August 30, 2009

Where Do You Get Your Glasses?

A review of my mother-in-law's eating requirements:

1. No salt.
2. Low fat.
3. Recent self-diagnosed t0mat0 a11ergy ( <--I'm worried she'll be researching this).

The worst of it is, she is making it hard to settle into a nice big venty complain-fest about it, because she presented #3 (the only one that's new since her last visit) in a pleasant and considerate email---really, it couldn't have been better. She was apologetic and hand-wringy in a way that made me want to say, "Oh, dear, NO, it is NO TROUBLE! Heavens!"

In fact, I went to the library and got a book on low/no-salt cooking, so moved was I by this unfortunate plight. As I was reading the recipes, I remembered several things learned from previous visits:

4. She doesn't care for black pepper.
5. She doesn't care for anything spicy.

Oh, hey, do you know what has no salt, low fat, no tomatoes, no pepper, and no spiciness? Baked chicken, baked potato, steamed broccoli. That's what we're going to have EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. No, really: we'll change the broccoli for peas, carrots, other varieties available in our grocer's freezer section, but there is NOTHING ELSE we will have.

You think I'm kidding? TRY ME. I really am glad there is something I like and can make (and ADD SALT AND PEPPER AND SPICES to on my own plate) that she can eat.


DRAMATIC CHANGE OF SUBJECT

I need new glasses. I got these glasses when William was a baby. (William is in third grade.) We don't have any vision-related insurance, so here is my question: Is Walmart the same as going to some private place? And, is it even any cheaper? I saw a sign at Walmart that said eye exams start at $75. "Start at" is a tricky way to put that. How much do you pay for an eye exam---not for contact lenses, but just for glasses---and where do you get it done? And what about lenses/frames? How much and where, and WHY do they vary SO MUCH in price?

So, Is Cleaning the Only Thing I Talk About Now?

I came up with what I thought was a fun and inspiring cleaning goal: fill one trash bag (NOT from trash cans) before Trash Day. It did not work. Not because it was a bad idea, but because I just Didn't Do It. Didn't even take a trash bag out of the cupboard.

I DID, however, get rid of three Large Items from our playroom: two big toys (a riding toy and a sit-'n'-spin) and one child-sized chair. We Freecycled them. The playroom floor looks so much bigger and clearer now.

I also got one step closer in the PLANNING process of hanging a picture that's been leaning against the wall since I bought it a month ago. I didn't hang it, but I thought of where I might like to hang it. Uh, woot!

I finished off an almost-empty bottle of orange vodka. That was some HARD WORK, but now there's one fewer bottle cluttering up the shelves! ...Well, except that I used the bottle to make a new batch of vanilla extract, so now it's cluttering up the counter instead. I wonder if I can Freecycle all the cordials I bought when I thought I'd like them? (I don't like them.) I suppose not.

Fastest de-cluttering turnaround ever: I bought three bottles of lotion on 75% off, tried it once, didn't like the smell, gave the opened bottle to my mom and put the other two in the food pantry donation bin. It was hard to do it (it smelled FINE in the store! it was 75% off! it was Dove and I love Dove!), but I thought, "I'm not going to use it. So do I put in the donation bin NOW, or do I store the bottles for a couple of years and THEN donate them?" I could also have returned them, but they were something like $1.24 each, and also I hate returning things that the clerk might think I've opened and used, and also the food pantry recently put out a request for more of this sort of thing---I can't think of the word for it, but non-food stuff like paper towels and lotion. "Sundries"?

I'm going to get rid of the rest of the dolls. I'd done a first sweep and didn't find myself any more attached to the remaining dolls, and I think it's that I just don't want to collect/have dolls anymore. I'm going to keep some of the outfits for Elizabeth's doll, but not many because she doesn't really play with her doll either.

August 27, 2009

Today's Cleaning Report

Today's tidying tasks:

1. Went through massive stockpile of regular toothbrushes (acquired via dentists, school programs, clearances) and got rid of all but a small handful. Everyone in the family except me uses electric toothbrushes. The ones I got rid of are all in packages, so they can be donated to the local food pantry (which also gives out household basics like soap and paper towels).

2. Went through the closet and bureau in our room. Got rid of two bags of clothes we never wear. Bringing to clothing donation dumpsters. Also threw out about ten pairs of the kind of big-knit socks people get for Christmas. Threw out a pair of worn-out sandals I thought I'd already thrown out.

3. Found TWO Hello Kitty back-of-seat car organizers I bought on clearance lonnnnnng ago and suddenly remembered I had. Put them in the car. Used the bag they'd been stored in to gather up a bunch of trash from the car, and found Elizabeth's headband cat ears that have been lost since last Halloween.

4. Threw out four boxes of hair color so old it's bound to be no good anymore, even if I were planning to dye my hair that color. Remembered to salvage the excellent little conditioners that come with boxed color.

5. Established corner of dining room to start putting piles of stuff to be donated. It's right where I walk past on my way out the door, so I'm hoping that will cue me to take things when I'll be driving past the drop-offs for them.


This list looks more impressive to me than the actions were. None of them were THOROUGH cleans/tidies; all of them were quick first-scan types of tidies, where I got rid of the obvious stuff and didn't push it to the hard decisions. I'm still doing more "If in doubt, keep it," reserving "If it doubt, toss it out" for later or possibly never.

