Thursday, April 30, 2009

Groceries of Mass Panic

"I found the perfect term for you," my husband told me recently, "You're a Googlechondriac."

"Excuse me?" I asked icily.

"I read it online somewhere. It's like a hypochondriac, but who self-diagnoses using Google to find the worst case medical scenario," he said.

"Hm," I said, affecting disinterest but thinking damn, that's totally me.

I am that unfortunate trifecta of being fascinated by all things medical (my wealth of knowledge culled not entirely from ER, House, and Grey's Anatomy), having an overactive imagination, and feeling the sneaking suspicion that I am going to fall in the small percentages. When my OB tried to brush aside my childbirth concerns by telling me that 9 out of 10 women have perfectly normal births, it took all my self-control to nod and smile like a sane person when I felt like clutching him by his papery old white guy neck and screaming, Yeah? Well, what about the other one, buddy?? Ever think about her?? The one who bleeds out and dies on the delivery table???

It was around the six month prenatal visit during my pregnancy with Bear, when I mentioned that I was pretty sure I had some obscure pregnancy-related syndrome, that the same OB asked if I did a lot of reading? Like, say, medical books?

"Why, yes, I do," I told him smugly, fancying that the knowing glint in his eye was his recognition of another member of the Medically Savvy.

Turning to my husband, he said bluntly, "Take them away from her," made a quick notation on my chart and left.

So the people who know me best were not entirely surprised by my reaction to Swine Flu this week. And by reaction I mean my doing everything short of throwing a world map up on the living room wall and charting the minute-by-minute spread of the global pandemic that's going to KILL US ALL BY NEXT WEEK OMIGOD. Let's just say there was a little bit of obsessive "refresh" clicking while I sat glued to the CNN website. Also some hand-washing. OK, a lot of hand-washing. Really, really thorough hand-washing. Then...then came The Groceries of Mass Panic.

Sidebar & Confession: Have you ever read "The Long Winter" by Laura Ingalls Wilder? Specifically the part where they're stranded by blizzards all winter and can't get supplies into town because the trains can't get through, and they run out of food and have to grind wheat in their hand-crank coffee grinder to make one tiny loaf of bread a day for the six of them to share? It left a lasting impression on me when I read it in third grade. To this day I have a horror/fascination of being stranded at home and having to make do on whatever groceries are in the house. (Secretly I like to think I could rock it and whip up awesome meals using only ingredients like canned peaches and Top Ramen).

But I'm not taking any chances, and usually have enough food to feed a medium-sized army on hand at all times. One of my kid's friends, staring open-mouthed at our array of cereals once said, "I didn't even know they made that many kinds of cereal." Also, I like choices. If I feel like Raisin Bran, I don't want to have to make do with Shredded Wheat or Honey Bunches of Oats. This way, my options are open, plus we're covered if, say, there's an ice-storm (realistic) or a nuclear detonation (not-quite-so-realistic, but we'd be all set on cereal if there was).

When Governor Baldacci interrupted Oprah on Wednesday to announce three confirmed cases of Swine Flu (note to CDC: H1N1 is never going to have the same ring to it, give it up) in Maine, I snapped to immediate attention. All Mainers should go to the Maine CDC website for further infor..., he said. I was logging on to the site before -mation was out of his mouth. And it was on that site that I saw the magical words:

To plan for a pandemic:
Store a two week supply of water and food. During a pandemic, if you cannot get to a store, or if stores are out of supplies, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand. This can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters.

Say no more, my friend. Say. No. More. I was at the grocery store at 7:45 the next morning, list in hand.

It wasn't until later in the day when I was putting away the bags and bags (and bags) of canned goods that I began to feel slightly embarrassed. I can actually pinpoint my mental shift to exactly the moment I was trying to figure out whether to shelve the eight cans of refried beans next to the twenty cans of fruit? or behind the God-help-me eighteen boxes of Kraft Mac 'n Cheese? Then my gaze fell on the two glass jars of capers that I swear I don't remember putting in the cart, but obviously did. What the hell was I thinking? That we might be quarantined for Swine Flu and there would be a sudden Chicken Piccata Emergency? Humanity might be dropping like flies, but by GOD, we can still make chicken piccata.

