Saturday, December 30, 2006


Well, it's been several weeks since Jo from Tangled Me, being swept up in a meme tagging frenzy, charged me and several other good women to reveal five things about ourselves of which people were unaware.

I must admit, this tag left me looking like a deer caught in the headlights: what was a meme? what five things about myself have I not already long-since revealed in my postings? why on earth would anyone want to know any more about me than I've already been nattering on about for the past year or so? But I value Jo's friendship, and I've honestly been wracking my brain to come up with these five items to comply with the tag challenge.

Wracking my brain wouldn't seem to be such a difficult task considering the hollow sound resulting from a sharp rap on my skull with the knuckles. I mean, there ain't much in my cerebrum but a grocery list and some fond childhood memories! But, DANG! What five things does no one know about Priscilla?

*remember mint-flavored M&M's in kitchen cabinet*

To be fair, the holidays were upon us, and there was so much work to be done. Christmas was oddly difficult in that I felt so prepared and confident right up until a few days before. Last minute wrapping sessions, a delayed tree snatch and a frantic Christmas Eve meal prep left me exhausted and confused.

I needed Mr. Pseudonym to help with the tree, but he works far away from home with nary a day off ever. He does get vacation and personal time, but he doesn't like to leave the defense of the country to others at Aircraft & Other-Stuff-You-Don't-Need-To-Know-About R Us. So the tree had to wait until the last minute, finally being decorated as part of the frantic Deathmarch Houseclean which always precedes our parties.

One of our Christmas Eve guests is a compulsive talker, and trying to get a holiday meal on the table when she's here is like trying to shampoo a hairless cat on a rubber sheet.


Or like juggling peeled mangoes while walking barefoot across an icy roof. But dinner was eventually served, and the coffee pot was kept gurgling all night. I missed out on a lot of present opening, but I saved most of the kids' stuff for unwrapping at Pixie's house the next day.

The bright spot of the Christmas Eve was getting to see J.Q.'s other grandma, #1 Daughter's soon-to-be-ex-mother-in-law-but-hopefully-lifelong-family-friend. J.Q.'s grandma was sweet (and brave) enough to attend the festivities at Casa Pseudonym, which helped balance out the psychic drain of my compulsive talker friend's monologue.

The evening ended with a weary plop on the sofa and a protracted, wide-eyed stare at the tree. One holiday down, a coupla more to go.

Christmas Day up at Pixie's was, by contrast, soothing and comfortable. Pixie has turned into a really good cook, and she executed an excellent holiday meal. We opened gifts one-by-one under her illegal evergreen while listening to the

Mr. Pseudonym's 60th birthday was three days later, on the same day I was keeping J.Q. My dear friend and neighbor, Kathy, comes over to help with J.Q. each week now. Caring for a wall-climbing toddler who calls her "Cassie" and begs for hugs just to get out of getting his diaper changed seems to reaffirm her faith in life while dealing with her mother's progressing Alzheimer's. With Kathy keeping J.Q. from destroying NJ, I was able to throw a partial turkey in the oven for Mr. Pseudonym's birthday dinner. All of the kids were here, and the baby got a kick out of everyone singing to grandpa.

New Year's Eve came all too soon. I burnt the breadcrumb topping on the mac and cheese to a black devastation while, once again, listening to Mrs. Compulsive's rambling. And, to my astounding great fortune, she and her husband had apparently stuffed some festive dried herbs into their hookah on the way over, so her stories were frequently punctuated by a magestic rise up onto one buttock and the expulsion of several cubic feet of intestinal gas in a long, alarming screech. While she was obviously delighted with her own talents, my friend's performance left me drained of holiday spirit almost until the big ball dropped at Times Square.

But I got out the good crystal and served the two bottles sparkling cider brought by two different guests. Two different sparking ciders, so it looked as if five of us were drinking champagne and three of us were drinking urine.

OK...the purpose of this post is to fulfill my obligation to Jo. So here goes:

  • I wanted children from the time I was a young child.
  • I am math phobic
  • I believe human beings are meant to be carnivorous, but not necessarily cruelly carnivorous.
  • *pauses to pick meat shreds out of teeth*
  • I am not an atheist or an agnostic.
  • I plan to do away with all of my pets by attrition, because...DAMN!...every time I finish cleaning, I dump out a whole catsworth of hair from the vacuum cleaner!

Oh, ALLRIGHT: My kids are aware of most or all of the above, which is frankly boring, but let's face it--I'm not that complicated a person! I will admit to being empathic till it hurts, overly emotional, way too naive for my age and wicked smart, but I don't think about much more than going to the supermarket, watering my plants and feeding my pets!

Oooooo0o! Ooooooooo! Oooooooooo!

  • When Mr. Pseudonym retires, I want us to buy a Winnebago and travel the United States!

  • I have always dreamed of seeing the aurora borealis! Literally! I sometimes have dreams about bright, undulating, colored lights in the sky. Sometimes, the lights spell out words or form pictures!

The kids keep saying I need a therapist because I've never fulfilled my potential, but how much damned potential does a woman have at my age? Wasn't the starting bell rung...uh...say, four decades or so ago? And what if I'm basically happy dropping Mr. P's shirts off at the cleaner, throwing the frisbee for the terrier and waiting for the spring planting season? What if I don't feel the need to rush out and get a degree in microbiology? Is this wrong thinking?

Me tired. Head hurts. Will tag others next post, OK?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

No, Mama! Scary Man! NO!

Graham Henderson--1991

I briefly toyed with the idea of getting a J.Q. & Santa photo taken this year--very briefly, because J.Q. has had a full-blown case of "stranger anxiety" for several months now.

J.Q. is old enough to learn a little about Santa--at least that the dude carries a sack of toys on his back and says "Ho Ho Ho!" But slapping an anxious toddler on a big, scary man with a burned-out attitude and a musty-smelling fur suit just because I want a picture seemed a little cruel to me.

J.Q. has endured some serious changes in his life over the past eleven months or so. Mommy and Daddy no longer live together, and there are extra caregivers in far-distant locations each week. The little guy never knows where he's going to wake up or who's taking care of him on a given day. But J.Q. is fortunate in having parents who are so committed to his well-being that they make a serious effort to get along peacefully with each other and to assure their child is always in the care of someone who puts his safety before anything else.

In return, J.Q. is a generally cheerful and cooperative baby. Even his temper tantrums are brief and mostly for show--he's just too busy having fun to spend much time in meltdown mode. He has to be seriously past nap time to engage in any protracted crying. There's worlds to conquer: speech, manual dexterity, exploration of environment and emotional manipulation of several aunts and grandparents (biological and voluntary).

Still, it seems a shame to let this particular Christmas go by without at least a brief nod to The Man With All Those Toys and the Serious Cholesterol Problem. So I found a Night Before Christmas board book to read with J.Q. Since he's too young and too impatient to sit through the antiquated Clement C. Moore poem while we look at the illustrations, I'm going to have to modify the story a bit to appeal to his 20-month old sensibilities.

* * *

Toddler Night Before Christmas
(as adapted by Priscilla Pseudonym)

Oooooo! Look, Baby! Grandma got you a new book!
No, no, no! Leave Kitty's tail alone, and come sit on Grandma's lap!

Good. OK...settle down now.
No, Baby! No glasses! Grandma can't read book without glasses!, this book is called Night Before Santa comes to Baby's House!!!
NO! Kitty doesn't want any more Cheerios!

OK...let's start. Turn page, Baby.
NO MOUTH! NO! We don't chew on Santa Clause!

Here we go...
It was Night Before Santa Come to Baby's House, and LOOK! Everyone sleepin'!!!
Mousies sleep, Mommy/Daddy sleep, all the little children sleep...

Whoops! That's OK... Grandma just wipe up milky off of sofa and coffee table and magazines and floor. There.
No, Kitty! NO! Go away!

Where were we? No glasses...put cup down now...kitty go away.
Oh! Look! Daddy hear something! Daddy jump out of bed!
Daddy has dorky hat on! Aren't we glad our Daddy not wear dorky hat to bed? YES!

Look! There's the moon, and WHAT'S THAT??? LOOK! REINDEERS!
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen... Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen!
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, EIGHT REINDEERS!
You know why so many reindeers?
See that guy in the sleigh? That's SANTA! And Santa MORBIDLY OBESE!

Owwww! OK.'s OK. Grandma's mouth OK. Baby's head OK?

