Nice to "meet" you

I've had sick kids for nearly two weeks now. They've missed school, been to the doctor, received anti-biotics, passed germs back and forth to each other, and briefly to me. They've laid, miserable, on the sofa, and run through the house, too ill to let out but too well to lie down. They've played video games and had entire novels read to them, made cupcakes, and curled up in blankets. And watched lots and lots of one particular tween show that makes me think I should be the perky mom that makes the home fun all the time, but I'm too tired to even really feel guilty about that.

Today was the day I thought they'd be on the mend, and maybe be back to school... at least one of them, but no. One of my favorite times of day is when I pick them up from school, when my mom friends all descend on the school at the same time, and we catch each other in the parking lot to ask how soccer games went or if they're volunteering for the class party and when we can we all have coffee again. It's when smiles are exchanged and hugs are given and waves are passed around and it's a great little boost. Add a latte, and I'm good till the the next day. I don't need a lot. But it's been two weeks since my last trip to the parking lot, and with my husband on the road, the familiar twitch I get when I've been isolated too long is setting in.

And then I was given a gift. On a comment thread on Facebook about, of all things, internet stalking and the dangers of people we don't know being invited into our lives, I met a new friend. It's a small thing, I guess, a friend request on Facebook from someone you don't know, but she came with such a glowing letter of introduction, (yes, in the form of a Facebook comment), that I immediately scrolled through her Timeline. She loves words, and uses them like someone who loves them. And not in that way that people do that's both skillful, but stinging. She uses them kindly, but masterfully. I was impressed. And I felt connected. And tonight, as I tucked my kids into bed (for the fifteenth time because they can't stay there) by myself (because my husband travels as part of his job) and without a dog at my heels (because of some wrong turn the universe took that I can only attribute to a butterfly flapping it's wings in Tokyo at exactly the wrong time, because nothing else really explains my not having a dog)... I felt... not as alone. Because somewhere, in a city I've never visited, another mother, with three kids of her own, who loves words like I do, and with whom I felt some kind of kindred solidarity, was probably tucking her children in also. Probably not for the first time. Or maybe it just takes her one. I don't know. She maybe a far better bedtime enforcer than I am.

What makes it even better, is that I met her through someone on Facebook that I'd met in the same way, by an introduction from a different friend. And I was just discussing with him how we need to a new way to define "meet" because although I'd never stood in a room with him, I'd certainly met him. And indeed, I'd met him, through another friend, who I (don't think) I've met in this outdated corporeal sense, but because he argued with me about the Lost finale on the thread of someone I actually did know, we became friends. (The Lost finale was amazing, by the way).

 I know the Internet can be seen as an open door in our homes that needs guarding. And at times, we need some sort of cyber pit bull (have I mentioned, yet, that I still don't have a real one?) sitting at attention, so danger doesn't walk through. At other times, maybe we need a nice, homey wreath hanging under the peep hole so that good people feel welcome. Because there are a lot of good people out there. And sometimes that's how we meet them. It's definitely how I hold close to friends who aren't near enough to see in the school parking lot, or meet for coffee. So tonight, the door's open, and I (and my cyber pit bull) would love to "see" you!

Perspective, hobbit style

I've been reading chapter books to the kids every night. I try to pick books that my 4 year old boy, 7 year old girl, and 11 year old girl will all enjoy, but truthfully the 4 year old doesn't always make out so well. We've read through the Chronicles of Narnia, the first three Harry Potter books, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, and contemporary books by people I admire and people I know (which is so fun), like Jonathon Stroud's Heroes of the Valley (a book my 7 year old loved so much she named her sparkly red betta fish Sven - we won't discuss the tragedy of Sven's life span here), or The Incorrigibles of Ashton Place about three children who were raised by wolves and are now in the care of a very austere young governness.

Just now, I've started The Hobbit. As I got started, I wondered if I remembered much of it, or if I was confusing it with Lord of the Rings that I'd read (and seen) many more times. As Bilbo was inundated with dwarvish guests and heading out on his adventure I thought maybe I was misremembering things. I thought for sure they were about to run into three trolls and have a fight of some kind, but I pictured it so differently than where the adventurers were now, I thought I must be mistaken.

