Thursday, December 16, 2010

To Live in Exciting Times

Wow, look at that: TWO blog posts from me in ONE WEEK! Is it 2006 again?

Last night I was on my cell with my aunt, Jason was on the land line with his mom, his cell was ringing, we had a realtor on her way over to pick up some paperwork, and two friends were standing on our front sidewalk in Santa caps, holding candles and belting out "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

We hadn't had that much excitement in our lives since we began adding Siracha Sauce to macaroni and cheese.

Well, we lost "our" house. I thought I was doing great until my drive home from work on Tuesday. I remember thinking, "Wow, I feel pretty okay about all of this, actually," and then the wrong song came on the radio and I bawled the rest of the way. I think what got me was that I'd already developed a spreadsheet of shade-loving perennials I could have planted in the yard, and I'd already picked the new colors I wanted to paint on the walls. In my mind, I'd even already remodeled the kitchen and master bath just the way I liked them.

It felt a bit like being dumped by your fiance after you'd already started naming your future children.

It's okay though; I've already identified two new houses that I might develop crushes on. But before I get too invested, I think I'll first pass them a note: "Do you like me too? Check 'Y' for yes, 'N' for no."

I'm blogging at the Girlfriends Book Club blog tomorrow...stop by and say hi! The authors that comprise the blog frequently hold book giveaways, so it's a good site to add to your bookmarks.

Monday, December 13, 2010

That's Using the Ol' Noggin

Did you survive the Great Blizzard of 2010? We used the occasion to watch the first season of Dexter. About nine hours in, we hit midnight—as we rolled onward, we’d turn to each other for confirmation before starting the next episode, eyeballs beginning to smoke: “Watch the next one?” And we’d nod and queue it up. You hit a certain point when you’re engaged in such indulgent, irresponsible activities and think, “Why the hell not? We don’t have kids!” It felt decadent. It felt wrong. It felt awesome. We finished the season at 3:30 in the morning.

If you’re not familiar with Dexter, it’s a series first developed for Showtime back in 2006, currently rounding the bend on its sixth season. Dexter is a Blood Spatter* Analyst who works for the Miami PD and also happens to be a serial killer who channels his bloodlust to people who deserve it. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to watch the series, and I think it’s because I knew it would be good, and I knew I’d lose myself down the rabbit hole for 12 hours if I started.

On Day Two of the blizzard, I thought I’d initiate our kitchen remodel by head-butting a sharp corner of our cabinets. Actually, I was simply being too exuberant in my attempt to stamp down the garbage, and ended up with my first, honest-to-goodness head gusher. I’d never had a head injury before, so I was unsure of the protocol—when does a bleeding head warrant stitches? I was opposed to the idea, because I had visions of a tech shaving my head and creating a permanent bald patch in an already-thin area. It hurt like hell, my bathroom looked like a murder scene, and I now have a series of disgusting, blood-crusted scabs near my part.

Good times.

More good times: we just got billed for the first installment of the street work completed last year ($5,000-yippee!), and we lost our contingent offer on the new place. The house we want to buy has been listed since April, and ours was the only offer fielded…until this past weekend, when two non-contingent offers came in.

SERIOUSLY?? How does that happen? It feels like a conspiracy. J and I have to make some tough decisions tonight, see how we want to proceed. These days, it feels much too dangerous to carry two mortgages when you don’t have to.

Altogether, it really makes my head hurt. Again.

*Spatter. Isn’t that a fun word? Who wouldn’t want that in their job descriptor? “Oh me? Yeah, I’m a word spatter specialist.”

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Thursday Grab-Bag

Last weekend we drove to Lansing, Michigan to meet our new niece Caylie Lucille. She is an absolutely beautiful little bean--paddling her starfish hands slowly through the air, stretching, yawning, blinking sleepily up at you...I wished the front of my sweater had a big pocket I could tuck her in, and she could nuzzle her head into my neck and I could wear her around the house like the most delightful bib invented.

This Sunday we are anticipating the arrival of our THIRD niece in as many months: Isabella Grace. All of these beautiful babies with their soft, powdery heads and perfect button noses and fingernails smaller than ladybug wings...they are making my ovaries surrender. "Enough! We give up!"

(Is it possible to anthropomorphize internal organs?)

Actually, I feel that way until I remember my horrid self between the ages of 11 and 17. That usually does the trick. I just can't shake the fear that if I have a child, he or she will grow up to be a complete asshole.

Last night I made myself an early birthday cake of olive oil, rosemary, and dark chocolate. It was sublime. Rich, dense, flavorful, and--I'm going to use my least favorite word in the English language--moist. I was skeptical, but it was a Martha Stewart recipe. She hasn't steered me wrong yet. So Martha, you've done it again. I'm really glad you're out of prison.

In other food news, I have a message for Applebee's. Please get some meatless entrees on your menu. Also, mozzarella logs are supposed to bind you up, not give you the runs. You're doing it wrong.

*insert appropriate segue*

Has anyone seen the commercials for the class action lawsuit against Extenze male enhancement pills? Turns out they don't work. Who didn't see that coming? Pun possibly intended.

Finally, the other night we saw the most delightful movie: Winnebago Man. I lost track of how many times I turned to J during the film and said, "I just can't get over how much I'm enjoying this movie!" Usually documentaries make me want to tie myself to the nearest train tracks, but this one made me want to give hugs to complete strangers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Magic Vacuum Delivery, Now with White Coating

There are many things I'm thankful for, and one of them is that life continues to be rich in comedy. In fact, life sometimes delivers comedic gold right to me, like a package. Take what happened last Friday morning. I walked onto my front porch to get the mail, and discovered that someone had placed an upright Kenmore vacuum on the steps. It was actually lying on my steps, upside down with the business end on top, a stray brush attachment tossed beneath like an afterthought--and it was this, the nonsensical placement, that made me laugh.

Who does this kind of thing?? It was not tossed haphazardly on my lawn after garbage day; someone had carefully and deliberately laid this broken appliance in the middle of my front steps, interfering with mail delivery and Jehovah Witness visits, and I found it absolutely hilarious.

