Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch ...

Despite all recent evidence to the contrary, we do in fact still remain in possession of that Very Small Human Female. She's just, you know, almost four years old -- so things have been kind of up and down and many different kinds of sideways lately. Exhausting, if you're her parent, but not especially exciting. (Although we do have that whole Disneyland thing to use for leverage, for now anyway. God help us all when that particular bribery-blackmail gambit no longer works, because at that point I will be officially Out Of Options.)

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We had kind of a rough weekend. We apparently do not always have our Listening Ears engaged at all times, so there are occasionally Issues. And these particular Issues are not always resolved so much by positive reinforcement as they are kind of waited out, after all the yelling is over.

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I hate being a Yelly Parent, but sometimes I just don't know what else to do. I know how hard she tries to be a good kid, and really she usually is absolutely wonderful, but we have Those Days, Those Terrible Horrible Big Bad Days, when being a good kid is just NOT on the agenda. On Saturday, in the car, I practically screamed myself hoarse because she Just.Wouldn't.Listen! and Just.Wouldn't.Leave.Things.Alone! and ... well, you all understand, I know you do. You're raising kids of your own, or you've raised your kids, and possibly one of those kids was me, so I know you know what I am talking about.

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Definitely it was not my finest moment as a parent, and I know there will be days like this from time to time. Don't worry, I am plenty embarrassed about it, about the futility and stupidity of it all on my part. I apologized profusely to her, even though technically she was the one in the wrong, and she knows it. (Who's the Rules Lawyer now, huh?) We still fight over vegetables and bedtime and why it's just not appropriate to "go commando," even if you are only sitting at home watching Disney movies with your parents. Little girls need to wear underpants, parents need to make sure they do, fish need to swim, birds need to fly. Circle of life, and all that.

So in case you were wondering where my kid went: she's still here. We're all still here. We're getting older and smarter and more self-assured and more self-confident and boy howdy more stubborn by the day, but we're all still here. The Dudette abides.


Without A Trace

I have done a good deal of searching -- of both the physical and soul varieties -- and I absolutely cannot for the life of me find more than a small handful of my honeymoon pictures.

I am bereft, I tell you. Positively beside myself.

I have approximately eleventy bajillion pictures in this house. Assorted albums, half a hard drive, two giant Longaberger baskets. I found multiple rolls of pictures from vacations, day trips, weddings, funerals even, but I just cannot find pictures of one of the most awesome weeks of my life.

I MEAN, COME ON: I found pictures of no fewer than five ex-boyfriends (no I am not joking), three foreign countries, bridal showers for people have been divorced more than once, birthday parties that I don't remember, birthday parties that I don't WANT to remember, even pictures from when I was in "Li'l Abner" IN THE NINTH GRADE, but the honeymoon pictures I found are not actually identifiable as actual pictures of my honeymoon. I only know that they are because as far as I remember, I've only attempted to take pictures of myself in a hammock that one time.

Where does this stuff go? Have they disappeared to the Land of the Lost with the missing socks that never come back out of the dryer? God, I hope not. I really hope they're not in the basement, because I'll never find them again.

I am an acknowledged, unrepentant pack rat. I still have journals from middle school. I still have receipts from trips that I took a decade ago. I still have a filing cabinet drawer filled with letters and cards and random tchotchkes that people sent me when I was in college. I still have service records and the owner's manual from a car that was totalled in an accident sixteen years ago.

But I can't find the photos of the first trip that we took as husband and wife. Poof. They're gone. Disappeared without a trace.

I am more upset about this than maybe I ought to be, but it's hard to remember without the visuals. It's difficult to make the hard sell for another trip to Disney when I didn't take proper care of the mementos of the last one. I need to find these pictures, so I can convince my husband that it's time we went again.

Saint Anthony, please come around -- something's lost and can't be found.

And bring Saint Jude with you, because this one might be a lost cause.


WSJM Public Access Presents Coffee Talk

I'm at home dying of plague and consumption -- okay, strep throat, which is totally treatable thanks to modern medicine, but you have no idea how bad it is unless you have it so whatever -- and I slept until 11:00 so by the time I woke up there were no good daytime TV shows on any more -- haha like there are any good daytime TV shows to begin with -- so I am making up my own entertainment from some Skype screen shots from over the weekend.

WSJM Public Access Television in Pottstown-Des Plaines-Bethlehem presents "Coffee Talk with Joey Burger."

