Monday, August 31, 2009

Cat And Mouse

"Scout's got the mouse again. What should I do?"

Um...pop some popcorn, pull up a chair, and watch the show?

Of course, I couldn't say this to my mom when she called last night, in a panic yet again over what I am calling the Mousecapades '09.

Last weekend, I got a panicked call from Mom because that beloved cat that used to be mine but that is now living out her golden years in bliss with my mom caught and failed to kill a mouse that had gotten in the house.

The first call I got, Mom was laughing. Scout had been so excited by this first ever real live mouse catch that she was making trilling noises and joyful yawps all over the house as she played with her captured prey much the same way she plays with her little toy mice. She threw it in the air, she pinned down its tail nonchalantly with her paw to let it try in vain to make a run for it, she carried it in her mouth up and down the hall. She did everything but kill it, and this is mostly because Mom didn't want her to and helped her chase the mouse outside where it could die on its own and not cause a gory cadaver cleanup.

When I got off the phone with Mom, Jason had eavesdropped enough to know what was going on, and he burst into his best Kelly Clarkson imitation:

"A moment like this! Some kitties wait a lifetime..."

Because really, at nine years old, that was probably the highlight of Scout's feline existence.

I marvelled all week at the hidden power of house cats. We think we have them tamed, but they're really little killers. Scout has never had to kill in order to eat, and yet all her instincts were there. Who knew that her torturing skills could rival those of a Quentin Tarrantino hitman?

Sadly, though, the mouse did not stay outside to die among the petunias, and it did not learn its lesson. It got back in the house (it was not a solid-colored mouse so Mom recognized it by its markings) and the ensuing power struggle wasn't as funny the second time around.

For hours, Scout woolled this thing all over the house. By the time Mom called me she was begging Scout to just finish it off already.

"She gets it, and then she lets it go, and then she chases it under a piece of furniture, and then she chases it back out, and I just don't know what to do," Mom said. "I don't want her to eat it, but I don't want want it to die under the recliner, either."

"Just let her do her thing," I said. "She's a cat, and she'll kill it when she gets tired of playing with it. And then she'll bring it to you as an offering, so be ready for that."

Mom reluctantly agreed to stay out of the impending mouse-icide and told me she was going to curl up in bed and get away from the torture going on in the living room. I hung up and went about my evening.

Five minutes later, the phone rang.

"Lord, she just brought that mouse back to me in bed."

"Well, that's good, right? It's finally over. I told you that once she killed it she'd probably bring it to you as a gift."

There was a long pause on the other end.

"You don't understand," Mom whispered, as though she didn't want Scout to hear. "She set it on top of me...while it was still alive."

Okay, so clearly Scout just doesn't get how this is supposed to go.

I really didn't know what to say to my mom, who is a very brave woman and has had an array of wildlife invade her house in the 32 years she's lived there and who usually only panics over snakes. I couldn't tell whether she was taking the whole "mouse in the bed" thing well, or whether her very calm, quiet voice was because she was, medically speaking, in shock.

As of 10 last night, when I called hoping that I could go to bed knowing that Mickey had been well and thoroughly dispatched, Scout was still playing games with him. Mom was going to close her bedroom door and hope neither of the furry four-legged animals in the house joined her.

Because if there's anything more horrifying than sharing your bed with a cold-blooded assassin, it's sharing your bed with an assassin and her half-dead victim.

Friday, August 28, 2009

World's Finest

"Mommy, is this really the world's finest chocolate?"

Ainsley asked me this, looking at the 5 candy bars Jason bought from the neighborhood kids who had just knocked on the door asking for our monetary help with their school fundraiser. I hadn't eaten one yet, but based on past experiences with these long, narrow, chunky candy bars I remember my dad buying from local kids standing outside of grocery stores when I was Ainsley's age, I felt I could answer her this way: Maybe not the finest in the whole wide world, but better than most you can find around here.

