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Showing posts from 2010

Books of the Year

Best Fiction
Room by Emma Donoghue
Jack is 5 and the room he was born in is his whole world; it’s a soundproof, escape-proof garden shed in which he and his mother are held captive. Jack narrates the book, and although he’s definitely precocious his thoughts and views are spot-on five. And the relationship between Jack and his mom is wonderfully drawn; it captures perfectly how a mother can love her child beyond measure (and go to extraordinary lengths to keep him safe and nurtured in spite of difficult circumstances) but still be irritated and worn down by the never-ending demands of motherhood. As soon as I finished this book the first time I immediately started reading it again from the beginning.

More really good fiction:
Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato
Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout
The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

Guilty Pleasure
Faithful Place by Tana French
This doesn’t quite fit into the category of “well-written literary fiction” like the above books; it’s more of a “can’…

Aunt Fran

Chris's great aunt Fran lives in Indiana and has never met our kids. But not a single birthday or holiday (major or minor) goes by without the girls receiving a card from Fran, and each card has a dollar bill inside, folded to look like a bowtie. Mallory and Phoebe get so excited when they see Aunt Fran's handwriting on an envelope (on Halloween she makes her letters squiggly, to spooky effect). Thanks, Aunt Fran, for thinking of them.

Mallory herself almost never lets a day go by without drawing a picture or writing a letter to someone, so I think she's preparing herself to step into Aunt Fran's shoes in a few decades' time. That thought makes me smile.

Christmas Past

I don't know what I miss more tonight -- the people in this picture, or being young enough to be on the receiving end of all the work that goes into Christmas.



Hope yours is merry and bright.

Santa Claus came to town

Last night I took the girls to the Chamber of Commerce to see Santa Claus. (Santa had originally planned to come to the park gazebo, but it hasn't hit 50 degrees here since December 1, so the town decided that the Chamber office would be more comfortable.) He was a very nice Santa and spent a long time with each child; which was nice for the child of the moment but not so nice for those standing in line. However, we were the the third family to show up so we didn't really have to wait that long.

He and Mrs. Claus, who was sitting beside him in a gingham bonnet, were both a bit judgey when it came to wish lists, though. The girl ahead of us asked for a cell phone. "A cell phone? How old are you?" Santa asked. The girl said she was 10. "I'll have to think hard about that one," Santa said. Mrs. Claus interjected: "Honey, you don't need a cell phone until you start to drive." The girl looked a bit upset. Mrs. Claus leaned over and said to her …

Missed Manners

Both of my Girl Scout troops celebrated the holidays with a gift exchange, so I picked up two packs of Squinkies for Mallory and Phoebe's contributions. "What if the person who gets this already has Squinkies?" Mallory asked.

"Well, that's what gift receipts are for," I said; but then I saw the opportunity for a Teachable Moment. "Actually, though, what DO you do when someone gives you a gift you already have?"

"You say, 'I have this at home!'" Phoebe said.

"Well, no. You should just smile and say 'Thank you!' The person doesn't need to know that you already have it; that might make them feel bad."

"Oh, and then you can take it back to the store and get something else?" Mallory said.

"Yes, you could do that," I said. "But you shouldn't tell the person you're going to do that."

"Yeah, but remember last year? When I got that High School Musical doll from Sarah at my p…

Have yourself a marshmallowy Christmas

If loving this ornament -- Baby Jesus and his parents, as marshmallows, on a graham cracker -- is wrong, I don't want to be right.

Nothing is ever easy

Last night I sang the extended lyric version of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer to the girls -- they'd never heard it that way, amazingly; although I admit they were more perplexed than amused. "Like Monopoly? What does that mean?" Mallory asked halfway through. I soldiered on and gave it the big finish: "You'll go down in history! Like Columbus!"

Phoebe said: "What's a klumpus?"

"Yeah," Mallory said, "I've never heard of a klumpus at Christmas time."

"Columbus," I said. "Like Columbus, like Christopher Columbus."

"Who's that?" Phoebe asked.

"You know," Mallory said. "He was with the Mayflower, and all that."

