Sunday, December 29, 2013

Housesitting: working unfamiliar coffee machines, killing ants, and keeping the fish alive.

During the holiday season, house sitting is at it's peak. People are out of town, and leave others - sometimes friends, sometimes total strangers, sometimes a neighbor they cornered on trash day - in charge of the care and well being of their home and pets.

We have left not one but 2 house sitters on the premises while we travel to California and house sit out here while enjoying all that Southern California has to offer. So far, Southern California has offered us snow, ice skating, a walk on the beach, and good Chinese food. All in the same 24 hours.

Well played, Southern California.

Our house sitters have been left to contend with our neurotic dog, our vaguely threatening fish, and an epic ant population that - despite exercising some pretty extreme measures to deter them - have moved into the dishwasher. It's winter and dry outside and the ants, they like the water. Sam has run the dishwasher hoping to end the problem once and for all, only to open the door and find them all crowded up in the corners, huddled together for protection from the suds and hot water. They are in the dishwasher because it is next to impossible to find anything to eat anywhere in my home, because I have everything on lock down in sealed containers, or shoved in the fridge. To no avail. My next step is Terminix, because I would rather spray poison inside my home than have ants in there.

There is no ant problem here in the house we are house sitting, but don't think our experience has been carefree: I can't work the coffee maker, and we might have killed the fish.

This almost but not quite deceased fish is a problem we need to address TOOT SWEET because there is nothing as unfortunate as coming home to a dead pet. We will probably not be asked to house sit again if that happens.

I am going to try to save the fish, or possibly replace the fish, but first I need a cup of coffee. And that, my friends, is the real stumbling block here. Our host informed me cheerfully that his 5 year old could use the coffee maker, but his 5 year old is obviously much more of a critical thinker than I am before coffee. When I woke up Christmas morning after a very abbreviated few hours of sleep, and I saw the can of coffee on the counter, my heart began to sing. I searched high and low for the coffee maker, but there was none to be found. Confused, I looked for a french press, or maybe some sort of drip setup.......... but still no. There was a stack of plastic tubes and fittings on the counter near the coffee, but that was clearly for plumbing or basting or something, so I gave up and went looking for tea. I found a box of decaf English Breakfast. I reminded myself that I am STRONGER THAN CAFFEINE, because I knew that eventually some coffee would be made and the mystery would be solved.

When coffee was offered shortly thereafter by my very gracious host, I went right into the kitchen to see where the magic happened, and discovered that the tubes and fittings were indeed used for making coffee. Mind? Blown. Our host made the coffee for the first few days, but then they left on their own vacation and I forgot to ask about the magical coffee tubes. Which meant I was on my own, with Sam as my faithful sidekick. We spread out all of the parts, assembled them as best we could, and made something hot and coffee-scented.

Which allowed us to focus on the fish.

He (she?) can be roused if you violently enthusiastically shake the bowl (please don't ask how I know that) but otherwise, the thing is completely unresponsive.

We're going to give it another few days. In the meantime we have watered the plants, taken out the trash, and washed the towels.

Tomorrow is Disneyland (God help me) and then on to a new and exciting adventure further south.
That fish is going to have to fend for him(her?)self, because we have bigger fish to fry.

(Too soon?)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Holidays. A season of dread and loathing will be conquered this year.

I know there are people out there that just *love* the holidays.

All I can say when someone waxes rhapsodic about the joy of the season is: "Good for you."

Because they are clearly delusional.

For the people that are still recovering from Hanukkah, you are not alone - I have heard stories of the guilt that relatives shower over everyone else in the most passive-aggressive way possible, and how it seems to redouble with every candle lit, until by the 7th day you want to blow out ALL the candles in your family's  heirloom menorah and say "Fuck it. I'm done." and go eat some bacon. I am here for you.

