Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Melia's Month of Memories--Post Second (because I just can't seem to get in the habit of writing every day. You would weep if you saw my journal.)

Some months have personalities. July and August are bullies here in the beautiful Desert Southwest--beating us mercilessly about the utility bill and forcing us to cough up protection money, "Or face a day in the sun, if you know what we mean. Heh, Heh, Heh." February is a flirt--teasing us with the lure of romance and eternal affection, but then speeding away just when she was getting interesting. December is the sprinter, always rushing by to claim yet another, "Gee, that was a quick month" record. And he just whacked me on the be-hind with his baton. (Of course, in the case of December the baton is made out of peppermint. Even so, there's little welt right where I was smacked.)

So, yeah, I let a few days get away from me. But how is a middle-aged mom supposed to keep up with the flash that is December?

Excuses aside, on to the memories!

Today's topic:
ornaments and the trees that go with them

I suppose that there are probably people that don't really care what the Christmas tree looks like--or even if it makes it into the house in time for the holiday. I may even have known them and not fully understood the gaping holes that were their souls. How can you not care what the tree looks like? It's going to dominate the whole darn house for a month or so, and everyone will see it! So do a good job on it, darn it!

I, naturally, come from the other end of the spectrum. I blame it on my mother. (My father is one of those for whom the tree is a nice concept, but not so much of an obsession; it's more like something to dodge when vacuuming. If he vacuumed. Which he does. But only when my mom is out of town. He's come a long way, baby.) Mom grew up in a family who liked the tree just so--and habits like that are hard to break. And luckily for Mom, she always had a Christmas tree that gave her scope for just so-ey-ness.

I grew up in a house with a twenty-foot tall vaulted ceiling. That was nice in the summer when paper airplane contests were popular. (That was a quiet enough activity for us to do when we were cooped up by six solid months of temperatures hot enough to melt your spleen.) But it was a real asset when it came time for the Christmas tree. Mom and Dad--who clearly knew the power of BIG in creating wonderment in the juvenile brain, always went for the tallest tree they could find. (And now that I think about it, how? Because even in the 70s, when such things were not twenty dollars a foot like they are now, my parents were not exactly rolling in the dough. Did they have a Tree budget which they contributed to all year long? Did they fast on Fridays and save the money? Did my dad moonlight as a gold miner to accumulate the cash? These are question I really ought to ask and include in my personal history if I ever get around to that. Which seems unlikely, given my propensity for procrastination of the typed type.) One year we kids were very proud when we were able to score the sixteen-footer that had been set aside for one of the banks in town. (Really. We were apparently budding anti-capitalists.)

When we got those monstrous--in the very best sense--things home, Dad would wedge the trunk of the tree of the year in Mom's largest pot (see--too poor even for a tree stand!) and Mom would set to work. All the ornaments from the past thirty-odd years would come out, and be exclaimed over. We children would claim all the ones we had made or had been given over the years. There were the felt angels Mom had made when I was four or so, and the little china Dutch shoes, the doves from Mom and Dad's wedding reception, and the angels from Mom's childhood. And they had to be placed correctly. Even spaced; no two similar ornaments next to each other; breakable glass ones at the top. It took forever. And when we were done, we girls always wanted to sleep underneath the tree. We even got to once or twice.

Every year the trees became more elaborately decorated. Mainly because we each received a new ornament each year--something that commemorated an event from the year past. That was part of the fun--to see what we had done on display in felt and lace and glass.

When I grew up, the tradition continued. On my mission I received a glass globe. The year I got my driver's license (AFTER the mission and the college graduation, pathetically enough) I was given a red car ornament. Christmas ornaments were/are a BIG DEAL.

So is it any wonder that when Roberto and I were engaged I gave him an ornament for Christmas?

He didn't get the concept.

There I was, warmly welcoming him into the wonderful welter of my family's traditions, and he was disappointed it wasn't a watch or a tie or whatever a twenty-something-year-old guy really wants for Christmas. (Something illicit and highly inappropriate, I fear) It took him nearly a decade to understand the significance of that gift.

Naturally, I tease him mercilessly about it every year. It's on the agenda for this one, too.

These days we actually have two trees. Our first is the artificial one we (I, mostly) set up as soon as possible after Thanksgiving. It's covered in fruit ornaments, and is actually rather restrained, when you consider how I was raised. We have a family tradition--started almost five years ago, and thus of comparatively ancient vintage--of adding one additional ornament a day. All these ornaments are on gospel themes: the temple, families, missionary work, the Savior and His birth. We call it our "Fruits of the Gospel" tree and it's our one point of sanity in an over-commercialized celebration.

The other tree is the big one. The one for which all the living room furniture must be arranged. The one that tales up more space than should be legally allowed. And Santa brings it and decorates it on Christmas Eve while the children sleep. (Last year Santa scored by going on Christmas Eve to Home Depot, where they just GAVE him the tree for free. It was one less they had to chip up for mulch. Santa is a frugal shopper.) When everyone (except Mom, who still hasn't mastered the trick of sleeping on Christmas Eve--too excited, if you can believe it) wakes up, there it is, bright and shining and covered with all the well-loved ornaments that Santa had apparently quietly retrieved from the basement without the insane guard dog licking him to death in the process. (Guard Dog likes Santa, it would seem. Or maybe Santa keeps his pockets full of peppermint-flavored mace for just such a situation.) There are the felt angel from my pre-school days, my globe, my Dutch shoes. The boys have their ornaments for trips to Disneyland and to the aquariums. There is the cloth angel I stitched for our first son the year he was born and I couldn't afford two dollars to buy him one. The icicles I bought when I worked in the trim-a-tree department at the mall are scattered--and still quite effective. And my husband's first ornament, his knight-in-shining-armor hand-blown glass ornament, that he really didn't think much of at first, is near the top.

It's a pretty darn fabulous sight.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Good heavens! When did December sneak up on me? No knock, no warning whistle, no flash of the twinkly lights. Just WHAM! And suddenly everyone is spouting Holiday Cheer like it's some sort of chocolate-induced acne and I only have three weeks--no, make that 19 days!!!!!!!!!--to get everything done. Because it just ain't Christmas if Mom isn't frazzled and slugging back hot cocoa to steady her nerves.

In an effort to remember and reinforce to my poor shriveled soul what Christmas is all about (and no, Virginia, it isn't about your six-year-old son's fifteenth re-write of his letter to Santa--this time with major emphasis on highly specific and probably unlawful-in-the-hands-of-an-unlicensed-minor type toys.) Christmas only comes once a year--one chance in 365 to make a memory to last through the joys of spring, the blisters of summer and the muddy paw prints of autumn. One day to GET IT RIGHT, dagnabbit!

And so, only six (and one half) days late, I begin my
Month of Memories
A month--if I can keep it up; feel free to bet--of the memories that I hold near, dear, and occasionally cringe-worthy.

Tonight's topic: Christmas food (mainly because I'm in the middle of cooking dinner, and it just feels right somehow.)

I know there are people who eat ham or turkey on Christmas Eve. I've been friends with a few of them in my time. And on my mission I met others who celebrated with tamales, enchiladas, and even lasagna--a particularly festive bunch. But the fact is, nothing in the whole wide world says Christmas so well as Swedish Meatballs or Clam Chowder.

You see, I have a large family. Not that my parents were so very prolific or anything--there are only four of us siblings, although that prior to our births many more were planned. (Sorry about that, Mom!) When I say family I mean FAMILY. With a big red letter in front. With lots and lots and lots of aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, great-aunts and -uncles, grandparents, and people we just figured were family until we started doing genealogy and found out those trees did not intertwine. When my mom married my dad she thought she was getting a bargain. She was--but it was the marry one, get 59 free type. My mom grew up in a nice, picturesque Northern California town. Just she and her brother and their parents. Meals were decorous affairs. Conversations were hushed. And manners were always observed. When she married Dad, she was thrown right into the maelstrom of emotion, humor, and extreme decibel-levels that is my father's family. How was a girl to cope? By making a bargain: one Christmas with dad's family, one with her family. Evenly balanced. The best of both worlds. Sanity and lunacy in alternating waves.

So, in odd years we would head off to the Bay area, and my Aunt Michelle would make her fabulous clam chowder--I got used to the chewy bits at around age 13--and we'd have sourdough bread and veggies, and lovely desserts, and it was all very fancy and festive. I loved it. Somewhere in my young brain, the ideas of chowder and the thrill of holidays in a place far more interesting than my home town fused, and I still can't eat chowder without feeling a little shiver of anticipation down my spine. (These days my spine is usually anticipating a child asking if he/she can finish off my soup, but the vertebrae still get excited.) Unfortunately, I never had a hand in making the chowder, so I can't concoct a big pot full of the heavenly stuff. These day I have to rely on Campbell's to take me back to memory lane.

