Thursday, February 26, 2009

The day my dogs trained me...

I'm a big fan of the Dog Whisperer. I love Caesar and his pack. I love that little noise he makes to keep them in line. That man is part dog, there is no doubt about it.

Too bad I'm not. I'm the proud co-owner of three dogs: a pug (supposedly purebred, but seriously, he's as big as a bulldog), an elderly mutt, and our newest addition, a husky shepherd mix with stunning blue eyes.

I took a good hard look at my pack today, and I've decided this: my dogs have trained me.

It starts when I wake up. Sophie (the husky mix) takes me to the plastic bucket of dog food and tells me to feed her. Seriously, she just about yanks my hand over to the lid of the bucket. If she could talk she would say, "Can you hurry up? I'm starving over here!" So I feed her.

And this happens before I have coffee, so you know she is a good person-trainer.

The old dog (Frisket) is well, old. We figure she is about 119 years old now. You have to respect that terrier mutt mix. Longevity! The old dog has a different approach. She just walks up to me and stands there. It happens a little like this:

ME: Hey there, Fris. What do you need, girl?
FRISKET: (stands staring at me)
ME: You hungry? (I go to food bin and lift lid) You want some food?
FRISKET: (stands staring at me)
ME: You wanna go out? (I walk to kitchen door and open it)
FRISKET: (stands staring at me)
ME: You thirsty? (I fill water bowl and put it on floor)
FRISKET: (stands staring at me)

Eventually, she just walks away. Still, she got me to go through my paces, and she didn't even move a muscle. She's good.

The pug (Gizmo) has a different approach. He annoys me. Seriously annoys me. Like, I'm trying to pour my coffee and he is there, at my feet, looking pathetic. I move to the toaster. Gizmo is on me like peanut butter on jelly. Likewise if I walk to the refrigerator to get milk. And then to my laptop. Always with the big sad eyes.

A conversation with Gizmo would go like this:

ME: Why are you looking at me like that?
HIM: Don't you love me anymore? What, do you love Frisket more now?
ME: Of course not! I love all my dogs equally!
HIM: No you don't. Sophie has blue eyes. You love her more. (He pauses) Are you going to eat the rest of that toast?

Somehow, against my better judgement, Gizmo always wheedles a treat from me. Usually my last bite of toast.

My dogs have trained me, and trained me well. I just hope that as time passes, and they take over the household, and learn to drive the car, that they are kind to me. After all, I tried to be a good human to them. Needless to say, Caesar doesn't stand a chance here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

You know the world has gone crackers when...

I'm normally not one of those people that drag out their soapbox and pontificate. Mostly, this is because I have a deep-seated fear of looking like a complete idiot. I prefer to keep things like that to myself. But here goes anyway...

There is a new law coming to town - the CPSIA (Consumer Products & Safety Information Act). Among other safety issues it addresses, it will require all sorts of independent testing for lead in products that children 12 & under might come into contact with (new and used kids' products). Sounds good, right? No one wants any kid to get lead poisoning. Heck, I'm the mom of 4 kids, so I am completely behind the spirit of this whole thing. Lead = bad. Got it.

But, as many have blogged and written about, there is enough fog in this law to fill the Grand Canyon. It's written with very broad strokes, and has given the toy industry, charity shops, cottage artisans, and anyone who even lives near a kid nightmares. Hefty fines if you do not test each item, bankruptcy if you have to test each and every item you make for kids. Folks that make one-of-a-kind craft items would have a bonus: their item would be destroyed by the testing. Kind of defeats the whole one-of-a-kind idea right off.

There has been a one year stay on implementation, while they get the 'kinks' out supposedly.Thrift stores got a reprieve of sorts, although they are still liable if they sell a children's item with lead in it. How they will know if a used kid's shirt has lead in it is a very good question.

But this is what has my knickers in a twist (one of my ma's favorite expressions!): children's books that have been printed before 1985 are not exempted from the law as it stands now. I'm thinking about the children's section in my local library. Does this mean that each and every one of those pre-1985 books will have to be tested for lead (at a considerable cost to the library)? I'm pretty sure libraries can't afford to do this. So what happens to the books? And any book with a staple in its spine - fogettaboutit!

