Rolling in Dough

My high school was on what was referred to in the brochure as an “urban campus.” That sounds hip and kind of gritty, but all it meant was that the school was in the city, and not on a very large lot. Because it would have been impossible to constantly track the locations of 250 kids from 8:30 to 3 every day, we were given the freedom to leave “campus” (read: the building) during our free periods and at lunch.

There were several places we used to go, with the closest being a small liquor store on the ground floor of a nearby office building. The school brochure always reinforced that our patronage was for the purpose of purchasing chips and sodas. There was a Roy Rogers and a Burger King where we could get (comparatively) real food, although in later years the Burger King was deemed too far away for a single free period or lunchtime visit. Technically it was completely off limits, but if you had two free periods in a row they couldn’t very well stop you from venturing down there. However, if you did go, it was wise to keep it on the down low and not come back to school wearing one of the paper crowns they gave out to little kids, but that big kids always asked for, advertising your misbehavior. The frequency with which this happened might surprise you. Or not.

There were a few other sandwich shops—a Vie de France, a sub place—and then there was a Giant Food store. The Giant had what was then an exciting new feature: a salad bar. In a little round foil pan with a plastic lid you could, if you were me, drown a pile of unsuspecting iceberg lettuce in Ranch dressing, and pelt it with fake smoke flavored “bacon” bits and croutons that tasted of herbs, salt, and dust. Then you could wander over to the bakery and buy a cupcake festively decorated for the next major holiday with lavish amounts of shortening-based frosting.

There were a few kids who engaged in a more repulsive dietary ritual. They would buy an economy size tube of chocolate chip cookie dough, and eat it all day long. I confess I did this at least once that I can recall.

On the way to school, you’d stop at Giant and buy the roll. Then you’d risk enraging your orthodontist by using your teeth to rip off the little metal crimp that closed the plastic tube. The dough was cold, so you’d start out breaking it off in chunks, eating it on your walk the rest of the way to school.

Once at school, you were forbidden to take it into the classroom, so you’d leave it in your locker, where it would slowly soften to a goopy paste. Any time you visited your locker between classes, you’d squeeze out a mouthful. At lunch you’d polish off a bit more, although rarely did anyone finish a whole tube.

This is because eating nothing but cookie dough for five or six hours straight is one of the most repulsive things you can do as a human being. By about third period (around 10 a.m.), you felt faintly ill. Just before lunch period you were sort of regretting your decision to spend your entire lunch stipend on cookie dough. By the time lunch was over, you would swear this was the last time you’d consume cookie dough for the rest of your life, even though that meant you were ostensibly eschewing cookie dough for the next 70 years, give or take.

Kids generally only did this about once a year, because gross. Somehow we’d forget from one year to the next how revolting the whole experience was, and we’d do it again, only to recall that it was completely vile. We were kind of stupid that way.

Unfortunately, it’s not like the lunches I consumed on other days were so much more balanced and nutritious. I think there was a period of about four years when my lunch budget was a dollar a day. A dollar would buy you a 16 ounce soda, a bag of potato chips (or Nacho Cheese Flavor Doritos, which were a hot newcomer to the snack chip world), and a candy bar. Later I could afford to eat more lavishly when I started supplementing my allowance with babysitting money. I’m kind of surprised that prior to that time I didn’t develop some vitamin deficiency-related disease normally associated with seventeenth century sailors on long voyages, or third world inhabitants.

I will say that knowing what I ate when I was away from my parents during high school makes me a little scared for the period of their lives when my kids have control over their culinary selections when they’re away from home. I think you can understand why.

Have you ever overindulged is something and regretted it? Were your eating habits in your youth when you were away from your parents sketchy at best? Have you ever asked for a Burger King crown, even though you were at least a decade too old to wear one without the possibility of ridicule?

I Might Not Be as Smart as I Look

Kids are often not the brightest or quickest to catch on. My own sometimes seem to be willfully missing the point, or intentionally not getting it. When I get frustrated, and feel harsh words rising in my throat because they are behaving as though they are sharp as marbles, I pause and remember my own experience in what I think of as the Kilt Episode of 1972(ish).

My mother was a fan of kilts and plaid things in general (as you will recall if you read my post that included my description of the Stupidest Halloween Costume Ever Devised at 6:30 p.m. on October 31, or Really,Ever). Many years before the Halloween costume debacle, I owned another kilt, this one in a Royal Stewart tartan (that would be the red one you’re most likely familiar with, for those of you who aren’t Scottish tartan aficionados). It had straps that crossed in the back and buttoned into the waist band in the front.

Because the straps were a double thickness of wool, and because the buttons were stitched to the multi-thickness waist band, getting the straps buttoned was no mean feat. My mom had to do it for me because my fine motor skills weren’t sufficiently developed to do it (I couldn’t have been more than four), and I lacked the strength in my fingers.

Although I probably wore it multiple times, there was one time that stands out and has weathered the ravages of time, wine, and a very minor flirtation with illegal drugs to remain accessible to me.

I was at preschool—it was a Montessori preschool—and at some point during the day nature called. As nature does. I went to one of the teachers, and asked her to undo my straps so I could go to the bathroom.

“You don’t need the straps undone,” was her response.

I remember thinking how stupid she was. I did need to have them undone, otherwise I would be unable to remove the straps. I waited a few minutes, hoping that she would process my request, and realize her response was unacceptable.

I approached the same teacher again, and made the same appeal. Again, she declined on the grounds that it was unnecessary for me to have my straps removed in order to use the restroom. In my four year old way I was starting to get rather pissed off and impatient with this bozo. The straps held up the kilt. I needed to remove the straps to remove the kilt. Parlez-vous Anglais, you idiot?

