This Holiday Season I am Grateful for: Library Book Club

Or, that time I crashed the Library Book Club Social Hour.

My sister loves reading.  She loves reading in the nicest, purest, most normal way possible.  People of my generation, you, me, lovely book bloggers on the Internet, we love to read in this weird, exhibitionist sort of way: we take pictures of our bookshelves and post them online, we Instagram the books we’re reading, we write essays and post them on our blogs about the books we’ve read, we keep digital lists of the books we’ve read this year, we buy tee shirts with book covers on them, and artistic prints made from the entire text of a beloved novel.  Let’s face it, we are a lovely group of weirdos.  We are over the top in our expression of love for reading, our love for books, storyline, and plot.

My sister, however, is the Unexpected Reader.  Just by looking at her, talking to her, following her social media one wouldn’t think she devours stories, it certainly might surprise some people who know her very well, but she loves books.  And she recently chanced her arm at the public library’s Book Club.  I was flooded with texts about how much fun it was discussing a book with a group of people, how someone told her they were glad she came, that the group needs more “young people”, she saw people there she hasn’t seen in years!  She went back the next month.  I was super proud of her.

December, there was no book.  Instead the book clubbers had a social gathering scheduled.  Even though I’d never been before, my sister invited me and I’m so glad I went.  The woman who runs the book club brought snacks, coffee, tea, and had a fun (nerdy) activity planned for the book clubbers.  She selected newly acquired books from this year, wrapped them in fun paper and wrote their genre on the paper.  She had us each select a couple of books and we went around the circle unwrapping and sharing the book description.  We got a little silly, well, a reserved silly since we didn’t all know each other, and had fun discussing what we thought of the book based on the description.  We chatted a little bit about the ones we knew more about (I had just read about Welcome to Night Vale and what book did I pull?).  Overall, it was a lot of fun.

My sister checked out the book club book for January and we’re planning on both reading it so we can both attend the January meeting (assuming I’m still in the area then).  I am ever so grateful that a) the library has a book club, b) my sister was brave enough to go on her own, and c) she invited me to the party and got me interested.  I’m always complaining that since I left college I have no one to talk books with, and, yet, every month there’s a group of people gathering across town talking books!

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Some 30 years later, I built a #Lego #SpaceCruiser!

Weeks ago I wrote a rant about Lego inwhich I questioned why the Lego Friends line is so drastically different from the standard Lego toys.  I also shared how I didn’t know Lego came in kits until I was in middle school.  The reason for my ignorance being the Legos in my household were almost entirely hand-me-downs from my brother who had long since mislaid the instructions for the the 1980s era Space Cruiser Warner Bros. recently reminded us of in The Lego Movie.

My brother, clever young man that he is, found the instructions on the Internet and shared them with me challenging me to build the Space Cruiser.

My first challenge was finding our old Lego collection.  As stated in my earlier post, a time came when my mother took the remaining Lego bricks and tossed them all into a plastic bin that previously had been used for transporting cupcakes, mixing and commingling what was left from all the kits that had ever entered her children’s lives.

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Finding it turned out to be easier than I thought it would be.  Since all the grandbaby moved out of their house, my parents have relegated all the toys to one corner of the family room.  The bin was under a table chest in the corner along with the puzzles, blocks, and Lincoln Logs.

Challenge Two: Uncover what’s left of the figures.

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The Spacemen have long since lost their faces.  One of them used to have a mark where a face once was, but now they are entirely missing.  (The Policeman was from a kit I got as a child, therefore has been handled the least and still has his face.)  The Spaceman logos on their chests are all but entirely gone.  Out of five figures there are four hands between them; one head and helmet are long gone; and the figure not pictured, in my memory, has always had only one leg.

Once I determined I had most of the pieces I’d need to build the Space Cruiser,

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it was time to get down to business.

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The Instructions were really sort of difficult to follow some of the time.  It certainly didn’t help they were smallish images on the computer rather than a paper I could handle and get close to without feeling like I’d done something terrible to my eyes.

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Slowly it started to come together.

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Despite the pieces being a minimum thirty years old a surprising number of them in very good condition.  The thrusters, for example, still look great!

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(I used these pieces as lampshades.)

The pieces in poor condition are primarily the pieces you’d expect to be in shambles after cycling through five children and a couple of grandbabies.  The pieces that attach the thrusters to the back of the ship, for example, look like this:

wpid-20150318_215252.jpgHinged pieces, they were meant to attach to the top of the back with these bits hanging down, onto which the thrusters would attach.  Alas, they’ve been broken most of my life.  Therefore, the Space Cruiser must go without it’s thrusters.