In even years, we'd stay home in the desert, and my grandma would do her best that no matter what--even if the only snow was on the television, and most of us could only say "tack"--and that with poor accents--we were SWEDES. By all that was or ever could be holy, we were SWEDES! And don't you forget it! So we gorged on Swedish meatballs (kottbullar--and that "k" at the beginning sounds like a "sh", and the "o" that follows should really have two dots over it and sounds a bit like a cross between a short i and a short e, so you can see why we kids liked to call them by their proper name loudly and with slightly-less-than-innocent smiles on our faces) and rice pudding (which is a whole 'nother story and the reason my grandmother has over fifty great-grandchildren), and crispbread, and cheese, and mashed potatoes, and my stomach is cramping up just thinking about it. (And every year my grandmother pulled out the jar of pickled herring that had graced the table since 1946. No one ever had the courage to eat it--would YOU?--and the same jar will probably be set out this year. You'd think the joke or the hope or whatever it is that motivates my grandmother to do so would have evaporated by now, but you'd be wrong. Sadly, painfully, wrong) My memories of Christmases with Dad's side of the family revolve around my fingers freezing stiff from mixing up the meatballs (we could only help if we were old enough to take the pain without excessive whining) and guessing how many of the products of my agony my little brother had eaten. (23 one year.)

This year, we'll be at the church by my Swedish Grandmother's house--we outgrew her family room about ten years ago. There goes that rice pudding again!--and I'll be the one with a plate full of meatballs in front of her and the big smile on her face.

Here's to yummy memories and a big pile of kottbullar!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Post-Mortem

Who knew there was a floor under all that sparkly stuff?

Don't mind me--I'm just digging out after FINALLY finishing with the roadshow. The costumes are now packed away, props have been dismantled (except for the glittery mop, because you never know when that might come in handy), and my makeup brushes have been washed and are drying on my kitchen counter. Whew.

Alas, I must reveal that we didn't win. Agony! I know, when I really stop and analyze it without the influence of chocolate--which seems to make me belligerent for some reason--that the better roadshow won: they practiced more than we did (twice every Saturday, instead of only once each weekend), had better participation, and when I saw their director at the first meeting I knew my ward was sunk. But my heart is stronger-willed than my brain, and a faint flicker of hope still existed through these past difficult weeks.

I wanted to win. Not because I want to be considered the Grand Pooh-Bah of Roadshows (although that would look nice engraved on a plaque in the ward cabinet), but because I wanted to right a wrong perpetrated many years ago.

You see, I was a member of the Great Roadshow Rebellion of '85. I rose up--along with several other members of the cast, lest you think I was some sort of rabble-rouser. I was actually more of a really stupid follower--and struck (like we were some sort of union: the International Disciples-Indignant of Overworked Teenagers--go ahead and acronym-ize that one) for some meaningless and ultimately forgotten "right", demanding that our director give in to our demands or no roadshow would be performed that year. In retrospect, we were all a bunch of two-bit doofusses, loaded with acne and puffed up with an unbelievable combination of self-importance and self-loathing. Making matters worse, our esteemed (now and for many years previous!) director was my grandmother.

That's right, I rebelled against the gentle stage direction of my adored grandmother. It is not something I like to recall. (But my mom remembers and refers to it whenever I get snippy with her. Mothers are a lot more like elephants than we like to admit.)

So you can see why I was willing to sacrifice everything--EVERYTHING!!!!--to bring home the Grand Prize this year. I wanted to do it in honor of my grandmother, to make up for hormone-induced imbecility, to prove that I had actually learned something in the intervening years. (How to tell stage left from stage right, and the importance of sparkly ribbon come to mind.)

Alas, it was not to be. We were outclassed by a lethal combination of (really fabulous!) poster-board shining armor and 90% participation. In the end we won only for best director (irony, folks!) and best script.

We even lost out on the award for best costumes. Oh, my aching ego.

So, in the end, I could have saved myself a whole lot of exhaustion and frustration if I had just tossed everyone t-shirts for costumes and forgone the worry over sets. All I really needed to do was yell, "LOUDER!" at every possible rehearsal interval, and the results would have been the same.

Karma, friends, karma. It'll bite you in the end.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

(Blogger enters, stage right)

I would like to make a sincere apology for the nation-wide glitter shortage. It seems I got a little carried away with what my mom calls "gussy-ing up" the costumes for the roadshow. But on the up side I now have a glitter-spangled white-powdered wig made from the panty part of a pair of pre-worn black tights and half a yard of polyester batting to add to the costume collection. (Just don't tell the actor who has to wear it what it's made of. Teen-age boys are so sensitive to silly things like that.)

Apparently that college degree in costume design has started to pay for itself. Or it would if I were being payed by the hour at a rate commensurate with my abilities (tights panties and batting--c'mon, does anyone want to try to top that?) and my adaptability. (I made rats' tails out of wire hangers and duct tape; the girl rat's tail has a perky bow. Did I mention that our budget was only $100? The instructions said to use our resources. Done.)

Instead, I'm being paid in celestial savings bonds and promises at another crack at the trophy in three years.

With that in mind, may I offer a few of what I consider reasonable suggestions that would go enormous lengths to improve the current Roadshow system?

  • Tag-team directors--so that when the kid who hasn't shown up for seven practices in a row decides he feels like crashing the dress rehearsal, the director currently in charge can take a few minutes to pop a couple Valium.

  • Parisian Street Mime Roadshows. Because then at least there would be an excuse for not speaking on cue.

  • Hook the actors up to radio controllers. "Dang it all--I said LEFT FOOT!!!!!!" (Optional extra: shock-administering dog-training collars.)

  • Strap bull horns on actors at the first practice; arrange for them to be removed at the cast party. Maybe then I won't have to shriek "Speak UP!" every ten seconds.

  • Institute new judging system: points for greatest efforts in the face of enormous odds. Bonus points for best sob story. Judged by fellow directors.

  • Order mandatory costume weigh-in. Costumes not meeting minimum glitter requirements to be awarded negative points for lack of proper roadshow spirit. Extra ten points for every conspicuously-placed sequin on already too-shy deacons.

  • Eliminate song and dance requirements. Instead, ask the audience to hum along as priests and mia maids shuffle awkwardly in what is optimistically called a "Viennese Waltz". (More of a Vienna sausage two-step, but we're hoping for the best.)

  • Secret "director's points" (awarded in calm-inducing chocolate bars, delivered in plain brown wrappers) for every time an actor says the "secret word" on stage. Possible suggestions: shoot, dang, walrus, ummmmmmmmm.

That's all, folks. You've been a great audience. (Blogger bows, waves. Exit stage left.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Now Accepting New Members

I just found out that November is not just for Thanksgiving and torturing my children with pop quizzes on the Pilgrims. (Quick--name the first successful permanent English settlement in the New World and tell me the date of its founding!) It isn't even just a month to really, really wish I had a novel in me somewhere (no fat jokes, I beg of you!) so I could take part in National Novel Writing Month. It's also National Adoption Month.

I found this out only today--apparently, I haven't been keeping as up to date on my quasi-official memorial months as I'd like. But there they were, splashed across the newspaper page: pictures--heart-wrenching ones, no less--of teary-eyed children seeking families. They get me every time. Why do I let myself forget about them in the midst of the lunacy I let creep into our life?

Here's the thing: I've always wanted to adopt. Well, maybe not always--but pretty much since I married el Roberto and figured that with our late start 10 kids would be a physical impossibility. (I've been reading the Old Testament lately, and with all due admiration, there is no WAY I'm pulling a Sarah. I can only imagine the spasms it would give my poor OB, not to mention my tortured kidneys.) Unfortunately, it isn't quite as easy as just saying, "Okay, I'm ready. Hand over those superfluous kiddos!" There are forms to fill out and money to scrape together, and visits and tests and red tape up places where no one (not even my afore-mentioned OB) ought to look--and that's even for the children that supposedly no-one wants! (I do! I do!--I've had enough babies to think starting after potty-training would be a VERY good idea.) It seems like a huge mountain to climb, and every time I steel myself to get us going, I hear a horror story.

They're out there--the sad tales of adoptions gone horribly wrong, that messed lives up, and that made people more miserable than they'd be willing to admit. Those are the ones that scare me.

And yet, the longing is still there. Heaven knows I'm not getting any younger--sassier, but not younger. And richer keeps getting postponed. This may be the best time for us to take the plunge and put ourselves and our family in the hands of the Lord and say, "Okay, help us find a way." Logistically, it makes sense. We have the room. We still have a modicum of sanity. We've always managed to find a way to make things work. Truthfully, all things considered, I'd rather take a shot at finding real joy than in missing it through worry and apprehension.

So here's my declaration (sorry, Roberto, if this comes as a shock. We can talk about it soon, promise!): I am ready to take the plunge. I am opening my arms and declaring open season on my heart. This momma has space for anyone looking for a permanent situation. These arms are waiting to be filled.

Keep us in your prayers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Testing. Testing. Is this thing working?

My clothesline has sprouted brightly-colored upside-down mushroom shapes. My living room has been overtaken by blue plastic bins. I bought a mop simply to wrap it in red, purple, and yellow ribbons. I have plundered my lace and sparkly-fabric supplies.

The Roadshow is coming. And I'm directing it. Take a moment or two to let that thought sink in. And a couple more for the laughter-induced spasms to subside.

We have only two weeks to go. (Sorry, make that twelve days; I was wighfully thinking when I wrote that sentence.) I may die of stress before the big performance comes.

You see, they called the wrong person to do this job. (The fact is the right person moved out of the ward a few months ago. ARE YOU LISTENING, ALLISON? HAVE YOU NO GUILT FOR WHAT YOU'RE PUTTING ME THROUGH?) I am, reluctantly, I must admit, more of a Roadshow writer than a director. Heck, I'd be happiest as the designer and seamstress. But here I am, the most delegation-challenged person in the world tackling the most difficult non-Nursery-or-Relief-Society-based calling in the world. And so, most of the lunacy devolves to me to see to.

