‎"...a little 'trouty', but quite good" ~ Eve Kendall, North By Northwest

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Needed: someone who knows about nature, lore, or zombie squirrels

Dr. Frankenfox
Dr. Frankenfox

 This morning during breakfast we spotted a fox that had a giant and very healthy-looking squirrel in its mouth. Healthy aside from being dead, I mean.

Since both the fox and the squirrel were both so nice looking, we stood watching as it rounded the corner and... headed straight for us. Good lord, I thought, it's bringing us a holiday squirrel.

 I don't have a single squirrel recipe.

 But instead of dropping it as an offering on our front stairs, it buried it in the garden - while we stood gawking. Dig, dig, dig, stuff, stuff, stuff, poke, poke, poke. That last part was the fox using its nose to tamp down the dirt and mulch. Perfectly.

 Seriously. You can't tell where he buried it. It makes us wonder how many dead things have been buried in our garden when we weren't eating breakfast and saying "look kids, a fox with a remarkably healthy yet dead squirrel."

 Is this normal? Here are our conclusions:
  1. It's a holiday gift from the fox who ate the last three chickens.
  2. Having observed us burying the hamster, it buried its pet squirrel nearby.
  3. It's preparing for a squirrel zombie apocalypse and we should probably move.
Please feel free to weigh in. I'm particularly worried about that scene in Poltergeist getting played out with squirrels rising from the mud.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Listen to your mother

Note: Last spring I submitted a piece to Listen to Your Mother and then pulled out because I came down with pandemonium (it is too a thing.) I am posting the piece here because I am a New Englander and can’t stand wasting things.
When my 7 year old offered to make dinner, I considered sitting in the kitchen snacking the whole time he cooked, saying I wasn’t hungry when dinner was served. For the record, I had the full support of the internet when I announced this as my plan.
Random strangers made suggestions for style points, including announcing starvation 15 minutes after dinner and eating an entire box of cereal with all the milk in the house poured on top. That’s the nice thing about the internet. You realize that even if you’re still the most horrible person in the room, you’re in really good company.
While it may be that the people I attract are all horrible human beings, I chose to believe that they are like me – amicably horrible. Because lets face it, we can’t be nice all the time.
When Sugarplum (who is the nicest person in the family) hauls off and punches her little brother, I want to applaud her for waiting so long. It’s not that I condone violence, it’s that I can’t fathom where she gets that kind of patience. No official statistics are available, but I’m guessing for each time she does go for the smack down, there are 37 billion times she resisted the urge. He’s a little brother, after all.
(A little brother who has offered to make dinner. Let us not forget where our bread is buttered.)
It’s possible that Sugarplum is looking ahead, realizing her scrawny little brother will eventually be bigger than her. She is currently saving for a house, so this kind of planning is not out of character. I’m sure she learned all this from me because I am a shining example of how to do everything right. I taught them that it’s bad to leave paychecks in the pocket of your jeans when you wash them, and that cell phones aren’t for sitting on, and bees have personal space issues.
It was my husband who taught them not to make a u-turn across a median in front of a police car, but I covered the rest.
Teaching by example is my forte.
What is it I want them to learn from me? I want them to learn to cook so I don’t have to. I want them to use their words. I want them to do unto others as they would have others do to them, assuming they don’t turn out to be masochists.
I also want them to know that I’m usually right and sometimes they are jerks, but I haven’t figured out a gentle way to put this. Every time I come up with a plan, there’s this annoying voice in my head (or perhaps my heart, or spleen), that talks me out of it. Stupid spleen.
What I suppose I really want is for them to not be jerks, listen when I ask them to do something, and stop eating loaves of toast before dinner.
Like Sugarplum strategizing for the future, we have to pick our battles. Yes, refusing to eat the dinner he worked so hard on would have given my son a window into my blackened and bitter soul. It may have helped him understand why my head spins around and orange sparks shoot out of my eyes when he eats a loaf of toast in lieu of dinner. Or, he might wonder why he is cooking for this mess of ingrates and throw in the towel, never cooking again because what a waste of time is that? You put all the effort into finding recipes that the whole family will like, making sure it is balanced and nutritious as well as sustainably grown, in season and aesthetically pleasing and then you offer up this meal that may as well be your heart and soul on a platter and they can’t even take their own dishes to the kitchen when they’re done.
Oh, sorry.
I don’t always like cooking for these ingrates either.
So when my son made dinner, I did not sit in the kitchen eating cheesypuffydoodles as planned. I stayed out of the kitchen entirely. If I can help make cooking dinner a success for him, he may cook again. I am going to weasel out of this job yet. Watch me.
When two of my favorite things faced off, being fed trumped being smug. So when it sounded like it was getting close, I asked my son if I could help by setting the table.
So, do you use a fork or spoon to eat noodles and jam?