And then. Bam. Trolls. Out of nowhere, or so I thought. I looked back into my mind and realized, that I did remember Bilbo journeying out of the shire and into the path of three trolls around a campfire. But in my mind's eye they were journeying down hill, from left to right, and then found themselves in the trolls camp. But as I read the book many years later, they were going uphill, from right to left, and I drew the landscape differently, and so the trolls took me completely by surprise. I had similar experiences rereading the Chronicles of Narnia. I'd read them enough times to know I hadn't forgotten anything, but I realized that as I read them as a kid, I saw the pictures and felt the imagery so much more deeply, especially in the underground lair of the Green Lady. As an adult, I felt the character's conflicts and disputes and connected on an emotional level so that the scenery took a backseat to how they felt and treated one another. I've always been taught that what the reader brings to a story is so important, but I hadn't had the experience before of bringing different things to the same story, as the same person, but standing in a different place in life.

Yesterday, I snapped a picture of my oldest daughter with my phone.
She said, "Is that going on Facebook?"
"Yes," I said.
"Sitting in the car doing homework after a volleyball game while my sister does hula?" She said, quoting word for word the caption I was about to type.
"Uh, yes," I said.
"I know you," she said, smugly.

And she does know me, quite well, probably better than she knows anyone else she's met in her 11 years. But my mother knows me also, quite well, possibly better than anyone, and so does my husband. And yet, they know me differently. And I imagined my daughter looking at me as someone might look up from the bottom of a hill to the top, because I'm older and taller and in her world more powerful than she is. And others must know me as though standing from a different place in the mountain.

I thought it's a good thing to keep in mind with friends that I feel like I understand, because I only understand them in this moment in time, in this situation, looking at them from the side of the mountain where I stand, and bringing my own perspective. Their trolls might take me by surprise, or I might be expecting trolls and be taken by surprise to only find hobbits.

And of course there's the writing... I feel like a really good children's book is a joy for children and parents alike. Some kids' movies try to do this with humor meant to fly over the kids' heads. But you can write in layers with imagery that captures the children's imagination and relationships that make adults think and ponder their own friendships and reactions. The words can make the children feel larger than life and they can please adults as they flow rhythmically and effortlessly off their tongue as they read aloud.

I love that books can make us think like this. And we're only on chapter four of Bilbo's grand adventure. There's so much more to learn as we journey there and back again! *image released into the public domain by Wikipedia user "Arun Nowhere"

My coping strategy for the next 6 months

I live in Seattle and I make no secret that my most favorite time of year is September through December. The pressure of summer is off - no more moaning if it isn't sunny or warm enough to play in the sprinkler - no more pressure on the days the sun *does* come out to do something epic. Plus, I tend to get heat stroke really easily. Maybe it's to do with drinking too much coffee.

But then September comes and the kids go back to school, and I *love* school - not just because I'm kicking the kids out of the house, but I just love helping with homework and seeing the other moms again and getting back into a routine. And the promise of the holidays loom. Yes, the days get shorter, and darker, and colder. It's Seattle. By November if you work in an office you feel like a mole because you leave in the dark and come home in the dark. But the dark is *perfect* for the holidays. You get to make fun, festive food like pumpkin pie and mulled cider and mashed potatoes and put meals in the crock pot. Christmas music starts up and people put out lights and you pray for snow - just a little. And everyone has this feeling of anticipation and hope.

Also, the themes - you can decorate for each month - bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils in September, jack o' lanterns in October, wreathes made out of leaves in November and little pilgrims on your table, and then there's Christmas.

But now, it's all done, and contrary to the song, Christmas is not in *mid-winter* it's at the very beginning of winter. We Seattlites have all of winter to go now - black as ever, with no twinkling lights, and more rain than snow... till June. But usually till July.

This is my least favorite time of year and it goes on for six months. Or seven.

I decided a huge part of it is that there aren't anymore themes. I mean, if you're looking at a drugstore calendar, they'll show snowflakes in January (but it probably won't snow) and heart's in February (I dislike Valentine's day) and then pastel eggs and Easter bunnies (and yes, I celebrate Easter. It's a very powerful holiday, but I really can't stand pastels or candy coated almonds) and then there's spring, which here just means more rain.

But this is not a complaining post - I know, I had you fooled. This is the year I do something about it!

