Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Book Review That's Not on the Books Page. Nobody Faint.

I recently received a book in the mail.  I was excited to get it; it's the first book I'm reading in conjunction with BlogHer's Book Club, and I couldn't wait to zip through it and write a review.

Except then I went ahead and read it.  And I didn't like it.  At all.

Now I feel bad, because I have to be honest, but I also don't want to write a scathing review.  I feel like there's a whole lot of superfluous negativity on the internet, and I do my best not to contribute to it too much.

Oh, well.

So- The First Husband, by Laura Dave.  Not my cup of tea.  Here's why:

It's about a travel writer- Annie- who's boyfriend of five years leaves her.  Within weeks she meets a charming chef, and within a few months after that, they're married.  Even though he's a great guy and kind of perfect for her, she experiences a fun little brand of buyer's remorse and does a whole bunch of really stupid stuff.

This book was painful to read.  Annie was likable in a generic kind of way, but her actions throughout the book were often so frustrating that I had to set the book down lest I start lecturing imaginary characters.

I think part of my frustration stemmed from the fact that Annie and her boyfriend were together for five years, and her new hubby and his recent ex had been together for twelve.  No wonder Annie was so depressed and had such a difficult time; who wouldn't be depressed to live in a world where relationships are ultimately disposable?

Maybe I'm just too insulated in my comfortable little world.  Maybe I'm just not happy with our present culture at large and the way this story seemed to be a reflection of its the-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side mentality.

But if you're okay with all that, you should totally read this book!

If you'd like to find out more about the book or the discussion going on at BlogHer right now, click here.

Note:  I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review, but all opinions expressed are (quite obviously) my own.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rest In Peace

Does anyone else here have a thing for cemeteries?

I love walking through graveyards, cemeteries, whatever you want to call them.  I like looking at old headstones, newer ones that are creatively inscribed, family plots.  I'm not sure what this says about me.

One of my favorite cemeteries is in Hartford, Connecticut; it contains lots of fascinating markers with Death's head, and many of them give a much more detailed history of the life of the person buried there than their modern counterparts.  They also tend to provide the cause of death:  "Lost at Sea," or "Taken by Consumption."  I like stories, and it's easier to imagine someone's story if their grave fills in a couple blanks.

I think another reason I like walking through graveyards is because there's very little creepiness for me.  The thought of a person's earthly body after death and their immortal soul are so divorced in my mind that I don't think of the deceased loved one as actually being in that grave in any way.  The grave stone is simply a memorial and a way for those left behind to remember the family member or friend.

Our family has spent most of the past week down at my mom's house in southern Kansas.  She and her friend Debby walk just about every day, often through one of the prettier cemeteries in my hometown.  I accompanied them one morning a few days ago.  They obviously spend a lot of time there; they knew right where all our old friends are buried and gave me a thorough tour.

If you don't enjoy interesting headstones, cemeteries, or I've already offended you in some way, you should probably stop reading now.  Fair warning.

One of our first stops was to see Teresa.  Hi, Teresa!

There were a bunch of Civil War veterans' headstones all in a row, which are always interesting.

This one was a husband and wife headstone with a picturesque engraving of a farm.  The husband's side reads, "Stranger to No One, Friend to All," and the wife's, "Always a Giver, Never a Taker."  What a beautiful epitaph.

A playful statue of a boy and girl on a teeter totter drew me toward this family plot.  I still think it's lovely, even if the fact that this family lost three small children in just a few years is rather sobering.  

We also made sure to visit the graves of Barack Obama's maternal grandparents.  I'm pretty sure this means me and Mr. President are practically related.

That's right, when my mom asked if I wanted my picture taken with them, my answer was, "Um, YES."  There was a single red rose in front of each grave.  Maybe I just missed the president.

After looking at all those graves, I've pretty much decided that I want a small, simple headstone, with a large bed of flowers planted right on top of the length of my body, like I saw at one grave.  I like to think I'd make pretty good flower food. 

It's never too early to start planning, right?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Birthday Girl

Remember how, just about a year ago, I dedicated the whole week preceding our daughter's birthday to posts about Adelaide?

Well, in the past year I've either become a terrible mother, a terrible blogger, or both, because Adelaide's birthday was over a week ago and I haven't written anything about it yet.  Or maybe I've just been really busy. We'll go with busy.

She's six now.  Six, and almost done with Kindergarten.  Six, and either making me laugh really hard or completely exasperating me with all the things she says.

Yesterday's conversation could actually be filed in both columns:

After coming home from school, the three kiddos were running around the front yard.  Caedmon was watching me, waiting for the moment when I would look away and he could dart into the street.  It's one of his favorite games.  Adelaide was leading Atticus around in some sort of imaginary play.  Every once in a while I would hear something about "Monster!" and "Run!"