If your Festivus celebration left you feeling as emasculated as George Costanza, if you hurt yourself performing your feats of strength, and all of the grievances seemed to be directed at you, just know that other people also had their ass handed to them by an old man with an attitude problem and a borderline personality disorder sucking on a mug of Sanka while his teeth soaked in the water glass by his elbow.

For all of you out there that are sitting around dreading Christmas Day - for whatever reason - I want you to know that YOU are not the odd man out.  The financial stress can be horrible (especially if you bought gifts with a credit card at Target, apparently). Anyone with dietary restrictions is challenged ("You don't eat wheat? Well, just try one of these rolls so you don't hurt my feelings.") The holiday music, with it's warnings about Santa watching you while you're sleeping, and borderline-pervy entreaties to stay out late even though it's cold outside and your parents will be worried, tends to be creepy, depressing, and/or vaguely threatening. And that idiot walking through the mall in a Santa hat (see what I'm saying about delusional? I know Santa, and sir YOU ARE NO SANTA.) even that guy has some reservations about the holiday.

Or his relatives have reservations about spending the holiday with him.

If you return to the fetal position every time you think about your last holiday gathering, I send my sympathy - not everyone can spend Thanksgiving at my house, which is bathed in a joyful glow and covered in gravy and butter.

What? Not every holiday has to suck, you know.

I have long accepted Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday, and for 15 years I have loathed Christmas with a white-hot Christmas flavored passion. But not this year. This year, for the first time since before my children were born, I am actually looking forward to celebrating. It feels a little weird, I have to admit. I have professed my dislike of the holiday for so long, and with such fervor, that I'm a bit disoriented by my abrupt change of direction.

The vast majority of people have - at the very least - a few skeletons hidden in their closet next to the wrapped gifts. Mine is that my father left my mother on Christmas morning. Waking up to your mother sobbing in the kitchen, and trying to figure out 1. why your mother is crying into the sink instead of making coffee and cinnamon rolls, and 2. where the hell your father has gone and why he isn't in the kitchen dealing with your mother and hopefully making some fucking coffee because it's not even 8 am, you're still drunk from a night out with friends and not even close to capable of dealing with anything more than some mild bickering over which Christmas album we are going to play while drinking some coffee REALLY WHERE THE FUCK IS THE COFFEE MOM STOP CRYING JESUS H CHRIST WHAT IS GOING ON WAIT I GOTTA PUKE.

So. Christmas has never really been the same since then.

Before that Christmas, aka "The Worst Christmas Ever", all the prior Christmases were the usual exercise in consumption and consumerism and sitting around keeping track of who got better shit than I did. Which - for the record - was everyone, all the time. And soon after that Christmas, I moved 7,000 miles away and tried like hell to make sure I was always scheduled to work on December 25th. It was easier to just ignore the holiday altogether, than face it head on. Denial can be a beautiful thing.

But not this year.

This year, I want to give my kids a real, honest to goodness, fun-with-the-whole family holiday extravaganza. To that end, we are flying to California to celebrate.

We have never spent Christmas away from home. Everything will be new and different. We are taking the kids to Disneyland, and the San Diego Zoo. We will visit museums, and spend time with cousins, and friends. We will create memories, and maybe some traditions. The kids will see snow. And perhaps the holiday will get some of that peppermint-flavored, egg-nog soaked, fairy lit, tinsel strewn magic back.

Or not. But I'm pretty sure someone will make coffee for me on Christmas morning, and we can get through the day without anyone's marriage falling apart.

After that everything else is just a bonus.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

There is no i in "Parent". Why you shouldn't need a iPad to poop.

In the evening, a hush settles over my house.

That is not because everyone is sleeping, or absorbed in a good book. It is because I told the kids that they could look at their computers and iPads after dinner for an hour. It is silent. They have earphones on, and retreat to separate corners. Even my husband - who completely rejects technology to the point of not having email and still using a flip phone - is busy with his own tablet. In the last 6 months he has gone from playing Tetris to Bejeweled Blitz and now to Angry Birds, because I told him Candy Crush would make him crazy.