When my kids were every little, and money was tight (huh, money is still tight, I just noticed that, must remedy...), there were two things we loved. One was going thrift shopping. My kids would hit the toy and book section with a vengeance. The other was going to the library. One of the dearest memories I have from those days is curling up with a picture book (perhaps pre-1985 OMG!) and sharing stories. Where The Wild Things Are. Fox and Friends. George and Martha. The Magic Pebble. The list is endless.

And those books, with their well-worn covers, haven't killed a single Smallcomb yet. Sure my hair is falling out, but that's just because I have teenagers!

I have read posts where thrift stores are literally throwing these books away. I hope I am wrong. I hope you will all email me and tell me how wrong I am. I will get off my soapbox, and be happy to be proven so.

But before you email me, read this:

and this:


Oh, and this, too:

And if you want to see some books that your children might not be holding anytime soon:

A flickr group of CSPIA pre-1985 books

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to step down, and drive to my local thrift store, and buy used children's books. Then I'm dumpster diving at my library.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

If ever there were a need for Spring...

This year Spring needs to get its butt here and pronto. Is it just me? I usually love it when it's deep and crisp and even outside. I love the snow. I even love the ice on the branches of the trees (but not the roads). After all, I get to wear sweaters and jackets! The perfect cammo wear!

But this year...this year I am so completely and utterly done with Winter. Done. Done. Done.

It hasn't even been a bad Winter! As a matter of fact, as Winters go, this Winter has been a little wimpy. But it doesn't matter - I want it out of here. I'm betting I'm not alone on this. I think it's the general mood of the country right now. We need to feel hopeful, and yet, if you read the news, er, not so much. Spring would slap us out of our doldrums...and remind us that if the Earth can renew itself, then heck, so can we.

So I'm thinking Spring thoughts. Here's my "Get ready now! Spring is right around the corner!" do list:

1. Retrieve the bag of 150 daffodil bulbs I left in the sunroom last fall and finally put them in pots. I use the term "sunroom" loosely. It's really a frozen walled -in deck. But doesn't "sunroom" sound much more Spring-like?

2. Read the 5,000 seed catalogs that have arrived in the last three days. Evidently, the seed companies are aware of my new-found dislike for Winter.

3. Ask my LSH to prune the fruit trees. Not that this will accomplish anything. He will very faithfully log this request into his computer with all the other things I've asked him to do. You have to admire that 'to-do list' though. Every single thing is there. Just waiting. And waiting.

4. Here's a thought. I could jump start the old Spring cleaning! I have a new idea this year - what if I throw EVERYTHING away? I mean everything: clothes, dishes, furniture, pets, family members. I could donate it all to charity! Just start all over again with a fresh clean slate. Wouldn't that be nice? Sparkly clean and empty? Okay, okay, I'll keep the pets.

5. Write a really happy story! YAY! I love really happy stories! I want to do this one first.

6. Sew up a bunch of bunnies! YAY! I love bunnies! I want to do this one first.

So let's all pretend that Spring is really only one week away. The tulips will be coming up soon, the forsythia will be in bloom, the songbirds will come back to the feeder on the deck, a warm Spring breeze will greet us each morning...and that stinking Winter will have packed its bags and gotten the heck outta town. I almost feel like putting on a pair of shorts. Almost.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Coraline, Coraline, Coraline....

How do I love thee?
A whole bunch of ways, actually. The LSH (long-suffering-husband), my youngest and I went to see Coraline 3-D the other day, and I have to say, it is a yummy eye-candy wonder, at least for someone like me.

The best way to describe it was that it felt like I was in a creepy dream. It's not scary, not really, but definitely creepy. I was really worried when I saw the trailer that they were going to ruin the book (which I really enjoyed), but after reading reviews, decided I had to see it. Youngest sat there, 3d glasses on, transfixed by it all. LSH, ditto. Me? I was happy. Why? Well, because:

1. It's from the kid's POV, and her world isn't all tidy and lovely, and she isn't either. The protagonist is almost unlikeable at first, as are her parents (especially her mom! :), but as the movie progresses, you just know her determination not to be BORED is going to get her in trouble, and her fierceness is going to save her bacon.

2. The visuals are amazing. Fans of Nightmare Before Christmas (like me!) will not be disappointed. I was all sorts of energized to come home and draw monsters. And write about monsters, and all the dark things that go bump in the night. Delicious stuff!