OK...more reindeers, more sleigh...
We can just skip these pages...
NO MOUTH! NO! Here, let's get to the good part...

BABY! Come back here! No! No outside! Too cold! No!

(...45 minutes later...)
LOOK! That's SANTA! Isn't he CUTE?
And he's got TOYS! See? And he's smoking a PIPE!
But pretty soon, no books will show Santa's pipe because
Societal Health & Behavior Enforcement Squad is closing in fast, and our civil liberties
are swirling around and around and around and pretty soon go all the way down potty!
But that's another story.

Anyway! See Santa put toys in stockings for little children!

BABY! Leave...the...CAT...alone!
OK. Long story short...Santa comes to Baby's house with TOYS!
But only if Baby is good: be nice to kitty, stop ripping off Grandma's glasses, no fishing around in the trash, no throwing food, no pinching other people and stop trying to escape from house.

Oh, and Baby has to eat at least ONE thing per day that isn't grapes. OK?

Baby! NO! NO!

*thanks to aussiegal for recommending "Scared of Santa" site to Pixie:,0,2245506.photogallery?index=1

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Evergreens of Yore

A short break from mall skipping to remember trees gone by:

Pixie, I'm of a mind to get me a cut tree this year although, not being as audacious as my second-born, I'll go about it legally. I've been using my little two-foot, plastic, laser-lighted, psychedelic conifer for the past few years. I got it for $12 two days after Christmas in 2003, and it has been causing passing motorists to drive into my mailbox each holiday season since that time.

This year, however, I'm a little more on top of the holiday than is my usual habit. Most of my shopping is done, and it may be possible to get together for some tree decorating, cookie baking and assorted Holiday Magic with friends and family within the next couple of weeks. Younger Brother is into baking, and I got some really neat
3d cookie cutters from W*lliams-Son0ma for our baked-gift preparation needs. And there may be enough time to drag home a fresh tree from the local garden mart.

When I was very young, my family lived in a small house on 3-1/2 acres of prime NJ farmland (pine trees included). Each December 23 or so, my brothers and Dad would put on their boots and ear muffs, grab an ax and trot off to the woods behind our house with Mom yelling after them, "Not too big! Not too big! Do you hear me? NOT TOO BIG!!!" They would drag home Pinezilla and pull/push it into the house with my mother's anguished cries as background music. They would then commence chopping off the top, the bottom and 10 or so large branches before Dad could prop it up in our rickety old metal tree stand, slide it into the customary corner of the dining room and fill the reservoir in the stand with fresh water.

The ornaments and lights would come down from the attic, and even Mom (fortified by a glass of spiked eggnog) would participate in the tree decoration. The lights rarely worked without Dad's magic incantations (which cannot be repeated in polite company, so I'll just omit them here). The ornaments were old and sad-looking, but we children always thought we had the most beautiful Christmas tree on earth. Until the dog crawled under it to get himself a drink and the whole thing started tipping over. Good thing Dad had wired the top half to the wall!

Many years later, Older Brother was visiting my parents' house with his family one Christmas, and it came time to put up the tree. Brother climbed up into the attic and brought down the tree stand and the box of ornaments. He looked at the sad, lopsided little metal tree stand and said, "I had one of these once! I know what to do!" He put on his coat, picked up the tree stand and dropped it into the trash on his way out to the car. He came back within an hour with a brand-new, heavy-duty tree stand. I don't think we even had to wire the tree to the wall that year!

Mr. Pseudonym and I had at least one child, possibly two or three, the year we procrastinated a little too long in getting our Christmas tree. It was Christmas Eve, and I was wailing in my frazzled husband's ear, "You can't just not get a tree for your child! You can't DO that!" Our oldest must have been three or four that year, which would mean we had a three-year old and a newborn, or a four-year-old, a year old baby and a newborn. To Mr. P's reply that he was unable to simply shit out a tree on demand, I countered with my sighting of a perfectly serviceable little white spruce-looking thing growing in our own back yard. It was just the right size, Mr. P. had a sharp saw in the shed and all of the kids were asleep. TREE TIME! There was just one problem--it was raining buckets that night.

Mr. Pseudonym opened the back door and stood with the cold rain splashing in his face for a few seconds. He somberly shut the door and turned to stare at me. I stared back, just as determined and sure of my position as Mr. P was sure he didn't want to be outside rolling around in the puddles. We stared in mute standoff for what seemed like forever, but Mr. P had been married 13 or 14 years at that point and knew when to give up and get dressed. He pulled on his boots, grabbed an umbrella and headed across the yard to get his saw from the shed.

I followed with my own umbrella, softly singing "I'm Dreaming of a Muddy Christmas" while waiting by the little tree.
Mr. P lay on the ground, hacking away at the tree trunk while I held my umbrella over his head and thought about standing at the bottom of Niagara Falls. The little tree fell over, and I rushed into the house to spread out sheets and towels over the hardwood floor.

Mr. P dragged the saturated tree into the house, and we let it "drain" on the dropcloths for an hour or so before putting it upright in the stand. It stayed undecorated for quite a while after that--we didn't want to get electrocuted from stringing lights on a dripping wet tree. Mr. P got changed into dry clothing and I made a pot of hot coffee.

So Santa had a tree to put his presents under that year, and I think Mr. P and I resumed speaking to each other by the next morning. Now that's what I call a successful Christmas!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Priscilla Posts!

Well, I'm SORRY! I've been at the mall! For a month!

Actually, most of my Christmas shopping is done, and I can spend December finishing up the odds and ends--fattening the stockings with extra trinkets and baking cookies. Last year was a nightmare, and I've made good on my promise to myself regarding this year's festivities: no procrastination/no last-minute panic/no throwing slippers at the t.v. just because the Mormon Tabernacle Choir launches into Joy to the World just as I run out of scotch tape.

This year should be fun with little J.Q. He's at a good age for Christmas--old enough to reply "Ho! Ho! Ho!" when asked how Santa goes, but not old enough to ask for real pricey toys. I'll be looking for some special pre-Christmas books for him this year, which reminds me of when his mother was a little younger than J.Q. at her second Christmas. She was demanding to be read her favorite book around fifteen times a day, and we finally had to kick Jingle Bells under the sofa when she wasn't looking so we could get a break. ("Look at horsey pull the sleigh! Run horsey, RUN! Go, horsey GO! Uhoh! Horsey slipped on the ice and crashed into the Ukrainian Credit Union building! Maybe horsey should take a nap now!")

Long story short ('cause it's jammie time), Priscilla is still alive and whiney, but there's so much to do and so little time. Further adventures anon.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Priscilla Takes A Sick Day (or Three)

Rats! I was going to do a really nice essay on making Halloween costumes for little kids. But when I sat down at the keyboard, my neck disks decided to stage a coup and overthrow my best intentions. Crushing, burning pain at C4-5, complete with nausea, flattened me for two days or so. And I don't handle "flat" very well.

So the Halloween costume piece will have to wait until next year (God willing, 'cause, y'know, at my age y'never know). For now, I'll have to write about all of my cats developing matted fur at the ass-end of their backs, which must be some kind of fall-shedding and winter-coat-growing phenomenon.

Or maybe I'll just skip it. Yeah.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Country Living Fair

Fall—my most favorite time of year! The leaves are just starting to get serious about turning color in my part of the Eastern Seaboard. By Halloween, we will have lost most of our leaves after a day or two of rain and wind, but now they’re going orange, red and gold in sequence: vines first, deciduous trees next and the sturdier shrubs last. Even if we haven’t had any cool weather by the middle of September, the vining plants tip us off to the unofficial beginning of autumn.

Every fall we have the holiday I’ve invented for my family—my Annual Breakfast before the Country Living Fair at Batsto, New Jersey, held this year on October 15. Most holidays just depress me. There are a lot of memories about late family members who had their birthdays or died on the major holidays, but the month of October has no sad memories or associations for me.

I don’t even know how many years the Country Living Fair has been held at the restored 19th-century village of Batsto. Composed of thirty-three historic buildings and structures--including the Batsto Mansion, gristmill, sawmill, general store, workers' homes and post office--Batsto Village is a New Jersey Historic site and is listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.

