November 30, 2008

Sunday afternoon

Thanksgiving weekend is when all the college kids — well, the ones who aren't local —come home for the first time since August. How good it was to see Older Neighbor Boy! He had let his hair grown, thick and curling and falling into his face. It looked great, and he seemed so much older all of a sudden. He told us stories about living with five other guys in a suite so small that he had to keep his bike in the bathroom.

"What? You keep your bike in the bathroom? Don't the other guys care?"

"Well, I got there first, so I just slipped the bike in. So as far as they know, it's always been there.

"So they don't know what it's like to not have a bike in the bathroom."

"Exactly. They think it's normal."

Blonde Niece's friend NextHendrix hadn't cut his hair either; it hung dark and straight into the collar of his jacket. Pirate Boy had done the opposite; he had cut his long hair shorter, although it's still shaggy. Otherwise, he still seemed the same. We looked at the photos on his laptop, and he showed me how he had switched the "language" on his facebook page to Pirate.

FirstExtra was home, too, most of the weekend. But since he goes to Snowstorm University, rooms with Boy in Black, and comes here pretty often, none of us felt any surprise when we saw him. Plus, he's had the same haircut his whole life. He's our token "respectable" extra, who looks cleancut and has a steady job. Well, I guess Sailor Boy technically fits that category, since he has a military haircut and all kinds of responsibilities in the Coast Guard. But his recent promotion from seaman to coxswain led to a new influx of "That's what she said" jokes that didn't make him seem particularly respectable.

It was nice to see everyone for a few days, and they'll all be back soon for the long Christmas break. In the meantime, everyone is doing the work they need to get done before the semester ends. Boy in Black is settled on the couch with a physics textbook. Skater Boy, Blonde Niece, and Shaggy Hair are doing their calculus homework at the table, comparing answers and strategies as they work. I've started the binge-cleaning that I usually do this time of year, a chore preferable to the paper grading I'll be doing next weekend.

My parents were just here, minutes ago, to drop off a container of the turkey soup my mother always makes after Thanksgiving and to discuss our trip this weekend to see Drama Niece's play. The two little neighbor kids, Ponytail and Biker Boy, are playing on the floor with our wooden traintrack set. My husband and youngest son have gone out to the comic bookstore. Snow is falling outside. It's time to build a fire in the fireplace. Advent has begun.

What d'ya get for number six?

Blonde Niece and Shaggy Hair Boy compare answers.

November 28, 2008

Moving day

Today, my friend MakesBread left the house she used to share with the man who is now her ex-husband and moved just a few miles into the home where she'll be living with her young son. Even though she wasn't traveling very far, she still had to take apart furniture, empty every closet, and pack all that she owned into what seemed like thousands of cardboard boxes. When we arrived at 9 am — me, my husband, my daughter, and Blonde Niece — the house was filled with furniture and boxes. Other friends and family members were pulling into the driveway. MakesBread had baked muffins, made a crockpot of vegetarian chili, and rented a big moving truck for the day.

It felt like a puzzle or perhaps the game Tetris — packing pieces of furniture and cardboard boxes, wedging in blankets and rugs, fitting everything into the moving van. Once the truck was partially loaded, I climbed up onto the furniture and sat atop a bookshelf that was balanced on a wooden dresser. I grabbed boxes that friends handed up to me and pushed them into high places, shifting and shoving them until they fit tightly.

When we arrived at the new house, we inspected it eagerly. How clean and empty it looked! But of course, that didn't last long. Soon every room was piled with furniture and boxes, and piles of miscellaneous items. MakesBread began unpacking the coolers to put food into the refrigerator. The potted bush basil filled the house with that spicy smell. A few of us took a break to sit on the couch, which was strangely positioned against the fireplace, and tell horror stories about the times we've moved. As it began getting dark, we unearthed a few lamps and plugged them in.

MakesBread has a long weekend of unpacking ahead, but she's home.

November 27, 2008

Over the river and through the woods

Over the river and through the woods

to grandmother's house we go!