I'm inventing my own themes. I don't have it all worked out yet, but one month will be Harry Potter month and one will be Narnia, and maybe in the spring (ick) we'll do a Secret Garden month. Doesn't that sound like more fun than Easter eggs and hearts?

We'll make butter beer

and Turkish delight

and Yorkshire pudding (ok, I googled Yorkshire pudding and we may need something else for Secret Garden month).

I figure there are all sorts of wreath possibilities, too.

What do you think? Crazy? Or a lemons and lemonade sort of thing. Let me know if you have any great ideas for themes. I'm still working it out! I figure till the tree comes down (tonight, I swear!) I don't have to start in on January's theme...

When dogs aren't garden gnomes, or humans for that matter

I used to be the sort of person that loved a good fight, or crusade. If someone even hinted at maligning a friend of mine - I was there! If someone disagreed with me about an issue close to my heart, I pulled out my proverbial soap box and got down to business! I adored Julia Sugarbaker. I loved a good rant. (I still do, really. If you're ranting - link me!)

And then I grew up and realized that you change more hearts than minds, that it's better to come alongside someone than rail against them, that it's better to help people understand each other than staunchly defend. It's just more effective.

But sometimes people are wrong and sometimes they just don't get that they are wrong, and sometimes there are big repercussions from wrong beliefs and so, because I don't want to rant on Facebook, I'm just going to make my case here.

A friend of mine posted a link in favor of anti-tethering legislation. (Yes, we're talking about dogs). And a man commented underneath that what was better, to leave a dog outside with access to food and water and God's green earth, or stuck inside in a box no longer than his leash.

Well, if you're talking about humans, there's no question. OK, neither is good, but no human being wants to be confined. And this guy, well meaning as he is, wouldn't want a dog confined.

Except that dogs aren't humans. Dogs are den animals. And dogs do just fine in a crate (with a few exceptions). Dogs don't like to mess their dens so they don't potty in them, but a dog can wait 8 hours to go to the bathroom if they need to. Or longer. Because they aren't humans.

What dogs can't do is be chained outside for hours, days, months, years on end, with no interaction, with the sun beating down on them or the rain chilling them, with no den to go into. Their water dishes get overturned. Squirrels run by and all they can do is bark. People run by and they bark. People keep walking and they think the barking works so they bark longer and harder. They get left outside like a garden gnome, just there to decorate the lawn, and they go crazy, truly mentally ill. Then one of these dogs breaks it's tether and chomps on the first thing they see, because they're starving, or frantic, or just plain nuts at this point, and we put the dog to sleep. If it's a pit bull, which it probably is because they're the leading dog chosen for garden gnome status these days, we may even ban the breed and say it's inherently vicious.

So I don't like to point out that people are wrong anymore, I really don't. But if you don't sometimes point it out, then people can't adopt the cute little pit bull at the shelter because their home owners' insurance will drop them or their landlord won't allow it or their town has a breed ban. And then the cute pup gets euthanized for just having stubby legs and a fat head.

Because we didn't know tethering was a bad idea. (And yes, there are good ways to tether for short amount of times, but I'm talking about all day, every day, forever.)

So just this once, I'm pulling out my soap box. I promise to put it back under my bed after this blog post.

PS Janet Reid just posted about a great pup that needs a home if you're on the east coast!

So now it's Wednesday

And Dear Hubby left for Georgia at four in the morning. He's probably still on a plane and can't get enough coffee.

The kids all seemed fine until last night. This morning, one was sick. The other wouldn't wake up for school. (I mean, she was breathing and conscious, just refusing to acknowledge morning. I may have played that card myself once or twice). And Mystery Man went non-verbal when he realized we were nearly out of chocolate milk. This would also be the morning I realized I had an entire manilla envelope full of construction paper I needed to cut out for a Kindergarten class project... today.

So... I made cinnamon rolls, let the kids sleep till 9:30, and got them to school by 10 - with the cutting project all done.

Just one more reason I'm not making mother of the year this year. Again. It's like Lauren Graham at the Emmy's. At least I'm in good company.

I'm pretty sure if I had a dog, he'd have licked the girls faces till they woke up, made me my coffee, and we'd have made it on time. Right?

Just another Monday

You all know my husband travels for business, yes? Quite a bit, really. But today he didn't leave till the afternoon and he'll be back tomorrow. I should be able to handle this.

