Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I win at spring (again)

Our house faces south, and the layout of the entryway means that the ground near our front porch is always the first to warm up in the spring.  The previous owners either knew that or got really lucky, because they planted approximately 1.5 trillion crocus in that flower bed.

Because I am needlessly competitive about stupid stuff, every year when they first bloom I go for a walk in our neighborhood to make sure we won the Crocus Arms Race again.  We won again this year, but not by much.  The guy down the street with the yellow crocuses had about half as many blooming as we did ... guess that means I'm going to have to plant more bulbs this fall.

While I was out with the camera anyway, I checked to see how some of my other early risers are doing.  Hellebores?  Check.

Witch hazel?  Slightly out of focus, but checked anyway. 

Blueberries? Extremely happy in their new home ... which reminds me, I need to get out there and add some acid to their soil before the ground warms up too much.

Hyacinths, daffodils, allium, chives, rosemary, anemones ... all are either hanging on from last season, or have sprouts visible already.  The only thing we're missing for it to officially be spring-like is the appearance of the hosta buds, and the first sprouts on the peony out front.  Every time the snow melts I go move the leaves aside to see if they're up yet, then carefully replace them to help insulate the plant.  Plan on me throwing a big party with the peonies finally sprout - they're not only my favorite, but a pretty reliable predictor that spring is finally sprung.

Unlike the crocus, which have been rather boneheaded this year and have been blooming on and off since January, despite the chilling cold and snow and sleet and freezing rain.

But now it's warm enough that I can stop thinking "Dumbasses" at them every time I leave the house and see them shivering in the 15F cold.  Sure, it's at least two weeks before we normally see the first blooms, but you have my permission to go for it, guys - as long as you do it faster than the yellow crocuses down the street.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tips on flying with children

Inspired by an excellent post from an IRL friend (yes, I have one of those - her blog is here: http://www.only-mama.com/2013/02/how-to-fly-with-children.html), I decided it would be a good idea to throw my two cents in, as well.

1. Buy a bag to put your car seat in. Not only does it protect the seat from getting soaked if it's raining or snowing when they load luggage, but here's a secret: the airlines never check that a car seat is the ONLY thing in the bag. Don't pack the Crown Jewels in there, of course, but DO throw in an entire pack of diapers and some wipes, plus extra empty disposable sippy cups. They don't weigh much but take up a lot of room, and you'll be glad to have them.

2. No matter how many diapers you have in your carry-on, go pack more. There's no such thing as having too many diapers.

3. Sippy cups make take-offs and landings easier for toddlers and babies. However, be mindful of the fact that all that juice they're sucking down has to go somewhere ... see #2 for how to handle that problem. Also, pack more than one extra outfit for both you and the kid(s) in your carry on bag. You haven't lived until you've spent half a trans-continental flight with your lap covered in warm pee.

4. Road Rules! At our house, that means, "If you've got a decent restroom, you will try to use it, whether or not you think you need to go." Instill respect for Road Rules in the kid early, and you don't have to bargain with them in airports. You just stop in front of the bathroom, say, "I'm invoking Road Rules," the kid groans, and then goes in and pees for 30 seconds straight.

5. You will never regret leaving toy balls at home. You will continually regret bringing them, especially as you wedge yourself under the airport seats AGAIN to try to retrieve them (or have to apologize to the person whose coffee one just landed in). Ditto anything that makes noise. Might be fun at home, but after 10 minutes of sitting near it on a plane, your fellow passengers will be willing to ram it down your throat.

6. "If you can't carry it yourself, don't pack it." And remember, you WILL end up carrying all of your kid's backpacks and loveys and coats and books and whatever other crap they've brought along, despite your intentions to make them carry all their own gear. It's not going to happen without a fight, and this is all about damage control, so just give in and carry them.

7. You can entertain most kids for at least 15 minutes by riding the moving walkways back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. Some kids will do it for close to an hour. Ask me how I know.

8. Travel journals! Make one out of copy paper, folded in half and stapled. Whenever the kid starts whining, hand them a pencil and the journal and tell them to draw a picture of what they see, or something they saw or did. Some of our best scrapbook entries are journal drawings Liza did while on vacation.