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. Because it requires no work on my part. At about noon today, we hitch up the horse, pile into the sleigh, and drive just a few miles to my mother's house. Well, maybe it's really a car and not a sleigh, but we can pretend we've got sleigh bells. Although nowadays I have to keep my pretending to myself because my kids are old and cynical. ("MOM! You aren't going to keep singing that stupid song, are you?") We do really cross over the river in this photo although technically, it's a creek, and not a river.

My parents' house will be filled with the warm smell of roasting turkey. My mother will be in the kitchen, wearing her holiday apron, stirring stuff on the stove, basting the turkey. My father will be setting up folding chairs to make room for everyone around the two tables. It's a small group for Thanksgiving — only ten of us. Blonde Sister's family has gone to Big City Like No Other to join the urban contingent of the family, while Red-haired Sister's family is vacationing in Someplace Warm With Beaches and my brother celebrates with his family in Camera City. But we've got Blonde Niece staying with us this year, and we'll pick up my mother-in-law on our way.

I know what the meal will be: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, rolls, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce. A small cut-glass bowl will hold celery, black olives, and green olives. My mother has made the exact same meal every year for Thanksgiving my whole life long. It's the same meal her mother used to make every year. As my mother has said, "Once you've got the perfect meal down, why change it?"

The vegetarians in the family will fill up on the side dishes. And we like to believe we have an advantage over the meat eaters in the family because we are the ones who will have room for dessert: homemade pies.

November 26, 2008

Little Drummer Girl

Little Drummer Girl

Our home is crowded, most of the time, with teenagers and young adults, playing music, dueling with light sabers, or hanging out in the living room with their laptops. As much as I love teenage energy, it's also nice to have extras who are still small enough to sit on my lap and read books. Here's one of our newest extras: four-year-old Ponytail. She lives down the street and often comes over with her seven-year-old brother to hang out with us in the afternoon.

November 25, 2008

Late afternoon

Late afternoon

During the winter, evening sneaks into afternoon. I'll be sitting on the comfy couch, reading a book or writing on my laptop computer, or maybe sitting on the floor playing blocks with the two little neighbor kids who have been coming over a lot lately. Sunlight will be coming in the west windows, touching the piano and bookcases with gold. But moments later, I'll look up from the page or the screen or the block pile, and I'll notice that the room is filled with shadows, that the sunlight has gone.

Once I notice the darkness, it moves in quickly. Shaggy Hair Boy, doing homework in the chair, will turn on the lamp. I'll carry in some wood and build a fire. The windows turn into dark mirrors that reflect the flames, the lamps, the kids on the couch. This is where we will be, mostly, all winter long, settled in front of the fire every evening with books and laptop computers and plates of food. Outside, snow falls through bare branches. All around the house, the woods hold onto the darkness.

November 24, 2008

Picnic table in November

Before it disappears

It's become a tradition for me to post a photo of my picnic table in November, before it disappears beneath drifts of snow.

November 23, 2008

November snow

By March, or even February, we'll be sick of the snow. I'll be tired of mopping up puddles on the linoleum, and hanging mittens to dry above the heat vent, and clomping around in heavy winter boots. I'll be especially weary of how tense I get behind the wheel of a car when the roads are snow-covered and slippery. I'll be sick of taking photos that are blue and white, or grey and white, or white and white.

But in November, I'm still able to appreciate snow, the way it puts a clean layer of sparkle across muddy yards, the way the curves soften square edges. The lilac bushes and barberry bushes near the house catch the snow, letting it pile up on their branches, and the river birches bend under the snow as if worshipping the season. The brilliant foliage of autumn is gone, but bare branches hold mounds of white against the winter sky.

November snow

November 22, 2008


The first night of my trip, I stayed alone in Southern City Hotel. I had planned, actually, to have a day to explore and take photos before going on to my conference. I almost always try to stretch out conference trips to include some sightseeing of the region. If I'm going to get on an airplane, I'm going to make the trip count.

Instead, I came down with the most miserable cold. My sightseeing including mostly an early morning trip to the nearest drugstore to stock up on drugs, tissues, and comfort food. The outside air was warm, but even so, I just didn't have the energy to go wandering about with my camera as I had planned. Instead, I curled up like a cat on the window ledge in my room, just waiting for the sun to come and warm me.

