Wednesday, April 29, 2009

...and I turn 40something again. But we'll get to that soon enough. First, I have to cut down a tree.

When the weather turns warmish, and sane people start thinking of planting things, it is my instinct to get out there and chop stuff the hell down. I don't know why. To me, destruction pruning is the most satisfying yard work there is.

For a long while there had been a branch dangling from one of the scrappy useless oak trees along the side of our driveway. It hung right over where a person would have to walk if they were getting in the passenger side of a car parked where visitors usually park. My brother visits us every few weeks, and he and I usually go out to lunch or something while he's here. All winter long I've been walking into that goddamn branch. When decent temperatures finally arrived, I was ready to do some damage. That tree was coming down, baby. Why not just go after the branch, you ask? Well. One of my yard jobs is to rake leaves in the fall. If you're a tree in my yard, you'd better be lovely enough to warrant cleaning up after you. This one didn't qualify by a long shot.

So I went to get my favorite hand saw. We do have a chain saw, but it isn't working. No - it is stuck in Mr. Sandyshoes's particularly excruciating brand of should-I-fix-it-or-buy-a-new-one limbo. Also, I don't love chain saws overmuch. I know a lot of tree guys with too many scars and accident stories. Besides, I am not the most coordinated person you'll ever meet.

My favorite hand saw is now kept, along with all the other implements of outdoor destruction, in our new shed. Mr. Sandyshoes built the shed last year, all by himself. Not from a kit, but "from sticks," as they say. He is pretty damn cool, even though I am about to make it seem otherwise.

Once I got the shed door open (which, note to Mr. Sandyshoes, needs to be made easier to do), I could not get to the saw because there was a brand new lawn mower, still in its box, blocking the way. Now, regular readers may remember that Mr. Sandyshoes and I have had something of an ongoing discussion about a new lawn mower. In brief: although I agreed to do most of the lawn mowing, trying to accomplish it with a machine that doesn't reliably start or continue to run once started was beginning to piss me off something fierce. And as the old saying goes, ain't Mama happy, ain't nobody happy.

So - why the new lawnmower tucked away in the shed, without a peep from my lovely husband about having chosen and bought one? Why, indeed.

I pondered that some, as I sawed away at the object of my wrath and hauled it in pieces onto the brush pile.

When he noticed a couple of days later that I'd cut down the tree, and deduced that I'd have had to go into the shed before doing so, a look passed between us. Later that evening, I showed him this little video:

Nevertheless, the lawn mower appeared on my birthday. Note the sort of smooshed purple bow on the box (top right. It's a small bow. A humble bow. An am-I-sleeping-in-the-shed-tonight sort of bow).

My friends' opinions are about equally divided (and not along gender lines) between "Cool! A lawn mower!" and "What, he couldn't have got you some earrings?" Me? I'm psyched to finally have a new lawn mower (self-propelled! GUARANTEED TO START!), and frankly glad to have been spared the process of choosing one. I'm not overjoyed that my birthday coincides with the onset of lawn mowing season, but whachagonnado.

And won't he have a nice Christmas the year the vacuum cleaner needs replacing?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Birthday Season I, in which the Peanut turns 5...

We have two birthday seasons in our little family: the Peanut and me in April, and the Bean and Mr. Sandyshoes in August.

Peanut just turned five (5!). She'd been counting down to her birthday for so long that I thought she might go nuts with excitement as The Day approached. There was some confusion as to how many days remained until her birthday party (which we had on a weekend), vs. her actual birthday. Either way, the counting was exciting.

The birthday party scene is changing a bit. We always just have them in the backyard and hope for the best, weather-wise. But before Peanut was in preschool, her birthday parties were as much for us as for her. We’d have a couple families over and hang out. This year she wanted to party with her own school friends. So I said what the heck, took a deep breath, and invited all of 'em. When the final count was in we were expecting some 15 preschoolers. That could easily have fallen into the "what the HELL was I thinking" category, but it turned out perfect. They all played outside like maniacs. Our swingset looked like something out of an advertisement, except that a professional photographer might've spaced the kiddos out some. We had a bit of a backup at the top of the spiral tube slide. Kids came flying out of that thing all afternoon and climbing back up for more. Mr. Sandyshoes had wiped it down with furniture polish beforehand. Heh heh. That is one fast slide.

For a party activity, I repeated my sand art triumph from the Bean's 5th birthday two years ago. Briefly: kids scoop colored sand into clean baby food jars to make pretty patterns. I highly recommend it for a party of kids this age. It’s just right for their coordination and attention span, it’s creative and fun, and gives them something pretty to take home. Boys and girls seem to love it equally. Most importantly, it’s easy to clean up.

Then it was cake time. Peanut had requested blue icing with pink letters, which sounds simple enough but sometimes I’m not too good at coloring icing. I ended up with something that looked to me like smoked salmon at the bottom of a swimming pool, but she thought it was cool, and that’s all that matters.

So, the weather was gorgeous, the kids were happy, the sand project rocked, the cake made the Peanut even happier than usual, and all was well in partyville. Ten seconds before the party was scheduled to be over, it started to rain. Incredibly perfect timing.

