Friday, November 30, 2007


This evening, when I picked up the kids from after-school care, Nathan told me that he had had a VERY BAD DAY. I asked him why.

Nate: Well, that dumb C. - the one who's two? I was playing with the Lincoln Logs and C. came over and kicked my house I was making. And then he took one of my Lincoln Logs. So then I smacked it out of-I mean, I asked him politely, "C., may I please have the Lincoln Log?" And you know what he said? He said, "You can just forget about it, you big dipshit!"

Sara: Nate! That is a lie! C. is a baby. He didn't say that to you! He can barely even talk!

Nate: Well, he said it in baby language.

Sara: Oh! And you speak baby language?!

Nate: Yes!

Sara: OK, so what am I saying? "Sjfhiuqlwerglbdcueyrpquyweruy."

Nate: (After a short pause) Fencepost.

Sara: Oh yeah? Well, now what am I saying? "Sisdjhffffferhfzzpeoir."

Nate: Poop dip.

It was all potty talk after that.

And Seven More Things

Super Hero tagged me back after I tagged him, so I'll do "Seven Things" again; but this time, it's "Seven Things I Encountered When Reaching into Nathan's Nightstand Drawer". I was able to sneak into his room while he was engrossed in a video and give it a bit of a sorting out. The drawer closes again, now. The first seven things I found were:

1. a handful of twigs;
2. a big rock ( of course);
3. a plastic lei;
4. a photo album in which he cherishes all his photos of ceilings and people's feet;
5. a place mat he made for Thanksgiving, out of strips of paper, now liberally daubed with gravy and cranberry sauce;
6. a plastic turtle;
7. and one of those cheap, foam-rubber visors that are held on by a stretchy spring.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Seven Things

Well Lillian, my fellow Utahn, tagged me to play "Seven Things". I think this should be called something like "Seven Dweeb-y Things".

1. I make lists. And sub-lists. And follow-up lists. There's the sticky-note list that I make during the day, of items that need to be assimilated into the main list. There's the "floating list" of all the things I never get around to, but am tired of writing down day after day. I stick it in the planner with tape and just move it forward day by day; each day's list ends with "Item # 87: Finished? Hah! Refer to Floating List."

2. I get heartburn sometimes; in fact, I've had heartburn every day this week. I'm worried that it's because I'm 40. Now, I am old. (Sigh of despair) A codger. With heartburn. When it's happening, I say, "No more!" No coffee, alcohol, chile peppers. I promise that I won't wolf my food. I will take dainty bites of rice and boiled chicken breast, which I will chew 30 times before swallowing with a ladylike sip of water. Then the heartburn goes away and I go back to snarfing all my favorite foods, 'cause I'm still YOUNG, dammit!

3. I like doing laundry. (In a lilting, dreamy voice) You take the dirty, smelly, food-crusted, nasty clothes; carry out a few simple processes, and you've got warm, sweet-smelling piles of tidy squares. And, it's the gift that keeps on giving. I get to ride this wave every Saturday!

4. I'm gregarious with my close friends, but surprisingly jittery about making new ones. I love giving parties. But for every party I plan and give, there are maybe three that I just think about and never throw. Some of my fantasy parties include: the all-neighborhood block-off-the-cul de sac street fair and cookout... the two-days-before-New-Year's open house for the neighbors...the make-your-own pizza party with the parents of all my kids' close friends...the summer corn and brat roast with my staff.... So far, I have only given these parties in my head. I'm a social chicken s***. One of the reasons I keep bombing out of churches is that I find coffee hour with all those new people so excruciating. I lost religion at the coffee urn?

5. When I buy my husband's shampoo, I amuse myself by finding the ones with the most effeminate names possible. Tangerine Tickle. Frothy Papaya Smoothie. Field of Flowers.

6. I am a highly controlled (meaning, no screaming in front of the kids or they'll grow up just like their neurotic mother) arachnophobe. I lived in North Queensland, Australia once, in a house that was infested with Huntsman spiders. They are about 10 inches across, and furry. I once called an exterminating company to come to the house and kill the one that had crawled into my bedroom. "Just the one, ma'am?" the exterminator asked, incredulous. Yes! Just do it and stop asking questions.

