Wednesday, August 29, 2007

An Informal Survey

I have nothing to say at this time. Like, not a single thing. How I've managed to blog-blather for almost two years now with any consistency (I know I use the term loosely) is a mystery to me. I need some clarity.

For bloggers: How do you come up with things to write about on the days when no inspiration is readily apparent? How do you foster the discipline necessary to put yourself out there on the computer screen day after day? If you are cognizant of issues that often/sometimes/rarely block you, how do you write through them?

For readers: Taking into consideration all the blogs you regularly digest, what topics do you most like to read about? What style(s) of writing do you appreciate? What makes you come back to one blog and what makes you stop coming back to another?

If you'd care to discuss the above in the comment section, I'd be grateful. Your ideas will help keep things lively in my creative absence and just might help get me--and anyone else on the same stalled train of thought--back on track before too long.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hello, I'm The Boss

Last night I told The Boss's paternal grandparents that our little girl is a fan of Johnny Cash.

Hearing her favorite artist's name, The Boss's eyes popped wide and her voice piped up. "Johnny Cash is singing Ring of Fire!" she declared.

I about swooned at her cuteness. To hear JCs name on the lips of my two year old daughter in a clearly articulated seven word sentence was music to my ears.

"And she can sing it, too," The Partner said. "You should hear her and Binky in harmony. If you could call it that. Which I don't think you can."

"It's true." I know my weaknesses, and I'm not too proud to flaunt them. I cued up the other half of my duo. "I fell in to a burning ring of fire..."

"Burning ring of fire..." The Boss sat in her high chair and chirped with soul. Sometimes in unison, sometimes in echo, we belted out the rest of the chorus. The last two lines were the strongest as The Boss's tuneless phrasing settled into mine. "Ring of fire. Ring of fire."

The grandparents clapped with more enthusiasm than they would have had for the Man in Black himself. The Boss applauded her own performance. I reveled in the moment with no concern whatsoever for the fact that neither of us could carry a tune in a bucket.

I've always admired those with the ability to really sing, those who could turn an ordinary get together into a celebration just by putting a thought to music and belting it out. But listening to my two year old daughter made me attune to the fact that it's not always about talent. Sometimes it's the right voice, however unsure, and the right song that make for an impromptu party.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


There's a new title on my resume, and it is that of "landlord." The house that The Boss, The Partner and I used to live in--the one that's been on the market for 7 months with several bites but no digestion--is now inhabited by a band of siblings between the ages of 15 and 25. The story seems to morph with each telling, but the gist of it is that their mom ran off with her boyfriend, leaving a pregnant 17-year old, another 17 year old (this one adopted) and a fifteen year old without any adult supervision. Their oldest sister, whose name is on our lease, came back from upstate New York to take custody of the children and to move them into suitable housing.

A credit check determined that she had none--good, bad or indifferent--but she struck The Partner as responsible and motivated when he met with her earlier this week. A day later, the group moved in. We stopped by on Sunday to make a few repairs and found the place cleaner and more homey than we had left it. There was talk of a lease-to-own arrangement, which we said we would be happy to consider. We left feeling as encouraged as we could have hoped.

I had a bad feeling about this in the beginning and I can't say that that the vibe has been significantly altered. But now I'm content to hope that I was wrong. The place is, after all, a starter home, and it's been a strong foundation underneath many, many feet for more than two hundred years. I hope our new renters find as much happiness and support within those walls as we did.

And I hope they pay the rent on time.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Unlikely Case of the Bird on the Head

To continue this week’s theme (if a single post in a five day span can be considered a theme) of truth vs. fiction, I submit to you The Boss’s First Lie.

It all played out on the beach, atop a blanket spread out over squishy grit. The Boss was on the blanket; her friends were in the water. What prevented The Boss from joining her two young compadres was the fact that she appears to have inherited some recessive clean-freak gene that makes it impossible for her to stand messiness of any kind. The Boss has no tolerance for things in life that are, as she likes to say, “dir-TY.”

With a soft bed of pink-and-white cotton between all exposed body parts and the sand, The Boss observed the world from her princess patch. Particles of silica would not make “icky feet” on her watch; she would not allow the stinging wetness of cold salt against her skin. She just sat. And babbled. And told her first story.

Of course the story was about a seagull. Could there be a dirtier bird? They were everywhere. One took to the land on calloused webbing and pecked its way into a large, unopened bag of Smartfood popcorn I’d carelessly left exposed. Kernels fell out. The seagull inhaled. I grabbed the wasted bag and threw it in the trash.

