For the rest of Advent, try screen-free evenings

Every year, I threaten it. Some years we actually try it. This year, we’re doing it! We’re screen free from seven to nine o’clock during Advent. 

It may not sound like a big deal, but in our house there are . . . a lot of screens. Phones, tablets, laptops, game systems. It’s really hard to moderate how much time we spend on them, and I’m the worst offender. I won’t bother to go into a long description of why too much screen time is bad for us. Everybody knows this already.

Instead, I’ll describe what happens when 7 PM comes during Advent. I look at the time and start yelling, “SCREEN FREE! SCREEN FREE!” The wifi gets shut off and devices get put away. Everyone is cranky and annoyed. People petition for exceptions. Someone lopes off to the bathroom and stays in there for a suspiciously long time. 

Then, within ten minutes, acceptance sets in, and people find something to do. Sometimes it’s a mother’s dream come true, like yesterday. During the hours of seven and nine, the kids cheerfully played Monopoly together.

One kid sketched, my husband stretched out on the couch and read his book, and a teenager practiced Christmas carols on a ukulele. My daughter brought out her baby parakeet, who sought adventure in her pants pocket.

I called my dad, then I realized I had enough energy to try a stupid craft with those toilet paper tubes I’ve been saving. I poured myself a glass of wine and crafted contentedly in the kitchen to the sounds of gentle music, laughter, and peace under the Christmas lights. 

Sometimes it’s not that idyllic. Sometimes people are mad at me for my stupid Advent ideas, and try to hide their phones under a blanket. Sometimes I’m the one who’s mad about my stupid Advent idea, and I use the time to angrily scrub out the tub. Sometimes people pass the time by kicking each other. Sometimes we decide we just can’t hack it, and we have to put on the TV. The other day, as soon as I put my phone down, I fell into a profound, drooling sleep and dreamt the moon was falling out of the sky. Sometimes Damien falls asleep on the couch and people poke his face. Sometimes the kids just pull a solid two-hour mope and then leap back onto their phones like they need them to breathe. 

Nevertheless! It works out well more often than not. People are reading more, spending more time making things, and spending more time together. We really do like each other, overall, and when we’re deprived of our electronics, we remember how to spend time together again. We’re getting to bed on time more often. I can put music on in the living room, because no one’s playing Mario Kart or Just Dancing to something loathsome. Sometimes people pick out songs on the piano that usually gets ignored.  And then, as I mentioned, sometimes we just nap. It’s just quieter and nicer, a good way to make the season stand apart from the rest of the year. 

There’s still some Advent left. You should try it!

That’s it. That’s the post. 

Oh, wait, here are some pictures of my stupid crafts. They are pretty self-explanatory. These are made of toilet paper tubes, stapes, and gold spray paint:

I guess they will go on the tree? Or I can just hang them from threads from the ceiling. Shiny! This one stands up by itself.

and these are made of foam-core board cut with a kitchen knife.

If you make two of the same shapes, you can cut one halfway up and one halfway down, and then fit them together to make three-dimensional shapes.

Well, obviously they were already three-dimensional, but you know what I mean. They didn’t turn out like I hoped, but I invested too much time in them not to follow through, so I hung the damn things on the porch and I expect they’ll be there until June. I did spray them with something that called itself “clear glitter sealant,” which turned out to be just plain clear, and not glittery in the slightest. Probably glitter would have just made the porch look more squalid anyway, if possible. 

Oh, the other evening, we just made paper snowflakes out of coffee filters. They are already round, and you can fold them in half, then into wedges in thirds, so they come out as hexagons when you unfold them.

There are a lot of things I feel like we don’t have time and energy to do, but it turns out I’m usually just too distracted to get around to them. Anyway, Happy Advent, you miserable old building and loan. That’s it. That’s the post. 

What’s for supper? Vol. 180: The stupids at sea

Maybe you noticed a dearth of new writing here last week. This is because the Fishers went on a Real Actual Vacation! In 22 years of marriage, the longest family vacation we’ve ever taken was three days, and that involved a yurt, a skunk, a bathroom made of corrugated tin, and another skunk. So a full week in a real house near the honest-t0-goodness ocean before any of the kids move away for good is pretty swanky! I found the place in December, and all this year, I’ve been getting knotted up in tighter and tighter balls of anxiety, so sure it was going to fall through and be terrible in one way or another.

It was magnificent. A nearly perfect week from start to finish. Not only did no one drown, throw up, get burnt to a crisp, get bitten, get lost, or get escorted off any premises, we had no other problems at all. Except one night I thought there was a ghost in my room, but that was my problem. Actually, I threw up once, but that was just a migraine triggered by the unwise choice to eat fried dough with sugar. And also Corrie briefly had fake meningitis, but she got better. 

Some people, upon arriving at the beach, instantly become sun-kissed and  smashing in their flowy cotton caftans, silver toe rings, and sporty sunglasses, and they know how to work the umbrella and stuff, and they don’t get attacked by their own kites. We, on the other hand, look and act like a bunch of giant weirdos, because that is what we are. But we were all there!

I assumed that, for the privilege of living four blocks from the ocean, we’d have to put up with thumping music, clouds of pot smoke, and drunken morons with firecrackers all night, but no! The house was just beyond the fried pickle-frozen daiquiries-overpriced boogie boards-half price baja jackets-your name on a grain of rice-tarot card-freehand henna-Led Zeppelin tribute band tonight only zone, and our block was remarkably quiet and staid. And the view from our bedroom window was a water tower and church steeple on one side, and on the other, this serene, wild-smelling salt marsh, populated only by egrets and cormorants. Amazing.

