Sunday, July 31, 2011

Derelict

Stella's very last day of preschool is coming up! I'm very sad about this, in part because preschool has been such a wonderful, nurturing experience for her, and in part because it means she will now she will spend the rest of the summer more or less crawling up our pant legs.
Got this pic from the free-photo site
I use. It doesn't have anything to do
with the post, but that doesn't make
it any less awesome.

Preschool has been a great salvation for us as parents, because it gives Stella a whole new social circle in which she can tell people what to do. That takes some of the pressure off us. Apparently we are (in her eyes) derelict parents because we only follow 85%, maybe 90% of her commands. Call child protection, pronto!

There's been a bunch of new kids at preschool recently, and the teacher told us that Stella has enjoyed "playing the role of assistant teacher." I can translate this statement into what it really means, which is that Stella is bossing the new kids around, telling them how things should be done. It doesn't help that she has eight inches and, like, 150 pounds on some of these kids. I can just picture her sitting a new three year old down and saying "Look, kid, I'm the one who pulls the strings around here. Stay on my good side, and all will be well. Cross me your favorite orange crayon again will go mysteriously missing."

One of the great things about Stella's preschool teachers is that they are so darn nice. And they say nice things. This means that sometimes you have to work to figure out what they actually are trying to say. So for example, when her preschool teacher says that Stella is enjoying playing the role of assistant teacher, that's the teacher's nice way of saying Stella thinks someone died and made her Rupert Murdoch.

Here's some additional examples of how to translate statements from preschool-teacher speak into actual English:
"Full of good ideas and loves to share them" = Holy cow, does this kid ever stop talking?
"In the process of learning how to appropriately expressing physical affection" = Is there some reason your daughter is tackling her friends?
"Working on sharing belongings, but only in the proper context" = Ha ha, someone gave your kid lice.


(Don't worry; we don't actually have lice.) (Yet.)

I am sparing you by not using a
 photo of something much, much
worse.
Speaking of small parasites, when we were growing up I remember us kids having fairly regular infestations of pinworms. Now, I knew nothing about pinworms when I was a kid other than I didn't like the taste of the pills we had to take. As an adult, I know more about pinworms, although thankfully not from firsthand experience from my children, and -- do you know where pinworms live? And how they get out of you to lay their eggs? It's so incredibly disgusting! Please excuse me, as I now have to go irradiate my intestines and scrub my entire body down with bleach. Seriously, compared to pinworms, lice are much more attractive -- the parasitic equivalent of cuddly koala bears, if koala bears had evolved specialized mouth parts devoted to sucking human blood.

So now Stella will be moving on to kindergarten, where she will be exposed to many new opportunities and skills. I think there's going to be a period of adjustment as she moves from preschool to kindergarten, but I sure hope that she finds kindergarten to be relatively easy socially, and is able to easily make friends with the other kids. Because if I find out anybody's been bullying her, I may have to show up and take all the orange crayons.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bill

Agents of the devil, apparently
Like most couples, we've divvied up assignments for household chores based on each individual's strengths and interests. For example, David is good at drinking beer, so he takes care of our household's patronage of nearby taverns. I am good at telling people what to do, so it's my job to tell Stella to get your shoes on, get your shoes on, get your shoes on, for the love of all that is good and holy GET YOUR EVERLOVIN SHOES ON ALREADY.

See how well I did that? That's why it's my job.

Also it is my job to pay the bills. The reason for this dates back through the mists of time, to when we started dating in the mid 1990s (or the Pleistocene Era, as it is more commonly known). David was going through a tall stack of unopened mail, when he asked me what day it was. "The sixteenth," I said. "Why?" It turns out that he hadn't paid the power bill in months and the power company had announced that it would be turning the lights off -- guess when? -- on the sixteenth. It wasn't that he was short of money. He just didn't like sitting down and paying the bills. I still get a twitch in my eyelid all these years later just thinking about it.

