." I said something polite, and he said, "I promise you that's a two-hundred dollar frame." Only he said it with an air of disgust that I didn't recognize the quality of his merchandise. Okay dude. That is the only dialogue, except one, that I've had with them.

8) One night the cul-de-sac filled up with ambulances and police cars. Julie's mother, who lived in the basement, had died. Julie and Bill were married by this point, and the family left town for a couple of weeks. Normal Neighbor and I wrote condolence cards and left them in their mailbox.

9) After the girls' grandmother died, Bill and Julie got a foreign exchange student--a girl. She rode the bus to high school with Normal Neighbor's son, but I rarely saw her outside. She seemed to care for the little girls a lot, almost like an au pair. I speculated to Matt that Bill and Julie had gotten a foreign exchange student so they could have a nanny. Normal Neighbor was like, "Does Julie know about the FIRST foreign exchange student?"

10) Fast forward to this past summer. Julie had a baby boy in May. I knew she was pregnant because I see the two little girls everyday on the way home from the bus stop. They told me their mom was expecting, and they told me about the baby when he arrived. One day I was at the pool, and Julie came in with the baby in a carseat carrier, and sat down two deckchairs over. She put the baby seat on the ground next to her and sat reading. I was getting ready to leave, and I approached her and said hi. She didn't really look up from her book. I said how cute the baby was, and I said, "You probably don't remember, but I'm your next-door neighbor." She looked straight at me then, and the look on her face was one of pure suspicion. I don't know what else to call it but that. I started to make goodbye noises then, and she semi-recovered herself enough to mumble something. I don't know what.

11) I went home and told Matt, "I think those people are weird." And he said, "Oh yeah, weird." Then he told me that Julie won't speak or make eye contact with anyone when they are all doing the bus stop drop-off in the morning.

12) There is an actual au pair living there now, a young Asian girl. She takes care of the baby boy while Bill and Julie work. She came there while the baby was a new newborn, because the girls commented that she wasn't allowed to be alone with the baby until he was 3 months old. I see her sometimes, checking the mail, when I'm walking to the bus stop.

13) The girls seem kind of unparented. They look a little unkempt. The littlest one never has a jacket. And she seems needy. For a while, she was latched onto Normal Neighbor and her daughter, and I think she might be about to attach herself to us. She's shown up to play every day for the last four days, announcing, "My stepdad says I can stay for an hour," and last night at about 6:30, she and her big sister came to the door and asked if they could sleep over. I said it wasn't a good night, but that we could plan something. I find it strange that one of their parents wouldn't come down, knock on the door with them, and say, "Hi, the girls want to play with Laura, so let's have a moment of facetime as parents because that is how we do in the civilized world. Thanks neighbor!"

I just wonder what is going on in that house. To me, they're the Mystery People, but I don't know if there really is some mystery, or just some kind of dysfunction, or what exactly. Just a vibe I get. Sometimes I over-analyze things. But I tend to put a lot of stock in my instincts, you know? Especially where my own children are concerned. And it may be that our lives are about to intersect with the Mystery People more and more through those girls. I hope I can be hospitable to them--they may need a friend. But I'm not letting Laura go over there. Reading this, what's your take? They worry me.

For other Monday listing action, if you're into that, check out ABDPBT:


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Workin' on My Closet Organization, Yo

Today in my closet, I discovered that I own a special maternity shirt that's specifically for wearing underneath maternity overalls. Like, the shirt comes to just beneath the boobs, with a big cutout for the belly. Um, OMG what? Reader, I cannot believe that I: a) bought such a shirt; and b) that I ever wore or considered wearing maternity overalls. It was from that Motherhood store. In my defense, this dated from my first pregnancy, eight years ago, when I was clueless about most things.

I found the shirt in a sarcophagus-sized rubbermaid container in the closet. The sarcophagus was filled with clothes that I packed up in California, two and a half years ago, to move to our new house here in Atlanta. And then I never touched them again. There was some good stuff in there. And there were some not-so-good moments. The role of Tim Gunn was played by my mother-in-law. At one point this afternoon, I was modeling a J. Crew white brocade bubble skirt with inverted box pleats. I got it on super clearance, all right? She was studying me skeptically, while I said things like, "Is the length wrong?" and "Picture it with a different top!" She said, "It's just bad. Really bad. Bad all over." So into the donate pile it went, along with the Motherhood top, and a batik dress from one of the times I decided I was really bohemian.

