Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tempest in a Teapot

Hi. Sorry I've been so quiet. I am hip deep in a work project that has left me no time for anything extra. I've taken to knitting in the car at stop lights so that I can Christmas gifts finished.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about today.

As I've mentioned before, our fancy suburban neighborhood has a Yahoo listserv group to keep everyone informed of important events, like how to contact someone who wants to sell a wine cooler. Most of the time, the e-mails are harmless and boring - garage sales, lost dogs, found dogs, found keys, and the like.

Then every once in a while, the vigilantes show up. These folks live for taking pictures of speeding cars and then posting them on the listserv asking if anyone knows who the car belongs to. This, of course, triggers a cascade of e-mails that fall into two groups. First are the "me too!" emails. We get a chorus of people reporting that they saw the very same car doing the very same thing the very same day. Then there are "String them up by their toenails" e-mails. These folks want justice. They want someone, preferably a punk teenager, punished. They want to call the sheriff to patrol our neighborhood 24/7.

These e-mail chains don't last very long, mostly because something else comes along to spark outrage. Last week the listserv blew up with e-mails about our annual HOA dues. The bill had come, and people were shocked, SHOCKED to find that the full dues amount needs to be paid by January 15. Nevermind that's what the HOA contract we all signed when we all bought houses here specifies.

In the past, the HOA has allowed quarterly or monthly payments. But this year they want to save money by sending fewer bills and to have more money on hand in the spring when it's time for lots of landscaping maintenance.

But a nice, reasonable answer from the poor girl at the HOA office wasn't enough. There were multiple e-mails complaining that they didn't get notice of the change, dozens of e-mails saying that no one should have to pay HOA dues because some of the street lights are out and there's a pothole at the entrance. Then there were calls for attorneys and lawsuits against the HOA.

Things took a turn for the strange when one resident suggested picketing the annual HOA board meeting next week. The idea of these middle-class suburbanites marching in circles, holding signs, and chanting because they don't like the bill from the HOA just cracked me up. Forget civil rights! We want to pay our bill in quarterly installments.

I told B the board better be ready. Next thing, residents were going to show up at the meeting with pitchforks, torches, tar and feathers.

At this point, the moderator stepped in said she was shutting the thread down and that everyone was welcome to raise their concerns at the board meeting next week.

We went back to postings about dogs and garage sales  - for about 24 hours.

The new uproar is how ours is the only neighborhood out here without elaborate Christmas decorations at the entrance. "Rawr! We want our Christmas lights!" So now there have been dozens of e-mails all saying "Where are our lights?" and "Who is responsible for this?" Over and over again. And then there are the e-mails that lecture the developers, like they read this listserv, on how not putting up decoration depresses the prices of houses and no one will want to live here and then they won't be able to sell as many houses and then they will go bankrupt. All because we didn't have Christmas lights on the entrance.

Earlier this week, one resident sent an e-mail asking why the heck the inside of the amenity center was filled with decorations but not the front entrance.  A helpful woman said it was all the social committee's fault because they had decorated for the neighborhood holiday party a few weeks ago.

Then came the sniffy, passive-aggressive e-mail from the volunteer head of the social committee. Her feelings were very hurt. She had had approval from the HOA to hire a party planner and decorate. She had told the neighborhood multiple times about the planned party. She had requested volunteers to work the party. And even though 150 families out of 500 showed up, only five people volunteered to help. She was just trying to do something nice to build the community y'all, but it seems like no one is interested. So she's taking her ball and going home.

But the Christmas light controversy has allowed the topic of HOA dues to rear its ugly head again.  There are e-mails, some with all caps, saying "See! This is why we don't like paying our dues! We don't even have Christmas lights!"

As I drove in last night, I noticed someone had flung a balled-up, mass of lights on to the sign at the entrance and plugged them in. I was laughing so hard that I nearly crashed. They may be a mess, but at least we have lights. And I might go out in the dark of night to add to the collection.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Perfect Christmas Gifts

I love Christmas catalogs - love, love, love. I love them more than infomercials and the "As Seen On TV" aisle at the CVS. I never buy any of the stuff, because I don't want to be seen carrying something silly out of the store. (Well, there was the shakeweight, but we won't talk about that.)

Since we moved, I haven't gotten any Christmas catalogs. It turns out, they've all be going to my mother-in-law's house, where we briefly forwarded our mail in between the rental and our new house.

On Saturday, my mother-in-law delivered all the junk mail that had accumulated over the past few weeks, including a pile of Christmas catalogs. I was in heaven.

I spent most of the evening gasping and texting pictures to my mom and sister, threatening to buy them the items for Christmas.

Here are some of my "OMFG what the hell were they thinking" gifts.

Light-up Thomas Kinkade Bannerettes - buy two because he's dead and they are extra collectible.

I actually have family members for whom this would be a good gift. I'm looking at you, Uncle T.

Bottles not included. I suppose you'd have to drink 8 bottles of wine to think this was a good idea.

I just can't even. A shower curtain with deer. So you can take target practice while washing your hair?

Well, we are in Texas. 

B, Ella and I all think these are awesome. But we all also agree that Campbell would be on his way to the ER about 15 minutes after opening them. 

Faux jeans with faux rips and faded spots. 

This was actually the one that started it all. I threatened to the monkey and all the outfits to my sister. Shockingly, Ella didn't want one either. 

Faux jeans for the ladies. 

Nothing says "Klassy with a K" like wine in a shoe.

I sent this one to my friend Amy just in case she needed a gift idea for her husband. She asked if it came with a flap. I'm guessing yes.

