Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fan #70

One of the biggest downsides of David being out of town is that I am missing my normal rendezvous with my early-morning running group. By the way, I just learned that word is both singular and plural, which is handy if you are Elliot Spitzer and you need to talk about your rendezvous with a special lady and you would like everyone to assume that you are using the word in its singular form when in fact you are not. I was fascinated with the Spitzer scandal when the news broke and I am re-living a little of that now, because apparently someone accidentally left the door to a television studio unlocked and Elliot Spitzer crept in and started a show. I am choosing to believe that is what happened, because I can't stomach the alternative that someone actively decided he would be an appropriate person to host an opinion show.

I also would like to point out that the correct plural of passerby is passersby, a fact that somehow I managed to retain despite the fact that I have not used the plural of the word in the 24 years I have known the correct form, and also despite the fact that I cannot remember my own cell phone number. My new cell phone, which I bought for $12 at Target, came in very handy on my big trip, by the way. Since then the phone has been turned off, sitting in a drawer, so be sure to give me a call on it! I did turn the phone on the other day and saw that I had missed two calls from numbers with area codes indicating the calls originated in the Milwaukee suburbs. Since I don't know anyone from that area, I am thinking the calls might have been political in nature. I'm thinking of returning their call and telling them I'm writing in Brett Favre, a man I once only half-jokingly said could run for Wisconsin governor and win, although something tells me he might have a harder road to Madison these days. There is actually a Brett Favre for Wisconsin Governor page on Facebook, which seems a bit....dated, although the page does still have 69 fans. I am sorely tempted to become fan #70, but I can't in good conscience throw my vote behind a man who spells his last name all weird like that.

I have been running with the same group of four people for years now, and I was happy to be able to rejoin them for early morning runs just a few months after Baby W was born. It took the better part of a year before I rejoined them after Stella's birth, because Stella really clung to me in the night and early morning hours, which Baby W does not do at all. Many times even now when I return from running, I find Stella having a screaming fit because I left the house for 45 minutes, and when I point out to her that David was two feet away from her and perhaps he could have provided her with some comfort, she looks at me as if I had suggested something as bizarre as that Elliot Spitzer should become a television personality. Baby W, on the other hand, is basically a 24-year-old trapped in a size 18-month onesie. He doesn't have the desperate neediness that Stella does, although he's always happy to see me, and glad I brought food. And like a  24-year old, he asks me to do his laundry and pick up his pizza boxes.

Autumn is a lovely time for running, and I am looking forward to David returning so I can get in some early morning hours. I love running, and I run all seasons, at any hours. There's one way I won't run, though, and that's for governor. My last name just isn't spelled weird enough.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Loop

David's gone to L.A. again. Every time I say that, I think of an old Oak Ridge Boys tune that starts out "She's gone to L.A. again, That's Lost Angel to me." When I was growing up, we heard a lot of Oak Ridge Boys gospel-turned-country music in our house, and as a matter of fact the first CD our family ever owned was an Oak Ridge Boys album. This meant it was also the first ever CD in our house to develop a scratch and I remember the panicky fear I felt the first time when the stereo started making unfamiliar wuh-wuh-wuh-WUH sounds as a result of the CD skipping. I was alone at home with my brother, and not having any idea what was wrong, we devised a plan whereby I put a shoe on my hand and then hit the off button in a way that we hoped that the rubber sole would insulate me from the stray electricity that was causing the machine to malfunction so strangely. I survived, so it must have worked.

Can you believe our family used
to debate which one was the cutest?
I'd love to say I stopped paying attention to the Oak Ridge Boys after their song Elvira topped the charts and their music got too accessible and wasn't hip enough for early Oak Ridge Boys fans like myself, but in fact the reason my attention strayed elsewhere is that Alabama was looking smokin' hot in 1986. So I had to go to the web site of the Oak Ridge Boys to see if they are still around, which they are indeed, and performing regularly at the Oak Ridge Boys Theater in Branson. Also -- and maybe this is so obvious I don't need to say it -- they now have their own Twitter account. From looking at their website, I see that several Boys have expanded their artistic repertoire beyond singing really really high and really really low to writing books. The book by Joe Bonsall, the guy that sings high, even has an endorsement from George Bush on the cover: "From My Perspective is filled with wit, heart, and charm, and written by one of God's special people." I take it that means Joe is Jewish.