When I talked to a friend on the phone, I lamented the fact that I wouldn't have any cool photos to put on my blog. Really, I'd done nothing all day but sleep. The only photos I'd taken were of the building across the way, with all its cool reflecting windows.

She said, "Oh, just take a photo of yourself sleeping in the window."

In my drugged state, her idea made sense. I didn't have a tripod with me, but I immediately thought of two items that can be found in any hotel room: an ironing board and a Bible. They worked nicely to bring the camera to just the right height. From my spot on the window sill, I could look down on the city: people rushing about on sidewalks, lights coming on inside buildings, cabs pulling up to the front of the hotel. When the sun came out, I stretched out luxuriously, and went back to sleep.


November 20, 2008

Rocking and rolling

On the Saturday night of the conference, we danced. The organizers had hired some musicians and set up a dance floor and bar in the largest room. After several days packed with speakers and sessions, my body cramped from sitting in stiff conference chairs, I welcome the chance to move my muscles to music. Intellectual stimulation is wonderful, but my body needs more. And I love to dance. I'm not a particularly good dancer, really, but that doesn't matter. Dancing isn't about what you look like, I always explain to my friends, dancing is about how you feel.

When I was little, we'd dance around while my father and his friends were jamming, and dancing always puts me back into that mood of just a carefree kid letting music move me around the room. I don't even care if I'm the worst dancer on the dance floor: I figure my presence will help other people feel less self-conscious. And I'm not self-conscious in the least.

Artist Friend always claims that he doesn't like to dance. He rolls his eyes when I drag him into the music. And Philadelphia Guy, who plays in band when he's not being a professor, always says he'd rather be playing the guitar. But because they are my friends, they dance with me anyhow.

Of course, I dance with not just my friends but everyone: the group of young female grad students who are the first on the floor, the older guys who actually know some steps, my roommate, people on my panel, the guy I sat near at lunch, and strangers I don't even remember seeing at the conference. I feel it's my responsibility to pull the shy guys away from the bar and get them out onto the dance floor. You can tell when someone really wants to dance and just needs a little urging.

I love the energy of a crowded dance floor, where grad students teach cool moves to tenured professors, and long-time friends smile to each other as they twirl about. The nametags come off, and the academic hierarchy gets subverted. Even the most stuffy academic will loosen up after he's had a few drinks, taken off the tie, and jumped out in front of the band.

At a dance, you can see a new side to old friends. Take ShaNaNa Guy, for example. At lunch, I'd watched him accept a plaque for his contributions to this academic conference. At an afternoon session, I'd listened to him "interrogate the ongoing shift in biological paradigms towards a mind-set attuned toward systematic processes." But that night, he took off his button-down shirt, picked up the bass, and sang into the mike. He'd intended to play just a song or two, but he hit it off with the band, and ended up playing every set. He's been an academic for decades now, but a musician even longer (he was only 19 when he played Woodstock), and it was clear from watching him that music was his first love.

Dancing builds community. No matter how much I might bond with my friends over books and ideas, no matter how many long geeky conversations we might have over lunch, no matter what exciting plenary sessions we attend or sights we see in the host city, the conference dance is when we come together, without nametags or powerpoint or pin-striped blazers, to just act like humans who enjoy being together. It's a great way to end a conference.



November 19, 2008


By the time I arrived at my conference, I had a bad cold, which just kept getting worse. I spent the second day of the conference sneezing and spreading the virus to all my friends. I sat at sessions rooting through my bag for dry tissues and trying to be as quiet as possible as I blew my nose. Eventually, I gave up trying to get my brain to function, and I skipped some sessions to take an afternoon nap.

By evening, I was pretty pathetic. My head ached, my nose was red, and my lips hurt. I had given up trying to look professional and was wandering around the hotel in sweatpants and a t-shirt, with my glasses on instead of my contact lenses, with Vaseline rubbed onto my nose and lips. When I'm sick, even my hair looks bad. Instead of a conference program, I clutched handfuls of tissues and a box of tylenol.

I kept apologizing to everyone who came near me. "I'm probably giving you this cold."

