January 31, 2011

No Snickering When I Say "Impotence," Please

Over the weekend I watched two movies, both of which were "We are drawing your attention to a grim situation you can do nothing to fix" movies. WHYYYYYYYYY?? Either entertain me or educate me, Movies, but don't do Grim Awareness for the sake of Grim Awareness. Yes indeed I WOULD prefer to be ignorant of bad stuff if there is no way I can improve it. This is why I don't watch the NEWS.

The first movie was Good Night, and Good Luck. I'd thought, "George Clooney, what could go wrong AMIRITE?" but he's barely even IN it. This movie says "If our government goes on a witch hunt, EVERYONE IS SCREWED." Then it says, "Look, it's done it before, so it's not a crazy thing to worry about at all!" Then it says, "Okay byeeeeeeee!"

I'd had a little wine while watching it, and this is my explanation for a series of comments on Twitter, beginning with: "Saw Good Night and Good Luck. Am now ready to take on McCarthyism. ...What do you mean, 'too late'?" and ended in "'Anything that ends in -ism is automatically THE DOWNFALL OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT' is dumb. #Anti-McCarthyismTooLate"

So. Message received, Movie! I assume you wanted to hint that the same appalling craziness we just saw about trumped-up fears of COMMUNISM AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA SCARY SCARY COMMUNISM applies to, for example, trumped-up fears of SOCIALISM AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA SCARY SCARY SOCIALISM. But what I got out of it was that nothing can be done about what our elected officials take into their heads to do, and that furthermore even the craziest crackhead politician will find abundant equally-crazy supporters among the citizens. And this is something I have ALREADY NOTICED in our own city, where a certain member of the board is a noisy unpleasant loon and yet he wins way more votes than he needs to stay in office, EVERY SINGLE TERM, so I didn't really need to spend another hour and a half getting schooled.

The second movie I watched was The Visitor, in which the dad from Six Feet Under discovers that the government (again with the government) is mistreating friendly attractive immigrants with cute accents, by putting them in bad prison conditions indefinitely, denying perfectly reasonable requests to live and work here, trumping up fake charges as excuses to send them back to their original countries, etc. Well! This is certainly eye-opening, Movie, at least for those of us who had not already read Little Bee and already ALSO knew about the monetary and physical bribes required in those prisons!

And what is the solution to this terrible state of affairs? According to the movie, NOTHING. Just KNOW IT and SUFFER YOUR OWN IMPOTENCE, movie-viewer! Because in the movie, a United States citizen with ample time and money can hire a special immigration attorney and STILL be unable to do anything about even one single immigrant! But at least he learned how to play the drums, yay!

January 29, 2011

Fresh Heather

The painting has begun! We are painting the room that used to be our room but will soon be the office/computer room. And when I say "we" I mean "Paul," because I was researching painters and he said, "Oh, I'll paint it," and I said "OKAY" before he was even done saying the "it" part of that sentence. We chose Behr Fresh Heather, a bright lilac color. And when I say "we" I mean "Paul chose it from my Dither Pile because he would rather go with HOT PINK than endure more than an hour or two of paint-color-related dithering."

Okay, so here is our room Before (note the Krazy Bedding that results when a cat keeps peeing on the bed and so eventually you are making the bed with six twin blankets because all the king-sized ones are in the laundry, and you've put your pretty comforter away for the time being):

And here is some of the stuff now living in our hallway (the rest is in the living room), and please note Melty's genius idea to just MOVE THE WALL STICKERS TO ANOTHER WALL to store them. I'd been thinking I'd need wax paper and baggies and a flat place and AAAAAAAAAAAA, and then she said her idea and I was like "o.O".

And here is the paint going on the walls, showing us just how smudgy and dingy our old walls were:

At the far left of the photo under Paul's arm you can see the hole he cut in the wall for the new computer cables. I keep expecting a mouse to come popping out of there.

Speaking of mice, we have caught a fifth mouse with the shock trap. It's getting totally routine: each morning I go down to the laundry room to look, and each morning the light is blinking and I remove a mouse. The second trap isn't catching anything in the oven drawer, so I might move that one to the chocolate-chip shelf.

January 27, 2011

Mouse Traps

When Benchley the cat joined our household, we soon realized he was a good mouser. He brings us birds, moles, mice---and it is a little sad that we don't appreciate him more for it. He would have made someone SUCH a good barn cat. We've discussed how we didn't want to hurt his feelings by rebuking him in any way when he thinks he is being SO good---but that on the other hand we wished he would, er, STOP.

That was before we realized the mice were COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE. Well, or else Benchley brought some in and didn't sufficiently kill them, and THAT is the reason we now have a thriving mouse metropolis. But if they were here already and he's been doing his little cat job by killing them for us, that changes my whole point of view on the issue.

I first noticed mouse droppings and little tufts of mouse fur in the oven drawer. Then in the laundry room, on the windowsill over the washer and dryer. Then I went to get a bag of chocolate chips from the shelves in the basement, and it had been gnawed open, and fully a third of the bag was gone, and I was PRETTY SURE I would have used scissors if it had been me.

So. Getting rid of the mice. The thing is, I know there are various virus/germ/dirt/wiring/takeover reasons that mice should not be living in our house, but mice don't horrify me OF THEMSELVES (though you can bet I'd be screaming and leaping back if one SKITTERED OUT when I didn't expect it). I would, in fact, like to have mice as pets, for our next Household Pet Acquisition. So I briefly looked into the idea of capturing some of the mice we apparently ALREADY HAD, and putting them in a cage---but as you may have instantly intuited, this is not a good idea. Wild mice are not the same as mice that have been bred to the cage life.

I started with this 12-pack of Mice Cube no-kill mouse traps. I could just return the mice to the outdoors! We have several wild areas of the yard where they could live peacefully! This plan would be a total fail, of course, if there was an undiscovered place where the mice were coming into our house (I'm picturing a Family-Circle-style cartoon where Swistle is lovingly freeing a series of mice into the yard, each of which follows a dotted path right back into the house), but would work pretty well if our mouse population was the result of Benchley sparing the lives of two captured mice who subsequently found love in the oven drawer.