David is in LA, although I can't say he's a lost angel. More like an agnostic with GPS. While he's been gone Stella and I have been working on canning, and have put up several quarts of applesauce. I like to say "put up" because it sounds like something a pioneer woman and her trusty four year old helpmeet would do in the early morn hours, before the pioneer woman had to go and harvest spreadsheets at the office. (I need to get those worksheets covered before the first frost.) I also like to use the construction "put up" when referring to canning because while I thought canning would be a fun and educational way for Stella and I to spend time together, and while she was indeed fairly interested for the first ten or fifteen minutes, "put up" is an appropriate way to describe Stella's attitude towards the canning experience as a whole.

We're also preparing for Halloween here. My mother sent Stella this year's costume, which is a green M&M. The costume consists of a green fabric shell and white rubbery gloves and shoe coverings that smell like somehow the manufacturer managed to distill the essence of every toxic material known to human kind into a single fragrance and pour it into the mold with the plastic.

Last year's costume
Stella actually goes trick-or-treating three or four times -- at school, in the neighborhood, on State Street -- and the amount of candy she amasses is staggering, and to my mind mostly unnecessary. To help cut down the stash to a manageable amount, we use some of the candy she has accumulated to give out to trick-or-treaters who come to our door. I suspect that those kids return home with their loot and their parents raid their bags to give candy to my kid, thereby creating an infinite loop whereby the same piece of candy is cycled through various residences and purposes until someone riding in a 2013 Labor Day Parade on a float advertising Yamke's Lawn Service tosses the piece of candy out with a handful of other candies and instead of being caught by a little kid it gets crushed to dust by the heel of a heavyset bagpiper.

I like it when adults dress up in costumes of their own when accompanying their kids on trick-or-treating missions. So I've decided that this year I'm going to wear a really scary costume, and go as some type of living dead creature with a head full of matted fur, and a snarling, drooling mouth. I bet you can see where I'm headed with this. This year, I'm going as an Oak Ridge Boy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Applesauce

As you may know, I have two children, one six months old and the other one nearly five years old. One kid cries at all hours of the night, gets separation anxiety if I so much as step out of sight, is totally dependent on mom and dad, and spends hours every day fussing and whining -- I'm thinking colic might be a culprit.

The baby, on the other hand, is chill.

Gratuitous cute baby shot
I don't understand how a kid who is almost ready for kindergarten can require so much more in the form of parenting resources than an infant. There is NO WAY I was this hard to manage when I was almost five years old. (Mom, please note: If you leave a sarcastic comment, I will delete it.)

The other day I saw an article in the paper about a mother in the Ukraine who tried to sell her kid to human-organ traffickers, and Stella has been so challenging recently that I admit I lingered over the article before turning the page. Stella must have seen me googling "call Kiev country code" because her mood has improved recently. Still, she doesn't really need both kidneys, does she?

David is heading out of town on a work trip, which means I will be solo parenting for the next few days. I have one main tool that I use to help deal with the stress of running the household without David: bad carbs. For me, not for the kids. It's amazing how a package of graham crackers can buoy my mood and give me additional mental resources to deal with unreasonable demands. I've prepared a handy if/then chart so I know the best carb-related method of dealing with various unpleasant scenarios. Some examples:

IF: Meltdown occurs, precipitated by Stella's re-discovery of five-day old microscopic scratch that needs a band-aid RIGHT NOW, probably exacerbated by my slightly sarcastic suggestion that she get her own band-aid so I could be free to mop up all the blood.
THEN: Consume one tootsie roll Stella caught at the Memorial Day parade, microwaved for 30 seconds to see if it will soften up. You can break a tooth on those things.

IF: "Look Mama! Baby W is a dog and I am tying this leash around him and dragging him around by his neck for a walk!"
THEN: Well, looky here. SOMEBODY -- somebody who is off on a work trip -- was trying to hide an unfinished bag of peanut M&Ms in the pantry behind the clam chowder.

