Friday, December 31, 2010

a rough time, a crappy vacation

Iris uber Alles and I are both under the weather. She's definitely much healthier than me, having had a big headstart on this ailment (we can trace its vector all too well: classmate of Iris goes to school despite being incredibly sick, sneezes and coughs all over Iris, Iris comes home spreading germs to her all-too-doting mother). So then the beautiful expanse of time spent off school is reduced to sitting around the house, fetching kleenex and cold drinks and painkillers for an ailing mother. I offered to drive them to the House of Air, so they could bounce their brains out for an hour while I sat on a couch with my box of kleenex, but Iris didn't feel up to it.

Their father took a little break from work to take them bowling, but he forgot to find out ahead of time whether the alley was open or not, so that outing involved driving across town, staring forlornly at the forbidden bowling alley, and then returning home. I was so glad I hadn't dragged along with them. The next day the Sober Husband took Iris to the Disney Family Museum, having gotten some passes as a present, while Lola and I stayed home. I napped on the couch -- at night, my coughing prevents me from getting any quality sleep, so I am prone to falling asleep during the day. I didn't even realize that Iris and the Sober Husband had been out until after they were back. "I had my Rat yell swear words at you, and you didn't even wake up!" said Lola gleefully (one of her best Christmas presents was a stuffed version of Rat from "Pearls Before Swine").

I've apologized repeatedly to the children for giving them a crappy holiday, but I know that doesn't prevent them from scrawling hate-filled screeds against me in the many diaries strewn about the house. Meanwhile I am having a hard time keeping my own spirits level. Did you know the last babysitter I tried to hire charged $20 an hour and flaked twice on interviews? I'm supposed to pay $20 an hour to some loser who can't even call until two hours after she was supposed to be at my house to meet me? The next-to-the-last babysitter I tried to hire didn't respond to my carefully-crafted introductory email, mentioning our mutual acquaintance, until over a month later, sending a weird, ditzy response asking, "Did I answer this or not? I thought I did, but now I think I didn't."

I'd like to think there is a deeper meaning to this, like that by becoming so invested in my children that I allowed my own life to wither away, that my children will appreciate this and will go on to have fabulous lives themselves, but that is wishful thinking. They are both prone to holding lengthy grudges (Lola still brings up The Pinata Incident from her third birthday party) and they both will probably remember this particular Christmas vacation forever. "Remember that Christmas Momdude was whiny and sick and we were always bringing her kleenex, and we had that foster cat that was hiding under the bed all the time? God, that sucked. We sat around the house all vacation. At least we got a Kinect that year."

Monday, December 27, 2010

ouch ouch ouch ouch

In one of the world's geekiest incidents, I broke my arm playing World of Warcraft. I didn't break any bones, that would be truly difficult to pull off; but I did harm my right arm, my main Warcraft-playing arm, to the point of agony.

It began on December 6th, the very eve of the long-awaited Cataclysm update to the World of Warcraft. My computer suffered a catastrophic stroke that day in the morning, when I was working on private school admission essays for Lola (Lola may or may not change schools next year, and I wanted to get the appallingly detailed work of the applications done before starting Cataclysm). I called the Sober Husband and asked him, "How bad would it be if I just ran out with a credit card and bought a new computer today?" After some discussion, we agreed to go together to the Apple store that afternoon (the Sober Husband having stipulated that his tech support services would be severely limited for a non-Macintosh computer). I moved up to the study and finished the applications on the archaic dinosaur computer normally used only by eight year-old Lola, a computer which would not be able to handle the demands of the monstrous Cataclysm software.

All that day emails were flying back and forth amongst Warcraft players, many of whom were planning on gathering for a non-slumber party. At midnight Blizzard would release the long-awaited Cataclysm, allowing players to enter new lands and to start characters of new races, and a variety of Warcraft players would do that together at the Burning Man headquarters. I'd planned on going, but my computer's death screwed things up. It would take me a long time to get the software set up on a new computer -- Warcraft is truly huge. On my sad old now-dead computer, it had taken me several tries until I'd succeeded at finishing an eight hour download for the newest version. If that computer hadn't stroked out, all I would have needed was the special code I'd get from a copy of the new software in order to start playing Cataclysm. I couldn't face trying to do that heroic download again, and I didn't even have a working computer capable of Warcrafting.

