August 31, 2008

Sea Salt

I bought the cream paint for the dining room. I chose a color called Sea Salt, which is what most closely matched the color we have now: a totally inappropriately-named white called "Clear Yellow." Clear Yellow! I ask you! I almost couldn't choose it at the time, even though it was the one I wanted, because Clear Yellow sounds like....YELLOW.

But it is not. It is white. Well, cream. I kept asking the painter to reassure me: "It's not yellow, right?" and he'd say, "No. It's white. Well, cream." And I'd say, "'s called yellow." And he'd say, "I know. But it's white. Well, cream." But even so, the day he started painting I was antsy and had to go peek at it under the pretense of bringing over a few more boxes.

Anyway, Behr's Sea Salt is pretty much the same color (Toasted Marshmallow was close, too, but it bothered me because TOASTED Marshmallow should be a light golden brown, not cream), so I went over to the paint counter and asked for a gallon of Sea Salt. The permed, forties-ish clerk mixed it up and put it in the shaker, and we all stood there waiting for it to be fully shaken. She started a conversation with her co-worker about how she thought Sarah Palin didn't actually like John McCain.

Then the paint was ready, and she got to the part where they pry up the lid of the mixed paint to let you double-check it. She stopped mid-pry, gave it a whack with the mallet instead, and said wearily and I thought a little scornfully, "It's pretty much just white." And she gave a little half eye-roll, like I was some crazy person who was custom-ordering a specific shade of white like it mattered.

Clearly she has not found her calling. "Pretty much just white," indeed! For a color called Sea Salt! That is such a GIMME. If I'd been feeling a little perkier and sassier and less distracted by the low-grade stressiness of the decision I'd just made, I would have said back to her, "Oh, no no no. That is not your line. Your line is: 'Oh, Sea Salt! I LOVE Sea Salt! It's such a clean, fresh, lineny white---but not too STARK, you know what I mean? Just the teeniest HINT of yellow to warm it up. It's just the most perfect white. And the name makes me think of those photos where there's the white sand and the bleached wood and the beautiful ocean and those tall faded grasses.'"

Depending on her reaction to being schooled, I could have continued: "See, then you lift up the lid to let me peek, and you give a happy little sigh. 'See?,' you say. 'Perfect.' You pause a moment too long, as if reluctant to stop gazing at it. Then you mallet the lid back down cheerfully [here I'd demonstrate cheerful malleting] and hand it to me and raise your eyebrows and say, 'Good choice!' and you put a firm little emphasis on each word, like you're not usually impressed with a paint customer's choice, but you're impressed with mine. And as I walk away, you say to your co-worker in a voice just loud enough for me to hear, but as if you didn't realize I could hear you, 'I just love Sea Salt. It's one of my total favorites.' ...I can write this down for you if you need to study it for next time."

Seriously. A paint-counter employee! Saying something is "pretty much just white"! I felt like applying for her job on the spot. "Trust me, I could do this better," I'd say to the manager, tying on an apron.

August 30, 2008

Weekend Pay-it-Forward Update; Also, Recipe Request

I happen to know a lot of you are a fast draw with a recipe, and our Michelle is collecting them for a special project. You know those fundraising cookbooks that always have the best recipes? Well, or the fundraising cookbook in my cupboard does: it's done by the residents of a nursing home, and all the recipes have butter and/or marshmallows in them.

Anyway, Michelle's son's special-needs preschool is doing a fundraising cookbook, and they need recipes: they have about 100, and they need about 700. You can read her post here, and you can email her at ahnya at excite dot com.

Pay-it-forward updates:

A Girl and Her Blog is showing the giftie she got, and starting a new contest. This one has a different spin on the PIF contest.

Secret Mom Thoughts is showing the giftie she got, and starting a new contest.

August 29, 2008


My mother-in-law is coming in five weeks. She's staying for 12 days, which is only 2 days less than 2 weeks. Last time, she visited for one week, and by Day 5 I was thinking, "Good thing she's leaving in two more days, or I'd probably throw out my back digging such a big hole in a lonely field." That was with a nursing baby that let me escape to another room for close to an hour, six or so times a day, and it is too late to manufacture a new baby in time for this visit.

Actually, let's not talk about it. Let's not talk about it AT ALL here, not even in the comment section. Let's talk about something else, and pretend the MIL situation is not even happening.

I decided what color to paint the new dining room. Cream. I had an epiphany about paint color: my reason for choosing cream paint time and time again is not that I am a Big Indecisive Wuss, as previously theorized. No: I keep choosing cream because I like cream walls. This was a huge shock.

When we first moved in to this house, we hired painters, and I assumed the reason I chose cream for the entire house was that it was too stressful to choose paint colors for a first house purchased mere weeks before the due date of my second child, and also that we hadn't bought much furniture yet and were still working with handmedowns. Could I really choose robin's egg blue walls for the living room when we were still using the burgundy/camel/navy-plaid loveseat from my parents? And I thought it was that I didn't have "an eye" and couldn't figure out what would look nice.

But no. None of those was the reason. I like the cream walls, and the only thing making me feel uneasy about them is that the style has been to choose "COLOR!" It's always said in capitals, with an exclamation mark, as in, "Let's add a punch of COLOR!" On those home decorating shows, when the homeowners are asked what they'd like to do to the house, they always say, "Well, I'm not sure---but I do know we want to add some COLOR!" And the decorator nods approvingly: Yes. Color.

Lucky for me, there's also the increasingly popular "beige but with better names" (biscuit, cafe au lait) style now. I'll call my walls "Latte Froth" and people will nod approvingly: Yes.

August 27, 2008

Updates and Updates and Updates

Okay, okay, so you are not tired of pay-it-forward updates yet. Contest-entering is way down (bloggers were emailing me saying, "Could you remind people again? because only, like, four people have entered even after you posted about it") and so I thought maybe the blush was off the rose, if that's the expression I want and I'm not at all sure that it is. Well, all right, never mind then, I'll keep posting updates. I think I'll start doing them once a week, on a weekend day maybe. Perhaps if they're in a clump rather than scattered randomly, that will help?

Here are the promised before-and-after first-haircut photos of Henry:



My friend May says it is time for updates on a few subjects.

Weaning: Done. We went gradually down to once a day and I wasn't sure when that was going to stop, and then one day I woke up and felt Done With It, so I tried skipping it and Henry didn't mind either, and so then we were done. That was about a month ago.

Hormones/emotions: I am a little berserk right now, I hope from the weaning and/or from the Pill I started this month, and not because this whole motherhood idea was a terrible mistake. I called the OB about switching to something else (other than the Pill, not other than motherhood), and the nurse said it often takes a few months to adjust to the hormones. Isn't life just a CONSTANT MESS OF HORMONES when you're female? There aren't enough of them with pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, weaning, regular cycling, and menopause---no, we also add them for birth control.

Diet: Hee hee hee!