I might have also shelved fourteen cans of soup.

We hate canned soup.

However! I'm pleased to report that I've regained some perspective and am barely even freaking out at all anymore. Just ... don't sneeze, cough, or look feverish in my vicinity. I'm still a tad sensitive to that, and I can't be responsible for my hair-trigger reaction if you do.

Don't make me whip the industrial-sized bottle of hand sanitizer out of my purse. Or break out the (*blush*) four boxes of surgical masks in my bathroom cupboard.


Scene: Yesterday after school, Bug, Bear and I are siting around the kitchen table having a snack.

Bear: Mom? How come you and Mrs. Best Friend are always talking lahk thees?

Me (calmly): Because it's hysterically funny.

Bear: No, it's not.

Me: Yes, eet eez.

Bug: *giggles*

Me: See? Hilarious.

Bear: Mooooooooom. It's embarrassing and really annoying.

Me: Huh. So yew don't wunt me doin' thees in frunna yer frenz? Nope, still funny. Sorry.

Bear: Arrrrg!

Aww, she's embarrassed by her mother... a true milestone on the road to teenagerdom. Being mortified by your parents' behavior is practically a rite of passage. Next will come criticism of how I dress! I can hardly wait!

And, for the record, her friends think I'm quite amusing.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Boredom Is Not An Option: Plimoth Plantation

In the time-honored tradition of kids everywhere, my daughters often come to me complaining that they're "bored" or "don't know what to do", like I'm going to whip out a tap dance or performing monkeys to enliven their drab little lives. Nothing frustrates me more. While we're certainly not the Rockefellers, these kids have a yard, creek, woods, swingset, and pretty much every indoor and outdoor toy on the market, not to mention shelves and shelves of books and art supplies. They're usually hinting around the fact that they'd like to watch TV or play a video game, but because I'm a wretched inhumane kind of mother, those activities are off the table when the weather is nice. It's Maine. You have to take advantage of the nice. It's fleeting; before you can say "mosquito", you're back to gray skies and frost in the mornings.

So when the opportunity arose to visit Plimoth Plantation, I seized it, thinking A-ha! Let's give these 21st century kids a peek at the hardscrabble reality of a Pilgrim kid's life...
We took


and Papa


Plimoth Plantation is divided into two sections: a Wampanoag village and a Pilgrim village. Both of them are staffed with people dressed in period costume who behave as if they were living in the 1620's. You are encouraged to walk right up to them and ask questions as they go about their daily lives. Historically accurate, down to the clothes, pottery, and nails used to build the homes, it is a fascinating experience.

This Native American Man was working on a canoe, from a tree he had personally cut down, carved, burned out and scraped. It took months, he told us, and would still be several more weeks before it had cured in the sun and they could put it in the water to see if it was sea-worthy. The kids were mildly interested. I felt a pang of conscience, thinking of how I've been putting off vacuuming my van because it's SO time-consuming and boring. As in I'd have to dig out an extension cord and run the hand-vac for twenty minutes and maybe I'll just sit here and flip through People magazine instead. Ahem. Maybe the kids aren't the only spoiled ones?This really kind of sums it up, doesn't it? Bear, the 21st century kid, taking pictures with her cell phone of a 17th century Native American woman planting crops.
Walking into one of the homes, we found a Pilgrim woman cooking a venison stew in the fireplace and I asked the question I'd been saving up since we first decided to do this trip, "What sort of work do the children of the village do?" I inquired sweetly, and within clear earshot of my kids.
"The same work as the adults, miss," she shot right back, "When I go to the fields to help my husband, I take my little ones along. Of course, when they're small, they just play near me."

