Friday, October 14, 2016

7 Quick Takes 41: Of Schubert and Squirrels

1. I enjoy reading 7 Quick Takes about others' daily lives, even though I usually go for themed posts myself. However, I feel in need of the comfort of the ordinary right now- because I am sick, sick, sick of the elections. I'm avoiding Facebook for that reason - I tend to only be Facebook friends with people who are civil, but even my feed is being poisoned by the vitriol of politics. Honestly, I think that all campaigning should be halted, right now. Everyone can go home, we can all calm down and regain our sanity, and then those of you that have a vote (not me, I'm not a citizen) can go to the polls in November with a clear head.

2. Washing machines. Is that a non-political topic? We got only the second washing machine of our marriage the other week. It's a front loader - hurrah! I never did feel at home with my top loader. I suppose it's a cultural thing. How can you stand not to watch your washing go around and around through the little window? And the nice people at Samsung actually sat around and thought about how annoying it is when all your appliances beep at you, because when the cycle is finished, the machine plays a theme from Schubert's Trout Quintet, and very prettily, too, for a computer.

I don't think there are any little musicians inside my washing machine, but you never know...

3. Babies - surely that's a safe topic, too. Alcuin has finally got to his clingy stage. He steadfastly believes I have a diabolical plan to run away for ever, and that he can only thwart it by screaming "Mum-mum-mum" every time I leave the room without him. Not even going to the loo is safe - he has to run after me and sit on my lap. I think he knows I have the toilet equivalent of floo powder on hand and am about to disappear down the bowl.

4. ...and animals. The neighbour's dogs started to get very annoying on our daily walk. I don't really mind the yappy Boston terriers, but one of the larger, shaggy mongrels was beginning to get up very close, growling. Yelling just didn't seem to work. Then, after a few days of this, I got angry. I stopped, turned, pointed, and said sternly, "No! Go away." He stepped back a few paces, gave me a hurt look, as if to say, "Now you've spoiled all my fun," and left. The next day, he came running out at the sound of our approach, saw it was me, and stopped in the driveway. The day after - he didn't even bother. Just call me the dog whisperer.
The only downside is that the baby actually liked all this doggy entertainment. Now, he woofs, and shakes his head sadly.

5. It was "woof" because, despite having a wide vocabulary, he prefers to communicate with sound effects and gestures rather than words.  If he wants me to do something specific, he places my hand on the spot - literally, the task at hand. The other day, he pushed his dad to a clear spot in the bedroom - so he could ram him with a cardboard box.

Maybe it's because he was raised by chickens...

6. A couple of mornings ago, I got up to a squirrel head and upper torso on the rug. (Imagine: head, shoulders, and little arms sticking out. You're welcome.) Used to the cats' Godfather-like offerings, I stumbled into the kitchen, grabbed paper towels and cleaner, and got to work. Later in the day, one of the cats brought in a lizard, which detached itself from its tail and escaped. I picked up the still wriggling tail... and suddenly got grossed out. Go figure.
And yes, mutilated animal parts beat politics right now.

7. The only person currently using the girls' bathroom is my thirteen year-old. So how is it that she can stand at the sink and get mud and make up on the walls four feet behind her?

There, that made me feel better. For other, hopefully cathartic quick takes, glide over to Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, September 30, 2016

7 Quick Takes 40: All That Glitters is Not Silver...

1. Many, many moons ago, for some inexplicable reason, my eldest daughter loved to swing brooms around. One day she swung it in the direction of an antique family vase, and the inevitable happened. The delicate, etched glass was broken beyond repair. We would have consigned the whole vase to the dustbin, except that the base was a heavy lump of silver. So, with a vague idea that we would detach and sell it, we packed the broken vase into an old shoebox, put it into the sideboard cupboard, and... promptly forgot about it.
Fast forward fifteen or so years, and behold, we have a baby with an infallible radar for broken glass. Having mastered the art of opening the kitchen cupboards, he turned his talents to cupboards with latches. Again, in one of those twenty-second lapses of supervision, he got into the sideboard. Faced with china galore, which obviously wasn't antique, he went for the box because something we were hiding from him must be worth investigating. Thankfully, my radar for toddler trouble is getting rehoned, because I rescued him and the vase in time. My husband finally decided to do something about it, and set to work detaching the lump of silver, which turned out to be:

A lump of plaster encased in silver about as thick as tin foil. So, maybe a dollar's worth in there. And we still haven't thrown that away. But I suppose it says something about greed, or thriftiness. Or laziness...