Quite frankly, I had to get real creative with multiple parts of the ship.  I borrowed from other parts and substituted many pieces where I could get away with it.  I had to rebuild various parts more than once, and get creative with broken parts.

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In the end, it didn’t turn out so badly.

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Still had plenty of missing pieces; I couldn’t get around not having one entire section of that windscreen.  I’m afraid it wouldn’t be a very effective Space Cruiser, but as it doesn’t have any thrusters, it’s not like it’s going anywhere anyway!

Ages Unknown

I wrote this a few days ago, irate that Boko Haram is using abducted girls as suicide bombers, but it’s not quite right.  I don’t know exactly what it needs.  So I’m asking you, friends, for any feedback regarding style or form.

Ages Unknown

Today, my niece,
Age 6:
Gets up;
Eats breakfast;
Brushes her teeth;
Asks her mother
deep questions about
how the world works;
And gets on the
school bus.

Meanwhile I sip my coffee and read the news,
horrified by what I learn.

Today, my niece,
sporting her Ramona Quimby bob,
plays with her friends:
they build imaginary nests
under the playscape
pretending they
are dragons
roaming the countryside.

Meanwhile I wonder what makes a person believe
actions such as these could ever be acceptable.

Today, my niece,
curious like the cat,
learns beavers
eat wood and bark;
“tabs” are better for trees
when supporting tree houses;
and before the invention of lip balm
people used ear wax.

Meanwhile I am sad for the mothers and aunts
who might never know if she was one of them.

Today, my niece,
bright eyed, and full of life,
“borrows” my headphones and ipod
to listen to 2CELLOS.
She looks at books
while bobbing her head
to covers of Michael Jackson,
U2, and Nirvana.

Meanwhile I marvel at how
World Leaders,
quick to help those
who don’t need it,
are able to leave the powerless
unaided, in the dark,
subject to such a fate.

Today my niece
eats hot dogs
and macaroni and cheese
for dinner;
she runs around the living room,
jumping on the couch
even though she’s
not supposed to;
she reads her school books,
slowly sounding out
the words
she doesn’t know.

Meanwhile, I read:
Girls,
ages unknown,
kidnapped from their schools
months ago,
are loaded into a car
strapped with explosives.
Their charred remains
indistinguishable
from each other
now decorate
a village square.

Today I ask my niece,
age 6:
“If they said you could
skip first grade,
would you?”
She tells me she wouldn’t,
because
she “wants to learn more”.
Just like those girls,
ages unknown.

Cockroach Woes

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A couple of my sisters are deathly afraid of insects.  One of them, you even mention you saw a tick thousands of miles away ten years ago and she starts freaking out saying she feels them crawling all over her.

I quite like insects.  I don’t know a lot about them and if I find something biting me I will smoosh their arthropod asses, but I do like them.  I became really interested in insects last year ago while I was working in the Connecticut woods.  It was then that I got my first Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches (Bill & Ted).  They died, tragically, in an overheated greenhouse.  But before they went they were extremely useful in helping children be less afraid of bugs.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches are big, so you can see the different parts; they don’t fly or jump, so it’s unlikely you’ll accidentally release an exotic species into an area; and, they don’t bite, so you don’t have to be afraid of children, or other nervous folk, handling them.  I got my current Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, Frankie, recently so I can use her to teach about insects this coming fall.

Lately, however, I’ve been a little creeped out.  We’ve been finding other roach-like insects in the house.  Today, alone, I’ve squashed two insects I am sure were German Cockroaches (which are, apparently, very common and like to eat books).  A few weeks ago, my parents call me in a panic because they thought Frankie was having babies.  After we did some research we were confident they were other bugs that got into the tank.  The ones I saw looked roach-like, but I still wasn’t convinced they came from Frankie.

My question now is: are these other insects showing up because of Frankie?  Or were they already here, attracted by the muggy humidity of a New England Summer?  What do I do?

Red Wine and A Soak

[This is what I do on Valentine’s Day: write slightly bitchy, super short stories about being single and rubbing the benefits of being so in the faces of Smug Marrieds.  Sometimes I’m an ahole.

No matter how you’re spending today: I hope it’s a good one.  Love you all, Xxx Bex.]

Ashley had spent the better part of the evening being insufferable.  The Bates were very good friends of hers, but Jenny nearly drove a butter knife into their dining room table to keep from lobbing the thing at her sister-in-law’s face.  How her brother had married the biggest bitch from their high school graduating class was completely lost on Jenny.  But Jared was his own person, just because they shared a womb didn’t make them telepathic (although, how cool would that have been?).

