Monthly Archives: February 2010

Way to Go, Frances

Read possibly the best book I've read in years the other day. It was filled with descriptions like this one describing the birth of a mob:
"These were no longer people. A new expression buckled the crowd's features until their faces looked like fists."
And this one, describing the eruption of a volcano:
"There was a hushed half second like a gasp, a sense of some tiny but momentous change, of something cracking silently like a heart. The next instant, through that hidden crack beneath the surface, an oozing, millennia-old fire met dark, lucid water. And in that meeting, water and fire loved each other to destruction."
It was published under two different names: The Lost Conspiracy, and Gullstruck Island, by Francis Hardinge. 
When I read things like this, I wonder how some of these other books got published… Because obviously somebody still knows how to write.

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Crackin’ the Whip

I came across a news clip a few weeks ago exposing some blueberry farmers back East for using child labor. They had footage of these little kids hauling buckets of blueberries that were nearly as big as themselves-one in each hand. I mean, these kids were tough. Built like bricks and quick.
I know, I know, child labor is wrong and somebody will surely be outraged when I say this, but my first thought when I saw these families out there working together was, Where do I sign up?

My kids could totally benefit from some serious manual labor–from knowing that if they didn't work, and work hard, together, that they probably wouldn't have enough to eat tomorrow.
I realize that these children are probably not in school and that they have little hope of escaping the generational cycle of poverty they are part of and I don't think that's right, but I know that the generational cycle of entitlement and laziness that my own children are part of isn't right either. 
Maybe I should get a cow and some chickens and a big old garden and have my kids haul water up from the lake all summer to water it. Just because. It would probably cost more than buying the milk and eggs and produce from the store and they'd hate me with every exhausted breath but I bet they'd quit whining about going to school.
The problem is, they're all bigger than me and they might just roll over in bed and refuse to get up.
Maybe I could learn to use a bull whip…

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The Phantom Brake

"Will you back out of the driveway for me?"
"You can do it. Just keep your foot on the brake and go slow."
"Um. Where's the brake?"
I'm thinking she means the parking brake. "Right there. You kick it to release it."
"No. Like the regular brake."
"That big one in the middle. Keep  your foot on it."
Okay, so maybe having my daughter's first driving experience consist of pulling backwards down a hill out of a driveway with twelve-foot drop off directly behind it and a mailbox to the right and a brick post to the left wasn't the greatest piece of parenting I've ever attempted.
Because shouting STOPSTOPTSTOPSTOPSTOP!!!! doesn't actually help them remember which one is the gas and which one is the brake. Nor can you point frantically to the left as a ditch approaches–as she reminded me, the student driver finds the view out the windshield slightly more critical than the hand motions of a parent.
When I signed her up for Driver's Ed, I remember thinking that the instructor seemed like a really grouchy old lady. 
Now I know why.
At least she gets her own brake pedal and a sign warning everyone else who, exactly, is operating the motor vehicle. Shouldn't one of those STUDENT DRIVER trunk stickers be included in the tuition for the course?
I spent an hour and a half treading the fine line between making my daughter feel like an idiot and speaking up enough to keep the vehicle on the road.  During the straight stretches I told her about my first attempt at driving: I had to sit on my brother's lap because I couldn't work the steering wheel, the gas, the brake and the clutch all at the same time. I assured her that she was doing much better than I did my first time out. 
There were minimal tears and my right leg will likely recover from the strain of trying not to stomp on a phantom brake pedal for 90 minutes. At any rate, nobody died; no mailboxes have been tagged; and the lady with the mutt lived to walk away.
She has her first of six driving tests on Monday. In town. Turning out onto Pioneer Way.
Oh boy.

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I pretty much consistently dream in the nightmare genre. And probably 99.99% of those involve extreme peril–navigating sixty-story scaffolding over a pit of lava, say–with six or seven infants and toddlers in tow.
Almost every night, all night. I've resigned myself to this. 
Last night I dreamed the end of a typical day, except this time one of the toddlers I watch clung to me and refused to go home with his parents.
Almost as terrifying as the lava pit… Kidding! No. It was rather nice, for a change.
I don't know if it was a result of the inspection we passed–in which, thank you very much, we were told that the inspector rarely, if ever finds places as well organized, clean, and safe as ours–or if it was something I ate. 
I do think I let small criticisms by isolated individuals constantly eat away at me and make me doubt my suitability for this or any other job involving real live people. It was very kind of the inspector to put that in perspective for me. 
I'm sure I'll go back to the nightmares tomorrow, but for today we're going to breathe easy. 