August 26, 2009

Today's Housecleaning

The way my fingernails look an average of 51 weeks per year:




The results of today's housecleaning project:

August 25, 2009

Tomatoes in August

My mom said the other day that she thinks this is probably the most stressful, difficult time in my WHOLE PARENTING EXPERIENCE. I wanted to correct her---to say, "No, the time with newborn twins must have been harder" or "No, the time with 2-year-old twins and a newborn must have been harder," but instead I said, "The other day I was watching a thunderstorm and had my usual paranoid fear that the lightning would somehow strike me THROUGH THE WINDOW, but instead of feeling my heart pound as I imagined my funeral and my sad children gazing at the very few photos of me I took in the mirror since no one ever takes pictures except me, my first thought was 'Oh, that would be such a RELIEF.'" Then I laughed merrily.

Dudes. There are days I HIDE IN THE BATHROOM. And I don't mean I lock the door while I pee, I mean I LIE DOWN ON THE NICE COOL FLOOR and THINK ABOUT THE LOVELY, LOVELY LOCK.

Isn't it terribly, terribly frustrating and discouraging to hear how much we'll long for these days later on? And I can SEE it: I can see their sweet faces and hear their sweet funny voices and totally know how much I'll miss them later on. But short of BOTTLING IT, I am not able to appreciate it all now. It's like trying to appreciate summer tomatoes: it is all well and good to say you'll miss them come January, but that doesn't mean you can eat ten tomatoes a day in August.

August 24, 2009

The Little Stranger

I finished The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. It falls into this category: "Books I loved all the way through, skipping other activities to read them---and then got to the end and was disappointed because there was not the kind of careful explanation I wanted."

I don't like books to leave me wondering and speculating. I am not someone who thinks to herself with a shrug, "Isn't it wonderful to leave some things UNKNOWN in this unsurprising world!" or "Well, there are things that just defy explanation." That might be fine for real life when there's no other choice, but not for fiction: NOTHING defies explanation in FICTION. The creator of the book's world is the author; all things are known to the author---and so I want those things revealed to me kthanx.

I realize not everyone wants this. Some of us like little Belgian detectives tying up all the loose ends, and some of us would rather stare thoughtfully into space thinking over the various possibilities. And at least The Little Stranger isn't the kind of book that makes it clear the author got caught up in leaving tantalizing details but then couldn't think of an ending that made sense with them (Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult, I am looking in your direction); it's one of those old-fashioned stories where the narrator is telling a story that happened to him, and he never did find out the reason it happened, and so we don't either. It's a subtle difference, and one that's meaningful to me---BUT I STILL WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. Supernatural or not? And if supernatural, what KIND of supernatural? And if not supernatural, what KIND of not-supernatural, and HOW? TELL ME, SARAH WATERS. I DEMAND TO KNOW. If I don't find out, a part of my dream-self will detach and leave scary scribbles under the paint of your house. Well, or I'll be PRETTY FRUSTRATED. One or the other.

Two Happy Little Cleaning Things

Two positive side-effects of Teh Cleaning, even when I am not officially cleaning:

1. I'm gradually tossing out some stuff I don't use.
2. I'm gradually USING UP some stuff I DO use.

I have inclinations toward hoarding, and I usually have half a dozen bottles of stuff with half an inch of stuff left in each: I don't want it to be GONE. I also usually have half a dozen bottles of stuff I bought and didn't particularly like but don't really want to throw out, either: what if there were a sudden emergency and I was so grateful to have the meh shampoo?

Not now, though. Shampoo and conditioner I used to love and so repurchased when I saw it recently, but it turns out now I hate it: in the trash. Last four uses of a shampoo I DO love but have been saving for months because OMG it's Almost Gone: used it up. Last two evening primrose oil capsules: put in pill reminder to take during expected PMS. Last use of Special Expensive Conditioner: used up. Old bottle of melatonin sitting there because only the ones I'd cut in half were left so I'd started a new bottle: added to new bottle. This is probably the way some of you live ALL THE TIME.

In fact, this led me to tidy up my vitamin shelf. Bottle with a dozen prenatal vitamins left in it: flung recklessly into trash. Two bottles of folic acid (my daily multivitamin already has folic acid in it): flung recklessly into trash. Bottle of B-6 recommended for pregnancy nausea: flung recklessly into trash. I figured that if "just in case" were to ever present itself, I would be more than happy to run to Target to repurchase those items.

August 21, 2009

First Task: Completed!

Attention everyone: cleaning progress has been made!

When I was reading the comments on the original post, my plan was to choose the idea that most appealed to me. The one that grabbed my attention was Sarah's of Semi-Desperate Housewife: she suggested starting with the dustwebs in the corners. I have a mop-like item I bought in a fit of Cleanliness Resolve that I knew I could for this: it has a washcloth-like thingie that goes over it and can be turned inside-out halfway through to get a fresh surface.

Approximate time taken: 40 minutes

Resentment levels: Low---I didn't feel like I was cleaning up SOMEONE ELSE'S dustwebs, though I did have a brief "You know, I am the ONLY ONE in this house who would EVER do this chore" feeling.

Exertion levels: Moderate. I'm not used to having my arms up like that or my neck tilted like that, and the mop-thing was awkward to use. There was one corner I couldn't reach (we have a split foyer) and I threw a damp washcloth at it again and again until I got it. My aim, it is poor; but my children, they were greatly entertained.