Whether I'll be doing NaNoWriMo this year: I did NaNoWriMo two years ago when I was pregnant with Henry, and it turns out I dislike writing fiction, and also that I'm bad at it. Genuinely bad, not comically bad. But it was a great distraction from the queasiness at the time, and I recommend it as an absorbing activity for anyone who is trying to take their minds off something else.

Dining room: We got the flooring samples and we were like, "Hey, this is great! ANY of these would be good!" Then days went by, and uncertainty grew. Last night we spent some time looking online at projections of how various samples would look in fake houses, and we're getting closer but also feeling even less certain.

How summer went with 5 at home: Sometimes it was total chaos, but I spun that to my advantage. For example, the younger kids lovvvvvve chaos, so if the two older boys were all giddy and crazy, I'd send them all to the playroom together. I'd shut the door and sink down into my computer chair. Ahhhhhhhh. Also, the big kids can be set to work. They're like Roombas: they're not very efficient, but they get the job done without me having to do the work.

August 26, 2008

Pay-it-Forward Things

I'd say the enthusiasm is dying down for pay-it-forward stuff, so if you still need to have a contest have it quick! I'm going to stop doing updates here pretty soon.

We need to do the results for Lorraine's contest. Lorraine writes:
Ok, 18 comments...random number generator is 7 year old son...and the winner is lucky number 17! "A" in Arizona! Congratulations! I'll send out the parcel as soon as I get the address info~!

"A" in Arizona---email me (swistle at gmail dot com) and I'll forward your email address on to Lorraine.

Living and Learning is showing the giftie she got (from Australia!) and starting a new contest.

Walking on Sunshine is showing the giftie she got and starting a new contest.

Pickles & Dimes is showing the giftie she got.

August 25, 2008

Boring! Feel Free to Skim!

I feel like I have so much to tell you! And yet, so much of it is kind of boring!

For example: I've started taking B-Complex, as an experiment. We'll see if it improves mood/energy/metabolism. I'm guessing I should take it in the morning, instead of in the evening with the rest of my vitamins.

Also: Paul purchased and installed a new toilet seat. The old one was worn down to the wood in places from the potty-training seat we've had installed since 2001. It is so nice to have a brand-new shiny white seat. I think the screws need to be loosened, though, because when I put down the toilet seat the lid came slamming down with it.

And: I gave Henry his first haircut. (My left hand is curled oddly because I'm collecting hair for the baby book.)

We put TV on to distract him, can you tell? I think I cut his hair too short, but Paul likes it.

I also gave haircuts to all the other boys, including Paul. I don't like to cut hair but I CAN, and it saved us $60 plus tip, not to mention the tremendous hassle of bringing everyone in carefully-planned shifts to the barber shop. I plan to siphon that $60 out of the budget without mentioning it to anyone, so let me know if you think of any good little luxury products to spend it on.

Now who is going to cut MY hair? It needs it badly. You know how some cuts grow out into a series of different styles, and other cuts grow out into something that looks like you haven't had a haircut since high school? My last cut was the latter.

I bought some Tide with Febreze. It cost more than any laundry detergent I've ever bought, so all I can say is it better be GREAT. I'm still not happy with the way our laundry smells, even though Paul cleaned the drain pipe on the washer and said in a nauseated tone of voice that that did appear to be the source of the problem. I suspect there's lingering scent residue on the clothes.

And I bought a refill for the long-empty Glade Plug-in, because our house is really smelling like Cat, and that's not a situation likely to change in, er, natural ways for a few more years. I know some of you are all ANTI-TOXINS and so forth, but it sure smells nicer now. Like toxin lavender instead of like toxin cat.

I found Elizabeth some dinosaur sheets. They're really cute. I bought them at the same place where I didn't buy the $300 dollhouse headboard, and at $11 they were an easier decision to make. I've looked at dinosaur sheets for her before, but they always look kind, ugly. These sheets are nicer: an antiquey/vintage look, and the dinosaurs are more like pastel watercolor sketches. I wish I could find a photo online, because that doesn't sound very pretty. Oh! I know! They're like "classic Pooh" as opposed to "Disney Pooh."

I tried Newman's Ginger-Os, which are like Oreos made out of ginger snaps. Report: pretty good, but not causing cravings for more.

I replaced our old white-vinyl-coated shower caddy: the white vinyl had cracked and the metal underneath had rusted. It's been like that for, um....several years. I love it so much. I feel like it single-handedly remodeled our bathroom. It's just like this one, except brushed metal instead of shiny:

And Paul purchased and installed two new windowshades to replace the ones in the nursery we've been planning to replace for SEVEN YEARS. I hope it doesn't lower us in your esteem to find out what terrible, terrible procrastinators we are. This isn't some kind of isolated incident: we're like this about EVERYTHING. For example, right now I have a rear windshield wiper replacement blade sitting in the car, and I feel like I am doing really well to have already bought it, even though the rear windshield wiper blade broke only last winter when I was scraping ice. I'll get around to installing it, I WILL.

August 24, 2008

Running and Headboard

I tried running again last night. Nope, still hate it. The thing I hate most about it is the time it takes in addition to the running part: the changing clothes, the stretching, the cleaning up afterward. I can make myself give up 30 minutes of free time to exercise, but not the hour it actually takes. Too bad, body. You lose.

Do you like this "dollhouse" headboard?

I came VERY CLOSE to buying it for Elizabeth yesterday. It was $300 down from $1500. But $300 is still $300 even if it's "down from," and that price doesn't include the frame (just the headboard itself), and it's HUGE for her small room (it's 5'4" tall), and those cubbies would look cluttered unless they were carefully and decoratively arranged, and she probably wouldn't want it anymore once she was in middle school, so.... Well, it was a hard decision.

Pay-it-forward updates:

Emblita's External Monologue is showing TWO gifties she got, and starting TWO new contests.

Amy Quarry is starting a new contest. She's the one who did that awesome handbag for the Guess Swistle contests, the one we were all fighting over.

3Giraffes is starting another new contest---they're in a loop!

August 21, 2008

Celebrity Relationships I Would Feel Sad About, If They Split Up

My friend Firegirl and I periodically discuss celebrity relationships we feel emotionally invested in---the ones where we would feel actual, genuine sadness in our hearts if the relationship dissolved, despite the fact that these are CELEBRITIES and we DO NOT IN FACT KNOW THEM. Here's my list:

  • Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith
  • Heidi Klum and Seal
  • Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy
  • Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Guest
  • Sting and Trudie Styler
  • Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker
  • Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward
  • Rosie O'Donnell and Kelli Carpenter
  • Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner
  • Michael Bolton and Nicolette Sheridan
  • Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani
  • Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins
  • Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell
  • Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
  • Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon
  • Courtney Cox and David Arquette
  • Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson

It's hard to THINK of all the celebrity relationships, though. I added Heidi Klum and Seal JUST NOW, and yet they're one of the couples I feel most strongly about---it's just that they hadn't yet come to mind when I was just thinking "celebrity couples." We need some sort of directory of celebrity relationships so we can go through it systematically playing Sad / Not Sad. For example, I could give a flying frock if Jessica Simpson splits up with Tony Romo, or if Mario Lopez splits up with whatever girl he's currently cheating on.

