Friday, December 21, 2007


The tree is up and ornamented, stockings have been de-boxed and are waiting to be draped over the fireplace the Children drew on a cardboard box (it's quite a good fireplace actually and certainly did the trick on St Nicholas's day). An enormous number of almonds have been blanched, skinned, toasted and candied and a reasonable number have even survived the inevitable nibbling so they can be given away. There are possibly some Christmas crackers stashed somewhere for pulling on The Day so the entire family can be suitably adorned with an ill-fitting paper crown (until they tear/crumple/fall off which is also traditional). Shopping is complete - but then I said that several days ago and I have been to at least one store every day since.

It is the last day of work, the last day of school before the holiday really begins. Time for a deep breath; time for the fuss and bother to subside.

This year we will be staying home on Christmas day. Children 1 and 3 are going to a winter encampment starting on the 26th and Child 2 has a house-sitting job that will cover the same time frame so there will be a fair amount of packing and scrambling but hopefully also a lot of peace and simple quiet.

Christmas Eve will be spent at the Grandparent's house. Their neighborhood is a major attraction on that particular night because each house lines its walkways and drives with dozens of luminarias. We spend the afternoon setting out the brown paper bags and dropping a single candle into each one. Just at dusk the Children go out with long candles and lighters and carefully set about lighting. The trick is to light the candle and seat it firmly in its sand bed without scorching yourself or setting the paper bag on fire. The Children are always eager for the challenge.

Already the streets will be lined with slow-moving cars; it's impossible to get in or out of a driveway until midnight. Inevitably several of the tourists will take pictures of the flickering lights using their flash cameras. I always wonder what they think when they get home to admire their beautiful photos of rows of brown paper bags.

Some of the neighbors will bring out portable fire pits and groups of people walking the streets will gather around for a few minutes to warm their hands and talk. Many of the homes will be hosting parties and the doors will open now and then and let out bursts of laughter and the enticing smell of posole or tamales. The Children will run in and out of the various houses: Child 1 dragged next door by two young admirers, Child 2 disappearing with its friend and the friend's beguiling puppies, Child 3 buzzing indiscriminately from one to the other to see which offers the most entertainment at the moment.

At some point my mother will bring out the small leather strap of sleigh bells and round up as many bodies as possible to walk the crowded streets. As the Children have grown the attraction of the tour has changed: the simple pleasure of thousands of warm candle lights with each child having stop at every bag and peer down at the candle inside, the delight in finding bags that had caught fire and were burnt down to their sand base, the fun of shouting the first verse of any number of carols only to subside to a mumble as soon as the second, unfamiliar verse is reached. Now, full circle, they are old enough to love the charm of the lights themselves again.

Finally after too many cookies and too much cocoa, when the candles in the bags are guttering out one by one we will drag Child 2 away from its friend and round up the scattered coats and gloves and hats. The streets will still be half full of cars as we make our way back home and the Children will be chattering and laughing half the time, then lapsing into silence unexpectedly. At home the stockings will be artistically arranged, then rearranged and probably bolstered with notes or clever drawings. Child 1 will head maturely to its bed, Child 3 will pester Child 2, throw cushions, erupt into sudden and inexplicable noise and will finally be stuffed firmly into its room and have the door shut on its exuberance. Finally peace will descend.

Happy Holidays all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


What do you keep when you lose someone? We're still figuring that out.

When we moved a month after Kirk went missing it was so chaotic, so horrible, that I was hardly thinking straight. Anything belonging to the kids that they really wanted to keep we kept; absolutely everything of Kirk's was carefully packed up. My own things didn't matter. Furniture was given or thrown away. Twelve boxes of books were simply donated to the library en masse. They were, after all, only things.

Gradually, and it took ages, I was willing and able to begin to sort through Kirk's possessions. Many of his clothes were given to family members, and it's been wonderful to see my father wearing Kirk's sweater or our son using his coat every day. There are many other things though that we still have, things that are tangible pieces of story. A few of them are in our tiny house - the Venetian masks he brought back from Italy, the division coin he was given in Germany - but most of them are packed away in boxes.

Every now and then though I come across one unexpectedly and still the memories are so immediate, so strong. The other day I saw this in the garage lying next to the tool box:

And immediately I was back when we were dating. Kirk was a dedicated hiker and camper and this knife went with him on every trip. I think he bought it after he came home from Thailand because if you look closely at the blade:

You can see where he inscribed it with several lines of Thai script. It's an icon really of who Kirk was at that moment twenty years ago. Some day it will be handed on - to the Male Child perhaps, or even some day to a grandchild.

For now it will go back into the storage box but the memories, refreshed and strengthened, will stay.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Losing My Mind One Sequin at a Time


I did confess at one point that I do make things. It is not a pretty thing, mind, and not something I'm proud of because by and large the things I make are not things I actually would want to own. Furthermore, when I do make things it is for one of two reasons: a) I get some wild idea and decide to see if I can make it work b) I need to give something or do something and for some reason figure that hand-making some incredibly time-consuming project is a brilliant and wise choice.

Here is an example of option b.

A friend of our family has a small daughter who is half-German. She goes to German lessons on weekends, visits her German grandparents whenever possible and yes, she is thus aware of St. Nicholas's day. So my delightful children voiced the opinion that we should send C something for St. Nich's. All well and good until... I figure that naturally we should pack a stocking [note, for accuracy it should have been a shoe, but I wasn't going to go all cobbler even for this charming child] and heck it should definitely be hand-made. Right. This is about ten days before the 6th.

Keep in mind that this photo was taken when the stocking was still half-finished. It still needed lining, a bit of detailing, and finishing at the edges with blanket-stitch.

I told you I was nuts.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hung by the Chimney With Care

In a comment down below somewhere I promised (sort of) a craft-related post. Well... the picture I need for said post is still inaccessible at the moment so this is the interim craft related post which is really a total cheat because any actual crafting took place long, long ago.


My mother made stockings for my sister and me when we were kids. They were knitted, mine of pink wool with yellow designs, my sister's of yellow with pink. They brilliant thing about knitted stockings is that they stretch beautifully. We helped this process by taking them down from the mantle and wearing them around the house a lot.

When I married Kirk she knitted another stocking for him out of odds and ends of yarn so its all done in stripes. When my sister married she went all out and designed a themed stocking for the new Superior Uncle. Uncle is a research chemist so the stocking had a test tube... knitted in an interestingly peachy-brown colored wool so that Uncle took one look at it and spluttered "What is THAT??" I believe a certain amount of discussion might happen each year now over who gets to have the penis stocking. (Isn't that fun? I got to use "penis stocking" in a Christmas post and now my Google search results are going to be veeeeery interesting!)

For the first couple of years with children we didn't fuss much about stockings. Kirk and I didn't bother putting them up for ourselves, and Child 1 could make do with my old one for a little bit at least. For some reason though when the Children were around 5, 3 and 2 I decided we needed real stockings, and since three small children, two parents in full-time work and school AND the upcoming holiday weren't enough I naturally had to make them myself.

I made three quite different designs which naturally meant that the two girls endlessly squabbled over who got the "best" stocking and who was stuck with the inferior one that year. Unfortunately the "best" stocking was in a box that was sent through the mail recently and, along with an interesting assortment of other items* it was lost. However, here are the remaining two:

Terrible picture - and this is post-Photoshop but...

I didn't use a pattern because they are so simple. The cuff on the pink stocking is linen trimmed with beads, the dark red one (honestly, it's a lovely dark red in real life) is velvet with silver snowflakes free-hand embroidered on it.

The missing stocking was cream satin with an embroidered garland across it (sage green with ribbon-roses - I had recently read a ribbon-embroidery book as I remember)

Fascinating, wasn't it? But wait! As soon as I rescue the missing picture... yup, just keeps getting better.

*Interesting other items include: 1 scale-mail doublet, 1 home-made trebuchet (disassembled) and 1 pair fuzzy blue slippers. I would love to know what the lost-and-found post office people are making of that. It's possible that they confiscated the package under homeland security believing we were planning a medieval invasion of some sort (some sort meaning "with very warm if slightly Muppettish toes").

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

O Tannenbaum

Yesterday I (finally) managed to purchase our tree. However! Procrastination was clearly necessary to the whole process because:

1. There was only one tree of the kind I wanted left in the store (yes, it is fake, yes I will use it for years, yes it cost about the same as a real one, YES it comes with the lights already on it praises be!)

2. It was ON SALE (a lot. A really lot. So I got the one I liked and not the one that looked like it had been attacked by rabid squirrels)

3. Did I parenthetically mention it has the lights already on it??

4. It fit in my rather small car! (after a few tense moments and a very worried check-out guy)

5. It fit in my rather small house!

6. It was (just) possible for me to wrestle the box into the house on my own.

7. The male child was exactly the right height to put the top section on AND fluff the branches (although fortunately its more perfectionisty sibling is not tall enough to evaluate the fluffing job)

So we had a happy evening of tree-decorating. When Kirk and I married we decided to buy an ornament each year, a special ornament that would be memorable for every Christmas. We didn't think about the fact that we would have a very, very bare tree for the first... oh... twenty years or so if we only did one, but we filled in nicely with lesser ornaments. However, it's the special yearly ones that I still love, and that we take out carefully and hang up with stories about where we bought them and how we all remember them.

There is the fishing pole that I bought when Kirk first caught salmon fever in Alaska, along with the beautiful wooden fish. There is the painted egg my sister gave us when we were expecting Child 1 and the stacking St. Nicholas we found in a Wienacht market in Frankfurt that Child 2, our Germany child, always gets to hang on the tree. From California we have a white heron with a bobbing head - a particular favorite of mine, and a set of glass octopi with goggly eyes that aren't really ornaments but get perched on branches anyway because we love them.