7. I went to St. Olaf College in Minnesota, which is something of a music school, and I loved to sing. I was at the movies with my kids last week, and suddenly in the middle of the trailers, this preview came on for a special screening of the St. Olaf Christmas Concert. There on the big screen in front of me were 20 year-old images of my friends and me. My permed, 1980s hair. My old buddy Monica, head ten feet tall, playing the violin in the orchestra. Seriously weird.

Now, I need to tag seven people. Since I have admitted to my fear of new social situations, I will tag some of my newer friends. How proactive.

Super Hero
Gypsy Jane

And a couple of familiar frinds, 'cause the last time I tagged them, they didn't do it. Let's try again.



The boiler at the school where I work is out again! Yesterday morning when I came in after the long holiday weekend, the temperature in my office was 52 degrees. I spent the day wrapped in a blanket, only poking my fingers out enough to type. The school cook had ham and egg burritos left over from the kids' breakfast, so I heated one up and stuck it in my cleavage. I only wish I'd had two more: one for each sleeve.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tur-key Din-ner

You know, this month I did not hear Adam Sandler sing his Thanksgiving song even one time. Which is fine, really, because every time I say the words "turkey dinner", his little voice starts singing in my ear, anyway.

I hope everyone who reads this (in the USA) had a great Thanksgiving! I had four days off in a row, which I largely spent in Afghanistan, in the company of Khaled Hosseini. I need to give some thought to my (so called) book review of "A Thousand Splendid Suns", but I don't think I can write it until I have had a chance to recover. I will say this much: have Kleenex handy. Oodles of it. I cried in the shower; I cried while cooking supper. I soaked the sofa cushions and Simon had to get out the wet/dry vac to deal with the puddles I left on the sun porch floor.

I'll be able to consider it on its literary merits in a couple of days. And thanks, Lillian! I see you have tagged me for a me-me, which I will do tomorrow. I have pressing business today. Look out - I'm feeling all serious.

The cost of food (and not just lamb chops) is starting to hurt. My family, sure, but I've noticed the most trouble in the food panties. Freudian slip: I mean "pantries". This isn't about edible underwear (although I'll bet its cost per pound is going up as well). This has been kind of sneaking up on me for the last 5 or 6 months: every week, it seems, I'm on the phone with our local food bank; whining, begging, threatening, cajoling - we need more bread to give out to our clients. Sometimes, we only get half the usual amount, sometimes less. Finally, I spoke with an executive who explained to me that there just isn't any. It used to be that bakeries produced surplus to make sure everyone had access to the full range of products all the time. What didn't get sold was picked up by the food bank and eventually made its way to my school where we gave it out. But as the price of production has gone up, not only has the higher cost been passed on to consumers; but bakeries aren't making any extra. In the interest of cost effectiveness, they are making less and allowing it to sell out in the stores. This is smart business, but the food chain that used to rely on their leavings is still out there.

Then there's the turkey crisis. I love giving out turkeys because they can usually provide a family with a couple meals and soup bones after that. Always in the past, we have been given some turkeys for families that needed them, both for Thanksgiving and for Christmas. This year, the food pantry couldn't spare us any. I met an acquaintance today at the rec center and we went around the track together a few times. She said, "I have some good stuff to donate to your students." "Great!" "Clothes and shoes?" "Perfect." (I was running, hence the one-syllable replies.) "And what about school supplies?" "Awesome. (I gather enough breath to form a sentence. I have become good, over the years, at asking for stuff.) Can I tell you what I'm really looking for, though? Turkeys! Do you know anyone who could do a turkey-drive for us this year?" Her smile faltered. She said she'd think about it.

Why is this happening? Anna Quindlen addresses it, succinctly and with style, in the latest issue of Newsweek.