I put out just three traps to start with: one in the oven drawer, one in a gap under the cupboards the cats have been keeping a very close eye on, and one in the laundry room. The next day, the bait was missing from a trap, but no mouse was in the trap. Another trap, the one from the laundry room, had been tipped off the windowsill, and contained neither mouse nor bait. The third trap had a mouse in it. A terrified, quivering, ADORABLE SOFT LITTLE mouse.

I prepared to release it into the wild, and this is where I ran into the part of my plan I should have thought of already: it is WINTER outside. There is SNOW on the ground. Tossing a mouse into that snow would be the same as killing it with a mouse trap, except it would take longer and the mouse would suffer more and we'd end up with a carcass in the yard---or possibly a carcass brought back into the house by a cat.

I took the mouse back inside to think further about this. And the result of all that thinking was, I gently turned the trap upside down (which allows the door to open), and I put it back in the oven drawer, and I closed the oven drawer. My thought process was this: I have not ADDED anything to our mouse population; I have merely canceled one poorly-thought-out transaction and given myself time to think things through with the new information about what season it is right now.

The problem was, I still didn't really want to kill the mice. And yet, they are eating our pantry supplies and/or possibly spreading disease, and that can't be allowed to continue. And yet, it is going to be winter for quite some time.

So. My second purchase was of the Victor M2524 electric mouse trap. It kills the mice with a quick electric shock. It claims to meet "International Humane Kill" standards, which was comforting even though I've never heard of such a thing and have no idea what those standards are. For all I know, the standards are "Anything it takes to get rid of the little suckers HAR HAR HAR!" But it SOUNDS good: electric shock is one of the two ways we execute PEOPLE, and I couldn't find little mouse-sized lethal-injection needles. More important to me is that it doesn't use poison and it doesn't snap.

I set the trap before bed, and in the morning the green light was blinking---meaning it had caught a mouse. I removed the mouse and re-set the trap. In the evening I checked the trap again, and the light was blinking again. I removed the mouse and re-set the trap. This morning I checked the trap again, and the light was blinking again. I removed the mouse and re-set the trap---and ordered a second trap so I can put one in a second location.

The trap is EXPENSIVE ($20) and the reviews are mixed, and if you try one I highly recommend reading the very helpful review by CF, which has a lot of troubleshooting stuff. It's not that it's a complicated trap (you put batteries in, you put a smudge of peanut butter in, you flip the switch on), but there are a few things it would be easy to do wrong (like putting in too large a portion of peanut butter) that the instructions don't give you any idea about.

In short: I like both kinds of traps, but I'll use the no-kill traps when it's nice outside, and the electric shock one when it's not---or if the mice keep coming back in.

January 26, 2011

In-House Move

Paul and I are planning to move, by which I mean not HOUSE (when we moved into this house we said with relief, "Now we can stay here and NEVER MOVE AGAIN") but IN-HOUSE. What we want to do is this:

1. Move Elizabeth's downstairs bedroom upstairs, to what is currently the computer room and office.

2. Move the office stuff and computers to what is currently our room.

3. Move our room to Will and Henry's room.

4. Move Will and Henry's room to Elizabeth's room.

Does all this make you feel tired and headachey? Are you twitching and placing an order for two pounds of See's? Good, then we are on the same page.

One of the great things about our house is that it is VERY FLEXIBLE. It was originally a 3-bedroom-1-bathroom raised ranch with an unfinished basement, but my dad added two bedrooms, a family room, and a bathroom downstairs. So now bedroomly-speaking (and remembering that one of them needs to be an office) we have one large bedroom, one medium bedroom, and three small bedrooms. This is EXCELLENT, especially if we were Sims who could go "Click! Bed is in this room now. Click! Change wall color. Click! Move dresser."

Which we aren't. And so I am exhausted just contemplating all the work that must take place between Point A (small bedrooms are Rob/Edward's, Elizabeth's, and office; medium bedroom is ours; large bedroom is Will/Henry's) and Point B (small bedrooms are Rob/Edward's, Will/Henry's, Elizabeth's; medium bedroom is office; large bedroom is ours).

Plus, we want to paint. OH LORD WHERE ART THOU??

We are taking it small at first. Paul said last night, "The first two tasks are to clean out behind the recliners in the living room, so we can put our bureaus there to make space in our room for when we're ready to move the computers. And to clean off our bureaus, so we can move them to behind the recliners." So we did. But oh dear, that is only the very tiniest tip of the iceberg. Because once we start this process for real, it will be a dizzying and exhausting series of moving and cleaning and PAINTING OMG I HATE PAINTING.

I do kind of enjoy choosing paint colors, though, if I can keep from getting into a Fret Loop about it. The first room to paint is the office/computer room. What color, do you think? Our computer desks (which we would like to replace, but it won't happen soon) are pale wood and brushed silver. We'll also be adding one or two homework desks (not the kind made to hold a computer, but the old kind with a little drawer over the knees for pens and rulers, and then three drawers down one side), and my plan is to get them from consignment shops, so they'll be wood, probably maple (the slightly orange kind, not the pale kind) or else dark pine.

January 25, 2011

More Crappy Day Presents

This tip has saved me so many times: When you take something off a hot burner, immediately cover the burner with a teakettle. Not only does this make it less likely that something else (dish towel, child's hand) will carelessly touch the burner, but if you accidentally left the burner ON, the whistle of the kettle will alert you. Once I even took the whistling kettle off the burner, shaking my head at my dimminess, refilled the kettle, put it back on the hot burner, and it boiled and whistled AGAIN. ...No, I didn't. That was a lie to make the story better. But still, it is a GREAT TIP. I don't know where I first heard it---it's one of those tips that seems to go around and around.


Mouse (the cat) has peed on our bed three mornings in a row now. I am not kidding when I say it takes me ALL DAY to process the bedding, from the first rinse-and-then-vinegar-soak-and-then-vigorous-wash-cycle load in the morning until I take the last blanket out of the dryer as we're getting ready for bed. So to wake up and find that it needs to be started all over again is...uh.