I would give her one last chance. I waited a few more minutes. Things were starting to get a bit desperate here, so it wasn’t many more minutes. My four year old brain wasn’t much for coming up with new approaches, or finding new angles. I hit up the same teacher with the same plea for sartorial assistance.

“You don’t need the straps undone,” she repeated for the third time.

Really, you twatwaffle? Have I not made myself clear? These buttons are hard. My mom has to fasten them for me in the morning. I might be able to get them undone, but the odds are slim. We are nearing a point of no return here, and if you don’t give me a hand, you’re going to have more to deal with than just some stubborn buttons. I hope you have a mop and some dry undies handy, because we’re going to need them, if you get my drift.

Just at the point when I might have ended up with a nickname like Tinkle Tracy (four year olds are both creative and sympathetic in their nickname assignment), I decided to go to the restroom and try the damned buttons for myself. As I stood there fiddling, it finally dawned on me. What you no doubt have been asking yourself all this time finally occurred to me.

Why did you not just lift up your kilt—since it’s nothing more than a skirt—and go about your business?

So I did. But to this day I am not sure why the teacher, on seeing that I clearly wasn’t grasping what she was implying, didn’t say, “It’s just a skirt—lift it up and go.” Clearly she assumed I was smarter than I am, which is a mistake that many have made through the years. I humor myself she didn’t want to insult my intelligence by giving me so obvious an instruction, or she was confident I’d figure it out on my own. The truth is she came within about 45 seconds of need that mop.

Did you have a wardrobe malfunction as a child? Did you ever have to pee badly enough that you thought you might call someone a "twatwaffle" out loud? Have you ever been in a situation where people clearly thought you were smarter than you are?

Bad Connection

My husband and I have a generally conflict-free relationship. We fight rarely, and when we do, we usually end up laughing. It’s seldom that a dispute will remain unresolved for more than a day. Unless the subject is his goddamned cell phone.

For as long as I’ve known him, and for as long as he’s had a cell phone, he has been horrible about answering his phone. He sets it to silent, and ignores it. This drives me to a state just beyond batshit crazy. Why even have a phone?
A million billion years ago we had Nextel phones. They had that Direct Connect feature, where you could basically use your phone as a walkie-talkie with anyone else who had a similar phone no matter how far away from you they were. It was sort of the audible version of a text message. We used it all the time (as we now use texting), and it was particularly nice while he was traveling. As long as he had the goddamned phone on.
There was one memorable trip to Chicago when I was trying to get in touch with him. With Direct Connect, if my fading memory serves, you would alert someone you wanted to talk to them with some sort of electronic chirp. They could respond or not, but the phone kept a tally of how many times that person had tried to connect with you, similar to the way our current smart phones keep track of how many times someone calls you.
I chirped at him repeatedly with no response. I knew he had his fucking phone, so the fact that he didn’t answer me sent me into the aforementioned state of batshit crazy. I believe I chirped at him 34 times before losing my temper and throwing my phone across the room, where it hit the canvas of an oil painting and made a dent that remains to this day (relax—it was a cheap thing we bought at a charity art auction; it’s not like I hurled my phone at a priceless Renoir or something).
When he finally, finally got around to responding to me, it turned out he’d put his phone in a box of tools and loaded it on the back of a truck where it remained for about two hours before he realized what he’d done.
So cut the guy some slack, you may say. That’s a legitimate reason to not answer you, and you jumped to the conclusion that he was just being a jerk, had a tantrum a four year old would be ashamed of, and damaged a work of art.
Well, in the first place, I would say it was more a work of "art." Also that time it was (semi) legitimate. Every other fucking time it’s been that he just put his phone on vibrate and didn’t realize it was buzzing at him. I’ve asked him about this and it turns out whenever he installs any sort of app that sends push notifications, he opts in to them, which means if his phone is on audible, it’s constantly dinging and chirping sounding, I would assume, like what R2D2 would sound like if he was a particularly chatty drunk.
What a dumb ass.
I went through and opted out of as many of them as I could, but there are still a few that come through, so he still leaves his phone on vibrate 95% of the time, and I still lose my shit about it.
The other night we had this exchange (if you can call it an exchange, when he failed to respond to almost every message sent to him).
Me: "Hey can you stop and get cheese on the way home?"
Him: [no response]
Me: "Hey--we need mozzarella cheese--can you please stop and get some?"
Him: [no response]
Me: "I really need the cheese for dinner--can you PLEASE STOP on your way??"

Him: [no response]
Him: [no response]
Him: “Words With Friends.”
You can imagine my level of agitation upon receiving this.

It's worth noting that his frickin' job is Customer Loyalty Manager, so he takes calls from customers all day long, some of them on his cell phone. Also? There was an enormous bag of shredded mozzarella in the freezer, so I was able to make dinner after all. But that doesn’t mean I was any more pleased about his failure to respond to me. Asshole.

Does your significant other refuse to answer their phone? Have you ever thrown your phone (or other small appliance) across the room in a fit of anger? In what completely frivolous activity does your significant other engage, like "Words With Friends"?

The Greatest Cake of All

It’s my birthday soon. I know, I’m excited too. My birthday is right around Thanksgiving. That sounds like it should be awesome—get some time off, automatic freebie weekend to celebrate—but in fact, it sucks. I’ll spare you my full-on pity party, but let’s just say having a birthday around a major holiday season during which many people travel is a big bummer. I never traveled as a kid, but all my friends in school did. This meant that people were probably not around if my birthday was before Thanksgiving, and there was no school over the long weekend, of course. I think in my whole school career I had a class sing “Happy Birthday” to me exactly once. Boo hoo, poor me, I know, at least I didn’t have polio or something. But still.

The other thing about my birthday that was always something of a letdown was that my mom bought me bakery cakes. Don’t ask me why that was a disappointment to me. I’m sure there were tons of kids who hated the homemade, amaturely decorated cakes that their moms made, but for me it was the opposite.