At the orchard
It's true that Stella's been quite challenging recently, but we have managed to have some fun together too. A couple days ago we picked apples at a self-pick orchard. Then we made and canned applesauce together, which was a first for me. I am not known for my mastery of traditional female skills like canning, so I was pretty proud of myself. I think there's a decent chance the applesauce tastes pretty good, but we'll never find out because I'm so proud of my handiwork that I'd prefer to just have the jars sit on the shelf where I could show them off to unsuspecting political campaign workers who are foolish enough to ring my doorbell. Sort of like when Stella was learning to use the toilet, and the first time she pooped on the pot I happened to be out of the house on a run. David saved it to show me -- he saved it for me -- and when I jokingly suggested we have the turd bronzed, he got kind of a thoughtful look on his face. We could bronze these applesauce jars. And as long as we're at it, I'm also going to suggest we bronze the tootsie rolls. I think it would improve their taste. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chop

When David and I started first started dating, he had longish floppy growing-out hair that I thought suited him. In fact one of the first compliments I paid him was that I liked his hair. "Thanks," he said. "My mother gave it to me."

I'm okay with looking like a lesbian.
Then a few weeks into our embryonic relationship, he got a buzz cut, and I still remember the shock I felt when he poked his head into my room. Pointing a shaking figure at his hair, I hissed "Never. Never do that again." He has taken my request to heart and now sports a ponytail of varying length; sometimes he complains that it's so long it gets caught in his belt when he buckles it.

David's version of going to the barber consists of going out in the back yard occasionally and cutting the last four inches off his ponytail. Then I find the big wad of hair while I am doing yard work and panic. Hair is a creepy thing to find mixed in with the snapdragons.

Struwwelpeter
What I'm saying is that David has abided by my requests about his hair length, and I know he has a preference that I keep my hair long as well. So I felt a little bad about getting my hair cut short but did it anyway. You know how sometimes when you dress up a little bit, there's always someone who goes overboard on the surprised compliments and manages to convey, with actually coming out and saying it, that one of the reasons you look so nice is that it's such a contrast to your normal appearance? People seem to like my new cut, so much so that I suspect they are struggling not to directly contrast my new fashionable 'do with my old Struwwelpeter-like hair.

Thank you to anyone reading this for allowing me to make use of my German minor with that Struwwelpeter reference. (Struwwelpeter was a popular German children's book in the 19th century.) These days the only other use that four years of college German has is being able to remember that Weltanschauung has two 'u's in a row, and reminding David when he sings "Packers Über Alles" every Sunday that über has an umlaut. I should have minored in something more relevant to my daily life, like laundry.

It's a shock to look in the mirror and see a reflection that looks even modestly hip. Normally, my approach to fashion combines the influence of those women in polygamous ranch cults in Utah crossed with Wisconsin Eskimo. I have always told myself 'I'm too cute for makeup,' which of course is one dangerous step away from 'I'm too lazy for makeup,' which is why when Stella recently read a book that involved someone wearing lipstick, she had to ask me what it was. When I got my hair cut, I splurged and bought a tube of hair goop the stylist recommended, which cost $22, which was also far outside my normal spending behavior. I've now blown my beauty budget until 2014. Or, as they say in German, 2ö14.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hair

I ask very little of my hair, mostly just that it stay on my head. Traditionally it's done a fine job at that task, although post-pregnancy my hair has been taking leave of my head in handfuls. It doesn't help that I only comb my hair about once a week because (a) it actually looks worse when I do, if that's even possible, and (2) combing hair is a Communist plot designed to get us to waste time. This is not widely known, but if you think about it, billions of people comb their hair in China every day, and as a result they have to live under a totalitarian regime.

See all this hair? 
I like to think of my personal style as "natural," meaning "low-maintenance," which of course is code for "slob." It's a nice bonus that I have no gray hair to speak of, although I do think gray can look nice. On other people. For example, on my sister, who is two years younger but has more gray hair than I do. I credit my lack of gray to clean living, high moral principles, and upstanding character, especially when I'm "admiring" the silver at my sister's temples.