This experience has re-emphasized to me the awesomeness of Doing My Best's Crappy Day Presents idea. This morning, waking up to the cat making skritchy "covering" noises, I could barely make myself get up (line of thought: "Well, she peed on PAUL'S side, so it's safe to sink into a debilitating depression on MY side")---but as I was heading for the shower I thought, "I will open a present!" Well, I didn't have the exclamation point on there yet: it was more like "I will open a present." I thought of it the whole time I showered, and as I made coffee, and as I stuffed the comforter into the washing machine for its third trip in three days.

Normally when the ingredients of a crappy day have assembled themselves, the odds of a friend HAPPENING to send me a package on THAT VERY DAY are so slim (though it HAS happened to me before, and did I ever tell you about the time Black Sheeped and I coincidentally sent each other care packages which ARRIVED ON THE SAME DAY?)---but having a present ALREADY ON HAND means the coincidence can be forced!

This morning I opened a present marked "moderate," but I feel confident you will agree with me that FOUR HANDMADE HATS is in no way "moderate." (Which was a happy coincidence, because I think I was under-choosing by choosing moderate anyway.) She made matching hats for me, Elizabeth, Niestle, and my sister-in-law! My picture doesn't do a good job of showing the pretty wavy trim.

(Note the shorter haircut Elizabeth requested.
I'd never cut it so short before and was very nervous.)
(Luckily I didn't end up needing to shave it and start over.)

I'll show you too the gift I opened several days ago. This one was marked "minor," but I think maybe Rachel is better at choosing presents than she thinks:

A reusable See's Candies bag!! I will use this CONSTANTLY.

January 24, 2011

Remember the Grapefruit Diet? That One Was Fun.

Some of these trendy diets, I'd like to try them just AS trendy diets, without having to pick through (or WADE through AMIRITE) all the "No one has known anything at all about nutrition until THIS EXACT MOMENT IN TIME!! Everything you heard before was LIES and IGNORANCE!! Finally the diet secrets of the universe have been UNLOCKED!! Previous so-called unlockings of diet secrets now reveal themselves to have been the prattling of infants!! THIS one 100% makes sense, unlike the others which were stupid and made crazy assumptions and eliminated or glorified foods by the method of a diet-book author rolling a fistful of dice!! Just because we've done a total 180 on all these foods again and again doesn't mean you should question whether we'll do so again in the future because we NEVER WILL!!"---just to get to the RULES.

I think what I want is dieting Cliffs Notes---like, "HO-kay, people, you know how this goes: yadda-yadda-now-we-know-everything, here's the fun story behind it, and here are the allowed and non-allowed foods this time. Now let's get out there and HAVE FUN!," without the "Prostrate yourself at this dieting temple!! Then rise, and go out, and spread the One True Word to everyone you know!! And stop calling us a trendy diet, dammit!!"

[Edit: I've found what I'm looking for: I can look up the diets on Wikipedia! I get the story and the rules, PLUS I get the arguments for and against. More information, less hype and zealotry. Beauty.]

January 23, 2011

Chocolate Math Problem

Math problem: If there are 18 kinds of See's candies I wish to try, and I am willing to buy up to 2 pounds of custom mix in order to try them all, and if I can try up to 10 kinds per custom-mix pound, and if the least I can try per kind is 5% of a pound box, and if I have totally varying predictions on how much I'll like each of the 18 kinds---how should I arrange the two boxes?

January 22, 2011

Dilemma: On Whether or Not to Let a Child Quit Music Lessons

May I put a dilemma before you and collect your advice? The trouble with such things is that unless all of you agree (AHA HA HA HA HA *wipes eyes*), I will be TAKING some people's advice and FLYING IN THE FACE OF other people's advice---and the latter will seem ESPECIALLY ungrateful since I specifically ASKED. Well, this is the trouble with group friendships, I suppose.

Here is the trouble, and it requires a bit of boring background information but I will try to make it quick. In our school system, optional school music lessons start in 4th grade. We were kind of whatevs/meh about this milestone, since Paul and I between us have not quite enough musical talent to play an oatmeal canister, but two years ago when Rob was a fourth grader he was Very! Enthusiastic! and perhaps you remember the decision about which instrument he should choose, a post that generated almost as much controversy and emotion as posts on weight and Walmart, and then the follow-up where I answered some questions from the first post (sample question: "Flutes are for sissies") and mentioned that Rob had decided on a clarinet.

I'm sorry, this is NOT ending up "quick," is it. I am HURRYING, but hurrying is not WORKING.

Anyway, Rob took the clarinet, and to our surprise, listening to him practice was not the torment we'd expected---because, also to our surprise, he had some talent for it. We had visions of college scholarships. But despite being good at it, he didn't enjoy it, and so we let him complete the deal: i.e., stick with it for the full school year but then be done. Then I spent about a hundred times more energy fretting about letting him be done than I'd spent on letting him take an instrument to begin with, and I'm still hoping he'll choose to go back to it in high school.

ALL RIGHT, that is the back story. And now William is in fourth grade, and at the beginning of the year we just sort of yawned him through the same path Rob had taken. William is a different personality type than Rob, so instead of a relentless series of conversations about Every! Possible! Aspect!, it was more like:

Me: Hey, do you want to take an instrument?
William: Um....yeah. Sure.
Me: Which one?
William: Um....maybe clarinet or flute or trumpet.
Me: Let's look at YouTube videos of those and you can pick one.
William: Okay.
[we watch videos]
William: Clarinet.
Me: Okay.

Well, and he hates it. HAAAAAAAAATES it. It's been months and he still makes horrible scraping squawky sounds, not because he can't play it right but because he is suffused with despair. He breaks one reed per practice session. He has to be HOUNDED to practice, and he's one of those silently stubborn types who doesn't defy outright, but instead you just turn around and realize he hasn't been doing it. He will sit there for two hours with his clarinet in his hands, close to tears, NOT practicing it. The other day after he'd spent 45 minutes in mute misery, I sat right next to him being encouraging and "WOOOOOO!" and "Yay for a concert!" and then "You know, the sooner you get this done, the sooner you'll get to play a video game!" and then "Okay, now do it" and "Okay, seriously" and eventually "Are you kidding with this??" for a FULL HOUR, and finally ran out of available time to spend on that project and sent him to his room to stare at a wall for 30 minutes.