9. Don't plan on having ANY time to yourself on the plane or in the airport. If you're not wrangling the kid, said kid will be asleep on your arm, pinning you down beyond your ability to reach that book in the back pocket of the seat in front of you, and by god, nobody wakes a kid sleeping on a plane if they're sane. And even if the kid is watching a movie, you'll be interrupted every 15 seconds for a snack, or a toy, or a kleenex, or to turn the volume up, or turn the volume down, or to clean up a spill, or because they need the bathroom, or because Why Is The Sky Blue, Mommy? Just give it up and go with it. It's four hours of your time - your brain will not explode if you're bored, and you won't be nearly as bored with the interruptions as you would be if you were trying to read.

10. This is supposed to be fun! Try to budget enough time that you can stop to admire the planes and wave to the pilots through the jetway windows. Window shop in the airport stores. Bring a few bucks for crappy souvenirs or overpriced candy. This is a huge adventure for your child, and they should enjoy it. And so should you!

So those are some of my tips for handling the trip. And believe me, since we've been flying back and forth to various places with Liza since before she was one (http://mind-flush.blogspot.com/2006/04/waiting-for-our-flight-in-louisville.html), we've got enough miles under our belts to be relatively good at this. I've lost track of how many flights she's been on - at this point, she doesn't even view it as a treat anymore, it's just a necessary part of getting to the fun vacation or the family visit. In some ways, I wish it was more special for her. And in some ways, I'm just glad she knows the drill at the security line so I don't have to micromanage her every moment. Here's hoping you get there someday, too!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

30 minutes with the prompt: Continue the story suggested by the following sentence:

Day after day, when I still worked at the Forty-second street branch of the public library, I saw the same young man, bearded, intense, cleaning his fingernails on the corners of the pages of a book.
 And that, right there, is why I love e-books so much.  Just think of all the places that library book in your hands has been - how many toilets it sat next to, how many meals have been eaten above it, how many noses were blown and hands not washed before they touched its pages.  That "Sizzler" has been flying off the library shelves ... and into houses filled with stomach flu, snot, and spittle.  Sure, cold and flu germs generally only live for a few hours or days on dry surfaces ... but norovirus can live happily for weeks, and there are plenty of infectious agents that can give you cooties for months after their donor left their residue behind on that book.  If nothing else, in this age of MRSA and flesh-eating bacteria and all sorts of other resistant strains of things, e-books are a step in the right direction for containing these outbreaks.

There are plenty of other reasons to love e-books, of course.  For one thing, it is possible to mark interesting passages in them without it actually disfiguring the book.  No more dog-eared pages, no more inane comments scribbled in the margins, and no more highlighters bleeding through page after page.  A few taps of the finger, and my personal page markers are on there, and no one else has to see them when I return the e-book to circulation.  This is a godsend for someone like me who collects interesting phrases and passages, but feels guilty every time they mark up a physical book.  Now I don't have to keep my journal with me whenever I read - I can bookmark the pages on my e-reader and come back to them when I'm ready to record things for posterity.

And speaking of keeping things with me, that may be the greatest benefit to e-readers: the fact that you can take your books with you everywhere, without adding another thing to carry.  My house has somehow ended up with four devices capable of acting as e-readers, five if you count my laptop, and six if we could find my daughter's iPod (which has been missing since November, so fat chance of it showing up now).  When I'm home, I tend to use the larger screen of the iPad, mainly because I'm lazy and I don't have to flip pages as frequently with the larger screen.  But I always have at least one book going on my iPhone, too, both for me and the kid.  That way, if we get stuck waiting for a table in a restaurant, or we go on a car trip, or I have to kill time while the kid plays at the shopping mall playground, whichever of us is bored has something to read.  This is way more convenient that schlepping around physical copies of Walden and The Wind in the Willows for months.  After all, my phone is pretty much always handy.  Sure, the screen is a little small, and if I read for too long on it I get a crick in my neck - but it's a great stop-gap measure.