Historically, this area was the homeland of the indigenous Lenni-Lenape, who signed the first Native American treaty with the newly-formed United States Government on September 17, 1778. Although some small Lenni-Lenape communities remain in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the modern Delaware Native American tribes are located in Oklahoma. (See also Lee Sultzman’s Delaware History, Susan Ditmire’s Native People of New Jersey and Terrie Winson’s Lenni Lenape)

In 1784, William Richards bought the Batsto Iron Works (originally built in 1766). It remained in his family and was operated by his son and grandson (who built most of the village) for the next 92 years. Along with the pig iron industry in general, Batsto declined in the mid-1800's, finally falling into receivership after a brief period as a glassworks. The complex was purchased by Joseph Wharton at a Masters Sale in 1876. Wharton made improvements to the mansion and many of the village buildings, built a sawmill, cleared the land, planted cranberries and other crops, and ran a forest products and agriculture business until he died in 1909.

Wheeeee! Cranberries!

Managed by the Girard Trust Company in Philadelphia from the time of Wharton’s death, Batsto was purchased by the State of New Jersey in 1954. The few people still living in the Village houses remained as long as they wanted, and in 1989 the last house was vacated. Today the village is the core of Wharton State Forest, which in turn is part of the Pinelands National Reserve. (See also The Pinelands National Reserve and

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Family and friends are to meet at my house at 9:00am sharp! Well, the sharp part is negotiable. It’s hard to get out of bed that early on weekends, and we usually get a call saying several people will be straggling. Brother brings his pure-bred Westie and his pure-bred basset hound, since most fairgoers bring their pure-bred dogs. I would bring Daisy the Terrier, even though her lineage is a little jumbled (just like mine!) but, unlike her superchilled cousins, she can’t behave herself for five minutes (just like me!).

Mr. Pseudonym kindly helps with the last-minute "desperation" house cleaning and I work hard on breakfast, making a lot of things from “scratch” and setting a beautiful table. I receive many compliments and a bit of criticism from my family for using the “good china,” so to speak: “Why do you have to use fancy glassware? Why not just put out the carton of juice? jug of maple syrup? jars of jam?” Oh, well, they can’t help it; people from the Pine Barrens tend to be a bit…uh…how shall we say… primeval. We finish up breakfast while yelling at the dogs to stop racing around the house like ferrets on speed (Daisy's influence), and we finally pile into several cars for the trip down to Batsto.

This year, we had perfect weather--not too hot, not too cold, lots of sunshine and a crisp, autumn breeze. There are always a lot of crafters at the fair, but I'm not especially into buying old washboards costing $32 because they're decorated with artificial flowers and hemp-vine bows. But there's also music and dancing onstage, food and drink vendors, a see-through beehive, pony rides, antiques, a footbridge over the cedar-water river and a display of old cars, tractors and various motors. (A side trip to the Batsto-Pleasant Mills United Methodist Church will take place on another day, but it is of special interest to our family since Brother and Sis-In-Law were married there!)

The Village itself is worth walking even if there is no special event going on. The mansion is huge, with tall windows and a wide porch three-quarters the way around it. Some of the worker's homes have been partially restored, and the visitor's center has a gift shop and flush toilets for the faint of heart. (We studiously avoid the Porta-Potties sprinkled here and there because, you know, ewwwwwwwww!)

Using the mansion as a rendezvous point, our party splits up to pursue our varying interests. Brother leans backward and takes off at a trot, to be yanked around by his dogs at about 10mph for the entire day. I make a bee-line for the antiques and the kids seek out the food vendors lest they faint from inadequate nutrition. We meet several times on the mansion porch to compare our plunder (Brother lashes the dogs to a post while he catches his breath). When no one can walk another step and even the dogs seem subdued, we finally head back to my house for coffee. Everyone agrees this has been the best Country Living Fair Day yet.

This is a wonderful day for me, and I look forward to this "holiday" all year long.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

K*therine is 21

K*therine was born on October 12, 1985, about 12 months and three weeks after her sister Sarah. We weren’t planning on another child, especially this soon, but we adjusted quickly to the prospect of having one more to round out our family.

With Sarah being born in the E.R. the previous year, I spent most of this pregnancy worried about delivering the baby at home, suddenly and without medical assistance. The obstetrician’s nurse assured me that in such an emergency, babies will more or less birth themselves--we would just have to cut the cord, wrap the baby up and wait until the ambulance arrived. I wasn’t reassured.

We weren’t sure when K*te would be full-term, but September 22nd (Sarah’s birthday) came and went, as did 23rd (the date I wanted for K*te’s birth) and the 24th (Julia’s birthday). My neighbor, Kathy, had her baby around October 1, and still I waited…and waited…and waited.

On the morning of October 12, I got a slight pulling sensation in my back, followed by a few more spaced regularly over the next half hour. “That’s it,” I yelled to my husband, “Off we go! ” I was not going to have this baby at home! In just three hours and forty-five minutes, we got our K*te. She more or less birthed herself—the doctor cut the cord, did the requisite procedures for newborns, wrapped her up and handed her to her Dad. Our third daughter didn’t want to open her eyes; she was comfortable and warm and just wanted to sleep.

From the beginning, it was obvious K*te had a unique personality. She was quiet and introspective as an infant, with her own special outlook on life. As she grew, her personality developed into a Day/Night pattern of unrestrained laughter alternating with cool detachment. She was either acting out in shameless comedic performance or she was coolly reserved, letting no one inside her head. K*te was an expert at mimicry; she could always make us laugh, which got her out of a lot of trouble growing up. She had a stubborn streak, however, which worked against her in relations with her parents and teachers.

I wish I could say K*te grew up happily and uneventfully. I can’t. As with all of my children, K*te was “different” from her peers. Wickedly intelligent and disdainfully observant, she found no common ground or fast friendships while growing up. She spent a lot of time lonely and isolated until a series of unfortunate alliances in her late teens sent her on a fast descent into a world of misfortune. For what seemed like an endless, torturous time, we could not communicate with our little girl. As with Julia, we could do nothing but wait until she came back to us.

Finally, finally we got our K*te back, all 5 feet, 1-1/2 inches, 106 pounds of her. She has had to work hard at understanding where she’s been and where she’s going. She’s a good daughter, a good employee and a good friend. She’s grateful for her renewed relationships with those she loves.

K*te’s 21 going on 41, frequently showing a lot more common sense than people many years her senior. She’s assertive and opinionated--a force to be reckoned with--but her intentions are usually toward helping others with compassion. K*te suffers no fools, though; she’s been down that path and can read the signs.

Happy 21st birthday, K*therine, our surprise baby. We celebrate this day with much happiness.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Incoming! Incoming!

Hi Grandma!

Hi! I was told that you have cornbread. I have not been fed in weeks. Really. My sisters say I'm fat but really I'm just big-boned and I need cornbread. My mom says that you have an empty cage and that you have cornbread and you take care of special-needs rats and that I'm a special-needs rat. What are special-needs?

Did you get the cornbread yet? I'm dying of starvation. Really. I really am.

Love, Krimpet

Hi, Krimpet!

Yes, I have cornbread and ice cream and cookies and all kinds of stuff. You can come stay with me tomorrow! You mama said so! Grandma won't starve you. You will have all you want to eat and you can play on the couch every day! Remember how we played on the couch?

Special needs means you are big-boned and need more cornbread. So, you come over here with your mama tomorrow and stay with me so you won't starve any more, OK? I have a big cage with a platform just for you, and you won't have to share your food with anyone. Sound good?


Hi, Grandma With Cornbread!

Thank goodness! They wouldn't believe me when I said special-needs means I get to have all the food. And cornbread. Playing on the couch was the best. There were crumbs there. And a dish of milk. And they were all my crumbs. And my milk.

I am ready to go to Grandma's house! Where there is cornbread! Come on, mama! I will see you tomorrow, Grandma. I will try not to starve to death before then.

Love, Krimpet
P.S. Cornbread

Sunday, October 08, 2006

R.I.P. Pokey

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Ready or not, here I come!
Pokey - 2004 to 2006

My daughter, Junket, was working at a pet store when she started bringing home rats. Not the ugly, snarly, sharp-toothed, nasty-tempered sewer rats we see in horror movies. No, these were pet rats, in a variety of pretty colors and coat styles.

