30 December 2012


My mom and I were driving to the mall yesterday. (Because this is what we do when we are together: we shop. It is so much more fun to shop together than alone.)

We were a few blocks from the mall when the light in front of us changed to yellow and then red, but the orange car in front of us just kept going. This was not a situation of the light being very dark orange. This was a situation of the light being so firmly red that the cars on the cross street were already well into the intersection (on their very green light) by the time the orange car entered the intersection.

The result was exactly what you would expect. A green car pulling through the intersection saw the orange car and tried to swerve out of the way, but the two collided, the orange car spinning so that the worst damage was to the front driver's corner of both cars.

My mom and I looked at each other and pulled into the nearby apartment complex. By the time we got to the cars, the teenaged driver of the green car was getting out of his car, on the phone with the police. The elderly driver of the orange car was also on the phone with police from inside her car, surrounded by the airbag debris.

A man and a woman from two other cars were asking the older woman if she was okay (she was, except for a hand that kept swelling while the post-accident happenings were going on, probably from the airbags deploying). I asked the teenager, who nodded around his phone call, and then I went around and asked the younger teenager in the passenger seat if he was okay. He nodded through the window.

By the time a single police officer eventually arrived, we had moved the younger teenager, who was wearing only a sweatshirt, over to our car to stay warm and not be in the middle of the street. The man who stopped had moved the orange car out of the intersection. We tried to move the green car, but when the driver tried to back up, the front of the car fell down onto the tire, rendering it immobile. We witnesses confirmed with one another that, yes, the light had been long red when the older lady blazed on into the intersection. "It wasn't your fault," my mom and I assured the younger driver. Everyone stayed remarkably calm. The older lady was the most shaken up, although the teenagers' mom was a little bit distraught on the phone (understandably: it was her kids and her car).

The older driver was sure that she had a green light, and that the teenager had driven right into her.

My mom and I decided that we had to stay until the police arrived, particularly since two black teenagers might face an uphill battle when an older white woman claimed they had hit her.

The officer was a [insert common family name from the Dutch community here]. "He looked like a [insert common family name from the Dutch community here]," my mom said, when I told her later. (My sister went to high school with one of that family.)

I went out into the intersection when the officer arrived to confirm the teenager's story. "We were right behind her in the B, I mean middle lane," I said, catching myself in police-reportese from having read approximately a metric ton of them in my day.

"Was it questionable?" the officer asked.

"No," I said. "It was long red." Then I gave him, from memory, the license plate number of the male witness who had left because he had somewhere to be. "He was on the cross street too, and he also said his light was long green."

At long last, after close to an hour spent on the side of the road, mom and I continued on to spend money, relieved that our car was not among those hoisted up onto the tow truck.

28 December 2012

green snot

I blame the kiddos for the cold that has infested this house. Or maybe the plane, because A. was falling ill by Monday, and she'd only arrived on Saturday night. Nonetheless, by yesterday both A. and I were sniveling messes. ("I love green snot," A. said. I disagreed.)

But in between cough drops and blowings of noses, we've done things, kinda. There were parties. We cooked and baked and cleaned again and again, until the last guest departed and we collapsed into little partied out heaps.

We dosed ourselves with ibuprofen, and I dragged Mom and A. to a bookstore because four books for a ten day trip was far from enough. This turned into a trip to the shoe store, where A. moaned and I spent too much on a pair of boots. (I needed them. But still.)

This morning we dropped A. off at the airport. As we sentimental folks always do, we sat outside the window between the main airport and the gates and called her on the phone to talk through the glass. "You can go!" she told us, but we didn't. We waited until she disappeared down the jetway, waving until the very end, before we sighed and went to get delicious hot beverages.

"It seems like a long time since A. left," I said wistfully tonight, as I was rinsing her eggy cup from this morning.

25 December 2012


We made the mistake of dragging the little ones to the bowling alley after they had opened presents and eaten sugar and opened presents again (and, it occurs to me now, not eaten lunch). They were a little over-stimulated. Oh, let's face it: we were all over-stimulated. It took a good evening of tea and rummy and a walk to set us back to rights. (The kids went home and slept, I assume. They were all smiles in the video my brother sent of them playing with their new puppet theater from my parents.)*

Before we left for bowling, we took the stomp rocket outside and stomped on it until our fingers froze off and our eats hurt, watching it fly up into the sky.

Small people bowling is high levels of adorable. This alley had bumpers that came up only for the kids during their turns. The rest of us had to deal with gutter balls. They also had a dragon whose back was a ramp from which the kids could roll the ball down the lane. It still moved at a glacial pace, too slow to stay in the middle of the lane, but at least it made it to the end and usually got a couple of pins. "I have 59!" B. would say excitedly, and we congratulated him heartily, because that actually is quite impressive when you aren't even big enough to roll the ball between your legs.

