Friday, June 20, 2008

Rat Juice

I have all sorts of home related complaints to make. I could, for example, go off on the fact that my A/C died last week when it was 104 and I had a pregnant sister-in-law visiting. And almost two weeks later, the HVAC place claims the new unit hasn't arrived yet...

Or that we keep getting poison ivy. It is growing up THRU the black Hefty bag-esque supposedly impenetrable weed blocker that we laid out last year. Joe had it so bad on his face that he had to go on Prednisone. Twice. My baby is on 'roids... Next Georgia got it on her back, arm & legs. Camille, who we call "Me-Too-Millie" because she hates to be left out, was delighted to get a single rash on the back of her knee, and proceeded to let everyone know that she too has "the ivy." I have it on my right arm because when I see some, I compulsively pull it out. Without gloves. And sometimes forget to wash with the Tecnu. So according to my own rules, I can't go cryin to anyone about it.

But I will cry about the next debacle. There was a weird smell in the office for a few days last week and I finally identified it as wet plaster, which meant the gutters were blocked and leaking into the ceiling. This I put together at midnite last Wednesday and proceeded to climb onto a rickety table on the deck and siphon out the vile gutter water, which after the fact, Stephanie told me is certainly lace with rat juice. Everything was fine until something slimey got stuck in the hose and I yanked it loose and tossed it into the bushes below. Thank heaven it was too dark to see if it was leaves or a bird carcass or a rodent. But when I re-started the siphon, I got the giantest mouthful of the vilest liquid ever. Really, don't swallow. I hurled over the deck and went back to work. Finally I got the gutters empty and went inside and cried a little to my sisters-in-law that our house traumas always happen when Dave is out of town. I composed myself and went to clean myeslf up as I smelled toxic and my throat was literally burning. As I opened my mouth to brush my teeth, I could see that I had some mysterious black stuff lodged in my gums. Oh. My. Gosh. I swear I need therapy after "servicing" my house.

This week Dave suspected there was a rogue diaper in the basement and tracked the smell to a certain corner that it turns out, was soggy and the smell is mold. Black mold. I was so happy to not be alone in the aftermath that I didn't even mind working with Dave to tear up carpet and scrape rotten padding off the linoleum.

I'm now waiting for termites. Or radon. Or both. As long as there's no rat juice.

Friday, June 13, 2008

"Royal Fun"

Last week one of my foodie friends had a cookie emergency at 10:30pm and so Aunt Sue and I made a house call. Imagine my horror when I walk in to see this master chef KILLING the shortbread dough. It took me a minute to figure things out, but she had tried to "roll" the dough out directly onto the cookie sheet with her hand and then cut directly onto the pan with the cookie cutter. "It's going to be okay," I said as calmly as I could, "just give me the pan, and walk away from the dough." Sue and I had such fun being the cookie whisperers that we decided to make a ton and use them as party favors for Sue's shower this week.

Sue is expecting a baby girl in August and she has visited us so much over the last 6 years that she has bonded with most of my friends. We're her remote Relief Society. When people found out she was having a baby Coco suggested we fly Sue out and give her a Belmont Shower. Lindy & Al insisted on hosting, even though they had another giant event right after. I love that my friends are so ready to love & embrace my family.

Dave & Sue's sister Stephanie drove up from Princeton for the week and cookie decorating was all the excuse we needed to go all "Fancy Nancy." We used royal icing with meringue powder, Mexican vanilla, and 10 tons of sprinkles and edible glitter. I ordered cutters online that reflected Sue, so baby stuff, dachshunds (she & Quay have 2 and they are their babies), and tools (she & Dave built our tree house, installed our dishwasher, cut the counter to fit the new stove).

We made 50+ cookies. Sue was speedy fast decorating. Steph very methodical. I only decorated a couple as I used the chance to work on the game for the party, but I did a few saws, bottle tops, and bees.

How sweet is this onesie? Sue, by the way, is the one that coined the term "Hobo Baby" and helped us all embrace our inner hobo-ness, though she did NOT go vagabond at the shower. Could she glow any more?

Sue's favorite were the prams and the pink & green weiner dog.

