Mal Mots avec Franny: Franny In Revolt

On Friday Franny came home and apologized for being late, and said she was exhausted. She had been told that day that she was going to help with the school’s packing efforts in service of their site move into their former building, now refurbished, for next school year. Her advisor told her that she would not be able to register for her classes next year if she didn’t, because the packing counted toward her required community service totals. So she had stayed behind packing for two hours after her classes ended.

My antenna went up. “Didn’t you already take two classes this year that count toward community service?” I asked. She was DJing at a very small local station and helping out with a school for kids with developmental disabilities.

“Yes,” she said.

“Hmm…I’m just going to shoot a little email to the Superintendent’s office clarifying if this is a district policy.”

I didn’t have a problem with her packing. Not at all. I think it would be/is good for her for a few reasons. I didn’t care for the way it was presented as a threat, at the last minute, and I felt uncomfortable with the reliance on student labor. The whole thing just screamed “future unnecessary lawsuit,” which. C’mon school district. You don’t need that. (NOT to be filed by me, I will add.)

I sent the email on a Friday afternoon (CC’ing the ombudsman’s office) explaining the situation. I asked if this was official policy because I was concerned about Franny being barred from registering from classes her sophomore year. I heard nothing back, which was fine. I had made my attempt.

Yesterday Franny’s classes ended and she made ready to start four hours of packing when the principal and her advisor cornered her. She called me afterwards because she was grumpy and this is what she said happened.

“I got an email from your mom. I heard she complained about you having to pack,” the principal said.

“She sent an email asking the Superintendent if I was going to be prevented from registering for classes if I didn’t pack,” she replied. I’m sure the SI’s office forwarded my email to the principal, so he knows exactly what I said. I figured if I sent it right to him it would disappear.

He asked her a few more questions and she told him to talk to me. “She’s the one who sent the email,” she said.

“I will email her, then,” he said. No reply yet. I don’t care either way.

Franny said once she wouldn’t discuss her thoughts with them on the matter, they double teamed her with some jive about building community and being a family.

“That is a thing people say when they want you to do something onerous and be quiet about it.” I told her about one of my first jobs in Seattle where someone tried that on me to build a case against a coworker who was suspected of stealing. “Anyone who is paid to spend time with you is not actually your family,” I said.

“It’s like they try to get close to you and get you to tell them your secrets so they can pull this shit on you,” she said.

“Manipulation?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. She is very sensitive to manipulation.

“Do you want to leave?”

“I should stay.”

A vile person once told me that there is a Buddhist principle (and I am sure this is mangled) about giving of yourself or your time. And about how if you can give it freely, it’s a gift, but if you’re going to resent it terribly, it’s probably not worth it. It has a price. At this point it was obvious that it was volunteerism presented under false pretenses, and I thought it was her choice if she gave of herself or not. I shared this thought with her and she said she would stay. No problem. I told her I was proud of the way she had handled them coming at her.

She came home after six, exhausted, and while we were in the middle of Monday Night Dinner with my sister on the patio. “I feel like my spine is going to crawl out of my back,” Franny said.

I threw Buddhism for Assholes out the window and intervened.

“I forbid you to go tomorrow,” I said. “There. Your mom is being a Crotchasaurus Rex and will not let you stay. Done.”

“Oh good,” she said, relieved.

She left this morning bright and early for her last day of her freshman year. “Are you serious about me not staying?” she asked. Yes! I said. “Okay, I’m off to ‘protest,” she said. “I’ll call you.”

In Other News

I picked up P. from the train station on Sunday after his visit to Portland. He had his father’s bike with him. It had been kind of kicking around at his widow’s house since he died a few years ago. It’s one of those really nice ones that weighs about as much as a paperclip.

We hung around for the afternoon and I made salmon cakes for dinner. We ate on the patio, as we’ve been doing almost every day it hasn’t rained, which has been most days. Strudel had eaten an extremely late lunch (3 p.m.) and was behind on her weekend chores, so she was not sitting with us and would eat a bit later. As we were finishing, I noticed that P. had some salmon bones on his plate. I had worked really carefully to pick all the bones out before seasoning and mixing the salmon with veggies.

“Oh man, I got bones in yours!” I said.

“It’s okay,” he said.

I was being a little silly and overly solicitous, and carried on with things. “Your welcome home dinner should not have bones in it.” Franny picked her up empty plate and rose to walk towards the house.

“It’s okay, guys,” she said, over her shoulder. “You can have bones in your welcome home dinner. Everyone likes a good WELCOME HOME BONING! AM I RIGHT?” She finished by laughing like Gordon Shumway and went into the house.

I laid my head down on the table, next to my empty plate.

“I guess we were not as quiet as we thought earlier,” P. said, softly.

“Am I dead now? I would like to be dead,” I said. I felt my face catch on fire.

In OTHER other news

I applied to a program for women that is a “pre-apprenticeship” for trades and I got in. I’m very excited. It’s a 12-week course and it’s meant to address any gaps women might have that might make them fall short when applying for union apprenticeship in a trade.

They explore several trades and take you to job sites, and can help with things like math. Some women who are underemployed or single moms get grants to cover living expenses. Mostly I am interested in making connections with people in the industry, since I am doing decently in my tech math class. I made it clear I didn’t want to take away financial help from others and she said they don’t bar people based on income. Awesome. So I will pay for my boots, some opportunities, etc.

I had emailed last week to ask about the Tuesday orientation and the program manager said, “Why don’t you just come in for an interview on Monday?” It sounds like they need to fill seats. In the email she said there would be some paperwork and a “physical.” I interpreted this as a blood pressure check and peeing in a cup. Wrong!