The one I think I would feel most upset about is Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Pay-it-forward updates:

Ms. Sassy Pants is showing the giftie she got, and starting a new contest.

Midwest Mom is showing the giftie she got, and starting a new contest.

August 20, 2008

Reader Question: The Bedtime Routine

Becky writes:
hi swistle!
so, i am reading this whole post about having a second child and why people do it, and how people do it (because with jack's birthday coming up next week, we are at the point when we said we would start thinking about it) and it got me wondering how you guys get all those kids to bed at night! i mean, i can see the older ones maybe going to bed on their own, maybe, but you have a few young ones there, and had a real tiny baby not that long ago (he is getting so big so quickly it blows my mind!) (my mind is pretty well blown by the fact that i practically have a toddler now though too!). in any case, this is basically another one of those "how do you it?" emails.

And Meredith asked me about the afternoon/dinner/bed schedule ages ago, back when I did the Here's the Hell How post, and I was all, "Yes, I'll totally do a post on that! Totally!"---and that was in February and here we are in August.

So. Bedtime routine. Paul gets home from work at around 4:45. He plays with the kids for awhile, and since this is the first time all day there has been more than one adult in the house, I usually use this time to do things that are tricky to handle with one person in charge: looking in the basement for something I'm not quite sure where I put it, washing the dishes, feeding my Facebook pets, eating cookies with no one watching, etc.

Paul usually makes the kids' dinner; he starts at about 5:10. It has to be done while we're both home (I can cook on my own with five kids in the house, but only if I can also scream and throw dishes and swig directly from an open bottle of hard liquor), and he likes that chore better than others, so it's mostly his. It's something simple: eggs and toast and sausage, or english muffin pizzas, or chicken cut up for dipping in sauces, or chicken and scrambled egg and rice. While Paul cooks, I'm in charge of the other kids, although he's always got Elizabeth because she likes to help him.

Rob and William are responsible for tidying up before dinner. They're supposed to basically remove all the day's Kid Detritus from the main living areas of the house---the rooms we still have to look at after the kids are in bed. Rob and William resent that this means they're picking up after the younger three, but recently the twins have been able to help some, and also our attitude about this is NOT MUCH SYMPATHY for children who don't exactly have to work on the farm around here.

When dinner is ready (5:30/5:45ish), whichever parent didn't cook is in charge of supervising Henry in his high chair, and Paul and I both handle requests for more milk, dropped fork, more food, tattling about who put whose carrots on whose plate, etc. It's common for one of us to be able to leave for something brief: checking email, cycling laundry, finally using the bathroom without a buddy, etc.---but we both know not to be gone too long, or the other person gets Resentful Feelings.

After dinner, the kids clear their own dishes; I help out if there's a leftover-food issue to deal with. The parent in charge of Henry (usually me) cleans up Henry and his high chair and swabs at the faces of anyone else who needs it. Sometimes there's a little loose time here if the kids ate fast or if we had dinner earlier than usual, and in that case if I'm feeling energetic I might give a fast bath (just washing, not playing) to two of the Littles (two is my usual limit per session), but it's more typical for it to be about 6:00 and time for the getting-ready-for-bed routine.

Paul changes Henry and Edward into their pajamas. Meanwhile, I brush five sets of teeth: I call the kids in one after another, and then go find Henry and make a stab at reaching some of his. After Rob and William have their teeth brushed, they go get themselves into their pajamas. When everyone's teeth are brushed, I help Elizabeth into her pajamas (she likes to do it "herself," meaning it takes ten times as long and requires four times as much work from me).

At 6:30, Paul and Rob and William go to Rob's room, where Paul reads to them. I stay with the younger three. Sometimes they're playing and I read; sometimes they're watching TV and I'm at my computer; sometimes they're playing and I'm fixing my dinner; sometimes I'm reading to them; sometimes I'm handling some sort of last-minute issue (someone needed a bath, someone wanted to try the potty, someone needed a diaper change, someone's teeth weren't brushed yet).

At 6:45, I put Edward and Henry to bed. It takes a little over 5 minutes to settle them in with their various things: kisses and hugges, blankies, covers, etc. Elizabeth acts as if she's another grown-up: wishing them good-night, closing the door, etc.

It hasn't always been this way, but these days one of us sits with Elizabeth until she falls asleep. This has changed everything around: we used to put Edward and Henry to bed at 7:00, but we start earlier so we can also start earlier with Elizabeth. Paul and I take turns sitting with her. It's a lottery: some nights she's asleep in 10 minutes, and some nights it's 45. The most common is for the parent on Elizabeth Duty to be sneaking out of her room at 7:15 or 7:20.

After their book time with Paul, Rob and William are allowed to stay up---but they have to be playing quietly in the downstairs playroom (a rec room type area with a Lego table, a computer, board games) or in their rooms (well, William's room has sleeping children in it, so our room is his room if he needs it). They're allowed to come up for emergencies (blood, fire, burglars, flood) and every half hour to go to the bathroom (which always turns into a "just wanting to say one thing" opportunity), but otherwise they're not supposed to be underfoot or making demands. On school nights, their "no, really, now you actually have to go to bed" time is 8:30 (non-school nights: 9:00), but then we let Rob read in bed after that and we don't look carefully at when he turns out the lights: reading = good, and also he's always had trouble sleeping.

So to sum up: we're in motion with the dinner/bed routine from about 5:10 until about 6:45; then only one of us is busy until around 7:20; and then we're both basically free for the evening.

August 19, 2008

Lorraine's Pay-It-Forward Contest

Lorraine writes:
Here is the stuff that the lovely Fiona Picklebottom has gifted to me:

She pegged me right on the money because I am a total stationery addict. I love it all (AND I got to pick my own book too! What a great idea! It's like a gift certificate and a surprise all in one!)

So my big thanks out to Fiona!

Now, I need to have my own Pay it Forward and I don't have a site....can I borrow yours? I have a goody bag of Canadian tasties and some Pacific Northwest photo cards. Can we have a little contest?

Indeed! (And I will never be able to say that word again without thinking of Omar on the TV series The Wire.) Leave a comment on this post to enter Lorraine's contest. It can be any comment, but if you need something to say you can say what the weather's doing right now where you are. Contest will run through Saturday, August 23rd, noon U.S. Pacific time.

Other pay-it-forward updates:

Teacher Mom is showing the giftie she got.

August 16, 2008

Overestimating Your Interest in Flooring at This Hour of the Morning

Elizabeth and I are up pretty early this morning. I'm still having trouble sleeping, and my new radical plan is---wait for it---to get up and go to bed at a consistent time each day. Wake-up time is going to be the time Paul gets up for work, also known as "Dumpster-slam JAM!" in our neighborhood (5:30).

So this explains why I am sitting here with my under-eye bags perched on my cheek-tops, drinking instant orange-flavored cappuccino (predominant flavor still "instant coffee") and feeling sullen. It does not explain why Elizabeth is up, walking up and down the stairs and singing TMBG's Never Go to Work. Elizabeth doesn't like to miss out on any action, so she's got some sort of monitoring device on me that woke her up just as I sat down with my mug, thinking, "Well, it'll be fun to play on the computer for awhile, anyway."