 We had paid for two games, but we had to quit after one, because of imminent meltdown. And not just the kids. We were all happy and Christmassy, but a little bit bleary-eyed. It was time to rest. Christmas is for that, too.

* My dad was supposed to go to ikea to buy puppets on his way to a conference the weekend of my grandma's funeral, but of course he could not go because we were funeraling, and I forgot to go the next weekend when I went up to Gone West, so I had to stop by on my way to the Gone West airport. It was three hours before my flight and I was standing in the ikea on the phone with my mom, with her telling me, "Just get one of each. No, that one, too." I walked out of ikea with 13 puppets and got to my car before I remembered that I already had a full, tiny suitcase. I stuffed puppets in every crack and cranny. I had to sit on my suitcase, literally, to get it to zip, and I had one puppet that would not fit, so I rolled up the three foot long rattlesnake and threw it in my purse. It came in handy as a pillow in the middle of the night. I became so attached to it that I fully intend to buy a new one on my way back into State of Happiness. B. loves it. It featured prominently in the puppet show in the video.

24 December 2012


Four books are, it turns out, not going to be enough, considering that I am on book three already. I may have to restock after Christmas.

Things are the usual whirlwind. Parties thus far have numbered one, with two more to come. I produced some pretty kick-ass consumables for the first party - an improvised tortilla soup, in both chicken and vegetarian, and little pumpkin cheesecakes with gluten free crusts, which are quite good, I think, if you like cheesecake, which I don't, so I am just sort of guessing, actually. I also mixed up some of the old standard very good icebox cookies (my mom baked them, because i got distracted whipping real whipped cream with maple syrup for the mini cheesecakes), even though after tomorrow I am not going to be able to eat them.

This is because after tomorrow I am going gluten free. Or trying to. Again. SIGH.

I keep wavering on the gluten free thing, because I feel fine. I mean, I feel "fine," which is to say that I feel approximately as fine as I always do: little bit of constant rhinitis, little bit of constant sore throat, little bit of constant exhaustion. I have zero digestion problems, that I notice.

It's just that I am beginning to wonder if I might feel better if I didn't eat gluten. Maybe I wouldn't have those scaly dry spots of skin. Maybe I wouldn't have to drag myself through every day. It could be worth it.

21 December 2012


I have my priorities straight: I took three shirts with me to the Mitten, and four books. As I just told my mom, you can wear the same shirt every day, but you can't read the same book every day. (Well, you can but it gets boring. I only brought six books with me to South Sudan for three months, and I read them over and over. Fortunately, three were The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which can be read over and over, and one was Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott, ditto.)

I did also bring two dresses and I left one here three weeks ago, so it isn't like I am going to smell bad. Most of the time.

17 December 2012

Never enough

So three weeks ago my grandma died, and a week ago my sister in law called me an hour before my alarm was to go off to tell me that her mom had died, and the same day there was a shooting out here in the west, and on Friday one of my favorite (former) colleagues died, and then there was that shooting in Connecticut, and if you can handle extreme vulgarity follow this link, here, and you will know approximately how I felt all weekend.

Look, it isn't just here. I feel sick and desperate when I read about the war in DR Congo, too, or the shootings of beautiful little kids in urban Chicago.

I cannot imagine, in any part of the world, how a person points a gun at a child and pulls a trigger. I can't. And yet it happens, all over, and there is some vicious combination of alienation and mental illness that drives these things, and I can't stop thinking that we are all failing, too.

I used to work with emotionally impaired kids, and frequently I see them in the adults I work with now: scared and lonely, and wishing that just one person would be glad to see them, or had been at the point when they most needed it.

Are you glad to see them, though? Am I? I don't think I am often enough glad to see them.

Most times I think that I do enough, in my line of work, but then something like this happens, and I know that you can never do enough. While our lives are safe and comfortable, there are people, even in wealthy white neighborhoods, who are dying to be seen and accepted for who they are: autistic, or transgendered, or mentally ill, or plain lonely. And we aren't doing that. We don't see each other. We don't welcome each other, each broken, strange one of us.

We aren't doing enough.

11 December 2012


I have found that if I am going to make four kinds of cookies during the week for the Friday deal, certain efficiencies must be implemented.

First, no recipe will be made using more than 2.5 cups of flour. Those 4.5 cups of flour recipes just take too long. If they can be halved, they may be acceptable. (Today I estimated half an egg. Oh, well!)

Second, all cookies will be small. This is so that the small batches can serve more people.

Third, there will be only one shape of cookies. The ten year old kid in me is appalled, but every single very good icebox cookie is a small star. I have no time for anything else.

