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June 2014

I Really Doubt Things Were Better Back Then


Things I Have Learned At The Farm:

1. I am terrible at Mastermind. You know the game? The one in which someone (Patrick) uses little colored pegs to create a pattern that someone else (I) guesses incorrectly. He did one yesterday that I got wrong until I ran out of guesses so he gave me more guesses and I still couldn't figure it out. I was convinced that Patrick had given me incorrect clues but... no. In the end it was a pretty simple code: a pink, a purple and two yellows.

Patrick called me a yellowist. As in "Mom! What happened to yellow? You used one yellow at the beginning and then never guessed yellow again! Are you... are you a YELLOWIST?"

2. Nature, it likes be balanced.

I bought a new Shopvac before we came down here with the idea that the farm house needed something more intense than a mere hoovering. It's an old house and it is not occupied most of the time so there is dust and gritty bits and whatnot and have I mentioned the spider webs? Well then.

Within five minutes of arrival I shopvacced the beejeezums out of the place and was pleased with the results. So clean. So webless. Then a couple of days went by and the flies started buzzing around.

"Hey!" I squawked. "Flies! Ack! Flies! Somebody do something!"

But the homeless spiders just glared at me from their windowsills and shrugged all those creepy little shoulders.

3. Nature smells weird.

4. At some point in its history, the well at the farm was breached like Helmsdeep. I don't like to think about the details too much but the end result was that when we bought the place the water that came out of the faucets was deemed to be "Unsafe". I suspect it was not only unsafe; it was amorphous and flammable but as you may recall I didn't spend a whole lot of time down at Baby Death Farm in the early years so... you know. Steve is a grown-up. If he and the friend with whom he bought the place wanted to spend their Superspecial Me time surrounded by spider webs, lugging around 5 gallon drums of drinking water and bathing in sludge who was I to question him?

Since the toxic water was not the most pressing of their concerns - if you can imagine such a thing - it took them a year or two to deal with the well but eventually they did... something. Poured 10000 gallons of Clorox down a hole? Introduced a massive colony of protozoa? Detonated an A-bomb? I don't know. But the did something or paid someone to do something, after which Steve told me that the water at the farm was "probably" fine.

Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha. Probably. I'll get the ice cube trays!

Steve said yeah yeah, probably, but we should get it tested again and I squealed "Test it! Test it!" and he said "OK! OK!" but it turns out testing well water is kinda a pain in the ass. You have to pick up a special container from the health department which is an hour away and then you are supposed to race the sample back as quickly as possible and it is still an hour away. Oh and they aren't open on weekends. And they don't take samples after four in the afternoon. Or at all on Fridays.

I am perfectly happy to drink nothing but Coke and brush my teeth with wine but I don't even like to wash my face with our probably fine water (I hold my breath, screw my eyes shut and try to seal my nostrils) so I was determined to finally get the water tested. On Monday, a mere two days after I arrived at the farm because I am a planner who plans, I had to drive the three hours back up to the Cities in order to return Patrick's friend who had accompanied us and take Edward to a couple of appointments and then have Patrick go to his art class because we were back there anyway.

On the way up I stopped at the health department and got the test kit and then on Tuesday I drove back down to the farm. On Wednesday I was going to drive back up but couldn't be bothered. So yesterday I conned the family into a trip to La Crosse, ostensibly to see what there was to see but really to drop off the damned water sample.



I googled places to visit in La Crosse Wisconsin and wound up at Trip Advisor where I found what I believe to the best negative review ever. Ready?

Under Grandad Bluffs, a geologic formation, someone had sourly commented, "Used to be better."


I read this to Patrick who agreed that everything really has gone to hell in a handbasket since that last ice age.]

OK. Wrapping it up. Sorry.

This morning I received a phone call from the health department lab. The woman sounded breathless and I pictured her looking at our water sample, recoiling in horror, glancing again just to confirm her dark fears and then racing to the phone to stop me before I made lemonade.

Needless to say, it wasn't good news.

She said the water is still contaminated by pretty much everything that can contaminate water, except nitrates. Our nitrate levels are excellent.

"Oh. Well. That's good!" I said.

There was a long pause before she replied, "Um, I guess. But it doesn't really matter. You still can't drink it. Because of all the bacteria."

Oh right. THAT.

Damn it.

5.  When I took the boys back home for a couple of days I left Caroline with Steve which was a) the first time Caroline and Edward have slept in different places since we brought Caroline home after her NICU-lite spa stay; and b) the first time Caroline and Steve have ever been on their own together for more than a few hours.

He took her to a playground and he took her to a local pool and he took her out to dinner and he let her help drive the tractor. He also sent me a picture from his phone of a pair of little legs extending from an upside-down kiddie pool walking across a Walmart parking lot. Had it been me, I would have carried the pool myself and made her hold onto my pocket because you never know when some lunatic is going to back up their SUV and squish you dead. But apparently she survived and I guess that is why it is nice to have more than one adult in your life.

When I was little we had a family friend - a single woman about my mom's age - who would take me on outings, just the two of us. Sometimes I would spend the night at her house and we would stay up late watching Fantasy Island or the Miss America pagent and in the morning she would pull a chair up to the stove and let me cook my own scambled eggs. Once, when I was five, she took me downtown and let me walk around with my eyes closed the entire time while she lead me around by the hand. 

