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Big OtterIt’s great having three kids, and whenever possible, Wife and I try to pull them all together and do things as a screeching, protesting, questioning Forcedly Functional Fivesome.

Which makes the one-on-one kid times somewhat rare and very entertaining.
So it was, on Saturday morning, that even though we had to get up at 6:15 a.m. on a Saturday, and drive about an hour away, I was actually looking forward to some solo time with Rosebud, who will turn 8 next month.

I was not disappointed. I was so not disappointed that as soon as she joined her teammates, I opened up the note function on my phone and tried to capture the unfiltered wisdom I was just imparted. If you could keep this curiosity sharp – while learning all that we learn in college and in life – you’d have a pretty unbeatable corporate leader.

On the way there, Rosebud immediately wondered if we would get more red lights or green lights, so we counted.

“Do you know how to play SKY TIC TAC TOE?”

Of course I didn’t, so she explained that it is done with contrails, and that you can either dot your Xs or Os above the contrail lines or you can verbally do the Xs an Os, and that really the main problem is that there are rarely enough vertical lines that cross the horizontal.

“Hey, when you fly to Florida tomorrow, you could ask your pilot to make some lines?”

It was agreed that I would.

We then discussed a few other items:

● How “Miss Blodgett” her second grade teacher is a lot like a student, in that her husband packs her a lunch and a snack every day and she wears a backpack to school to carry it in.

● Whether I could hear the sound that Rosebud was presently making with her cheeks and whether it was loud in the front of the car.

● That the Big Otter River must have otters in it and that they must be large, or that the Big Otter River must be shaped like an otter – and if so, which part of the otter we had just driven over.

● That “Miss Blodgett” had already missed five days or school, three one week and then two when she went to someone’s wedding, and how if she misses about five more, she’ll probably get a nasty letter from the school district.

● That Rosebud likes sheep, but they have no brain because they always just follow each other, which is why they could easily get eaten by an Anaconda.

● (Upon passing Thomas Jefferson’s Country House, Poplar Forest): Whether Thomas Jefferson really needed two houses, but anyway, that the location of this one – surrounded by a mulch company, a fake Jefferson neighborhood and a four-lane highway – didn’t look much like a location he’d enjoy.

● If I had ever put a Band-Aid on my finger so tight that it turned purple.

● Whether I was aware that the term “gay” had two meanings, one for people who are happy all the time and the other to denote the kind of person once featured in “Poppy’s hitchhiking story.”

● If I had ever noticed that bald men’s heads are really shiny and how they get that shiny.

● And that the indentation in the back of the car head rest would be an excellent place for a fairy to live – not all the time, but when the fairy went on a vacation for a couple of weeks.

I had never noticed the indentation, then again, I figured fairies were permanently on vacation.

For the record: 16 green, 7 red, 1 yellow.

I wonder who ever decided green was for go and red was for stop and yellow meant slow down and which part of the otter we crossed and what fairies really do on vacation?

domestic_churro_machine_v2This evening, we have stepped in the midst of some sort of ritualistic baking experience that the indigenous people seem to be undertaking. Those of us hiding in the bushes are not sure what we are witnessing, but it appears that the natives have not previously performed this ritual, as it does vary from the standard village baking efforts that we have previously witnessed.

And they seem to be squabbling with each other at every turn.

We joined them in midstream for this Documentary, for which our working title is: “Out of the Churro Pan, Into the Fryer.”

The Mom: Turn that burner off, Ava.

“I DON”T KNOW HOW TO TURN THE BURNER OFF!”

Turn it to the right.

The daughter: “Right? That doesn’t make sense. MAKE IT STOP!”

How are the eggs looking, Ava?

“Eggy…..disgusting.”

The Mom: Pop the other egg in…

“I can’t stir it.”

Mom: You have to OWN it.

Mom steps in and stirs batter like it is 1956 and she is spanking a bad child.

“Disgusting….who would eat this?”

Mom: Well, we’re going to. YOU chose it!

Mom: Hey, this looks good now, want to see it?

“Uh-uh.”

Mom: OK, we’re mostly done, do you want to go write down your experience?

Daughter: “No, not really, I got it.”

Mom: So, what is your topping going to look like?

Daughter: “My WHAT?”

Mom: And this is the thing we’re going to put it in.