I was looking for a picture
of a light and this is what
came up. I think I love it.
 Also, David had a unique approach to paying doctor's bills. He immediately recycled all letters from either his insurance company or the health care provider for the first six months. At the end of that period, he figured the two parties had more or less hashed out how much he owed, opened the next letter that came, and paid that amount. Actually, now that I think about it, David may have been on to something there. Perhaps we can get President Obama to include this approach as part of his efforts to reform the health care system. I'd like us all, rich or poor, to have the right to throw away the first six months of bills from health care providers.

My approach to bills, on the other hand, is to read all the fine print and have a firm mastery of the rules. Sometimes I think half  my success in life is due to reading the instructions, and so I try to use that same approach when I pay the bills. This comes in particularly handy when navigating the maze of our  health insurance and its preferred providers, deductibles, and other topics that give any sane person the dry heaves.

For example, when Stella was born, I had to get pre-approval from my insurance company to give birth in the hospital, which I obtained. However, I neglected to get pre-approval for the baby (who, remember, at that point didn't technically exist) to be in the hospital, and was therefore subject to an additional deductible. Since the insurance company knew I was having a baby, I don't understand what they thought would happen to the baby. Perhaps they thought that Stella would squirt out from me at such a speed that she would fly out of the hospital and all the way across the street, where David would catch her in his loving arms, wrap her in a blanket made of sustainably grown organic cotton, and ride her home on -- oh heck, let's say a camel, as long as we're going for the big time.

That didn't happen.

BUT, based on my close reading of the fine print, I appealed the health insurance company's decision and won. I think even they were embarrassed by their logic, and that's saying a lot.

Ever since that fateful day in the mid 1990s, it's been my job to pay the bills around here, and I think I've done a pretty good job of it. I can't even remember the last time I was late paying a bill. So it looks like I'll continue to take charge of this job for the foreseeable future -- or until Stella gets her shoes on, whichever comes first.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Computer

Today we got a new laptop computer, replacing an antiquated desktop that dates back to the late 1890s, or at least behaved like it did. I believe it was powered by whale oil.

Before socks were invented,
nobody ever missed the bus
The old computer had an uncanny ability to sense when you had a fairly urgent need to get online and would then slow to a mind-numbing crawl, much as when you are walking to the bus stop with little kids, they can sense when you're running a little late to catch the bus and therefore tend to develop some urgent problem with their sock that has to be fixed RIGHT AWAY.

I count myself lucky my computer does not have socks.

I’m not sure why the old computer is so frustratingly and inconsistently slow, but I suspect a virus. I don’t have any direct knowledge of where I could have picked that up, but I blame George W. Bush. He’s kept a pretty low profile recently, but I still like to have somebody to blame for mysterious bad things that happen. Here are other things that I still like to blame on Bush: a greenish hue to the yolks in my hardboiled eggs, split ends, and the entire Twilight series. Also, recently I’ve been getting june bugs in my clean underwear after I hang the laundry out to dry on the line, and I know that’s not Obama’s fault.

I'm willing to entertain the possibility
this is actually Cheney's fault
As an aside, my sister-in-law recently told me that one of the women she works thinks Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is hot and jokes about him being her “boyfriend.”  While our governor isn’t bad looking, it had never in a million years occurred to me that he would be an object of lust. I find this incredibly disturbing, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, apparently there are a decent number of people who have amputee fetishes, and Governor Walker has apparently had his concern for the middle and working classes surgically amputated. It boils down to about the same thing.

Our old computer also has a good deal of stickiness smeared on the keyboard and screen from SOMEBODY eating marshmallow and graham cracker sandwiches while typing. Unfortunately, that SOMEBODY is me. Also unfortunately, the cats tend to rub up against the computer a lot when someone is typing on it and the fur that is shed sticks to the computer. The result is that the entire computer is cased in a thick layer of cat hair. I was counting on the cat hair to act as a protective coating to repel any viruses. Or at least George Bush.

