Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The nightmare before New Years

It's official: sheetrock and I have arrived at a special new juncture in our relationship. For many, many years, I looked at walls and thought to myself, "ah, I see a wall there...." I wasn't completely ignorant--I could, of course, identify a particularly egregious application of faux wood paneling like any old rookie can--but for the most part, I have been completely ignorant of the particulars of interior wall treatments. But no more.

For the past two years, Bryan and I have done the stupidest of all possible stupid things and have taken on an enormous, unholy headache of a home improvement project right after Christmas. Last year, it was gutting and remodeling our bathroom. This year, we're painting our dining and living rooms. Ooooh, painting, you say. Quit being a whiney baby, Jesslyn, you say. Painting's not so hard, you say.

On the contrary, my brothers.

So, our house is a little bit of a dump. Not so much as prevented us from buying it, mind you. It was just somebody's sort of shoddy workmanship (probably helped along by some psilocybian mushrooms) in 1951 that became somebody's grandma's house and then about 15 other people's rental house and now it's our house. It's been rode hard and put away wet, like Daddy always says. It's also the kind of place where you start a small project and before you know it, you're chest deep in a morass of strange truths about the builder's psyche. Lately I've been wondering to myself, WHERE did that guy FIND THIS DRYWALL? Did he make it himself out of a sandbox and a pack of construction paper? I mean, SWEET BANANA PANCAKES, people! It really is that bad.

And so, in the age old tradition of the men in my husband's family, what began as a simple painting project became a sandstorm of spackle dust. Because there is nothing-absolutely-nothing that can't be fixed with spackle, caulk, 80 grit sandpaper and a couple layers of paint. And about 72 hours. Per room. The photo above was taken at 10 this morning after I dropped Odessa off at my friend Kerry's so she didn't have to inhale all those spackle nanoparticles (thanks Aunt Keggy!). Do you see the insane glint in his eye? Or rather, take my word for it: if his glasses weren't so covered in spackle dust, you would see a really insane, sandy sort of glint in his eye that said "I think I know what that guy was thinking with this drywall."

Yes, friends, this is the face of a man who has entered the Heart of Darkness. The horror.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Merry Christmas Work Luncheon

As I have a long list of items to discuss with you, My Readership, but only a short time to devote to said items (it being already 12:30 and tomorrow being a work day, despite the festive harmonic undertones that make me forget that I must rest up so as to better perform my professional duties in the morning), I'll prioritize the topics based on a very complex mathematical equation I just made up:
number of possible topics - all topics that would take a long time to write about= tonight's topic


So, today was the shortest day of the whole year. I kind of like that feeling of nowhere to go but up, so I had a nice day. We went out for a Merry Christmas work luncheon, which always feels like the last day of school before holiday, even if it isn't. At my office, there's a cap on office banter; mine is not one of those office environments where there is practical joking or a bunch of chummy chortling. It is a rather serious, subdued place to be, which lends itself to getting work done, but when given the opportunity like a holiday Merry Christmas all- staff invitational luncheon, I just let her rip, and the devil take the hindmost. It feels good to just talk, like when you go to recess on a nice fall day in, say, 2nd grade, and you just run and run and run and get all sweaty and flushed so that your hair sticks to your neck, and your lungs burn from all the cool air and exercise, and you feel like you could do anything, including do a flip off the monkey bars, which you don't do, but you compromise by trying to do a flip as you're running along, but it doesn't exactly work and you land hard on your back and get the wind knocked out of you a little bit, and after you recover, you just lie on the ground for a while looking up at the sky and feeling the place where a new tooth is coming in with the tip of your tongue, until some girls start doing a dance routine to the JEM theme song, and you run over to watch them until it gets too boring, so you run over to some girls who are playing horses and are whinnying at each other and galloping around a bit, so you gallop with them in their herd for the rest of recess, and by the end of it, your ponytail is really lopsided and the knees of your jeans and the heels of your hands are kind of muddy from all the horse pantomime you've been doing.