Since I’ve somehow missed the last two weeks of What’s for Supper posts, I’ll do one now, although we firmly resolved to cook as little as possible, and we never did get around to cooking live lobsters.

SATURDAY
Deli sandwiches

We arrived at the house in the late afternoon, unloaded, dibsed rooms, and headed straight to the beach. Woo hoo!

There is nothing better than the ocean. Just nothing at all. It’s impossible to be unhappy when you’re up to your thighs in frigid, frothing salt water, the breeze is whipping through your hair, the sun is glittering, and the foam really does look like little white horses galloping madly to the shore. Oh boy!

The tide was out and hardly anyone was there. A perfect way to begin. 

SUNDAY
Frozen pizza

Sunday, we made our way to St. Patrick church, two blocks away, which has a gorgeously preserved, 105-year-old carved wooden altar and communion rail. The kids have never been to an ad orientem Mass before, so that was cool, as was my little impromptu lecture about common misunderstandings surrounding it and how it ties in with the final scene of The Dawn Treader. They enjoy my lectures so very much!

Then we came home for a quick lunch and then WENT ON A WHALE WATCH. I delivered all the appropriate warnings about how there’s no guarantee we’ll see anything, and it’s just nice to be on a boat. But we came across a bunch of frolicking dolphins before we even left the harbor, and then we saw SO MANY WHALES.

Humpbacks and finbacks, including two mother-and-calf pairs

just swashing around, flipping their tails, blowing sighing rainbow sprays, and rolling over. Extraordinary! We learned that whales don’t breathe involuntarily, so part of their brain is always awake to make sure they keep breathing. So they go into a sort of half-sleep and slowly, dreamily rise and fall in the water. This is what the mother and calf were doing. 

I cried like a 44-year-old white lady seeing her first whale. 

Not that I’m planning to give birth with the aid of a humpback midwife or anything (I’m not pregnant, also. Sheesh, settle down), I really do understand why people think whales are mystical beings with some special wisdom to impart to humanity. They are so graceful and numinous, and they clearly understand . . . something, anyway. They were both gravely aware of and regally indifferent to our stupid little boat, and they move as if they’re operating in some slightly other reality.

Here’s one especially curious calf. Check out that green glow:

 

NUMINOUS. I highly recommend Al Gauron Deep Sea Fishing and Whale Watching if you’re in the area.

MONDAY
Burgers, chips, broccoli and dip, watermelon

There was a grill in the yard, but it was smelly and weird, so we just cooked inside. We had good long beach day, and the kids discovered riding the waves.

We had a sandy lunch wrested manfully away from the seagulls, who have no respect for a diabetic child’s medicinal pop tarts with unicorns printed on the frosting. Sheesh, sea gulls! 

Corrie made the executive decision that Monday was arcade day. You guys, the arcade has not changed one tiny bit in forty years. Skee Ball is still a quarter. I still suck at Skee Ball. I still don’t understand the thing with the sliding platforms that push quarters around. I have yet to whack even a single mole. It was awesome. 

I also very much enjoyed graciously handing out stacks of quarters to children who desperately wanted another stack of quarters. 

TUESDAY
Rotisserie chicken, veggies and hummus

Rotisserie chickens currently cost less than raw chickens, for some reason.

Two of the teenagers bailed out and went home in their fancy pants teenager car before evening, leading to yet another rekajiggering of sleeping arrangements. Although we had three bedrooms with five beds, a sleep-in porch, and three pull-out couches, and an air mattress, Corrie ended up sleeping on a quilt on the floor in our room, and in the morning, she changed her name to “Puppy Stupendous.” I mean. She’s not wrong. 

She did not especially want to leave the beach on this day. Her protest took the form of repeating, “Hello. My name is Sandy McGoo” over and over and over and over and over again, all the way home. Then when we got home, she refused to hose off because, HELLO, she is SANDY MCGOO, who is SANDY. Using all my powers of We Are All Having a Happy Vacation, I persuaded her that it was at least as much fun to be Lipstick Lady, who takes showers before applying lipstick. I still can’t believe that worked.

Then we found a touch tank that was $1 a head instead of $6 a head. At least we think it was a touch tank exhibit. Anyway, we touched a lot of things.

 

WEDNESDAY
Fried food

We beat the thunderstorms and got in some swim time in the morning. But first we bought some shovels. My goodness, if I had known how much joy could come from being shovel owners, I would have bought them shovels long ago. 

We also got a kite. When I was little, you could get just a scrap of plastic with a stick on it and some string, and you would run and toss it up in the air, and it would catch an air current and you could just sit there and watch it swoop around for hours. Now all they have is these complicated trick kites with multiple tethers and flexible joints, and they go up only to immediately hurtle down at your face at top speeds. We gave up pretty quick, because we were there to swim and don’t need that kind of hostility at the beach. 

We had dinner at the Clearly Just Someone’s House, But It’s By the Water and They Have Enough Chairs Café. The kids had burgers; Damien and I had lobster rolls. One kid had a falafel wrap, which made me wonder if she had gone vegetarian and I, bad mother, didn’t notice, just like I didn’t notice when one kid got a nose ring; but then I remembered she had a burger for lunch. Kids these days with their falafel.