“Would anyone care for some coffee, or tea?” asked Wendy Bates, the perfect hostess.

Jenny often told her friend how insanely unfair it was that she should be as gracious, smart, and beautiful as she was when the rest of them were so clumsy, inarticulate, and messy.  Wendy always laughed and told Jenny to stop being silly.

Wendy and her husband, Mark, had grown up in the same neighborhood as Jenny and Jared.  The four of them hadn’t always gotten along, but, by some miracle had remained close ever since Jenny and Wendy teamed up in the third grade to push Jared and Mark into the river behind the old mechanic’s garage.  Somehow that moment was a young Wendy’s way of telling Mark she was going to spend the rest of their lives pushing him into things he’d rather not find himself immersed in.  But because it was Wendy he never minded what sort of shenanigans she got him into.

Jenny loved her friends.

They were one of the only sets of married friends she had who didn’t make her feel like some sort of third wheel.  Jared came in a close second, but Ashley made Jenny feel like she was persona non grata anytime they were together.  Including, but not limited to, Ashley and Jared’s wedding (at which Jenny was the Best Man), joint birthday parties for the brother and sister, and family holidays.  Jenny’s one vicious triumph came from the fact that Ashley and Jared’s kids were already calling Jenny their “fun auntie”.

“Oh, yes, please,” said Ashley with a slight yawn.  “I’m probably going to be the one driving home tonight, thanks to Mr-I’ll-Have-Another-Scotch over here.”  Ashley poked her bony elbow into her husband’s ribs.  “And, Sylvie will probably still be awake when we get home.  We have the neighbor girl watching them,” she said in a stage whisper to Shelley MacIntosh who happened to be sitting near her.  Shelley smiled politely and made awkward eye contact with Jenny.

“Are the neighborhood kids as reliable babysitters as they were when we were kids?” asked Ricky MacIntosh, jokingly.

“Not at all,” replied Ashley as seriously as she assumed Ricky was being.  “I don’t trust this girl as much as I do other babysitters.”

“Like Jenny,” said Jared, aware his friend had been joking, but also wanting to give his sister the praise his wife never would.  “Sylvie is always passed out when Jenny watches them.”

“What’s your secret?” asked Ricky straight up mocking now.

“Sugar crash,” replied Jenny sipping her brother’s scotch before handing it to him.

“What!?” cried Ashley, ready to believe it so she’d have an excuse to stop having Jenny over to watch the kids.

“She’s joking, sweetheart,” Jared assured his wife.  “Knowing Jenny she plays really loud music and makes the kids dance until they’re too tired to move.”

“And what makes you so sure?” asked Mark.

“Because that’s how she always tricked our little cousins into going to bed whenever they insisted they weren’t tired.”

“And Jared, more than a few times,” added his sister, with a wicked grin.

“Is this true, Jared?” asked Ricky.  “Did you have epic DPs with your sister?”

“How do you think I stayed in shape for football over the summers?”

“Certainly wasn’t from working out,” interjected Wendy returning with cups of coffee.

“Thanks, Wen,” said Jared with a grin.

“You danced your cute butt off with us every weekend.  Don’t act like you didn’t enjoy it.”  This time Wendy had the grin.

Ashley was also smiling; Jenny could almost smell the smoke emanating from her ears.  Jenny turned to Shelley.

“How’s your sister doing with the wedding planning?”

“Melanie’s driving me insane,” said Shelley sweetly.  Jenny smiled.  Shelley was her sister’s maid of honor, and helping her plan the wedding.  “Even Mom is getting annoyed.  Every time I’m over there to work on the arrangements Mom has an entire pitcher of vodka martinis waiting and ready.”

“Why?” asked Wendy.  “What is she doing?”

“Remember that Oxygen movie with Laura Prepon and Princess Leia and Not Hot Hispanic guy?”

“The one where the Bridezilla wakes up married to some Mexican kid after catching her husband in bed with the wedding planner and drinking too much tequila?” asked Jenny.

“Yeah, that one,” confirmed Ricky.  Jenny smiled at him, amused.

“She’s actually worse than that girl,” whispered Shelley.  “I almost wish she would catch Tony in bed with the wedding planner so we could end this nightmare.”

Ashley’s eyebrows practically flew off her face, she raised them so quickly.  Jenny wondered if those muscles could get whiplash.

“Aren’t you the wedding planner?” asked Mark saucily.

