No More Hustle: All Flow

 

The research papers were graded; the discussion posts logged. The nine day slow-motion swoon of goodbyes and “short visits” was drawing to a close. In the fridge, the crisper drawers had been emptied and washed out. At midnight, the windowsills received a vacuuming. Blessedly, the kids had sleepovers at friends’ houses, so we’d been able to make thirty uninterrupted trips to the basement, carrying fans, chairs, baskets, tubs, Legos, balls, bedding.

By two a.m., I’d entered my grades for summer classes with the registrar and wiped off three years of dust from the molding behind a bathroom shelf.

Nearing packing completion, paperwork in order, a salutary sunset run through the trees completed, torso covered with dried sweat,

I eyed the house’s one remaining in-use mattress and marveled at the peace that accompanies lack of stuff. Spartanism charms.

A simple pan downwards, though, reveals the barely-contained chaos

of a family’s possessions, massed,

enjoying new intimacies.

May the next year for them be as it will for us–

peppered with new friendships–

daring the unexpected leap–

realizing the interconnectedness of all things.

I sagged into the mattress and marveled one more time at the stack of luggage, staged and ready to be loaded into a trailer, pulled behind a mini-van, and driven south for a few days before ricocheting much further east.

Sleep evulsed consciousness, but not before I noted to the congregated suitcases, “Wow, you boys are hecka lotta stuff for a family of four to be dragging around. Are you sure some of you wouldn’t rather go have a nice, stimulating year in the basement, maybe join a fraternity, hit a few parties?”

Taking their stolid silence as a vote for enriching world travel over beer bongs, I faded to black,

arising a few hours later to push the mattress down the stairs, mop the floors with vinegar, and help my husband sit on and compress our overflowing garbage can in the alley.

When we pulled out of town some hours later, tshirts still wet with perspiration, we kept our eyes glued to the double yellow line of the road ahead–

resolutely refusing to glance back and see if the ravens were already pecking through our leavings.

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Clearly, Every Applicant Underwent a Criminal Background Check

 

Imagine you are a renter, entering our house this Sunday on Move-In Day, acquiver over the fact that you get to live for the next year in a house with stainless steel in the kitchen, a playset for the kids out back, and a jacuzzi tub upstairs.

You might not even care that you’re paying $400 more per month than the actual mortgage. You might think the dimmer switch in the tv room renders that cost an out-and-out bargain.

Still and yet, you’d have no idea of the deal you’re getting. Although the owners of the house are out larking around Asia Minor, chomping on kebaps and pistachios, you are clearly the winner in this transaction.

Sure, that travelin’ family is getting raw experience in haggling over kilim prices at the bazaar, squatting occasionally over a good old-fashioned Turkish toilet, and listening to the home-schooled kids whine that their teachers yell too much,

but one quick trip down the stairs assures you, Dear Renter, that all the best adventure is found in the unfinished, moist basements of the American Midwest.

Do it. Walk down the stairs. Don’t rush the descent; there’s some lovely wood paneling demanding that you run your fingers over its knotty texture.

At the bottom, take a moment to glance to your right, to the rectangular space where Travelin’ Family has stored most of its household goods–save the couch and futon they gave away, the bunkbeds they loaned out, and the tin of octopus (thanks, Mom!) they tossed into the trash–and stifle your shriek of marvel at how much beer-guzzling it must have taken to pack and haul all that junk to the basement in the height of summer mugginess.

Then head left, Young Renter, towards the laundry area. At first glance, it doesn’t register that the area is freshly cleaned. The initial appearance smacks only of concrete, drainage, and pipes. You consider the gold medal run Shaun White could put down between the washer and stairs, were the place coated in snow.

Once the first impression of “crappy industrial” recedes, though, a quick sniff test turns up a mixture of Shout, Murphy’s Oil Soap, and Redhead Sweat. Yes. Yes. Scrubbing has happened here. That healthy rent is seeming more and more worth the extra hours you’ll put in measuring flooring and mollifying customer complaints about splinters there in your job at the home supply store.

But, Renter, oh, Renter. The true treasure of The Rental still eludes you. Carry on.

Not there yet.  You’re still too far off.  At this distance, you hardly can make out the dehumidifier (recently wiped down!) in the corner.  Keep shuffling.


Not that the basement ever took on water, but, um, if it did, the Clever Renter might be able to trace its trajectory.


Yes.  Now you’re closing in on it.  No, I don’t mean that source of natural light on the right, that thing called “window”–discovered only today by a sweating redhead when she cleared off the cobwebs and pulled down the rags (curtains!!) framing the glass.  Nae.  Look left, Dear Bank Account Filler.  There is a different piece of glass, also recently Windexed.


What ho, Cher Renter!  See those strange things running along the bottom of that sparkling glass?


More importantly, what unearthly apparition in a blue tank top has appeared in Glass, with one breast oddly cradled inside a camera strap holster?  Is an exorcism on the agenda?  Or a trip to Victoria’s Secret?


Ahhh.  Wait.  Who can ponder ghostly breasts when–whoooooeeeeee!–the line of objects is coming into focus.

Could it be…


…that someone is greeting you, the newcomer, with a hearty “Welcome Back”?

…that any amount of rent is worth it, if it means living in a house that features “Mr. Kotttttt-air” above the laundry sink?

