Friday, January 27, 2017

I Hate California

Last night, I spent a good chunk of my time brooding over how much I hate California.

This happens every year right around this time.  It's been cold forever.  It takes a million years to get the kids out the door because of all the layers, and every evening each kid has to lay out not just their school attire upstairs, but by the front door I make them lay out their snow pants, snow boots, hat, and gloves or mittens, because if they are missing a single one of those things the school will not allow them out the door for recess.  This, of course, makes perfect sense, as another of the school's policies is that if it is above zero degrees, those kids are going outside.  Because I love that our kids get regular recess times, I love this rule, even if it does occasionally make me question why we have more than one kid (SO MANY GLOVES. SO MANY MITTENS. SO MANY HATS. SO MANY BOOTS.), but that is what winter does to you: it makes you start mentally paring down on how many children you should have.  It is a cruel, merciless time.

Enter California hatred.

Just to be clear, I don't hate California in actuality.  (I think.)  Although the number of people I personally know from that state can be counted on just one hand, every one of them is lovely.  The one time I visited California, it was nice.

It's the idea of California that I hate.  The always warm, always sunshiney, all the people who live there squeal and huddle into their parkas when the temperature drops to 50 degrees, oh, and all they eat are salads- that California is positively loathsome.  Particularly when you've been living under near-constant cloud cover for what feels like weeks.

Again, I know:  California is a big state.  There's major variety in topography, weather, cultures, etc, depending on where you're at.  And if it's just the warm places I want to stab with my abundant supply of icicles, why not Florida?  The Gulf coast?  The southwest?

And this winter hasn't even been that bad!  Way less snow than normal, and there for a week or two we had highs above freezing most days!  It was like some kind of (global warming) miracle!

I'm telling you, I know the whole thing doesn't make sense.  But man... California.  I hate that guy.

This morning, though?  There were no clouds in the sky, including those low-hanging ones that feel ever-present this time of year.  If Iowa is a trailer park, then those clouds are a dangerous, rusted out old swing set: inevitable but so dang depressing.  (Criminy, even my similes are sad this time of year.)

Back to no clouds today:  Do you know what that means?  DO YOU?


As soon as I saw that the sun did not hate us, that it had merely been hidden by the trailer-park-swing-set-clouds, my spirits lifted.  I also felt this strange sensation where the light touched my shoulder- why, it was warmth!  As it turns out, the sun makes you warm!

I did the only sensible thing, and took myself right on over to the forest preserve, where I traipsed hither and yon in that sunshine, the same sunshine that made the snow all sparkly and reminded me that I like the feel of crunchy, ice-crusted snow underfoot, and the feel of cold air in my lungs, and the silence that winter brings as all the sensible people are driven inside.  The presence of the sun made it feel at least twenty degrees warmer than it has been in weeks, although a look at my phone showed me that the perhaps the sun is not to be completely trusted.

Almost every person that walked through the doors of library today immediately exclaimed, "The sun is out!" or "Can you believe that sun?" and the few that didn't were promptly reminded by me or my co-workers that it is risen!  It is risen, indeed!  Hallelujah!

If any of those conversations sound sad, well, it's probably because they kind of are, but hey- the sun was out today!

But I still hate California.

Winter in Not-California

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Old House, New Things

The thing about owning a home is you are always fixing something.  That goes double if you live in an old home.

Don't get me wrong, I love our old house.  I love the woodwork, the built-in bench and window seat, the pocket doors and newel posts.  I love the big windows and egg-and-dart molding.  It is a charming home, and I didn't have to do a thing to make it that way.

The things that I don't love about living in an old house?  Oh, you know.  There are a few.

Bats.  Poorly insulated sections in the walls.  Finding rusty nails and other pieces of metal every time I turn over a piece of earth in the yard.  No garage, as there was little need for one when you were building a house in town in 1900.  Limited storage space.  Previous owners who took every shortcut in the book with little things like the wiring, plumbing, etc.  Did I mention bats?

We are lucky in many ways, in that at least a couple of those previous owners made big improvements to the house.  The old plaster walls and ceilings have been covered with nice, textured sheet rock.  (I know there are some old house purists who are reading that and gasping, but really, the only time I need to see plaster walls are when I'm touring something that's been made into a museum.)  There is one small triangle of plaster remaining in the stairwell, in between bits of woodwork, and man, am I glad that stuff is gone.  What a nightmare.

The bathrooms had been redone by the time we moved in.  It had a new roof, and a laundry room and half bath had been added.  Someone had added in-house access to the basement; I'm thankful not to have to exit the house to enter the basement.