I don't know how Junket got around my policy of "absolutely no more critters will be brought into this house!" She must have worked on me for weeks, but eventually
Sniffy, a brown agouti rat, came home with Junket one day. She had a ruffly, brown/gray coat, sparkling, fiery eyes and tiny pink ears. Her long tail made me instinctively react with aversion, but when I saw her holding a bit of cracker in between her tiny, star-shaped paws and nibbling at it resolutely, I began to fall in love.

Sniffy's long, twitching whiskers, constant lithe movement and comic antics won me over eventually, and I didn't object too strongly when Snowflake and Hambone came home to live with Sniffy. (Rats are social animals, and they need cagemates, preferably from the same litter they were born into.) Some time later, Sprinkles and Pokey came home as well.

When Junket had her own apartment, the first three rats went with her, but I kept Sprinkles and Pokey. (Rats only live from three to five years, and all of Junket's rats eventually succumbed to mammary tumors and old age. It was hard to lose them.)

Sprinkles, our bad luck rat, had been lost for two days in the pet store, attacked and severely injured by one of her sisters after she came home, removed from the original community because of aggression and suffered a bout of "head tilt" last year, which is a common rat ailment resulting in sometimes irreversible circling, off-balance movements. Sprinkles is perfectly healthy today, having recovered almost completely from the illness. Pokey was not so lucky.

Pokey was a sleek, soft rat with a gentle personality. Unlike her naughty, 90mph, always-in-trouble sister, Pokey preferred to climb up Mr. Pseudonym's chest and get petted and fussed over while she chewed the buttons on his shirt. She loved cornbread, melted ice cream and watermelon. After her snack at exercise time, she would sit on a convenient human shoulder and groom herself fastidiously, washing her face with her little paws, licking and smoothing down the fur on her flanks. She wasn't the smartest rat, but she was photogenic and totally cuddly. She was a little doll.

About four weeks ago, Pokey slowly developed the classic symptoms: an awkward, slow, circling movement with the head tilted to one side, falling over frequently, having difficulty eating and difficulty keeping herself clean. By the time she saw the vet after we realized what was happening (and after a holiday weekend), she was far advanced in the illness. The vet did not know if she could be cured, but she prescribed antibiotics and told us to hope for the best. We helped Pokey eat, bathed her and administered her medicine, but she went downhill steadily. By today, she had lost a lot of weight and her fur was sparse and matted. Her left eye was halfway closed and she was showing symptoms of blindness. Unable to clean herself, she was dragging pureéd food and feces all over her cage. It was time she was given rest, since it was apparent she would not recover enough to lead a normal, active life.

I fed Pokey some ice cream, sponged her off and held her close before she was put down. As I rubbed her head, she closed her eyes and ground her teeth--a sign of affection or contentment. I said goodbye to her and wished her well in her next assignment: give back to the Earth what was given to her, nourishing the lifeforms who could use her body and transforming into all she could become.

I feel honored to have known Pokey.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Traffic Noises

It's 12:00 midnight, and there's still intermittent traffic, the occasional trolley car and neighbors talking to each other down on the sidewalk in front of Jul's new bachelorette pad. The apartment is just outside downtown Philophilus, my daughter's street marking the dividing-line between Snooty Terrace and Pit Bull Commons (which is why she had her car desecrated three times in as many weeks just for parking a block over the line). Jul and J.Q. are sound asleep, but I continue looking out the window and listening to all the sounds below.

The pervasive lonliness of suburban living seems so far away when I'm in the city. At home, I keep the television on all day, just to hear human voices. With all of my kids grown, I now have the "peace and quiet" I wanted so desperately when they were little. I must admit, these days I would gladly trade my "peace and quiet" for a little human interaction. With Mr. Pseudonym off to work early each day, the walls have a tendency to close in. I so look forward to hopping the train for Philophilus each Tuesday afternoon and babysitting J.Q. each Wednesday.

Since Jul's separation, it takes an hour less travel time to get to her new home in the city each Tuesday. I stay overnight and wake up on Wednesday mornings to J.Q. grinning at me and throwing his little arms around my neck for a long hug. After he's diapered, dressed and has slugged down a quick bot-bot, he grabs for my keys, toddles over to the front door and yells, "Key! Door! Go!" while nodding his head in a "yes" motion. We hurry downstairs for our morning stroll.

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In the new neighborhood, some of the people walking around are obviously distressed, but most are friendly and polite as I smile and wish them a good morning. Last Wednesday, J.Q. and I met the man with two kitties in his front window and the man with the guitar and the strong blues voice two doors down. Sometimes we walk to the BP gas station store to pick up some milk, juice or a box of crackers. The man takes our money through a small opening in the bottom of a large, thick plexiglass window. He shoves the change and a plastic carrying bag back through the hole.

It is amazing how many people have dogs in the city; we see all sizes and breeds out for their morning walk. Unlike their country cousins, who are just let out into the back yard to do their business each morning, these dogs must be walked twice a day, minimum. And their owners must carry a supply of plastic bags to pick up their animals'...uh...butt flingings for proper disposal. Twice a day! Ewwwwwww! These people must surely love their dogs! Once in a while, we see a somber-looking person being pulled around by a huge, lumpy, drooling canine who looks as if it should be guarding the gates of Hell; J.Q. and I omit the greeting and cross the street when we see these couples.

There are more flowers and plants in most of the container gardens outside the row houses than I put in my large, suburban yard this year. Morning glories climb up iron handrails, and long, trailing plants complement the colorful annuals in the window boxes.
"Look, J.Q., pretty flowers!" Predictably, the little hand shoots out to grab a fistful of impatiens from a container, but I learned to keep baby at a safe distance from the plants the first week I went up to the new apartment. J.Q. must content himself with chewing on my keys while studiously absorbing all the bright sights and loud sounds of the city.

The bay windows at the front of most row houses seem to be decorated in themes: patriotic, angels, imported glass, floral arrangement, religious icons. Once in a while, we come upon a house decorated with thousands of mirror fragments or having an ornate, custom-built stairway to the entry. Any house in any row may be painted or decorated in a completely different manner than the rest of the houses in the row. The occasional failed attempt at artful decoration pops out like an outhouse in The Hamptons.

We conclude our morning walk with a 20-minute stair-climbing session outside J.Q.'s apartment. He loves stepping up the four stone steps to the entry door and then stepping back down, over and over and over, clinging tenaciously to the handrail while Gramma keeps a firm hold on the back of his overalls for added stability. His little legs are so strong, and he could keep this activity up for another 20 minutes, but I remind him that there's grapes and waffles and milk upstairs. His little arms shoot out toward me, and he demands to be picked "Up! Up! UP!"

I have fond memories of visiting my aunts' row houses in the city when I was small. My parents had their own business, and they frequently shipped us off to stay with my aunts during the busy holiday seasons. My brothers and I had so much fun racing Sparky, my Aunt Shirley's dalmation, up and down the two sets of interior steps. We worked out a nifty, multi-floor communications system using slips of paper, a hat and a long length of string. (Sparky ate some of the handwritten notes, but it didn't seem to hurt her.) We listened in on my Aunt's telephone calls when she couldn't see where we were. There was a playroom on the third floor, with an electric train set and a doll house. There was a tiny back yard with a grape arbor in one corner. We were allowed to pick the grapes as they ripened, and I can still remember the thick skin and sun-warmed sweetness of the fruit.

I've asked Mr. Pseudonym a few times if we might someday live in the city for a few years, but he's no more keen on this idea than on any of my other ideas. His parents moved down to the Pine Barrens when he was small, as did my parents. They wanted the acreage of a rural setting, since both fathers had a background in farming and animal husbandry. My in-laws went into poultry farming, and my father kept chickens and tended a huge garden. My husband cannot imagine walking back into the noise and confusion of urban life.

We will probably remain out in the "country" after Mr. P retires. We no longer live in as rural an area as our parents did, but we have a big lot with trees we planted ourselves and much grass to mow during the summer. Everyone drives everywhere. Our neighbors may or may not see us as they hop in and out of their cars, there are no corner stores with familiar faces and we cannot walk to the local library. The night sounds are different here: cicadas instead of trolley cars, loud music from a teenaged neighbor's passing car instead of people coming and going at the corner pizzeria, rolling thunder from miles away instead of the honking horns of irritable motorists.

There are advantages and disadvantages to living in both settings, I suppose. But the city pulls at me, especially since my daughter's move to Philophilus. I'll stand at the window and watch the traffic lights changing for a long time before going to sleep.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Little Break Here...