Daughter: Oh, fancy….isn’t that kind of small?

Daughter: I need counseling, that was terrifying, and I am not even halfway done.

(AFTER a break for dinner, they seem rested and refreshed.)

Mom: “OK, should we heat the oil?”

Daughter throws her head back against the chair and sighs.

(Well, apparently the dinner break wasn’t long enough to achieve “refreshed”)

What?

“I HATE baking.”

They move to the baking area.

Mom: Should we put that in here?

Daughter: “In where?”

Mom: In here (holding bowl and pointing at it)

Daughter: “In WHERE?”

Mom: In. This. Bowl.

Mom, sticking with it, never giving up, persisting and persevering and remaining steadfast all at once.

Should you take some pictures, for the project?

Daughter: “Uh, I was going to do that with the final one.”

Mom: OK, let’s start cleaning up while we wait.

“Um, I’m going to take some pictures.”

Mom: So you want to pop that one out?

Do you want to flip it?

Daughter: “How do you know?”

M: You’ll know….(writer’s embellishment)…It’s the same, as one day, when that perfect young man walks across the lunch room, birds will sing, violins will play, everything will look like HD plus 3D…you’ll just KNOW.

M: You need to get this one in the oil.

Daughter: “Do I put it in here? then shake it?”

(Shake, shake, shake/shake, shake shake your churro…)

“It broke in half, but why does it matter?”

M: Let’s make sure this is cooked on the inside?

Daughter: “Is it cooked? Or is it not? It’s not. Is it?”

(Tonight on The Food Channel, “The Neurotic Sous Chef.”)

M: It’s not at its best right now, not as good as it will be.

M: Oil goes down in temperature, just so you know.

Daughter: “Does it?”

M: Yes, if someone –( like my loser husband) — had gotten me an oil thermometer for Christmas like I had asked….

(Kitchen smelling like a fish fry)

Daughter: “Are we taking it out?”

“Can I flip it?”

Mom: I wouldn’t leave that one in too long, it’s getting a little too brown.

Daughter: “OK, I am going to take it out, it’s making me mad.”

(Anger: :Life’s Thermometer)

M: Ok, that one went in at 7:24, I would go ahead and put THESE in.

Daughter: “Let me just grab a pair of these, because they look really cool bubbling.”

Mom: This kind of looks like a pile of dog poop, the ones that are done.

(Bella, our dog, enters kitchen. Did someone say, “Dog poop? Count THIS DOG IN!”)

Daughter: “Can I take a picture?”

Mom: What’s wrong?

Daughter: “This is brown on the outside, not cooked, it is very frustrating.”

(Kitchen smelling like Auntie M’s Deep Fried Oreo Stand at the county fair)

Daughter: “How do I do this?”

Mother: I think if you just put it in and shake it around….

“Oh, that one is perfect.”

Mother: I think we had the oil TOO hot. (again, thermometer, Christmas, didn’t get, husband, idiot.)

Mother: Ava, cool, you have taken over, completely!

This would have all been so much easier, had we purchased the Mr. Churro machine.

street snowOK, school system, you nailed it on the first day (Monday) when you canceled school and then it started snowing at 8 a.m., three hours earlier than predicted.
Ten inches piled up overnight, so Tuesday was not in doubt.
Takes a while to clear the streets here in the South, so Wednesday was a sure thing.
But then Wednesday afternoon, the “Instant Alert” came in via text for Thursday, that there would be no school due to “continued wintry conditions,” that gave pause.
After all, what sort of conditions were we expecting in February, if not “wintry?” Or winteresque. Or winter-like or winter-ish.
And then, Friday, sure it was 0 degrees when we woke up, but you know….coats/gloves/scarves/hats.
I mean, look at that road in that picture. A half cleared road ought to buy half a day at the school, no?

lilla's bed vert 2

So….went to put Rosebud to bed last night, walked into her bedroom and this is what I saw.

Heh, heh, she said, kind of trying to fake sheepish and not really being that sheepish at all.

“I put my dolls on my bed today, because I wanted to count them.”

Yeah, that’s right, there’s a bed under that pig pile of dolls. And there were others that — English major question: are dolls a “which” or a “that” or a “who”? — were in a basket in the corner and probably even additional others that were in her closet, which is a door that I will not walk through.