Ainsley and her dad shared one of the caramel ones last night, and Ainsley raved about it. This morning, at my 10am chocolate break, I unwrapped one of the almond ones, which as a kid could send me into an hour of euphoric bliss. I bit in, and...

Huh. Not as good as I remember.

I hate it when you get all revved up for something, especially something that you remember absolutely adoring in childhood, and then you realize it's just not all that. Disappointment is my least favorite emotion.

I sat at my desk enjoying the only quiet moment the library has had since school started to ponder why the World's Finest chocolate almond bar just wasn't doing it for me. Was it because my tastes are more adult now? Maybe. I lean toward dark chocolate now, and World's Finest is much milkier and sweeter than my usual stuff. But at second taste, the chocolate is quite good and smooth, even though it's very milky. So what is it?

And then I see.

Remember when candy bars that had almonds in them had whole almonds? And part of the joy would be seeing those big lumps on the underside of the bar and getting one of the pieces that had a big ol' almond in there that would really crunch? I've noticed in recent years that Hershey's chops up their almonds in their bars, and even the last Mars I had seemed missing something in the whole nut department.

Et tu, World's Finest?

I feel a little, well, nuts being so let down by a lack of big almonds in a candy bar we bought for $1 to help a local school. But when companies cut corners by short-changing me in the almond department, it just ticks me off. If I buy a candy car with nuts in it, I want to have to worry about both getting cavities and potentially breaking a crown chomping on a hidden whole almond.

What pleasure food from your childhood disappoints now that you're an adult? Is it because you've changed, or because the product has changed?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

I read during lunch that I missed yesterday's 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz. Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog celebrated it and asked commenters to list their favorite quotable lines from that beloved movie.

What's amazing to me as I read the comments is that in 74 (and counting) comments, barely a quote is repeated. And few are obscure quotes that you'd have to have seen the movie 500 times to pick up. That movie is a building block of our cultural DNA.

Wizard never seems to make it onto my list of most beloved movies when I list those on a social networking profile or in some viral "get to know your friends" email. It's easy to overlook for the paradoxical reason that it's everywhere. And yet when I come across it while channel surfing, or when Ainsley reaches into the depths of our DVD collection to get out that iconic green and black box, I can't not watch it. Not only can I not look away (there are all kinds of bad movies that pull me in when I go into couch coma), but I can't not feel something.

We all remember the childhood ritual of that one time a year when The Wizard of Oz would come on network TV. It was like a holiday. Dad would pop popcorn (on the stove, of course; we didn't have a microwave until 1991) and not grumble too badly about not being able to watch sports. Mom would usually watch with us instead of talking on the phone all evening. When my sister still lived at home, she would jump in and imitate the wicked witch at key points, something she grew to be eerily good at with her Roman nose, black hair, and olive skin. For days after I would play Dorothy, putting on red socks to be ruby slippers, and doing my best to remember all the words to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." One of my sister's friends had the record soundtrack to the movie and would sometimes bring it over the week after the movie would air, much to my delight and extreme jealousy.

Because I am more than a little emotional, I caused my mom to threaten a ban on future viewings the first time the end made me cry inconsolably. Unlike a similar meltdown I had while watching Snoopy Come Home, my mom couldn't understand why I was so upset.

"What's the matter with you? It's not a sad movie! If it's going to do that to you, you need to stop watching it."

I couldn't put into words at the age of 6 why I was crying. I think it was because all that technicolor had gone back to sepia tones, and even though Dorothy was back home like she wanted, she'd never go back to that beautiful, exciting land again. As I sadly understood at that point in my life, "There's no place like home" doesn't necessarily mean that "home" is good. There's just no place like it. That was the first time, too, that I recognized the Scarecrow as one of the farmhands and found the fact that it was all (probably) a dream so tragic--she told the Scarecrow she's miss him most of all, but he was really Hunk the farmhand, and he'd never know the special bond he and Dorothy had had over the rainbow. It broke my heart.