I am surprised by the things I'm learning about the ethanol boom. Turns out it consumes more energy than it creates. I had high hopes, but I'm starting to see that we grow food, then use it to fuel our cars. But this isn't meant to be a political rant. I want anyone who reads this to go out and buy three frozen turkeys and FedEx them to my school. Don't worry - they take forever to thaw. OK, just kidding. But we need to check in with our local food pantries: now, and again every few months. In addition to turkeys, they will happily accept peanut butter, tuna, pasta, canned fruit and veg (especially beans and tomatoes), lentils... Oooh, I sound preachy. Yuck. I'll stop now.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

From our local genius, Pat Bagley. Katherine, this is especially for your enjoyment.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Where Did You Play?

I'm collecting your stories today.

My colleagues and I were talking at lunch yesterday about places where we used to play that our parents probably would not have approved of.

When I was a kid in rural Wisconsin, there was a big lot full of large farm implements, which we called the Machinery Lot. It belonged to the local dealer, who also rented out large machines to farmers who only needed them for short periods of the year.

So, behind my mother's back, we climbed up and slid down in the gravity boxes, scaled the hay wagons, ripped our pants open on the manure spreaders, and crawled onto the combines. No kid these days would be allowed to go near a place like that. Which is a bummer, kind of.

How about you? Where did you go to play when you were a kid?

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Font of all Bulls**t

Do you ever go to meetings, and everyone has to take a turn saying something about him/herself? Today, it was, "Tell us something about yourself that we wouldn't know from a work context."

"I used to be a fashion model in Japan."
"I'm an avid fly fisher."
"I have just published my first novel."
"My oldest son just graduated college, and my other son just had a bone-marrow transplant"

[It will soon be my turn. What the hell am I going to say?]

"I'm a personal trainer."
"My daughter was just diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome."
"I love to sing."

It's my turn. I stand, still uninspired, and hear myself say, "I'm passionate about cranberries."

Sad. A sad reflection.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


If you don't already know, that stands for "Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition".

That was Friday. I can finally laugh about it.

I had to give an all-day training that started at 9:30, and my plan was to be there at 8:45 to set up. I don't know why both my alarm and my husband's didn't go off; but at 8:20, Sara appeared at our bedside saying, "Hey, don't we have school today?" You know that horrible feeling when you open your eyes and know the the light in your room is all wrong and that it must be incredibly late? OMG! I sprang out of bed and landed in a crouch. "Ah! Ah! What time is it!?" I was so lucky that Sara actually decided to wake us up. A few more minutes and I would have been in big trouble. Thanks, Sara!

No breakfast, no tea, no big deal. Tearing hurry. I arrived at my destination and picked up both of the big, heavy cases of materials I needed for the training. Normally, I would make two trips, but there was no time. I made it into the building, staggered to the elevator, reached to push the button and dropped my keys. Loaded as I was, the floor may as well have been five miles away.

Then came THE WORST part. I was setting up for the training and getting all my stuff laid out. One of the main components of the training involves watching video clips. Hours' worth. I grabbed the video case out of my briefcase and realized that it was... empty. My heart stopped. The training room was filling up with people who had come from all over the state. One lady had flown in for the day. And where the HELL was my video? I literally broke out in a cold sweat. I remembered that I had used it last about 6 weeks ago, at another school in Salt Lake. Here's where luck was once again with me.
  1. My previous training had been in Salt Lake, and not in some other city.
  2. When I called that school and asked to talk to my colleague, Ted, he was actually in his office and picked up the phone. That must be a first.
  3. My video was lying around in the room where I had last used it, and he found it.
  4. (This is big) He offered to drive it to me. Not a short distance, either: about 30 minutes, one way. Ted, what would you like? Half my training fee? Sexual favors? You name it buddy. "Aw, buy me a beer sometime," he said. I'm dropping off a case of premium micro-brews at his office on Monday morning. I could cry, I'm so grateful.
You know, the day did not improve.

My hands shook for two hours, from the shock of the missing video. Big deal.

An instructor barged in during the training and yelled, "I don't know who told you that you could use this room, but I've had it booked for a month, so clear out NOW!" I'm not exaggerating. But I scarcely noticed her.

