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May 2015

2015 Books.2

Caroline, Edward, Patrick and I are still listening to the Artemis Fowl series. This is the second time around for me and Patrick and we agree it's even better as a repeat. It's genius. OK, maybe not every book out of the eight is equally strong but overall the stories are entertaining, the writing is excellent and the narrator is superb.

Caroline, Edward and I have been less successful in our post-Patrick drop-off books, however. We tried Timmy Failure and although I like the books I couldn't handle the audio because I loathed the narrator. I am mortified to admit that none of us could get past Chris Colfer as a narrator of his Land of Stories either, which baffles me since I quite like his voice in general - no idea if the books are good; I'll have to read them because it was a three to nil vote to stop the audio version. We did most of the E.D. Baker Frog Princess series but I do not recommend them, either. The first one was... cute; the rest were repetitive. Right now we are listening to the Princess Academy and it is hard to believe how boring it is. I keep telling myself that it is bound to get better but we are halfway through and, frankly, shouldn't something have happened by now? I think it's a Newberry Winner, too, but I might be wrong about that - I have a vague recollection of a gold emblem on the front of the book.  

So any thoughts? As soon as we are done with Artemis Fowl I am going to spring Anne of Green Gables on the three of them but in the meantime I could use a fun book for the first graders and me. I keep thinking it should be obvious - a classic, maybe? - but I find myself in the audiobook section of the library picking up Charlotte's Web only to put it back down again (I don't like it when Charlotte dies) and leave.

PS Patrick, Caroline and Edward became so coated with mud today that someone (I suspect Steve) brought a bottle of shampoo out onto the porch, ostensibly so the children could shower under the garden hose. Patrick acidly asked, "Why not just strap us to the top of the Toyota like three little Christmas trees and drive us through the car wash?"

It's not a terrible idea.

PPS Patrick and I are listening to The Accidental Highwayman. I think I like it but I will have to let you know for sure after we're done.

Huh. Well. That Was Emphatic, Arsenal

You know how there are games that seem to hinge on a single play? The fumbled pass, the mistimed kick, the ball that seems somehow lighter in Boston, the zig that should have zagged?

Today's FA cup match was not one of those games. But, if I absolutely had to point to a specific moment when things started to unravel for Aston Villa, I would say it was the instant they exited the tunnel and walked onto the pitch.


They might want to work on that. 



Out of the past twelve days Steve has been away for ten. He woke me up briefly on Monday morning but apart from that I haven't seen him since last weekend so as much as I love you - which is muchly - I am blowing you off tonight.

PS In light of Steve's repeated and extended absences I recently have been engaging with all sorts of things that usually are not within my purview; like litter boxes, the bi-weekly recycling and the grill. I cook a lot - one might say I make food for people all the time without ceasing forever and ever ad infinitum god help me - but I do not often use grill and there was a learning curve in the past two weeks. For example, I experienced a lot of sticking the other night with some skirt steak skewers so I went online to discover how to prevent this before I attempted fish. The internet was fairly clear: heat the grill, use a brush to clean it, then soak a paper towel in olive oil and use tongs to swab the grates. I followed these steps exactly but within seconds of the oil-soaked paper towel hitting the grill it burst into flames, fell from the tongs and lay in strips over the grates, burning away.   

It felt a little bit like Hanukkah in that a tiny bit of oil appeared to burn forever but for the most part it felt like I was doing it wrong.

So Simple Once You Know

This morning Edward reached into the freezer, extracted two waffles and shut the door. Then he opened it again and peered inside.

"Mom?" he said.


"Why is there a pair of shoes in the freezer?"

I laughed and walked over to get the shoes.

"Thanks!" I said. "I almost forgot that they were in there."

"But why are they in the freezer?" he repeated.

"I guess it must seem weird but it's pretty simple. I bought a pair of shoes that were too narrow for my feet so when I got them home I needed to stretch them. I put on a pair of thick socks and then the shoes and then I heated my feet with a hairdryer for a couple of minutes to help soften the leather. Then I took off the shoes, filled two plastic bags with water, shoved the bags into the shoes and put them into the freezer. As the water turned to ice it expanded and - hopefully - made the shoes a bit wider. Make sense?"

Edward continued to stare at me, a puzzled expression on his face.

"What?" I said. "As water freezes it gets a bit bigger."

"OK but I'm just trying to understand why you don't think it is weird that you bought a pair of shoes that you know didn't fit you."

But Charmed


I have no idea what is going on in this picture. I don't know why Edward is reading the dictionary. I don't know why Caroline is planting a kiss on the back of his neck. I don't know why he appears to be oblivious to said kiss. The only reason I have the photograph at all is because I was wandering from room to room with my camera trying to decide if my glacially slow shutter speeds improve with different ambient lighting and there they were.

So feel free to write your own explanatory narrative. I'm baffled.


On the smallest of scales, few feelings can match the satisfaction that comes from tidying a space that has been accumulating clutter for years. In fact, I believe Milan Kundera originated the unbearable lightness of being after helping a friend clean out her garage, although he ultimately went in a different direction with that.