Another benefit of these e-reader devices is their ability to play audio books, as well.  True, not every device can handle this, but three of our four main devices do (four or five if you count the laptop and the lost iPod), and it's been great to have this as an option.  No more fumbling to switch CDs during my husband's commute - he can just plug his Kindle into his car stereo and play the books directly through the car speakers with no interruptions to switch discs.  No more being tied to a CD player that skips if you move it - I can haul my iPad with me throughout the house as I do my chores, listening to Vampire Porn** all the while (and then put in earbuds and keep listening when Liza gets home from school).  And Liza is a lot more willing to listen to some classics of literature than she is to sit down and read them ... especially if she's stuck in the car while I drive her the 20 minutes to school in the morning.  Hah!  You don't want to listen to Heidi, kid, get yourself out the door in time to make the bus.  Otherwise, shut your yap.

E-readers also offer instant gratification, in many circumstances.  Sure, I can go online and order a physical book through the library, and it might show up at the local branch the next day.  But I still have to make time to go pick it up, and at some point I have to go back to return it.  E-books, on the other hand, are frequently available immediately - as in, I just checked it out two minutes ago, and now I'm reading it, and I am still in my pajamas in bed.  Even the ones which have a wait - and there are many of those, don't get me wrong - generally arrive sooner than wait-listed physical books, plus I don't have to go anywhere to check them out.  E-mail tells me my book is available, I click the link, sign in, and download the book.  And when I'm done, I can return it without getting in my car - easy peasy!

I'm never going to convert fully to e-books.  I love the feel of a real book in my hands, I love the smell of bookstores, I even love the sound of turning pages.  There are some books that will ALWAYS be better in print, just because that's how they were "meant" to be read.  I'll give up my signed copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy over my dead body ... when I mentioned something from it yesterday and wanted to read a certain passage to Liza, that was the copy I immediately reached for.  And yet, when she was intrigued and wanted me to go on, I downloaded the audiobook of it so we could both listen.  And I couldn't help pointing out the irony of listening to that book - on my iPhone.

** that's how Jason once referred to the supernatural romance stories I read, and the name stuck

Monday, February 11, 2013

(slightly more than) 30 minutes with the prompt: Write about a party that goes horribly wrong.