I ran flights of stairs (timed), planked for 3 minutes (fell twice), did as many push ups and sit ups as I could, and more. I was not actually expecting a physical test and hadn’t eaten breakfast, only coffee, since I thought I’d be in and out in an hour. WHOOPS.

“Wow, this stairwell is really hot,” my test administrator commented. It was at least 85 F in there. “This weeds some people out right away. They refuse to even try the exercises,” she said. “But you’re doing great.”

Before that I did a math, reading, and tool ID test, which I passed. The math portion was pretty easy. I think the test I will have to sit for to get into the union will be much harder. I believe I am set on a trade, but I’m going to keep an open mind for the next few weeks, in case I see something that turns my head. I’ll let you know if/when I am accepted.

I’m very excited about this change. At the grocery store the other night Franny asked me what I wanted to be when I was her age. I thought about it. “A truck driver or a farmer,” I said.

My interviewer, who I think is going to be my case manager, asked me why I wanted to switch to trades. I told her I like to think and be on my feet, and work with my hands. “Tech was safe when my girls were little,” I explained. I could stay up with them crying or puking all night and come in to work and be a zombie and not worry about putting someone in danger. It was a steady paycheck. She has kids and she nodded along.

“And now you’re free to do what you want to do,” she said. “I get it.”

WHEW SCHOOL STARTED; Or, In Which No One Was Killed/Died


JESUS CHRISTO MAN. I thought it was bad when they were little. This tail end of summer was probably one of the worst. But still, very survivable. I am in very good and even temper lately, for the most part. I still get into these hard black moods occasionally where I know I am white knuckling and not yelling at them veeeeery deliberately. Because that would just be mean and pointless. They are just kids, after all.

I did yell last night when Edith’s squeaky alien made its 36th reappearance in the kitchen while I was fixing supper after I had asked Strudel to play fetch outside. I have PMS.

Franny got out of her bitchy mood (mostly) by going to school, though she is very tired now and laments the long, standing-room-only, bus ride home. I try to remind her that if she went to her neighborhood school, it would be 40 minutes instead of an hour, and it would be on foot in the rain and snow (uphill both ways) and she gives me a YEAH YEAH LADY.

She has already made a passel of new friends and they are following her around. It was discovered on the first day that the freshlet group she has fallen in with does not smoke pot or cigarettes (so she says). I said, “Good, that will make it easier to not start, if you’re surrounded by healthy people.” Kids there have hair every color of the rainbow, so she fits right in, appearance-wise.

Yesterday I was having a bad reaction to ghee I had made and was lying in my yard like a useless loaf, with brain fog and covered in fresh blisters that had ripped across my ribcage overnight. Franny came home and loomed over me, dumping her day on me and announced that she had picked her class schedule.

“Japanese, algebra, yoga, a history class where we’re going to design a game like Settlers of Catan but it’s about Ancient Rome, printmaking, and I don’t have time in my schedule for Black Studies and it’s pissing me off. Maybe Farm if I have space. And there’s no women’s studies this semester. Boo.”

“Can I come with?” I said.

JUST KIDDING. I said: “That sounds great, honey,” and then I started crying a little again, because 1. PMS and 2. I am so happy for her. I think she’s going to have a great time. I am so happy she did not choose our neighborhood high school.

“I have a tear,” I said.

“OH MOM. And I’m frontloading science because it’s BORING, so I can take mostly art classes later.”

I hope that this weirdo school makes her fall in love with science. That would be so awesome.

I guess I have less to say about Strudel, because she’s in the same school, just up a level. She’s in a 3-4 split, and is in a minority of fourth graders. The cool thing is that she is kind of over the moon with how respectful, thoughtful, kind, and engaged her new teacher is.

I was sad, sick, and tired in the last school year, and pretty up my own butt (I am still all of those things but in a different way right now), so I did not tell you how AWFUL Strudel’s third grade teacher was, I don’t think. I kind of couldn’t bear to write about the situation.

I nicknamed her Von Hoots because she had a long German name, and we had to make light of things somehow. I was a squeaky wheel about this teacher, sometimes squeaking from where I was stuck in bed, even. I wanted to go down there and arf arf at them in person when things were really bad, but I was having trouble walking when things were the worst. So it was email.

There was an additional complication in the form of an interim principal last year. I really don’t think that helped matters. Von Hoots was a yeller, and would call the kids names, like little brats and so forth. She had a bunny that she would bring in twice a week, which the class enjoyed. After xmas break she announced to the kids that the bunny had died of starvation because she went out of town and forgot to feed it. Strudel said there were tears in the classroom. I don’t think children should be shielded from all reality, but Jesus Fuckity. Sugarcoat the passing of the beloved classroom bunny A LITTLE.

Von Hoots was random about homework. Some weeks she “didn’t feel like” running copies. She didn’t bother scheduling spring conferences, not that we would have deigned to go. Strudel got very high scores on her statewide assessment tests, which was not communicated to us (or anyone) in the spring. We just found out that she qualified to take the advanced learning tests again this year. She takes them almost every year and has been falling shy by about a point or two each time. I am going to contest it this year and see if they have room for her. The kid is already complaining that there is only 30 minutes a day devoted to math. (“ASK FOR EXTRA!” I said.) She wants to find a Mathletes club like Lindsay from Freaks and Geeks. LOL times infinity.

“Today I heard Von Hoots yelling at her new class,” Strudel said yesterday.

“ON DAY TWO??” I asked.

ANYWAY, out with the asshole, in with the newhole.


