Monday, July 30, 2007

Spawn Trail

Well, he’s seriously thinking of moving out and moving in with friends, none of whom is actually currently living away from home. I think it’s going to be a big, group maneuver if and when it happens. “If,” being the big question mark.

I’ve said my bit, my husband has said his bit, we’ve reminded him that in a year he’ll be moving out anyway when he transfers to a four-year college, but he, like a young lion of the pride, wants to wander further afield and get away from our oversight. I happen to think, to myself, as I do so much when it comes to dealing with my oldest son, that it’s not going to come off, but I won’t deny him either the chance to dream or the chance to get a snootful of lesson-learning reality.

The idea does not disturb me, just the youthful optimism, timing and lack of experience. He’s not going to get experience otherwise, but I do wish he’d wait until he tries the dorm experience first. Not my call, though, and, at this stage in his development (a phrase he’d really hate to hear me say) admonitions and advice from mom are emasculating.

So, I’m also feeling a little sentimental. I remember him when he was a bobble-headed, hairless baby in a blue sacque; a toddler running and falling in the backyard, an eager elementary school student, an early teen, struggling mightily with new social rules, and his last few years in high school when he finally found a group of people to be friends with and a persona he was comfortable wearing. During all those times, excluding the two years when he was wearing braces, he’s had a particular favorite recipe – southern style Chicken and Dumplings. (They gummed up in his braces, which is why he would only sip the soup and avoided the dumplings.)

In honor of Spawn, whether he moves out or not, here’s my recipe for Chicken and Dumplings.

Chicken and Dumplings
Prep Time:
20 minutes
Cook Time: 120 minutes
Feeds: 6-10 (4-6 teen boys)

Chicken – any amount greater than three legs up to a whole chicken, cut up
4-6 C chicken broth
2 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes (I like Knorr brand)
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1-cup milk
Pepper, Poultry Seasoning, Salt to taste

Either: 2 C baking mix and 2/3 C milk or buttermilk
2C all purpose flour
½ t baking soda
½ t salt
3T shortening
2/3 C milk or buttermilk

Put the chicken in a Dutch oven or other large pot with a lid; add water, broth, bouillon cubes, carrot, onion, celery, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 1 hour to 90 minutes, remove chicken. Lower heat under broth while you allow chicken to cool, debone and skin it, and chop it to small pieces. Add milk to broth. Check broth for seasonings and add more now if desired.

Dumplings: Either mix the baking mix and milk or make from scratch by cutting shortening into all combined dry ingredients, then adding milk. Mix only until all ingredients are moistened. Use a little more flour or baking mix if needed to handle the dough without it sticking to you.

Three types of dumplings, your choice:

Drop: pat dough to ¼ inch thickness and pinch off 1.5 inch pieces
Rolled: roll dough to ¼ inch thickness and cut into 3” x 1” strips
Balls: Pinch off dough to make balls about 1-1.5 inches in diameter. Roll just enough to make obvious spheres (I like this type best.)

Bring the broth to a boil; drop 2 dumplings at a time into boiling broth. Reduce heat to medium or medium-low. Cook 8-10 minutes, stirring 3 or 4 times to keep dumplings from sticking together. Add the chicken and cook another 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from heat and serve.

The broth will seem thin until you start cutting the dumplings open in it and they soak up additional broth. Yum.

I sometimes add a tablespoon or two of bacon drippings to the dumplings to add flavor, and I make them a little bigger, too.

You can add pretty much any chicken flavored thing to the broth that you have in the fridge from earlier meals, and it will still taste fine. You could even add more vegetables; it's stew, be creative.

I prefer to use dark meat only for chicken stews like this one because of the strong flavor. (For clear chicken soups, I like white meat only.)

If, like in my family, the next day you have some leftover broth and no dumplings, just heat up the broth and add a little water, then stir up more dumplings and cook them just like before.


Oddball Word of the Day

stoical (STOH-ih-kull) adj. impassive; self-controlled; courageous in the face of pain; austere in the face of temptation

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Five Cleaning Tips I’ve Learned

The cleaning frenzy that took me over last week continued into this week. I figured I’d share some tips that have worked for me in the past and some I’ve recently discovered.

1. Keep the supplies where you need them. I don’t remember where I learned this tip, but of all of them, this is the most useful. I store my replacement trashcan liners under the one in use in each trashcan. That way I can just lean in to get a fresh one. It also assures I have enough around. Same thing with general purpose cleaner, cleansing powder, dishtowels, glass cleaners, etc. I keep a small supply of each in each bathroom under the sink, and I never have to stop in the middle of cleaning to go up or down stairs to get something I need. Also, when I run out of something, I’ve cleaned enough, and I stop and replenish the supply on my next trip through instead of trying to do it all at once. When my main broom, which I use for the kitchen, needs replacing, I put the old but still useful one either upstairs, downstairs, or designate it for patio use and throw the grungiest of the lot out. I even store clean sheets under the mattress so that they’re there when I change the bed.

2. From the Clean Team: Go ahead and use cleansing powder in the toilet bowl. It’s cheap, easy to find, cleans very well, and you’ll be buying a new toilet long before you get anywhere near wearing through the porcelain. Toilets last for decades, even with using cleansing powder. Get one with bleach if you can, too.

3. Speaking of bleach and its wonderful way of killing every germ or bacteria it touches, the How Clean is Your House ladies taught me to soak my kitchen sponges, dishcloths, and brushes in a very light bleach solution in order to disinfect them. Previously, I’d rinsed them out at night and hosed them down with a disinfectant spray. Waste of my time. Now I throw them in the clean side of the sink (the kids wind up putting dirty dishes in the other side during the night), close the drain, add about ¼ sink of hot water and ONE capful of bleach. I leave them there overnight and drain the sink and rinse and ring them out in the morning. This is just enough to act as a thorough disinfectant, but it doesn’t bleach out the dishcloths. It does remove lingering stains, any smells, and other ickinesses. It doesn’t seem to degrade the materials either – and, even if it did a little, it’s not like there’s a sponge embargo in my town preventing me from getting new ones.

4. Coffeemakers: I learned this one yonks ago, again from an unremembered source, when I was on my all-natural cleaning quest. Run a whole potful of white vinegar through the machine to clear out lime, or if your coffeemaker isn’t that caked up, run a pot of half white vinegar and half water through, then two or three potfuls of plain water. The smell is ferocious at first, but you’ll be amazed at the amount of lime and scale that it clears away (plus, pouring it down the drain can be combined with the next tip, so you get double use out of the vinegar) and your coffeemaker will work like a champ. This is the same thing that happens when you use a commercial preparation for cleaning your coffeemaker, and it’s cheaper and, really, less damaging to the inner tubing and mechanism.