We have a collection of moose ornaments as well, a legacy of Alaska really, but I still add to it when I find one I love (found one at Target this year - the only one on the rack). One is a garish painted thing with the moose wearing sneakers; it's not something I would ever have bought myself but when we were leaving Alaska a group of my friends gave it to me at a going-away party and I love it because I think of them. The most treasured moose is a little metal ornament with moose heads arranged in a circle - it looks like a snowflake from a distance until you look closely and realize it's antlers and beautifully modeled moose noses.

This year's ornament is actually being used as a tree-topper. We've had several over the years. In Germany we bought a box of dark green glass ornaments that included a glass spire for the very top. Kirk loved it; I did not. To counter it I flung together an angel (sort of - no wings) from a porcelain doll's head and hands, an antique pillowcase and a strip of dark red fabric. I quite liked the effect; Kirk did not. Finally a few years ago we compromised on a multi-pointed gold star which we both could bear but neither really felt strongly about one way or another. But as I was choosing the tree, I turned around and found the perfect topper. It's certainly not traditional, but it looks whimsical and beautiful and somehow right with our moose and our fish, our birds and globes and hand-made popsicle-stick trees. This year our tree is presided over by an owl.

I think we can all use a little wisdom.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Snow Day

I wish.

No, really, I truly do wish. I stopped a colleague in the mail room and asked it if was wrong to still hope for snow days if you're not in school any more. That particular colleague seemed to think it was, but then confessed that she was looking blissfully down 5 weeks off and wasn't entitled to comment. I've since done a poll and the result is that 11 out of 12 adults still watch the weather with half an eye on the snow-day potential (NOTE: we do get snow days at my work place, usually linked to the city or the local schools).

Yesterday we had rain all afternoon - solid, meaningful, REAL rain that did more than just dribble out of the clouds - and by the time I scooped Child 3 out of the Apple store it was slushing-not-raining. Things looked good for a snow day. We even stood in the living room and did the snow-day chant (okay, we had a half-hearted chorus of "we buhLEAVE" which might or might not have involved sub-vocal "jeez moUHM").

And today? Not a sausage.

No, I lie. No snow on the ground when I dragged out of bed in the dark, no snow when I peered hopefully out at the cloudy morning, but when I had reluctantly cleaned, brushed and dressed and was heading out the door? SNOW! Pelting down - as though it had gotten up late and was desperately trying to make up for lost time.

Too little, too late.

Stupid snow.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wish List

Attention: Jolly Old St Nick,
The one who's trying hard to pick
The perfect present just for me
To tuck beneath our Christmas Tree
I thought I'd send a little list
Reminding you of what you missed
From last year's visit (you remember
The one you made just last December).
I'm not complaining, by the way,
I know it's hard to pack a sleigh
With all the the things the world's demanding
(you know, like peace and understanding).
But if you're puzzled, Mr. Claus
As to what I wanted was,
Here is what I need the most
A modern wish list blogger post:

Patience first (it's hard to find
But the elastic is worn out on mine).

Children who pick up their clothes,
I wouldn't mind a few of those
But if it means the ones I've got
Must disappear then better not.

Instead please from your magic bag
Pull out a more effective nag,
One that makes them think before
They strew their socks across the floor
Or walk away from unwashed pans,
Sticky counters, full trash-cans.

Next a bridle and some reins
Fitted for my tongue and brains
It would be nice to sometimes manage
To think before I do the damage.

Finally a little quiet
I've heard of it, I'd like to try it.

That's it, that's all I'm asking but

... I won't say no to chocolate.

DISCLAIMER: written entirely in my head while walking to work from my car. It was very, very early in the morning and I have no shame. That is all.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Yesterday I smiled:

In delight at the sound of a fat baby chuckle coming at high speed towards me

In sympathy as the basket rounded the corner and I learned the mother was sprinting as fast as possible towards the bathroom because the laughing delighted little boy in the cart had plunged both hands into his dirty diaper and was happily trying to wipe the result on her chest

In sheer joy as I contemplated the fact that my Children have now all been toilet trained for over 13 years

Thursday, December 06, 2007

How Cost Plus Saved the Holidays

1. They not only had chocolate coins, they had four different kinds so I could choose the currency.

2. They had tons of German Christmas stuff I remember so well (although I never buy it, I just like to LOOK at it)

3. They had cans of light coconut milk! Hooray! Curry for dinner (yes, not terribly festive but very yummy)

4. The basket-filling bins were stuffed with the cutest, weensiest, most dimpled little bottles of things like dipping fudge and maple syrup I've ever seen. Made me completely ignore the fact that no one in their right mind wants a TINY jar of dipping fudge.

5. There were not only large bottles of flavored syrup, there was an enormous selection of sugar-free flavored syrup (What? Italian sodas are VERY holiday-ish. Darn, just realized the Children will see this and now I will have to share)

So, Cost Plus, because the Children woke up to genuine South African gelt this morning, because there is still a lovely lunch-sized bowl of green curry in my fridge, because I got to try to smell pfefferneusse through the cellophane, I am willing to forgive you for the three versions of "Little Drummer Boy" you played in the 1/2 hour I was in the store (even the one where the singer kept saying "perrrRUMPaPUMPpum" in a whiny nasal voice).

Now I just need to find a use for these miniature bottles of basil oil...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

'Tis the Season Darn It

I'm normally a quite Christmassy person. I appalled my father when he realized our family tradition was to put up the tree the day after Thanksgiving. I have to stop myself from pulling out the Christmas CD's throughout the year, realizing that not everyone will be interested in Wassailing in the Bleak Mid-Summer (note, in my defense our Christmas albums are mostly Robert Shaw Festival collections and are really, truly beautiful and worth listening to year round). I love ginger and spices; I have a favorite Gingerbread recipe (we make gingerbread moose cookies - doesn't everyone?) and a favorite spiced nut recipe and I firmly believe that hot chocolate should include a drop or two of peppermint every single time.

But this year? Not so much. Maybe it was that there were Santa clauses and humorous penguins facing off against the morose plastic jack 'o lanterns three weeks before Halloween at Target this year. I know, it's nit picking, but I've always felt that October was just a little early to start pushing the Hooray! It's the Spendiest Time of the Spenderiffic Year Folks! stuff.

We don't have a tree up yet - we don't have a tree at all honestly. The box of decorations and ornaments is still sitting in the storage room unopened and unloved. We have no lights up, no cookies have been baked and don't even ask about Christmas cards because honestly? Not going to happen this year.

In an effort to inspire some stirrings of holiday cheer Child 1 has played Christmas music all this week, two nights ago Children 1 and 2 watched The Nightmare Before Christmas (because NOTHING says Christmas like a podgy villain filled with creepy-crawlies) and last night they all watched one of the two family must-see's for the season: Boris Karloff narrating The Grinch (don't even mention Jim Carrey, thou shalt not blaspheme my Seuss). Me, I'm still not feeling it.

However, we do have our Germany Child and so tonight we will, ready or not, be putting out shoes for St Nickolaus. Some traditions, after all, are non-negotiable. One of those is that into each shoe must be placed a bag of gelt - chocolate coins. In pursuit of these I went to Target the other day. Seven aisles of Christmas and not one sniff of chocolate coins. Two days later I finally found them - in the dollar section. There was a choice: Spongebob Squarepants or Dora the Explorer.

I might just have to break up with Target.

But only for the holidays.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Missing Britons

There is news about five British men who were kidnapped in Iraq in May. A video of the men dated November 18th was broadcast on Al-Arabiya television.

You can read the BBC article here.

Monday, December 03, 2007


When I was a kid we would walk to the grocery store and along the way we would pass a particular tree. It was far enough away that I wasn't able to get there on my own so it was a special occasion when I saw it. It was, I was convinced, the coolest tree in the world because it produced these amazing seed pods: purplish-brown, long, flat and twisty.

There was always the issue of how many seed pods I would be allowed to trundle home. Forty, I felt, was a good number - two was my mother's limit.

We would walk home to the steady buzz of my maraca pod - the dried seeds rattling rhythmically in their cases. The sheer joy of noise-making could last for over an hour, but finally I would have to give in to temptation and break the pod apart. There were ten or so seeds inside - beautifully smooth and hard enough to make a satisfying "tock" when they knocked against each other in my pocket. They were gold doubloons, the rajah's jewels, desperately needed medicine that would cure all ills.

The house next door to us has one of these trees, and for the last several weeks it has been shedding thousands of these foot-long pods onto the driveway and into the narrow space beside the house. They are too heavy to sweep properly, too flat to rake easily. Every time I drive up to the house I can hear the pods cracking and shredding beneath the tires, grinding into the pavement so they have to be painstakingly picked off by hand. I glared up at that darn tree the other day and realized it had only shed about half of its load despite the heavy winds we have had; I just know it's waiting until I have everything all tidied away to release the rest. I have thought some dark and horrible things about that tree.

On Friday afternoon I saw the neighbor's kid outside. He had two pods stuck into a scarf he had tied around his head, another one acting as a tail and several more clutched in his hands. He was careening around the yard, a wobbly, loopy dance done to a steady rattle. Dizzy, he fell over on the prickly, dried grass and shrieked with laughter, still shaking his hands wildly.

Everyone should have a tree like that.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Forgotten

When Kirk was in the military there was a great deal I never thought about. I really never considered the support systems that were in place for family when a military member is sent on an unaccompanied tour - mostly because I never really had to use them. When Kirk was in the army it was our friend's unit that was called up to the first Gulf War, not Kirk's. In the Air Force he had only one longish tour (in Italy during the Kosovo engagement) and that was unexpected. Certainly I never felt that I had to use any of the resources that were out there. I was always aware, however, that they were there.