To his credit, Philadelphia Guy, who is TOTALLY losing his urban edge, kept saying, "I'll hug you anyhow."

I rallied to attend the evening plenary session, a talk called "Baboon Metaphysics: the Evolution of a Social Mind." Afterwards, one group of friends were heading out to the bars. That was the last thing I felt like doing. Well, maybe if I drank alcohol, the medicinal effect would have been worth it, but being sober AND miserably sick at a bar is not that fun.

Then Artist Friend said, "Want some reiki?"

In my suitcase, I had a small beeswax candle from the monastery. My roommate, who said she knew both reiki and massage, found a soap dish we could put the candle in.

The candle spread warm light across the impersonal hotel room. I stretched out on the bed, still clutching my tissues. Artist Friend pulled the desk chair over, sat near the edge of the bed, and put his hands on my head. Immediately, I could feel this surge of warm energy just pouring over me, sweeping through my clogged skull.

My body relaxed under the tingling heat. I didn't move. Beautiful Italian Woman sat on the bed next to me and massaged my shoulders. Artist Friend kept his hands in my hair, energy flowing through his palms. I snuggled into the quilt on the bed, my headache disappearing. They worked on me — a woman I'd known for less than a day and a man who is one of my dearest friends — until my muscles were melty and my head clear.

A single candle

I took a photo of the candle the next morning, after a good night sleep.

November 18, 2008

Conference tradition: the nude photo

At the conference I just attended, most of my friends are guys. This in itself is not such a bad thing. It means, for instance, that I never have to feel guilty about leaving unfinished food on my plate at a restaurant. As soon as I'm done eating — or sometimes even before — their long arms will swoop in and finish everything on the plate. And since I've got a houseful of teenage boys at home, I'm quite used to living in a cloud of testosterone.

But then there is the duty I have to my readers; my need to come up with a nude photo for my blog. And therein lies the problem. My male friends are terribly squeamish about posing naked for my blog. It's funny. All that is written about women and body image would lead you to think men in this culture would be eager to get naked for the blog. I mean, it's women who are supposed to have self-esteem issues about the body.

I broached the topic of the nude photo at dinner the first night of the conference, figuring that ShaNaNaGuy, who lived the free spirit life of a musician in the 1970s, would be a likely candidate. But the men at the table all had excuses. Philadelphia Guy said no because he's on the job market: "You hook me up with a tenure-track job in the northeast and then I'll let you take as many naked photos as you want." Artist Friend feels he's already done his share: two years ago, he brought his younger brother to the conference and let HIM pose naked on a city balcony. "You aren't going to get ME naked." He tried to switch the topic to football before I could ask again. Then my cell phone rang.

It was a colleague who had agreed to share a room with me and split expenses, a woman I'd never met before. She had just arrived and wanted to meet us in the hotel bar. Artist Friend motioned with his fork. "There you go. She'll do it." And the men at the table breathed a collective sigh of relief.

My roommate turned out to be a sophisticated and beautiful woman with a lovely accent that revealed her roots: she was born in Country Shaped Like Footwear. She had the most wonderful habit of randomly handing me squares of organic dark chocolate and saying, "Here, eat this." She was eager to see my blog, since she was thinking of starting one of her own, to match the website that advertises the many books she's written.

On Saturday, she was sitting on her bed, looking over the forty-page chapter she needed to condense into a twenty-minute talk, when I realized that I needed to take the photo fast before we ran out of natural light. The timing wasn't great, as her talk was in just a couple of hours, but I knew I couldn't let my readers down. "Um, I know you're busy writing your talk, but could you just take off all your clothes and pose for me?"

To her credit, Beautiful Italian Woman seemed to understand my dilemma. She set down her paper and stripped off her clothes in one fluid motion. "Where do you want me?"

We'd been talking earlier about meditation so I'd already planned the shot. "Just sit on the bed as if you were meditating." She sat down in the light that was coming in the window, I snapped the photo, and she went back to the paper she was working on. It was as easy as that.

Yep, that's how it goes. Male friends I've known for years, men who have often assured me that they will do ANYTHING for me, balk at the suggestion that they need to do a simple favor like pose for my blog. But a woman I've just met strips her clothes off without hesitation.