Gardening! I’ve been doing a tiny fragment of gardening. I planted an orange mint plant and a Greek oregano in my patio pots, and P. went out front and made some changes. I had started digging up the front yard but stopped because P. wanted to transplant the mature, large herb shrubs that were in that bed (rosemary, lavender, sage, some bonus heather). I HATE digging in this yard because you go down 4 inches and it is all rock. We have a theory that much of the rock from when this neighborhood was created got dumped in our yard, and topsoil was placed over the top of that.

So he dug holes in the back at the outside of the chicken pen and transplanted them! The yard is looking a bit more garden yardy nice, the way we like it, instead of serious mature shrubs and sad, vast patches of grass.

So here is the before, from when I attacked in July:

The left open square is now short sunflowers that were planted too late! But it’s okay. We might get a couple of blooms before October.

Here is now:

Winter greens surrounding the quince tree that we planted in the spring, and garlic to the right of that. I think this is the best use of the front yard. We also want to put up a grape arbor that will shade the living room window in the summer and admit light in the winter.

I was very glib about owning a house, and he agreed to do the paperwork, since I could barely think and was so le tired. Frankly, I was overwhelmed with terror about the paperwork. I think this was more bad brain stuff. I had a lot of anxiety with the bathroom as well, because OMG decisions. I said I would handle the decorating and the bills later, which I have been.

But now: I SEE A BENEFIT!! He planted weird trees!!!

HAZELNUTS, YAY! Okay, not so weird. But I have not lived in a rental here with hazelnuts in the yard.

They get to be friends with the cherry trees at the other end of the yard. We (okay, HE) is going to plant a medlar in the chicken pen. We also have plans for persimmon and gooseberry. We will can like it is 1899.

Also…I mean this for reals this time. BEES. Bees are coming. It was on my list when we moved in, but now I think we can pull it off.


I am spending a lot of time with the dogs, as is my life plan, but now they don’t have the stimulation of work, nor do I have Franny to lean on to walk them. When she was here this summer I was having her walk them an hour a day, which was my sneaky plan to get her out of the house into the sunshine for a minute before she went back to Mario Kart and sulking.

I have been trying them out at dog parks, where they can run a bit and I can sit if I need to. Yesterday they made a friend. Cavaliers always find each other.

That is Jackson. His dog walker/sitter said, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. He always finds a person on a bench and sits with them, otherwise I do it for him while the other dogs run.” He hung with us. It was cool.

The spaniels enjoy the dog park, but they like to watch. Edith does a little frolicking but Horace stays glued to me and makes terrible singing noises of anxiety. He likes dogs he knows.

Here they are, creeping on the other dogs like ChiMos. Bonus: my teal boob.

They are such good comfort dogs, which is their point. I feel so lucky to have them around, especially in this past year. It is doing me really good to have living stuffed animals that I can hug and hug and that love this treatment. I felt bad when I was too sore in February to have them in my lap, but they adapted. They lay near me now, touching me, and get into my lap with permission. Before February, they would just assume they could jump up, but I said OUCH too many times when I was acutely ill.

Edith is SO SPOILT that not only does she get a lap during Citadels, she also gets a napkin chin pillow.


I thought he was alarmed so she put him down and then he begged for more by doing a little dance on the blanket, so she rewrapped him and he was very happy. When Horace wants something, he does a jolly tail wagging dance, and Edith spins in circles. I need to video this.


Speaking of things I cannot eat right now, like tacos, my sister and I went to Leavenworth on the 25th last month. We tootled around for about eight hours, and had a late dinner. I had most of our bottle of wine, since I was not driving, and then I lost my noodles and ate two pieces of bread that were left on the table.

I had been doing so well ordering the right things all day, and ignoring crackers at wine tastings, etc. And I thought, PFFT, who cares, I will have a bummer day tomorrow and then get over it. Well, I slept 12 hours and then struggled out of bed. I was shaking, had cold sweats, a fever, and broke out in blisters on my torso. My brain was sludge and I was instantly depressed. I have drunk more since then and have not felt hungover or flulike the way this was.

So that was my last bite of bread for a long while. Maybe ever. I wrangled P. up for a Whole30 this month, and Strudel is voluntarily joining too, though I am sending her to school with kefir in her lunchbox. She seems okay on fermented dairy. She knows wheat bothers her, as I’ve mentioned, and she said she suspects corn does too. So we will readd that in October.

I did my first Whole30 in May. We’ve been doing Paleo-ish for a few months now, but I let wheat creep back in incidentally, by not checking labels and going out to “unsafe” restaurants and rolling the dice with being cross contaminated. Let me say, I believed all allergies and Celiac was very real, but I thought diets with strict proscriptions and industries around them were extremely unappealing. I remembered Atkins from its big wave of popularity, and thought it sounded CRAZY (I don’t think that anymore now that I understand more of the science around it). Worse, I thought it was a temporary fix, and then where did you go from there?

I am rarely more than 20 pounds overweight (I usually hover between ten and twenty over), but I tried watching my diet for so many years, not really to lose weight, but to feel good and get more energy. I tried counting calories to see what I was doing wrong. I could not shake the last ten pounds even when I was training like a maniac to take the cop physical test in ’08. One fall I tried going back to healthy vegetarian, as opposed to the “french fry” vegetarian I was in college, and I felt worse and gained weight and bloat. I ran screaming back to meat.

