Plugged In*

I used to have rules about technology usage in our house. There used to be guidelines, limitations, and a general concept of the word moderation.  And now, there is this

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and this

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and this and this and this.

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Leo’s big Christmas gift was a computerized pinball machine that can simulate dozens of different pinball tables, which you unlock by playing. A lot. Of pinball. We treat it like a job, taking shifts during all the waking hours of the day.

When not on pinball duty, the kids alternate between playing Kinect Sports, old-school video games on the Picade, regular video games on the computer/XBox, Among Us on their tablets, Jackbox TV, and then we finish the day off with a movie. (Kevin is trying to show them all the Marvel Movies in, like, a two week period.)

Yesterday I took a stand and told the boys they couldn’t do any technology until they built a marble set out of real wood pieces and real marbles. It took them 3.5 minutes. I told them great, now they can spend 3.5 minutes playing video games. They laughed at me the whole time they were turning on the X-box and picking up their controllers. They know I am in a weakened state, mainly because I want them to scram so I can hog the pinball machine for an hour or two.

I fear I’m done as a writer, all because of the stupid pinball machine. (Don’t want to brag, but I am the current speedbag champion in Champion Pub and am ranked 712 worldwide.)

Whenever I tell the boys we’re having a technology-free hour, they say, “Okay, but that means you have to turn off your music. And all the lights, and the stove and dishwasher.” Then they tell me I can’t even use my scissors of coffee mug because those are also technology, and while their arguments don’t seem quite right, I haven’t figured out how to disprove them, mainly because I’m also playing pinball during these discussions.

So in conclusion,

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Leave me alone! I’m too busy to write a conclusion.**

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Chicken thighs in cream sauce
Penne
Salad

*I drafted this blog over Christmas break, so we’re not playing as many video games now…but the boys have the same amount of screen time either way.

**Also, who are those people who, when they take pictures of their family, have a sparkling, tidy, spotlessly clean living room behind them?

Our Ugly New Year’s

As much as I love hosting parties, during quarantine I’ve noticed how much I also love not hosting parties. When I host, I try to make everything fun, delicious, and pretty. When not hosting, I make things fun and delicious and skip the pretty. I don’t have to frantically sweep all the junk off the counters the minute before guests arrive, or vacuum the floors, or think about varying dish heights or traffic flow when I set out the food. I don’t put on make-up, do my hair, or  make sure everyone is wearing something nice.

See? Not a button or zipper in sight.

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And if the appetizer Kevin makes turns out looking like this…

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Who cares?

Or when your Beef Wellington starts actively bleeding as you cut slices off, you are grossed out but not embarrassed, as you would be if a tableful of guests were looking on.

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(I didn’t take a blood shot, but here are some precursor liquids.)

Normally we do a Lego game that involves me wrapping about 20 TP tubes in shiny paper and tying the ends to make them look like party crackers from the store.  This year, our Lego game looked like this:

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For the first time since having kids, we stayed up until midnight. (Kevin had wanted to go to bed early so that 2020 could be over more quickly, but I wanted to stay up so that 2021 would start sooner.)  There’s just so much to do here, between all the new Christmas gifts and the boys’ rediscovery of Kinect Sports. There were sparklers and smoke bombs, the making of hand-cranked candy cane ice cream, the watching of Captain America, and the putting-together of a candy-covered puzzle.

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So while our New Year’s was ugly, it was also quite lovely.

The question is, have I realized the senselessness of spending all that time fussing over details? Am I a changed person who will go forth using produce bags to wrap gifts in? Will I burn the boxes of old Martha Stewart magazines in my basement? Will I serve food out of the very pots it was cooked in henceforth?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from 2020, it’s that you can’t predict the future. But I’m pretty sure the answer to all those questions would be maniacal laughter.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Cornbread taco bake
Salad with apples and blue cheese
Korean pancakes

Almost Like Christmas

Vincenzo, whose cookie-decorating skills rival his father’s gingerbread house-decorating skills, created an army of robots and Santa’s alter ego, which he used to enact a rather violent play for his brothers.

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For those of you wondering why I have a robot-shaped cookie cutter in my Christmas collection, here’s how Rocco decorated his robot.