But that is not The Boss’s story or, as some might say, The Boss’s lie. This was The Boss’s lie:

“Seagull touched my head!” She patted herself ferociously, the flat palm slamming onto her pate. “Bird on my heeeaaaaddddd!”

I stared at her. Then I looked around for a low flying bird. Turns out there were many. But I had been sitting right there, and not one of them had skimmed her blond locks.

“Seagull touched my nose!” She poked her nose, the pointer finger a strange combination of disgust and glee. “Bird on my nooooose!”

At that point I knew she was making the whole thing up, and I was pretty sure she was having a grand old time doing it.

In one moment, in one small body, two lifetimes passed before my eyes. The first: my daughter as a pathological liar. The second: my daughter as a storyteller—a woman confident in all that surrounds her, with an unfailing eye and an ability to mold, with words, something real into something permanent.

And then I wondered if there was a huge difference between the two. Both imagined lifetimes began to merge and recess back into the thirty pound girl sitting before me.

“I can’t believe a seagull touched your nose,” I enthused as I pressed the pad of my own pointer finger, behind a nail bitten to the quick, into her supposedly compromised schnozz. “I just can’t believe it.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Crisis of Literary Identity

Sometimes I wonder if I'm cut out for journalism. Other times, I'm quite positive that I'm not. I am a bad interviewer. I don't like to ask questions that make people uncomfortable. I don't like to push. When I finally coax a flow of ideas from the source, I interrupt with a question that could've waited. I listen to tapes of my interviews and I cringe at every "um" and "uh."

I am finishing up an article for a regional parenting magazine about something that turned out to be a very sensitive topic. Grandparents raising grandchildren. Really, it doesn't have to be sensitive--I could write it as 1000 words of fluff and not offend anyone. I could even uplift a few people. But the reality is that walking around the issue in any depth requires the tips of my toes as I wade through un-uttered stories of death, neglect, desertion, drug use, incarceration, physical abuse, mental disorder, and I don't know what else. I don't know because I didn't ask. I don't want to alienate anyone. But I want to the tell the story.

What I need to do is start working on a novel. My own novel. My own imagined story, with my own truths, in the creation of which I am reliant on nobody but myself. Sure, I'll have to do some research, but my sources can be as anonymous as they want to be. Each one can hide behind the nameless curtain of fiction to tell his or her tale in a way that emerges more truthfully than it ever could in a self-conscious newspaper or magazine article. These sources will not be beholden to me, nor I to them. Their words, once uttered, become mine to do with what I wish.

Journalism is supposed to be unbiased. It is supposed to be true. But that's not the story I feel most comfortable telling. There is too much space between people and paper. What I write can never be your reality. What I write can only ever be mine.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Where To Put Your Emphasis

Sometimes when The Boss speaks, I can't help but think of that movie with the name I can't remember and the trailer that I don't think I'll ever get out of my head. It's the one where the guy on the plane goes "you put the wrong em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble." You know what I'm talking about. I know you do.

So, anyway, The Boss employs a strange annunciation. She says "wa-TER." Sometimes she doubles up on the wrongness of her emphasis with words like "COM-pu-TER." We hear that one a lot because she has a little stress relieving squeezy toy (my two year old is under a lot of pressure) in the shape of a desktop. She likes to brag about it as she walks around with the puffy foam in her outstretched hand.

Sometimes she adds syllables. "Where-y are you?" and "I'm-a gonna get you!" Or she'll try to string a sentence together--admirably, at first--only to be overwhelmed by the process. "Call nana phone! Call nana...on" She starts to trail off and her voice becomes soft with frustration. "Nana call..." Then, after what seems like minutes, stutter-struggling all the while, she throws out the sad, tiny flag of capitulation. ""

And, of course, there are the syllables that are just that. Sounds. Not one of them relates to the next in what could be construed by any English speaker as language. Though The Partner and I have become skilled at interpreting her dialect, there are times when we just have to smile at her and nod as we cast side-long glances at each other with raised, WTF eyebrows.

In the midst of all this discovery, we are well aware that it is only the beginning of a life-long lack of common understanding.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


How hilarious is this? It's The Boss's head on a cartoon drawing as she stars in her own children's book! Wait, it gets even better!
It's The Boss's head on a cartoon drawing, plus my head on a cartoon drawing, plus text that is personalized with our names (I erased The Boss's real name to protect the innocent) and our own special term for wee-wee! Woo hoo!

You too can participate in this personalization-palooza courtesy of Imagitales. As described on their site, "ImagiTales are fun, fast and easy to create. Imagine personalized children's books that feature your child's name and face on nearly every page! And ImagiTales are more than just fun - they encourage developmental progress and reinforce positive concepts, like potty training and recognizing colors and shapes."