So! My inclination is to take him out of it. Working against this inclination are these things:

1. Rob will DIE OF THE INJUSTICE. He will IMPLODE, and then EXPLODE, and then he will turn to smoke and block out the sun.

2. I don't want to encourage William's stubborn streak, and it seems like this teaches him that if he just keeps silently resisting, he will get his way. (But, er, this might be a true lesson.)

3. I would like to help him overcome the "I don't want to do it so I will sit here and let despair overwhelm me rather than getting over it" thing---so that he will also be able to overcome the inevitable future situations that involve that same thing. But I've exhausted my repertoire of advice and techniques and pep talk and he's still not over it.

4. I would like to teach him to finish out a commitment without bailing.

5. I really think it's a good idea for kids to learn music.

Working FOR this inclination are these things:

1. I have X amount of time and energy to spend on each child. "Forcing him to practice his clarinet" is taking up a large portion of his share of attention.

2. I want to avoid teaching him to HATE MUSIC, and I'm afraid that that's what I'm doing by forcing this. He used to sit around picking out tunes on the keyboard but he's stopped doing that.

3. Clarinet is one of his Monday Stress Things.


5. I don't think I covered the "You'll have to do this for a full school year" aspect as thoroughly with William as I did with Rob. I'm also not completely solid-footed on this principle to begin with: IS it good for character to finish out a commitment no matter what, or is it better to teach concepts such as "sunk costs" and "cutting losses" when something isn't working out? I could go either way on this.

6. It IS good for children to learn music. But he's not learning it this way.

So. This is the matter before the group: What should be young William's music-lesson fate?

January 21, 2011


The news at our house is BABY FISHIES. In the comments section of the post about the fish, Steph said it looked like I had both male and female fish and that the females looked pregnant. Me: *flipping out with both panic and glee*

Later that same day, William was watching the fish and he yelled out "BABY FISH BABY FISH I SEE A BABY FISH!!" and we all went rushing over and there were two tiny baby fish in the tank. I did some mad Googling and some mad Steph-emailing, and so far we know there are at least two babies that are alive as of this morning---but we are trying not to get too attached. It's touch-and-go because the grown-ups eat the babies, you see. And it's hard to tell what's going on because the babies are very good at hiding. Maybe babies are being continually born and eaten and we just keep seeing new ones, or maybe there are only two but they have good survival skillz. And we don't even know if these are baby platies or if they might be baby MINNOWS. What a wild and crazy time to be alive!

Adults swimming. One particular fish is almost always separate from the others.

SOME sites suggest letting nature take its course in this situation: the grown-up platys are, um, PROLIFIC BREEDERS, so if you make special arrangements for the babies you can end up with a tank overrun with fish. Other sites suggest an in-tank baby fish nursery, and I got one of those but have been unable to catch the babies. (The way you're supposed to do it is put the mama fish in the nursery until she has the babies, then remove her---but I am not even sure I know which ones are pregnant, and their pregnancies last 4 weeks so I don't want to coop them up for a really long time, and wouldn't she just eat her babies right away if they were in a little box and unable to hide? Gruesome.)

Other sites suggest removing the babies to another tank, and we even HAVE another tank but it's unheated; also see note about not being able to catch the babies. Other sites (and also Steph) suggest adding more small plants for the babies to hide in, so that's the current plan.

We spend a lot of time gathered around the tank looking for babies and shouting "I SEE ONE, I SEE ONE!!--oh wait, that's a flake of food."

Adults, cruising for babies to eat.
(And see, there's that one apart from the others again.)

January 19, 2011


Rob is twelve. TWELVE. Twelllllllllve. We have already noted at our house that this is the last year before we have teenagers in the house (and that after that, we will have teenagers for THE NEXT FIFTEEN YEARS SOLID). "The last year before ____" is kind of neat, or at least I thought it was when I was 9, and when I was 12, and when I was 29. And there are TONS of them all clumped together ahead of Rob: there's 12 (last year before teens), then 15 (last year before driver's license), then 17 (last year before voting, smoking, and legal adulthood), then 19 (last year before the twenties), then 20 (last year before alcohol).

But what really brought our new situation to my attention was that he can now take doses of medicine for "adults and children 12 years and older." This has been a thrilling transition, but difficult to make: the day before his birthday, he could have one tablet of acetaminophen; the next day, he could DOUBLE that dose? (No, no---I get that it doesn't really work that way. But I was dosing by looking at the label and not really thinking about it, so effectively it DID work that way.) I've been reluctant to do it, even though Rob is now 5'3", the height of many adult women, and surely THEY take the adult dosage.

This reminds me a little of the "ages 3 and up" toys: there is such a long stretch of time when it seems like every toy would mean horrible, horrible headlines if I let the child play with it and then Something Happened---and then suddenly we are free, in an open meadow with Ages 3 and Up toys all around us, free to purchase and play with, no more imaginary headlines like "UNFIT MOTHER GIVES 2-YEAR-11-MONTH CHILD A TOY MEANT FOR CHILDREN 3 AND UP---AND PAYS TERRIBLE AND FULLY-DESERVED PRICE!!"

Or of the time right after pregnancy/breastfeeding are finished, when suddenly my body was my own again. I can drink coffee without even THINKING about it! I can take cold medicine when I'm sick! I can have broccoli and tuna without later wondering if that's why the baby is crying! NO ONE IS TAPPED INTO MY SYSTEM EXCEPT ME! Why, I could do STREET DRUGS and they wouldn't even get NEAR the baby! It's like we have a plastic barrier between us!