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Good morning everybody. Beautiful day outside, not snowing for a change. Nice and warm here inside the studio. Thanks for joining us. Remember, if you want to be a member of our studio audience, call the switchboard at 777-GO-2-WSJM. Only 10 seats available for every taping, and the first three people who arrive at the studio will get to work the cameras. Ha!

Coffee Talk

So let me tell you about what happened yesterday after the show. You won't believe it. I went home for lunch and instead of getting my usual chocolate milk, my mommy made me chocolate MALT milk. Can you BELIEVE it? Chocolate MALT milk! What is this, 1950? What is she giving me, Ovaltine? But let me tell you, that chocolate MALT milk was DELICIOUS. Absolutely delicious. So I'm a new convert. Pour me some Ovaltine!

Coffe Talk 1

We're going to have a great show today. I'll be drinking my chocolate malt milk with our guests. Up first, we're going to talk with one of the Wonder Pets. That's right, Tuck the Turtle is going to be here. Give it up for Tuck!

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Then we're going to joined by our musical guests, here to talk about the diss of the century at the Grammys, ladies and gentlemen we have Justin Bieber! [hollering] And he'll be showing off his NEW HAIRCUT!

Coffee Talk 5

And finally at the end of the show we're going to have our very favorite segment: snack time! Today my mommy is serving graham crackers, applesauce, and yes, CHOCOLATE MALT MILK for everybody. It's going to be great! Stick around after the commercials!


What Day Is This Anyway?

Dear family: I have not blogged in almost a week, but I am not dead. Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated, mostly by me, because I have strep throat right now and you know what a frickin' drama queen I am. Of course, that doesn't really explain why I didn't write anything on Thursday or Friday of last week, or over the weekend, or yesterday when I had the day off, but the important thing is that I AM NOT DEAD. Even though my throat hurts too much for popsicles right now, and basically the only solid food I've eaten all day has been a grilled cheese sandwich soaked in tomato soup, and I didn't even eat all of it because IT HURTS SO MUCH YOU GUYS. I want my mommy. And some ice cream. And maybe some morphine.

Anyway: I have something lined up for tomorrow. Okay?


Getting To Know You

On Monday, Valentine's Day, my niece Makayala turned two months old. A milestone! Congratulations, Makayla -- you're now that much closer to the day when everybody refers to your age in years instead of months, before you get to the point when you want people to stop referring to your age altogether!

Happy Baby
Makayla at 24 hours old

We're lucky enough to see Makayla almost every weekend when we go to visit my parents and grandparents, so we've gotten to see how much bigger she's getting, how her chubby cheeks and thighs are filling out, how she is starting to look around, notice things, recognize people. She always seems to perk right up when she hears certain voices: her Mama, her Pop-pop, her Shae. She's a pretty quiet and unfussy baby, but she's starting to increase her noise levels to match her surroundings. She fits right into our big, noisy, crazy family.

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Makayla at 11 days old

It's a wonderful thing, to see babies growing like this, but it's a little bittersweet for me, too. We didn't know Shae yet, when she was this age. The earliest pictures we have of her are from when she was about 4½ months old, on the first day that she was with the foster family who loved her before we were lucky enough to have her join our family. So sometimes when I look at all the pictures I already have of my niece, I feel a weird pain in my heart, because we missed those very early days with our daughter.

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Makayla at 4 weeks old

Shae loves looking at her baby pictures in the photo album that the other family gave us as a memento on the day our placement became permanent. I do, too, but I feel sometimes like I am looking at pictures of a completely different person, someone so small and strange and unknown. And maybe I am -- we all change, all the time, right? Every milestone, every month, every week, every day, every hour, every minute, we are a little bit different than we were in the month, week, day, hour, minute before. It's how we change, for the better or the worse, that matters, right?

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Makayla at 2 months old

Still: I would be lying if I didn't admit that I am more than a little bit jealous of my sister, that she has been there from the very, very beginning of her daughter's life. I wonder how much different Shae would be now if we had become her family right away, right after birth -- or what if I were her biological mother? How would things be different? I think we have a hell of a kid, more perfect than we could possibly have asked for, but what might have changed if we had known her sooner? For her, and for us?


Jupiter's Darling

Oh! Look! Another swim class, another bathing suit!