Who knew snappy one liners were built into the lease?
Who knew Vinnie Barbarino would be the basement-dwelling bonus…the silver lining of agreeing to handle snow removal in a city that averages more than 80″ per year?


Who knew, dear Renter, that simply by moving in,

by acknowleding that your dreams were your ticket out,

you’d become an honorary member of a lifelong club?

Admit it, Horshack:  the first time you walked through this house with the rental agent, you could not have envisioned the day when you would reach down into the laundry sink, grab the tube extending from the faucet–so useful for cleaning paintbrushes and muddy running shoes--and initiate your spouse into the new abode by quipping:

“Up your nose with a rubber hose, honey.”

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I Only Know He’s Human Because Sometimes He Smells

 

My husband and I have a dynamic in our marriage predicated on his innate superiority and my unwillingness to be fazed by it.

Since I’m someone whose self-esteem can be shaken by a student commenting casually, “You sure have been an interesting teacher” (What the hell does “interesting” mean?  Did no one ever teach you to use precision in language?  Cripes, but you should take an English class once, Junior…hey. wait. a. minute.), I have to believe my confidence–my Blind Eye–within the marriage stems out of the magical ju-ju called Luff.  My groomeo is awesome at everything, and somehow I’ve decided that means I’m great, too.  I gather his abilities around me into a swirling crinoline and take the bow for both of us.

Someone has to.

The truth is that I weasel myself into his achievements by promoting them, by doing the talking, by pointing out that the dinner at our house is always amazing because he makes it.  There was actually one time when Groom ran by during a snowshoe race, and a reporter for the newspaper asked, “Who was that man?  Does anyone know his name?”–at which point I provided the information as though I’d birthed him myself (in a grueling 36-hour labor that ultimately took my life).

Listen, the guy is so good that a few months ago, at the request of our former realtor whose daughter was getting married to a Frenchman, he baked TWENTY BAGUETTES IN A SINGLE DAY AND THEN PULLED THEM IN A BICYCLE TRAILER DOWNTOWN TO THE WEDDING RECEPTION, WHEREUPON THEY WERE GREETED WITH “TRES BIEN!” AND “OOH-LA-LA!” BY THE ASSEMBLED CONTINENTAL GUESTS.  Groom’s response to all the praise was, “I’ve always had a dream of delivering some baguettes by bike.”

Jocelyn’s response was, “Did the Frenchies really like them?  He makes good bread, doesn’t he?  I took about ten pictures of them.  He does this thing where he uses a misting bottle to spray the insides of the oven while they’re cooking, so as to assure a crisp crust.  He also uses that bike trailer each week to pick up our CSA box of produce from the farm.  Plus, did you know he took six weeks once to bike from Seattle to Minnesota?  And also, as he was making those twenty baguettes, he took a few hours out, during the rising, to go volunteer in the first grade classroom when 31 kids were making gingerbread houses.”

See how I’m great?  ‘Cause he is?

Oh, all right.  I’m just a carnival barker, but I’m his carnival barker, and I wear the striped shirtsleeves instead of a wedding ring.

This is the moment during post writing when I slow down for a minute and think, “I’m pretty sure I started out with a point.  But isn’t it always interesting to see where we wander off to once I start the typing?”

So, refocusing:  in our last episode, I’d abandoned crinolines and death in childbirth to don the duds of the carnival.  I’m a regular host of the Oscars here, with all my costume changes and snappy one-liners, ain’t I?  You’d best jump back and check your Facebook before I trot out an “Uma, meet Oprah. Oprah, meet Uma” bit of schtick like Letterman did when he hosted.

Okay, so anyhow.  My. point. was.  That Groom is great, and all I ever want to do is hear the world shout that right alongside of me because he’s smart and funny and talented and never gets annoyed with my many obnoxisities (go figure) and can do everything and comes from a family where they live forever (as long as I’m doing a digressive post here, here’s some indignation for you:  Groom’s grandpa will be 97 in a few weeks and has been in hospice the last few months; his wife passed away next to him mere months ago, too.  Once she had passed away, he rebounded a bit and decided he needed a new laptop to help him while away those draggy hospice hours, so he ordered one.  When it arrived, he drove several of his children nuts with learning the new programs and applications, but he was getting there.  Then, one night his son left the hospice center after a visit and plugged his dad’s new laptop in so it could recharge, leaving it on the chair next to his aged father.  By morning, IT WAS GONE BECAUSE SOMEONE HAD STOLEN IT.  The whole thing makes me want to believe in hell, so that the crapass Laptop Thief Who Takes Expensive, Life-Sustaining Stuff from 97-Year-Olds in Hospice can roast for effing eternity). 

Yea, that sucked, but the fact that Grandpa is soldiering on is amazing.  I’m pretty sure Groom has that kind of longevity bidness in him, too.  In fact, I’ve told him for years that he can one day put me in a nice home so long as they wheel me out to watch Jeopardy every day at 4:00.  If he wants to swing by once a week during his long run and pat my hand for a few minutes, I’ll be good with that.  Maybe he could check the batteries in the remote while he’s there, before he trots home to cook up a fritatta for four.