Nowadays when I watch with Ainsley, who loves the movie almost as much as I did and watches it at least once a year on DVD, it's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that makes me blubber into my Coke and popcorn. Even before we decided to have Eva Cassidy's version sung at Jason's mom's funeral, that song made my adult heart ache. As a kid I thought it was a happy song; now that I've grown up and really listened to the Pass the hankies. And to think that Judy Garland was a teenager when she sang it in the movie, and yet she GOT it. When you watch her wistfully leaning against sepia fence posts, and hear the longing in that rich voice...she knew that happiness is as elusive as those little bluebirds. And that's sad, too.

At 70, I have to wonder if The Wizard of Oz will eventually fade and be forgotten. I know there are parents like me who love it and have it on DVD and share it with their children, but without the yearly viewing ritual we had, will it stick? Will the next generation ever find themselves jokingly clicking their heels together three times in moments of crises far away from home, or cackling out, "I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!" when feeling delightfully evil, or humming, "Ding, dong, the witch is dead..." the day they find out their unlikable boss has quit?

I for one hope they see and remember the adventures of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. And Toto, too.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Little Foodie

Yesterday was Ainsley's seven-year-old checkup. There were few surprises; she's in the 85th percentile for height, which has been her stronghold since around her three-month checkup. Her blood pressure was fine, eyes and ears were fine, and everything looked normal under the hood. But then we got to her weight.

Ainsley has a problem many of us would sell our red-meat-eating American souls for: she's underweight. While she's always been in the 85th or 90th percentile for height, her weight has always been much lower. In past checkups, though, her weight percentile was consistent and her weight chart had a nice little upward curve in it that the nurse would show me.

"Look, mom," the nurse would always say. "Her weight is lower than her height, but it's always the same lower percentile. She's just long and lean."

This visit, though, the nurse just said,


Ainsley's weight this year did not keep the same little upward curve. While she gained a few pounds, she would need to weigh 5 pounds more to have stayed in the same weight percentile as last year.

The doctor didn't see any cause for alarm. She seems healthy, and for now we're attributing her skinniness to the fact that she was on a competitive sports team for the first time this summer and probably burned off the little bit of fat that she had going into the season.

"Is she a good eater?" the doctor asked.

I paused for a minute.

"Yes," I said. "Yes, she is."

The reason I paused is that the knee-jerk reaction to that question when you're a mother of a seven-year-old is to say, "No, we have to twist her arm to get her to eat anything besides chicken nuggets and pizza." And while Ainsley has moments of culinary pickiness, this summer she has become something of a foodie.

I've written before about her strange love for sushi and Chipotle's black beans and rice that trumps her love for a Happy Meal. This summer she expanded on what I already thought were weird tastes for a child.

"Mommy, can we have lima beans one night with dinner?" she asked one afternoon in the car. After I recovered from the shock and a near accident, I asked her why in the world she wanted lima beans, usually the most dreaded vegetable for anyone under the age of 25 (and for some older than that.)

"They were in that vegetable soup I had that one time, and I thought they were yummy. If you can make them the way you cook your peas with a lot of butter I think it might be really good."

Rock on with your bad self, Paula Deen Junior.

I assured her we would have buttery limas someday soon, though we will have to pick a night Jason won't be joining us; lima beans ain't his thing.

Later in the summer, she chose shrimp cocktail each night as an appetizer on our cruise, surprising our waiter and our tablemates when she devoured them and asked for more. This was also the summer that I started to make her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and she asked me if we had any salami instead. So now I keep salami in the house, and more often than not she chooses that with some "white cheese" over the perennial kid favorite. She goes gaga over homemade quesadillas and dips her Frisch's onion rings into tartar sauce just like her mom. This may not be so different from other kids, but Ainsley gets really excited by this stuff.