Satisfaction levels: Medium-high. Those dustwebs caught my eye FREQUENTLY. Now my eye keeps going to the clean corners. Also, I feel as if The Cleaning Project has been LAUNCHED.


So! If you are playing along, my suggested first assignment is to read the comments section on the first post and choose whatever catches YOUR eye. Then come back here and report! (I found the "reporting" aspect Very Motivating: when I was working I kept thinking of how I'd get to TELL YOU I'd been working.)

August 20, 2009

Housework Mullings

Perhaps you are starting to wonder why there has been no continuation of the Let's! all! clean! house!! enthusiasm. It is because...well, it is because I have so far made no photographable progress. Like, I have not actually put anything away, thrown anything out, or cleaned anything.

But! I am gearing up, and in many ways that IS progress, much as it is progress to go from thinking of a diet as an optional activity to thinking of it as inevitable and imminent.

I have been looking around my house with a New Eye. I have been thinking to myself, "When I get started, THAT will go." I've been mulling often on the theme of housework. Here are the themes I most often mull on:

Something is better than nothing. I can get in a mode where I feel like since it is impossible to make and maintain a perfect household, I might as well not do anything at all; because I will not be able to clean and organize the whole thing before company comes, I might as well not even start. I read an article once that referred to this as "frustrated perfectionism."

An all-or-nothing approach doesn't work for me anywhere in life (I drink diet Coke and I eat hot fudge sundaes with nuts; I use handkerchiefs and I use bleach; I breastfeed and I have scheduled c-sections), so it's silly of me to try to be all-or-nothing about housekeeping. It really is better to do a LITTLE than to do NOTHING, and I remind myself of this again and again.


Start with what appeals. It's pretty silly to be pairing up mittens in the coat closet when there's a puddle of orange juice on the kitchen floor, but that's what I did the last time my mother-in-law was coming for a visit. I did super-thorough cleanings/organizations of the coat closet (how did I not take any photos?) and the bathroom closet. Not only was it motivating, those areas stayed tidy a LOT longer than the kitchen floor did. AND I felt as if anyone looking in those areas would figure I was actually a neat and tidy person who just happened to have orange juice on the floor---as opposed to what they'd assume if the house looked nice until they opened a closet and the house's contents fell out of it.


Prioritize. This is the opposite of the previous one. I use them both, because different moods benefit from different techniques. I use "prioritize" when I'm getting spinny and frantic over not being able to pair up all the mittens. I shift gears then, and try to do the quick things that make big splashy differences instead of the complicated things that make subtle long-term differences.

One of my professors used to start the semester by saying that students could accomplish an 80% effect (i.e., a B) for a 20% effort---but that if they wanted that extra 20% effect (i.e., an A) they would need to put in the other 80% effort. He seemed to mean that they should do that other 80% (though perhaps what he actually meant was "Don't think you're hot stuff if you get a B in this class"), but what I took away was that it was smarter to stop at 20%. My house can be cleaned to a B level, or I can work 5 times as long and get it to A? Not worth it to me. (Same in the areas of fitness, fashion, parenting, and, yes, schoolwork.)


Keep going. Tackling housework makes me see what an insurmountable mountain it really is. It can be hard to continue chipping away at it when it doesn't seem to be getting much better, or when it's getting worse at about the same rate it's getting better. But it IS getting better. See also: something is better than nothing.


C.A.Y.G. What, you didn't read housekeeping magazines for the comics? This was in one of my grandmother's magazines, and it was one of the few articles I read. C.A.Y.G. stands for Clean As You Go, and it's the idea that ACCUMULATION is what drowns/saves us. Refill the sugar bowl when you have the sugar out already to make muffins. Put away the glue right after you're done using it. Put the batteries away as soon as you bring them home from the store. Rinse the measuring cup after you use it.


Does it bless or does it oppress? This is one of those nauseating sayings my mom and I can't help using because it works so well. We have to put the word "bless" in verbal airquotes every time we use it. It is well worth it, because this is how I got rid of TWO sets of silverplate flatware, one from each set of grandparents. It OPPRESSED me. It's how I get rid of things that I feel I SHOULD keep or SHOULD want but I DON'T: my great-grandmother's china; a pair of sneakers autographed by Rosie O'Donnell; things I was sooooo happy to find on really! good! deals! but don't really want anymore; stuffed animals from my childhood I don't love anymore but feel guilty discarding as if they never meant anything. And it's how I know I want to KEEP something that feels as if it should be in the same category as the things I'm pitching.

August 18, 2009

The Believers

I finished reading The Believers by Zoë Heller. I liked it so much I was startled and sad to have reached the end. BUT! I did not think at first that I was going to like it. I was maybe 40 or 50 pages in and I was thinking, "Oh, I see: this is a book where we demonstrate our mastery of vocabulary words and complicated sentence structures, make superior and cynical remarks about our characters that reflect badly on human nature at large and the reader in particular, and generally show the world to be a crabby and unpleasant place where people suffer unnecessarily, fail each other constantly, put up with what they shouldn't, judge each other mercilessly on every minor detail, and fail to notice their own hypocrisies and contradictions. Good, good. How many pages? 335? Huh. No, that's good. I'll just...read a People magazine for right NOW, and come back to this LATER."