Er, not that every moment with her isn't a treasure and a joy. But at 5:30 a.m. I'm scheduled to be treasuring the beauty of her eyelashes on her rosy sleeping cheek, not the glory of her piping little voice full of ideas for my time.

I'm feeling more optimistic about the dining room floor. I'd been overwhelmed by too many choices, ranging from $1 a square foot to "why not just forget about your kids' education and have a nice floor instead?" a square foot. It was too much to consider. I don't feel happy until the options start narrowing. To make a wall comparison, I'm unhappy in the "Wallpaper, paint, paneling, beadboard, hay?" stage. I feel a little better but still stressed in the "Okay, I've decided, it's paint! But what COLOR?" stage. I don't perk up until I'm at the "Okay, PINK! Now which SHADE?" stage.

With the dining room floor, the first significant narrowing occurred when I chose fake wood rather than fake stone or fake tile or real wood or real stone or real tile. The second narrowing occurred when I read the August issue of Consumer Reports ( <--- total lie: my dad read it and summarized it for me in an email), in which they'd rated the very sorts of floors we were considering. I love Consumer Reports, and they love Armstrong laminate. And so I love Armstrong laminate, and the only thing to decide now is which kind of wood will it be pretending to be?

I did a little research to find buying-location options ( <--- total lie: my dad did the research, including emailing me a map to the nearest store). The local store didn't have much Armstrong on hand, as it turned out (they can get it easily, but didn't have samples), so I went online ( <---truth!) and managed to arrange to have five samples of Armstrong fake wood sent in the mail to me. I knew you'd want to see, so I did one of those screen-capture things I have only just recently learned to do (hello, elementary school students! I see you zooming past me in computer proficiency!) Those links aren't clickable or anything---they're part of the picture. I know this, because I am tech-savvy. (Shut up, fourth graders.) If you click anywhere on the picture, though, you'll get to see it larger.

Feel free to weigh in! You know, as long as you remember that I am TIRED, and on a HAIR-TRIGGER with stress over this floor thing, and also that I chose those five from a pool of thousands and thousands and so clearly I LIKE them and the only issue is which one is BEST. So no "That looks like my cat barfed and then spread it out in a thin layer to maximize the Bare Foot Contact Zone"-type thing.

If you need to visualize, the dining room borders only the kitchen, which currently has actual bona fide linoleum (it dents! and has asbestos under it! and is supposed to be WAXED!) ( <---notice use of words "supposed to be," indicating lack of compliance) in a small pattern of red/orange/gold/brown squares and rectangles, classic 1960s. We'll be replacing that eventually, but probably not for a few years. On the other side of the kitchen, the rest of that whole floor of the house is oak hardwood we don't take care of so it's scruffy.

Pay-it-forward updates:

My Life is starting a new contest.

Alice's Wonderland is showing the giftie she got (she gots a loop!).

August 15, 2008

Personality Tests

I was so interested to read all the answers to yesterday's We Don't Know What They Mean personality tests. What I found most interesting was the way it was sometimes so easy to see both sides of the issue equally clearly. Like, with the candy question for example, why would anyone force themselves to eat candy they don't even like?? That's CRAZY! What a waste of calories/candy! But on the other hand, how could someone go through and pick out their own favorites, leaving the unbalanced proportions for everyone else, shrugging and saying, "I don't eat what I don't like"? That's AWFUL! That's so inconsiderate!

Candy assortments drive me crazy with their sweet "have it all!" promises and their "but never quite the way you want it!" follow-ups. I think the answer to that one is that people shouldn't try to share candy assortments unless they've already established that they're compatible assortment-sharers. In most cases, it's better for people to buy their own assortments and share the leftovers: there's a huge difference between "Hey, who left nothing but the Special Darks and Mr. Goodbars???" and "Hey, does anyone want my extra Special Darks and Mr. Goodbars?" This is why it's so important to marry well. I like the pink, purple, and white jellybeans, and Paul likes the green, orange, yellow, and black jellybeans, and we agree to throw out the red ones. Happiness!

August 14, 2008

Personality Test #5

(I don't know what the answers to any of these MEAN. They just seem like they mean SOMETHING.)

If there's a bag of mixed candy, do you eat only the kinds you like, leaving the others? Or do you make yourself eat all the kinds?

Personality Test #4

(I don't know what the answers to any of these MEAN. They just seem like they mean SOMETHING.)

My mom and I each got a free sample of one of those incredibly expensive little Philosophy face serum pods. My mom used hers at the next possible opportunity. I still have mine (it's been a month), saving it for a special occasion.

Do you use special stuff right away, or do you hoard it? If you hoard, do you hoard until it's no longer special, or do you just hoard until the next good opportunity?

Personality Test #3

(I don't know what the answers to any of these MEAN. They just seem like they mean SOMETHING.)

When you're just moving the car to a new place in the driveway or if you're just moving it out of the driveway to the yard (that is, you're not driving it on the road), do you wear your seatbelt?

Personality Test #2

(I don't know what the answers to any of these MEAN. They just seem like they mean SOMETHING.)

Honestly, truly, think about it carefully: Which would you be happier hearing: "Oh, you're so pretty!" or "Oh, you're so smart!"

We're taught carefully that (1) appearance is of utmost importance and also that (2) appearance is of no importance, so this is a question that SEEMS like it has a "right" answer---but I don't think it does, I think it's just a matter of which you'd prefer hearing.

Personality Test #1

I've read that people who will leave a bad movie in the middle (cutting their losses) are happier and more successful than people who won't (trying to get their money's worth). Which kind are you?

[Edit: Okay, I totally screwed this up. I accidentally posted all five personality tests, then noticed my mistake and took out four. But it's showing up in feed readers with all five, so some people are answering all five. So if you see someone answering five, they are not crazy! I am careless!]

August 13, 2008

Well, What CAN You Do?

Sometimes I get in these moods where I have so much to do, I can't do anything. I know I've mentioned this before, but because I'm in that kind of mood right this minute, I can't go back and find where. The idea of searching through the archives seems overwhelming.

Here's what I do when I'm in one of those moods: I play "Well, What CAN You Do?" This afternoon, for example: There is stuff strewn all over all the floors, and the dishes are piled to the top of the sink, and laundry needs to be done, and I would like to have muffins tomorrow but would need to bake some, and I need to choose flooring for the dining room, and the sheets haven't been changed in awhile on any of the six beds, and I need to go through photos so I can send a batch to my in-laws, and there is a lot of other stuff to be done but I am suffocating under the weight of it and all I want to do is flee to somewhere where none of this is my job. I think, "I can't do it. I can't do any of it. I can't do those dishes, and I can't handle the laundry---maybe not ever again."