Add to that the fact that those cakes were always just kind of lumped in with the Thanksgiving dinner desserts (did I mention that Thanksgiving dinner was always my “birthday dinner”? No? How would you like to have turkey for your “birthday dinner” for eleven years in a row? I don’t even like turkey that much) and no one wants a bunch of birthday cake after Thanksgiving dinner. They want pumpkin or pecan pie. My birthday cake went uneaten, except for one sad, depressing slice, cut for me, the Birthday Girl. A birthday cake with only one slice of out of it is what emotional devastation looks like.

My first year of college I wasn’t able to go home for Thanksgiving. We only got Thursday and Friday off, and I was more than half way across the country from my home. Fortunately the university I attended was in the town where my grandparents lived. I was able to go their house and stay with them for the weekend. My grandmother was familiar with my lifelong bakery birthday cake disappointment saga, and said that she’d even bake me a cake. Huzzah!

She took great care, making the cake the afternoon of the day before Thanksgiving—I was still in town at my dorm. We were at an elevation (fine, we were in Fort Collins, Colorado) so she used a chocolate cake recipe from a high altitude cookbook she had. She carefully poured the batter into two springform pans that I think were handed down from her ancestors who settled the Hudson River Valley in the 1600s. She closed the oven, and sat down in the adjacent family room to read.

After about 15 minutes, she noticed a very strong, very bad smell. Something was burning in the oven. Alarmed, she jumped up to check on the cakes. When she opened the oven there issued forth a billow of smoke worthy of a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Sure enough, the batter had leaked out around the seam in the springform pans. She was mystified—she had been using these pans for decades. My grandmother is a child of the Depression, and never throws anything out (including ancient springform pans, clearly). She once bought an $8 repair kit to fix a $14 nylon strap-aluminum frame lawn chair, rather than toss it. There was a little batter left in those pans, so she decided to just go with what she had. It would be a very compact cake.

She finished baking it, cooled it, and iced it. It wasn’t pretty, but it was homemade.

After dinner, she brought it out with candles, and she and my grandfather sang to me. She cut the cake, and we started to eat.

After about two bites, we all started laughing. In addition to being the ugliest, most compact cake ever, it was also like eating frosted lead. Being in that oven with all that smoke had caused it to fall.  We ate about one more bite, and then she did throw it out.

You might think I would be disappointed that my first homemade birthday cake in 17 years was a flop. Even secretly disappointed, because what kind of a jerkwad would say something to someone who tried to do something that nice for them. I was not in the least. That was the best birthday cake I ever had, leaden texture and all. It was flavored with love, and frosted with a genuine desire to please.

My grandmother is 101 years old. I don’t really know how much longer she’ll last. She’s still pretty independent, living in an apartment in a retirement facility. She’s not in a wheelchair, or on oxygen. She occasionally uses a cane to steady herself. Her mind is sharper than mine and she’s more than twice my age (perfect example of what a blerg I am: I had to open the calculator on my computer to figure that out, and I opened Paint and tried to do the calculation with the Rectangular Selection tool). But whatever happens, however much longer she has, that will always be the most delicious birthday cake I ever had.

Excuse me, I think I have something in my eye.

Is your birthday around a major holiday? Has anyone ever made you a super-special birthday cake? Have you ever ruined a baked good to the point that it was hilariously inedible?

The Taking Tree

I’ve mentioned the house we owned with the in-ground pool and the problems we had with drunken pseudo-suicidal chipmunks it attracted, but there was another incident that centered around that pool that’s worth relating.

The pool was put in back in the late 80s, and we moved in right around 1997. It had been in place for probably 15 years when we moved in, which meant that the trees in the yard were 15 years bigger than when the pool was first built. This translated to more shade on the pool, which obviously meant less sun on the water.

You may have noticed that pools at places like country clubs are built on blank expanses that call to mind the Mojave Desert, and are just about as hot. There are good reasons for this. While they don’t want to have to spend any more time skimming leaves and bits of arboreal crap out of the water than necessary, they also want the warming energy from the sun to transfer to the water, to give their heaters a helping hand. Our pool wasn’t heated, and relied entirely on the sun to warm the water.

That was fine back in 1988, but by 2001, the pool got a sliver of sunshine for about 6 hours a day at the height of the summer. The air temperature had an effect on the water temperature as well, and in August, when the daily temperature had been above 90 for more than a week, and the sun had been shining for weeks straight, the water would get to 82 or 83 degrees. This doesn’t sound bad—83 degrees is pretty warm when you’re talking about air—but when you’re talking about water, it’s pretty damned frigid, especially if you’re immersing your whole body in it.

Trees would need to come down, my husband declared. He and his then-business partner insisted they would do it. It would cost $800 per tree to get someone to do it, but they could do it practically for free. They set their sights on the tree that cast the most shade and went to work.

I see no way in which this carefully considered plan could possibly fail.

They bought some rope, took down a section of fence, and got the partner’s big ass truck. They cut a big wedge out of the tree to encourage it to fall in the direction they wanted. Ours was a corner lot next to a dead end street, so they aimed it away from our neighbor on the other side. They tied the rope to the tree, and to the big ass truck, and started to pull. Within a very short time, the rope snapped.

Not to be deterred, they drove down to Home Depot, and got some stronger rope. Which promptly snapped. So they got even stronger rope. Which snapped. They must have done this six times before they finally had to admit defeat, and the business partner headed home. Through all of this, the tree remained stalwart and immobile.

About 8 p.m., after our toddler had been put to bed, while we were sitting in the living room reading, we heard *crack*plop.* I looked up at my husband.

He looked equal parts concerned and sheepish.

“I think that was the tree,” he said.

“And which way do you think it fell?” I asked.

“I hope in the direction we wanted it to fall,” he replied.