Monday, August 5, 2013


I moved out.
I didn’t mean to but there it is, for the whole neighborhood to see.
I haven’t wanted to talk about all this because of privacy and whatnot, but then I thought: there’s probably another horrible person out there and maybe we can be friends and be horrible together. The things I’m going to say are things you aren’t supposed to say.
Here’s the deal: When a family member is on hospice in your home, you’re supposed to feel all snuggly about spending 24/7 with them. It’s how it’s done.
We all know people we want to spend 24/7 with because oh my stars,  you don’t want to leave them. In fact, I’d put the entire rest of my family in that category.
Then there are those other people. The people you can’t leave because you’re not allowed to.
That’s the one we have.
You may be wondering how we got ourselves into this pickle in the first place. The fact of the matter is, my mother-in-law  wasn’t always a caricature of a grumpy old woman. Chris has been taking care of her for a long time. And for a long time she was great. Until she wasn’t.
As Chris said to the kids one morning, “Grandma used to be really nice. She used to be just like mama.”
You should have seen the look on Studley’s face.
He looked at me. The light dawned.
“Oh no,” he said
So, about my moving out. You know how you don’t realize something until someone else looks at it and for a split second you see it through their eyes and it’s not what you thought it was? It’s like that.
My extended family came by the other day to visit Grandma. They probably didn’t notice anything when they first got to the house, but after a couple hours with her they needed a little fresh air and took a walk in the yard. That’s when they spotted the tent.
And they laughed. Because it was so obvious.
I told them it was for the kids, but not even the kids believe that one.
I was doodling around on Amazon a week or so ago, avoiding something, when I saw the tent and had to have it. We can go camping! We can use it as a guest room! We can hide our heads in the sand! In the comfort of our own yard!
Chris says we need to fold the tent up from time to time, or at least keep moving it around the yard so it doesn’t “ruin the grass.” I put that in quotes because it’s less about the grass and more about his hope that if he makes me move it, there’s less likelihood that I will live in the tent permanently. I think the tip-off was when the carpet went in, followed by proper lighting and wifi.
My friend asked me if I’d put in a composting toilet yet.
It is admittedly the best money I’ve spent in a long time – partially because it gives the kids a place to go (it’s not for them, but I do let them borrow it). As good as they are at helping, it’s nice for them to be thoroughly off duty sometimes. When you’re in the tent, everything’s all birds and breezes. You never want to go back inside to reality.
I’m tired of reality.
Here it is: We are two thirds of the way through the six months hospice indicated – with no signs of winding down. If it goes past six months, can I sue hospice for false advertising? I might anyway, based on that stupid picture on the cover of the brochure they sent home with us. It’s not right. And it makes me feel bad.
The photo is of a woman my age, embracing a woman my mother-in-law’s age in a comforting hug. One of the hospice workers assured me they were actors.
If they were real people, they would look sleep deprived, with twirling eyeballs. The medium-old woman would be covering her children’s ears while the really-old woman visibly swore a blue streak at anyone within reach. The photo on the back of the brochure would be of the family rifling through the hospice care package and taking the good drugs for themselves.
This, by the way, is why they send drugs in very, very small quantities. I used to think it was because the patient is on hospice and they don’t want to waste any leftovers – which would be very New Englandy of them. Now I realize it’s because the family will eventually be driven to take the drugs.
One nurse came on a particularly bad morning. She asked how things were going and I went into a Lewis Black-worthy rant which I won’t repeat here.
“But how is she feeling?” The nurse said. “Is she comfortable?”
“Who the **** cares?” is what I wanted to say. “Would you like to go see her now?” is what I did say.
The nurse got the royal treatment.
When she came back out to the livingroom, she got on the phone to the pharmacy, stat. “We need better drugs,” she said.
I find this reassuring. It’s weirdly comforting to have a stranger empathize with you – especially after she has categorized you as a self-centered jerk.
But as comforting as stranger empathization is (shut up, it is too a word), it doesn’t beat the tent.
Having the tent is like being a kid and running away from home because no one understands you and they won’t miss you anyway and won’t they be sorry once you’re gone. It doesn’t take far – halfway down the driveway? The other end of the yard? – before you start to realize that you might have been wrong.
They might not understand you, but it’s okay. They do miss you – and you miss them.
And you will be sorry when they’re gone.
So you go back with fresh eyes. Because sometimes you need to see things the way someone else sees them.
And that someone is in a tent.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Be Mine

