Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My New Life

The best part of coming back to Cleveland are the joyous reunions, especially with the two special guys in my life who don't talk on the phone. While it's great to see my parents and my brothers, I talk to them fairly frequently. Kodiak and The Kid are who I really enjoy seeing again.

The first time I came back after moving to Ireland, I was worried that Kodiak wouldn't remember me. Or worse, would snub me like my cat did when I moved away to college. My fears were unfounded. One look at the Propeller Tail Happy Dance assured me that my first dog in life rememebered me and was as thrilled to see me as I was to see him.

Hanging out with The Kid gets better every year, since he's growing up into a fairly well-behaved and extremely interesting little person. He's 5 and started Kindegarten this year, so his world is expanding. He told me he's a scientist and it's so much fun to watch him approach new things and try to figure them out.

I spent all day on Sunday with Middle Brother and The Kid. We went to the Children's Museum and had great fun doing magic tricks, playing in the water system, and shopping/working in the grocery store. Then we went out to lunch, where The Kid was probably better behaved than I was during our long wait for the food to arrive. After that, it was off to the Art Museum. We had a leisurely stroll through a special European Masters exhibition and The Kid was the keeper of the audio tour.

It was on the way home that The Kid started to talk to me about my life and what he thinks I should do with it. He's beginning to really grasp how far away I am. My clever brother has put it into terms The Kid can understand - he's been on an airplane trip to South Carolina. I am 7 South Carolina trips away. The Kid understands that this means he only gets to see me once a year and I can't spontaneously come over to dinner or go to Chuck E. Cheese on a whim. Doesn't mean he has to like it.

The Kid: Auntie Ann, I think you should stay here.

Me: Oh yeah, Kiddie Kid. And how would I do that?

The Kid: You could rent a house here, near me.

Me: I suppose that's possible, but what about Uncle Peter?

The Kid (waves his hand dismissively): He can stay there.

Me (surprised, since I thought Uncle Peter would at least get a ticket to join me): All right, so say Peter does stay there...what about my job? I really like my job.

The Kid: You can cancel it.

Me: But if I cancel it, how can I afford to rent a house by you?

The Kid: My Papa [his grandfather on his mother's side] will give you money.

Me: Oh, I don't know if I want to take your Papa's money. That's not really fair to him. Do you think I could get a job?

The Kid: Yeah! You could work at Starbucks with my mama.

Me: I suppose I could do that. But I don't know. Would I have any benefits? What would be good about working at Starbucks?

The Kid: You would get to try all the drinks AND all the cookies.

Me: That sounds like a pretty good deal. What about a bonus?

MB: Yeah, you have to sweeten the deal here. Really sell it. What would be even better than trying all the drinks and cookies?

The Kid (pauses for a minute to think, then throws up his arms in a Eureka moment): My mama could train you!

Me: So let me get this straight - you want me to cancel my job, leave Uncle Peter behind, rent a house by you, and get a job at Starbucks?

The Kid: Yes. You also should have a kid.

Me: Oh, really? And where would I get a kid?

The Kid: They come out of girls's tummies. You're a girl, so you should be able to get one pretty easy.

We pulled into my parents' driveway at this point and The Kid scrambled out of the car, leaving me to think about my possible new life. I hate to disappoint the little guy, but I really like my old new life in the Middle of Nowhere.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Father's Daughter

Sorry, no Fun Monday for me this week, for reasons that will become clear momentarily.

When I was in college, it was my dad's job to pick me up at the end of the year. He was the perfect candidate for the job. He likes driving on the highway while listening to loud music, he went to the same college, and he's brilliant at packing. That packing bit was very important, since I'd always manage to accummulate a lot more stuff than I'd gone down with at the beginning of the school year.

The family car at the time was a Pontiac Bonneville (called Clifford the Big Red Car), so it had a reasonably roomy trunk and backseat, but there was no way to fold down the seats. My dad was a genius at figuring out ways to fit everything into that car. Tuck the VCR player I'd won in the raffle under the front seat. Take my clothes out of the bulky boxes and just pile them in the backseat. Line up the milk crates in the trunk so not a single cubic inch of space was wasted.