It sucks, and I feel guilty. As guilty as I can feel while I am checking my email, paying bills and cruising Facebook, I am trying to be okay with it. One hour a day won't kill them. But it's kind of killing me. Sure, they read. And play. And interact. They don't spend hours locked in their rooms. Just one hour.

And thank goodness, I have those limits.

For new parents, who are still figuring out what feels comfortable in terms of their kids and technology, I would like to point out 2 items currently on the market that seem to take things a little too far:

The Apptivity Seat from Fisher Price
For kids up to 40 pounds.
Then they have to hold their own damn iPad.

The IPotty from CTA Digital

Never mind, that iPad is yours now.

It turns out there is an app that will teach you how to use the toilet. And plenty of engaging videos in black and white to entertain and educate your infant. The problem is that teaching and entertaining and soothing your kids and teaching them about personal hygiene, these are basic parenting responsibilities that - as challenging as they can be - are the cornerstones of parenting and cannot be relegated to a small touch screen.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

My issue is not with age-appropriate short-term screen-viewing, or fun apps that teach your kid the basics.
My issue is putting your kids in a situation where they have to look at the iPad. (And also teaching them to take an hour every time they need to poop.) When they are in those seats, you can't really see what they are looking at on the screen. In fact, you can't really interact with your kids at all from behind the screen - and I think you will regret that later.

With TV, they can sit in your lap and cuddle. Or play, and maybe from time to time look up at the screen.
With an iPad, they can put it down and walk away.
When they are stuck in a seat with an iPad (or a mirror) looming 12 inches from their nose, the ability to look at something - ANYTHING - else, like the ceiling fan or the cat or the dust bunnies under the couch, is practically impossible. 

And let's not even get into the germs on that potty thing. ((((shudder))))

Listen, here's the bottom line: This is going too far. Give the kid the Sunday comics and tell them to go take a dump like generations of kids before them.
And those bouncy seats work like a charm - no screen required. I promise.

Put down the technology. There will be plenty of time to worry about their screen viewing later on. Your sons will spend plenty of time in the future with their pants around their ankles staring at a screen, I can guarantee it. And that ceiling fan? It is more entertaining than you realize.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Hot Mess: why I didn't seek help for my depression, and why you should

Hey! Did you know that before of all of my stiletto-strutting, cocktail-drinking, unitard-wearing, jet-setting, roller skating, "I kissed a girl and I liked it" madness, I was actually quite mad?

I was. But not any more. That was years and years ago. These days I am the stone-cold soberest, calmest, most rational and grounded person ever.

Oh who are we kidding, I'm still nuts. But the difference between then and now is that then it was a terrible scary place to be, and now it's more like "WHUUUT?! Girl, YOU SO CRAZY!" I'm enjoying the ride, and most of the time the chaos in my brain is leaning towards "Girls Gone Wild" instead of "Girl, Interrupted". 

Which is a good thing, because spending time in a psych ward is simply not an option for me: I can only poop at home.

But just in case I find myself facing a hospital stay of any kind - no matter how brief - I am signing up for health insurance this week that will take effect January 1st. 
I am grateful to be able to get health insurance for myself.
I am grateful to still be here to need insuring.

There are some people who really feel strongly that "Obamacare" is a terrible thing. I get it. But I have another perspective. You know what else is a terrible thing?

Being afraid to seek treatment, because you know that if you do, you will become virtually uninsurable.
Having your doctor tell you that s/he wants to refer you to a mental health specialist, but that it will be a part of your permanent health record - and is that okay with you? Because from their tone, it seemed like a bad idea.
Realizing that paying out of pocket for mental health care would cost more than a car payment each month. Unless you were admitted to a psych ward, in which case it would cost more than a whole car. Or a house. Or several houses.

What part was supposed to be okay with me, exactly? The mind-numbing depression that needed treatment, or the part where I would probably lose my health insurance if I admit I need help, or lose my house if I tried to pay for that help under the radar?