3. Creativity is not dead. I know this in my heart, of course, but sometimes it is very energizing to get hit over the head with it. And on the big screen. In 3-D! And the 3-D wasn't overdone - with things flapping in your face, but it contributed to the story. You got to walk into the amazing garden. You climbed through the tunnel in the wall. See it in 3-D.

4. Girl protagonist that is not a flippin' wimp! And she's not a wimp in 3-D!

5. The comic side characters are hysterical. I loved the Russian acrobat that lives upstairs. And the two British ladies from the theater. Ay yi yi. You'll see what I mean.

I even loved the cat, although I did wish he would have come on board a little earlier (as far as interacting with Coraline) - but that's nitpicking.

(I'm adding in a little warning here for parents of very young kids (or kids that have nightmares, or are scared of their closets, etc.) - this might not be a good movie for them to see. The little ones in the audience were definitely hiding their eyes at some points in the movie, but the older kids (I'd say 7 & up) seemed completely fine with that horrible Other Mom. :) Depends on your kid, of course.)

As a matter of fact, my only criticism is that the movie felt about 10 minutes too long. But there wasn't an obvious place where you were tapping your foot. And 10 extra minutes of full-on creative eye-popping fun isn't so bad. And in 3-D. Did I mention that?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The old bootstraps get a workout...

I've been thinking about that expression, to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps". We all know it means to get yourself together, pull yourself up out of the pit you are in and move foreword, but where did it come from?

Thankfully, the Great Minds of the World have provided Google. says:

"The origin of this descriptive phrase isn't known. It refers of course to boots and their straps (laces) and to the imagined feat of a lifting oneself off the ground by pulling on one's bootstraps. This impossible task is supposed to exemplify the achievement in getting out of a difficult situation by one's own efforts.

It was known by the early 20th century. James Joyce alluded to it in Ulysses, 1922: "There were others who had forced their way to the top from the lowest rung by the aid of their bootstraps."

A more explicit use of the phrase comes a little later, from Kunitz & Haycraft's British Authors of the 19th Century: "A poet who lifted himself by his own boot-straps from an obscure versifier to the ranks of real poetry."

Some early computers used a process called bootstrapping which alludes to this phrase. This involved loading a small amount of code which was then used to progressively load more complex code until the machine was ready for use. This has lead to use of the term 'booting' to mean starting up a computer."

Well, I'm here to tell you that if you are leading a creative life, whether you are an actor, musician, artist, writer, or even a MIME (yes, especially MIMES), you are going to need some seriously strong bootstraps. And whoever you live with will need a pair, too. Because they are going to have to listen to you wail and gnash your teeth with every rejection, or every lost sale, or just those times when the crickets have settled into your brain and you are convinced that you will never, ever think another creative thought in your lifetime.

So let's all run out and buy some heavy duty bootstraps! Multiple pairs, I think. Besides, it will help the economy.

Friday, February 13, 2009

It's Valentine Day!

I want to wish everyone a very happy, mushy, loved-filled, candy-stuffed day today.

My long-suffering husband and I had a good long look at the calendar a week ago, and decided that last Thursday night was the best night to go out to dinner.

You know what? We should NEVER decide in advance what night to go out to dinner. We should just look at each other, and at that VERY MOMENT run out the door, car keys in hand. Why?
Because the evil anti-fun genie is always eaves-dropping, and if you so much as whisper your plans, she will sabotage them. I think she never got asked out in high school, and is making up for it now.

But my husband and I are stupid, and we're thinking that we'll have a lovely evening out. Just dinner at a nice fish restaurant (my gift to him since I can take fish or leave them - mostly leave them). I should have known that things might not go swimmingly because the night before we had winds that sounded like the sound track for the Wizard of Oz. I don't know if it's because I spent my childhood in Texas (in the path of many a tornado), or what, but I can't sleep when it's super windy like that.

So I woke up refreshed. Not so much. But I'm game for the day, because heckfire, I get to EAT OUT. And not with kids. With my husband, who never whines when his food isn't perfect, or if they don't put a maraschino cherry in his Coke. Nor does he fight with the person sitting next to him, play on his DS, or text his friends during the meal. He is perfectly charming and talks to me. And he pretends I am fascinating. One of the many reasons I love him. But I digress.