You’ll notice I don’t actually have a ton of pictures. That’s because I LEFT MY PHONE AT THE HOUSE ON PURPOSE. I am working at being more present in the moment and not having the freaking thing on my person at all times, and it felt pretty good.

There were supposed to be fireworks on the beach, but most of the kids were too wiped out, so Damien, Lena, and I headed out, and waited a pretty long time in the surprising August cold before realizing there were no fireworks. I was so relieved. Even though they didn’t want to go, I felt so guilty about seeing fireworks without them. We did go get a cocktail, though, and I didn’t feel guilty about that at all.

Moe got a video of the storm gathering power:

 

THURSDAY
Hot dogs for kids, sandwiches for grown-ups

Beach in the morning, with some clambering around on the rocks and tide pools before the tide came in. Some promises involving shell bits and hot glue were made. Ice cream was consumed. Then the kids went home for hot dogs while we headed out for something other than hot dogs. 

We walked for kind of a long time looking for the perfect restaurant, and finally settled on a place that was made by assholes for assholes. It was basically La Grunta, except with lobster instead of deer. After a bunch of assholes wearing leis and toe rings cut us in line for the Hospitality Hut, we overheard two assholes saying it would be a half hour wait, and that wasn’t even for the asshole deck. So we got the hell out of there and went to a little hole run by Lebanese people who just wanted to make you a sandwich without any bullshit. We got two sandwiches to go and gobbled them up by the water.

We could have gotten closer to the water, but I felt a strong need for a seat with a back on it. 

FRIDAY
Domino’s

Only a few kids still wanted to swim by this point, as we had been in or on the water every day for the last six days. I wanted to, but not as much as I wanted to complain about my sore neck and stress out about what we had done to the rug; so Damien took some kids to the beach and I went to lie down while the other kids packed and vacuumed. Apparently  Benny buried Corrie in the sand up to her neck and then ran away. No jury on earth would convict. 

Then they came home and de-sanded one last time, I dragged seaweed out of the drain one last time, and then I took the little girls to the playground one last time, which was a leetle bit further away than we remembered. Benny was pretty exhausted and melty on the walk home, and she wanted some help for the last few blocks. So Corrie got behind her and pushed. 

Saturday morning we checked out, and then made one last pilgrimage to Ocean Boulevard to eat fried dough and purchase the long-promised souvenirs. This is a good technique if you are feeling a little blue about vacation being over. By the time all the kids have found something they like, everyone will be thoroughly sick and tired of that town and you will be overjoyed to leave. 

I bought myself an artificially-colored capiz shell wind chime made in Indonesia for white ladies who cry about whales, because I’m on vacation, dammit, and that’s what I wanted.

And that’s how the stupids went on vacation! 

Hilarious family game: Fictionary

Here’s an excellent game for family night, especially if you have older kids home for Christmas: Fictionary. It’s the basis for the boxed game “Balderdash,” but simpler, and the only equipment you need is a large dictionary, paper, and something to write with for each player. It’s best for players at least 8 years old and up, and you need at least four players to make it fun. More is better.

BASIC RULES: The person who’s “it” finds a word that no one is familiar with, and he writes down the real definition. Everyone else writes down a fake definition. The person who is “it” reads them all out loud, and everyone but “it” has to guess which one is real.

Then “it” reveals the true definition. You get a point if you guess the real one, if someone votes for your fake one, or if you’re “it” and no one guesses the real one. Everyone gets a turn being “it” to complete one round of play.

Details: Proper nouns, foreign language words, acronyms, and abbreviations are out. Spell and pronounce the word for everyone, and say what part of speech it is.
If you’re “it,” you can simplify the real definition a bit, as long as you don’t significantly change it. Read all the definitions over silently to make sure you understand and can pronounce everything before reading them aloud. Be sure to shuffle them before reading aloud, so there are no clues about who wrote what.
You can’t vote for your own definition. The person who’s “it” does not vote. If there is one person who is head and shoulders above all the others when it comes to guessing, that person can vote last, so as not to influence the others.

The brilliance of this game is the psychology that goes into it. You have to use your knowledge of the people involved, not just your knowledge of language. And there’s always that one person who doesn’t care about the score and just wants to mess with people.

Here’s some examples from last night:

Smilax:
The real definition turned out to be:
-A kind of oak or bindweed
Fakes:
-A state of disquiet, nervousness
-A smiling climax
-A substrate of xylem in some ferns
-A type of mountain sheep bred in Algeria
-A kind of soap commonly used up until the 19th century, when industrialized factories rendered it obsolete [this one was a joke, as the smarty pants who wrote it thought the pun on “rendered” was too good to pass up]
-wiggly worm

Purdah
The real definition:
-In India, a curtain used to screen women from men and strangers
Fake definitions:
-Disgrace
-Keeping from one another
-A type of ink used commonly in newsprint
-a fog, especially one though to carry illness
-Scottish term for spitting noises
-A very purdy thing

Drogue
Real definition:
-A cone-shaped device towed behind an aircraft as a target
Fakes:
-A unit of measurement equal to two miles
-Boring, dull
-Dreaded, a tyrant
-The feeling of morning dew
-Swamp, marsh, Elijah

At one point, the person who was “it” had to drag one of the less scholarly players into the other room to find out what was meant by “MARGOLD GROWING PLAL.”

Have fun! It’s a good game, and thorough.

What’s for supper? Vol. 90: We put the “amp” in camping

Hoop de doo! Here we go.

