June 26, 2012

Two Movies: The Adjustment Bureau and Shutter Island

I saw two movies this week. I liked both of them. But in both cases I was, um, doing laundry, so take these reviews with a grain of wine salt.

(photo from Amazon.com)

The Adjustment Bureau (Netflix link)- You know who I love to watch run, and especially in a business suit? Matt Damon. You know who's basically Zooey Deschanel but not quite so EVERYWHERE, and, bonus, has a name spelled a way I don't have to look up every time? Emily Blunt.

Perhaps those two tests are not enough to persuade you. Never mind, I have more! Do you love the kind of sci fi where everyone's suddenly frozen in time except Our Guy, who is turning around alarmed and mystified, giving you a nice long interesting look at the frozen people? And where there's some other guy who seems to be OUTSIDE REALITY and is consulting a notebook that tells him everything that's happening and going to happen next, because there are people BEHIND THE SCENES of the universe? And where the stakes might be DEATH but there still isn't a whole lot of blood or yuck?

But do you ALSO love a cute family-man-type in a suit being all EARNEST and FUNNY to a woman? So, like, you kind of loved The Matrix, but did it have to be so DARK and DEPRESSING and SOOTY and GROSS, and could Neo and Trinity have acted a little more like they were in love rather than having ulcers, and would you have preferred them to smile at the end? Then I think you will like this movie.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Shutter Island (Netflix link)- I'm more hesitant to come right out and recommend this one, because if I had known what it was like BEFORE I watched it, I would never have watched it. And yet I liked it enough that I'm going to read the book. And yet I still wish I hadn't seen certain images, which are the sort that involve children and/or death camps. So I think what I wish is that I'd read the book instead. But now that I HAVE seen the movie, I'm GLAD I saw it before reading the book, because I'd rather take in the more detailed version of the story when I DO know what's going on. So. I don't know what to tell you. Maybe skip the whole thing, maybe get the movie and then read the book like I am.

Netflix recommended this to me after I lost my mind over Inception. Netflix was all, "Oh, WE getcha! You like Leonardo DiCaprio, tons of water symbolism, and crazy dead wife dreams/hallucinations!"---so Shutter Island was the obvious choice. But Inception was about, like, dream travel (and I'm more keen to see Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt), whereas Shutter Island was the old "who's REALLY crazy here?" plotline with the usual batch of creepy twists, combined with what I THINK was supposed to be a New England accent. (Why DO an accent, when it's not even needed? DISTRACTING.)

June 22, 2012

Pointless Mortification 2

Last time it was school-related; this time it was doctor's office-related. But both times, I'll note, it involved EDWARD.

Today he had a check-up. The doctor is a funny guy with a lot of jokes and games to make the exam more fun/comfortable for the kids, and he asked Edward if Edward knew what a "grinder" was. Edward was supposed to say it was a sandwich, and then the doctor would say no, it was THIS!---and "grind" a fist ticklishly on Edward's torso.

But Edward did not say it was a sandwich. Instead, Edward cupped his entire, er, PRIVATE AREA, with BOTH hands, and said earnestly that THAT was a grinder.

The doctor did an admirable job persevering through this to the conclusion of the joke. I was suffused with embarrassment, awkwardness, and also the fear that somehow this exchange would mean that Bad Things happened in our family. Because a child should not be using words like "grind" with That Area, right? I mean, RIGHT? And I don't THINK Edward has any reason to associate those things, but if he DID, where did he pick up on that? And where would the DOCTOR think Edward would have picked up on that? Was he adding a note to the file RIGHT NOW??

The rest of the visit went by in a fog of undefined mortification and agitated, fretful brainial-file-cabinet searching.

On the way home I broached the topic. "Er, Edward," I began. "When the doctor asked you about a grinder, why did you, er? Why did you answer...the way you did?" Edward said because that's what that area is CALLED. I expressed doubt, and Edward persisted. As evidence, he said that his karate teachers kept referring to that area as "the grind."

I was baffled, and also now the fretting had expanded to include his karate class/teachers. And then the brain's office manager found the right file folder at last: "WAIT. Do they call it a GROIN??" Edward: "YES, that's what I SAID."

I suppose there's no way to write a little "Oh by the way, funny story ha ha ha" note to the pediatrician.