At one point, the older two ventured close enough for me to hear exactly what they were saying.

Adelaide:  "Atticus- run!  It's him!  IT'S THE CHINESE PERSON!  Ruuuuun awaaaaay!"

Atticus:  "Aaaaah!"

At first I thought I must have misheard her- until I distinctly heard her yell, "Get away from us, Chinese Person!"

Before I go on, let me be very clear:  Our family has nothing against Chinese people.  Sorry, Chinese people.

I decided it was time to intervene.  "Adelaide!  Could you come over here, please?"


"Did I just hear you say, 'Get away from us, Chinese Person'?"

"Yeah.  There's a bad Chinese Person trying to get us!"


"Because we're in China."  She said this in a long-suffering voice, like God, why did you give me such stupid parents?

"Adelaide, I don't really think that's appropriate," I told her.

"Why not?"

"Well, I've never heard you say, 'Get away, American Person."

"That's because American people are just people."

"Adelaide, Chinese people are just people, too!"  I was trying really hard, here.

She disagreed and the debate disintegrated from there.  Again- my apologies to the Chinese community at large.

All that was still better than yesterday morning, when I made her cry by not putting enough cereal in her bowl.  When I asked her whether that was really something worth crying about, she sobbed, "You just don't want me to grow and get taller than you!"

Happy Belated Birthday, Adelaide!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Oh, You're Bored, Are You?

Summer vacation starts next week.  Adelaide has a half-day Thursday, then she's all mine for three whole months.

I can tell other children are also on the brink of freedom; Pinterest is full of fun summer activities for kids.  There are some really good ones on there.  There are also some not so great ideas.

One that I keep seeing goes by several different names, but the most popular appears to be "The Bored Jar."  The description usually reads something like, "The answer to all those times your kids come to you saying they're bored!  100 amazing fun educational activities printed on slips of paper!  Just have your child pull one out when they're bored and let the fun begin!!!"

So here's my question:  Who's brilliant idea was it to start rewarding kids for whining?

I realize that the jar is not for whining; it's for boredom.  But when was the last time a kid came up to you and said, "Pardon me, but I find myself with nothing to do at this moment.  Could I possibly infringe upon your boundless creativity to find something for me to do, please?"

No, they say, "I'm boooooooored!" in the whiniest, most annoying voice possible.

I believe that with kids, "I'm bored" directly translates to "Entertain me."  And guess what?  It is not your job to entertain your children.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm a huge advocate for spending lots of time getting down on the floor and playing with your kids, and you know how I feel about books.  I feel like every family should have stacks of them throughout the house, just waiting to be read intermittently throughout the day.

But you should not have to fill every moment of every day with some super-fun interactive experience specifically designed for your child.  Kids need time away from adults to exercise their imaginations and learn how to do things for themselves.

I suggest you do what my mom did when summer vacation lost its luster for my sisters and me, and we were tempted to let the "B" word slip.  In our house, the merest hint of the word "bored" immediately resulted in an extra chore.  "Bored" meant folding an extra load of laundry or organizing a kitchen cabinet or picking bag worms off the trees.

So go ahead.  Make a special jar.  But please don't fill it with things like "Paint a masterpiece!" or "Have a water balloon fight!"  Fill it instead with "Scrub the toilet," or "Turn over the compost heap."

Now that's my kind of Bored Jar.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Neighborly Advice

Last night, I planted some basil and did some much-needed weeding in our little vegetable patch.  Solitary activities like gardening would probably be excellent for things like introspection or musing over the more mysterious intricacies of the Bible, but somehow my brain never quite makes it there.

I instead find myself threatening my basil:  "According to the packet, you have a germination period of 7-14 days, so if I don't see some kind of growth in the next week or two, you will be dead to me.  Hahaha, get it, Basil?  You'll be dead to me.  And probably just dead in general."

Or I'm talking to the carrot seeds still lying useless somewhere under the dirt:  "What's the deal, Carrots?  I did everything I'm supposed to do, and I get nothing from you.  You couldn't give me one measly root vegetable.  No, I'm not angry.  Just disappointed.  And Tomatoes, don't even think you can be all lazy like Carrot, here- I've got big plans for you.  And don't listen to those rumors Cilantro has been spreading- I wouldn't dream of throwing you in the food processor and serving you on deliciously salty tortilla chips!  I'm hurt you even had to ask."

Every once in a while movement will catch the corner of my eye, and I'll see our neighbor sitting on his back deck, which is close enough to our garden that I'm pretty sure he can hear everything I've been saying.  Because of course I haven't been thinking these things in my head or even whispering them under my breath; no, I speak to all of our plants in my normal voice and at a normal volume.  Not helping matters any are the mosquitoes that come out at twilight.  I know he can't see those from his distance, so my violent slaps to my arms and face must look a little strange, along with the crazy headbanging I do when I convince myself there's a bug crawling in my hair.