I am not ordinarily blessed with the ability to think in three dimensions. I am lousy at parking the car. I once got a 14% on an aptitude test that asked you to look at a flat diagram outlining the plan for a 3-dimensional shape and determine what it would look like if you folded up the diagram to make the shape. But somehow, when it comes to packing, I am my father's daughter.

That's what I was doing last night, when I should have been working on my Fun Monday post. Although I have to confess, I wasn't able to come up with any good stories. I have a great one about one of my brothers, a dance recital my cousin and I were putting on in my grandmother's basement, figurative directions that were taken quite literally, and some ensuing hilarity. But sibling stories were specifically excluded and I need to stay on my brother's good side since he's collecting me from the airport on Wednesday.

Special thanks to Peter for acting as my own personal documentarian. My challenge was to get all this stuff into two bags:

As you can see, it's about 15% clothes and about 85% tea and junkfood for friends and family. I started by filling the bottom of my rucksack with my clothes. (I always said I was never going to have one of those dorky things, but they are so useful.)

Nearly all the clothes fit into the bottom compartment of the rucksack and then I filled most of the top of it with bags of crisps. The next step was to get everything else into the duffle bag that I bought in Macroom two weeks ago with exactly this mission in mind.

The chocolate chip cookies are for my dad. Peter calls it "bringing coal to Newcastle." Just about everything I wanted to fit into the duffle bag did and I was able to find pockets and spaces in the rucksack for any stray items. While Peter was messing with the flash and focusing, Toby decided he was just about done with waiting. Even though it looks like it, I am not booting him up the arse.

Now it's time to clean the house from top to bottom and then I'll be able to leave. I'm really looking forward to this trip since I haven't seen my family since last Christmas and the biggest block of time I've had off work (with the exception of the week I took for Tom's funeral) has been the occassionaly 4-day weekend. I mightn't get to do much blogging or reading/commenting until December, but hopefully I will come back refreshed and brimming with stories.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Making a List, Checking It Twice

I am a compulsive list maker. If I have a To-Do list and I complete a task that needed to be done but wasn't on the To-Do list, I will add the completed task. And then check it off with seven careful check marks that march across the letters, nearly obscuring them. (If it's a really long task, then 14 check marks are acceptable. Perhaps I should have started this post by just stating that I'm compulsive.)

I don't just have generic To-Do lists, I have specialised list systems for grocery shopping, for running errands, for packing for trips. One day, I plan to devote an entire post just to my grocery list. (It's a brilliant design, if I do say so myself.)

With my trip to the States fast approaching, I have created all sorts of lists: a general To-Do List, a room-by-room cleaning To-Do list, and a work To-Do List. I also have three seperate packing list. It's only natural that my checked bags and my carry-on bags have seperate lists. Because I have to spend the night before my flight at the Shannon airport hotel, I've also created a list of things that need to be packed in an easily accessible manner (pajamas, my traveling outfit, and sugar-free Red Bull).

These lists are all on seperate yellow post-its, which are tucked inside my training notebook. But the best list of all is the one that's on an actual page in the notebook. I've been compiling this list for months. It's my shopping list of things to bring back from the States.

When we lived in Chicago and Peter would come home to Ireland, he would leave with his bags bursting with Irish junk food. Cadbury Snack Bars, Rancheros, ChipSticks, Hula Hoops, Skips, Fox Classic Bars, Cadbury drinking chocolate, Mars bars. He'd also bring back some packets of shepherd's pie seasonings and some packets of white sauce and pepper gravy.

I mentioned to Peter yesterday that I thought it was funny that his shopping list was all processed, packaged items whereas my list is laden with baking ingredients. I've been driven to distraction by the fact that I have a Kitchen Aid mixer once again, but I can't find all the ingredients I need.