That's exactly what it feels like when I go to an informal Merry Christmas holiday staff lunchstravaganza and get to tell people about the funny story I heard the other day.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

OdessaWatch! PresentWatch!

Good evening. I've been asked by several people lately if Odessa is okay because last you heard, I was considering doing some holiday cooking in her pajamas. Well, she's fine. She had a mild ear infection which I think she's managing to fight off herself, and no more fevers!

Hey--and what's a good gift to send to a very mature 9 year old girl? By mature, I mean she's really good at withering looks and isn't intimidated by my "Ok, I'm serious, for real give me back my sunglasses" voice.

Okay, and also what do I get for a man who just started working in my office and who really likes college football, wears painstakingly ironed shirts, and has a kind of 1970's funk ringtone on his cell phone?

Ok! night night!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Monkey Barns

One of my very best friends is my old boss Mary. She's an aquatic ecologist. She's also hilarious, has a photographic memory, is the best public speaker I know, and thinks about Odessa's college fund when I'm thinking about how I'm going to pay for Odessa's daycare. Anyway, working for Mary was really great and I sometimes miss it a lot, even though working for her also meant going to the MONKEY BARNS.

I worked for Mary for about 4 years when Miley Cyrus was in like second grade or something, and mostly what I did was caught little alive fish in creeks all around Georgia during the summer, and looked at and identified little dead fish in a lab while listening to books on tape all winter. Seriously, I listened to Moby Dick for 8 hours every day for two weeks, which felt to me a lot like it must have felt for Herman Melville to write Moby Dick (Herman Melville had different standards and expectations of himself than I do).

Anyway, while I was working for Mary, the University of Georgia--bless them--let us use these buildings down by the smelliest portion of the river near the waste water treatment plant to store all the dead fish in pickling liquids that we didn't happen to be using at the moment up at the regular labs. The complex was technically called The Annex, but we just called them the Monkey Barns. They were a couple of low, tin sided, faded brown buildings where they used to do primate experiments back in the 70's. There weren't any monkeys there anymore, but their cages were there in all the rooms, and whoever was doing experiments on the monkeys sure left a lot of crap lying around. A festive, cozy place it was.

So, yeah--the monkey barns were horrifying. There were all these little, yellowing typed signs taped on all the doors and next to the sinks and stuff reminding you to remember to water the monkeys and whatnot (because remember what happened last time everyone went on vacation?), etc. There were ceiling tiles soaked with the blood of squirrels that had been murdered by whatever was living in the crawl space. Sometimes all the lights would turn off for no reason. The whole place smelled like formaldehyde, and everywhere you went, there were shelves full of dead eyes staring at you from inside glass jars stuffed with tiny little pickled fish floating in a sort of brownish alcohol. And the buildings were technically condemned, so we were not allowed to stay in there for more than 2 hours a day due to the risk of asbestos poisoning.

And yet, for all the monkey barns' faults, it had one thing going for it, which was that one of its rooms housed the entire skeleton of a Right Wale that had washed up on the Georgia coast. Don't get me wrong--that room stunk to high heaven, even though the bones had been brought back to Athens and left in a forest for several years for the flesh to to be eaten off by raccoons and microbes and whatever else eats on a rotting Moby Dick carcass. When I was there, the bones were just stacked up all over this room in the creepier of the two buildings. But at any rate, it was the coolest thing about the monkey barns. (That's right--THE coolest thing.)

So, today I saw Mary and she said that they've been moving everything out of the monkey barns. I reckon they're going to be demolished or something and it's about damn time in my opinion. But they had to move the remains of the whale today, and while they were doing it, the skull of the whale fell on someone's foot, and Mary thinks it broke the foot in question because apparently a whale skull weighs just about a ton.

So, goodbye and good riddance, Monkey Barns! Rest in Peace (as if you possibly could).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Since last we met...

I bet you're wondering where I've been. Okay, so maybe you weren't, but I certainly was.