Clothing storage and organization is not one of my talents, and knowing that the situation was reaching critical levels, my mother-in-law had offered to come down and tackle the issue head-on. She is a treasure. So yesterday and today, we went through all of the clothes in my closet, both hanging things and clothes stashed in the sarcophagus. Shoes too. I think I hit upon a way to keep this from being totally daunting and unmanageable. I started with a completely clean bedroom. (My mom had helped me put away all of the clean laundry that had been sitting around in my room, bless her.) I started at one side of the closet, and only brought out a handful of hanging things at a time. We assessed each piece, and put it in one of these piles: Donate, Ebay, Garbage, and WTF? Kidding, actually it was just Donate, Ebay, Garbage, and Keep. The keepers I just carried right back into the closet, and then brought out another handful. Then we did the same with the sarcophagus and with the Mountain of Jeans that was overflowing a laundry basket in the corner of the closet. These weren't even the jeans that I wear. These were strange, forgotten jeans from some other lifetime, or a parallel dimension. Does everyone have those or is it just me?

This afternoon I took eight green garbage bags of clothes to Goodwill. Not absolutely all of them were mine--one bag or so was baby clothes. And I feel as thought a great weight has been lifted from the house. I still need to organize the hanging things better, like by summer and winter, etc. But it helped me realize what I have a lot of--sweaters, cardigans, and jackets--and what I need more of--layering tops and good-quality tees. And it was great to take a real inventory of what I have, and know that there was nothing lurking in a storage bin somewhere.

Plus my mother-in-law kept the kids while we went out last night, AND got up with them in the morning, two mornings in a row. We BEG her to move in with us, but she insists on having her own life. Hmmph. Hope y'all are having a good Saturday!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Daring Caper, Part Deux: Mission Thwarted

As you recall, Matt and I have a garbage crisis on our hands, and I was planning to sneak our trash into the neighbor's can for pickup today. Last night Matt and I watched Be Kind, Rewind on pay-per-view (funny and kind of French but not unmissable). Then, about 12:30 am, I told Matt it was time for the caper. I went outside to see if Mindy had put her can by the street. She had not. I waved to Matt, standing in the doorway, and jogged up the hill out of our cul-de-sac to see if any other Friday-garbage people had put their cans out. Miss Terry, around the corner, had hers out. I opened the lid, triggering her motion-detecting floodlights, and peered into the murky depths. Hosannah, her can was nearly empty! One bag lay on the bottom.

I skipped down the hill to tell Matt that it was game on, baby. I thought we could either wheel our can out into the street and ferry the trash by hand, or, I wasn't against temporarily taking her can for a ride, then pulling it back into place with some of our trash in it. I wasn't going to fill hers up, of course, in case she had some last-minute bags in the morning. But something about the whole scheme had crossed over out of Matt's comfort zone. Maybe the distance between our two houses? He announced that he was going to put some of our trash in the back of his car and throw it in the dumpster at his office today. I didn't really see how this was ethically any different from using space in a neighbor's can. But I tend to use Matt's gut instincts as my moral compass, so I was like, whatever. Matt said he just didn't want to get up to such hijinks in the neighborhood. He acknowledged the breathless boldness of my caper, but said we were doing it his way. And nobody on this earth has ever gotten Matt to do something when he was opposed to it. I did whine that my plan was awesome and that Miss Terry's nearly empty can was a sign from God. Nothing doin'.

So I think he only took a couple of bags, so he'll be doing this on Monday too. Lord knows how we'll make it through the weekend.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Daring Daylight Caper(s)

I wasn't home on our garbage pickup day, Tuesday. I was still in North Carolina, and Matt forgot to put the garbage and the recycling out by the street. I had reminded him one time, but I hadn't nagged repeatedly. There was my mistake. We usually don't fill our giant garbage can in a week--it's the big kind with wheels--but we had company over the weekend, and now the can is full to the top. And the kitchen garbage is full. I'm not sure what else to do, so I'm planning a caper. Mindy, next door, has her garbage picked up on Friday. So I'm hoping I can put some trash in her can, if she has room. Is that wrong? I can't see why there would be a problem, if she has the space. She usually wheels her garbage out to the street at night, so I could slip out there under cover of darkness. Then again, she's gone a lot during the day, so maybe tomorrow morning would be best.