Earlier in the week, while standing in line to pay for a cart full of groceries, I noticed a table of "Amish-made" candies, cookies, and treats, packed in clear plastic clamshells. I leaned over to have a better look and picked up the nearest container, labeled, 'Nut Goodies.' Curious about what merited both descriptors, I read the ingredients.

First in the list?

"White coating."

Now. What could comprise this mysterious "white coating?" Crisco? Liquid paper? Drywall primer?

And now let's climb out of the gutter together after contemplating that final, most obvious answer to consider this: when did it become acceptable to identify ingredients in such a lazy, obtuse way? I think I'll return to that store soon to see if the other Amish-made treats have similar ingredient lists: "sweetened brown chunks, whipped chicken ovum, granular tan component, melty yellow fat, powdery carbohydrate base."

I hope you find much in life to be thankful for this Thanksgiving--I'll be back next week with photos of my new niece, who we hopefully won't blind with the flash, and perhaps some amusing stories about my relatives.

Monday, November 15, 2010

It Came From the Eighties

Saturday night I found myself home flipping channels (living the dream! Living the dream, I say!), and I eventually settled on a heavily-edited version of Trading Places, which was airing on ABC Family. I’d never seen it before, and it seemed like a mildly entertaining way to pass the time. J returned home just before the ending and finished watching it with me, shocked nearly beyond words that I’d never seen it before. My favorite scene? Well, other than Jamie Lee Curtis (the hooker with the heart of gold!) declaring that she was a drug-free, attractive prostitute of 22 with $42,000 “T-bills” in the bank, it had to have been the stock market floor insanity over frozen concentrate orange juice.

In the stock market scene it looked like nothing was really happening but panicky shouting: “Buy!” ‘Sell!” “Buy!” and who could hear anything in all that madness? Chaos, wild speculation, reckless, legalized gambling—ah, the basis of many of our retirement plans.

So what did I take away from Trading Places?

1. Ninjas only bruise on the “inside.”
2. We need to bring back the insult “Jive Turkey.”
3. If you weighed more than a package of yarn in 1983, women’s fashion was not your friend.
4. Wow, Al Franken has come a long way! From cross-eyed baggage handler to U.S. Senator.
5. Jamie Lee Curtis … possibly an alien from Planet Barbie Doll with Kid-Cut Hair.
6. If you wear a gorilla suit, nobody—not people, not other gorillas—will be able to tell you’re not actually a gorilla.

That’s about it, because I nodded off in the middle of the movie. But I'm finding myself quite nostalgic for that time period lately--I nearly wet my pants with excitement while watching Poltergeist on Halloween because I spied a box of Crispy Wheats and Raisins (a staple from my childhood) in one kitchen scene.

Sunday we hosted another open house, which was fairly well-attended. The upside of this whole process is that the house has never been so clean and clutter-free.

I also finished David Sedaris's latest, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. I think it could be my favorite of all of his books. But read the reviews and perhaps a sample chapter before buying. It's not for everyone.

And finally, a request: Do you have any family holiday horror stories? If so, I'd LOOOOVE to hear them!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

It's Just Noives

I have been too anxious to blog lately. So much uncertainty: book proposals in limbo, no offers yet for the house, and now--given the results of Tuesday's election--the gnawing fear that my day job could have its neck stretched out on the chopping block in the not-too-distant future.

It's not a good time to be a public employee. It's not a good time to be a lot of things, but I digress...

Given all of these uncertainties, I am increasingly nervous about selling our house and assuming a larger mortgage. We did have our best showing to-date last Thursday. They were still in the house when we returned from dinner an hour later (we parked and sat in the dark, spying on them until they left), and the buyer is "maybe" considering making an offer. However, now I'm not sure if I want him to. We had another showing this morning. Daisy is enjoying all of this a great deal. Sure the irritating vacuum is running more frequently, but she's never been to the dog park so much. This morning another dog lifted his leg to urinate at her nose as she sniffed the other side of the fence. If someone did this to us, we'd be horrified; but in her world, it was like being granted an exquisite olfactory gift.

So let's talk about something a bit more pleasant. How was your Halloween? We had exactly 76 trick-or-treaters and finished the last candy bar on Tuesday night. Thank God.

We had a party the weekend before, and I consumed about 76 cups of wine Frommabag. Do you like my nifty drink dispenser system? (The punkins are shiny because we rubbed Vasoline on the cut edges so they wouldn't shivel.)

More food and beverages should be served in amusing ways, no? I suppose stuffing can be served from a particularly interesting orifice during Thanksgiving, so at least we have that to look forward to.

PS: my darling niece won't need a leg brace after all. Hooray!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Keeping the Happyass Dream Alive

Last night I met with my Pretty Aunt Julia's book club...the treat of the evening (other than seeing my fabulous, generous, talented aunt) was meeting the members of the club--particularly one woman's 84 year-old mother, who arrived with a hip flask of bourbon and a can of 7-Up. Her 85 year-old husband came later with his son to take the group's picture...and there they were, two fantastic older people who had been together more than 60 years, holding hands on the couch. You look at that and think, "That's it. That, and Disney movies, keep the dream alive."

We had pie (banana cream and apple), both made from scratch by my aunt, and lots of laughs. Then this morning, I was disturbed to find a dead Monarch butterfly on the street right next to my car door. Which, since I raised and released 58 Monarchs this summer, I found kind of freaky. More than freaky. It was like the universe reminding me that life isn't supposed to be all fun and games, missy! There is DEATH waiting right outside your window!

So that's kind of cheery, isn't it?

In other news, I will be speaking with four fellow authors on a panel on Friday: part of the UW-Oshkosh alumni events. We'll be at Reeve Union at 3 pm on October 22--if you're able to join us, I'll tell you a funny story or two. And if you can't come, the stories will be even funnier and secretive, just to make you feel bad for missing it. If you really and truly can't make it because you have to earn a paycheck to keep that damned roof over your head, I'll also be blogging at the Girlfriends' Book Club on Friday. Stop by and say hi! Or don't, and miss some good shit.