What I do is I think to myself, "Well, what CAN you do?" And I answer myself lethargically: "Well. I could put IN a load of laundry. But I'm NOT seeing it all the way through, and I'm not folding the load that's all cold in the dryer." And I say back, "That's fine, fine. Do you think you could bring the dryer load upstairs?" And I say, "Yeah. But I'm not folding it!" And I say, "Sure, no, that's fine. Just leave it in the hall." And that's what I do. Or perhaps I first offer the opinion that I shouldn't even put a load in, since I'll just have to manage it later and if I don't it'll be all mildewy and that'll be even more discouraging---but if I DO say something like that, I immediately soothe myself: "No, no---don't think about later. Just do what you can do NOW. I know, putting laundry IN is the easy/fun part, but that's okay: just do the easy/fun part."

And then when the washing machine is swishing, I say to myself, "What ELSE can you do? Anything?" And I shrug and say, "Well, I guess I could put away the oven mitt that's on the counter." And I praise myself: "Oh, good! Yes, that's very good!" And so then I feel a little encouraged, and I say, "And I guess I could also pick up this crumpled napkin, and on the way to the trash I could use it to pick up that dead ant on the floor." And myself lavishes me with even more praise.

Already things look better. And I don't PUSH it, either: if doing the things I CAN do doesn't lead to a big on-a-roll session, I go ahead and flop down at my computer or in my recliner as I wanted to do to begin with. But the washing machine is going, and the oven mitt is one less thing cluttering the kitchen counters, and the dead ant is in the trash, and so things are a little better than they were before, and I feel a little better too.

Pay-it-forward updates:

Mommy Daisy is showing the giftie she got, and starting a new contest.


Pardon me, if I could just remind you that there is only one week left to be in on the secret that everyone except Jess Loolu may know about? The secret would benefit from more participants, and there is no reason the participants must personally know Jess in order to participate, so don't be shy! It's the FREE kind of secret---no one's going to be asking you to chip in for a time-share or anything. Unless you're Jess Loolu, click here to read more, or just email me (swistle at gmail dot com) to find out more. I can hardly believe it, but NONE of my family or real-life peeps have emailed. Not one! Not that I'm noticing who emails or not, or giving out secret mental points or anything.

I haven't been around as much lately, and I'm embarrassed to even tell you why. It's a bunch of little hobbies, all of which I seem to have made into minor (let's just say minor) obsessions.

1) Postcrossing, which I already mentioned and am still panting for. You can only have five postcards traveling at a time, and so every day I'm checking email every 5 minutes to see if any of my postcards have arrived yet so I can send another one.

2) This one is the most embarrassing, so I'm going to get it out of the way fast rather than leaving it for last. I've been, um. Fluffracing. On Facebook. I have the Fluff Friends application, and you can, um, race them against each other. And I've been doing that. A lot. So that the application informs me that my Fluff Friend is tired and needs to rest before he can race again. It's a FLUFFGAMBLING problem!

3) The secret mentioned in the first paragraph, which has been really fun to work on and continues to be fun to work on.

4) Etsy, which has been blowing my mind recently. I found it overwhelming for awhile, and I still do (I don't like that if I type in "lunch box" I get a bunch of hits that have nothing to do with lunch boxes or lunches or boxes), but it works so much better when I'm looking for something for a post and can get caught up in all the great stuff. I keep adding stuff to my cart---there are like 50 items in there right now.

5) Twitter, which is more fun than I'd expected. If you're like, "But I don't GET it. What's it FOR?"---trust me, you are not alone. The good news is that "lack of understanding" is a treatable problem: the treatment is to sign up and see if it makes sense. Or at least, that's what I finally did: I figured that if I didn't like it, there was no reason I couldn't UNsign up.

6) Making fudge. I can't understand it, but batch after batch is coming out screwy. I even threw out my candy thermometer and got a brand new one, and still the fudge is coming out wrong. Well, maybe "wrong" is the wrong word. I like fudge to have a grain to it, a melty dissolvey grain. I don't like fudge to be smooth and creamy. But it keeps coming out smooth and creamy, no matter what I do. The only thing I can think of is that I've been using a new bottle of corn syrup, but that's only 1 teaspoon per batch, and also, what could be wrong with corn syrup? Anyway, I'm getting a little compulsive about this, making batch! after! batch! because it HAS to come out right, what is WRONG with it???

Pay-it-forward updates:

Astarte is showing the giftie she got and starting a new contest (it involves cheezy early-'90s music, although how anyone can deny that Mmmm-Bop is anything less than MUSICAL GENIUS is beyond my ken).

Living in Maryland is showing the giftie she got and starting a new contest.

August 11, 2008


Thanks for your low-barf greeting card ideas! And if you're catching up on weekend posts, it's not too late to make suggestions: I'm working on a post about Etsy greeting cards for a Milk & Cookies post. (My motto: "Online window-shopping can totally be called 'working' if I can somehow make a post out of it!")

This morning I knocked a full glass jar of molasses onto the cement basement floor. It landed in the tiny space between the upright freezer and the giant shelf unit, so I had to try to scoop molasses (which is not as slow as it tries to pretend, but to be fair this isn't January) and broken glass out from the 1-inch gap under heavy objects. I mostly succeeded with the shelf unit, but Paul will have to move the freezer so I can get the rest of that part of the puddle before the ants find it. I'm sure there's a live-on-the-scene ant report interrupting their regularly-scheduled ant broadcast even as I speak.

It's been a week since our Yard Fail Sale. Here's the photo again of what I got rid of for $7:

I feel okay about the low-profit, though, because (1) we got rid of the stuff, which was the main goal here, and (2) I made a lot of decisions that, a week into it, appear to be happy decisions, and (3) my brother distracted me with the whole impending-aunthood thing. I'll list the happy decisions for those of you who enjoy clutter-removal discussions; the rest of you can go on with your day. Watch out for the molasses.

Happy decision the first: I REDUCED certain collections of toys instead of making everything pass/fail. That is, instead of saying as I usually do, "We can't get rid of our blocks or our play food! Blocks and play food are CLASSIC! And we PLAY with those," I got rid of about half of each set. I got rid of the less-popular play foods (eggplant, whole turkey) and I got rid of the little square number blocks no one ever makes buildings with. We now have manageable sets of both items and so they're more appealing to play with.

Happy decision the second: I went through the boxes in the basement marked "Fragile Pretty Stuff." There were some hard decisions in those boxes: the beautiful stained glass items I paid a co-worker to make for me; the carnival glass I used to collect but now don't; a few old pretty things from my ex-husband's grandmother. But I don't feel sad to have it gone. I did keep a few miscellaneous pieces of china, adding them to our current hodgepodge of dishes. I'd been afraid of breaking them, but when the choice was "use them or get rid of them" I've been happier risking it.

I got rid of the unopened-in-box extension I bought for our play yard: I thought we'd need it, but that is because I am poor with visualization and didn't realize the playpen would take up half our living room even without the extra panels. Then I didn't want to get rid of it because it was new! unopened! and who would want just the extension panels? But I'm glad it's gone: that was a lot of basement space.