That evening, my truly indulgent husband bought me a new laptop. "My family has been struggling with inadequate technology for too long," he said, as he impulsively added an iPad to the purchase. The children danced about in a consumer glee, gamboling around the Apple store. Iris hugged the iPad box to her chest all the way to the parking garage.

At home I made everyone a nutritious dinner and got the Sober Husband to skim through the application essays I'd written. Almost predictably I started feeling ill that evening. My immune system has been shot to hell all year. Ever since I had surgery last February, I've been sick more often than not, with one bug after another. On Thanksgiving Day itself I'd been felled with a wretched virus, and then again a new one hit on Cataclysm day. "Are you going to Best Buy at midnight?" the Sober Husband asked, but by ten I felt too wretched to contemplate driving. I just went to bed.

The next day over breakfast the Sober Husband asked, "Why are we not at Best Buy?" He wanted to see me enjoying my lovely new computer. I drove him to work and then bought myself Cataclysm on the way home. It wasn't until well after noon that Warcraft was ready to play, and then it was pretty much time to get the children. But then after we came home, I sank into playing, serious playing, and I played so much over the following two weeks that I virtually destroyed my right arm. Extreme pain in my right elbow had me pulling out my leftover painkillers from surgery. My right shoulder was agonizing, and I had to shamefacedly confess to the Sober Husband that I had incurred these extreme Warcraft related injuries. I spent a weekend alternating ice packs with a heating pad on my shoulder, not touching my new laptop. The children enjoyed their turn and started goblin and worgen characters on Warcraft, playing and playing while I lay on the couch, unable to do really anything.I couldn't even turn the pages of a book with my right hand. Driving and cooking, the things I seem to spend most of my time doing, were completely out of the question. I asked Iris to post on my blog explaining my absence, but she couldn't be bothered, preferring to make the most of her own turns at the computer to play Warcraft.

Thankfully my shoulder responded well to the complete lack of computer usage, massive doses of Motrin, and the hot-and-cold packs, and after a few days, it became pain-free. My right elbow and hand are still fragile, and I have significant pain in my elbow. The Sober Husband asked, "Don't you think you should see a doctor?", but I said, "Aaah, I'm already doing what a doctor would tell me to do."

Ironically I knew other players had played many, many more hours of Cataclysm than I had. My elemental shaman of a troll had reached level 85 and was geared for heroics when my arm gave out, but I was seeing goblins that same level ... characters who had been started from scratch at Cataclysm, while I'd started my troll months ago. Evidently those players, unlike me, had right arms of steel.

Meanwhile another online gaming injury occurred in our family, this one a psychic injury. Little Lola has long been devoted to Poptropica, a children's online gaming community. Like Warcraft, Poptropica opened a new land in December--- one dedicated to controversial creatures of the tabloids. Lola immediately plunged into lore of the Loch Ness Monster, the chupacabra, Big Foot, and the Jersey Devil. After a day or so, Lola was unable to sleep through the night, walk through any dimly lit area, or generally be alone at all due to a consuming fear of the Jersey Devil, and, to a lesser extent, chupacabras. She often becomes convinced a Jersey Devil is breaking into our home, despite the fact that I pointed out that not only is their very existence dubious, but their alleged habitat, New Jersey, is several thousand miles away.

Realizing how unhealthy our familial addiction to computer games has become, for Christmas I went back to that Best Buy and bought a Kinect for our Xbox, one of those amazing new devices which allows a person to become their own game controller and to play games by leaping about. If we're going to be spending far too much time playing videogames, at least we should be getting some exercise at the same time. The children worked up a considerable sweat playing Kinect games right away, and even I, sadly and all-too-predictably sick as as a dog again with a severe chest cold, couldn't resist a few rounds of Dance Revolution, trouncing Iris uber Alles at a Dance Battle to "Poker Face."