(Readers who want to know the history of the naked photo tradition can check it out here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.)

It's a bird, it's a plane


During my visit to several southern cities, I finally had a chance to meet a blogger I've been wanting to meet for a while — Science Woman. Doesn't her name make her sound like a superhero? And really, she pretty much is. She's a scientist who juggles all kinds of stuff including an almost two-year-old daughter. I did half-expect her to be wearing spandex, with a long cape and SW emblazoned on her chest.

The difficult thing about blogger meet-ups is they almost always take place when I'm traveling. And I'm a terrible traveler. By the time I get off an airplane, I'm usually feeling queasy and I'm partially deaf because of the pressure in my ears. On top of everything else, I'm in a drugged state from the dramamine and sudafed that I took hoping to ward off the other conditions. On this trip, I was also coming down with a bad cold, which reduced me to a zombie state.

But Science Woman was willing to have dinner with me anyway. We met in the lobby of my hotel. And like a good scientist, she was very prepared. She had looked up several different restaurants that served vegan food. She had maps and directions all printed out.

We got into her car, and she handed me her map. This was a serious mistake.

I can get anyone lost. It's a skill that I have. One of my superpowers, you could say.

Partly, it's because I can't read maps when I'm in a moving vehicle because then I'll get motion sick. So what I usually do is take a quick glance at that map and then look back out the window. I try to create the illusion of helpfulness by reading aloud the names of every street sign I see. But since I don't like to look back down at the map, the street names have almost no relevance.

Besides, I think it's fun to get lost. I'm never particularly motivated to get us back on track. So while Science Woman was trying to drive around construction while simultaneously reading the map spread across the steering wheel and making an honest effort to actually find the restaurant, I was happily talking about my kids and my conference and looking at the buildings we were going past. "Look at the church! It's got a NEON cross on it!"

So I ended up getting a tour of the city, while we driving in circles. Cities look prettiest at night, with light spilling from windows and reflecting off wet sidewalks and mirror-like windows. Eventually, we ended up at an Ethiopian Restaurant, where a man in a white apron announced that we wouldn't be getting any silverware and then served us all kinds of delicious vegan food that we ate by scooping it up with bits of soft, thin bread.

Science Woman was warm and friendly and easy to talk to. The time went by too fast, and before I knew it, we were heading back to my hotel — a much shorter route this time — so that I could climb into bed after a long day of traveling.

November 17, 2008

Airplane blogging


I've been sitting on an airplane for several hours, and my ears don't hurt. I haven't yet felt that agonizing pressure that makes me feel like my head is going to explode. I don't feel motion sick either. The plane is not jerking wildly from side to side, or dropping suddenly with that motion that makes my stomach twist. So far, I'm feeling fine, although a bit cramped from sitting in this small seat and a bit drowsy from the dramamine I've taken.

Of course, the plane is still on the ground.

We are supposedly "in line" to use the runway. We've been "in line" all evening. And if I look out the window, I can see that the phrase is not a metaphor. I can see several big airplanes ahead of us. Every once in a while, the plane ahead of us rolls a few hundred yards farther, and we follow.

A young boy several seats ahead of me keeps twisting and turning and crying about how he hates being on the plane. He's pretty young, and it's socially acceptable for him to voice his complaints. I'm envious.

Whenever I mention to my friends that air travel makes me nervous, that it's a completely unnatural way to travel, they reassure me that the air planes are built with all kinds of amazing technology. I am repeatedly assured that the air traffic controllers use the most advanced computer systems to keep us safe in the air, preventing us from crashing into other planes.

And yet ... the best system for getting a whole bunch of big airplanes out of an airport is to literally roll them into a line, like kindergarten kids waiting to use the bathroom?

Yes, this gives me confidence in the whole endeavor.

November 11, 2008

Flying south

Despite the rumors that I have super powers and need only a cape to zoom across the sky, I will be taking a plane as I fly to Someplace Warmer Than Snowstorm City for an academic conference. I'll be leaving behind dark, rainy weather and a desk piled with important stuff that needs to be done immediately. I left my students with a project to work on and told them I'd see them on Tuesday. I'll be going to all kinds of sessions, hearing some amazing speakers, and reading a chapter from my manuscript. I'll be meeting up with colleagues and friends, including Artist Friend and Philadelphia Guy, and some bloggers as well. Hopefully I'll return next week feeling well-rested and inspired and ready to tackle the rest of the semester.