So for a year now, we’ve limped along with a computer that was barely sufficient. It put a real crimp in our porn viewing. Now, however, we have a brand new blazingly-fast laptop, at a time when actual computers are out of style because everyone is using their smartphone and iPad to communicate. Once again, I find myself on the cutting edge of technology from five years ago.

Having a new computer will make it a lot easier to get on line when I need to. I'm not sure whether it will make posting on the blog any easier, though. True, I will be able to access the internet when I need to. And that will probably reduce the copious amount of time I put into meticulously researching and preparing each post (aka downloading porn). But what I'm really holding out for is a new computer that can make me a marshmallow and graham cracker sandwich.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

North

We're back from our trip Up North, which as far as Stella is concerned, is an actual specific location rather than just a general location. Stella likes to tell random details of our lives to strangers, but she starts floundering when they ask questions to which she doesn't know the answers, like this recent exchange:

Stella, running up to random person, but always a woman, because she's not so hot on the guys: "We're going Up North today!"
Random woman: "Oh, how nice! Where up north?"
Stella, thinking hello, didn't you hear what I said?: "Um...Up North!"
Random woman: "Yes, but where  up north?"
Stella, speaking slowly and firmly because this woman is at best hard of hearing, and at worst not very bright, clearly wishing she had picked a different random strange to bless with the details of her life: "We. Are. Going. UP. NORTH!"

Two cuties
And let me tell you, UP NORTH! there are a lot of mosquitoes. Even after immersing ourselves in enough DEET to give a full-grown deer seizures, we got bit to pieces. The poor baby was basically a big delicious cream puff for the mosquitoes, delivered right to their front door. Whenever we opened the car door to go anywhere, dozens of mosquitoes would fly into the car, and the car would violently lunge from one side of the road to the other, as we tried to drive and smack all the mosquitoes in the car at the same time.

But it was worth the mosquitoes. We were lucky enough  to stay at the trailer of David's brother-in-law (as described in the most recent post), which is on a lovely piece of land that borders a branch of the Embarass River. (For those of you not from Wisconsin, that is the actual name of the river. It's not a joke.) Stella and David did quite a bit of fishing on the river, and managed to catch a little fish every three or four minutes. This turned out great because a five year old, or at least our five year old, just does not have the attention span to sit and patiently fish for any decent span of time. Anyone who has ADHD should come and fish in this river, because it delivers instant gratification.

You might need a
magnifying glass to see it,
but there is indeed a fish
on that line.
And of course there was marshmallow roasting. Stella is a huge fan of the idea of roasting marshmallows, and she loves ingesting the sugar, but she's wary of the campfire. So she selects a very long stick, then stands as far away from the campfire as she can -- possibly in the next county -- and waves the marshmallow in the general vicinity of the campfire for a good six or possibly even eight seconds, then declares the marshmallow "nice and gooey." If Al Gore know how much fuel we used to lift the core temperature of that marshmallow by three degrees, he would not be happy. Quite possibly he would revoke our Prius privileges.

Now we're back home and re-immersed in urban life. We had a great little vacation, but it was also nice to come back. The mosquitoes are not nearly so bad in town, which means I don't have to worry about the kids shrivelling down to dried husks from mosquito-induced loss of blood. The mosquitoes in town are not nearly as persistent as the ones Up North, and I'm not really sure why. It could be because of the relative lack of mosquito habitat here in town, or a slightly different climate. Or it might just be that the mosquitoes here are not as persistent because they have a bad case of ADHD.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wilderness

Tomorrow we're headed out for a family vacation. We're going to be headed out to the true wilderness, which I define as any metropolitan area with a population of less than 100,000 residents. Our facilities are going to be primitive, in the sense that the shower head on the premises may offer only a minimal selection of pulsating massage streams. And there will no doubt be fearsome wildlife, possibly in the form of Republicans. I can never remember whether it's better to stand your ground and make yourself look bigger to intimidate them, or sling the trail mix in your backpack in their general direction and run like hell.

