Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Our family's New Year's Eve tradition began on December 31, 1996. Tom and I had only moved to Flagstaff, Arizona two months before. I had taken a sabbatical from my teaching job in September when my OB put me on bedrest due to pregnancy complications. Tom, newly admitted to the State Bar, had to find a job fast and that job happened to be about 200 miles north. By New Year's Eve, I was a stable six-and-a-half months pregnant, Tom was a defense attorney, and we hadn't made friends in town yet.

We watched the clock tick quietly into the New Year with a plate of cupcakes between us. I had only recently begun to enjoy food again, after twenty-plus weeks of wretched nausea that had caused me to lose twenty-two pounds. I savored every bite of those cupcakes, every lick of the creamy, homemade frosting. And as we ate, we talked. We talked about the wild changes of the past few months and of how this new year, 1997, would be the year that we would meet our baby girl. It was inconceivable, even with the reality of my pregnant tummy between us, that we would be a family of three in just a few months. (It turned out to be even earlier than that, but we had no idea then what third trimester complications lay ahead).

I baked cupcakes again for New Year's Eve 1997, and we gave 10-month-old Bear small licks of frosting from our fingertips. There was no question but that cupcakes had become our New Year's tradition. I mean, come on, a tradition involving cupcakes? It was a no-brainer.

Our New Year's Eve has now grown to include the family of our closest friends. We order Chinese, we eat cupcakes, and after dinner the kids migrate to the family room downstairs to watch a movie or play video games. The four adults sip crazy-delightful cocktails (this year's recipe involves rum, tequila, pineapple juice, cream of coconut and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, YUM) and play cards or dominoes at the dining room table. There is a lot of laughter, and at some point (usually well before midnight), everyone winds up in pajamas. Adults, too.

When I first saw "When Harry Met Sally", I vowed that as an adult I would spend my New Year's Eves at a fancy-dress ball in a swanky hotel. I'm hear to tell you that I am ten thousand times happier in my own living room, in my cutest flannel pjs (oxymoron alert!), with a ridiculous rum concoction in hand, listening to four kids roaring "TEN, NINE, EIGHT..." at the TV, while they clutch sparkling grape juice in my very best crystal glasses. It's hilarious and cozy and all feels right with the world. Also I don't have to wear panty-hose or drive home. So, win-win.

Not long after midnight, the four kids begin to drop like flies - falling asleep on beds and couches around the house. This year, the grown-ups are spending the night, too, in our newly minted guest room, less for reasons of drunkenness and more along the logical lines of, "Well, you're already here and wearing pajamas, so..." We'll all go out for breakfast in the morning, and 2010 will feel well and properly ushered in.

And every year, as I eat my cupcake, I think back to that first year when it was just Tom and I and we had no clue what lay before us. I couldn't have wished for more.

Happy 2010!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry & Bright

Have you ever placed a treat in front of a dog but not allowed them to eat it until you give the command? That's pretty much my kids in this picture. Taken just an hour or so ago on Christmas Eve, they knew that once I got a decent shot of them in front of the tree, they'd be allowed to open their Christmas gifts from Uncle Awesome and Aunt Fabulous. If you look carefully, you can see the barely suppressed gleam of manic hysteria in their eyes.

Once I finish up with this, we will begin negotiations for Christmas Morning Protocol:

What time can they wake us up? 7:30.
How about 6:30? Fine, 7:00.
6:45?? Sorry, 7:00 is my final offer.
Can they go into each others' rooms? Yes, if you're quiet.
What about watching TV in the living room? Nope.
Can they peek in the living room? Yes, but no touching the gifts.
What about stockings? Can they touch stockings? No. Peeking only.
Are we opening gifts before breakfast? Yes, but I reserve the right to pause gift-opening to fetch a cup of coffee.

Merry Christmas from Maine!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Home Renovations: The Photos, part 1

We're DONE. Mostly. I hate to modify "done" in any way, but there are still the odd outlet covers to be screwed on, paint dings to touch up, and wall-hangings to be hung. We'll get there, but we're taking a breather for Christmas

Update: Ten minutes after I typed this, the bank called and scheduled our appraisal for Wednesday. So, um, I guess those outlet covers are going on, like, TODAY. So much for my damn Christmas breather. Humbug.