Sometimes I wonder if that neighbor gets together with our other neighbor down the street to compare notes.  While that first neighbor gets to hear me talk to my vegetables in the backyard, the other one is the older gentleman who often walks his dog down our sidewalk, and always seems to be walking by when I'm yelling at ice and snow, or when I've just been pruning our rosebushes and grab a fistful of thorns, prompting me to yell, "CrikeyCrikeyCrikey!  FIDDLESTICKS!"

That's right.  I curse like an 80-year-old Australian.  While this neighbor wasn't in the navy, he was in a different branch of the armed forces, so I highly doubt he's offended by anything I say.

Now I'm going to go take advantage of this beautiful weather by harvesting some rhubarb, being sure to ask it not to scream before I cut down its thick stalks.

But first I think I'll make sure my neighbor's inside.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Day In The Life

10:04 am :  Arrive home after grocery shopping.

10:06 am :  Haul groceries in the house while Atticus and Caedmon sit on the front porch, watching men pour cement in a hole on our street.

10:09 am :  Finish bringing in food, shepherd boys into the house.

10:10 am :  Atticus grabs his golf club and golf balls, goes out back to play.  Caedmon watches while I begin putting refrigerated items in the fridge.

10:11 am :  Hear strange sound.  Closing the refrigerator door reveals Caedmon standing in the front of the pantry, holding an empty food container.  He recently learned how to untwist caps, and has just celebrated by dumping a mountain of chocolate sprinkles onto the floor.

10:12 am :  Help Caedmon sweep up sprinkles.  Uncanny how his new-found dexterity doesn't extend to cleaning.

10:14 am :  Finish putting away refrigerated items.  Notice small, wet footprints around the kitchen.  Follow them to find Caedmon in the laundry room next to a jug of automobile washer fluid.  Evidently, he can not only untwist standard caps off of containers, but also child-proof ones.

10:17 am :  Finish "helping" Caedmon clean up the washer fluid with paper towels.  Shove- I mean, escort- him into the backyard to play while I finish putting the groceries away.

10:22 am :  After putting the last of the cereal in the pantry, listen carefully for the boys.  Silence.  Not good.  Not good at all.

10:24 am :  Find Atticus standing near the compost heap, which just so happens to be next to the door of the shed, where Caedmon is dumping gasoline from the small container we use to fill up the lawn mower.  Caedmon- and the grass at his feet- is soaked.  Acquire an instant headache from the nearly-visible gas fumes coming off of him.

10:26 am :  Dump both the boys in the bathtub.  Scrub vigorously.  Dump their clothes in the washer.

10:35 am :  Help boys get dressed.

10:45 am :  Clean up post-bathtime mess in bathroom.

11:00 am :  Feed boys lunch.

11:15 am :  Laugh hysterically when Atticus asks why they have to go down for a nap early today.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Solitary Confinement, Please

I haven't been blogging much lately.  I would apologize, but I'm not sorry.

It seems like every five minutes Caedmon is dumping an entire carton of orange juice on the floor, or Atticus is painting his bedroom walls with fingernail polish, or Adelaide is crying because her best friend told her he's moving back to India next year, or Adelaide is calling me up the stairs hours after bedtime, and when I ask why her nose is bleeding, she tells me that it's because Atticus shoved a Q-tip up her nose.

I've been feeling worn down.  Out of steam.  At the end of my rope.  The consequence of all these cliches is that I'm irritable and generally unpleasant to be around.  Believe it or not, my crankiness isn't directly attributable to the everyday events listed in the previous paragraph.

It's because I haven't been able to spend much time by myself.

What kind of person are you?  Are you a "people person"?  Do you love spending oodles of time with others, and require very little time alone?  Or do you crave lots and lots of solitude?

Between those two extremes, I'm probably somewhere in the middle, though definitely closer to the solitary end of the spectrum.

Now guess how much a five, three, and one year old care about my need for time alone.

Yesterday, at 2:30 pm, Caedmon was down for his nap, Atticus had finally quieted down, and I had completed everything on my afternoon list. I had thirty minutes until I needed to get the boys up and ready to go get Adelaide.

I had just settled down with a book, when the phone rang.

My first, instinctual thought was, Whomever that is on the phone, I'm going to write their name down.  Then I'm going to drive down to Oklahoma to Dad's house.  Then I'm going to borrow one of his guns.  Then I'm going to drive to wherever that person lives, and I am going to make them feel a world of hurt for not leaving me alone for FIVE FREAKING MINUTES.

Then I answered the phone, because I'm always afraid if I don't answer it, it will inevitably be the police or a family member telling me a loved one has died.  We don't have caller ID on our landline.

Luckily for them, by the time I settled down enough to answer the phone, the caller had hung up.