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Christmas Eve felt kind of weird. I hadn’t realized before how these two days of the year are already choreoraphed for us. Normally we don’t have to plan a minute of it; we just show up at all the places we always show up to. With all the gatherings and events gone this year, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. It felt like we were just waiting for the day to end so we could go to bed. At one point, Kevin and I made a grape run to the grocery store, just to have something to do. And it’s silly, but being at the grocery store with a bunch of other people wearing celebratory garb from sparkly holiday dresses to unstained sweatpants, the air buzzing with pre-Santa energy—it somehow made the day feel like Christmas Eve. There are so few chances to feel part of a community lately and to share collective joy, and standing there feeling it all made me get teary-eyed in the checkout line.  I felt like Scrooge when he wakes up and realizes he’s still alive. If I had a shilling I surely would have tossed it to the first bare-footed boy who walked by, so full of the spirit was I.

After dinner, the Santa excitement in our house was cranked up to 11. Rocco and Leo were just like two characters out of a cheesy Hallmark movie, pouncing on each other like lion cubs, holding theoretical discussions about how Santa gets it all done, and giggling together their beds once the door was closed and lights off. As much as I hate watching those cheesy Hallmark movies, it is lovely to spend a night living inside of one.

Once the giggling subsided and I had a moment to myself, I sent a picture of my fireplace to my sisters.

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Within moments, this poem happened, via collective effort:

The masks were all hung by the fireplace with care,
in hopes that the coronavirus wouldn’t be there
The children were nestled all sanitized in their beds
While visions of vaccinations danced in their heads.

I’m not even going to apologize.

Christmas morning was about the only thing that felt normal this holiday season. Papers, ribbons, boxes, toys everywhere, gifts that made the boys’ eyes light up, gifts that made us laugh, joy and yuletide bulging out the walls of our house.

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After lunch, we went to my parents’ garage for a white elephant gift exchange. My dad won a pair of fuzzy Santa underwear, which he immediately tried on and danced around in, just like when they put the hat on Frosty’s head.

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Oddly, no one wanted to steal them after that. We certainly weren’t going to trade our top prize.

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Or our other one, either. (Look closely…but not too close!)

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In conclusion, we eked out just enough family time and laughs from day to make it feel like Christmas, or at least something similar to Christmas, like Halloween + Easter.

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Covid Christmas was like Vincernzo’s Christmas cookies: something was a little off, but a cookie’s still a cookie and it made us happy anyway.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Random stuff, including:
Ham & Swiss quiche
Frozen pizza (technically, thawed pizza)
Parmesan broccoli
Gnocchi with browned butter
Christmas cookies

Laughing All the Way

It’s hard to write about decorating gingerbread houses because usually that is the most Christmassey day of the year for me—even more than Christmas, in some ways. But this year we didn’t have our party. My friend didn’t bring a pot of lovely soup. We didn’t eat the soup, lose track of time, and realize it was time for another pot of soup.

It was small and simple, like most things are these days.

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Well, it was small and simple until someone brought out the power tools.

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He can’t ever do things normally.

Sing with me now: One of these houses is not like the others…

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…because one of these houses is a snail, inspired by the two crusty old Tootsie Pops Kevin found at the bottom of the candy bin.

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Pardon me?  Oh, why yes, that is a man made out of marshmallows with a candy wrapper head and eraser pirate hat riding the gingerbread snail.

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Giddyap.

I do hope there’s no magic in the old pirate hat Kevin found because I’m sleeping with this thing in my house now.

(Also, yes, that is a piece of poop behind the snail, because I live in a house of many boys.)

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Pumpkin enchiladas with tomatillo salsa
(Cheese and crackers for dissenters)
Garlicky roasted asparagus
Chocolate caramel thumbprint cookies

Inspiration

One of the greatest joys of being a writer is when you inspire another person to think, feel or do something they wouldn’t have otherwise thought, felt, or done. It’s the ultimate sign that your writing was not in vain. Proof that you made a difference in the world.

Well folks, my last blog post had that effect on at least one person—an illustrator friend of mine, who was so moved by my discussion about PHLEM that he created this:

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Its beauty brings a tear to my eye. I can totally see that mascot doing the Boogie Dance at a PHLEM spelling bee, while the crowd chants, It’s not snot! It’s not snot!

I hope Santa hasn’t packed his sleigh yet because now all I want for Christmas is a shirt with this printed on it.

Thank you to Dana Sullivan for really getting it. If you want to see more of his off-beat art, check out his website—my boys love his Dead Max books.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
The Pizza Hut Triple Threat Box

(How Kevin ever finds out about these fast food atrocities, I’ll never know.)