The rest of the story

So we called lights out at 12:30; Mallory and one friend went right to sleep in the guest room, but the three other girls had to be gently reminded at 1:15 to stay in bed; reprimanded at 2:15 for playing a board game on the bunk bed; and yelled at at 3:10 for doing heaven knows what but it was making a lot of noise. Finally all were asleep; they woke up at 8:00 asking to make friendship bracelets. I fed them doughnuts and went to Phoebe's Daisy Scout meeting at 9:30, for which I felt totally unprepared (Phoebe had spent the night at my in-laws, btw). Got home around 12:30 to Mallory asking me to help her with her new Easy Bake oven and Phoebe asking me to set up the Christmas tree.

All I wanted to do was take a nap.

But I didn't. Chris helped Mallory easy-bake; I got down the tree. And then we got a freak snowstorm. All in all, it was a pretty exciting weekend for my birthday girl.



















Now the birthday has been celebrated, the tree has been trimmed, and the snow has melted (alth…

T minus 39 minutes...

11:22 p.m.

Mallory announced halfway through the movie that she was tired and going straight to bed when it was finished. "That means everyone she has to go to bed," she announced. I was foolish enough to hope this would come to fruition. Instead, she got the dreaded second wind. They played a game; they danced and sang to Miranda Cosgrove. Just now they demanded that Chris draw portraits of all of them. Alternately, they'd like to make friendship bracelets. I heard one girl tell Mallory to set her alarm for 3 a.m. so they can sneak downstairs and watch our Elf on the Shelf change positions. (I'll explain that one later.)

Mallory's happy and having a good time and I'm glad about that. But man, I'd really like to go to bed now.

Just heard ominous crashing noise from upstairs. Not sure if I really want to investigate. So tired.

9:25 p.m.

Four girls arrived on time. There was much screaming and giggling and attempting cartwheeling. Pizza, cake, pinata dispa…

Nine

Happy birthday to one of the two most beautiful girls in the world. I love you!

Upping the Santa Ante

Two years ago, Mallory's wish list to Santa included "a bell from your slay."

Last year, her list included "a note from you and a pawprint from one of your raindeer."

This year, her list includes "a picture of your house at the North Pole and the area around your house."

I think she's trying to catch somebody ... and it's not Santa.

Some elves need to be fired over this

You know what's annoying? When you go online to compare prices for the one item that your kid really, really wants for Christmas, and find that previous buyers of this particular product have given it abysmal reviews. It's poor quality, it falls apart, it doesn't do what it's supposed to do, it's a complete waste of money (and it's a lot of money, for a toy).

So what do you do? Do you go ahead and buy the thing and hope for the best -- when the worst, in this situation, is a waste of $80 and a kid who's disappointed on Christmas morning? Or do you try to convince your kid to change her mind and go for something else?

And the real question is -- why don't the toy companies do any kind of quality control? Do they not have testers, in their factories in China? Or are they just hoping for the best themselves (the best, in this situation, being that people won't go to the trouble of returning their crappy toy once they've gone to the trouble of assem…

I blame the metric system

I don't think I'll be running in my race next week. I'm sure no one really cares, or needs to hear my long rambling justification as to why not, but I'm sharing anyway. I started the Couch to 5K running program this summer, which is supposed to take a person from "I can't run three steps" to running 5K in just nine weeks. So in the first week you have 8 repetitions of 60 seconds of running with 3 minutes of walking; the second week you have 6 repetitions of 90 seconds of running with 2 minutes of walking; and so on. I downloaded some a podcast series to listen to as I ran/walked, which gave cues as to when to speed up and slow down. All the podcasts are 30 minutes long (with 5 minutes of warm up and cool down tacked on either side), so I just kind of assumed that 30 minutes of running, when I got there, would be equal to 5K of distance.

The first time I ran 20 minutes, I only made it about a mile and a quarter. Aha, I thought, 5K must be equal to about 2…

Happy Birthday Mom!

In response to my dad's comment on my "being a mom is hard" post -- if you are just now realizing that you were being juggled, then she must have been doing a good job of it.

And it's comforting to know that my mom felt the same way I do now, because part of my frustration sometimes stems from the fact that, looking back, she made it seem easy and I wonder what's wrong with me that I can't do the same.

Good job, Mom! Hope you're having a great day.

(Also, your comment about getting a "rabid" made me laugh.)