SATURDAY
Meatball subs, fruit

On Saturday, armed with only a sledgehammer, a reciprocating saw, and a thirteen-year-old boy, my husband built a new floor for our gutted murderboat, tentatively named “The No Regerts.”

Still ahead: sealing the wood and dragging it down to the stream. I SAID NO REGERTS. So I thought we could all use a hearty meal.

***

SUNDAY
Beef cabbage stir fry, rice, roasted rustlebutts

Here’s a nice recipe from Budget Bytes I make every six weeks or so. It’s easy and tasty and pretty cheap, and you can easily adjust how sweet or spicy it turns out.

Brussels sprouts were very cheap, so I got a ton and cut them in half and spread them on one of my fabulous new giant pans with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and just roasted ’em up under the broiler.

Corrie recoiled in horror and angrily refused . . . RUSTLE-BUTTS. So let it be written.

By the way, the best purchase I’ve made in a long time those two 15″ x 21″ baking sheets (affiliate link). I measured my oven and bought the biggest pans that would fit, and they make life so much easier. You can just cook everything up all at once, rather than trying to Tetris various small pans in there. They also double as serving trays for parties, and are useful for moving board games intact when we need the table.

***

MONDAY: Camping, day 1
We packed ever so slowly, and then had to go to urgent care for an ear infection, and had to stop to tighten the canoe that wanted very much to become a wild, wild canoe that hops on the nearest jet stream and resettles in Canada, so we didn’t get to the campgrounds until late, and then it turned out the lake was closed because of bacteria.

HOWEVER, the yurts were still airy and cool, and dinner was pork spiedies, watermelon, and Pringles, with S’mores for dessert. The spiedies were insanely delicious.

 

even though I forgot to pack tongs, and Mr. Husband had to make ridiculous BBQ chopsticks with a hair rubber band

I had made the meat at home the night before and packed it in ziplock bags along with the marinade, which leaked all over the inside of the cooler. I also forgot soap.

Faced with these realities, I decided pretty early on that I was going to take a three-day break from believing in cooties, and so what if the baby wanted to paddle around in the puddle under the spigot where I washed not only the pork juice with no soap but also her poopy bathing suit? I don’t want to hop on a jet stream and resettle in Canada! Not at all. Hey look, a yurt! So airy and cool.

I actually spent most of my time putting my feet up and complaining, while my husband made fires, told ghost stories, read Treasure Island to the kids, and grabbed flying children out of mid-air before they burned or impaled themselves.

Oh, and we took turns being fruit ninjas.

and I did get some rare photographic evidence that Corrie’s brain is, indeed, on fire.

***

TUESDAY: Camping, day 2
The kids had their hearts set on roasted apples for breakfast, but they ate most of the apples on day 1, so with a heavy heart I threw a box of Honey Buns at them while Damien went to Dunkin’ Donuts and got us coffees. Just kidding about the heavy heart part. Whatever it was in me that once relished the idea of waking up early and building a fire before breakfast, it’s dead now.

Lunch was sandwiches and cookies on the beach (a different beach, without water cooties), where we swam in the rain. Then the sun came out, so we bought a ton of candy and went to see Wonder Woman. Look, I never said we were good at camping.

Dinner was walking tacos, which taste so much better than is reasonable. I cooked ground beef and seasoned it at home, and we heated it up over our lovely propane stove. Each person got a personal little bag of Doritos, into which went meat, shredded cheese, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and salsa.

We also had grilled corn on the cob. You cook it in the husk over the coals until the husks are blackened, and it comes out so sweet.

For dessert, I couldn’t resist these cute Little Debbie brownies with animal tracks in them.

WEDNESDAY: Camping, day 3
Breakfast: scrambled eggs, bagels, hot chocolate with rainbow marshmallows!!!!
Next time, I’ll remember to pack a real pan. And butter. And a decent cooking utensil. I did, however, remember the salt!

Never, ever forget the salt.

Lunch: Candy.
I would say we had something else, but really we basically had candy. And then we went home. Some more more pleased about this than others.

 

Supper (at home): Bagel, egg, ham and cheese sandwiches. I had to run to the convenience store for more eggs, and since I was already conveniently paying top dollar, I ponied up a little bit more for local eggs. This is one “fresh, local, organic” food that truly lives up to the hype. The yolks are darker and more flavorful, the whites are fluffier and lighter, and it’s very charming to see how many different egg sizes find themselves together in one box.

But lorramercy

I feel like they could wash them.

We’re home again. Cooties are real.

***

THURSDAY
Pork ramen, broccoli

On Thursday, my true love took the sledgehammer we found in the murderboat and smashed up my kitchen, just liked I’ve been asking him to do.

So I made dinner on a dining room chair.

I browned up some sliced garlic in olive oil using the saute function of the Instant Pot, then browned up a bunch of pork ribs. I took them out and sliced them, sauteed them some more, then took them out again. In the same pot, I hard boiled a bunch of eggs, then took them out, peeled and halved them. Then I added water and scraped up all the yumminess that was in the bottom of the pot, and cooked ramen noodles in it with the flavor packets, then added the pork and some chopped spinach. I served the noodles and pork with the eggs, some scallions, sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, and crunchy noodles on top.

Not an especially sophisticated or complex taste, but it was fine and filling. And I cooked it all on a chair! And that’s why people love the Instant Pot.

***

FRIDAY
French toast casserole, I guess? I think Damien and I are going out for pizza. A full week of family togetherness is about enough for now.