While pregnant with K*therine, I kept hoping she would be born on September 23, right between Sarah on the 22nd and Julia on the 24th. But K*te was a stubborn little baby even before she was born, and she held out till October 12. I now realize how hard it is to execute close-together birthday parties (so much shopping, wrapping, decorating, party planning, cake baking, balloon-inflating), and I'm grateful each year for the little break between Sarah'/Jul's and K*te's celebrations.

The girls are all grown now, so we have simple get-togethers not requiring much planning on my part. It was quite a different story when they were all little, though. At around three years of age, little kids begin having parties to which their playmates are invited, and that's when the fun really starts--peaking in the teen years with the Birthday Girl sometimes running off to her room in tears while the pretty cake turns into a river of molten icing and candle wax. If there is a cake, that is. Sometimes home-made cakes explode in the oven; sometimes invited guests spit all over the cake by way of "helping" the Birthday Girl blow out the candles; sometimes the family dog takes enthusiastic advantage of a moment alone at the decorated table.

From the simple, family-only baby parties in the first couple of years, children's yearly celebrations get more complicated as they get older. As an exercise in gratitude and a simple "heads up" to my younger friends with kids, here are some recollections of my own kids' stage-related birthday adventures:

Three to Four Years Old
The party guests arrive on time, dressed adorably, bearing gifts they refuse to turn over to the birthday child. Moms (and the occasional Dad) stay for the festivities, drinking coffee in a corner of the yard and watching their children behave abominably. There is much spilled soda, a smashed cellar window, a few skinned knees, a couple of pee accidents, at least one bee sting and much spontaneous crying. A virus-laden child guest shares his/her plague with all party guests and parents attending (so make your pediatrician appointment 24-48 hours prior to the party). Oh, and be sure to have an extra cake in the refrigerator, just in case.

Five to Seven Years Old
Party guests trickle in over a two-hour period, with about half calling out "sick" an hour before the festivities are scheduled to begin (overbook on this one). The clown will blow his transmission on Rt. 42, so there should be a DVD player at the ready, stocked with several movies featuring poop jokes as the main theme. Little boy guests have been known to practice their karate moves on the birthday cake and/or stacked presents, so a watchful adult needs to be assigned guard duty. Parents of invited guests may suffer "head injuries" which prevent them from remembering to pick up their children at party's end, so make sure you have their home addresses, cell phone and Social Security numbers. The family pets won't come out of hiding for a week but, with enough gentle care, it may not be necessary to consult an animal psychiatrist.

Eight to Ten Years Old
This one should be an "all boy" or "all girl" party, depending on the birthday child's gender. Parents dropping their children off at all-boy parties should be required to sign a release form at the door, since boys will be poking the family pets with sticks, throwing rocks at each other, daring each other to eat spare boxes of birthday candles, calling the police to report child abuse, dropping out of trees and chasing each other into brick walls during the course of events. "All girl" party guests will simply leave a plugged-in curling iron on someone's bed and then get into the host mother's makeup and jewelry, so an in-force homeowner's policy should suffice.

This is also the age at which "all girl" parties may take the form of a sleepover. A word to the wise--don't.

Eleven to Thirteen Years Old
This is the age at which female children ramp up into all-out hormonal derangement. Three weeks before her birthday, the child will insist there be no preparations made for a party. Her reasoning is that no one likes her enough to attend such a fete, and she will not allow anyone to put her through the embarrassment of handing out invitations which will be unanimously declined. Two days before the actual date, she will charge out of her bedroom at 7:12am precisely, tears streaming down her face, wondering aloud if anyone, anyone at all, gives a rat's ass that she's to be denied acknowledgement of her one special day this year. After all, how will it look in front of her friends if her family just ignores her birthday?

Gifts for the Birthday Girl must be chosen with caution, since she will be embarassed to tears by so thoughtless a gift as, say, a stuffed animal ("My friends will think I'm a baby!") or a book of poetry ("Yeah, like, I'm so, like, stupid that my parents have to buy my books for me!") or a box of her favorite chocolates ("Why didn't you just buy me a girdle to go with the candy--I'm going to get, like, so fat!") Makeup or jewelry is acceptable, as long as the colors and design are totally bizarre. Clothing is acceptable as long as one has a goth/punk paraphernalia emporium in the local mall.

Especially in the case of a female child, this should be a co-ed party; she will need someone to hang with after her invited female guests form a clique that does not include her. Male guests need to be cautioned about spitting and cursing, and any CDs they bring in will need to be examined for the Explicit Lyrics label.

Fourteen to Sixteen Years Old
Parents must absent themselves from the actual soireé lest the birthday child die of embarassment from having such creaky, wrinkled dinosaurs hovering around the cake. There are to be no childish decorations hung or cutesy foods served. This is a mature party with grown friends attending, and no parent-inspired humiliation will be tolerated. Parents are to order the pizza and soda, place the money on the entertainment center and then go down to the rec room, where they are to remain until the last guest has left. No matter what sounds or smells emanate from upstairs.

Seventeen to Nineteen Years Old
The birthday girl or boy will be celebrating at a friend's house, since that's the way it's done now. Gifts will be accepted on the actual birthday morning, as long as there's a receipt in the box for exchange purposes. Gas money for the car should be given since Mom used it to get to the supermarket yesterday and half a tank went missing. And there are to be no chores expected on this special day because even slaves got a little time off now and then for, like, a gourd festival or some shit like that. And don't expect any thank-you notes to the relatives, either, for their cheesy Good-Will Special presents.

These days especially, when all of my kids are grown and busy with their own lives, I think back to their first birthdays. Each little girl, on her special day, was propped up in her high chair and shown a cake with one candle stuck in it. The lights were dimmed, the candle was lit and the baby stared wide-eyed as people sang to her. Then she was given her first piece of birthday cake--all for herself, not a little piece, but a big, giant piece of cake all for baby! And, after a moment's confusion and with much encouragement, the little dimpled hand reached out and grabbed a fistful of cake and stuffed it into her mouth. Her eyes got big, everyone laughed and our hearts clenched with such overwhelming love for this little doll-creature. And that love, over time, becomes tempered and disciplined, but it never dies. Your child is always your child, and we hope to see many, many birthdays together before we must part.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Julia is 25

Twenty-five years ago today, I had my first baby, Julia. A quarter of a century...a generation. Funny, it doesn't seem that long ago.

Mr. Pseudonym and I (mostly I) had gone through infertility studies and treatment for a couple of years by 1980, with one first-trimester spontaneous abortion that year (another would follow Julia's birth). I was emotionally distraught as the months turned into years with no viable pregnancy, and it wasn't long after the mis that I decided to stop trying. I just wasn't that brave or strong, and I didn't want to cry any more.

For some strange reason, my fertility peaked in the winter months of December or January, and I found myself pregnant again six months or so after I'd given up trying. A good endocrinologist and weekly shots of progesterone sustained my pregnancy this time. I left work at 8 months and on September 24, 1981, after 19 hours of labor, had a full-term 8 pound 1 ounce baby .

There's no words to describe the emotional rollercoaster we rode in the days and weeks following Julia's birth. Mr. P and I were older parents who never expected to get a perfect little baby girl. We were a little psychotic in the beginning, hovering over the bassinette, chewing our nails and listening to the baby breathe. After about a week of frantic disorder, my mother (not the most nurturing individual in the world) finally took pity on us and made dinner at our apartment before we starved to death. We were able to relax over time as the baby grew strong and healthy, but nothing could prepare us for the force of her personality.

From the beginning, we now realize, this girl was a person who devoured life, without restraint or reasonableness, relying only on her force of will. Terribly intelligent but oblivious to the rules of human interaction, Julia plowed over, under or through anything standing in her way. She would not be subdued or controlled, and her approach to young adulthood can only be described as hell bent for a brick wall at 120mph.

How does a parent deal with a kid who will not concede an inch? You don't. Life will deal with her, and you can only wait for her to come back to you with new insight, in a teachable state . We tried our inadequate best and hoped our daughter would find her way back to us before it was too late.

Julia hit the brick wall, dropped her arrogance, grew a conscience, learned quite a bit about living with other human beings and married in good faith in 2003. The dissolution of her marriage this year, as painful as it has been, has given her such intimate knowledge of herself. She has worked hard in therapy and in dealing with her changed circumstance, formulated her own code for living, separated herself from her enabler and struck out into a new life based on careful self-examination and acceptance of reality.

