Yo, Brad Pitt: I’ve Got Your Arts & Crafts House Right Here

“Yo, Brad Pitt: I’ve Got Your Arts & Crafts House Right Here”

We in Northern Minnesota are most definitely riding the hump of winter, one with particularly cold temps and very little snow. It’s been dark for some months now, here on the pack ice, the sled dogs have been howling relentlessly, and we’ve just run out of hardtack and dried berries. Things are looking grim.

So how can we distract ourselves, especially now that all of the barrels down in the hold are emtpy, and we’re starting to eye Girl’s soft little earlobes as likely hors d’oeuvres? How to make 24-molasses-slow hours pass each day so that every time we check the calendar it doesn’t still read “Middle of a Long, Icy February” (and the next day “Middle of a Long, Icy February +1”)?

The kids’ energy, with each -30 degree day, gets more manic, random, and punchy. They are jumping off the stairs, hurling stuffed animals, and leaping over stacks of cardboard bricks. Although they have enough energy to fill the universe and rearrange the stars, we can only offer them 1800 square feet of hardwood.

Certainly, for relief from the oppressively grey skies, we spend eleven minutes each day packing the kids into snowpants, wool socks, fleece hats, parkas, and lined boots. They obligingly run around the yard for four minutes before they begin to amuse themselves by snapping off their frozen fingers, one by one, making a little pile of digits.

Not one to lose spirit, I holler with great enthusiasm, “Look at you! You made your own Lincoln Logs! Good job! Now keep running, lest Recreational Director Julie McCoy comes along and spots you and takes you aboard the Love Boat to use as an ice sculpture at the dinner buffet.”

Very shortly, after a few rousing games, such as “I Can Saw This Branch Off The Birch With My Nose Before You Can,” “Excised Toes = Winter Marbles,” and, of course, “Literal Freeze Tag,” we’re all aching to pick up the pieces of our bodies and carry them inside, to a place where the wind doesn’t slice us in half.

After seventeen minutes of peeling off layers, we sit contentedly nursing warm mugs of chai. Within moments, we realize, though, that the groundhogs are still in their dens, all the chocolate hearts have been eaten, all the good presidents are still dead, and spring is still six weeks off. Thus, the question rears itself again: what to freaking do?

There is only one answer, and it entails construction paper, glitter glue, neon markers, and vision.

Gather ’round, Boys and Girls, Preschoolers and First Graders, Scouts and Bluebirds, Gymnasts and Swimmers, Former Members of the Zoom cast: it’s arts & crafts time. Saddle up, and cover your privates: we’re snipping and glueing ’til sunset.

Valentine’s Day offered up a significant diversion, especially with class sizes being so big in the district; Girl and Niblet were kept busy cutting and decorating for days on end. Occasionally, as I stared blankly out the window over their busy heads, the sun would peep out.

And then there are the times we feel all oil pastelly inside, with a hint of watercolor thrown over the top for good measure. Nice job with the fishies, Girl! When I catch sight of this picture, I just about want to keep my head out of the oven.

Even Groom has contributed to the crafty feeling, having sculpted this turtle, who spends his days frantically swimming nowhere. I get so involved in his journey and its endless possibilities that I sometimes stop muttering, “O, Sweet Goddess of Spring, when shall you arrive?”

We’ve even gone so far as to copy the illustrations from our favorite books (if you don’t know Mo Willems and his genius work, sled with great speed over to your nearest Barnes & Noble. Or, better yet, let a bus-driving pigeon drop you off there).

The pigeons’ presence on our kitchen cabinets alleviates my need to moan, while holding my head, “Darkness, oh, the darkness.”

Even more diverting is when our efforts reach the level of performance art, as in the case of one Ms. Hello Kitty being jettisoned from her stage; here, she illustrates the despair that results from the clash between internal and external selves in a modern world, particularly in terms of valuing the individual over society. Upon landing, she urinates on a crucifix to demonstrate the angst inherent in our current skepticism of traditional icons.

But perhaps my favorite creative moment happened last week, when Girl and Groom were out spearing a seal for dinner.

Wee Niblet and I stared at each other for some time in a state of thumb-twiddling before remembering that he had checked out a bag of plastic animals from the Polar Library that day. And suddenly, it was Rhino’s Birthday. Attending his party on the kitchen floor were Gorilla, Giraffe, Elephant, Tiger, Lion, and Mommy. Before presents would be opened, we all needed to play some games. First up? Pin the Trunk on the Elephant.

Each animal’s eyes were covered as it was spun three times in front of the elephant and then asked to pin on the trunk. As you might predict, hilarity ensued. Oh, the trumpeting and chattering when Gorilla pinned the trunk to elephant’s tail!

But then Giraffe proved to be a ringer:

He taped the trunk spot on the elephant’s face; surely, the prize (a mandarin orange) was his.

Even after Tiger took his turn, Giraffe remained clearly in the lead…until, that is, Tiger threw a hissy and threatened to snap the head off any fellow party attender who refused to vote him The Victor.

With little discussion, the animals voted “yea” for Tiger, all the while refusing to make eye contact.

Shortly after tiger accepted his prize (the orange plus a page of Tweety Bird stickers) for “winning” the game, we opened presents–I had hastened off to the tupperware cabinet for some impromtu “shopping”–having thoughtlessly brought Rhino nothing!–wherein I purchased a blue tupperware cover. I bestowed it on the Birthday Beast, telling him it was a new drinking pond, to compensate for the limited water on the drought-ridden savanna.

After eating pieces of a zoo-themed cake, we all lapped up some cool pond water, admired each other’s gifts, and before I knew it, an entire hour had passed.

Groom and Girl were home, worn out from their battle with the seal. Niblet was tired, worn out from coddling Tiger’s emotional needs.

And I, mentally crossing another day off the calendar, was sure I heard a chickadee trilling its spring song outside the window.