I probably spend too much time telling Steve how I think he should handle the children and it just occured to me as I thought about my friend Mimi that it is fortunate he tends to ignore me.

6. I know I have shown you this before but I continue to covet this little house. I swear I shall one day go Virginia Wolfe all over it. Mine, mine, miiine.






Isn't it adorable? Granted it has a family of badgers living underneath it and it needs a good shopvac and some soap and, um, imported water but I think it has potential to be a great place to hide from the children.

7. Speaking of the children, it rained all day yesterday and the house is small and my children are so unbelievably freaking loud. MY GOD. So. Loud. Are all children this loud?


Seriously. So loud.

Steve is about to take the children to the pool and I am contemplating my options. It is hot today and sticky and I wouldn't mind going to someplace where the water won't kill me on purpose but the alternative is to stay here all by myself with my book...


I just got a mass email from Youth Digital stating that the course Patrick wants to take is finally available and to celebrate they are offering 30% off all courses with the code SUMMER30. If you're interested.

Paid Programming

Three or four months ago I got an email from a company called Youth Digital. Actually, I got an email from a person who works for Youth Digital and the fact that it had been written by someone who was clearly a human being was one of the reasons I read the message from beginning to end, rather than simply deleting it like I do when some weird cyborg-company offers to write posts for me based on the amazing synergies between my site (a blatantly narcisstic public diary) and theirs (say, an overseas non-site that promises to monetize online whosiwhatsits through awesome soft dragon power.)

I digress.

Youth Digital is a company that offers online tech classes for kids and they were reaching out to mom bloggers (check) with a child between 8 and 14 years old (check) who enjoys Minecraft (shuh.) They offered Patrick the opportunity to take their Mod Design class for free and in exchange (it was implied - although it was never mentioned directly; I mean, it wasn't sordid) I would write about the experience.

I have never done this before. Does that qualify as a paid-content disclaimer warning? I hope so. They gave him a free class; I/we (because nothing in life is free, Patrick) am/are now sharing what we thought about the course.

Aaaaaand, check.


So, funny thing, having agreed to prostitute my blog (for the sake of the child, you know. just like Fantine did for poor Cosette although frankly they both would have been better off on a farm somewhere, lying through their teeth about her parentage) you would think the guilt of it would have been weighing me down but it wasn't until this morning that I remembered I had this obligation at all. And he finished in MARCH.

Patrick asked me after breakfast if he could take another Youth Digital course (he is eyeing the 3-D modeling class) and I looked at him blankly for a moment before saying, "Oh damn it, we never wrote a review."

Then I told him to go write a couple of paragraphs about the Mod Design course and he pointed out that it was summer vacation; that he wanted to take a course not write about one; that his fingers were blistered from the exertion of the sixth grade party; that it is impossible to get anything written with the twins in the house.

I actually agree with the last one but, regardless, he is upstairs; presumably writing.

While we are waiting I will admit that I know very little about the course or the mechanics of taking the course and that is a good thing. It means Patrick was able to install the software, watch the course videos, follow the instructions, create whatever and get help entirely by himself. I do know that Patrick was very excited to share his work (in almost painful detail, actually) as he created his mod (his sushi was pretty terrific) and that he enjoyed the process so much that he (I swear this is true) set his alarm to go off an hour early on school days so he could have time to work on it.

So there you go, my testimonial in a nutshell: Patrick was so pleased with the Youth Digital class he took that rather than allow himself to be dragged face-first from his bed in the morning he woke up before I did in order to get some work done.

From Patrick:

I wasn’t sure where to start with this and then my Mom asked me if I would personally spend the 250 dollars needed to have access to another Youth Digital online programming course. She meant, spend my own money and I’ll admit that it took some thought, but I eventually did say that yes, I would. It was certainly fulfilling the first time. I believe that if Mod Design 1 (the minecraft modding course I was taking, I’ll get to that later) was so nice and easy, the other ones should be pretty awesome too. I hope I’m right!

I found the Youth Digital software to be very easy to follow, funny, informative, and I was able to contact the company when I had any questions or needed help with the software. I did that a few times and they always got back to me right away. In Mod Design 1 there are about twelve progressively more challenging “Chapters” and in each one there are three or four videos about 15 minutes long each. The first chapter is about installing the software, and this is explained in great detail.  The first step in creating a minecraft mod using this course is to pick a theme. I chose water. It’s simple, easy to work with, and can generate an endless stream of puns. Then you create items, tools, blocks, armor, ore, achievements, and even mobs all around your theme. After you have finished your mod, you send it to Youth Digital and they might feature it in a review. I was extremely happy with the feedback I received on my mod. And even after you are done with the class you can go off and explore java, adding to your mod all the while with projectiles, animated textures, lightning swords, and much more! They even helped me figure out how to build additional mods after I was done with the course.

I really liked this class and, like I said, I am willing to spend my own money to take another.

I hope this helps!


Julia again:

PS We are going to the farm for a week (a week! saints preserve me) where I will have nothing to do but vacuum up the spider webs and hose down the children. Cue the theme song from Green Acres and expect to hear much from me.