We're also having a Halloween party on Saturday. I'm trying a new trick this year: inserting the bag from a box of wine into a carved jack-o-lantern, with the spigot sticking out of the mouth. It'll be so classy! I can't wait. Nobody's dressing up, but last night my aunt told me that some of her siblings used to always dress up as Asses: there'd be a Candyass, a Tightass, a Fatass, a Badass, a Cheapass, a get the idea. So now, I wish we were having an Ass costume party. I'd love to go as "Crafty-ass." I could glue pipe cleaners and buttons and google eyes on my back pockets.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Hello, Baby

Are you there, blog? It's me, Jess. I have no excuses for being so neglectful. Things have happened that have certainly been blog-worthy. A few weekends ago J and I "rescued" a Monarch butterfly tangled in its chrysalis (we used tweezers and Q-Tips, in case you're wondering), and at 2 in the morning last week I woke to the sound of gunfire (which turned out to be the sound of my shave gel exploding in the shower. It was so rusty the integrity of the container was compromised ... had I gotten up for some midnight hygiene, I could have lost an eye!). We also caught a fantastic exhibit at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, stumbled across a fall festival on the riverwalk in Sheboygan, and had the best dinner we've had in years, at Stefano's. So good we briefly lost the power of speech and get misty-eyed just talking about it.

We're still trying to sell our house, I'm back to work, and I'm still plugging away on one of my novel proposals, which is giving me fits. BUT! Something really neat has happened! I have a new niece. Her name is Corinne. Isn't she beautiful?

Welcome to the world, wee one! She may need to wear a teeny leg brace for a few weeks to straighten out a minor hip issue, but it will be the cutest leg brace in the history of orthopedics, and all will be right with the world after the whole experience. (North Korea and Afghanistan not included.) Well, there's also the issue that it appears she was born with a giant thumb stuck to the right side of her head--nothing some minor cosmetic surgery can't help with.

Her older brother isn't as thrilled with having a new baby sister, but he'll come around.

It's the autumn of babies: Corinne is the first of three nieces for us this year, and I have several friends who have had or are expecting their first babies as well. So of course there is some self-reflection going on (to have or not to have, that is the question...ideally answered before my ovaries shrivel up). But in the meantime, we get to enjoy all of these bundles of pink (yes, all girls!) with their soft, baby shampoo-scented heads and hand them back to their parents when the crying begins.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lauren Wood has Some Tips for You

My pal Eileen Cook is brilliant. Apparently, she figured out how to bring one of her characters to life: Lauren Wood, from Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood, out in paperback THIS WEEK.

Lauren is offering popularity tips on YouTube:

I also have a tip for you: go buy this book! You will love it, because Eileen is a damn fine writer.

In other news, I am so tired of living in limbo I could projectile vomit. What limbo? First, waiting to get an offer on our house. We just dropped the price, and it's a STEAL. Seriously. It's Detroit-cheap. Do you have two decent cars in your driveway? My house is probably priced less than both of their original costs, combined.

Second, waiting to hear whether my new editor (or the former one, now at a new pub house) would like to publish either of my recently-completed book proposals. This is a special, stomach-twisting kind of purgatory, and there are only so many episodes of Wipeout you can watch as distraction.

Luckily, I am back to work next week and there are Things To Do, Big Time. I also found a new band to love: Dawes: have you heard of them? They're like a cross between Crosby, Stills and Nash and Wilco. (Thank you, final credits of Hung, for the tip!)

And! I've been baking wild things, including Smitten Kitchen's rosemary/Concord grape foccacia bread. It was a tad sour, and I preferred the more traditional tomato/basil/garlic foccacia I also made.

Fall is officially here, so there will be more baking to come. Today? Chocolate-chip banana cake. There is coconut milk in the ingredient list. I can't wait.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Manic Distractions

We had our first open house this past Sunday, and I'm still exhausted from the cleaning and decluttering. We hauled 5 bags to Goodwill and threw out another 5 jumbo contractor-sized bags worth of crap, and I feel like we're just getting started. The idea of packing and moving FOR REAL Y'ALL is kind of freaking me out.

The good news is we had about 10 families come through--and on one of the nicest, sunniest days this month, right before a Packer game. I made cookies, burned scented wax tarts (apple crisp) from my favorite candle company Pure Integrity, and later, J and I binged on ALL of the leftover cookies and felt generally miserable and bloaty. At least I did. Maybe he felt great!

I've been on an online shopping binge lately: tops from modcloth, wild salmon from Vital Choice, vitamins and sundry from VitaCost (did you know you can get MARITAL AIDS along with your Glucosamine supplements? How convenient is that?!), books on amazon (of course), adorable handmade, vintage Halloween decor on Etsy, posters from Zazzle, more candles, and so on.

This is all my futile attempt to distract myself from worrying about the fates of the two book proposals I've recently completed. It's actually a good thing I'm heading back to the office next week. New things to mentally gnaw on!

In the meantime, I'm also trying to convince my husband we need to go see Louis CK at the Pabst Theater this Saturday.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Scenes from a Wedding

We attended my cousin’s wedding in Minneapolis this past weekend. It was wonderful spending time with family, and there were lots of laughs. But I have to say, the big surprise—to everyone, really—was how fantastic a dancer my brother is. The rest of us have one or two fallback moves and can demonstrate our coordination well enough not to attract unsolicited pointing and laughing from the crowd. (Well, most of us.) But my brother? It was like discovering your sibling had won the televised Pillsbury Bake-Off and not told anyone. Had secretly been working for the CIA. Had one day awakened to discover he could read minds. “Oh this goofy trick? Yeah, it’s crazy! I don’t know how it happened.”

How had my brother become so talented? Where did he learn these moves? There were several possibilities:
  • He was genetically gifted in terms of movement, motor skills, and rhythm.
  • He hung out with his students too much.
  • Teacher by day, Dancer by night.
  • Once, in the late eighties, he lived in a music video.
  • He’d secretly auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance, and these were the leftover moves from his routine.
  • He was having a well-coordinated seizure, which was the likely conclusion of some of our relatives.
Other relatives reacted to this display of dance magic by rejecting and blaming the music. At one point, my mother, tired of attempting to synchronize the waving of arms and pointing of fingers and shaking of hips, leaned over to me and said with some frustration, “I just don’t understand this music.”

My aunt decided to confront the music at its point of origin, wandering over to the DJ and blasting her with, “Your music sucks!”