In case you can't read the caption, you put these on the dash of your car (or truck) and they spin when you stop, start or turn. I just can't even. Who thinks of these things?

People out here in the suburbs take yard decorations very seriously. But I think these might be against deed restrictions. 

Because nothing says Christmas like gnarly zombie feet.

Happy shopping everyone.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My new mortal enemy

A few weeks ago I started a new writing job that I love but that is giving me no end of nervous breakdowns. This past weekend I worked through an entire bag of candy corns. The writing is incredibly challenging and I'm learning a lot. And I signed a non-disclosure agreement, so I'm not even sure I'm actually allowed to talk about it. My editor probably also cringes every time she sees an e-mail from me.


One of the things I have to do with this writing job is make sure my content hits a specific Lexile level. I'm sure any readers in the education field will know all too well about Lexile levels.

For those who are lucky enough not to be in the know, a Lexile level is a mystical, magical number that measures the readability of a text. It's strictly computer algorithms based on the length of sentences, the number of words in a sentence, and the frequency of certain quarter words.

The free Lexile analyzer available online will only analyze manuscripts that are saved as a .txt file and that contain fewer than 1,000 words. Everything I've written for this new job has come in between 1,100 and 1,200 words. This means I have to break each manuscript into two pieces and save them individually as .txt files and then submit each one separately. It is a pain in the ass.

Adding to the fun is the fact that I just don't have the hang of writing to specific Lexile levels yet. People keep assuring me that I'll figure it out quickly, but I don't believe them. I spend a lot of time tweaking the passages I've written, shortening and lengthening sentences, putting in or taking out longer words. Most of the time I miss spectacularly.

This Sunday I spent way too much time trying to get  my passages just right. I had to hit a Lexile level of 1100-1180. My day went like this.

Passage 1= 950
Passage 2=1200
Tinker, tinker, tinker
Passage 1=1300
Passage 2= 800
Tinker, tinker, tinker
Passage 1= 1150
Passage 2= 900
Passage 2= 1000
Tinker, tinker, tinker
Passage 2= 1200

I tinkered with that particular piece so much that it was unreadable, and I had to scrap it and start all over again. Sadly, it took me a few more tries to get to the right level.

I think I'd be better at hitting Lexile levels if I understood the logic behind them. But there doesn't seem to be any. It doesn't look at the content or meaning of what you submit, just the numbers, and as we all know, numbers are not my friend.

For the next few weeks, if you need me, I'll either be in my closet eating candy or cursing at my computer.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Waiting for her wings

Lily is in Ballet Austin's production of The Nutcracker again this year. In the days before the auditions, she was very blase about the whole thing. "I'll probably just be an angel again." On audition day, all the girls got crowded into one room to wait for their turn. I think you could have powered a small city with the combined energy of 80 anxious ballerinas. I fled the room because the noise was overwhelming.

When the director walked into the room, the girls were instantly silent, and they all put on their very serious ballet faces. Then they walked off to the theater without us, looking like the pros they are.

Last year I was a wreck waiting for the cast announcement. And this year, I wasn't much calmer. Ballet Austin e-mailed the cast list instead of making everyone drive downtown, and my heart just about jumped out of my chest when announcement arrived.

Much to my relief, Lily's name was on the list. There was a lot of excited jumping up and down when I showed Lily the e-mail, but not quite as much as last year. "I knew it. I'm an angel again." I reminded Lily that being in the Nutcracker was a big obligation in terms of time and money and told her that if she didn't want to be an angel, she didn't have to be.

She quickly reassured me she wanted to be an angel.

This past Sunday I had to drag Lily out of her sickbed and take her in for official photographs. I may have gotten a little weepy watching her get dressed up. The girls were all helping each other with their belts and halos while the moms stood around and took pictures. They all just looked so sweet.

Mom, the loops go on the side. Because there's a snap in the back for the wings that needs to line up. Duh."

I have to go now, mom. Stop taking my picture.

Last year Lily's debut in the Nutcracker got lost in the chaos of moving. I was frantically packing and unpacking boxes in between trips to Palmer to drop her off at the stage door. We made it in time to see one performance, but just barely. 

This year, however, she is in four performances over two weeks, and we can make a big fuss. I can't wait. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The decorating gene

You know how I said I lack the accessory gene? It turns out I lack the decorating gene, too.

In a few weeks, we will be mark our first anniversary in this house, and other than the smudged paint and stains on the carpet, there's not much here to indicate that we haven't just lived here a few weeks.

The only artwork on the walls is there because knittergran hung it last Christmas, right after we moved in. There aren't any pictures of the kids hanging or even displayed on tables. All of the rooms are the same color the builders left them. The house looked better back when we first saw it and it had been staged by professionals.

I want to create a picture wall in the dining room. I really do. And I've even pulled out all the pictures I had up at the other house; they're sitting in a box in my room. But when I think about hanging them, I think about how I need to update all the pictures because it's been three years and the kids have changed a bit. And then I think about how I'd have to go through all my albums online and then actually order prints of the pictures so that I could frame them. And then I think about having to go to the store to buy frames.

And that's when I walk away in dispair at ever getting anything done.

We went to a housewarming party for some of B's clients a few weeks back. Their house was perfect - cool artwork, great colors, personal touches. I asked the wife how long they'd lived there. When she said that it had only been two months, I wanted to cry.

We still don't have any kind of window treatments in most rooms. Runnerdude hung blinds in our bedroom a few weeks ago - a mere 10 months after we moved in. The kids' rooms have curtains only because knittergran took over.

I need to hire a decorator, but I don't want it too look like one threw up all over the place. I'm not an over-decorated kind of person. Maybe I need to bribe several family members and friends to come in and fix things.