June 20, 2012

Idea for Not Having to Do a Phone RSVP

A lot of the party invitations we got this year included email addresses, which is GREAT. Let's have a little appreciative round of applause for this getting more and more widespread.

Some had only phone numbers, but I had the email address from a class list, and used that.

Some had only phone numbers, but I could call while on my way to school pick-up/drop-off, or RIGHT before leaving, knowing the other parent would likely be out of their house at that time. (Note: this plan is dicier now that people put down their cell phone numbers.)

Some only had phone numbers, but I knew the parents from school pick-up/drop-off and could just mention it to them when I saw them.

Some had only phone numbers, but I got lucky and got an answering machine. Or in any case I was RSVP'ing "yes," which is a positive sort of thing to be calling about and has a good exit line ("Okay, so we'll see you on the 5th! Okay, bye!").

This week I had one where there was only a phone number, I didn't have a class list, I didn't have the parents' names---AND, I was RSVP'ing a no. It's a much more awkward call. There is the potential for accidentally falling into the nervous pitfall of over-explaining the reason for not attending, even though no one cares and the explanation usually makes it worse. And I haven't yet thought of a good exit line. "Okay, so then...I guess I...won't be seeing you at any point soon, ha ha nervous laugh. I hope she has a good party...even though we won't be there...I mean, not that I'm trying to say our presence was essential ha ha nervous laugh."

Here is the idea I finally thought of and used: the party was a home party, so the home address was on the invitation, so I had the child draw a birthday card and we mailed it. The child included words like "I'm sorry I can't come to your party, and I hope you have a great birthday" along with all the drawings and glitter glue and stickers.

ALSO, I could totally file this under Life Skills Training: the child wrote the address and the return address, put on the stamp, etc., as well as listening to a mini-lecture about always RSVP'ing. AND, the child was the one to handle the RSVP, which is good training for future independence!

I don't have a PHONE ISSUE, psh no! I'm just EAGER TO TRAIN MY CHILDREN!

June 18, 2012

Summer Regimens

On my friends/family Facebook page, some people were talking about some of the summer chores they had to do as kids, and it made me curious to know what other people had to do.

My mom was a teacher, and in summer she continued in Teacher Mode, but with only two victims students. We came to hate the word "regimen," because she used it so often and in such a brisk teacherly tone: "Time to do Our Summer Regimen! (*implied clap-clap sound in her voice*)"

Every single weekday all summer long, my brother and I did workbook pages, journal writing, mental math problems, extra chores, AND an exercise routine---plus hateful, hateful swimming lessons, which we had to ride our bikes to so we'd get all hot and sweaty again on the way home.

My mom says it didn't take long to do the whole regimen; in my childhood memory it took HALF THE DAY and was ALMOST AS BAD AS SCHOOL. I still get the Childhood Despair feeling if I think of it. I'm sure (1) it was good for us and (2) it made us appreciate our free time more and do less whining about boredom---but goodness, I sure hated it! And it felt so UNFAIR: it is SUMMER, we are supposed to be FREE AS BIRDS!

(My mother reports still feeling DEEP SATISFACTION with the regimen.)


Did you have to Do Stuff in the summer, when you were a kid? Or were you FREE AS A BIRD?

June 15, 2012

New Wall Art

At the used furniture store where I bought the Victorian cat postcards I also bought three pictures, which I will first show all together in a chair so you can get an idea of scale:

Left to right they are: "the street one," "the bunny one," "the twins one"

The street one is the first one I chose. It reminded me of the kind of picture my Aunt Debbie would find and then I would covet it and marvel at her ability to find something wonderful that I would have overlooked. Here's a closer look at one corner, to show the style of drawing, the signature/date (looks like "Ammons 1963"), and the frame:

Here is a closer look at the tiny bunny one, and of the new cat who is attention-seeking and couldn't stand that these STUPID PICTURES were getting attention when he wasn't:

It's tiny, and looks like someone was practicing framing her own art. The bunny might be stamped or might be drawn (or maybe stamped and then hand-colored?), and it's on a fuzzy fabric (under glass)---like black velvet, but WHITE. (I just looked this up and it might be something called "Theorem Painting.") The name on it is Jean Henry.