5. Drains. The HCIYH ladies combined things I’d tried before in a new, very effective way. I had previously used baking soda and vinegar to gently blow drains clean and didn’t find it noticeably wonderful. I tried pouring boiling water down slow drains, and, while it worked for a while, it needed to be done fairly often. My British TV friends clear slow drains as follows: shove ½ cup of household salt down the drain, and follow it with a quarter cup of baking soda. Pour a goodly dose, between a ½ and a full cup of white vinegar on top (this is where you would use some of that coffeemaker vinegar). Let it foam until it’s done, then pour a full pot of boiling water down the drain. The salt works as a mild abrasive, and although it dissolves, it does seem to do some abrading while the vinegar and baking soda reaction is foaming it around in the drain. Following it with hot water clears any loosened but not completely dissolved crud, and whoosh, it works like a house afire for me.

My kitchen sink tends to run slowly from time to time (I suspect my children of letting too much grease and crud bits go down when they’re doing dishes), and I’ve had problems with all my bathroom sinks. I can understand that – they get toothpaste muck, hairs, soap scum, and so forth, and it all has a chance to dry all day until the same yuck gets washed down it again that night. So, I first tried the above on my slowest bathroom sink. It foamed for 20 minutes. I wondered if I had accidentally gunked it up worse somehow. Then I poured the boiling water down it, a whole potful – about 10 cups of water, and for the first time in years, there was no delay – it just drained away as fast as I poured it. Then I tried it in the kitchen, same thing. I’m a believer.

German Idiom for Friday

von der Bildflaeche verschwinden: to disappear from the scene

zB: Er sass ruhig im Wohnzimmer und las die Zeitung, aber als er durch das Fenster das Auto seiner Schwiegermutter erblickte, verschwand er von der Bildflaeche.

auf Englisch: He was sitting quietly in the lounge reading the newspaper, but when he caught sight of his mother-in-law's car through the window, he disappeared from the scene.

(from the guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Oddball Word of the Day

lickspittle (LIK-spitl) n. toady; sycophant

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Oddball Word of the Day

nepotism (NEP-uh-tism) n. favoritism shown toward relatives, esp. by a person in a high position in business, politics, etc.

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Deathly Hallows

Yes. Emphatically yes. Sad, epic, poignant, and leaves the door open for more. Masterful.

Oddball Word of the Day

euphony (YOU-fuh-nee) n. pleasant to hear; smooth pleasant enunciation of sounds

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Oddball Word of the Day

ratiocinate (RASH-ee-OHS-in-ate) v. to reason, esp. by using formal logic

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Disorder of the Phoenix


No. As a fan of the books, I’ve put up with a lot of shortcuts, lots of changes in the look of some secondary and tertiary characters, changes in settings, changes in tone, oversights and omissions in the transition from book to screen. I understand that directors are often more consumed by “creative vision” than by a desire to maintain narrative integrity to a beloved book or series of books. Often, that leads bad things, and I have to say that I think that happened in this case.

This movie cannot stand on its own, and it barely stands as a fifth movie in a proposed series of seven. Too much is lost for it to be really anything other than a parody of an outline of the book. It was as if they stapled every ten pages together, the director read the first and last pages for each stapled section, then invented what might be needed to get from page 11 to page 21 without ever looking at what was on the pages between.

Too many obvious devices were used to collapse time and attempt to convey information without panache or craft, and they were overused to the point of being annoying. There were some good points, however. The casting of new characters, Luna Lovegood and Dolores Umbridge were spot on. In addition, they were portrayed fabulously accurately, just as loopy and sweet, or demonically precious as in the book. The Room of Requirement, while too dank and empty, was not as bad as many of the other egregiously inaccurate representations in the movie.

I was very disappointed in the sets; while those that were important and familiar were generally maintained, anywhere a new set was required, the movie fell off the track and lay squirming and whining in confusion. In some cases familiar locations were moved to illogical and inappropriate destinations, leading to significant dissonance for loyal readers and filmgoers. For example, the movie starts off with what had previously been a park in a suburban area being set instead, inexplicably, in the middle of a farm field, where the characters, also inexplicably, were gathered for an exchange of spite and malice. Somewhere out of the cornfields, an urban underpass tunnel appears, where the new dementors show up and are depressingly uncreepy, unformed, and uninteresting.

The Ministry of Magic was the most colossal error in judgment I’ve ever seen. Here we have a series of books, clearly set in England, which has some of the most delightful ancient buildings in the world. Every other movie has visually explored and lovingly caressed the aged, venerable architecture of England and Scotland. It’s part of the character of the books and the preceding movies. I asked my husband, who has not read the books, what he would expect a Ministry of Magic to look like. “Old, fairly plain, like a government building, and some interesting magic stuff,” he replied. I don’t think he was alone in thinking that the MoM would, in some remote manner, be similar to the other sets we’ve previously seen and enjoyed.

Instead, someone huffed paint thinner and designed a MoM which looks like Hell’s Bathroom with Neo-Nazi accoutrements, plus a little video equipment from the year 2060. The statues were lovingly designed by Dr. Seuss’s evil robot clone and then blown up to the size of dragons before being set in gargantuan bird food dishes, which were then covered in gleaming black tile, as were the walls, ceilings, floors, and doors of the rest of the building. At first I thought the whole thing was a holodeck set from Star Trek. There are sort of fireplaces for apparating into via Floo powder, but it was hard to tell with all that shiny black tile screaming at me.

(I’ve been advised that I’m remembering it differently from someone else, who doesn’t recall all the black tile. Each of us has only seen it once, so I admit the possibility of error.)

It failed on so many levels –inconsistent with being a “government” office building, inconsistent with the time and place, inconsistent with the description in the book, inconsistent with available technology or even magic, visually appalling, confusing in a bad way, and utterly out of character for a set in a series of movies where everything else is, frankly, more Dickensian than Futurama. Yuck, yuck, and double yuck.

I’m no stranger to symbolism, but attempting to evoke Nazi propaganda films is appalling. I am personally opposed to overuse of that particular caricaturization because it diminishes the truly heinous evil of the Third Reich. My view of the crackdown on discussing the return of Voldemort, making sport of Harry and removing Dumbledore from his honored positions is more like what’s been going on the US since George Bush invaded Iraq. It’s not Nazi Germany; it’s rotten, but it’s NOT Nazi Germany.

I also think there were a few instances where character development was inappropriately rushed to conserve time. I can generally go along with it, but, when added to the above departures from the book, it merely grates on already raw nerves.

Then we have the category of things that were just Plumb Stupid. Again, I’m no stranger to symbolism, but when Filch is nailing Ministry Decrees 20 feet in the air (ostensibly to show how ludicrously many are being issued), how is anyone supposed to read them in order to follow them? One simple example of a student pointing a wand at one and the decree speaking aloud would have been enough to excuse or explain that particular choice. The Owl examinations were wrong, wrong, wrong, they left out the swamp, Grimmauld Place was almost sarcastically pinched, and the fight scenes in the MoM left out everything except the Prophecy Room and the Veil of Death arena. Ptui.

Another 30 minutes and more attention to the details that Potter fans love, and this could have been the best of all the movies. There was so much rich material to work with, and we got a tongue in cheek, amphetamine infused extended trailer instead. I hope the DVD will include scenes that were cut, and that with repeated watching, it’ll grow on me.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Eight Hours

I spent eight hours cleaning my husband’s revolting bathroom, split over four days. I still can’t believe the amount of work it took. Scrubbing the hideously filthy floor was probably the worst, so much yuck was caked on it was like removing the glazing from pottery. Urk.