The company that catered lunch didn't bring enough food. I always eat last at these trainings, and by the time I got to the buffet table, there was almost nothing left. I was starving because I hadn't eaten breakfast.... I thought the half of a roll I managed to score was the best-tasting thing I had ever eaten.

When the training was over, I carefully checked the room to make sure I was not forgetting anything, but still I have managed to lose my phone. Oh, well. I'll get it back.

At home, Nate fell and hit the back of his head on a table. I picked him up to comfort him and next thing I knew, we were both covered in blood. I mean soaked. It's amazing how much even a little cut on the head bleeds. I calmly put pressure on the cut until it stopped bleeding, peeled off our bloody clothes, pre-treated them with a little "Tide", and told Nate it was time for bed.

Oh! And the lamb chops turned out well, but the recipe said to broil them, which created a lot of lamb-y smelling smoke, and my house now smells like a kebab stand. I've decided that I love the smell of scorched lamb fat.

I don't care about any of it. Thanks to Ted, I am the luckiest woman in Utah.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I have these boots...they are so darn cute. Chocolate brown (fake) suede; high, spiky heels; kind of bunched and gathered at the ankles. They're great, but they are decorated with metal rings at about ankle-level, and they jingle when I walk.

This is an annoyance that I try to overcome with my imagination. I pretend that they are...spurs. [low, sotto voce] I walk into the saloon, and the place goes quiet. You can hear a pin drop as I walk deliberately up to the bar: chink, chink, chink. I say, "Jack. On the rocks." I'm so f***ing cool.

Then, there's reality.

"What's that jingling noise?"
"Oh. My boots. There's these two rings, see, and they-"
"That is so cute, what with Christmas coming and all. You're like a little elf!"


And of course, everyone knows I'm coming. It makes me think of my mom. I used to be a nursing assistant at a long-term care facility, and my mom was Director of Nursing there. We were often on night shift together, and in the wee hours you could hear her walking the dim hallways, 'cause she had this soft, breathy whistle thing that she did. Always "What A Friend We Have In Jesus". We'd hear her coming and snap to it. Not that my boots necessarily have that effect.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Maybe There's a Secret Handshake, Too

I was at the meat counter today, thinking about lamb chops. I have never made them before, and there were none on display. I was just about to ask the butcher when a woman came up and asked about lamb chops herself. I overheard and inserted myself into the conversation. He was telling her that he would cut 6 for her, so I asked him to add another 8 for me.

He went into the back and the woman and I stood side be side for a while. After a bit, I asked, "So, what are you making?"
"Oh, a new recipe I haven't tried before. You rub the lamb with cumin..."
"Mmmm...that sounds good."
"Yes, and then you serve it with couscous and dried cranberries."
"That's funny. That is the identical thing I'm going to do with my la- " We both said, "Cooking Light?" at the same time and then, simultaneously, "Yeah, I have a subscription."

By the way, lamb chops are TINY. Eight of them cost $20. I almost died when I saw the price.

Floor is Done!

Hooray! The flooring project is almost over! I must admit that having the computer set up on a card table in the living room has been kind of fun, with the exception of the 2 miles of phone line we had to run in order to get on the Internet. And the Foosball table...well, I'll miss it when it finally moves downstairs.

There's still a little bit left to do. Here is Si, carefully fitting IKEA tab A into IKEA slot B. We had to remove the old desk in order to do the project. There was a reason the previous home-owners left that desk behind: there was no getting it out of the office intact. Si literally chopped it up. I'm sure that was satisfying.

The guest room is pretty much put back together except the heavy stuff.

The rec room...well, this is as "put together" as it ever looks. Someday, this will be a great party room. For now, the Foosball table will reside in splendid isolation. Until we have money for other furnishings, it is the sock-foot skating rink, the "Blind Man's Bluff" floor and the dance studio.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rain Man

I was unexpectedly interviewed by our local Fox affiliate on Thursday. As in, my boss burst into my office and said that Fox was doing a special report about whether or not immigrants really want to learn English. Would I do an interview? "Sure. When do they want to do it?" "They're on their way over." So much for camera-ready.