They had also done away with the back half of the double staircase.  I'm thankful for the big kitchen this created, even if I grieve a bit over the fact that we could have had a double staircase.  I'm so glad no one ever painted all this woodwork with whatever the color de rigueur was at each family's time of ownership.  I like that we have small bedrooms upstairs and a big living space downstairs as it forces the kids out of their rooms and into family time.  I sometimes despise having small bedrooms and a big living space as it forces the kids out of their rooms and into family time.

I like to think that we have been conscientious owners of this house.  We added gutters where before there had been none (so.much.water. in our basement before the gutters).  We've replaced the air conditioner and kitchen cabinets, and added tons of insulation, not to mention storm doors, tiling the kitchen backsplash, and so many other things.

For every thing we've added or replaced, though, we have five more yet to do.  Built-in bookcases in the living room.  Finish the built-in dressers Derek's grandpa constructed and installed for us before he passed away.  Possible future garage.

You know how it is.

All that to say:  we got a new Thing.  An exciting Thing.  A Thing for our house.



...NEW HOT WATER HEATER!  (Go back and read that in the voice of Rod Roddy on The Price is Right if you didn't the first time.  Please and thank you.)

A new hot water heater sounds like the least exciting thing on the planet, unless you've ever lived with an old hot water heater.  Think short showers.  Very short showers.  Forget about soaking your sore muscles in the occasional bath, unless you are able to soak in just a few inches of water.  And remember:  inform everyone in the family that I Am Going to Take a Shower, DO NOT Run the Dishwasher, Washing Machine, or Even Wash Your Hands in Warm Water Until I Exit the Bathroom, On Pain of Death.

We're not sure when the old hot water heater- the one on the right in the photo up there- was installed, but Derek did find a date on it:  1988.  The average lifespan of a hot water heater is 12-14 years.  Just in case you lose track of time the way I do, it is not the year 2000.  It is, in fact, the year 2017.  That old water heater has been begging to be put out of its misery for quite some time now.  Last Saturday, Derek and his band of merry helpers obliged the poor old thing.

At 7:30 AM, Derek and I trooped down the stairs.  We disconnected the (corroded, rusted, stiff, STUBBORN) pipes at the top of the old heater.  Derek did... other things, I don't know what.  I struggled to be more of a help than a hindrance, something that's always a crapshoot for me in these types of situations.  I said, "Good job, Husband!" a lot- I really wanted a new hot water heater.

Atticus helped, too.
At one point Derek's dad arrived, and I gratefully scampered back up the stairs, out of the way and into the warmth.  All of Derek's helpers were in and out of the basement throughout the day, but Derek himself was down there for the better part of 7:30 AM to 3:30 PM, in a space where he has trouble standing up straight thanks to being an unusually tall man and old, low, spider-webby ceilings.  

Sunday morning I took a shower, and didn't have to do my old routine of turn the handle to about 70%, shower for a minute, turn it to 80% as it's already started to lose its warmth, turn the handle to 90%, shower for a minute, turn the handle to 100% and try to pump my arms and move around as much as possible because my hair has been washed but I haven't shaved and I'm already getting goosebumps.

No, instead I turned the handle to 60%, and there it stayed. I don't take particularly long showers (due to years of training, no doubt- thanks, aging hot water heater!), but it was astonishing to realize that you could set the handle at a certain spot and have the hot water last for all seven minutes of your shower.  What extravagance!  What luxury!

Three cheers for Derek!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Here a Niece, There a Niece

When my sister Kelli was a baby, she was seriously cute, all dark brown eyes and dimples.  Of course, I didn't really appreciate that at the time, being only three years old and pissed from the start over the fact that they didn't name her Amy like I wanted.
"Kelli and the Floating Heads" sounds like a great band name.

Thankfully she has passed that cuteness on to her sweet babies, including the newest, Kate, who makes you so happy when you hold her you feel a halo of divine light surrounding your person.

The great and terrific and wonderful part of being the aunt rather than the parent is you can swoop in, hold the baby for so long that you know she's going to give her parents fits after you leave trying to get her to sleep anywhere but on a person, then waltz off a couple days later, secure in the knowledge that you, at least, will get a good night's sleep that night.

Unless you have a kid with night terrors.  Then sleep is never guaranteed.  But at least half of that paragraph up there applies to me.  I'll take it.

I like to think it also makes those parents appreciate their little bundle, as evidenced by Aaron muttering (good-naturedly), "Oh, I finally get to hold my baby?" when you hand her over after hogging her for most of the day.