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Crumbs and Poo: Making Martha Stewart Roll Over in Her Banana Bourbon Layer Cake

“Crumbs and Poo: Making Martha Stewart Roll Over in Her Banana Bourbon Layer Cake”

(This is my attempt at heart-shaped red Snickerdoodles for a kids’ neighborhood party: not so lovely. But excellent baked goods would be wasted on a crowd who thinks Blues Clues is high art, so I worry not)

Groom and I are gifted. We really are. He can run long distances, like 30 miles, and feel better at the end than at the start. I can fold laundry at 1 a.m. He can plan a weekly menu of meals so good that I proclaim each one fine enough to be “company food.” I can cut a wriggling preschooler’s fingernails without drawing blood. Together, we can just about finish a Sunday New York Times’ crossword puzzle.

Obviously, we have our merits, and you’d be smart to want us as members of your tribe on Survivor.

However, when it comes to household precision and general domesticity, we are underwhelming. Sure, we fight the daily battle: heaving dirty clothes toward the basket in the corner, washing up the bowl that contained pesto noodles, rinsing the spit toothpaste down the drain. We do what’s necessary to make sure Child Welfare Services doesn’t have an excuse to confiscate the children.

But, while the place looks all right on the surface, and we can occasionally pass for “neat,” we can rarely pass for “clean.” No white glove should ever come knocking, lest it flee our house, dingy gray, choking back sobs and dusty coughs, mere moments later. For example, within an hour of one of us sweeping the kitchen floor, it will, predictably, look like this:

Indeed, I often am forced to admit, “We can be a lot of fun at a potluck, but otherwise, we’re pigs.”

Despite this reality, we do have one consistenly clean patch of floor, one upon which I would serve even Domestic Ballbuster Martha Stewart a heap of Baked Gemelli with Spinach, Ricotta, and Prosciutto; it is the two-foot patch of hardwood floor just in front of this glass of water:

You can see where this is going. Contrary to what psychologists might predict, I don’t learn from my mistakes. Every night, I put my water glass just under the edge of the futon, where I can reach down at my convenience and have a sip while watching Weeds and commenting, “Gawd, if only we sold marijuana out of our house. Then we could afford a housekeeper.”

And nearly every night, I invariably whack said water glass with my foot after getting up to retrieve yet another fleece blanket to warm me up in our frigid house (tv room thermostat reads 58 degrees). Natch, the water spreads immediately, sopping my wool socks, running into the cracks between the floorboards, causing me to scramble for a dishtowel–dirty, of course–to mop things up.

Even more invariably, I have to take a quiet moment after the mop up to gasp and admire: “My, my, doesn’t this floor look spiffy after the application of water and scrubbing? Someone should market that idea. It could catch on.”

In our household tiara adorned with old tires and crunched-up Bugles, we have this one shining jewel of floor space. It sparkles. It glows. It hums with cleanliness.

The rest of the place? The Clampett shack before striking black gold, Texas tea.

Thus, you can imagine the sheer pleasure with which I greeted our cheap toilet’s overflow the other evening. I watched the water level rising and rising. Then it started to seep over the top edge. Marvelling, I stood rapt, torn between a desire to run for a plunger and a sense of possiblity.

The longer I let it overflow, the larger the patch of bathroom floor that would ultimately get cleaned.

I sat down and filed my nails.

Then I ran for the plunger and a stack of towels.


“Dear Martha Stewart:

I request the pleasure of your company for an intimate picnique underneath my toilet paper dispenser. Wear your best chinos, as you will be eating the Cucumber and Smoked Salmon Sandwiches, sided by Asparagus Panzanella, directly off the tile. ”

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Does This Donut Make My Butt Look Big?

“Does This Donut Make My Butt Look Big?”

Women are weird about their bodies. And by this, I mean about each other’s bodies even more than their own.
Certainly, every woman I know has a hearty dose of bodily self-loathing:
“My belly shakes when the wind blows.”
“This arm wattle? Stand back when I stir the pasta sauce, or you may get hurt.”
“I can’t even rest my martini glass on my breasts. They’re just too small to be decorative or functional.”
Really, the litany of body gripes is endless, from our naturally-dark roots to our disgustingly-gnarled toes.
Generally, the media receives the blame for this cultural phenomenon–supposedly, we see images of young, tucked, snipped, airbrushed celebs, and this makes us feel bad about ourselves. I suppose I buy that to a certain extent. But frankly, when I look at photos of Britney Spears or Paris Hilton in magazines, a rush of relief sweeps over me, and I feel profoundly grateful that such a life and style are not mine. What’s more tragic than having every resource in the world at your feet (or at least in your Blackberry) and still being a mess?

Other people try to make the case that women loathe their appearances due to comments made by men. Again, okay, I’ll sort of buy that. Men have said hurtful things to me about how I look. Decades later, I still remember their words. But mostly, I don’t think heterosexual men care about women’s appearances all that much. If their relationship with a woman is platonic, they really don’t care. If their relationship with a woman is romantic or sexual, they probably care, but only to the extent of, “Okay, so at what point do I get to touch that stuff?”