So, here is my best list of all, the one I am most looking forward to covering in sets of check marks:

Chocolate chips (esp. Ghiradelli)
Butterscotch chips
Low-fat condensed milk
Corn syrup
Canned pumpkin
Corn meal
Cream of tartar
Sweet Baby Ray's Barbecue sauce
Ice scrapers for the cars
Kongs for Toby (lots and lots and lots of Kongs)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Problem Solving, Five-Year-Old Style

My dad recently told me a story about Middle Brother's son (whose initials, annoyingly, are MB and so I think I'll just call him The Kid). Until the last year or two, the neighbours on either side of my parents had huge trees in their yards. We were especially fond of the tree in the neighbour's backyard, which cast an agreeable shadow over our driveway basketball court and the back porch deck. However, both trees are now gone, one a victim of some weird tree disease and the other a victim of a bad storm.

The shade of the back tree was immediately missed, but it wasn't until autumn that the full ramifications of the tree loss was made clear. My dad always raked up a great big leaf pile and in we'd jump. He'd carried on this tradition with The Kid, who thoroughly loved it. But this year, no trees means few leaves, which means no great big pile for the jumping.

Dad and The Kid were taking Kodiak for a walk and were chatting about various topics of interest to grandfathers and little boys. One topic on the day's agenda was what a bummer it was to have no leaf pile. Mulling this over, they passed a big tree when a light bulb went off over The Kid's head.

"Stuff your pockets!" Then The Kid was a blur of activity, scooping up leaves and stuffing them in my dad's jean pockets and in his own pockets. But pockets don't hold a lot of leaves, so he scooped up great heaps into his arms and doggedly trudged home with them.

My dad got a rake and they scrounged some leaves from the neighbours' yards. By all accounts, the leaf pile wasn't as great as piles past, but at least it was something. (My dad ended this story by saying "It rained overnight and now I have a sodden pile of leaves that don’t even belong to me.")

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fun Monday

Thanks to Hootin' Annie, this week's Fun Monday assignment was mainly photographic in nature: take 30 giant steps away from your computer and take a picture of what you see. Then take 15 baby steps back, look in any direction and take a picture of what you see. I suppose I could have written descriptions, but you know what they say about pictures.

Although simple on the surface, I found this a toughie as I am photographically challenged and my only option was to use Peter's fancy camera, which is about 200x more camera than I'd ever need. (I also had to go through the ignominy of having him transfer and resize the photos for me, during which he told me I really had to take one of his workshops because my pictures were terrible. OK, maybe he didn't say terrible, maybe he only said "out of focus," but I know he was thinking more than that.)

I was using my laptop at the kitchen table when I realised that I'd better do the assignment quickly or it would be too dark. The back door was open, so my 30 giant steps easily took me out the door and around the side of the house, where I took this picture:

During my 15 baby steps backwards, Toby was dancing around me with his Kong, which he dropped so that it predictably hit one of my feet. (I don't know how his aim is always so consistently good.) When I stopped, I told him to sit and he did, fully expecting me to throw his Kong. Instead, I took his picture:

Thanks for stopping by for Fun Monday. If you have a nice, little, compact, easy-to-use, light-weight, and not very expensive digital camera, please let me know about it in a comment. I think I really need a camera of my own.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Confessions of a Lazy Mind

You may have already surmised this from my monthly reading reports, but I am the world's laziest reader. I love reading, but I'm sort of child-like about it. You know the kid who only eats peanut-butter sandwiches (with the crusts cut off) and Fruit Loops (but no milk) for the first six years of his life? I'm the literary version of that. I like what I like and I'm not much interested in branching out.

I also have a habit of dismissing things out of hand for the most miniscule and irrational of reasons. I don't just do this with books, I also do it with movies. This drives Peter absolutely crazy and its a testament to his patience that we've been married for 11 years. For example, I'm not real keen on watching old movies or watching movies about the past. Anything before World War II? I'm not interested. Black and white? No thanks. That rules out a good chunk of the world's movie library.

I'm very good at whittling down the rest of the choices by fixating on one tiny flaw or issue. For example, I won't watch Bridge Over the River Kwai because I can't stand whistling. I hate Sean Connery and his marble-mouthed manner of speaking. (Yes, I know I'm in the minority on this one.) I refused to watch Red Dwarf for ages because its name suggested a tedius Star Trek-esque science fiction drama. (I eventually agreed to watch just one and ended up hooked on them, but I still maintain it's a really bad name.)