I got rid of all our tablecloths. The idea of tablecloths appeals to me. They were easy and fun to find on clearance. I'd thought we'd use them. But we don't.

I got rid of most of our seasonal decor (not the holiday stuff---I mean things like autumnal wall swags). I'd thought for sure I was someone who would put up seasonal touches. But it turns out: no.

I got rid of an expensive United States puzzle that's no fun to put together---which is why we still had all the pieces, even the tiny ones like Rhode Island.

I got rid of our video tapes. Not the kids' video tapes, but, like, the Simpsons ones we bought and have since replaced with DVDs. Stupid progressing technology.

I changed my mind and KEPT our giant set of GeoTrax. It gets a second chance: now that we have a large clear floor area in the playroom, maybe we'll play with it. If not, there will be future opportunities to get rid of it.

One of the toughest things to let go of was the last of my chocolate-molding stuff. I originally had two large moving boxes full of it, and the last time I did a big clutter-purge I got rid of all but my dozen or so favorite molds and a shoebox of things like lollipop sticks and pretty wrappers. This time I got rid of the rest of it: I haven't molded chocolates for...ten years? And if I go back to it, chocolate molds are fun to buy. But I went back and forth on it, bringing them back inside twice before finally letting them go.

There! Done talking about clutter for today!

August 9, 2008

Looking for a Low-Barf Greeting Card

If you sell greeting cards online, like in an Etsy shop, would you leave a link in the comment section? I'm looking for a special card for a bridal shower. I went shopping for one today and had a total fail situation: they were all so cheezy, like "May your hopes and dreams water the flowers of bliss in your garden of love" and so forth. I'm looking for something less barfy.

August 8, 2008

Reader Question: The Financial Worries of Parenthood

You guys are so good at the advice questions. Turn your brilliant minds to this issue. Kristen writes:

My husband and I are both 27. We have been married for a little over 3 years (dated for 5 years before that). We both are at a place in our lives where we desperately want children (our plan is to start trying in September). We both have decent jobs, but neither of us by any means makes a fortune (although my husband is currently looking for a new job in order to try and make more money). I have always wanted to be a stay at home mom. But I also love my job, love helping the people and kids I get to help in doing my job, so right now I am hoping to find a part time job that will let me work evening hours (that is doable with my job). But I would also be completely content to stay home.

So, by now you're thinking, "SO! WHAT DO YOU NEED OUR HELP WITH!?!? Get to the point already!"

Well, I am FREAKING OUT about the money!!! Currently we are in a very good place. We save a decent amount every month, we like our house the way it is (will obviously need a bigger house when we have more than one kid, but this will do for now), we don't really want for anything currently. We enjoy each other and our friends but we are by no means extravagant. If we weren't about to start having kids we wouldn't have to worry much about finances at all. But adding a kid, and taking away part of a salary makes me panic!

So, am I alone? Am I the only one to freak out like this!?! (I sure am hoping your readers tell me no!!). And if I'm not alone, what did people do about it? How do you get past the money worries and just bite the bullet and have kids? How did it end up working out once you had kids? Is money a constant, constant stress? (That's my biggest fear, I want to enjoy our children without having to stress all the time about money.) I don't need a ton of money for expensive vacations, or designer kids clothes. Just enough to meet our needs, save for our future and theirs, and have fun every now and then at a place that isn't our house (amusement parks, etc).

So, can you help me? Can you ease my fears?? (or at least give your readers a chance to ease my fears???)

Thanks for listening!

Freaking out about money is both good and bad. It's bad because it's uncomfortable to lie awake at night fretting about it, and because sometimes it prevents people from having children they could have afforded if they hadn't gotten freaked out by that silly article that says it costs $300,000 to raise a child to age 18 (news from the front: it doesn't). It's good because the very fact of freaking out can help you keep expenditures reasonable: if you freak out a little over every $5, you're likely to find you don't have to.

With or without kids, financial decisions have to be made constantly. You can buy the $40,000 car or the $20,000 car or the $12,000 car, or you can buy the $4,000 used car, or you can repair your junker again. You can buy the $2,000 camera or the $1,000 camera or the $200 camera, or you can have your dad's old camera when he buys a new one. You can buy the $4 organic avocado or the $1 non-organic one or you can buy no avocado at all. You make the decision that's right for your personal combination of "What we can afford at our income level?" plus "How important is this item to us?"

It is the same when you have children. You can buy the $800 crib or the $200 crib or the $100 crib, or you can get a crib free (handmedown or Freecycle). You can buy the $30 diapers or the $20 diapers or the $10 diapers---and if you use cloth, you can use the $30 ones or the $15 ones or the $3 ones. You can buy the $30 formula or the $20 formula or the $13 formula, or you can see if you can breastfeed. You can buy baby clothes full-price or on sale or at consignment shops or on end-of-season clearance for the year ahead, or you can use your sister's kids' handmedowns.

These are the decisions that add up as you pay the expenses associated with child-rearing. Each decision is made the same way as the other financial decisions you make: "What can we afford at our income level?" plus "How important is this item to us?" Some things you might not have a choice about (perhaps your child will have a digestion issue that will require the use of the $30 formula; perhaps you will try to get a free crib but none will be available), but your general decision-making will still add up in the long run.

Something I find comforting, too, is remembering that I can change my working situation. Right now I sometimes freak a little about money---but the thing is, even if I want to stay at home for now, my youngest (assuming he IS my youngest) will be in school in 5 years, and then I can get a mother's-hours job. If we're strapped before then, I could get an evenings/weekends job. And if, for example, we had to go into Emergency Mode (like, I had to work full-time, so I had to do overnights because we can't pay for three kids in daycare) for a few years, it would be at most 5 years before the kids were in school and we could have a normal life again. I can handle most stuff for just 5 years.

One of the things I think gets people in trouble is that they set up their financial situation without children in the picture: they buy a house on two incomes, and they buy their cars on two incomes, and they buy furniture they can pay off easily with two incomes. And then the kids are born, and they don't have two incomes anymore (either they have one income, or they have two incomes minus childcare expenses) and yet the mortgage payment, the car payments, and the credit payments remain the same. Plus, now they have child-related expenses such as clothes, formula, diapers, and equipment. This is the kind of thing that sends people into a permanent financial crisis. When Paul and I bought our house and our cars, we were already on one income, and I think that's saved us a lot of financial pain. We didn't do it that way on purpose, so I feel lucky about that.

What do the rest of you think? How do you deal with money worries? Have those worries increased since having children? Did you have to overcome financial worrying in order to have children, and if so, how did you do it?

August 7, 2008

Downsides of Larger Families

(This is from the Fourth of July. I don't usually (1) match their outfits or (2) have such a FLAG thing going on.)

If you and I were talking, and you expressed equal parts fear of and interest in having more than the standard 2-3 children, you would on most days find me an encouraging person. It's my experience so far that larger families are not as intimidating as they can look, and that five children is not two-and-a-half times harder than (or two-and-a-half times more expensive than) two children.