In truth, I think the momentum of our bodily self-hatred comes from other women. Admit it, ladies: we are constantly sussing up other women’s bodies. Usually, we keep our snarky thoughts to ourselves…or at the very least limited to a circle of our three best galpals: “The thing about Barb is that she’s so short. If she were taller, she could pull off that denim patchwork skirt. It would be mod. But on her, it’s just a tablecloth.” But we do, all too often, take our opinions to the very last person who should hear them: the woman in question.
I remember walking down the hall some years ago at the university where I taught, and a student, whom I’d never seen before, came up behind me and said, “I love those pants on you. They’re so fun. Now me, I’m too thin to pull off a look like that, but you wear it perfectly.”
How quietly the claws can be unsheathed.
So we dames like to mess with each other. And we know that a cloaked attack can do wonders for our own self-esteem, strangely enough. But then there is a subcategory of Babes In Thinness Callowly Hollering Expletives in Society (BITCHES) that calls for a very different kind of behavior, which is a woman who is clearly “superior” physically (aka, a smaller size) loudly complimenting a physically “inferior” specimen (someone who is described as having a “great personality”).
I witnessed this a couple of months ago in the kitchen area at my workplace. A kind faculty member–also a city councilman (no doubt out to garner goodwill)–had bought several dozen donuts and set them out for the taking. In front of the donut box, I witnessed an instructor, we’ll call her Size 4, commenting to another woman, Size 8, who was helping herself to a raised and glazed, “I wish I could eat donuts and have a figure like yours.”
Sounds sort of like a compliment, right? But the underlying point struck me as one of moral superiority, the subtext being, “You don’t see me reaching into that box, now do you?” Even further–how ridiculous is this?–Size 4 *could* have a figure like Size 8’s, if she just ate some freaking donuts. Size 8 responded, however, with a happy chuckle, just loving that someone was loving her figure. She responded with, “Well, the only way I keep this figure is to get up bright and early every morning and walk.”
At that moment, I wanted to take two bricks and huck them at these women’s heads. The whole interchange tapped into an inner exhaustion I have; I’m plain tired of women making their bodies the center of attention. Yawn. Snore.
If you’re planning on kissing or stroking a person’s body, it becomes part of your purview. But otherwise, hesh up already.
Excuse me, now, as I stomp off to a meeting that damn well better feature a large platter of cookies.

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Despite the Vomit, Why We Don’t Send the Lad to Be Fostered at the Nearest Castle

“Despite the Vomit, Why We Don’t Send the Lad to Be Fostered at the Nearest Castle”

He could end up a page to some dashing knight if we did, you know. And he’d learn the ins and outs of keeping chain mail rust free, which is a skill I’d like at least one member of the family to have.

Yet we keep him.

I was reminded the other morning why that is.

At 7 a.m., he burst into our bedroom, hollering, “Can my night-time be done now? I’m a little sweaty.”

I like the fact that he has his own, personal night-time. He really does. It often ends at 3 a.m., when he gets up and asks to look at books for a few hours in the office room, so as not to awake his sister, Model Sleeper Girl (aka “The One We Want to Keep”), whose bed is adjacent to his. But on this particular morning, he had actually slept through the night–well, largely, anyhow, only getting up three times for water, to announce he didn’t like the dark, and for general morale-boosting conversation breaks.

So, okay, kiddle, your night can be done now. Just stop being sweaty before you leap into bed with us, ja? Go wipe yourself down with a ducky blankie or something, and then climb aboard.

Crawling under the covers and nuzzling into me, he was uncharacteristically quiet for a minute and a half. Then the newly-anointed-four-year-old threw out this day-opener: “In China, does it really rain cherry blossoms?”

#1, Child, where do you get your material? (Turns out it’s in a Charlie and Lola episode. If you have kids in your life, or if you are a smart adult without kids, you might check into these books and videos. Lola proclaims she will not ever, never eat a tomato, and she has an invisible friend named Soren Lorenson. Lola drinks pink milk, and she rocks.)

#2, Well, yea, sorta. From the trees. Sometimes. Actually, even more in Japan, technically.

#3, Man, do I like a kid who genuinely wants to know the answer to that question. Even if it is 7 a.m., and a pall of darkness still hangs over my brain.

Then the Niblet fell quiet again. I could tell he was pondering, as he began stroking his fingers across his skin.

Breaking the silence, he observed, “My hands are very soft, like a very soft pillowcase.”

And that, dear readers, is why the neighboring castle–despite having a dungeon that Niblet sometimes deserves to be tossed into–can’t have this kid.
Do tell: What in your life have you considered jettisoning out the window, but then it’s redeemed itself?

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Dorky Dad did it. I’m pointing a finger, and it’s not my pointer finger.

At any rate, I jump here, in this post, fully into the life and times of Blogville. Make me mayor for a day, woncha? City keys and all?

So, yes, I’ve been tagged with a meme. And even though these memes feel like chain letters, I’m doing it, and not just to avert seven years of bad luck. I’m supposed to tell you Six Weird Things That Have Happened to Me. Since I consider every blog post thus far an account of something weird that’s happened to me, I may find myself stretching for fresh material. Maybe I could turn this meme into Six Weird Vomit Stories, as those seem to be heaving themselves at me fast and furious in the last month.

However, I’ll attempt to abide by the rules. Since I don’t do that when I drive or converse (I speed and interrupt), this, too, may be a stretch.

Here are the parameters, according to Dorky Dad: “…each player starts by blogging about six weird things about themselves [sic]. Those tagged must also blog the rules in their blog while tagging a half a dozen people of their own. It’s also important to inform the tagees that they’ve been tagged.” He then went on to adjust the subject this particular meme, so that the topic is about six weird things that have happened to the blogger in question.
Here goes:

1) I received my first kiss as an adolescent when I was trick-or-treating. My pals and I rang a doorbell, and a drunken teen answered. His name was Randy. He propped himself against the doorframe, gave us all some Bottle Caps, and then swooned over how cute I was in my costume. Smelling of something Genuinely Drafty, he leaned in and whispered at me, spittle on his lips, “Can I give you a little kiss?” Because I had no self-esteem and couldn’t believe that any male would *ever* want to kiss me for being cute (I was ten, and it already seemed like a drought), I nodded shyly. It was quick and, yup, spittle-ridden. My knees got soft, and suddenly my pillowcase of candy felt very heavy.

I was dressed that year as Pippi Longstocking. To aid my braids in standing straight out from my head, my mother had bent a wire hanger over my head and braided my hair around it.

Weird thing? The name Randy.