New Suit

Shae managed to pick up two new suits since her last class -- we normally have a pretty big assortment of suits in different colors and different styles and different backs, but she grew so much over the fall and winter that we only had two 1-pieces that still fit when classes started. I picked up one new suit for her at the Gap and My Anonymous Mother used her coupons and ninja-shopping-fu to get another one as well. They're bright and happy and really cute and I can't wait until summer and good lighting so you can see them in all their glory. For now you're stuck with these pictures.


I know the pictures are bad and grainy, but that's because the lighting inside the Y is not exactly optimal, and I spend most of class shooting these pictures from across the natatorium with the camera set on high-speed and the telephoto lens zoomed all the way in. I don't want to get right up on the lip of the pool to take pictures because (1) I don't want to get too many shots of other people's kids and (2) I don't want to be a disruption. Plus, my kid never stops moving.


Not that you asked. I am just making excuses.

Esther Williams

At the latest class we started working on a new skill: the back float. This is something new that I don't think Shae ever tried before, but she seems to like it. Can't say I blame her -- I love just lying on my back in the pool, staring up at the sky and the clouds and the birds and the butterflies, listening to soothing music in my head.

Or maybe Shae is just practicing for world domination, Esther-Williams-style.


10 Things I Hate About You

I hate that when you're not in bed, I can't sleep well. Sometimes I will fall into a deep sleep, but I almost always wake up and wonder where you are. I hate worrying, even though I know that you are always somewhere trying to get back to me.

I hate that I need to hear the sound of your breathing -- and even your snoring -- in order to feel completely comfortable in our bed. I hate being so dependent on someone else for such simple emotional security.

I hate that you hate your gray hairs, even though I think they make you look distinguished and mature -- and I feel doubly bad about the fact that I am secretly a little bit proud of every single gray hair that you have earned from being married to me.

I hate that no matter how hard I look, no matter how hard I try, I can't find a single wrinkle on your face. I've seen you frown, but yet your face is totally unlined. I guess I've earned every one of my wrinkles like you've earned every one of your gray hairs. I don't like it.

I hate that you look much more handsome with your grays, and I just look older with my wrinkles. I guess I just hate that growing older together means that we both have to, you know, get older. I still feel like we're the same teenage dirtbags who fell in love all those years ago, and I hate that we don't still look it.

I hate that you get as excited when my teams win championships as you do when your own teams do. Your teams have, combined, won 16 championships -- your football team alone has won more championships than all my teams combined. I especially hate that you're such an unselfish fan that you were less upset that the Steelers lost the Super Bowl this year than I was. How dare you have the decency to be a really good sport, you jerk?

I hate that you make me be the "bad cop" sometimes when it comes to disciplining our daughter. I hate that I am better at being the "bad cop" that you are.

I hate that pained look on your face when it's your turn to be the "bad cop." I really hate that I am better at being the "bad cop" than you are.

I hate that you don't like mushrooms or Brussels sprouts, which are two of my very favorite vegetables in the whole world. I hate that no amount of bacon, garlic, butter, cheese sauce, or other kitchen alchemy can make you love these foods.

I hate that after seventeen years together, including twelve years of marriage, I had to work really hard to come up with this list of ten things that I (don't) really hate about you. I hate that I know that I'm the lucky one, here -- I get to spend the rest of my life with Mr. Perfect-for-Me, and you get to spend the rest of your life with ... well, me.


The V is for ... Vah Humbug?

Eh, we're not really doing Valentine's Day this year.

I can't really tell whether I am upset or disappointed or just filled with extreme ennui or what, but Valentine's Day is in three days and neither my husband nor I has made any particular plans, that I know of, to do anything special.

Last year's Valentine's Day flowers
We usually do. I get flowers almost every year, and I absolutely love them. I don't know where he orders his arrangements from, but they're always exquisitely lovely and fragrant and you can smell them all the way down the hall when I pick them up at the front desk -- like I've left a visible vapor trail of rose-and-stargazer-lily essence wherever I've walked.

I get a lot of dirty looks from people who don't get anything, even the people who say they don't want anything. It's usually kind of awesome.

But this year, I'm just not into Valentine's Day.

I'm not anti-romance or anything. We were going to do dinner and a movie tomorrow, leave Shae with one or more of her grandparents so we could get some alone time, but my mother-in-law broke her leg so she is not available to babysit and anyway, there is LITERALLY NOTHING in theaters right now that I want to see. Not for Valentine's Day, anyway. I might like to see True Grit or The King's Speech, but to be totally honest, they don't look like feel-good rom-coms.