Hmmm.  Self-check here: yup, I’ve used the words “fritatta” and “Uma,” so I can finish now with this post’s ultimate unveiling:

In addition to my usual ramblings posted here, Groom’s going to blog our year in Turkey in a comic form.  He loves a good graphic novel and is aiming to use the shades that come from black layered over white as he captures some of our best–and worst–moments.  He’s putting up his first post August 1st, at which point I’ll provide a link, but in the meantime, I ask you to ogle his first few panels for the thing; it’s the invitation we sent out to the bon voyage (?yi yolculuklar in Turkish) party we’re having this weekend. 

Based on what you see here (click for enlargement and know that he used his mad Photoshop skillz to obliterate our family’s surname on the third panel, so that’s why there’s a white space in the text)–

…don’t you think his blog is going to be fabulous?

Better than this one, in truth.

Rest assured, though:  I’ll act as though I invented his every idea.

At the very least, I’ll provide him with an endless source of material.

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Imagine the Bounties Each Bra Cup Can Cradle

 

Should you be having a tough day, I open with a photo aimed at making you feel better about your own life:

Our master bedroom looks like the inside of Mel Gibson’s brain:  unconnected piles of crap that somehow synergize into a vastly unattractive view.

Despite the disarray of our most intimate room, we’re actually feeling pretty on top of things…relative to our timeline of leaving Duluth on July 31st and flying to Turkey on August 3rd, after spending a few days at my in-laws’ house.  Yes, there are heaps everywhere, but, two weeks out from our depature, their very heapishness shows that we’ve sorted through things and made some decisions.  Plus, most of our furniture, save the mattresses and one big desk, are stored in the basement already; we need only to fill in the cracks with boxes and bags, finish packing up the kitchen, and then drag down the last-days things right before we leave.  Oh yea, and bake a ham and tap a keg when we throw ourselves a going away party next weekend for 83 of our closest friends.

There remains, of course, the actual packing.  For months, we’ve tossed all sorts of “wouldn’t this be nice to have during a year away?” paraphernalia into my closet.  The other day, we dragged all of those goods out and added them to the intended clothing and, well, you’ve just seen the result.  Yesterday, I had a little time to start packing some of the kids’ clothes and fleece jackets into compression sacks.  That was the first time I’ve enjoyed myself during the process of Getting Ready, for compression sacks (into which one can cram a fairly good amount of stuff and then tighten down the straps until something the size of a ciabatta weighs 8.5 pounds) bring up for me Memories of Good Travels Past.  I can remember stuffing in and tightening down all my clothes before catching an early-morning train out of Dublin.  I can remember sitting on and condensing a month’s worth of clothes before getting onto a ferry in Iceland.  I can remember strong-arming my tshirts and shorts into submission on my last day in Warsaw, trying to make room in my backpack for the meatsticks I was determined to bring home.

Compression sacks create a sense memory that signals Jocelyn, Buckle Up.  You’re Going Somewhere.

Some things, like shoes, don’t compress, though.  As a result, they are drummed into a different kind of service:

Feminine hygiene product receptacle seems a worthy job for the Privos and Borns of the world.

Indeed, I know we’re coming out the other side of stress when I find infinite delight in this still life:

Clog with Bouquet of Tampons.

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When You Have Several Thousand Free Hours in Front of You, Movies Seem Suddenly More Magical

 

Although Paco maintains this week, when he is FORCED every day to attend the YMCA camp called “Kitchigami,” that “Camp is boring. Camp is boring. I hate camp. Camp is boring. Who wants to swim five days in a row? We had to canoe, and the other kid didn’t do anything, so I couldn’t make it move, and it was the worst time I ever had, and camp is boring, too, and I’m not going tomorrow,”

I have nevertheless just placed MEATBALLS in my amazon.com shopping cart, ’cause who can hate a camp movie with Bill Murray?

The idea for MEATBALLS came straight from one of my besties, when I put out a call for movie suggestions that will hit the mark with our Girl this next year.  BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM proves another winning suggestion.

So, can you help?  Here are the criteria:

–Girl is ten, will be eleven before we return home

–she is an avid reader but not so much a visual kid; thus, she has liked only a few movies in her time, including the Lindsay Lohan PARENT TRAP and Steve Martin’s CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN

–she does not like costumes, fantasty, or historical stuff

–she loves stories of clubs and groups of friends and, yes, camps

Cyber love iced onto one and all who can help me with this brainstorm.

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The More Observant Among You Will Have Noticed My Heavy Reliance on the Pictoral Post in Recent Weeks, and Shut Up Already That I’m Essentially Phoning in My Blogging Life Because I’m Teaching Summer Classes at the Same Time I’m Computing How Many Pairs of Underwear Can Fit Into a Compression Sack

 


I promise I’m not complaining.

The truth is, the kids are off at daycamp this week, which magically opens up the daytime hours for Groom and me to hustle around the house, throw bedding into plastic bags, and disassemble bed frames, all while staring at a pile of caribiners mixed with agates and Yu-Gi-Oh cards and thinking, “Do I really feel like taking fifteen minutes to separate the cards from the agates from the carabiners, or should I throw them all in the trash–or put them into a Ziploc bag so that I can unpack them again in a year and stare at them some more?”

Then there is some more hustling around to take paintings off the walls, an activity only broken up by the minutes spent staring at the stack of our daughter’s 56 journals, each of which have writing on the first page only. This staring is followed by a few minutes of rifling through the 203 pencils in her desk drawer, which conveniently alternate with key chains and stickers of emoticons, a mixture that can only be called Tween Gorp.