This is a brave, strong woman, our Julia, and her future is full of promise. She's worked to overcome her character defects (except for a few especially delicious ones!) and faced the future with courage and dignity. There's still a lot to learn--we never stop learning and growing, hopefully. But Julia's acquired some tools that will help her along the way--honesty, introspection and, most importantly, willingness. She will make a good life for herself and her son, little J.Q.

Happy birthday, Julia. We are so proud of you.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Sarah Is 22

22 years ago today, I had my second baby. She was born in the Emergency Room at a big city hospital because she was in kind of a hurry. Three years earlier, it took me 19 hours of screaming pain to get her older sister born, so when I woke up with mild back pain to signal the imminent birth of Sarah, I interpreted this to mean that nothing was imminent. So I just wandered around waiting for the real bad part to begin, but it never did.

A couple of hours after the first symptoms, we called the doctor and told him I was having mild contractions every few minutes. He told us to get to the hospital right away, so I went off to get dressed. Mr. Pseudonym called my mom to come stay with little Jul. I came out to the living room a few minutes later and told him that I felt "vaguely pushy." This feeling intensified on the drive to the hospital, and I told Mr. P that he'd better not stop for aspirin. Good thing, since having a baby in the parking lot of a convenience store usually gets a lot of embarassing press.

Things got decidedly urgent in the waiting room at the hospital and, as they were loading me onto a stretcher, I told the ER doctor that I didn't think I could make it upstairs--the baby was on its way out, and he'd better catch it before it hit the floor. The doctor looked like a deer caught in the headlights, but he got on the phone with Obstetrics and they told him what to do until they could send a doctor down. They sent Mr. Pseudonym out into the corridor (unfortunately), and the Obstetrics doctor came down and said, "Priscilla, just pop the baby out; we don't have to do a thing to help." So I popped her out, and they wrapped her in a blanket, called Mr. Pseudonym in and handed his new baby to him.

Sarah didn't look or behave like her older sister. She had dark hair, darker skin and visible eyebrows. She looked more like me than like her dad, and she seemed crabby and colicky from the start. And she made the cutest little squeaking sounds; we nicknamed her "Squeaker." She did have colic for about three months, and that was hard on everyone. The second child is a tremendous adjustment for the whole family, and a colicky infant puts that much more added strain on the parents and siblings.

But Sarah's personality turned sunny after her tummy problems were over, and she grew into a real character--funny and imaginative, with a sweet disposition. At around 11-1/2, she started turning into a teenager and all bets were off, but our "good" kid was still there underneath, biding her time until she got through those rough growth years.

Sarah has her own apartment now. She works long hours and goes to school full time. She's bright, independent, edgy, funny and resourceful. We are so proud of her. Happy 22nd, Squeaker!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Comments? Anyone? Anyone At All?

For a long, long time, it seemed as if four to six people, max, were visiting my blog on a regular basis--my daughers Jul, Caer Coenister Caer's Donut Dungeon and Junket Mischievous Junket, a sweet lady with amazing spirit, Jo, at Tangled Me and maybe an occasional curious relative or two. Anyway, it was just the daughters and the sweet lady who were commenting, but that was OK 'cause I was just doing it as an exercise in reading/thinking/speaking/writing to preserve gray matter as I trudge inexorably toward my senior years.

Then Caer mentioned casually one day that she could track visitors to her blog with the aid of a site meter. She could tell how many people visited her blog and how they got there (search engine, referred from another site, wandered in by apparent mistake) and get quite a lot of free statistical information regarding the ebb and flow around her site. Seemed like a good idea at the time, so I signed up fer free and was able to track the four people who visited my blog regularly and the one or two random strangers who stumbled in about once a month looking for lyrics to Willie Nelson songs.

When Jul went through her separation from mr. and Caer broke up messily with exBf, a flurry of readership on their sites ensued. Jul's blog had been gaining a wide audience based solely on her astounding writing skills, and Caer's sweet/funny/aching tales of obsessive love gone feral started bringing in visitors like Free Can of Soda Day at WalMart. Junket and I watched our site meters in amazement as more and more people clicked over to our blogs from the links to us on Jul and Caer's sites.

Our statistics tore through the envelope and began orbiting the earth when Jul's estranged husband's mistress inexplicably decided to comment on her husband-stealing expertise on the site of a popular blogger friend of Jul's
(So Close: Would You Look Away, 05 Sept 2006). Comments from Jul's friends who were visiting the friend's site tore Miss Mistress apart like a careless capybara in an alligator-infested swamp. Co-Blogger Friend put up a second posting a few days later, following Steve Irwin's death, (So Close: Following Your Heart. A Question, 08 Sept 2006), and the carnage continued. Over 100 more commentors continued to rip the hapless mistress to shreds, and the site meters on all of the Related Gals' sites contined to spin out of control.

Since that time, things have settled down a lot. Caer took down her blog due to complications involving exBf's sharing knowledge of her site with people who really shouldn't have been exposed to it, Jul forged on with her adventures in wicked good writing, singlehood and peaceful co-existence with her soon-to-be ex for the sake of their child, and Junket and I watched our stats shrivel daily.

Now, Junket is an amazing writer on her own, and she will undoubtedly find her own level and own group of friends with her dark, poetic observations. But I cannot imagine this particular blog, Priscilla's Ramblings About Her Pet Rats and ShopRite Coupons, will ever again enjoy an audience of more than three daughters, one or two online friends and the occasional Willie Nelson fan.

*sound of wolves howling in the darkness*

But that's OK; the more I write, the more often I have to use
thesaurus. com. And I have to keep up with the basic html. That should keep the old gray matter jiggling.

*sound of tumbleweeds rustling*

This is a better way to spend time than if I were watching soap operas on t.v. or gossiping about nothing on the telephone for hours on end. Or obsessing about my memory loss. Or about the cats' hairball problems.

Comments? Anyone? Anyone At All?

*sound of an acorn hitting the shed*

OK... nevermind.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I saw Mr. Pseudonym off to work this morning for the first time in six weeks and, breathing a slightly guilty sigh of relief (hey--I love the guy, but six weeks?!), sat down with a cup of coffee to check out the weather on t.v. I had forgotten what today was.

Every station was carrying reports of the 9/11 memorial observances in New York, at the Pentagon, at the Flight 93 Temporary Memorial in Pennsylvania and all around the nation. At Ground Zero, survivors of those who perished in the attack read the names of the dead, including the name(s) of the beloved lost of each person reading. Other survivors placed flowers, cards and other tributes in the reflecting pool where the north tower of the World Trade Center once stood. The pool glistened in the sunlight while survivors wiped tears from their eyes and hugged each others for comfort.

It's been five years and, for many of us, watching film of the attacks still produces that crushing feeling in our chests, that horror and disbelief, as if we were living that day over again today. Our lives as Americans changed forever on 9/11/2001. We lost our innocence and our sense of being sheltered from the cruel savagery mankind inflicts on itself around the globe. We were children before 9/11--naive, gullible, unaware and overly confident. We knew of the horrors of life elsewhere, but we were convinced our country's fortifications would always provide security and safety. We had never been attacked on our own shores in this manner, and we could not come to terms with experiencing firsthand that which we had seen in news reports from other parts of the world.

I sat, watching the memorials, waiting for the tears to inevitably begin flowing down my face. There was a camera shot of the reflecting pool showing a little girl of about three or four years dipping her fingers in the pool. She had long, dark hair done up prettily with a ribbon to match her pink dress, and her older brother stood next to her. The camera swung away briefly to focus on an elderly man crying inconsolably as he placed flowers in the pool, and then it returned to the little girl in the pink dress.

The little girl was laughing and squirming away as an adult standing behind her attempted to gently pull her away from the pool. She grabbed some floating flowers and swished them around in the water, laughing as her brother smiled uncertainly at her antics. She began a little dance as she shook droplets of water off her hands and then said something which made her brother burst into laughter himself.

I have three children of my own, and I remember how little girls in pretty, pressed dresses and ribboned hair can cause their parents crushing humiliation with a few careless words or a bit of inspired misbehavior. All I could think, while watching the child on t.v., was, "Oh! Her parents must be mortified!" As I watched, the child continue in her naughtiness, I began to smile. Kids will always be kids, and if we are lucky enough to be able to raise them comfortably, we can count on them repaying us by behaving like savages--with reckless abandon, at the worst possible times, without a care in the world.