Or maybe I just need to accept that I will never have a fancy house.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Just write an essay

I hate school projects. I hated them when I was in school, and I hate them now that my kids are having to do them. Ella has had multiple due in the past few weeks, and Lily had a big one due on Tuesday. With all of them, I took a very hands' off approach. My kids are probably the only ones at their school whose projects don't look like their parents helped.

Lily's project, which was about American Indian tribes in Texas, came with several options. She could have researched and cooked an authentic meal, made traditional clothing, written a story, built a diorama or researched and written an essay.

I, of course, voted for writing the essay. "It's the easiest! You just have to look up the facts and then write them all down neatly." She argued for doing a diorama, and I lost the fight.

This was one of those times when I was very glad that B and I have different strengths and skill sets. While I protested the paint and clay that was taking over my kitchen, he worked patiently with Lily to make sure her people were structurally sound and helped her research Tonkawa tattoos and clothing.

Still, my kitchen looked like this for three days.

I'd make Lily clear off the table every night for dinner, but the mess kept coming back.

This Tonkawa had some structural problems. Either that or he's aiming at birds. The blue thing on a stick next to him is a fish that's been speared.

From the left we have, a faceless Tonkawa, a horse filled with toothpicks, and a very happy Tonkawa with the world's longest loin cloth.

For some reason, glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth were an important part of the production. And behind them in the Tonkowa's Marge Simpson washing fish in a pot.

More things were added after I took these pictures. Ella helped Lily build a buffalo. I didn't know what was going on when I heard Ella say, "I stuck a toothpick in each eye and gave him a frontal lobotomy." The poor buffalo.

I was so relieved when I carefully delivered Lily and the project to school on Tuesday. The only damage was that the faceless Tonkawa lost his arm somewhere along the way.

Lily really did work very hard and do an excellent job on her diorama. But next time, I'm making her write the essay.

Friday, October 19, 2012


I've admitted in the past to having a UFO phobia. Fortunately, this particular little weirdness of mine doesn't affect my life on a daily basis, even if it does mean I will never, and I mean NEVER, visit Marfa. And I still haven't ever watched all of "Close Encounters."

I have other things I'm afraid of, like scorpions, but that's because they are in my house and can actually sting me. Then there's my fear of dentists, but that is well earned. Ask me sometime about the summer I spent $15,000 on my teeth.

But my one other big phobia is talking on the phone. Until today, I'd told exactly four people about this, and one of them is my husband.  Another is my phsrink, who kindly gave me his cell phone number so I could text him if I was having problems with my medications instead of calling him. I've never said anything because talking on the phone seems to be a really, really stupid thing to be this scared of.

If you call me, odds are, I'm not going to answer the phone. I think e-mail and text messages are the world's best inventions, along with the polio and smallpox vaccines, of course.

A lot of my phobia about talking on the phone comes from my social anxiety. When I'm on the phone, I can't pick up social cues like the eye-rolling and sighing that usually indicate I've talked way too much. And I worry all the time about talking too much.

This also means I don't call people very often, except for my mom and sister and childhood best friend. I figure they have to keep liking me even if I talk too much about something stupid.

And not being able to pick up the phone and call people has its drawbacks.

Like the friends I don't talk to ever because I'm afraid I'll annoy them by calling (yes, really). This includes people I've considered close friends for more than 15 years.

Like the calls to the insurance company, wheelchair supply place, and doctors' offices regarding Ella's surgery that I haven't made yet because all of those involve talking to, gasp, strangers.

Like the calls I haven't made to preschools yet because, again, that would involve talking to more strangers.

Like the panic attacks I have before each and every work-related conference call.

Like contacting Ella's school about her unexcused absences because talking to the school secretary, who is actually a very, very nice lady, scares me.

Like the playdates and sleepovers I haven't arranged for the kids because I'd have to talk to other moms on the phone.

Believe it or not, my college job was doing phone fundraising for the University of Florida Alumni Association. I spent three hours a night, three nights a week, calling absolute strangers on the phone and asking them to donate money. I was good at it, too.

Now, there's no way I could do that.

One friend sent an e-mail looking for volunteers to man a phone bank for President Obama's campaign. I really, really wanted to go. But even thinking about volunteering, much less actually going and making phone calls, sent my anxiety levels through the roof. So I didn't even reply to the e-mail.

Today, with B standing next to me for moral support, I actually called the insurance company about billing questions. When I finished talking to three very lovely and helpful staff members and hung up, B asked, "Was that so terrible?" It was. My palms were sweating and my hands were shaking, and it will likely be the last phone call I make for a few days.

So if you haven't heard from me, it's not because I don't love you or care about you. I'll be happy to send an e-mail or text. Just don't make me pick up the phone.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Hi. How are you? I'm still here. Barely. During the hot days of summer, I couldn't wait for school to start because I'd have so much more time to work and blog and surf the web for dog shamming pictures. HAHAHAHAHAHA

Between driving Ella to and from school because she can't ride the bus, and driving her to and from doctors' and PT appointments, and sick kids, and taking Lily to ballet class and auditions, and eleventy majillion birthdays, I barely have time to get real work done, let alone blog. 

I know better than to think that the worst of the chaos is over. As soon as I let my guard down, whammo. 

And now for something completely different.

Earlier this summer, after much research and polling of friends and agonizing, I bought a fancy, shmancy European vacuum cleaner, one that's not a Dyson. It's a Miele, which I have no idea how to pronounce. I think I spent more on it than I did my wedding dress. 

