Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Notes from the Nightstand: Hickory Dickory Dock

In case you've forgotten, I've been reading all of Agatha Christie's books in (mostly) chronological order for the past few years. Here's the post from my other old blog that explains it all. I'm now up to the 1950s and just finished Hickory Dickory Dock (1955).

Christie wrote quite a few novels with nursery rhyme titles and themes: And Then There Were None, One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, Five Little Pigs, Mrs. McGinty's Dead, and A Pocket Full of Rye. And Then There Were None is totally inspired and an all-time favorite of mine, and A Pocket Full of Rye is quite clever, but I think the others are pretty forgettable. Hickory Dickory Dock definitely falls into this last category.

Christie periodically, but especially in the '50s and '60s, tried to branch out into youth culture and edgier topics like drug smuggling and addiction or revolutionary politics, with not very great success. Her best efforts are the classic upper class drawing room murders at country houses with butlers who did or didn't do it. Hickory Dickory Dock, unfortunately, is set in a youth hostel in London and has a cast of young international students (with '50s-era British racial sensibilities thrown in for good times). Lots of small thefts have been occurring in the house, which is upsetting but not catastrophic until, of course, someone turns up dead. But no hot-headed 20-something - or a syndicate of jewel thieves and drug-smugglers - can stop Hercule Poirot once he's on the case!

If you're interested in checking out an Agatha Christie mystery for a quick, easy read during the holidays or on a cold, snowy January Saturday afternoon, take my advice and pick up And Then There Were None instead. Really only the most hardened Christie fan should ever attempt one of her novels from the '50s - Great Britain was apparently a pretty grim place in the decade after WWII, and these novels surely reflect that sour "stiff upper lip."


This is probably my second favorite Christmas album ever - The Bells of Dublin by the Chieftains.

"The Bells of Dublin/Christmas Eve"

"Once in Royal David's City"

"St. Stephen's Day Murders" with Elvis Costello

"Wexford Carol" with Nanci Griffith

And this song isn't from Bells of Dublin, but I ran across it while digging around on YouTube and had to include it. It's the Chieftains and the Decembrists doing a great Bob Dylan song, "When the Ship Comes In." Fantastic.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Katie Sez...

... This pizza is mouth-watering!

... Our car is magic! (after I pulled a cup holder we rarely use out of the armrest)

... (while galloping around the house) My horse and my legs are both named Trusty!

Maggie sez... Her tricycle is named Trusty, too! She needs to get more creative.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Book of Mom, Chapter 1 Verse 1

I have a parenting theory that kids sometimes really do need to see your anger in order to fully GET IT.

It's not cool among parents of my generation to ever lose your cool around your kids, no matter what extraordinarily chowderheaded things they get up to. And if you do happen to become possessed by a malevolent spirit and actually YELL at your beloved babies, you are required to feel guilty. You must repent. The peer pressure enforced rules are clear: No yelling. No threatening. No anger. It destroys their souls. You are a MONSTER.

But when my kids do something dangerous or incredibly foolish or just down-right malicious (in other words, every ten minutes or so), I feel justified in making my anger known to them. I know that I'm treading into dangerous territory here when I admit that I am growing increasingly shameless (no shame! *black power fist*) about my avenging angel routine. I mean, it's not like I hit them with wooden spoons. Who would do that? (I'm looking at you, Baby Boomers.)

But they do NOT get subtle hints, that I know for sure. I have solid and endless personal evidence that subtle hints and polite suggestions go right over their heads and out into the atmosphere. And gentle rebukes fair even worse. At not quite four and six years of age, they actually scoff - to my face - at kindly reminders concerning etiquette and platitudes about "good choices," etc. Shock and awe seem to work pretty well, though. FEAR THE WRATH OF MOTHER!

At this point, my children have enough experience with the Wrath that they know it by name. They don't have to be told that it will come as surely as the fieriest comet crashing into the Earth and obliterating all of mankind in its blazing inferno. I remind them regularly, just to keep it fresh in their memories...