Thus, the upside-down mushroom on the clothesline are chefs' hats being so stiffly starched they can literally stand on their own merits. (The merit is the part below the pouffy bit at the top--just a little costume-related humor for ya, there.) The blue bins that have precluded any possibility of actually sitting in the living room are the temporary repositories of extra-sparkly costumes and shiny ribbon-bedecked props. (Including, and I am absolutely not kidding about this, 15 large shiny, brown Christmas tree ornaments turned upside down and hot-glued into tin foil baking cups to fool a willing and very tolerant audience into thinking they are absolutely decadent chocolates.) The scenery lies face up on my driveway as I type, awaiting my ministrations with glue gun and red sequins. (For the first time in my life, I'm actually praying that it won't rain. Garden be darned--it's all for the Roadshow!) I still have to buy multiple rolls of colored duct tape, as well as super glue, and a large plastic nose attached to a pair of eyeglasses with a faux mustache as the last costume piece.

I have demonstrated the fine art of Roadshow singing--which differs from every other sort of singing by emphasizing quantity over quality. I have repeatedly implored stage-shy teens to yell their lines--CLEARLY!!!!--to the deaf older sisters who will inevitably be sitting in the back rows. I have choreographed dancing rats, taught chocolatiers how to do a pas-de-bourree, and agonized over the entrance timing for the villainess. I have abandoned dignity at the door twice a week for the past three weeks. And I'm still not done.

Can anyone tell me how to make a white powdered wig out of a yard of quilt batting and the top of a nylon stocking? Does anyone have any good ideas for persuading teens that what they most want to do on a Saturday morning is sing and prance? Will somebody tell me the proper procedure for bribing a Roadshow judge?

I have sacrificed my sleep, my fabric, my hips, and my diet to the success of this thing. I've visited Goodwill and DI so often they're both sending me "Thank You" cards on a bi-weekly basis. My prayers are almost exclusively for the youth and "will heaven please bless whoever sets up the microphones to over-compensate for sound absorption in the Stake Center cultural hall? We could really use a little boost."

Call me obsessed. Call me loony. Call me Sister Kydd. But don't call me early on November 22nd. I'll finally be sleeping of the dead-tired just.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

PSSST: wanna hear a secret?

Attention moms:

I have found the secret to maternal serenity, and it can be found in the candy aisle at your local grocery.

Who'da thunk the key to living calmly with children under the age of 35 was a small, chocolate-based treat I had always known and loved? M&M Mars has created the source of all familial goodness and light, but they don't tout it in their advertisements, which seems a real shame, since I'm sure their stock prices would go through the roof if this caught on. (Dear M&M Mars, if the afore-mentioned scenario DOES take place, I'm staking my claim to a share of the profits now. I'll call you with details later.)

Here's the scoop: I have always understood the link between M&Ms and enhanced performance. In college, my standard procedure for taking tests was to run to the bookstore, purchase a half-pound bag of M&Ms--any variety, but my preference was for peanut butter--and consume the whole bag in the hour before the test, while sitting in the hall outside the classroom and reciting the mantra, "You can do this and you'd better do well, because if you don't you'll look like a big fat idiot. SO DON'T SCREW UP!" On the occasions when I followed this pattern(which increased in frequency as I noticed the correlation between M&M consumption and test-taking success), I never earned below a B+. Seriously. I owe my grade-point average (but not my current weight--that's a separate issue) to the candy aisle of the BYU Bookstore.

I had no idea a similar magic could work on my children. But it does.

Every morning I dole out ten magic candy-coated pellets into each egg cup--one per child, because anything else would be illogical, and motherhood is all about logic. And temporary insanity. Throughout the day, as those same egg-cup-claiming children act up or misbehave or induce me to rip out large chunks of bodily hair (mine, typically), I remove one M&M from the offending child's egg cup and eat it. Notice I take only one M&M per offense. I try not to abuse the system. I might extend the punishment to two, maybe, if the breach is particularly heinous. (Like leaving your underwear in the family room after being asked THREE TIMES to put them away. That's a major--and unfortunately, daily--offense in this house. I'm just telling you in the interests of warning an innocent public: should you visit, please do not look too closely under couches, if you know what I mean.) In this manner, the child is warned and punished and learns to feel the disappointing effects of disobedience. (Doesn't that sound wonderfully gospel-related? I'm working on it.) and I get a small taste of heaven to soothe my ruffled temper. At the end of the day, children who have not sent their mother permnently around the bend get the remaining M&Ms for dessert. Call it a win-win situation. At least on most days. I can imagine a truly horrible day when the children drive me to the utter edge of sanity and back multiple times, and I might on such an occassion end up eating all their M&Ms and then finish up the bag for a final shame-inducing encore, thereby creating a win-win-"Oh dear goodness, how am I going to lose all this weight" situation. But that one is safely still in the future. So far.

And there you have it; all your maternal frustrations and discipline problems solved in one easy formula: M&Ms = parental sanity + improved offspring obedience (and excellent test-taking skills).

Remember, you heard it here first. (I may be asking you to testify if the whole intellectual-rights infringement thing goes awry.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Happy Robot Day!

What? You've never heard of Robot Day?

I'm shocked and a little dismayed by that. And I'm sure Charlie is crushed. Because it was his idea in the first place.

The whole thing started on Monday--that was only three days ago, and even in the age of instant communication it still takes a while for ideas to spread and grab hold of public imagination. (Unless the information is something truly disgusting and utterly unspeakable, in which case it will pop up in every email box in the world about ten seconds after its creator sends it out to eight hundred of his very best buds.)

So, to fill in those of you who haven't received your Robot Day cards yet, Robot Day is a Charlie-created holiday to celebrate mechanical and electronic forms of skill and ability. He's a boy. And he's six. It was highly unlikely that he would choose to celebrate ponies.

It started with a school assignment to design a new holiday. He got to pick the day of year--and what were the chances that he would pick a date six months from now? (Boys cannot comprehend the idea of delayed gratification. It's a genetic trait. They get it from their fathers.) He chose the decoration scheme: red light to symbolize lasers, and robot streamers--which will probably eventually turn out to be toilet paper festively decorated with random marker-generated blobs. He even had the opportunity to choose the soon-to-be-traditional foods for the holiday. (Subway sandwiches--maybe because subs are built using robotic assemblers?--and chips. I'd like to say the chips were because of the use of computer chips in building and controlling robots. But it's far more likely that he chose them because it's a good excuse to eat something that I typically don't allow. Ha! I'm sneaky too, and served apple chips as part of breakfast. Who's tricky now, huh?)

Now you know--go ahead and mark your calendars for next year. There are only 364 shopping days left.

A few scenes from our Robot Day festivities

Yeah, I know red lights are the appropriate decoration, but I haven't hit the after-Robot-Day sales yet. Plus it was six-thirty, and I wasn't going to do more storage-room diving than absolutely necessary to make my son's dreams come true.

The construction of the traditional Robot Day costume--a nice twist added by Roberto at six thirty-two this morning. I suspect that next year's costume may be slightly more elaborate.

The wearing of the robot costume

Another Robot Day entertainment: watching one's baby getting a buzz from gnawing on the traditional red lights' cord. (Please let it be known that I did not take a picture while said baby was in imminent danger. The child has no teeth. It would take him a year to gnaw into anything that could zap-fry him. And by then he probably would have lost interest.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I've been away from the computer for a while--mostly trying to get my act together, because, really, the tap dancing/juggling bit wasn't meshing (too much shuffle ball-change, too few flaming chainsaws)--but, fear not!, my keen powers of observation were still tuned in to the little quirks that make life interesting to at least five of you out there.

So, without further ado:

Thing I should have realized before I reached the age of 37, but didn't because either they just never came up before then or I was oblivious at the time
(it'a working title)
  • Any day that begins with the baby creating a syrup trail throughout the house is almost certainly destined to end in a carb-induced coma.
  • You can lead an eight-year-old to the piano, open the book for him, place his hands on the keys and wait expectantly, but you can't stop him from asking, "So what do you want me to do?"
  • Nor can you stop the resulting maternal scream from exiting at least two cranially-located orifices.
  • You can't reason with a four-year-old, but you CAN sentence her to an extra-long nap, as long as you have earplugs and a strong bungee cord.
  • Eventually, and with a little divine intervention, obstinate four-year-olds become six-year-olds. You CAN reason with a six-year-old, but he's just going to do what he wants after the discussion.
  • Grocery shopping DOES count as "getting out of the house for some alone time" but only if you're really desparate.
  • And eventually you'll have to get back into the car and go home. The bakery ladies look sympathetic, but they're not willing to adopt you.
  • No matter how much you beg.
  • Regardless, never pass up a chocolate chip cookie.
  • There will be days when the dog will track mud over the newly-mopped floor. Accept it and go on. But if it happens three times in the same day, you'll also have to accept the fact that something is not right in your housework/dog equation.
  • Gardening in the Desert Southwest is fabulous in October, exhilarating in February, but lethal in July.
  • Which is just when every magazine is touting the benefits of the family garden. Ignore them--and enjoy the fact that you can have fresh tomatoes in March.
  • As long as you remember to water the darn plants.
  • Because while all weeds are desert-adapted, tomatoes are horticultural whiners. And no amount of tough love will ever change that.
  • There is no Anasazi Program for garden vegetables. Get over it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Shhhh . . . I'm supposed to be overseeing schoolwork!