And then today a Christmas letter came from graduate school friends of the Sober Husband. I absentmindedly rubbed my hurting elbow as I read the long list of amazing accomplishments of this family. Once we had been comparable to this family, but over the last several years, we stopped achieving while they stepped up the pace. The wife finished her PhD at Harvard this year, took a new teaching position, received a variety of grants, and traveled to many academic conferences. The husband, a professor at MIT, is writing a book on physics and traveled the world, expenses paid, to work with collaborators in such pleasure spots as Japan and Aspen. The children have black and brown belts in karate -- and as the letter specified, these are adult belts, not the usual, inferior, juvenile versions other lesser children earn. They speak foreign languages and perform in jazz ensembles and are silversmiths.

What did we do this year? We didn't travel. I haven't left the country in six years, ever since we realized we couldn't afford international vacations on one salary. Our children do not make beautiful silver jewelry for their friends and family or play jazz; they develop phobias of the Jersey Devil or crackpot theories about the moon landing, and they quit their piano lessons ages ago. All I did this year, other than have major surgery and approximately one thousand minor illnesses, was to go to Burning Man and wreck my arm playing Warcraft. I am a middle-aged slacker, too lazy to make my children over-achieve, instead having passed my unhealthy love of gaming on to a new generation. "I LOVE Warcraft," Lola said exuberantly the other day, hugging me in abandon on my left side while carefully leaving my weakened right side alone.

Monday, December 13, 2010

did you wanna buy a book for someone for Christmas?

As we all know, yer Drunken Housewife reads far, far too much. I've always got a book on the hop. The children have inherited this tendency, and the Sober Husband always needs to have a book going as well. Between us all, we've got a lot of perspectives covered. And so, herewith some recommendations for your help if you were looking to buy a book for someone and had no idea what the hell to get:

For the youngest readers:

the Skippy Jon Jones picture book series by Judy Schachner. A kitten is obsessed by the thought that he is in reality a chihuahua. Iris and Lola sing and act out parts of the first "Skippy Jon Jones" book; it's just that entertaining.

Older children (say, grades 4-8):

"The School of Fear" by GItty Daneshwari. An extremely eccentric former beauty queen runs an odd school for children with extreme phobias. Lola loved this book so much that she became very upset towards the end as she didn't want to finish it. We spend a lot of time talking about this book and its sequel, "School of Fear: School Is Not Dismissed." There's a lot to love here: Lola says that this is her favorite book because it's the only book where she couldn't tell what would happen next. Highly recommended for children who, like Lola, have phobias.

Child of any age or indeed a grownup (particularly one who works in any field requiring client approval for work):

"The Tiny Art Director" by Bill Zeman. Zeman, an extremely talented artist, is often commanded by his little daughter to "make me a picture of a dinosaur" or "paint a poop airplane." He goes off and creates an amazing work of art, suitable for the cover of the New Yorker, and then gets his work ripped up one side and down the other by the Tiny Art Director, who usually says something like, "Are you always stupid, Daddy? More blood! I want more blood!" Absolutely hilarious, and the art is amazing.

FIction lovers: I read a lot of novels this year, and these three were hands down the best. I loved them dearly.

"The House of Tomorrow" by Peter Bognanni. A teenaged boy is kept isolated in "the House of Tomorrow" by his homeschooling grandmother whose life mission is to keep Buckminster Fuller's ideas alive. Awkward, lonely, overeducated but extremely sheltered, the protagonist is naive and hungry for life experience. I loved this book so very, very much: all of the characters are very human and very real with their own perspectives. The redemptive powers of punk rock were never so clear and harshly beautiful. My only complaint was that the ending seemed a bit too tidy, following all the all-too-real messiness of the character's situations, but it's a brilliant book.