At bedtime, in the spirit of the countdown, I said, "Peanut, tomorrow is the last day you'll be 4!" -- and she just broke down in tears. Oh, did she ever sob, and I felt sad for making her feel sad. "Oh Peanut," I said, “you really liked being four, didn't you?” Nod, sob, sob. “Well,” I said, “the only thing that changes when you're five is the number of fingers you hold up when someone asks how old you are. Everything that's good about being four stays just the same when you're five.” And we counted some of those good things that won’t change.

Part of me is sad to see four go by, too. But she loves her childhood. That makes me feel really good.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nothing else really explains it.

The Bean and the Peanut are usually pretty tight. They like each other a lot and play together like peas in a pod. However, I sometimes wonder if they have an actual biological need to scream at each other every so often until one (doesn't matter which, sometimes it's both) of them is crying. There doesn't seem to be anything I can do to prevent it. If I see it coming and separate them, they just wait till the next available opportunity. It's like a necessary, inevitable letting off of steam.

I have learned to just send them outside till it's over. Let the neighbors wonder. "What in hell is that racket? Where on Earth is their mother, and why doesn't she do anything about it?"

Friday, April 17, 2009

Back AWAY from the steak knives.

I am dropping EVERYTHING lately.

I'm not normally like this. I'm not the most coordinated person ever, but if you throw me a ball, I'm more likely to catch it than not. I generally don't drop stuff more often than the next guy. But the past few days have been messy.

Among other things, I dropped (broke, and spilled) a huge bottle of juice in the checkout at Trader Joe's. I knocked over my own (full, natch) glass of water at the table. I spilled the Peanut's vitamins all over the kitchen floor.

This reminds me of an article I read as a kid, about "biorhythms." I have no idea where I came across it. Did my mother subscribe to Psychology Today? Was it in a magazine in someone's waiting room? Who knows. All I remember is that it said that we supposedly each have emotional, intellectual, and physical cycles, with peaks and valleys (think sine wave). When you have a few days like I'm having, during which everything you pick up seems to be making an independent effort to crash to the floor, it's an indication that your physical biorhythm is at its "critical point," and it's not an optimum time to attempt, say, brain surgery.

It's all crap, of course. People have emotional, intellectual, and physical up days and down days for any number of reasons, but (hormonal cycling aside) the idea that they would be spaced on some kind of predictable frequency based on... what, anyway?... and starting at birth, is hooey.

Still, the phrase cracks me up now as it did then. "I'm sorry, but I probably shouldn't _____. My physical biorhythm is at its critical point."

Needless to say I won't be handling any sharp objects until I can make it across the kitchen with a few more glasses of water. Sheesh.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon fail

This is upsetting. In case you haven't heard -- the internet has been all abuzz about this so forgive my repetition -- here is my understanding of what's going on:

Over Easter weekend, appears to have removed sales ranking information in its listings for some books it deems to be of "adult" content. No listed sales rank on Amazon means those titles don't always come up when their subjects are searched for on the site. If the book isn't in anyone's search results, it's not likely anyone's going to come across it and buy it.

Now, that alone should really piss you off. Who is Amazon to decide what is and isn't "adult" content? The way the site works, masking sales rank information becomes, effectively, a form of censorship.

But it's worse than that. The deranking has been shown to have happened preferentially to books about homosexuality, transgenderedness, rape, or feminism; or with gay characters, or by gay authors.

A biography of Ellen Degeneres was deranked; sexually explicit biographies of famous heterosexuals have not been.

The official word from Amazon is that this is a "glitch" and they're working on it. That seems implausible for a couple of reasons: 1) At least one gay author had his memoir deranked back in February, and the explanation wasn't "oh, sorry, our mistake"; rather, he was told his book had been deemed "adult" and that the action was deliberate (it was subsequently reversed, and he dropped the issue). 2) In a response to a concerned author this past weekend, one Amazon representative stated outright that it was a deliberate decision.

There's a ton being written about this, and updates are happening faster than I can read or copy links. Google "amazon rank," or "amazon fail" if you're interested. On Twitter, the hashtags are #amazonfail and #glitchmyass.

I have deleted my wish list at Amazon (fear not, you can buy me Fiestaware at Macy's) and won't be doing business there unless and until this is appropriately resolved. However, even if the whole debacle proves to have been a huge mistake/fuckup/misguided effort by an overambitious homophobe in middle management, and even if a probable explanation and sincere, convincing apology are issued, it's been kind of a wake up call as to how much influence Amazon has; how one corporate entity can effectively block any book, or genre, or type of author it decides it doesn't like.

Unsettling, at best.

Update: a reasoned take on this is presented here. It does seem likelier that this is an artifact of some outdated filter, ineptly effected, than that it is due to institution-wide homophobia on the part of (My favorite quote: "Indeed, I suspect that dozens of Amazon executives and PR professionals will be having hurried meetings in Seattle this Monday morning, and that consumption of antacids at those meetings will be at an all-time high.") Still -- it bothers me a lot. When all of a sudden the top result of an Amazon search for books on homosexuality is some crap book for parents about how to prevent it in children -- something is wrong. Granted, I don't know for sure what that top result would have been on Friday. But color me skeptical.