As the names of the dead continued to be read by the weeping and shaking survivors, I found myself continuing to smile. That exasperating little kid was the daughter, step-daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, cousin or dear little friend of a person who died unexpectedly five years ago today. That healthy, scrubbed, pretty little child with the terrible sense of timing is going on with her life, carrying a piece of a 9/11 victim along with her. We just don't know for sure, but perhaps a part of those we have lost looks down on us all the time; maybe we feel them smiling down on us with the sunlight and hear the sound of their laughter in the wind.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Comin' Down The Home Stretch

Mr. Pseudonym has been home for almost six weeks now. What was originally thought to be a torn inguinal muscle turned out to be a pinched nerve in his lumbar spine, which can mean a long, hard recovery. Seems his L4-L5 disk decided to ooze on down toward the tailbone for a little r&r, crushing the nerves in its path and rendering Mr. Pseudonym unable to sit, stand, walk or sleep without agonizing pain in his right hip, groin, leg and knee.

We finally bought a walker with an attached seat so Mr. P could perambulate a few feet and then sit when the pain welled up. He was unable to walk more than a few feet at a time (or sleep more than two hours at a time) for at least two weeks, which was the hardest part of his illness. We've been to the x-ray/MRI facility, to the orthopedist, back and forth to the drug store, to the spine surgeon and to physical therapy. The epidural injections which might have speeded healing have been delayed by the spine surgeon's busy schedule, so we are not certain Mr. P will actually be getting this treatment. Looks like he will be well enough to return to Aircraft & Other-Stuff-You-Don't-Need-To-Know-About R Us next Monday, in which case we will call the Dr. Henrietta Nucleo-Pulpossi and tell her to hang her needles in someone else (no offense to this popular physician).

It has been interesting, to say the least. The kids pitched in to help with transportaion, errands, grass mowing and the like. I had to stay out on the couch at night for several weeks while Mr. P rolled around in the bedroom, trying to find a comfortable position, pillow between his knees, wracked by pain at 3:45am most days. We bought a shower chair and a hand-held shower. The pain medicine, as these types of medicines often do, sapped Mr. P of his enthusiasm for life; his woodworking tools gathered dust, the pet rats chewed on the electronics supply catalogues, the new DVDs remained unwatched and Home Depot's doorway remained undarkened by Mr. P's shadow. He took to sitting on the couch for hours on end, remote control in hand, flipping through the channels with the sound off.

"Why do you have the t.v. muted if you're watching it?"
"Because it doesn't [click] make any difference if [click] you can hear it or not. [click] It's all shit."
"If it's all shit, then why are you watching it at all?"
"I don't [click] know. [click]"

I tried my best to keep Mr. P active and involved in life, but it was an uphill climb. I've always got ideas for sprucing up Pseudonym Estates, but each of my home-improvement suggestions was met with the same bland observation of, "Well, that could be more complicated than you might think at first," or "I don't know what would actually be involved in that," or the all-purpose, well-worn disclaimer, "That could be problematic." So I continued to bring him trays of food in front of the t.v. and schedule medical appointments.

Things got so bad that we went out and bought a 3-disk Simon & Garfunkle retrospective and played it constantly for a week or so, mentally revisiting the Scarborough Fair of our youth. It's kind of hard to get angry about anything these days. Back in the 60s and 70s, there was always an injustice to rail against, some cause or group to ally oneself with for the betterment of mankind and the planet. These days, we are lucky to retain enough righteous indignation to switch from regular to decaffeinated Folgers. Must be some middle-aged thing. Lukewarm blood. We spoke of reselling the walker on eBay now that Mr. P is done with it, but we have become so pessimistic that we will probably wrap it in plastic and store it for future, inevitable use.

The physical therapy has done wonders, though, and I will pack Mr. Pseudonym off to the aircraftery Monday morning with a full tank of gas, lunch money and his I.D. badge clipped to the front of his shirt. He will be back to his scintillating stress analysis, I'll have my days to myself again and his spine will have learned not to fight with sliding glass doors. As always, we must remain grateful--some people never recover from these types of injuries. We are lucky.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sledgehammer (the darker side of Priscilla)

I can't recall being this depressed in a long time. It's like there's a heavy wool blanket that smells like wet dog on my head, and someone keeps hitting the top of it with a hammer.

  • BONK! I'm tired, my eyes are dried out and foggy (except when I start crying), I can't make a decision (not that there are any decisions worth making), my body feels too heavy to drag around and my thoughts are going to kill me.

  • BONK! I'm a terrible mother and my kids hate me.

  • BONK! They're plotting against me.

  • BONK! I've ruined my life and the lives of everyone around me. Even though I wasn't directly responsible, VanGogh cut off his ear because of people like me. The Johnstown floods of 1889, 1894, 1907, 1924, 1936 and 1977 must have had something to do with me or my nefarious ancestors. We won't even go into the Peshtigo Fire of 1871.

  • BONK! I have no right to a thought, an opinion, an emotion, relationships or property.
  • BONK! I am uneducated, unaccomplished, ignorant, controlling, dishonest, insincere, self-important, melodramatic, two-faced and generally bad.

    BONK! I have brought shame upon my family.

Is that everything? No...wait...

  • BONK! I'm a bad cook.

It looks like it's time to visit Dr. Friendly and get back on the SSRIs. I have an appointment for September 13 and, if I still feel this way, I'll ask him to dose me. I could call now, but I don't really believe the medication will help. Or that may be just a depressed, negative outlook. At the very least, there will be the initial side effects to get through--nausea, trembling, over-sedation.

Dr. Friendly had me on a new SSRI first cousin, Cynnamon-balta (not its real name, but close), which did jack-shit for depression but diminished the arthritic pain in my hands and feet by about 80%. Unfortunately, combined with my regular pain medicines, Cynnamon-balta sedated me to the point where I was continuously waking up facing a wall. I'd be sleeping peacefully, dreaming of loading the washing machine, and I'd wake up to find myself standing, with my nose pressed up against an interior wall of the house.

Those of us with this type of depression will understand: nothing looks right, nothing seems worthwhile, self-esteem is lower than mole crap, there is a marked decrease in energy and a profound sense of isolation. It's a terrible, terrible place to be, and I've been cycling in and out of it for months now.

I've also apparently passed on the Weeping Curse to all three of my daughters (although, judging by the sales statistics on the SSRIs, so has everyone else in the country). I had spoken with my Caer today--the one who had to take down her outrageously funny blog because she is ending a relationship which she had hoped would never end. Her blog address was revealed to an innocent friend in her ex's family by way of revenge, a person who cannot believe the truth about her family member and who never should have been hurt in this way. Caer's situation is so sad and regretful, and this event would have been enough to handle in and of itself, without the added burden of chronic depression.

But there it is--the MONSTER--the illness that saps our strength by telling us lies about ourselves. There's medicine now, and sometimes it works. But sometimes it doesn't. And there's a long road to travel before getting to the right medicine for the right person, which takes more energy than a depressed person can summon up.

I need to see the ocean. I need to think about cool, bright autumn days and pumpkins and little kids in ghost costumes. I need to smell cinnamon and vanilla. I need to hug my grandson, have him bury his head in my shoulder and mutter, "Anana, Anana." All things being equal, I can achieve all of these needs in the immediate future--possibly even before the new SSRI kicks in.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Heatwave Advice

Folks up and down the east coast, especially those in New Jersey, continue to swelter in the hot sun on the fifth day of our current heat wave. The t.v. news program editors have dug out their "Hot Weather" scripts, blown the dust off and handed them to their anchormen and anchorBarbies. We are all familiar to tears with the same boring advice to viewers: stay in air-conditioned places, use fans, check on the elderly, don't go out at 12:00 noon, yadda-yadda-yadda. Yes, newsfolk, we know. You've been harping on these same suggestions every summer for as long as there have been televised news broadcasts.

We here at Pseudonym Estates feel it's high time for an updated, high tech approach to informing the public about health and safety considerations during hot spells. People already know to wearing light, loose-fitting clothing and to make sure Grandma isn't out on her porch, standing on a wobbly step stool and swatting at a hornet's next with a broom in 98°F weather. Unlike Rocky Balboa, we aren't running up and down the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We are puffed up like well-fed ticks from drinking water. We realize these are not the days to bake potatoes non-stop or to lock Phydeaux in the car while we run in to WalMart to try on snorkeling attire.