"Broken Teaglass" by Emily Arsenault. A young man takes a job at a famous dictionary publisher. It is a strange and silent place, where the word-lovers toil in quiet monotony interrupted at times by calls from cranks and bored prisoners arguing about definitions. Then he begins to discover some very strange things in some of the definitions. I cannot recommend this highly enough for the intelligent, word-loving reader.

"The Full Catastrophe" by David Carkeet: an overeducated linguist finds himself at loose ends after his research lab looses funding. He takes a job at an innovative marriage counseling service, which sends qualified linguists to live with and observe troubled married couples on the theory that their communication must be causing their woes. An unbelievably smart and witty book, with a highly likable, fish-out-of-water academic stranded in a middle class family in the Midwest pretending that he's going to be able to help his squabbling hosts.

People who are insane about reading:

"Running the Books" by Avi Steinberg. Steinberg is a Harvard graduate who is floundering and careerless, a disappointment to his Jewish family who expected greatness from him. For lack of anything better to do, he takes a job as a librarian in a prison. This memoir is spellbinding. Steinberg portrays vividly the power dynamics and struggles in prison. For example, a prisoner correcting the way another holds a pen caused Steinberg to tense up, as any touch between inmates normally would lead to violence. Steinberg himself is in an awkward position, not part of the guards and not part of the inmates, and at risk from both. Ironically the guards make more trouble for him than the inmates. He bonds, too closely at times, with violent criminals and has troubles that follow that. But beyond being about Steinberg's experiences, this is a memoir about books. What do prisoners read? What is a book, really? To the guards, a book is something that should not be in a prison. To an inmate, a book could be mindless entertainment or it could be a source of redemption, or it could just be something to steal to make rolling papers from the pages. For anyone who really loves books, this is a thought-provoking read about the power of books and their very nature. For anyone with a sociological bent who has not personally been to prison, it's a great vicarious experience of a book. Should I ever need to go to prison, I feel better prepared now.

For the NPR listener:

"Travels in Siberia" by Ian Frazier. I gave this to the Sober Husband for our anniversary, and he's enrapt. Ian Frazier pokes around in Siberia with a dry wit; the Sober Husband is often heard laughing out loud of an evening as he works through this massive tome. Perfect for the person who wants educational value from their leisure reading but who also enjoys a laugh. Not for those intimidated by a long book; this thing is the size of my head.

For the serious cook: [hint hint to the reader that these are what I want for Christmas, I hope someone out there may pay attention):

"In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite" by Melissa Clark. I've been a fan of Melissa Clark for nearly ten years now since finding her recipes in "Food & Wine", and now the whole world is a fan as well since she got a column in the New York Times. I've been making a cocktail called the Melissa Clark for nearly a decade, and many of my signature dishes are from her recipes. She has a new cookbook out, and you can't miss with it. Woman's a genius.

"India: The Cookbook" by Pushpesh Pant. A huge volume of Indian recipes. It looks pretty damn near encyclopedic in its scope. I want it.

Happy shopping, everyone!

but... what am I supposed to do between 2 and 4 a.m.?

My insomnia is acting up, and the World of Warcraft is down. This is highly irritating to me, as it is my wont to amuse myself during the worst of my insomnia playing Warcraft. I took a look at the customer service forum online, and I saw that thousands of players had already whined to Blizzard about it. Insomniacs everywhere were at various levels of pissed-offedness, but one named Sither, a level 85 Night Elf druid, stood apart:
I can't LOG IN, Blizzard! This is an EASILY SOLVEABLE PROBLEM that could be fixed by A TRAINED MONKEY IN A JAUNTY HAT, for crying out loud! This is THE START OF THE EXPANSION and you have MILLIONS OF PEOPLE who paid to play this game with REAL DOLLARS. They didn't play to SIT IN FRONT OF THEIR COMPUTER AND WEEP GENTLY, did they?

Because WORLD OF WARCRAFT IS INCREDIBLY SERIOUS BUSINESS, I am prepared to attempt to kill myself by drinking TWO ENTIRE BOTTLES of lemonade (I get 2.25L bottles of a lesser-known brand because they are A PRETTY GOOD DEAL) and attempting to AVOID GOING TO THE BATHROOM until my insides rupture.