After about an hour of what should be Productive House Packing Time, I realize I’m pretty much just walking down the stairs, getting a plastic bag, carrying it back upstairs, opening a drawer, sighing deeply and dramatically, and then closing the drawer and wondering why I’m holding a plastic bag.  Before I’ve completely registered all the junk around me, some part of my vision becomes oblivious to it; the vastness and variety of the piles of stuff all blend together, my head gets woozy, and I plop down with an ooof onto the floor where I sit and consider one more time the specific craziness that is Agglomerated Clothes I Think I Want to Take to Turkey. 

On one level, I think I’ve done okay, as we’ll be gone a full year to a place with a complete rotation of seasons, and yet I’m taking neither snow boots nor winter coat.  But I am currently stalled out on a stack of 19 short-sleeved shirts that all are begging for a trip to the Near East.  The short sleevers are so raucous that the 3/4- and full-length sleevers aren’t even emitting a peep but, rather, are sticking together resolutely and silently in their own stolid clump in the corner.

Right now, our household is realizing how even our “restrained” packing attempts are resulting in hella lotta crap being aimed at an open suitcase.  Groom–who can say no to dessert, go to bed at a reasonable hour, and avoid shopping for months–compiled all his intended clothes, and here’s what his low-key self came up with:

In comparison to his big-but-doable load of clothes, mine is overwhelming in both breadth:

and depth:

As I chastise myself for struggling to cull the mass of fabric, though, I am defended by rationalization.  In the  heap are 6 bras.  Over the course of 365 days, that means I would wear each bra about 61 times.  When put that way, 6 bras doesn’t seem excessive.  When photographed as part of a column of 3 skirts, 11 pairs of socks, and 10 pairs of underwear, though, the cumulative heft–which comprises maybe 1/6 of the overall total–seems like too much:

You may have noticed already how, even after a few photos, the heaps start to blend together.  Very quickly, it’s just Puff ‘N Stuff everywhere.  If I turn away from issues of underwear and open my closet door so as to view all the sundries that we’ve tucked inside as part of the Non-Clothing Items–home school books; a few toys; crayons and markers; DVD’s–it’s as though I’m possessed by Material Vertigo and can’t see anything through my swimming vision. 
You may have noticed that I mentioned bras and underwear with little hesitation.  Assuming a posture of semi-defensive breeziness is part of my smoke and mirrors act,
to distract from the issue of shoes.
Which I don’t want to discuss.  Because it’s kind of a hot button for me.
Because I’m thinking 10 pairs of shoes sounds about right (rather a lowball numer, to tell you true…keeping in mind that I wear a women’s size 10, which I won’t be able to buy in Turkey), but whenever I start to intimate to my husband that taking 10 pairs of shoes might qualify as “restrained,” he makes this odd gargly noise in the back of this throat and clutches spastically at his Adam’s apple.
So then I just shut up, hand him a spittoon, and slide open a Very Special Closet Door, where the view could not be more clear or simple,
where I am reassured by a quick glance

that everything is going to be all right.

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I Never Saw Harry Potter Slow Down Long Enough to Read a Book, Not Incidentally

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?”
 Jane Austen

Waiting for a break in the conversation, the impatient ten-year-old saw his chance.  The two mothers had slowed their discussion of preschools just long enough for him to break in and change the topic to something that really mattered.

“Jocelyn, you should come down to the basement and see how far I’ve gotten in the new Harry Potter game on our Wii.  It was released today, and we went to Target right after breakfast to get it.  I’ve been playing all day, and I’ve unlocked a lot of the characters already.  The Dementors are so cool.”

Never one to pass up the opportunity for malarkey, I shrieked, “Dementors?  In your basement?  Nice try, Jo-Jo, but there’s no way I’m going into your basement if there are Dementors there.  I’m ascairt of Dementors; even thinking about them makes me feel all cold inside.  Nope.  Sorry.  Not gonna go.  I’ll just be staying up here, in the light, where I can dash out into the sunshine and play on the swings and slide–objects which seem tragically untouched today, in fact.”

“Oh, come on, Jocelyn.  You should come down so I can show you all the stuff in the game.  The Dementors aren’t even scary.  Here, I’ll show you.”  Then he ran up the stairs to find his enormous Lego guide book.  Panting, moments later, he opened it to the picture of a Dementor mini-figure.

 Lego Harry Potter Minifigs Dementor Prisoner Of Azkaban

Spluttering, I gasped, “Why, that’s what I look like every February when I’m shuffling around the house in a fleece blanket and have eaten too many Jelly Bellies!  Sure, it’s horrifying, but such images are nothing new to me.  Lead the way, son.  Take me to your Death Eaters.  Of course, I’m not promising I won’t scream once I see them in action on the screen, of course.”

“Just come on.  It will be fine,” the kid assured me, skittering down the stairs and finding the imprint of his rear end that lingered on the carpet in front of the screen.

“Now that I’m down here in the dank bowels of your house, I’m all nervous again, especially because I see you’ve got your minions gathered ’round,” I noted, gesturing to his three brothers, all of whom bounced excitedly on crossed legs.  “Just show me Hogwarts.  I don’t need to see any Dementors.”