And after watching my uncle do a Very Special Dance with a lone chair in the middle of the dance floor to Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer,” I have to say I agreed. Note here that he also demonstrated the best way to clear the dance floor for your own private dance: with a well-timed, well-cured fart. As the herd of guests migrated past, sour looks on their faces, some plugging their noses, I overheard one girl announce in a voice dripping with disgust, “It smells like poopee!” After the dance he ambled by and told us he was going to “Clear the other side of the room.”

Oh! This was fun, too: Later another of my aunts accidentally sat for a spell on a large, real rat trap near our table at a British pub (“Danger! Poison!”)

We returned on Sunday, and I was delighted to discover I’d been summoned to jury duty again in two weeks. Wheeee!

I’ll be blogging at the brand new Girlfriend’s Book Club on Thursday, September 2nd—there is a new post by a terrific author every day, so add this one to your list of daily reads.

PS: if anyone wants to buy my house, it’s still for sale. I’ll cut you a deal.

Me with my genetically gifted siblings. Wow, I have terrible posture. Either that or my brother's arm weighs a TON.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

You Say Goodbye

My Grandma Dorothy Martin died on Sunday morning. She was 91, vivacious, feisty, and giggling almost to the end. The last year was a rougher one for her, which seems to be the universe’s way of alleviating the grief of those left behind. No more suffering.

It'll take a long time to get used to the idea that I’ll never get to see her laugh again. For the last 30 years of my life, she’s always been … there. So much love and support, such a wonderful sense of humor. I’m glad I have a dash of hoarding in me because I’ve saved many of the cards she’s sent me over the years.

(Which makes me think of Grandma saving bushels of plastic bags, which exploded hilariously from her unused dishwasher when you’d open it.)

We arrived at her residence home Sunday prepared to say our final good-byes. She’d been with hospice volunteers for days, fading fast. Still, I wasn’t prepared for how tiny and withered she seemed in her gown, for the rattling in her breath. Once a blooming flower, red and lush and fragrant, dancing in the slightest sunny breeze, now a fragile autumn leaf.

I sat next to her and stroked her hair. “Hi Grandma.” It was all I could croak out. Her eyelids fluttered. Somewhat restless, she seemed to be trying to speak, but maybe it was just her body preparing to go (or trying to hold on?).

I came to say good-bye, and I said hello. Is that what the Beatles were getting at? I like to think that in her final hour, oxygen and morphine sanding the rough edges from the pain, maybe she interpreted my words as coming from a loved one who died before her, welcoming her to the afterlife. Perhaps her beloved daughter Lynda.

She died while I was watching my darling 3 year-old nephew in the day room. He didn’t seem to understand what was happening in the other room, but he was understandably averse to spending his free time with a bunch of mopey grown-ups. We built a Lincoln Log house and tossed giant sponge dice around. I felt guilty for gently shushing him, for not visiting Grandma more often, for not thinking of anything comforting or interesting to say to the other ancient residents hunched over their well-balanced, bland meals next to us.

Grandma died surrounded by family and loved ones, my Dad holding his Mom’s hand as her pulse slowed and finally flickered out.

There are worse ways to go, I comfort myself and rationalize. A long, fruitful life, we can’t live forever, surrounded by loved ones in those waning minutes

Still, I'll miss the heck out of her.

I don't know what she's laughing at here, but I love this picture. The towel is draped behind her because minutes earlier, she'd spilled that classy juice glass of boxed white zinfandel all down her pants. Seconds later, her glass refilled, she was good as new.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

For Sale and Stuff

It's been hectic lately...we officially listed our house for sale on Monday, had our first showing Tuesday, and the offer we made for the new house was accepted last night. I am a Property Virgin, so this has all been very new and gut-churning. My left eyelid has been twitching like mad, which is fun because it's a tic visible from the fourth ring of Saturn. Yay, twitch! Get on down with your funky, twitchy self!

Ours is a "starter home," and we've invested a lot into making it more appealing. Still, there is work that remains--so how do you word that in a marketing pitch? "Yeah, try to look past the walk-through bathroom upstairs that some yahoo did a piss-poor job installing. It wasn't our idea to cut that hole in the drywall near the toilet tank." Or we could pitch it like we're running a relay race: "Exterior's finished. Ready to hand the interior remodeling baton to lucky lil' you!"

There's only so much bouquets of flowers and freshly-baked cookies can hide. Cross your fingers for us.

Just five minutes after we returned from the realtor on Tuesday night, we were visited by two smooth-talking salesmen selling home security systems. (Wow! Check out that alliteration!) It was my Advanage nightmare all over again, when 30 minutes later I found myself hypnotized at the kitchen table, filling out paperwork, nodding my head in a daze and speaking slowly: "Yes...of course...I agree to all terms, including the sale of my left kidney. Why yes, you may garnish my wages. I would be glad to move to an Indian slum and personally stitch all of your future polo shirts." Luckily, Jason was there to snap me back into reality. It was a close call. We usually don't even buy underwear without researching it to death online first.

It's amazing how far things can go when you are a conflict-avoiding, trusting, people-pleaser. I still have no idea how I worked in a prison for nearly two years.

Friday, July 30, 2010

I Should Wear My Glasses More Often

Last night I saw the Beatles tribute band, "American English." Seriously people? They LOOKED and SOUNDED exactly like the Beatles. They even did two costume changes to trace the band's evolution from mop-tops through the drug years, ending with "Hey Jude" as an encore and the entire audience sang along. Goosebumps...I'm telling you.

Earlier in the evening, I thought I saw a couple we're friends with making their way through the crowd...I called out their first and last names, jumped in front of them with a big smile, ready for a hug--she gave me a polite, confused smile, and I looked helplessly back and forth, first at her, then at her husband, then back at her, waiting awkwardly for either to recognize me. It took a few seconds for me to realize, with some horror, that they were NOT my friends, but could play them on TV. "I'm so sorry!" I gushed, "You could be dopplegangers for some friends of mine!"

Yeah. I actually used the word "doppleganger." Good grief. I could see them whispering and laughing as they walked away. I imagine they said something to the effect of, "What was up with that drunk? And what the hell is a doppleganger?" Which I wasn't (drunk), but I will tell you this: next time I'm in a public venue at dusk? I'm wearing my glasses.