When Kirk went missing as a contractor I became excruciatingly aware of how different it is as a civilian. There was no base counseling, no chain of command to assign someone to help us out. There was no reliable plan of action, no one to assure me that they had done this before, that everyone knew what should happen. When things were difficult for us there was no one to call; when our claims in Kirk's name were ignored there was no established precedence to refer to. He and thousands of other contractors were serving, but the government hadn't even done the little that was required of them.

How much worse, how much more horrific is it then for the contractors who are not American - for the Iraqis who are daily serving our military, daily risking their lives? They are not only in danger from the violence in their country, they are at constant risk simply because they are associating with the occupying forces.

Dan Hardie, a British blogger, has written about three Iraqi contractors who worked extensively with the British military and are now trying desperately to get asylum. Read... please.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Learning the Important Stuff

The effort goes on to properly introduce my children to the really vital things they need to be aware of. I've mentioned before that they were taught quite early how to quote from prominent philosophers like M. Python and B. Bunny (esq) but I realize this is hardly enough. A few months ago we were reading a multiple choice survival quiz, and one option (for the "what would you do if your plane crashed in the high and snowy mountains" question) was "MacGyver a set of telemark skis." My children - MY Children - looked at me in dewy innocence and actually asked "What is a MacGyver?"

I know.

But! Netflix! Thank goodness for Netflix. So for the past two weeks we have been working our way through season one. So far we have learned the following:

1. Duct tape. Nuff said.
2. A man can be extremely intelligent and resourceful and yet constantly find himself surprised when the Blonde De Jour suddenly lip-locks him during the last five minutes of the Count Down To Doom.
3. A handy metal cutting device can be made from rust and a bicycle. If the bicycle is magnesium that is. (confirmed by my very own father!)
4. Never hand top secret information to a sandy-haired man in a leather jacket. Death is sure to follow.
5. Bad guys wear very evil looking shoes. Also they usually have facial hair.
6. Never discuss your escape plans - the ants are listening.
7. There is, so far, still no legitimate use for the little toothpick thingy on a Swiss Army Knife.
8. Candlesticks make a handy and tasteful defibrillator.
9. Cringeworthy acting was not invented by CSI.
10. Richard Dean Anderson crosses generations surprisingly well (judged "cute" by two out of three Children); the rest of the 80's does not.

And they say that television is a waste of time.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Panic Stations

At what point, as a parent, is one supposed to panic?

My mother was (is) a prime panicker with a toleration of about... nil. She was, poor woman, cursed with me as a daughter - inevitably late, consistently inconsiderate about little things like telephoning and asking for permission. It was a terrible combination as I would drag in an hour... or more... after curfew to find her, bathrobe clad and hand-wringing, pacing the halls. I was, she was always sure, dead somewhere in a ditch and the fact that I always turned up irritatingly healthy and (unfortunately) only moderately and temporarily repentant never seemed to ease her mind.

Now me, I'm not terribly good at the Doom Assumption thing which makes me feel vaguely that I'm not really doing the whole parenting thing right somehow.

Take yesterday for example.

One of the children phones from school and leaves a message starting with "Mom, Child is an idiot. You know this already, but [it] is" only later getting to the part where Child was currently in the nurse's office gushing impressive amounts of blood. Almost at once a second message arrives saying airily "No problem, we're going back to class now." Should I, at that point have leapt into the car to come to the rescue of my poor desanguinated baby? Or do I calmly phone the school nurse (who comes on saying "I know who this is! And my goodness, your child is so amusing..."), listen, resigned to the story that involved Child and a cut-down fence pole, and assure her that Child's tetanus shot is indeed up to date and should Child continue to bleed copiously I would get it seen somewhere. Guess, just guess what I did.

It's not that I don't love my Children - I do, deeply, truly and often madly (or angrily depending on the state of the kitchen) - but if I allow every nerve to hum with dread each time one of them bashes, breaks, or bleeds life will be intolerable. So I walk that careful line between protecting them and letting them learn, knowing that we will all frequently be hurt in the process, but believing (usually) that somehow we'll survive. And when I hear, yet again, that Child is bleeding somewhere I just sigh and reach for the bandages.

Monday, November 26, 2007


A whole week. A. Whole. Week. That's how long that darn cold lasted. Granted, I was only prone-and-incompetent for... what... about four days, but STILL. That was a lot of whining (wasn't it kids?)

BUT I'm much better now. The problem is that last time I was sick I still had internet access at home so, in between sniffles and bouts of unconsciousness, I could still check email and keep in touch with all the important things in life (ie the list of blogs I read, the Very Important Design forums I lurk in and... oh... well, now and then the news). Now we have a house with all sorts of lovely things about it (like water! and... um... lights!) but no internet. Which means that although I came in unbelievably early this morning so I could start catching up on the... lemme check a minute... ooooh, way too many emails in just ONE of the email accounts I have to peek carefully into, I now realize that I should have woken up at two or something (well, I did actually, I always wake up at 2, but I am not fool enough to GET up at 2) because whooo nelly no one else in the entire world took off a whole week.

Normally I really like having lots of lovely blog posts to read, but honestly people, I told you I was sick.

Stupid world still revolving without me.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dode Mide Be, I'b Fide

I have a cold. Something has happened since we moved back here from California, something very strange in the cold department. First, I get them which I didn't used to do and second when I do get them things go a little pie-wise.

First (and I know all the internets is fascinated at the progress of my cold so yes, I am going to spell it all out for you. I've told you before - I'm a giver) I get itchy ears. Strangest thing really, my ears itch when I swallow. I have no idea what that means, so naturally I swallow a lot just to confirm that yes, my ears get all tickly inside every time.

Then there's the more traditional phase where the throat coats up so I spend half my time doing the nerve-grating hmmmmAHEMMMMggggmmmmhhhmmmmm thing because it doesn't seem to be enough to bother with a full effort cough. I'm sure the folks in my hallway are thrilled about this as I vary the program with a whole range of sniffs. Yes, I am terribly attractive it's true.

But the final phase which (as will become apparent) has just now hit is the most interesting because out of the blue with no warning whatever my brain suddenly and completely turns off. It simply isn't there. It goes all woolly and grey and when I try to access it there's some tinkly holding music and a gentle voice assuring me that the problem is being worked on.

The last time it happened fortunately I was at home and close to a reasonably soft surface. I did however spend a happy few minutes gazing earnestly at my alarm clock and trying to work out what a five was and whether it came before or after seven. I finally decided that since I didn't know what seven meant either it wasn't all that essential to figure it out right at that moment.

Today I have spent most of my time ferrying Children from one spot to another (Drop Child 1 off, return; pack up Child 3 and deliver it, return; start Child 2 on dressing etc leave again for Child 3; stuff Children 2 and 3 into car, launch Child 3 out while simultaneously acquiring Child 1; take Children 1 and 2 and shove in two different directions then collapse in front of computer for several deep breaths) and everything was going reasonably well, if increasingly slowly, right up until the moment when I opened the car door and found myself trying really, really hard to remember the difference between locked and unlocked.

So, if you don't mind I'm going to take my itchy eared, phlegm infested fuzzy head and I'm going to bed.

It's just safer that way.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


We've become a noisier house since Kirk went missing. It's not connected - at least not directly, although being a single parent isn't always the smoothest path. Having Children turn into Teenagers probably has a lot to do with it as well (and let's face it, we've never been exactly restrained when it comes to the laughing and the talking).

I'd like to blame it on the Male Child because... whoo boy is that one noisy piece of humanity. It's not just the usual male stupid-body-part-noises, it's the clap that he perfected (nearly capitalized that but realized that made it look like a disease... heck it almost is one!) where he cups his hands just right and... I shudder just thinking about it. Reactions have been increasingly negative though and he's starting to catch himself after just one explosive percussion.

However, I have to admit that at least some of the noise is me, and honestly? It's simply that there are moments when a little shoutiness is the fastest, easiest way to get something across.

For example:

I stroll one evening last week into the living room after an exhausting hour creating Very Important Digital Graphic Art. I have been giving loving guidance (also shouted, but because it's the only way to be heard above conversation mingled with Child 3's Atreyu CD) about dishes, homework, sweeping and decrumbing-counters because I'm a really involved and loving mother. I emerge though (blinking a little - dark room for to better see the screen; v bad for eyes I know) to find a. no Children in sight and b. the sort of scattered detritus that gives me facial tics. I could, of course, go into each respective bedroom and calmly alert each Child to its impending doom. Instead I stand in the middle of the whole mess and make a sort of AAAUUUGHHHHRRRRGGGGLLLLLEAUGH!!!!! noise at top voice.

There must have been a slightly sociopathic edge to it though because there was an instant scuttling out of bedrooms and some obsequious fawning around my dainty ankles as they gathered up socks (clean AND dirty just for variety), books, homework, dishes etc and hurriedly hustled them out of sight.

So, do I feel guilty for shouting at the Children in that sort of bestial way? Or do I note it down as an excellent technique, probably best used sparingly so as not to wear off the effectiveness? Personally I'm going for the latter.

I love you Children! But pick up your damn socks...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Off We Go...

The two ROTC Children (who are also the Civil Air Patrol Children) went flying on Sunday. No, really flying, in an airplane where the kind man with a pilot's license let them actually turn the turny thing and do things with flaps for an hour each. I know this technical stuff because Kirk was studying for a pilot's license and I helped so I can say things like Bernoulli Effect with a casual air of competence.