“Free on Craiglist” and other words of doom

Can we get some credit for how many stupid ideas we don’t act on?

We have a trampoline, but not an in-ground trampoline.
We have zero life-sized, purple hippopotamuses rescued from defunct mini golf places, despite a clear opportunity.
We have many broken chairs and couches, but none of them has been packed with topsoil, covered with chicken wire, and planted with grass seed to make living lawn furniture.

We have a washing machine drum flower planter for our statue of Mary

but we do not have a permanent porch fixture made from the industrial-sized colander that wouldn’t fit through the door, much less in my sink.

And we still don’t have any damn ducks. Not a single khaki campbell duck, noted for its high egg production, paddling happily in an in-ground (free on Craigslist!) hot tub in harmony with a booming population of meat turtles.

We do have a beloved canoe

($100 on Craigslist! Billed as “The world’s ugliest canoe,” and so it is). But we do not have a large, ungainly, unrealistic project boat sitting stupidly in our yard as a testament to our inability to turn a thing down just because it’s free on Craigslist.

UNTIL NOW.

This fine vessel was free on Craigslist

and we’re fixing to drag it down to the stream, chain it to some trees on either side, and sit back while our kids enjoy the greatest childhood known to mankind since that kid got stuck on that island with that horse.

There are a few issues. One is that the boat is gutted

We are about 73% sure this happened because someone started renovating and then realized it was too much work, and not because it is a murderboat. (I’m sure that head-sized compartment I can’t bring myself to open is just full of maps and sunblock. I’m sure of it.)

So we need a floor. Gonna lay some slats across it, then fit a board over that, screw everything down, and voilà . It just needs to be sturdy and safe,

not seaworthy or lovely.

The second issue is that the boat is in the yard, but the stream is in the back back back backyard, over the grass, around the firepit, through some thorns, across the Dead Marshes, and on the other side of a sturdy bank of trees and rocks and maybe some barbed wire I’ve been meaning to take care of.

But the boat has already more than paid for itself, in two distinct ways.

One is that my husband and I both learned how to use a trailer hitch.

 

The Craigslist ad said “Dont want to answer questions just want it gone,” so no one (sober) was available to help us mount the boat trailer (free on Craigslist!) to the vehicle.

It seemed simple enough, though: You stand there shouting at your husband, “Back-back-back-back-back-back-back, keep going, keep going, a little this way, this way, this way, back-back-back-back-back, keep goNO STOP!!!!!” until the ball part is perfectly situated under the trailer thingy.

Then you shove it with your foot a little, wind the crank until it’s all lined up, clamp the clamp thingy, hook up the chains, remove the wheel blocks, and . . . you are good to go? I guess?

So off we crept, and O YE GODS AND O YE LITTLE FISHES, what a horrible noise it made. It was a noise to freeze the marrow in your bones, a grinding, scraping, clattering, screeching squeal that proclaimed to all ears within fifty miles, “Here indeed are people who should not have a boat!”

We just kept going. I asked my husband if he wanted me to look up the hand signals for right and left; but for some reason, traffic was doing a very good job of avoiding us all by itself.

We made the perilous turn off the dirt road onto the highway. Only another mile or two until we reached home. At this point (and this is the second benefit of boat ownership we’ve already enjoyed) we had each lost about fourteen pounds of weight through the sheer isometric exercise of clenching every muscle in our bodies in abject fear.

My husband fixated mainly on the boat breaking loose, roaring freely down the highway, and crushing an unsuspecting mailman flat. I, though, couldn’t stop thinking about how it would feel when we hit a downhill slope, the hitch snapped, and the boat came charging through the rear window to devour us like an avenging whale.

What happened instead was that the horrible sound got even more horrible, until we couldn’t stand it anymore. My husband pulled over to a shoulder, and gathered his courage to softly asked that fatal question: “Is it supposed to be making that noise, do you think?”

I muttered through aching teeth, “Well . . . I think that little wheel in the front . . . is not making contact with the ground the whole time . . . and the noise we’re hearing . . . is when it is making contact. So maybe if we turn the crank, we can make it move . . . .”

I was going to say “down,” so that the wheel would be on the ground the whole time we were driving.

And then it hit me: That little wheel is not supposed to be touching the ground. It’s just there to hold the trailer stable while you load your boat up, and then you’re supposed to crank it up out of the way. Our only clue that this was so: This wheel is about five inches across, and about as sturdy as your average rollerblade wheel, and is very clearly not intended for highway travel. I’m sorry, did you not get the word? We are people who should not have a boat.

So we skipped out of the car and cranked that sucker up as high as it would go, got back in, and cruised home as silently and smoothly as if the boat were already in water. Which it will be, as soon as we figure out how to get it across the yard.

 

Hey, we didn’t bring home any ducks. That has to count for something.

 

 

 

Not the target audience

The scene: Bubbe’s tenement apartment on the lower east side.
The phone rings. A cultured voice whinnies, “Good afternoon, madam. This is Wilberforce, the butler. I’m terribly sorry to inform madam that Mrs. Rockefeller and Mrs. Vanderbilt cannot come today for tea.”
And the old lady yells out, “Oy, mister! Have you got the wrong number!”

That line goes through my head sometimes, especially as I shop. Here’s some products that turn me into incredulous Bubbe.

Table scatter

Every ten days or so, I have to go shopping for a birthday party. Balloons, okay. Streamers, sometimes. Candles, fine. But then I keep coming across little sparkly packets of something called “table scatter.” My kids asked what it is, and I don’t know what to say. I channel Amelia Bedelia. Table scatter? To scatter on the table, so there are more things scattered on your table, to make the table look better? At our house, when we’re really puttin’ on the dog, we de-scatter the table.