I love this vacuum. It lets me vacuum stripes into the carpet. It doesn't leave any dog hair behind. I feel like I've really cleaned after I've used it. And its cord is long enough to let me vacuum the whole downstairs without having to unplug and replug. 

Last weekend I was vacuuming away, sucking everything out from under the sofa, when the vacuum gave a big cough and stopped working. I poked and prodded it. I changed out the bag, just in case. I called B in for help. Nothing. The motor worked, but there was no suction. 

So I called the local fancy vacuum dealership - Long's on S. Congress, if you're interested - and the guy said I could bring it in and that there would be a $20 diagnosis fee that would be applied to the total repair bill. I loaded the vacuum into the car and headed in to town, imagining the outrageous check I was going to have to write.

When we got to the store, the guy whisked the vacuum off into the back room, from where I heard lots of suction noises. Five minutes later, he walked out pushing my vacuum. I said, "Let me guess. There's nothing wrong with it."

The guy laughed and said, "Nope. Nothing wrong with it. But I did find this in the tube."


The nice vacuum cleaner guy didn't even charge me the diagnosis fee. 

But it is reassuring that the vacuum cleaner is powerful enough to swallow a sock. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Social Media Works!

Two weeks ago, when I published a post about Ella's attempts to get a response from Neil deGrasse Tyson's office, I didn't really think I'd have much chance of success.

But then one of her uncles went on a tear and made it his mission from god to get some kind of answer. He posted links to the pieces on facebook and on some forums he frequents.

Several days later, I got this e-mail:

Jeffrey Simons has left a new comment on your post "Paging Dr. Tyson": 

Dear Ella and Ms. Gardner:
I'm Jeffrey Simons, the Social Media Director for StarTalk Radio, the podcast Dr. Tyson hosts. 
Our apologies for any delay in the response -- it is not intentional.
It’s our understanding that Elizabeth is on a long vacation, from which she has not yet returned.
I am quite aware of Ella's email, and was incredibly impressed by her, as we all were.
As soon as Elizabeth is back I’m sure she will be back in touch with you.
By the way, you can also give credit to her uncle, AB, for bringing this situation to our attention... it was his post in the TexasCHLforum that caught our attention.
Jeffrey Simons
StarTalk Radio
Social Media Director

Holy cow! Now I'm not even going to ask why Uncle Ty was in a forum for concealed handgun licenses or what Mr. Simons was doing looking in one. I'm just going to assume the best of everybody.

Keep your fingers crossed that this really does work out.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Treading Water

I have a whole list of things I want to write about - the first day of school, sending Campbell to kindergarten, Campbell's sixth birthday, Ella's recovery, our new neighborhood, how the laundry keeps escaping and threatening to take over the house - but I'm having a hard time putting my butt in the chair to write.

Most days, it's all I can do to make it until bedtime. Ella can't ride the bus because of her knee, so I spend a lot of time driving her back and forth. And I've had a spare kid home sick every day for weeks it seems.

So this week I'm hunkering down and getting caught up all the way around. Maybe then I'll be able to write.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Paging Dr. Tyson

Ever since Ella knew what astrophysics was, she has wanted to be an astrophysicist. Really. Her goal is to the be first person to walk on Mars. She spent weeks trying to convince me to let her have a lemonade stand to raise money for NASA. "How much lemonade do you think I'd need to sell?"

Ella's siblings groan every time it's her turn to pick a TV show because she usually opts for something like Nova Science Now or Through the Wormhole. Her favorite podcast is Star Talk by Neil deGrasse Tyson. She loves to spout off facts about planets and stars and string theory and 5th dimensions - stuff that's way over my head.

I have to admit that I have a slight crush on Dr. Tyson. I love how enthusiastic he is about being smart. He genuinely gets a kick out what he does. I've read his books and listened to his podcasts. And when I went to NYC for the marathon, I might have actually lurked outside the Hayden Planetarium in the hopes of seeing him.

Last spring, Ella started her own website, The Magnolia Post, and without my knowing it, she sent an official interview request to Dr. Tyson.

Hello Neal Tyson! My name is Ella Gardner, I am 11 years old and I have my own newspaper and online newspaper. I think it would be really neat if I could meet you, or do an online interview. By the way I think Star Talk is one of the greatest podcasts ever, and I did more research on dimensions and on string theory. I really hope that you will reply, but it is fine if you cannot, I understand that you are very busy. Thank you for considering my request, 

Ella Gardner
Head of The Magnolia Post
Future Astrophysicist

 It's a cute, completely appropriate e-mail from an 11-year-old. When she told me she'd sent it, I figured there was no way she would get any kind of response.

A few weeks later, as we were driving to dinner with friends, Ella was checking her e-mail on my phone and started yelling about how Dr. Tyson's office had replied and said he'd do an interview. I was sure that it was a nice form response and that Ella had misinterpreted it. When we got to dinner, I looked at the e-mail and was stunned.

Dear Ella,

Dr. Tyson is happy to do an interview with you.  What is the best time of day for you?
Will the interview be over the telephone or will you come to the museum?

Let me know and we can find a date that will work for both you and Dr. Tyson.


Elizabeth Stachow
Executive Assistant to Neil deGrasse Tyson
Director, Hayden Planetarium
American Museum of Natural  History
175-208 Central Park West @ 79th Street
New York, NY 10024-5192

It's a real response inviting Ella to do an interview with Dr. Tyson. I posted an excited announcement on FB and started planning our trip to New York City. Ella was so excited she was jumping up and down, which was tough to do since she was on crutches.

Ella and I both sent e-mails back to Ms. Stachow. Mine said that she had made an 11-year-old very happy and that if Dr. Tyson was actually willing to meet with Ella, we'd make the trip to NYC, just tell us when. Ella's e-mail  essentially said the same thing - "My mom said I could come to NYC to meet with Dr. Tyson."