I am not a panicky type of mother so I not only agreed to let them go without a second thought I also did not spend the afternoon breathing deeply into a paper bag and imagining my offspring plummeting to earth in a fiery ball of destruction. It's okay though, I'm pretty sure my mother took care of that for me - she's very good with the Grim Imagination of Death stuff. I did meet the CAP instructor who was taking them up though and gave him a five minute interview to see if he was worthy of being entrusted with the safety of my prayshus babies. Based on this I decided that, although choosing to allow teenagers to take the controls of a plane he was in seems evidence to the contrary, he was an intelligent man.

When the Children returned last night this impression was confirmed.

One Child: ... and he said that we were naturals!

Other Child: Yes! And that I was the best!

First Child: He did not! He said we were equal. Exactly equal.

That, my friends, is a wise, wise man.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pending Post

Sorry... thought I was going to be able to post something today but then my I-have-everything-under-control week was hit this morning with a didn't-I-tell-you-about-this-major-ad project that (why not) just happens to have had a deadline a week ago. But hey! They kindly extended the deadline waaaaaay out until tomorrow afternoon.

Oh, and the other stuff you already did that should relate to this project? Well, the size is totally different, and the content won't work and of course we don't have any high-res photos - what were you thinking?

No problem at all.

Maybe more tomorrow... if there is one.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Where I work we often have Local Band Wednesdays out in one of the open areas (near the most recent very expensive "art" that honestly looks like the "artist" was taking the mickey). Some of them are quite good but even those are generally belting away (and often twitching meaningfully as the music "takes them") while the world walks by apparently unconcerned. I usually feel rather sorry for these earnest young folks - not enough to stop and actually listen mind, just enough to feel that I'm a really, really good person what with all the sensitivity and that - and I thought there was no fate worse than having your most deeply held emotions completely ignored.

Until yesterday, when I learned it can be much, much worse.

See, there's this guy. He likes to put on his headphones, crank up some 80's bubble-pop and then howl out the lyrics at top voice completely off key. He doesn't seem to panhandle or anything, he just apparently really, really likes Bananarama and prefers to share this love with the world. Ah, but yesterday's band apparently struck a deep chord with this man because he was standing maybe three feet in front of the band, very short and squat, and WAILING away on his air guitar.

Bless 'em, those band member were really trying to work that 1,000 yard stare thing, and still playing their hearts out but you could see that under the black hairspray and the slightly smudged eyeliner those boys were crying inside.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Perfect Match

There are some encounters I'd really like to see. I remember being told that Dr. Seuss died on the same day as some famous horrible nazi killer (which now that I've extensively googled AND wikipedia'd the subject I have to say is unsubstantiated. Pity) and I thought dang, I rather hope there's a pearly gate and a St Peter (with keys) because man would I like to be in line right behind those two guys when the Reckoning comes!

Sadly, given the apparent lack of historical accuracy to the story, the belief that if there is a pearly gate the waiting period isn't quite this long, and the possibility that given such a scenario I would probably be doing a lot of grubby and hasty soul-searching myself (as in - soul? I have a soul?? dangit... whodathunkit) I don't think I'll have that opportunity. Life (or afterlife) is full of these tragic disappointments.

I've never gone in for those great sports confrontations - you know, like when two divas of professional wrestling clash in an enormous struggle of spandex and humorous footwear. I don't really care about football ('Merkin style) and I find baseball incredibly tedious. The only sport I really enjoy watching is football (the entire world except the 'Merkins style) and as we don't have cable sadly I can't follow the triumphs and tragedies of Arsenal or Man U. It's terrible the way fate intervenes in my perfectly virtuous desire for vicarious conflict.

However a week or so ago I discovered a much more interesting possibility. I want to be around when the owners of the two cars who consistently park close together near my work finally come face to face. Bumper sticker on car a: "In case of rapture this vehicle will become unmanned." Bumper sticker on car b: "If you don't pray in my school, I won't think in your church."

Now I need a giant foam hand and a hot dog.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Alan Johnston - Q&A

Alan Johnston answered a few questions from BBC viewers, including his opinions on the political and military situation in the Gaza Strip and on Hamas's efforts to free him. As a reporter who spent years in the area and who has numerous personal ties his insights are fascinating and, I feel, important. Definitely worth a read, particularly if you live in a country that tries to influence the situation.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Alan Johnston: My Kidnap Ordeal

Anyone who followed the Alan Johnston story will be interested in this article where he tells the full story: moving, beautifully written.

If you don't read any other section, read through this one - it is extremely powerful.

"I felt that I would not be able to pick up a book again about the Holocaust without feeling a sense of shame, if I were somehow to break down mentally under the very, very, very much easier circumstances of my captivity.

I thought too that, unfortunately, every day around the world, people are being told that they have cancer, and that they only have a year or two to live. But the vast majority of them find the strength to face the end of their lives with dignity and courage.

I, on the other hand, was just waiting for my life to begin again, and I told myself that it would be shameful if I could not conduct myself with some grace in the face of my much lesser challenge. "

It's something I have thought since the first day I heard Kirk was missing. Yes, this is terrible, but other people have faced this and worse, and they have faced it with strength. I can't do less than that. I don't think I have ever come up to that ideal. I have fallen short in dozens of ways but I have to keep working towards it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Target Pixies

My local Target is transmogrifying into a Super Target (which I want to write as SSSSSSOOOOpah Target because that's how it sounds in my head). Originally it just meant that half the store was closed off and it was hard to find a place to park, but then something happened and I'm pretty sure the store is infested with pixies. Really, really energetic little Target pixies.

First they took everything in the store and rotated it one place clockwise (Clean plate! Clean plate! Move down...) which was disconcerting, and a little irritating as half of the stuff I wanted to get to was now farther away and I had to waaaaaaalk. Apparently that wasn't good enough though, because about a month ago they began arbitrarily picking up entire sections and shuffling them mysteriously so one day dog food would be cozying up to the potato chips and then whoop! Swap! it's seven aisles down next to the Barbie pink area. I'm pretty sure it was pixies because it all happened over night and the employees themselves knew nothing about it - the poor checkout people started looking hunted and trained themselves out of the habit of asking cheerily, "so! Did you find everything okay today?"

I think the store manager might have forgotten to leave a bowl of milk out overnight or something (or is that for brownies? I forget...) because the pixies clearly got their little mythical knickers in a twist and they began simply vanishing things away leaving sad little empty squares of floor all roped off to show where the crime took place.

It made shopping there a bit of a gamble as a. you weren't ever sure whether there would even be a laundry detergent aisle today and b. even if it was there it was very likely you wouldn't be able to find it.

However two weeks ago there was a whole day where the store smelled strongly of rubber cement* - except by the new coffee counter where it smelled of pinon-flavored espresso rubber cement, last week burly men with overstretched t-shirts began standing around in large groups and watching one guy muscle freezer cases into place and yesterday we got a nice mailing telling us we could now buy milk and cheese and frozen peas along with our chic and cheap bathroom rug.

I admit it'll be nice to have easy access to not-Costco-sized slabs of lunch meat. But I'm gonna miss those pixies.

*did anyone else love rubber cement as a kid? It was so cool! It was goopy, and it smelled horrible, and if you used only one layer it made a sort of post-it note out of anything you wanted and if you slapped it on both layers it acted like really really good glue but it didn't warp your construction paper. Plus, if you painted it on something really thick (and it was excellent fun watching it dry, wasn't it? Dang I was a sad kid...) and then rubbed it off it made beautifully convincing looking boogers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Change in the Weather

Fall is here (hooray!) and winter is breathing down its neck. Unfortunately it arrived on Sunday, a definite cold front blown in on the wind, and we hadn't yet gotten the swamp cooler put to bed and the heater switched on. I like chill and I had been enjoying being able to use a duvet again and wear a sweater around the house so I hadn't really bothered the landlord about it. 54 degrees on Monday morning, however, was a leeetle much, even for me. Our charming landlord-husband spent an hour or so on the roof, flipped levers and switches and things in the Mystery Closet of Furnacedom and voila there was heat.

It was, therefore, slightly easier to lever the Children out of bed this morning what with the lack of icicles on their little noses and everything.

But only slightly.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

My Brain Hurts

One of the Children has a test today in Algebra II (Now! With Calculus!). All three had a day off yesterday to allow the one grade we don't represent to take an exam, so in theory Child had plenty of time to do a little studying. Theories are so nice, aren't they? After Child returned from soccer in the afternoon I asked it how much actual real algebra it had done and it wailed: "Augh! I was hoping I could have SOME fun today!" Since this was after spending a happy day sleeping in, playing video games, reading books, playing soccer and inhaling large numbers of waffles (yes, all day as far as I can tell) I wasn't entirely sympathetic.

However, I am a Good Mom so I agreed to help it go over its math.

Ooooh boy was that fun! Two hours where we flung cos and tan around with wild abandon, where the asymptote was approached but never really reached and csc was firmly put into its place (once we peeked at the back of the book to see how the heck they got D out of A and B).


Which meant that very early this morning I looked at the clock and spent a good five minutes trying to work out 3 a.m. in radians.

Do me a favor Child, next time could you please have a nice gentle crisis with Jane Austen?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

But Everyone Knows About...

When we lived in Alaska I did a favor for a client and represented his dealership at the state fair*. Nearly every person who stopped by (after asking if we had any trucks - that was the first thing everyone said) would eventually get around to asking if I had gone to see the cabbages yet. It wasn't are you going to see the cabbages, no it was just assumed that there was really only one good reason to come to the fair and that was to see the cabbages.