Ultimately, sadly, the only diet that was working for the past 2-3 years was to eat as little as possible throughout the day so my stomach wouldn’t hurt. I worried about how little I ate sometimes and marveled at how I still didn’t lose weight. Perhaps I had shot my metabolism, I thought. I was afraid of “acid stomach” (searing stomach pain that could last 24 hours) and producing room-clearing gas in public and at work. I started my day with a giant coffee, a yogurt, and a shot of apple cider vinegar, which was a hack I’d found for preventing the acid stomach and heartburn (another attempt to chip away at my symptoms, like tea tree for my rosacea). I let myself eat on the weekend and felt horrible. This chart could have been written about me.

Meat, LOTS of veg, some fruit and nuts is working. So this diet I can see doing for life. No measuring anything, except eyeballing proportions of carbs/fats/proteins. No calorie counting. I am not bothering with “gluten-free substitutes.” I had long lost my taste for pastries and those kinds of sweets, anyway. I think I knew on some level what was making me ill. My hair has stopped falling out. People who see me often have complimented the state of my skin, which looks better than it has for ten years. My spark still comes and goes. There is nothing like brain fog to kill your joie de vivre. Sometimes I am sad and sometimes I have okay energy and have to tell myself “Okay grandma, don’t overdo.” The diet aspect is pretty easy because we’ve been doing GF in fits and starts with the girls to see if it helped their stomachaches (it always did).

My clothes are already looser, and it’s not just bloat lost. It might be weird to be thin, since I have pretty much looked the same (carrying my winter coat around with me) since I was about nineteen or twenty. I gained that weight in college and I remember my mother panicking about how “obese” I had gotten (that lady is just a delight). I just accepted that I was kind of round. I yam what I yam, I figured. So that is a smaller consideration. I still wake up marveling that I don’t have a splitting headache every day, that I can drink moderate amounts of wine with no hangover, that I don’t spend all night rolling over on a huge puffed stomach after dinner. I keep touching my skin, which is smooth, unless I have a hives day. Hives day used to be every day.

ANYWAY. Whew, coming down off the soapbox. Also, no judging. And no Crossfit. I like my walks and yoga, thank you. I don’t care what you do, as long as it’s right for your body.

I forgot to bring my camera to Leavenworth, so we went and had our likenesses made. I need to find a frame, because this is going in a place of honor in my house. My face already looks less puffy than it does here. This picture is extra special, because it is also secretly August 25th The Last Day I Intentionally Ate Wheat. I will never have a Victorian year again, unless it’s a gluten-free one. HA.

Dumber and Dumbest

Edith has now lived through her first fireworks extravaganza. In fact, she was not alive a year ago on the fourth. New Year’s came when she was six months old, and was pretty quiet up here in the northlands of Seattle, with only a few scattered bottle rockets and bangs, but the fourth pretty much goes on all week. I think it was a little calmer leading up to it because everyone knew it was on a Friday this year, kicking off a longer weekend.

Hot doggy

I keep prescription dog drugs in the house for fireworks. We call it Sleepy Cheese and it is a joyous event to receive druggy dog Communion in the form of half a pill in a cheddar packet.

I doped them up well before sundown, but with Edith, I’m not sure I needed to bother. She’s just so unflappable about things that seem like they’d be a big deal in Dog Land. Mysterious, unseen booms send Horace skittering under a chair, or better yet up on the bathroom counter, or, ideally, up on a person. Edith, outdoors, raised her head slightly at a sound that could be downtown being attacked by bomber jets, blinked slowly, and squatted to pee, her complete lack of fucks evident.

Horace is also terrified of most other dogs, even ones he knows well, except Edith, of course. I took him to a dog beach recently, and he spent most of the time skittering at my legs with sandy paws, or on my lap, crying like a toddler past his naptime, howling in terror when another dog approached to say butt-hello. A dog belonging to a person I know from work approached us and Horace turned away, facing in to my chest. “SAVE ME FROM THIS,” his eyes pleaded. So I did.

Edith stood on the edge of the lake as the water lapped in, her perpetually wagging tail greeting all passersby. She didn’t much care where we were or what was happening, and was just as excited that we were leaving, since that would mean ONWARD OMG.

“Aw, look at the cute little Cavalier,” dog owners said as Edith smiled at them as we left.

“What was that? Was that dog having a seizure?” others said, as they saw Horace squirming in my arms, eyes rolling around in his head to expose the whites as we quickly made for the exit gate.

They do work as a team, though. For a while I thought Edith was about as smart as a bag of hair, and then I realized that Horace is simply her guide dog. She does not have to think or look at me, she can just follow exactly what he’s doing. She is nearly silent, but her bark is slightly different than Horace’s, and she never barks on cue. There is something about her bark, no kidding, that sounds like Judy Garland’s singing voice (pre-1960s comback concerts). It’s nice.

“Speak!” I say to Edith, and she sneezes at me. Noting that cookies are being issued, Horace runs up and begins skittering around, doing his pre-bark behavior, which is sneezing and quiet woofling. Finally, he barks and I give him a cookie, as if to say, “See, lady, this is how you do it.”

“Speak,” I say again, to Edith, giving her the hand signal at the same time. Every time she looks at Horace, and he speaks for her. If he dares to remain silent, she kicks him and bites his ear.

Horace looks at me as I give commands throughout the day. Inside, outside, up, down, sit. Edith watches him every time. If I speak directly to Edith she runs to Horace and begins kicking him frantically. “This is the guy you want, see? I was nowhere near the park at the time the mugging took place.” He succeeds in her stead and she literally steals the cookie out of his mouth. He opens the food puzzles at work, and she follows in his wake, gobbling up his spoils like Ms. Pac Man on dots.

Recently at work Edith ran over to someone in my area who was giving their dog a treat. “I don’t have any for you, sorry.” Edith saw the hand signal that I use for “No more,” which can apply to food or the end of one of our futile training sessions. Edith took this in and immediately turned and came back to me.

