Weird Cat Stories

The other night I was doing laundry and noticed that one of our cats was sniffing at the front door (the one we never use) and he was alllll puffed up. I was not at all concerned, which means I called out to Paul in a voice that was working hard to sound unpanicked, and then I went rapidly down to the laundry room and thought about what weapons were at hand if Paul just, like, OPENED THE DOOR and then there was an intruder in our midst. (I was thinking the bleach spray would be pretty useful.)


Or a skunk: I thought it might be a skunk. Here is my Twitter haiku on that topic, from another recent situation:

Screen shot 2014-10-21 at 12.02.03 PM

I’d gone flying out the side door to pick up Rob from a friend’s house, and there was a sudden startled, reactive rustle from our yard, and it was a skunk. The skunk and I agreed to go our separate ways peaceably, but it was tense there for a minute. I wondered if maybe that skunk was still hanging around; I could understand a cat getting agitated about that.

The hope with a story like this is that it will come to a satisfying (and, ideally, interesting) conclusion: “So anyway it turned out it was a _______! I never would have thought!” Instead, what I have is a second, even more unsolved situation, which is that some time after the sniffing/puffing episode, our two cats started fighting, not in the irritated way housecats sometimes fight, but in the vicious scary way cats outside the window sometimes fight: yowls that were probably no louder than the ones outside but seemed much worse because of being inside, and full-on angry-cat-face hissing, and big puffed-up fur, and periodic outbreaks of violent activity that luckily didn’t seem to get TOO violent (no one bleeding), but bad enough that I wondered what we ought to be doing: separate them somehow? spritz them with water? Those were some awful yowls.

What I did was get out the extremely expensive spritz bottle of Feliway we bought a number of years ago at the vet’s recommendation when we were having some other kind of cat-aggression issue. It’s hard to even use something that’s made for cats but costs as much as perfume, but this seemed like exactly the moment to use it, and I spritzed some in the air above the cats, hoping the mist would settle around them like a tranquilizing cloud. (It reminded me of the perfume-application instructions from magazines: spritz some in the air and walk through it.) (Which, NO. I am not putting a Swistle-shaped hole through French perfume and allowing the rest of it to settle on the floor. EVERY MOLECULE IS EXPENSIVE.)

It DID seem to help a bit, though the situation remained uneasy for the next hour or so, and when we went to bed we wondered if we’d be awakened in the night by more hostilities. I also sprayed some Feliway on the door the cat had been sniffing. I have no idea if this stuff works at all (and this particular bottle is likely expired), but it made ME feel better to be DOING something.

This is the second episode we’ve had of this one cat seeming to FREAK OUT. The first time was after a dose of Advantage Multi a month or two ago: he yowled at nothing, puffed up, raced around, had an accident on the floor, didn’t sleep for a day, and the vet said, “Hm, yes, let’s not use that on him ever again.” This more recent time was PROBABLY because of some other cat outside, or perhaps a wild animal outside, but it was such an OVER-THE-TOP freak-out PLUS turning against his buddy, and makes me hope he’s not losing his little cat mind.

So this is what it has come to around here: Weird Cat stories.

Oh! In fact, I have another one. I took one of our cats to the vet the other day, and while we (the cat and I) were waiting our turn, a woman was at the desk paying for her appointment—at which she had discovered that her female cat was male. Her cat she’d had for ten years. I summoned enough nosy bravery to ask the vet tech about it after we were called in, and she said yeah, it can be very challenging to check a cat’s bathing suit parts, and it isn’t a common error for a shelter to make, so they (the veterinary practice) just go with what’s on the paperwork. But this cat had a urinary issue, so they checked—and found another, separate issue. The cat’s owner was quite riveted by this news, as was I. “My husband’s going to call to ask how the appointment went,” I heard her say, “and I’m going to say ‘Good, good…she had a sex change.'”

Talking to Kids about Sex without Religion

Hello there,

So, I don’t know if this is an odd thing to do or not, but I was wondering if I could suggest a topic I would be so curious to hear your thoughts on.

I was wondering how you talked to your kids about sex/ how you framed your families expectations of sexual propriety. Much like you, I grew up in a very religious household and had the strong “no sex before marriage because Jesus says so” training. But now I’m not religious and so my values have changed on that topic but I find I sort of miss (weirdly) the clear line of “no sex before marriage” to tell my kids…even though I am okay with sex before marriage but I don’t think they’ll buy my real feeling of “no sex until I think you are ready”.

I’m not sure if this makes sense…but, basically, how did you approach this topic with your bigger kids?