And on Monday, the actual Big Day, he has to work, and so do I -- I will get to see him for maybe half an hour before I go to work, and that's all. Not exactly optimal conditions for the making of the romance. I can't even make him dinner. Well, okay, I can, but he'll eat it on Tuesday night at work, and what is the point of putting all that work into a big romantic meal when I'm going to end up fighting with a preschooler over actually EATING IT?

It doesn't help that I have absolutely no idea what to get him, if I get him a gift. The best Valentine's Day present I ever gave him was a mix tape that I made back in 1994. It was absolutely perfect, a blend of old and new songs, covers and originals, standards and show tunes, stuff that expressed all the stuff I was feeling at the time, stuff that I was never able to say in my own words. I've been trying to top that sucker since then, with no luck. I tried again this year, but ... well, let's just say that I'm old and I couldn't really find any songs from the last 17 years that move me the same way that original track list did.

So we're doing nothing, that I know of. Over the weekend I am going to brunch with a girlfriend, but that's pretty much it. We have swimming lessons and family visits and grocery shopping and laundry and all the usual stuff that needs to get done, but nothing special for the holiday. Maybe I'll pick up some cupcakes at the store tonight or something. But basically, I feel like Valentine's Day is just another Monday this year, and ... eh.

If you're doing something special for Valentine's Day, like I don't know going to Denver or something, have a great time! Have enough fun for me too, okay?


Financial Alchemy

Ever wonder how I manage to keep myself out of debtors' prison? (Me too.) Click here to read more about how we manage our family finances.


Say Anything

Lest you all think I have stuck my head in the oven after the Super Bowl or something -- because I am very very sad that the Steelers lost, moreso even than my husband who is an ACTUAL STEELERS FAN, but on the other hand, I am kind of happy for Aaron Rodgers because now maybe everyone will just SHUT THE EFF UP above Brett Favre, GOD, Rodgers now has as many Super Bowl wins as Favre does so would just cut the guy a small break already? -- but no. I am just, as usual, a slackety-slacker slack ass.

Also, except for the Super Bowl, basically nothing happened last weekend. Swimming classes got cancelled due to an "ice storm" (i.e., a superfine coating of ice on the roads, so fine that it actually cracked when you stepped on it, but WHATEVER PENNSYLVANIA, it's not like any of these fools have ever seen winter weather before or anything since the entire state just recently seceded from the Conch Republic, right?) and Shae was positively bereft and I was all out of sorts because my schedule got screwed up.

BUT! I do have pictures from swimming lessons the week before, which I never took of the camera, so you get them now. (I have been running a bit behind schedule with the swim class pictures anyway, so it's like this is NEW. I think I've been running late for my whole life, which is supremely odd, because I spent half the day thinking today is Wednesday because I forgot to turn my calendar page from Monday. Yeah, I don't know either.)


We finally got bumped up to join the Pike "B" kids and Shae couldn't have possibly been more stoked, unless maybe you told her she could eat nothing but lollipops every day for the rest of her life. She was that excited. And she did wonderfully -- she really is a natural in the water, and everything her teacher asked her to do, she did with relish. We're still dealing with our ongoing listening issues, but we're vastly improving.

Pike B

I'm not entirely sure of the class schedule, but I think that by the end of this session, she should be able to swim across the pool by herself without any flotation devices. I think if her teacher asks her to, Shae will FLY. She's already talking about joining the swim team. And people are telling her that I was on the swim team when I was four (which I think is incorrect -- I think I didn't start until I was 5 or 6, but many of my friends-and-relations started earlier, but I can't remember because IT WAS A HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS AGO AND I CAN'T EVEN REMEMBER WHAT SOCKS I HAVE ON RIGHT NOW), and so she is ready to go.

"I'm going to be MORE AWESOME THAN YOU, Mommy," she says. She doesn't believe me when I tell her she already is.


Bury My Heart in Hohman, Indiana

It all comes back to A Christmas Story, if you want to know the truth. It's possible that within A Christmas Story lies the answers to the meaning of life, the Universe, and everything, but at the very least, it is the mile marker on the Highway of Life that I use to locate my position in the cosmos.