I did find that one part of the cleaning went easier than I thought. Since this was an afterthought bathroom, the shower/bath stall was installed as a unit and had fiberglass walls and tub, not the tiled walls of the main bathroom. I was looking at that stall, all gummed up; the type Aggie and Kim would definitely want to have words with the owner about, and I thought, “You know, a brush is probably not going to work as well or with as much effect as it would on a tiled stall. I wonder how the scrub mop will work?” So, I got out the mop – one of those mops with a squeeze bar, and the head has a sponge side and a scrub side, KABOOMed the stall and scrubbed with the rough side of the mop. It worked great! In fact, it probably worked better than just using a scrub brush. I only had to use the scrub brush on corners and indentations and around handles and such. I also had to wait for the cleaner to eat through the crud, but still, it didn’t take the 3 hours I was expecting, only two hours from start to finish.

One of the nastier surprises was cleaning the window, which has two panes that crank open and screens. Aside from the amazing dust level on the sill, the screens were congested looking. I popped them out, sprayed them, and wiped, and they were still nasty looking, so I put them in the tub with a little “washing up liquid” and filled the tub until I could mash them up and down in the water. After the occlusions were gone from the screen mesh, I hosed them with clean water until it ran clear and set them aside to finish drying. The cleaning water was unspeakable. I hadn’t realized it, but I’m pretty sure that what had happened was that when the hard water from the shower turned into steam and clung to the screens, then the talcum powder cloud arose, the two things combined for a smaller version of what was going on with the floor. Boy, that hard water leaves some nasty looking stuff behind.

I laundered the shower curtain, handed it back, still damp, to hubs and said, “That’s it. It’s all sanitary, gleaming, and fresh. Please try to keep it that way. I’ve put a bottle of all purpose cleaner on the counter where you can’t miss it, along with a stack of dishtowels, and I expect you to tidy up after yourself—especially when the talcum powder gets to flying.” He looked exceedingly sour, and, much like the dream team of cleaners; I have my doubts as to how much he’ll actually do.

I think this is one of those things where he thinks it’s my job to clean up after him, and he gets to be as dirty and thoughtless as he wants to be. I’m not going to let him get away with that this time, the house is too big, there are too many creatures living here, and it’s unreasonable to expect one person, possessed of a good mind, to willingly spend 6 or more hours a day cleaning everyone else’s filth. I can keep up with it if everyone picks up after themselves, gets the laundry where it’s supposed to be, and pitches in if a big job arises, but expectations beyond that are nuts. Besides, I’m no longer a spring chicken, and I have plenty of other things to do, too.

So, I watched “How Clean Is Your House” yesterday, smug in my happiness at having cleaned my house’s worst nightmare room. I had a lot of sympathy for the cleaners going into different filthy households with hostile, reluctant homeowners who don’t like cleaning, think “washing up liquids should be BANNED”, or who are obvious hoarders and clutterbugs. While my house, or even individual rooms in it, are not as bad as the ones on the show, I encounter smaller versions of the same problems, so I do like watching for tips, for motivation, and for the vicarious malicious glee of listening to the costars give the stinkers a good dressing down and lessons in bacterial science.

Anyway, all this cleaning and watching the show makes me think about a lot of different things. It makes me think about how my house isn’t that bad, even though I’m not one of those house-proud people who won’t let you in if you’re wearing shoes and make you wear slippers on their white Berber carpet. It makes me wonder why so many British people seem to have houses that need to be condemned – eek! And how many Americans are probably hiding behind ordinary front doors with equally horrible piles of crud and encrusted floors. And it makes me wonder if I’ve done a good enough job of teaching my kids why it’s important to be aware of home hygiene and the importance of tidying up on a regular basis.

I also wonder why it seems like no one really teaches the poor clients on that show how to clean, and then I wonder if I’ve taught my kids how to do so adequately. One year I made each and everyone of them help me, over the summer, with a top to bottom cleaning of the house. We did each room as a team, and I used the speed cleaning system of the “Clean Team” in hitting each room like an organized tornado. They were reluctant at first, but after we’d done the first couple of rooms, they were proud of their work and joined in like real troopers.

I rewarded them with special field trips to movies, parks, public swimming pools, and allowance bonuses. It worked well one year. It hasn’t worked as well since then, but I know at least one of them, Bunny, does remember how to deal with a room. Doodle’s memory kicks back in with a short reminder lessons, and Spawn’s so busy wanting to be independent that we can barely speak any more, so I’m not so sure of him. I’m pretty sure no one taught my husband how to clean a room, really clean one, without resorting to putting things in boxes and hiding them elsewhere.

Then I wonder how I learned. I know my mother used cleaning as punishment, and her usual practice was to hand me a toothbrush and something caustic and tell me to clean the toilet. Aside from burning the skin on my hands and doing a lousy job, the only thing I learned was to detest my mother. My step mom had a good rule for taming clutter – “If you haven’t used it in two years, get rid of it.” That worked really well, and taught me the first rule of cleaning, which was, you can’t clean well if there’s too much crap around.

When the kids were little, spewing effluvia around the way kids do, dumping purple Kool-Aid by accident, and being little whirlwinds of crud, things got out of control. I used the Clean Team methods for a while. Then I burnt my right hand really severely in a cooking accident while the Doodle was still a baby in diapers, and couldn’t do anything at all, not even change his diaper, while my hand was healing, and we hired Merry Maids to come in every other week and clean. I watched them carefully to see how they did it, since they seemed to be able to clean my whole house in two hours, in a team of two.

We moved to a bigger house, my hand healed, and I switched to the Fly Lady’s method of cleaning. I haven’t followed those recommendations religiously, but I do like the idea of “you can do anything, even things you hate doing, for 15 minutes.” I found I could do a lot of cleaning in 15 minutes. Just not my husband’s horrible bathroom.

I have dreamt of a self-cleaning house and asked for a Roomba for my birthday a few years ago. It went insane after two days, and so did the replacement. It kept going in little circles, mumbling and hiccupping to itself before the power ran out. That was kind of discouraging. I wish it had rolled over to me and popped open its crud compartment lid so I could clean it out, give it a pat, and send it back to work. I’m not a cruel person, really! It’s just that every member of my household seems to be like Charles Schultz’s character, Pigpen.

Somewhere in the back of my mind is the mean little thought that as my kids get older and move out, I’ll have them each clean their rooms to a state of pristine perfection before they go, then put locks on the doors and not let my husband store more of his crap in them. I’ll just shut down the house, room by clean room, until we’re down to the common rooms, one bedroom and a shared bathroom. I think I might be able to keep up with a lesser amount of space, AND be able to pursue my own interests and hobbies guilt free, while having a clean house.

I’ll bet a lot of people could tell me it doesn’t work out that way. A gal can dream, though.

Oddball Word of the Day

akimbo (ah-KIHM-boh) adj., adv. (of the arms) bent outward at the elbow when the hands are on the hips, as "she stood, arms akimbo, and demanded to know why I'd come."