Best wishes,


One thing I’ve done when talking especially to my older two (they’re now 15 and 13) is to mention ahead of time that my own upbringing was religious and that all my own decisions/experiences at that stage of life were influenced by my own religious beliefs at the time, and to be frank that that means I’m not always sure what to tell them or what the rules should be. There are things that still freak me out just because they freaked me out at the time and in that context, and it’s hard to know which things are still good things to freak out about (“FEAR/PREVENT THE STD”) and which things could use a little adjustment (“PREMARITAL SEX CAUSES ALL FUTURE MARITAL SEX TO FOREVER FALL SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD”).

It helps, I think, to know that people who were taught about sexuality from a non-religious standpoint ALSO have to figure some things out before teaching their own kids: what’s considered normal and proper changes with time, and with inventions/discoveries, and with changes in the way the culture thinks of things.

And people continuing on with a religious structure have to do a fair amount of interpretation: the Bible, for example, goes into a lot of detail about clean/unclean foods, but is a little skimpy on the sort of thing a parent might need for the Where Did I Come From? talk. I remember being very surprised to learn in college (from the boyfriend of my roommate: it’s uncanny how studious a young man can be when properly motivated) how unclear the Bible is on the topic, and seriously out of date at this point: women in our culture, for example, are no longer stoned for failing to bleed on their wedding night, nor do most religious people follow the extremely strict rules about dealing with menstruation and childbirth (UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN! UNCLEEEEEEEEEEEEANNNNNNNN!!!). Most of the sexuality teachings associated with Christianity (and I assume with other religions as well, but I only have experience with Christianity) are church teachings rather than biblical teachings: i.e., ways the people who follow that version of Christianity tend to believe people should behave based on their own understanding of God and the Bible, rather than anything specifically discussed by God himself. Which is fine, but means that even religious families have to do this kind of figuring things out before they start passing that information on to the next generation.

In general, my method with kid questions on difficult/unclear topics (afterlife, politics, ethics, religion, etc.) is to start with something like, “Well, different people think different things,” and then go on from there. This is good for stalling, and also for filling up a long car ride with a chatty child. So, like, when Rob was little and liked to talk about things Very Thoroughly, and he asked what happened after people died, I said something like, “Well, nobody really knows for sure. Some people think….” and we went through reincarnation, heaven/hell, heaven without the hell, limbo/purgatory, ghosts/spirits, anything else I could think of, and the “nothing at all” theory. I also mentioned that there were a lot of other theories I didn’t know about from other cultures/religions.

With sex questions/lectures, I do pretty much the same thing: I say that different people think different things. Some people believe in abstinence before marriage, some people believe in abstinence in theory but not in their own specific situation; some people think sex is dirty/bad, some people think sex is natural/good, some people think it depends on the situation; some people think sex is for fun, some people think it’s only for when you’re in love, some people think it’s only for creating babies, some people think it can be for different things in different situations; and so on. Which leads naturally to listing a lot of different reasons, too: because of believing that God (or someone else in the Bible) said so or thinks so, because of health reasons, because of safety reasons, because of emotional reasons, because of pregnancy hopes/fears, because of ancient and recent beliefs about sex and morality and romance, and so on. I don’t always know what I’m talking about, and I try to make that clear as the discussion goes along—like, “I don’t know all the details, but as I understand it…”

Sometimes I talk to them about it from a parental point of view: “Some of my friends think kids shouldn’t even be taught about sex and birth control, while some of my other friends take their daughters to get on the pill,” etc. (I don’t say which of my friends are which, for general privacy and because sometimes my kids are friends with my friends’ kids.) They seem to like that kind of talk, and will often be very strongly opinionated about other parents’ decisions. I think it’s easier for them to argue with Theoretical Unnamed Parent than it is to argue with an actual parent—and it’s easier for me to present the point of view fairly when it belongs to someone I know and like.

Or I’ll tell them about parents/kids I knew when I was a kid. My parents took the religious/abstinence view of sex but my mom was extremely big on giving us information, so I ended up having to pass on that information to a fair number of friends whose parents thought they didn’t need to know. “Oh my gosh,” Never-Had-a-Boyfriend Swistle would say, “No, it is not going to work to rinse out afterward with diet Coke, you are going to need something that works better than that. Let me tell you the stats on condoms vs. the pill” or “YES you absolutely CAN get pregnant that way and he is either a JERK or STUPID for saying you can’t.” And they explained to ME what French-kissing was and what “69” and “third base” and “feeling someone up” meant, and gave me a dog-eared copy of Forever, so really it was a well-rounded education for all of us and gives me some comfort whenever I hear talk of taking sex education out of schools.