This baby is just so loved.  Her two older sisters will be playing, minding their own business, then they'll catch sight of her out of the corner of their eyes, and come over to kiss and talk to her, which is good, because there are years of screaming ahead.  I don't really ever remember lowering ourselves to the level of hair-pulling, but oh, was there screaming.

Not yet, though.

Now, don't worry, I also played Annoy the Baby at Kelli's.  I probably took a million pictures of Norah while I was there, and it took a loooong time before she was done.

This was first thing in the morning, okay?  FIRST THING.
And yet, when I said, "Norah!  Hi, Norah Mae!"  She turned and SMILED.  The girl smiled at me.

Do you know what would have happened if you had done this to me, or, God forbid, Kelli when we were kids?

Not Stephanie, though.  No, she preferred to wake up early and TAP DANCE on the kitchen floor, which was conveniently right over my slumbering teenage head, causing me to spend many an adolescent morning plotting her painful death immediately after waking.

So how could I tell when Norah was done with picture-taking?  Well, it was subtle.
"Hey, Norah, can I take a picture of your shirt to send to Kim?"   *sigh* "Okay."  

And then I left her alone for a while.

As for this girl:
As the oldest of three girls, she is a child after my own heart.  She knows what needs to be done, and specifically how to do it, and will not let things slide, not on her watch.  I am convinced she could rule her own tiny kingdom if she wanted to.
Plus she's just dang cute.

Of course, now my mean, evil sisters are posting all kinds of adorable pictures of their babies smiling, which they were both so close to doing while I was there.  I would look in their infant eyes and smile and make faces and talk and I could just tell they were thinking, "Aunt Kristy, you are so hilarious and obviously also very charming and intelligent and if I could just get these zygomaticus muscles in check I'd smile to let you know how I feel!"

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

That One Aunt

Thanks to Derek and his parents picking up the slack and taking care of our kids, I got to go see my sisters a couple weeks ago.  My sisters are worth visiting all on their own, but when you add their terrific families, which now include TWO NEW BABIES- one apiece- I mean, I just couldn't stay away.  Especially when our mother starts throwing around phrases like, "If you want to go see the new babies once they're born, I'll pay for your travel expenses."  I was very calm and chill when she threw that offer on the table, FYI.
No, I wasn't.

Once there, I got to play one of my favorite games:  Annoy the newborn.  The aim of this game is simple:  hold and love and coo at the newborn until sheer overwhelming persistence forces them to love you.  You may choose to go about it another way, but my strategy sounds something like this:  "Gwen!  Hi, Gwen!  Gwennie!  Gweeeeeniiiiie!  Open your eyes, Gwen!  It's your Aunt Kristy!  Hello, Gwen!  You're so soft, Gwen!  You're so tiny, Gwen!  I'm so glad you're here, Gwendolyn!"

I think my results speak for themselves:

 And finally,
Here she is clearly thinking, "When exactly are you going to go home and leave me in peace?"  Or maybe, "Thank God you're not the aunt that lives within 300 miles of me."

Really, though, this is a child who will most likely never be left alone, as her sisters love her, ahem, a whole lot.
Babies holding babies, which is a much nicer concept than babies having babies, which is what my nurse said while I was in labor with Atticus and we were serenaded by the screaming of the young teenager next door delivering her own baby.  She had at first refused an epidural, later changed her mind, but alas, it was too late.  She let the entire ward in on her displeasure.  I was just thankful I wasn't in labor with our first baby, or it would have scared the pants off of me.  Except my pants were already off.  You understand what I'm saying.

Thankfully, these big sisters are already providing wonderful examples of how to live your life to baby Gwen.
I mean, the girl's reading a book, practicing her yogic Easy pose, while getting her hair did.  I know adults who don't have their lives together like this preschooler does.

Later this week, my other sister's cherubs, and ways in which I like to frighten Derek when I'm traveling alone!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

We Also Went to the Coffee Shop

Adelaide received roller blades for Christmas.  She previously did not own any, but had used my old pair over the summer, back and forth on our sidewalk.  There was a lot of squealing, and arms windmilling as she fought for balance, and yelling at any brother who came within two feet of her whilst rolling.  Her brain interpreted this as fun, and luckily for her her grandparents came through.

