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)

Quaranteen Halloween

This post is brought to you by the end of Daylight Savings Time, as I am spending my extra hour blogging for you. Actually, it’s more like my fifth extra hour, as each time I glanced at the microwave clock or hopped in the car with yesterday’s time on the clock, I’d forget we fell back. Then something would happen to remind me of it, like Kevin asking me why I was making dinner at 3, and it was like being given an extra extra hour. This is the one day of the year that has enough hours in, and it just might be my favorite day of the year.

Now for a Halloween recap, beginning with: jack-o-lanterns.

Vincenzo carved a character from Among Us which, my nephew told me, in the singular is an Among I which, either way, means absolutely nothing to me, as I am not a gamer and thus am not Among Them.

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Rocco did a sword-in-the-stone thing. He put about as much effort into it as he has put into his school work lately.

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On second thought, that’s quite a bit more effort than I’ve seen in his school work.

Leo went for Trogdor. For those of you who do not know who Trogdor is, do yourselves a favor and click here. As I told my friend on Halloween, my life didn’t really begin until I watched this video.

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Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, within an hour of Leo deciding on Trogdor, we had 3-D printed a “big beefy arm” to complete the look. These are truly miraculous times we are living in. 

Speaking of times we are living in, following a Covid-inspired “good old-fashioned 80s summer,” we had a “good old-fashioned 80s Halloween.” The kids grabbed random costumes out of the box from the attic, nothing was overly planned for, and the festivities weren’t precariously scheduled around all our other activities. It felt so simple and easy, walking around the neighborhood in a non-rushed, casual, chatty kind of way. Like, wuuuuutt?

It took more effort than you would think to get the kids lined up like this. We kept saying, “Scooch closer!” and “Scrunch in!” and they kept neither scooching nor scrunching.

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I realized afterwards that they are way more accustomed to, “Don’t get too close!” and, “Six feet!” and, “Give them some space!”

Group photos are kind of the haunted houses of Halloween 2020.

WHAT’S COOK’IN’ 2NITE:
Pasta with marinara sauce
Smoked brisket
Parmesan broccoli
Anything from the candy buckets (except Mounds/Almond Joys, naturally)

Defining Moments

Rocco’s defining moment of October:

He has to do a half hour of a math program and a half hour of a reading program. He figured out how to save himself a half hour the other day.

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That’s math on the left, reading on the right.

Vincenzo’s defining moment:

Leo’s defining moment:

Leo: College is my worst nightmare.
Me: Why’s that?
Because I’ll have to be away from Mom. And if you send me cookies and videos, it won’t be the same.
Me: Well, I wouldn’t worry about it yet. When the time comes, we’ll go over all the different choices you have.
Leo: If you’re even alive then…

My defining moment:

I drafted a new picture book called How to Tell if Your Shirt’s on Backwards. It begins: “If there’s a giant number on your chest, probably your shirt’s on backwards.” (The book is based on real-life experiences, and I hope it gets published so I can buy it and read it to my kids.)

Kevin’s defining moment:

(He says he cannot be defined by moments.)

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Chicken chimichangas
Rice
Refried beans
Bailey’s cheesecake

Funnies

I went to return books at the library and found this sign:

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Kevin said, “Someone’s definitely pooped in the book return.”

Found on the inside of a different port-a-potty:

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(Huzzah to all you Hitchhiker fans who know who this is!)

Just outside the port-a-potty was a lake:

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with a sign:

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Vincenzo: I guess they don’t allow dogs to walk on water here.

Leo has gotten into my resistance bands lately. I found him like this:

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Me: Leo, are you in a band?

It’s not as bad as the Dad jokes Kevin’s been throwing around lately, like when he asked what he should feed the kids for breakfast and I said. “Anything you can toast.” When I came into the kitchen later, Leo was eating a bowl of pasta. I raised my eyebrows at Kevin.  He held up the bowl pasta. “A toast to you, pasta, for you are  soft and chewy and delicious.” Just to drive the point home, he then challenged the bowl of pasta to a footrace, and when Kevin won, he yelled to the bowl of pasta, “You got toasted!”

Guys, I think quarantine is winning.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Butternut squash gnocchi with fried sage
Teriyaki pork loin
Buttered green beans
Caramel apples