This from a child who had the audacity to suggest earlier in the day while walking through a store that there were at least three dolls in just one aisle that she was going to add to her list for Santa. Well, muffin, that picture over there is presently being uploaded to the Jolly Ol’ Elf at 1 North Pole Plaza as we speak.

In that pile we have an American Girl (I don’t know which one), and a stuffed monkey and a couple of horses and nightly sleeping companion, “Bunny.” We have ballerinas and princesses and a lady bug and a lamb and little hard-headed plastic “J.J.,” named for a real neighbor back in Norfolk.

To the right of this pile, out of the picture, we have a four-foot tall Barbie house that came with 32 pages of assembly instructions and took me four hours and two IPAs to put together last Christmas Eve. Now, I see why the Barbies demanded their own, separate residences — tucked away at the end of a cul-de-sac from these huddled masses.

Clearly, what we have here is the makings of a six-year-old hoarder. As in most of those situations you read about in the newspaper with some old woman having 78 cats, surely this began as a benevolent effort before it went horribly awry. Now, it has dragged on for so long that it is no longer in the best interest of the dolls.

For evidence of this, look no further than the foreground of the photo: Clearly, Elmo is being crushed under the weight of the pile like an earthquake victim. See, his mouth is agape and crying for help — and his eyes are all bugged out.

ImageLet me get right to the point: Elizabeth is attempting to domesticate a Stink Bug.

Scourge of the Mid-Atlantic for the past several years, invader of our screened porch and therefore our shiny new house last fall to the extent that we had to vacuum them up by the scores every day and to the extent that we couldn’t even use our screened porch or open the french doors connecting it to the house, a Stink Bug has now been captured and shanghaied INTO our house, upstairs and into her bedroom — on purpose.

It has been named, directly enough, “Stinky.”

Stinky has been inhabiting the plastic, cheapy terrarium shown in the photo for about a week now. I don’t know what the life expectancy of a Stink Bug is, but I am imagining his week in captivity will end up being a majority of it.

The girls have been feeding Stinky the usual Stink Bug stuff: organic lettuce, organic arugula, that sort of stuff.

At night, sometimes Stinky gets placed in the windowsill between the window and the screen…for fresh air.

I wondered how long this was going to go on, and then last night I heard Wife putting a kind and gentle end to the whole domestication of a Stink Bug issue. (No, she didn’t squoosh it.)

Girls, I think it’s not entirely fair to keep something that is meant to live outdoors penned up inside, so tomorrow, I’d like you to find a nice place out in the woods or yard to release Stinky.

OK, Mommy.

In other words: The girls are going to take Stinky outside, so that Stinky the Stink Bug can do what Stink bugs are meant to do. So Stinky will spend a little time outside, then spend the entire rest of his time and life exploring little cracks around our screened porch or waiting on the trim of the front door for us to open it for a split second, so that Stinky can get back into our house.

If Stinky is particularly successful, he may make it upstairs, to Elizabeth’s room, back to her windowsill or back into the plastic terrarium.

Who says you can’t go home again?

Last week one day, Elizabeth says, “Daddy, are you doing anything at about 10:30 in the morning on Friday?”media9

Well, there’s the paying job and all, but I was so flattered to be asked that I said, “No, why?”

“Can you come to the field trip my class is having at the Chinese Restaurant?”

Sure. Seems, the second graders were studying China, and dining at Shin Shin Chinese Restaurant was the best available option to absorb the nuances of a culture dating to 2000 BC. Any inkling I had of some rare father-daughter 1-on-1 bonding with our second daughter was quickly dispelled by a note that Mrs. Teacher sent to parents: Don’t plan to eat with your child. There will be too much going on. We need you to help feed the kids at the buffet, tend to their needs and only after they are done eating and, in fact, only after they leave, will you then be able to eat.

I got there and about 15 parents stood in the entrance waiting for the kids. This seemed like too many parents, but I would soon find out it was barely enough. All the moms knew each other and were talking about their kindergarteners lacrosse skills and stuff and pretty much ignoring the two dads.

The kids finally rolled in, one class at a time, and Mrs. Teacher comes up to me and asks me if I can help and watch a table of four boys. I guess she figured, as our girls would say, “Well, YOU’RE a boy, so you know how to handle boys.” In actuality, boys that are the same ages as our girls are completely weird creatures to me and I have no idea what to do with them.