“So you do know things, you devil!” I said to her, louder than I meant to.

Edith looked away from me and promptly kicked Horace like a recalcitrant jukebox. “Translate,” she said to him.

Edith is a family dog, no one’s dog. She seems to love everyone pretty much equally, especially if they are holding food. She’s happy as long as we’re somewhat nearby, and will lean on someone’s leg or sit in a lap if it’s convenient and not too hot. She doesn’t make demands, really, just shows up and is confident someone will pet her or say hello.

Horace, the Edward Cullen of Cavaliers, is MY DOG and wants everyone to know it. When he sits on a foreign lap he stares intently at me constantly as if to say, “I know if looks like I’m visiting someone else, but I’m thinking of you the WHOLE TIME.” He likes to be glued to me. I think if he could be, he would meld his furry body into mine, or climb into my mouth.

This morning I let the dogs out and left the back door open, so they could let themselves in through my curtain style screens. I went back to bed, which is a luxury of summer Sundays when I don’t have to wait by the door or outside in the drizzle to let them back in. After a couple of minutes I heard jolly trotting in the hall and SPROING! Edith popped up and flopped down next to me in the crook of my elbow. Horace’s spot.

Horace followed about a minute later: SPROING! He thought he would scootch in to his customary place but there was a hateful red dog there, Precious. I could see his tiny brain working and his eyebrows crinkling as he decided what to do. It was simple–he would climb over the other dog and lay on her head. I stopped him, my hand out like a traffic cops’s, at the edge of where she was resting comfortably. He gave me a hurt look of confusion and spent several minutes stewing at the end of the bed, staring at me, glaring at Edith, making impatient little huf huf noises and sneezing. I ignored him and continued reading.

After a couple more minutes, Edith got too warm as she always did, and moved to her preferred space nearer to my feet. Horace whooshed in to be spooned, making a satisfied grunt as he settled in, gazing into my eyes creepily.

Moodily waiting for me to get this blasted laptop off my lap.

What is comes down to, ultimately, is that Horace is very concerned with what we are doing and what is happening, and Edith just isn’t. Edith is not smart enough to be scared of sensible things, and Horace is smart enough to do a bundle of tricks but not smart enough to know what will and won’t hurt him. Edith’s got a strong interest in dog work, like running and rolling in disgusting crap and hoovering the floor after I cook. Horace is afraid of my feisty cat, Nightmere, smoke alarms, chickens, fans, Ceiling Dog (there is a mirror on the ceiling of the elevator at work), and of being ignored by me.

However, I walked the dogs to Strudel’s camp the other day, and saw a different side of Edith the Glib, Edith the Feckless, Edith the Casualier. As we crossed the parking lot, Edith lost her mind. If she hadn’t been leashed, she’d probably be halfway to the border by now. I looked for a squirrel, a cat, another dog–nothing. A perfectly ordinary orange cone was tipped on its side in the parking lot and was apparently giving Edith the hairy eyeball.

“THE FUCK IS THAT THING?” Edith barked, yoyoing around to the limits of her leash and back. “THE FUCK IS IT DOING?”

Horace looked similarly puzzled; though, to be fair, puzzlement is not an uncommon look for him. I subtly cheated our route towards the sinister cone so we could all investigate further. Edith dropped to her belly and crept towards it like it was a giant hissing cobra. Horace walked to it nonchalantly, barely sniffing it, since it was so uninteresting.

“What is that, Edith?” I said. She continued to squirm on the ground, trying to be brave with every fiber of her doofy being.

Horace gave it a little kick and Edith’s face went WOOOOOW and set off another round of barking. He gave me a look, which, if he were human, would have involved him jerking his thumb at her and saying, “Can you even believe this lady?”


I spent some time in the backyard today, hogging all the vitamin D to myself while P. did more demo work in the basement. I came downstairs after to take a shower and change. I was freshly out of the shower and in the midst of switching laundry when he called to me through one of the open studs.

“Are you naked over there?” he asked. Wishful, bored thinking.

“No, but I am wearing a very unflattering robe,” I said.


“No, I said ‘unflattering.’ Also my cellulite is especially prominent today.”

“Wow are you doing this wrong,” he said.



Strudel had a bunch of reward tickets stolen from her on one of the last days of school in June. The tickets were awarded for good behavior, extra effort, and various jobs throughout the year, and were meant to be spent on the last day of school in a classroom prize “auction.” It was especially a bummer because she had earned the most tickets in the class, and her name was written on all of them, so whomever stole them could not even spend them.

She borrowed a ticket from a friend and left it out on her chair, while she went to another part of the classroom, and watched her desk. Sure enough, a kid came along and looked in her desk and ganked the ticket. This led to a full search of his desk, which turned up all 300-plus tickets with her name written on them.

She excitedly told me the story, which was great to hear after the previous day when she had returned home defeated and glum about the theft. P. and I discussed buying her some prize to make up for it, since it really wasn’t her fault.

“You’re like Sherlock,” I said, high-fiving her. “You solved the crime and now you can go play your violin.”

“I went into my mind palace for ideas,” she said.

Keep practicing, kid.

Transformation: Surprise

Dear GD Diary:


I’m at the laundromat for the first time in many years. Strudel was up betimes and surprised me by asking if she could come with me. Who wants to go to a laundromat? People who have not spent time there, I guess. When I was very small my grandmother didn’t have a washer and dryer—I’m not even sure if there was a hook up at her rural trailer. We went together every week.