“Oh!  No!” cried Shelley, realizing the implication.  “I didn’t mean me!”

“We know what you meant, sweets,” said Jenny playfully pulling her friend’s hair.  She hoped the light teasing would stop the ideas she could see turning around in Ashley’s brain.  Obviously Shelley didn’t want to sleep with her little sister’s fiance.  First of all,  Shelley, who liked everyone, enjoyed her future brother-in-law less than she enjoyed planning his wedding with her uptight, type A little sister.  Secondly, Shelley was way too nice to screw over someone she liked less than her little sister, whom, incidentally, she loved fiercely.

“What about you, Jenny?” asked Ashley who could no longer sit around not speaking.  “Are you seeing any one?  It’s almost Valentine’s Day, you know.”

“Do those go together?” asked Mark.

The women ignored him.

“No, I’m not seeing anyone currently.  I’m sure you would have heard, if I were.  You know my mother, can’t keep the murderer on last night’s Law & Order secret.”

“Who taught her how to text?” interrupted Jared.  “I tell her I’m recording it and yet she’s always texting asking if I can believe the killer was so-and-so!”

“I blame Dad,” answered Jenny.

Ashley had a well constructed expression of confusion on her face.

“You’re not seeing anyone?” she asked again.

“No, Ash, I’m not dating anyone.”

“I could have sworn Tammy said she saw you at The Wildwood with a young man.”

“Probably not,” said Jenny, a hard edge to her voice.

“Jenny hates The Wildwood,” added Jared.

“Maybe it wasn’t The Wildwood.  But I’m sure, Tammy said she saw you last weekend at dinner somewhere with a young man.  Chez Antoine’s?  No, that wasn’t it.”

Tammy often mistakes me for that Laurie girl from the Leicester debate team who married then divorced April Bishop last year.  It may have been her she saw,” said Jenny breezily.  She turned back to Wendy and asked about a new piece of art in the hall.

“No, I know,” said Ashley before Wendy could answer.  “It was last Thursday at that new Creole place in Bolton: Limyè.”

“Oh, that?”

“So it was a date?” asked Ashley innocently.

“No.  It wasn’t.”

“Oh.”

“Why would you think it was a date?”

“Something Tammy said,” said Ashley evasively.  And then Jenny remembered what Tammy, Ashley, and her dinner companion all had in common.

“She told you who I was there with, didn’t she?”

“I don’t remember…”

“Yes, you do.”

If Ashley had, like she’d always wanted, the ability to shoot death rays from her eyes, Jenny would have been incinerated on the spot.

“Who were you at dinner with?” Jared asked his sister.

Feeling like a colossal jerk, Jenny smiled kindly at her brother.

“That’s my business, brother dear.”  She turned back to Wendy, determined to salvage the pleasant evening.  “You got that painting at the auction last month?”

The following hour and a quarter went smoothly.  The friends engaged in happy conversation about current events, politics, and the Olympics.  Jenny and the men swirled their scotch and waters and discussed hockey while the women discussed the handsome ski jumper from that snowy country they couldn’t remember the name of and the ice dancers costumes from the night before.  Finally it was time for everyone to go.

“Time to get back to the children, hubby,” crooned Ashley when Jenny appeared with her coat and purse.  “So stressful, isn’t it, parenthood?” said Ashley to Shelley whose perfect two year old had probably been sound asleep for the sitter for at least two hours.

“Not really,” said Shelley, sweetly.

“Wait till they get older.  Sometimes I just don’t know what to do with Tyler.  He has so much energy.”

“He’s a big fan of P!nk,” pipped up Jenny.  “Boy could dance to her all night long.”

Ashley smiled like she was holding in a fart.  Ashley had aired loud opinions Senior year when Jenny, Wendy, Mark, Ricky, and Jason Marquez went to a P!nk concert instead of attending the Senior Reception.  It didn’t help that Ashley, who never didn’t have a date to any event, had the biggest schoolgirl crush on Jason Marquez.  Her sense of self-entitlement and superiority to the loud-mouthed, tomboy Jenny Davis made it impossible for her to understand how Jason Marquez could possible prefer Jenny’s company to hers.  He was far too handsome and destined for success later in life to waste his time with the geeky, crass, unwashed, ready to skip very important events Jenny Davis.  He ought to, she was sure, be spending time with a like-minded, ambitious, regularly showered girl like herself who saw the value of traditions like the Senior Reception.

But everything worked out in the end.  Jared Davis proved to be as successful as everyone thought Jason Marquez was going to be; plus, he went to school on a football scholarship and very successfully obtained his MBA.  But Jenny was still a force to be reckoned with.