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Making Up For Lost Time

Dear Blog,

It’s been so long since we’ve spoken! It’s been a heck of a week, and since I do most of my unloading here, let me tell you about what I’ve been up to.

On Wednesday the 11th, I got up early, got all my ducks in a row to take Spawn to have his wisdom teeth removed at 8 am. Then I checked my calendar and found I was a day ahead of myself, so I sat down, utterly disgusted with myself and wasted an hour or two in self-flagellation. Why does that word always make me think of an amoeba attempting to find food or entertainment? Anyway, as penance for being absent-minded, I cleaned the downstairs bathroom, which the three kids and I use. The dog uses it, too – he hides in the tub during thunderstorms. I’m not sure which family member sheds the most, but it’s all clean now.

On Thursday, the 12th, I overslept myself, rushed Spawn to the oral surgeon, handed over a check bigger than his tuition for two semesters, and did some knitting on the Sideways Sock that I’m still sure I’m not going to like finishing, but I do like the yarn. It doesn’t take long to extract teeth these days, I guess, so 40 minutes later the nurse set me in a chair next to Spawn’s recovery bed, where he was sitting partially reclined, and proceeded to give me rapid fire instructions on post-op care. When she got to the part about him not using straws, Spawn’s head came up and he bellowed, “STRAWS! I’m addicted to them!” He pointed his finger at me, about ¼ inch from the bridge of my nose, and said, “You’d better HIDE them!” I agreed to do so, and the nurse and I shared a snicker while he lapsed back into a drowse. Then the surgeon came in to check on him and Spawn pointed again. “YOU!” he said accusingly, “did you take STUFF out of my FACE?” “Stuff?” queried the surgeon. “Teeth,” I whispered. “Yes, I took teeth out of your mouth,” he responded humorlessly. Spawn enthusiastically grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously, “Thanks,” he said, “I didn’t feel a thing” and then he collapsed back onto the bed.

After a couple more humorous remarks, I had Spawn in the car, dropped off his prescription for Tylenol 3 at the pharmacy and got him home and settled on the couch. We swapped out his gauze and I got him an ice bag, then got Bunny up to watch over him while I went shopping for squishy, slurpable foods and his Rx. By the time I got back, he was in need of the Tylenol, and he slept like a rock on the couch. The surgeon’s office called to make sure he was OK, and I spent the rest of the day walking him to and from the bathroom, where he nearly had a fainting spell, and forcing calories down his throat. Unbeknownst to me, while I was out shopping, he had conned Bunny into letting him make phone calls, so later that evening three of his friends showed up to look in his mouth and talk to him in his altered state. We were all highly amused, but I made them go home at 9 pm.

Friday, the 13th, I spent shoving more squishy calories into Spawn and explaining that he could not go to work, no matter how good he felt, and that straws were still off limits. He insisted that it would be a good day to watch “Groundhog Day” as an assignment from his anger management therapist, and, after checking my husband’s extensive library of VHS tapes and DVDs, I realized I’d have to go rent it. I also remembered that Doodle was heading off to Math Camp, and I needed to make sure he had enough reasonable clothes to wear.

It turned out that Doodle has been growing so fast that he had only one pair of strangely shiny green shorts that still fit him, and a pair of hand-me-down swim trunks that weren’t embarrassing, so, once again I put Bunny in charge of keeping Spawn from careening into things around the house, and took Doodle shopping. We got him some pants and shorts, a couple of new shirts and some bedding, and some electronic equipment, and then I picked up more squishy food for the tooth-lesser one. I had a small anxiety attack at the checkout counter when the total was rung up and spent the ride to the video store wondering how much I could claim as deductible for educational and/or medical expenses.

I can’t stand the movie “Groundhog Day”, mainly because of Bill Murray’s not-funny meanness and an antipathy for Andie MacDowell. Somewhere in the superstitious bowels of my subconscious, I am convinced that if I avoid watching her movies, she will be suitably chastened and stop making them. I have yet to be proven correct. Anyway, I washed the newness out of Doodle’s camp duds and shoveled soup and pudding at Spawn.

By Saturday the 14th Spawn was well enough, in his opinion, and sober enough in mine, to try going in to work for a short spell, so I spend the day cleaning Doodle’s heinous room with him. We hauled two loads of mystery laundry to the laundry room – “mystery laundry” in terms of “what the hell is this and when was the last time you wore it” and “you mean to tell me you haven’t cleaned out from under here in that long?” Which, of course meant the whole room needed cleaning, which we did. It is much more sanitary now, although I am still wetting and scrubbing two large dark blobs of something that Doodle refused to identify, even as we speak. We got him packed, and, since I never miss a chance to instruct people on good packing, that took a while, but the Doodle was gracious enough to look interested and not drool.

Spawn came home aching and in need of another Tylenol, but everyone had been nice to him at work and let him sit down a lot, which was OK. Bunny spent the day communing over the Internet and phone with her long-distance boyfriend, and hubs watched a race and washed and waxed his car.

Sunday dawned bright and early, which is how days frequently behave, to find me cooking a hearty breakfast for the camper and his parents. Bunny was sleeping late because she had found a way to piggyback on someone’s unsecured wireless net and stayed up all night i.m. ing, and Spawn decided to go to church and pray for no more swelling in his jaw. He came home early because it was boring, which is teen boy code for “there were no cute girls there”. He then ate most of the bacon, which made his tooth holes hurt, so he lay down with an ice bag, another Tylenol 3, and a grumpy mood. We got Doodle and his gear loaded into the car, drove for an hour and a half, and got him checked into his dorm room. As we crossed the parking lot to go to the parent/camper orientation meeting, I got hit with an allergic reaction to some recent petrochemical spraying of some sort and had to stop and wheeze for 10 minutes, which annoyed both my partners and scared the hell out of me. We got oriented, smiled, shook hands, hugged the Dood, and drove another 90 minutes home, where I finally quit wheezing once and for all.

Monday the 16th, started earlier than usual with a 5 am call from Dad’s nursing home, telling me that he was having acute chest pains and they were sending him to the hospital. I made coffee and waited for the hospital call, which came about 30 minutes later, letting me know they hadn’t found anything but were checking him in anyway. Then the billing office called for a verbal OK, since I’ve got Dad’s POA, and then my husband got up and asked why there wasn’t more coffee. I filled him in, he left for work, and a thunderstorm blew up, which put the dog in a quandary. Should he shiver in the bathtub or follow me around, plopping himself on my feet every time I stopped moving? He went for option two. The hospital called again, this time to let me know there was paperwork I needed to sign, so I woke up the remaining children to let them know where I’d be, loaded errand stuff in the car and went to the hospital to stand around waiting while they tried, very cheerfully, to figure out why I was there. Eventually the paperwork was located and signed, and Dad got wheeled back to his room after a test, where he cheerfully told the aide that, of course he could walk to the bed himself. I shook my head at the aide behind him, and I, also cheerfully, reminded Dad that he hadn’t walked in 5 years and he needed the assistance. I stayed with him for about a half an hour until he fell asleep, then rounded up the charge nurse and put a bed alert order in place, in case Dad was having one of his dangerous daffy spells and tried walking on his own again.