I can't describe the shock and bemusement when I told them I had never heard anything special about cabbages. Never? Never heard of the cabbages? Never ever? But... but! They are Alaskan! Cabbages! I eventually wandered over to the fruit and veg building and figured out what they were so excited about. I must admit, those were some pretty darn impressive cabbages.

It turns out there's a whole cabbage growing community - elite and utterly ruthless. They hoard secrets about seeds, planting mix and cabbage-primping techniques (having to do with hair dryers apparently) all for the mind-boggling glory of showing a winning cabbage at the fair. I heard dark stories of sabotage, accusations of shady practices and very rude comments about leaf shape and head construction. The judges were solemn and apparently impervious to the roiling emotions around them as they peered and hefted and weighed.

What was interesting though is that these cabbages, enormous and impressive as they are, were the one thing that Alaskans blithely assumed the rest of the world was aware of. Grizzly bears? Nope. Salmon runs? Nah. Hardy gold-hunters with bad teeth and questionable hygiene? All in the past. But the cabbages, now that's Alaska.

Where I live now people feel the same way about our chile. It's not just any chile, it's Hatch Green Chile - different varieties boasting more or less fire but all huge, gorgeous green pods with an inimitable flavor. My sister has grown chile for several years on her land in Indiana but although the plants get enormous and bear hundreds of beautiful chiles the taste just isn't the same. It must be something in the soil - like needing just the right land to grow a fine wine grape.

Green chile shows up everywhere. Cheese and chile bagels are common as is the green chile cheeseburger (even McD's has a version although I can't recommend it). There's chile jelly and chile candy; I've seen chile centered chocolates and spiked relishes. I know someone who adds it to pesto (!! I know.) and any number who throw it into pasta, salads, breads and soups with varying results. Anyone can tell you how good green chile is for colds or how best to avoid having your hands burn when you're skinning and seeding them (some swear by gloves, some prescribe a milk bath afterwards, the hardy announce they never feel the burn at all - personally I would simply suggest you make very sure never to rub your eyes!). You can tell whether a waiter has pegged you for an out-of-stater by how much water is brought to your plate before you even start on your chile rellenos.

Right now the chile roasters are out - big metal barrels turned over an open flame - and sections of the city are smokily fragrant. It's best to get them this way, nice and fresh and just roasted so they're still piping hot. You can slip the skin off and freeze them to use for the rest of the year.

A friend of mine emailed to see if this was a good time of year to visit the area. The aspen trees are almost finished in a lot of places, I said, and it's getting colder up north, but you're still in time for the chile. Chile? She wrote, bewildered, What do you mean chile?

But... everyone knows about Hatch Green Chile!

*NB I was not necessarily the best person to choose for this being as I knew absolutely nothing about cars at the time. I quickly learned the patter though, always saving the most important thing for last. "And," I would, opening the door and gesturing for the customer to climb inside, "it has heated seats!" To the Anchorageites it was definitely 'nuff said.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Personality Test

Me: Hey! It's reeeeaaaally quiet out there. What are you guys doing?

Child 1: Reading.

Child 2: Plotting!

Child 3: ... .... ... eh? what?

And that pretty much sums them up.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fine Feathers

The Homecoming Children needed dressing. Sadly neither of them was going for my "formal jeans" suggestion - no vision those kids. The Male Child did dig out his father's suits and give them a try but as it weighs about... I'm guesstimating here... 120 pounds (and it is around 5'10") that wasn't going to fly.

Now, I do get the need for dressing up. Where I grew up dressing up for girls started young and with a vengeance. There was First Holy Communion which necessitated an enormous amount of white tulle, a pair of pristine gloves, and some white patent leather slippers. A few years later there was quinzenera which meant even more tulle - usually blue or pink this time and sometimes augmented with a full hoop skirt - another pair of gloves (elbow) and tippy high heeled shoes.

Unfortunately I was culturally debarred from either of these and when we walked through Sears on our way to buy this year's pair of tennis shoes (blue or red - I got to pick! sometimes!) I would lust secretly after the racks of meringue fluff displayed temptingly all down the aisle. It was terribly frustrating.

So, as I said I do understand the need for dressing up, and I'm very supportive of it in theory but unfortunately in practice in meant I had to go shopping. Which, I must confess, I do not love. Buying I'm okay with, I do get the need to go a'buying now and then - but shopping? Voluntarily going to a mall full of hordes of teenagers and mall walking super granmas and just browsing in the hopes of finding something? Ugh.

But I love my Children. I do. So the female Child and I girded loins and stiffened lips and ventured in. Luckily it has the same approach to shopping for formal dresses as I do viz:

1. spend half an hour finding the ugliest dresses in the store (look! It's yellow! And shiny! HA HA!)

2. find three dresses that are bearable

3. look at the price tags and put your head between your knees for some deep breathing

4. find the crowded rack stuffed with off sizes and lip-stick stained satin that is marked "Clearance!" and spend another 20 minutes sliding the hangers back and forth

5. Whine (oh wait, that was just me...)

6. go back to the full-price area and find The Dress

7. go try on The Dress and realize it is more than just The Dress, it is THE DRESS.

8. remember that it is also THE DRE$$ and get very, very sad

9. Head to the next department store for another round

Fortunately we found THE DRESS again at the third store and not only was it marked less on the regular price, it was also ON SALE! which pretty much says the gods have spoken.

This was all about a month before the dance because the female Child is on top of these things. The male Child waited until two days before the dance to mention (just as we were heading to bed) that it had nothing at all to wear. Thanks Child. Fortunately it is indeed male so we managed to find it a shirt that had long enough sleeves (the male Child has a 6'2" wingspan. I know.) and was only twice as large around as necessary, a pair of trousers (on sale! at the discount store!), a belt (necessitated by the slightly-too-big-around issue with the discount trousers), and a tie, the afternoon before the dance. Total time in the discount store? 10 minutes.

And I have to admit.

They looked darn good.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Big Weekend

Two of the Children have volunteered for a fund raiser that involves them getting up at 2:00 in the morning on Saturday and Sunday, organizing themselves and hopefully a fair amount of layered warm clothing and standing in the cold and dark for six hours helpfully shoving people in various directions.

These same two Children are also going to homecoming* which is Saturday night. Good planning, don't you think?

Since after careful questioning I discovered that I do not have to get up at 2:00 myself OR drive anyone anywhere I smiled lovingly at them and said, "have fun guys!" I'm a great mom.

*For the foreign set: homecoming is this thing see, where the football team plays a game. It's not the final game, heck it's not even the first game - it's just a game**. For weeks before the game the entire school is whipped into a frenzy (theoretically) over who will be the homecoming "queen" and "king" - decided by a popularity vote***. As far as I can tell the queen doesn't actually participate in the game at all, but just wanders onto the field at half time and waves aimlessly for a while. Then there's a big dance where everyone wears bridesmaids dresses and wobbly high heels. Well, except most of the guys who wear tuxes (some) or suits. Watery punch is served, several people have fights, several more are kicked out of the dance for various reasons, and a reasonable number of the girls end up crying in the hall. This is a rite of passage essential for producing the fine selection of mental scars that make Americans what we are today.

** My school had the dubious honor of being the school everyone else wanted to play for homecoming. We were famous for our defensive strategy. It was called The Hole.

*** Normally this is the pretty type, but we did things a little differently 'round my neck of the woods. One of our queens was a fantastic girl, weighed about 250 pounds, wore a white sheath gown for the "walk 'o candidates" and had a leopard skin flung over one shoulder. She became a riveter when she graduated. Another one came up to me in the hall one day, clouted me on the shoulder and said, "you know what? I like you. Is there anyone you want me to beat up for you?"

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Obviously transitions aren't my strong point. Trouble is, this is a blog and while one day is all geetocks and rubber policemen the next is... well it just is.

So it was a tough day yesterday. I invented a word for it a while ago, a word just Child 2 and I use: gronky. I was gronky most of yesterday. It's sort of a combination of grumpy and cranky but there's a side-note of self-awareness that lets you laugh a little. Just a little.

Child 2 countered with the version "grunky" but that sounds like grimy and gunky portmanteau'd together and I definitely don't want to be that.

The one good thing about those gronky days is they don't last forever - they just feel like they will. So.

This morning I got a request to send copies of some designs I had done for a major event we had recently. I was particularly pleased with these designs - I liked the whole thing, the composition, the palette - all of it. Often I'll do something and then I have to stare at it for the next six months and by the end of it I hate the darn thing, but this one... well I'm still happy with it.

Someone's going to be writing the event up for a small newsletter and they want to enliven the whole thing with some graphics; it's all good publicity for a program that still needs support so I'm happy to oblige and I send over a couple of files. An email comes flying back asking if there is a graphic artist credit they can use - this is an extremely unusual request around here where most of the work goes whizzing by without much attention paid to who did it or what it took to get it done. I give her my name and throw in a laughing comment on the jack-of-all-trades stuff I do lately. She sends this back:

"Wow - those were fantastic! I bought t-shirts for my husband and son, both because [it] was a great event, and because the graphics were so striking!"

I have to smile at the screen.

Today's not going to be such a gronky day.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007



I've written about seven posts in my head, none of which will hit the screen and I'll be darned if I have figured out even yet what to write.

Yes, four years ago today Kirk went missing from a road in Iraq. You can read the story here. A little over a year ago the investigating agency told us they believe that Kirk was killed that day. You can read a very brief description of how we found that out here.

So how do we, the Children and I, deal with today? One Child was invited to a meeting this evening, and looked at me in concern. "But mom, it's the 9th..." I know, and I told Child what I still believe - that loving Kirk means not turning the 9th into a day of mourning, that missing him doesn't mean shutting everything down and turning out the lights because we have to be Very Very Sad today. We are, of course we are, but Kirk would hate to think of us spending the day that way. Child should go to its meeting and enjoy itself.