It wasn't as embarrassing as the time I thought I recognized some girl in a store and waved at her only to realize I WAS WAVING AT MY OWN REFLECTION IN A MIRROR, but it was still pretty bad.
I was watering my tomatoes the other day and discovered this little guy hanging out. Though he's about 4 inches long, I nearly missed him because he was so well-camoflaged.

See the baby Robins in the nest? I'm pleased to report they successfully fledged, though it took a full day for the last one to gather the courage to fly from the tree. As far as I know, they have evaded the neighbor's cat. Yay, Robins!

Four Monarch caterpillars hanging out (har-har) before their skin splits open and they form their chrysalides. Yeah--you read that right. "Skin splits open." It's totally disgusting and my nephew would LOVE it. Also, when they are caterpillars chomping away on milkweed, they go through five growth spurts ("instars"); every time they shed their old skin, they turn around and eat it. GROSS and FANTASTIC.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July is Almost Over Already?!?! Did I Blink?

I am writing this to the sound of two things: Metallica's "Master of Puppets" and hammering. So guess what that means? We are STILL working to get our house listed.

I am sad to say our bid for House #1 didn't work out (yeah, not going to carry two mortgages if I can avoid it...). However, we viewed two new prospects on Saturday, and we love things about each one. I believe we will go for a second showing at one very soon.

You know, you never realize what a dump you live in, and how much useless shit you've accumulated, until you face the prospect of moving and selling.

Also, I'm pleased to present (drum roll .....): Monarch Ranching 2010!

I love these three little guys (or girls), all lined up in a row. I have 17 in two mesh cages right now, and they are eating, pooping machines. By the weekend, most should be in chrysalis form. I have been seeing Monarchs flying around the yard every day--yesterday two got into an impressive battle over rights to the milkweed patch. So, there are more eggs on deck! And here I was all worried I wouldn't see a single butterfly in my yard this summer.

Speaking of yards, the most impressive three clumps of flowers in this shot are all volunteers. That is, I didn't plant them there. I just left them because: a) I am lazy; and b) they looked purty.

More volunteers below. Goldfinches have been plucking seeds from the annual sunflower at left.
Aurora Peppers: hot, spicy, and floral. Last year I made hot apricot jelly with them.

So much other stuff has been happening beyond gardening and painting and priming and organizing that I don't even know where to begin: there has been frog-herding in Door County, grant-submitting, family-reunion/funeral-in-another-state-attending, mojito making, and fiction writing.

These tall gangly suckers are Cupplant. They are currently 10 feet tall.

I DID plant this sunflower.

(Now: "Shout at the Devil" and a bandsaw in the garage.)

I'll try to update again soon--there are baby robins in our front birch tree, and I'm hoping to snap a pic. They are homely and fuzzy and adorable with their giant clown mouths, and they're about five days from fledging. (Is it terrible of me to say I'm kind of relieved that our neighbor's outdoor cat/killing machine has a limp? Yes, it is terrible. Terrible and TRUE.)

PS: Thank you to Melissa's book club in Spring Green; you guys were great!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The House

We put an offer on The House last night. Which meant I was tossing and turning 'til 3 a.m. I love it, but would we have buyer's remorse because of x and y? What if we can't sell our house? What if we really and truly can't afford it after all? What if it's the worst decision we've ever made? What if it's the best?

We have about a week to whip our house into shape: finish sanding drywall mud, install beadboard wainscoting in the kitchen, paint at least three rooms, organize, and LIST. And then wait. In the meantime, I have a bitch of a grant due on the 19th, I'm going to Indiana for the weekend, I'm having heart palpitations, and I've got a book proposal to tweak.

We find out if our offer was accepted by tomorrow. In the meantime, I will be working on a grant and trying not to throw up from all of it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Grab-Bag

The Department of Education is trying to kill me. Thirty days notice before the biggest, most-popular-with-our-clients grant is due?! In the middle of summer? If I make it to August first with my sanity and blood vessels intact, it will be a small miracle. I have already been having eye twitches and heart palpitations (Which, if this is early menopause, kill me now...), and I really don't want or need any further stress-induced ailments.

The good news is I finished my new book proposal just before the grant was announced. (Hopefully more on this soon! Fingers, toes, eyes crossed...)

Also, our Klassy neighbor recently buzzed over on his motorized scooter to tell us several important things:

1) He recently entered a snapshot of our house in a "cute homes" contest
2) He has a brain tumor and will probably be dead by November
3) He's thinking about entering an amateur stand-up contest. Key words there: STAND-UP

Later in the week, if I'm not curled in a fetal position on the floor clutching my heart, I'll tell you about our special paper delivery man. Boy. Man.

Also, we recently spiffed-up one of our bathrooms. Here is a before shot:

And here is the after:

Again, the before:

And after:

Finally, if you read this before Monday afternoon, you may be able to still catch Allison Winn Scotch's fantastic BOGO offer: if you pick up a copy of her newest novel, The One That I Want, before she lands in Seattle, she will mail you a copy of her NYT Bestseller, The Time of My Life. I have the former on my nightstand, and I absolutely DEVOURED the latter. You want this book, people. Well, you want both of them! Click the linkie for instructions on how to enter.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Check out These Chicks!

Aren't they adorable? I would have loved to have picked one or two up for some photos, but every time I came near they tried to escape through the bars of the cage (note the pile-up in the upper lefthand corner), and I figured they'd appreciate a more low-key experience. I wish I could say they were mine, but they belong to my parents. I will, however, be eating their eggs. Which is quite possibly the creepiest sentence I have ever typed.

Ah, when it rains, it indeed pours. Life has been crazy, but swell. I recently went to Chicago to bid farewell to my dear friend Manic Mom, whom I have known for 5 years now. She just moved to Arizona. I will definitely miss that ho-bag. (Just kidding. She's much classier than a ho-bag.) While there, we caught Jen Lancaster's signing and I met the lovely Maureen Lipinski (whose new book Not Ready for Mom Jeans is now available). Steph and I posed for photos while tiny, glowing flying saucers landed behind us.