2. In high school, I was deeply into forensics. No, you CSI fans, you and your slow-motion bullets should sit back down and stop waving your remote controls in the air so excitedly. I mean competitive speech tournaments. Like “Hi, my original oratory today will expose how ludicrious contemporary advertising is, and I will refer to the commercial featuring figure skater Peggy Fleming throwing a pack of chewing gum into a swimming pool as evidence.” Like, “I totally am advancing to finals in Lincoln-Douglas Debate this weekend!” Like, “I cannot even believe how unprofessional those poster boards looked for the extemporaneous speech on horror films. The blood on them was sooo obviously catsup. What judge would be fooled by that?”

At any rate, in 1984, on the way home from a speech tournament one weekend, our bus pulled over in Belgrade, Montana (this is still not the weird part), at about midnight, so’s all of us hyper and hungry teens could up our blood sugar even further (after four or five in an hour, Pixie Stix start to lose their punch) with stacks of pancakes at an all-night diner. I was ten feet inside the door of the joint when I was frozen to the linoleum. There, in a vinyl booth, eating their own stacks, were the members of none other than…

Night Ranger.

I can hear your intake of breath as you read this, you know.

But you need to breathe. Exhale, already. Yes, I typed Night Ranger. You read me right.

They of “Sister Christian” fame. They were chillin’. They were eatin’. They were chattin’. They were motorin’. And what was their price for flight?

A diner full of MTV-struck forensics geeks, that’s what.

After all lurching to a halt simultaneously, the 40 or so of us on the team quickly became overly casual–we sure as cattle rustlers weren’t going to give those megastars a chance to think we were some dumb Western bohunks who’d never seen a metal hair band live and eating pancakes before. So we shuffled, en masse, to a group of booths, where we talked frantically of everything *except* the rockers in our midst. Animatedly, we ordered, dug our fingernails into each others’ legs under the table, and hissed discreetly, “OMIGOD. OMIGOD. THEY ARE SO HOT. WHAT SHOULD WE DO? SHOULD WE DO ANYTHING?”

Eventually, my natural leadership emerged, and I decided to take charge of the moment and make it last forever, much like a newlywed who gifts his bride of three months with diamond tennis bracelet from Zales.

Grabbing my placemat, only slightly smeared with blueberry syrup, I marshaled two of my entourage and goosestepped us over to The Table of Ranger. Drawing upon all my speech training, I looked them firmly in the eye, gestured confidently from above the waist, and imbued my tone with a natural and conversational rhythm, squeaking oratorically, “Excuse me, Mr. Rangers of the Night, we all here [gesturing widely] think you are super–er, *immensely*–talented and are ever so very honored that you have come to our fair state of the big sky, so could I have your autograph on this placemat to commemorate this monumental happening?”

That placemat still lives in a box in my basement. After eight rounds of fisticuffs and team debate back out on the bus, I stepped in as the judge and decided I had won the autograph tournament. The trophy was mine.

3) One time when I was performing during the half-time show of the Super Bowl (*ahem*: Super Bowel), I was part of a really embarrassing ‘wardrobe malfunction.’ My costar and I had practiced and practiced our choreography for three whole minutes before the show, but then, in the heat of the floodlights, something went terribly wrong, and suddenly my fellow chanteur reached over and ripped the leather right off my potential-baby-nursing-equipment, leaving me exposed and feeling a rhythm-nationed loss of control.

I was so distraught I had to call up my nephew JerMajesty for a comforting chat about colonics.

4) In my junior year of college, I spent a whole lot of late-night hours playing cribbage and drinking from a keg-o-liter in the dorm room of my posse, which consisted of one guy named Rick. Oh, and sometimes a guy named Rolf. Everyone else was asleep at 3 a.m., as we pegged and nibs-ed and skunked and gulped and chugged.

One night, full of Leinenkugels, having suffered the blow of yet another great cribbage loss, I took a restorative break in the bathroom, an adjacent room that consisted of one stall and two sinks. As I sat relaxing and chanting “fifteen-two, fifteen-four, fifteen-six…,” I heard the door open.

“Um, hi, I’m *in* here,” announced me.

“Yea, Joce, I know, but I gotta go,” said The Rickster.

“Well, you’re going to need to wait a minute ’til I’m done,” I countered.

“Naw, I’m already going right now,” Rick assured me.

Bwah? Then he turned on the tap and gave the sink a quick swirl of cold water, kindly cleansing it of his urine before I would need to wash my hands.

Chivalry was not dead.

5. In 1993, in the mountains outside of Leadville, Colorado, I camped in the back of a Chevy Van with Then-Beau. At somewhere between 11,000 and 13,000 feet (oxygen deprivation fuddled my mind), the night air was chill, and I could not stop shivering, even under under a Mexican blanket and with my hood cinched around my face. My nose, in particular, was the temperature and consistency of frozen yogurt.

In a gesture of affection, Then-Beau formed an O shape with his thumb and fingers, placing the O over my yogurt-nose, to warm it up. Promptly, he fell into a deep sleep, as the men in my life do when laying next to me. My nose gradually warmed, and I, too, dozed off. Six hours later, I awoke, the O hand still clamped to my beak.

I was a little touched by his unconscious devotion to my schnoz. But mostly, the O-print that remained on my face for the next two weeks was, well, a little weird.

6. As I wrote recently, my dad was addicted to the tv game show Jeopardy; from my teens, I regarded Alex Trebec as a clipped and slightly-condescending uncle who visited our home every afternoon at 4:30. I didn’t know what he was all about, but he seemed smart and as though a mojito might do wonders for his disposition.

As I got older, watching the show became more gratifying for me because I could actually answer some of the questions. And then, in college, I realized I could answer a lot of the questions. Tacitly, my dad and I came to the understanding that we were really good at this show. We could yell out answers at the tv and pretty much be right.