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Taste Testing for Engine Fluids

All this talk about teen driving has made me remember my own first (and last, thank you very much) accident. 
I was sixteen years old, and we were moving from Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada to Okanogan Washington. If you've never heard of it, congratulate yourself. Kidding. Sort of. There were 43 students in my graduating class and I'll bet five of us weren't high on something at commencement.
Besides the point.
We were driving. I was driving, specifically down an Idaho highway late in the afternoon when the sun had begun to set and the slush in the traffic lanes was beginning to solidify into deep, frozen ruts. And the middle aged occupants of the car had dozed off. 
Now, just keep in mind that I'm telling this from the teen me point of view. I'm sure my mother's account would differ, but she doesn't blog so it's totally my story–believe who you will.
We were coming around a slight bend in the road and a semi appeared over a rise. Just as a particularly jarring rut of ice woke my mother up and she found herself–seemingly–face to grill with a semi-truck. She grabbed the wheel and jerked it with all the strength of a mother saving four of her children from the idiot fifth one behind the wheel over to the right. We sailed . . .  off the shoulder, shearing a signpost–one of those big ones that tell you how far each of the next half a dozen towns are away–off at the base. It cartwheeled over the car, tearing a gash in the roof, and we came to rest in a snowbank. 
The State patrol officer actually thought it was pretty funny. 
The mechanic could not, for the life of him, figure out what the brown fluid in the snow was, as the integrity of the engine seemed unaffected. Recommended we not drive it far. Until he resorted to tasting the fluid and discovered that it was root beer. 
I kid you not.
We drove the rest of the way through Idaho, got lost in freezing fog somewhere over by the Grand Coulee Dam and arrived safely sometime the next morning to begin the process of becoming Americans in earnest. (A process which can take a surprising number of years (13 was it?) if you are white, non-criminal, and even married to an American.) 
I'm taking my daughter out driving this evening for the first time.

I don't plan to be drowsy, and I will be repeating this mantra in my head: I will not yank the steering wheel out of my daughter's hands. I will not yank the steering wheel out of my daughter's hands. I will not yank…

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$1000 of Gasoline

Took my daughter in today to get her learners permit. 
It wasn't terribly real to me until I glanced up and saw her face on the preview screen as the DOL employee made up her permit. 
Because I want to drive her out to the college every day in the fall even less than I want to see her driving herself. On highway 17. In a motor vehicle. By herself. 
Not only that, but the little dears pointed out to me tonight that my son can officially get his permit this year, also. 
No parent on earth should have to log 100 hours of practice driving sessions in the same year. 
At fuel burn rate of approximately $10/hour, I'm shelling out $1000 for the privilege of shelling out even more to insure two teenage drivers. That's on top of tuition for Driver's Education. 
They didn't cost this much when they were in diapers. 
Everyone assures me that I will adore having extra drivers attached to the household. 
Uh huh.
On a completely different note, I made the decision to change my hours. I will be closing at 4:30. Good for my family, but tough to lose kids I love like my own. 
I also turned away four other children this week. 
I don't usually do that, when I have room. But they've been here before, and after reviewing their records I remember why I was relieved the last time they left. Three and four hours late to be picked up, etc.
I wrestled with the decision for days–but when I really made it, really made up my mind, it was like walking out of a dark room into the light. Knew it was the right thing to do. Paring down the ranks, little by little. I want to go back to more of a family feel and less of the institutional you have to run with larger numbers, even if it doesn't pay as well.
Ooooh. I just had a great idea. 
The drivers, being drivers, could eventually get jobs and buy their own gas. And stuff. Yeah?
Maybe this license thing isn't such a bad idea after all…

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I sweep my floor every day at 6am, 10am, 1pm, and 3pm. If you think I'm a little obsessive, you should see the sheer quantity of stuff I sweep up. No matter what–no matter how strict I am about eating while seated or taking off your muddy shoes or keeping the playdough on the table. There's always this mysterious debris.
So yesterday I conducted a particle by particle analysis of the stuff. I drew the line at actually tasting the particles, but I looked very closely
There was the usual-bits of grass and hair, crushed pretzels and cereal, food that clung in the folds of clothing and fell off after meals were done and far from the table, but the greater percentage of it wasn't anything recognizable. And there is always a lot of it. As if the very stuff of life itself is continually wearing down and depositing its detritus on my tile. Not all of it yields to the broom, either.
One of the mothers who arrive at 6:30 every morning, just as I'm finishing up with the dishrag, asked me today why I don't have a mop. I tried to explain to her that for the kind of wear my floor gets, your average kitchen mop just won't do–you need a constant rinsing of fresh water and application of the thumbnail.  
And what is that, on the floor every morning, sticking to the soles of my shoes? I wipe up the spilled milk and meals throughout the day, but still, every morning this mystery crud. It might be drool: invisible at the time of drooling, but dried and sticky by the next day. Or alien goo. I know for a fact they visit my kitchen in the wee small hours to wreak havoc. Leave the freezer ajar, the tap running, the milk out to spoil. 
I once heard someone say that cleaning a house full of children is like brushing your teeth with a mouthful of Oreos. 
More like cleaning your teeth with a mouthful of Oreos, one finger and some baking soda because the two year old flushed the toothbrush and someone has decorated the mirror with the last bit of Colgate. Oh, and there's no running water because the plumber was an idiot. (Or maybe because the two-year-old flushed the toothbrush.) And the entire time, the fifteen month old on your hip is trying to pry open your jaws to get his fair share of the frosting-stuffed chocolate cookie, the fifteen year old is holding the phone out to you mouthing the words It's the principal! with a horrified look on her face and a potential client is picking her way across the minefield on your front porch. There's also probably something dripping somewhere with an ominous, muffled ping, ping, ping…
There might be a representative from the IRS or the State hunkered over your kitchen table too,  looking for financial records or maybe proof that kid you watched once back in '03 was immunized.
That's definitely more accurate.

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