2. Although David Bowie was a fixture of my childhood, I found the hysterical reactions to his death this January rather incomprehensible. Yet this weekend, when I learned that Terry Jones of Monty Python fame has a rare form of dementia that is robbing him of speech, I was terribly upset. Monty Python's Flying Circus is almost completely responsible for my warped sense of humour; I went to Cambridge, the Pythons' stomping ground; the house I shared with friends there was affectionately dubbed "Castle Anthrax". That someone whose life has been words should be bereft of them seems a cruel irony.
And then, reading on, I also learned about his private life, which is, shall we say, much, much less than admirable, and I had the strange experience of being devastated and disappointed all at the the same time.
Another clear moral: Don't make an idol of anyone. Even Eric Idle.

3. Behold the instruction manual that came with my husband's newly purchased, refurbished strimmer:

Six hundred and fifty pages in twenty-six languages, intended for the EU market. Which can only lead to the reflection that Brexit may have its upside ;)

4. Why is it, that, after more than twenty years of being married to a mathematician, my recurring anxiety dream is still being back at school and not being prepared for my maths class?
I think my husband would say this, too, has a moral: it's my subconscious telling me to give him more attention.

5. My original thoughts for  #5 went: Attention Mother Nature: September in the northern hemisphere is meant to be the "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness", NOT the mid-nineties (high thirties). Yes, I complain too much. I have an extreme intolerance to heat. Ten minutes in the sun and I am red and perspiring. Half an hour and I have to lie down :( WHY am I still in Mississippi? Perhaps I am really dead and this is actually Purgatory. And so on, until I am curled up in a ball of sweaty hysteria...

6. Then, a few days after venting, I woke up to fifty degrees. Which was a physical relief, but brought about the usual shoe problem. When the girls were younger, every year, as it got to the turn of the season, I would think, "I must buy them new summer/winter formal shoes." And then, bang, the weather always turned on a Sunday morning and they had no suitable shoes for church. This past year, I've been collecting good pairs of baby shoes from thrift stores and clothes swaps so I'd be prepared. And... they're all too big or too small.

7. The main reason we needed shoes was because FINALLY, at sixteen months, the baby has decided that walking is worthwhile. My first reaction was, "He looks like a drunken Charlie Chaplin." My second was, "And his sisters won't have a clue what I mean by that."

Moral: I'm old, no moral.

For more quick takes with fewer fake morals, hop on over to This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, September 16, 2016

7 Quick Takes 39: Geriatric mother ventures forth

... in oh so many ways. With mixed results.

1. I read on the internet - so it must be true - that introverts, even if they try the extrovert thing for a while - tend to revert more strongly to their natural ways later in life. I choose to believe this, because it justifies my opinion that, at my age, I'm finally entitled to be myself, not the (sociable) person the world demands.


On the other hand, I've got a baby who might actually grow up and want to interact with the world, so even though I'd like to hide in a cave nurturing my inner chinchilla, I have been girding my loins, gritting my teeth, and trying to get out.

2. Step one on coming home was picking up our morning walks. Not because I am agoraphobic, but because it's so d*** hot. When I left England, I was wearing a coat - a coat! bliss! - in the evening. I get back here and the radio weather man is cheerfully saying, "A lovely day ahead, with a high of 93." And I'm thinking, There's an oxymoron in there. So, armed with water, sunglasses, and hats, I venture out every day - before 9am, or it's too hot. Even so, I usually return with sweat tricking down my face. The plus is that I usually only have to communicate with horses and dogs, and I have pretty good social skills where animals are concerned.

3. Step two is trying to hang laundry with the baby, who is fifteen months old and still doesn't want to walk. In England, this was easy: I plonked him down on the tiny lawn in my parents' fenced garden, and about the worst he did was try to feed a snail to one of their tortoises. Here, we have over an acre of unfenced yard, not to mention fire ants, velvet ants (aka wingless wasps), ticks, red wasps, black wasps, mosquitoes... well, let's just stop before I get to the spiders. So putting him on the grass is a crap shoot that might end in a trip to the emergency room and being arrested for child endangerment.

Still, maybe that's just my being paranoid. So, I took him out and sat him down next to the laundry basket to "play quietly". Except that it took him about twenty seconds to notice that he was free and shoot off towards the pond. He did pause to turn and wave good bye, though. I dragged him back, and another twenty seconds later, he made for the swing set in the other direction. Not as bad as potential drowning. Then I remembered the poison ivy in his path... Thank you, guardian angel, for stepping in there. Sorry about your rash.