And I would, except that the children have a built in sensor for when he's left. I don't know how they do this, but I do know if this could be harnessed somehow for national defense we could do away with the creepy airport scanners and probably most world wars.

So.. what did the little darlings do, you ask? It started out small. An absolute refusal to go to hula by Mystery Man - my 3 year old. I couldn't really blame him. It's no fun to sit on the cold floor while your sister ami's around the island for half an hour and he got reprimanded for running last week.

Him: I won't go to hula because I am afraid. Do you know what I am afraid of?
Me: Um, the bathroom fan.
Him: Nope, try again.
Me: The teacher because she told you not to run?
Him: Yes, and that is why I'm not going.

Our hula teacher is a lovely and wonderful person but Mystery Man has trust issues. I bribed him with McDonalds and we made it, but not without lots of conversation and a brief stand off where he said he'd stay in the car where he'd be nice and safe.

We return. It's pitch black and pouring and just warm enough that it's rain, but not snow, but no warmer. He's asleep. We race inside, arms full of food and sleeping three year old. Boop, my 6 year old tells me her ear still hurts. I look for medicine and ponder a trip to the pediatrician for an ear infection. No, it hurts around her earring. Oh. Ohhhhh. Crap.

I look. I have to promise not to hurt her. The back is crooked and digging into her ear. I tell her I'll fix it. She panics. I give her a pencil to bite down on and tell her that's what soldiers did during World War One when you had to set their bones in the field. Yes, I'm not kidding. That's exactly what I told her. She bit down on the pencil. I touched her ear and she went flying. Great. I figured I'd get it when she was sleeping.

Then I hear screaming. Blood is pouring down her cheek and across her chin. It's not good to run when people are holding your earring. I want to look at it.

Boop: You told me the pencil would make it not hurt and now I am BLEEDING! I am not taking any more chances with this ear!

Fortunately, her big sister saved the day and cleaned up the blood and got the Neosporin on. I need to reward her greatly. In large part because of what's coming next.

We return to our McDonald's feast and Red, my 10 year old, is standing at the kitchen island eating. She's wearing a pair of jeans and a cropped sweatshirt that should sit right at her waist but sometimes rides up a little. It exposes a strip of skin right at Mystery Man's mouth level. This does not escape MM's notice. He takes a big gulp of soda, aims, shoots.

He's rewarded with the biggest scream he's ever gotten out of Red. Of course, he repeats his win. I move to stop him, but have issues with, shall we say, misplaced laughter, and can't quite catch my breath. Red shoots daggers at me. I finally get MM to swallow his drink.

I get them in bed. I read chapter two of Harry Potter. I tuck them in. I come downstairs and call my darling husband because I realize I missed his call.

Me: Did you call? Sorry, I was putting the kids to bed.
Him: Don't say sorry. You don't know why I called.
Me: ...
Him: Remember when I said I'd take the garbage to the curb before I left on the trip?
Me: No. No no no no no. You know it's raining, pitch black, and the recycling has to go out too.
Him: How about I make you a great dinner in a couple of days.

Yes, he's cooking Thanksgiving. No, it doesn't count.

I was nice about it. But if you know me at all you know I took the opportunity to point out that if I had my pit bull this wouldn't be an issue. A harness, a good rope, a few choice instructions, and there you go. Don't ruin my dream. It could happen.

And the first thing I did when I got back was blog about it except every time I hit my Enter key it popped up HP sound settings instead of giving me a carriage return and you can't do an entire blog post on one line. I blame Mystery Man, but I have no idea how he pulled that one off...

Clearly, a reboot fixed that problem. Now, to reboot the rest of the evening...

Hedgehogs, who knew?

A friend of mine just posted on Facebook that she wants a hedgehog for Christmas. She's probably mostly joking, but of course I then had to google "buy a hedgehog" and find a hedgehog breeder near me so that I could taunt her with pictures of baby hedgehogs.

First of all, I didn't really know they could be pets. I thought they were like squirrels, but no, you can buy a hedgehog.

Some other fun things I learned:

1) You can free feed a hedgehog - meaning, just leave out a bowl of food, but you know your hedgehog (can we just call them H-hogs for short? Thanks) is getting a bit plump when they can't curl into a ball anymore. I think that's an excellent test for anyone.