I hate watching myself on video. I mean, really hate it. Is this common, do you think? The mobility of my face, when I see it from the outside, looks weird to me. "Ooooh," I think. "Whoever she is, she needs to calm down." At any rate, I dispatched the interview; it ran during three time slots; I tolerated watching it once, (online, with my hair pulled over my eyes, like that's going to help) just to make sure they didn't edit my quotes out of context. In fact, they generously let me keep my sound bites intact. Duty done.

I was in the produce section yesterday (have you noticed that this seems to be where stuff happens?), and a man came over to me to comment on my choice of pomegranate. Then he looked at me intently and said, "Do I know you?" This happens sometimes at the local supermarket, resulting in the well-known verbal square dance: " your kids go to XYZ school? Play soccer? Do you live near here? Work out at the rec center?" I opened my mouth to start the routine, and I saw his light bulb come on (it must have been my open mouth that did it). I know! You were on TV! Wow!" I was completely freaked out; first, because he remembered my face after about 30 seconds on the air the day before; but especially because he was making an embarrassing scene about it. He was loud and effusive. "Wow!" Wanted to shake my hand. "Cool!" My eyes were bugging out of their sockets from startlement. Textbook "deer in the headlights". I pointed out that it was extraordinary for him to remember a face in that way. "I guess I just have a photographic memory!" he said, still thrilled. God, what would he have done if I were Angelina Jolie? Stuffed his face into my cleavage? Yeah, OK, what cleavage?

He must be some sort of savant. Unable to function in society, but remembers every face he's ever seen on TV.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

"A Long Way Gone", by Ishmael Beah

Our book club doesn't meet until Sunday, but (if any of my fellow book-clubbers visit), I won't give anything away.

[Let me preface this in the same way I preface all of my book reviews. I am a dorky amateur and I would never claim that this is a real book review. Just my impressions, for what they're worth.]

I can be fairly unequivocal in this case, however. "A Long Way Gone" is an important book, and it needs to be read. By you.

It is the autobiography of a young man (now in his 20s and living in New York), who was caught up and displaced by the civil war in Sierra Leone when he was 13. Don't worry if you don't know a lot about the history of Sierra Leone. I don't, either. It doesn't matter. He describes his flight from anti-government rebels; wandering homeless, alone and with other boys; his eventual recruitment into the army and his evolution into a killing machine. He then relates his rehabilitation and his escape from the increasing chaos in his country.

Everywhere in the world where there is war and unrest, people do despicable things to each other and to children who get in their way. Lucky middle-class Americans like me know this on an intellectual level, but there aren't many opportunities to read a detailed, first-person account of these atrocities: not only because lots of kids don't survive them; but because the kids who do lack the opportunities, education, support and emotional strength to tell their stories in a compelling way. Beah, in his acknowledgements, credits a lot of friends who convinced him to write this book and urged him to finish what must have been a harrowing project.

"A Long Way Gone" is an excellent prescription if you need an attitude adjustment. When I feel stressed because Nathan called someone a "dip s***", I need to remember that, in many countries, I would be living in constant anxiety about whether my kids would get blown up today.

Quality writing: 8 Like several of the books I've read lately, this book doesn't feature carefully crafted scenes or background information. Beah is matter-of-fact about his experiences and doesn't waste a single word. Having said that, I often felt (unfortunately) like I was right there. He's at his best when he's depicting the inner landscape of his feelings, reactions and memories.

Character development: 5 It's really a story about being alone, even when he's with other people. He describes his friends and family, but he doesn't flesh out many of characters; and this is surprisingly effective, because you sense how transitory his relationships become.

Interesting plot structure: 9 The action never stops (no matter how much you wish it would). His journey becomes more amazing in every phase. I could say more, but then you'd want to kill me.

Addictiveness: 9. I brought it home from the library and read the first three chapters standing in the kitchen with my other books under my arm and my jacket still on.