Okay, I'm taking a quick break from listening to boys write about robots and killing machines in their journals (I'm pretty sure these are personal records that will be deleted from the heavenly hard drive in the eventual eternities. I know we've been counseled to keep a personal record--but how many descriptions of impossible multi-missiled machines of doom do we need to write about to gain celestialization? Because I'm pretty sure there's a limit on that sort of stuff, and I'm just as sure that my sons hit that limit about a month ago.)

But I digress.

Now, before I get to the core concept of this post, there are some background facts you need to know--or it just won't make any sense. Trust me--I live this reality, and it's barely comprehensible to me. You NEED the exposition. Heck, I need the exposition most days.

  • First: I have been knitting away ever since camp, making Christmas stockings for my sister and her family. I have never knitted stockings with heels before. I have, however, knitted spiral-ribbed tube socks. (Muy fabuloso!) Because this is a semi-new skill, I'm taking my time on it. It's taken me a month to knit 4.8 stockings--and that's knitting at all possible hours of the day and night. I am determined to do this right so my sister doesn't have to make an explanation to every person who visits her during the Christmas season. ("Oh, those? Well, my sister--you know, the crazy one--tried her hand at knitting a few years ago. Thank Goodness they only have to stay up there for a few days!" Only, I'm sure she'd phrase it in a kindlier way than that. The reference to me as crazy would remain, however.) Take this as a warning: never EVER mention that you may want something that I could possibly learn how to do, or my ineptitude will be forced upon you and you will have to make explanations about the thing inhabiting your living room for the rest of your life.

  • I have been going slowly blinder than I had ever planned to be for about five years now. I'm used to it, but it has required a certain set of needs that must be filled before I can do anything other than staring fuzzily ahead. Namely a pair of reading glasses at all times and extra light--as much as possible.

  • The best light in this house, sadly enough, is in a room designed for nothing more task-related than a quick peruse of the headlines. I should have installed brighter lamps in the family room, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. So, if, after a certain hour of the evening, I want to do anything requiring sight--like perhaps setting a heel on a Christmas stocking--I have to go into the guest bathroom, which has four lovely high-wattage lights and an equal number of nicely reflective walls.

So--and this is the core concept I mentioned earlier--when my husband came up the stairs from the basement and saw me sitting on the toilet knitting away for dear life, is it any wonder that he almost split a gut laughing after the initial shock and resulting double take?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The prodigal returns

Ahhhh, the joy of typing for pleasure and not for work-sheet production--the cheerful clack of the keys as I mistype and then hastily backspace through three sentences The soft roar of the overburdened computer. The finding of goodies dropped between keys by munching children. (Is that a cookie bit? Mine-sies!) A moment to myself and the universe with whom I commune. Via Internet. Because the medieval notion of ether-filled space was a bunch of hooey. Unless you follow recent astrophysical discussions, wherein the speculation is that there is indeed something filling up the nooks and crannies of our hitherto-thought empty cosmos. Go think about it in gospel terms. It's mind-blowing.

I needed a break. True. The world was crushing the life out of me. Too many demands for too little time, and the thing that could go with the fewest screams of despair was blogging. But, now that I think I have a handle on it, I'll try to squeeze in some deep/humorous/oddball/wacky/just-too-strange-for-explanation musings occasionally.

I've spent the time well: read some relaxing books (murder mysteries--relaxing because at the end of the book I'm still alive), knitted a few Christmas stockings (latest count: 3.85--and sill knitting), finally got the schedule mostly squared away.

The last one was the biggie. We had had the same schedule, with some minor tweaks, for years. It was a good schedule. It worked for us. I could live quite happily within its limitations and strictures. Slight problem: the kids have gotten older, and the burden of responsibility grows heavier for them. (Permit me a small, slightly satisfied, cackle--BWA-HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Who's feeding the dog now, kiddos? Who's feeding her now?) And yet, we still have the standard-issue 24 hours per day. (I'd like to discuss that someday with someone who can do something about it. It would be a lot better for those of us with older children if our days could be variable in length--longer on the days we have too much to do, and shorter on the days when we all frazzle out a bit at the ends. Maybe a dial/watch sort of thing with a twisty bit on the side to speed up or slow down time. That would do us quite well, thank you.) So, our time for lunch kept bumping into our schedule for piano practice, and then they both jostled up against my (mostly imaginary anyway) free time, and the science and the math and the heart-to-heart discussions about feelings and aspirations just sort of had to work their own way in somehow. It was not a happy time.

In desperation we did what I suspect all successful parents do: we juggled everything around, reconsidered every aspect of our time-stressed existence, made a few changes, chanted a few calming mantras, ate some chocolate, and came up with a new schedule. A new way of looking at the day for a family that cannot define itself as "family with small children exclusively" anymore. In the process I've had to give up some things I enjoy--like 90% of my computer time. And my children have had to learn to get their rears in gear earlier in the day. (Me? Well, I'm still working on that one. Thank goodness for a husband who can wake up at the crack of 6:34. Most of the time.)

So, here's the concept: I will continue to write, because something has to be done to get all these random thoughts out of my head. Call it catharsis of the brain (because catharsis of the bowels is so MUCH more disturbing). The entries may be less frequent, and certainly will be less polished, but they will be written by someone who isn't trying to type with one hand while she combs hair, makes lunch, and corrects math tests with the other.

Balance, people. That's what it's all about.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I will survive (hopefully)

Have you ever felt like time was slipping away? Or maybe that it wasn't time but intelligence and the brain matter it's associated with doing the slipping? Yeah. Me too. A lot. Especially this past week, when in spite of my best intentions to be a woman of poise and class, I mostly ended up being a woman of ludicrous ineptitude.

I used to think I could do most of it all--I could have the lovely, immaculate home; the well-mannered, well-educated, wonder-children; the perfectly organized existence; and the fabulous (but secretly purchased at thrift stores) wardrobe. I was willing--if absolutely required--to negotiate on total perfection in return for sustainability. But, seriously, this has gone too far. Lately I've had to accept a house with floors mopped by the family canine, children who almost always remember not to belch too loudly at the table and who can usually add seven and six to get an answer within two places of thirteen, a life fueled by desperation and anxiety, and a wardrobe that, while purchased, openly, at thrift stores, is not so much a contender for chic-of-the-week as an object lesson in applied economics. This is not quite what I had in mind.

I feel like I'm swimming upstream, and the stroke I'm using is a doggie-paddle. And my water wings have a leak. And my snorkel is plugged with spit. (I could extend this simile forever, but I'll end it mercifully just a wee bit long. Be thankful, because my next sentence would have mentioned an abnormal tightness of swimming attire.)

So, I'm going to take a couple of days--maybe weeks, but hopefully not--to pull my head and my life back together. I'll return soon--full of vim and vigor, ready to fight the good fight, and able leap medium-sized buildings with the aid of a trampoline and a strong tail wind. It'll be worth the wait.

I promise.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

The secret to not falling off my rocker in one long-winded and self-congratulatory post

Confession: I am thirty-(cough*cough*cough*mumble*mumble*something that sounds like frickin' freven) years old, and I'm just now learning how to balance.

(Some of you probably think that this might explain why my shining future in gymnastics went south right after toddler-hood. Wrong-o, people. Not that kind of balancing--trust me, I've had that type down for years. "Old Nimble-Knees Merkley" they called me, when they weren't calling me "Four-Eyes" or "Hey, You! The One With Her Head Stuck In A Book!" And by "they" I mean the mean imaginary people in my mind. You should have heard some of the junk they came up with during my adolescence!)

Balance--the sort where one part or aspect of one's life does not overshadow or dominate all other aspects of that life--is something I've been seeking for a loooooooong time now. Like maybe 35- or 36-ish years. Or so. And I think I may actually stumbled (ironically enough, if you get the whole balance metaphor thing) across it today. It was lying there, right in front of me!, all along. Go figure.

Here's the skinny. (Another ironic pun, if you know me at all.) I am a basically lazy and selfish person. Really. I know I've fooled a lot of people over the years into believing I'm some sort of super-competent, super-active, super-giving over-achiever. HA! In reality, everything I've ever accomplished was done in frantic spurts of concentrated effort so I could just get it done with and go back to reading on my comfy couch. That was the story of my life in High School (less frantic activity; more comfy couch), college (slightly more frantic activity; more staying up 'til 4 a.m. gabbing with roommates; lots less sleep--usually on the comfy couch), and into ten-plus years of child-rearing. Sure, I got quite a bit done, but it was all at the expense of my sanity, my sleep, and my children's perception of "normal". (The children think I'm a total loon--and not in the humorous "My mom is so bizarre" sort of way. More like a scary "Get me out of here--she's going to destroy us all!" sort of way. Up until today they would have been correct in their estimation.) Most of my actual effort was directed at figuring out how to get everything necessary done while not having to put any real physical or emotional investment into what was going on. (Roberto, since I know you'll read this, I'm sooooooooo sorry. You have some serious gloat time coming to you.) Honest. If there was a short-cut, I'd take it at top speed. If I could do it poorly and still get away with it, I would. If I had to neglect the most important things to get something more showy done, it was not a question of "if", but of "just how little will I have to do? And may I eat crackers while doing so?" It looked impressive--appearances, people, it was all merely appearances!--but it lacked any sort of honest depth or caring. Also, I was really cranky. (Caveat: the 18 months of my mission were the exception to this sordid tale. Once I had a companion who could show me how to do the work correctly and with a proper attitude, I worked my sincerely-happy little tush off. Look at the pictures--no tush! Thanks, Debi!)