I got my errands run, and three hours after I had left, returned home to find that Bunny was suffering Internet withdrawal, as I had disconnected the home access, and the weather was interfering with her piggybacking. We had a discussion about ethics, which she agreed to, and I logged her back on. Spawn was raging around like a wounded buffalo, upset that he couldn’t find his Hamburger Helper in the refrigerator and accusing everyone up to and including the parrot, of having eaten it while he was sleeping. I pointed out that it had been cleverly hidden on the top shelf of the refrigerator, right in the front. Then I hid the remaining Tylenol 3 tablets.

Dad called from the hospital after his nap, wondering why he was there, so I reassured him that it was for some tests and did laundry and started dinner. Spawn, whose chore is hanging up clean clothes and distributing them, let out a roar from the basement, ran up the stairs and pointed at me. “The shelf fell down” he announced, “and everything on it flew all over the floor.” “Did anything break?” I asked, knowing that we keep our tornado survival supplies there. “No,” he said, “But it’s all everywhere”. “Well, get the hung clothing put away before it gets nasty, and stand everything upright,” I told him.

Later that evening the dishwasher tossed its spray arm, which melted onto the heating element, and I wound up doing all the dishes by hand.

And yesterday, I had a dental checkup first thing in the morning, which yielded good news – no changes, and came home to wash pots and pans. As I was doing so, Hawthorne decided to play Spanish Inquisitor:

H: Whatcha doin’?
Me: Washing pots
H: Whatcha doin’?
Me: Scrubbing the same pot
H: Whatcha doin’?
Me: Scrubbing the same pot

He and I repeated this exchange about 8 more times, then

H: Whatcha doin’?
Me: Looking up recipes for Nosy Parrot Stew
H: Whatcha doin’?
Me: Slicing onions for Nosy Parrot Stew
H: Whatcha doin’?
Me: Scraping carrots for Nosy Parrot Stew

Meanwhile, Bunny was giggling and chortling in her bedroom a few feet away.

H: Whatcha doin’?
Me: Picking out seasonings for Nosy Parrot Stew
H: Whatcha doin’?
Me: AAAAAAAARGH. Checking Ebay to see how much I can get for a Nosy Parrot!
H: AAAWWWWWK! Birdie wants a kiss.
Me: Doesn’t that figure.

I got the pots and pans scrubbed, and it was time for “How Clean is Your House” with my two favorite middle-aged ladies. I lollygagged on the couch watching them smell things and screech over mega messes, then Bunny left to go see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with a friend. I decided that I would tackle my most dreaded cleaning job while the house was empty, and went to face… … My husband’s bathroom.

I should probably admit that I occasionally brush my teeth there, while reading so I don’t have to look at the rest of it. In middle-of-the-night emergencies, I have been known to avail myself of the necessary as well, but about 2 years ago I gave up cleaning it, other than the bits I use. It’s just grim, and he doesn’t clean up after himself. He doesn’t admit that he knows where clean towels are stored, even though the closet, 3 feet from the door, is so full of clean towels that the edge of one is stuck in the door, sticking out in plain view. But, no, somewhere in his head, cleaning up his own bathroom and putting fresh towels in it goes against the Code of Real Manhood so severely that he showers in a stall that would be condemned if it were in a public park. I figured that in honor of Kim and Aggie, I’d put my principles aside and have a go at it, lovey, as it were.

An hour and a half later, I had clogged up the sink drain, not that it needed much help, with debris rinsed out of the wiping cloths, which I was using to clean up and wipe off the KABOOM with which I was having to repeatedly scrub the talcum-powder-plus-godonlyknowswhat which was covering ½ the floor in a huge, dark, hideous, hard mass. The toilet was clean, inside and out, and the floor around it clean, and I had faced down some very territorial spiders by expediently KABOOMing them as well. Turns out they don’t like that, which I had hoped for, and they died, which I had also hoped for. I had switched to rinsing the scrub brush and cloths in the bathtub while the sink slowly dribbled water into the drain.

When I say ½ the floor was cleaned of its, er talcum plating, I don’t mean that that was the only place it was covered in hardened muck. I peeled back, yes, peeled back the bathmat and found more of the same, plus a layer of hard water lime, soap scum, and a lost, used washcloth, lacquered to the floor with muck. I was sweating, breathing heavy, and fed up, so I took a break.

Hubs came home, came upstairs and said, “Are you alright?” I glared at him and told him what I had been doing and why I needed a rest. He didn’t look nearly abashed enough, so I asked him to clear the drain and take the trash from the bathroom out, which he did. I decided to just take on the bathroom in parts, over days, so I tidied up my work stuff and came downstairs to do dinner. I did suggest to him that it was scary in there and that he needed to clean up after himself better. I fell asleep on the couch somewhere between “Dirty Jobs” (HA!) and “The Daily Show”.

So, this morning, thinking I’d be able to go to group and make more progress on the Devil’s Bathroom, I made coffee and settled down with a cup. Hubs showed up, poured himself some coffee, and said, “Well, it looks like I disturbed some (insert plumbing word) while I was emptying out the U joint, and the cabinet under the sink filled up with water. I put a towel on the floor where it was starting to make a lake.” I took a deep breath. “Did you turn off the leak?” I asked. “Oh, yeah,” he said, “but we sacrificed four rolls of toilet paper to the flood.” “Ah,” I said.

When I went up to check, there was indeed a towel on the floor. The cabinet, however, was still full of stuff, including the sodden toilet paper, and still full of water, which was soaking into the wood and possibly causing it to warp. I took everything out and threw in a couple of my husband’s favorite towels to soak up the water, and I’ll be spraying it later to prevent mold.

If the rest of this week goes like the last seven days, I’ll need corneal transplants by Friday, and on Saturday we’ll develop a roof leak, which I’ll have to handle by myself because Spawn will be on a date, Bunny will be online, and Doodle will be out trying to find the dog, who will have run away because the bathtub is full of sponges and it’s raining.

Oddball Word of the Day

tarn (TAHRN) n. a small lake in a mountainous region

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dialing Long Distance

Well, it finally happened. We made it most of the way through the teen years without too much phone time being used by long phone calls dribbling on deep into the night, until this summer. Bunny has an out-of-state friend, and the phone stays very warm.

She met her friend online, which caused us to be hyperparental and check said friend out six ways to Tuesday and back again. We absolutely forbid any thought of ever meeting while she’s still a minor without at least one of us present, and talked about internet predators until her eyeballs rolled up into her head and her breathing became labored, at which point we figured we’d made an impression. For now. And, yes, he’s a boy.

Hubs was going to get all domineering and oppressively medieval on her, but I spiked his guns. “Didn’t you ever have a pen pal?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “You know I hate writing.” “I did. I had several. We never wound up meeting, but it was fun and interesting and kept me out of barrooms and pool halls as a kid,” I stated. He snorted. ”Hubs,” I said, “the chances of the two of them running off to Brazil together are next to none. He’s younger and hundreds of miles away. His mother makes him sit down for Bible readings after dinner. Bunny has no money that’s not locked up for college, and until the paperwork frees up and she can get her driver’s license, she’s pretty well stuck here, too. Nothing’s going to happen other than a lot of words.” Hubs snorted some more.