I remember playing outside when it was warm, in the dirt with the other kids who had been dragged along. If there was snow on the ground we would stay inside and the windows would fog up. Sometimes I would be allowed to get something out of the vending machine. I thought it was marvelous, actually, but there was no schlepping for me.

“Aw, I’m sorry I’m going to miss the laundromat,” Franny said, on the way out the door to her dad’s house. Hilarious. Bless her little privileged heart.

Mere surveys the brand new floor hole.

Franny informs me that SeaFed has been made to cut down the pot plant he was growing outside in his garden.

“Did he get a sick harvest?” I asked.

“No. You know our neighbor, Joe, who is 89? He was tired of smelling it. Every time he had his window open he said he could smell it.”

“Maybe he was worried because it’s illegal, too,” I said. “Some people don’t like being around that stuff.”

Currently I am not allowed to do anything that reminds Franny of her father. This means I am not allowed use the word “fresh” as an adjective (he saw my El Camino and declared it “fresh”, giving her a mini-stroke of teenaged embarrassment). I am not allowed to make chili, since that is one of his only meals, and apparently he makes it too often. I am not allowed to play certain music if it reminds her of her father. I am not allowed to say that Robin Thicke does anything but contribute to rape culture (this is an easy one). I have heard Robin Thicke is “fresh” also.

Sometimes it is hard to remember how to act since I was kind of finished being raised by my marriage, and unfortunately my partner in (literal) crime was a b-boy who wore falling down khakis and said “the bomb” a lot. Sometimes I want to say “fresh” too, but I try to mix it up for her sake.

The death of Cool Toilet, Jr. Almost pictured: the driveway portapotty


P’s mother, who is Strudel’s grandmother, is dying. She has an official diagnosis as of a few months ago. It could get her quickly in the next couple of years, or it could go on for quite some time. When he and I were dating a million years ago, before Strudel appeared, I made an effort to get to know his family. His parents split when he was 25, shortly before I met him. I got along well with his father and found dealing with his mother, who retained his childhood home, challenging.

His father had six children, three with P’s mother and three with his first wife. All of the first batch of children eventually came to live with P’s mother and father in Portland. They lived in a giant, grand, multi-storey house that was built by the architect of the park it overlooked. It looks like the Addams Family house mated with a ski lodge. They were the third owners.

P’s mother is a special lady, hard to describe in some ways. She describes herself as “on the spectrum” and has been attempting to manage that for many years. Even so, she was always able to connect with children, in ways she absolutely could not connect with adults. Unless something has gone wrong, most children are simple—easy to see what motivates them, pretty easy to make them happy.

Over the past ten years or so we have watched P’s childhood home decline along with its sole occupant, which has been sad but unsurprising. It was only modernized to a certain point, and then it sort of froze in time after the divorce. P’s mother scraped by on her investments and made huge expenditures when she could, like reroofing. What made sense to us and the rest of her children was selling it as part of the divorce and moving into something more manageable. It had been a long time since there were six children and two adults living there.

In the meantime, things got more strained between P and his mother. He confided in me that he felt his mother just didn’t like him very much when he outgrew being a simple child. I told him that I found that surprising; she always took his calls, always accepted his visits. She visited us once, four or so years ago, but he told me when I came home from work that day that she had spent the whole brief visit in the yard talking with Franny. P overheard her praising Franny for being “skinny,” which worried and upset him.

“I think I need to take a little break from dealing with my mother,” he said.

“What will you do when she calls?” I asked.

“She never calls me,” he said.

And she didn’t. I wondered if it was really him or the fact that she was “on the spectrum” and was so locked into her many daily routines it simply didn’t occur to her. Sometimes the outcome is the same regardless of the cause.

P talked about buying his childhood home. We discussed it as a candidate for our future inn. It was, after all, an historic building with large bedrooms next to a beautiful park. We knew it would probably eat hundreds of thousands to restore, update the kitchen, and to add bathrooms to (incredibly, it only had one shower in one full bathroom plus a half bath and W.C. that P’s father had added–one full bath! Six kids!). We thought we had time to decide and buy his siblings out. We thought it would probably destroy us, but we’re both masochists and Catholics by nurture, so it would have been game on.

Instead we got a surprise on Friday: his mother had finally decided to sell and move into assisted living. She told him and his brother via an email. “Pending my move to Evergreen Manor, would you like to come and get some of your Christmas ornaments?” P was in a panic. Did his brother know about all of this and neglect to tell him? Did his mother forget to tell him with her neurological condition? He made phone calls but couldn’t reach anyone. His brother had never set up voicemail since that cost money. P is possibly the only escapee from a lesser John Irving novel. He has fled to me, and now lives in a Wes Anderson movie.

P finally got a hold of his mother. The timing is unfortunate since the bottom has fallen out of the market, of course, and apparently the furnace is broken. P asked her what her asking price was and she refuses to tell him. She knows he is interested in keeping it in the family, in restoring it.

So I believe we are spending part of Xmas in Portland this year. He made noises about helping when he is there, but I tried to talk him out of it. I was imagining him getting sucked into Havisham Manor himself and never getting out from under the stacks of boxes that filled every bedroom. “Just visit with people,” I pleaded. “Say goodbye to the house. We’ll take pictures.”

I assume she’s retiring from her volunteer gig with the children of Portland. Thirty years worth of children know her name and her face; she had an honored seat in the children’s parade for many years. I have been cross, bitter. I realized I was still hanging on to anger from when P’s father died and she did not say one word of condolences to him about losing his father. The divorce became another person in the family and never left again. I am not going to tell the girls these stories. I need to let it go.