Unable to appreciate my manufactured drama, the kid turned to his brothers and reported, “Jocelyn keeps saying she’s afraid of the Dementors.  Good thing I’m just getting used to the game and can’t always find them.  But, Jocelyn, I’m going to show them to you; maybe if I just make my Harry and these redheaded guys–I just call them “The Twins” because I don’t know who they are–run around Hogwarts, I’ll find some for you…”

“Hey, kiddo?  Those twins are Ron Weasely’s older brothers, if I remember correctly.  Also, I don’t think the Dementors can come into Hogwarts.  I think you’ll have take Harry outside to find them.  I’m pretty sure they’re unable to enter the school.”

With a tone of new respect, the kid asked, “Do you have this game?  You must have beaten more levels than I have so far.”

“Nope.  Few things make my breakfast sit harder in my stomach than racing off to Target after ingesting it, so I don’t have the game.  I just remember that I always feel better when the action is in Hogwarts since the Dementors are kept out of it by some spell–I think Dumbledore cast it.  I love Dumbledore!  Whenever I get all shrieky about how hollow the Dementors make me feel, I hope the story will go back into Hogwarts, where things are relatively safe.  ‘Cause when those Dementors are floating around, sucking souls, I feel absolute terror.”

Looking away from the screen for a nanosecond, the kid asked, quizzically, “You mean, like, in the movies?”

“Naw, I haven’t seen the movies.  I mean when I read the books.”

Out and out confused by now, he scrunched his eyebrows together and squeezed out, “What do you mean, the books?”

Feeling scrunchy and squeezy myself, I could only say, “What do YOU mean when you say ‘what do you mean, the books?'”

Continuing to push the buttons that kept Lego Harry zipping towards Hagrid’s cottage, the kid lifted his eyes long enough to clarify his confusion, “There are Harry Potter books?”

The breath easing from my body–and not due to any Dementor’s soul-sucking kiss–I warbled, “Um, yea.  There are some Harry Potter books.  That’s how I know about these characters.  That’s what I’m talking about when I tell you how terrifying I find the Dementors.  Books.  From books.  You should try them.”

Shaking his head in complete disbelief, the kid looked around at his cadre of brothers, all of whom awaited their turn at the controls.  He chortled, “I don’t get it.  How can she be afraid of Dementors from reading about them in books?”  Then, looking at me, he upped the chortle to friendly mockery, “I don’t get it, Jocelyn.  How can something you read in a book be scary?  Books?  Scary?  Huh?”

Backing away, wishing him luck in defeating the level and one day figuring out the names of The Twins, I mumbled a few words about “well, there’s a lot of fear inside imagination and, well…um…books really can take your brain to…” before I realized his gaze had swiveled back to the screen,

to stare at a world of fantastical characters–

capable, on the written page, of conveying darkness, shock, vividness, fright–

flattened by pixels into safe, predictable, easily-controlled opportunities to “win.”

Fair enough.  

If Lego ever introduces a line of Jane Austen products, you better believe I’ll camp out at Target the night before, sweaty credit card clutched to heaving bosom, anxious to be the first to buy the Pride and Prejudice game and make the Elizabeth mini-figure slap Darcy across the face, ride a pony through the moors, and dance a graceful air in the ballroom–all in an effort to collect enough yearly income to stage a wedding after defeating the villainous George Wickham with a well-placed barb in the final level.

After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Jocelyn in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a Wii. 
   

 

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We Haven’t Packed the Whiteboard Yet

 

…which means we still have a Question of the Day. Recently, I posed this one:

“If you had a ball, a slinky, a marble, a pancake, and a fuzzy slipper, what would you invent with them?”
My response was:
“an extremely difficult obstacle course for Polly Pockets”
Our Girl’s response was “a very bouncy, skinny, round, tasty, warm bed”
Paco, after reading the question through once, asked, “Are we allowed to answer with pictures?”  Assured that this approach fell within the bounds of Whiteboard Protocol, he hastened off to the bedroom with a piece of paper and a pencil, emerging four minutes later looking sweaty and disheveled but holding this mock-up.  A lengthy explanation of his contraption ensued, but I was too busy pulling a hairball out of the bath tub drain to focus properly.  All I can remember is that the invention does some sliding and flinging and sproinging, and probably someone loses his superpowers or perhaps his head in the end.
Groom, of course, knew exactly what a pancake, a slinky, and soft fuzzy stuff would be best at snagging.

——————————————–
How ’bout you, Poodles? 

What would you create with a ball, a slinky, a marble, a pancake, and a fuzzy slipper?
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Daily Views

 

Regular life mixes with preparation for change.  We have friends over, write commitments on the calendar, and pack boxes in anticipation of time away.

Yesterday, tired of not being able to unlock or start up our one remaining vehicle without cursing and burying a crock of cabbage in the back yard under a full moon, we took the car to the shop for the day.  Turns out we needed new keys cut.  Of course, it took twenty-four hours and several bike rides on Groom’s part to get that sussed.  In the meanwhile, we rented a U-haul for wheels, as the cost was cheaper than renting a car for a day.  Plus, we needed a big vehicle to handle a run to the dump:

As junk stacked up, awaiting departure, Paco and his buddy worked on whittling and glueing magic wands.