The process involves uploading photos, cropping the heads (their connect-the-dots system is a bit tedious but overall not too time consuming) and inputting a few personalized terms into the text, like names of parents, siblings, favorite toys, etc.

You can get one free e-book (in PDF form), then you must pay $2.95 for each additional e-book. If you want to go all out and receive a paperback version for your child's bedtime pleasure, one copy will run you $9.95. Each paperback is shipped out right away and arrives in 1-2 weeks. An e-book that arrives in your email inbox right away is included in the price of each paperback.

The concept is fantastic. Who doesn't love the idea of his or her name and mug emblazoned across the printed page? My daughter certainly does. With The Boss in her two -year old "Queen's English" phase, her own name is her most commonly employed word. To hear it repeated over the course of an entire story, below illustrations featuring her own adorable head, is a boost to her ever-expanding sense of self-esteem.

The book itself could be improved upon. The 5x7 size is a bit on the small side, and the pages, though relatively sturdy, are unlikely to stand the test of toddler time. There are a few design issues, like an unattractive amount of white space on the cover of "On The Farm," or a head insertion error combined with some politically incorrect verbiage in "Things That Go." See here:

My daughter may indeed choose to fight fires when she gets older, but I hope I don't offend anyone when I say I am not excited about the prospect of her being forced to undergo a sex change operation in order to become a "fireman."
It's this lack of attention to detail that needs to be worked on before I can fully recommend Imagitales. For what they are, the books are fine. It seems unlikely that your child could see his or her name and photo in a real book for less than the $9.95 price tag on Imagitales. My daughter is far less critical than I am, and she enjoys her personalized books tremendously. I also created one as a birthday present for The Boss's four year old friend, and I know without a doubt that she will love it. I just wish the presentation was a little more polished so that her mom and dad would be equally impressed.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Eyes Have It

I have uniquely bad vision. I am not one of the people who can walk into a well stocked optician's office and walk out with a pair of contact lenses. Mine are always special order. I don't have much in the way of natural eyesight.

I've been through a host of eye doctors due to changes in geography. I am always amused by their reactions as they get the first inkling of just how bad things are. My favorite is the one who told me that it's a good thing I wasn't around in prehistoric days, because I would've been eaten by a dinosaur. I call him Dr. Darwin. Then there was today's appointment, when the doctor chuckled that I "have a little bit of nearsightedness." I call him Dr. Hilarious.

It was at this appointment with Dr. Hilarious that I realized another troubling element to my eye situation. Since it is likely that I got my abyssmal vision from my mother, and such things are usually genetic--not to mention passed down from the female--there is a good chance my children will suffer a similar affliction. From now on I have to keep a close eye (ha) on The Boss to see if she starts sitting on top of the television or holding books one inch from her face. Or tripping over her feet because she can't see what's in front of her--that would probably be a good clue, too. It's what happened to me.

My mother still speaks with venom about the pediatrician who repeatedly told her to yell at me for my scatter-brained ways when she kept bringing up to him my clumsiness. Though my mother thought there must be something wrong with someone so completely out of touch with balance, the doctor just figured I was in my own little world and needed to be jolted back to reality every so often. It wasn't until over a year later that she finally took me to an eye doctor who determined I was not only seeing poorly, but I saw single objects in multiples. It was no wonder I was falling all over myself. Though my mother was always the first and the proudest to say that I tripped along to the beat of a different drummer, she knew there had been something a bit extreme about my strange parade.

My main hope is that my children have their father's vision--but in the absence of that, I hope I can uncover any vision issues early so that they can get back to exploring their world with eyes wide open and fully functional.

I have to wonder if my inability to see far is what helped to direct me early on toward books, which I could hold close to my face as they opened up whole new worlds of imagination inside my head. If so, then at least I can justify the trials of my early four-eyed existence that way. I probably wouldn't be the person I am today without my start as the cross-eyed klutz who morphed into a bookworm with Coke bottle glasses.

So, it's not that bad, really. And we all know that it's also not nearly as bad as it could've been. Thank God I wasn't born a cavewoman.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Few Follow-Ups on a Toddler's Emerging Personality

1. The Boss is still sorry. As sweet and contrite as the day is long, she went so far as to apologize to the crows in the middle of the road that were forced to scatter as we drove through. "Sorry, birds!" The Boss chirped from her car seat. "Sorry birds! Sorry!"

2. The Boss still won't say yes, no matter how enticing the prize. The other night when The Partner got home from work, he asked our sweet girl if she wanted a climbing barn. Her response was an enthusiastic and true-to-form "okay!" Not yes. Not yes, please. Just okay.