It does sit there though, the day. I've been exceptionally aware of it this year although I don't know why, and all morning its been waiting at the edge of my mind, waiting to see what I'm going to do about it.

So I guess this is what I'm doing - just acknowledging that it's today and that this year, this day, that's about as much as I can do.

Friday, October 05, 2007

You Say Tomayto, I Say Geetock

I was IMing with a friend yesterday and we hit one of those amazing Instant Message Speedbumps that brings the entire conversation to a crashing halt. I was describing the detritus that seeps out of the Children's rooms and onto the living room floor on a daily basis: backpacks, school books, non-school books (MORE non-school books, thank you Book Child...), papers, pencils, several dirty socks and, even though it's October, flip-flops.

Only I didn't say flip-flops or even thongs (which is unfortunately all too easy to confuse with another item of clothing altogether), I used the name I was taught as a child - Geetocks. I don't even know how to spell the thing, I just know how it sounded. Every summer my sister and I would be bought a pair of plastic, foam soled geetocks. No one else used that term and I have no idea where it came from but yesterday it bubbled up out of my subconscious and typed itself into the message.

Needless to say it turned the conversation a little bit.

Friend: erm... what?

Me: Geetocks, you know, geetocks. GEEEEEE-tocks.

Friend: Which are... no, it sounds like some kind of food. Something green and a little slimy but with stringy bits as well.

Me: Like okra?

Friend: Yeah! Only it's plural isn't it... maybe it's an illness.

Me: Oooh - with phlegm, because there's something about geetocks that just implies phlegm. Plus it's fun to type together... hey, gotta tissue? 'cause I got the geetocks and I'm all full of phlegm...

Friend: Nah, I think it's like an infestation of something, some sort of horrible little animal that scuttles.

Me: I HAVE to call the exterminator. This place is simply crawling with geetocks.

Friend: So... what are they anyway?

She was terribly disappointed when I told her.

Wait until she finds out what I mean when I ask for a rubber policeman.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


I was raised in a book house rather than a television house. (I know, I've written about it before, about being a culturally deprived child - what can I say, it marked me). What's more, my book house was strongly anglo-centric and had a definite high-water mark at around 1950. I read very few books that were written after that time, and those that were often had an earlier setting or were (I feel) strongly pre-war in philosophy and voice.

Kids at my school, those who read (and that was a small few) were reading Judy Bloom while I was following the adventures of the St. Clair twins in their English boarding school. It meant that I was well grounded in "classic" children's literature, but had absolutely nothing to say to anyone my own age.

And that was a problem you see, because half of the joy of a book is finding someone who is just as excited about it as you are. You need to be able to read out the funny bits and have someone else get all lit up and excited because they loved that part - and what about...??

There were a few books when I was little that became "my" books, the books I read over and over and incorporated into my private world: The Chronicles of Narnia, Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series, and L.M. Montogomery's Anne books (we didn't have Emily on our shelves so I only met her much later on). For several years I fantasized that I would, at around age 11, crawl through a wardrobe to find emerge in Prince Edward Island transmogrified into a powerful red-haired wizard. Or something like that.

When I had Children I happily introduced them to many of my favorites by the simple method of reading out loud to them when they were essentially captive and helpless (lunch is good because they're eating and their little mouths are full). We started with Seuss and Milne and worked our way through most of the Short List of Children's Literature to varying reactions. Generally they liked what they heard, and there was a rush at the end of the book to be first to claim it for the re-read (it's not really your book until you've read it yourself.).

Now, one of the children is the Book Child. They all read, but this is the one who inhales - the one who is not complete unless it has at least one book at its elbow, preferably two so there isn't an agonizing gap of time between reading the last page and standing up to get another book. This Book Child has discovered books of its own (Heidi was one - Child read Heidi every day for MONTHS when it was about 6) but I was slightly sad that none of them was "My Book."

Until this week. Child ran out of books - and when I say that it should be understood that this is calamitous in the extreme, that there is a profound sadness in the air because Child Has Nothing To Read. This Child has for years now been a fantasy snob who gobbles down reams of fairly light and fluffy stuff (sorry Child, but Tamora Pierce IS light and fluffy). If it has a fairy/unicorn/dragon/wizard - or recently darkly misunderstood vampire - in it Child will read it. In this crisis though I tentatively suggested Child give L.M. Montgomery a try, and dug out Emily of New Moon for it. There was a certain amount of resistance, but given the alternative (no book - and possibly having to do homework or chores to entertain itself) Child sighed and gave the book a try.

It took a bit to get used to the language, but when I pointed out this was part of the charm Child was willing to make the effort. Chapter 1 was read with quiet boredom. Chapter 2 went down with a few grudging chuckles; by chapter 3 Child was racing along at its usual breakneck pace and was demanding the second Emily at once. Unfortunately we don't own the third in the series, but Child was now willing to branch out, so I proffered Anne instead. It instantly decided that Matthew was its favorite character (it had to read aloud almost the entirety of the chapter where Matthew goes off to buy Anne a pretty dress) and by bed-time it had read its way nearly to the end.

Which is why just as I was drifting off to sleep I was jerked awake by an indignant howl from Child's room, and I remembered how bitterly I sobbed at that particular chapter whenever I read it. And I had to smile just a little because it was Our Book now.

It's good, you know, to have a Book Child.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Arthropodal Visions

Where I work we have a Bug Man. He's a locally famous Bug Man who has his own Bug Man column in the paper and everything so the theory is he is highly qualified.

I have read his column, and every week it goes something like this:

Q1: Dear Bug Man. I have sent you a sample of unknown Bug for you to identify. Please tell me what it is, whether it is dangerous, and how I can get rid of it?

Ans: Dear Reader. Please do not send me bug samples in envelopes. It is very difficult to identify bugs when they are smashed into little bitty bug crumbs. Here as always is my instruction list for Sending Bugs Safely Through the Mail. Sincerely, Bug Man.

Q2: Dear Bug Man. I have an infestation of [heinous bug] and I want to get rid of them at once! Please advise.

Ans: Dear Reader. Isn't [heinous bug] a fascinating species? Here is a large amount of information on their history and personal habits so you can better appreciate your multi-legged guest. They are harmless and perfectly charming and will eat any number of things leaving behind only their small, buggy carcasses and a large amount of bug poop. What could be nicer? DO NOT USE CHEMICALS. Chemicals are vile, and will do the following disgusting things to you, your pets, and probably the ozone. If you absolutely must rid yourself of your delightful bug infestation you should use these non-invasive, non-effective methods.

It's not terribly surprising then that Bug Man's philosophies and methods have produced a large, thriving population of cockroaches around here. I can honestly say I have never seen such enormous, healthy specimens in my life. They know they have it made too because they don't bother to scuttle - they stroll calmly down the halls and barely flick an antenna when someone walks past.

There are many things I can face well. I look on spiders with appreciation and even mild interest (although our local black widows are best admired from a distance imho); I actually like snakes and lizards and other critters of the "creepy crawly" variety. Cockroaches though, cockroaches are where I draw the line.

I do have a method for dealing with them. First I jump back several feet because they are liable to leap at one, going for the eyes I think. Then I move forward again because it's necessary to ascertain that it is indeed a cockroach and not an unfortunately hairy piece of lint or something. Then I do my best imitation of cat-stepping-in-water combined with the yakking-a-hairball noise for a while. At that point it's necessary to find someone else to deal with the disgusting creature because me, I can't even step on 'em (they CRUNCH and OOZE and... sorry, I have to go shudder in the corner for a while).

Which is why I'm having just a bit of difficulty concentrating this morning since the first thing that greeted me on arrival was a particularly fat and juicy roach crawling happily down the hall toward my office.

There are two people around here who are willing to help out in the crisis. One will gather the cockroach up on a bed of tissue, carefully take it downstairs and outside and gently tuck it away somewhere safe with little murmurs of reassurance and affection. I'm all for loving all living creatures and that, but this to me seems a leetle excessive. Plus it makes me feel guilty for my bloodthirstiness. The other insists on a lot of eye rolling and for-heaven's-saking before she's willing to do the grisly deed. However, she does kill the insect dead which is, in my opinion, very important since it will not then crawl back somehow and seek its buggy revenge on me.

I think I'll go ask for her help. Just as soon as I climb back down off my desk.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Oh Dear

The Siblings gave Child 3 a particular game it had asked for and I (being a generous and kind mother) lifted the electronics ban so the game could be tried at once.

As far as I can tell the premise is that you have a car. This car is very, very fast, and also is indestructible. This is very important because you are supposed to drive at top speed through various city streets and little things like light posts and other vehicles often get in the way. Child 3 is very, very good at this game. It spent a happy hour zipping its pixelated vehicle up and down the road with a sturdy disregard for obstacles that was truly impressive to watch. In fact, I found I couldn't watch so after five minutes I left the Children to it and retired with a nice Dorothy Sayers for company. I could hear a muffled series of whoops and giggles punctuated by loud tire screeching and frequent crashes coming from the front room.

The game was turned off with some reluctance at the end of the night and Child 3 came to my door with a slightly manic gleam in its eyes.

"Mom, let's go out to the mall parking lot right now and you can start teaching me to drive!"

Child 3 couldn't understand my reluctance at all.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Child 3

Today is Child 3's birthday and, with no bias, I can honestly say Child 3 is the finest 15-year-old I know. It has spent the last year stretching alarmingly until it seems to be all legs and arms and fiendish blue eyes. It has always had a tremendous sense of humor and a deeply loving heart but it has added a new ambition, a belief in itself, and an acceptance of responsibility that makes me stop and stare sometimes in amazement at its sudden maturity.