And now the first of my children can take an adult dose of painkiller or cough syrup. It's the beginning of a whole new era! Soon I'll be serving him a cocktail before dinner, and trying to make him vote for my candidate instead of Paul's! [Edit: I'm kidding about the voting thing. Paul gets very prim about voting, saying "It's private" if I try to discuss who we're voting for, so I've told him I'll just go ahead and assume he's voting opposite of me, then. But I think we always vote the same, or close to the same. (That is, we might disagree on the local board, or we might disagree in the primaries, but we agree on the party and the president.)]

January 18, 2011

One of the Most Embarrassing Things Ever to Happen to Me

During my first marriage, when I was 20 years old, my in-laws came to visit us for the first time. One day while they were there, the mail came with four letters, each notifying us of one or more bounced checks, with huge scary fees on each one. I'd NEVER bounced a check before. Instead of putting the letters aside and dealing with them later, I was all upset and I explained why. So my father-in-law tried to figure out what happened, by GOING THROUGH OUR CHECKBOOK. Furthermore, he kept saying things like, "$5 for a mail-away crockpot cookbook? Did you even verify if this company EXISTS? You'll never see THAT check again," and "$70 at Target?? What FOR??"

He finally did find the error, and it was a stupid and simple math error (adding rather than subtracting) that had made me think we had a thousand dollars more than we did have. And I would have been more grateful to him for finding it if he hadn't completely laid bare for humiliation every single purchase we'd made, as if the things we'd spent money on were to blame for the error. And if he hadn't made me feel utterly and eternally incompetent for having made a stupid and simple mistake.

I have been known to over-assume a "one strike and you're out" policy in relationships: one mistake and I can assume someone else will never let my non-mistakes outweigh it; one point of disagreement and I can assume the other person won't want to be friends anymore (and the internet, with its "YOU SAID ONE THING I DON'T LIKE AND SO NOW I'M DONE READING YOUR BLOG!!!" does nothing to make me think I'm over-assuming it, either). But whether or not it's generally true and whether or not I'm usually right, I did think in this situation that my father-in-law would now never think of me as a competent adult. It was one of the many sources of relief I felt at the divorce: now I could start over, with a clean slate and a balanced checkbook, with no one in my new life knowing I'd made a math error.

(The actual error, as I know now, was that I let him take the checkbook and fix the error.)

January 16, 2011

Speaking of Shopping

Speaking of shopping, today's trip to Target didn't result in any Awesome Finds (oh, wait, I did get a red-and-white holiday-season-type sweater for Elizabeth for $5), but a trip afterward to the fish store resulted in a lengthy consultation with a fish-expert-type person and also in five new additions to the Thistle household. Meet platys 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, who will remain unnamed until they have survived a reasonable period of time.

You know what's tricky? Photographing FISH.

Shopping Trip

Such a good shopping trip today! (Fine: these things are from two separate trips. But how much accuracy do you want/need?)

A package of four brown napkins (not pictured because they looked so drab in the photo) marked down to $3, and a set of frog napkin holders marked down to $7 at Home Goods (a little steep, but it was the last box of them), for future napkin/rings giveaways:

Two oak-leaf-and-acorn flower pots, exactly what I was looking for, $3.99 each at Marshalls:

Sparkle shoes for Elizabeth, 75% off at Target---so, about $3.24/pair. Paul says if I blog about it I have to tell you how many pairs I bought. This is the photo Paul felt was misleading:

So FINE, I WILL tell you, I'M not embarrassed: twelve pairs. I don't think that's unreasonable, because it was four pairs in each of three sizes, and also Elizabeth wears glitter shoes almost every day, and also glitter shoes wear out kind of quickly if worn every day, and also SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT OFF which is the same as buying ONE full-price pair in each of three sizes. So in sizes 10, 11, and 12 (current size and next two sizes) I bought silver glitter, gold glitter, and red glitter, plus one more pair of shoes: matte silver in size 10, and then there was a pair of matte black and a pair of patent black and I can't remember which one was 11 and which was 12.

Paul has this weird idea that people only need one or maybe two pairs of shoes. This is indeed the way it is with four of our children, but I explained to him that one of our children LIKES SHOES. As I was explaining this, the child in question came into the kitchen, saw the shoes, and LOST HER MIND in a very gratifying way, complete with a quavering voice and shining eyes and pinkening cheeks of emotion. I looked at Paul with a "See?" face.

On to the next thing. A pound (not the usual 12-ounce bag) of Starbucks anniversary blend, $7.99 at Home Goods (not a clearance price, but it was a kind I wanted to try, and it was at Target sale prices) (because the sale price on 12-ounce bags is $6, and this is 33% more coffee in the bag so it would cost $8 if it were the same price per ounce):

A pretty soup/salad bowl for $3.99 at Home Goods:

A pink glitter desktop memo pad, with metallic-silver-edged pages, for my desk; and a matching pencil case (not shown) for next year when Elizabeth goes to first grade, $3 each on clearance at Home Goods:

A pig spatula for $1.99 at Home Goods (I already have one, but I use it all the time so I bought another):

(Here is the rear view:)

New Leapster game for Edward, 75% off at Target:

January 15, 2011

Crappy Day Presents

Yesterday I had a crappy day. I didn't write about it here because meh. But it was crappy, and YES as a matter of fact it DID turn out to be partly PMS, and PERHAPS YOU SHOULD NOT ASK SUCH NOSY QUESTIONS, GEEZ.

ANYWAY. Lucky for me I had in my possession a heap of Crappy Day Presents from Rachel, AKA Doing My Best. This is such a great idea: she and her friends send these to each other, not to be opened right away but rather to be held for a crappy day when such a thing is most needed. Not only does the recipient then get a well-timed gift, she can look look forward to it the entire time BEFORE she needs it. And then when there IS a crappy day, the feeling is not just "ACK, CRAPPY" but also "But this means I get a PRESENT."

I love this. Rachel sent me a sampler of FIVE Crappy Day presents so I could try this out over time, and she labeled them with how severe of a crappy day should be matched with each gift. Here's Rachel's key:

Minor—“Life certainly can be blah!”
Moderate—“Why is everyone around me *SO* IRRITATING?!”
MAJOR—“If people don’t *WATCH OUT*, HEADS MAY ROLL!!!!”