This Post Brought to You by the Letter E

I was thinking about STEM in schools the other day, which has more recently become STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art, and math. STEAM pretty much includes all the subjects except mine: English–which, I should point out, is the only subject out of all of them that gets capitalized.

Poor, lonely English. Excluded from the group everyone wants to be in. Not that this has any parallels with my life, of course. Not that at all.

“What about history?” my kids ask.

Oh, right, history—the subject that often gets automatically partnered up with English. Okay sure, let’s count it as its own thing.

Then my kids reminded me about PE, music, and library. Hm, well now we’re actually onto something. Now I—er, English—isn’t the only one feeling left out. Maybe all these subjects can even be their own thing! With their own acronym! Let’s see…try the P here, the E there…the H here…I’ve got it. PHLEM! That’s enough letters to give us our own school!

Our motto can be PHLEM: can you hack it?  And our mascot can be The Loogies. And the fact that PHLEM is missing the silent G is English’s little joke on all those STEAM punks

So go ahead and send your kids to STEAM school. Sign them up for all the STEAM classes and tell all your friends about it. I’m going to hold out for PHLEM school.

The Fightin’ Loogies.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Broccoli & beef
Brown rice
Fruit
Lemon shortbread cookies

Yes, I’d Like Some Cheese with this Whine

So I haven’t blogged in a bit. I had a week or two where I got sad and cried a lot. It sometimes happens despite all the things I do to keep it from happening.

I was upset about all my injuries that have put such limitations on the activities I can do. Both ankles are messed up, both calves, one hamstring, one groin, one shoulder, plus I have both carpal tunnel and radial tunnel. There’s not much I can do to exercise anymore—sometimes I can’t even go for a walk—and exercising is such an important part of my life.

I was upset about having GERD or whatever it is I have that makes me have violent throat convulsions resulting in huge squawks after I eat and drink. They’re as uncontrollable and disconcerting as I imagine it would be to have Tourette’s syndrome, and it’s embarrassing to eat or drink in public anymore. Of course, that’s not a problem right now, but I’m just sick of the whole squawking thing.

I was upset because of all my stupid mouth issues that make it so I can’t have any citrus, artificial sweeteners, fresh pineapple and tomatoes, coffee, and now chicory. I’m sick of canker sores and a swollen tongue, of a mouth that feels like it’s been scraped raw or burned every other day from eating I-don’t-know-what.

I was upset because another author is writing and publishing a picture book I’ve already written and submitted (The Rhinocorn) ,only to get rejections. His book will come out in two years now and mine will come out probably never.

I was upset because I don’t feel the Christmas spirit this year.

I was upset because I was upset and didn’t want to be upset.

Living an emotional life can be so hard sometimes, and you never know if it’s a mountain or a valley in front of you, and it wouldn’t matter if you did because you have to go up or down it either way.

So that’s why I didn’t blog. I was trying to spare you all that, and now I’ve gone and written it anyway. The good news is I’m on the other side of it now. Things look so much brighter today, and it’s not only because of the sun outside (though that certainly helps). Ima go pour myself a cup of egg nog and get my Christmas spirit on.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Pork chops with applesauce
Smashed potatoes
Green beans
Peppermint snowball cookies

Pre-Thanksgiving Post

Kevin and I were thinking Thanksgiving should have a new name this year, seeing as how we can’t do most of the usual Thanksgivingy things. He’s calling it Zoomsgiving. I’m calling it Thursday. The only thing different about “Thursday” is that I don’t have to decide what I’m cooking, as the menu was decided 400 years ago.

Otherwise, there’s not much new around here, as per previous blog post. Last week V built a desk:

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Leo had a vision of a paper narwhal in the night that he made as soon as he woke up:

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Rocco started making his own sandwiches:

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And I found this book on Kevin’s nightstand.

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I told him that whatever he’s got going on, I’m sure it’s perfectly normal.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Spaghetti & Meatballs
Salad
Pizelles

Day 246

Today is the 246th day since the boys came home from school on a Wednesday and never went back. 246 days since I used up a bottle of white out on my calendar, canceling all the things I used to call “daily life.”  I know people like nice round numbers, like the 250th day, or 300th day, but it is the 246th day today and I happen to have some time to write a blog post, so 246 it is.