I persevered because Sundry liked another book by this author, and I like to like what Sundry likes. And yay for fawning devotion, because at some point I CLICKED IN to the book, and from then on I was completely absorbed, bringing the book with me to the kids' swimming lessons even though I knew full well I wouldn't get any reading done with Henry dropping his toy and asking questions and taking off his shoes and demanding his sandals and telling me to kiss his arm and so forth, and I was reading the book in the evenings when I COULD HAVE BEEN ON THE COMPUTER, and I was laughing OUT LOUD at certain parts (Audrey: "Are you HIGH?") even though it drives me crazy when Paul does that because I know he's trying to get me to say "WHAT?"

I got to the last page this evening, and my heart fell. Somehow even with my left hand growing increasingly heavy and my right hand knowing it gripped little more than the bare cover, I hadn't realized the end was so near. I went back and re-read the last two pages, because the first time I hadn't read them Knowing They Were the Last Two Pages and I needed a do-over.

August 17, 2009

Definition

Now, don't laugh at me. But what is "drunk"? Like, where does it go from "feeling a little funny from having unaccustomed wine" to "drunk"? How does a person know if he/she ever HAS been drunk or not?

August 16, 2009

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Housecleaning

HERE IS THE THING:
I do want to clean the house for my mother-in-law's visit. I do. Not ONLY for her visit (though that is the motivation, just as a dress-up occasion might be the motivation for a diet) but also because BEEZUS. It's due for an overhaul.


HERE IS WHAT I'VE NOTICED:
1. Tidiness is a knack and a skill and an inclination, and it requires an allocation of both time and energy. I am not sure those of us inclined to messiness can ever truly become Tidy, but certainly we can learn to fake it for special occasions.

2. Tidy people disagree vehemently on what is the best way to achieve and maintain tidiness. One tidy person will say "Get rid of every single item you haven't used in the last week/month/year!" while another has a storage system. One tidy person will say "Decorative items do nothing but collect dust! Pitch them out!" while another suggests you put out the pretty stuff currently taking up basement storage space. One tidy person will say "Don't get overwhelmed: just concentrate on cleaning one small area thoroughly, then move on to the next small area" while another will say "Let's not polish dark corners while we still have heaps of stuff in the middle of the floor."

3. Just as there is no one single diet/fitness program that works for everyone, there is no one single tidiness program that works for everyone. For myself, I find I like to take a little of this, a little of that. There are some times when I would rather take everything out of a closet, clean the closet, and carefully sort/clean/organize everything I put back in. There are other times when I need to be reminded that it's better to make a passing swipe at the counter with a damp rag than let it stay covered in crumbs and puddles because it seems like there's no sense bothering if I'm not going to pick up every single thing and clean under it and then use a toothbrush on the rim of the sink.


HERE IS WHAT I SUGGEST:
Those of you who are tidy and willing, will coach those of us who are messing and willing. Each session, we will address one problem. All the tidy people will weigh in. Messy people who have learned a good coping technique for that problem will weigh in.

Anyone can then go through the suggestions and choose the one that makes the most sense for them. I think it would be fun to say "OMG what do I do with my messy bookshelf??" and then choose from "Take everything off, dust, sort, donate, organize by size!" and "Organize by color for fun!" and "You should not even own any books you don't need at least once a month: all they do is collect dust and you should let the library deal with them" and "Stack paperbacks horizontally, hardcovers vertically" and "Leave the bookshelves for now: there are more important areas to tackle first" and so on. Like a choose-your-own-adventure!


HERE IS WHERE I THINK WE SHOULD START:
If you were at the door to my house (it doesn't have to be MY house---just ANY house where your advice was requested), what would you say was the FIRST THING that should be done? A chart? A shopping trip for supplies? A run-through with a garbage bag? A plan? Choosing a room? Setting up empty boxes? A blowtorch? First step, small or large, practical or philosophical, GO.

This is one of the tidiest areas of my whole house. We'll start slow. (Yes, that is a piece of sheet metal leaning against the wall. No, I don't know why.)

August 14, 2009

The Necklace

I finished reading The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment that Transformed Their Lives, and do you think I will ever EVER permanently learn whether or not the word "that" is capitalized in a title? I am thinking not. ("Not ever learn," not "not capitalized.") It doesn't help that I don't even know if subtitles are supposed to be capitalized at all---or part of the book title. Hey, did you know I started college as an English major?

Anyway, I finished this book we will now call The Necklace, and that means I have already doubled my predicted success with my book stack.

The story starts with a good idea: a baker's dozen of women decide it's silly to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a diamond necklace they'd only wear a few times a year, so why not go in on one together and share it? This is the kind of idea that immediately makes me feel like copying. I want YOU AND ME to buy a diamond necklace and share it!!

But the book itself. Em. The author is so butt-kissy, it's good there are plenty of photos or you'd think you could never belong to this sort of group because you were not enough of a MOVIE-STAR-GORGEOUS HARDBODY at age 60. The group photo shows thirteen perfectly normal and nice women, but the author describes each as looking like Téa Leoni, having cascading blond waves, looking twenty years younger, not having a single wrinkle, etc. It's...weird.

And things are just as weird with the descriptions of the experiment itself. This is not just a cool idea, this is a TRANSFORMATIVE CONCEPT. It's not just fun to share the necklace, it's LIFE-CHANGING. It's not interesting that the necklace-sharing led to the women developing friendships and doing some fundraising together, it's ASTONISHING AND WORLD-ALTERING. Letting other people wear the necklace for a few minutes isn't just letting other people wear the necklace for a few minutes, it's SPREADING A NEW WAY TO THINK ABOUT POSSESSIONS.