I commissioned Rachel in Arizona, who should make a career out of her quilting skills, to make Sue a dog quilt. She did one for a friend before she moved and it was the most darling thing ever. And I hate dogs, so that's saying something. She had me send pix of Cami & Finna, Sue's pups, so that she could match the fabric. They are top R and middle L and spot on (ha ha, spot on). The underside of the ears are silky and the noses are leathery. It's like a huge touch and feel book. The back is lavender silky and elaborately quilted. Sue cried when she saw it. It was Frankie's Orange.

Sitting there, looking at all that cute stuff, the tiny dresses with smocking, glittery shoes, the drill (okay, so not the drill), the blanket, I waited to feel that "Awe, I want another baby" feeling, and it never happened. How great is that. Maybe I am more of a grandma after all....

Here are Lindy & Al, the best hosting team around. And Al, you better not love Sue's baby more than you love Bea. Just a warning from the Hobo Mama.

Whipped Shortbread - Coleen M. Low via K. Low Burns

1 lb butter at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup corn starch (yes, corn starch)
3 cups flour

Mix w/ mixer. If using cookie cutters, be generous w/ flour for rolling pin & surface. Don’t roll thinner than ¼” or they’ll get too crispy.

Cook for 24 min at 300. Watch for bottom edges to turn brown.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


So I had a nutty weekend and really need to "blog it out" as my sister-in-law Steph says. But things are too hectic so I may have to do it in pieces.

We were in NJ visiting Steph and went to church with them on Sunday. She teaches the Sunbeams (3 yr olds) so her daughter Cece is in the class. Millie was too shy to join the 6 yr olds so she made us join Steph and Cece on the front row. When it came time to introduce people, first they had this little guy Antonio stand up, also in the Sunbeams, and then Millie. The woman conducting welcomed them and then said, looking at us, "It's great you could be here with your mom. Or grandma." Grandma? GRANDMA! I cannot believe my ears and I start to giggle. Stephanie's jaw drops. Bless her for being so mortified on my behalf. Then I start doing the math. "If I had a kid at 17 and she had a kid at 17, then I could be a 40 yr old grandma." Then, "Really I'd need to be late 40's to have Millie be my grandkid--do I look like I'm pushing 50?" I just turned 40 and while I'm happy to own every year I've lived, I don't like the idea that I look a decade older. Then, "Who is this woman to judge my appearance when SHE is the one wearing suntan panty hose with a reinforced toe AND white sandals?!" So I spent the rest of opening exercises silently eviscerating this mean, insulting woman.

After class, as we are walking back to the Primary Room for sharing time, I ask Steph about Antonio, if he's new or just visiting. "Oh, his Grandma's a member and brings him...." As soon as the words are out of her mouth, the lightbulbs went on and we realize Sister Suntan Hose was referring to HIS grandma, the sweet abuelita who brought him. And then I am mortified again. At myself. At my meanness and need to "get even" mentally with that woman.

And I do this. I am "mature" enough that when offended I usually have enough control to not have to make a public scene. But internally...I can be so petty. I have arguments with people all the time. In my head (more on that another time--I got in a whopper of an imaginary fight over McDonalds recently). In my defense, I went in leary of Steph's ward. The Saturday before Easter they had a primary party and billed it as an egg hunt. But when Steph showed up with baskets in tow, the Primary President CONFISCATED them and gave her "pure white bags" instead (because colorful Easter baskets are "Satan's Satchels?!). Then the missionaries gave the kids (18months-11) a 30 minutes talk on the atonement. Then the Primary president spoke. Then there was a crucification slide show that, according to my brother-in-law Jeff, "would have made Mel Gibson proud." I'm not sure if they ever got candy. If they did, it was probably sugar-free and made from someone's food storage. Their next event is called "Carnival of Parables." I'm picturing face painting booths to make you look like a leper and games like "throw the stone at the harlot." Not that I'm judging anyone or have an attitude or anything. But I'm eager to get back to our ward this Sunday where the average age of mom's with six year olds is not 20 and where we know how to throw a good party.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Of Gerbils & Georgia

Last night Jonah begged to have the gerbils "sleep over" in his room so we moved the tank in there. Georgia went in to say goodnite to Cotton and she shouted, "Mom, mom, Cotton fell asleep in my hand! Isn't that sweet?" I got the knot in my stomach as I approached them.

Cotton had seemed rather subdued yesterday, and frankly, she's always seemed a touch Tiny Tim but I just attributed that to her being the runt. I looked at her and though she was still breathing, this was not a well critter. We put her back and as the implications dawned on Georgie, she collapsed into sobs. Millie, in true sister solidarity, joined her in the crying.

