Friday, January 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Bug!

My baby turned nine today. This is alarming on several fronts:

a. I really can't keep calling this "baby weight" when the baby is close to a decade old.
b. Before I know it, I'm going to have TWO hormonal, moody girls.
c. Nine? Really? Wasn't she just four?
d. I think this means that I, too, am getting older. I don't believe I want to think about that right now.

Her daddy and I woke her up by singing to her, let her open a few of her presents at breakfast, and then whisked her off to school with a tray of pink icing-flowered cupcakes to share with her class. I just finished strewing pink crepe paper around the house, which looks a little less like the festive vision I had in my mind when I started and a little more like there was an industrial accident involving Pepto Bismol.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Say Wha-?

I was walking downstairs this morning to stoke the woodstove when I overheard the girls in the midst of playing Bratz.

Bug: OK, first all of the teenagers are going to get high. Then, they'll help the children to get high.

Me (momentarily speechless...mustering a casual tone): Um, what do you mean they're going to get high?

Bug (looking at me blankly): There's a flood.

Sure enough, they had moved all of the Bratz dolls to the top floor of the dollhouse.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Rites of Passage

There's this tribe in Africa where, in order to prove their manhood and be accepted as adult members of their village, the boys must first kill a cow with a rock. I saw it on some Discovery Channel documentary about ten years ago. And when I say "I saw it", I mean I SAW IT. I distinctly remember channel surfing late one night after one (two) too many cups of coffee, and sitting in stupefied, slack-jawed horror watching this bloody initiation rite. I will say this: it is not easy to kill a cow with a fist-sized rock. Also: I didn't get much sleep that night.

I tell you this for two reasons. One: I think of this from time to time, and I think that you should have to think about it, too. Two: It really puts junior high into perspective, doesn't it? Showering in gym and being snickered at by classmates when you trip in the hall may suck, but you didn't have to beat a cow to death with a rock, now did you? (Mental note: use this information to console Bear the next time she has a junior high-related emotional trauma).

Also, there's this: I've noticed a more subtle rite of acceptance here in Maine. Mainers take a perverse pride in their frigid climate by refusing to admit that it's cold and won't even admit awareness of the cold by dressing appropriately for it. Sure, it's chilly today, but it's nowhere near as cold as it was back in '78. Now THAT was cold. (Insert anecdote about thickness of lake ice or birds freezing onto telephone wires, which, frankly, I think they're making up). The quickest way to get yourself labelled an outsider is toss off a comment like, "It's freezing out there today." Wandering outdoors in an ankle-length down coat or, God forbid, a ski mask is to invite both ostracism and teasing, no matter what the LL Bean catalogs try to convince you is appropriate for Maine winters.
Case in point: this morning when I left for the gym it was -10 degrees. I wore capris, a sweatshirt, and gloves. No coat. No hat. I wore the same attire to the grocery store after working out. I didn't get a single curious glance or question from any of the people I passed, most of whom were wearing either coats (unzipped) or fleece jackets. I felt like a true Mainer. And a little chilly. But mostly cool.

DISCLAIMER: Same rules most emphatically do not apply to Maine kids, who don't step out without coat, hat, gloves, scarf, and boots. As I tell the girls, adulthood means you earn the right to poor judgment. (I don't really tell them that, but they'll figure it out themselves one day).

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I took this photo of our backyard just as the first rays of sun were hitting the snow. We had gotten a 15-inch storm the day before, and I liked how unspoiled (i.e. not yet tromped through by my children) the yard and woods looked.
At this point in the winter, snow is still a novelty. I love the anticipation as we watch the snow band creep closer to us on the radar, spotting those first tiny flakes, and then watching from the window as it silently covers the landscape like a smooth fondant. The girls can't wait to ditch their school backpacks and pull on snowpants. They refuse an after-school snack, grab sleds, and head out to the gentle slopes in our backyard.

Within six weeks, we'll all be moaning and complaining when snow is in the forecast, and I'll be feverishly checking the soil for any sign of daffodils. This is why Maine is the ideal state for us. By the time we're heartily sick of one season, the next one's rolling around. It's like ADD, but with climate.

Both girls chose a sledding party for their birthday parties this year. We scheduled them for back-to-back weekends (Bug's on the 31st, Bear's on the 7th) in a "let's get 'er done" kind of spirit. We'll truck the party guests to the big hill in town and enjoy (read: wear them out with) an afternoon of sledding and hot chocolate before coming home for dinner and a sleepover. Pray for me. Then send earplugs.


And in the ongoing pleasures of life with a hormonal preteen...

Scene: last night, while watching TV.

Bear (in an irritated voice, while curled up under an afgan, beautifully knitted by her great-grandmother): I don't know how you're supposed to get warm with this. This stupid blanket is full of holes.