Meanwhile, it sounds like a pretty miserable set-up. There is a lot of talk about how the necklace IMPROVED SEX LIVES and RESTORED SELF-ESTEEM and RAISED BAMBI'S MOTHER FROM THE DEAD, but what I mostly noticed was that no one could agree on what was supposed to be the point of the group, or of the necklace, or of sharing the necklace, nor could anyone agree what the rules should be. Furthermore, the details of why some women dropped out of the group and were replaced by others is sort of glossed over. Also, they named the necklace "Jewelia" (Julia) and refer to it as "her." *HUGE EYE ROLL*

In the first chapter, I was thinking, "OMG WE SHOULD TOTALLY DO THIS. Okay, maybe not with a diamond necklace, but with SOMETHING!!" and by the last I was thinking, "Okay, so it's like every other women's group ever, but with a sparkly prop."

August 13, 2009

If You're Cranky and You Know It, Clap Your Hands (CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP)

Well, that didn't really work. I'm still droopy and sullen. So I will try the opposite, and we can list the things that are making us cranky or sad or droopy or sullen or upset.

1. Sundry's Cat still missing after several days.

2. Mother-in-law coming in 2 months, and I'm in "Pfff, I'm not even going to TRY to clean the house" mode, which I know from experience will turn magically into "OMG WHY HAVE I NOT BEEN WORKING ON CLEANING THIS HOUSE???" mode right around the time it is too late, and then I will spend eight frantic hours cleaning one small closet to perfection while the rest of the house caves in on itself in a pit of crumbs and pet hair.

3. Sick of taking children to pool.

4. Self-delusion: "We'll get SO MUCH DONE this summer without the school schedule interfering!"

5. Coffee NOT WORKING. Why?? OH COFFEE, WHAT HAVE I DONE TO OFFEND THEE?

6. Want baked stuff. Don't feel like baking.

7. Whole bunch of Postcrossing postcards taking too long to get to destinations. HURRY UP.

8. Female child screaming all the time, claiming "bruvvers" (brothers) are "bahvering" (bothering) her. By existing, apparently, if the scream frequency is to be believed.

9. Male children consistently misunderstanding which part of the potty the pee is supposed to go into.

10. Just heard that fluorescent bulbs have mercury in them, and that they have to be disposed of in certain ways other than tossing them in the trash, and that if they break you're supposed to LEAVE THE ROOM and air it out. Dude, I have broken, like, three bulbs, and then I and my five small children have continued to INHALE UN-AIRED AIR. Furthermore, I have been putting the bulbs in the trash without realizing I wasn't supposed to. I am not actually giving up on all environmental efforts because of this setback, but it's the kind of thing I'm mentally threatening as I mentally kick over recycling cans.

August 12, 2009

If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands (*crickets*)

Kitten Lovecakes, cheer me up this morning. I am droopy and cranky for no good reason. I will say some happy things, and then you will say some, and maybe this will have a dedroopifying effect. Little or big, all things happy, deposit them here.

1. I am going to see my niece again! In early September!

2. A friend sent me a care package out of the blue. By TOTAL COINCIDENCE, I'd sent HER a care package out of the blue, and it arrived at her house the same day hers arrived at mine.

3. I have all the ingredients on hand for either cookies or brownies.

4. There is plenty of coffee.

5. The mail has not yet arrived, so there is still the possibility that it will contain something fun.

6. Okay, I am running out of things. Your turn.

August 11, 2009

Here's the Story

I finished reading Here's the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice by Maureen McCormick (Amazon has the hardcover marked down to a "bargain-priced" $8-something from $25-something, and doesn't that seem like that would be the kind of thing you wouldn't want to know if you were the author, even if you knew it happened to ALL hardcovers?), and I liked it.

Celebrity autobiographies must be very, very difficult to write, because of reader expectations. When I'm reading one, I want to be DISHED some DIRT. I want to hear about other celebrities. I want some behind-the-scenes stuff, and I want to hear some of the personal-life stuff the celebrity didn't talk about at the time it was happening. I want photos I haven't already seen in a magazine.

But! Too much dirt and I start feeling uncomfortable, or like the celebrity is so attention-hungry they'll say anything. Or I start thinking the other celebrities should have had an opportunity to respond to the startling accusations, and that no one should be revealing SOMEONE ELSE'S drug use, affairs, spending habits, etc., especially to enhance their OWN life story. And if I hear too much personal-life stuff, I start rolling my eyes and thinking, "Do you really think we CARE about that, just because we like your acting work?" And sometimes I come away from the whole thing feeling like I've gotten to know the celebrity better but wishing I hadn't.

I don't think I'd risk that impossible tightrope if I were them, and so I try to be merciful when reading. I think, "Remember, I ASKED for this" and "Well, at least there are TWO photo sections!" (There MUST be at least one photo section. If there are no photos, the book is crap. The end.) and "This is a CELEBRITY AUTOBIOGRAPHY."

There is a part about halfway through the book where she Finds God (it's right around the time she gets interested in a Hot Religious Guy), and at first it seems as if the rest of the book will be like that. But it fizzles out, except for the occasional "blessed" or "humbled" or reference to how God gets the credit for keeping her slap-face marriage to Hot Religious Guy from falling apart (he felt he couldn't divorce her, seems to be the gist of it).