I dithered most over the third one, because I don't usually acquire sentimental art of children. This one, though, reminded me of my twins: even their relative postures reminded me of Edward and Elizabeth. Here's a close-up of just the kids in the picture:

And I liked the frame a lot, too. So I took a chance on it, and I'm glad I did. The label on the back says it's called "Summer Swing"; I looked it up and it's by Richard Judson Zolan, and it was apparently sold at Meijer, among other places, because that's the exact frame.

I have found that if I bring home new wall art, I need to put it up immediately or else it will get dusty in a dither pile. The first one to go up was the tiny bunny, which I put on a tiny slice of wall between two doorways:

Next I put up the twins one, next to my desk, between my framed 1940s fairy tale print and my endearingly-tacky decoupaged kitten that William brought home from a yard sale and insisted on having up on the wall. The new picture takes two sets of hung-up stuff and makes them into one set:

And finally the street one, which required a little more thought because I couldn't find a single place it looked right, except for with some other pictures, where it looked like it was BORN TO LIVE---but there was no room for it in that group. So I took a picture out of the group, and put the new one in instead:

The super satisfying part about this is that the tree picture I took out was a place-holder, put there because the picture that used to be there needs to be repaired. So I replaced the tree picture with the street picture, and I put the TREE picture in an incomplete arrangement ELSEWHERE. This arrangement wasn't up when I bought the tree picture, and it's WAY BETTER now that it has it! (It was too vertical before, and I was keeping my eyes out for another black-framed item.) (The round one is a mirror, and usually reflects white wall or light window or my earrings as they're being put into my ears, so the effect is not usually so dark.)

(Looks even better when not "diagonal to avoid glass-glare")

I'm so pleased!

June 13, 2012

Little Shoppingy Things

Yesterday I got these cute little mini-size paper note cubes at Target, 50% off (so, $2 for a set of two), and I wanted to tell you right away in case they're a size you needed as much as I did. I often need to jot something down on actual paper, but I don't need even as much as a regular-size memo sheet. Just enough space for a name and phone number, or for a several-item list, or for writing down the name of a library book I want to remember to look for. I might have paid full price for these if I'd even seen them before they went on clearance, but the clearance sticker sure enhances the prettiness.

Next, I had to deal with a snack-food-related emergency: it came to my attention via pitiful inquiry ("Mommy," said the child reading a book, "What does a Twinkie taste like?") that none of the children had tried certain classic cakies. So I got a pack each of four things. Divided five ways (well, six---but only because it's easier to divide in half and then in thirds, certainly NOT because I WANT a share), they'll be the perfect Trying It size.

This next item is super boring, but I tell you about it anyway because this is the first time in my life I have purchased invisible socks. In MY day, we wore two pairs of extra-bulk slouch socks and wondered if adding a third might improve the effect. Below-the-ankle socks (often with pom-poms) were for DORKY MOTHERS. (...Wait a minute.)

THEN, we went to a used furniture store. On a table was a packet of Victorian cat notecards, and I said, "Oh, hey! Sure, yeah, I'll buy these." Then I took one out...and they were postcards. POSTCARDS.

...I can tell you are not feeling the stunned delight I felt. I was nearly dazzled. You will just have to imagine something similar that would make you feel the same way: you're in a consignment shop, you see something that you like just enough to buy it. And then you see it's ACTUALLY something ELSE---something that, had you known it was in the shop, you would have run across the store panting in a way that alarmed other shoppers, instead of casually accidentally almost not even seeing it there. (Afterward I felt uncomfortably as if I needed to carefully go over THE ENTIRE STORE, just in case I'd missed MORE.) Here's the set, as I first saw it:

Oh, nice. Sure, I'll buy that for $3!

And here are the postcards laid out (two are missing from the set), and then a closer view of some of them:



Anyway. Very exciting. For me.

June 12, 2012

Fat Jar Clarifications/Explanations; Do You Tend to Wear the Same Few Colors?

After yesterday's post concerning a "fat jar," there were some questions. And my theory is that for every one person saying, "Er...what are you talking about?" there are a dozen more thinking they would feel so silly if they asked and then it turned out it was something easy. So! Fat Jar clarifications/explanations!