Certainly, this was not a phenomenon enjoyed by thousands, nay, millions of other fans across the nation. Surely, this armchair mastery of question asking in categories like “Bird Talk” and “Medieval Europe” was unique to us. We knew we were good, and our abilities were rare.

Thus, you can imagine our excitement when Jeopardy announced it was coming to our town for a contestant search. Clearly, we would go through the motions of taking their little test and jumping through whatever other hoops they’d hold up for us (demonstrating aptitude at clicking a button or enunciating, “I’ll take ‘Cheeses of the World’ for $400, Alex”), but equally clearly, at least one of us would be taking a trip to a television studio in Culver City, California, where we would garner fame, money, and, ultimately, a return trip to the Tournament of Champions.

The day of the audition, we waited in line for hours, as the queue snaked around a downtown building. Eventually, we made it into the crowded testing room, feeling confident that the prescreening quiz was just a formality–a weeder–and soon we’d be in a much smaller room, with the real candidates, giving genuinely challenging questions to their advanced-level answers.

When the ten-answer pretest was handed out, I treated it like the SAT’s, kicking back for some free-flowing brain-snapping fun. But, hmmmm, the first answer was not exactly one onto which I could mindlessly jot down, “What is malaria?” In fact, I couldn’t think of anything to jot down. Skipping the ones I didn’t know, I soon found myself on answer number five, which I *guessed* was, “What is saffron?”

Then again, it could have been cinnamon. I wasn’t, technically, sure.

This test was actually kind of, um, hard.

At the end of the allotted time, our tests were collected, and then the correct questions were revealed.

As it turns out, I got two of the ten questions correct. This score was average, and only two people out of the room of hundreds were heading to the next round of testing. My dad and I, however, with our wide-open schedules, were heading to the Perkins to slurp soup served in breadbowls.

Harumph. How very weird the whole thing was: the one time Jeopardy administered an uncharacteristically difficult pre-screening test was when they held their search in my hometown. Any other time, I *know* we would have made the cut.

Why, later that very day, we were back in our lounge chairs at home, watching Alex quiz his contestants, and I’ll be dadgummed if we didn’t get every question right.

To continue the meme, I lay down the “Six Weird Things That Have Happened to Me” gauntlet at the feet of Rocco, Emily, Choochoo, Stepping Over the Junk, Lee, and Jazz.

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Vomithounds: You Better Be Good, or You’ll Be Gone

“Vomithounds: You Better Be Good, or You’ll Be Gone”

(methinks this gel has a vomit habit)*

Earlier this week, Girl was suffering from an undiagnosed Fever ‘N Ague. We knew she had a high temperature. We could see her glassy eyes and flushed cheeks from our vantage point across the room, safely out of germ-jumping range. Plus, we tossed her a thermometer when it looked really serious. And we could sense something respiratory this way coming. She was hacking frequently and mightily…to the point that Monday morning she hacked up the contents of her stomach right onto our bed at 7:30 a.m. Then she paused, coughed some more, and did it again.

On the best of days, I am not a morning person. I should not be asked to operate kitchen appliances, find clean underwear, brush my teeth, or become at all vertical before, say, 11 a.m. Most of all, I should not be asked to deal with vomit on my down duvet before, um, ever o’clock.

But life is out there, as are sick kids, and so, after popping in some toast, diving into some Hanes, scrubbing my gums, and, yes, lurching upright in the process, I patted Girl’s back and told her once she felt better, she could bike that soiled duvet down to the drycleaners.

Oh, all right, so actually I hollered for Groom, and we spent a few hasty minutes wiping up ravioli-shaped chunks of Spewed Kid Tummy before I rammed the duvet into a plastic bag and toted it out to the Camry, where it sat steaming (despite subzero temperatures outside) for 9 hours while I was at work, until I deposited it–holding the bag with a tongs–at the drycleaners.

At any rate, Girl’s epizudy was later diagnosed as yet another round of strep, compounded by a chest rattle known medically as Crazae Lungum Germinus. Five days later, she’s now finished her course of antibiotics and has re-entered the swirl of humanity (in a statement of social justice, I took her to a McDonald’s Playplace when she was barely non-contagious and let her touch *everything*. I even had her lick the slide).

So we’re all good.

And then tonight, twenty minutes after we ditched him into a bed of stuffed animals, Wee Niblet showed up in the tv room, interrupting our nightly date of BIG LOVE (Season 1 finale, no less) and huge bowls of posole. With a tear-streaked face, he attempted a guilt trip: “I cawed and cawed for you, but you didn’t come. I phrewed up in my bed.” As he spoke, a waterfall of vomit slid off his footed-pajamas, onto the floor.

“Honey, Mommy’s going to need a minute to finish her beer first.”

One big chug of Viking Pale Ale, and the Vomit Action Team was back in swing, with Groom handling the laundry while I stripped and re-footed Niblet, before feeding him ten grapes (“I phrewed up because I was coughing so much. Now I’m a weetle bit hungwy. For somefing soft. And do you wike the monsters I made today? Out of cardboard?”).

In short, we’re not sure how to dress during the Season of Vomit. Maybe chic Glad bags would be most practical, and if we wear them belted and with leggings, they could pass Red Carpet muster, I’m sure.

Somehow, though, I’m in a “Go ahead, World, and Hurl All Your Vomit My Way” type of mood right now. And it’s most assuredly not because I’m watching a rerun of Ludacris hosting SNL, either. It’s because I have a new musical love, and he has made me vewy, vewy happy.

If you have a couple of minutes, watch this fun exercise in acoustics.

I would clean up vomit with Fionn Regan any morning.

Even at 6 a.m.

If he did all the work.