There are many long sections about the crazy feud she's having with her brother and father, and it made me feel a little uncomfortable because it seems kind of unfair that she gets to publish her side in a book. Not that I'd be all eager to give them their own chapter for rebuttal, if I were her, and it's hard to imagine a "their side" that would change anyone's sympathies.

Keeping all those things in mind, the Maureen McCormick autobiography falls into the Meets or Exceeds Expectations category. There were times when I thought, "I DID want to hear about this, but...perhaps not so many times?" (example: how hot she was for almost every guy she worked with, including the ones much older than her), or when I thought, "Being temporarily famous really does a number on people," or "Listen, I'm not sure that other celebrity's highly complimentary quote about you was, um, sincere"---but overall, I was pleased with the dirt/personal level, and I finished the book feeling more fond of Maureen McCormick than when I started reading.

Also, if I ever meet her, I will NOT say "Marcia Marcia Marcia!" to her. Not that I would have anyway. I would have been the sort who would have accidentally drawn embarrassing attention to our age difference by talking about how much I loved her when I was a little, little girl, and then would have made things worse by blurting how sad it was that I hadn't seen her in anything SINCE then, and then would have completed the triptych by saying sympathetically, "That show must be really embarrassing NOW, right? I mean, the plots! the acting! the singing! the hair-brushing! your PANTS! ...But it was the '70s, I guess. I was really too young to remember it."

August 7, 2009

Bleach Shirt Book Stack

I totally ruined a plain magenta t-shirt by getting a splash of bleach on it right in the belly-button area. Since it was trash-bound anyway, I got adventurous in an attempt to save it.


I used Q-tips dipped in bleach. I was originally going for flowers, but it ended up being fireworks. I wore the shirt yesterday and thought it looked cute.

Here's my latest library stack. I estimate I'll read one book all the way through, start and reject three books, and never get around to the others.


In case the titles aren't clear, they are:
  • The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, by Tiffany Baker
  • Bitch Creek, by William G. Tapply
  • The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters
  • The Believers, by Zoë Heller
  • Here's the Story: Surviving Macia Brady and Finding My True Voice, by Maureen McCormick
  • I'll Scream Later, by Marlee Matlin
  • The Other Queen, by Philippa Gregory
  • The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment that Transformed Their Lives, by Cheryl Jarvis

August 5, 2009

Disappearing

A long time ago, when William was a toddler, my mom was watching him in a bookstore play area and suddenly he was gone. She ran to the front of the store and asked a clerk to prevent any blond toddler boys from leaving, and then ran back to look for him---and found him almost immediately, since he had just stepped briefly behind a large storybook cutout.

It was so different than the way I suspected I'd have handled it myself. I thought she was very brave to immediately seal the exits. I wondered if I would do the same---if my worry would override my usual embarrassed, don't-make-a-fuss tendencies.

Today the kids and I were leaving swimming lessons, walking down the lonnnnnng path that goes through a playground. William saw one of his friends, so we paused to talk to her. We said goodbye and turned back to the path---and Edward wasn't with us.

Because I am the kind of anxious person who thinks of Cujo every time I get into a car and vampires every time I see a dark window, and because I'm a PARENT, I'm accustomed to flashes of thinking my child isn't with me when he or she is right behind me (or, um, when I've counted wrong). So I turned all the way around, and I recounted, but he still wasn't with us.

Well, he could have wandered a little farther away from me than I'd expect. It's a grassy park area. I turned around again, widening the search. No Edward.

Okay. Okay. It's a playground. It would be out of character for him to go play on it independently, but it could happen. I turned again, looking at each piece of equipment. No Edward.

Well. So already I had discovered I was not someone who first sealed the exits and then hunted. But next I found out what I do when the hunt is fruitless: I continued turning around and around, looking and looking, feeling stunned, not knowing what to do next. I tried to remember what shirt he was wearing, and I couldn't remember. I reassured myself that he MUST be there, he MUST, and therefore he WAS. I kept looking. He wasn't. I looked at each child in the playground, and each one I looked at was not Edward, even though I kept loosening my standards for "what could be Edward."

I should have been in a total panic. I should AT LEAST have been yelling "EDWARD! EDWARD! EDWARD!" But I felt dazed. I felt like one of those little toy robots that, if it bumps into a wall, will just keep bumping into the wall again and again until someone turns it around.

Here was my brain: "Should I ask another parent for help? But what could they do? They don't know what he looks like, and I can't even say what he's wearing. There's a camp leader over there---I could ask him. But what could he do? He's in charge of other kids and can't leave them, and I don't know what my kid is wearing. Could he seriously, really, actually been TAKEN? Should I go back to the pool and ask for help? What could they do? And then what if Edward IS here, and he looks for us and we're not here? Oh my god, I really don't see him. I really don't see him. I'm looking and looking and I don't see him. I guess I should...call the police? But... And I don't have my cell phone. I'd have to go back to the pool to use their phone, and then what if Edward IS here and we're not? And it's a long walk back to the pool. Think think think: what shirt did I put on him this morning? Was it red? blue? What if someone DID take him? Statistically unlikely overall, but for a single incidence it's either 0% or it's 100%. Should I...chase after? See if a car is leaving? What about the other kids? And then I'd be in the parking lot, and I should be here, looking for him. I think it's getting to be time to panic. At some point I need to do something. He's NOT HERE. He's NOT HERE. I need to do SOMETHING."