Today, though, I have had an epiphany. The secret is--oh, how I will regret admitting this some day when I just want to shirk!--is getting my lazy butt up and focusing on the important--read: NOT ME--things. That's it, the magic formula. Don't believe me? Here's how it went down:

  1. Child practicing piano, and having a rough time of it. Normally, I'd be in another room, paying very little attention while I did something more engrossing, like turning pages, or--if I HAD TO--folding laundry, but today I was on the piano bench with said child. You know what? I had trouble with it! And I've been playing (badly) for more years than I want to admit! We worked it through, and we enjoyed it. And there was no frustration!
  2. Child going through schoolwork. Typically, this would be my chance to escape and do something else--the instructions are right there, aren't they? Today, I read the instructions with him, discussed any questions he had, stayed with him every step of the way. No problems--work done in the right amount of time, with no whining, but lots of learning. (Also, I had plenty of time to turn the heel of the sock I'm knitting. But it wasn't my primary focus. That would have been un-balanced.)
  3. Child practicing alphabet (different child). I hate this usually. C'mon, how hard can it be? Read, already! This morning we sang the alphabet song and used the magnetic letters. It worked! She can tell "A" from "B"! How long have kindergarten teachers been sitting on this secret?
  4. Two minutes ago: strange, non-sleeping sounds emanating from a bedroom during nap time. No yelling while I kept writing, this time . No, I stood up, walked down the hall, opened the door, and explained the situation. Apparently we're on some sort of roll here, because there was no arguing. And now it's quiet!
  5. Because I was so very virtuous this morning, I have a clean house, peaceful and cheerful children, and a whole afternoon to enjoy both. (Feel free to kick me for my smugness. I've been waiting for 37 years to feel this good, and now my ego has come out swinging. It will be stuffed back into its cage shortly.)

Wow. So the points that I have missed all these years were that 1) I am in fact NOT the center of the universe, 2) life DOES NOT revolve around me, and 3) if I would just get off my lazy and selfish be-hind more often, I'd be a lot happier.

How come none of you told me this before?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why I'm here blogging when I could be catching lake creatures with marshmallows on a hook

Children. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. The ones in my line of sight at this minute may be flesh of my flesh, but I am not terribly fond of them just now.

Normally my children are bright, energetic, creative, wonderful small people. I love them--honestly. Most days you couldn't persuade me to part from them. Yesterday, though, I would have sold them to the circus for a handful of peanuts and Jumbo's autograph. And I would have negotiated on the peanuts.

Too harsh? Let me explain.

I am not an unreasonable person. I have certain sensible standards for conduct and behavior, and most intelligent mothers would agree that I do not ask over much of the developing personalities under my authority. (The unintelligent ones--the ones who feed their children Hershey bars and Pepsi for dinner--would disagree, but then I disagree with everything they do, so we're even.) All I require are honesty, diligence, and respect. And the occasional hug.


Because yesterday--the straw that broke the mommy's back, the day which brought me to the very last fiber of my figurative rope of sanity--the boys, Proto-Sundance and Mini-Butch, refused to do anything they were asked to do. Wipe down the bathroom? Nope. Do your math work? Nuh-uh. Practice the piano in under an hour? Forget it. Having read all manner of books on the subject, and considering the infinite worth that my children have and the eternal blessing they are supposed to be, I started off calm. Knowing this would be a challenging day, I prayed for patience. Finding that wasn't enough, I pleaded with heaven to grant me serenity. Heaven told me I was on my own with this one. I pulled out every mother-approved-obedience-achieving tactic in the book (and a few non-approved tactics as well, don't ask, when I became desperate), and nothing changed. Even when the "persuading" was done at top volume, as it increasingly was as the day went on, the boys remained obdurate. That's some granite-hard obstinacy, folks, and one-half of the family is paying for it today.

Today, you see, was the day my parents and their offspring had planned to spend at the lake to celebrate the first-ever Merkley Crustacean Fest. (Translation: we were going to bask in the mild mountain climate while sending innocent crawdads to their Celestial Maker. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Unless you're a crawdad.) Yesterday, with my final desperate shot at salvaging a rotten day, I vowed to the boys that if they did not straighten up they would miss out. It was my last haven of hope to convince them, my last refuge of redemption, and they charged into it with metaphoric poop on their boots. They had edged me into fighting mode, and I fought back with fire in my eyes and an ulcer in my belly. So help me, Hannah, I was not going to give them the enjoyment of goofing off in the mountains after a day when all they did was goof off at the expense of my blood pressure. It was an epic battle. We all lost.

Today, since their sister did not take part in the rebellion, and since their father can drive while I cannot, Roberto is taking Lindy up to have some artificial reservoir fun, and I am stuck in desert suburban purgatory for the sins of my children.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

A really long post--you might need an intermission to get through it all

I saw the following list posted on my cousin Jay's Facebook page. I've seen lists like this, compiled by various literary "experts" (who determines the qualifications to achieve "expert" status, anyway? I've been reading for 33 years now--doesn't that make me somewhat able to chose my own reading materials?) a few times--and I've always compared my reading habits with the supoosed "correct" or "educated" reading standards. Most of the time I fall short--but I have to admit that the BBC seriously underestimates me: I've read 33 of them. (And have included my ever-so-helpful thoughts on a few.)

The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?
[ ] 1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (whoo-hoo--number one! Totally my pick, too)
[] 2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (I'm still working on it. Tolkein was a professor of Anglo-Saxon, and it shows.)
[ ] 3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (Oh. Dear. Gads. It is such a melodrama.)
[ ] 4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (Cool, enjoyed it enormously--but is anything that can be made into a really cruddy movie worthy of an uber-snooty list?)
[] 5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (yes, I liked it--but not enough to read it every year. Once a decade, maybe)
[] 6 The Bible (!!!!)
[ ] 7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (Selfish people messing up other people's lives)
[] 8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
[ ] 9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
[] 10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens (We called our first son Pip. IT WAS NOT AFTER THIS BOOK!)
[ ] 11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott (Like it, have it, but it gets a little Victorian at times. Still, not a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon.)
[ ] 12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (Any book whewre the title character commits suicide is not worth the trouble--personal mantra)
[ ] 13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
[ ] 14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (80% there!)
[ ] 15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
[] 16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien (Shouldn't this just be lumped in with the Lord of the Rings? Are they that distinctive?)
[ ] 17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
[] 18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
[ ] 19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
[ ]20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
[ ] 21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (Yeow! Overemotional twaffle. I wanted to slug Scarlett after the firt two pages. Do not read this for historical information!)
[ ] 22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
[ ] 23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
[ ] 24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy (People doing everything they can to remain miserable)
[] 25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (Chortle. Chorlte.)
[]27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
[ ]28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
[ ] 29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (a tribute to the literary benefits of opium)
[] 30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (Beautiful, but really difficult for a seven-year-old to understand. I know; we tried reading it together last year.)
[ ] 31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
[ ] 32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
[ ] 33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis (WHEEE!)
[ ] 34 Emma - Jane Austen (Fabulous! Much better than the movie, nice costumes notwithstanding)
[ ] 35 Persuasion - Jane Austen(Love it)
[] 36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (Good for a beginning, but not my favorite)
[ ] 37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
[ ] 38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
[ ] 39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
[] 40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (Harmless (which is more than can be said for many of these listed titles) and fun (ditto))
[ ] 41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
[ ] 42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
[ ] 43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
[ ] 44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
[ ] 45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
[ ] 46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery (If you get bored with this one, try Anne of Windy Poplars, instead)
[ ] 47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
[ ] 48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
[] 49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding (EWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!! Why do they inflict this on us?)
[ ] 50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
[ ] 51 Life of Pi
[] 52 Dune - Frank Herbert
[ ] 53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons ("All highly-sexed farm boys are called either Seth or Reuben." HEE HEE)
[ ] 54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (Maybe my third-favorite Austen novel)
[ ] 55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
[ ] 56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
[] 57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
[ ] 58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
[ ] 59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night - Mark Haddon
[ ] 60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
[] 61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
[ ] 62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
[ ] 63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
[ ] 64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
[] 65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
[ ] 66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
[ ] 67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
[ ] 68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
[ ] 69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
[]70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (The only reason I know the first line of this book is from watching Love Boat in the late 70s.)
[] 71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
[ ]72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
[] 73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (Still have the copy my fourth-grade teacher gave me)
[ ] 74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson (very good--but you might need to watch your language after reading it. Toad in the Hole always sounds faintly naughty to me.)
[] 75 Ulysses - James Joyce
[] 76 The Inferno – Dante
[ ] 77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
[ ] 78 Germinal - Emile Zola -
[ ] 79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
[ ] 80 Possession - AS Byatt
[] 81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (The only Dickens book where I don't start screaming about the thickness of the prose two paragraphs in.)
[ ] 82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
[ ] 83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
[ ] 84 The Remains of the Day
[ ] 85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
[ ] 86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
[] 87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White ("WIIIIIIILBUR!"--although that was Mr. Ed. Still applicable, though.)
[ ] 88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
[ ] 89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
[ ] 90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
[ ] 91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
[] 92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery (Makes me cry cathartically)
[ ] 93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
[ ] 94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
[] 95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
[ ] 96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
[ ] 97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas (Much wordier than the movie)
[] 98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (Everyone and his pet pig dies)
[ ] 99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (My boys have read it. Does that make them pretentious BBC snobs?)
[ ] 100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (You'd think a romance, a revolution, and a redemption would make it interesting. You'd be wrong.)