I spent the past 6 days doing a lot of stuff, some of which I'll tell you about now, some which will have to wait until later. But here's the short version:

1. I mailed all my Christmas cards, which was quite something considering I am a sort of black hole of unproductivity these days. However, I did manage to mistake some $1 stamps for 1 cent stamps to the tune of something like $20 in postage, and had to be rescued by a saintly and rather incredulous mail counter lady. Well, I'm glad I did that because otherwise I wouldn't have known myself.

2. We went to this baby reunion. When I was pregnant with Odessa, we went every other Monday night to this really great birth/parenting class through our midwifery practice with a bunch of other couples, and now all the babies are born and kinda big and able to pull each other's hair and poke each other in the eye. Looking at all those babies, I realized something: before you have a baby, people are all the time making a bunch of lame and specious claims like "You're never going to sleep again," and "Kiss your movie watching days goodbye," and "They just grow up so fast," all of which are completely misleading. For starters, I sleep 5-6 hours every night, whether I need it or not. Furthermore, you may have noticed how many movies I manage to go see. Procreation has not tempered my movie-going moxie. And "they grow up so fast" is almost laughably inaccurate. I'll have you know, Odessa has grown up in the time it takes to bake a batch of cookies. The time it takes Lance Armstrong to ride a mile on his bike. The time it took for my dog to eat the bowl of spaghetti I dropped on the floor this evening. Babies don't grow up fast, they grow up lighting fast, muscle car fast, fast like a greased bunny with a jet pack on.

So, we had a baby reunion and it was adorable and also amazing to think that this time last year all the babies in that photo above (except the very advanced looking blond pixie in front) were all curled up in the tummies of all those ladies (with the exception of the lady in black at the far right who looks like Sophia Loren. She's our midwife, Susan, and she's got a special fancy chair waiting for her in heaven.) Now they are out, and are fully capable of throwing their own feces at the other monkeys, if only they were able to take off their diapers. Which they can't yet. But soon enough, and let's just hope it will be after their feces throwing impulses have abated.

3. Odessa, chip off the ole block that she is, has taken this, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, to contract a mysterious and temperamental fever. She has no symptoms of illness other than the fact that between the hours of 5 PM and midnight for the past 3 nights, you could roast a turkey in her pajamas. I have called the pediatricians office and they told me to bring her in when I have successfully cooked an egg sandwich on her forehead. I think we'll skip that step and take her in tomorrow.

So, I'm off to bed to make hay while the sun shines--or, rather, get warm while my baby makes a passable substitute for an electric blanket. More tomorrow!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I Heart the Crazies

It takes a lot to amaze me. Well, maybe not a lot, but I just don’t get amazed very often because, really? Most of the stuff/people you see/meet every day are pretty similar to everyone/everything else you see and meet every day. For instance, most of what I see/meet every day are my laptop at work and the new cashier at Earth Fare.

But sometimes I see/meet something different, and I just want to stare at it/them and maybe even hug it/them and maybe even put a straw in it/them and drink them all up. Well, maybe not that, but that’s kind of close to the feeling…. Like the other day I was in the Target parking lot and this woman walked through it and got into kind of beat up white van with an Australian Shepherd barking in it. She wasn’t beautiful or all the wacky looking or anything, but I could tell she wasn’t the same as everyone else in the Target parking lot, and I just wanted to run after her and ask her a bunch of questions: “Why do you drive that van? Do you have to haul a bunch of stuff? How did you get your hair to look like that? Are you from here? What are your parents like? Is that your dog? I bet you’ve been to Greece before—have you been to Greece?”

Anyway, today I was doing a little bit of light reading on Ye Olde Internets and I came across this tiny, insane little girl who is like 13 and has a fashion blog. And seriously—look at her. She is wearing a blanket and perhaps even Eddie Vedder's shirt from 1994 as a skirt and the front half of a jacket. I just want to take her kookster little Mia Farrow haircut head and plant a big wet kiss on the top of it. Because that little girl is 13 and she doesn't give a tinker's damn, ya'll. I can only hope as much for Odessa when she's 13.