This evening we will have chocolate cake with chocolate icing (and probably bits of extra chocolate stuck in here and there where it seems appropriate). We will almost certainly get gyros from the Turkish deli down the street as a particular treat, and Child 3 might even be allowed to break the usual week-day electronics ban. It will unwrap its gifts (rectangular for the most part; one square) and at some point call its grandfather so they may congratulate each other on their excellent taste in birth dates.

And I will watch this tall, funny, intelligent, generous being and wonder again at really, how lucky I am.

Friday, September 28, 2007


I have been having a one sided conversation with Social Security for a few months now about the fact that I have moved and therefore I have a new address. This has mostly consisted of me trying web, phone and letter to get them to understand the concept and them stolidly ignoring me. Finally a few days ago I got several letters telling me that they think they've heard I might have a new address and if this is true then would I please call the following number to confirm? Excellent, thinks I, progress!

Chirpy Automated Social Security System: Hello! thank you for calling Social Security! Para Espanol.... click.... whirr..... please state your reason for calling.... now.

Me: Change. Of. Address

CASSS: I think you said you would like to find the address of your nearest Social Security office. Is that right?

Me: No.

CASSS: I'm sorry! Please state your reason for calling.... now.

Me: Con-firm... chaaaange ... uuuuv .... aaaadressss...

CASSS: I see! To change your address you need to be already receiving, or have already applied for benefits... [very, very long following explanation about people who are not in this position and why trying to do an address here won't work and how there's a shiny website with pretty buttons that might entertain you if you're bored]. Are you currently receiving or have you already applied for benefits?

Me: Y-

CASSS: Yes or no?

Me: Yes

CASSS: To confirm your identity, I will need to ask a number of questions. These are the same questions an agent would ask you so it will save you time if you answer these questions now. [insert about five lengthy questions] Please state your first name, then spell it

Me: Fuh-

CASSS: For example, if your first name is Mary, you would say, "Mary! Em Ay Arrrrh Why"

Me: FirstName. Eff...

CASSS: Let me confirm that... Now, state your last name and then spell it.

Me: MyVeryLongLastName. Emm Why....

CASSS: I think you said, "Meyvurrrahlug, Emm eeee veee uuuu rrrrr...." is this correct?

Me: No...

CASSS: I'm sorry! Let me try again. Please state your last name, and then spell it quickly.

Me: MyVeryLongLastName! Em!Wy!Vee!Eee....

CASSS: I think I've got it now! Myvurreeelag. Is that right?

Me: NO!

Repeat last few steps another two times until finally I answer:

Me: I guess?

CASSS: Great! Now I'll just ask five more personal and pointless questions....

Me: Do you mind if I answer in a variety of silly voices?

CASSS: Click.... whirr.... I'm sorry! The information you have provided does not match the file on record.

Me: Is that because you haven't yet figured out MyVeryLongLastName?

CASSS: If you would like to try again, say main menu! If you would like to hang up, say Goodbye! If you would like to speak to an agent -

Me: Agent! Agent!

CASSS: To speak to an agent I will need to ask several questions, these questions are the same that the agent would need to ask to verify your identity, so it will save you time to answer them now. Please state your first name...

Fortunately this system after two tries at both first and last name (I was gritting my teeth by this point and some of the letters might have come out a leeeetle muffled) says happily "I'm sorry, I don't seem to understand you. Let's skip that step."

I then get sent to the CASSS waiting section which seems to think all Social Security recipients have the attention span of Child 3 because every 3 seconds one of several voices comes on:

Voice 1: (female, cheerful, slightly patronizing) We're sorry for the wait! An agent will be with you shortly!

Voice 2: (male, mournful) We're sorry you have been waiting so long. We serve milllllleeeons of customers and we have our busy times. We will be with you as soon as possible.

Voice 3: (female, calm, gentle and slightly disapproving) We are sorry for the delay. Do you know you can take care of any number of things on our web site? I will now give a long and tedious list of examples of these things for you. Then I will recite the website address several times in case you missed it. I will not point out that this is why you're waiting, idiot, but I do hope you get the idea.


Agent: thankyouforcallingsocialsecurity. Please state your first name... and your last... and....

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The War

The Children and I have been watching The War - Ken Burns's new documentary series. To be honest we didn't intend to - we intended to turn on PBS and catch an utterly ridiculous but charming "mystery" show called Rosemary and Thyme [nb - we have a softness for this particular show because one of the stars played Barbara Good on Good Neighbors] but the first episode of The War was on instead so we did a quick swap of the television watching brain cells and settled in.

I've been quite looking forward to this series. It's been extensively advertised all summer long and I was a great admirer of Burns's Civil War. Also for some reason this has been a particularly World War II year - perhaps partly because of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima; partly because I've been reading rather a lot of Stephen Ambrose. Anyway, I was very pleased that we accidentally hit on the very first episode.

And... and I have to say I'm a little disappointed. I'm not sure what it is, but I'm not captured by this one. I know he's trying to focus on only four American towns, but it still feels too scattered to me. Maybe we're being given too much general history and not enough personal story? Maybe it's just that I know much more about WWII than I did about the Civil War when I saw that series [nb - Kirk was appalled when I carelessly mentioned that the Civil War happened in 1840 or so... this was at the same time that I could recite the French kings from Charles Martel through Louis XVI. I can no longer do this but I do know the dates of the American Civil War now!]. Maybe... and this is awful... there is very little tension because we know from the start who will survive?

We watched again last night and will continue to watch through the series. It is interesting, and it has been enlightening for the Children who knew a great deal about the European conflict from the Blitz through VE day but almost nothing about the war in the Pacific. There has been some discussion about peoples who have been indoctrinated to believe in their own superiority, to value ruthless violence, to despise "weakness" and difference. I have been interested, but saddened to see that the photographs of death and atrocity (and there are very, very many) do not shock or distress them overly - they are more likely to point out the ones they have seen before. They are much more disturbed by film and photos of the living, of children dealing with the horror of their situation, than of those who have been killed.

I'm also interested that the image that has stayed with me most through these two episodes was a very early shot, just before they got to Pearl Harbor, of an airplane beneath the ocean, crusted with various creatures but still entirely recognizable. There was something serene about that image - eerie of course, they always are whether its a collection of amphorae or a modern cargo ship, but serene.

Of course, the thing that struck me most last night was the dignified voice of the announcer saying:

"Corporate sponsors of The War include..."

Friday, September 21, 2007


Just a few moments after I posted yesterday I wandered out towards the front desk. A co-worker pointed out that it was raining and I expressed the usual delight and amazement that rain gets out here. Then she asked if I had heard about the downstairs conference room.

No... and... ???

Well, she said, it's raining there too.

Normally this wouldn't raise an eyebrow in this building, but the downstairs conference room has no windows and only one steel exterior door. This sounded intriguing so a couple of us trailed downstairs to admire it.

Sure enough, it was vigorously raining in a large section of the room. An optimist had put a small garbage can under some of the leakage but that only made the other seven or eight streams try all the harder. We contemplated this scene for a while. Then some other people wandered in and contemplated it as well. It was, we all agreed, rather weird. And rainy.

Finally someone In The Know from the top floor came to enlighten us all. The plumbers, it seems, had been foodling around somewhere on the roof or something and had managed to break a fresh water pipe [nb - since the rain collecting in the trash can was distinctly yellow this came as something of a relief]. They eyed the resulting flood for a bit and decided maybe shutting off the water supply would be a good thing. Then after a while longer they located a wet-vac and were busily sucking up the water on the roof. Of course by this time most of the flood had percolated down the interior walls of the whole building and was pattering down on the tatty carpet in our conference room.

We watched as a ceiling tile detached itself and fell with a sodden, and rather disgusting thump. This, we agreed, should be grounds for all just going home but none of us had the guts to actually do so.

Later that day I had an epiphany. It all makes sense now - the raised temperature in my office, the interior water feature downstairs: we're obviously being renovated as a tropical rain forest.

I feel all noble and carbon-friendly now. If a bit warm and damp.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

form vs function

I've mentioned it before, but the building I work in is a Genuine Design Award Winning building - all full of significance and importance and stuff like that. Unfortunately it's also a crap building where nothing works.

Last year this meant endless entertainment as offices were flooded, whole advanced civilizations of mold were grown and we were all told that nothing could really be done to fix the problem because the building was Spayshul.

This summer we are enjoying the Delightful Summer of Climate Control. For several weeks the entire building was absolutely frigid - I'm not saying you could have kept milk fresh in my office, but it was pretty darn close. I didn't mind so much since it was also ridiculously hot outside so working in arctic conditions was rather refreshing; my co-workers felt blue lips and fingers were a little much though so they called to complain. Turns out that the heater on the air-conditioner was broken (I know! Who knew air conditioners need heaters?) so we were getting pure, unadulterated frigid air without anything to take the edge off it. They were pretty sure they could get it fixed... in six weeks or so.

Now we have an entirely different problem - the heater is beautifully fixed, but while they were foodling around with it they realized that the whole system seems to have been made entirely out of asbestos. No problem though, they'll just shut down the heater again while they figure out what to do - should only take another several weeks. Apparently some folks here got a little cranky about being asked to work in offices you can see your breath in so the maintenance guys seem to have come up with some sort of solution. Unfortunately whatever that solution is means that by noon my office is a toasty 78 degrees.