A couple days after Christmas we enjoyed some unseasonably warm weather- we're talking highs in the 40's, the kind of temperatures that pull roller blading mothers and daughters out of doors to take their questionable ability to balance on wheels out to public places, where the promise of being humiliated not just in front of our neighbors, as we're used to, but by scores of strangers, proved too enticing to be ignored.  Simply translated:  Adelaide and I went to a park.  We brought our roller blades.
 After donning our blades (by how many points, I wonder, does my coolness factor drop when I refer to them as 'blades'?  I've been in the red for so long I suppose it doesn't matter, as is evidenced by my unironic use of the term 'coolness factor.'  Maybe we'll just go with inline skates.) Adelaide wasted no time in pointing out how pretty her skates were compared to mine, and how quiet, and how none of her plastic straps were broken.  I told her none of those things really mattered when I was the one who wasn't afraid to use both feet while skating- there at first she kept one foot firmly planted and just pushed herself along with the other foot, like a skateboarding trainee.  All my taunting/instruction ("pick up your left foot, Daughter- your LEFT FOOT, pick it up!") kind of fell apart right about the same time my roller blades did, though.

I kept stumbling and couldn't figure out why things kept getting stuck in my wheels, but as it turned out, it was the outer black layer of the wheels themselves peeling off and exposing the ridged inner white part.  My skates were literally falling to pieces around my feet.
Really, though, who could have seen this coming?  I mean, I've skated miles on these wheels, they're twenty years old and have been just fine up 'til now (except for that broken ankle strap, of course).  So... me.  I should have known better than to skate on twenty-year-old cheap plastic roller blades.

Thankfully, a quarter mile walk back to the van in socks really drove that lesson home.  Either that, or it was Adelaide cackling as all the international students from Iowa State politely averted their eyes and tried to hide their smiles as we passed them.
"Well, just imagine what we look like, Mom!  The young, graceful girl gliding along on her new roller blades, the middle aged woman carrying her roller blades next to her daughter.  You know it looks like you just can't roller blade and got tired of trying, right?"  I told her that if I'm truly middle-aged, then it looks like I'm only living to the age of 68, and NOW DON'T YOU FEEL BAD FOR WISHING AN EARLY DEATH ON YOUR MOTHER?

Judging by her lack of reaction, I need to be a little more selective about when and how often to employ my special brand of motherly histrionics.

Adelaide on roller blades, communing with geese. 

My chosen method of revenge was to drag her along to Target to look at their newly-clearanced Christmas decorations.  Judging by the amount of feet-dragging she did down those 70% off aisles, my retaliation scored a direct hit.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Dot Dot Dot...

I have all kinds of fun things that you just have to know about here in the new year, but today the only thing I want to show you is something simultaneously satisfying, soothing, and highly addictive.

I am speaking, of course, of dot-to-dot.

Remember dot-to-dot puzzles?  Or... I don't even know if they qualify as puzzles, as there's nothing particularly puzzling about them, unless you struggle with number order.  They're those things you did when you were little, where you started at the dot labeled "1," then drew a line between that dot and the number 2 dot, and on, and on?  Possibly they helped you learn to count to ever-higher numbers, or at least enabled you pretend you had the tiniest smidgen of artistic talent?

Well, this is one of those for grown-ups.  Derek's mom got this book for me for Christmas, and it was one of those things I didn't know I wanted.  It is so fun and entertaining and ruinous.  Why ruinous?  Well, you open up the book, and you pick a not-a-puzzle, and all is going well because you purposely sat down to have this ten minutes to yourself, then five minutes have passed and you think, Okay, I'm just going to go to dot 201, and then maybe if I have time later I'll do a bit more, but then something happens and you find yourself muttering, "Dot 835, where is dot 835?" and waaaay more than ten minutes have elapsed.

Click to embiggen, please.

As a now-veteran dot-to-dotter (why no, I haven't ever been in danger of being voted "Most Popular" in any school I've attended; why do you ask?), allow me to make a few suggestions before you embark on your first, sweet dot-to-dot experience.

  • Light.  You are going to need good, strong, bright light.  Daylight is what I've found I prefer, which is a bit of a shame as it's at such a premium this time of year.  It is helpful that the dots are printed in different colors 100 at a time (1-100 are blue, 101-200 are yellow, etc, etc), at least in this book, but still, those are tiny dots with tiny numbers beside them.  It's possible that if you have younger, stronger eyes than mine you'll need something less than surgical theater lights to complete these, but otherwise, let there be light.

  • A sharp pencil, unless you're the reckless type who eats danger for breakfast but also enjoys a calming indoor activity in the afternoon.  The rest of us need something with an eraser and plenty of fiber.

  • A straight edge, because it's possible that four dots into their first page one might discover that one is a monkey whose monkey fingers cannot draw a straight line to save her monkey life.  Or, you know... so I've heard.

And see?  Just like when you were young, you can make-believe your monkey fingers are capable of something even remotely artistic.  Which is fun, if misleading, but I'm pretty sure I've looked at any number of pieces in museums that would fit neatly into the "fun, if misleading" category.