Who am I fooling? Half the time, we have to de-scat the table.

You may consider it revolting, and you may be very right, but this is a small house and there are not a lot of flat surfaces to work on. Crafts? Dining room table. Rolling out cookies? Dining room table again. Homework? Dining room table it is. Changing hamster litter? Oh yes, you bet that would be dining room table. When I say de-scat, I mean de-scat. Now just direct me toward the undusting powder is, and I’ll make you a lemon meringue pie to knock your socks off.

100% organic anything

The other week, we bought a sectional off Craigslist. $100, great deal. Of course that meant that the next six hours were utterly consumed by a horrible, cuteness-free reenactment of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

If you find a sectional at a good price, you’re going to want to save even more money on truck rental, so you’re going to have to take the seats out of the van.
If you take the seats out of the van, you’re going to face up to the thing you’ve been pretending you don’t know: namely, that you have children who think they are too good to throw away their old lunches, when in fact, far from being too good, they are very, very bad children indeed.
Reaming out the trash-strewn van with a rake until you can see the floor again like fancy people will make you reluctant to put those hideous old, crusty seats back in, so you’re going to clean them off, too.
Cleaning off the van seats, which you accomplish with a trowel, a wire brush, and a heart full of rage, will remind you that the car seat straps are getting tighter and tighter, not because the kids are growing, but because they’re sitting atop a steadily growing heap of relentlessly organic cement-like compote formed from beleaguered french fries, fossilized string cheese, denaturized candy corn, compressed pear and apple cores, pulverized goldfish and fig newtons, and about eleven quarts of graham cracker crumbs, garnished with a chiffonade of flossers from our tragically optimistic dentist.

This kind is only driven out with a metal spatula.

Three hours into this 100% organic project, you turn around to discover that your husband has already attempted to cram the sectional in through all possible doors of the house, and the only option left is to take the back door off the hinges, remove the washing machine outlet pipe that sticks out a fraction of an inch too far, shift a file cabinet or two, disassemble the shelves that hold your world class collection of water bottles with no tops, and of course move the computer desk. And guess what turns out to be under that?

Another cubic yard of graham cracker crumbs mixed into the tangled nest of electrical cords, plus every styrofoam meat tray you threw away over the last six months and the dog dragged out of the garbage and lavished with his sweet, sweet loving, and then hid under the computer desk. And candy corn. And some used baby wipes that the dog also thought were worth retrieving and then filing away from later. And CORN ON THE COB.

But gosh, here I am shopping for school lunches, and for only a extra three dollars, I can choose these fruit snacks that are made of 100% organic ingredients? Oh, may I???

PASS.

And finally, a slightly more complicated issue, having to do with FDA regulations and off-market adaptations. Behold, the top shelf in my very own bathroom:

It’s . . . it’s not what it sounds like! It’s not what you think! It’s on my list of things to put away before guests come! But does that always get done? No, it does not.

Well, let ’em think what they want to think. Maybe the Rockefellers live here after all.

In Soviet Russia, ceiling killz you

 

When I was little, my mother would send us upstairs to clean our room. After several hours had gone by, she would call up, “Girrrls? Is your room done yet?” And we would shout, “It’s about halfway clean!”

And it would be . . . THE TOP HALF. Ho ho! We certainly pulled one over on her. The floor and beds and dressers were as cluttered and sloppy as ever, but the ceiling was nice and clean, bare and tidy, as neat as a pin.

I miss those days, when the ceiling was clean.

Now that I have my own house, nobody shouts up the stairs at me.  Nobody sends me off to tidy up regularly. Instead, they encourage me in my filthy eastern ways, by saying things like, “Ha ha, you are keeping it real!” or “Wow, you make me feel so much better about my own house!” or “Mrs. Fisher, you have ten days to remediate this issue before a legal process is automatically triggered.”

Wanna see? Of course you do. It’ll make you feel better. Unless you’re my mother.

ABANDON ALL MICE, YE WHO ENTER HERE

We live close enough to the woods that there will always, always, always be mice in our house; but we live close enough to the highway that any cats we own will always get hit by cars. So we poison the little bastards. They make mouse poison that desiccates the corpse, so there is no stink. Our walls are now cozily insulated with a thick layers of mouse mummies, and that’s how we like it.

The trick is to find a spot to slip the poison where the mice will find it, but the kids and dog won’t. So what you do, see, is — well, first you lose many, many nights of sleep to a maddening scrabbling, gnawing noise, and then, in that mental state, you decide it’s a good idea to just bash a hole in the ceiling, stuff some poison in, and then cover the hole with a piece of paper and tape

mouse-door

because things being what they are, you know you’re gonna need to get in there again.

Every once in a while I consider using something fancier to cover up the hole, like a cub scout kerchief, or maybe a piece of colored paper, but I don’t want to appear pretentious.

SOMETIMES A POOH IS JUST A POOH

Here’s something I like to ponder every once in a while: a stain on the ceiling that has the habit / of sometimes looking like a . . . pooping wildebeest.

pooping-tapir

Literary, ain’t it? Or maybe it’s Winnie the Pooh, or possibly a toxodon. I wanted to say “tapir,” but I couldn’t think of the word, and then I got bogged down in “aardvark vs. anteater” like I always do, so I just said “wildebeest.”