Now for the part where I tell you what I think of all this.

First of all, I cannot understand for the life of me, why just because a book is bleak, dreary, and utterly incomprehensible when one is not under the influence of drug, legal or otherwise, it is automatically hailed as a literary landmark. Seriously, would it have killed some of these authors to look in the mirror, tell themselves they weren't really all that intellectually monumental, and then set to writing a genuinely knee-slapping short story? Admit it: with half of these ponderous tomes if you've read them at all, you plowed through doggedly to cross them off some list, and when you shudderingly turned the last pages, you exhaled huge sighs of relief and thanked your blessed stars you never had to read them again. They are beynd dismal. They are the ultimate and unjustified punishment for passing Kindergarten. No one reads most of these books for enjoyment--except people who have the emotional fortitude to withstand the inevitable depression that ensues. (I have a few of these people as friends. My admiration for them has no bounds. I adore them for their intellectual prowess. They accept me as light comic relief.)

I've tried on numerous occassion to wade through any book by Charles Dickens. I actually endured all the way through Great Expectations. It was a struggle. A Tale of Two Cities gathers dust in my bookcase now--I have attempted the slog of reading it four times, never advancing past page 24. My cousin, Kate (Hi, Kate! You don;t mind if I cite you, do you? Because you are the most knowledgable-on-the-subject person who I actually know, and are great deal more reliable than Wikkipedia.) tells me that Mr. Dickens was paid by the word for his work. It shows. His are some of the most bloated pages I have ever seen.

On the other end of the reading-list spectrum are bizarre trifles by Mitch Albom, Helen Fielding, and Dan Brown. Yes, they are best sellers. But serious masterworks of the craft of writing? No. Are they on the list as examples of popular taste at this point in history? Because as portraits of a decadent society they work. As telling revelations of the human spirit or condition they lack massively.

And don't get me started on books that every English Lit. teacher raves over, but which I have to take a bleach and lye shower after reading to rid myself of the crawing of the flesh feeling they induce.

So here's what I'm going to do for you: I'm going to give you my own approved reading list, with explanatory notes. Every title on it guaranteed to uplift the spirit, enlighten the mind, or evoke glee (some of these titles may do all three--they're my oersonal favorties). Go ahead and copy it, and then start reading. When you finish a book, place a check mark next to the title. There's no rush, and if you only read one or two, I won't judge you like I know the snooty folks at the BBC are at this very moment.

  • The Bible (well, of course--the basis for all Judeo-Christian thought and philosophy, and the foundation for most of post-classical, pre-modern literature. Seriously, this is required.)
  • The Book of Mormon (naturally--a companion to the Bible, and the ultimate "feel-good" read)
  • The Chronicles of Narnia (I know the BBC listed only the Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe as a stand-alone choice. Sillies. My personal favorites are The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle. Decide for yourself.)
  • The Anne of Green Gables series (Kate says, and I agree, that the latter books are better if you're over the age of 14. Don't forget to read Rilla of Ingleside. It always gets left off, for some reason.)
  • Winnie-the-Pooh and the companion books. (Because if you don't, you'll never get the joke about Henry Pootle.)
  • I'm a Stranger Here Myself (the BBC recommends Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island. I liked it, but I like this one better. Mainly becuase the BBC's recomended book is about Braitain--go figure--and this one is about what happens when an American returns home after twenty-something years abroad. It's funny and thought-provoking.)
  • White Goats and Black Bees (I found it in a sale years ago, and re-read it whenever I get overwhelmed with my life. It makes me smile. Surely that's enough to pique your interest!)
  • Hamlet (yes, I'm going with the BBC on this one. But I also like Macbeth, A Midsummer's Night Dream, As You Like It, and almost everything else except the dull Tudor histories--which he had to write to be economically and politically safe. He caved to the powers in charge, but he made the resulting plays so boring that they get shoved to the side--how's that for the last laugh?)
  • 1776 (Not the movie--although I do enjoy it--the book by David McCullough. Seriously, you should read this one.)

You know what? There are a ot of good book out there, way too many to list here. I have a few of them on my shelves. If you need something to read, come on over; I'd be glad to let you peruse for a while.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My eyes have seen the glory of the starting of the school

Whooo-hooo, the boys are off to "school." (!!!!!!!!!)

That may be just a little confusing who aren't acquainted with the beautiful Mesa Public Schools Eagleridge Enrichment Program. (The program is beautiful, not the whole MPS--that's a subject for a much crankier post, one which I will pass on writing.) So, yes, we homeschool. But because MPS loves its homeschooling parents (or at least the chunk of student-tied funds they bring), it gives us a place for our children to go once or twice a week to take "enrichment courses"--things we wouldn't be able to provide very well on our own. Like PE (which I squeaked by with a "B" in during my own school days--due to a total inability to run a mile without death-like symptoms), computers (I'm still pounding the keyboard in utter frustration 60% of the time. It's an improvement; I no longer call Roberto in tears three times a day. Sometimes I wonder if he misses that.), and fun classes like American Biographies, It's Disgusting and We Ate it, and Internet Cruises--all of which Jobe is taking this semester. This is a good thing: there is no way in Tahiti I was going to make him the chocolate-covered crickets he was asking for. That's something best left to a state-approved-and-qualified professional far, far away from my home kitchen.

And now the house is quiet--or at least as quiet as it can be with a four-year-old pounding on the piano, a toddler bumping into everything while trying to keep up with the four-year-old, and a manic dog who thinks oxygen atoms are a threat to household security. It's bliss, I tell ya.

"Ahhh," you think, "If it's so blissful, why don't you put your children in school full-time and cut out this homeschooling nonsense? Why not give yourself a real break?" That. my friends, is a good question--one I ask every day after about the middle of January. (Because no matter how much I love something, after a while it gets a little stale, and I start to see the flaws in the original plan. This is not unique to homeschoolers. My sister has her children in the excellent public school near her home, and she whines to me at least as much as I whine to her. Then we part, each smiling smugly that we got the better educational bargain. Validation: that's what sisters do best.) I homeschool because I wanted to really be the primary influence in my children's young lives--not their teachers at school, not their friends. I wanted to be the one to give them their first taste of educational success. I wanted to see their minds open up to new ideas. I didn't want to miss the most exciting moments of these years and have to hear about them in parent-teacher conferences. Basically put, I'm selfish and these are MY children--hands off! (Also, having suffered through more than my fair share of idiots with educational degrees I figured I could do at least as well as they did. At least I can pronounce "denouement", unlike one spectacularly ill-educated English teacher. Seriously, if you're going to teach the intricacies of the language you should be able to pronounce them correctly. Is that too much to ask?)

I'm giddy about this first day of school--just as I was when I was attending. I had trouble falling asleep last night, and so did Jobe. He feels the excitement of it. (Charlie felt only the comfort of his mattress, but he's a far more practical being than Jobe or I.) This is the start of a whole new adventure--the start of something that could change history, or at least the course of a life or two. It's a day for new backpacks, new pencils, new folders, new clothes. Everything and anything seem possible. Deep down I know that disappointment will come, that the new clothes will have pizza sauce stains on them in a matter of weeks, that the new folders will get torn, and the new pencils will be sharpened down to stubs. Reality is out there; I acknowledge that. But this day is a day for optimism.

Wish us luck! (and pray just a little, as well.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Flippin', frickin' things that are driving me crazy--literally, in one case

Does anyone else have major mechanical/techno stuff with neurological problems? Is it just me? Am I the only lucky one who gets to deal with cars with Tourette's Syndrome and computers with ADD? Seriously?

"Ha Ha," you're thinking, grinning to yourself in that quirky but endearing way you do when you contemplate beings of a lower mental plane (small inarticulate children, dogs, plates of three-month-old cheese that have decided to sit up and take notice), "that Melia--she's such a kidder!" (Although, to be strictly consistent, I ask to be referred to as a "Kydder".) But, dear people, I swear on a stack of grammar texts, I am not exaggerating. This time.