Maybe she should put it in the dumster

So there's this busybody woman right down our street who set up a neighborhood email list and is constantly reminding us all to be sure to keep our gutters clean and paint our front stoops, the better to keep everyone's property values up. She organizes Neighborhood Beautification Days, she collects money for tulip bulbs for the front entrances, she complains about people who don't come to a complete stop at the stop sign right by her house.

I studiously ignore all her emails because we chose our neighborhood specifically because it did not have a Home Owners Association. No one's gonna tell us how short to keep our grass, thank you very much. I stay on the email list, however, because sometimes other people send out useful information (black dog found on this street; car broken into Thursday night; etc.).

I was, however, really irritated when she sent out an email at the end of October saying how crazy it was that our town had officially announced that Trick or Treati…

A time to have no time

In the past four weeks, I've been to five Girl Scout events, not including regular troop meetings AND leaders' meetings. When I'm not at a Girl Scout event, I'm preparing for the next one. I'm sending emails to parents, collecting money for field trips, buying craft supplies, and researching service projects.

When I'm not dealing with Girl Scouts, I'm dealing with school. I'm at PTO meetings, or organizing teacher's breakfasts, or buying canned goods for the Thanksgiving food drive. Or I'm helping with homework, or signing homework agendas or behavior charts, or sorting through the piles and piles of paper that come home every week.

When I'm not dealing with school, I'm taking the kids to the pool, or the park, or trying to arrange playdates or slumber parties. Or I'm making muffins for the week's breakfast, or cookies for the week's desserts, or endlessly washing the little plastic containers I send back and forth each day f…

You mean...?

After picking up pizza for dinner, we drove by a Taco Bell, which inspired this conversation:

Mallory: I'm glad we're eating pizza instead of Taco Bell. Gross.

Phoebe: Well Daddy likes Taco Bell.

Me: I don't think he does. He'll eat there, but it's not his favorite.

Phoebe: Do you like it?

Me: No, not really. There was a restaurant like it in Texas, though, called Taco Villa. They had apple burritos which were very good.

Mallory: Mommy, stop trying to make me think that Texas is some kind of wonderland.

Me: Pardon?

Mallory: I mean, I do like going to Texas, but you know I hate to fly, so why bring it up?

Me: Well --

Mallory: Next Christmas can we drive to Grandmom's house?

Me: No.

Phoebe: It would take forever! Plus there's that lake, you know.

Mallory: What lake?

Phoebe: That lake. You know. That big lake. We saw it last year on the way to Great Wolf Lodge.

Me: You mean the Mississippi River?

Phoebe: Yeah, that.

Mallory: But that's a river. There's…

What the...?*

Sometimes I learn something and am instantly dumbfounded that I hadn't know that thing before. For example -- I was 23 years old and in graduate school before I realized the difference between Calvary and Cavalry (I guess before I thought there was only one such word). Now I can only remember which word means which by thinking of the French word "chevalier."

I was equally blown away the first time I learned about Robert Falcon Scott's doomed voyage to the South Pole. Five men died! Why didn't they teach me that in school! AND when I realized, only last year, that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated just one week after General Lee surrendered. Just one week! Wow! Obviously that wasn't covered in Gone with the Wind.

The same sense of wonder came upon me when I discovered the existence of this:


It's an opaki. I'm 38 years old and I've never heard of such a creature. What else am I missing, I wonder?

(It reminds me, in fact, of one of my very favorite bl…

Homework Hijinks

Proving once more that children are completely unpredictable, Mallory finished up her weekly spelling and writing assignments ahead of time and without complaint. But as I was leafing through her homework journal, checking her work, I found this note to her teacher:

Dear Mrs. T:
Thank you for being such an awesome teacher. You teached me science. You teached me math. You teached me about the Catholic faith. You teached me spelling. I love third grade!
From Mallory

It seems quite obvious that Mrs T has not yet teached the class about irregular verb forms. What's less clear is how Mrs T is going to take this note. Is she going to think that Mallory is sucking up? Will she think it's an attempt to distract her from the fact that Mallory only included three detail sentences in her assigned paragraph, rather than four? Or will she see it as a genuine expression of enthusiasm and affection, which is honestly how I think Mallory intended it? Time will tell, I suppose.