Here are the things I like about this “let’s talk about all the different opinions and ideas, with lots of anecdotes” method:

1. It makes it clear that I don’t necessarily know the right answer
2. It makes it clear that there isn’t only one way to think about it
3. I find that kind of conversation fun

Plus, it forces the children to take some responsibility for their own decisions, which takes some of that responsibility OFF of ME. And it IS off of me: I DON’T have to make the decisions for them, and in fact I CAN’T: THEY are going to make all the decisions. I can set some boundaries and/or make things difficult for them (“No, you can’t lose your virginity here at home, so it will have to be in a car I guess” or “No, you can’t date, so I guess you’ll have to lie and tell me you’re going to a friend’s house”), but that’s it: the actual decisions are in their hands whether I like it or not. So rather than telling them what The Right Way is, or even what our family expects, I tend to tell them what I hope: that they will wait until they’re ready, that they won’t be pressured into it, that they will be safe, that they will be kind and respectful and careful with other people’s feelings, that they will remember that sex is about sex but it is also about the people involved, that they will not accidentally ruin their lives, that I will never have to catch them at it, and so on.

Another method I use is the Making Books Available method. As a child/teenager, I really really really really did NOT want to ask my mom questions—not because she was unavailable or wouldn’t answer, but for the OPPOSITE reason: she would get twinkly-eyed and LOVED to use Embarrassing Words and discuss Embarrassing Concepts. I was very glad to have the books Where Did I Come From? and What’s Happening to Me? for reference (though less thrilled to receive the latter for a pre-teen birthday (11? 12?) and have my mom start leafing through it laughing and pointing out the “perky boobs”).

Even more helpful was a book I found at the library; I don’t remember the title of it, but I remember it was written by someone who sounded young and cool but was also an Experienced Adult Woman. I think it was in a Q&A format—maybe an essay on a topic, followed by questions submitted by young girls? something like that. It had lots of stuff about sex and periods and kissing and boys and pregnancy and STDs and birth control, and lots of embarrassing stories from the author’s own experience (I remember one story about the time she and her boyfriend tried to have sex for their first time and COULDN’T FIGURE IT OUT). Here’s a list of the books I’ve bought so far for the kids:

Where Did I Come From?: The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense
What’s Happening to Me?: An Illustrated Guide to Puberty
What’s Going on Down There?: Answers to Questions Boys Find Hard to Ask
The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls (this has since been republished in two volumes, one for younger girls and one for older girls)
It’s So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families
It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health


I read Where Did I Come From? and It’s So Amazing! to them as littler children—different ages for each depending on when they started asking questions and showing more than a passing interest, but basically very early school age (kindergarten/1st). The other books, I’ve handed over with a brief official statement about having access to information they might not want to ask me about, but of course they SHOULD ask me if they want to, and they can also ask me if they don’t understand something in the book. The rest of the talking is done forcefully, usually in the car with one or two children at a time, at my initiation (Swistle: “Today we are going to talk about various methods of birth control!” Children: *groaning*). I like to talk in the car because there’s so much less eye-contact involved, and because they’re trapped. I’m glad to know too that their schools are covering some of the material, to reinforce points or in case I forget something.

But I think it’s important to add that at this point I don’t have any children who are clearly sexually active. (That is, my impression is that none of them are involved with it at all, but I’m aware that I could be completely unaware of it. I remember as a teenager noticing the wiiiiiide gap between what parents knew and what was true.) At that point I may become significantly less chill about the whole thing: right now it’s theoretical and interesting to discuss, but how will I be when it’s “Can he or can’t he have a girlfriend/boyfriend in his bedroom?” and “Will I or won’t I ask her doctor to put her / let her be on birth control?” WE SHALL HAVE TO WAIT AND SEE.

Uncomfortable Guy at the Airport

Last night I went with my dad to pick my mom up at the airport. There was a guy in the waiting area, probably about 30 years old. When my dad went off to ask a guard if we were in the right place, the guy said to me, “Are you picking someone up?,” and I said, in what I hoped was a polite, distracted, don’t-talk-to-me-anymore voice, “Yes, we are.” (For what other reason would we be in the arrivals area, I wonder?) But my tone was unsuccessful, because then he said, “Do I make you uncomfortable?”

On the way home, my parents and I were talking about all the possible reactions to this. The truthful one would have been: “Before you started talking to me: not even remotely uncomfortable. Since then: VERY uncomfortable.” What I actually did was shake my head no and then go back to looking at my dad in the distance, in what I hoped was a distracted, not-at-all-bothered-but-also-not-very-interested-in-this-conversation manner. He responded, “I could tell. I could tell by the way you came right over to me. Thank you.”