And then we waited and planned. One friend was so geeked about the whole thing that he suggested having Ella do a Kickstarter project and offered ideas how she should make it interactive. He also sent a link to an interview where Dr. Tyson talked about how important Carl Sagan was to him when he was young.

My crush on him got a bit bigger.

Ella started researching how much it would cost to fly to New York. I promised Lily that she could go on the trip too. Knittergran was offering to fly up and meet us there. I was thrilled about the chance to take my big girls to my favorite place. Ella told everyone who stood still long enough that she was going to New York to interview Dr. Tyson. It was all very, very exciting.

And then nothing.

She and I both sent second e-mails to Dr. Tyson's assistant. I even called up to the museum and left a message for her.

Not a word.

My first reaction was that of a mama-bear protecting her young. I was going to go all scorched-earth on Dr. Tyson and take him down. I'd put it all over Twitter and Facebook and he'd see the error of his ways.

But then I realized that A. I have 30 people a day read my blog and he has millions of followers, and B. pissing off Neil deGrasse Tyson was probably not the best way to get him to meet with my daughter.

So I haven't done anything, until now. It breaks my heart just a little every time someone asks Ella whether she's set a date for the interview and she has to explain that she's never heard back. It makes me a little mad at Dr. Tyson. Between moving, changing schools, illness, injury, surgery, and a lot of other stuff, Ella's had a pretty tough year. Getting to go to NYC and meet her hero would have gone a long way toward making Ella Ella again.

This is one of those times that I wish I had the twitter power of The Bloggess or Wil Wheaton or The Oatmeal. I'm pretty sure that one tweet from them would get some reaction.

So if you know someone who knows someone, could you maybe pass this along?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

FeeBee's Big Adventure

Ella had knee surgery this past Wednesday. The knee injury the doctors and physical therapists assured us would get better with ice, rest and PT turned out to be a torn meniscus, and no amount of ice, rest and PT would make it better. Instead of having knee surgery over the summer, when Ella wouldn't miss any school, she had it during the second week of middle school. Lovely.

We've had some not-so-good experiences at Dell Children's emergency department (did you know that's the official name now?), so I was a bit nervous about taking Ella there for surgery. I needn't have worried. Every staff member, from the receptionist to the post-op nurses, was absolutely wonderful. They took very good care of both of us.

I had planned to write a post about how sitting in the waiting room at the children's hospital had given me a new perspective on how grateful I am that we haven't had so many operations that we know the janitorial staff by name; on how even though we have a high premium and deductible, fixing Ella's knee wasn't going to put us into bankruptcy; and on how lucky we are to have four happy, healthy kids.

But I'm just too tired.

I was absolutely not prepared for how rough the recovery would be. I expected Ella to be off her feet the day of the surgery and maybe for a day after and then be fine. Instead, she has been pretty much helpless since Wednesday. Her leg is in a big brace, so if she wants to move to a new position, I have to help her shift her leg. If she wants to go from being on the sofa to sitting up in her wheelchair, I have to help her. If she needs to use the bathroom, I have to help her. (This isn't to say B hasn't been helpful, because he has been. But I'm a more patient nurse than he is.) For the first two nights, I had to get up every four hours to give Ella her medication and check on her knee-icing machine.

I don't think I've been this tired since I had a newborn.

On Friday morning, all hell broke loose. I was trying to get Lily and Campbell out the door in time for the bus, and Ella got into a panic-pain loop and was screaming "It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!" at the top of her lungs. FeeBee was in the middle of all of this, bouncing around and begging someone, anyone, to take her for a walk.

I turned Campbell and Lily over to B, who got them to the school bus, and threw FeeBee in the backyard and forgot about her.

After a half hour of her screaming, I managed to get Ella calmed down (or maybe the pain pill kicked in). I turned on "Turweeous Dorge" for Elizabeth, and passed out on the sofa between them. Then the phone rang.

Caller: Hi. This is Sally* from Heart of Texas Lab Rescue.
Me, thinking it's awfully early for a fund-raising phone call: Hi?
Sally: Um. Are you missing your dog?
Me: I don't think so. She was in the back yard.
Sally: Well, we just got a call from a guy at a construction site who says he has your dog. Here's his number.
Me: Ohmygod. I'm so sorry. I don't know how this happened. One of the kids must have left the gate open. I don't know how else she would have gotten out. I'm so sorry. It won't happen again, I promise.
Sally: Yeah, here's his number.

So I called the guy, and it turns out that he was a supervisor on a construction site around the corner, and he did actually have my dog. He was super nice and offered to walk FeeBee home for me. Five minutes later, she came down the street with her new best friend. According to Mike, the guy who called, FeeBee had been hanging out at the job site, mooching breakfast tacos from the builders.

She apparently had the best time ever and was quite pleased with her little adventure. She definitely wasn't at all sorry.

I texted my cousin, who had facilitated FeeBee's adoption, and begged her to tell the people at the rescue group that we aren't irresponsible dog owners. I really was worried they were going to make us give FeeBee back.

We put an extra latch on the gate, just in case she's actually opening it on her own. Unfortunately, extra latches do absolutely no good if the kids leave the gate open.

This morning, I put her out in the yard, assuming, foolishly, that the gate was still latched. About half an hour later, the doorbell rang, and there was a neighbor from around the corner with a sopping wet FeeBee. She and another neighbor's dog had been romping through sprinklers.

We are pretty much now the family everyone on the street hates because our kids are too loud and our dog keeps wreaking havoc. Yay us.