At different times, I have experienced almost everything that happens in that movie except for getting to see first-hand the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window. I have lived the life of almost every character in that movie except for maybe Scut Farkus (and then I can't say with any degree of certainty that I've never been a bully in one way or another). I have been disappointed by mail-order decoder rings; and I've laid in the snow like a slug, that being my only defense; and I'm sure as hell that in the heat of battle I have woven a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging out in space.

So I've been Ralphie (still am, most of the time), and I've been The Old Man (still am, some of the time), and I've been Randy (still am, when it suits me) -- I've even been Flick with my tongue stuck to the metaphorical flagpole more times than it is probably dignified to admit to, but there you go -- and now I've gone for the superfecta by becoming Mrs. Parker and giving my kid soap poisoning.

Yes, that's right: I had to wash my kid's mouth out with soap.

I am not particularly proud of this particular bit of discipline, but it is what it is. Definitely not my proudest moment as a parent. The good news is that it wasn't because of cussing, at least not yet -- I'll have to cross that particular Bridge Too Far when we get there, I suppose. But in a way, this issue was worse, because it turns out that one of the multitude of bad habits that my kid has picked up from her friends in school is spitting when she gets angry.

Not the "good" kind of spitting, either. This is not the spitting for distance and accuracy that my friend the former Marine taught me how to do when I graduated from high school, being able to spit an empty Coke can off a picnic bench at 50 paces, the kind that ended up landing me a part in West Side Story when I was in college. This is nasty, feral-llama type spitting, and I absolutely won't stand for it. To me, spitting on someone is the most disrespectful thing you can possibly do, a Jerry-Springer-style dis, dirtier even than uttering the F-dash-dash-dash word. It's gross and filthy and Not Allowed, not ever.

I warned her, of course. When I last got a report of this behavior from her teacher, I told her that the next time it happened, I was going to wash her mouth out with soap. I even threatened to go out and buy a bar of Lifebuoy especially for the occasion, because there is no sense in doing punishment if it's going to be half-assed. I almost didn't make it through, when the school's director heard me referencing A Christmas Story and barely suppressed her laughter. But that was weeks ago, and it hadn't happened again, until Tuesday.

In the heat of the moment, I had to go with Dove Gentle Exfoliating, because that's what we had in the house. I told her: don't bite down, and don't lick the soap, and you'll be okay, but it would be gross, and anway, I said this would happen, and so this was what I had to do. She cried and fought and whipped herself into a right frenzy, as you might have expected. But she was a trooper, and she did her time (ten seconds, and it will go up by ten seconds every time we have to do it again, which I hope it never does), and I really want to believe that she has been rehabilitated, although I suppose we'll see, won't we? Even Ralphie became quite a connoisseur of soap, didn't he?

And, just like Mrs. Parker, I did take a taste afterwards. Soap is ... not tasty. So I hope we never need to do this again.



Things are mostly settling down at home now that my husband's been on his new schedule for four weeks. Bedtime is getting under control, and I've even managed to work in some exercise at night. But we're still having some issues at dinnertime that are making me nuts.

To wit: All of the sudden, Shae claims that she does not like vegetables, and pretty much refuses to touch them.

This is all new to me, because basically since she's been eating solid food, she's been eating whatever we put in front of her. We have had the random phases where she'd eat nothing but pretzels, cheese, and pineapple for days at a time, but nothing like this. It's stressing me out, because I really, really want to make sure that she eats properly, gets all the right nutrition, and looks at fruit snacks and pretzels as "sometimes foods."

I blame school, honestly. I mean, her pre-school provides proper lunches every day, with a fruit or a veggie, but if her friends don't eat their vegetables, and they can get away with it, it's only a matter of time before Shae would try it too, right?

So I have resorted to the same last refuge that every other mother of every other preschooler has resorted to at times like these: subterfuge and camouflage.

Shae's Dinner 01-31-11: Subterfuge

This was Shae's dinner last night: homemade soup, whole wheat butter bread, celery with cream cheese, and a Fruitables juice box (fruit-and-vegetable juice blend, like a sweet V8). I made the soup -- it has carrots, celery, onion, and diced tomatoes in it. She also ended up eating two pieces of bread, so all told, she probably had three full servings of vegetables at dinnertime last night, plus two servings of whole grain.

She didn't complain about those vegetables, probably because she didn't realize she was eating them. I don't know how long I am going to get away with this, but promise me you won't tell her she's eating health food, okay?