*(photo from loafdude at photobucket.com)

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I’m Only A Paper Loon

“I’m Only a Paper Loon”

Most days, I don’t think enough. I just kind of put the car in drive and let it take me places. Or if I’m in the kitchen, and I see a Cheerio on the floor, I instinctively bend to pick it up. Sometimes I eat it. Sometimes I put it in the freezer, without knowing why I have opened the freezer. Three days later, I will open the freezer and wonder who put a Cheerio in there. Further, if I am attempting to dress myself, I don’t reference a Garanimals-like chart or follow some sort of law of coordination. Generally, I open the closet door and spy something. Apelike, I mutter “Blue.” After laboriously searching for the armholes, I put it on. If it turns out to be wool sweater, and it’s 80 degrees outside, I then wonder throughout the day why I’m hot. Finally, I think we all know that if I have a sense that a three-headed parasite may have taken up shop in my innards, my response is to wonder why Chuck Wolery’s gameshow hosting career took such a dive after Love Connection left the air.
Indeed, there’s an elfin autopilot in my yawning blue sky of a brain who does a fair amount of random navigation for me.

Yet other times, I clearly think too much. I can spend long minutes trying to ferret out where my six-year-old learned to read the word “prehensile,” when she has just learned to decipher the word “Wendy’s” on a billboard. Hours have been devoted to trying to figure out both where Waldo is and where in the world that phantom Carmen Santiago has gone to now. I have been known to take two hours of my time to berate authoress Jody Picoult in my head for being such a terrible writer yet having convinced a large reading public that she’s profound. And I have been known to agonize for thousands of seconds over just the correct, um, how you say it?–oh, yes, “word” in a blog post.

But today I experienced a moment where my tendency to unthink and to overthink came together in a harmonic convergence. The little autopilot in my head strapped himself in and forced the plane down one of my brain’s intellectual runways, and before I knew it, I had spewed out some kneejerk verbiage that was unadulteratedly dumb. Like, DUM.

So I was at work, standing in line, waiting for my turn at the Xerox machine. As I loitered, I made painful smalltalk with the person who was using the machine. I began to ask him, “Is there any colored paper in here?” when my tongue stopped, frozen by the possibility that my word choice could be construed as racist, at which point my lips veered another direction and queried, “Is there any paper of color in here?”

Sure, this moment is no big deal, either way. But I found myself backing away, suddenly free of the need to make 50 copies of “How to Use Evidence When Creating An Argument,” worried more that I’d find myself asking Groom for “that afghan of color” before the week is out.

I mean, Sweet Lindsay Lohan in a Vodka Bottle, why did I feel the need to be PC about *paper*? Even when the Origami Laws of the 1930’s were in effect, the fuschia sheets were still allowed to ride in the front of the bus.


You may be stacked in separate reams, Goldenrod and Peach, but you’ve always been equal in my paper-loving heart.

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Bite Me

“Bite Me”
This much is a given: I need to lower my body into a large vat of rubbing alchohol and remain suspended there for some minutes.
What has not yet been decided are the logistics of the lowering. Obviously, I need some sort of harness, right? And while I suppose a bathtub could suffice as the vat, I’m afraid I may need a submersion tank with greater depth (I need a Ted Koppel-type tank, not just the Matt Lauer easy-dip bathtub). Do you think David Blaine has any equipment he’s not currently using to enter a state of hibernation and non-defecation for three weeks while promoting the Target brand?

See, here’s the thing: since getting back from Guatemala (did I, um, mention we went to Guatemala?), my right hand and now arm have been developing some suspicious bite/wart/mini-third-nipple type thingies. First two little bites popped up on my thumb. They didn’t phase me; I named them Madison and Cody and painted little matching outfits on them. Then, approximately 40 hours later, two inches down on my hand, up popped Auntie Clementine, looking suspiciously like the twins. But denial exists for a reason, and so I soldiered through another 41 hours until Uncle Festus came out to set up a lemonade stand on my wrist.
I’m giving it just another 40 hours. Or 80. Or at the most 120. But then, most certainly, I’m going to face this marauding horde and take them to the vat of rubbing alchohol (trust me, I’ve already tried the ingestible stuff, and neither Pumpkin Ale nor Riesling is anti-biotic enough), whereupon we’re going to play end-of-the-school-year carnival dunk-tank, like in the finale of GREASE, during which John Travolta in his new letterman jacket dunks the teacher who is responsible for his imminent summer school make-up session.
Sure, others among us–let’s call them Wusschester United–would go to the doc. Trust me, the fact that I inadvertently put my toothbrush under the tap water two times in Guatemala and drank pop containing non-pure water ice cubes leads me to think I may actually have some sort of doc-suitable parasite (we’ve all seen TREMORS, ja? I imagine such wormy beasts under my skin, laying their eggs, snaking around my veins).
Then again, I may just have a workaday case of pest infestation. However, if you’ve read this blog back far enough to remember when a bat moved into my house, you’ll know that I don’t suffer any infestation lightly. I often take to the bathroom for hours upon end, where I enjoy unfettered weeping and agitatedly rearrange the tampons into small village communities.
This particular infestation, though, doesn’t make me feel weepy. It just makes me feel scratchy, as in “I got this huge paper cut on my toe, slathered it in honey, and then jammed it into an ant colony on the savannah for twelve days” itchy.
As I peruse the Walgreens to see how many bottles of rubbing alcohol it will take to fill the vat, and as I scratch the whole family of bites to infernal bloodiness, I harken back two years to when I was pretty sure I had fleas.
We hadn’t been on any cross-contintental dashes, and we didn’t have a pet. Of course, I might’ve picked the fleabies up from a shrew, vole, rat, or leashless dog (all the creatures with whom I have daily involuntary contact). With the fleas, the itches got to the point where I couldn’t even sit and type, much less grab the remote control at night to tune into THE APPRENTICE and scream at what a weenie Donald Trump is.
All I could do was scratch and scratch; my skin was covered with bites–around the ankles, up to my knees, around my waistband. I was in a constant state of being about to scream, like cresting the highest peak of a roller-coaster called the Entangled Entrails.
During Flea Infestation 2004, I tried really hard to be rational and relevant in daily life, but I just couldn’t stop scratching.
Maybe it wasn’t fleas. Maybe it was hives. Or maybe I had scabies. Or chiggers. All I knew for sure is that all attempts at heightened personal hygiene (I even washed the sheets, and it wasn’t even February) resulted in more scratching.
Most definitely, I was glad my husband was already committed to our gig as a lifetime dealie, or I’d have been certain that I was about to be alone forever, just me, my fleas, my big crocheted rainbow-colored poncho, my John Travolta tote bag, and a lot of bus rides up and down Superior Street to the city bus transfer station, where I would spend my hours, scratching and whimpering, alone in the middle of a crowd.
So today, as I sit scratching, instead of looking up the doc’s phone number, I find myself searching for enough change to hop on the bus, where I will be among My People.
Public scratchers of the world, gather ’round. And then strap on a harness. The vatting won’t be gentle, but won’t it feel good when those top layers of skin peel off for once and all?
Host no more!
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Ah, Sweet Relief