I just replaced my old cell phone. I was due a new one, so it has nothing to do with the fact that I sat on it. Anyway, the directions say:
1) Turn off your old cell phone.
2) Call to activate your new cell phone.
3) Turn on your new cell phone.
This presents a problem if you have no land line. You find yourself sitting in your living room, reading and re-reading the directions, wondering how you are supposed to call with both cell phones turned off. Eventually, you light the old phone on fire and send smoke-signals.
The take-away from this is that burning phones smell horrific. It also illustrates why we get so hung up on having a Valentine. A Valentine is a person who is handy with a cell phone when you need one.
We all need a Valentine.
When I think of Valentines, I think of those elementary school shoe boxes, decorated to within an inch of their lives. Those were where it was at. They were stunning.
Covered in pink, purple and red construction paper with white doilies, cut-out hearts and sequins, those boxes were worthy of a whole classroom of friendship. Making them was the best part – possibly even better than the sound they made when filled with cartoon-character cards.
Remember? You’d put your Valentine box on your desk, and then go deliver your own cards to your classmates. You gave a Valentine to each kid, making really sure the right kid got the right greeting. Politely friendly for some, cautiously swoony for others.
There were also cupcakes in the afternoon. Those were good times.
And then things got weird. There were boyfriends and un-boyfriends and anticipation and disappointment. The days leading up to February 14 were fraught with hope – especially during single or uncertain relationship years. Who was going to come out of hiding and save the day? Who was going to get off his duff and step up to the plate?
I prefer not to remember those years. I am not proud of what a dork I was.
I mean, I’m still a dork – but I’m a different dork now. I like to think that if Chris had not been home to make fun of me for not knowing where the power button was on my new phone, I would have driven down the street to ask a friend to make fun of me.
Wait, that didn’t come out right.
The thing is, those Valentine boxes were great because they were completely jammed with notes from people who were – in some way, shape or form – friends. At some point, we put our (often imagined) romantic relationships ahead of our relationship with humankind, at which point we stopped getting afternoon cupcakes.
I had a voicemail from a friend a few minutes ago. We hadn’t talked for a bit and she said she’d been thinking we should meet up because she missed hanging out. She said she figured she should call and ask me to be her Valentine.
Remembering those piles of construction paper hearts and Hong Kong Phooey cards, I called her back and said yes.
“I have to warn you,” she said, “I’m kind of a ho. I’ve asked like 30 people to be my Valentine today.”
Which, if elementary school is any indication, is exactly how it should be done.