Okay, I'm a little tired. But then the day goes down hill fast. I will summarize, because really, I'm sure no one wants details (except the anti-fun genie, she loves details):

1. There is dog 'refuse' in the kitchen.
2. The teen is not springing out of bed.
3. Teen misses bus.
4. My mom calls because her cell isn't working and proceeds to describe (over the phone) its symptoms. I hand the phone to the long-suffering husband, because I barely know how to change a battery in a phone.
5. Drive teen to school. Late. Again.
6. Drag remaining child from his bed.
7. My mom calls again.
8. Long suffering husband is beginning to look like he wishes he had picked another wife.
9. I finally get down to work. I want to finish a plush cat I'm working on and do some writing.
10. I stab myself with a needle 9 times. I consider working this into the plot of my novel.
11. I discover that my adorable (truly) shepherd-husky mix has been systematically destroying the perennial flower bed I have been lovingly adding to for EIGHT years. Sob.
12. When I pick up my youngest from school I discover he has gotten into trouble.


Long story short, there was an 'altercation', followed by a teacher pulling three boys over (mine was in the mix), teacher lecturing, kids nodding, my kid nodding because he thinks that's what he's supposed to do (I explained later that nodding "yes" just might imply guilt in most cases). Thank god he wasn't accused of murder.

On the drive home, my kid swears he didn't do a thing. I believe him. You know, we parents kinda know when a crime fits our little prisoners, and this one just didn't.

13. I come home and call the school.
14. I get one of my famous 'headaches'.
15. Teen decides to playfully smack younger kid on the back of the head. Most days, this would result in a 'STOP THAT!' from younger kid. Today it results in a meltdown. Oh, and the teen melts down, too, just so he's not left out.
16. I have a talk with my children.
17. My husband and I decide to go to dinner no matter what. Even if we don't have fun. It's the principle of the thing.
18. Husband and I go to dinner. After a glass of wine and two Motrin, my headache goes away. I'm not talking much, but the silence isn't so bad. No one is yelling. That's nice!
19. Come home after dinner. No one has done any of their homework, but they're getting along famously.
20. I have another talk with my children .

All in all, when I think about it, it wasn't a bad day, not really. And the scallops were really good.
Today I'm going to stay home. We'll make a nice dinner here, and open the box of See's candy hubby gave me (or I could just directly apply them to my thighs). And next time my husband and I decide to go out somewhere, we're just going to grab the car keys and run.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's a conspiracy...

It occurred to me this morning that my jeans might actually just burst apart in public if I don't do something soon. And these are the jeans that I use as my "Oh no, no no...I am seriously not going to the next size!" barricade. My barricade jeans. I've given them quite the little workout this winter. And now, as I look down, I realize I'm walking around in something that with very little pressure (oh, let's say I eat a small order of french fries) could quite literally explode - sending jean particles in all directions. Not to mention the zipper. That could do some damage.

Imagine if this happens at the school Valentine's party on Friday after I eat the extra cupcake that no one else is interested in. A pop quiz in math is nothing compared to the trauma that visual would inflict on those poor kids.

But I've been thinking - half of the ENTIRE YEAR is dedicated to eating horribly. It begins with Halloween (yeah, like I'm not going to sift through the kids' stuff and pull out all those Reese's peanut butter cups). Then we get sucker punched with Thanksgiving, which covers all the food groups you can overeat in, not just the sweet ones. You barely have time to digest that meal and then WHAM! It's Christmas. Who can resist fudge? Not me. Valentine's Day. WHAM. Easter. WHAM WHAM WHAM.

All this overindulgence conveniently ends just as the summer approaches. Right about the time we're supposed to be cavorting about in shorts and t-shirts.

If I keep this up, the only cavorting I will be doing is in my barricade jeans, which will have been reinforced with duct tape to prevent an explosion. Safety first, right?

It has to be a conspiracy. And whoever is doing this is very sneaky. Or maybe they own the company that makes my jeans. Hmm...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What do you mean, it doesn't get any easier?

Last night, around 1am, when I was trying to get to sleep, I remembered all those nights when my kids were babies, and I had to get up to feed them, or settle them back down, or I just got up to make sure they were all right. Like every parent of young children, I was completely exhausted twenty-four hours a day, and I actually daydreamed about curling up and taking a nice long sleep. Or maybe I was just sleepwalking, who knows.

Most of the time, it was wonderful to have those little rugrats running around keeping me in a constant state of exhaustion. But sometimes (and moms, you know what I'm talking about), the only way I talked myself out of a good crying jag was to say to myself "When they get older, it will get easier."