4. Step three - actually leaving our property to an actual mother-baby event. I picked story time at the library because there wouldn't be pressure to talk to other people, and anyway, the people who go must presumably like books. Alcuin sort of enjoyed it, while being overwhelmed at the same time. And I even exchanged a few words.

5. Step three and a half - going back to story time. Alcuin knew what was what and plonked himself down in the middle of the rug to wait for the songs and stories. But he soon got bored and raced off around the library with the aid of a purloined kick step stool. In the meantime, I started to figure out this conversation thing: you were meant to open by saying something about how the other mother's baby was cute, then ask how old he was, then what your plans to pay for college were something about yourself.

So, I managed to chat with a young mother next to me. It was all superficial, but at least it was a conversation. Then it came:
Her: "You seem familiar to me."
Me (resigned smile): "I probably taught you."
And I did. When she was in seventh grade. Which, considering it's been over ten years since I taught grade school is... well, a long time.
The bright spot - she told me her mother got pregnant the same time that she did - and then her sister - and then, in her words, "It was a disaster." I can empathise with that.

6. Church - a relaxing end to the week with people who are like family. Doesn't happen. The only thing Alcuin is religious about is his morning nap, which is currently about 11-1. Disrupt it at your peril. It's sermons in stones for us most weeks. Except that's dangerous around here (see #3 above).

7. Going out On My Own. To Something New. I got free membership to our Homestead Education Center for buying an advance copy of the manager's book, but I hadn't yet managed to make it to any event. So I looked at their calendar and made myself pick something: girls' night in. Free, and had to be fun, right? In case you think I'm a really sad and lonely person, I did invite two people to come along, but they couldn't make it. The introvert me said: cancel! cancel! The stupid radical me said: go. Only three things could happen:
A. I'll have a good time. There's bound to be other people there I know well.
B. I'll have a good time, but the baby will have a meltdown without me, and I'll have to come home.
C. Everyone else will come in a group with their buddies and it'll be really awkward.

What happened? C :(  Not even one person I was acquainted with, and I got tongue-tied and couldn't think of good conversation openers to butt in on others' cosy chats. I politely exited after the presentation. Next time, I will listen to my wise, introvert self and stay in my shell.

No! Not that one!

For more quick takes, several of which are probably by other introverts hiding behind a computer screen, hop on over to This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, September 2, 2016

7 Quick Takes 38: UK: The pint-size edition

1. Five weeks in England with no obligations. Time to take lots of artsy photos and write witty blog posts, right? Apparently not. So here is a random, whirlwind tour...

2. Our elder daughter flew in from Boston to meet us at the airport. For the first time, we have a child of legal drinking age (at least in the UK), which led to my initial idea for an easy blog post: Seven photos of big sister drinking with her baby brother. However, we only made it to five because she was with us for less than two weeks. We must be slowing down in middle age.

3. The educational benefits of taking your children to the pub are myriad. Those of drinking age learn to drink responsibly within the family. You can brush up on their sharing skills if you failed at this when they were five by getting them to buy rounds. This will also teach them the value of budgeting because pints in pubs are very expensive.

Younger children learn the creative value of being bored, sitting around with a soft drink and a packet of crisps if they're lucky, while their parents and older siblings mellow out. At least they have beer gardens. Back in the day, we were left in the car, and back back in the day, children would be left outside in the street. With an arrowroot biscuit, as my father would add. Don't ask me, I've never seen one, let alone eaten one.

4. So... this photo says: "Hey, people in this country think I'm an actual adult!"

This one says: "Three days of dealing with the baby's jet lag. I deserve this drink."

The knee belongs to the bored non-drinker.

5. At the Bankes Arms - named for the Bankes family who owned Corfe Castle until Cromwell demolished it, so this was also a local history tour. Sort of. We took the bus to Studland, then went to the pub for fortification before tackling the two-hour clifftop walk back to Swanage. Not such a good idea for those with small bladders, but I'm not naming and shaming anyone here.

Why we really went:

Aside: While we were drinking, a young child at the table behind us started yelling "Trump! Trump! Trump!" For a few seconds, I thought he was very excited - and informed - about the American election. Then I realised he was playing cards.