I scanned back through my photo files until I lost interest and ran out of caramel corn to munch on. Turns out, I have no decent "before" picture of my living room. I attribute this to the fact
that I hated my old, cramped living room so much that I rarely took pictures there and to not having made nearly enough caramel corn. What I did find is this charmer of a photo taken in October, after we had scraped the ceiling clean and begun to pack things up. It gives a completely accurate idea of the total lack of space.

And do you see that little scalloped trim thingy above the built-in shelves? That made be want to strangle bunnies on a daily basis. I am not a scalloped-trim kind of gal (but I'm not judging if you are).
Same room (to the right of the framed partition), late October. I call this phase Early Sledgehammer. Although Mid-Mental Breakdown would also be correct.
And our living room today:
There are still major decorating tweaks in order. I haven't decided on window treatments yet, nor bought an accent rug for the center of the room, nor hung anything on the walls. But notice how the furniture is not jammed cheek-to-jowl along the walls? This, to me, is heaven.

This is our front door and dining area. The kitchen lies to the right, and although it was outside the scope of this renovation, we did refloor and repaint in there. I'll be refinishing the cabinets in January whenever I damn well feel like it. So you might see some pictures of it then.
This is the view when you walk in my front door (glider and window are in the master bedroom):
The living room lies to your right, the dining area/kitchen to your left. See the taupe-colored (and my! how beautifully painted!) wall in the foreground? That used to be the back wall of my house. The addition we built includes the hallway, the girls' rooms opening off either side of the hall, and the master bedroom/bathroom at the end.

Tours of the girls' rooms are coming up later this week. A tour of the master bedroom will occur when I finally get all the laundry folded and put away. As in, don't hold your breath. But maybe if the stars align and someone brings me more caramel corn. Maybe.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The First Snow Day

The first snow day of the year is pure magic. It's a gift of a day, with no demands other than to relax and enjoy (and snowblow the driveway and keep the woodstove stocked, but the under 13-set is consummately unconcerned with such trivia). I knew a storm was moving in Wednesday, but figured at best it would mean an early release day for the girls.

"Or they might just make it a snow day, right Mom?" Bug pestered, despite my telling her repeatedly that "no, they'll probably have you go in for the morning."

At the 6:00 am alarm, I fumbled for the remote and turned on the living room TV, which was still residing in my bedroom pending, you know, a living room. (Since remedied! Stay tuned for finished construction pictures soon! Fine, SOONISH. We all know how I operate).

Both girls wandered down the hall and piled onto our bed as we watched the scrolling school cancellations at the bottom of the screen. And watched. And watched. Aaaaaaand watched.

Twenty minutes later, and I still hadn't seen a single familiar district number. Weird. Until I suddenly realized that I had no idea what district number I was supposed to be looking for, since our state had completely restructured and consolidated the school districts this past summer. I had a vague memory of newspaper articles that I'd skimmed over in July, while looking for the tide charts before going to the beach. I began to wish I'd actually read one.

I scrambled through the slag pile of lunch menus and school memos, hoping something had a district number on it. Finally, in complete frustration, I Googled, "What IN THE HELL district number is Town X, Maine?" And found it. No joke.

"SNOW DAY!" I told the girls. Bear immediately dove back into her bed and slept for three more hours like the teenager she nearly is. Bug ran to the computer to email the news to her Nana in Ohio.

After a late breakfast, we baked Christmas cookies, then wrapped presents, while the cats tiptoed delightedly through piles of tissue paper and ribbon.

Around lunchtime, once the snow was really beginning to pile up outside, we geared up and headed out to sled in the backyard.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Cards

Scene: Yesterday afternoon. I am feverishly writing out Christmas cards, which Bear then slaps a stamp and an address label on. Bug is writing a book report across the table from us.

Bug: Mom, how come people just put the kids' pictures on Christmas cards?

Me (thinking because most moms would require a professional stylist and and the photo stylings of Annie Liebowitz before they could produce a photo of themselves that they would be willing to ship off to all and sundry, but squelching that because I am determined to raise girls who do not have body image issues): Uh...because the kids are who really change from year to year. That's who friends and family want to see!