About halfway through that paragraph, I thought to send Rob to walk as far as our parked car, looking for Edward the whole way, and then come back when he didn't find him. I didn't think he'd find him, because Edward always Always ALWAYS waits at the gate next to the parking lot, even if he's been given permission to run ahead. He's never gone into the parking lot, never even tried.

I continued turning around, looking, thinking. A woman with a stroller approached, heading for the pool, and I realized I was directly in her way on the path, so I stepped back and kept looking. She said, "Is he wearing a striped green shirt?"---and my memory flooded back and YES, YES HE IS WEARING A STRIPED GREEN SHIRT, and she said, "I wondered who he belonged to, but I couldn't see anyone around. He's over by the fence." She pointed to the fence ALL THE WAY ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE BACK PARKING LOT.

The NATURAL next step would be: sprinting to him. MY next step was: standing there saying to the woman that I'd been panicked! because I couldn't find him! and we'd just stopped to talk to a friend for a minute! and he was gone! and he NEVER went into the PARKING LOT! and my older son was headed there right now, so he'd probably find him! and I just couldn't believe he'd gone into the parking lot! and I'd been looking and couldn't see him! and I hadn't known what to do! and I'd been thinking I would have to call the police!

She stood there looking at me, probably wondering why I wasn't sprinting. Over her shoulder I could see ROB sprinting, and then I saw the green-striped-shirted Edward tiny in the distance standing next to the car next to ours, and I saw Rob grab him, and then my legs started working and I still didn't sprint but I walked fast, telling the other children "Hurry! Hurry!"

It's true that it would be almost impossibly out of character for Edward to go ahead of us to the car. What I hadn't taken into account was whether it would be in character for him to FOLLOW us to the car: HE thought we'd gotten ahead of him, so he'd been trying to catch up. Through two parking lots, crossing one of them to get to the other one. With cars backing out all over the place as everyone else left the swimming lesson. He's four years old and three feet tall. When I'm backing my minivan out, I can't see children if they're behind my car.

I could hardly believe how far he'd gotten. I could hardly believe he'd remembered where our car was, considering we park in a different place each day and usually park in the front lot and had only parked in the back lot because the front lot was full. I could hardly believe any of it had happened, and that it had taken so long.

I loaded the car up as usual, except that no one was talking or being silly or tattling and I wasn't saying "Come ON, let's get in the CAR, stop ARGUING, it doesn't MATTER who gets in first." Because I get frantic and snappish and flingy if I can't find my book or my lip balm, I'd have thought I'd be angry and upset and/or weepy, but I was dazed and sleepy and it was hard to put sentences together.

After a silence William said, "I think who would have been saddest would have been Elizabeth, because when she grew up she would have known she DID had a twin, but didn't anymore." That's not an easy comment to respond to. I said, "...Yeah."

On the way home we talked about it a little. I reminded the whole group that when they're lost they're supposed to STAY PUT. I asked Edward in a dazed voice if he'd been scared or worried, and he said no. I asked if anyone had asked him where his mommy was, and he said no. I asked about the parking lot: had any cars...moved? He said yes, one was behind him but then he moved over and it went past. He said we had NOT stopped to talk to a friend, he hadn't seen ANY friend. He was a little crabby with me for disappearing.

August 4, 2009

Minus 1.5 Days

Here's what happened with the two-week mother-in-law visit situation. I said to Paul that he needed to help me with this: that I needed him either to tell me the right words to say, since she's not my mother and I don't know how to talk to her, and he does know how to talk to her, and whenever I try to do it I screw it up, so he needed to tell me what to say; OR ELSE, he needed to tell me that it was pointless and hopeless and there was nothing to say and we just needed to let her come as long as she wanted to, and I assured him that this too would be immensely helpful because then I could stop agitating about it.

I also told him I needed an answer that evening. This was at about 4:00 in the afternoon. He made no reply. Hours passed.

At about 8:00 in the evening, he blind-cc'd me on an email to his mom, in which he said 2 weeks seemed kind of long because he wouldn't be able to take many days off of work and K [that's me] was 100% occupied during the day keeping Henry from flinging himself down the stairs into the power tools, but that if she (MIL) instead came for a week that went over a weekend, he could take almost her whole visit off, and they could go to Fun Place She Loves #1 and Fun Place She Loves #2 and also take the twins to Fun Place They Love.

It was masterful. It came across as affectionate and enthusiastic and full of plans for increasing the fun of her visit. He even made it sound as if I'd mentioned the dates to him with enthusiasm, and ONLY HE thought it was too long.

We awaited her reply. It was not long in coming. She was pissed and agitated. She didn't use any contractions: it was all "I do not" and "it will not" and "I am not". She had three main points:

1. Thirteen days was NOT two weeks, because ONE of those days she would be leaving EARLY IN THE MORNING.

2. She is an easy houseguest and did not expect any entertaining and would just blend into our usual routine.

3. She GUESSES that with HERCULEAN EFFORT she could remove 1.5 days from her visit, but it will throw everything else into chaos and will be very difficult and inconvenient for everyone else she has already arranged to grace with her presence on this trip. And will we please let her know RIGHT NOW if these revised dates are acceptable to us, because otherwise she will have to start ALL OVER with EVERYONE and it will be a HUGE MESS and everyone will be VERY INCONVENIENCED.