November 09, 2008

How I spent my weekend

I worked on my manuscript this weekend. Doesn't that sound impressive? You too can dazzle your friends with that kind of statement. Here's how: just print out a bunch of stuff you've written and stick it in a manilla folder. If you want to be really ambitious, you can buy a black binder with a special clippy thing. You don't have to actually work on it, just carry it around and refer to it as "my manuscript." Yep. You will be amazed how much credit you can get for just carrying around a bunch of papers.

The drawback is that once in awhile someone might ask you to actually come up with something to read from the manuscript. It happens. For instance, next week, I'm going to a conference in Southern City Where I'm Hoping It Will Be Warm. And I made a commitment long ago, like last spring or something, to read a chapter of the manuscript at the conference. I had, theoretically, months and months of time to write this chapter, including the whole summer, but it wasn't until after election day, after I was able to breathe a sigh of relief that our country might finally be headed in the right direction, that I looked at the to-do list on my desk and thought, "Oh, yeah. Guess I better write something."

So that's what I've been doing. I began on Friday by taking out a clean new manilla folder and a fresh yellow legal pad. (I seriously have some kind of fetish for office supplies.) I wrote the title of the chapter — Snake Dreams— on the side of the manilla folder. I didn't write anything new, exactly, because that would be way too much work, but I've been piecing together bits of writing, including some old blog posts — mixing, matching, and re-arranging in hopes a theme will emerge. I guess I'm hoping that the theme will in some way match the title that has already been inserted into a printed program for the conference, but I don't let those kind of details worry me too much.

I keep reading the pieces aloud, a habit that has stayed with me after years of writing poetry, a practice I find very helpful even though it makes me look like the crazy woman who talks to herself. I keep changing my mind about which pieces I want to include. I keep coming up with brilliant new ideas. Like ... maybe I should wear a cape to the conference! Wouldn't that be cool?

My husband is out of town, the weather has been dark and rainy, and it's been a good weekend to stay at my desk. In between bouts of writing, I've hung out in the living room with the gang of teenage boys, who are having some kind of geekfest with laptops and light sabers, and who say, "That's what she said," so often that I'm worried the phrase is going to sneak into my chapter. Although come to think of it, sexual innuendo isn't such a bad theme. Maybe I could work it in there....

November 07, 2008

At piano lessons

Every Friday

My kids' piano teacher is beautiful woman with a lovely Russian accent who grew up in Cold War Country. She's recently been working with Shaggy Hair Boy and With-a-Why on a song they are playing together. Sitting in the studio with my laptop, I can hear their music and their chatter. My boys talk to her just the way they talk to their aunts. She'll tease Shaggy Hair Boy for the way he'll just grab anything handy to use as a belt: a measuring tape, for instance, or a telephone cord. She gives him effusive compliments about his long hair and the way he can improvise when he's playing jazz. She's one of the first adults that my very shy With-a-Why would ever talk to.

Last year, she said to With-a-Why one day, "I have news for you." She held up the weekend's newspaper, folded to a photo of a group of people getting sworn in as American citizens. She was one of them. At the time, I was feeling angry at the Bush administration and ashamed of how my country was acting, and I was touched by the idea that someone still wanted to be part of this country, despite all of our problems.

This week was the first time she was able to vote for an American president.

When we talked before the kids' lessons this afternoon, I asked what she thought of the election. "It was so exciting!" she said. "I took 56 photos!"

She sat next to me with her little camera, and we looked at the photos on the viewfinder — 56 photos of the television screen. They were surprisingly clear, and looking at them brought back the emotions of the night. "There's McCain giving his concession speech! There's Jesse Jackson crying! Look! Barack Obama!" We kept saying the same things at the same time. "And he's SMART! We are going to have a president who's SMART!"