I saw Bug smiling and just knew that in her mind, she was a Pilgrim girl skipping merrily through the corn fields and weaving daisy chains. Then the woman indicated a little boy of about four standing near us, "Of course, by the time they are as big as that one, they are working." And the smile died on Bug's face.
The houses were simple and small. I tried to imagine how on earth they were heated sufficiently during a New England winter. I failed. Inside this tiny dwelling, I pointed out the clothesline of four simple garments along the wall to Bear, "See that, honey? That would be your closet." Then I savored the look of horror on her face.Spoiled or no, I do plan to keep them, since they're kind of cute and all. But maybe now they won't moan quite so loudly when I ask them to put away their laundry? Hush. Let me dream.
The Pilgrims might have had an ocean view, but they also had roofs made of grass and sticks, no insulation, no feminine hygiene products (imagine!), and neighbors that resented the hell out of them. We're sticking with the 21st century and our pansy-ass little problems like what shade to repaint the bathroom and how to get the cat to stop flipping her water bowl over every ten minutes.
And the kids are just going to have to find a way to entertain their deprived little selves.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My Loving, Supportive Husband

Scene: driving home from Salem, Massachusetts. We had just taken a tour of The House of the Seven Gables.

Me (thinking over the iron teakettle we'd just seen that weighed 25 lbs. empty): I'd have made a really sucky Colonial woman, what with my bad back and all.

Daddy Shortbread: True.

Me (musing): Of course, I'd probably have died in childbirth, so there wouldn't have been too many years of kettle-lifting for me anyway.

Daddy Shortbread: Oh, hon. They'd have burned you at the stake LONG before you'd made it to childbirth.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spring Break

We're tooling around Massachusetts for a few days as Spring Break week winds down. We'll be back home tomorrow night, so details of our wanderings will be posted once I wade through the thousand or so pictures I've shot... suffice it to say: Pilgrims were seen, a ship was boarded, beaches were strolled, and hotel pools have been swum. Coming up tomorrow: a town known for its policy on witches. Where are we going??

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Easter...Spring...well, Close Enough

We host an Easter Egg Hunt every year for some of our girls' friends. In their early years I took Bug and Bear to some community egg hunts. They sucked. For one thing, Easter in Maine is a dicey proposition. There is often still snow on the ground, and if the snow is melted, it's a muddy mess. Therefore, egg hunts are usually held on parking lots.

There were never enough eggs for the number of kids that show up. My girls would net maybe six eggs, one of which had been stepped on. They frequently got knocked down to the pavement by the crush of kids stampeding for eggs. But the year that really did it for me was the year that Parks and Rec enlisted the help of the senior center to fill the plastic eggs for the egg hunt. Nice, right?

When the girls opened their eggs that year, we discovered that the candy inside were three bare jellybeans per egg, wrapped in a hand-twisted piece of foil. Gross. Even more so because that year's egg hunt had been held in a misty rain, and the jellybeans in the foil were wet and melty. I vowed that the next year we would hold our own egg hunt and we would do it RIGHT.

This year was our sixth annual Spring Egg Hunt. I don't bother with trying to hold it in time for Easter. I wait for the weather, and the kids don't seem to give a hoot.

My mother and I filled 1250 eggs with candy. Papa was on hand this year to assist Daddy Shortbread in distributing them around our three acre yard. It has to be done early, but not too early, the morning of the hunt. An hour before the hunt is about right. We've learned through sad experience that curious squirrels will bite right through the shiny plastic eggs to check out what's inside if the eggs are out for too long.