When you combine my mental laziness with my snap-judgementalness, you get someone with extremely narrow reading tastes. I pretty much stick to mysteries and chick lit, with some suspense and few contemporary literary fiction thrown in for good measure. I've always felt a little bad about this, because as a writer, I really should read more widely.

So, when I followed a link on Fence's blog to the Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge, it seemed like the perfect sort of kick-up-the-arse that I need. I love challenges.

Having made the mental commitment to sweep out the cobwebs, the next step was to come up with my reading list. I actually came up with a few reading lists. But the thought of having to go out and find twelve books was a little overwhelming. Sure, I could go on a monthly basis, but the chances of being able to find a copy of The Education of Little Tree in the Middle of Nowhere seemed slim.

Tonight, I was hunting through our unpacked boxes looking for a book on baking bread. I'm not sure it made the cut when we decided which books would make the trip to Ireland and which would make the trip to the Goodwill drop-off centre in Naperville. I didn't find the bread book, but I did find the twelve books that will make up my year of reading dangerously. Peter and I used to belong to this Classic Book of the Month club, because, well, because the books looked nice and it's good to have real books around the house. I'd never so much as cracked the cover of any of these books.

I couldn't find twelve books in our Classics collection, because I'd actually read a few in school. So I cast my net a bit wider and included a book I'd bought for research (and never cracked the cover) and two books Peter has encouraged me to read and I have politely avoided them.

Here's my list, along with occasional comments about why I picked the book.

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott - I've always owned a copy of this book and have never actually read it. I'm not sure why.

Paradise Lost - John Milton - This is one of those books whose passages always end up in epigraphs. It seems like any writer who's anyone has read this book. (But I hate poetry, primarily because of the breathless, pretentious way it is always read aloud.)

Gipsy Moth Circles the World - Sir Francis Chichester - This is one of Peter's books. (The ocean creeps me out.)

The Transformation of Ireland, 1900-2000) - Diarmaid Ferriter - Research for a mystery novel I have in my head. I just don't have the background to write it. Yet.

A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin - Another of Peter's books. I guess this is sort of medieval fantasy. (I hate the Middle Ages and I don't understand Rennaisance Fairs at all.)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson - I've no good excuse or reason on this one. I think this is probably the book I'm most looking forward to reading.

Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriett Beecher Stowe - Seems silly that I've read so much about this book but have never actually read it myself.

Leaves of Grass - Walt Whitman - One word - poetry.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo - I have a bias against French literature. Don't know why, just do.

Faust - Goethe - Again, no idea why I haven't ready this, maybe because it's so old.

Rights of Man - Thomas Paine - I think I was supposed to read this in a political theory class, but I didn't read it.

Moby Dick - Herman Mellville - When I was in school, people talked about this book like it was the ultimate punishment. The worst book you could ever have to read. Sounds like the perfect candidate for reading dangerously.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Two Weeks, Whole Job

Two weeks from today, I will be sitting in my parent's kitchen, scarfing down saurkraut perogies with perfectly sauteed onions and basking in the adoration of my loving family. (It's true - absence makes the heart grow fonder. They adore me because they only see me once a year. :)) My first-ever dog, Kodiak, will be nudging his head under my arm, trying to get any attention he can. I will, of course, lavish him with attention. I've grown to love Toby, but Kodiak is one of those special lifetime dogs.

Two weeks. I just have to get through the next two weeks and then I can board the aeroplane, curl up with a good book (or two), and read my way through my travels. I hate flying (terrified of it) but I love traveling. I hate being cooped up for long flights, but I love having all that time to read. I especially like the westbound transatlantic flights. (Eastbound, not so much.)

I just have to get through the next two weeks. I'm very busy at work with a project that I have to complete before I leave, I'm doing NaNoWriMo, training for a marathon, and playing the lovely (cooking) assistant for Peter's workshops. With all that going on, you'd think time would be flying. But no, it's not. Today felt like it was at least three weeks long.

