1/28/09

My Unfavorite Things

Because it's that kind of day.

  • The stickers on apples.

  • How very cold it is in my bathroom. We're keeping our thermostat down low to save energy/money, and mostly the house is tolerable if you wear a big sweatshirt, but my bathroom is just frigid. Especially the porcelain toilet seat. Brrr.

  • People who don't understand four-way stops.

  • When your child wakes up whining that she's so siiick and she can't possibly go to schooool today, and then fake-cries pitifully when you tell her to get dressed anyway.

  • When your child then proceeds to throw up everywhere, and then cries that you're so meeean because you didn't belieeeve her that she was sick.

  • Stomach viruses.

  • Mouth noises of any kind. Smacking, slurping, crunching, munching, snoring, gargling, whatever it is, don't do it around me. Often I have to leave my desk for a moment while my cubicle-mates eat their lunches. Gah.

  • Grocery shopping.

  • When a book I really want to read is not available in Kindle format.

  • The Suite Life of Zack and Cody

  • When authors drop startling or confusing facts and then fail to elaborate. For example, whilst researching a paper about Alexander Pope, back in college when I did things like research and write papers, I came across this line: "His sister, who was born with a tail, died young." And that's it. No more information about the sister, or the tail, or why she had a tail, or why people can be born with a tail, or whether or not her having a tail contributed to her early death. Or, in a book about the Terra Nova polar expedition, this line about Apsley Cherry-Garard: "His shivering was so intense that his teeth shattered." Yikes, but there was no follow-up about his teeth. Did all his teeth shatter? Did he have, like, jagged bits of teeth left? How did he eat? How did he not have a constantly bleeding tongue? You can't just say that someone has a tail, or that someone's teeth shattered, and then not follow up on it, you know?

  • When I obsess over silly things like sentences in books I read over ten years ago.

  • Mopping.

  • The fact that every night I swear to myself that I'm going to get up ten minutes earlier the next morning, but each morning the alarm goes off and I just lay there and think, But I'm so tiiiired.

  • My hair.

1/27/09

My Favorite Things: My Kindle

I got a Kindle for Christmas. You're jealous, aren't you? If you're not, you should be.

I've read six books on my Kindle in the past month and not once have I missed holding a physical book in my hand. The screen is great -- no glare, no fuzziness, it's just like reading ink on paper. It's easy to learn to use, it's easy to navigate. It's actually easier to read than a book in some situations -- for example, while lying in bed, because you can prop it up with one hand and not worry about the pages flopping over. You can read it while complete covered up with a blanket, hands and all, because all you have to do is nudge a button to get to the next page. I'm sure that ease of reading while lazing in bed under the covers was not high on the list of design features that were considered in the device's manufacture, but there you go.

The most wonderful thing about the Kindle is that, with it in my hand, I will never be without something to read. Even if I finish the book I'm on, I can download another one in less than a minute (only $9.99 for new releases!). I can read newspapers, blogs, and magazines; I can surf the web. It's true that not all books are available in Kindle format, but with a current library of over 200,000 titles, I think I'll be set for a while. (My only fear is -- what happens if Amazon goes out of business? What will I do then? Perish the thought.)

So far I've read:

The Price of Butcher's Meat by Reginald Hill
The Black Tower by Louis Bayard
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
The Lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury
Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life by Allen Shawn

...and not a single tree had to be cut down for my reading pleasure, and I don't need an ounce of extra space on my bookshelves.

Love the Kindle.

1/26/09

My Favorite Things: Sandra Boynton

It's really cold, and I'm grumpy. So this week we're going to talk about my favorite things.

My mom gave each of us a calendar every Christmas. When I was eight or nine, mine was a Sandra Boynton cartoon calendar. The January picture was of a bunch of cats in a hot air balloon, and the caption said: "Oh no! It's only January, and this calendar already has catsup on it!" Get it? Catsup? Cats, up in the air? You can bet that my eight-year-old self found that very funny.

But it wasn't until I had my first child that I became a true Boynton afficionado. Mallory had almost every Boynton board book, and we loved them all. The ABC book, with the Penguins Painting and the Kangaroos Kissing. Blue Hat, Green Hat (oops!). Hey, Wake Up! with its broccoli stew (for the rabbit, not for you!) and The Bedtime Book with its perfect last line (The moon is high, the sea is deep, they rock and rock and rock to sleep). But her very favorite book, the one we read for bedtime for probably six months straight, was this one:

There is nothing funnier than hippos going berserk.