The Partner just rolled his eyes. "Do me a favor, why don't you?"

3. She is still thankful. She began saying "thank you" at eleven months and, except for a brief hiatus, continues to this day. She's actually a bit overzealous. Sometimes she says it when she gives something to me, when all I am doing is taking it and no thanks are in order. I should be the one expressing gratitude. And I do.

Thanks for being you, okay? Don't ever be sorry about that.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Not Just Any Old Swingset

Today I broke in our new wholesale club membership with a trip to BJs (whoever came up with that name was either very naive or had a kindred sense of humor). It was there, after I had picked up bulk cartons of fabric softener, weed killer, dishwasher detergent and broccoli, that The Boss became fixated upon a display swingset with an attached fort. It loomed over us in all its wooden splendor. "Barn!" The Boss cried out. "Climbin' barn!"

Well, dammit if that isn't the perfect description. My two year old is coining terms. I looked at that little girl in the shopping cart and marveled at the smooth, round face of her brilliance. She began waving her arms over her head and giggling with mad enthusiasm. Soon I was laughing with her and I wondered why everyone in the vicinity wasn't joining in. I could not comprehend that this infectious wiggle of energy was not, for these few moments, the center of every shopper's attention. I wished The Partner had cut out on his lunch break to join us as another appreciative witness to stellar personality.

As we set to wandering again in our own little world, The Boss was giddy with the prospect of her own play space. "Climbin' barn! Swings!" I told her I'd have to ask her father if we could get one of those sometime soon. "Daddy climbin' barn!" She was all approval. For the rest of the shopping trip, she talked about daddy and her climbing barn, confident in her sway as the center of his universe.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bugz Still on My Nugz

It is very hot today, which has the unfortunate effect of exacerbating my flea-bitten condition. Last night I spent over three hours on my hands on knees, brushing a fine, fine mixture of Borax and diatomaceous earth into every square foot of carpet in our house. The dust mixed with sweat to form clay as my hair hardened. I was gray.

The Partner laughed in between grunts as he hauled furniture out of its place so that I wouldn't miss a single flea fiber. "Now I know what you're going to look like in 30 years," he said.

All I could do was smile. Despite a dust mask, there were too many foreign particles in my brain area for coherent thought to flourish.

It's the waiting that really sucks. The itching isn't so bad on its own; each tiny eruption is comparable to the bloodthirst of a mini mosquito. But not knowing if our efforts last night will have any effect is what seems to magnify the irritation on my feet, my ankles, my right ass cheek and my hands.

From what I understand, we are supposed to have faith that the treatment will work by slashing and suffocating the larvae. We won't know for sure for a couple of weeks because the already-hatched fleas may linger. With Roxie juiced up with another round of K-9 Advantix, we're hoping she will no longer be the hospitable host the fleas are looking for.

There was a time when fleas were just a hazy concept to me. Those were the days. Now I'm not sure that I can attend a "flea market" anymore without exhibiting a nervous twitch as I wander the aisles, reflecting on the derivation of that term.


Did I mention I'm hot? Because I am, thanks to you! My post 24/7/730 won the Hot Stuff designation at GNMparents. Thanks to everyone who enjoyed the post and voted for it, including The Partner, who informs me that his vote was the one that put me over the edge.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bugz on our Nugz

We have fleas.

Our new house has been a blessing, but it comes with a curse. Since we moved here we have lost two computer hard drives, been inundated with flies, had to repair two automobiles, and now, become infested with fleas.

Apparently applying K-9 Advantix Flea and Tick medicine to our dog faithfully each and every month isn't the guarantee we thought it was. Roxie is a-hoppin' with the tiny beasts of itchiness, and now, so is our bedroom carpet. The Partner discovered a whole colony living in his pant leg yesterday, right before we found an even larger kingdom in our room.

I am beside myself. We are itchy and overwhelmed. As our first line of defense, I researched natural ways to rid one's house of fleas. I am off to the store to buy some Borax in the form of 20 Mule Team to pour into a 50/50 mix with diatomaceous earth. When spread over carpets and furniture and rubbed in with a broom, it is supposed to mutilate and dehydrate the offending insects and their eggs. I don't want to use pesticides, so I am hoping, however naively, that this slash-and-burn approach will work.

Any advice from more experienced and flea-bitten hands would be appreciated. We gave Roxie another dose of K-9 Advantix yesterday (she was actually due for it, as we apply it at the first of each month). I talked to the vet and was told there's nothing more we can do to rid her of the active buggers. Help!