The cutie pie below will be a big brother by Labor Day, and I will be auntie to 3 new nieces and/or nephews by the end of the year (well, actually four--the baby of a best friend counts as a niece or nephew also, right?)

We are also getting our house in shape to sell, and we hope to make an offer on a new house we absolutely fell in love with. Oh, I am also still working on the new book, and working on work (so we can pay the damn street repair bill and avoid any potential buyers passing out on our kitchen floor should they see the assessment quote). The most awesome thing? Now here's where I bring this post full-circle and connect all the dots. If we get the house I love? I can have my own chickens there!

No doubt there will be more on these developments soon. In the meantime, I'm painting trim, crafting metaphors, and holding my breath.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Books & Bugs

Things have been quiet on the blog because guess what? I'm FINALLY working on a new novel! My day job is currently like a triathlete pausing briefly to change from swim to biking gear, and while the wet suit is stuck to its thighs, I'm taking full advantage of the break to write my guts out.

I am also battling a massive aphid infestation on my rugosa roses. More specifically, on their beautiful buds, which I'm not about to lose to a bunch of little creeps without exoskeletons. Yesterday I ordered 1,500 ladybugs and several hundred lacewing larvae, because as much as I want to at this point, you can't spray heavy-duty chemicals on rugosas, or they'll completely defoliate. Even Miracle-Gro fertilizer will cause them to drop their leaves faster than a CEO can shift blame during congressional hearings. The best thing to do with rugosas is leave them alone, because they are tough little bastards.

So how did they get aphids? Because I hung a nursery-purchased planter above them last year that by the end of the season could have been featured in a B-movie called SWARM! (or in this case, CRAWL!)

I was reluctant to tell J about ordering bugs through the mail, even the "good guys," because the rose bushes in question are right below our front entry, and the idea of 1,500 ladybugs swarming around our front door didn't really appeal to him.

I know!

Anyway, the box just came from FedEx. I suppose I should open this OUTSIDE, lest I have something new and horrible to blog about later.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wake me when I can laugh about it...

Our furnace died yesterday. It’s been giving us grief annually, usually kicking it in around January or February, and this time we just decided to replace it. To the tune of $3,300.

Hello, trip to Ireland! I mean good-bye, trip to Ireland!

The silver lining is, it’s May (albeit a May that feels closer to early March), and there are state and federal tax breaks and rebates to help offset some of this. Also, more positives! The silver lining is not made of mercury. It is made of tin foil, which I feel like chewing on in frustration right about now.

Because our house was clearly built by a magical race of elfin pranksters who had no sense (yes, there is a password to get into one of the upstairs closets, and no, I can’t remember it), our furnace is accessible via our first-floor office. Daisy decided to prepare the room for the repairman’s arrival by furtively shitting on the office carpet in the middle of the night, right in front of the door to the furnace.

Yes, our furnace has a door. One day, when I have worked up the nerve and we have long since sold this house to new suckers I mean owners, I will post a photo of what previous tenants did to the wall around the toilet tank in our upstairs bathroom. I may also post a photo of what WE did to the stairwell doorframe in order to fit a new dresser up the stairs.

Here’s a hint: it rhymes with “Gnaws all,” and you want to watch your fingers while using it.

Anyway, Daisy and her poo. She does this in the house on occasion to protest one thing or another. For example, after I return to work in fall and am no longer home all day with her, she usually starts pooping in the office to express her displeasure at being alone all day again. This happens even if she gets an hour-long walk, because her colon is longer than I-94 and has trap doors to secret hiding places I don’t want to know about.

This is the part where I get a little too honest, so avert your eyes if you’re eating, or if you just have good sense.

When a dog shits in your house, you clean it up and usually toss it in the toilet. When you live in a busy household with children or animals with working colons, sometimes the toilet isn’t always flushed immediately. And sometimes, even if you flush, a bit of evidence remains.

When that happens, you have what some people affectionately call “floaters.”

Back to this morning. Before I was even fully awake, J called up the stairs, “Great. Daisy shit in the office again.”

I don’t know how the poo was removed, but even though I haven’t even seen our downstairs toilet yet today, I suspect what happened next.

So when the furnace installer asked if he could use our restroom, my stomach seized in terror. Because there is a 96% chance that there was still a bit of Daisy’s poo still floating in the toilet.

The furnace guy doesn’t know my dog shit in the office and we tried to flush the evidence. In fact, because Daisy is shut up in our bedroom, he doesn't even know we HAVE a dog. But there I was, tapping away on my laptop, drinking coffee. Me with my bedhead hair and slippers and (ostensibly) my working colon.


Poo in the toilet.

No dog in sight.

I hope I never see this repairman ever, ever again.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ain't That a Bish!

Every year, I start a few of my seedlings waaaaaaay too early. Exhibit A--a delicata squash blossom in my portable greenhouse. It looks sad because it's thinking, "Where are the bees? Where are the bees? How can the bees get in here to help me do my thang?!"

Exhibit B: the redwoods of tomatoes, squishing up against the roof of the greenhouse.

I had to plant a few of the tomatoes in containers already, because they I simply ran out of room for them. So I succumbed to the gimmicky "Wall-O-Water" contraption, which would supposedly protect the young plants from frost, high winds, storms, evil gnomes...

It's not too hideous, is it? I guess it beats the water-filled 2 liter soda bottles I used last year.

We're still going to have one or two nights with temps in the 30s over the next few weeks, so I am reluctant to transfer much more from my greenhouse to their permanent homes in my garden. But guess what? Mother Nature herself solved some of my problem for me. Because not an hour after I took these photos, the winds picked up. And by "up," I mean they became strong enough to push you down the street should you be wearing rollerskates and Hammertime pants.

The entire greenhouse blew over, spilling plants and dirt and hopes and dreams all over my porch. I lost four tomato plants, six Mexican sunflower seedlings, some perky zinnias, and two hot pepper plants. (I'm not going to admit it made me cry a little in frustration...okay, I will....but it was just a little.) Other plants and herbs were crushed, but the prognosis is fair.

This is probably karma because we giggled like little girls during last night's tornado watch when a swirling dervish of dust, leaves, and dirt went into our neighbor's pool.