Since Baby W was born, all that extra hair I grew during pregnancy has been falling out. As a result, after I take a shower the tub looks like I've drowned several small otters in there. My hair has never made up its mind -- it's both straight and curly, coarse and baby-fine, all while managing to be the most boring color imaginable (though not gray!), a color that can only be described as "mouse." It's like a bad-hair conference, held right on top of my head. (The plenary session this year: "How to Look Your Scraggliest." Breakout sessions on "Achieving Maximum Split Ends," "Summer Time: Time to Frizz," and "Sticking Straight Up.")

So I've decided to make a change and go short. This will have the side benefit of letting my sister grow her hair out, since we have an unwritten agreement that we will always have opposite hair lengths -- if mine is long then her is short and vice versa. This helps stupid people tell us apart.

I got closer than I would like to the creep-factor line by stopping a woman I didn't know and asking if I could take a picture of her hair, because I liked her short cut. That felt weird, but can you imagine if you were thinking about getting a new nose and saw one on a woman you liked? Or breasts? And shoot, I really shouldn't have said the word "breast," since now this post could show up in R-rated searches.  I looked at my stats recently to see what searches led people to Midwest Potato, and seven out of the top ten search terms involved the word "penis," likely due to the fact that I think it's very strange my pediatrician comments on Baby W's at every visit. I was a little disconcerted by people finding my blog by searching for those words, so to address that concern from now on I will be referring to Baby W's vagina instead.

I'll post a picture of the new short hairdo when it arrives. I don't know exactly how I'm going to get it cut, but I'll make it clear to the hair stylist that even if it's short, I'm still not going to comb it. I have no proof, but I believe those Chilean miners combed their hair. And look at what happened to them! I'm not going to risk it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Facebook

Midwest Potato now has a Facebook page! I think the way it works is if you click on on the like button to the left, any Midwest Potato updates will show up in your feed. Either that, or by clicking on the link you agree to allow my voice to start transmitting instantly to the chip in your head, which might come out to about the same thing. Getting you to "like" Midwest Potato is the first step on my road to World Domination. I'm a little fuzzy on what steps #2 through #9,999 will be, but step #10,000 is definitely going to be getting a cleaning person. I can't be on top of the world with a bathroom that smells like a port-a-potty on Mile 23 of the Chicago Marathon. 

Stella self-portrait
Stella loves port-a-potties by the way, and if we see one when we are out and about will step in to take a look around, almost as if it's a tourist attraction. She's especially happy when there's dozens of port-a-potties clustered together, as for a festival or other big event, and insists on touring each one. Every girl's got a goal, and Stella's goal, apparently, is to maximize her exposure to the widest possible variety of fecal bacteria. She's somewhat of an expert in this area and I'm thinking she could give walking tours of local port-a-potties. ("In this excellent example of the construction-site style facility, note how the robin's-egg blue exterior complements the slate-gray interior and how the small mirror on the back side of the door invites the user to linger and savor the heady aroma.")




Stella has great affection for public bathrooms in general and asks questions about the purpose of each fixture. In the airport in Washington DC this past week, we were in the bathroom and Stella exclaimed, "Oh Mama! What is this? I've never seen something like this before!" from inside the stall, and my heart dropped. Any completely new thing that you see inside a Washington DC public restroom stall is bound to be illegal, incredibly unsanitary, or have to do with lobbying, although I guess that last category is redundant. Fortunately, the object of Stella's curiosity turned out to be one of those pull-down shelves for purses that was hanging off the wall in an unusual way. In a similar vein, back in the hotel bathroom, David called out to me, "What's this big brown thing on the floor in here?" and I had to resist the impulse to walk out the door of the hotel room and vanish for the next couple days, being sure to take my complimentary copy of USA Today with me, but the mystery object turned out to be part of the extremely complex set of hotel bed linens, which involved about 12 sheets in earth tones and 37 pillows. The bed in the hotel room was a size the hotel called "serf," which is basically a skinny double. I had never heard of this size so I googled it just now and let me tell you, when you google "serf bed" you get some interesting results, mostly having to do with simple peasants who are so turned on by a full day of harvesting turnips that they seduce the master in a pile of hay. I suspect that type of serf bed has pigs rooting around underneath, which might not be the effect the hotel was going for. On the other hand, root vegetables are very "in" these days.