Oh, yeah? Huh.

Fast forward...I now have two college kids, a teenager, and a soon to be middle-schooler. The college kids are off my clock, except on those weekends when they descend like locusts, devouring food, hot water and laundry detergent in equal portions. So I should be getting a good night's sleep by now, right?

Uh, not so much.

During the week, my husband and I spend a good part of the morning (beginning at 6am) just getting the teen out of bed. As in "GETUPYOUAREGOINGTOMISSTHEBUS!". Once he's out the door, it's the 11 year-old's turn. When he was born, God put a "Caution: Child Moves in Slow-Mo" label on him that must have fallen off somewhere before we got our hands on him. That kid takes 4o minutes to change his clothes. I wish I was kidding.

Ditto on the other end...trying to get the teen to go to bed before sunrise on a school day. Trying to get Slow-Mo to brush his teeth in under an hour. Most nights I don't get to sleep until after midnight. But I do get to sleep all the way until 6am!

Except for the weekends.

That's when my well-ordered (although still a little sleep-deprived) world falls apart. Teens show up and fill my basement. Children sleep over. Other children sleep over. Teens sleep over. Doors open and close. Voices and explosive sounds waft up from the basement. Children knock on my bedroom door and ask me if I've seen a certain DVD. Teens eat all the food in the house. You get the general idea.

It's like have babies all over again.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Skelly-liciousness!!! (it is too a word!)

I've been working on some plushies for SpookyTimeJingles, and I've noticed an interesting phenomenon: I'm ready for the holidays! Yeah, bring 'em on, I am there! Okay, so I'm a little late with the holiday spirit, but during the holidays I am always so busy that I really don't get those 'smell the roses' moments. I feel like I'm running a marathon (and those of you that know me well know that I don't have a snowball's chance in Hades of ever finishing a marathon). The entire fall feels like a pumpkin/candy corn/pine tree/tape and ribbon blur.

But now that I've stitched up a couple of skelly softies, and a Christmas goody, too - I'm ready for those trick-or-treaters and some hot chocolate!

I love to work late at night (it's the best time, when everyone else is asleep and the house is quiet). It's a good time to think about all those holidays gone by. The ones where my kids were little, and everything was absolute magic. And the ones, like now, where my kids aren't so little, but it's still pretty darn magical. Sewing is a meditation, and sewing holiday plush is like dipping your big toe into that magic again. It's extremely skelly-licious.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

You know you need new clothes when...

The zipper on your jeans won't stay up, and it's not because you ate too much.

The stains on your sweatshirt are forming words...and they seem to be threatening words.

Your underwear travels down to talk to your socks each day.

You find yourself eyeing the rag bag, and reconsidering.

You spend more than 33% of your day pulling up your bra straps.

When asked to an event that requires something other than old jeans and stained sweatshirts, you keep things simple and tell the person that invited you that you have mononucleosis.

Your own mother gives you money to go buy clothes (and yes I am too old for this to happen). Then she asks if you've gone shopping every time you talk to her (I would think the answer would be obvious).

So today I am skulking my way over to Kohl's. I cannot handle a mall. That is too much to ask of any human. But I will swallow what is left of my pride and try on clothes. Maybe even buy some.

Let's see what the stains on my shirts have to say about that!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

When ideas evaporate...

I was absolutely positive I had a brilliant (yes, brilliant) idea for a picture book. I spent the day giggling at my cleverness, waiting patiently for the time I knew would come at the end of the day - the time where I could grab my laptop and sneak off to write this incredible tome.

So I did. Sneak off. And I tried, I really really tried to capture this wonderful little idea, and failed miserably. I tried several openings...they all stank. Tried shifting to a new POV. Ditto. Tried writing a summary of the idea in the hopes that nailing the sucker to a board with staples might give me some insight into WHY I thought it was such a delightful idea to begin with.

Nothing. So I have carefully saved my rantings and filed them into my "possible ideas" folder. She won't be lonely. There are many of my offspring living there. I imagine they have great times together, finishing each other's stories, and shaking their little picture book heads at my inabilities.

I spent the evening wallowing in author despair (you need hip boots for this, author despair is black, sticky stuff and hard to get off of clothes). Then surprisingly, all wrapped up in my doom and gloom, I had a little idea. And so it goes.