We are going to be staying at a cabin in northern Wisconsin, one that belongs to David's brother-in-law. The brother-in-law has communicated to us that the cabin is "fairly trashed." Far from being bad news, this is GREAT news. If the cabin weren't trashed already, our family would certainly trash it within 30 seconds of arriving, and then I would feel bad. But they've pre-trashed it for us, which is almost like a favor to us. In fact, I'm going to ask my friends to pre-trash their homes before we come over to visit. Really, it's the least they can do.

This is basically what last year's
cabin looked like.
Last year we also went to a cabin for a family vacation,a different one. (Here's the blog post from that vacation) This other cabin belonged to a friend of David's, and was definitely NOT trashed. In fact the term "cabin" was something of a misnomer, because far from being primitive, this cabin was bigger and nicer than our actual house. David was a bit paranoid that we would damage or dirty something at his friend's cabin, and wouldn't even let us sit on the chairs or sofa, lest we damage them. And then at the end of the visit, he spent several hours cleaning the place, which was quite a surprise to me. I had been under the impression that he was congenitally incapable of perceiving dirt, based on his actions at home.

We considered the option of camping out instead of staying in a cabin. Camping offers the advantages of breathing in the clean forest air, communing with nature, and lying in a sleeping bag while gritting your teeth because you can hear the sound of a mosquito flying around somewhere in the tent. There is nothing worse than lying in bed hearing that dreaded whine. When we were in New Zealand earlier this year, every night at bedtime I would turn on the overhead light, grab a magazine, and play whack-a-skeeter until I was satisfied I had gotten them all. I left their blood-spattered bodies on the walls as examples to other mosquitoes. If I could have speared their tiny heads on pointed sticks and posted them at the entrance to the room, I would have.

Whoever invented the
bed should be awarded
the Nobel Prize.
Anyway, camping sounds nice. For other people. For me, there's just something about porcelain plumbing fixtures that I am really attached to. And mattresses! I am going to have to put mattresses up close to the top in the list of the most important inventions over the last couple millennia, right up there with agriculture and diet Dr. Pepper.

Hopefully our upcoming vacation will be a nice middle point between staying at a cabin that is so clean that David requires we remove all body hair before entering, so that we don't accidentally drop a stray eyelash -- and camping, which involves voluntarily sleeping on the hard ground. (It's true that the CIA does not classify camping  as form of torture, but we all know their credibility on this issue is not the greatest.)

Despite the challenges of vacationing with two small children, I'm sure we'll have fun being together as a family, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I think we'll have fun toasting marshmallows, singing campfire songs, and wading in the river. This is pure speculation, though, until I know that the shower head offers a setting other than "gentle rain."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bikini

If there's anywhere in the U.S. that you ought to be able to live without air conditioning, it's Wisconsin. So I am against air conditioning in our house in principle, although of course there's a lot of things I oppose on principle that in real life I take advantage of to the fullest extent possible. Diet Dr. Pepper falls squarely into this category, as do chocolate covered pretzels.

In our house, we have a tie vote
as to whether these are disgusting
or delicious. 
(Recently, I was munching away on a bag of chocolate covered pretzels, when David took one and popped it in his mouth. "Bleah," he said. "I really regret eating that." "I regret you eating it too," I said, because of course then I had ONE FEWER PRETZEL.)

We do have air conditioning in one room in our house on the upper floor, a room we refer to as the "master bedroom," because "room where the whole family sleeps and is therefore wall-to-wall mattresses" doesn't sound as fancy. And you know, I went to a private college, so it's important that I sound fancy.

It gets pretty hot upstairs in the "master bedroom," but my rule of thumb is that we only turn on the air conditioner when it gets above 90 degrees in there. This is the flip side of my rule that during the winter we must keep the house at a temperature that allows icicles to grow at the end of our noses.