Me: Do you need to go to the bathroom?
Kate: No.
Me: If you pee on my couch I will be so mad that my skin will turn purple and horns will come out of my head and I will bring the whole house down with the sound of my roaring and the gnashing of my teeth.
Kate: I know.

Me:  Do you need help with that milk jug?
Maggie: NO! I can do it myself!
Me: You know that if you spill that whole gallon of milk all over the table and the floor I just mopped that my hair will catch on fire and my eyes will pop out of my head and roll around on the floor while red hot lava spews from my nostrils. You know that, right?
Maggie: Fine, be that way. Why don't you pour it instead?

Me: Girls, how much more of your fighting do you think I will be able to listen to before fangs sprout from my mouth and I grow hooves like the Beast and I tear around the house shredding all the curtains and eating your stuffed animals?
Kate: Eleventeen seconds!
Maggie: Probably less than that.

Maybe I'm fooling myself. Maybe I am destroying their fragile psyches. Maybe they will print this post out someday and show it to their parole officers. Maybe they don't even care if I'm angry. Maybe they hear it all as, "Blah blah spit spit blah shouting shouting blah blah curse-word." I don't know for certain, but at least they scatter out of my warpath when they see me coming with my flashing red eyes. And I know that I feel A LOT better afterwards. Sometimes they actually stop doing whatever boneheaded thing they were doing. It's better than just muttering crazily under my breath while they blithely flood the bathroom by stopping up the sink with Kleenex while I'm busy untying the cats.

O, ye children, listen to my words and know this: verily shall your acts of transgression be known by me as I have eyes even upon the back of my head and ears that can hear the smallest of whispers behind the bathroom door. Be forewarned that as you defy the will of your maker, so shall you feel her righteous fury. And the fire of heaven shall rain down upon thee and the angel of vengeance shall be upon thee and YOU SHALL FACE THE WRATH! Behave accordingly.

Can I get an amen?!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


It's that time of year again, kids. It's just not Christmas without the Pogues....

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Good:

Maggie now has three awards from her teacher for "doing a great job at clean up time." She's taking her OCD public and reaping the rewards. Huzzah!

The Bad:

Yesterday, she asked me all conversationally-like, "Bathrooms are the appropriate place for fawting, isn't that right?"

Me: Fawting? What do you mean by that? Farting?

Maggie: No, fawting. It's a word that means tooting. That's for bathrooms, right?

Me: FAWTING? I think you mean farting. It's pronounced faRRRRRting. And yes, I guess a polite person does that in the bathroom, if they can.

Maggie: No, it's pronounced fawting. All the kids in my class say fawting.

I just want to make it clear that I'm MUCH more upset that my kid is cultivating a Boston accent from her kindergarten classmates than that she starts conversations with me about flatulence.

The Ugly:

Kate decided to throw a huge tantrum this morning about the clothes I picked out for her after she was already dressed and we were practically walking out the door to take Maggie to school. With no time left for shenanigans like this, I told her she could change into anything she wanted after we got home. We both totally forgot about it until approximately 15 minutes before we needed to leave to go pick Maggie up from school, when Kate remembered and started having a total nervous breakdown. She ran upstairs, stripped down to her underpants and one sock, and then like a chihuahua having a panic attack, peed all over the floor and rug in front of her dresser. WTF. After a frantic bath and clean up job, she picked out a new outfit that calmed the frankenstorm in her 3-year old brain, and we rushed out the door to school.

The real kicker of this story is that the outfit I dressed her in consisted of a solid purple shirt and a pair of polka dot pants; the outfit Kate preferred consisted of a purple polka dot shirt and a pair of solid purple pants.

I just really don't see how their teenage years could possibly be any worse than this preschool age. Parents of teenagers must just forget about the days when you had to listen to their crap AND clean it up after them as well.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Can't You Even Tell a Good Tree From a Poor Tree?"