As I mentioned before I recently decided to organize a storage room we have in the basement. Why, exactly, I concluded this needed to be done now rather than, say, in thirty years I am not certain. To be honest I think it has to do with the fact that my mother is coming to take care of the children when we go to Montreal and I felt like I needed to make sure that all of the salsas in the fridge are still edible. How this then extended to a room in the basement that she has never seen and will never see I am not sure - but there it is.

It took me the entirety of the three day weekend to excavate layer upon layer of stuff we were too lazy to get rid of in a straightforward fashion but in the end... TA DA!


Two things:

1. the reason that we have a carpeted storage room in the basement is because following the Great Ejector Pit Septic Disaster of 2011'ish I never wanted to touch that cement floor with any part of my body ever again, ever, and the insurance company paid for it


2. I realize that there are labels on some of the bins with photographs of the contents and I further realize that that makes me seem like I am deranged but in my defense I did it when the twins were babies and it was winter and I never left the house. And I was deranged.


It was with pride that I surveyed the fruit of my labors, contemplating as I did so one of my favorite aphorisms: happiness is setting attainable goals and reaching them. So true.

Then I turned, walked out the door of the storage room


and tripped and fell and broke my neck.

The End

Sun Tzu's Other Lost Art

From the back seat Caroline asked, "Mom, what does persistent mean?"

"Doing something over and over again despite resistance or failure."

"Oh," she said, thoughtfully.

I half-turned my head and saw that she was reading The Girls' Book - How to be the Best at Everything. I turned my head a little further and glimpsed the title of the page she was studying: How to Convince Your Parents to Get a Pet.

Our eyes met and I saw a gleam of determination in them that made my blood run cold. But I swear to you, with James Herriot as my witness, I don't care how persistent she is: we are not getting a white-crested cockatoo. The blaste... blessed creatures can live to be forty, for heavens' sake. 

I might be willing to compromise on a goldfish but I am keeping that fact up my sleeve for future rounds of negotiation.

A Love Letter

Dear Football,

At times you have baffled me and I don't just mean the seemingly arbitrary distribution of cards both red and yellow. I mean who plays whom and where and when and why and don't even get me started on the national teams. Only a few months ago Serie A and Bundesliga could have bitten me on either leg simultaneously and I would have been hard-pressed afterward to pick them out of a lineup. I thought my decision to follow English football would be fairly straightforward - I speak the language - but it took me months to sort through the tiered leagues and multiple championships. Remember my hideous FA cup blunder when I asserted that it wasn't important and how ashamed I was in my ignorance? As recently as this week I was trying to figure out what you call the opposite of relegation (promotion) and who was coming up when poor Burnley, the QP Raisins and Hull/Newcastle/not Sunderland go down (welcome Bournemouth - it's nice to know you're more than just a place to take the waters after an inflammation of the lung.)  

At times, football, you have shocked me. For real. I was in high school when my beloved DC was the murder capital of the world (the WORLD - more per capita murders than anywhere else in THE WORLD) so I grew up with daily reports of random, senseless violence but I watched the Russia v Moldova game (more or less live) and I actually could not comprehend what I was seeing when the Russian goalkeeper got hit on the back of the head with a rocket. I'll type that again: hit on the back of the head with a rocket. Someone in the stands fired some sort of jumbo bottle rocket and it smacked the poor goalie on the back of his head. Knocked him down, stunned him and burned him. And... no, wait... and they did not cancel the game.

I mentioned football hooliganism here once in what I thought was a jest but, good lord, it's not funny. In the most recent Turin derby the Turin fans threw rocks and bottles at the Juventus team bus as they arrived, breaking the windows; and then nine fans were later injured when a paper bomb was detonated in the stands. The manager of Juventus said afterward that only a madman would ever take their child to a Serie A game.

I would guess that real football supporters living in real football countries are accustomed to these things and could probably even say it is much better than it used to be; it certainly is in the UK (at least as far as I can tell.) At the beginning of the season I admit I was amused by all the English premier league fans sitting so stiffly and stoically in their seats for most of the match but I have concluded that such proper behavior is probably strictly enforced. You let too many people leap to their feet in enthusiastic support of a great try and the next thing you know they're all shooting rockets at the midfield.

So, confusing and a little scary, football.


On this, the last day of the 2014-2015 Premier League season I am compelled to say thank you and, my god, what a beautiful beautiful game you are. You've probably thought about this a lot but it only recently occurred to me that all of the major ball sports are more or less the same: two teams face each other and attempt to get something past the other side. Basketball puts the target four feet above a normal head; hockey makes you do it on skates; tackleball insists that everything be done aerially, the ball is shaped like nothing on earth and they change the players every five seconds; volleyball shoves a net in your face; baseball gives you two things to worry about, the little objective and the narrow stick; and rugby... actually I'm going to have to get back to you on rugby. I had an entire season of rugby and Australian Rules football tacked onto my television soccer package and I have watched them both (not to mention the fact that I dated a rugby player in college so it's not like I am unfamiliar with a scrum - heh heh heh) but... yeah. I'll just have to get back to you.