Everyday the first thing she asks when she gets home from school is what we're having for dinner. She jumps for joy when we're having one of her favorites like something with rice or "butter salad" (this is what she calls Caesar salad.) She wants to help me in the kitchen and talks knowledgeably about the ingredients we choose and how to cook things and suggests menu items for our dinner table. She's like a future Food Network star.

Last week, on the day of her seventh birthday, we teachers had to stay at school until 7pm for an open house. To sweeten the deal, our principal had Buffalo Wild Wings brought in. Since Ains was here for a couple of hours until her dad could pick her up, I let her share my plate.

She held up a chicken wing spun in mild buffalo sauce.

"Are these any good?"

"I like them a lot. But that's a wing, and you've never eaten chicken off the bone before. Give it a try, if you want."

She held the little drumette and tentatively took a bite. Her eyes grew wide and her hands grew greasy as she took down her first real chicken wing.

"I like chicken this way. It tastes better when it's on the bone."

A teacher stopped in front of our table and looked at her, amused.

"She's really into her food, isn't she?"

And though you can't tell by her slender physique, she really and truly is into her food.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Back To School

What a week.

With Ainsley starting school on Monday, and me starting Wednesday, it's been a rough five days. Some funny things have happened, and I have been blogging inside my own head all week, but when dinner is over and the kid's in bed and I finally have a few minutes to relax, I simply have not had the energy to put the thoughts on digital paper. One night this week, we put a very tired Ainsley in bed at 7:30 and Jason and I turned in at 8:30. I didn't think I would ever go to bed that early until I was 90 and in a home. But that's the first week of school for you.

I've been in a bad place all week; before school ever started I felt overwhelmed and felt like I had taken on too much. Then once my new crop of library students came in, and I started their week-long "boot camp" to get them ready to help me run this place, and found myself repeating the same script 45 minutes a period six times a day, I lost my will to live. Just a little.

At a meeting I had last week, a colleague started to complain about one of the many things there are to complain about in our economy-bitten schools this year. The person running the meeting advised her that things are going to seem dark but that we all need to put a positive spin on everything, including, apparently, our complaints.

So in that spirit of zen-like (or propaganda-like, take your pick) rethinking about bad situations, I am going to rephrase my own complaints about the first week of school in the form of positive speech. Will it make me feel better? Probably not, but that's what the beer I will pop open at 6pm is for.

Getting up at 5am every day is a great cure for insomnia!

I had too much free time this summer, anyway. I no longer have the ugly specter of leisurely boredom to worry about.

Getting chewed out by a colleague in front of your 1st period students during the first five minutes of the first day of school for something that's not even your fault just shows those students that working in a library is a thankless job that involves working with a hard-to-please public. It's a good thing that this is the first library lesson they got. Really. It is.

Being able to prepare a nice lunch for me and Ainsley in my own kitchen was contributing to some weight gain; inhaling a cold sandwich that has gotten soggy from being in plastic all day during my 20-minute lunch is much more the American way. It will insure that I fit in with all those friends of mine who work in the "real world."

Having a child not of the "morning person" persuasion allows for some mother/daughter bonding in the form of being cranky over our cereal together. It's good practice for when she's a teenager and acts like that all the time.

Your turn. Take a complaint you currently have about your life and spin it. Turn that frown upside down. It's cheaper than therapy, and almost as ineffective.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Out Of The Mouth Of Ains: The Mommy Book

Today has the double distinction of being both Ainsley's 7th birthday and her first day of second grade. Yes, I know that kinda sucks.

She took it in stride this morning, getting back into the routine of getting ready for school with minimal fuss (I know this won't last; I give it until Wednesday morning.) Once we got to school, she showed her "I'm seven now" independence. She saw that most parents were parking their cars and walking their kids inside the building to get them off to a good start.

"Mommy, I don't want you to walk me in. Just drop me off at the doors," she said. Just turned seven and already too cool to be seen with Mom--they become obnoxious so fast.