Oh! Speaking of neighbors, I almost forgot! A police officer stopped by last night to inform us that we have a new neighbor just one block away. A recently released sex offender. Yay! "Oh, who are the creepies in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, in your nay-bor-hood....oh, who are the creepies in your neighborhood, they're the people that you meet...HOPEFULLY NEVER!"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Daily Cute

Yesterday was a windy garbage day, so there were papers from spilled trash cans blowing around the neighborhood. Some poor kid's homework went from backpack to fridge to garbage can (perhaps surpassing the fridge) and ended up...yep, here on my blog, because sometimes I'm a bad person.

As you can see, Hannah did very well on her recent spelling test (Lesson 28 with a smiley face), receiving both a "bravo" and a darling little frog sticker. Unfortunately, her teacher missed a mistake on number 22: "Appiontment." Let's just hope Hannah doesn't one day wind up a receptionist for a doctor or dentist.

But overall, a great showing. Bravo indeed!

I think I'll put Hannah's test on the fridge and pretend I have a very quiet, independent fourth or fifth grader.

Later, another escaped assignment ended up on my lawn: a worksheet about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Beats the litter I found when I cleaned out my flower beds--a sun-bleached wrapper for "American High School Musical flavored fruit snacks." If anyone knows what "American High School Musical" tastes like, I don't really want to know. But I'm going to guess it's something like a cross between Sunny Delight, sweaty gym socks, Tortino's pizza rolls, and Proactiv cleanser.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day, Y'all!

Someone at work asked me what I plan to do to celebrate Earth Day, and I really didn’t know how to answer. “Giant tire fire in my front yard?”

Actually, I said, "The usual?"

See, I’ve got the piggy-tail lightbulbs, and I bring my own canvas bags to the grocery store. I compost food scraps—in fact, two weeks ago, I lifted the lid of my compost tumbler to find GALLONS of sweet-smelling black earth! I eat mostly vegetarian stuff I make myself (sometimes not so successfully), I drive a dinky little car, we don’t have central air, and I keep the thermostat below 66 for most of the winter in our dinky little house. I’m going to publicly admit that I don’t shower every day (actually, this one is because I can be incredibly lazy and if I don’t want to look like Gilda Radner, my hair takes forever to do). We recycle, I try to re-use things whenever I can, and I don’t buy something unless I absolutely need it.

Most of the time.

We’ve got a cute ‘lil citified organic garden, an on-demand water heater, and energy-efficient doors, windows, and appliances. We belong to a fabulous CSA. I use travel coffee mugs and refillable steel water bottles. And I tend to get anxious when people let their cars idle for long periods of time or leave the water running on high-blast while brushing their teeth. I even cut up the plastic six-pack rings so they don’t end up choking some poor duck somewhere.

I know! You don’t know whether to gag or roll your eyes, right?

Lest you think I’m trying to out-Ed Begley Ed Begley Jr., I do have some less-than-green habits. Such as ordering flash-frozen wild salmon directly from Alaska. (Uh-oh, my bourgeoisie is showing!) Granted, I DID ship the giant Styrofoam box back to be recycled, and it IS from a sustainably-certified fishery, but still. I live in freaking Wisconsin. 3,500 miles away.

We do fly once, sometimes twice a year. I buy clothing that is probably made in a sweat shop from cotton grown in fields laced with pesticides. We watch WAAAAY too much TV. Our house positively crackles with the energy necessary to run three computers and a big-ass flat-screen connected to an X-Box, surround sound, and other gizmos I don't even know what the hell they're for. Our recycling bin sometimes seems to hold more beer and wine bottles than anything else, and I don’t always re-use the back of “used” paper at the office when I’m printing research or rough drafts.

One of my officemates initiated this process, and continues to set the bar highest—she won’t even use pre-wrapped straws in restaurants because they too will be just one more thing floating in those giant garbage patches in the Atlantic and Pacific. After reading the story yesterday about the beached whale found with pounds of plastic in its belly, this seems like a pretty good idea.

I don’t know if any of this amounts to a handful of jelly beans, but my conscience seems to like it.

In related news, I’m really loving Jane Goodall’s latest book, Hope for Animals and Their World. Jane is one of my heroes. She strikes me as the Martin Luther King, Jr. of ape conservation. Dian Fossey on the other hand, seemed like the Malcom X of the movement, all up in your face and uncompromising.

Jane is like Journey, comfortable and palatable, something the whole family can sing along to in the car, and Dian was like The Sex Pistols—something you wouldn’t burn a copy of for Grandma. Either way, both women have done some amazing work...for all of us, really.
Not to turn this into the never-ending blog post, but I DO want to give a quick plug for fellow author Ellen Meister. If you sign up for her mailing list now, you'll be entered to win a $25 gift card. She's got a new book coming out next year (The Other Life), and early buzz is building! The drawing deadline is April 30.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Keister Easter

Last Thursday J called to tell me the bottle of orange juice he brought from home to work was suspiciously lukewarm. I immediately dismissed him, because I am prone to knee-jerk, emotional, snap judgements before having all the facts. Sometimes.

Or maybe it was because our fridge was brand-spanking new in January, so how in holy hell could there be something wrong with it already???

Well, a day later, when I opened the door to find the eggs sweating & fanning themselves while sitting under those tiny paper drink umbrellas, I knew something was wrong. Fortunately, the repairman was prompt and fixed the problem by Monday afternoon, no charge. Thank you, large appliance warranty!

While my food was sweltering in the unseasonably warm weather last week, I took the opportunity to go outside and play in the dirt. Manure, to be more specific. I shovelled nearly half a wheelbarrow of aged goat poo onto my flowerbeds before realizing that the strong wind was blowing flecks of dry crap onto my freshly-sunscreened face. I was literally getting shit-faced.

And that's probably how I'll remember Easter 2010. I got shit-faced and my cheese went bad. That, and we were short one familiar face at the holiday table. Ah, fickle young love. I'm thinking of creating a Memorandum of Understanding we can use with boys and girls who wish to date our siblings. You know, something that outlines the reasons why you'll be cold and distant to your sister's new boyfriend for the first six months, and your Christmas & birthday gifts will cost less than $30 for the first two years. In return, your brother's girlfriend will have to sign the form to demonstrate her acceptance of your harsh judgement and unwillingness to participate in activities usually reserved for friends (shopping, tandem mani-pedis, mojitos & games of croquet) until she demonstrably proves that she's not going to remove your brother's heart with a tetanus-infested rusty Garden Weasel.