But in the interest of fairness, I will mention some of the downsides of five kids:

1. There are days when correction and discipline and basic maintenance take up so much time, there is little or no time for playing and affection. Or at least, sometimes it feels that way after their bedtime: like I spent my whole day giving baths, making meals, saying "no" and "just a minute," correcting manners, administering time-outs, and being increasingly stern about homework needing to be done NOW, COME ON, DO YOUR HOMEWORK, STOP DAWDLING!, and spent almost no time at all cuddling and reading and praising. Sometimes crowd control takes up too much of my available parenting time. ...On the other hand, I remember feeling this way with two kids, too.

2. I can't imagine going on vacation with them. I know some people do it, but the idea is overwhelming to me. Also: some hotel rooms only allow two children per adult.

3. In fact, I don't even do shorter trips, like to the pool or to the park. There are just too many children. I know other people do it, but it's too much for me.

4. Babysitters are a problem. Who can take care of FIVE children? And if you DO find someone, imagine what it would COST.

5. It is really, really boring making that many sandwiches every day.

6. The sheer space taken up by all those winter boots and coats.

7. Laundry.

8. Can't keep their names straight. No, really.

9. You need a big car.

10. Certain reasonable expenses are no longer reasonable when they're multiplied by 5.

11. The noise! The noise! OMG, sometimes the noise!

12. Baths. So many.

13. Let's say on Monday morning you bake a double batch of muffins: 24 muffins. That's no small task, and you feel like some sort of superhero for managing it. You'd think you'd be ALL SET for breakfasts for awhile. And yet the next morning after breakfast, a mere 24 hours later, there are only three muffins left.

14. You can use up an entire container of something in one sitting. Yogurt. Cereal. Strawberries. Ice cream.

15. Sometimes everyone talks at once. Or two talk, and then as you're telling them you can't listen to either of them when they both talk at the same time, two more start talking and one more starts crying. This can make your head explode.

16. Nobody gets much one-on-one time. Even a child who's BLEEDING usually has to share the spotlight.

17. Playdates are challenging. For younger kids, I'd like to accompany them to someone else's house---but I have such an enormous uninvited crew to bring with me. And anyone who comes to our house drowns in a sea of children.

18. People don't feel like they can complain to us. Like they think we'd say, "You think TWO is hard? TRY FIVE!" Unfortunately there ARE people who say crappy things like this. Not us, though: we remember how it felt to have two. (Hint: it did not feel easy.)

Well, and that's a pretty daunting list. But I'll bet we could make a similar-length list for ANY size family: the downsides of one, the downsides of two, the downsides of three, etc. ...OH! uh, and the upsides! Yes, upsides. Just as long a list, I'm sure.

Pay-it-forward updates:

Incognitus Scriptor has a new contest up.

Living Yellow is showing the giftie she got, and starting a new contest.

August 6, 2008

Click Through

Oh, hey! Everyone EXCEPT Jess Loolu, please click here for today's post. I asked Jess Loolu if I could post something secret on her blog that she would not be allowed to read. And she LET ME.

(Don't worry, Jess. It's a GOOD kind of secret. Also: we'll tell you later.)

August 5, 2008

Sheetrock and Flooring---What Could Be More Interesting?

I DID offer the sheetrock guy some brownies. I put them on a plate and went out with them, and he said no thank you. But I liked what Denise said about how just because you don't want to dance doesn't mean you don't want to be asked, and what Hillary said about how if you're going to feel awkward either way, it's better to feel awkward and shy (when offering) than awkward and guilty (when not offering).

And this morning I found it actually EASED some awkwardness to offer something: he came right in and started working, and I wanted to greet him somehow, but it was going to have to be through a plastic sheet so that seemed awk. But I called out "Good morning!" and then when he said good morning back, I said, "I'm about to put some coffee on---would you like some?" It made the greeting a little longer, which makes it more casual. Note: he said no thank you to the coffee, too.

About the floor for the dining room, I'm totally stuck. I've reached the point where I can't even think about it anymore. There are too many choices: too many materials, and too many choices within each material. I have five new vinyl samples to look at (the first ones turned out to be from the most expensive "luxury" line), and they're just sitting there in a pile because I can't choose one: this one's pretty, but too grey; this one's nice, but too kitcheny. And we could also go with Pergo! Or with another highly-rated fake wood! Or with vinyl from another flooring place!

And then the prices vary so much. It's $5.50, which includes installation. Or it's $4.00 but you have to install it yourself. Or it's $2.20 but you have to order it online. Or it's $3.00 but there's a $200 rebate. Or it's $3.50, and it doesn't look any different from the stuff that's $2.50.

The fake woods look the best to me: I like the way they don't catch the eye, but instead just disappear into being Floor, and they don't have the problem of looking chilly and kitcheny. They look diningroomy to me. Paul thinks they look fakey, and so does everyone else. But ALL the vinyls are fake! There's no such thing as vinyl that isn't faking SOMETHING: it's fake wood or it's fake stone or it's fake tile. I don't see how fake tile is somehow superior to fake wood. How about this: let's just have the plywood! I could put a throw-rug on it!

Pay-it-forward updates:

Honest and Truly is showing the giftie she got, and starting a new contest.

Two Sticks and Some String is starting a new contest.

August 4, 2008

I Can Always Find Something to Fret About

Our dining-room-to-be is being sheetrocked today, which is a pretty exciting step. Soon it will be time to decide on the vinyl (more on this later: all my favorites were not just the "good," not just the "better," and not even the "best" categories, but the "luxury" category. Um, no.), and on paint colors (likely to be cream, because that's almost always what I end up indecisively choosing).

The sheetrocking guy is nice, too: he has the radio on and I can tell he's restraining himself from singing along too loudly so he won't disturb us, but he keeps whistling and singing in spite of himself, including a falsetto segment on a Faith Hill song.

I think of that kind of thing as a sign of an inherently happy person. Paul is the same kind of whistler/singer, although of course he belts it out because this is his own house. If I were ever in a position to remarry, I'd look for that singing/whistling thing again. Paul may have his tempers like anyone else, and he might drive me crazy sometimes like any husband would, but he's about 1% tempers/crazy-making and about 99% singing along with the radio and doing falsetto on the girl songs, and that makes for a pretty happy life.

And now the sheetrocking guy can't hold back anymore, because Tainted Love is on. Ha! He's whistling the little boww-boww noises, then going loud for a few moments on the lyrics before remembering where he is and damping the sound.

But here is the point of this post: fretting! Should I be offering the sheetrocking guy some snacks or drinks or something? He's been working out there for 6 solid hours, and as far as I can tell he hasn't taken a break. I have brownies in the oven, and could offer him some when they're done, with his choice of milk or ice water or Heineken.

But I feel so shy about it! What if he's diabetic? What if he wants milk but only if it's 2%? What if he thinks I'm hitting on him or something? *wrings hands*

What do you do, when you have people working on your home? Do you offer snacks/drinks?

Pay-it-forward updates:

Move Along - There's Nothing to See Here is showing the giftie she got.

The True Adventures of Axel and Outlaw is showing the giftie she got, and starting a new contest.