Overall grade: 8

Monday, November 5, 2007


There's no school today, so I told Nate he could invite his friend B. to spend the night last tonight. B. had never slept away from his family before, and Nathan had never had a friend for an overnight, so this was a major deal. I pitched a tent in Sara's room, and they could pretend they were camping. All three of them spent the evening running around and around, pointing imaginary wands at each other and screaming "Avada Cadavera!!!". If two people screamed simultaneously and there was no clear "killer" and "killed", I would hear a long pause, followed by a muttered, "OK... 'Scissors, Rock, Paper', then. One, two three! OK, you have to die."

I also heard them discussing plans for later.
B: Well, they call it a "sleepover", but that's a dumb name.
Nate: Yeah, 'cause we're not going to sleep, huh, B.?
B: No, way. I mean. It's "sleepover" 'cause I come over, but we're not going to sleep.
Nate: No, we're stayin' up all night and sayin' potty words.
B: Yeah. Poopy, poopy, poopy.
Nate: You are a butt-butt.


They were both fast asleep before Simon was done reading to them.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Die, Dishwasher, Die!

Our dishwasher is, I think, older than the house, which was built in 1986. Most of the built-in appliances are from about 1972, judging from the instruction manuals helpfully left behind by Charles and Linda S., when they downsized their lives. I used to think this was a cost- saving measure on their part, but have since revised my position. Now I think Linda loved her kitchen stuff and brought her range, wall-oven and dishwasher from the old homestead out of intense personal attachment. Perhaps I am insensitive, but my first priority is that an appliance works well; not misplaced nostalgia about how I used it to cook the first meal of my married life. Two days after we moved in, we replaced her old range. It only had two burners and the oven was so small a cookie sheet wouldn't fit in it. She stopped by about a month later to get something she'd forgotten, and she was devastated. "Oh! You got a new range?!? Well. Oh, my goodness..."

Damn, Linda, if I'd known you cared so much, I would have saved it for you.

At any rate, all last week, the dishwasher wasn't working, and I thought, "YES! This is it!" But then I made the mistake of looking at the chunky square push-buttons on the front, and noticed that none of them was currently pushed in. Experimentally, I pushed the one that said "Automatic Wash Cycle", and the dishwasher sprang to life.

I jumped and looked around frantically. Oh, man! What have I DONE?! I was peering at the front panel, trying to figure out how I could return it to its state of disrepair when my husband walked in. Busted. Si said, "Well that explains that. I wonder how that button came un-pressed. Maybe someone bumped into it." Happy that the problem was solved, he wandered away again.

Anyone know how to sabotage a dishwasher?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

So, Mom, Know What I Want to be NEXT Year?

No. Just give me a few days to recover. The first thing Nate said when he woke up this morning was, "Is it November today? Do you know what that means? CHRISTMAS IS COMING!" Erk!

This was a great year for trick-or-treating. The kids are old enough that we don't have to hold their hands and walk them up the sidewalk to each door any more. Our little neighborhood is a dead-end street with two cul de sacs branching off it. This year, the kids all joined in a pack; roaming the neighborhood, running across the lawns, leaping the flower beds and hiding in the bushes. It had a pleasantly marauding atmosphere. Simon and one other dad just stood on a corner chatting and sort of keeping an eye on things. We ran out of candy. When Sara and Nathan came in, I made them sort through their loot for stuff they didn't like that much, so we had something more to give out. Si figures that, if that were to go on long enough, we'd all end up with the same candy we bought in the first place. Some kids came around twice, but had actually gone home and changed costumes. That level of initiative should be rewarded, in my opinion.

Nate was so wired I couldn't really get him to stand still for a photo. You can see by his poses that his skeleton was kind of His eyebrows are still charcoal-colored this morning.

Since Hermione always looks pretty serious on the "Harry Potter" movie posters, Sara has to as well, I guess. I told her she looks good as a brunette, but she's not buying it - says it makes her look too much like me. Dear me. Perish the thought. Finding a Gryffindor tie was not easy. In fact, this tie used to be grey, blue and red. Isn't it fortunate that "Gryffindor gold" is exactly the same color that we painted our office walls last year?