And, that’s the way I thought of it – it was more like having a pen pal with really good mutual mail service than anything else. Until the first phone call. He called and they talked for four hours. Even my ears hurt afterwards. Then, unbeknownst to us, she called him, and they talked for four more hours. We had to have the talk about not being made of money and keeping calls short and the internet is pretty close to free, so please try that. Neither one of them liked that idea much.

So, they switched to him calling here because he has free minutes. Apparently he also has a phone implanted in his head because the calls were for hours at a time. Eventually, family started calling on my husband’s Secret Squirrel Only-to-Be-Used-in-Emergencies cell phone because they couldn’t get through on the landline. Then friends of mine would find me at the store or drive over to make sure we were OK because they were getting some weird forwarding message instead of a busy signal. It got to be a little embarrassing.

Which meant we had to have another talk – about limiting call duration so that, just in case one of our elderly parents fell and broke a hip or wound up in the hospital, or, God forbid, someone should actually want to talk to one of us completely boring, uninteresting, and uncool adults, they would have a better chance of getting through if there were breaks in the long-distance action. After a full afternoon of door slamming, accusations of us trying to ruin her life, and the beginnings of a hunger strike in protest of our overpowering parenting, she calmed down. She had corresponded with Far Away Friend, and it seemed he was getting the same talks from his parents, too.

I suppose I could be worrying about her getting overly involved, getting her heart broken, idealizing someone who’s not “real” in the sense of being able to knock on the door and ask her out on a date, but I’m not. I was kind of wondering when “it” would happen – the thing where a teenaged person, who so desperately wants to love and be loved, or at least to admire and be admired outside the family circle, finds someone and gloms onto that relationship pretty tightly, spending a lot of time and a lot of emotional energy on building a friendship or more with another person. While it can be very draining and emotionally absorbing, I think it’s a natural part of their growing up process.

I haven’t wanted to interfere or disapprove, and I’ve talked with hubs, too, about not being threatened by it. It’s going to happen, and, of all the ways it could happen, this seems pretty darned safe in the great scheme of things. I’ve gone out of my way to encourage her, to let her know we’re fine with their friendship; I’ve referred, briefly, to my own pen pals and long-distance friends from my younger years, and how much I enjoyed knowing them, even if I never got a chance to meet them.

And if her heart’s going to get broken, better this than with someone she’d see on a daily basis at school, or wind up working with in an after school job. I think it’s perfectly OK for her to have dreams, daydreams; to make plans that, in her heart of hearts, she knows will never come true. I’m OK with her fantasizing and giggling at odd moments. It’s part of being herself and her age. She’s had crushes and friendships, but has stayed away from the whole boyfriend scene because it seems to be very sex-intensive here in our town, and she is pretty sure she doesn’t want to get intimate at this point. She doesn’t feel safe with the boys here, and she’s still feeling her way around in different social situations.

I haven’t forced my kids to drive on their 16th birthdays, I’ve never suggested that there was anything wrong with them for not dating earlier or being more popular or engaging in boyish “pranks” of vandalism or girlish shopping sprees. And I’m sure as hell not going to push them into social situations they aren’t ready for. I like that they are all willing to take their time with the rites of passage. I don’t think they’re timid; I think they’ve listened to us and other adults, and I think they’ve listened to their peers, and I think, most importantly, they’ve listened to themselves.

If this is Bunny’s choice for a first notable excursion, a little exploratory toe in the water, into male-female relationships, hey, I can’t think of any situation that is easier on me, and I think it’s easy on her, too. In fact, now that I think about it, she’s in the driver’s seat for the most part, and that probably keeps her friendship with Far Away Guy from being too overwhelming to her.

It’s pretty strange sometimes, being on this side of the teenaged years and watching it happen to people I love. Their family is different from my family; the world is a slightly different place with new technologies and some different social expectations. But those teenaged years are still hard, still intense, and full of drama and tragedy and comedy. For the parents, too.
Oddball Word of the Day
(the title thing isn't working on Blogger today)

piggin (PIG-in): n. a wooden pail of which the handle is formed by a continuation of one of its staves

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Five German Foods I Miss

I get nostalgic about Europe sometimes, Austria and Germany in particular, since I haven’t been there in over a decade, and I particularly miss the different foods. I get awfully tired of the same American flavors, and I try different ethnic variations. I can’t get into flavoring main courses with peanuts or lemongrass much, which is my own bias, and I can’t seem to get my family enthused about the foods I really miss from Austria and Germany.

I have tried making these things at home, but our ingredients are just not the same, or I couldn’t get the ones that are. I did finally find an online company that will ship perishables that might do the trick. I won’t recommend them until I’ve tried the foods.

1. Bauernbrot: There is no bakery in any area where I’ve lived for the last 26 years that makes real Bauernbrot. What makes that particularly obnoxious is that it’s ubiquitous in Austria and Germany – not at all a delicacy, it’s available everywhere, all the time, and is eaten the same way we Americans eat squishy white bread. And it used to be dirt cheap, too. It’s a rye bread, but not with seeds or distinctly dark, it just has rye in it but that doesn’t dominate the flavor. It’s got a wonderful, chewy crust, the bread is firm, and it went great with everything, even when it was starting to get stale. When fully stale, you could hammer nails into mahogany with it, though, which made it a good crouton for French onion soup.

2. Leberknoedelsuppe – Liver Dumpling Soup. I am one of those few people who actually enjoys the taste of liver, but there are only two ways to get it in a restaurant here in the states – fried to within an inch of its life, in a big slab, with either bacon or onions, or, if you’re lucky enough to be down South, you can get breaded and fried chicken livers in a nice gravy, over rice. No one else in my family will eat it either way, so I wind up settling for slab liver maybe once a year out in a restaurant. I miss Liver Dumpling Soup. It was a perfect winter soup – warm, filling, flavorful… Did I mention filling? On a student’s budget, that was particularly important. About two years ago I did drive two hours to meet a cousin at a “real” German restaurant. I ordered LDS in the restaurant, and I just about swooned with delight. I even got some to bring home. That’s a long way to go for a bowl of soup, though.

3. Gulaschsuppe: Goulash soup. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this, not even on a menu in an ethnic restaurant, here in the states. Maybe it’s exclusively, or predominantly, Austrian. I lived on it for the better part of my exchange year because it was cheap, nutritious, and, yes, filling. It also taught me how real paprika can be used in cooking – Oh, boy!

4. Semmelknoedeln: Dumplings made from bread cubes. It sounds nasty, but they’re really tasty – more flavorful than most large dumplings, and a perfect accompaniment to anything with a gravy worth savoring. And, if you only have a little Gulaschsuppe left, pouring it over a Semmelknoedel is a great way to make sure you don’t miss a speck of soup!