The guy then went on to interact with several other people waiting. My dad came back, and the guy said, “I don’t make HIM uncomfortable, either. I noticed. Thank you.” Then he indicated a man standing a little distance off and said, “HIM, though. I make him uncomfortable.” And so on. I reassured myself that my mace was still in my purse. We were glad to leave.

My mom and I agreed that we both wished we were the sorts of people who would think for a second before talking, rather than rushing to say something we’d later regret (such as saying something is fine when it isn’t). We wondered in this case, though, if it were even a good idea to speak frankly to someone who had already crossed a social boundary and might not have a good grasp on OTHER boundaries. That is, would it be okay to say to him, kindly and conversationally, “You weren’t making me uncomfortable, until you asked that question”? Or is that just the “thinking later about what I should have said” answer, and in real life could that potentially make the situation a lot more dangerous, or at least draw it out longer? The goal is to disengage and NOT talk to someone who makes us uncomfortable, rather than to evaluate and engage for his edification. Walking away silently is, I suppose, a possibility, but not one compatible with my temperament: I can picture talking frankly before I can picture walking away, or yelling “GUARD! GUARD!,” or saying “Please don’t talk to me,” or whatever. Plus, I want to be kind to people who are inappropriate for non-dangerous reasons they can’t help, such as mental disability.

My mom and dad and I wondered how other women we knew would have handled it. I have an aunt I can’t imagine shaking her head no in that situation. My mom has a friend we can’t imagine doing that, either. We can picture them looking frankly at the guy, considering for a moment, and then…well, we’re not sure what they’d say then, but if we could figure it out, we might rehearse it for next time.

This is the sort of thing where I’d be interested in knowing the range of responses other people would make. The problem is, it’s hard to know when you’re reading about it: there’s time to think, and also we’re completely removed from the situation: a lot of the responses I come up with when I’m not IN a situation are ones that don’t actually work if I try them the next time; they only work in Lying Awake at Night Thinking About It Land, where they are immensely satisfying. I’ve noticed this on the baby name blog: people are quick to say, “You should tell your mom to BACK OFF! She named her babies, you get to name yours!”—but it’s hard to picture an actual person saying that to an actual, standing-right-there, non-theoretical mother. So in some cases, three separate responses might be needed: “the one I think is the right one,” “the one I would find immensely satisfying,” and “the one I think I’d actually do.”

[Edited to add:]

Two things that seem significant to me as I’ve been thinking about this today:

1. I think one reason I felt less threatened (beside the fact that airport security were within sight) is that he didn’t single me out: he talked to me, but also to other people.

2. I think it’s interesting that the two men I was near enough to see him talk to both responded as I did: polite lie about not being uncomfortable, followed by moving some distance away.

Assorted Updates; Choosing Better Post Titles

I was looking through a list of posts for things I hadn’t updated on, and I realized this: I could stand to improve my post titles. I couldn’t GUESS what half of them were about, and I am the one who wrote the posts and carefully chose the corresponding titles. At the TIME, they seem right! I mean, some of them I KNOW aren’t helpful, like the last one I did, which I called “Wednesday” because I couldn’t think of anything else, and according to my archives that’s the fourth time I’ve done that. But MOST of them I think are quite fitting—until I’m paging through them later.

Well. In that Wednesday post (the fourth one), I mentioned I would be going to the doctor for discomfort/weakness in my hands. I was greatly motivated by Paul’s aunt, who told a story of letting carpal tunnel go on too long, past the point where much could be done about it. I suppose if I’d had to write down my guess of what the matter was, I would have first guessed carpal tunnel, and second some sort of arthritis, and third some sort of injury I’d gotten without realizing it. Actually, my FIRST guess would have been “Let me get you a referral form.”

What I did not expect was a diagnosis of “playing too much Candy Crush.” I will have to wear wrist/thumb braces for two weeks. People will say to me “Oh my god, what happened to your hands??,” and I will have to say “I played too much Candy Crush.” And it is not REALLY that I played too much Candy Crush, but more that I have flexible hand joints that make gripping things difficult (this post, barely readable since I switched blog platforms, shows how I hold a pen), and then I gripped a phone every day for many days in a row, playing Candy Crush and also Farm Heroes Saga, and gave myself tendonitis. Well, PROBABLY tendonitis. If two weeks in splints doesn’t help, I’m supposed to go back.


Second update: Trees that Cross Property Lines. I looked into the laws for my area, and the law says what most of you said, which is that the trunk-holder is responsible for keeping the tree SAFE, but then the branch-holders are responsible for their own cosmetic/convenience trimming. We wanted to get a couple of trees looked at anyway, and also we wanted to make sure the tree in question WAS safe, so we called in a tree guy. The tree guy says the tree in question should come down. His exact words: “This guy here is Done.” So! That tree will no longer be an issue with the neighbors, which is good news because my favorite outcome here is Never Having to Think About It Again!