We put up our tree this week. Don't get too excited, it's just a tiny, fake, pre-lit tree that's small enough for me to carry up the stairs to the attic all by myself. We're going to be in Oklahoma for Christmas this year (which is so exciting!), so as much as it pains me to have a half-assed Christmas tree (which is so pitiful!), it's the only sensible thing to do.

The funny thing is that the girls don't even realize that this is an embarrassment of a Christmas tree. They are STOKED about this tree. They are full of glee over this little bottle-brush of green plastic that is barely taller than they are. They are so thrilled by it that we mostly just let them decorate it themselves.



Kate is pretending to be a sleeping cat under the tree.

You can just barely see Kate "sleeping" underneath.

They have spent the last few days applying and then rearranging the ornaments. They sit and bask in it's feeble glow, admiring their handiwork. Every morning they come downstairs and demand that we plug in the lights so they can worship it for a few minutes before breakfast.

Lots of ornaments here...

...lots of ornaments here...

...no ornaments at all here.

But someone has left their balled-up, dirty socks here.

Morning Adoration

As Linus says, "I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It's not bad at all really. Maybe it just needs a little love."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

'Tis the Season

I have been informed that I really ought to send out Christmas cards this year.

It is apparently my duty as a mother and an American. Something like that, or people just can't get enough photos of my children, or probably - most likely - other people just really want me to suffer through the same ordeals they put themselves through. People want me to send out Christmas cards just like they are always trying to get me to run a half marathon or take a Zumba class with them.

I'm on to you, sadists. I'm not falling for your cruel tricks.

I don't need the paper cuts and broken nails and migraines that come with having to address, stamp, and snail mail cards to everyone I know. Especially not during the holiday season, which is already so busy that I don't have enough time to drink coffee in my pajamas while staring at a book I'm not really reading - which is how I usually prefer to spend my time.

My sister-in-law, Amy, even designed this card for me so that all I have to do is order it:

It's perfect, and I do love it. My girls look so precious, and it is the kind of card I would send... But she didn't offer to hunt down everyone's real addresses, buy the stamps, and drive to the post office for me, so I don't think she was really serious.

In past years, I have considered sending out Halloween cards, because:
1) Who does that? No one would expect it.
2) I'd have more time to waste on it around the end of October.
3) Halloween is funnier than Christmas.

I've never actually gotten around to sending out these Halloween cards though, because:
1) I never get the girls' costumes done that far in advance, and then Halloween is over. Who wants a Halloween card in mid-November?
2) Again, there's all that address hunting, envelope licking, post office visiting.
3) I really just don't care enough to execute the grand plans my imagination comes up with.

But people seem to actually expect me to put forth some effort towards social conventions and holiday spirit, yada yada. (It's like you people don't even know me.) And then there's the fact that we did take some family photos this past weekend, and Mike's brother actually got some decent shots of the four of us.

This photo was not one of them.

When I texted one to my mom, she said, "Wonderful! That could be your Christmas card pic!" Assuming I was sending Christmas cards. If she could have nudged me with her elbow through the iPhone, she would've.

This is the actual photo I texted to her. We are pretty cute.

So since we all acknowledge that I don't have your actual physical address - or stamps - here's the closest thing to a card you're likely to get from me.


Wishing you all the loveliest of Decembers. Peace be with you. Love, Amanda.

**Edited to add: I stole all these photos from my brother-in-law, Jeff. And I stole all these holiday card templates from tinyprints. Please go there and buy all your holiday cards from them or else they'll probably sue me for copyright infringement or something. I should go order like 100 copies of one of these cards, even though I won't mail them out, just to assuage my guilt. I could pass them out like business cards at cocktail parties. That would be amusing.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Scenes From a Thanksgiving Weekend

All of these lovely pictures were taken by my brother-in-law. Thanks, Jeff!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us!