I was so so glad I hadn't dealt with her. Imagine how much worse it would have been if she'd been talking to ME instead of to her son who is the most perfect creature ever created.

Paul said to me, "So...do we accept the counteroffer?" and I said, "Yes. And I think now we know for sure that there is no sense trying to make her shorten her visits. We will switch from Altering Reality Mode to Coping Mode." And Paul said, "Yes."


I have also gone into Incredulity Mode in re her email. Yes, it is PERFECTLY EASY to blend in someone who won't eat salt or pepper or spicy things but is very critical of women (only women) who cook bland, boring food. It is PERFECTLY EASY to blend in someone who says she needs to eat "plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables" but then eats ALMOST NONE of the vegetables provided and makes "jokes" about how I spend more on produce than anyone she's ever known, EVEN AFTER being reminded that PAUL does the grocery shopping. It is PERFECTLY EASY to blend in someone who doesn't like any kind of child behavior that isn't sitting straight upright in a chair chatting politely with Grandma. It is PERFECTLY EASY to continue my usual routine while being FOLLOWED and OBSERVED and TALKED AT and CORRECTED. It is PERFECTLY EASY to blend in someone who doesn't want to do anything we suggest we do, even if we have already arranged it. It is PERFECTLY EASY to blend in someone who tells many, many stories about times when the hospitality she was offered was not up to par.

Well. Anyway. As Paul said, removing a day and a half increases everyone's life expectancy at least slightly, and he has also approved any plan I come up with to "suddenly need to visit a friend in crisis" or "lick someone with a disease that would lead to my short-term hospitalization."

I'll also be investing in a very nice brandy, which I hate the taste of but it makes me feel jovial and lovey instead of tipsy and dizzy, and also I like the way it's used medicinally (frostbite, shock, malnutrition, injury, surgery) in old novels. I feel like I'm "taking my medicine" rather than "taking another step on the road to potential lushitude." And Kelly, SPILL on the topic of herbs that lessen the effects of two weeks (minus 1.5 days AND 1 day of Leaving Early) of steady drinking.

August 2, 2009

Sunday

It is a little tricky to write the next post after a Dead Cat Post. Nothing looks right touching borders with it. And also, it's difficult to think of something else to talk about when the Dead Cat is a lot of what's on my mind. Like, I buried him, and I keep thinking about him being cold and wet AND SO ON LET'S CHANGE THE SUBJECT.

I'd thought I'd be relieved when he died, or at least a large part relieved. I knew I'd be sad too, but I thought I'd feel relieved not to be tensing up every time he had a breathing fit, relieved not to be wondering each day if I'd find him dead---and, if I may be utterly frank, relieved not to be buying/changing the elevated levels of cat litter a cat with kidney disease goes through.

Instead, I find I'm thinking a lot about the details of him dying, and especially about the details of burying him. I have never felt something as floppy and soft as that cat, after he died. It was as if his bones had vanished. And after I dug a hole in the back yard and put him in it, putting in the first shovelful of dirt felt wrong. Twisted and wrong. Packing the dirt down nice and firm felt almost as bad. It feels WEIRD and WRONG and CRAZY to put something that used to be alive into a hole in the dirt, and then put the dirt back in and leave it there.

It doesn't surprise me that EVERY culture of ALL time has come up with stories to help us cope after we pack the dirt down. Part of the reason it doesn't surprise me is that I just made that up---I have no idea if every/all have done it. Seems like it, though, doesn't it? I can't think of any cultures that don't have at least one story, and I have a vast cultural knowledge that includes SEVERAL DIFFERENT TOWNS in the United States.


Oh, actually I DO have a subject that isn't too jarring with thoughts of mortality: my mother-in-law is coming for a visit, and she emailed me last night to say she was coming October second through fourteenth, and could I let her know right away if that wouldn't work so she could rearrange the whole trip, which has already been arranged.

Well, that's just under two weeks. Two weeks is too long for houseguests, and that much alcohol won't be good for my liver. And why is she asking ME and not her SON? She didn't even cc him on it, so if he gets involved it's obvious I involved him. No: I have to tell her myself that two weeks is too long, and I have to counteroffer one week.

Actually, there is another possibility, and that is that I will GIVE THE HELL UP. We have SEVERAL TIMES worked up the nerve to say "howaboutoneweekinstead?" and she has NEVERTHELESS COME FOR TWO WEEKS, each time making such a lame non-excuse there is no answering it (example: "I could only get the airline deal if I flew on Tuesdays or Wednesdays"---as if that somehow eliminated the possibility of arriving on Tuesday/Wednesday and departing the following Tuesday/Wednesday, instead of what she DID do which was to arrive on a Tuesday and leave THREE WEDNESDAYS LATER). My point being that then we get the worst of both worlds: we have to work up the courage to tell her, and then she comes for two weeks anyway, so maybe it is time to either have a Big Confrontation (zero chance of occurring) or else stop trying to prevent her from doing whatever she wants since she's going to do it anyway.

[Edit: Also, she asked ahead of time if we had any plans for October. And we said no, because she'd said that if we DID, she would find a time when we DIDN'T.]

Okay, so here is my question: How should I reply to her email? And if you think of an awesome reply, test it out in your head first: is it something a polite person could seriously say to another person, without causing a rift in the fabric of time and space? I need REALISTIC DIALOGUE here.