---------------…

Procrastination and its discontents

Every week, Mallory has to do four spelling activities in her homework journal (Write a poem with ten of your spelling words! Write a letter with six of your spelling words! Write your spelling words in different colored pencils!). I always recommend that she do one activity every day, Monday through Thursday; she always puts them off until Wednesday or Thursday night. This week, she has to do spelling PLUS a writing activity every night. "I'll just wait until tomorrow to get started with that," she said. I asked her what about spelling. "That can wait too," she said, unconcerned. I reminded her that she has a Brownie meeting Thursday night and won't have much time for homework. "So I'll do it Wednesday," she said. "Can I play on the computer?"

It's hard to see your own worst qualities in your child. I am a terrible procrastinator. Every paper I wrote in college was written the night before it was due. (The fact that I mostly go…

Definition

Phoebe: Mommy, what does "devoted" mean?

Mallory: Oh, oh, I know! It's like when you're in an election, and no one chooses you, that means you're "devoted".

Winners

1. Phoebe was named Kindergarten Citizen of the Week. "What does that mean, exactly?" Chris asked. She said: "It means I'm very good at being nice."

She said it was her best day ever. We're very proud.

2. The girls and I went to the Girl Scout Harvest Hoedown dance tonight, yee-haw. We received a handful of raffle tickets for donating some blankets for a service project. Mallory proceeded to win one of the raffles -- which is all the more amazing because she also won two raffle drawings at a Girl Scout event we went to a few weeks ago. Clearly, I need to let the girl buy lottery tickets.

3. I started reading The Sneetches to the kids at bedtime. After a few sentences, Mallory said, "Oh, I get it. It's like that Martin Luther King dude. See Phoebe, it doesn't matter what you look like, you should be nice to everyone. Right, Mommy?"

Right.

Stars upon Thars

When I was four or five, I received this set of Dr Seuss stories for Christmas:



Jana got a set of Little House books, and I remember thinking that she definitely got the short end of the stick. My books were so much more colorful! So zany! So full of rhymes! To make it even better, after Christmas dinner my second cousin Jim Bob sat down and read from the books to me. At the time Jim Bob was my favorite adult relative -- I thought he was fun and zany too.

I read those books to shreds. I don't think they survived the move from my childhood home to my parent's current home. So for my birthday, Chris found the set for me on ebay. Now they're all mine again.

And I still love them. Everyone loves Dr Seuss, of course, this set goes far beyond The Cat in the Hat and The Lorax and The Grinch. The Sneetches are represented here, and Thidwick, and Yertle the Turtle. But there are also little-known classics such as "King Looie Katz" and "Gertrude McFuzz," and &qu…

Apples and witches

My inlaws always come over on Halloween - his parents pass out candy at our house while Chris, Amy and I take the girls trick-or-treating. This year Mallory wanted to turn it into a whole Halloween party, and she grew annoyed with me when I wouldn't buy a pinata or make cupcakes. "Can we at least bob for apples?" she asked, having just discovered that there is such a thing as bobbing for apples. I said we could. So she wrote this Party Schedule and hung it on our front door:

4:30 - 4:35 Bob for Apples
4:35 - 6:35 Eat dinner
6:40 - 8:00 Trick or treat

I found the sign both amusing and profoundly sad.

Anyway, here are the girls bobbing for apples:











Here is the Witches' Coven -- Amy as Elphaba, Mallory as a Candy Corn Witch, and Phoebe in the witch's costume Amy wore when she was little:





Mallory's skirt kept popping up (it had a kind of springy thing in the hem, oddly) and her tights were too small; the costume turned into a total wardrobe malfunction and …

An Election Day Memory

November 7, 2000

After voting, Chris and I went out for Chinese food with some friends. We ate and strolled around Target for a while. We got back in the car; the radio came on, and an announcer said: "We are now calling Florida for Al Gore. I repeat, Al Gore has won Florida."

"Did he say Florida?" I said, amazed. "Wow, he's certain to win now!"

This was the end, the end of innocence.



Okay, it would be more effective if I just stopped writing, but I also remember Election Day 1992, when I was in England and couldn't vote. I also had no TV and no radio and (can you imagine) no internet (because Gore hadn't invented it yet). I was in my tiny dorm room writing a paper on Gulliver's Travels when I heard someone down the hall shouting: "Ralph Nader Ross Perot has won three states!"