Monday, February 4, 2013


I may have freaked out a little. If you looked around our house (which I will not permit), you would understand. It’s a disaster. There’s an outlet lying on the dining room floor. An empty Tupperware on the kitchen floor. A sock here, a dryer ball there, and all manner of whatnot in between. Every room is covered with abandoned stuff – none of which makes any sense.
“This is not how people who like their homes behave,” I said. “It looks like no one cares about the house.”
Sugarplum, who is the most neat-wired of the family, agreed. But then she said, “those houses where nothing is out of place look like no one cares, too. It’s like no one lives there.”
She stresses “lives.”
She inventories the infringements: no mail on the dining room table, no piles on the stairs, etc. “It’s kind of creepy,” she concluded. This is a problem with which we are unfamiliar.
Honestly, I don’t even know where she saw a house like that. If it’s your house and she came over to visit your kid, we can’t be friends anymore.
She has a point, though, and I need to remember that “lived in” is not always a euphemism for a giant pile of domestic rubble. We do, after all, live here. We love our house and – as far as we can tell – our house loves us. It holds our mail, catches our crumbs and lets us sort laundry in the hall. When we’re busy, it serves as a launching pad. When we’re tired, it gives us shelter.
Our house is like a mom – grabbing our lunch box after school, handing us our cleats, and telling us to have fun as we run off again without a backward glance. Sometimes it has stains on its shirt and is still wearing slippers as it stands waving at the door. It may also have forgotten to shower. These things happen. They don’t mean we appreciate it less. If anything, we appreciate it more.
Not every night can be bath night. Not every day is fresh-laundry-folded-and-put-away day. Our house looks put together when it wants to, but it has neither time nor patience for a wash and set.
Maybe when life is less hectic, our house will be tidy. Mail will be sorted at the door. No one will trip over sports equipment in the dining room. It will be dressed and made up, ready to change out of slippers to greet company at a moment’s notice.
But even then, I hope it never loses the feeling that all are welcome. That it’s okay to dump what you don’t need, grab what you do, and go live. I hope there are signs of life. It would be awfully lonely otherwise.
Everyone has their own place of comfort – probably somewhere between “social services needs to intervene” and “Stepford Wives.” For us – right now – the place of comfort is “clean on bath night.”
For us, baths are best when you’ve earned them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

the nature of hate

You know that Freudian slip joke? Where the man asks what a Freudian slip is and then says something like "oh, like this morning when I meant to ask my wife to pass the jam and instead I said 'you ruined my life you stupid *****'"?

I've been having that.

Except I don't have a wife.

I have someone who is persistently and mercilessly mean. Think "passive aggressive" with the passive part worn off.

I start each day thinking "this is the day I will let it all roll off!" I sometimes last an hour. But before long, she says something that makes me want to take a swing at her with my coffee mug. I don't because 1) I love my handmade coffee mugs, 2) I make good coffee and 3) It's not a nice thing to do.

In that order.

I would also be charged with assault, but trust me, no jury would convict.

It takes everything I've got to not meet meanness with meanness.*  If I did, I would feel sick about it all day and she would remember neither the offense nor the retort. What's the point of that? She doesn't remember the things she says because they're not the point. There is no target. She's angry and scared and maybe by spewing vitriol she thinks the vitriol will leave her system. (It doesn't, so don't try this at home.)

There's a great quote from (someone on the internet who is probably not actually) Buddha: “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

I've been holding onto a lot of anger. Like the man in the joke, my response to a question like "did anyone make coffee" is "I hate you." I can't remember the last time I actually said "I hate you" out loud to someone. Except maybe that time my friend fit into her regular jeans the day after she delivered a baby.

Obviously, I don't hate my friend (although I still think she's a jerk and should at least be showing some signs of age or something). And I don't hate the person who says vile things to me. I hate that she's unable to get all the crap out of her system without flinging it at me.

This morning I realized hate is like a usb charger. It doesn't do anything unless it gets connected to something. But once you plug it in - usually to something you wish would go away - it sucks the life out of you. And it makes the hated thing an even bigger deal. It takes over your day because you can't stop thinking about it and arguing with it. It can't do that on its own.

The flip side of that quote is also true. If someone drinks poison, it will not kill you - no matter how loudly they yell the specifics of that poison's properties at you.

I think I can practice this for a full ten minutes at a time. I don't know why this has to be part of my life, but if there's a lesson in it, I'd like to learn it and get it over with.

Today, I will not drink the poison.

*Shut up, I can too be mean.

(My friend Jennifer sent me this, ducking before I could swing anything at her.)