Me: Bear, it's an AFGAN.

Bear: It's a bad idea is what it is.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Best 2008 Photos You Never Saw...(Part the Third)

Me? More of a starter than a finisher. Full of ideas that fire me instantly with into enthusiasm and action, then fizzle away as my attention is caught elsewhere. That's why my baseboards have two coats of paint, not three. Why my apple orchard exists only in my mind and in sketches in my garden notebook. Why the living room ceiling is still a 1970's glittery popcorn atrocity, despite my laughingly pointing it out to guests in 2001 after we bought the house, saying, "That will be the first thing to go!"

When I mentioned to my mother the other night that I was working on a blog post, she asked if it was the last of the three promised "Best Photos You Never Saw" posts. And I had to say, why no, I'd totally forgotten that I'd ever started that series. Oops.

So it is in the spirit of self-improvement that I forced myself to complete the last post. And because years from now when my daughters read these blog posts, I don't want them to think their mom was lazy.
I like this picture more for what you don't see than what you do. Yeah, the sunflowers are pretty and all, but picture me laying on my back on the damp grass, taking the picture upside-down over my head. You know, to emphasize of height of the flowers by framing them against the sky. Don't you wonder what the neighbors were thinking as they drove past and saw me?
A friend's burning bush shot the morning after a nightlong gentle rain. I was taking pictures as a way to get out of going for an exercise walk. Win-win.
Sometimes it takes the camera to show me what it right in front of me, like that my Bear is growing up. The subtle day-to-day transformation eludes me, but a single frame from an early fall afternoon revealed to me the young woman my daughter is becoming.
My favorite month in Maine at that perfect time of day, when the light is golden, slanting down from low on the horizon. And my baby on her new swingset.
I know, I know. More with the flowers. But I do have a point here. Watch:Same flower, next day. And boy does that suck. Thus we slide into the long mourning period until next year's garden.Halloween Night. Cleopatra would like to know if we could please go to just a few more houses?

Election Night. Both Daddy Shortbread and Mittens were avidly watching the election returns on We never realized she was so invested in this election.December:
Well into the thirteenth hour of what was supposed to be an eight hour travel day, Bear patiently watches a movie on my laptop without asking once how much longer until we get to our hotel.Bug gets distracted by a new book midway into the Christmas Eve gift-opening. Totally immersed, with unwrapped gifts at her feet, she read quietly by the Christmas tree while the rest of us opened presents.


Friday, January 16, 2009

It Sounded Vaguely Scientific

Ok, so what you need to know is that it's -22 degrees here. Not wind chill. TEMPERATURE. Also you should know that I don't always think things through before acting, and I love nothing better than a "teachable moment."

Moving on... this evening as we're getting ready to eat dinner, Bear enthusiastically tells us that one of her teachers said she was going to go home and try throwing a glassful of water (minus the glass) into the air to see if the water froze before hitting the ground. Sounds intriguing, right? I thought so.

I fill a glass with cold water, say, "Follow me, kids!" and boldly step outside into the Arctic air wearing just pajamas and slippers. I hustle out to the sidewalk, with eager children and curious cats peering out the door after me.

"You'll have to throw it pretty high," hollers Daddy Shortbread from the warmth of the living room.

Putting some muscle behind it, I fling the contents of the cup into the air. The girls watch with interest as the water (not ice) droplets rain down, drenching my hair and shoulders.

I stand in my pajamas on the icy sidewalk, outside in the -22 degree night with wet hair and holding an empty cup, and think this, THIS is motherhood. Sucker.

Future Grammy Winners: KATOMAH!

Their first album cover, masterfully Photoshopped by Yours Truly. (In my artistic defense, I beg you to consider what I had to work with...)

Anyone who knows Daddy Shortbread knows that he's always harbored the dream of being a rock drummer. It comes up in conversation, oh, about 200 times a year. "Someday... I'd really like to get a drum set," he muses with a dreamy look in his eye. My usual response to this is silence. Or I ask him if he's paid the water bill yet. Sometimes I hum in a distracted manner, like I'm not really listening.. If he's really persistent, I shut him down with, "Yeah, you'll have to save that for your second wife, buster."

Imagine my surprise when my brother bought my family Wii Rock Band for Christmas, and suddenly there is a drum set in prominent residence in my not-large living room. (Brother? Hey, I'm sorry about dressing you in my big doll's clothes when you were a toddler. And for making you go get the ball when it rolled under the bushes against that brick wall with all the spiders when I knew you were afraid of spiders. Really. Um, are we cool now?)