   "Do I really have to go through this again?  I've already told the other officers my story, like, 10 times now."
   "Yes.  Now, I believe this all started with a party?"
   "Yeah.  My job as an investigator has me mostly working with the big three communities, you know - Fae, Furry, and Fanged.  But I do a lot of work with the lesser Supes, too, and I make a point of trying to stay neutral and treat everyone the same.  So when it came time to invite past and potential clients to my holiday party, I didn't think twice about inviting them all.
   "Before you start, yes, I know - usually the fairies, vampires, and wereanimals don't get along so well.  And when you throw in a bunch of brownies, trolls, mythological animals, and even the last dragon on the East Coast, you're brewing up a cauldron of unrest.  Except at Solstice, it's not like that.
   "Solstice is the one time when all of the clans have something to celebrate.  The weres are happy about the full moon.  The vamps celebrate the longest night of the year.  Brownies, pixies, elves - all of them are sorely in need of some time off from the toy factory.  Witches celebrate the return of the sun, and even plain vanilla humans celebrate the birth of their god around that time.  And we all know the Fae will use any excuse to throw a party, so they're easy to please.
   "It used to be easier to throw the party when my client list was smaller.  Back then I could rent a ballroom, bring in a blood fountain and a pen of some rabbits, rent a band, hire a caterer, and I was set.  But now it's gotten so big and complicated ... it's really getting to be more trouble than it's worth, especially after this year.
   "As I mentioned, I've done some work for Slorth, and you don't NOT invite the dragon to your party, not if you expect to live long enough to actually attend said party.  But he's so big, and insurance companies aren't exactly thrilled with the whole fire-breathing thing, so my choices for venue are really limited.  When I heard that The Hollow was unexpectedly available on Solstice, I knew it would be just right.  I could rent some tents for the warm-bloods, put up a big dance floor around the bonfire, and there would be plenty of room for Slorth.  Perfect!
   "Nobody at the rental company mentioned WHY The Hollow had become available.  If I had known about the spell the previous renters had left lingering around the place, there's no way I would have chanced it, at least not without hosing the entire site down with a strong anti-magickal salt solution.  But the rental company conveniently left that little detail out ... and I booked the party.
   "Everything started off well.  My guests know to be on their best behavior, at least for this one night, because I won't work for them again if they cause trouble at my party.  For Solstice night, my party is the one true neutral ground in the area - and I won't lie to you, I'm quite proud of that fact.  I've been able to get rather a lot of goodwill work done at Solstice parties, getting warring factions together around the bonfire to work out their differences in a place where no one can fault them for 'talking to the enemy.'  How do you think I got the dwarves to stop undermining the troll caverns in Malvern?  Solstice party, and the liberal application to both parties of some seriously spiked punch.
  "Like I was saying, everything started great.  The humans and witches were having a great time on the dance floor, there was a constant buzz and hum around the food table, and even the trolls were swaying pounding along with the music.  About an hour into the party, it was time for Slorth to light the bonfire.  As he did, I noticed a little shiver in the air near the entrance.  The Fae were just arriving, and there was an audible gasp that spread through the crowd as people turned to see them.
   "The Fae are so beautiful and graceful, they always make a grand entrance.  I didn't see anything that unusual about them - they were wearing almost no clothing, just a few spangles here and there to make sure they were public-legal, but that was nothing new.  I realize now that the salt-scrub I had used to polish my skin before the event probably protected me from the effects of the spell lingering in The Hollows, but the rest of my guests were not so lucky.
   "I've had a chance to talk to some of the survivors while I've been waiting here in the lock-up.  Good call dousing everyone in salt-water at the site, by the way - that probably saved a few lives.  Anyway, it turns out that the Fae had decided to pull out all the stops this year and really glam it up.  And by 'glam,' I mean the actual Fae 'glamour,' the magic they can work to change their appearance at will.  It's not easy magic, and they hardly bother to pull it out anymore, except for special occasions.  So I guess I should feel honored that they gave it a try for my party ... I just wish it hadn't backfired on them.
   "You see, the fairies who are still able to talk told me that their glamour for tonight was supposed to make them more attractive to the other attendees.  Pretty standard stuff, right?  Except this wasn't specific - a fairy would look different to each person, because each partygoer had a different idea of what makes someone attractive.  So a human would see a really handsome man, while a troll would see someone of a more rocky persuasion.  It was ingenious, really, and should have been the hit of the party.
   "Unfortunately, there was that stray spell lingering in the area, and it latched onto the Fae magic and gave it a nasty twist.  Instead of just looking attractive, the Fae appeared to be what each person most wanted, most desired, most craved in the world.  Didn't matter what that was - could be a mate, or food, or a protector, or even wealth or fame - that was how the Fae appeared to that person.  This was a problem - a big problem.
   "Despite the usual detente that reigns at my parties, things got out of control, fast.  Imagine being confronted with the thing you most desire - say, your soulmate.  Great!  So you go over to your soulmate and begin talking with her.  But at the same time, another being sees the same person, and sees them as food.  The other person attacks the Fae, trying to gnaw off an arm, while you are trying to, ahem, get to know them.  Meanwhile, another party guest sees the Fae as a protector, and is trying to hide under her arm.  You can imagine the bedlam that erupted just minutes after the Fae arrived and their spell was corrupted.
   "We might have been able to get things back under control without too many casualties, if Slorth hadn't been there.  Slorth, as I mentioned, is the only dragon left on the East Coast.  Slorth is, apparently, a lonely, lonely dragon.  Every Fae he saw - and from his height, he could see pretty much all of them at once - seemed to him to be a potential mate, and he decided immediately that they would all be his.  He started rounding up the Fae, fighting viciously with anyone who got in his way.  Nobody wins against a dragon, not unless you've got some asbestos underwear and a very, very good plan.  Nobody had either of those tonight, and Slorth laid waste to a huge number of my best clients.
   "And that's how it happened.  Slorth ended up setting the woods surrounding The Hollows on fire, which attracted the attention of the fire department, and then the police.  Your department was quick enough to come up with a way to break the hold of the charm, and once we were all sopping wet and salty, the Fae just looked like fairies to everyone, and all of the fighting petered out.  Not knowing who to charge for the incident, you locked us all up until you could get it sorted out.
   "So, who do you blame?  Me, for bringing everyone together?  The rental company, for not telling me of the rogue spell at the site?  The Fae, for attempting to deceive everyone, no matter how benignly?  Each party attendee, for trying their best to get what they so desperately wanted?  Or Slorth, for the swath of destruction he created as he tried to satisfy his most basic need?"