We fry up a package of ground turkey about twice a week. When we do, we need to drain off the resulting fat (and probably water of the sort used to make the package weigh/cost more). That can't go down the drain, tempting as that option may be, because then the fat solidifies against the insides of the pipes and makes for trouble later. So we spoon the fat into a (typically LIDDED) jar, which we keep in the refrigerator until it's full, at which point we put it into the trash.

(We used to use an empty metal can. But then there's no LID. When we'd put it into the trash, the fat would return to room temperature and pour all over the inside of the trash bag, which was not always leak-free. It only took one encounter with maggots to cause a permanent switch to lidded jars.)

We do also have a bacon-fat jar for preserving the delicious kind of fat for later cooking use. But the jar I dropped (which fortunately didn't break, though it did bounce which may have been worse) was not that jar. It was the turkey-fat jar. Paul and I are waiting for our kitchen to smell like something (a turkey, perhaps) died.


Now. This is a good place for a question that didn't seem like it needed its own post and yet I have been wanting to ask it: Do you find that you almost always wear a certain few colors, and almost never wear others?

I noticed the other day that pretty much every shirt I own is in the green-blue-purple range. I also have some pink, but they're mostly the purpley pinks like magenta. I have about ten different shades of blue, light blue to turquoise to navy. I would have a lot more green, but a bunch of my Old Navy green shirts wore out and Old Navy hasn't had good greens to replace them with.

I have zero red, zero orange, zero yellow, zero black, zero white, zero brown, zero from the taupe/beige/clay range of neutrals.

Is your closet like this too, everything the same few colors? And if so: WHICH colors?

June 11, 2012

Plan for Getting Rid of Ants; Legumes and Whole Grains; Spilling the Fat Jar (A Play in One Act)

Keeping crumbs off the counters/floors hasn't been helping to reduce the ant population, so Paul has a new idea: he's leaving food out on purpose to give the ants a fatal obesity epidemic. Or even just the FEAR of one! The ants will shun our house completely!


I'm so discouraged about nutrition. I feel like "legumes and whole grains are good" was the main good solid thing I managed to internalize from my brief first marriage to a pacifist, social-cause-oriented, world-view-inclusive, Mother-Jones-subscribing Christian missionary. And NOW look: legumes and whole grains are bad TOO, so what CAN we believe in? (And I guess my former in-laws must have been thin because of malnutrition rather than Healthy World-View-Based Eating as they supposed. WHAT ELSE MIGHT THEY HAVE BEEN WRONG ABOUT?)

What is left that is righteous enough to eat? Does it look as if "organic raw vegetables and Greek yogurt" are the only things left on the list? (THIS JUST IN: Greek yogurt contains DAIRY and so is also out. You may continue eating the organic raw vegetables. But to be on the safe side, we suggest not eating anything.)

I had thought to try to avoid the old-ladyish "Things aren't the way they used to be!," but goodness, I didn't even make it to 40. THIS TOO IS NUTRITION'S FAULT.


Spilling the Fat Jar: A Play in One Act, By Which I Probably Mean "Scene"

Swistle: Oh god! Oh no! Oh CRAP!

Paul (from downstairs): ...Is everything...okay?

Swistle: I just DROPPED the FAT JAR!

Paul: Oh NO!

Swistle: It didn't have a LID!

Paul: Oh NO!

Swistle: It BOUNCED!

Paul: Oh NO!

Swistle: The refrigerator was OPEN.

Paul: Oh NO!

Swistle: There is fat EVERYWHERE!

Paul: Oh NO!

Swistle: It's all up inside the fridge!! It's on every shelf!! It's all over the floor! It's EVERYWHERE!!

Paul: Oh NO!


June 7, 2012

Poison Ivy; New Cat; Travel with Small Children

Poison ivy update: it's going away! I hope! I started the steroids on Saturday, and the worst side effect I've had was "feeling kind of weird, and my eyes feel a little weird." No noticeable sleep-issue increase, no noticeable appetite increase, no noticeable rage increase. I'm taking it first thing in the morning (like, 5:45-6:15ish) with some food.

Today was the sixth dose of steroids, and the rash has gone from a blistery swollen "Oh, man, I don't think I can go out in public like that or it's going to actually legitimately scare people" to a healing rough pinkness with a few bumps. It still gets quite ITCHY, though, which worries me: maybe the steroids are suppressing it, but as soon as I stop taking them the rash will be back with increased vigor?