When Mallory was a bit older, we discovered Boynton's music, in particular the "Philadelphia Chickens" album. My very favorite song was "Please can I keep it?" (It followed me home, what exactly it is I don't know), and I can't think of "Faraway Cookies" without laughing. It's a song about a kid unable to reach the cookie jar, which is funny, but it's set to this very melancholy tune, and one day it came on and Mallory listened for a few bars and then just burst into tears. "What's wrong?" we asked in concern, and she said, "It's...just...so...sad!"

Above all others, though, Mallory loved "Snuggle Puppy"; we often had to put "Snuggle Puppy" on repeat so she could listen to it over and over and over. She preferred to do this while sitting on my lap, snuggling, of course. And it's no wonder she loved it so much; it's about a parent loving a child:

OOO, Snuggly Puppy of mine,
Everything about you is especially fine!
I love what you are
I love what you do
Fuzzy little Snuggle Puppy I love you!

For some reason, though, we didn't read much Boynton to Phoebe. Maybe it was because when Phoebe was a baby, Mallory got to pick out the books, and she'd outgrown the board books by then. (Also, Phoebe has generally preferred reading to herself to being read to.) Similarly, Mallory started to spurn Philadelphia Chickens in favor of Grease and Drake Bell (sigh), so Phoebe never really heard the Boynton songs either.

But Saturday night, Phoebe came to me with a stack of board books -- including The Bedtime Book and Snuggle Puppy. And we read them over and over, and I taught her to sing Snuggle Puppy, and it all came back to me, how sweet and funny the rhymes are, and how there is nothing cuter than Boynton's hippos and bunnies and penguins -- nothing, that is, than your own personal snuggle puppy, singing about how much you love her.

1/22/09

Birthday Notes

Mallory made me two cards for my birthday. One said: "You are the Queen of Mommies!" The second one said: "Happy Birthday! You get to be mine and Phoebe's survint!" I'm not exactly sure what she had in mind with that last bit, and the exclamation point made me particularly nervous, but I have to admit that she nailed it. Being a mother is a strange mix of being both a queen and a slave.

Both girls went to the Dollar Store to buy me something special. When I came home from work, Phoebe was in such a hurry for me to see what she got me -- a porcelain trinket box in the shape of heart -- that she tried to unwrap it herself, and it fell to the floor and shattered. Her heart was similarly broken; she cried and cried. Poor girl. (Chris and Amy made an emergency trip back to the Dollar Store to get another one. It's a good thing it was, in fact, only a dollar.)

Mallory later commented that adults don't have very fun birthdays. I agreed. Later I thought -- but it's okay, because I already have everything I want.

1/20/09

Hooray



Snow.

A new president.

The freedom to watch his speech on my couch, snuggled up in a blanket, with my three-year-old beside me (eating goldfish) and my seven-year-old playing outside with her neighborhood friends.

A perfect day.

1/19/09

fourth file, third picture

Aimee phototagged me -- the rules were to open your fourth file and post the fourth picture. All I have to say is that whoever invented this game must be way more organized than me about files and such. Also, I'm on my work computer and so my actual fourth file is not something I'd want to post. So, to make a long story short, I'm just going to post this:



We spent the (bitterly cold) weekend watching home movies. Mallory in particular is fascinated by looking at herself and Phoebe as babies, and although I could do without her incessant questions (Why was I crying? Was that my favorite shirt? Who bought me that rattle? What was I eating? Did I like to eat that? What was that noise, on the video? Was it me crying or Phoebe? How old was I right then? So how old was Phoebe? Where were the dogs? Why were they barking? And so on.) -- well, I think I'm past the point where I can coherently finish the sentence I originally started here. The point -- it's fun to watch. So many things I've already forgotten about my babies -- all those funny noises, the screeches and the coos. The way they pinwheeled their arms and legs when they were excited. Their chubby, chubby thighs. It's funny that Baby Mallory is instantly recognizable as Mallory, but Baby Phoebe doesn't much resemble the Phoebe of today. I was reminded that four to nine months is the prime age of babyhood, the apex of cuteness. I was amazed at how babyish Mallory still was at three and half, when Phoebe was born -- her little voice! Her lisp! Her mispronunciations -- "nunch" for lunch, "pile" for smile, "yittle" for little, "geen" for green. I was similarly amazed at how well Phoebe spoke when she was just turned two. I teared up when we saw Mallory holding newborn Phoebe after we brought her home; my mother-in-law said, "What do you think she's thinking about?" and Mallory said, instantly, "Her's finkin' about me!" We laughed, all of us, at a scene when four-year-old Mallory burst into tears because Chris called her bossy. "Why are you crying?" he asked, and Mallory said, "Because I thought I was the boss of you!" As for me, I had particularly lustrous hair when I was postpartum; otherwise, I'd prefer not to watch myself on film. However, I did manage to solve a mystery -- there was a particular tape that hadn't been labeled, and I couldn't tell by the context when it had been filmed -- it was just shots of the kids running around being goofy. Then I noticed myself, in the background, reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince -- so obviously, this tape was from July 2007, when I was re-reading the series before HP7 was released. My voracious reading serves a purpose at last!

These scenes of youth could not quite distract me, however, from the fact that I'm getting old. Today I'm 37, which just sounds so much older than 36. Ah well, it beats the alternative, as they say. And Aimee adopted a penguin for me, which is very cool, and which serves to remind me that I am certainly better off than penguins, who in spite of their comical appearance have very difficult lives. So, that's good, then. Happy birthday to me.

1/15/09

Shucks

Thank you for your kind comments yesterday. Especially you, Michelle, because I didn't even know you read my blog, much less liked reading my blog, so, um, I'm just over here blushing now.

And I also have no time to write anything else. Stupid job. More tomorrow.

1/14/09

Reduce

My dissatisfaction with 2009 is not just due to stomach bugs. It's more deep-seated than that; I'm not satisfied with myself. The year turned, and I realized that I am just exactly where I was at the beginning of 2008. I didn't make any positive changes during the previous year; I didn't improve myself in any way; things that bothered me about my life last January still bother me today. All I did last year was make it through; in fact, that's all I've done for the past several years, and I'm officially tired of it.

There's a line from a Liz Phair song that sums it up for me:

Half the time you didn't know any better
But half the time you did,
Hanging around like tomorrow doesn't apply to you.


I feel like that's how I've been living -- as though tomorrow doesn't apply to me. I make bad choices, or lazy choices, because it's the easiest way, or because I don't have the energy to make better ones. But this just creates a cycle of bad consequences. A spiral of suckitude, if you will. It needs to stop.

So, stealing an idea from my little sister, I've found my word for 2009. It is:

REDUCE

First, I want to reduce my debt. This means not only putting away the credit cards, but putting more of my "fun" money to my existing balances. This means eating out less, shopping at Zappos less (my weakness), and visiting Target less. This means using my Christmas and birthday money for the girls' school registration fees instead of at the bookstore. This means making choices that aren't much fun -- but by the end of the year, we'll all be better off.

I want to reduce my...I was going to say weight, but I'm going to use the word unhealthfulness instead, even though I'm not even sure that's a word. I need to eat better, I need to exercise. I need to stop defaulting to frozen pizzas on weeknights and McDonald's on Saturday afternoons. I want to feel better about myself, I want to have more energy, I want my knees and feet to not hurt every morning. And I need to enforce healthier habits in my children as well.

I want to reduce my children's dependence on me. That sounds weird, considering they're only 7 and 3, and I certainly don't mean that I'm going to start making them do their own laundry or drive themselves to school. But my children are really not very self-sufficient, and I'm beginning to feel resentful and impatient with them. They should both be able to, for example, put on their own shoes and socks. And dry themselves off after their baths. And get their own drinks of water. They should also be able to fall asleep without me sitting right beside them. This may be the hardest thing for me because I am so impatient -- I can't stand to watch a child take ten minutes to hang up a coat, I'd rather just take it the stupid coat from the child and do it myself -- but that isn't doing any of us any favors.