I'll be in Cleveland for 8 days. Last night, I sent out emails to my friends to let them know of my plans and try to arrange a time to catch up with them. The responses came in and then I started to mentally divide the time. Thanksgiving is Family Day. Good Friend A from High School will only be in town until Sunday. Old College Buddy wants Monday. Good Friend B from High School is blessedly flexible. Another friend from high school, whom I haven't seen since we graduated, is also blessedly flexible, although she lives about 25 minutes away, so getting to meet up with her might be tricky. (No US license, no Irish license - I'm going to need my parents or brother to drive me around. It'll be just like high school except my hair isn't quite as big.)

Work in time to spend with my brothers (YB will only be there until Sunday as well), and my nephew. And my parents. And Kodiak, of course. And Aunt Lois, who sometimes comments on my blog. Suddenly, 8 days doesn't seem long enough.

Time is a funny thing. I don't know how it is already November. I moved to the Middle of Nowhere in January and the rest is just one big blur. The next two weeks look like they're going to be dreadfully, ridiculously slow. Then I'll get to Cleveland and eight days will pass in the blink of an eye.

I sure don't understand it. But I bet I'll have lots of time to think about it in the next two weeks.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Crazy Eights

I've been tagged by Bren at 3 Little Monkeys to do the crazy eight meme. I'd seen it before and it looked like fun, I was considering doing on the 8th, tagged or not. :)

8 things I'm passionate about:

1. Peter (who I often say is the one part of my life I got right)
2. camogie
3. writing (I'm doing NaNoWriMo again this year)
4. Cork hurling team
5. reading
6. traveling
7. baking
8. podcasts (definitely the best thing since sliced bread)

8 things I want to do before I die:

1. Have a book published (and have it do at least reasonably well).
2. Be interviewed by Terri Gross (for the book tour, obviously).
3. Learn to speak Irish.
4. Have a smallholding to produce as much of my own food as possible.
5. Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
6. Go to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Vietnam.
7. Tour Iceland on an Icelandic horse.
8. Win a running event for my age group. (I'm really slow - I'm going to have to live to be 100 and still running to accomplish this one.)

8 things I say often :

1. Good morning, Sunshine!
2. Good night, Sprite.
3. Go lie down!
4. I want to speak to Calm Toby. Is Calm Toby in there?
5. Slán!
6. Go raibh míle maith agat. (I do live in the Gaeltacht after all.)
7. Love you.
8. Don't touch me with that thing! (Get your mind of the gutter. This is directed at Toby and his disgusting slobbery toys, usually a chewed up Kong.)

8 Books I’ve read recently (or am still reading):

1. Simple Genius by David Baldacci
2. City of Bones by Michael Connelly
3. The Perfect Husband by Lisa Gardner
4. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakaur
5. The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen
6. Echo Park by Michael Connelly
7. Cross by James Patterson
8. Exit Music by Ian Rankin

8 Songs I Could Listen to Over and Over (And do!):

1. "Float On" - Modest Mouse
2. "Ocean Breathes Salty" - Modest Mouse
3. "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" - Arcade Fire
4. "Crown of Love" - Arcade Fire
5. "Beautiful Day" - U2
6. "Dashboard"- Modest Mouse
7. "Hallelujah" - I'm especially partial to Rufus Wainwright's version although I can also go with Jeff Buckley
8. "D'yer Maker" - Led Zepplin

8 Things that Attract Me to My Best Friends:

1. Good senses of humour.
2. Fun to be around.
3. The ability to pick up where we left off, even if we haven't seen each other for years.
4. Good listening skills.
5. Have a wide variety of interests.
6. Patience.
7. Good hearts (in the metaphoric sense).
8. The willingness to put up with my shyness and get past it instead of just figuring that I'm aloof and difficult (or intimidating or stuck up or dorky or whatever bizarre thing people are always telling me I am when really I'm just not good at social situations).