We went out to look. You will not be in the least surprised to learn that the tree had fallen in exactly the opposite direction from the one desired. It had broken through the fence, and crushed the front half of our neighbor’s backyard shed. We played over the wreckage with a flashlight, and considered our options.

Fortunately our neighbor was friendly, nice, and understanding. Also, the shed was a piece of crap that had almost nothing in it, and the one thing in it of any use or value was her lawnmower, which was toward the back, undamaged by the tree. My husband considered filing a homeowner’s insurance claim to repair the fence and replace the shed. I pointed out that, in the first place, our deductible was a thousand dollars or something, and the repairs would probably cost less than that, and that while I was pretty sure homeowner’s insurance covers acts of God and acts of nature, I’m not sure it covers acts of stupidity, which is how I would classify two middle aged suburban boobs trying to pull down an 80 foot locust tree with a rope and a pickup truck.

We ended up buying our neighbor a new shed, which my husband assembled for her after completing the demolition of the crappy one. He also repaired the fence, and cut up the tree. While we didn’t pay for his time, it did take him a whole day to do the shed, and another half a day to do the fence and tree. Between the replacement shed and the materials for the fence, plus his time, the cost of having the tree taken down by a professional probably would have been a wash.

We had two more trees taken down (professionally) in September of that year, and finally got to the point where the water temperature would get to about 88, which is refreshing without being chilling. We never got much of an opportunity to enjoy it, though. The following June we had twins, and in September we put the house on the market and moved to the other side of the country.

Have you ever had a tree fall in unfortunate circumstances? Has your spouse ever done anything similarly boneheaded? Have you ever done an expensive home improvement with no intention of moving, only to move almost immediately thereafter?

This is Only a Test

We had an earthquake drill at work. It wasn’t the first one. Our office building is required by law to do them every so often, because we live in an area where an earthquake is a possibility, and they want to be sure that we rehearse crawling under our desks regularly, so we don’t forget this critical and highly specialized skill.

In the event you’ve never taken part in one (I hadn’t until a couple of years ago), the process is fairly simple. They come over the PA system, and read a script that describes what would be happening in an earthquake. You’re instructed to climb under your desk, protecting your head and neck, and stay away from windows.

Because the script was written by a government agency, it has all the charm and linguistic finesse of an airline boarding pass. It never varies from one drill to the next, and every time we hear it, it is a source of mirth and amusement. It begins by notifying you that the earthquake is starting. It describes the shaking causing items to fall, the lights flickering and the air filling with dust. You are instructed to stay away from the windows, crawl beneath your desk and wait. Once the fictitious quake ends, you’re told that you should move toward the “core” of the building, near the elevators, as this is the most stable location. (I find it interesting that six 30 story empty shafts through which the elevators travel is the most solid part of the building. I get why, but you have to admit, it’s still a little odd.) You’re told that once the quake was over, you’d be notified of further emergency procedures to follow. Then they thank you for participating, and you ostensibly climb out from under your desk and get back to work.

I think that speech was written in about 1985 and hasn’t been updated since. When they talk about the falling items, they talk about “binders.” Who uses binders anymore? I mean my kids do at school, but in my office the only binders you can find are in the supply room. It appears that at one point they held training materials (they all have various company names on them), but the training documentation has all been removed and the binders abandoned, unloved and unneeded. Seriously, binders?

The announcement about further emergency procedures seems a bit strange. I hope they have a readily accessible supply of poster board and huge markers, because that PA system is going to be completely out of commission after an earthquake. If the power’s out, the PA’s going to be out too. The only way they’re going to get information to us is by handing out post it notes, or by mental telepathy.

This was the first drill we’ve had since we hired a few new contractors. Quite frankly if we really do have an earthquake, we’re going to lose a huge percentage of our contractors, because they sit right in front of the windows. They’re pretty much doomed.

Once the drill was over, I heard one of our contractors talking to another one.

“I took notes,” she said.

Wait, sorry, what? You did what? You took…notes? On what, exactly? I can only assume she was so moved by the dramatic narrative during the drill that she wanted to record her feelings in the moment. Because seriously, what is there to take notes on about “crawl under your desk”? I’m also wondering what’s going to happen if we really do have an earthquake. How long is it going to take her to locate those notes to figure out what it is she’s supposed to do? It’s worth pointing out that this woman is the same one who spent four straight days humming, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” under her breath.

A friend of mine was telling me about his experience in a quake that happened before I moved here. He was at work, and they heard the noise. Because they worked near a train yard, he said their first thought was the train cars were slamming together, as they apparently sometimes did. When the noise continued, everyone in the office looked around at each other, and they all promptly dived under their desks, just as the (non safety) glass in the windows above their heads began buckling. They recognized the circumstances, they remembered the correct procedure, and executed flawlessly. I’m confident in a similar position I too will be able to do as well, even if I don’t practice constantly. Call me arrogant, but I think I’m a natural.

New Math - Old Problems

Normally I keep it pretty light around here, with the exception of expressions of love that bring to mind Viking death rituals costumed by Victoria’s Secret, with stage direction by Stephen King, but today’s topic is a little less humorous. Sorry if I’m chapping your buzz.

My sixth grader came home with some “factors” homework. Find the prime factorization of 270,000. Well, fuck. I mean, when you think to yourself, “Lord, I haven’t done this since sixth grade,” how important is this shit? I used it in sixth grade and then not again for 33 years. Understandably, I was a little rusty.

My son wanted to use his calculator to figure it out, but I vetoed that because I’ve seen what he does. He just starts typing in random numbers until something shows up on the display without a decimal point, and he calls that shit good. Sorry, no.

Under the pretense of emailing the teacher for the calculator use policy, I googled “factorization of 270,000” and got something like 32 x 42 x 53. None of you math whizzes out there need bother telling me that’s wrong. I’m pulling numbers out of my ass to act as examples. But holy crap—I had no idea how we were supposed to arrive at that answer.