PS - And if you know who this child actually belongs to, please let me know so that I can return her. Dresses?!? She's obviously not related to me. Maybe she gets this girly thing from Mike.

PSS - This morning while I was making the mac & cheese to take to Thanksgiving, she begged me for some cheese... "I'm thirsty for cheese, Mom." She carried her cheese away to go eat it while watching cartoons in the living room. A little later she came back "thirsty" for more cheese, but she did not get another piece because MIKE FOUND THE ORIGINAL PIECE IN THE RADIATOR. No cheese for you!

Notes From the Nightstand: Operating Instructions

I have read so much about Anne Lamott and her writing, in particular about Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year, which is considered to be a classic in the mom-memoir genre that has since spawned a million mom-blogs (this book was written back in 1989). She's a writer's writer who is able to strike a perfect balance between humor, poignancy, politics, religion, and her personal and public lives with just the right amount of self-deprecation and honesty that never feels like embarrassing overshare.

When she found out she was pregnant with her only child, she was 35 years old, unmarried, and only a few years sober after battling an alcohol and cocaine addiction. While this may seem like the kind of uphill battle that most people will not have to overcome while parenting their newborn, everyone does face their own particular collection of challenges in that first year, and anyone who has (or will) go through it will feel a sense of camaraderie with Lamott. I ended up reading the passages about her son's colic aloud to Mike (oh, I know how much he loves it when I do that!), and we both nodded enthusiastically in agreement with her black humor about that long, dark night of the soul.  If you're looking for the straight dirt on having a baby, this is it. It's a quick read, it's funny, it's heartbreaking, and it's true.

Lamott also writes fiction in addition to non-fiction about her faith, her addiction and recovery, and writing. I'm currently reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions for Writing and Life. She also has written a memoir about the birth of her first grandson, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son, which I definitely have on my to-read list.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Andrew Bird has a new album out called Hands of Glory, and it's folkier than his previous ones, which I love. This particular song, the first single, is pretty classic Andrew Bird rather than anything super-Americana, but here's a clip from Letterman where he does a cover of Townes Van Zandt's "If I Needed You," which is also on the album:

Friday, November 16, 2012

Maggie Sez...

... Why is that lady sitting with that girl on her lap at the bus stop? Isn't that girl too old?

Me: I don't think that's a lady. That's a boy and a girl. They're both teenagers.

M: Why is that girl sitting on his lap?

Me: I guess they're boyfriend and girlfriend. They're being all kissy-face! EW!! [*Brainwash, brainwash*]

M: Kissy-face! Yuck! Ew! Make them stop!

Me: Yes, kissy-face is gross. Make it stop.

(a few blocks later, after some deep thought...)

Maggie: Let's go back and ask that lady if she's really a boy.

Note: Perhaps you are thinking I should be raising my children all crunchy-granola to be more open-minded and in touch with human feelings and sexuality and love. But I don't want them to grow up to be Stevie Nicks, I want them to grow up to be Liz Lemon. That's why I've decided to start answering all their uncomfortable questions honestly... but in German.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On to the Next Home Improvement Project

The work on our fixer-upper home is never done. There's always some large or small project lying in wait, irritating us on a daily basis until we get fed up enough to fix it. Mike has a lot less patience (or maybe it's less laziness) with these need-to-do's than I have. He also enjoys them as hobby projects in a way I do not, even though they make him crazy. I swear the longer we live in Massachusetts the more he resembles Norm Abram from This Old House. No-ahm Abrahm and his meh-zhud drawrings.

In fact, Mike is already hard at work on his next big project. Our bedroom is the only room in the house that never got painted when we moved in. It's been primed, but then we finally just gave up a while back and removed the painter's tape from the trim after letting it rot there for a couple of years to no practical end. The former owners removed the doors and most of the original hardwood window and door trim and replaced it, inexplicably, with some horrible, orangey 1970's era garbage.