As Daddy Shortbread unpacked the white plastic drum set with eager hands, he remarked, quite seriously I might add, "I've gone about as far as I can drumming with pencils. This will really take it to the next level for me." Then he and the girls proceeded to rock out. Loudly and with great enthusiasm.

They named their band KATOMAH, a blend of their three names. Daddy Shortbread on drums, natch. He refused to let the girls even try them out, pretending to be all fatherly, saying, "Just let me figure them out first, and then I'll be able to help you." Uh-huh.
Here we have Edith Bunker - I mean Bug, on vocals. Sorry, the wet stringy hair and massive pink bathrobe had me fooled there for a minute. She's well on her way to MTV glory; look how she's already working the camera angles.Bear was the only one who even came close to projecting any kind of rock sensibility. With her grave concentration on the music, hair that slid forward to cover one eye, and you know, actual clothes, I could almost buy that she's a rock bassist. Except for the part about her being eleven-years-old, which would definitely interfere with her being let into many of the venues that up-and-coming bands tend to play. Finally (and reluctantly), Daddy Shortbread relenquished the drum set. I had to fix him with the Guilt-Inducing Spousal Death Stare before he finally moved aside to give the girls a shot at drumming. He took over the mic and did a screamingly emo rendition of "I Think I'm Paranoid" by Garbage that had the girls playing through helpless giggles. I took a moment to make a mental inventory of how many migraine pills I have left on this prescription.
I'm just going to file this little nugget of photographic goodness away for a rainy day. I predict it will come in mighty handy some day, like when I need Daddy Shortbread to dig me a new flowerbed or haul topsoil around on a hot summer day. Or if I someday need to prove his mental instability. Hey, you never know.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Natural Selection

When it comes to natural selection, I'm beginning to wonder if Bear would make the cut. I say this with all the love in my heart, but seriously, how can someone be so smart and so clueless at the same exact time?

Today is January 15th. We live in Maine. It is Winter. It is -9 degrees. And gusty. I don't think it would be exaggerating at all to call those conditions COLD, do you?

And yet ... while she conceded that it was winter coat weather, I had to fight with her to get her to accept that things like gloves, a hat, and SOCKS, for Chrissake, were necessary today. You know, so Child Services doesn't come take her away.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Birthday Anticipation

Scene: Bug's room, after school yesterday

Me: Guess what? I bought you a birthday present today!

Bug: Cool! When will you wrap it up so I can shake it?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Best 2008 Photos You Never Saw ...(Part the Second)

So it turns out that I take a phenomenal number of pictures during the summer months. It's taken me quite awhile just to sift through those three months. Here are the ones I felt you needed to see in order for your lives to be complete:

This is typical of the photos I find when I upload from the old camera's memory card. The kids are allowed to use it, and I have no idea what they've been shooting until I open the photo files on my computer. This particular day there were about twelve shots of different Barbie "families." (Be sure to note the poor kid with apparent hydroencephalitis, second row left). I peg Bug as the most likely photographer. A warm June afternoon, a shady porch, and a book.A little seabird I found on Pemaquid Beach. I like this because it almost looks like a black and white photo. But not quite. And for some reason this pleases meBug flashes me an "I love you" in sign language as she swims by.Probably the weirdest-looking flower in my garden - Monarda, or more commonly bee balm.

Some day I predict Bug will be furious with me for posting this picture. For now, though, enjoy the vision that is The Pig Girl of Central Maine. The takeaway lesson here is that swim masks may be convenient, but they're sure as hell not going to win you any beauty contests.
This is a classic example of a photo just looked "eh" to me when I first took it, but now strikes me as almost heartbreakingly beautiful. I'd like to be on a sunwarmed sand path that winds through blooming beach roses down to the ocean RIGHT NOW PLEASE.
I spend a lot of time staring at pictures of the past summer's garden (shown here an Italian White Sunflower) during the bleak winter months, just to remind myself that my yard will be green again someday. It's my own version of Seasonal Affective Disorder Therapy, since I can't afford to jet down to the Bahamas for some therapeutic sunshine.
We noticed this license plate hanging on the wall in a Bar Harbor restaurant. Wrong county, but still...

A peaceful moment during a family hike in August, taken after I almost lost my balance taking pictures and toppled off a footbridge into a creek and before Bug freaked out because there was a dead spider on the trail that she didn't want to step over... Bug points out a tree we discovered during the same hike that's thisclose to being felled by a beaver. I once read that a beaver can chew through a six-inch diameter tree trunk in 15 minutes. That makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it. Role reversal. Bug gives Grandma a craft lesson: how to make a wreath from a paper bag and silk flowers. Grandma was a very good pupil.
I know that summer is ending when I begin to hear the crickets chirping at night and when the gladiolas bloom. So while I love their tall stalks full of ruffly blooms, the sight of them is always a little bittersweet.This little treasure surfaced on a memory card amongst a series of self-portraits of Bear, followed by numerous pictures of stuffed animals, then suddenly this staged shot of Maisy looking like La Grande Odalisque sprawled on an artfully flower-strewn bed. You're all getting poster-sized prints next Christmas.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Best 2008 Photos You Never Saw (Part the First)

Throughout the year I take photos that strike me for one reason or another but that never make it into a blog post. I'd thought I'd share a few standouts with you.