Fortunately my husband was home, and he took over, but listening to him explain it to our son brought back the waves of insecurity I’ve always had about math, the feeling of being confronted with a problem I didn’t understand, and just wanting to put my head down and cry.

The worst thing is I know my son has the same anxiety. Even though I share it, I have no idea how to help him. Nothing anyone ever tried with me worked. Tutors, workbooks, one on one sessions with teachers—it all seemed like a complete waste of time. I watch him struggle and I want to put my head down and cry now, because I can’t help him, even though I understand the struggles his brain goes through. Nothing makes you feel more hopeless as a parent than not being able to help your child, even though you know exactly what they’re facing.

I know he looks at a problem with that many zeroes and shuts down. “That number is too big,” he thinks, “I have no idea what to do.” That’s when he starts typing random shit into the calculator, in the hopes that the little piece of plastic that never makes an arithmetic mistake will magically provide the answer. When that doesn’t happen, he’ll just give up, unless there’s someone pushing him. If that’s happening, it’s actually worse. One of the traits he inherited from me is stubbornness. I can see the same look on his face that I got on mine when I was determined I “didn’t get it,” and was going to give the fuck up. It's terrible to feel like you’re looking in a mirror and you just want to slap the expression off your reflection. But when your reflection is your first born child, against whom if anyone ever raised a hand, you would lash out like a vicious fury, cutting  down the threat with a single blow, you feel like a complete failure. What kind of monster wants to smack their kid for a feeling they totally get and have experienced themselves? Me. I am that monster.

I wish I could say this whole experience ended on a happy note. It did not. In my stress over my child’s math homework, I fucked up dinner, and ended up sitting on a chair in the kitchen while my husband tossed almost every (repulsive) thing I’d made out. Word of advice: if you normally make your stuffing with sausage (I do), and you don’t have sausage to put in it, don’t use slab bacon. Yuck.

But there I sat, on the verge of tears, ostensibly because of the disgusting dinner, but really for the reasons I’ve outlined above about my frustration over my complete inability to be of any help to my child, and my frustration over having seemingly passed on this math anxiety/stubborn asshole personality combination to him.

My oldest is the most caring, sweetest, loving little boy that ever lived. When he heard my husband ask, “What’s wrong with you? You look like you’re about to cry,” he came over and said, “What’s wrong, Mommy? Don’t cry, Mommy,” and hugged me as hard as he could.

That should have made me feel better, but it made me feel worse. I remembered being his age and finding my mother in tears. I remember asking her what was wrong (the answer was, lots of things over lots of years). She would tell me, and I would hug her, and tell her how much I loved her, and that everything would be OK. She would smile weakly, and hug me back, and acknowledge that I was right. But then I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t happy right away. Wasn’t what I just did sufficient to make it all better? Wasn’t that what you wanted to hear? Wasn’t I right? Everything was fine now, wasn’t it?

But it wasn’t then. And it won’t be now. And I don’t know how to make it be. And I know he walked away feeling like he hadn’t done enough, that he had failed at cheering me up, and not sure what else he should have done. The answer of course is, “Nothing.” Sometimes people just have to get through things on their own, and nothing you can do is going to fix it. There’s no magic calculator to give you the answer. You just have to work your way through it.

The Pinterest Nation

­We need to have a serious talk about Pinterest. I love me some Pinterest. It’s an awesome idea that has tangible benefits. I use it in a multitude of ways, some serious, some not so serious. The conversation we need to have isn’t actually about Pinterest, per se, but about Pinterest’s users.
Since their user base is comprised of members of the public, one of course expects it to be as diverse as the public is. Within that spread we find both normal, rational human beings, and another faction that are a little less rational, whom I sometimes think of as “raving fucking lunatics."
Before you judge me too harshly for my opinion of my fellow pinners, allow me to explain.
At some point I noticed a lot of quite wacky shit on Pinterest. Stuff that would clearly never work, or was just downright ludicrous for one (or often, many) reasons. Being the sort of person I am, I created a board to showcase these things, and added my commentary to the images. The board is called, “Presented with Comments.”
I have a modest following on Pinterest. This particular board has perhaps 400 followers. As Pinterest goes, it’s not hugely well known. But lord love a duck, some of the people who repin things from this board are clearly batshit crazy.
Allow me to provide some examples. Let's look at this first.

I presume if you’re reading this blog, you grasp that my comments on this picture are provided tongue in cheek. And yet, at last check it had been repinned 48* times from that image, and in a random spot check, I would say that at least 90% of the pinners left my text under it, and pinned it to a board that had a "cake decorating" theme.

Oh so what? Not everyone is as hung up on the copy as you are, you’re probably saying, they care about the picture. Well, fair enough, but the issue I have is what that really means is the people who found the image of that horrid cake and repinned it intact didn’t get the joke. When someone reads something like that and pins it intact and clearly has no clue that my comment was just oozing sarcasm, I regard them with a feeling halfway between pity and disdain.

Let’s take another example.

This little gem has gotten a respectable 23 repins. In almost every case, it’s pinned to a board called something like “Glitter All The Things!” or “glitter glitter GLITTER.” Which right away calls into question the taste of the  pinners, because I despise glitter almost as much as glue sticks (no, make that more than glue sticks—glue sticks at least have some worthwhile function on occasion; glitter is forever a useless, irritating asshole), and yet these people are creating boards to honor it. I find that to be just strange, frankly. However, once again, in almost every instance, my text has been transferred intact.

And finally, Exhibit C, as it were.

So, just wow, right? Eight people thought enough of this to repin it. Two of them on boards that contain either similarly macabre or similarly amusing images. But that means six people actually think this is a great idea and would be a fun, romantic surprise for their sweetie. This is the sort of thing that makes you say, “What the everloving fuck?” It does me, anyway.