The closet doors/trim when we moved in - and Maggie, age 2

Part of what was stalling us was our indecision about what to do about that trim: go to all the effort of sanding and painting it white? Leave it as is, even though it's ugly and the rest of the trim in the house is white? Replace it with reproduction trim and doors to match the rest of the house and then paint?

After we did our bathroom remodel, which involved replacing the trim and door in that room, we decided that we really should put our efforts and cash toward replacing the all the 70's trim to match. The bathroom looks so much lovelier (see: old bathroom door vs. new bathroom door) with the new/old white woodwork that it seemed defeating have to work so hard to sand and paint this uggo-buggo stuff.

The uggo-buggo window and radiator cover

So Mike has been super industrious and is nearly done replacing all the woodwork in our bedroom. The only thing he has left (I think) is the radiator cover, and we need to find some new hardware for closet doors, which will be the only thing left to sand and paint.

New/old window trim

The biggest, worst, most-harrowing part of the project was replacing the door, which he did by himself. I don't even know how he ever managed to do it and get it to hang straight. I was downstairs the whole time hanging out with the girls because otherwise we'd probably be divorced right now.

Old door, no door, a view of the new closet trim

The only original door left in the house, complete with crystal knob, goes to the attic.

What a Difference a Door Makes

3% Less Ugly!
Our big plan is to prime and paint everything our good old Polar Bear White (Behr, if you're trolling for paint colors) except for the wall behind our bed which will be... dun, dun, dun... River Blue (Benjamin Moore). Remember my old friend River Blue from the repainting the shingles escapade? I decided it looked a little too circus tent for the outside of the house, but I'm feeling like it will be the perfect shade of peacock for our room.
I'll probably find out I hate it as soon as we get it painted on the wall.
Mike, who is crazy or a glutton for punishment - or actually, he is a little obsessed with the smell of sawdust - is going to make our headboard just like this one we found in a Lowe's project ideas magazine (except painted white):
 ...and I already bought these bedlinens that I found at Target:

We have black, kind of mod beside tables, which we'll keep. I will need to find some new lamps, and eventually our dressers will need to be replaced. They are old, super fuggly, and completely mismatched in style and color. And we really could use a rug or two and some kind of artwork on the walls. All in good time...


I have this one last thought to add: if you are not married and you are looking for a soul mate, partner-in-crime, and lifelong companion, I do highly recommend finding one with some mad handyman skills. Mike was an Eagle Scout, so he can make a flotation device out of his pants. He's an IT professional, so he knows what to do when our computer starts acting all flaky, and I've never set up my own cell phone before. But his passion for cutting things with saws and his dexterity with a pneumatic nail gun really top everything else. His romance on the side with his shop vac provides such an improvement on MY day-to-day quality of living, that I vow to never stand between them. I really should volunteer to do the painting. Ugh. Maybe I'll just butter him up with a homemade carrot cake instead. He deserves it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Notes From the Nightstand: Cloud Atlas

I have this other blog where I try to keep track of stuff that I'm reading, but I haven't posted there since March. Having two blogs maybe doesn't work very well for me, but I still do want to bore you with my opinions on literature, so I think I'm just going to start rolling those posts in over here.

I just finished Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. The movie starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry (among many other fine actors) is out in theaters right now, so even if you haven't heard of the book you may have seen the trailers.

The book is total genius. It's six short stories nested inside one another, each in a different time period and told in a different voice/literary genre. The stories end abruptly at the height of the plot, and then are referenced in some way in the next story - as a journal or letters discovered by a subsequent character, as a manuscript sent to a publisher, as an old movie viewed in a distant future. All of the main characters have the same comet-shaped birthmark on their shoulders, and it's implied that they are reincarnations of the same soul. At the end of the sixth story, which is the middle of the book, the novel backs itself out the way it came in, finishing up each story's plot line in backwards order from the way they were initially presented. So Cloud Atlas begins and ends with "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing." A lot of reviews of the book describe it as a stack of Russian nesting matryoshka dolls, and I also think that's a perfect metaphor.