This will be accomplished by getting married and locking that down. How doesn't matter: kids, significant financial and/or emotional co-dependency, an intense collective love of the house/dogs, an agreement to gain weight together, lots of Catholic guilt...

I don't know. I'm still working out the kinks.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

GM: Great Malarkey, General Mayhem, Getting Medieval, and....

I was saddened to read that this winter, over half of the Monarch butterfly population overwintering in Mexico died from severe storms. This summer will be the third summer in which I raise Monarchs from egg to butterfly—I’ve even got teeny milkweed seedlings under lights upstairs right now, eagerly awaiting their future date with hungry Monarch caterpillars.

But what if there aren’t enough Monarchs to come back??

Now, severe storms will happen (increasingly so these days, it seems)…and if that were the only problem, the butterfly population would eventually rebound. However, a bigger problem (in my eyes) is the loss of habitat. Because most of the prairie on which their host milkweed plants used to grow has been cultivated and planted with genetically-modified soybeans and corn. Genetically-modified so that farmers can spray weed killer without killing their crop, but killing all of the “weeds” (including milkweed and other plants appreciated by bees and pollinators) in the vicinity.

The biggest company making and selling these GM seeds (as well as the herbicide they work with, Round-Up), is Monsanto. And it’s kind of a big deal: right now, 93% of all soybeans and 82% of all corn grown in the US are genetically-engineered “Roundup Ready.”

I don’t like Monsanto. Whenever I watch dystopian, futuristic science fiction, there’s usually one big, bad “Corporation” that runs everything. Monsanto, with its former CEOs and lobbyists occupying prominent positions in the US Department of Agriculture, is kind of that Big Bad Corporation to me. You know, the vast, gray, prison-like complex behind coiled razor wire, belching smoke from ominous, stout smokestacks, a hungry red eye searching the horizon for someone avoiding products with high fructose corn syrup, someone letting dandelions defiantly bloom on their front lawn, perhaps that last remaining farmer who might be --*gasp*-- saving his own seeds to replant the following year!

(If you think I’m exaggerating, watch Food, Inc. on PBS on April 21.)

I like imagining the meeting at which the Monsanto execs decided to push Roundup-Ready genetically modified seeds in a big way. Let me set the scene: Six middle-aged white guys in brown and gray suits sitting around a long table in a conference room….the fluorescent overhead lights giving their balding heads a soft sheen….coffee, water, Styrofoam bowls of Snak Mix. The room smells vaguely like Old Spice and fried chicken. Dave begins to speak:

“How about a defoliant that makes it easier to kill people—quickly, with guns, and slowly, with horrible illness years later! I’ve been thinking of calling it “Agent Purple ….no? Agent Chartreuse? Well, we’ll come up with something.”

“Um, Dave, we did that already. Don’t you read your email?”

“Jim, we have to focus. We need a product that ostensibly ‘helps’ people, tricks them into believing that the cheap, big, easy way is best—quantity over quality, but ultimately achieves our long-range strategic goal: to make a shit ton of money while contributing to the gradual destruction of the human race.”

“You never did like small family farms much anyway. All those filthy chickens running around the yard. People had the nerve to hang their sheets and underwear out to dry in public.”

“Eeeewwww! Gross."

"Yeah. Norman Rockwell was such a pussy.”

“Oh, but this will be easy! People love cheap, immediate gratification with no concern for the future.”

“But doesn’t altering the proteins in these plants so they can LIVE THROUGH regular applications of herbicide sound kind of scary? What if one day researchers discover that rats eating GM corn go into organ failure or become infertile? And oh my God, people eat all those cows and chickens and pigs that eat that corn and soy and there’s going to be a huge public backlash and our stocks will plummet and I’m going to have to live in a box and eat cat food and my kids will have to go to public school where they’ll learn to spit on Jesus and put condoms on cucumbers and then I’ll have to stand in a long line to see my death panel and ooohhhh God, the humaniteeeee!!!!”

Lightning-quick, Jim slaps Fred hard, right across the jaw. Fred sits back, stunned. “Snap out of it! Listen. Fred. I get that! Change is hard for everyone. But don’t be an idiot. It’s all about spin. You say organ failure, I say Sally’s job at the American Cancer Society is completely recession-proof!”

Arnold, the Quiet One in the corner, reaches into his briefcase and pulls out stacks of hundred dollar bills. “I think Fred needs some convincing.” He slides the money toward Fred. “Your remodeled rec room, complete with wet bar.”

“But how will people go along with this? But what about the government? Won’t they, like, want to stop this?”

“Don’t worry. Subsidies. Profit. American Idol is on. Coors Light is on sale. The pharmaceutical people are with us all the way. Clean up in aisle five, so to speak." Dave chuckles at his own wit. "Oh, I slay me! Plus, we have people on Capital Hill. Don’t worry about the government. They’re in like Flynn.”

Jim shakes his head at Fred’s hesitation. “Fred. How can I put this.” He rubs his forehead with his hand, then—an idea hits. “Okay. Two words: Double. Cheeseburger. For 99 cents. Trust me.” He grips Fred’s forearm, giving him a direct, serious stare. “Trust me.”

Arnold shimmies the wads of money—a financial come-on.

Fred chuckles nervously, but finally accepts the money. He clears his throat, and his reluctant smile is replaced by a broad, authentic one. “Oh hell. What’s the saying? He who dies with the most toys wins? Dammit Jim, I want to BE that man. I want to win! I want the most cake!”

“Ding ding ding! Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Now let’s get those scientists cracking.”

“Um, but maybe take out a few Dead Peasant life insurance policies on them first. Just in case.”


Whew! If I smoked, I'd totally light a cigarette right now. Anyway, so I took off on a small tangent there. But back to the butterflies. If you want some milkweed seeds to plant this spring, maybe raise a few butterflies with the kids for a fun summer project, let me know. I've got a bunch, and I'm happy to send you a packet.