Running back and forth to the house for glitter, strings, and scissors, I appreciated the explosion of blossoms in our back garden.  The lilies and daisies–along with pork–are something I’ll miss a great deal this next year.
 

Another thing you can do with a U-haul is bring home a heap of empty boxes from liquor and grocery stores.

Bit by bit, our basement is filling up with bags of bedding, tubs of clothes, and boxes of knicknacks.

We call our interior design scheme “Glad Chic.”

This is all a bit daunting when we realize we’re still just packing “around the edges” and won’t touch the big, daily stuff for a few weeks yet.  We may need to hire a perma-U-haul and park it out back, full to the brim, for a year.

Every week, we’re taking a huge load to Goodwill.  By the next week, a new stack has grown under the stairs–much of this, though, for some sort of yard sale (Paco’s got his eyes on a few sets of Legos for the road…):

At least there is evidence that we’re on our way towards denuding the house of all things personal:

…but mostly we’re creating lots of stacks of “this to there” and “that to here”…

And, really, what does one do with the Pictionary?

Just walking away from the heaps, out into the sun, can save sanity–and remind us how much we’ll miss the neighborhood.  Moon sand proves perfect amusement for ages 1-10:

And ooblek (“slime” of corn starch and water) buys us more time away from stacks of “what to do withs”–

When ooblek fails, a more serious recipe is called for, this one by Ruth Levy Beranbaum (who gives the impression she will reach out with a slap if one fails to rotate the dough, folded side to the left, three times, just as prescribed):

Of course, once one has made it through the threat of a slap and the stress of a household half-packed, the rewards are immense.

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You Know How On Extreme Makeover They Drive the Bus Away for the ‘Big Reveal’? This Is Kind of Like That, Only Nobody Gets a Jungle Theme in the Living Room

 

The kids raced away from the school bus on the final day of the school year, sweat and excitement mixed on their faces. Breathlessly, Paco reported, “Al the Bus Driver is so nice. We’re the last kids off today, so he gave us each TWO suckers to celebrate the last day!”

Just then, Al the Bus Driver, leaning out his side window, beckoned me over to the bus. As I approached, he turned off the ignition, turning the bus into a huge yellow Lego brick blocking the avenue.

“So your kids were telling me you all are going to live someplace else next year—like, you’re going to some other country? What’s that all about?”

Feeling a babble coming on, I made sure not to lock my knees (causes fainting) and then settled my hands onto my hips (an endurance posture) and did a quick saliva check (adequate lubrication being essential to extended nattering).

Brightly, I commenced:

“Why, yes, Al the Bus Driver, we do have a big family adventure afoot! The whole thing really started last January, when I was granted a sabbatical by my college—”

Interjecting, Al the Bus Driver asked, “And what would ‘sabbatical’ mean then?”

Having forgotten that the word “sabbatical” is the jargon of academia and Jews who have wandered the desert for forty years, I slowed down to explain, “A sabbatical is something college teachers can apply for every seventh year. Basically, we put together a plan for professional duties or ideas that we’d like to work on but can never find the time to get to when we’re handling our usual duties of teaching and service to the college. In a sense, we’re being given the time to do some ‘forward thinking’ and work on both personal and professional projects. We get partial pay during the time we take off, and then we have to have completed our promised projects by our first day back. Personally, I have four projects I’ll be hacking away at, but—quite cleverly—I planned them so that they can be done from anywhere in the world because, truth be told, our family’s underlying agenda is always about taking a trip and going somewhere. We do lots of road trips, and we went to Guatemala three years ago, but, heck, when you’re seven years old like that there Paco with a sucker in his mouth is, three years is pretty much half a lifetime ago, so we’ve been itching to get out of the U.S. again, especially because the kids are at an age to take in so much more of what’s around them. The good thing is they’re still young enough that they will cotton to a different language relatively easily.”

Having inhaled a gnat, I broke off the stream of babble to hack genteely into my sleeve. Seizing the opportunity, Al the Bus Driver asked, “So what does your husband do, that he can just leave it for a year?”

Wiping saliva-covered gnat guts onto my kneecap, I hopped back in. “When he’s not busy cooking all the meals and handling every other aspect of our lives, he sits on the couch and eats bon-bons; he’s no bus driver, that’s for sure.  See, he’s been our stay-at-home parent for the last decade, ever since that there Girl with two suckers in her mouth was born. His former profession was as a naturalist, and he has a degree in anthropology and environmental science, but for the last two years, with Paco in school, he’s also been taking art classes at the college where I teach in preparation for the next phase of his life, so we’ll see what he ends up wanting to do. Right now, though, it’s a perfect time for him to go to a whole new country and tap into their artistic traditions; I mean, light and space and texture are so different around the globe that it’s a rare gift indeed to be able to go feel them in person.”

Looking a little perplexed but still game, Al the Bus Driver attempted to redirect the conversation–but I picked up his cue of distress and swerved back onto topic, thoughtfully saving him the effort of breaking in. “Anyhow, Al the Bus Driver, once we found out I had been granted a sabbatical, we immediately signed up with a couple of home exchange organizations online and sent out about fifty inquiry emails around the world. Almost immediately, our email inbox was flooded with 45 ‘nope, not gonna work for us’ and ‘sorry, already booked’ messages, but then, after a couple of weeks, we got a response from a family in Sicily…”

Asserting himself, Al the Bus Driver asked, “And where abouts is that again?”