I was relieved, the next morning, when I found a newspaper and found it wasn't so.

The Golf Course

There was a miniature golf course in my grandparent’s house.

There were, in fact, lots of cool-if-kitschy things in my grandparents’ house. There were swinging saloon doors between the kitchen and the master suite. There was a toilet seat made of transparent plastic, with ticket stubs from horse races embedded therein. There was a globe wine bar (pictured!). There was a mounted goat head (the goat was named Bucky) on whose antlers my granddad hung his golf caps. There was a stuffed pheasant whose chest feathers were smooth as silk. There was a kitchen bar of green marbled formica and swively kitchen chairs of red pleather. There was an automatic ice dispenser on the refrigerator, which was a rare and awe-inspiring thing in the 1970’s. There was a mirrored tray holding bejeweled perfume bottles with atomizers in the guest bathroom. There were two huge oil paintings – one of my aunt, with beautifully frosted hair, holding a Pug, one of my older sister as a toddler sitting on a John Dee…

Home sweet home

"What's a mansion?" Phoebe asked.

"It's a big house," I said. "A very big house." I groped about for an example that would be relevant. "It's like...like the house in Home Alone. A very big, fancy, nice house with lots of rooms."

"Is our house a mansion?" Phoebe asked.

Mallory scoffed. "Our house is NOT a mansion. Our house is the OPPOSITE of a mansion. Our house is IN EVERY WAY the opposite of mansion."

I think she needn't have been quite so emphatic about it.

What's in a name? Not much, I hope, because I can't think of a name for this post

A co-worker of mine has one of those names where his first name is a nickname of his last name. Vic Victor, for example, although that's not exactly it. Dave Davidson. Tom Thompson. Ben Benson. Every time I hear a name like this, I wonder about the thought process behind the choosing of the name. Did the parents think it was funny? Had the mother always dreamed of naming a son Edward, and couldn't give up that dream even though she married a man with the last name Edwards? Was it a family tradition, was it to honor a friend, was it a dare or a bet?

Or were the parents just idiots who gave their son an idiotic name?

A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those days where I wondered if I might be pregnant. If you're a woman of childbearing age, you know what I mean. I had no particular reason to think I was pregnant, I'm certainly not trying to become pregnant -- but sometimes, you know, you just wonder. (It may have been because I had just heard of two people -- two! -- in…

Sundries

I am charmed by Phoebe's kindergarten homework, which came home in the form of a calendar with one activity per day. Today homework was discussing the family fire escape plan; tomorrow will be practicing zipping up her jacket; Wednesday is telling me the plot of her favorite story. So much more fun than the math problems Mallory had to do tonight. (Alaska has 18 National Parks. If you add zero to that number, you'll get the number of National Parks in Virginia. How many National Parks does Virginia have? Mallory's answer: 180?)

On the drive to a Brownie field trip yesterday, Mallory mentioned that she's getting an ipod for Christmas. (The truth is that she's asking for an ipod for Christmas.) All three other girls shouted in unison: "I already HAVE an ipod!" Mallory gave me one her her outraged See, Mommy? looks.

Driving to the field trip entailed forty-five minutes of listening to some variation of this joke, over and over and over: What's your name?…

Babies

This weekend we watched the charming movie “Babies,” a film that follows four infants from the first breaths to their first steps, as the tagline explains. The babies are from all over the world – Nabmia, Mongolia, Tokyo, San Francisco – and the film confirms that no matter what, all babies are cute, and all babies like zerberts.

My girls were startled by some of the details – “Why aren’t those ladies wearing shirts?” Phoebe asked, hiding her eyes every time the film cut to the African village. “That’s inappropriate,” Mallory commented when the little Mongolian boy was shown without his pants. “It’s a different culture,” Chris and I kept explaining; “this is how other people live. It’s different, not wrong.” I’m hoping that the girls learned something from the movie other than “Wow, I’m glad I was born in North Carolina instead of Nambia.” You have to start somewhere, I guess.

The movie did make me feel vastly privileged, and even faintly ridiculous, when I recall my own daughters’ in…

Finally fall