But hey - the design is GREAT.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


It must be hard to be a male of a certain age these days. For... what... ten years or so the uniform has been predictable. One pair boxers (CLEAN, plaid preferred, patterns of smiley faces or hearts undertaken at one's own risk - tighty-whities out of the question), one t-shirt sporting a: profanity (see "Rebel, character traits of" for music requirements, palette restrictions and recommendations for disfiguring piercings and tattoos) b: advertising logo (see "Branding: corporate shortcut to personality" for logo suggestions and the Top Ten Companies to Avoid) or c: ironic image and/or text (see "Cultural iconoclast, an insider's guide to being an outsider" for constantly updated lists of hot-button subject matter and Blogs You Must Read!), and one pair of trousers four sizes too big. The only real issues were exactly how much boxer should protrude from the waistband, and just how do you keep your jeans above your knees when you're riding a skateboard.

But now - now darn it some fashionista has introduced skinny jeans for men. Not only does this new style make slim legs look pipe-like and plump ones like over-stuffed bratwurst, there's the terrible problem of where to wear them.

You see, these guys don't feel comfortable unless their jeans are hovering well south of the navel (they haven't had a belt above the pubic bone since they were seven). Or maybe it's that they haven't had to undo the zip to get dressed in so long they've forgotten how to work the darn things. It certainly looks as though they had a long and terrible struggle to become fully clothed but had to give up, exhausted, several inches short of success.

Not to mention that between the low hang of the crotch and the constriction of the fabric the gangsta strut has become a constipated waddle.

Cool is so damn hard.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Trap for Heffalumps

I got a nice letter from Social Security the other day. It was a Friendly Letter, that announced itself at such right at the top (in case I missed that we are now blessed with the Kinder, Gentler Social Security - [oh, and we'll be out of money in 2009]).

Dear Social Security patron (it said - sorta), this is a Very Friendly Form, which you should find in no way patronizing or intimidating. Because it's not. Please fill it out at your leisure, preferably while sipping mimosas and listening to Jazz FM, because this will be a relaxing and pleasurable experience. Then please place a stamp on the enclosed envelope (what with the no money thing we can't afford pre-paid postage) and mail it back OR WE WILL NEVER SEND YOU MONEY AGAIN. Love and kisses.

Question 1: Are you married (tick YES or NO) I carefully ticked "no" and stifled the urge to fold it up into a little triangle, scrawl "for Justin H. DO NOT READ! THIS MEANS YOU BUT NOT YOU JUSTIN" and pass it along the row.

Question 2: When did you marry?

Hmmmmm.... usually government forms include Instructions for Idiots like - "If you answer no, please disregard the next four questions, turn to page seven, add $1,254.997 to the bottom of the column and perform the secret rite of Taxation sub category B." This one had no such comment. I wondered for a moment if just possibly the Social Security people had decided the average human is bright enough to realize that if one isn't married one doesn't need to answer questions relating to said non-existent marriage.

Nah, I figure it's actually a Very Clever Plot. Some nefarious Social Security patron will look furtively around and tick off "no" when really they mean "yes." They'll probably rub their hands and chortle for a minute at the sheer brilliance of themselves. Then they'll look to the next question - "When did you marry?" and, still distracted by their evil plan, they'll unthinkingly fill in "June 8th" and carry on!

And then, you see, then when the Social Security people get the form back they can look at the contradicting answers and the evil doer will be foiled! Tax dollars at work folks - makes you all warm and fuzzy doesn't it?

Friday, September 07, 2007


Child 2 has been tasked to create a family totem "pole." The pole is actually a bunch of strips of paper all taped together - originally meant to be a cylinder but after a bit of grumbling now a long flat... thing.

The point was to choose a totem animal for each family member, explain why it was chosen and then do a drawing. Child 2 hemmed and hawed for a week over this and then came up with the following:

Kirk is a griffin: brave, intelligent etc etc.

Child 3 is a shark - not sure what the reasoning there was. Originally Child was going to be a lemur but Child 2 was restricted in the number of "invented" or non-Native American totems it could choose so it plumped for shark instead. I have a small hunch that sharks are easier to draw...

Child 1 is a wasp. This produced a howl from Child 1 but Child 2 quickly announced it was because "industrious" was a major trait of the wasp totem. It might also have mumbled something about how "louse" was a real genuine and well respected totem and some people should be grateful.

Child 2 itself is a raccoon. I had suggested badger on the basis that they are loyal, brave, tenacious, and very grumpy if you try to roust them out of their sett. Child considered this but went with raccoon because it knew how to draw one.

And me?

I'm a penguin.

Don't ask.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


There's a theory that actually human beings are just a product of viruses who use us as highly evolved mechanisms for getting around. In which case public school has to be the culminating achievement of virus-kind.

The Children have now had several weeks sitting in enclosed spaces with large numbers of other kids who, apparently, have spent their summer usefully contracting nasty air-borne bugs. They have breathed in a cocktail of rhinoviruses and coronaviruses for days now, carefully incubated the more exotic of the species and now, drat 'em, they have brought them home to me.


I need a tissue.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pretty in Pink - or Green

I don't do well in the heat. I say this with a cringe because in the past that statement has been greeted with anything from eye-rolling (that I wasn't supposed to see) to directly expressed disbelief. And these are the people who actually like me.

So I feel more than a little defensive about this weakness. People think it's all in my head so it probably is all in my head and really I'm just being difficult.

Which means that once a year or so I pretend that I don't get overheated ridiculously easily, that I'm not living in a you-gotta-be-kidding-me desert place, and that really by September it's quite cool outside. Honest.

That happened Monday. I was nagging at the Children, particularly one child, who were planning on spending the day draped over bits of furniture and furrowing their brows at various electronic devices. The combination of button pressing and brow furrowing was apparently going to raise their heart rate enough to constitute exercise. [NOTE: to be fair, Child 1 had done its button pressing - except for the sibling-related type which is constant - early in the morning and was now fretting about nothing to doooOOOOOooo] I chased them all outside with some orange cones and a soccer ball but after the fourth episode of "Child is doing _______ even though I never _______ and..." I had had it. Also I felt a little guilty since I had spent the whole morning crouched over a computer and pressing buttons. Granted mine was Work, but that was hardly the point. So I suggested a nice walk over to a lovely local park! What could be better? It was much cooler than it had been, the walk was only a mile or so, and the whole thing went by bike path.

Yes. Well, I had the good sense to realize, after a few rounds of soccer-ball passing, that I was getting a leetle warm. I just might have needed to realize it a tad earlier.

I've done this just often enough to be able to anticipate all the lovely symptoms of heat exhaustion. Ooooh, I thought as we started on the bridge, there are the muscle cramps! I think I'll feel nauseous next.... there we go! Nausea, now as we get to that traffic light the spots before my eyes should be just about making it impossible to see which means I might manage to stagger to that patch of shade before I actually get so dizzy I pass out.

The Children were quite interested by this demonstration of Heat Exhaustion - How to Recognize, and entertained themselves and me by narrating the bits I couldn't appreciate. "Ooooh, you're not really flushed now, you're all pale. Even your lips are pale - hey! Your ears are pale too!" Thanks guys.

We made it home, having stopped once more to sit in humiliation on a shady curb and then barely making it into the door to collapse on the couch. Child 2 brought me water, then gave me a nice commentary for the next hour. "You're gray now! Really gray. Okay, now you're more greeny - yah, definitely greenish. NOW you're all pink!"

Have I mentioned that I really, really don't like the heat?

Friday, August 31, 2007


When we found out we were having a third Child (making three in five years) Kirk and I knew at once we were going to have to go from a man-on-man to a zone defense. As long as the Children stayed reasonably well clustered we could, using extra hands or an ankle in a pinch, maintain physical contact if not control over them most of the time. Of course, it's asking far too much to have three small ones maintain a tight formation at all times. Herding cats doesn't begin to cover it. I still have a compulsive need to count heads before going through a door - almost any door - and the Children by now ignore my fevered mumbles of "one... two... how many did we start with today?"

As they got older, more independent and easier to threaten (never underestimate the power of a Child's imagination on potential punishment - ours included the concept of white socks with sandals, shorts and a hawaiian shirt... at the next school dance) the immediate need to physically wrangle them all diminished, but the logistical issues increased. We began by limiting each Child to one need-transport activity. Anything that was bussed or chauffeured in some way was fine, but we would only drive each Child to one thing. They all picked soccer which was fine until we realized this meant three teams, each meeting twice or three times a week for practices (almost all of them on different days) plus games. Add in Kirk's insane willingness to coach AND ref and the Children (drawn by the allure of striped polyester and the right to wear a whistle) volunteering for field duty as well and we just spent the year in an endless frenzy of soccer events.

Now of course it's just me doing the driving and the attending and the cheering on. So far it's going fairly well, with everyone's schedule meshing reasonably with the available transport. Children 1 and 3 are doing JROTC which means 4x weekly extra class plus (as of yesterday) civil air patrol which might take some doing. It also means going to "armed" and "unarmed" drill meets which makes for two problems. Unarmed has the kids marching around in little squares and being asked Gotcha! questions by various people - how do you cheer for that? I've only been to a couple and I have no idea if you're supposed to pump your arms in the air and shout, "Yeeeeawww! Way to about face baby!!" or if that's considered de trop. For armed it's more simple - that's the one where they take 13lb. "rifles" and hurl them at each other with enormous vigor and enthusiasm. It's going to be worse than watching Olympic ice-skating (I shut my eyes every time someone's going to jump or throw someone or something - the possibility for humiliating mistakes is far too great) because not only might Child drop something with an huge clatter, it might miss a catch and knock out its teeth or break a nose. I just know I'm going to be the one mom on the sidelines saying "hey! Don't play with those! You'll shoot your eye out!" and Child will disown me.

I need a manual for this stuff.