The new cat is, we hope, settling in normally. He's doing a lot of meowing at night, and we're hoping that's homesickness (he came from a home with eight cats and may be missing the company) and youngness and adjustment, rather than something he will keep doing for life.

Paul says the cat is spraying/marking, but I haven't seen/smelled any indication of it. I read somewhere that it's better to neuter a male cat as early as possible to prevent them from maturing into their spraying instincts, and this cat wasn't neutered until after age one, so...again, I'm hoping this is something that will pass off after the adjustment period, and/or something Paul is imagining. (He claimed our bathroom smelled like pee. We have FIVE males in this household, and the bathroom ALWAYS smells like pee.) We have some Feliway left over from a previous cat situation so I've been spritzing it around, but I always feel kind of like I might as well be spritzing "Dr. Brownhill's Magicalle Curing Potion for All Ailmentes!"

The new cat and the girl cat seem to be making good progress on a friendly relationship. First some hissing and puffing (her) with deference (him), then some wariness and skittishness, now some sniffing and acceptance and being willing to eat from dishes next to each other. Yesterday the girl cat jumped onto my lap when the new cat was already there: she'd seen him there, so it was on purpose. She settled in allllmost touching him but not QUITE.


My friend Heather is moving across the country with two little children, and she is hoping for toy/entertainment recommendations and travel tips. She will be in the car with them for SIX DAYS. I feel a little faint just thinking about it.

June 6, 2012

Book Report (and Giveway of One of Them)

A Far Cry From Kensington, by Muriel Spark. My sister-in-law (the one married to my brother, not Paul's sister) recommended this book, and I really liked it and would look for more by this author. It was a quiet sort of book with a lot of subtle dry humor and interesting observations, and I found I had to be non-distracted to read it.

Concierge Confidential, by Michael Fazio. Paul saw this at the library and brought it home for me: I love insider/behind-the-scenes stuff. I was hesitant to read this one, having just been so disappointed by a mean-bitchy (as opposed to truthy/fun/smart-bitchy), non-truth-ringing one about flight attendants---but I needn't have worried, because it was great. There were a few places where I felt like he lost perspective---but mostly he seemed fair, and it's fairness that makes the stories of bad customer behavior sound TRUE.

I didn't find his tips helpful, overall. I think he genuinely meant to give good advice, but what they boiled down to was "Be someone with insider connections, and be calling on the behalf of someone famous/important." It ended up being advice on how to be a good concierge, really, not advice on how to use insider concierge information for your own purposes. But I really enjoyed the book, I felt like it gave a very satisfying insider view of concierge service, and I ended up liking the author very much and wanting to look him up online and find out more about him.

Seriously...I'm Kidding, by Ellen Degeneres. I think if you like Ellen, you'll like the book, and if you don't, you won't. It's her usual goofy, friendly humor, and I laughed out loud several times. There's some advice in there, but it's all the "be nicer" and "value the important things" advice, and seems to be there mostly to give her a mild friendly narrative as a jumping-off place for the jokes.

Get Out of My Life (but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall?), by Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D. One of my friends with a daughter the same age as Rob mentioned this book, and I got it from the library within milliseconds. I found it tremendously reassuring about teenager stuff (I kept actually WEEPING from relieved feelings)---though it also gave me some fresh things to anticipate and worry about (and then some more reassurance about those).

The tone/attitude is so much like what I've seen in the staff at the middle school---like, "This is just a stage. A WEIRD stage, yes, but how about that newborn stage? That was pretty weird too compared to adult humans, huh? You didn't seriously worry your son would be colicky and teething and wearing diapers as an adult, right? He won't be yelling that he hates you and wearing those stupid pants when he's an adult, either. ...Probably."

One thing that left me agitated was that he explained that most teenaged boys deal with adolescence by retreating/disappearing, and that most teenaged girls deal with it by seeking out verbal altercations---and then he said that when a teenaged boy seeks out verbal altercations it can be a much more serious thing, which he'd discuss later. Then he didn't discuss it later. As the mother of a teenaged boy who thrives on verbal altercations, I need more info now.