By the way, her name is Tavi Gevinson and her blog is Style Rookie: http://tavi-thenewgirlintown.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Conscious Parenting

I subscribe to a list serve called "Conscious Parents" here in my town, and although the name makes me laugh (unconscious parenting seems like it would be more relaxing, but definitely not as effective), perusing it each morning is pleasurable, on many different levels.

One level is that it's genuinely helpful: I can post a question about remedies for Odessa's cough or ask which daycares are good in the area, and a lot of the people in the group have experience with that kind of stuff, so they write back with helpful suggestions. Which is great!

Other people post things like stories about how they feel guilty that they fed their kids Cheez-Its with Scrabble letters on them because they thought it would be educational, but in hindsight, they weren't organic and although the kids don't seem to have died yet, they'd like to get everyone in the whole town's reassurance that Child Protective Services isn't going to come after them in the night for feeding the kids SOYBEAN OIL WITH TBHQ FOR FRESHNESS. Which is great! Conscious Parents is a win-win, really.

So this morning I got my email digest from Conscious Parents and looked through it. Someone was looking for a bath ring (whatever that is), someone was asking for a dentist recommendation, someone else was trying to sell some lumber, etc. And then the following caught my eye: one post was entitled "Little House on the Prairie."

Now, it just so happens that I am currently reading Farmer Boy, which is the book Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about her husband, Almonzo Wilder's, childhood in upstate New York. Basically, Almonzo's family just did chores and planted/harvested stuff and made "candy" and went to old timey Independence Day celebrations. It's soothing and yet interesting. Plus, I've learned about how to make butter.

Anyway, so this lady posted a message on the listserve about Little House on the Prairie, so I read it. It said that everyone in town should strongly consider "avoiding" (read: banning) Little House books in our homes, since they are not culturally sensitive to Native Americans. That's when I just about lost my shit.

So, I admit I haven't read the entire Little House series in many years, and it may be racier than I remember. However, I've read a couple from the series recently, and--spoiler alert!--they were written about a time in American history that was not very politically correct. Like in Farmer Boy, there's a story about the day the "bad boys" came to school and all the students were worried they were going to beat the teacher to death like they did last year. Everyone in the neighborhood was saying "Well, it would be a shame, but he knew what he was in for taking the job."

This is just to say that living in 1868 on the frontier was tough, and one of the difficult things about it was having to deal with the people whose land it was, aka, the Indians. So yes, Pa might have uttered some disparaging remarks about the Natives driving the wagon across the prairie while worried about getting shot at, and unfortunately the Indians lost their land to people like Pa. Does that mean I shouldn't let Odessa read an otherwise excellent firsthand account of life on the American frontier? I'm not sure it does, lady. And I consider myself a pretty conscious parent.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Birth Order

I am a older sister. Within the realm of older-sisterhood, there are several categories: The Manipulator, The Nag, The Bitch, The Boss, The Goodie-Goodie, Madame Overlord, The Underminer, etc. I happen to fall under the category of Benevolent Dictator. Ask my sister; growing up, my sovereignty, although relatively amicable, was absolute. Every so often I was forced to assert myself, and let me say, it hurt me more than it hurt her.

Anyway, I am married to a person who is also an oldest child. I need to ask Abby, but I suspect Bryan must have been either The Assailant or The Disregarder (I just asked Bryan what kind of older brother he thinks he was and he said, "I'll tell you some kinds of brothers I was not: complacent...umm, solicitous... nurturing?"). Anyway, as a general rule, we two older siblings live together peacefully until we disagree about something, at which point, we get down to the business of being oldest siblings. And here's something I've noticed: it's exceedingly difficult to fight fire with fire.