6. Pub signs are an obvious opportunity for preschool reading and comprehension: The Red Lion, The Black Swan, and, incorporating basic maths, The Square and Compass. But while I'm here, I have to confess that every time we drive past the Cock and Bottle, I think of a sperm bank. Apologies for putting that into your head.

7. Ah, England in August. One day it's this:

The next it's:

... and I love it.

For blog posts possibly less obsessed with pubs, hop on over to This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Seven Quick Takes 37: Totally Random Takes

1. I only decided to write a post last minute this week, because, although life was a roller coaster, it involved dealings with the Federal government and happenings that introverts don't share, which is just about everything. But then ideas fell into place. I'm banging this out while packing for the UK, so please overlook any typos. No, actually, hack into my account and correct them, I beg you, in case I die before I get to edit this.

2. So here is Monday's story, with details made fuzzy so that men in back suits don't land their helicopter on what passes for our lawn and whisk me off to Syria.
I had to make a four-hour round trip to the 'local' federal government office on the case of  ______. Once there, I waited for ages until out shuffled this person who pretty much looked like the witch queen of somewhere I won't mention, but isn't New Orleans. She immediately let slip that the problem was her office should have _______ when I came in previously. But, in a lightning-quick feat of backtracking, she declared that it wasn't possible they made the mistake, so it must be my fault. From here, for no apparent reason, she decided to prove I was actually a criminal who was really living in the UK and only visiting the US (this detail is the actual truth, folks). She kept me in the office for an hour until she had to give up and give me what I'd asked for, which was a stamp in my passport. And that wasn't even the worst part for me - what really stunk was having to be sweet as sugar to her the whole time for fear something terrible would happen to me. I can only hope that my attitude spoiled her whole day.

3. I picked up a Beatrix Potter board book in the consignment store this week, based on her rabbit books. I pass lightly over the smoking and drinking bunnies, which to be honest I didn't even register until my husband pointed it out (cultural differences, I suppose). It was the plot inconsistencies that blew my mind. In feats of time travel that Dr. Who would admire, we meet two Mrs. Rabbits coexisting in the same plane. Then, on one page we have Flopsy surrounded by her children, while two pages later she is a baby rabbit gathering blackberries. I think someone in Frederick Warne has been smoking too much "rabbit tobacco."

4. Proof to me that baby boys need to come with a warning label - and that children really do have guardian angels. Alcuin was playing quietly with the contents on my bedside table, so I decided it was safe to take a pee in the en suite bathroom a few feet away. In the twenty seconds I was not at his side, he had dismantled a photograph, chipped the edge from the glass plate and made about twenty gouges in the table with the cut glass, with no more than a pin prick on his thumb.

...and he reads Beatrix Potter board books

5. I've been nearly 47 years on this planet, and what did I notice only this week, on my daily walk with the baby? That horses can have different coloured manes and tails. Who knew?

6. May I just add: Mick Jagger plus 29-year-old pregnant girlfriend. Eww. I mean, I love the Rolling Stones' music, and I used to think the young Mick Jagger (of the sixties) was beautiful, but...well, just but. The Torygraph summed it up nicely:

7. That was it. Now you've wasted your time, hop over to Kelly's at This Ain't the Lyceum for some honest and entertaining quick takes. See you in the UK!

Friday, July 1, 2016

7 Quick Takes 36: In Memoriam Memoriarum

1. I have only one public comment to make on the Brexit (very mild language warning - the delicate of nerves should cover their eyes and go to #2).

2. Talking of childhood, and seguing into my actual topic, I've begun the mammoth task of sorting through photos and sentimental items, as a slave to the cult of inspired by Marie Kondo's Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. (More on our saga with this book here.)

I began by pulling out several archival boxes of stuff. I opened my elder daughter's box, which was brimming with art work, oversize photos, random decorations etc., most of which I could no longer remember why we kept. Anyhow, I ploughed through it, and then called out my middle daughter for the fun of sorting out her memories. We hauled the huge box to the middle of the room and eagerly opened it - to find about half a dozen items. Oops. Thank goodness she saw the funny side. And at least she has a baby book - I never even bought one for Alcuin. He's thirteen months, and I already can't remember when he began to crawl or talk. I guess I'll have to make it all up.

3. In my own box, I found my primary (elementary) school project on our home town of Thornton Heath. it includes an "I spy" trip we made around the streets. Question number one:

"There is a pub at the end of the road. What is its sign? Why do you think that is?"