8 People I Think Should Do Crazy Eights:
1. Conortje
2. Terri
3. Kaycie
4. Laurie
5. Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
6. Dave
7. Amy
8. My Dad

Whew. That took longer (and more thought) than I expected.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Fun Monday: Holiday Traditions

Deborah, over at The Humble Housewife, is graciously hosting Fun Monday this week. The theme, appropriately enough, is holiday traditions.

I need to thank my dad right now for all his good work going through the family photo albums, scanning pictures, and emailing me. Not only that, he took my demandy-pants requests ("This is great, but do you have anything from 1988?") with good humour. Thanks, Dad-eye.

When I was 8, we moved into our first house of our very own. This was very exciting stuff, even though I was downgraded from the biggest room in the duplex to the smallest room in the house. Having our own house meant we no longer had to share our backyard with the kids who lived upstairs. It meant we didn't have to hear people tromping around over our heads. It meant that for the first time ever, we got to walk down the stairs on Christmas morning and our parents could see the surprise in our little faces all at once.

The Christmas morning procession down the stairs was a finely scheduled and choreographed affair. It didn't matter what time you woke up, you kept your little butt upstairs until it was time to get called down. And there was no stampeding down the stairs either. No, there was decorum, a dress code and order in what became our tradition.

We wore our brand-new Christmas pajamas and proceeded down the stairs in reverse age order. First Youngest Brother, then Middle Brother, then me. Christmas music played in the background and we had to pause momentarily to get our picture taken. Then we could proceed to the exciting business of opening presents, checking that Santa had taken his and the reindeers' treats, and making sure that the Baby Jesus had arrived safely in his crib in the Nativity Scene set.

As we got older, this routine varied only in its minor details. The older we got, the more likely we were to require a wake-up call. (Particularly when my mother, a nurse, had to go to work and we woke up at 4 am so she could have Christmas morning with us before her shift started.) We were less likely to wear pajamas. We were more likely to scowl at the camera's flash and hunch over cups of coffee as we trudged down the stairs.

There were years when I absolutely hated that tradition. I hated the picture taking. I had the cheesy prescribed nature of it. But now, I realise that the tradition was precious and meaningful, even when I didn't fully appreciate it. When you're a little kid, you think your family is always going to be just the same. That you're stuck with these people, like it or not, for the rest of your life. You don't realise that things change, that siblings get married, move away (sometimes thousands of miles away), and create new lives of their own. Things are just never the same again, even if you do all manage to get together for the holidays.

On a lighter note, the other tradition we had was the Most Favourite Present picture. Each of had a picture taken with our most favourite present, and then there was a kid group shot as well. Since my dad couldn't find any truly heinous pictures of me in the stair photos, I had him dig up one of my Most Favourite Present portraits. This is 1988 and the only thing I can say about the mullet, in my defense, is that it was WAY better than the hairstyle I had in 1986, the one that Peter saw in a school picture at my grandmother's house and called me 'Fro Girl for weeks.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

October Reads

My reading was quite spotty this month. I've been working on Sundays, so that's put a real dent in my Quality Reading Time. As a result, I've read mostly trash. At one point, it looked like I might only manage two books, but I eked out five. (Although probably only two of them are really worth reading. The rest are hospital waiting room/airplane/jury duty time-killing books.)

5. The Perfect Husband - Lisa Gardner - A woman hires a merceny to train her to defeat her evil serial killer ex-husband. Clumsy, transparent, and completely disappointing.

4. Cross - James Patterson - A phoned-in by-the-numbers thriller. Good for airplane or rainy day reading, not for much else.

3. The Mephisto Club - Tess Geritsen - A series of grisly murders have Dr. Isles and Detective Rizzoli seaching for the personification of evil. Procedural forensics detective novel meets supernatural thriller. Not quite as good a combination as chocolate and peanut butter, but passible entertainment nonetheless.

2. Echo Park -Michael Connelly - A cold case comes back to haunt Harry Bosch when a caught killer confesses to the case. My first foray into the Bosch series, which I found to be a pleasant surprise and I'm looking forward to reading more.

1. Into Thin Air - Jon Krakaur - Chronicles the events of the 1996 Everst climbing season, during which a number of people died. Compelling, well-written and well-worth a read.