At the so-called "fish ladder"
I keep talking about our big trip not only because it took the equivalent of two years off my life but also because it was the most interesting thing we've done for a while. For example, in Seattle we went to see fish ladders. I have never given fish ladders much consideration before but had you asked me, I would have said they look more or less like the kind you would climb to clean our your gutters if you lived underwater. It turns out that fish ladders are not like ladders at all. I'd like to suggest that these structures be renamed "fish staircases," which would give the salmon a chance to regally ascend, bedecked in a while floor-length ball gown with a plunging neckline showing off their creamy. . . fins(?), scales in a chignon.


I would appreciate it if you could "like" Midwest Potato on my Facebook page. How else will you get a chance to read what is now three posts out of the last four that include important information about airport toilets? The only downside is that you will be on record as "liking" Midwest Potato which might come back to bite you if Obama tries to swap out Biden and choose you as a running mate instead for 2012. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Continued

Back from our big trip! First we headed to Pennsylvania to see my mom, and then to DC for a work event; after returning and spending one night at home we were back on the road westbound to Portland for a cousin's wedding and then to Seattle to hang out with my brother. I had overpacked on the PA/DC portion of the trip and the pendulum swung to the other extreme for the second portion of the trip when I had great interest in dumping out big portions of what I had packed for the first part of my trip, coupled with virtually no interest in evaluating what stayed in. Also, I decided that clean underwear is overrated.

Baby W on the train from Portland to Seattle
Portland was full of hanging out with relatives I don't get a chance to see very often, and eating delicious food paid for by somebody else. What could be better than that? This side of the family really only gets together at weddings, and there have been a decent number in recent years but we're starting to run out of unmarried cousins and therefore out of excuses to get together. Not to mention that some enormously selfish cousins skip the wedding part of getting married and just -- oh. Never mind.

Stella's been very patient with all this traveling, and got to meet her new baby cousin on this trip. I had prepped Stella on being gentle with the new baby, keeping in mind that roughing up Baby W is one her main activities at this point. I would go so far as to call it a possible career. On her resume, her position held for April 2010-current will read Brother Torturer: Responsible for enhancing pain levels and maximizing crying potential.

But I think she might be due for a performance review because try as she might -- and she certainly does -- she's not succeeding at her job. I can't believe the assaults he shrugs off. I stepped out of the room for a minute recently and when I returned I found Baby W on his stomach (as I had left him) and Stella standing on his back (as I had NOT left her). Baby W was not entirely happy with the arrangement, but instead of full-on crying, he was whimpering in a way as to suggest that when Stella got a moment perhaps she wouldn't mind stepping off of him. If it wasn't too much of a bother.

Stella in Seattle
Also, you know how biologists who specialize in controlling populations of Canadian geese addle the eggs to kill the developing embryos and ensure that parent geese invest resources in sitting on eggs that will never hatch? Kind of the same way you might shake a big jug of orange juice to get the pulp mixed in. Both those motions kinda remind me of how Stella loves to grab and shake Baby W's head. His own pulp might be a little mixed up because he thinks it's hilarious when she does that.

I enjoyed getting to know my new two-week old niece on this trip, and I made sure to notify her very sleep-deprived parents that Baby W had slept nine -- count 'em! nine! -- oh wait, my mistake -- nine and a HALF hours in a row without waking for a feeding while I was there. They didn't seem very excited.

The low point of the trip came in the Milwaukee airport, when a toilet took Stella by surprise by spontaneously flushing while she was pooping. Her socks escaped the resulting carnage, but all other articles of clothing had to be very carefully removed from her body. Fortunately we had clean clothes in the carry-on bag.