"Ainsley, I have to be a good mom here and do what the other parents are doing," I said, tongue firmly planted in cheek. "I have to walk you in and say goodbye to you and give you a big hug in front of all your friends on your first day."

Then she said, without a hint of sarcasm,

"Why? Is that in your Mommy Book?"

I had to laugh. Quietly, so she wouldn't see.

"My Mommy Book? What do you mean?"

"You know. Where you get all your big ideas."

I have no idea where she got this, but I'm just going to roll with it. When she complains about one of my "big ideas", I have something to pin it on. No treats after dinner if she doesn't eat her peas? Sorry, the Mommy Book says so. In bed by 8 on a school night? Mommy Book. Can't sit slack-jawed in front of the TV for two hours watching Phineas and Ferb on a beautiful day when she should be playing outside? Sooo the Mommy Book.

Plus, now I have a great baby shower present idea for her when she has her first kid. A long, long time from now.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Puppy Love

Last night, I met my new nephew.

He's tiny, at just over three pounds. He felt so fragile in my arms that I worried about breaking him. He needs a lot of care right now, and my sister isn't getting much sleep, but one look into that precious little furry face and I was in love.

My new nephew is a canine. And even though I am more of a cat person, this new puppy has been all I can think about all morning.

Right before vacation, my sister and her family lost their 11-year-old dog, Daisy. It was a peaceful death; she had been having serious heart problems and was making them have long talks with the vet about euthanasia. Yet she ended up leaving this world the way so many of us want to: in her sleep. Her death, though peaceful, devastated them. In particular my nephew, an only child who grew up with Daisy. Unable to cope with a house made so empty, they decided to get another dog.

I will be honest: I didn't really approve of their choice at first. Not so much the new dog part, because we have always been people who need some kind of critter in the house. What I questioned was the choice in dogs. They chose to contact a breeder in our state and picked a dog that costs more than a monthly house payment. Never mind that the breed they chose is the only breed of dog I have ever considered making a house dog myself. Once I found out how much those puppies were, I was shocked and appalled and casted my vote for a shelter dog.

But all my misgivings went out the window once I met their furry bundle of joy. It's not a yippy, hyperactive toy breed, but it is a breed of dog that will stay fairly small. I've never met such a small puppy; most puppies I've had the pleasure of knowing were destined to grow into large dogs. When I held him, his fur was like spun silk against my chin. And when he licked my nose, I didn't mind at all. I could picture myself dog-sitting and taking him for walks. After he's been well and thoroughly house-trained and grown out of the furniture-chewing stage, of course.

Oh, no. He's going to make a dog person of me yet.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Out Of The Mouth Of Ains: $5 Footlong

One day last week, in a fit of productivity brought on by knowing I had to come back to work Monday, Ainsley and I went to the closest laundromat to wash comforters. No, it's not a fun way to spend one of our last days of summer break. But it's housework, and I am a little OCD about that stuff, so there we were.

Right next door was a Subway. We don't eat there much because it's not one of Ainsley's favorites, and sadly, her tastes dictate where we go when we need to grab a quick bite. We don't complain; she chooses Chipotle over McDonald's.

This time Ainsley agreed to get a sub to munch while we watched our cold-weather bedding spin in the 50 pound washer. She devoured her little ham and cheese mini-sub, and apparently the experience stuck with her.

"Mommy, how come we never eat at Subway?" she asked me days later.

"Well, until the other day, you never seemed to like it much. You wouldn't eat your sandwich."

"But I really like it now."

"Well, that's good to know. Next time we want to stop somewhere for lunch, maybe we'll try it again."

"Sweet. I hear they have footlongs. I wonder what a footlong sandwich tastes like."

I love the hold advertising has on children.

"Yes, Ainsley, they do. But a footlong is just a bigger version of the same sandwich you ate the other day. It doesn't taste any different. It's just...more."

She thought about that for a minute.

"Well, I still want to try it. 'Cause sometimes I have an appetite for a lot of sandwich."