2) They only do well if the temperature is between 70 and 80 degrees. Just like me. If it dips below 70, they will attempt to hibernate, and they don't do this very well. I don't know if that means they can't quite achieve hibernation and just get really sleepy, or if they achieve it *too* well and don't wake up.

3) Either way, the solution is a heating pad. Either put them on a human one, or buy a hedgehog shaped reptile one and put it in their cage. This is the first pet I've heard of where "heating pad" is part of their special needs.

4) No clumping litter. I'm not even gonna tell you where it gets stuck, but I will tell you this. If I ever get a hedgehog, I'm only getting a girl for this reason alone.

5)Hedgehogs are nocturnal. You can wake them up and play with them during the day, but don't try to change their schedule and make them a daytime pet. Again, we might be related. I've heard of werewolves, could I be a latent were-hedgehog? Every morning it occurs to me that I am not a daytime pet.

Right there in black and white

Or maybe it's green and blue... anyway. I was doing some research for my work in progress and needed to look up some demographic data for a little town in California. While I was perusing this city data site, I noticed weather facts. Here are the facts for this little California town - these are graphs showing the number of sunny days compared with the national average - and the number of cloudy days. The details don't really matter - just take a look and get a feel for the shape of the graphs.

Ok, got it? Great.
It occurred to me to look up *my* city and see just how different it is. I live just outside of Seattle.
Here's my graphs:

Just to be clear - that thick green line all by itself at the bottom? That's our average percentage of sunny days, compared with the US average....wayyyyy above it.
And on the cloudy graph - see that big purple mass that looks like it's going to swallow you up? That's the number of cloudy days and that little wisp of yellow at the top is the number of sunny days.

So enjoy your sun, all of you who don't live with me and the purple monster. ;) He and I have made peace - he tells me to fill up my coffee cup and go ahead, read the next chapter of The Night Circus - after all, it's cold out there!

More on pit bulls...

So yes, my new book has a pit bull in it. The research has come pretty naturally - I'm a pro with petfinder - but I keep finding dogs I want. Like this one.
She knows how to sit, shake, high five, and bark "I Love You!" It's not her fault she's a stray - her owner is in jail and she's got no home. I mean, I'm only human...
A friend of mine who works in a shelter kept posting about pit bulls on Facebook and I was like, yeah, yeah... aren't they kind of scary? Why are you so obsessed with pit bulls.
Then she posted a link to the American Temperament Testing Society's page.
They run thousands of dogs through a challenging temperament test every year. If a dog fails the test, it's because they showed unprovoked aggression, panic without recovery, or strong avoidance. It's a much more difficult test to pass than the Canine Good Citizenship test that so many dogs take to prove that they're reliable. Pit bulls passed at about 86% - so for every hundred dog about 14 didn't pass, and they tested around 700. Golden Retrievers passed at a rate of 84%.

And then *I* became obsessed with pit bulls. Why have they been so maligned? Why do people fear them? Why do we read about so many pit bull attacks. Why not Golden Retriever attacks? Or Schnauzer's that only passed at 66%.

It's been a fun journey. I'm almost done with this book. But it's really only used such a small part of all that I've learned. Fortunately, I have a blog. :)

Back for your enjoyment: Dog of the day

Do you any of you long time readers remember when I had my "Boxer of the Day" feature? I used to work above a pet store, and I walked by that pet store every day on the way to Starbucks. Let's be real, I walked to Starbucks more than once a day. And I had to walk past that pet store to get there and back - so I saw the pups sometimes 4 or 6 times a day. One day, the inevitable happened, I fell in love. I called her Hepburn, even though I never got to take her home. She was a little fawn colored Boxer with a black mask. Since I couldn't have her, I did what any other person dealing with unrequited love would do - I became just a wee bit obsessed. I put up a picture of a new Boxer every day on my blog. I still don't have a Boxer. I had another baby instead and I'm still not in a "let's go get a puppy" time of life. But that's good, because I've moved on from Boxer's had have a new dog... love. Let's not use the word obsession, shall we? And since this ties in to the new book I've almost finished, I'm sharing my obsession love with all of you! This is Auggie. He's available for adoption in Seattle. If you adopt him, tell me - I want to pet him! He's a blue brindle with super soft fur and smile lines.

He's also a pit bull. More on that later... I promise!