We're back in Wisconsin now, and I have vowed to never travel again for the rest of my life, or at least until next month when I am planning on bringing the kids to Pennsylvania and then Washington DC for work AGAIN. I have a month between now and then to recover from this massive trip, and I'm going to need every minute. Also, I think I'm going to need some clean underwear.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Washington

I'm done with the first part of my bicoastal trip, which involved flying with the kids to Pennsylvania to visit my mother, and then taking the train down to Washington DC where I met up with David and attended a work training. The actual training was a little disappointing. I had hoped to come away energized and with lots of new knowledge, but that wasn't the case, although I wouldn't call it a total loss. Plus it's very entertaining to watch other people doze off around a conference table. On the way to the training I walked past the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which was kind of a thrill in that I use their data all the time at work. I felt like asking if I could stop inside and wrassle some unemployment rates to the ground. I'd be very careful and promise not to break the numbers.

Since I was going to be in a training and David was going to be with the kids, I had to carry breastmilk though airport security so that Baby W would have something to eat. In theory my declaration at security that I was carrying milk should have triggered special scrutiny but in practice the TSA inspectors didn't even unzip my bag; they just wiped down the zipper with that special explosive-detecting baby wipe they use. I looked at the TSA website before flying to make sure I understood the regulations about flying with breastmilk, and I found this handy tip: "NEVER leave babies in an infant carrier while it goes through the x-ray machine." Thanks a lot TSA, I guess I know enough not to send the baby through the x-ray with the carry-on bags. I got smart and paid the extra $25 and checked the baby with my big bag so I didn't have to bother with the x-ray at all.

I've learned that even mentioning breastmilk can make people uncomfortable, which could be why my liquid cargo didn't get as much scrutiny as I expected. At work somebody accidentally walked in on me recently while I was pumping. (She thought I had the door closed because I was on a conference call). The bad news was that I was mildly embarrassed and she was mortified; but the minute that she opened that door it became absolutely guaranteed I will never have to share an office at work. So that's the upside.

In Washington DC I packed the insulated compartment in my breast pump full of ice so I could cool the milk I pumped at the training. The compartment had a small leak and as the ice slowly melted I left little drips behind me. I could feel the bag drip-drip-dripping across the Metro station, and I kept my fingers crossed that nobody took see-something-say-something too seriously. I was also glad that there was a dark carpet at the training location. Back at the hotel we kept the bag in the bathtub.

I might be insulated in the hippie paradise of Madison, WI, where mary jane crocs are considered professional attire, but on this trip I discovered that women's shoes out in the real world are ridiculously pointy and high-heeled, and I'd go so far as to say dangerous. I wore very sensible (meaning boring) sandals. On principle I'm against any article of clothing that could be used as a fatal weapon, although it's true that after I hang my incredibly rank running clothes in our tiny bathroom to dry, the room does develop some unfortunate similarities to a gas chamber.

Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to visit an old friend who lives in Washington, DC who I was excited to see. He lives a short subway ride away from the hotel, and I would like to take this chance to give a big shout-out to the Washington Metro, which feels dark, gloomy, and dystopian. But the kind of dystopia that has an excellent public transportation system. On the night I was supposed to see my friend, David reported he had heard that the remnants of a tropical storm were due to hit the area, with up to eight inches of rain predicted, and I sadly decided I couldn't drag the kids out in near-hurricane weather to go see my friend. David suggested we try to find a grocery store and stock up on food, and when I pointed out that there was a restaurant inside the hotel, he fretted that the workers might not be able to get to the hotel due to high floodwaters. It was all I could do to prevent David from laying sandbags in front of our hotel door. I'm not going to go into the details of how the weather played out in actuality, other than to say that the gentle mist was very refreshing and David is banned from ever watching the Weather Channel again.

I'm writing this from Portland, which is part of the second part of my big trip. We almost missed our Chicago-Portland flight due to a massive traffic jam precipitated by construction at Midway Airport but managed to squeak in at the last minute. We flew on Southwest Airlines, which was a first for me, and which I was excited about because unlike other airlines, Southwest doesn't charge to check bags. This can only mean one thing -- on the return flight, I'm checking BOTH kids.