Bug (looking at me appraisingly): Well, you didn't have highlights last year, and you probably got a whole lot more gray hairs.

Me (apparently unable to completely mask my look of shock)

Bug(soothingly): But they're all covered up by the hair dye, Mom.

Me: Thank you?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

We Interrupt This Home Renovation to Bring You an Anecdote Which Illustrates What a Moron I Am.

I love me some Facebook. I grew up in a military family, and moving every three years or so did not leave me with a lot of friendships that made it to adulthood. Still, I frequently thought of those childhood friends and wondered what became of them. When I joined Facebook, I was pleasantly surprised to see that some of them had been looking for me, too. I had fun plugging in those long-ago friends' names and sending off friend requests. Even more fun was when when friend requests popped into my inbox. I'd click and find myself looking at a name I hadn't thought of in years, but one I'd written on countless notes, waited until Mr. Albrecht's back was turned, and then passed over my shoulder.

Until the day I clicked on the "You Have 1 Friend Request!" message and found myself staring at the name of a dead girl. I froze.

Stacy Carter.* We had lived on the same cul-de-sac in Tucson and gone to the same high school. She was a year ahead of me in school - tall, with curly strawberry blonde hair and a body straight from Playboy. She dated an older boy (in retrospect, most likely a dropout), who would roar up to her house in an old Camaro and sit there revving the engine until she came out the front door and strolled languidly down the front walk. She was light years more sophisticated than me, and I watched her with envy, trying to imitate her sultry walk in my bedroom.

One day as I walked home from tenth grade, she overtook me on the sidewalk and slowed her pace to mine.

"Hey," she said casually, like it was no big deal to walk with me. Like we were already friends.

"Hey," I said, "What's up?"

"Oh, everything pretty much sucks," she said, rolling her eyes, "You know?"

"Yeah," I said, although I didn't, and the only sucky thing I could really come up with was that my mom was making me re-clean my room after school because I hadn't done a good enough job the day before. I doubted that Stacy Carter gave a shit.

"My boyfriend got totally wasted again last night and passed out at this party in South Tucson? And I was stranded there and didn't know anyone, and I can't drive a stick, so I couldn't even take his keys and leave. I was totally late getting home, and my stepdad is PISSED. I'm grounded, like, forever," she frowned, "And I'm flunking Algebra. Again."

Like I said. I had nothin' compared with that. Stacy Carter did not want to hear about my incompetence with a dustrag. We walked the rest of the way home and chatted about mundane topics like school and clothes.

We never became close friends, but she always smiled and said hi when we passed in the halls. Once in a while, we'd wind up walking home together. Once she graduated from high school that May, she lit out with her boyfriend. The next year I heard she was pregnant. The next year, a neighbor had heard that she was working as a stripper and into drugs. A couple of years later, she had another kid and word on the cul-de-sac was that she was trying to clean up her act.

The next time I heard her name was six years later when my mother mentioned in a phone conversation that she had died of ovarian cancer, leaving behind two young children.

When her name showed up in my Facebook inbox, I figured that some sicko was using her name to send out friend requests to the people from my high school. I considered sending the sicko a message, calling him on it, but in the end just clicked "ignore." The less contact with psychopaths, the better. It's a personal motto that's served me well.

Several months later, I finally found a good friend I'd been looking for for years - Kathy Grenier.* We sent many messages back and forth, catching up on all the years since high school. In one of them, I asked her, "Hey, who was the blonde girl that used to eat lunch with us junior year? I cannot come up with her name."

"Stacy Carter," she sent back.


Suddenly it dawned on me. Stacy Carter! The sweet sophomore with long blonde hair and smiley blue eyes who used to sit on the wall with us at lunch! I was her pianist for a vocal audition! She came to my birthday party! Of course!

And my neighbor was ... Stacy ROGERS. Oh, crap.

Have you ever sent a Friend Request along with a personal message that essentially says, "Hi! Sorry I ignored your friend request. I thought you were impersonating a dead girl. My bad."

I have.