The real question is, what the heck kind of stain is that, and why is it over the couch? The real answer is, “There is no answer that will make you glad you asked.”

I WILL LIFT UP MINE EYES UNTO THE MOLD

Here’s one I may have shared before. Our exquisite bathroom is spacious, bright, prettily tiled, and as well-stocked with water guns, tea sets, broken humidifiers, peri bottles, ratty towels, and twenty-three bottles of almost-empty shampoo as you could hope, so that’s nice. But it does have a bit of a ventilation problem

doom-on-you

Naturally, someone who was not made of stone just had to etch “DOOM ON YOU” into the mildew. Just in case you were having your morning shower and thinking that the day might go well.

THE GHOST OF PASTA PAST

Not only do they throw spaghetti at the ceiling, but

spaghetti

no one even thinks to pull it off the ceiling until it’s become one with the ceiling, and takes a little bit of the ceiling with it when it goes. Brought to you by the same kids who will tell you with a straight face that they did sweep, and they didn’t realize you meant also sweep up all those chicken bones, gosh.

THE JOKE GETS OLD

Now you’re starting to get really disgusted with us. These people live like animals! you are thinking. How hard is it to buy a gallon or two of Killz and brighten those ceilings right up again? An hour or so of work ,and your outlook is so much brighter.

You’re right! It’s easy! All you have to do is lay down plastic, clear your schedule, throw on some old clothes, get one of those long-handled rollers, and away you go. Put on the first coat of white paint, and then

killz

wait six years for it to dry. Is it time to put the second coat on? NO, NOT YET. It just isn’t, okay?

WHERE HOOPY FROODS FEAR TO TREAD

If you’re feeling bold, you can even venture into the boys’ room, where you will find  . . .

dont-panic

Yeah, no, actually, I would actually like to panic now, please, thanks. Is . . is that a tick trapped under some packing tape?  Is that blood spatter?  Is it terrible that I find myself hoping it’s blood, and not anything else? Never mind, I’ll just flee.

PREMISES ARE ALARMED, AND FOR GOOD REASON

Back to the adult world, where people are responsible and sensible and do things the right way. For instance, it’s extremely important to have working smoke alarms throughout the house.
It’s important to regularly change the batteries in your smoke alarm.
It’s important to put the smoke alarms back in after you change the batteries.
It’s important to remember where you put the smoke alarms while you were searching for the batteries you bought yesterday.
It’s . . .

smoke-alarms

It’s important to have a working smoke alarm. Do what you gotta do.

HOW?

And here, the little jerks were just deliberately marking up the ceiling with the syrup that secrete in their horrible little pores

handprints

I could take prints and find out who it was, but does it really matter? Let’s just call it a precious memento and draw a curtain. Yes, over the ceiling. It’s either that or burn the whole thing down.

 

 

Another Holy Day of (pant, pant) Obligation

Behold, our traditional observation of this wonderful solemnity:

Husband wakes up early, brings two of three high school kids to school A in town B, where they can’t come in late because they have a morning concert in school D and the bus leaving School A won’t wait. He comes home, calls schools A, B, and C about lateness of Kids 1, 5, 6,7, and takes them to early Mass at Church 1 in town B. Also takes baby, because he is superman. Comes home, drops off kids, goes to work in town D. I pack up Kids 1, 9, and 10 and bring them to town B to drop off Kid 1 at work, then take the other two to lunch at Wendy’s because it is Kid 9’s birthday, and then we go to Mass at Church 2 in town B, and then go home. We all go to the bathroom. Then we pack up Kids 9 and 10 and go to School C in Town C, where we pick up Kids 6, 7, and 8, then swing by the library in Town B to pick up Kid 5 who goes to School B, and then pick up Kid 2 who has walked from the bus stop to her doctor appointment in Town B. Then we go back home (Town A), wolf down some hot dogs (leaving kid 4 at home since he already went to Mass and doesn’t sing), scramble into our pretty dresses, hoping kids 2 and 3 have made it home on the bus, and swing by Kid 1’s work in Town B (hoping she has eaten at some point) and bring her with us (not forgetting the cookies which Kid 3 baked last night!) to the Unitarian Church where Kids 5, 6, 7, and 8 have their concert and bake sale; and drop off Kids 2 and 3 so they can walk across town in the dark and the cold to late Mass at Catholic Church 1. After the concert, we drive home, drop off Kids 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 in town A and pick up Kids 2 and 3 in Town B. AND THEN WE ALL GO HOME. And then my husband comes home from Town 4, and we open birthday presents for Kid 9, assuming we’re still able to make our muscles function enough to sit up.

(And no, there was no way of just prudently planning ahead to make things simpler. This was planning ahead. We couldn’t go to a Vigil Mass yesterday, because yesterday looked a lot like today, except with a different kid going to work, my husband having to travel to Town E for work, and one kid going to Roller Derby.)

So when someone asks how we are observing this important feast day, I give a little shudder and say, “Oh, we’re just going to get to Mass.”

And that is pretty good.

When we were figuring out the logistics, I honestly considered skipping Mass. It’s a war of obligations, and the kids truly couldn’t back out of their concerts or be late; but since we’re all healthy and able-bodied and no one is pregnant and the van is running, and my husband was ready and willing to make it happen, I realized that we could do it, and so we should.

We may not be wearing Marian colors or lighting special candles at our charming home altar, or making flower crowns or crafting special crafts; but we are putting forth a huge effort to get to Mass. And this tells our kids (and ourselves!), “THIS IS IMPORTANT.”