Third update: Keeping a cello humid. I thought it was very, very charming how many people clicked through to the comments just to see how one WAS supposed to keep a cello damp, without having any need of such knowledge themselves. I have ordered a Dampit, and it is on its way.


Fourth update: The will/trust. I was very reassured by the number of people (including lawyers) who commented/emailed to say, “Yes, in this case you’d want a trust.” It took me awhile to understand why, but the gist is this: If you are just leaving your stuff to some grown-up people, you need a will. If you have minor children and want to leave your assets to be used for their care/upbringing and eventual inheritance (if there’s anything left after the care/upbringing), it works better to have a trust. Another thing a trust does is make your assets available much more quickly (almost immediately) to the people who need them, without a long court-system process to settle the will and unlock them. A trust SOUNDS like the kind of thing only richy-rich people deal with (because of trust funds, I think, and those big trusts that give out grants), but it isn’t.

Anyway, we set up a trust. Here is how many times we met with the lawyer: two (one for talking about what we wanted, and one for doing the final signing). In between those two meetings, the lawyer emailed us a draft and we went over it and emailed him back with the changes we wanted and questions we had. Here is how much time it took from start to finish: we had our first appointment with the lawyer in April, and we signed the final copy in October. Some of this was our delay (it took us a little while to go through the papers), but most of it was time the lawyer was doing his part, and so could vary depending on the busyness of the lawyer in question.

Here is how much stress was involved: HUGE. But then, when it was done, I found myself hugely less stressed than before we started. The stress of “feeling as if we ought to have a will” (to replace the one we made with will-making software back when Rob was a baby) was low-grade constant with intermittent high-stress attacks (especially after seeing the time-consuming and lawyer-fee-heavy and emotional mess that was involved in dealing with my late mother-in-law’s lack of will), and led to periodic lying awake at night; the stress of “trying to comprehend lawyer language” and “thinking through all the issues involved in setting up a trust” was fairly high, and led to steadily leaking tears and stressful indecision (“WHAT IF PAUL TURNS EVIL AND HAS THE DOCTOR PULL THE PLUG WHEN I WOULD HAVE RECOVERED??”) and periodic lying awake at night; but the relief of “having the trust set up and now we know everything is okay even if everything is not okay” was INCREDIBLE. It’s a trade: we started with a baseline of medium to significant stress, and then we traded a SHORT period of INTENSE stress for a LONG period of LOW/NO stress.

Also, there were a lot of things that seemed stressful when I was looking at them on my own (like with the will-making software, or when looking over the draft from the lawyer) that were MUCH LESS stressful when a lawyer explained them. For example, I got myself all worked up over what if I gave Paul power of attorney, and then he was going to leave me for someone else so he used that to take all our assets OMG I’D BE LEFT DESTITUTE AND POWERLESS TO PREVENT IT!! And the lawyer was like, “Er, he can do all that ALREADY, since you both co-own all your stuff. Plus, there are rules about how power of attorney can/can’t be used, so you’d take him to court and a judge would definitely disapprove.” Or, for another example, I was very upset about having to decide if I’d want a feeding tube if I were unconscious. “Well,” I thought, “Of course I do, if it will keep me alive until I recover consciousness!” But it’s not set up like that: the document says that if you will NEVER recover consciousness, THEN do you want a feeding tube. Really, it makes much more sense that way.


I don’t know if I’ve mentioned Captain Awkward here yet, but it’s one of my favorite sites now: She reminds me strongly of another favorite, Miss Manners: Miss Manners has a reputation for being about stationery sizes and fancy forks, when actually many of her letters are “Dear Miss Manners, My husband is being dumb, but my way of telling you about it is also kind of annoying”/”Dear Gentle Reader, [Piercingly intelligent reply that untangles all the issues and sets everyone straight].” That’s how Captain Awkward is, too: she’s kind, but she GETS TO IT.

Anyway, one of her themes I strongly agree with is that if you’re feeling bad, it’s good to get some practical things done to take care of yourself (haircut, vegetables, walk, face wash) or your living space (clean, tidy, fix). I like this because when I try it, it feels almost like a magic spell: I do some tasks, and they don’t seem like they’d have anything to do with why I’m feeling bad, but I DO feel better. I feel like a rat pressing a lever, but by George it works.