Sometimes I find them interesting only in retrospect. Like this one. I can clearly remember snapping this photo of Bear struggling to walk through the front yard after an early January snowfall. Wow! That's a ton of snow! I thought. Ha ha fricking ha. I had no clue the feet upon feet of snow lurking in our near future, as we were pummelled by one record-breaking storm after another, right through March. It got to the point where the girls couldn't cross the front yard at all. The snowpack was waist-deep.
This one I just like. Happy Birthday, Daddy Shortbread. (You'll always be older than me)!
Apparently I don't take many photos (at least not interesting ones) in February.

Or March.

This one is destined to be a family classic. Bug shares her Nana's talent (?) for weird tongue tricks, and they were demonstrating proudly in tandem for the camera, while Bear and I laughed hysterically. Finally, even Nana couldn't keep a straight face anymore, but Bug soldiered on.
Bear on log. I can't get over how much younger she looks here, still more kid than pre-teen. She has matured and changed so much this past year that it's hard to believe this was taken only nine months ago.
This shows the creek engineers hard at work. They spend many happy spring hours down in our little creek. They slosh right through the sun-warmed water, "rescue" waterbugs and tadpoles in plastic buckets, and cart around planks and branches to construct dams and bridges. It's childhood at its finest, and I never get tired of spying on them as they toil away.
This demonstrates clearly the horror that is Bear in allergy season. What the hell possessed me to try to photograph her in all her puffy red-eyed glory, surrounded by the delicate blossoms of the crabapple tree...? At least she had the presence of mind to insert some humor into the situation. Poor itchy, sneezy Bear.
This one I may have posted before. Did I? I'm way too lazy to go back through the archives to look. It shows Mittens the Patient and Long-Suffering Kitty, dolled up in one of Bear's old baby dresses. Don't you think it sets off her eyes? There's something about the look of resignation on her face that makes me think she's reconsidering the house full of pitbulls that we rescued her from.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ohio-rama: The Highlights

There were presents. Lots and lots of presents. Try to picture how many presents you could stuff under a seven-foot Christmas tree. Got it? Double that. Now picture how many garbage bags full of wrapping paper we had to throw out and allow yourself a small shudder in the name of global warming.
There were very happy children, who last month had moaned that they were the very LAST children on earth to get a Nintendo DS, who finally received a Nintendo DS. They were smitten, to say the least. Slack-jawed with absorption might be more accurate.
As with any gathering of my side of the family, there were cats. This is Ollie, the little orange man. Not pictured are Brini and Gracie, who were nonetheless the recipients of many pets and scritches on their fuzzy little heads. Whether they wanted them or not.
There were expertly-prepared meals. And yummy restaurant meals. And boxes of truffles. And chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies. And apple dumplings. And French toast casserole. And they were goooooood.

I need a Tums just thinking about it.
There were snuggles with Nana.
And cuddles with Papa.
There were crazy children who slept about an hour and a half on Christmas Eve, then collapsed in exhaustion on the couch Christmas Day and slept for three hours.
There was a trip to visit Great-Grandpa in the nursing home New Year's Eve.
There was the holy-crap-I've-been-forgetting-to-take-pictures-quick-everyone-stand-in-front-of-the-hotel-continental-breakfast! photo. Doesn't everyone have one of these in the family album? Look, I even got in the packages of Froot Loops, so future generations can fully appreciate my insanity.
It all made up for the crapola winter driving conditions we weathered (get it?) to make it out there.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


On the trip home from Ohio, we discussed our New Year's Resolutions. We decided that they should be both in the spirit of self-improvement and achievable.

Me: I resolve to exercise more and to finish my book in 2009.

Daddy Shortbread: I resolve to exercise more and organize our family's financial files.

Bug: I resolve to be nicer to my sister.

Bear: I resolve to keep my room neater.

Later today I plan to upload all of the photo files from the trip, so eventually there will be some holiday photos posted, just as soon as I scrutinize them for any incriminating evidence of my holiday eating free-for-all.

Right now we're digging out from trip laundry, restocking the fridge, and chauffering the social butterflies around. Can you believe they both had invitations from friends after being home less than 24 hours?? Sheesh.

What are your New Year's Resolutions? We'd like to hear 'em.