Since this MIGHT TAKE A WHILE, consider this my ULTIMATUM. If your login servers go up before I DIE OF CARBONATED INTERNAL ORGAN FAILURE, then I will continue playing your EXTREMELY FINE GAME. If not then my death will be on YOUR HEAD because you made BASICALLY THE WORST MAINTANED GAME EVER.

I expect a BLUE POST [a response from a Blizzard employee] in FIVE MINUTES or I am uncapping the first bottle. Drinking from a glass though, chugging from the bottle is for people who are NOT WEARING VERY NICE SHIRTS.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

a new crackpot belief held by Iris

The other day I was carrying in some bags of groceries when eleven year-old Iris uber Alles, long known to believe passionately that the moon landing was faked by the American government, said provocatively, "The pyramids were built by aliens!" I ignored this and continued wrestling the groceries in, but Iris was relentless. She was clearly angling for a fight.

"Because according to ancient writing things they wrote on like walls of the pyramids, they wrote about how they built the pyramids, and it says they built them over a certain time period, and if that time period was read right, they lifted one limestone block which weighed about two tons in two minutes , and obviously they needed help from aliens! Could YOU lift a limestone block that weighs two tons in two minutes? Could you?" jeered Iris. "And you know, they had a lot of people, but STILL.. They must have had one really massive helper", presumably an alien.

These special beliefs are saved for the home. Iris showed me a test on Egypt she'd gotten an A on, and it had nary a mention of aliens.

I tried arguing about the pyramids, but to no avail. My arguments about the moon landing didn't change Iris's resolute belief that it was faked. I'm currently reading "Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History" by David Aaronovich in the faint hope that I'll be better educated and better able to argue with Iris, but I'm pessimistic. Iris is a tough nut to crack.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

guest post from Iris

This video here just illustrates my whole life. I am the baby monkey, and life is the pig.


inside the dark corners of Lola's psyche

The other night Lola woke up screaming, and her father went in to calm her down. I went back to sleep, only to be woken up again by more screaming. This was the loudest Lola had ever screamed in the night, really terrified, top-volume shrieking, and I darted across the landing in the dark.

Once i was there, Lola was quite happy to sit up in bed and cheerfully tell me about her nightmares. "First I dreamed that aliens came, and they looked like lemons. They saw me making lemonade, and they were so angry!" Lola shuddered dramatically. "Then I dreamed that I was making all kinds of mistakes with Henry. I picked him up [our tabby, Henry, is a dignified animal who hates to be picked up], and I was petting him the wrong way. You know how the fur grows." Lola took an extremely long amount of time to explain how she had petted Henry against the grain, using gestures and simple language aimed at explaining to the very stupidest of audiences, her mother. I tried to cut that short, since it was the wee hours. "Then Henry could speak English, and she was biting me all over!" [Henry, a rather butch female tabby, is interchangeably referred to as "he" or "she", and the children have been heard to remark, 'You're a little lesbian boy, aren't you, Henry?"].

The next day Lola elaborated more about the lemon aliens. "I defeated them, and then I had a lemonade party with the Congress!" But the lemonade party was not all fun: President Obama explained to Lola why he was opposed to gay marriage. Lola demonstrated how she put her head in her hands, murmuring sadly, "Obama, Obama." Then tragedy struck: "I didn't use half a lemon, it was left over, and then it grew arms. Arms and legs popped out of it!" The regenerated lemon was crazed with rage, and it was then that Lola woke up screaming.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

the wonders of pets

Iris uber Alles and I were lounging around, and Al, our drooling, skeletal, mentally-challenged cat jumped up on my chest, as is his wont. Then Pigwidgeon, our witless African Grey parrot, flew over on to me. "Pig, Al was here first! Iris, take her!" I said. "I can't have both Pig and Al on me; I get overstimulated."

"Yeah, you can't have two mentally retarded animals on you at once," Iris said judiciously. "It's too much."