Our station wagon, which we bought fortuitously the weekend before Charlie was born, thereby enabling Roberto to be present at the birth of his third son, and not blissfully unaware of the drama he would have left behind when he jumped into a taxi on his way to a business trip in L.A., has always had a few tics. The windshield wipers, for instance, would spring to life without prompting, without even the slightest hint of a cloud in the sky. (This is the desert, for Peter Paul's sake!) We have the perma-scratched windshield to prove it. Then there's the electrical system, which delights in refusing to allow us to turn off lights, or even--a month ago--to shut off the air-conditioning. (It would have been a blessing in the depths of a desert summer had we actually been driving at the time. We were not. But when we later decided to jump in the car and put it to its intended purpose the battery was drained and the electrics were fried and sulky.) A few years back there was the month of auto-swearing, when the Great White Road Whale would for no discernible reason whatsoever let off a blare from the horn--repeatedly, and often massively inappropriately. (A very belated and heartfelt apology to the people in that funeral cortege.) I can only assume that the blasts were the sta-wag versions of four-letter words, emitted at uncontrollable intervals. And don't get me started on the bits that would not stay put--panels flapping open, compartments that had to be jammed shut every ten minutes, and an antenna that could never make up its mind to rise or lower and finally settled for a prolonged, ineffective, groaning that accomplished neither.

And now the computer is showing signs of instability. It refuses to stay connected to the Internet--usually just at the climactic moment of a show I've been dying to see. And when it gets tired of that delightful little trick, it starts randomly connecting to the 'net, unstoppably, so I have sixty-three unusable windows open at the same time. After which it has exhausted itself and needs a prolonged nap. It has no focus, no ability to withstand distraction. It loses comprehension at the drop of the proverbial hat. It's no wonder that I spend so much time with it; the computer has become the electronic equivalent of an overly-hyper child who just needs some attention and consistency to help it gain some self-discipline. I've become its surrogate helicopter parent--hovering nearby to help it over the rough patches. It's actually become more demanding than my human children, who at least can make peanut butter sandwiches when they get hungry and self-entertain quite well, given a few thousand books and a box of crackers. Who'd've thunk my problem child would have a power cord and an attached mouse?

I know the tendency in such cases of psychological instability is to look closely at the social culture in which the patient resides. Everyone wants to blame the mother/owner at a time like this. But I've been blameless. I never flogged the car's engine mercilessly. (Although there were a few times when I had to leave a few overly-macho types in jacked-up trucks in my station-wagging dust back in my driving days. But that was rare--I'm quite mild-mannered usually. And not at all inclined to resent those rude louts with their obnoxiously-loud engines or their precariously-balanced cabs. I just hope they learn wisdom before they tip over and burst into flames while travelling down a deserted stretch of highway where no one can hear them scream.) And as for the computer, well, I've been the picture of compassion with it--neither shouting excessively after the fourteenth re-booting of the day, nor beating it overly harshly with a sledgehammer after it cut off my favorite program FOR THE THIRD TIME JUST BEFORE THE KILLER IS REVEALED!!!!! Nominate me for owner of the year for my endless patience with these two damaged souls.

So, if you know of any good computer/automotive therapists--or just have a real hankerin' to pound out the frustrations of contemporary life on the helpless carcass of a modern "convenience," give me a shout. Something tells me my patience is about to give.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Warning: Full-blown panic attack coming your way

OK--Girls' Camp is over. (Fabulous, by the way--you should have been there; you totally missed out! The tap-dancing alone was worth the trip. Maybe next year.) That means it's time to de-stress and relax for the

There is something amazingly wrong with that thought, isn't there? It's like I spent all summer hoping and planning for something, and completely forgot to live while I was waiting for it. And now it's all over, and I have nothing left to look forward to, and a ton of stress is about to fall on me and crush me into a large greasy smudge on the pavement. Sort of. I guess.

And apparently, I'm still stuck in some kind of a do-it-all, Mrs.-out-to-impress-people mode (which, let's face it, is sort of useless. Because either people are already impressed by me, or they aren't, and if they are or if they aren't nothing I do at this point will make a bit of difference), because today, after swearing on a stack of camp manuals last week--they were the holiest printed works I had handy at the moment--that I would not touch that sewing machine again until the Christmas ornaments were up and Santa was winging his way south, I actually whipped up a sweet little dance bag for Lindy (she chose bold pink flamingos and pink with white polka dots--she has a bright future in design, no?) and a fabulous red sailboat-printed sling to carry Anders in when we ride the bus for educational- and mobility-related purposes. I am forced to conclude the fourteen loads of laundry calling my name were not enough of a challenge. (And apparently neither were the basic rules of nutrition, because I'm cruising on a steady diet of brownie mix and hamburger buns. Too much info?)

You wanna know what I think? (Surely you must, or you wouldn't be reading this.) I think it's a form of procrastination, this compulsion to create. Somewhere deep in the inner portions of my brain, there is a lobe, or a relay, or a synapse or something (Note to self: ask Tricia what that part of the brain is called so I can use it in casual conversation and intimidate people with less neuron-knowledgeable cousins) that thinks that if I am busy making something new and semi-interesting, then time is unnaturally slowed down and possibly even reversed to accommodate the task, and I will then have more time to address the unpleasant facts of existence at a later date. Seriously. You can always tell when I have something scary hanging over my head--I'll be working with intense concentration on totally unnecessary pieces of cloth, or paint, or paper. (Unless the something scary over my head is a spider. In which case I will be shrieking at top decibel level and jumping hysterically about the room in an ineffectual way, and accomplishing nothing except entertaining my children.)

See--I'm doing it again. Here I am, at 11:40 at night, writing a post that, while refreshingly candid and slightly humorous in a frantic sort of way, is totally unhelpful to the rotation of the earth, while a pile of textbooks awaits my organizational touch. I have books to find places for, folders to fill, pencils to sharpen, maps to hang. But there is no way in Tahiti that I will do them tonight, because I fully intend to fritter away my time filling in people on the meaningless details of a life they already know entirely too much about already. DANG IT ALL TO HADES! I HAVE HOMESCHOOL STUFF TO PREPARE, AND I AM WORRIED TO DEATH ABOUT IT! So I'm blogging, of course. Because nothing says I'm 100-percent focused on my children's education than sending trivia into the universe.

Dear goodness, I need help. If you have any compassion at all, send me a wake-up-to reality call. And maybe some salad.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Don't cry for me, Marge and Tina!

Camp starts tomorrow--let the ritual eating of unpalatable snack foods begin!

I know you'll be bereft and listless without steady doses of my particular brand of inanity, so I won't leave you to wallow in misery. I'm going to share with you the secret to sounding like a total lunatic in just a few EZ steps. So, pull your computer chair closer, adjust your monitor to maximize your comfort, and away we go!

Mangle like Melia: a choose your own unpretentious blog adventure

Well folks, today I (insert completely trivial and utterly useless tidbit of information--it must have no relevance whatsoever to the human condition or current philosophical debate. Your object here is not so much to shine a light on human nature, as to really make people wish they had been born sensible hippos instead.) Seriously. You should have seen it. It was like (here's where you include a wildly hyperbolic comparison, hopefully cramming in as many hyphenated descriptives as possible. Be careful--make it flow! A little alliteration never hurts.)

You know, it was just like (this is the spot for a totally tangential reminiscence. It can't be at all relevant to the discussion at hand, but should probably contain the words, "folderol" and "metamorphic.")

No really, I'm just a (now, you need a completely honest, yet self-deprecating partial description of your character. Make it as obscure and highly colored as possible. And don't forget to refer to yourself as a "wack job" and/or a "nut noggin.")

Ha ha! Isn't life funny! (Sum things up with as many unnecessary adverbial phrases as possible. If at all possible, try for one totally superfluous word that you made up on the fly. Try to be as sincere in your usage of it as you can. Sell it to your readers. Make them question their own vocabulary. You get extra points if they hunt up their dictionaries to find a definition!)

(End here with a witty one-liner, just to keep people coming back for more--or at least to see if they've carried you away yet.)

See, you'll hardly miss me at all.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A letter to the part-time love of my life (not for impressionable readers!)

Amore mio,

How can I express the depths of my infinite sorrow at our soon-coming parting? I weep; I wail; I sigh; I despair. I will burn with the heat of ten thousand suns.To live apart from you is to feel myself melt with anguish. My soul quivers, aflame with the pain of being ripped from your cherished embrace.

Though we have existed apart before, it seemed a trivial thing, not to be feared or dwelt on. But those were different days, and now my need for you increases steadily. Having so long known your gentle touch, your ever-eager presence, your soothing hum, how can I turn to the sere bleakness that will be my life without you?

The cruel sun will beat upon me, and I will have no respite. The torrid night will close upon me, and I will have no relief. Bereft, I will swelter with desire for you. My parched lips will call your name. My heated dreams will be of you, and when I awake, I will moan with the agony of our separation.

You are my protector, my solace, my life-giver. You make my days possible and give me hope for a future filled with mutual care and affection. Gazing on your sturdy exterior, I have faith in your power and continued vigilance against the elements that would destroy me. Without you, I would be nothing--a mere puddle of pain, a smudge of sweat, a burning ember charred beyond recognition.

While I wander, others will surround me. They will be but pale imitations of you. Without your overpowering strength, without your miraculous abilities, they will be as nothing to me. No one can quell my burning as you do.

In five long days, I will return, and our steamy love affair will reignite, to continue always. Or at least until October, when I will hose the grime from your dusty exterior, and turn you off until the temperature reaches 100 again.

Beloved air-conditioner, until then, whirr a gentle song for me.