I’m thinking of that today, because I got a couple such things done that I’d been putting off for quite awhile: I got my hair cut (2 inches off the ends—nothing interesting), even though it meant going to a walk-in place because I can’t seem to manage figuring out and scheduling an appointment; and I made an appointment to see the doctor about my hands, which seems silly because they’re not SO bad, but they’re often feeling weak or uncomfortable, and I’m starting to have trouble sometimes with opening jars or whatever, and sometimes I do something normal like opening a drawer and I get a stab of pain, so off I go.

It isn’t even that I don’t think it’s worth going to the doctor about the hands: I think it’s pretty clear I need to. It’s that I don’t want to START A THING, and an appointment like this is STARTING A THING. There might be ideas to try (new keyboard, exercises, not holding the phone that way to play games on it), or questions I have trouble answering since the problem is irregular and hard to figure out, and follow-up appointments; and I will think afterward that I explained things wrong and that if I’d explained differently she would have tried different things; there might be a referral and all the accompanying fuss (calling the insurance, figuring out when to schedule things, calling to make the appointment, calling the doctor back to get the referral sent through, etc.). There will then be insurance screw-ups, more follow-up appointments. Maybe there will be decisions about surgery, which will involve more insurance and referrals and figuring out when to schedule. It will be A THING.

Also, it’s silly but I think there’s a little feeling of “If I don’t go looking for bad news, there won’t be any.”

Well. It still feels good to have the appointment made (despite dreading everything about this), because it is better than knowing I OUGHT to make the appointment. Thinking of it every time my hands hurt, thinking, “Urg, I guess I should make that appointment” and then “Urg, it’s the end of the day and I still haven’t made that appointment”—it was wearying. Accomplishing the making of the appointment feels better.

Follow-ups on Various Pre-Guest Frets

Laura Lou had the good idea to follow up on some of my guest-related concerns: specifically, how to figure out what they expected, and how to deal with the religion/church issue. I’d also been concerned that there might be hard feelings over Paul and his sister not having a funeral for their dad (his aunt’s brother), and I’d been concerned that his aunt would boss me (those two issues are both mentioned in the church-issue post as well).

1. Figuring out their expectations. For this one, his aunt gave me an opening: she emailed chatting about a fun day they’d had doing various things—things that had equivalents around here. So I emailed back, saying oh, if you like those things, I wonder if you would like to do those things on your visit here? And she emailed back saying that although those things did sound like fun, what they’d prefer to do is just spend time with our family. I would have found this a little puzzling (I consider “doing things together” to be “spending time with family”), except for the context and also Paul’s translation: he says for his family, “spending time with family” means “at the house, chatting.” And that really is what we did: we sat and chatted. I was pretty wrung out afterward from the intensity of that kind of social contact (seriously: 10.5 hours where the only time I wasn’t in a conversation was when I was in the bathroom), but it was also fun: because his aunt and uncle are relatively new to me, I could ask TONS of the fun/easy-to-talk-about questions, like about how they met, whether their kids got along, all about their grandchildren, etc. And I could tell all MY fun/easy stories, too.

2. The church issue. I used Judith’s suggestion of giving them a strong hint framed as an offer to find out information: “Would you like us to get service times / recommendations for churches in the area? We’re not part of a congregation, but we’ve heard good things about Church X and Church Y.” I put it in the same email as the questions about activities. They responded that they would indeed attend church on Sunday but that they would find one themselves. They didn’t question us specifically, but we didn’t pray before meals, and one of our children asked what a hymn was, so it seems like things must have been fairly clear. Paul’s aunt asked a number of questions (“So your dad was a minister?” “So how did you come to attend [Christian college]?”) that told me she would really like to know more, but at least on this trip she didn’t ask directly. (Though I would have been okay if she had: my main concern was that there would be an awkward question that was only awkward because it assumed we were religious, and was hard to answer without first addressing that point.) I think that on this topic, my history leads to very misleading conversations: I’ve had the same trouble with my wine-and-appetizers friends, where I keep telling stories about my minister dad or my Christian schools, and then realizing that might be why people are saying “sorry” to me when they swear.

3. The no-funeral issue. Did not come up.

4. His aunt might try to boss me. It seemed to me that she is Quite Bossy by nature, but that she is self-aware enough to attempt to reign herself in—unlike my late mother-in-law, who would just LET FLY with anything she felt like bossing me about, with the strongly-felt implication that there was The Right Way and The Dumb Way. I think Paul’s aunt ITCHES to tell people The Right Way, but that she is aware that it’s not necessarily The Dumb Way if they want to do it differently; or that even if it IS The Dumb Way, that’s not her concern. Also, she is aware that people don’t necessarily LIKE to be bossed. So for two days, she did well. But by the end of the second day she was starting to Make Suggestions in a way that told me that if I were her daughter-in-law, or if she were staying longer than two days, we would start to have Issues. As neither of those were the case, we got along beautifully and I liked her very much. If Paul and I ever do the road trip we’d like to do someday, I’d want to deliberately route it so that we could stop and see his aunt and uncle.