The lesson is all this is to make sure your dog has a collar and tags. If it hadn't been for her tags, FeeBee would have been gone on Friday, and we wouldn't have known what happened. It's probably how she ended up at the animal shelter to begin with.

Until I get a lock for the gate, FeeBee isn't allowed out unsupervised. But if she ever does go missing, we'll know to check all the local construction sites. She'll probably be hanging out, chowing down on tacos.

*Her name isn't actually Sally. I was so asleep when she called that I have no idea what her name actually is.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Guerrilla Grammar

A few weeks ago I finally signed up for our new neighborhood's e-mail listserv. I figured it would be far less interesting than the one in our old neighborhood, which regularly included complaints about chickens, warnings about loose dogs, and conspiracy theories about helicopters buzzing the area at night (really). We're in the suburbs now, where everything is nice and "normal."


The first message I saw was about how someone had yelled at the nice high school boys who had started their own ice cream truck business, and couldn't we give the nice boys selling ice cream a pass on the whole "no soliciting" thing.


Fortunately, most people were joining in on the side of nice ice cream boys. The interesting e-mails were from people yelling at anyone who would dare tell kids they can't sell ice cream. It descended very quickly into telling people to go form their own town if they didn't like living here and suggesting that maybe we have armed guards at the entrance checking everyone's ID.

The moderator stepped in at this point and reminded everyone that personal attacks aren't allowed and that maybe people could reconsider their enthusiastic use of the "reply all" feature.

In response, several cranky people formed a rogue neighborhood listserv, where everyone would be free from rude interruptions from a rude monitor who was squelching free exchange of ideas.

The other big topic on the listserv is the condition of the many "ponds" in our area. They are supposed to be decorative and provide habitat for birds and such. They are a nice touch. However, right now, they are mostly empty, with just a bit of green slime at the bottom. The people whose houses back to the ponds are not pleased, to say the least. Nevermind that we haven't had rain in months and farmers are losing crops and herds because there's no water. The entitled suburbanites want their water features.

There's been lots of chatter on the listserv about who, exactly, is to blame. Is it the HOA? The builders? The water supply company? There's lots of finger pointing going on.

Finally, the HOA sent out an e-mail reassuring residents that they were aware of the problem with the ponds and were in the process of addressing it. Apparently their way of addressing it was to put up signs.

It's nice of them to warn us that "decaying plants, discolored water and odor IS expected."

Obviously this is a grammar error up with which I cannot put. So I pulled over and changed a few of the signs. While I was working on the first one, a woman stopped to see what I was up to, laughed and drove away. Phew.

I doctored the second sign when I had Ella with me, and she was MORTIFIED. "Mom! You are vandalizing. You could get arrested. You need to wipe it off."

She then told on me to the neighbor, who looked at her son and said, "See! I'm not the only mom who corrects grammar."

I was pleased to see that my edits were still there this morning. They may be small and hard to see, but I feel better knowing that the signs now have subject-verb agreement.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Pocket-Sized Disney

Growing up in Florida, I went to Disney World a lot.

(Excuse me, I mean "The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World." I briefly dated a guy who worked there and he insisted on using the full name each and every time. Part of the reason I only dated him briefly.)

We'd leave home at 6:00 am and be at TMKWDW by the time the gates opened. After a full day, we'd watch the fireworks as we rode the paddle steamer across the Lagoon to parking lots. It was easy. Now, apparently, to go the TMKWDW, you have spend a whole week there, staying in the resorts and eating meals with characters and spending all day, every day at one of the parks.

No thank you.

Even though I've been to TMKWDW dozens of times, it's been at least 20 years since my last visit. But what I remember is that the place was huge and spread out and it really was its very own world. The outside didn't intrude at all. I also remember it as spotlessly clean with pairs of garbage people following visitors around sweeping up. And cast members were always in perfectly fitted, pressed uniforms, despite the wilting Florida heat and humidity.

When I planned my trip to LA to visit my sister, one of my requests was that we go to Disney Land. I'd never been to the original Happiest Place on Earth and figured it would be fun to go without kids. Fortunately Sarah and her BF are good sports and humored my request.

I decided to just throw myself into the spirit of being at Disney Land. No matter how bad the crowds or how long the lines, I would have fun, mostly because I wasn't dragging four hot, tired, whiny kids along with me. And it worked. I had a great day. While it was hot, the crowds weren't bad and the lines weren't too long.

But I was shocked at how different Disney Land is from TMKWDW. It's so small; the castle doesn't dominate the skyline like it does in Orlando. I actually asked my sister where the castle was when we arrived. It just sort of blended in.

There it is, in the distance.

Everything seemed so packed together. The entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean was right next to the Haunted Mansion, which was right across from Splash Mountain. The sidewalks were narrower, and there weren't the large plazas I remember. Everything also seemed just a little shabby and run down. I saw cast members in wrinkled, ill-fitting costumes; there was trash here and there, even on the sides of the roller coasters; and the condition of It's a Small World would probably make Uncle Walt cry. 

The stucco on the outside was peeling and stained and dated looking. Disney at some point decided to add characters from their movies to the collection of dolls - Woody, Buzz, Alice, Peter Pan, and Ariel all make an appearance - but they seem to be just randomly inserted wherever there was space. And they don't match the other creepy dolls in style at all. A lot of the original dolls were broken down. The creepiest were the dolls with one eye stuck either open or shut. Shudder. Adding insult to injury, the ride jammed just before our boat got to the landing. We were stuck in the bright sun, listening to that damn song over and over again. I think Sarah's BF may have said something along the lines of, "I told you so."