The night that I stood a little too close to the ledge of our hotel room balcony and stared 20 stories down to the pool glowing below, wondering if Sam would ever forgive me for jumping while he was out getting a pizza......that was the night that I thought "Hm. That was a little dark. I don't want to ever have a thought like that again."

It took me a while to actually go and get it, because the fear of losing my insurance over-rode the fear of losing my mind. THAT is a terrible thing.

How did I find myself at that point? It doesn't really matter. But the moment that I finally agreed to the mental health referral is a day that is burned in my mind. It was the day I finally jumped - and I landed safely.

I was furious during that first appointment. Furious that I had waited so long.
And sad.
And confused, because being sad seemed like a reasonable emotion - not a pre-existing condition. I had just had a hysterectomy. I was 30 years old. IT WAS SAD. Grief is a normal reaction to a loss of that magnitude, and yet everyone was trying to cheer me through it from the sidelines, instead of acknowledging that maybe I needed some help to get through.

So I just want to say this: if you are feeling sad or alone or scared, if grief is your constant companion, if joy is a flicker instead of a steady glow during the holidays, please reach out. If you are telling yourself that you have no reason - no right - to be depressed, then let me remind you that some of the richest, coolest, most famous fabulous beautiful creative fantastic successful people you can think of have been there. Even if your life is beautiful, it can be hard to see that through the gray velvet blanket of depression. It doesn't matter why you are wrapped up in it, sometimes it starts out as a safe place to hide but for some of us, the more we fight to escape it, the tighter it can become wrapped, making it hard to breathe.

Does this sound even vaguely familiar?

You can get better. You can get your life and your groove and your mojo and your inspiration and your libido and your reason for living back.

You can also get some health insurance. Because medical bills will not help your depression one little bit.

Thanks Obamacare. Pre-existing conditions be damned, it's a mad mad mad mad world out there. And I'm running through it without any pants on. Catch me if you can.

Monday, December 9, 2013

This is why we can't have nice things. Or pets.

"Did ANYONE feed the dog?"

Our neighbors must think our dog is clinging to the brink of starvation (he's not, trust me) based on the nightly ritual we go through to determine when the last time was that the dog ate:

"Uuuhhhh. I don't think so."
"Max did!"
"No I didn't, Dad did."
"So he's eaten?"
"I have no idea."

The dog sits on the kitchen floor, looking up hopefully. Tail wagging. I throw him some turkey. And then I put the leftover bowl of turkey pot pie on the floor for him. He eats everything but the peas, which are licked clean and left to the side.

We have 2 pets. Boston, the dog, is extremely low maintenance. He's an outside dog, because outside includes a carpeted screen porch, 100 sq feet of deck, his own private lanai, and because we live in fucking HAWAII. It's NICE OUT THERE. If I let him inside, he runs in circles, knocks over furniture and tries to jump through the plate glass windows to chase the geckos outside. He's a teensy bit neurotic. I can relate.

I have bought him countless dog beds, and he tears them all to shreds then gleefully sleeps in the dirt under the house. Or if he's feeling motivated he'll climb up on one of our upholstered benches, which is a huge no-no. But because I feel guilty that he has no dog bed, I let him get away with it. I even went out and bought covers for the cushions, because he started eating those too. His new move, because he doesn't like the covers I bought, is to drag the curtains on top of the bench, and then lie on top of THOSE. Because that is just fucking perfect.

I bought this really expensive flea/heartworm combo pill and he's still covered with fleas. I take him to the groomers and he pees on the floor, takes a dump in the bath, strangles himself trying to eat the jaunty kerchief they tied around his neck, and then bolts out the door and almost gets hit by a car in the parking lot.
EVERY TIME. And the next day? Fleas.

I bought him all different kinds of dog food and dog treats, but he prefers dry dog food from Costco and whatever I cooked for dinner. Have you ever seen a dog spit out a Milkbone? I have. The guy at the carwash watched it land on the pavement behind my car and was all "Whaaaa?" and I'm all, "Yeah. It's totally wasted on him."