Fourth, each type of cookie that needs frosting will have only one color of frosting, i.e. almond cookies green, very good icebox cookies red. (I haven't decided the exact color assignments yet.)

Fifth, I rolled out the very good icebox cookies on a piece of parchment paper. The counter is clean and the cookies were much easier to peel off paper than they would have been to peel off the counter.

Meanwhile, I ate stuffing for dinner. I am effectively saving money and using up the stuff in my cupboard, but just stuffing was a little odd as dinner. And there are four leftover containers of it in the fridge. I will be eating stuffing as dinner all week.

10 December 2012

rolled-into-a-ball cookies

I'm baking Christmas cookies, and I thought I would make today's baking a little simpler by making only ball cookies,* not cut-outs.

My aching feet are mocking me right now.

I wanted to make them small, because I have a crowd of people to provide with cookies on Friday night. 

Do you have any idea how tedious it is to make small ball cookies?

The problem is that you have to make so many more of them, and each pan bakes for less time, with the result that I just spent a solid couple of hours rolling cookies.

I am so done.

* This sounds dirty. Of course I am going to keep using the phrase.

05 December 2012


My little nephew B., on Friday: "Opa say he never gonna get a tree 'out me."

My sister and I repeated that all weekend. I am recording it for posterity. His girlfriend c. 2026 will find it adorable.


I left my (blue, KLM flight attendant) coat in a coffee shop in the Mitten this morning.

I left my U-shaped travel pillow in my parents' house. 

The beauty of a sixteen day trip to State of Happiness (this is what it feels like, even though it's really two trips to the Mitten, not a trip to this place where I actually live) is that it doesn't matter much that I left my coat and pillow there. I'll be right back for them.

I did, however, replace the pillow in O'Hare airport with a memory foam pillow. And then I didn't bother to sleep on the plane. Useful.


On the first night that I was at my parents' house, I slipped on the stairs down to my room and fell down five or so of them - ker-thud, ker-thud, ker-thud, on my, how to say this delicately, posterior. While carrying a suitcase, a tote bag, and my purse. My left wrist is bruised from where my watch dug into my arm. Also bruised is my tailbone. 

I noticed it periodically all week, but I wasn't sitting still enough to be truly disturbed. (Do I ever sit still? Not willingly.)

And then there was a turbulent four hour flight across the country (fasten  seat belt sign on nearly all the time and I was in a window seat) and a two hour drive from Gone West to Universe City.


03 December 2012


You know those moments when you just have to shake your head and think, "I have the weirdest family ever."? I just had one.

I opened a bottle of vitamin B complex vitamins to take one before I went to bed, and as I shook out a tablet, I noticed that there was something else in the bottle.

A little keep-dry capsule, maybe?

Oh, no. Not in this house. It was a opened (i.e. needle exposed) blood lancet that my dad uses to poke a hole in his finger to test his blood sugar.

How did it get in there?

I have zero idea.

That isn't the weirdest part, though. The weirdest part is that when I reopened the bottle to try to fish it out, the lancet had fallen deeper into the crowd of vitamins, so I shrugged and closed the container. Maybe I'll try again tomorrow.


On Saturday, we funeraled. We sang familiar hymns, and we processed past my grandma's house in the old Dutch tradition, and we stood in the same pretty little cemetery where my other three grandparents are buried.

After the graveside service, my dad picked up the big bouquet of flowers from the top of the casket and walked around offering them to the family. "Don't we leave those there?" I heard someone whisper, but I think we were all glad to have something to hold in our hands as we left.

On Sunday, we took my nephew and niece to get a Christmas tree for Opa and Oma's house. (That would be my parents' house.) B. and R. brought their little plastic saws, a straight saw and a noisy mechanical chainsaw, and they sawed at the middle of the tree while my dad did the real work at the bottom, and then I had to call to A. to get them out of the way as the tree fell. (She was resident photographer.)

There was vast disappointment on the part of the munchkins when the hot chocolate was not all ready and steaming when we walked through the door. (Except not steaming: they wanted it lukewarm. Considering that it was barely cool outside, the hot chocolate was protocol more than necessity anyway.) Next year we will call ahead so Oma can have it ready.

R., fearless wild-child R., threw herself into my dad's arms at a moment when he could neither catch her nor warn her, and she fell backwards to hit her head on the ground with a horribly loud thunk. We worried. She isn't a cryer, so we could glean nothing from the way she whimpered a little and hid her head in Opa's neck. We worried some more whn she promptly fell asleep in the car on the way home.

Her mom woke her up, finally, slowly, and checked her pupils. A moment later, R. was laughing and attempting to fling herself backwards off J.'s lap in a manner that would have dinged her head in exactly the same place. Conclusions: 1. She was fine, and 2. She had learned nothing from the experience. I suppose that will come at an age greater than 3.