The highlight of the day was Splash Mountain. Somehow, despite there being one at TMKWDW, I'd never been on the ride. It was the only long line of the day, mostly because it was so damn hot that everyone was looking to get wet. It was so much fun, and we got soaked to the skin.

I cheated and took a picture of the photo they wanted to sell us. I'm the second person. 

We left just as we started to get punchy. All around us were parents with kids absolutely melting down, which made me even happier my kids weren't there. I'll take them next time. 

Knittergran still can't believe that Sarah and I went to Disney instead of someplace like the Getty. But it was very much the day I needed. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Princess and the Queen

Sounds like a bad drag act, doesn't it.

A few weeks ago, my sister sent me a link to an article about an exhibit of Princess Diana's dresses on the Queen Mary in Long Beach.  The ensuing text messages went something like this:

Me: OMG!
Sarah: OMG good or OMG terrible?
Me: OMG jealous. I would love to see that.
Sarah: Come out to visit.

I went out to visit, and we went to the Queen Mary. The exhibit did not come anywhere close to living up to our expectations. After we left Sarah said, "I'd apologize for dragging you to that, but there was no way to know ahead of time." I pointed out that I'd been a willing participant.

We started with a tour of the Queen Mary, which is a cruise ship permanently docked in Long Beach. In its glory days, it was one of the poshest ships and movies stars and quasi-royals sailed on her. Now it's a kind of shabby hotel and special events venue. Sarah and I got tickets for the dress exhibit and the self-guided tour. Turns out the self-guided tour means they scribble a few arrows on a map and set you loose in the stern of the ship to wander. It's only because there were a few strangely placed exits signs that we found our way out of the engine room. At times it reminded me of a carnival fun house, with sheets hanging between different displays. 

We knew we were in the right place when we saw the four-story tall Princess Diana.


One of the ship's propellers. For some reason, this freaked me out. You walk through a hole in the hull and look down into a specially constructed and lit tank. The whole thing gave me the willies. 

A cut open scale model of the Titanic. Probably not the most auspicious or cheerful way to start the tour. If it had been up to me, I would have added little icebergs and lifeboats, and a blue Leonardo DiCaprio. 

Seeing the bridge was kind of cool. However, the ship's horn blew to signal noon just as we walked in. Sarah and I both jumped about two feet. 

After we wandered the ship, we headed to the Princess Diana exhibit, which wasn't exactly as advertised. The bulk of the displays were pictures, commemorative tea towels, tea cups, and framed newspaper articles. It looked like they raided the Franklin Mint and someone's grannie's china chest for the items. 

Throughout, there were big signs with information on the various members of the royal family, and they could not have been more fawning in their praise. The members of the royal family were all solely dedicated to their loyal subjects and their country and always acted in the interest of their people. Even the section about Princess Diana's disaster of a marriage was given a good spin - it was true love at first, at least for Diana. She desperately wanted to make the fairy tale work. 

Cameras were forbidden in the exhibit, so I had to be content with pretending to text while sneaking pictures. I'm such a rebel. 

Curio cabinets stuffed with random items and dolls. 

The bottom half of a dress. 

A crooked dress.

Sadly, I had a dress like this in high school. I thought it was the height of fashion. 

A replica of the famous see-through dress that that shameless hussy Kate Middleton wore to snare Prince William, only $250. I offered to pick up one for a high school friend, but she declined. I can't imagine why. 

Sarah was most looking forward to seeing the Spencer Tiara and the Lover's Knot Tiara, which were listed as being on exhibit. She was very disappointed. Instead of real royal jewels, we saw poor copies sitting under a plexiglass case on a tacky dressing table. Sarah pulled up pictures of the real items on her phone to compare, and the ones on display weren't even close. The tiaras for sale in the gift shop looked more authentic. 

Also on display was the back-up wedding dress for Sarah, the Duchess of York. It looked like a cheap prom dress and was all yellowed. There were also a few dresses on loan from Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, which was kind of odd. Included in the dresses was the original see-through dress, complete with a picture of Kate wearing it and a glamour shot of the dress's American Ambassador. The dress has an ambassador. I just can't even.

Sarah and I decided that the problem was that this was a collection of privately owned items, all purchased at auction after Diana's death. The exhibit was not professionally curated, and the clothes had not been stored correctly at all. Most looked a little faded and threadbare.  Sarah even asked if there was a curator on site, and the woman in the gift shop just shrugged. 

On our way out we decided against buying a tiara or a replica of the sapphire engagement ring. 

We also visited the ship's "Shopping Alley," where we could have bought any number of Queen Mary commemorative items, including t-shirts, key rings and shot glasses. There was a store that carried items  "from" Scotland, but many of the kilts on display had become faded and dusty. I'm guessing they don't sell a lot there.  But I could have bought a book about the ghosts of the Alamo. Cool.

It was an adventure, and despite the whole thing not living up to expectations, Sarah and I had fun. It will become one of those shared, fond memories - "Remember that time. . ?" And Sarah now knows not to include it on the itinerary when Knittergran and Runnerdude visit next week. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

At least it was a dry heat

Last Friday morning, I flew out at o'dark early, headed for Los Angeles. One of the things I was most looking forward to, aside from seeing my sister, seeing our aunt and uncle, having breakfast with Lisa Rosenberg (who is absolutely lovely), and going to Disney Land, was escaping the heat. We've hit the point of the summer when I become hostile about the heat and take it personally. It's hot out just to make me miserable. I've lived here 18 years, and I've never adjusted to the heat, and I moved here from Florida.