Me in a bikini. (Are you laughing?
You better not be laughing.)
The success to being able to sleep in a 89-degree bedroom is to reframe how you think about the temperature. For instance, think of it not as a bedroom but as a Native American sweat lodge! It's not that we're getting sticky with sweat while we sleep, it's that we're purifying our spirits and communing with our ancestors! Perhaps the next time we have a really hot night, I'll wear a bikini to bed and pretend the room is a Swedish sauna.

The primary reason I try to avoid using air conditioning is because it uses a lot of energy. The second reason is because our wall unit air conditioner is quite loud. The sound it makes is similar to that of a jet engine, if you were standing two millimeters from the actual engine: BOWR BOWR BOWR BOWR BOWR. The ear-splitting noise makes it difficult to sleep. Not to mention it totally wrecks the Swedish sauna vibe.

Despite the heat, and despite the BOWR BOWR BOWR from the air conditioner on the one night on alternate leap years when we actually turn it on, I actually manage to sleep quite soundly. Proof of this is that many nights, as Baby W is nursing to sleep, I think to myself, "I'll just lie down for a minute while the baby is nursing and then when he falls asleep I'll get up." Then four hours later I jerk awake, still in my work clothes. This happens every time and yet for some reason I still believe my internal voice that tells me that I'm capable of lying down at 8:30 PM and not immediately falling asleep. I'm so gullible! So gullible that I am capable of even being fooled by myself, apparently.

It's been pretty hot the last few days, so one of these nights it might get above 90 degrees upstairs. I will admit that it is nice to sleep in air conditioned comfort (BOWR BOWR BOWR), in part because the air conditioning takes the humidity down a notch. But if we decide to forgo using the air conditioner once again and sleep in hot and sticky room, I'm ready for that too: I have my bikini all ready.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Subterfuge

We've reached a milestone in our household. At age five and a half, Stella has reached a level of cognitive ability that makes it very difficult for us to hide things from her. Specifically, she has learned what we're referring to when we spell i-c-e c-r-e-a-m. THIS MEANS CRISIS!

Does this come in Chubby Hubby?
So now, instead of spelling out ice cream, David and I are using a substitute word and a wink-nudge when we want to refer to ice cream but don't want Stella to understand. That substitute word we have chosen is "kale." I'm serious about this. If Stella is around and I want to pitch the idea of going out for ice cream but not have her understand what I am talking about, I ask David what he thinks about "taking the kids out to get some kale." When Stella grows up, she is going to have a deep-seated, subconscious love of brassicas and not really know why.

Hey, I have a great business idea! What about starting a truck that drives around, plays music, and sells kale to kids?!?

Being circumspect around Stella is becoming more important because (1) she absorbs a lot of what David and I talk about without seeming to pay attention, and (2) she loves to talk to all sorts of people, including random strangers, and tell them all about her life. Boy, I sure don't know where she gets THAT tendency, said her mother, as she uses her blog to tell random strangers all about her life.

Here's an example of how Stella's love of telling all can lead to trouble. The other day, Stella told her swimming teacher that we had to drive to swimming lessons (rather than ride our bikes as we sometimes do) because "mama left her bicycle at the bar." That comment made me look bad in front of the swimming teacher, and I was especially embarrassed because it was untrue. What really happened is that I left my bicycle at...well, it was more like a bar that also sold food. Practically a restaurant. Totally different!

David and I have also started being more cautious in how we talk about other people in Stella's presence, as we don't want her to repeat our remarks, especially out of context. So sometimes we use subterfuge. Let's say, for example, that we are talking about a friend named Bill who got a particularly bad haircut. In our conversation about it, David and I would try to refer to this friend by the initial B, except that about half the time we would forget and call him "Bill, I mean B," fooling no one and dramatically increasing the chances that the next time Stella sees Bill she will tell him that her parents thinks his hair looks like it was cut by someone who is visually impaired. And who uses a weed whacker as her preferred styling tool.