Seeing just how weird some people are based on what they’ll pin off Pinterest adds a new dimension to my already sketchy opinion of a good chunk of the human race. Sometimes I walk down the street and pass people, and wonder if one of them is one of the freaks that thinks curling up in a giant box surrounded by flowers and dressed only in lingerie, looking like something out of porno film called “Done to Death” would be an unusual way to say “I love you!” to that special someone next Valentine’s Day. Because apparently there are at least six people on earth who do.

*I realize in the image above it shows 38 repins. It's been repinned ten more times since I took that screen capture, a couple of weeks ago.

An Open Letter to Thanksgiving

Dear Thanksgiving,

I hear many complaints on your behalf about this time every year from people who are upset that Christmas is stomping on you, causing you to be overlooked. While I agree that this is unfortunate, I have to wonder if some of it isn’t your own fault. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but hear me out.

You have to admit that as holidays go, you’re not the flashiest, funnest one of the bunch. We don’t get to give presents, dress up as zombies, or blow shit up because of you. What we get to do is make an enormous meal, which for some people is not within their comfort zone, or even their abilities. I don’t think your problems are anything a good PR person couldn’t fix. While I am not a PR person, I can offer a few suggestions to get you started. There are a couple of things where the train has already left the station, but not everything is irreparable.

Your icons are, let’s face it, a little dull. Whereas with other holidays we get a cute bunny who brings jelly beans and Cadbury Crème Eggs (bless that little rodent), or a man who performs a seemingly impossible feat on an annual basis, your spokespeople are Pilgrims. The Pilgrims may have been a fine group, without whom many of us would still be attending Anglican Eucharist every Sunday, but they’re not really much of anyone’s idea of a good time. You might consider seeking some new talent. Someone with broad appeal who just screams, “I’m a good time!” I’d recommend someone like Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny, but I think they’re under contract to other companies. But that’s the general idea.

Decorations for you share a lot of crossover with autumn in general, and run to colored leaves and gourds. There’s no bling, no twinkle. When you can obtain suitable adornment for an occasion by opening the back door and picking some shit up off the ground, you’re not really trying very hard. Maybe take a lesson from some of the bigger name holidays—find a central icon. Christmas has its tree, Easter its basket. I know you have that horn of plenty, but can we be honest? Lame.  And it’s not like on Thanksgiving morning I wake up and that thing has been in any way transformed. It has the same orange and brown leaves, and strangely warty gourds that were there the night before. There needs to be some anticipation to bring on that rush of excitement.

Food is your strength, and you want to play that for all it’s worth. However, I need to point out that turkey wasn’t your best call for a primary protein. Turkey is chicken’s ugly girlfriend. I hate to say that, but it’s true. It’s such a big bird that it’s a really hard thing to get right, and most people don’t do a very good job. If you want to be popular, you can’t make people suffer through a meal of what has the very real potential to taste like gravy-covered rope and sawdust when prepared by the wrong hands. The fact that people have to try to find ways to disguise leftover turkey should have been a red flag. I think the damage is done here, but if you can shift focus to some of the more widely admired side dishes, it's not a total loss. I’d work on promoting the stuffing and mashed potatoes—almost everyone loves a carb.

Also, that moving-the-date-around thing was not a good choice. Again, not something I think we can remedy at this point in time, but you have to admit, your lack of predictability is an issue. Easter pulled it off, but it took chocolate to make it fly. With you we have a moving target of a date, and turkey. You feel me here.

Part of your problem is that you’re not the squeaky wheel. Christmas has so many moving parts—the food, the gifts, the decorations. You’re always the same. Once we’ve decided on who’s hosting you in a given year, we’re pretty much done. There’s not much left to ponder and plan. We set the menu by rote, generally having the same things we had last year and the year before. We might mix it up and use pancetta in the Brussels sprouts instead of bacon, but really, there’s not that much to differentiate last year’s meal from this year’s.

I suggest you change your angle. Instead of trying to be a big fish in a big pond, be a big fish in a small pond. As someone who starts their Christmas planning in July (hey, you’re a holiday represented by dour fun-hating Puritans and a bird that’s been documented as being not only too stupid to come in out of the rain, but one that will look up at falling rain with its mouth open and drown, so don’t you judge me), I do actually look forward to Thanksgiving as a break in that. Before Thanksgiving I make my decorating plans, decide which cookies to make and create lists of ingredients I’ll need to buy, decide who’s getting what as gifts. I don’t take any action, but the planning is a significant effort.

Then you show up in late November, and I take a break for a day. For a day I spend time with my kids (when they’re not playing fucking Minecraft because it’s not a school day, so they get to do that), I relax by making some rolls (my usual contribution to our holiday meal), I look around the house and see what will need to be done to get ready for Christmas, but I don’t need to actually do it. I start drinking Prosecco right after lunch if I feel like it (it’s a holiday thing).

Sell yourself as a pause, an intermission, a clean delineator between the planning and the execution around Christmas. I’m sure plenty of people wait until the Friday after Thanksgiving to start thinking about Christmas, but I wonder how often that delay is fueled by guilt because everyone says Christmas “starts too early” these days. Wouldn’t you be something of a hero if you said, “Hey, you know what? It’s totally OK to start thinking of my buddy Christmas as early as you want—you know, plan and whatnot so you’re not all stressed the day after me. Just look at me as a pleasant day off before the insanity of Christmas or Hanukah comes around. You don’t even have to think very hard about what to serve to your family to eat. I’m a gimme of a holiday.”

I think this strategy could work for you. Why not give it some thought.




When we bought our first “big” house (one with more than two bedrooms), it came with an in-ground pool. We couldn’t believe our luck. We could actually afford this? Really? It was true. So we jumped on it, and spent four years with an amazing luxury in our yard.