On a “lighter” note, our neighbor still hates us. She launched a massive yard cleanup project this summer that mostly seemed to involve our yard. She wanted all of our shrubs cut back, and offered to have “her guys” cut our stuff back. I have to admit I missed a lot of this stuff. I am out and about on the weekends a lot, running errands or seeing friends, or taking the girls places. I would come home and P would tell me “her guy” had come to the door and asked if he could cut the lilacs back under Strudel’s window. I looked on the side of the house and they had been reduced to one-foot twigs.

“Uh,” I said. “Are those even going to grow back?” In one of P’s former lives he worked as an arborist and knows about these things.

“Eventually,” he said.

There was also a massive cleanup of mature plantings on the narrow strip next to our driveway. When we applied for construction permits recently, our contractor, jolly Mike Ehrmantraut, commented that our houses are very close together, which we’d noticed.

“That wouldn’t be allowed now,” JME commented. I wish it wasn’t allowed then.

The details of exactly what was discussed between P and the yard guy are not entirely clear to me. It’s P’s understanding that our neighbor was going to put a line of arborvitae on the edge of her driveway to block us out after the cleanup, which was fine with us. I was surprised when she decided to almost double the size of her driveway, leaving very little room for the arborvitae.

We woke up one Sunday morning in September to hear the sounds of shoveling. I peeked out of the curtain. The ongoing cleanup and driveway projects always took place on Sundays. P speculated that it was the guy from her normal lawn service who was working under the table on weekends.

“Shit,” I said, still groggy. “The neighbor is having our yard dug up.” I threw on pants and went out in a hoodie with rat’s nest hair, feeling myself wake up a little bit from that Oh Good Here Comes a Confrontation feeling.

“Say, friend,” I said, finally coming face-to-face with her lawn guy myself. “It looks like you’re digging up our yard there.”

The guy immediately bristled at me, reddening. I hate to make this sound like something out of Dickens, but he was one of those guys who is so shiny you can’t tell if it’s oil or…well, he looked greasy. He had bleached blond hair with little roots creeping in. He stood supervising while another man shoveled up the turf on our side.

“I made this agreement with your HUSBAND,” he spat at me.

“Really? I’m pretty sure he didn’t tell you to dig up our yard and plant arborvitae on our property.”

“It’s on the LINE,” he informed me. “I don’t get paid enough to deal with this. I talked this over with your husband and he said this was okay.”

P appeared next to me. “No, I didn’t,” he said.

“Go talk to HER about this,” the guy said, pointing at our neighbor’s door. “It sounds like YOUR HUSBAND is changing his story now,” he said to me. Rut roh. Them’s fighting words.

We knocked on our neighbor’s door and she came out in her robe. Can I say how wonderful it is to argue about bushes in your pajamas at 8 a.m. on a Sunday? I’m sure you can picture it.

We had a talk with her and the lawn guy continued to interject in a hostile manner. He told us he should have spoken to THE WIFE in the first place. He told us we were WAY OVER OUR HEADS with this yard of ours (???). He tried to insinuate a couple more times that P was a big fat liar.

“It sounds to me,” I said. “Like P’s understanding of what was happening was that you were putting up a line of arbor vitae. We didn’t hear that you were expanding your driveway until we saw it happening. Neither of us would have agreed to let you plant anything on our side.”

“It’s just a FEW FEET either way,” the guy said.

“Well, there’s a reason the city recognizes property lines,” I said. There was NO WAY I was going to walk down that road. What if the arborvitae died? What if she decided that it had become her property since she paid for the upkeep? What if something happened and we had to cut the arborvitae down? (Like, say, an attack of spite.)

“No one, in the time I’ve lived here, has kept that property of yours up,” my neighbor said. “I paid to have a bunch of your bushes cut back this summer. It looks much better now.”

“Well, I’m not happy with the work your men did under my daughter’s window. I liked those lilacs, and now they will not bloom for several springs. And if we’re splitting hairs about the aesthetics of other people’s yards, I think arborvitae are hideous, and I would never agree to let you plant them in our yard.”

“But your HUSBAND AGREED,” the guy said.

“We are saying ‘NO’ right now,” I said to my neighbor. “I’m sorry. This is why you get things in writing.”

Later he drove away, his truck full of arborvitae.

We went home and thought about drafting her a letter—formal, written notice that we wished to only speak to her about changes made on our property in the future and that we wished to have no more contact with her prick of a lawn guy. Ultimately we decided that would probably just exacerbate the situation. A week later I came home and noticed that there were surveyors on her property. I went out afterwards and made note of where the little pink flags were left—about two inches past the end of her driveway. So now we know where the property line is.

P.S. I finally got around to asking my delightful Canadian tech elf to fix up TQS. So if you ever wanted to spelunk it, it’s back in working order.

My act is officially on the road

Levity, in the face of tragedy. (I started this site two days before 9/11.)

Every day on the way to camp we pass a cemetery near my house. I love it and I wish I lived closer to it. I grew up two doors down from my village’s graveyard, and I spent MAD time there from the time I was 9 until I was 16 and moved into the city. Granted, there was not much of anywhere else to spend time. It was basically Strong Badia (Population: Tire), except it had convenience mart, weird stump, and bar. And that cemetery.

Anyway, back to driving.

Strudel: Mom, is that cemetery popular?

OMG was this happening again??

Me: *beat* Yes. People are DYING to get in!!

Strudel: Ha ha. *Seriousening* Mom, I’m serious. Are a lot of people buried there?

Me: Yes, it’s been around a long time. Want to go for a walk in it sometime?

Strudel: Okay, but not at night.


Shit Just Got Real

“MOM don’t look in my pants, there are secrets in there,” Franny said. I was about to stick a carton of orange juice down her pants while she was doing the dishes, because electrolytes.