I told Georgia I'd take Cotton back to the pet shop so she could be with her mama, and we'd get her another of the sisters. "But I don't want another sister, I want Cotton, she's the only white one. What if the other sister looks too much like Millie's and then we can't tell them apart? (wail)" Next, "Is she gonna die?" How do you respond when the answer is yes, but that's only going to accelerate the meltdown? "If you take her back to her mom and she's okay can she come back to us?" Tricky one. What I was trying to do, chicken that I am, is somehow have my cake and eat it too, convince Georgia that Cotton could be okay if she returned to her mom, but somehow not okay enough to return to us. So I reminded her about Timothy P. in our ward, a sweet baby born with lots of complications who is doing great, but may always need to be cared for by a parent. That sort of helped. Until Millie started saying, "Every time I see something white, I can only think of Cotton. The pillow is white--Cotton! That blanket is white--Cotton! That webkinz is white--Cotton!" Wailing all around.

Meanwhile, Jonah kept coming in trying to report encouraging things. "She just drank a drop of water" or "She's just moved," and then made a really awful imitation of jerking limp paws. He pulled me aside and broke my heart when he said, "The trick is to never get attached, never let yourself care too much and then you can't get hurt." What a sad, sad thing for a kid to say! After Sticky II's demise, I offered to let him try again and he said no, it was too hard to lose them. My jaded 11 year old.

Finally I had to separate the girls to get them to calm down enough to fall asleep. But I coudn't. First I did some internet searches and figured out that she most likely had a respiratory infection. If I can just get her thru the night, I reasoned, I can go to a pet shop and get some Ornocylene (bird antibiotics) and start treating her. It'll be hard, but we can do it I told myself. And I prayed, wanting this to work out so that when Georgia's faith in a merciful God wavers I could say, "Remember that time Cotton was sick but we prayed and then she got better?" So I kept vigil, checking on little Cotton every few hours using a flashlight. At 3:30 she was still breathing, but her sister Minky had left her alone which I took as a bad sign. By 6 she was gone.

When the pet shop opened I called and Loretta was very kind, saying the white ones tend to be more fragile and that she'd happily give us another one. Though Dave had promised Georgia she could pick one out, I decided I needed to. What would Georgia say when she saw the cage with the mom and kids but no Cotton? The truth is I can't handle that. I started to cry and called Sande who loves pets and knows my history with them. As I'm crying to her I say, "What is wrong with me that I am losing it over a gerbil we had for 3 days!" Sande, ever wise, kindly reminded me that there are a lot of layers going on. Losing the two Stickys coincided with me losing babies. I truly felt I could not keep anything alive and channelled a lot of my sadness into the gecko's death. And my daddy grief is just under the surface, waiting to bubble over. My sister is in the same state. She attended a concert Saturday nite and when the soprano sang "Danny Boy" (which was sung at my dad Dan's funeral) she lost it big time.

I gently wrapped Cotton in some tissue and buried her in the backyard under the rosebush Shelly H. gave me when I lost that last baby and thought about all the things that die that we love, pets and babies and parents, and sang some Danny Boy in my head: "But come ye back when summer's in the meadow, Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow, 'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow, Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so."

I dried my eyes and went to the pet shop, with a lie for Georgia freshly formed in my head to explain why I didn't wait for her to pick one out: "There was only one sister left so I got her." And the lie turned out to be wonderfully true and Loretta boxed the final sister, frisky and healthy. Driving home, I remembered that Georgia's class was on a walking fieldtrip and on impulse I drove to what I thought their route would be. As if on cue, Georgia's class crossed the street and approached the corner where I had just pulled up. I rolled down the passenger window and shouted, "Hey little girl, wanna pet my gerbil?" No, no, I didn't say that. Instead I hollared to her teacher that I needed to see Georgia for just one second and as she ran over and saw a small cardboard box, her face lit up and she screamed, "My new gerbil!!!" I let her peak in the box and then shooed her back to her class. I don't know who was more excited by the new sister, Georgia, or Minky who literally jumped and chased and had the happiest of gerbil-sister reunions.

I've decided that if Georgia asks where Cotton is, I'll tell her I returned her to her mother [earth]. If she pushes for more, I'll tell her, but if she's content to leave it at that, so am I.