Yes, it cost us some money—about $300 a year to get someone to open and close it, and each year we had to shell out on average $300 to repair or replace some piece of equipment or other. Ultimately we had to have the pool deck replaced, and the pool resurfaced, but honestly I don’t think if you added up those expenses, plus the cost of the chemicals (which was minimal), it would add up to more than we would have spent on a pool membership, with the club house minimums and dues that involves. Plus it was ours all to ourselves, was open from whenever we wanted to whenever we wanted (not Memorial Day to Labor Day), and available 24x7. The pleasure far outweighed the pain.

There was, however, one experience we had with this pool that a pool membership would have spared us. Drowned chipmunks.

Overhanging the pool deck was a mulberry tree. All spring, summer, and fall, as the mulberries ripened, they fell on the pool deck. They’d sit in the hot sun, and ferment. They’d become boozy, high octane berries. Chipmunks like mulberries and they weigh about 3 ounces each, so they have the alcohol tolerance of a 19 year old sorority girl. They’d eat some berries, and be half in the bag, staggering around the pool deck.

The stages of drunk must be slightly different for chipmunks than for humans. It’s my experience that thirst doesn’t really hit until the alcohol wears off, and it’s part of the hangover stage. Evidently chipmunks get thirsty right away. These stupid chipmunks would lurch over to the pool and try to get a drink of water. The only problem was the level of the water they were trying to drink was about 6 millimeters further down from the lip of the pool edge than the length of the average chipmunk. You probably don’t need me to spell out the result of almost every single one of these attempts.

Another fact about chipmunks is they can’t swim. Squirrels can—one jumped in and went for a dip while I was sitting out there one day, and I chased that little asshole right out. But chipmunks are hopeless and pretty much drop like sinkers as soon as they hit the water. Chipmunks have a lung capacity of about ¼ of a teaspoon, so they also drown almost instantly. We were constantly hauling drowned drunken chipmunks out of our pool.

I hope you’re curious about what we did with the corpses, because you’re going to find out. The house behind us was empty—the people who lived in it moved out about two weeks after we moved in (a coincidence? I don’t know) so the yard was overgrown with ivy and other vines. We would scoop the chipmunks out of the pool with the long handled skimmer, and using it as a sort of catapult, fling them over the fence into all that brush.

Just about the time we were moving out, someone started renovating that house behind us. They started with the house itself, and hadn’t gotten to the yard before we moved to the other side of the country, so I have no idea when they may have discovered the chipmunk mass grave at the far edge of their property, nor what they concluded when they did. I myself would probably have assumed it was some kind of Jonestown/Heaven’s Gate scenario, but with chipmunks. I’m also not sure what the people who bought our house are doing with the drowned chipmunks now since our disposal option is not available to them. Because I’m quite sure those stupid chipmunks are still getting shitfaced on fermented mulberries and drowning in that pool.

Having Four Kids: An Open Invitation, Apparently

I have four children. The “second child” is twins, and I have a daughter who was born after they were. The three older ones are boys. This is an unusual pattern in our society today. You see lots of parents who have just twins, or parents who have an older child, and twins after, but that’s where it ends. You also see plenty of two- and three-child households. Four, in any configuration, is less common (never mind people who have more than that).
I am an only child, for a multitude of reasons. Growing up, I hated it. I’ve ranted about that before, so I’ll spare you a repeat, but I will say I know far more only children who agree with me than who enjoyed being an only. But that’s a debate for another time. Because of that, I wanted multiple children, which I clearly had. What I find interesting about having four children, some of them twins, is the kinds of things people say to me. I don’t know what makes them think that because we’ve exchanged first names, or sometimes just eye contact, it’s assumed I will welcome their questions or comments on my family circumstances, but evidently some people have fewer boundaries than others.
Here are some things people feel free to ask me or tell me when they learn about my four children, and their genders.
“Finally got your girl, I see.”
Actually fuckwit, I wasn’t “trying” for a girl. I was having a fourth child, and it happened to be a girl. As a matter of fact, given history, I was pretty confident I was having a fourth boy, and I was totally fine with that. My husband was one of two boys. His father was one of two boys. His uncle (my father in law’s brother) had two boys. My husband’s paternal grandfather had a sister, but he was one of something like seven, so the odds were significantly greater that there would be a girl, but the rest were boys. Boys are kind of a thing in my husband’s family. I have a picture taken at a family wedding of all the women in my husband’s family, and there is one woman in it who carried the last name by birth. The rest all married it.
Also? Just because you have a girl doesn’t mean it’s going to be a nonstop festival of My Little Pony, Barbie, and pink glitter all day every day. I’ll admit, I loved the idea of buying that stuff for my daughter, but from a very early age she has scorned dolls, dresses, and anything pink. She has three big brothers. She wants to be like them. She wants to play roller hockey next Spring, and she will. She’s emphatically her own person, and that person has nothing to do with Polly Pocket or Hello Kitty. I can’t tell you how much I admire her. In fact, I have said when I grow up, I want to be my daughter because she knows her own mind, she is unapologetically herself, and fuck what anyone thinks.
“Was she an accident?”
This one actually makes me lividly angry, but I manage not to say what I’m thinking which is, “Why? Were you?” It’s not any of anyone’s business, but I will say here she was not. When my twins were about six or eight months old, I felt like someone was missing from our family. I didn’t know who—I just knew we needed another child. So we had another child.
I’ve had this conversation with friends who are debating having another baby, and I tell them, “If you don’t feel like you’re ‘done,’ you may not be done.” It’s a gut feeling, and one that may not be shared by your spouse. Fortunately in my case, my husband had no fear of four children versus three, so I was able to indulge my gut. Not all women are as successful; I know marriages end over this issue. That’s why I will discuss my daughter’s conception here. If it helps someone to gain some understanding and insight, then it’s worth it.
As a kid I used to say I wanted six children (watched a lot of Brady Bunch, y’all), but when I actually had four, I was good. I love that we’re six, because we’re three and three, or two, two, and two. We take up exactly a full car at Disneyland on any ride. We’re four boys and two girls. We divide up nicely in any of a number of ways.
 “Did you have twins because you used fertility drugs?”
How about you tell me about all the medical procedures you’ve undergone in your lifetime, including the personal and embarrassing ones, and I’ll answer that question. I’m especially interested in the details of your last colonoscopy, or pap smear.
Here’s a fact my obstetrician presented me with—if you’re over 35 and you’ve already had one baby, you are four times more likely to conceive twins. You can draw whatever conclusion you like from that information.
 “They know what causes that, you know.”
Another one that makes me want to kick the person who delivers it in the stomach. My reflex response (which I haven’t said aloud…YET) is, “What a pity your mom didn’t learn the secret in time.” That may sound rude, but the implied sentiment is that four is too many children. Fuck you—I’ll have as many children as I want, and you get no say in what that number is. This comment usually comes from men a generation older than I am who think they’re being funny. They are not.
“Are you done?”
Since you’re not the other half of the team creating these children, that’s actually none of your goddamned business. I usually respond to this with something coy like, “For the time being,” or “I’ll let you know when I am.” Nosy assholes.
“Are you Catholic?”
Are you serious? 
 “I don’t know how you do it.”
To be clear, this doesn’t bother me at all. It’s just something people say. Honestly, I don’t know how I do it either. I just do it. I should say how we do it, because my husband is a full partner in this lunacy. Some days I feel like I’m doing a better job than others. There are days I’m convinced I need to learn more about the penal system in this country, in case I need to figure out what one is or is not allowed to bring to prisoners on visiting days. Other days I feel like I should think about what I’ll wear to the Nobel Prize award ceremony (pastels or jewel tones?).
But what I tell people is, “One day I’m going to figure that out, and then I’m going to write a book. When that happens, you have to promise me you’ll buy a copy so I can spend my retirement living in the style to which I would like to become accustomed.”
Please promise me you’ll buy one too?