Don't we all?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Farewell, Youth. I Hardly Knew Ye.

Saturday I attended the wedding reception of my last remaining single friend.

It came as a surprise. I am ashamed to say that even though this person, Jason's college roommate his senior year, was just a few years ago one of our closest friends, we had lost touch with him. Chalk it up to being busy working parents. We didn't even know he was seeing someone until the reception invitation came in the mail just before we left for vacation.

Seeing him, and sitting at a table with a couple of other Centre alumni, was like old times. Except that it wasn't. On the one hand, none of us has changed very much in appearance and we all still look pretty young and as cute as any of us ever did. On the other hand, everything has changed.

At one point, during a lull in conversation, Jason looked at our glasses.

"When did we all start drinking wine?"

This same crew a decade ago would have been taking advantage of the open bar by downing Bud Lights or shots of Goldschlager or Jager bombs. Now it's Pinot Noir and Riesling.

One of the first things we did after perusing the wine list was to whip out pictures of our kids. Our conversation was dominated by them; who they look like, how they do in school, what sports and extracurriculars they enjoy and show promise in. After we had exhausted the topic of our kids, we moved on to the exciting worlds of careers and saving for retirement and home improvement.

As we watched the bride and groom dance, and moved out onto the dance floor ourselves, I realized this was a kind of goodbye. The group of people moving around us on the dance floor were key players in some of my most reckless moments of youth. But now we're so settled. The last bachelor is married off and soon will start a family of his own. We drink decent wines in moderation and carry around pictures of our kids and talk about health care and the stock market. We look like slightly better-dressed versions of our old selves, with only a few more lines around the eyes and a couple more pounds around our middles betraying how much time has passed since college. But dig a little deeper, and everything has changed. Our priorities, our tastes, even our capacity for staying out late (we all started yawning and saying our goodbyes at 11:30.) We parted with promises that those of us who live in the area would stay in touch, but the reality is that staying in touch will probably mean saying "hey" on Facebook. Not that I don't still love these people. It's just that adult life gets in the way.

Bittersweet: it's not just for chocolate. It's how you feel when you realize you're truly a grownup.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Climate Change

I've heard that frogs are a good indicator of an area's ecological well-being. If the frog population in your part of the world is thriving and going largely unmutated, things must be in balance.

So I wonder what it means for northern Kentucky that a large toad hopped out of our juniper and onto my foot yesterday.

On the one hand, it indicates a potentially large population. We've lived here 8 years now and never seen an amphibian of any sort in our yard, not even those tiny little frogs that I've seen hop onto suburban driveways in other neighborhoods.

On the other hand...well, we have no body of water close by. There isn't a pond or marsh in walking distance for a human that I'm aware of. And last I heard, frogs need water. So where the hell did this big boy come from?

It was alarming in many ways. There I was, weeding our landscaping, which had gotten out of control while we were on vacation. I felt something hard whack against the side of my foot. I figured a rock rolled out of the bushes, which didn't make sense, but was the only thing I could think of.

Until I looked down and saw that the "rock" was breathing.

I didn't holler as loudly as you might expect.

I stood there for a minute, marvelling. It wasn't a tiny little frog. It was a brown, warty toad as big as my fist. The kind of thing you see in illustrated fairy tales that usually end with a lovelorn damsel puckering up in hopes of finding a prince.

I wasn't about to try this.

We've had a lot of rain here. In fact, right before the toad leapt at me, I had trudged through our side yard wondering how in the world things were ever going to dry out enough in that swamp land for Jason to mow. This July was the coolest on record in the tri-state area. It has not been a normal Kentucky summer.

Troubling even before one finds unusual animals species in her front yard.

I know weather is cyclical, and this all might be some kind of normal fluctuation, but I see Mr. Toad's not-so-wild ride as a harbinger for bad things to come. I've never seen a summer so not-summery in my 35 years. The reality of climate change has hit me (literally) in the form of a misplaced bullfrog.