So, let's throw out those tired old scripts and fire up our imaginations! Here are a few modernized suggestions for hot weather advisories. Perhaps our gentle readers will be able to come up with a few more of their own.

Hot as a Bitch Wolf in a Pepper Patch?
Here's What to Do!

  • No air-conditioning? The bastard finally exploded just when the thermometer did likewise? Soaketh thineself! Go out to the back yard, turn on the hose and wet yourself down! Your wet hair and clothing should keep you nicely cool until the repair man can get out to your house (typically, one week from today).

  • Stop cooking! Yes, proper nutrition is important, but at what price? Are those pork chops more important than your own safety? Do you want them to find you on the kitchen floor, clutching your spatula, mummified, lying there like a dried toad on a tar roof? No? Then go out to the supermarket, buy four gallons of vanilla ice cream, five jars of gooey toppings, two 14oz. cans of Redi-Whip and a large jar of masaschino cherries. Trust us, no one will complain.

  • Burn down your own shed! (This suggestion may be a little left of legal except in South Jersey. Check your local ordinance on arson and related activities.) It's old and rickety, and you've been meaning to get one of those molded resin jobs from Sear's anyway. So just torch the bastard and have fun watching the firemen spray all of that cool, cool water on the flames.

  • Modify your dance stylings! Most of us like to go through the day with energy and enthusiasm, starting the morning off with a slow to moderate twist while we load the coffee maker, progressing through to a macarena or upbeat cha-cha after our second cup. Our lunchtime waltz break segues into some preparatory disco or country line dances, and then into our hot rhythms afternoons of funk and hip-hop house. Only in the evening, after our daily tasks are completed, do we slide into our samba, tango or Viennese Waltz. During extremely hot weather, however, it is best to stick with the slower dances throughout the day; there's nothing that can't be done to a slow, Smooth Foxtrot or an Argentine Tango.

  • Throw a luau for the pets! They don't understand why Mommy and Daddy won't take them outside to play. But extremely hot weather is a great time to dress the critters up in flowered kitty or doggy shirts, throw a tablecloth on the living room floor and serve their favorite foods to that hip-snatching Hawaiian music on the stereo. (You'll want to keep your hula dances a bit slower than usual, of course.) Decorate their food and water dishes with fresh flowers, light a few tiki candles and invite little Fifi from next door to come over for some Alpo with Pineapple Sauce! Needless to say, you won't be extending any invitations to any neighbor pets whose owners have called the police in the past to complain about your constant loud music, singing, dancing on the lawn in your jammies or Rastafarian houseguests.

  • Treat your neighbor to lunch! Ladies, you know which neighbor we mean, don't you? She's out there in her bikini every time your husband starts to mow the lawn or bring in the trash cans. She's either sunning her shameless hide or dipping a toe in the pool, but she's always... out... there. Next time she's face down on her beach towel with the back of her bikini top unsnapped, as she loves to do, quickly run in and get a well-chilled, very large raw beef liver and lob it over the chain link fence directly onto her back! Then stand back and listen to the screeching!

  • Blackout? No air-conditioning, no lights, no television, no stereo, not even a fan to circulate the hot air? Not so quick--let's not jump to conclusions! Just because you haven't turned on that fan in a long time, it doesn't mean there isn't still some electricity left inside it! Try turning the fan on, and see if it works.

We need to go lie down now; the room is spinning and we hear harp music getting closer and closer and closer. Why, it's St. Peter! And he's got popsicles!

Mr. P's Crippled Crotch

It was painful to listen in as Mr. Pseudonym called his boss and reported no change in his condition. He's still unable to walk without the aid of crutches, and he's frustrated to be away from his busy desk at Aircraft & Other-Stuff-You-Don't-Need-To-Know-About R Us. He had deadlines and due dates before his inguinal muscle ripped, and he's not happy about abandoning his duties to lie about the house. Mr. Boss offered no advice other than to state that a 5-day absence due to sickness was the maximum allowed before an employee would be required to apply for disability status.

We finally figured out what the precipitating event was: a week ago last Saturday, Mr. Pseudonym replaced the track under our sliding glass door at the back of the house. This necessitated picking up a 100 lb. glass door repeatedly and placing it either on the floor or back in its frame. Mr. P felt no muscle strain or pain from his efforts, but there was damage done nonetheless. As Junket so superfluously observed, "Well, I guess you won't be picking up any more glass doors by yourself, will you, Dad?"

Most people don't like to go in to work each day. Some people mildly dislike their jobs, others actively hate their jobs, but there are few who really love going in to work. Mr. P loves going in to work. He drives an hour and a half each way to get to work and back, but he's glad to be there every day. He enjoys interacting with his co-workers, and he enjoys the challenges of his other-stuff-you-don't-need-to-know-about projects. He's been a good provider for his family and a good employee to his company. And now he's felled by a STUPID GLASS DOOR and may be facing a protracted period of disability!

I dunno...
Makes me want to take a hammer and go after that door. If it weren't 83°F with 79% humidity at 2:25am, I might put on some safety glasses and give that door a glass whuppin', but we don't need excessive heat and biting insects inside the house right now--not to mention the noise of the cicadas.

Ah, well--I shall pamper Mr. P tomorrow and make sure he takes his medicine on time. We've known each other for 50 years, and he's been my best friend and closest confidant for 35 years (37 if you count the engagement), so there's not much life can throw at us that we can't get through together. And this includes torn crotches and babysitting rats.

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WHOOPS! Fell asleep on the keyboard again! Morpheus insists!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ole, Ole! Ole, Ole! Feelin' HOT-HOT-HOT!!!

It's still 86°F at 10:24pm, with the humidity around 73%. Daisy the Terrier is confined to the house, and it's pitiful to see her attempts to engage us in play by repeatedly dropping her frisbee on our feet and wagging her tail frantically. Even the cats are hanging back when we open the door and they get their whiskers slapped back by the hot, humid air. They would normally like to go outside and chase bugs across the lawn on a warm summer night.

The boy cicadas seem to be having a good time, competing for the girl cicadas' attention by scratching out their highly-spirited muscial compositions:

scritch-EEEK! scritch-EEEEK!

Look at my bulgy red eyes, ladies!
Look at my lacey wings!
Listen to my scritchity songs,
You sexy female things!
scritch-EEEEK! scritch-EEEEEK!

A little misbehavior on the part of Mr. Pseudonym's hip/groin muscle necessitated our venturing forth into the bake oven today. Muscle stiffness over the past week or so developed into raging pain and a pronounced limp by late Sunday. The doctor couldn't fit us in until today.
Junket and I had taken to pushing Dad around on a computer chair whenever he needed to go to the bathroom, but our friend Kathy came up with a set of crutches this morning, which are helping get him around a little better.

Dr. stopped short of saying, "I'll be damned," but his best guess is that Mr. P has a strained or torn inguinal muscle. There was no precipitating factor--Mr. P didn't move any refrigerators or anything...just, "Lah-dee-dah-dee-dah, RIP!" They're not called "groin muscles" for nothing! We treated Mr. P to a couple of x-rays and a bottle of woozypills, ran home and poured him back onto the sofa. He's now watching movies nonstop and wishing he had access to a zero-gravity chamber someplace.

Caer's rats are still here, eating us out of house and home while anxiously awaiting Mommy's return. By the time Caer gets back, these rats are going to be twice as big as when she left! That's OK...Grandma likes to spoil them, too. I'll take my Sprinkles and Pokey out for exercise first this evening, and then I'll gather up Caer's Krimpet, Linky and Sloepoke if I'm not too weary. Rats will fight with other rats not of their biological or adopted families, so I never exercise Caer's rats with mine. A prolonged introduction and acclimation period would be necessary, and Caer's just not going to be gone that long.

They run back and forth on the sofa, in and out of the sofa pillows, occasionally jumping up on my shoulders for a better vantage point. (Mr. P's gone to bed, so he won't be eaten by rats while he is disabled and helpless.) They have their own special blanket to run on, since they have the unfortunate habit of "marking their territory" by urinating. Riiiiiiight! Like they bought that blanket and launder it regularly!

Rats are smart, comical and affectionate pets. I'm glad I got over thinking of rats in terms of bubonic plague vectors and got to know them as sweet, furry little friends.