And yesterday I went straight for a Major. Look what was inside:

A two-layer tin of chocolates, and a little card containing kind words.
Foreground: the label that was on the outside of the package.

Would you like a closer look at those chocolates? I'll bet you would, you naughty wench.

Those are See's Chocolates, mostly MY FAVORITES (Butterscotch Squares) but with some Polar Bear Paws thrown in for variety and the fun of trying something new (and they are REALLY GOOD: peanuts and caramel and white chocolate and cute name).

So! I can now give first-person testimony that this is a great idea, especially if you ALREADY like sending impulsive little presents to friends.


We've been dealing with sleep issues with Elizabeth. With Elizabeth WHO IS FIVE YEARS OLD. Actually, that looks young when I type it (aw, FIVE!)---but it seems like I wouldn't still be working on sleep-training issues with someone who knows how to do air quotes.

This time it's that she started waking up in the middle of the night wanting to come to our room. That was fine periodically, but soon it was every night, and soon after that she started waking earlier and earlier until she was waking up before our bedtime. I thought she was old enough to have this situation explained to her, so I told her now she would need to go back to sleeping in her own bed.

After that, she continued to wake up night after night crying, and I'd go down there and explain it to her again, and then she'd cry for an hour, or an hour and a half, or TWO hours. I would lie in bed, wide awake and simmering with angry resentment, going down periodically to reassure/re-explain through clenched teeth. She'd finally go back to sleep, but meanwhile my frustration and awake-in-the-middle-of-the-nightness would have turned itself into a full-color review of Every Situation In Which I've Ever Felt Angry Resentment.

So I decided to break up this fight. Trying to force Elizabeth to do things my way in the middle of the night has never, ever worked: not when she was brand new, not when she was an older baby, not when she was a toddler, and not now. She has recurring sleep issues, and maybe there is a way to deal with them that would solve them, but my guess is that we've tried everything at this point (I'm reluctant to try to decree absolutely that no suggestions for books/methods could possibly be useful, but I do think that we've heard all of them by now). Trying to do things My Way is leading to misery and anger, and it's not solving anything. So last night, she cried and I brought her up to our room.


William gets Night Sadness: feeling in the evening or around bedtime that everything is too awful and sad and hopeless to be dealt with at all. He goes long periods without getting it, and then some daytime thing will show up as nighttime stress. Right now it's his Monday schedule: he gets pulled out of the classroom FOUR TIMES on Mondays for various things. William is not a Sharer, talking-wise, so the first we really understood the depth of the problem was when two Monday mornings in a row he was "sick."

I preferred he not drop out of any of the four things, so my first way of dealing with it was to try to treat the Night Sadness. I taught him the various things that help me deal with my own; I used my dad's Nightmare Cure, which I might have changed over the years but still think of as his (turn lights on, pee, chew a Tums, drink of water, brush teeth); I let him stay up a bit and sit with us. Nothing was working.

So my second attempt was to ask him if perhaps one thing was stressing him more than the others. Last year he was stressed to tears by a writing group he was in, and it got bad enough that we said to the teacher that we didn't really care at all if he wrote below his ability PERMANENTLY, it was too much stress to be worth it. But this time he said he didn't really want to drop any of the things, he just wished they weren't all on the same day. So I asked if I should contact the teacher and find out if things could be spread out a little, and he explained the various reasons why the schedule can't be budged.

So my third attempt was to ask if he could think of anything we could do to improve Mondays in OTHER ways. He couldn't think of any, but I started thinking of some. Like, maybe he could get hot lunch on Mondays and not have it count toward his "once a week" limit. And if the hot lunch that day was one he didn't like, I could make his lunch for him instead. And he could bring a chocolate-chip granola bar as his snack. And he could get a pass that day on practicing his clarinet.

Last night when he had Night Sadness, I put him through the Nightmare Cure, and as he was doing it I reminded him that in the morning he wouldn't have to pack a lunch. And he could have deviled eggs for breakfast. And he wouldn't have to practice his clarinet.


These things cause older-brother Rob to hit the ceiling, of course. Why can't HE have an extra hot lunch on Mondays?? When HE took clarinet, why didn't HE get to have a skip day?? I try to be understanding about this (I too was a firstborn, and I too had a fine-tuned sense of Justice Betrayed), but I also think it's a good opportunity to discuss how we make different accommodations for different people. Elizabeth gets a pass in the middle of the night right now because she can't figure out the sleep thing and neither can we. William gets spoiled on Monday mornings because he's having trouble handling his Mondays and yet doesn't want to get out of it either. When Rob was younger he had social and speech issues that meant he's the only one of our children to have attended two years of expensive pre-kindergarten plus three summers of expensive "preschool camp." Henry's getting extra time with Paul right now, because for whatever reason he's going through a Daddy-craving stage and nearly has a breakdown during the week, so on weekends Paul doesn't expect to get anything done without Henry attached to him.

And then it won't be long before some of these things shift around. Maybe Henry will go out of this Daddy Stage, but then he'll need something else; maybe Elizabeth will start sleeping all night in her own bed again, but then she'll need something else. The hard part, to me, is that it's so SHIFTING, and that it's so different from child to child: it's not something that lets me say to Rob, "Well, when YOU were five, YOU got to sleep in our room."

January 13, 2011

Updates: Cats, Sister-in-Law, Buttular Region

Christina asked for cat/SIL updates, and I will also throw in a freebie "falling-down-the-stairs injuries" update.

Cat update: Mouse is holding steady. She continues to be a shadow of her former luxuriously plump self (6 pounds down from 11). Her thyroid was re-tested this fall and her current dose of medicine is still working for her. She still occasionally pees in inappropriate locations, but nowhere NEAR as often---and the vet thinks at this point it could be partly an old-age thing. She doesn't wear a calming collar anymore: for a number of months I could TELL when the month was up and it needed to be changed, but then one month she didn't seem to need a new one so I tried not using one, and she seemed fine. Benchley and Feather continue to be lovey-cuddlekins-friendy-friends, so they mostly leave her alone. Sometimes all three of them will sleep on the same chair, though it's always that Benchley and Feather join Mouse, not that Mouse joins THEM.