Perhaps the lesson I should learn from all this is that if it's not okay for Stella to hear and repeat, perhaps I shouldn't be saying it. Maybe her getting older will help me learn to be more straightforward in my communication, and to not say unkind things about people when they're not around. We'll see how it all shakes out. In the meantime, I'm going to dig in the freezer and dip into my secret stash of cookie-dough kale.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Date

I actually went on a date this past weekend, which is a rare and wonderful thing. Sadly, the date was not with Jon Stewart, who has apparently yet to realize we are soulmates. Until that happens, though, David is pretty good company. David seems to be trying to postpone the day that I finally sail off and leave him by reminding me on a regular basis how short Jon Stewart is. I realize he doesn't want to hear about my celebrity crush, but I will make it up to him by being very generous with the alimony.

David and I went out to see a movie, and got my sister to babysit the kids. I'm not originally from Madison, but I moved here after college, and when my sister graduated from college in Pennsylvania and wasn't sure what to do next, I suggested she move to Madison. She's been here ever since and lives about a mile from us. My 1999 self didn't think about all the potential free babysitting when I convinced my sister to move here, but my 2011 self sure finds it handy. Nice job, 1999 self!

My sister has been a huge help with taking care of the kids. She doesn't have any children, and for the past five years she's been doing us child-related favors. If and when she does have kids, we are going to owe her BIG TIME. I figure we're going to have to let her (hypothetical) baby move in with us for the first couple years, just to even things out. My sister will come and visit on alternate Tuesdays.

Because we were a little late to the
movie, we didn't even get popcorn.
That's how bad it was.
So David and I decided to go out and see a movie, with my sister babysitting the kids. We decided to go see The Tree of Life, which I knew nothing about other than it had gotten good reviews. (This is what's known as foreshadowing.) We headed to the theater, and I was slightly miffed with David because I thought we were going to be late. So we agreed that if the movie had already started by the time we bought our tickets, we'd go see something else.

Well. Let me tell you, it mattered not one whit whether we were on time to the movie or not. This was a very, very unusual movie that I also found to be very, very bad. I think I would have liked it better had I been stoned. But even though we went to the fancy theater in town that offers upscale refreshments, that particular kind of refreshment was not on the menu. 

I bailed on the movie after about half an hour. A quick Google search shows that I wasn't the only one. As I walked out, I did some soul-searching, asking myself whether it was possible I had so much exposure to formula-driven, mainstream movies that I didn't recognize true quality when I saw it. But in the end, I decided that it's okay that I like narrative and story-telling, complexity and mystery in a movie. It's hard to pack those qualities into a movie about the creation of the universe. And the movie starred Brad Pitt yet it didn't even make him look cute. If that's not a reason for walking out, I don't know what is.

David decided to stay for more of the movie, and I hung out on bench outside the theater, reading a book I had stashed in the car. If I have learned one thing in my 37 years on this planet, it's to always have a book stashed in the car. Ideally that and some Mike's Hard Lemonade, but in a pinch a book alone will do. 

As I sat outside, a friend happened by, and she took pity on me and gave me $10. This meant that I could go to the cafe and have a treat and read my book, which is pretty much my idea of great evening anyway. A date with myself, if you will. 

Flavor: spinach-saffron-caviar.
David wound up bailing on the movie too, in part to keep me company. We decided to hit a fancy chocolate shop, the kind with really elaborate flavors, like lemongrass-shittake-oyster. Each individual piece of chocolate costs $2 and you're supposed to eat the chocolate slowly and savor the distinct flavors. This is a change from my usual approach to chocolate, which is to shove it in my mouth and look around for more.

After the chocolate, the date was over and we headed back and relieved my sister. David and I don't get to go out very often, and we're already looking forward to the next time we can do it. I might give my sister a break, though, and see if we can get somebody else to stay with the kids. Do you suppose Jon Stewart is free?