Georgia & "Emma"

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Of Mice & Men

Sticky #1

"Jeremy" the Snake

On Friday Georgia went to her friend Natalie's house to play. When we called to say we were on our way, Natalie's mom told us that the girls found an empty robin's nest with a young robin in the bushes below, hobbling around. Georgia caught it and was ecstatic. Two years ago the kids found a dying bird and the girls adopted it until it died an hour later. She still talks about that bird. In fact, when she was "Star of the Week" at in her 2nd grade class this year, the major thing she talked about was her "pet bird Joey." It took me a while to figure out that she was not making it up, but referring to that dying sparrow from 2006. So finding this robin was major. Driving over, I told Dave she could keep for a day or two and try to nurse it until it could fly (or die). But when we got there, they'd already let "Barry" go. When Dave told her we would have let her hang onto it, she crumbled. Georgia doesn't throw fits. Millie throws fits the way Dice-K throws baseballs, fast and frequent. So when Georgia has a meltdown, I take serious note.

When we got home she sat in the kitchen crying, "All I want is a pet. Just a pet of my own. Could I please just have a goldfish? You can get rid of it if I don't take care of it." She was so rational about it. Millie, on the other hand, had to join in on the "all I want is a pet" bandwagon and was soon sobbing at my feet, "I just want a pug! Just a pug! Maybe two!! Is that too much to ask?!"

That night, I made Dave get on the interwebs and scout out easy pets. Those of you who know me well know that I HATE pets. Well, I dislike pets; I HATE dogs. I've relented a few times: Jonah kept a pet spider for ages; we had brine shrimp (3 year old Georgia accidentally dumped them down the drain to which 6 year old Jonah replied, "You murderer, you murderer. You killed my sea monkeys."); a beta fish & a translucent water frog; and two geckos, Sticky I & II. And I don't have good luck. Every pet we've had has died. And once, Jen T. was moving and needed me to fish sit for 3 days. THREE days. I killed it. We still can't talk openly about Sticky without me or Jonah crying.

So we start going down the list. Fish? Too cold blooded & too much murky water. Cats? Dave & I actually love cats but then some of our allergic friends could never visit, thank you very much Sande, Bret & Andrew! Hamsters? Nocturnal and I can't take that "whir whir whir" on the wheel at night. Snakes. Dave is always advocating snakes but I just can't do it. I let Jonah keep a garter snake for a week and had bad dreams the whole time. Besides, I need an herbivore. I hated having to go buy crickets and try to keep them alive too. Birds? Dave, the birder, says, "No way. They're loud, nasty creatures." Then Dave comes across a website that touts the attributes of Gerbils. I resist making a Richard Gere joke and listen as he informs me they are not nocturnal, their cages need cleaning only once a month as they rarely pee, they could live in a certain gecko's old tank, they are pretty cheap, and they like to live in pairs. One for Georgia, one for Millie.

We bought two sisters at the local pet shop and spent the rest of the day considering names. Georgia's is white, and after nixing "Snowball" she settled on "Cotton." Millie let Jonah name it "Ginzilla," but can't remember the name so she started calling it "Georgia" but I am calling it "Minky" because it looks and feels like a mink with it's dark silky coat.

Dave has been the good guy through all this, telling the girls they could get a pet, setting up the tank. And I've been the rule setter. I swear I am scarred from reading Steinbeck's "Of Mice & Men." Every time I see a kid "loving" a little critter too hard (be it a puppy or a newborn) I think "Oh No! It's Lenny!" and start to panic (I've been told there's a similar scene in "Tommy Boy"). So I tell the girls the gerbils need some space at first to adjust to their new home, not to hold them much the first day or two, and not to let them down as they run fast and once hidden, will most likely be gone forever. So I come into the girls' room to find Millie has Minky in the Barbie house and is trying to make it pretend to cook. And Georgia is watching a movie with Cotton, letting it skitter around the bed. Mean while Bea is obsessed with the "mice" and keeps trying to get them out of the tank. AHHHH. What was I thinking?

This morning Minky got her revenge. Millie was mauling I mean holding her and trying to make her climb up her fingers and Minky sank her teeth into Millie's thumb. Millie started to bleed and freak out as much from "owie feelings" as anything else. She works herself into such a fit that she barfs. Like a Victorian herion who dies of heartache, Millie vomits from rodent betrayal.

Thankfully tomorrow is school and those little sweet sisters will get a break from the big not so sweet ones. I'm gonna rue the day.