We laughed.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Lola's list --- with an addendum

I've owed Lola a reward for over a week now, since her amazing progress report came (at the girls' school, the children in lower school don't get letter grades; instead, they get long, thorough progress reports. Iris has just graduated to the upper school, where she'll get a report card and... the introduction of letter grades). I was waiting until Iris's report card came, as I suspected Iris would deserve a reward as well and then I could do them at the same time (last time, they got a trip to the shoe store and the shoes of their choice). But it seems Iris's report card won't come until after Christmas, and Lola is not to be denied that long. So I asked her to let me know what she'd like for a modest treat, and she presented me with a long list, and she couldn't say which thing she wanted most. I asked her to prioritize her list, and I suggested we let the readers weigh in. After a huge amount of thought, Lola came back with an edited list. Herewith The List Of Lola:
7. Limited amount of money to spend
6. A chumum (surprise or choice) [note: a chumum is what the children call the spherical stuffed animals created by the Luby people]
5. Day without chore (for me)
4. Trip to Mel's (without Iris) [note: Mel's is a horrible local chain restaurant, modeled after Al's from "Happy Days". The children cannot get enough of it. I can't stand paying $8.75 for a formerly frozen garden burger]
3. I am king for day and you must obey me
1. I get served candy and Gak in bed ["Gak" is what the children affectionately call chocolate milk]
The last item, numbered #2, was heavily scribbled out. I asked Lola about this, and she said her father made her cross it out. I asked her to restore it, and it was
2. Break from Iris (Iris mustn't talk to me and I won't do stuff for her.)
UPDATED: Lola has asked me to add another potential reward, "Being taken to see 'Tangled'", and she requests that the readers vote.

FINAL UPDATE: Lola was taken to see "Tangled", which she said was "better than I thought it would be!" She reportedly laughed out loud several times, and the chameleon was her favorite character. She wants to see it again.

was it Nietzsche who said, "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"?

Recently that noted young environmentalist, Iris uber Alles, said to me passionately, "Did you know there's a huge garbage dump on the moon? All those astronauts just dumped all their trash up there!"

"Uh, Iris, I thought you didn't believe in the moon landing," I said.

"I don't!"

There was then a long, awkward pause.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

the wonders of Lola

I'm just emerging from another weird little illness, this one featuring constant nausea, vertigo, dizziness, and headaches. It came on Thanksgiving day, where I managed, fueled by Alka Seltzer, to finish cooking all eight of the traditional dishes we'd planned, eat a few bites, and then run off to bed to curl up with a vomit bowl. For all of the children's Thanksgiving break, I felt nauseated and dizzy, which led to a distinct lack of activity. I did hold a Writer's Workshop with Lola for several days, where we both did creative writing, and when Iris decided to paint a self-portrait, I broke out my expensive art supplies and we spent a solid half day painting.

I did an abstract painting, Iris painted herself, and Lola painted Rat from "Pearls Before Swine", a slice of pizza, and Lio from "Lio", all before a psychedelic background. I was astonished at how perfect her rendition of Rat was. "Lola! That is so amazing! It looks just like him!" Even grouchy Iris was impressed... until Lola said matter-of-factly, "I only looked right here", gesturing to show us that the newspaper I'd covered the table with had the comics right in front of her, "a few times."

While Lola's Rat may not have been original, her Writer's Workshop pieces were. Here's an excerpt from a piece where she imagined personalities for all the cards in our Apples to Apples game:
For the Jealous apples..............................................................................................................
Have you ever played apples to apples? Well, you have now because I’m the green apple. The adjective. The granny smith apple. The golden delicous apple. The apple the judge picks from the patch for everybody to relate to, to friend on my fruitbook page, to think about all the way through the game. My friend is a lonely red delicous apple, and his poor friend from burning man a gala apple. But I, Granny Smith, will be picked every game. The pile there’s only one of. The days I’ve spent sitting there on a table with all eyes on me!
I just love that, "his poor friend from burning man a gala apple." Does she think of me as "her poor mother from burning man"?