(Benchley at rear of chair; Feather at front of chair; Mouse on arm of chair)

Sister-in-law update: Holding steady, WE HOPE. The lawyer is waiting to do the final settlement of the estate until after the 2010 taxes (including taxes to be paid on sold stocks) are done. As far as we know, Beth hasn't changed her mind about keeping the house, but we also keep getting cc'd on letters to her from the lawyer that say things like, "Because I haven't heard from you regarding my letter of the 18th, I will go ahead and...," so that's a little worrisome.

As an aside, Paul's aunt (his mother's sister) got bonus points (+3 for thinly-veiled family gossip) on this year's Christmas letter by adding a P.S. that she hoped we'd wish Beth a merry Christmas from her, because she had no contact information AT ALL!!---with "AT ALL" underlined twice. Because this came on the heels of a letter saturated with "blessings"s and "amazing"s (including suggestions that these amazing blessings prove that God favors not only America [sic] ((because she definitely means "the U.S.")) in general but also their family in particular), the peevish little passive-aggressive P.S. was EVEN BETTER and I upped the bonus to +5.

I sent her a cheery note telling her that Beth's contact info hadn't in fact changed (I had to tear up my first attempt and start over, because "not in the last eight years, in fact" and "the same info as your late sister's, if you still have it" was not the tone I was aiming for) (the tone I was aiming for was "I hope you will notice that _I_ am noticing that your silly attempt at peevishness showed only that YOU are the one who hasn't bothered to keep in touch---but without you being able to call me out for tone") (this is a very tricky tone to achieve). She mailed me RIGHT BACK, flustered by her tactical error and hoping to redeem herself while simultaneously shifting the blame, saying that Paul's dad's sister's husband (are you following this? Paul's uncle-by-marriage, but on the OPPOSITE side of a divorced family, so there was NO REASON his aunt would have been in touch with them except to pry) had told her the house would be sold last year.

Well well well! So this got another bonus +5 (very unusual to score Christmas card points for something that did not in fact arrive by Christmas card, but I find that awarding points keeps me from awarding smackdowns), since she has revealed herself to be a prying old pry-bag, and why aren't ANY of these concerned aunts/uncles contacting either Paul or Beth to ask about their plans? If this had been an email exchange rather than snail-mail, I might have responded with "Oh, that's odd! We haven't talked with him about the plans!"---but that's impossible to write on a little floral notecard and sign it and stamp it and put it in the mail, and perhaps that is for the best. I hope my silence instead conveys to her my intended tone, which is "Uh huh. Why don't you just consider whether that reply improved your position."

Okay, so that's the update: Paul's family in its usual dysfunctional turmoil, but luckily far away from us. And we hope the estate settlement will happen soon, with no last-minute changes of heart from his sister.

Injury update: Buttular region (injured in both falls) still uncomfortable when transitioning from sitting to standing, but improving. Ankle (injured on the second fall) doesn't hurt to walk on, but has gradually over the course of a week gone from having a bruise on one side to having a bruise on three sides, and then the top of that foot swelled visibly, enough to hurt when I put on my shoes. But...the INTERNAL part of the foot/ankle isn't bothering me at all: that is, the bones don't hurt, the joint doesn't hurt in any direction. It's just the skin and padding that feels injured and ouchy.

January 10, 2011

A Note to Myself and Others Like Me

Here is the problem with self-deprecation: it sets the bar. It shows other people where we draw the line.

When we say, "Oh my god, please excuse the house, it's a MESS!," we might mean to be saying, "Please don't think less of me because my house is messy, I'm sure your house is WAY BETTER," but what we're inadvertently saying is, "This is what I consider unacceptable. If your house is better than this, it might or might not be fine; if it is the same or worse, it is unacceptable or beyond unacceptable, and now you know what I think of it."

When we say, "Oh my god, I am so fat, I am so out of shape!," we might mean to be saying, "Please don't think less of me because of how I look," but what we're inadvertently saying is, "This is what I consider unacceptable. If you are thinner than me or more in shape than me, you might or might not be okay. If you are comparably as fat/unfit, or MORE fat/unfit, you are unacceptable too, and now you know what I think of you."

When we say ANYTHING that judges ourselves, we're telling someone else how we judge. Even if we only judge OURSELVES that harshly, and actually look at other people through a much softer lens.

(I feel like I need to offer a benediction after that, and perhaps communion. JUDGE NOT, LEST YOU INADVERTENTLY JUDGE OTHERS. GO IN PEACE. And have one bite of bread and one sip of wine on your way out.) (Also, I will forget this in 10 minutes and resume attempting to tell people they are better than me, while inadvertently telling them otherwise.)

January 7, 2011

On My Mind

I'm having BAD DREAMS about fish dying. Last night I dreamed that one of our minnows died, and I knew it was because the water in the tank was toxic, so I tried to rescue the remaining minnow but I had nothing to scoop her up with so I had to use my hand (ICK ICK ICK), and then I put her in my water glass BUT OH NO THERE ARE ICE CUBES IN THERE AAAAAAAAAAA! Anyway. Fish stress.


I found some Bath & Body Works lavender-vanilla conditioner on eBay for a price I considered MOSTLY reasonable (original price + reasonable mark-up for being hard-to-find + shipping + I really want it) so I bought it. But EVENTUALLY there will be no more lavender-vanilla conditioner left to buy. And I've tried other lavender-vanilla scents, and none of them are what I like. And what if Bath & Body Works DISCONTINUES THE ENTIRE FRAGRANCE??? Well. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, worry-wise.


The definition of insanity needs to be changed from "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results" to "Reading blogs that trigger rage reactions."


I know it seems early, but this is the month to register for 2011-2012 preschool, so I have to decide if Henry is going or not. He'll be four years old this fall. The other four children will all be in full-day school.