Ti amo,

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Step this way

Yesterday I signed my daughter up for dance lessons. "How precious!" you may think. Yes, I'm sure it will be that. "She'll develop some skills and maybe show some aptitude," you may opine. Hopefully she will. "Every little girl wants to be a ballerina," you offer. Well, except those who want to be mutant space rangers. "You're hoping she's inherited some of your talent!" If I had ever had any talent, yes, I would pray fervently for it to have been passed on. These are not the reasons why my daughter will be taking dance lessons starting in two weeks.

She will be taking dance lessons because we have a basement.

Incomprehension is spreading itself across your face; I've dealt with that before. Explanation is on the way.

Most foundations here in the Beautiful Desert Southwest are laid flat on concrete slabs. We have no frost heave problems, so concrete foundations are economical and secure. (Very unlike the foundations in less blessed places, like Missouri, say, where they have to have crawl spaces to deal with ventilation and ground freeze . Also so the snakes and spiders will have safe habitats. We wouldn't want them crawling around in the cold, would we? Far better to keep them in a warm and homey place so we always know where to find them.) But my parents, being of a very different, and very Mormon, breed, decided that any house they built would have a basement--so necessary to store all the Young Women's, Elders' Quorum, and Primary stuff, you know. Oh, and for the thirty-year old wheat. (Sociological note: it may be possible to identify someone's religion based solely on their choice of foundations. It would make an interesting study for anybody on the verge of selecting a Senior Thesis topic. Go ahead and use it--just send me the results of your research so I can see if my hunch has been validated.)

When my parents built the basement-foundationed house in which I currently reside (please no snarky comments about people never leaving their comfort zone. I left it with joy in my heart and stars in my eighteen-year-old eyes, but ten years later the siren call of low mortgage payments lured me back. That and the fact that this is the only spot in town with no scorpions. Which was at the top of the home-requirements list), they covered the particle board subfloors with ceramic tile--ugly ceramic tile, it must be admitted. Ugly ceramic tile that cracked thirteen seconds after it was mortared in place, but that is neither here nor there. It was the 80s, and the choice of ugly ceramic tile it can be blamed on the general cultural malaise of the era. When the floors, which were not only non -attractive, but also set over a cavernous echo chamber and thus exceedingly good at carrying sound waves, were done and only starting to crack a bit in the more heavily-trafficked areas, they moved in with three daughters, ages 11-7.

It took my father exactly fourteen minutes to proclaim, "If I had wanted this much noise, I would have raised elephants! Are you young ladies or pachyderms?" (Well, I know he said something to that effect, but I was too shocked to believe it. Who was he calling ungraceful? I tripped over my feet fewer than thirty times per day! And then I figured he was talking about my sisters and started laughing too hard to get an exact quote, and was eventually too lazy to write it in my journal even if I had. So I'm working from an extremely faulty memory. You'll just have to take it on trust that there were elephants somewhere in his pronouncement.) The point was made: after paying for dance lessons for seven years, he expected us to make good his investment. No more heavy feet. Henceforth we would trip lightly through the house, swaying gently with the breeze as we tip-toed our way around. Being dutiful daughters--I was actually able to type that out while snorting emphatically! Ten points for me.--we accepted his word as law. Or at least as suggestion. (We were on the edge of teen-hood, after all.) Thenceforth, we wafted around corners, and glided about rooms. Our movements were studies in adolescent pachydermic grace. Unless we were ticked. (Which, as teenagers, was pretty much all the time.) Then we made the basement reverberate with the thunder of our ire. "You want elephants? I'll show you elephants!!!!! Take that, you tiles and shaking support beams!!!! Feel the weight of my wrath!!!!! I am half-grown woman, hear me roar!!!!! Metaphorically!!! Through my thudding feet!!!!!"

Fast forward twenty-some-odd years: I can still move about pretty silently. I've scared the blibbering jeebers out of my husband when he thought I was in a room far, far away, and then looked up, choking on his purloined cookie, to see me glaring at him. My kids think it's pretty nifty that I can jump and land without a sound except the shrieking curses of my knees. They know that when they can hear my tread, they're meant to, and doom is on its way. This whole step lightly thing is a very useful ability.

As for Lindy? Poor girl. She's the only young female in a house full of brothers. She needs the ability to move about gracefully and silently--for the pure-hearted purposes of scaring those boys half to death and collecting incriminating information. If dance lessons will give her a fighting chance, then I'm all for them. Bring on the tutus!

Monday, July 27, 2009

All that and a bag of chips

Four days to go until we head off to camp. I can feel the ulcer making its annual presence known. My dining room table is slowly emptying. (Good heavens! Who knew dust bunnies could live under two feet of stuff? Their standard habitat is under my daughter's bed.) I'm steadily checking things off the "to do" list. (Extra hot glue gun--because one is never enough while CAMPING!!!! Bought and binned. Extra-strength painkillers? Packed. Banners, multiple? Sewn, pressed, and placed carefully into protective receptacle.) Blue plastic RubberMaid containers are colonizing the front half of the house.

My one and only suitcase is out, and is crammed to the point of explosion. Or maybe spontaneous combustion will occur first. Whatever the ultra-extreme situation is for tortured luggage, my suitcase is there. And by "there" I mean lying on the counter by my stairs, bloated and strained, like a toddler who tried to compete in the annual Merkley "So you think you can eat Swedish meatballs" competition that other families refer to as "Christmas Eve." And this, you must know, is no wimpy little bag, bought on a whim for a quick getaway. My parents, when selecting this particular article, carefully considered my personality, my goals, and my propensity to consider everything within grabbing range as absolutely essential. They had seen the size of the purse I carried daily and took their luggage-purchasing cue from that. This is the amazing been-everywhere, done-everything, holds-anything Bag of Destiny. I was clutching this bag for dear life the first time I ever walked on foreign soil. (Amsterdam, 1997) It's the one I stuff for family vacations. (Disneyland, 2009) It has held all the supplies a baby can use for a week. It has never lost an article of clothing or busted a zipper despite the torture it has endured. I've had the thing for almost 13 years--far longer than I've had my husband, and almost as long as I've had the sneaking suspicion that if reincarnation were a true principle, then I was surely the re-embodiment of some obsessive-compulsive hobo. That or a cucumber. It's a toss-up.

When filling the suitcase I started working from the standard Camp packing list: clothing for five days, personal products, towel, journal, scriptures, UNO cards. That took up maybe half of the suitcase. Who were they kidding? This was too easy. Camp should be a test of one's powers of endurance, proof of one's abilities under atypical circumstances. Clearly, I would have think unconventionally. (In all honesty, when have I ever thought conventionally in the first place? This wasn't as much of a strain as it might seem. Normal is not my hometown, if you get my drift.) In desperation--because I cannot go to camp with a partially-filled chunk of luggage. It defied the laws of logic!--I started really considering what items I would not just need, but long for at camp. Therefore, the lesser portion of the packing is what everyone else brings, the rest of it is my personal spin on what is truly necessary for a fantastic camp experience. I'm almost certain that nobody in the world packs for camp like I do--but just to make sure, I'll give you the run-down, and you can tell me if this is excessive or not.

Into the bag have been placed:

Seven pairs of reading glasses, color-coordinated with outfits, and selected for daily themes. Included in the spectacle gallery are one pair of pick glitter-covered glasses; one pair of black polka dot glasses (for Sunday, when a really classic pair seems most appropriate); and one pair of tinted, Grace Kelly, 1960s-chic, white glasses, just to emphasize my hard-earned reputation of retro-hip modernity. The others are just your standard pink gingham, leopard print, and ethno-funky glasses.

Three carpenter's aprons; one printed with butterflies and flowers, one printed with the Sunday-appropriate black polka dots, one the standard Home Depot-issued orange-stenciled staple. Because I never have enough pockets at camp, and a girl needs a place for her folding fan, her camera, her spare toothbrush, and her emergency safety pins. Also her sixteen spare pens, with which to take notes on hands, because she can never remember to pack a pad of paper. Go figure.

Seventeen trial-size shampoos from the nice hotels my husband gets to stay in when he goes on work trips. Sure, he gets the nights on the town and the uninterrupted sleep, but I reap the reward in the form of itty-bitty bottles of magic beauty potion. Camp is more enjoyable if I can lather up my gnat-filled hair with something expensive and nice-smelling. And if you're going to bring something that good, you'd better have enough to share with everybody.

Two purple emery boards, even though I never use them at home (emery boards of any color, not just purple)--but, who knows, the inexplicable urge to file my nails might overcome me whilst I commune with nature, and that's not an urge that I'll be able to resist. Better prepared than trying to find an acceptable substitute amongst the flora and fauna.

One ball of yarn and four knitting needles, so I can use all my (fourteen minutes of) free time to start on my Christmas projects. (This year I'll be attempting stripey socks in cheerful colors.)

Two battery-operated Chinese lanterns for mood lighting. The mood may be uncontrolled lunacy, but it'll be more enjoyable if lighted well.

Star sequins. This is GIRLS' CAMP; there will be a time and a place for sequins. I will be ready for it.

Blue star-spangled ribbon, three yards, for which I have no intended purpose, but which may be useful in a ribbon-related emergency. Of said emergencies, I predict several for camp.

One pair of tap-dancing shoes. Because despite the dearth of hard-surfaced flooring at camp, I'm convinced that tap shoes will be not only helpful, but actually somehow needed. Tap dancing's not on the current certification-skills list, but mark my words, it will have its day in the woods.

Now tell me, doesn't that sound reasonable to you?