Erm, I think it's because it's a British school trip in the seventies. The teachers didn't even have to bother to be as 'subtle' as ending at the pub. "You just walk up and down the road, kids. I'll be right here when you're done."

4. Have you had the discussion about when your baby actually looks like the girl or boy he is? We pretty much agreed several months ago that Alcuin was 'definitely' a boy. Then I found this from 1998.

Oh, well.

5. I don't know whether it's just that reading Marie Kondo put this in my head, but I find myself agreeing with her that sorting sentimental items helps you come to terms with the past and embrace the future. In sorting through all these photos, I have been able to celebrate lifelong friendships or confront those that faded away, remember - and be thankful for - what I have learned from people in those photos, get a little closer to letting go of people who hurt me, have a few laughs at times remembered (and some of our ridiculous moments), and start to make peace with an expanding waistline and greying hair. (The last one was sort of a lie, but it sounds good.)

6. Going though photos, I'm not only meeting people again, but clothes. I'm no fashionista - I keep my clothes until they're worn out. That cosy cardigan that went with everything, the blue floaty skirt that made me feel so boho - it's like seeing dearly departed friends. Even more satisfying is to realize which clothes are still trooping through life with me. Like this jumper (photo 1998). I like to wear it with leggings and boots, in what my husband dubbed my Legolas outfit.

Or this dress, which I bought for my going away outfit for my wedding twenty-two years ago (the photo is from 1997, NOT my wedding, before tongues wag), even though we didn't actually have a honeymoon. But I have to confess - it's a teeny bit tight right now because I have a mummy tummy for the first time in my life.

7. And to end full circle: I'm just about in the "older" demographic of Britons whom some of the younger generation are accusing of being racists and bigots. In response, I offer this fuzzy picture of a school camp trip ca. 1980 (I'm down the bottom in the yellow top, by the way).

People called us: English, Jamaican, Pakistani, Mauritian, Greek, Turkish, and African.
We called ourselves: Friends.

For more modern quick takes, visit Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, June 24, 2016

7 Quick Takes 35: My Inner Chinchilla

1. It's been a hectic summer with family comings and goings, and I don't handle change well. One day, while in a spin about managing the fluctuating household, I remarked to my elder daughter how flustered I was by the constant change in routine, and she quipped, "You have an inner chinchilla." And, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

2. For a start, Chinchillas don't like changes in temperature. This made them about the worst pet to hit the British market back in the 80s. Bring a Peruvian animal thousands of miles to cold, damp houses. Great idea. I think they all caught colds and died. Me - I'm British, so I about die every Mississippi summer. I know when it's really heating up because I get lethargic for about two weeks, accompanied by a slow decline into depression. Honestly, there have been times when I got up, looked at the thermometer outside the kitchen door, and cried.
And apparently, chinchillas don't like high heat and humidity either, so they're with me on this.

3. In the wild, they hide in crevices in rocks and only socialize with other chinchillas.I completely empathize. Even a low-key, part time lecturing job got too stressful, so I'm working on building a home business that means I'll get to face people even more infrequently.

Go away. I'm a rock.

4. Chinchillas have a low stress level/ are highly strung. Absolutely me. For example, I have a phone phobia. I dread making calls of any kind. I can put off the simplest inquiry for weeks. I don't care what people say about email and texting making our communication impersonal - as far as I'm concerned, it's a godsend. If I have to think for more than five minutes about what to have for dinner, I start to panic. I feel sick just at the thought of flying. You get the idea.

5. Chinchillas are not recommended for young children. I feel that I'm pretty hopeless with young children. I can about handle my own, with lots of accompanying stress, because we breed little geeks, but ask me to help out at the church nursery, and I'd run the proverbial mile. I'm stumped by a preschooler who doesn't want to read Moby Dick , listen to Wordsworth, or do fraction problems.

"'I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er dale and hill...'
What? You want 'Mary had a little lamb'?
Sorry, don't know that one."

6. Chinchillas require gentle handling or they can bite. I'm sensitive, and one perceived negative comment  - to me or by me - can have me sleepless for nights. On the other hand, although I'm introverted and soft-spoken on the outside, inside I'm a seething mass of snark. This is probably what leads to #4.

7. And finally, most chinchillas are grey. I'm definitely getting there :)

Chinchillas of the world, unite. Actually, no. Go hide in your own crevice. But if you feel like popping out, check out This Ain't the Lyceum for more Seven Quick Takes.