So, the four boys and I set out for the buffet, and while I figure we’ll take things in an orderly fashion and move from station to station as I put stuff on their plates, what they seem to figure is that I can’t possibly help more than one of them at a time, so they start scraping stuff onto their plates, ducking under the sneeze guard and grabbing shit with their hands and putting it on their plates.

By the time I get back to the table with the one boy who I ended up helping, two of the others inform they have either eaten or defiled all of their food and are “ready for seconds.” Mrs. Teacher swings by and says that some of the kids haven’t even had firsts yet, so if the boys want more of something, I should go get it and put it on their plates.

I do that, and return, to find that one of the boys has discovered that there are “clams” at the buffet, and while I am pointing out that the thing on his plate is not a clam but a mussel, the other boys each call out, “I want to try a CLAM, too.”

All right, let’s go get some “clams”! We get back from that adventure, and one of the boys sitting at table next to ours, a table that I will note Mrs. Teacher did NOT put ME in charge of, points at his friend and says: “Peter ate a clam shell.”

I start explaining, again, that first these are not clams, and second, I am sure that while Peter may have eaten the innards of a mussel, I am sure he did not…

I look at Peter. He is smiling. I look at Peter’s plate. There is precisely one HALF of a mussel shell. I look back at Peter and give him a universal guy scowl that can only mean one thing: “Dude! WTF?”

Peter nods and smiles.

Mrs. Teacher then comes back to my table and one of the boys reports that he has wrapped up a “clam shell” to take home.

Mrs. Teacher looks at them and says, “No clam shells are going back to school.” She holds out her hand and says, “Give me the shells boys.”

As I am explaining to Mrs. Teacher that only the one boy has a shell, the others look at her. One pulls a shell out of his pants pocket. Another does the same. A third reaches into his jacket pocket and removes yet another “clam” shell.

Mrs. Teacher looks at me.

I shrug. I was completely overmatched by my own chromosome. I need to stick to girls.

ImageWe’ve all heard those stories about a family that moved, and “accidentally left behind” the family cat. Days, weeks or months later, there is a scratching at the family’s door and, lo and behold, there stands the cat — its paws worn to a nub, having traveled (blank blank) miles out of pure devotion and unexplained animal instinct.

Well, that story has now gone Inanimate Plastic.

Yesterday, the girls were out exploring a stream at the edge of our neighborhood, and doing really cool kid things like building tiny rafts with sticks and lashing them together with bendable reeds and having raft floating contests. Right at the end of the road, the stream turns into a series of mini-waterfalls and pools, and in one of those pools was one of those el cheapo Chinese-made (I wonder what “El Cheapo” is in Mandarin) plastic/rubber balls.

“Hey!!!,” shouts Rosebud, “that’s just like the ball I got for my birthday in Norfolk. Just like it. That could be my ball.”

She sets off across slippery rock and muddy “island” and tries to get the ball. She can’t reach it and finally takes my suggestion to knock it loose with a stick. She picks up the mildew-ridden ball (see spots all over it on the photo) and hauls it out.

“This is definitely the ball I got on my birthday.”

Geography update: Norfolk to Roanoke? About 240 miles, and mostly uphill after it leaves the Coastal Plain region, crosses the Piedmont round about Charlottesville and then the Blue Ridge before heading south in the Shenandoah Valley.

Who says the Chinese don’t make quality crap?

So Rosebud and I head back to the house, where our efforts to wash up the mildewed lost pink birthday ball in the kitchen sink (hey, wife gets one of those big trendy “farm sinks,” and we don’t even farm, so…) are thwarted by Wife/Mommy, and we head down to the basement to the utility sink.

Mildew still won’t come up, but it is now CLEAN mildew.

Rosebud and I head outside to the driveway and conduct a great game of “roll and bounce the pink ball back and forth”, until Rosebud sees the neighbor and shouts her amazing luck to the neighbor.

“I found my pink ball from Norfolk.”

Well, how lucky, that’s your favorite color, too, neighbor shouts back.

“I’m going to keep it safe, in case it’s somebody else’s — and they call and want it back.”

I’m thinking about making some posters for local telephone poles: “Found. Mildewed Pink Ball.”

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