“It’s part of Italy—although many Sicilians would disagree with that sentiment as it’s a separate island with a very different history than the main land. So this family was very interested, and after some weeks of really slow, Italian-paced email conversations, they told us they were IN and very much wanted to do an exchange with us, starting in July and running through the following April. There was a bit of a hang-up with their teen-aged son not being able to take the classes he would need here at an American high school; I mean, really, Duluth high schools don’t offer art history, Latin, or Italian as a Mother Tongue, do they? But the family did some juggling around and arranged for the teen to come with them for four months, at which point he would return to Sicily and live with his aunt as he finished out his school year there. However, just as I was gearing up to head to Chicago to get my visa—which has to be done in person, and which I had to do first before I could transfer a power of attorney to someone in Italy, have that person go into a police station and get me declared a resident, and then, as a resident, invite my family to accompany me, at which point they could go to Chicago to get their visas—we got an email from the Sicilian family telling us that they’d had a hostile and confounding meeting at their son’s high school, and they’d been told he would receive no credit at all for study done in the U.S.—the administration must have heard about our schools!—which pretty much meant he couldn’t come along at all which, in turn, was something we call A Dealbreaker.”

Looking pensive, Al the Bus Driver asked, “Dealbreaker? Isn’t that a reality show on Fox?”

Undeterred from the babble, I inhaled deeply and continued to spew: “While we were really bummed about the Sicilian plan falling through, it seemed like fate that we received an email just then from a family in Prague, asking if we’d be interested in an exchange. After some backing and forthing (the husband in that family was an economist who, himself, was trying to arrange activities for his sabbatical year; for him, and for a long-term visa, this required that he obtain a letter of invitation from a local university), and after our neighbor extended herself to work her connections in the economics department at one of our local institutions of higher education, we thought the pieces could fall together nicely and make this thing work. And Prague! How beautiful that city is; I went there in 1985, before The Wall fell, and it was fascinating to see how we were assigned a guide whose job it was to keep us out of trouble; on one memorable hot, hot day, the guide took us on a five-hour walk around a cemetery which was, as you might guess, not this 18-year-old’s idea of a rockin’ afternoon in Europe. However, it did bring the term ‘Prague Walk’ into my personal lexicon as a term for anything painful and unending. Like, right now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘This conversation has turned into a real Prague Walk.’”

“No,” Al the Bus Driver noted, “I’m actually wondering about The Wall you mentioned. Was that an actual thing, or what do you mean?”

“Oh, yes, Al the Bus Driver, it was an actual, literal thing—but really a metaphor, too, for significant divisions between economic and political systems post-World War II. If you get on the Internet at all, during the hours you’re not safely chauffeuring loud-mouthed children around the city, you might do a search on the term ‘Berlin Wall’ and even input the year 1989. You’ll find lots of information that way, and then next year on the bus you could create a ‘Sucker Challenge’ game with the kids on the bus; make them answer questions about Stalin and Reagan before they get candy!”

“Yea, I’m probably not going to do that,” Al the Bus Driver said, plucking out a particularly long nose hair.

“No, no, of course not. That would be expecting too much from the first graders. All right, so the Prague family suddenly went quiet on us, not returning emails, not responding to the contact information I’d sent them at the university, until one day, we received a message from them that announced, ‘We’ve decided to go to Berkeley and rent there. However, if you’d like to rent our house in Prague, that would still be an option.’ Even though I grumbled a fair amount about how it wouldn’t have killed them to be up front all along, I finally managed to type back a message asking about how much rent they’d be asking. That was in April. We’ve still never had a reply. That whole thing was daunting in its own way, but we did luck out again and find hope in the form of a lovely Australian woman who contacted us and was looking to do a 6-month exchange—and get this: during the winter months, as her 14-year-old son likes to snowboard and play hockey! So we had a flurry of emails with her over the course of a few weeks, and she seemed both convivial and interested, if unaware of the concepts of complete sentences and capital letters…she was really going gangbusters until my husband sent her a lovely and helpful email full of links to the ski areas and hockey rinks around here…and until I sent her an email saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes, we’d love to do an exchange with you.’ When she didn’t reply to either, I waited three days and sent another message, noting that often emails to get lost in the ether, but that yes, yes, yes, we’d love to do an exchange with her. Three days after that, I sent it again. Then again. That was in early May, and we have yet to hear back from her. Shortly after that, I began some crabby muttering that ended with me yelling ‘Citizens of Earth, you are a bunch of flakes; would it kill you to be forthcoming and regular in your communications?’”

“By ‘flakes,’” Al the Bus Driver wondered aloud, “do you mean like dandruff?”

“Not really, Al the Bus Driver, but I did wish that upon them, too, in my more punitive moments. At any rate, when Ms. Australia disappeared, we decided it was time to switch things up and stop trying to hinge our plans on those of others. It was time to do what we could do, under our own power. Pretty quickly, we decided to play the visa game, switching visa areas throughout the year and dodging the need to get any long-term permissions. We found out we could stay in the UK up to six months, so we thought we’d start there, and then we’d head to the Andalucia region of Spain for 90 days, and then maybe we’d head into a non-Schengen region country like Bulgaria or Croatia to round things out. It got so I was cruising online rental agencies at 2 a.m., trying to see where we could rent relatively cheaply, for about what our mortgage here costs us per month. Let me tell you, that’s a tough thing to do in Europe, as it’s expensive there! But we figured it if we could rent our house here, we’d have some money to apply towards rent elsewhere, and we could make it work.”