I want to reduce clutter. There are days I honestly cannot stand to be in my own house, it is so full of crap. It's hard for me to relax, nothing ever seems clean. My bedroom is the worst room in the house, I hate being in it. My kids have so many toys they don't know what to play with; nothing is special to them because they have so much. So this year, everything must go -- or at least, lots of things must go. I'm going to start at the top and work my way down. The attic (it's partly finished, and was meant to be my "office") is going to get cleaned out and turned into the kids' playroom. The current playroom is going to become Mallory's new bedroom; her bedroom will become Phoebe's room; the dining room will become my office and a place for homework and crafts. Any time I bring something in to the house, something else must leave -- if I buy a bagful of new clothes for the kids, I'm going to take a bag to donate the next day (our town is covered, suddenly, in drop-boxes for clothes and shoe donations; there's one on every corner. I'm not exactly sure who I'm donating too, but I don't even care as long as the stuff isn't in my house anymore).

I want to reduce...sloth and apathy. I used to have ambitions, aspirations. I used to want to be somebody. Now...well, a few days ago my boss was telling me some ideas he had for our department in the coming year, ways we could expand and enhance and improve, and my (internal) reaction was: "Eh, that just sounds like a lot of work." And this isn't just because I'm not crazy about my job; in fact, what he was talking about -- writing and editing -- are things that I used to want my job to be all about. I've just grown lazy and uninspired and complacent and brain-dead. I've kind of given up on the idea of going back to school and changing my career (we just don't have the money), but that doesn't mean I should sit back and do a half-assed job at the career I DO have; rather, I should dig in and try to make it all that it can be, to learn all I can, both as a way to improve myself and as a way to improve my chances of moving on. But also -- I need to find some outlet outside of work, some hobby, or volunteer position, or something to bring me some fulfillment, something to engage my brain. I used to be smart; I'd like to feel that way again.

So there you go, my goals for the year. To behave as though tomorrow does apply to me.

I'll start tomorrow next week.

1/12/09

So far, I'd give it a C-

We're only 12 days in, but so far, 2009 has been the Worst Year Ever. The death of Chris's grandmother, of course, made us all feel a bit sad. The girls and I had a great time at my parent's house, but our time there was bracketed by two awful plane trips, complete with vomit, and it makes me sad to realize that every trip to see my parents seems destined to be expensive and stressful and fraught with problems. Mallory and I were both felled by a stomach virus which lasted most of last week; I thought we were over it and we had a nice weekend, but Mallory woke up sick again last night. She's thrown up more in 2009 than she has in her entire life up to 2009. (And last night made me really, really, really, regret our decision to get bunk beds.) 2009 needs to back off and give us a break, already.

1/7/09

Gigi

Chris's grandmother, who died on New Year's Day, came to live with his parents when Mallory was about nine months old -- just a few months after Mallory herself started spending all day at his parent's house when I went back to work. I'd known Gigi (my girls' name for her) for years, of course, but I didn't really get to know her until she moved here, just at the point where she started declining. I never got to see the woman Chris described in his beautiful eulogy for her, or the woman Amy writes about here -- independent, sophisticated, spiritual, meticulously neat. But what I did get to see was enough for anyone. I saw a rather frail old woman who adored the baby in the house. Gigi held Mallory, and rocked her, and told her nursery rhymes in Polish. She scolded us if Mallory didn't have socks on, or a hat, or was in any other way not adequately protected against the cold (and Gigi was always cold). When Mallory got older, they read magazines together, and had tea parties, and took care of baby dolls, and watched Oprah. I think Mallory especially appreciated Gigi when Phoebe came along; by this time, Gigi was too weak to pick up the new baby, her hands to shaky to hold a bottle, but she was still able to pull Mallory up on her lap when Mallory needed a little babying of her own.



One night the girls were splashing around in Gigi's big bathtub, and Gigi poked her head in to watch. She smiled and said, "These are the best times. Don't ever forget them." I said I would try not to. But then Gigi started to forget almost everything, and to fall, and to decline. She had to be moved to a nursing home. "I miss Gigi," Mallory said, a few weeks later, and so we started to go there each Sunday for breakfast, the whole family. Mallory and Phoebe didn't quite know what to make of this new Gigi, in a wheelchair now, visibly older and confused. After only a few months, Gigi didn't know what to make of them either -- I think she thought they may have been her own daughters. But it didn't matter; every week, the minute they ran into her room, Gigi would break out into a big smile and say, "Look what big girls you're getting to be!"

I'm glad my girls got to know her for as long as they did. I'm glad that they brought her joy, up to the end of her days. I'm glad she's at peace now. We love you, Gigi. Watch over your girls for me.