So, Bryan has been wanting a wood stove for about 2 months. I have been skeptical about the plan for Reasons #1-#58, which I won't bore you with. Each time I bring up another difficulty with having a fiery furnace sitting in the middle of the only fully baby-proofed room in our house, Bryan has held up his roughly hewn wooden cross and shaken a couple of garlic cloves in my face. He has involved my father and mother. He has scoured the Internet with tireless enthusiasm. And finally, after countless discussions about code violations, insurance liabilities, safety hazards, space considerations, fuel scarcity, impractical house renovations, and what feels like over one hundred just plain "No's," yesterday Bryan drove 4 hours to Asheville and returned with a small, greasy black wood stove with a cracked window.

So all of your hats off to my husband, Bryan Nuse. I surrender. The best older sibling has prevailed.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Not Summer

The way I see it, there are 4 seasons to each year: Spring, Summer, Fall and Not Summer. I come from a long, long line of people who don't cotton well to the Not Summer. My dad is probably the worst off when it comes to Not Summer--there were a few years in my 20s when I simply couldn't speak to him between the months of November and March or when I did, I had to make sure to book an appointment with my therapist in advance. Virginia starts telling me I look fat and that my hair's too short or too ratty or too brown starting around December 12th. My sister hibernates like a little animal in Not Summer--when I talk to her on the phone in January, it's like talking to a very grouchy possum. To be fair, though, I'm not much better.

So, today was the Christmas parade in town, and I took Odessa. We stood in the cold for an hour and a half with some friends and watched the exterminator trucks all decorated with lights, and the Baptist church float with the kids dressed up as the nativity scene characters with "Under the Sea" playing in the background, and the 3 different marching bands, and the funeral home float with the one lonely little kid on it sitting in an armchair waving mournfully in front of a cardboard fireplace dancing with orange tissue paper fire, and about 400 cheerleaders. Seriously, so many cheerleaders. And the sky was that dark, dark black that you only see when it's Definitely Not Summer, and the lights were twinkling in the leafless trees and everyone was smiling and waving and saying "Merry Christmas!" including the one creepy guy in the suspenders whose pants were nevertheless in serious danger of falling off, and the cute little kids in the Montessori float were all saying "Happy Hanukah!" and "Happy Kwanzaa!" waving their little handmade mittens, and even the hipsters on the float with the Klezmer band and the guy with the light-up suit were hollering well wishes, and all the Humane Society dogs were grinning and wagging their tails like they hoped you had a pleasant Thanksgiving, and the Clydesdale horses were pulling a wagon down the street jingling their harnesses like in a 1980's Budweiser holiday ad. And a woman on the street stopped me because we were wearing the same coat, and we laughed and told each other how cute it looked on the other, and strangers stopped to admire Odessa and talk about what a little squishy lump of love she is. And we were all very kind to each other, because we knew--we KNEW that we were over compensating for something, that something was missing, that inside us all there was a little thing that was hollow and chill.

And, dear reader, I think we both know what that thing is. Remember: you don't have to say the "W" word. Not Summer is here now, but Summer will come again.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Do you ever have the feeling that you're spending your entire life trying to do something that's kind of pointless, like the feeling the inventors of the Segway must have had sometimes while they were up late at night futzing with gyroscopes and computerized motors?

I mean, the Segway is a really cool in theory, and I'm sure it took forEVER to invent, but in the end, what is it really good for? There's this guy in my town who has a Segway and you always see him riding it around with a bunch of plastic grocery bags hanging off the handlebars. He could probably walk to the grocery store from his house and it would be better for him. Same goes for all the security guards at the Atlanta airport; they ride Segways, but why pay $7,000 for your employee to ride around on a fool machine drinking mochas from Atlanta Bread Company? I guess they do make the security guards look taller. Also, I guess they're faster than running. But so are bicycles.

Anyway, I've written a haiku about it because haikus always make me feel loads better.

I have the feeling
akin to a gyroscope
in a cop's Segway

Do you ever feel like the inventor of the Segway? Will you write me a haiku about it? I will also accept Senryƫs, Renkus (you're going to need to parter up for that, I'm afraid) and other Haikais.

Bless you.