If her can is full, then I have no idea what to do, except load the car with trash and cruise around checking the cans of other Friday people, like Frenemy Neighbor. She watches out her front window like a hawk, though. Once she called me to ask why there was a police car in our cul-de-sac, when I had no idea it was out there. Turned out that the neighbor's grandmother had died in their basement. But that's another story. Also, just this morning, Frenemy Neighbor texted me to alert us to the Jehovah's Witnesses in the neighborhood. Maybe this means relations are thawing between us now that the election has come and gone? We've been avoiding each other, if "avoiding each other" means I've been avoiding her and she's been sending me crazy, toxic emails on a daily basis. Like, Obama is not a US citizen, and he took the American flag off his campaign plane, or he wants to turn schoolchildren gay, and illegal immigrants are the reason for the economic crisis, etc. I was kind of disappointed, actually, that she didn't send out a post-election screed, because I figured it would be a doozy. Her yard sign is gone too. Maybe they're going to move to Canada. Or no, it wouldn't be Canada. Maybe Singapore?

So, my garbage situation. After I pull this off, I may have to lay low for a while, but I'll get word to you somehow. And while I'm on the subject of cul-de-sac shenanigans, I want to give a shout out to Conspiracy Guy's little girls, who stole my Halloween wreath. Late last week, I was coming home and I noticed that the wind had blown my wreath off the door. It was down on the doormat. I had my hands full right then and didn't pick it up. That afternoon, I remembered, and opened the door to rehang it. The wreath was nowhere to be seen. I just had a hunch that the girls had taken it. Later, when I was over by their house, I asked the four year-old if she had seen my pumpkin wreath. She said, "No, I didn't see it, but we want it in our house." I said, "Did you happen to pick up my wreath?" She said it was inside, but that she wanted to keep it. I told her that I needed it and to please go get it. I wonder what her parents thought when she brought that home?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Toy Worth Buying: Magnatiles

Good toys are so few and far between. I see all these commercials for bulky, unattractive, and complicated plastic toys, like Dora's Interactive Singing Volcano (okay I made that up), or Jack Sparrow's Spinning Dagger (that one's real), and something inside me says, "Oh heck no." Happily, my kids don't have too many of those kinds of things. Hank has tons of cars, and Laura has a metric buttload of Barbies and dolls, and they both have lots of dress-up stuff. We stick to what works, but I'm always on the lookout for toys that will really occupy them, especially Hank. A busy two year-old makes a happy mama. And Rocks in My Dryer has a great Works for Me Wednesday today: Toys Worth Buying. I am going to be looking over that list.

My recommendation is Magnatiles. I've already raved about these to my friends:

These are kind of spendy--the 32-piece set above is around $50. I don't know why they cost so much, but they are worth it. We have ours in a tray on the coffee table in the sunroom, and everyone who comes in wants to play with them. They are magnetic around the edges, and snap together in all kinds of ways. A great, open-ended toy. I think the best buy might be the 48-piece set, which is $64.50. Some of the sets come with round pieces and little cars. Santa might be bringing one of those. I first saw these clear magnatiles on a preschool's light table. If you happen to have a light table, they're awesome with that.

Other things on my list are this easel from Ikea. It has a chalkboard on the other side, and it's only $24.99: Also, I would like to get a cool Doctor's Kit for Hank, though I can't quite find the one I want. And more giant pads of paper are always needed around here. Laura is tricky. At seven, she really doesn't ask for things unless she sees them. Like, if we went to the American Girl store, she would probably say, "I want a Julie doll!" or something. But she has two AG dolls, and they don't get played with every day. She likes to read, play on her bike and scooter, run around outside, do Webkinz, write and draw, play karaoke, and put on "shows." She is pretty well-supplied for all those things. I did get her this Lands End fluffy robe with her monogram on it. She loves that stuff. Hurry, it's $19.99:

I would like to give her just one thing that delights her. But I am kind of stumped. Anybody have a girl this age? And we're definitely keeping it simple around here. That's why it's so important to get worthwhile things, I think. And Santa, if you're reading, I would like hardwood floors upstairs, a bigger deck out back, Jonathan Adler needlepoint pillows, and a laptop battery that lasts for hours and hours and hours. And peace on earth.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night Mixology

Friends, spirits are high tonight at my house. And maybe I've had too many cocktails, 'cause it looks like Anderson Cooper is interviewing a hologram? Whatever. Matt and I are drinking mudslides, but we're calling 'em Landslides:

1 oz. vodka
1 oz. Kahlua
1 oz. Bailey's Irish Cream
1 oz. milk (the usual cream is too much for me)

Shake with ice, pour over ice, and enjoy while waiting for Obama's speech. And God bless America.