5. Fresh Austrian Marzipan: Both Austria and Germany have a lot of spankingly good pastries and desserts, most of which are more the type I usually like – not too sweet, excellent pastry, fruit in abundance, unsweetened whipped cream, but there’s nothing in the whole world like sitting down with a Wiener Mélange and a piece of freshly made Austrian marzipan and people watching. One bite, one slurp of coffee, and my bones used to just slide right out onto the pavement as the rest of me got all blissed out on that perfect combination of flavors. I was probably, unknowingly, quite entertaining, getting all relaxed and smiling like a lunatic over my marzipan and mélange. So what? I’d make a fool of myself all over again, for just that reason, if the opportunity arose.

So, when my goodies get here, I’ll give them a try and report on the results. Until then, have a great weekend!

German Idiom for Friday

jemandem die Suppe versalzen: to spoil things for someone; to put a spoke in someone's wheel

zB: Jetzt Schluss mit der Party! Ich will euch die Suppe nicht versalzen, aber es ist schon spaet.

auf Englisch: Finish your party now! I don't want to spoil your fun, but it's already late.

(from the Guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Oddball Word of the Day

orexis (Oh-RECK-sis) n. the aspect of mental activity concerned with emotion and desire rather than cognition

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Throw me a Lifeline

Well, I was knitting perkily along on my Charlotte’s Web shawl in Chix, and a week or so ago realized that I had missed a pattern repeat in some unspeakable way several rows back. I hate it when that happens. I dragged my project bag home and stared grumpily at it for several days. Then I screwed my courage to the sticking place, faced all the yarn overs and K3togs, got myself a darning needle and pale green yarn, sat under enough light to qualify me for doing microsurgery, and had at it.

(If you don’t know what a lifeline is in knitting, there’s a good picture of it at Heartstrings Fiberarts, and a really good explanation of how to use it in pretty much any kind of knitting situation where you have to rip back here at The Knitting Fiend.)

I was surprisingly successful – it can be very dodgy trying to run one through a lacy pattern. I expected I’d miss some yarn overs and have to chase them down ruthlessly before they ran, or that I’d wind up with half the line through, say row 8 of the pattern and the rest through row 7, but I was lucky. I only missed three stitches, and I had run the lifeline through the stitches in the row underneath them, so I didn’t have to chase any vertical runs at all!

I’m now back on track and knitting on the shawl on Thursday evenings. I am also suffering from the seasonal blahs. It’s rough knitting in hot weather, and I really do like to knit for an hour or so early in the morning while I drink my coffee and everything is quiet and peaceful around me (before the kids get up). I took a break from my usual projects and did a quick hat. Then I went back to working on my sock yarn mitered square afghan, did a row and a half and I’m finding it too bulky, even with sock yarn, to work on for now, so I’ve started another hat.

And I started a sock from some of the lovely yarn I bought late last month. I decided to try a sideways sock, since the picture of one on the pattern band looked so fun, turned the band around to find the pattern was entirely in German and started translating. I got the majority of it translated comprehensibly, so I decided to go look on the manufacturer’s website to see if I could cobble together any tips they might have, and, lo and behold, they had the entire pattern translated and available for printing. The sound you hear is me slapping myself on the forehead repeatedly.

So, I started the sock and promptly remembered why I like circular knitting best of all. The back and forth of flat knitting is a little annoying to me, even though I knit continental (or a variation thereof), and as I was knitting to and fro, I realized the sock was going to have a big, honking seam running down the back of it and underneath the foot, and I made disgusted noises inside my head.

I know perfectly well that I can make a very nice, flat seam, with hardly any likelihood of causing blisters or rubbing, but still. It’s the principal of the thing. I decided to continue knitting anyway while pondering the possibilities and techniques that might be necessary to achieve the same, or very similar look without actually having to sew – such as doing a provisional cast on and grafting at the end. 140 stitches worth of grafting is a lot of grafting, though. So, I set the sock aside, and when I just have to pick up that gorgeous yarn again, I work on it some more. I do think that I’ll probably get to the end of it, look at it, and say, “Nope” and frog the entire thing. But, maybe not, which is why I keep working on it anyway.

So, it’s fretful knitting for me for now. Maybe I should go pick up some cotton yarn and make a snootful of dishtowels and washrags again. Sigh.

Oddball Word of the Day

vellicate (VEL-ih-kate) v. 1) to twitch or cause to twitch, 2) to pinch, to nip, 3) to move convulsively

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Robins Have Dirty Butts…

…Or maybe they’re just avian perverts. Of all the birds that visit my fountain, robins are the only ones that hop into the top segment and waggle their rear ends around over the water spray. They spend a lot of time there, and they make a lot of noise. I start to giggle and snort a little when I speculate, so I’ll stop there.

This is my fountain this year.

Whenever I take a picture of my stuff, it always looks much worse through the lens of my camera than it does through my glasses. I’ve checked to see if the lenses of my specs are rose-colored, and I don’t think so, or maybe my photography skills leave a lot to be desired. I look out at my fountain and think, “Gee, that looks nice today. I’ll take a picture of that.” And then I come inside, look at the picture and think, “Man, I really need to deadhead those petunias, pinch back the impatiens, haul out the power washer and hose off some algae, and … I didn’t realize that stupid immortal weed was back again!”

Anyway, this is one of my favorite places to sit and ponder during nice weather. I like the flowers, damp mulch smells good, sunlight doesn’t hit the corner near the fountain until later in the day, and I feel slightly hidden from view sitting in my plastic Adirondack chair behind the fountain. There’s only one hitch. Birds scream at me. A lot. They want me to get away from the fountain because they’re thirsty, their toes are hot, and their butts need a dip.

Eventually, being hollered at by birds, and thirst, makes me come back inside. I like watching their antics through my dining room window. I get a small variety of birds, all of which are interesting.

First, the most frequent visitors are the Donald Trump blackbirds. They remind me of him with their arrogance, bossiness, and the way they yell at the other birds. They’re all business and attitude. No more than two at one time will perch on the fountain, slurp, make sharp, barking chirps at any other waiting birds, and finish slurping. They turn around and face the yard before leaving, as if surveying their real estate holdings.

Then the Naughty Robins arrive. They wait their turns pretty well, pecking through the grass and the mulch for worms, and only one at a time uses the fountain. First they have a drink, then they hop into the bathing section and hose off their butts, flap wildly around, dousing their wings, and chirp in glee (or ecstasy). They might bathe for upwards of two full minutes. They calm down perched on the side, have another drink, and flutter off on their daily business.

Finches show up for fly-by drinks all during the day. I get beautiful yellow finches, which look like escaped canaries, plain Jane house finches, and purple finches with their slightly scarlet breasts. They don’t dawdle, but they do perch in my hanging flower baskets, waiting their turns and chattering with one another, as if they were ladies waiting to be seated in a tearoom for a little cake and coffee before going back to shopping. The blackbirds try to intimidate them by screaming at them, but the finches merely look mildly irritated and go back to gossiping. I’ve seen frequent groups of five finches at a time having a drink at the fountain.