We sat there for a few minutes, two women who grew up on opposite sides of the world, on opposite sides of the Cold War, two women raising our children in a country that had just elected a leader who is giving us reasons to hope. She clicked off her camera and breathed the words people all over the world have been saying this week. "Finally."

November 06, 2008


Even though he's in college, Boy in Black comes home pretty often. Well, the campus apartment he shares with FirstExtra is about twelve miles away, so he's not traveling a huge distance. His drum set is here, and his electric guitar, and the piano. He uses our washer and dryer, and he raids our cupboards for food. But mostly, I think, he comes often for the same reason my daughter tries to get home whenever she can. His younger brothers are here.

I'll come home from work and find Boy in Black settled in the comfy chair, helping Shaggy Hair with his physics homework. I'll look out into the backyard and see him throwing a frisbee with Shaggy Hair, or having a light saber battle with With-a-Why. Sometimes he'll bring his laptop home and settle down by the fire with us to do his own work. He's got a bunch of close friends on the college Ultimate team, and he'll disappear on weekends sometimes to hang out with them, but always, he returns a few days later, often on a week night, and I'll find him lounging on the couch, joking with Skater Boy or talking to Quick.

His presence is especially important to With-a-Why, that quiet, intense boy who adores his older brother. Even though they are six years apart, they've always been close. They can still stay up all night together, drawn into games or projects. I'll come downstairs sometimes on a Saturday morning and find them both on the comfy couch, asleep in whatever positions they fell into when their intense energy finally gave out.


November 05, 2008

In print

I watched the coverage on the television set last night. I talked with twitter friends and blog friends. My daughter kept reading aloud text messages from Film Guy, who was following the election from the west coast. With my four kids beside me, I watched the concession speech and the acceptance speech. I read jubilant status messages on facebook and instant messenger.

But I don't think the news really sunk in until I stopped at a newspaper box on my way to work, put in some quarters, and held this morning's paper in my hands.

In print

November 03, 2008

Finishing with a fight

For Saturday's Halloween party, Red-haired Sister and her kids worked hard making Alice in Wonderland costumes, mostly from stuff they'd gotten at a thrift store. When I asked my sister over email if my outfit would be flattering, she said, "Well, male caterpillars will find you attractive." THAT was reassuring.

So, yes, I went to the party dressed as a shapeless blue caterpillar. The puffy velour clothing was comfy, I have to admit. And the bonus was that I had all these extra arms and legs. When I danced, I could just spin around and slap people around me. As my dances got more wild, the thick, comfy outfit became a little warm, and some of the arms popped right off. Soon I had body parts scattered all over the dance floor.

Urban Sophisticate had the most abstract costume. She painted her face white so that she would look dead and wore all black. Dandelion Niece helped her (just minutes before the party) sew 50 dollar bills into a skirt. I used masking tape to make the words RIP on her back. She dramatically announced that she was "the death of capitalism."

Halfway through Saturday night's Halloween party, the kids began switching costumes. With-a-Why, when he saw which way the wind was blowing, switched allegiance from the Alice in Wonderland group to the Star Wars gang by putting some kind of burlap garment over his Cheshire cat outfit and grabbing a light saber. Everyone wanted a turn spinning about the dance floor in one of the cardboard dice outfits. I saw the Madhatter's huge green hat on several different people.

When the crowded dance floor finally cleared, the light sabers came out. A party isn't a party without a dramatic battle at the end.

And the party ends with a battle

November 02, 2008

Best prop


Boy in Black finally found an application for all the stuff he's been learning in college physics courses. My brother and sister-in-law don't actually give out an award for Best Prop, but I think Boy in Black's version of R2D2 would have won it. He moves, lights up, plays music, and says things like, "That's what she said."

Golden Gourd goes to Star Wars group

The competition for the Best Group Costume prize was fierce this year. The defending champions, a team that included all of Red-haired Sister's family, plus my parents, me, and With-a-Why, chose "Alice in Wonderland" as their theme. My sister and her kids spent weeks making the costumes. Dandelion Niece looks like Alice even before she puts on a blue dress, and we figured her cuteness would gain us all kinds of points. My father was typecast as the Mad Hatter, while my mother made a glamorous Queen of Hearts. Tie-dye Brother-in-law good-naturedly donned a white rabbit suit, while Suburban Nephew made his own costume — a playing card. My sister turned into a rose bush, I became a stoned caterpillar, and With-a-Why wore a glow-in-the-dark smile as the Cheshire cat. We thought we had the coveted Golden Gourd award in the bag.