Successful Visit!

The visit from Paul’s aunt and uncle went well! Very well indeed! There were no major hitches, and the minor ones were along the lines of “Whoops, forgot to think about napkins, good thing I keep buying pretty paper napkins I have no use for, because now I suddenly have a use for them, SEE PAUL???” I’d also forgotten to think about dishes, and by the time I DID think of them I felt too tired out to lug up the boxes from the basement and wash all the dishes and find a place to keep them, so instead we just used our usual hodge-podge dishes, and if anyone felt this was less than fancy, they kept those thoughts to themselves.

I wondered, in fact, if they might have come away with the impression that we were rather poor: non-matching dishes, shabby recliners with actual rips in the upholstery, coffee table with about half its original finish, kitchen made up of an assortment of non-official fixes (such as having an island made out of what used to be a changing table), etc. When actually, it’s partly procrastination, partly wanting to make do with what we have, partly not wanting to buy nice things while our children are still wrecking them, partly not noticing/caring very much, and only partly a matter of wincing at prices.

The house had reached an acceptable level of cleanliness/tidiness by the time they arrived, so that it did not much embarrass me—and I think it is good to get periodic practice in “not feeling as if the cleanliness of my house MEANS SOMETHING about me,” and “just because some people take pride in a clean house doesn’t mean I have to feel shame in a messy one.” What I’d like to do, now that it is in fairly good shape, is try to KEEP it there. But I am remembering when I had the flu a couple of years ago and lost 20 pounds, and I thought, “I feel so much BETTER this way! Now that I am here, I am going to KEEP it here!” And yet slowly, inexorably, I went right back to my usual weight. In order to maintain a lower weight, I need to be actively ill; in order to maintain a cleaner house, I need to be actively anxious about impending houseguests.

What to Do When There Is a Worker in the House

We had a plumber here this morning to install our new toilet, which I hope will end The Decade of Plunging the Toilet Every Time Someone Uses a Little Too Much Toilet Paper or Just Doesn’t Crumple It Right, and I tried out a new coping mechanism that worked BEAUTIFULLY. I know I am not the only one of us who feels all skittery and weird having a worker in the house (I was going to say “workman,” then stopped to adjust it to workperson, which didn’t seem right, and worker isn’t quite right either but is better, and then I realized ALL the workers in our house have ALWAYS been men, which made me think again of the idea of an all-woman construction/repair/plumping/electrician company because that would be SO EXCELLENT and probably illegal) (but I still would feel skittery and weird about having a worker in the house). I am going to go ahead and start a new sentence here, instead of finishing that one.

In fact, let’s have a whole new paragraph. *brushing off clinging strands of sentence* Many of us, perhaps MOST of us, feel weird when a worker is in the house. This coping idea won’t work for when we have someone in the house ALL DAY or whatever, but for the times when someone will be there for an hour or two, this is the idea I tried today: BAKE. Or COOK would work, too. The idea is, I was in the kitchen, so I was:

1. industrious in appearance, rather than appearing to loll around while someone else did work

2. industrious in actual fact, to keep my nervous SOMEONE IS IN MY HOUSE energy occupied and to get stuff done that needed to be done

3. easy to find, without someone having to call through the house if they’re looking for me, and without me having to wonder every time they walked down the hall if they might be looking for me

Really, it was perfect. I made ginger snaps, which I wanted to make to have on hand for our impending guests anyway, and it made the whole house smell great. Then as the plumber was leaving, I said, “Take a couple of cookies with you, if you’d like!,” which made me feel like a easygoing, natural, friendly person who didn’t at ALL mind having a stranger in the house. And he DID take a couple of cookies, which made me feel happy too. Then I had a couple of cookies myself, which made me feel even happier.

The one downside is that it made me feel like SUCH a…I don’t know. Housewife, I guess. I don’t like the word (I’d always use “homemaker”), so I use it deliberately here because it fits very well how I FELT: woman at home in the middle of the day, baking cookies. There’s NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. And for all he knows, I’m a cut-throat corporate-takeover specialist, and I am just home today for his visit, and I am making cookies because it is rare for me to have time to do such a thing! Perhaps I am planning to use them to manipulate shareholders!