Anyway. I don't know what it is, exactly, football, that sets you apart for me but I wanted to let you know that I tried to watch ten games at the same time today because I think you are perfect in your simplicity and gorgeous in your execution and I have never enjoyed sitting on my couch or breakfast drinking more in my entire life.

Yours, most sincerely,


The Other Season In Minnesota

As much as I like to have the children outside getting fresh air, exercise and vitamin D now that the days are warm there is a significant drawback.

I had to remove four (4) attached deer ticks today from two children - I am excellent at it by the way.

1. Swab area surrounding attached tick with rubbing alcohol.

2. Use tweezers to grab the body of the tick firmly but not so tightly that you crush it.

3. Applying steady pressure, gently pull tick away from the body until the skin puckers.

4. Hold, maintaining tautness, until the tick releases on its own.

5. Carry tick over to the stove and burn it. 

We do tick checks multiple times a day but I have never forgotten that an infectious disease doctor once told me that the odds of finding and removing every tick are slim so it always seems a little futile.

I'm not surprised ticks are hard to find. Caroline once had one embed in the bottom of her foot that we only found by chance and [name redacted for privacy] had one on [gender neutral] anus that we only found because [redacted] was very fond of showing us [ditto] butt at the time. As you can imagine it was a very full moon...

Fortunately we live in a part of the Cities where doctors take tick-borne illnesses very seriously. Patrick, alone, has been tested for Lyme's disease at least three times. Unfortunately we live in a part of the world where tick-borne illnesses are prevalent.

I am never all that fond of nature (while Steve and the children romped and looked for mushrooms I was in the basement pulling everything out of a storage room with the idea that I was going to organize it - it looks like a bomb went off down there; you know the feeling? you decide you are going to do a massive clean out of a closet or something and you get to the point where everything is a thousand times worse and you don't want to do it any more but your bed is covered in bridesmaids' dresses?) but I truly LOATHE ticks.

No. Really. This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You.

First, forgive me while I shake my cane but: ay yi yi, kids today.

The resources with which the modern child is able to communicate never cease to astonish me. When *I* was in seventh grade I would say goodbye to my mother, walk three long blocks to the bus stop, climb aboard the  city bus and tootle off to school. If I was bleeding from the eyes during the day I probably could have gone to the office and someone there might have been able to track down a parent for me, but under normal circumstances that morning farewell was the last contact I had with my family until everyone returned home again.

And it was fine.

Patrick, in contrast, was issued a laptop and an email account at the start of the year and now hardly a day goes by that I don't receive some midday communication from him. Usually it is simply to remind me where to pick him up (his last hour alternates between buildings every day and I am... not so good at remembering) but occasionally he has a school-related request like: could you find a photograph of each these twelve family members for me and then send them ASAP for a Spanish project? [Long Answer: No. Longer Answer: Since I am sure this was not assigned five minutes ago I can only suggest that you ask for an extension and use your time more wisely in the future.]

Today I got a chatty little missive asking me to remind him to bring something or other on Tuesday for writing class, also would I mind bringing him a giant bottle of icy cold water at pickup, oh, and...

"P.P.S. I was sent to the office for being a smart as…terix asterix asterix. (***) More details to come. ;)"


The wink! He ended it with a wink! I can only hope the details include "Ha Ha just kidding of course I didn't get sent to the bloody office with only nine goddamned days left in the school year" because otherwise I will have to devise and implement a suitable punishment. And - this is a parental secret so try not to let it get around - punishing children sucks. Not because we care about their angst (we don't) but because appropriate consequences inevitably mean loss of privileges and loss of privileges leave affronted small people with the idea that they have nothing else to do but follow you around, complaining. 

Edward is particularly adept at this and I swear it takes everything I have sometimes not to just snap, "Argh! Fine! Watch Octonauts! Use my phone to call Tokyo! Here's a Kindle! Just... go away!"

Patrick is more subtle but equally annoying. The last time he lost access to his computer in response to a transgression he responded by sitting in the living room. For hours. Reading a dictionary. ALOUD.

PS I started this earlier so I am able to end with an update, which is fortunate because you know how much I like an arc.

When he got into the car I said, "Office? What? What the hell? NINE DAYS. What did you do? Who sent you?"

Patrick answered the last question, "I have no idea" and then, anticipating my disbelief, explained, "I was walking between the buildings and you know that part that curves around the trash? Well I cut across rather than use the crosswalk like everyone does but a couple of teachers were there and one called, 'Hey! Use the walk!' and I said 'The parking lot drag racers might run me over?' because there were no cars around anywhere and the teacher said 'Do you want to take that lip to Mr. School Director?'


"And that was it."

I thought about it.

"Stop being obnoxious or else," I decreed.

Thank heavens he didn't ask: or else what?  I might have had to take his computer AND his dictionary away.