I have never read a book like this before. It's truly amazing and innovative. It's funny, thrilling, horrific, philosophical, tender. It's an amazing accomplishment. I can't recommend it enough.

I haven't seen the film, although I want to.  I've seen mixed reviews, so I'm very curious to check it out for myself. Movies, of course, are rarely as lovable as the books they were made from, and it would be an incredible feat to squeeze this vast story into a film's length. The imagery in the trailers and the repeated use of the actors in different roles looks amazing, so I'm sure my curiosity will win out.

Read the book, though. Then go see the movie if you want. That's always the best advice.

And if you're dying to buy me a present (Christmas?), Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is on my wish list!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Your Daily Chuckle

The jokes just write themselves.

From MSN.com Today

Jesus, when will you people figure this out??

Victoria's Secret Apologizes About American Indian Outfit

Friday, November 9, 2012

Out of Something Bad, Perhaps Some Good...

November is Native American Heritage Month.

I didn't know that either until I started reading up on this recent brouhaha over No Doubt's offensive cowboys-and-Indians video. (I noticed that most of the mainstream media articles about the incident go on to plug the band's album or include photo slide shows of Gwen Stefani's fashion statements, but one of the only websites that mentions UCLA's American Indian Studies Center's open letter in response to the band's apology - which specifically mentions the Center - is Perez Hilton, of all places.)

The comment sections seem to be pretty mixed as to whether the video is racist and deserved to be pulled from the airwaves or whether this whole incident is just another example of political correctness run amok. I fall on the side of the video deserving to be pulled, as I believe it peddles a bunch of sad, lazy, stereotypical imagery of Native people and Native culture packaged for sale as fashion and pop music. Gross.

Native Americans and Alaskan Natives make up something less than 1% of the population of the US and are socioeconomically and geographically marginalized in the worst ways, but their importance to our national history and our American identity today can not be overstated. And yet, most Americans know so little about Native history or Native culture. Most people rarely or never think about American Indians at all; never consider their points of view, their opinions, or what contributions they could make to the public discourse. Most public schools in this country spend more time teaching the history of the Jewish Holocaust than they do teaching Native American history. What else could we as a nation possibly be besides offensively ignorant about their lives and opinions and feelings?

So in honor of Native American Heritage Month, here are some recommendations of mine (and I certainly do not claim to be an expert, but I am interested in American Indian history, so I have read a few things).

*Sundown by John Joseph Mathews
*Okla Hannali by RA Lafferty

*Anything by Angie Debo
*The Plains Indians of the Twentieth Century edited by Peter Iverson
*Bloodland: A Family Story of Oil, Greed, and Murder on the Osage Reservation (I really liked McAuliffe's book The Deaths of Sybil Bolton: An American History, but it's gone out of print.)
*Empire of the Summer Moon by SC Gwynne (He has some very problematic usage of the terms "savage" and "civilization" and the like, which I can only guess he's doing to be provocative and sell books, because I felt the research and writing in general was balanced. And the story is a fascinating, good read.)

Smoke Signals (an oldie but a goodie)

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Another Nor'easter hit last night, dumping our first few inches of snow this season. This morning it's pouring rain, making the whole business a big slushy mess, but the girls did get a chance to run outside yesterday afternoon and catch a few snowflakes on their tongues.

They were super excited about the snow. First thing after getting out of bed this morning, Kate told us she needed to get dressed so she could go out and build a snowman, and Maggie was pretty disappointed that school wasn't cancelled for three measly inches of slush. I spent the entire car ride to school trying to convince them that there are going to MONTHS of snowfall in their immediate future and plenty of opportunities to play in it.

True New Englanders they may be, as they shook their fists at the sky and shouted, "We know you can do better than this!! Bring it!"

Their Dad and I, on the other hand, are just beginning our prayers for mercy this winter.