Early in the morning and just at twilight, Little Old Lady Mourning Doves arrive to have a turn. I call them that because they behave like little old ladies meandering and dawdling through a day at gift shops. The doves are patient, sitting down in the mulch and absentmindedly preening themselves as they let the other, more aggressive birds go ahead of them. They may occasionally coo at one another. Sometimes it looks like they’ve decided to take a little nap while they wait. When they finally amble over to the fountain and lurch up onto the lowest tier, they rest and look around, as if trying to remember why they’re there at all. They never go on the top tier, preferring to cool their toes in the lower tier of water and gaze carefully around. They’ll kind of smack their little beaks, preen a tad, and then take a long, considered drink from the fountain. They cock their heads, as if trying to determine the vintage, have another sip, then hop down and amble away for another mulch nap. Two might occupy the fountain at the same time, but that’s unusual, and they’ll look at one another as if the second dove has committed a birdly social solecism. They’re done when they’re done, and not a moment before.

Twice a day, my yard fills up with birds, as much as wild birds will fill up anything. I’ll get a whole cluster of blackbirds stomping around screaming for water rights, finches perched on anything that will hold their weight and chattering up a storm, robins worm hunting, and doves patiently nestling in mulch heaps. The noise can be really annoying, mostly due to the blackbirds’ shrieking.

There are different waiting stations – out at one edge of the yard is a pin oak with a bird feeder, and lots of birds hop around underneath of it, pecking for seeds. My perennial coneflowers, columbine, and balloon flowers seem to be equally favored with the hanging plants for finches. And there’s mulch all over the place, which suits all of them. It’s fun watching them wait, take turns, and entertain themselves while waiting. It’s not something I’d have thought wild birds would do until I saw it happening myself, but the fountain offers them a fresh, cool, clean source of water, and they like the environment as much as I do.

With all that use (and evaporation), the water level drops an inch or two every day. I hose out the fountain and add “safe” treatment enzymes in the evening. Sometimes there are unhappy surprises. A week or two ago, I thought there was large leaf in the fountain, but it turned out to be a baby bird, which had somehow fallen into the fountain and drowned. I looked all over for the nest, but couldn’t find it.

The fountain was a graduation present to me from myself. When I finally got my long-sought and much-delayed college degrees, I knew I wasn’t going to throw a party, nor was anyone else. I didn’t even really want a cake or punch. I wanted… a monument. Not much of one, but something tangible to mark my achievements, something to lay my hands on, something I’d see often, as a self-esteem booster, something I could enjoy for many years. I shopped a couple of garden supply houses and looked at all kinds of fountains, fancy, whimsical, ones that sat low on the ground, spectacular arrangements with five tiers, things with faces and fairies and frogs, but none of them suited. All I could think of when I looked at those was “I’m going to outgrow liking them, and besides, I have no interest in scrubbing out those crevices over and over and over.” Then I saw this one, and the tag on it said “organic design” which I think is code for “looks kinda like something in nature.”

It cost me $400 dollars, I had to get men to help me set it in place, and I spent an extra $100 on a new pump two years ago, and a heater for it for winter months 4 years ago.
I have enjoyed it every day for 6 years, and I intend to enjoy it every day for at least as many more years. It’s exactly the kind of monument I wanted – it’s unobtrusive, practical, fun, needs maintenance, and it brings me modest, comfortable joy.

While I did tell family members that it was a graduation present for me, I never told them it was a monument. I don’t need anyone else to be proud of me, I just like being proud of myself; it’s enough. Just like my fountain. And it’s only fitting that a comparatively modest reminder for me be enjoyed, pooed in, and used as a love bath by birds – it adds just the right amount of humor and goofiness that appeals to me.

Oddball Word of the Day

quotidian (kwoh-TID-ee-ehn): adj. 1) everyday, ordinary, 2) occuring daily, as paroxysms of some fevers

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)


Just a note to correct a mistake in my Yaaarrrn post -- Plymouth Outback is 200 grams of yarn (a truly bounteous amoung) not 100 grams. And it's still lovely.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Little Old Men

I have a nasty summer head cold, which is probably because I spent most of last week taking Dad to his usual round of doctors. I seem to be sicker after visiting doctors’ offices than I would be normally, which would make more sense if they had been g.p.s. But, no, somewhere between the optometrist, the dentist, and the cardiologist, I came down with a rhinovirus.

In keeping with my fairly recent determination to be good to myself, I’ve been taking it easy, drinking juice, snoozing (and snoring around the congestion) and letting other people take care of themselves. It’s going OK, although there are moments when various family members act as if I hide things from them. It’s hard to avoid yelling, “Oh, fer Christssakes! You’ve lived here 11 years, too, and it’s been in the same place for all that time.” Fortunately for us all, snot and inflammation have kept me gracious.

During the week of Dad and Doctors, I noticed his Alzheimer’s is getting worse. He repeats himself more and more, and it doesn’t always make sense, the way it kind of used to. He forgets things, like his indwelling catheter, which he’s had for over 13 years, and asks over and over to go to the bathroom to void. Over and over, as I would remind a distracted child, I remind him he can just let go. And then he asks, quite distressed, to go again.

We were waiting in the cardiologist’s examining room, and I was rubbing him gently across his bowed, tired, fragile old shoulders. He said it felt really good and thanked me. He wanted to go to the bathroom again. I was sitting about 6 inches behind him, and he couldn’t see my face without turning his head, which was bent forward while I rubbed his shoulders. He propositioned me.

My first reaction was a quick, short wave of shock, followed by a deep welling of sadness so huge I nearly burst into tears. I kept rubbing his shoulders, reminded him that I was his daughter, and said very calmly that maybe he was a little confused because that would be inappropriate. He said he guessed so and asked to go to the bathroom again.

I know it’s his Alzheimer’s, and the way it makes people’s inhibitions and filters short out, reducing and eventually eliminating their ability to think rationally and within social constructs that made him say it. Because my Dad isn’t like that and never has been. He has always respected women, and particularly women to whom he is related, to such an extent that he would have been driven to an atypical act of violence if he’d ever heard someone else say anything like that to me. It was his Alzheimer’s, and his confusion, and possibly a need buried beneath his hardening brain cells for intimacy. Or maybe it was just a series of words erupting that his mind fought to put into a sentence of some sort, struggling to make sense out of nonsense at some level.

But a little bit more of my dad has gone missing. Every time I see him, part of his personality has been shaved away by age and Alzheimer’s. Sometimes it’s a little fragment, and I need to remind him who I am, other times it’s something bigger. Every time, it’s a little shock, a moment of sad surprise, before I take a mental breath and adapt to the slightly new him. He shuffles a little closer to the end of his life every day.

I kissed him goodbye after his appointment, and put him on the hospital bus, which can transport him in his wheelchair back to the nursing home. I called his g.p. to come and test him for a UTI, thinking that maybe he was feeling a non-specific urge and that was triggering him to ask to go to the restroom so often. And I sat in my car, during an afternoon storm, and I cried and grieved a little for the missing molecules of my Dad.

Oddball Word of the Day

zarf (ZAHRF): n. a decorative, usually metal, holder used in the Levant for handling coffee cups made without handles

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)