*Names changed to protect people who probably don't want to be associated with me, even on the internet.**

**Because of me being a moron and all. ***

***I'm done now.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Warning: Home Renovation May Be Hazardous to Your Reflection

As enamored as I've been of my shiny new master bathroom, with its icy blue walls, light sage-and-blue striped shower curtain, and gorgeous brushed-nickel oval mirror, it's been a long while since I've taken a good hard look at MYSELF in that mirror. Today I did.

Girlfriend's lookin' a little rough around the edges, I must say.

My hair is in desperate need of my stylist/colorist, with a solid inch+ of roots showing and a style that could best be described as "let's get this trainwreck into a ponytail and under a baseball cap ASAP." We won't discuss the fact that the roots are also peppered with gray to an alarming degree. Or the two rogue gray eyebrows I found. WTF? I'm 38.

There was a smudge of green paint ON MY BRA. A bra which surely (yes, yes definitely) has been washed since I painted green in the living room. And even if it hadn't ... how'd I get it on my bra? The mind boggles.

My face looks tired. I am tired. I don't remember being this consistently tired since I had a newborn. The other night after my shower, I was drying off and noticed an enormous smear of paint down my right arm. Like, say, eight inches long by two inches wide. For the life of me, and I stood there awhile and thought hard, but I couldn't remember if I'd washed that arm. And rather than get back in the shower, re-wash, and delay bedtime by another 15 minutes? I got in bed and figured I'll catch that arm tomorrow. Hopefully. That's tired.

I've definitely put on a few pounds during the renovation. Our diet has been erratic at best. Takeout pizza, quickie meals of microwaved hotdogs (eaten standing up, even), cereal, more Diet Coke with Vanilla than you have ever even conceived of, and let's not forget my standby coping device: panic-eating. I get a phone call saying that, oh BTW, the flooring cost about $1600 more than you thought it would, putting you way over your flooring allowance. I dip straight into the Mint Milanos. I may be paying you $1600 more than I planned, overpriced flooring company, but as I chew viciously on this cookie, I am pretending it is your neck. Ha. Who's the loser now?

(I would also like to mention that my gym membership has not done my figure on single whit of good lately. This may or may not be related to the fact that I haven't technically been to the gym in two and a half months. But still. I strongly feel that you should get, like, a 300 calorie per day credit, just for having the gym membership. Because it shows that you have the intention to be healthy, even if you're not really strong on the follow-through).

I guess we all know what my New Year's resolution is going to be, right? In the meantime, I've booked an appointment with my hair stylist for next Friday. And I'm absolutely having her dye my eyebrows, too.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Disney Brings Out The Crazy In My Family

When you take my family, which has a sharp appreciation for all things funny, and plunk them in the middle of a theme park whose very atmosphere encourages silliness.... you end up with your camera's memory card stuffed full of images like these:

Uncle Awesome and his patented expression of Wacky Disney Fun:
Cap'n Tom of Starship Command (with Lieutenant Squeakypants):
Bear (in the background) shows how she feels about being ignored by her favorite Disney character:
And just for variety, my father and I, we scoff at the whimsy:
Do not, I repeat, do not take my husband to Extra Magic Hours when you can stay in The Magic Kingdom until 1:00 am. He is not to be trusted and is likely to frighten small children.
Who needs all the stereotypical smiley vacation pictures? For this picture of Bug and Tom (who do not tend to be morning people), taken before breakfast on one of our last mornings, I simply said, "Show me how you really feel this morning."
But not all was silliness and fun. There were some deadly serious issues to be dealt with. Namely, my hair. Despite a gently worded reminder to the state of Florida, the humidity was NOT under control during our visit, and I got to walk around looking like a 1987 Jheri Curl commercial. This photo was taken in the morning. Overall volume inflated by about 180% by dinnertime. Except for the day I got doused with water on Splash Mountain, and my hair had to air-dry as I strolled through the park. That day was more of a 1500% volume increase day.
Next time, I will skip packing the hair products and flat iron and take an assortment of hats.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Please Explain This To Me.

When you send a kid (Bear) to school on the day of the school's H1N1 vaccine clinic, and they refuse to give her the vaccine because they say she has a temperature over 100 degrees (which they take three times to verify)...

Would you not expect them to send that kid home from school? Or at least call me to let me know?

Nope. I found out when I picked her up after school.

I'm baffled.