“Really!” I said. “What kind?”

“I have a BUTT TATTOO of my face on my butt.”

“Oh, from when you were in prison?” I asked.

“Yes, this top crime guy offered to do it illegally while I was there. It is awesome to have a face on your butt. ASS FACE!”

Franny will be twelve in six days.

Uphill Both Ways

“Mom, what kind of American Girl Doll did you have when you were my age?”

Today Strudel gets a preview of the American Girl Doll at the mall that she could receive if she continues her good behavior until the beginning of September.

“They did not have them when I was a kid,” I said.

“WHAT,” Strudel sporfled. “What did you have then?!”

“We had dolls made out of dirt with sticks for arms.”

“What was their hair like?” she asked.

“Oh, some old yarn, like brown, because they did not have dyes then.”

“And the clothes?”

“Like a coal sack or something.”

“Man, that sounds ugly,” she said.

In Other News

I’m reading 11/22/63. Did I ever think I would read a Stephen King book ever again in my life? I did not. I read Thinner at nine and moved on to Christine and Cujo. I think the last thing I read by him was Gerald’s Game at 13. My mother was the horror fan–I just read everything and anything that was laying around this house. I could not resist the allure of JFK, however. I think this book was made for me, since I have every major player and event memorized. It’s like an old dance. This past winter I finally picked up Oswald’s Tale, which is awesome because it really focuses on his time in Russia, something that is often glossed over in the typical books in the Oswald/JFK canon. It is not awesome because it features the strong authorial voice of Norman Mailer, who spends a lot of time on the idea that Oswald is a closeted homosexual and implies that’s where his problems are rooted. Anyway, King. It smelled like riding the Mad Men zeitgeist, and when a girl in a Jantzen showed up it kind of cinched it. Sometimes you know you’re being manipulated but you buy a ticket to the show anyway.

The sign over the door says “Give Up”

In the dairy aisle, at that time in the a.m. when it is all nice little old ladies, con brio: “BLOODY HELL, MOTHER!” Tooo much Buffy and Spike. The blue heads swiveled. I wished I was dead. Franny wished she was dead. And we laughed.

At the Nordic Hertitage Museum

At sushi, with chopsticks and a miso spoon [nonchalantly]: “I’m unforkened!”


At the antique store, confidently: “This typewriter’s broken.”

“How can you tell?”

“There’s no screen.”

Tryyy the motherfucking veeeeal people!

En Roy Dotrice Nouvelles

Franny is gone for one week each to Colorado and the San Juans with her father. She has a bad attitude about it in the way of eleven-year-olds who are not being allowed to sit around unbathed, reading comic books in their pajamas. He took her one day early and it was a FEDERAL CASE to even arrange that.

He emailed me the day before to tell me to remind Franny to loot a bunch of clothes and stuff from my house since she doesn’t have enough for a week’s vacation. Of course I paraphrase, but I tell you it was not an ask. Which, you know, I am still smarting a little over that whole being sued thing last fall. I don’t really think paying a small amount of child support makes this the Bank of Franny Clothes, especially since she tells stories about our clothes being absorbed into hand-me-down boxes for his other children. TAKE AN HOUR OUT OF YOUR FAPPERY-FILLED DAY AND GO TO GOODWILL FFS. Am I off base here?

This is all just so SIGH. Picture me, waiting outside of the girls’ school last September, on a sunny fall day waiting for Strudel, and knowing that he is about to pick up Franny. I expected him to be in his car, but up he strolls, knowing that we have been exchanging nasty emails all summer, with his threats getting cranked up up up post-child support all the time until I knew he was about to sue me. Like, as I was standing there I was expecting summons that week.

“How’s it going?” he said, GLIBLY, as he walked up. UM I’M ABOUT TO GET SUED BITCH is how it’s going. P.S., by you. I don’t feel like chitty chatting.

I get tired of this push push pull, you know? But I cannot stand that car dealer mentality (I know, insulting to car dealers) where I am being pecked for everything on the off chance I might say yes, or maybe he thinks it’s legit? I cannot tell anymore.

Do you get locked into eternal combat with something or someone and then imagine yourself letting go? I let go of a lot of things–with other people, with work, with my girls. It’s better to give when you can. What do you do when you cannot give that one person anything, because you know you will never get anything in return and it won’t benefit your kid to boot and you are just empty? I cannot imagine what letting go looks like. I feel that this is a major personal flaw right now. I have sensible talks with myself about being mature and flexible and then I just imagine myself bending over and taking it up the butt with a bowling pin the size of the Eiffel Tower (try to sleep tonight now, I defy you).

I’d like to think that when the ink is dry on the parenting plan, which is coming, SOON, like it or not, I can let a lot of this go. I sure it’s been a long year reading all this blibber blubber about court, but I think I’m in the home stretch now. Then it’s the fun part–I’ve saved every bill and I’m going to add it up. ALL OF IT. It’s going to hoit. How’s that for an x-ray into Changing a Parenting Plan for Dummies, and We Do Mean That You Are a Dummy. And probably like a recap about what I did right and wrong.

The bummer part is that every situation is different and walking into a court room is a coin flip, but I tell you I would do it all again. There’s also some stuff I have to keep under my hat til the paperwork’s signed, and then…oh yes.

And then I am on to other things!

They Think They’re People

Franny sat slumped at the table with an English muffin and a mug when I came out to get my first glass of water.

“Is that tea?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said, stirring it as it steamed.”I really needed something to wake up this morning. I am sooo tired.” Franny has never been a morning person.

“What kind of tea are you drinking?”