“Ah, Sweet Relief”

About six years ago, my dad was staying with us for a week. After a few days, I saw a post-it note stuck to the front of a book he was reading. Naturally, because I am governed by a set of conveniently-flexible boundaries, I went right over and plucked it off the cover.

In my father’s handwriting, it said:

“What this house needs:

TV trays

This note is interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, it reveals a lot about my dad and his needs/values. Even four years after his death, I imagine him sitting in his big loung chair, an afghan draped over his skinny shoulders as a shawl, a tv tray next to him, supporting a box of Kleenex and the remote control. When it was time for Jeopardy, I was free to join him, but I wasn’t free to interrupt or to lurch towards that remote on its stick-legged, blonde-wood island. His entire existence was predicated on the items in that post-it note list.

Secondly, the list reveals what was *not* important to me at age 33. My nose didn’t run much; I didn’t need small tables that could escort me around my house; and I was generally lit from within by a warm spiritual afghan.

Six years later, I find myself here, tonight, with a tv tray next to my bed (gotta prop the latest Ayun Halliday book on something), blowing my nose repetitively as I hack the last of Guatemala City’s pollution out of my respiratory system, huddling under three fleece afghan-like blankets (our tv room thermostat currently reads 58 degrees. We are damn cheap, even when it’s torturously cold outside).

At any rate, it would seem that my dad’s post-it note was rather Nostradamuseun in its forecast of what I would need. As an homage to my dad, I give you now my post-it note for the country of Guatemala.

“What Guatemala Needs:

A few roads that aren’t built entirely on a curve. The occasional straight bit of asphalt, allowing for speeds exceeding 45 miles per hour, might keep first graders from vomiting and turning pale at the very notion of getting into a vehicle that could, even by accident, start to move down one of those roller-coaster highways.

On a related note, some emissions standards wouldn’t hurt. All those diesel fumes pouring into following cars are enough to make anyone take out an empty popcorn bag and hold it in front of him/herself for a three-hour drive, just in case of a fume-inspired yackattack.

Fewer firecrackers. I can tolerate the exhuberance for fireworks in general–heck, viewers never know what explosion of color will blossom forth next, and what is life without mystery?– but firecrackers give no visual bang and simply serve to keep awake unwitting visitors to the country for hours and hours and hours. And then another hour.

Again on a related note, the country could use more rooster casseroles, liberally sprinkled with potato chips. Roosters, as a rule, should die. I realize most of them are pretty tough and sinewy, so the casseroles might involve some complex slow-cooking of the bird (flavored with a bay leaf) in a crockpot first, but such labors are worth the end result, which would be no more roosters crowing at 4 a.m., even though the sun won’t arise for two more For-the-Love-of-the-Sandman hours.

Natives who do not worship all things American, and by this, I mean Folgers coffee and chain restaurants. Indeed, Guatemalans themselves do not think to purchase or drink Guatemalan coffee; Folgers strikes them as the prime choice. And we learned, when we treated a native preschool teacher who had showered us with kindness to a birthday dinner, that her reaction to our urgings of “No, really, you can choose any restaurant in the city. Whatever you like. Don’t worry about expense or convenience” was to run through the posh-est possibilities (“Em, TGIF is good. So is Chiles”) before landing on the best she could imagine, “Oh, yes, Pizza Hut for sure.”

Drunk people who pass out instead of managing to hang onto consciousness all night long. Those who stay awake while inebriated feel compelled to crank terrible, bass-heavy music starting at 2:45 a.m. and ending half an hour before the alarm to get a travelling family off to the airport begins its beeping. Conscious Guatemalan drunks are unerringly able to choose music that is only heightened rather than diminished when an intrepid visitor goes so far as to turn on a fan and put earplugs in. Conscious drunks manage to sing wildly and off-key for a minimum of four hours, deaf to the sounds of the quiet weeping of the neighbors, audible through the thin walls. And without a doubt, as is the case in every reported story of conscious drunks in said country, such wired drunks have guns and love to fire them randomly…so protesting, banging on the wall, or slipping a note under the door is unadvisable. Indeed, dear Guatemala, my heartiest wish for you is that your drunks stop carrying guns and start passing out after three sips of your terrible 3.2% Gallo beer.”

Photo: A Guatemalan Kleenex, which could be draped over an unconscious drunk


So would it really be so much to ask, O Hospitable Guatemala, that you straighten your roads, lessen your pollution, drown your firecrackers, kill your poultry, promote your tamales, and hobble your drunks?

On the other hand, if you did, you’d be a whole lot less fun. Uninterrupted sleep and functional lungs are the province of the passport-free.