Unfortunately, I chose the weekend that LA was having its worst heat wave of the summer to visit. Everyone who found out I was from out of town, apologized for the heat. "It's NEVER this hot," they'd say. In Texas, when a visitor complains about the heat, we usually say, "This? This is nothing. You should have been here last year. Last year was worse."

So it was hot, but it wasn't as hot as Austin, in that we could actually be outside without bursting into flames.

And that is the only complaint I have about my trip.

It was just the right amount of doing cool stuff and sitting around and watching trash TV. Knittergran still can't believe we didn't go to the beach or to the Getty, but I'm saving those for the next trip.

Our one culturally significant trip was to the Griffith Observatory, which sits high in the hills above LA. The view was pretty spectacular.

The Hollywood sign


The Griffith Observatory itself is pretty neat. We wandered around inside for a while and then poked around the the grounds. 

The main entrance

Some big allegorical mural on the ceiling

The dome that houses the 12 inch Zeiss telescope

Once we stopped playing tourist, Sarah and I went to the movie studio where her boyfriend works. I'm not sure I'm allowed to say which studio and which show or whether we were even allowed to be there. 
The show he works on was taping, and we got to sit in the VIP area and watch the action on the monitors. Turns out watching a TV show be taped is very boring. And the craft services table looks like a church potluck. 

We bailed out of the taping after an hour, and wandered around the backlot. I was stunned at how deserted it was. We could have wandered anywhere without a problem. But we didn't. 

A city street

THE Ghostbusters car, Ecto 1

We got to the studio just as a taping of Wheel of Fortune was letting out, and we had to walk the wrong way through the herds of fans leaving. Many members of the audience were morbidly obese and on hoverround scooters, which somehow seemed appropriate. 

As we were walking, a very well-preserved blond lady waved at us cheerfully from her car. Turns out it was Vannah White. My first celebrity sighting!

I had a celebrity sighting in the wild the next day at the grocery store. Sarah nudged me and said, sotto voce, "It's Jim Parsons." I turned and saw DR SHELDON COOPER standing next to me. It took all the self control I had to just play it cool and not go all screaming fangirl on him. But he was there doing his Saturday shopping, and no one else was bugging him, so I didn't take a picture or ask for an autograph. Ella is very disappointed in me. 

I got home at 2:00 am Tuesday to a spotless house, folded laundry and sleeping children. I think I should go away more often. But I'm still having trouble adjusting to real life, where there aren't celebrities at the grocery store and craft services tables with lots of baked goods. Sigh. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The doldrums

We’ve hit the low point of the summer. We’re all bored and tired and hot. Going to the pool isn’t as much fun as it was a few weeks ago; it’s too hot to ride bikes and scooters; watching hours of Scooby Doo just isn’t as appealing.

I’m spending my days refereeing fights over who did what to whom, negotiating just how long a “turn” on the computer is, and listening to the kids tell me they’re bored every 30 seconds. To keep kips entertained I’ve resorted to doing things like taking them to the Snake Farm and to see movies (I hate movies and snakes). But I’m running out of options.

The good news is that I leave at o’dark hundred on Friday to go to Los Angeles for a few days. It will be cool there. And I won’t have four kids to take care of. I may never come back.

In the meantime, a cute hedgehog picture.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The accessory gene

I was born without the gene that allows me to accessorize. There was a brief phase in the 80s (shudder) when I wore jewelry, but it didn’t last long with all the swimming and running and biking I did.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate jewelry. I do. And it’s not that I don’t have any jewelry. I do. I have some great bracelets and necklaces and earrings. I just never think to put them on. And on the few occasions that I do put on jewelry, I spend the whole time feeling like I look ridiculous because there’s no way those earrings go with that bracelet and necklace.

The other day I put on earrings, just for grins, and the kids all stared at me like I’d grown a second head. So I took them out.

On a daily basis, I wear my wedding bands, and that’s it.

My sister and mom have the accessory gene. They love jewelry and buy jewelry and actually wear the jewelry they buy. It’s just beyond me.

I had assumed that my kids wouldn’t have the accessory gene either, mostly because of the example I’ve set for them. Ella definitely takes after me, but Lily is a whole different story. She loves wearing jewelry and hats and scarves, which means she’s gone to school through the years in some interesting outfits.

When Lily turned eight, she starting asking to get her ears pierced. I said no, and she, between heartbreaking sobs, told me all her friends who were seven had their ears pierced. I easily came up with a list of about dozen eight-year-old friends who didn’t have earrings, and she pouted.

Over the past few years, she’s made a few campaigns to get her ears pierced, aided and abetted by her Aunt Keeffer, but I’ve always resisted.

Until last week.

I don’t know what got into me. Maybe it was because we bought a hedgehog or because Ella was actually arguing for Lily’s case rather than against, or maybe it was the combination of heat and sleep deprivation. Whatever it was, I finally caved.

I loaded everyone in the car and off we went. Campbell and Elizabeth were only concerned with whether they’d get to ride “epscalators.” Lily was wide-eyed and nervous. Ella was telling Lily how much it would hurt.


But she did it. She sat up very tall in the chair, with very big eyes, and she got her ears pierced. She didn’t cry even once. I can’t say the same for me. I don’t know why seeing Lily with earrings made me cry, but it did. My baby is growing up.


Lily is counting the days until she can take her starter earrings out, put new ones in, and accessorize. And now knittergran and Keeffer know what to buy her as presents.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Look, more cuteness!

Apparently people really, really like pictures of baby hedgehogs. So here you go. More cute pictures of wembley j hedgehog.


He fits in the palm of Ella’s hand.


We took him out for a little explore.


FeeBee went nose to nose with wembley, gave him a good sniffing, then walked away.