Say it With Me: "Booing is Bad"

My nine year old came to me a few minutes ago and uttered these ominous words:

“Who are we ‘Booing’ this year?”

My response was “We’re not fucking ‘Booing’ anybody because ‘Booing’ is the stupidest fucking thing ever.” I am probably paraphrasing.

If you’re lucky enough not to know what Booing is, let me enlighten you. Booing consists of gathering up a bunch of Halloween-related crap—candy, plastic spider rings, shit with pictures of Frankenstein on it—putting it in some kind of autumn-themed container, taking it to someone’s house, ringing their door bell and running away. You’re supposed to include a piece of paper with a droll and adorable poem about how they’ve been “ Booed” and now they’re burdened with sharing the love in the form of Booing some new people. Once you’ve been “Booed” you tape a piece of paper with another charming Halloween-themed image on your front door so your neighbors know you’ve already been screwed. I mean, Booed.

This happened to us about three years ago, and since the kids were younger, and it was a novelty, we played along. We bought some cheap junk and a few plastic pumpkins and brushed up on our ringing-the-doorbell-before-running-away skills. The kids had fun at school the next couple of days, listening to their mystified schoolmates try to figure out who could have done this, before they finally ‘fessd up as the culprits. Ha ha, we got you.

Then Christmas rolled around. And Booing became Elfing. And then just before Easter, Elfing morphed into Egging. This shit was getting out of control.

I have a plea for you parents. Please, please can we stop the fucking Booing? It’s cute. Once. But isn’t it bad enough that I have to buy Halloween costumes and candy, and make giant spider webs out of twine on my front porch from which to hang enormous fake spiders, and dig the nasty slimy guts of out unsuspecting gourds and hack faces into them without also having to spend $30 on cheap plastic shit that no one wants in their houses anyway for putting in “boo buckets”?

I’d also appreciate it if we could knock that shit off for all the other holidays—Christmas and Easter and St. Patrick’s Day. The day I open my front door and find a “pot of gold” with a lot of shamrock themed garbage in it on my doormat, along with a note that says, “You’ve been visited by Lachlan the Leprechaun!” it’s highly likely I will beat the shit out of someone.

I realize there are going to be parents who label me a grouchy bitch who wants my children to grow up without any joyous memories of carefree holiday delights. I suspect these are the same parents who insist on giving out birthday party goodie bags, celebrate shit like National Rubber Band Day, and who have personally authored three lists of “101 Elf on a Shelf Ideas.” But you know, we all spent our childhoods without Booing and Egging and all that other crap and I don’t personally feel that I was in any way deprived or missed out. Despite what these parents would think was a clearly disadvantaged upbringing, I did not grow up to rip off liquor stores, or set fire to orphanages. I am a respected member of my community. I don’t have a police record, a history of visits to rehab, or watch “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

I just hate the overboard. I am not the first parent to complain of this. In fact, as much as any other debate—sugar consumption, sleep habits, spanking—I think the parenting world may most quickly choose up sides over the excessive celebration of holidays versus the more restrained let’s-set-the-bar-low-to-make-it-easier-for-ourselves-to-achieve-success  camps. My position is that kids who spend their childhoods constantly surrounded by confetti, glitter, and cupcakes decorated like Duncan Butterflies to celebrate National Yoyo Day are children who are going to face crushing disappointment as adults when no one else in their office thinks their announcement that June is Accordion Awareness Month, and therefore the “hold music” on the company’s phone system should be switched over to polka tunes for the next 30 days is a fantastic idea. That’s the kind of thing that almost guarantees they’ll be labeled assholes. I think this is something we should strive to spare our children.