3Giraffes is showing the giftie she got.

Pickles & Dimes is showing the giftie she got, and starting a new contest.

Sucky Weekend That, In the End, Did Not Suck

This was mostly a sucky weekend. We were going to have a yard sale Saturday, but there were supposed to be thunderstorms all day long so we canceled it, and then it didn't rain.

The stuff really had to be out of the way for the sheetrock crew coming this week, so we had a yard sale on Sunday instead, since it wasn't supposed to rain. But it DID rain: just little bursts of it now and then, just enough to make things damp and unappealing. We made seven dollars in three hours, and at that point we just put out a big "free" sign and gave up on the whole thing. That was the utter suck---although we DID still get a ton of stuff out of our house, which was good.

One of the things we cleared out, though, was the exersaucer, and that made me sad: we bought that when Rob was a little baby, so it's been in many a baby picture.




I said to Paul, "But if we have another baby, we'll just have to buy a new exersaucer." And he said, "I'm willing to take that chance," in a tone that communicated he felt it was a very low risk indeed. So THAT was suck.

Plus, this morning I was startled awake early by a loud cheeping alarm sound in the kitchen, which I couldn't locate. Until I realized it was coming from a bird, which one of our cats had in his mouth. I've never had to handle that situation before. I didn't know what to do. I'm pretty sure I picked the wrong way, but I'm pretty sure ALL the ways were wrong ways, because all of them involved the bird dying. I felt sorry that we owned and petted a cat.

What is your deal? There is plenty of Iams in your dish.

And then all weekend the two older boys were SO GIDDY, and Edward has started this screaming thing where he screams whenever he's even slightly unhappy, frustrated, or thwarted, or if any of his siblings argue with him. And Henry is obviously and tactlessly preferring Paul, which on one hand I love ("Oh, he wants YOU! Guess I'll have to hand him over and go read some blogs!"), but on the other hand I don't.

And then Paul accidentally spilled my fruit fly trap (i.e., rotten fruit and apple cider vinegar---thanks to Twitter peeps who gave me the recipe when I shrieked about having fruit flies) down in the crack between the counter and the fridge.

But then I got the news that I'm going to be an aunt. I mean, clearly the real news here is that my sister-in-law Anna is going to be a mother and my brother Erik is going to be a father. But still! Aunthood for me!

August 1, 2008

Houseguest Awkwardness: "Can I Help?"

I was very glad to hear that I am not the only one who suffers from Houseguest Awkwardness, where I WANT to help but feel too awkward to offer, or where I DO offer but then mess up what I'm given to do.

You know what I think the problem is, is that it's REALLY HARD to help at someone else's house, but it doesn't SEEM hard. Like, they say, "Oh, um, sure! Why don't you set the table?" That's easy! Even the children can handle THAT. But a guest doesn't know where the dishes are kept, or which set of dishes to use, or whether this is a "napkins under the forks" family or a "napkins in a holder on the table" family, or whether to put out the bread plates.

Or the hostess might say, "Oh, okay, you could get drinks?" But what are the drink choices I'm supposed to offer? And is this a "grab ice cubes with bare hands" family or a "use the cup to scoop up ice" family? Is it a "two ice cubes per glass" family or a "ice cubes up to the brim" family or a "dad hates ice and no one thinks to mention it because it's automatic by now" family?

Or one time, the hostess asked me to tear the lettuce for a salad. And I had always, always, CUT the lettuce. So I didn't even know what she was talking about! And the lettuce was right from her garden, and it was an unfamiliar variety to me---I didn't even know which parts were edible and which parts should be trimmed. Should the thicker, whiter part up the middle of each leaf be included, or removed? And I tore the pieces way too large, so she had to go back and surreptitiously re-tear. Also, she assumed I knew it needed to be washed first.

Or, my mother-in-law asked me to make a pie. MAKE A PIE. I don't, uh. I mean! PIE? And to her it's easy, because she's made that before, but to me it's brand new! So I look like an idiot because it's a frozen crust and a can of filling WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL? But I've never done it before, so of course I bumble around and look like the stupid useless daughter-in-law who can't even handle a convenience pie.

I think the ONLY way for a guest to help is something like, "Oh, great, could you stand here at the stove for me and stir this sauce? It just has to be stirred constantly." The thoughtful hostess could perhaps plan in advance to have something non-essential (water with food coloring and parsley in it, for example) simmering on the stove, to ask the guest to stir.

Little Pieces Everywhere

Some nights when I can't sleep, it's because of the Slideshow of Terrible Ways to Die. Other nights, it's Horrifying Screenplays of Fires/Intruders. Tonight, it's the Parade of Awkwardness.

I knew I was in serious trouble when my brain wanted to remind me of a houseguest experience where I was basically a fish flopping around on the tiles. I felt incompetent and bumbling next to my smooth and gracious hostess, and so didn't offer to help when I should have---and when I did offer, I didn't know what I was doing and messed things up. I misunderstood a question, and so seemed to be demanding to be served a drink. I'd gained weight recently and all my clothes were too tight for me, so I wouldn't take off my cardigan even though it was in the high seventies. I tried to act all free-spirited and confident, and in doing so broke their pretty rope swing. She offered me a choice of an item from her collection, and I was so nervous I'd accidentally choose her favorite, I chose nothing---as if I were rejecting the gift.

This was more than ten years ago, but I have every moment carefully preserved so I can examine it in perfect detail. I do museum-quality work.

I SHOULD be sleeping beautifully, I worked so hard today on the playroom today. So many toys have so many pieces, and the pieces get everywhere so it was like an Easter egg hunt. I rooted around under bureaus, beds, chairs, the couch, the DVD shelves, the crib---and I found almost all the pieces to everything. I'm still missing a few puzzle pieces, but I need to deep-breathe and let it go or else I'm going to start ripping open couch cushions saying, "It has! to be here! somewhere!"

And I could almost cry, the way things were already getting messy again within an hour. One reason I don't try to be a better housekeeper is that being a better housekeeper makes me a worse person: I'm on edge all the time, angry at my family for messing things up, finding someone to blame for whatever's not perfect, finding fault with our whole house and everything in it, seeing every place where the hardwood is unevenly shiny. When I let things get messier, I calm down; when I make things tidier, I start snapping at people and not letting the kids play with their toys because I'm NOT looking for all those pieces AGAIN.

But of course, below a certain point, which is where we finally were, the kids can't play with their toys because nothing has its pieces anywhere near it anymore. It's a fine line, and right now I'm on BOTH wrong sides of it: parts of the house are too clean and organized, and parts of the house are too messy.

I'm trying not to let my "There's too much to do, so I won't do anything" impulse take over. I'm trying to keep chipping away at it, believing that each Skittle found under the recliner and thrown in the trash makes a tiny but cumulative difference in the overall household cleanliness. It's like putting away a basket of tiny white laundry: it seems like you take out a hundred pairs of socks and there are still more socks, but eventually if you keep at it, the basket really does get empty.

Well, and then it starts filling up again, moments later.