Here are some things quarantine has made difficult:

Small talk: Normally when I talk to a friend, I ask things like, “What did you do on the weekend?” Or, “Do you have any vacations planned?” Or, “What’s new?” But now there’s no point in asking. The answers are always, “Nothing,” “No,” and, “Nothing.”

Christmas cheer: Normally when Halloween is over, I get a rush of excitement. The start of the holiday season!!!!! The boys will be home for a full 2 weeks and we can just lie around in our pajamas all day!  We don’t have to do all those things we normally have to do! Oh, right.

Vacations: Normally this time of year I’m making vacation plans for February so I won’t fall into the post-holiday slump. This year, vacations are off so I’m signing up for therapy sessions in February instead, which is not as fun a way to treat the post-holiday slump.

Here are some things quarantine has made nicer:

Lunchtime: The boys are learning to get food for themselves.. They do things like grate cheese, make pasta, and microwave leftovers! Plus, there is not a sinkful of lunchboxes and water bottles to wash each night (I would take two sinkfuls of dinner dishes over one sinkful of lunchboxes/water bottles).

Weeknights: I no longer have to make dinner at either 4Pm or 8PM to fit around schedules, but can instead make it at a normal time. Afterwards, the boys have time to practice piano and we play games as a family, which used to only happen during holiday breaks.

Weekends: We’re actually home on Sundays to watch entire football games, and for the boys to rake up piles of leaves and jump in them, and for Vincenzo to finally build that desk he’s been talking about building. There’s just…time.

Small moments: Last week, for example, we had a good wind storm, and instead of being in school, the boys were home with me so we ran around the yard and biked on the trail in the “leaf snow.”

So quarantine is still both good and bad. I miss the old things but I like the new things. If someone asked me if I’d rather spend the next five years like this or go back to the Before, I honestly don’t know what I’d say. Can we somehow meet in the middle on it?

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Roasted chicken
Pan-fried potatoes
Roasted broccoli
Chocolate pudding

I Wrote This On Purpose

Leo’s homework the other day was to write about someone who has shown perseverance.

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I wanted to fill in the “This is How I Feel” section of the page for him, but they didn’t have any “demoralized” smiley face.

I’ve finished the third draft of my novel and feel released from it. Part of me wants to say, “Welp, got that out of my system,” and move onto something different, like yodeling lessons. But the part of me that writes all the time keeps writing all the time, and while the writing is beautifully without purpose, a grating voice in my head keeps yelling, “BUT WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL THIS?!”

Since I only have little patches of time to write during quarantine, I’ve started writing poems about my childhood. Sometimes as simple as this:

Door Knocker

We had a cross-shaped knocker
on our front door that said
Peace to All  Who Enter Here,
written in teal and fuchsia and gold
and all the letters leaned into each other.
I loved to knock it
even though it was my house
and everyone knew it was me.

Sometimes there’s a bit more to them, like this:

Baby Chicks

We hatched our own chicks that year
in an incubator in Dad’s study.
We checked on the eggs
in their warm, yellow world
until there was a crack,
then a beak,
pink as a fingernail,
then a brand new chick,
wet and skinny and worn out. Then—
Peep!
Peep! Peep!
The tiniest sound in the world,
fragile as the ting of a wine glass.
When properly fluffed,
we cupped them in our hands and
looked into the shiny black pool of their eyes
that they struggled to keep open.
The smell of freshly hatched chicks
was comforting as the smell
of freshly baked bread.


When the chicks came,
our house felt warm,
like it was an incubator
and we were all newly hatched.

BUT WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL THIS??!

I don’t know, but I do know if feels sooooo good to write about real things that happened to me instead of making stuff up out of the blue about something I know nothing about. Part of the purpose is to help me make sense of my childhood, I guess. Part is to fulfill my need to put words, any words, lots and lots of words onto paper every day. And part of the purpose is to find the purpose of all those words.

You tell me there doesn’t have to be a purpose. It could just be for the fun of it! To which I say…

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Anyone who knows me well knows that nothing I do is just purely for the fun of it. Everything always fits into some bigger plan. I don’t feel I have to apologize for or justify that part of me anymore. I’m old enough now to say that’s just how I am and I’m good with it.

Maybe the purpose of this blog post was to say that out loud.

(Or maybe it was to get out of washing dishes tonight. It’s really a toss-up between the two.)

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Leftovers (Thai food and baked potato soup)