“Can you pay for a visa with Mastercard?” Al the Bus driver mused.

Clearly, although I’m crazymad for exposition, it was time to move past the backstory. “In general, Al the Bus Driver, cash will be your best bet if paying for a visa at the airport. So here’s what finally has happened: after asking everyone we know for ideas, my husband’s parents mentioned how my father-in-law’s boss’ daughter has lived in Turkey for some years and that we probably could contact her. Feeling pretty desperate, we sent off an email her direction, and guess what? While I always want to believe in the idea of ‘whatever’s supposed to happen, will happen, and the universe will hand you what you need,’ I had gotten so frustrated and put off that I merely felt bitch slapped by the universe—hey, incidentally, is this the first time a parent of a kid on your bus has used the term ‘bitch slapped’ to you?—and was really down about the idea of possibility. But guess what, guess what, guess what? My father-in-law’s boss’ daughter wrote back immediately and has been amazing. I think of her as the hospitable expat, as she’s lived in Turkey since 2003, now in the Cappadocia region where there are all sorts of fairy chimneys and cave homes and underground cities, and all she wants in the world is to share her love of the place with anyone who’s interested. We’ve had a slew of emails with Hospitable Expat, some chats on Facebook, and she’s already put out feelers for rentals for us in the villages in her area, along with negotiating a good rate for us at a pension in her village (we’ll base out of there while we find a rental for the year) and telling us where the shuttle driver will be standing to meet us when we get off the airplane in Keysari. Within a week of communicating with her, we knew this was the answer we’d been seeking for five months. We bought plane tickets a few weeks ago and leave August 3rd. The cost of living is significantly lower—our rent there may equal our monthly Sam’s Club bill here—and we can exit the country every 90 days (hopping over to a Greek island) and come back in and get a new visa easily. So that’s it. We’re going to Turkey for a year, we’ll home school the kids, and we can’t believe how fortunate we are.”

Bracing myself for him to use the line every lame jokester in our social circle had trotted out in response to our announcement (“I’ve always liked chicken better than turkey”), I was caught off guard when, after a moment of silence, Al the Bus Driver’s final question was, “And so what exactly would be your purpose in doing this again?”

My immediate reaction was one of “Duh and HELLO, Al the Bus Driver: living in another country? Experiencing a new language and culture and people? Seeing what it is to live as an expatriate? Watching my kids and husband and myself wade through the challenges of not having friends, security, and the same-ole same-ole around us all the time? Getting the reality check provided by being out of one’s element? Gaining a perspective on our place in the larger order of things, something that is awfully hard to keep in place when one is an American?”

I tempered my reaction, of course, and simply pointed out the cultural and linguistic benefits. Looking dubious, Al the Bus Driver started up the engine again, preparing to drive the bus to the garage one last time. Just before pulling away, he braved a closing remark. “Those kids of yours? Great kids. Nice kids. I wish all the kids on the bus behaved like they do. They’ve been a real pleasure.”

For a parent hearing those words, there is no thank you large enough. But I did manage the rejoinder of “Yea, that’s why we’re pulling them out of school next year; we hope to keep them like that a bit longer!”

Brakes squealing, the bus made its way down the road. I stood in place for a second, though, mulling over the wisdom in Al the Bus Driver’s question. Holy Whirling Dervishes, but what is our purpose in going to Turkey? How will we fill our days when no one is ever heading off to school or work? Yikes. Crikey. Jimminy.  That could stack up into a whole lot of empty hours of staring at each other, thinking, “Sure, there are kebabs, but where did all the playdates go?”

I’m guessing, as with figuring out the plan for my sabbatical year, we’ll have to make our own opportunities, figure it out for ourselves, shape our own directions.

Newly in awe at what we’ve wrought, I turned to my hopscotch-playing kids and teased, “So what are those bulging backpacks full of on the last day of school? Textbooks and toilet paper you stole from the school? If so, great. We’re doing to need both in Turkey.”

—————————————————–

(As of last week, our house is rented for a year. As of four days ago, our mini-van is sold and gone. As of right now, we’re overwhelmed and freaking out, trying to sort through and pack up our household; the renters are allowing us to store our things in the basement and will let us leave the main floor furniture in place, but the second floor furniture needs to be moved out, and all other belongings are going into tubs and boxes, a process that would be infinitely easier without bored children hanging around–a foretaste of life in Turkey?– wanting help in finding amusement [makes a parent want to relax long-standing rules banning daytime use of electronics]. Even when we’ve gotten their friends over, in the hopes that they’ll hie off to play, they end up standing in front of us, saying, “What should we do? Will you play a game with us? It takes four people to play this game.” Thank Yogi Bear that we’ve stuffed July full of camps for them; then can go kayak, swim, and do fiber art while Groom and I participate in the boot camp known as Driving Garbage Bags Full of Old Shoes to Goodwill and Then Stacking All the Rest of Everything in a 12’ x 20’ Space)

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