I spend the remaining twenty-five minutes immersing myself in a new library book.  It's about a young woman struggling to make her way in the Arizona Territory in the late 1800's.  It made me thankful for things like vaccinations and indoor plumbing.  It has also entered my list of top twenty- maybe even top ten- favorite books ever.

That is the power of books for me.  It gives me fresh perspective and the strength not to kill my children.

I have a feeling that today they will provide much-needed humor: When Caedmon sees photos of P.D. James on the backs of her books and says, "Grandma?"  Or when he tells us that cows say, "moo," horses say, "neigh," and pigs say, "La la la!"- pronounced, "Boooo," "Nay," and "Ya ya ya!"

Thank you, Sandra Boynton.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Tea and Sympathy

Caedmon is sick.

He's running a high fever.  That's about it.  Well, that I know of.  He's too little to be able to communicate things like, "My head hurts," or "I feel really nauseated."  I'm well aware that he's not feeling his best, as all he wants to do is lay on either Derek or me and be rocked.  Put him down, and he cries like he's just suffered the most devastating personal rejection of his short little life.

It's pretty sad; our Caedmon is generally a sunny little fellow, smiling and being all-around cute.  So of course I want to do everything in my power to make him to feel better.

I have a super scientific way of going about this.

During the day, I hold him.  I rock him and bounce him around and give him lots of fluids and sympathy.  I do not, as a rule, give him any medicine.  I feel like his body is elevating its temperature for a reason- to kill whatever nasty bug has infiltrated his system- and over-medicating him will only prolong his illness.  This has nothing to do with the fact that as soon as our little Spud starts running a fever he inevitably climbs into my lap, I squeal, "Oooh!  Cuddles!"  and bury my face in his hair.  Nothing at all.

With this method comes the fear of things like febrile seizures.  None of our children has ever had one, but I can just imagine the phone call to the doctor if Caedmon was the one who did.  They'd ask what kind of medication we've been giving to treat his fever, and I'd have to say, "Um, none."  They'd ask why, and I'd have to tell them that I've been purposely withholding Tylenol from my sick son.

Now, before you fill yourself with some holy, righteous indignation, let me tell you that I will give him Tylenol during the day if he seems over-the-top miserable for awhile, and I always give him Tylenol at bedtime.  It's hard to sleep when you don't feel well, and I feel like lots of rest is important to recovery.  I will also dose him if his fever is getting high enough to frighten even me.

I talked to a friend yesterday after Caedmon fell ill, and she asked if I was going to take Caedmon to the doctor.

I was confused.  Why would I take him to the doctor?

Keep in mind that I didn't get to go the doctor when I was a kid.  My mom is a nurse.  We only got to go to the doc if we had cholera or tuberculosis.  I never had either of those, so I stayed home.

She didn't withhold Tylenol, like I do.  But she did wield a spray bottle.

My youngest sister, Steph, got to visit the doctor all the time.  She has a seizure disorder, the lucky duck.

When they wanted to test her little kid brain, they'd hook her up to all kinds of fun stuff to see just what was going on in there.  Oh, but before they did that, they wanted her good and sleep-deprived.

That meant she often had to stay up the night before the test.  Kids often tell you they don't want to go to bed- they're not tired!

They're lying.  Don't believe them.

My other sister, mom, and I would take shifts throughout the night, staying awake with Steph, trying to keep her from sneaking off to the bathroom, locking the door, and falling asleep on the floor in front of the toilet.  Let me tell you, I got really good at unlocking that door from the outside with a bobby pin.

Mom had the best job of all, driving Steph to the doctor's office the next morning.  The neurologist was, of course, located in Wichita, an hour's drive to the north.  Imagine having to stay awake all night long, then trying not to fall asleep on a monotonous, 60-minute drive past cows, fields, and an occasional tiny town.

Of course Stephanie kept falling asleep.

In response, Mom would spray her with a water bottle that we usually kept by the ironing board and yell at her to wake up.  While driving.

I love this mental picture.  It always makes me laugh.

To sum up, I tend not to feel too guilty about my treatment of our sick children.  Sometimes moms have to do things that might seem strange to other people.  Like withhold their medication, or spray them in the face with water.

Judge away.

Update:  I wrote this post this morning, when Caedmon and Atticus were both sleeping in.  Shortly after publishing, Caedmon awoke, and I went upstairs to get him.  He still had a fever, but of more concern to me was the red, raised rash that was covering so much of his body.  I called my mom.  She said that it was likely a virus and that although we didn't need to go to the doctor (of course), some tylenol might help, as would some children's benadryl.  Her consult combined with Caedmon's extreme fussiness and plaintive cries of, "Owie!  Owie!  Owie!" caused me to immediately cave and give him some meds.

What can we learn from this?  You really shouldn't listen to anything I say.

But you already knew that.