I feel like a lot of the advice was good, though I won't know until I try to apply it. But I thought one of the best and most helpful parts was just the information that the things that seem CRAZY are totally par for the course, combined with the "we parents are in this together, and WE CAN DO THIS" flavor. It's like in those newborn days finding a book that EXACTLY describes all the stuff the baby is scaring you with, listing all of it under "Normal Infant Behavior" and then following it with several paragraphs about how it drives all parents crazy and makes everyone scared but then it all goes away. WHEW: baby is normal; I'm normal.


I've enjoyed doing the book giveaways so far, so let's do another one. You can leave a comment without being automatically entered, but if you DO want to enter, mention which of the four books you'd want to win a copy of. I'll choose somebody on Saturday, June 9th, and send them a book. (I'll be shipping directly from Amazon with Prime, so it needs to be a U.S. mailing address.)

(All images in this post from Amazon.com.)

Edit: The winner is Shelly! I'll email you!

June 3, 2012


We got a new cat, finally! We agitated about it starting pretty much the day we found out Benchley had died. I say "pretty much," but that is just because I feel awkward about the way the dialogue went, with us breaking the terrible news, the children reacting sadly, and then the children asking when we could get a new cat. Children are so stone cold adaptable!

We'd been thinking we wanted a kitten (and by "we" I mean "the children," because I think other people's kittens are irresistible but they are also pains in the butt, abs, and shoulders), but I talked with the vet about it, and she said to meet all our various cat preferences/goals, she advised a young adult cat. With my focus suddenly narrowed and focused, I took all five children with me to the animal shelter and we chose a cat. This cat:

He's a one-year-old male, orange as heck. He scared me by hiding under the bureau immediately upon arriving home and staying there for three hours as if for the long haul, but then he came out and started being a total lovey-cakes in an equally immediate fashion.

So we are pleased, and Cat Balance has been restored to the household. So far he and the other cat are still Establishing Their Relationship, which means Feather is hissing and puffing and the new cat is sometimes showing deference to her and sometimes ignoring her. We have hopes.

No name yet. Current possibilities (they change hourly): Simon, Emmett, Percy, Casey, Gus, Linus, Peaker, Newton, Ellis, Clarence, Harvey, Roger, Stanley, Ozzie, Kiefer, Alistair. (We are also taking suggestions.)

June 1, 2012

Poison Ivy

I'd had a rash on my arms for about a week, starting in one elbow-pit and spreading down that arm and over to the other arm. It was itchy and looked scary and blistery. When I realized it would be helpful to build consensus to persuade me to make a phone call, I asked Twitter how long I should wait for a rash to go away on its own before calling the doctor. Overall consensus: "How about calling now?" So I did.

And thank you, Twitterers, because the doctor said it's poison ivy, and because later that same day I could FEEL the rash PERCOLATING under my skin, but by then I probably wouldn't have been able to get an appointment. You are my spine when I need the loan of one. (And today the rash is EVEN WORSE. I had to go to the grocery store and I was worried I looked too diseased to be out in public.)

I picked up my prescription for prednisone today, but I am concerned about taking it. It says it can cause anxiety and rage---and on a GOOD day I am snappish and impatient and worrywartish. Not to mention how little help I need with my appetite, or with lying awake at night. Also, it says to take three tablets the first and second days, two tablets the third and fourth days, one tablet the fifth and sixth days, and half a tablet the seventh and eighth days---but there are no instructions about whether those multi-tablet doses are supposed to be taken all at once on their respective days, or spread out throughout the day. All the doctor said was not to take it before bed. Yes, I should call. But I will not call a doctor on the weekend unless a limb is severed or my heart is stopping or I have a UTI, so that's not a sensible suggestion. I guess I could call the pharmacist, but what if he says I should call my doctor? You can see the bind I'm in: someone MIGHT say that I SHOULD do something I don't want to do!

But the rash is definitely worsening: just now I felt itchy-tummed, and when I looked I found about six new tiny itchy bumps there. So I think I will start the prednisone tomorrow, even if it means I have to make a phone call first. And I will try to remember over the next eight days that if I feel like everyone is BEYOND BELIEF, it MAY be the medication. And if I can't seem to remember that, I hope YOU will. SWISTLE MAY BE TEMPORARILY CRAZY.