More Preparing for Guests: Group Cleaning Sessions; Meal Planning

I have made more progress cleaning. I’m concentrating on the four rooms the guests will spend the most time in (living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom), and pretty much ignoring everything else: maybe they’ll want a tour of the whole house and maybe they won’t, but I am working with limited time and even more limited enthusiasm. I am also remembering when I was getting ready to go on my trip with Elizabeth, and I wanted to get all caught up on laundry before we went, and I left all her laundry and my laundry for last so we’d have exactly what we needed for packing—and the washing machine broke right after I’d finished everyone else’s stuff and right before I’d gotten to ours. Most-important stuff FIRST, not LAST, that is the goal now.

One of the best helps is making everyone clean together at the same time. We’ve done it a few times (we’re aiming for once a day until the guests get here), and it’s surprising what a difference it makes. Each person chooses whatever they want to do, but I emphasized ahead of time that we were looking for tasks that made the biggest impact. The littler kids barely have any effect on anything, but they DO make SOME difference, and the two big kids are big helps, and it’s hugely good for morale to have EVERYONE CLEANING and not JUST ME. (It’s something I’d like to keep doing, maybe an hour every Saturday or something, but why don’t I tell you about it AFTER we actually implement such a plan and keep up with it for awhile, instead of when it’s just me assuming Future Me will be happy to do all that work.) We put the radio on loud and it’s not really FUN but it’s satisfying, and things definitely look better when we’re done. The children are starting to say MY lines, things like “Can’t people put things AWAY when they’re done with them?” and “Ug, look at all these PENCILS! They go in the MUG, not ALL OVER THE PLACE!”

Another excellent development: the annual ladybug invasion has begun, which means it will appear that the speckles up high in the corners are from THIS year, rather than still there from last year!

I removed considerable stress by deciding that for the two dinners, we will make our specialties: tacos (me) and pizza (Paul). Those are the only two meals we seem to be able to make in huge quantities AND that the children will eat without complaining and/or acting as if we normally eat only tacos and pizza (“What’s THIS?”—suspiciously looking at carrot shred as if utterly foreign substance). These are not the meals I think of as ideal for (1) company or (2) people in their mid-70s, but so be it. Making something we know how to make (and know how to shop for) will be much, much, much more peaceful from an Inexperienced Hostess point of view—and maybe they will LOVE it and be GLAD it isn’t Company Food. Also, these are both meals we make with child helpers, which makes us AND our children look good. And the tacos are highly customizable, which is nice for guests, and the pizza can be sliced small and I’ll make a salad, in case they go lightly on pizza-like foods. But Paul’s aunt has made several nervous, self-deprecating comments about eating too much, so my hope is that they are plump and love food and will think of tacos/pizza as treats. I still have to decide about desserts.

For lunches, I’m doing what one of my grandmothers did (perhaps the other grandmother did it as well, but I specifically remember it with only one), which is to put out a great abundance of miscellaneous things and let everyone help themselves: three kinds of bread, peanut butter, two kinds of jam, two kinds of deli meat, two kinds of deli cheese, mayo and mustard, cottage cheese, applesauce, grapes, dried cherries, carrot sticks and celery sticks, nuts, sunflower seeds, chips, crackers, cookies. It’s fun, it’s flexible, it lets everyone eat how they want without making me feel like I have to Guess Correctly, and it’s easy to use up whatever’s left over after the guests leave.

Keeping the Cello Humid; Nanny McPhee

Those of you who have instruments that need to be kept humid: how do you keep them humid? The guy who rented us Rob’s cello said we would need to keep the cello in a closed room with a humidifier, and keep maybe even more than one hygrometer in the room to make sure we were getting an accurate reading. He then told us some horror stories: The Family That Thought Two Humidifiers Were Enough, But THEY WERE WRONG! and The Family That Kept Their House at 50% Humidity, But IT WAS NOT ENOUGH!

In researching this a little bit I found there is such a thing as a “case humidifier,” which appears to be…a sponge? in a little plastic box with holes? selling for way, way, way more than I would think a sponge in a little plastic box would cost, but presumably it is a SPECIAL sponge and a SPECIAL box. Or there are other versions, but the gist is that it is something kept inside the case with the cello. It seems like a way better system than humidifying a whole room or whole house—but if it WERE better, it seems as if the cello guy would have mentioned it, so that makes me assume it ISN’T a better system.


We watched Nanny McPhee with the kids, and I’d forgotten how much I love that movie.

(image from

(image from

I was completely sure I’d already blogged about it so I was going to link back to that post, but apparently I HAVEN’T blogged about it except for a brief parenthetical in the Wallowing post (a post in which I apparently ran out of steam on the photos). Which is disappointing, because I know I want to rave about it, but I don’t know SPECIFICALLY, so I was hoping I’d already written it. I love Emma Thompson, I love Colin Firth, I love the actors who play the kids, I love the cook and Mrs. Quickly, and the whole thing is just silly and funny and makes me happy.