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Stop Trying to Chop Off Your Sister’s Head with Your New Toy Axe While She’s Vomiting onto the Floor of the Shuttle

So we did it. Guatemala hosted us well and remains intact, despite our tear across its kidneys. All in all, I’d say we had a near-perfect two weeks there, particularly considering our respective ages, the ever-present noise of cars, birds, firecrackers, and drunken revellers, and the kids’ certainty that they would never, ever eat a corn tortilla. Oh yea, and considering that Girl got car sick for the first time in her life during a four-hour shuttle ride (and, yes, her berserker Viking brother did try to Anne Boleyn her during the regurgitation).

More shall follow in upcoming posts, but for tonight, as it’s late and I’m revving up another semester starting tomorrow, I’ll just smack y’all with this unabashed photo-log–a visual greatest hits, as it were. Here and there, the photos are in chronological order; the randomness and lack of strict order are my homage to the Guatemalan custom and character.

I bought everything you see here. Plus a lemonade.

This volcano photo, taken from a moving shuttle, is blurry due to the speed of the van. And the vodka in the lemonade.

We visited Xocomil, a waterpark. I know. I know. We went to Guatemala and visited a waterpark. But in our defense, I’ll say that it was perhaps the most “native” thing we did there, as we were just about the only gringos there, and this park was built by the Guatemalan Workers’ Association. Little-known fact: Guatemalan workers really dig ginormous turtles.

Up ’til now, I haven’t used photos showing faces much, but I guess I’d like to make the point that we were actually there, and I didn’t just get a passle more photos off of flickr.com, as in my previous post. Plus, I like to document each day that I wear a black bra. So here I am with Girl and Wee Niblet, who discovered that his legs didn’t work (he must’ve contracted polio from the pools at the waterpark) on this, the trip where we walked everywhere, all day long. Here is my solution. First, I tied him to my back. Then, when he really made me crazy with his refusal to pedal his own 45-pounds of pudge, I tied him to a chair in the hotel room.
I can’t even tell you how beautiful the textiles are. I probably don’t need to. But I can tell you that they are even more dramatic and bright back here, in Minnesota’s dreary January. People with Seasonal Affective Disorder should just drape Guatemalan fabrics over their heads for three months of the year.
Here are two guacamaya. Translated: indigenous birds that like avacado sauces.

With so few green spaces in Guatemala City, they close down a main boulevard for a few hours every Sunday, during which time every blasted person puts on rollerblades and/or brings out his/her four-year-old on a bike with training wheels. Or, in our case, puts the three- and six-year-0ld in a goat cart.
They DO eat green eggs and ham, by the way, dear Sam I Am. They eat them in a boat and with a goat. And in a cart.
We bought this table runner for our in-laws. I’m pretty sure my husband is their favorite son now.
Check out this shop featuring wooden masks and, um, big rat pelts.

We visited my sister’s “American Style” school one day. Here, you see Groom asking some students if they’d like to supersize their education.

Look! Cloth! And it’s hanging!

My sister reads way supermuch, bigmany good books to her kiddles. I want her to be my kindergarten teacher. She is my own Miss Bindergarten–although she’s not freakily anthropomorphized, as is that particular kiddie lit heroine.

These busy workers are drying, turning, and stepping directly upon the coffee that will be featured at your local Starbucks in two weeks.

I so much like this devil dude, who holds court in the Mayan Cultural Center outside of Antigua.

I’m pretty sure this photo of bananas is upside down. This is what upside-down bananas look like.

Here’s a typical street in Antigua. Check out them cobblestones. Now picture all the women in the city wearing three-inch mules around town while simultaneously carrying their groceries on their heads. I am possessed of a luggishness that makes me unable to imagine such feats of coordination.

This is the hallway outside our hotel room in Antigua. It did not suck.

Back to the coffee. You know how you seek out and covet “shade-grown, organic Guatemalan beans”? Here they are, being grown. Add to the packaging: “composted with only the best trash.”

Pwitty, pwitty fabric.

This tight little vehicle saved me from throttling Wee Niblet many-a-time. It’s called a Tuk-Tuk, and we took-took them all over. We’re considering opening up a Tuk-Tuk business in our own town now. Who doesn’t need a three-wheeled motorcycle with a comfortable cab area?

After a long day of hitting the market stalls in Panahachel, we needed to cool down our tootsies in Lake Atitlan.

Yea, cotamundis (Wee Niblet calls them “locamotis”) freak me out, too. After admiring it in the nature reserve outside of Pana, I sold the pelt of this one to a wooden mask store.

Trash + coffee beans = a $4.50 latte.

Spider monkey, spider monkey. What I wouldn’t give to have had evolution let us keep those crazy tails.Look at this business. It’s water. Falling.

Here’s our hotel in Santiago Atitlan. It was idyllic. Then, a hundred yards down the road, there was a huge field of trash coffee plants.

I’ve got to practice standing up in our canoe this summer. A few good capsizes will only help the kids master the breaststroke. And they can look for the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald while they’re down there.

I should have taken more photos of food. I love food. I loved this food. It was eggs in tortillas, and I have that food all the time here in the States. But it’s much more glamorous when you take a photo of it. And the fruit was killer good, except the papaya, which tastes like poo.

I was uncommonly taken with this field of cabbages. Cabbage is too-oft neglected. The leaves would make great Dr. Scholl’s footpads, for instance.

The Kiddles would follow my sister anywhere, even down a dusty rural path, next to a cabbage patch (she had just explained to them how the stork is a big myth and showed them where they really came from).

Wee Niblet croaked at me seventy times that he wasn’t tired and then did this. I like him so much when he sleeps. Plus, it’s easier to tie him to the chair when he’s limp and unconscious.

Upon our return home, we found that our neighbors, who had kindly not ransacked our house or made off with the silver in our absence, had assured themselves lifelong good karma by leaving a rosemary chicken dish in the fridge, a loaf of bread on the counter, and a bottle of wine chilling. I will be more than happy to shell out thousands of dollars on plane tickets from this moment forward, now that I know it means someone will have scampered into my house and left Chardonnay, thereby saving me the long drive down the road to the bottle shop.

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