But the teenage/young people group, who went with a Star Wars theme, had their own secret weapons. First, there was a robot that Boy in Black built Thursday night, all from junk he found in our garage. He used the wheels from a skateboard. He fitted a red light from a broken remote control. He mounted an iPod and speakers so that it played Star Wars music. And he taped a cell phone inside so that it could talk on command. (Yes, apparently R2D2 says, "That's What She Said" now.) And second, the group had numbers: my three oldest kids, plus four extras. Quick happens to look just like Hans Solo anyhow. And Philosophical Boy stood patiently for hours while they used gold wrapping paper to turn him into C3PO. But some say that what got the group the most votes was a simple trick: the gender switch. Sailor Boy dressed as Princess Leia while my daughter dressed as Luke Skywalker. "People like to see skin," Sailor Boy explained, as he sauntered past his girlfriend's aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker pose for the blog

Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker pose for the blog.

Dancing dice

Dancing dice

Blonde Sister, her husband, her three daughters, and her daughter's boyfriend came to last night's Halloween party as Yahtzee, a group costume that was quite effective. The only difficult was that they had a bit of trouble eating, drinking, or clapping while wearing the cardboard boxes. But the costumes were great for spinning about on the dance floor.

November 01, 2008

Costume-making frenzy

Middle of the night project

Rolls of duct tape, flattened cereal boxes, and bottles of paint are piled on the living room carpet. Old clothes and random tools fill the couch. All manner of items have been brought in from the garage: an old telephone, a red plastic bucket, a skateboard, a hack saw. Kitchen items are scattered about as well: the colander, for instance. Boy in Black keeps asking me questions: "Do you've a tan-coloured shirt that would fit me? Where are Dad's belts? Okay if I take apart this phone?"

Yes, it's that time of year. The big family Halloween party that my brother and his wife host will be tonight, and the party features a costume contest, which everyone takes quite seriously. Red-haired Sister and her family (plus my parents and With-a-Why) won the best group costume prize last year for their Wizard of Oz entry, and they are considered the group to beat this year. It's pretty stiff competition: they've got the multi-generational factor that includes the oldest people at the party (my parents), plus the cute factor — Dandelion Niece. She's been practicing going up to people, throwing back her blonde hair, widening her eyes, and saying in a pleading voice, "Will you vote for me?"

My three oldest kids, plus five of our extras, are putting together a top-secret entry in an effort to beat Red-haired Sister's group. The "young person team" is counting on humor and elaborate detail to pull them over the top. That, and amazing props. Boy in Black has finally found an application for all the high-level physics he's been learning in college, and he stayed up all night creating some pretty cool special effects. Of course, Shaggy Hair Boy has been planning some dance moves that may well get the whole group kicked out of the contest for inappropriate content. (If the older generation voting block could hear the joking that has accompanied the costume-making, I think they would have lost that vote long ago.)

I can't reveal what any of the costumes are because too many family members read this blog. I will say that Urban Sophisticate Sister, who arrives by plane any minute now, has got a timely and abstract costume idea that should score points for "Best Individual Costume" amongst the more sophisticated crowd. All three of Blonde Sister's daughters are in town for the party, and that family are planning an entry in the group costume category, although the young people in this household do not consider them serious competition. That may be a mistake since Blonde Sister is an intensely competitive person, as anyone who has ever played Monopoly with her can attest.

Last night, after trick-or-treating in the village with Dandelion Niece and Neighbor Girl, Red-haired Sister and I hung out on the comfy couch talking, while the youngest four kids ran in circles, playing an abridged form of monster, and the high school/college crowd hid out in my bedroom, working on their top-secret costumes. I could tell my sister was worried. "Boy in Black's working on special effects?" she asked. She sighed and turned to her son. "We might have to resort to sabotage."