We even hang them from the trees.
In case you were wondering, it takes forty kids about four minutes to hoover up 1250 eggs. It's impressive. They've learned over the years not to bring any of those twee little Easter baskets to our egg hunts. Most of them show up with tote bags and sturdy footwear. They mean business. After the eggs are picked up, the kids cluster around the Egg Return Box in the driveway, feverishly opening plastic eggs with the nimble fingers of 19th century child factory workers. Why? Well, some of the eggs contain candy, but others hold highly valued paper slips of Bunny Money. Once the kids have their Bunny Money in hand, they head into the garage to....
THE BUNNY STORE! This is the highlight of the egg hunt. As the self-declared Queen of the Target Dollar Aisle & Oriental Trading Company, I spend the year snatching up bargains on all types of toys, school supplies, and craft items. Each item on the table costs $1, $2, or $3 of Bunny Money. The kids usually scores $20 - $30 in their eggs, and the National Bank of Daddy Shortbread is wandering around with a pocket full of Bunny Money to provide "stimulus packages" to any kid that got shafted on Bunny Money. We run a Socialist egg hunt.
Nana, several of the moms, and I work behind the table filling the kids' orders. When they've spent $5 Bunny Money, the kids head to the back of the line. This ensures that the first kids in line don't buy up all the good stuff. I guess that also makes it a Communist egg hunt. Whatever.
I thought these pencils were supercute.
But year after year, the hottest item in the Bunny Store is these ridiculous, cheap-as-dirt chenille chicks the size of my thumbnail. Don't ask me why, but the kids love 'em. My kids have whole families of little chicks. Bug and Bear spend hours crafting houses for them out of shoeboxes. One of Bug's chicks even has a flat-screen TV made out of popsicle sticks and foil. She glued a picture of a drumstick to the screen. I vascillate between thinking that's adorable and being concerned.
Once every kid has spent their bunny money, it's time to eat. With moms and dads helping to ferry the food out from the kitchen, while I sweep the toys and prizes into plastic tubs for next year, the Bunny Store is transformed into a brunch buffet. Each family brings a brunch dish to the hunt, and the amount of food is truly staggering. The frenetic pace of the morning slows down, and the adults get a chance to eat, sip coffee, and chat.
The kids gather at the picnic tables and eat while comparing loot. They don't rest for long, though, and are up and running around again within minutes. A few will scour the yard for missed eggs, while others get up a whiffleball game in the front yard, or head to the swingset. And every single year, at least one child (usually a boy) manages to "fall" in the creek, announcing it in a cheerful enough way to lead to suspicion that it was not entirely an accident.
Good times. Great times.

Monday, April 20, 2009


...has sprung. And instead of blogging, I've been elbow-deep in dirt for the the last several, gloriously sunshiney days. I've planted blueberry bushes, apple trees, peas, and am now digging a new flower garden in front (my old ones are full).

At night, when I ease my achey muscles and sore back into bed, I can hear the peepers along the creek making a joyful racket. It's one of my top ten favorite sounds of all-time. It means that spring is definitely, irrevocably HERE. No backsies now.

Tomorrow, though, we're to get 1-2 inches of rain. I suppose it will be a good time to upload the photos from my camera and catch up.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Study Hall, v. 2009

All the junior high students around here are issued their own laptops by the school. They carry them around during the school day and do the bulk of their work on them. Lab reports, book reports, and essays are all written on the laptops and then emailed to the teacher, who emails them back the corrections and their grade. Bear has even learned to make Powerpoint-style slide show presentations, which is a far cry from the handwritten index card & poster board prop speeches I used to put together in junior high.

Some of their textbooks are even loaded onto the computers (leading me to wonder why her backback still manages to weigh seventy billion pounds). It's all quite mind-blowingly Jetson-ish to someone who went to school twenty years ago in the Age of Paper Textbooks and Number Two Pencils, and who laboriously typed even her college papers on a Brother Selectric Typewriter with the optional super-cool white-out ribbon.

During study hall, they are allowed to "play" on their computers if their schoolwork is done. This means that I occasionally receive emails like this from Bear while she's at school:

"Hi, Mom!"
"I messed up these pictures of myself!
Love, Bear"
Well, thank goodness she told me. I would never have known.

And, really? This is what I'm paying taxes for?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Easter Bunny: One Prepared Dude

Scene: yesterday, in the minivan, in which I attempt to mess with my kid.