Pros to preschool:
  1. Otherwise it's just me and Henry all day long.
  2. Social interaction with peers, instead of with siblings who think of him as a baby.
  3. Experience with an authority figure other than his parents.
  4. Fun stuff we don't do at home.
  5. Learning to do citizen stuff like stand in line and raise his hand.
  6. Me getting some time with no kids in the house.

Cons to preschool:
  1. $365/month for 10.5 hours/week.

I don't know how to decide. The money is POSSIBLE but not COMFORTABLE. Would it be better used elsewhere? We could make several extra payments on the mortgage with that. But I'm not social so he wouldn't get peer interaction elsewhere. Rob went to three summers and two school years of preschool, but he had social and articulation delays that caused not one, not two, but FOUR professionals (pediatrician, two speech therapists, pediatric neurologist) to press upon us the importance of preschool. William went to one year of preschool, but I don't remember our reasoning. Probably something like "We paid so much for Rob, it seems like William should go for at least one year." The twins didn't go, because $730/month was not possible for anything that wasn't saving someone's life. But we just made the last payments on our car, so the money for Henry to go is temporarily freed up (I've noticed that waiting too long to redirect the money causes it to absorb unnoticeably into the budget).

January 6, 2011

The Resolutions Were Hung by the Computer With Care

I did my unofficial resolution to frame my resolutions. I scanned it so you can see it close, but the color turned out wonky so I also took a picture of it after it was on the wall. I hung it tucked sort of beside/behind my computer, so the average visitor to the house wouldn't see it but I'D see it all the time.

If you do this yourself, I recommend taking a little more time with the DESIGN of the project. I took the fake photo that came with the frame and wrote on the back of it, and I tried to compensate for the messiness and lack of margins by doodling. But I knew I wouldn't do it at all if I tried to do it The Best Way, so...fast and sloppy works too.

(See? Huge color wonkiness.)

January 5, 2011

Wednesday Morning

It is lucky I have my watch alarms set to remind me when it is time for kids to get coats on and head for the bus stop, because this morning that's what caused me to realize I hadn't yet seen Rob. It was five minutes before his bus was due. It was a long shot, but I risked it: I RHINOCEROS-STAMPEDED down the stairs, burst into his room, said, "Honey, wake up, it's late, it's time to go to the bus, don't take a shower, just get dressed and come up and I'll make your lunch" (worst way to wake up EVER), then I raced back upstairs, looked at the hot lunch calendar and saw it was something he liked so I wouldn't have to make a lunch after all, peeled him a breakfast bar, shoved everything from his homework area willy-nilly into his backpack, found his coat and shoes and put them next to the breakfast bar and backpack, and peeled him another breakfast bar because Henry was eating the first one. He came running up the stairs, put on his stuff, grabbed the breakfast bar, ran to the bus stop and made the bus. Whew.

Also, the second guppy died in the night. (The first one died the night before.) Those of you who thought I was being a little over-worryish can...can...RE-EVALUATE THOSE THOUGHTS, that's what! I don't know what happened, but I feel very discouraged by this setback---a little inclined to return the minnows to the store and then drain and clean and Freecycle the tank and stuff. Instead we will hang tight with the two minnows for now, wait a bit, and then go back and talk to the fish store peeps. When a hobby involves living things, it's hard to know how long to persist, resolutions or no.

Also, guess who was heading downstairs and stepped on a toy dinosaur and not only re-injured her gradually-healing buttular region but now has a coordinating bruise on her ankle? Thaaaaat's right.

(I have a suspect in mind.)

January 3, 2011

Two More Fish

We bought two more fish for our bigger fish tank. I am very nervous about this, as well I should be: it's not an established tank yet, just for starters, but also any addition to the tank is nerve-wracking to me (WHAT IF THEY LOSE THEIR LIVES BECAUSE I'M TOO STUPID TO TAKE GOOD CARE OF THEM??). The fish store person and I had two conversations about it: one talk, then I went home to think, and then a second talk a couple of days later, and then I bought the fish.

(Look how good they are about swimming WHERE WE CAN SEE THEM.
Minnows still hiding.)

We chose guppies, because they are pretty (the picture didn't capture them AT ALL: one is pale yellow with an orange tail, and the other is grey with a blue tail), and because they are hardy, and because they are reportedly a good fish for beginners.

The main issue, in fact, is not the unestablished tank (guppies are the kind of fish you might very well start with, and SOMEONE has to get the unestablished tank), but rather the minnows we have living in it already. And that we'd intended to get a third minnow along with the guppies. The fish store clerk's opinion could be summed up in this way: "Please do not waste perfectly good tropical fish by putting them in with those dirty, dirty MINNOWS."

So. One possibility is (or rather, WAS) to have all minnows in the tank: get four or five more of them and just have a minnow tank. We rejected this option, especially since, so far, having minnows has been a lot like having an empty aquarium, except that we have to keep cleaning the water.

The second possibility is to put the minnows back into the smaller tank, and put only tropical fish in the new large tank. This was the fish-store clerk's favorite option, and it might be ours, too: the minnows don't seem any happier in the big tank (they continue to hide all the time), and they don't need the heater the large tank has, and we would like to get more tropical fish. But we thought the minnows might be happier with more fish around them, and they DO seem to be swimming a little more with the guppies around. We could perhaps buy one more tiny minnow to keep them company in the smaller tank, if that might help, and we could also get more plants for hiding. And with the minnows out of the big tank, we could work on the new fish community with far fewer complications and risks. Hm, I am talking myself into this option.

The third possibility is what we're currently doing, which is to have everyone in the big tank (but not buy the third minnow). I described this plan to the person at the fish store as "Allow the current minnows to live out their lives, and then not get any more minnows."

No, never mind, I'm going to go set up the first tank again. That just seems like a way better idea.

[Edit: Crap, I don't have filters for the small tank. (I was at the store for new filters when I found the larger tank on such a great sale.) Okay, okay, not to panic: they can live in the big tank for a few days while I buy them new filters and some more things to hide in. And some new gravel, because I put all the old gravel in the new tank. I changed a bunch of the water (OMG temperature!! OMG water conditioner!! OMG PLEASE DON'T DIE!!) and rinsed the filter in the meantime.]