He likes walks, kind of, but he doesn't really get the leash thing - sometimes he walks nicely, sometimes he's gagging and dragging me down the sidewalk. He also walks at a 45 degree angle: his butt walks along next to the front half. It's unsettling to watch. You just want to straighten him out, but it's no use. He's bent.

Our second pet is a beta fish, Blue. Because he's blue. He's the replacement of TonyAlice (don't even ask) and he is a total asshole. I really think the care and feeding of my beta fish is going to break me. He's currently hiding inside his log glaring at me and spitting bubbles because I moved him to the bookcase.


I can't blame Blue for being pissed: we forget to feed him, too, but not for long because he will bang his head into the glass bowl like he's having a seizure until we give him some food. And it has to be the pellets, because he won't eat flaked fish food. He wears the flakes on his head like a jaunty beret. They perplex him.

When Blue feels like he is not getting what he needs, or when he just wants to let us know that he thinks we suck, he splashes me. He throws himself in the air like he's breeching, and lands with a splash. Or he smacks the surface of the water with his fin.

Point made Blue. Enjoy life on the bookcase, asshole.

I have more parenting guilt and stress related to my pets than I do about my own kids, who have learned to build a bridge and get over it when life gets tough.

The dog and the fish on the other hand? Not so much. I can't tell if they are brilliant or dumb as rocks, but I know this for sure:
I need new curtains. And an opaque fishbowl, because Blue is starting to freak me out with the whole knocking on the glass and glaring at me thing.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It's 3rd grade, not a Renaissance Faire. But still, there will be turkey legs in their lunch box SO HELP ME.

Last night, Max announced that he "loved" fruitcake, and ate half of one with gusto, while the rest of us watched in horror. To be fair, he's 13 and will eat almost anything that is not completely covered in mold. Fruitcake is no big deal. Except it totally is.

About 3 slices in, he paused. "Does fruitcake have an expiration date?" he inquired as he chewed slowly, moving the cake around in his mouth.

Sam reached for the box and began to scan it.

"Is fruitcake even edible?" Lucy was alarmed by the red and green bits.

"Yup." Max said, as he reached for another slice. "I'm eating it right now."

"I'm reading the directions." Sam announced. "Hang on."

"Max, do you have any idea how many things you have eaten that were not food? You eating something is definitely not the gold standard for determining if something is edible or not." I was standing in front of the open refrigerator, rearranging items in a desperate attempt to fit another turkey in there.

We are in the midst of eating Thanksgiving leftovers. Well, not so much leftovers, just the three fruitcakes we received as (gag?) (No. Really. GAG.) gifts and the four free turkeys I collected from our local grocery store last week.

See, at our grocery, every time you shop you earn points. And when you get 200 points you get a certificate. And each certificate can be redeemed for a turkey the week before Thanksgiving. There is a limit of one per day, so every morning I would go to the grocery store and then drive the turkey to a friend's house and leave it in their fridge.

I had 4 certificates, thus I had 4 turkeys to consume in short order. 2 were squared away on Thanksgiving Day. One we ate a few days before Thanksgiving as a practice round, and we roasted the fourth and final turkey last night.

This is a lot of turkey.

And because we have so much fucking turkey (when you are talking about 65 pounds of turkey, it is definitely fucking turkey, as opposed to regular old amounts of turkey) I am running out of ideas. We have had turkey soup, turkey enchiladas, turkey potpie, turkey tetrazzini, turkey quesadillas, turkey sandwiches, and turkey chili. I still have about 10 pounds of turkey to get through, so I am getting a little desperate.

Which is why the kids are taking turkey legs for lunch tomorrow. Please don't tell them. It's a surprise.

I am slowly adding recipes to What's Mommy Doing so feel free to head over there if you, too have a turkey in your fridge that is starting to smell funny.