Me: Hey, Bug, we still haven't gotten out the Easter baskets. What do you think Easter Bunny would do if you didn't leave your basket out? Do you think he wouldn't leave any candy?

Bug: No, I assume he would provide a container for me.

Now I ask you, what nine-year-old talks like that? "Provide a container"? Are you kidding me?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

That Sound You Just Heard? My Heart Breaking.

This morning I found a crumpled announcement in Bear's backpack for a Writer's Reception after school today. Students from the local college would be leading a workshop to introduce a school-wide writing contest and give the junior high kids pointers.

Bear is a capital-W Writer. She writes constantly and prolifically, never going anywhere without a notebook. An entire shelf in her closet is dedicated to her writing notebooks, her lists of story ideas, and character sketches. She's been known to leap off the couch in the middle of a movie to go jot down a sudden story idea.

I waved the piece of paper at her and asked if she'd seen it.

Bear: Yes.

Me: Well, are you going?

Bear (hesitant): I don't know.

Me: Why?

Bear: Welllll...I'm not sure if anyone I know will be going.

Me: Who cares? This is about writing! Just think of all the great pointers you could pick up.

Bear: Yeah...

Me: Are you going to enter the contest?

Bear: Um...

Daddy Shortbread: Oh, come on. If there were an after-school program where they were handing out free money, would you first wait to find out if any of your friends would be there?

Bear (dead serious): Yes.

And there you have it. We have officially entered the phase of Peer Pressure. It kills me that she would suppress her own interests lest she not appear cool. But I also remember being that age, and I do remember how truly important it seemed not to stand out from the herd, even though the perspective of time has shown me just how ridiculous that was. All I can do is continue to support and encourage her interests at home and hope that eventually, please God, she will realize that peer approval is nothing if you're not true to yourself.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Backstage at the Dance Recital

The giant garment bag full o' costumes is a given. I also take a ginormous black bag containing the following:

1. dance shoes (duh)
2. hairspray, hairspray, hairspray
3. bobby pins and elastics
4. hair nets for ballet buns
5. makeup for touchups
6. hairbrush
7. water bottles (I'd put vodka in mine, but I'm afraid I'd accidentally give it to one of the girls)
8. extra tights
9. safety pins
10. jellybeans (obviously)
11. Cheez-its
12. Twizzlers
13. Goldfish (crackers, not fish)
14. iPods
15. DS
16. camera

AND... (drumroll, please)...

17. inhaler (for my asthma from all the goddamn hairspray)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Crazy With a Side of Hairspray

This week is Dance Recital Week in our house. You may also know it as The Week in Which We Eat A Whole Lotta McDonald's. Or perhaps The Week In Which Mommy Peers Into the Abyss. It's all kinds of crazy, with a lot of focus on sequins, hairspray, and tights.

My main job is keeping the girls' costumes, hairpieces, and bobby pins organized backstage. It's not glamorous, but it's key. Kind of like the guy that buys the pens Obama uses to sign bills into law.

But the bottom line, and the thing that takes the starch out of my complaining is this: my girls LOVE to dance. They love it, and I love watching them light up from the inside when they do it. I love that they're not afraid to walk out onto the stage and dance their hearts out in front of a packed house. I see the self-confidence dance has given them, and the pride on their faces as they walk offstage and hustle over to me to change into the next costume. So while keeping them in leotards/shoes/lessons might be pricey, the hairspray may be suffocatingly fumey, and ironing costumes makes me want to throw heavy objects (like, say, an iron) through plate-glass windows, I'll continue to do my part for just as long as they love to dance.

Here's a peek at a few of this year's numbers taken at last night's dress rehearsal. The photos aren't fantastic, since I had to creatively crop and blur to keep from showing other people's kids, but you'll get the idea.

Bear dancing classical ballet:

Bug dancing classical ballet:
Bug doing jazz:
Bear, looking frighteningly teenagerish, and dancing tap:
Bug, lyric ballet:
Bear, jazz:

We've got two more shows to go, if we don't OD on hairspray fumes first.