So if you had a hard time getting to Mass but you did it anyway, you honored Our Lady. If it was a tight squeeze and maybe you stumbled in late and breathless, with hungry, overtired, confused kids, you showed them, “THIS IS IMPORTANT. This is worth doing. This is The Thing You Make Time For.” And you honored Our Lady! Mass is where Mary wants you to be. Anything else is just icing on the cake.

Praise God and cut corners, that’s how

“How do you do it?” they ask. “How do you manage all these kids and still get everything done?”

There are several different ways to answer this very reasonable question…

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly here.

May I help you lug that bundle of shame?

“Well, I did change the lightbulb,” my husband, gathering up the last bits of my underwear out of the milkweed.

“That’s awesome,” I said. “I’m sorry I crushed the picnic table.”

“No problem,” he says. “At least we made it to the swamp first.”

So what happened, see, was my husband asked me if there was anything he could do for me. He is a wonderful man, and asks me this question often. The catch is, I find it so deliriously romantic that this big, tall, handsome man with smoldering eyes and a cleft chin wants to do things for me that my answer tends to be, “Ohhh, no-o-o-, I’m fine!” and then later, when I get out of his beautiful eye tractor beam, I remember, “Dammit, I should have said shovel dog poop! Or at least do something about all those bean cans full of meat grease on the stove!”

But this time I was ready, and I said, “YES, can you change the lightbulbs in our room?” Our room is pretty small, and you have to stand on the bed to reach the light fixture, and I have such a poor sense of balance that the torquing motion involved in unscrewing the little knob tends to make me fall over, and then I’m sprawled out on the bed and the whole “Mr. Brown Eyes” thing comes into play again; and the problem is that you can unscrew a little knob, but you can’t unscrew . . . well, anyway, now we have ten kids.

So this time, I wanted him to change the lightbulb.

Which he did, while I worked on my shopping list in the next room. And I heard a popping sound, followed by a tinkling sound, and then some cussing. With some reluctance, I strolled in to investigate, and found him standing on the bed looking sadly at his feet, which were generously dusted with bits of light bulb. “You should be able to toss a light bulb onto a soft bed!” he said, and I agreed. But I guess if it lands just right — for instance, if you toss it right onto the glass light fixture you just removed — then it will cetainly explode.

The part that was my fault was that I am a huge slob, and I leave my dirty clothes all over the bed and floor. And also one pair of pants that isn’t dirty, because I’ve never actually worn them out of the bedroom. Every few weeks, I like to put them on, feel sad about how fat I of course still am, and then pull them off and drop them on the floor. All, all were covered with little bits of broken glass.

We picked out all the big, easy bits of glass and then gathered up the bedsheets like a giant bag, bundling in blankets and towels and a week’s worth of laundry, and my husband lugged it out the front door (we couldn’t go out the back door because it was full of dog). I held my breath, waiting for some unfortunate child to say something about how Daddy looks like Santa, but for once they all shut up, so no one had to die. Then we lugged the bundle into the back yard and my husband said to put it on the picnic table, so we could carry it more easily.

It wasn’t a bad idea, but it was a bad table. I got it from the side of the road, and it makes my kids unhappy because (1) it reminds them of the time I embarrassed them by picking up rotten old tables, and one kid had to ride in the back of the Blazer with the door open so the table didn’t fall out, which was scary; and (2) when you touch it, the legs fall off. But it was free!

We did make it to the swamp, set the table down, and started picking out various sheets and pants and bras and shaking them vigorously into the “Dead Marshes” part of the yard, where we throw things we don’t want to deal with (rotten jack-o’-lanterns; dog poop; meat grease in bean cans; bedding from dead pets; dead pets).

I thought we were doing pretty well, and working our way through the heap pretty briskly. I didn’t start laughing until I heard my husband go, “Shit. shit. shit. oh, shit.” It wasn’t even a big deal. He was just trying to pick my striped sweater off a small blackberry bush that it had gotten heavily involved with, and I suddenly realized that the neighbors , with their bird’s eye view of our back yard, must be wondering for the millionth time, “What in the hell are those people doing?”

It brought to mind the time we were renting a house that was in rather poor repair, and one day the toilet just started angrily spouting stenchy water, which rushed downhill from the bathroom, down the stairs and out the door in an endless river of things that reminded me of why I didn’t want to live in that town anymore. I couldn’t figure out how to turn the water off, and while I was waiting for someone competent to come help, I decided, with the crystalline clarity so typical of these moments, that it would be best to gather up all the towels and blankets in the house and try to sop up the river before it warped the floors.

Then, crystalline, I would gather up the bundle — and why didn’t anyone warn me that such a large part of adult life would include gathering up bundles of things you are ashamed of? — and drag them out to the curb, wring them into the sewer, and bring them back inside for more sopping. And sobbing.

On my fourth trip out to the sewer, I realized that a little girl and her mother were sitting on the opposite curb, watching my frantic and wretched efforts with wide eyes. The little girl said softly to her mother, “Mommy, what is that lady doing?” And the woman answered just as softly, “Sweetie, I don’t know.”

The memory of this made me laugh so hard that I fell onto the picnic table, crunching it completely flat into the ground. But, my husband wisely pointed out, at least we were pretty much done shaking the glass out of stuff.

But he did change the light bulb! And what’s what we were doing, neighbors. It’s our love language, okay?