“Jenny, I don’t really think P!nk is appropriate for young children.”

“Come on, Ash,” said her husband.  “You play the clean versions, right?”

“Of course!  You can look over the playlist anytime you want Ashley.  I promise there’s nothing inappropriate for Tyler and Sylvie on there.”

“Oh, I trust you, Jenny,” condescension dripped from each of Ashley’s words.  “Jared, we really must be going.  Home.  To our house.  And our children.”

“Thanks for a lovely evening,” said Jenny to Wendy and Mark.  “I really must be off as well.  I’ve allotted at least an hour before bed for drinking red wine and soaking, uninterrupted, in the tub.  Talk to you soon, bro,” she added to Jared, and sailed out the door.

Professional Aunt

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I have an uncle who is, I swear, a Professional Uncle.  My other grandmother (not his mother) even calls him “Uncle B”; his email address is “uncleb***@”.  He IS “Uncle”.  Sometimes I feel like I am following in his footsteps and becoming “Auntie”.  I mean, it’s not that far a step away from my usual role of “Little Sister”.  But now that I’m so close to having one foot in thirty, I should probably stop being everyone’s Sister and start being everyone’s Auntie.  I mean, I’m already likely to slip you some coffee after 6pm and feed you meat if you ask for it.

And I bake some killer cookies:

I can't believe I'm sharing my recipe.

I can’t believe I’m sharing my recipe.

As I said the other day, baking makes me happy.  Give me some butter, flour, sugar, vanilla and baking soda and I can probably whip something together.  Chocolate is a good addition as well.

We’re waiting here for my new baby nephew to grace us with his presence and some days in the past week have been longer than others.  The other day I decided to make some Chocolate Chip Cookies for my very pregnant sister, bro-law, and little nevvy (the two year old, not the fetus – although when mommy eats them so does he).

Ever since I lived in Vermont and we didn’t have any sort of mixer, I’ve had this inkling to forego electric mixers most of the time when I am baking.  Through doing so I have found a strange kinship to my foremothers who had no other choice, but to mix by hand.  In my Romanticized view of women from the Great Depression and further back in History, they all resemble my image of Antonia at the end of Willa Cather’s My Antonia: a solid, strong, buff Earth Mother, made strong from all the hand kneaded bread and home ground grains; tough women with strong arms from mixing dough with spoons in bowls and tired backs from standing over fires to cook and lifting solid farm babies.

It’s a mite ridiculous, I know, but my Romanticized vision of the women who came before helps connect me with the past.  My own grandmother (the Professional Uncle’s mom) said something to me once that I found very profound at the time.  We were talking over the phone about pie crust:

Gram: Now, are you sitting down?
Moi: Yes?
Gram: I use lard.

Ok, that’s not the profound statement, but it was awfully funny.  Her profound statement to me was essentially this:

Gram: It takes practice.  Just keep trying it.  We all had to do it.

Suddenly I was them and they were me.  They.  The women who came before me.  Just like me, they weren’t born knowing how to make the perfect pie crust or cake or cookie, they learned through trial and error.  Years of practice and perfecting has made my grandmother a world class baker and cake decorator.  Born before the Crash, my grandmother grew up the second oldest, and only girl, of five children.  She learned how to cook and bake and take care of her brothers and father.  She’s been doing this thing since the ’30s.  She raised three boys who each love them some sweets; made my parents’ wedding cake; and taught me to love Squash Pie and Date Nut Bars (note to self: get that recipe).

I am relatively young and still have time to perfect my baked goods.  The best part of that is even if I totally mess up my baked goods I have brothers and sisters, and nieces and nephews that will happily eat whatever I ruin.  But not my chocolate chip cookies: those things are Magic.

Magic

Magic

I made the cookies while the nevvy was at daycare so he couldn’t help me make them, but hopefully, what with Christmas nipping at our heels, I’ll be making more baked goods and he can help me with them (especially if that keeps him out of Mommy and Daddy’s hair while they tend to Baby Brother).

I'm telling you: magic.

I’m telling you: magic.

I can’t really say why I love baking so much.  It could be a control issue.  I have control over the entire kitchen for roughly an hour and a half (depending on what I am making) and after that time is up, I have delicious treats that other people can eat and enjoy; treats that will make them happy and make them forget about their stress and complaints and bullshit for awhile.  Because a good piece of pastry can do that.  A well cooked meal, a delicious piece of chocolate, a slice of pie, a piece of cake can make a person forget their worries while they marvel that anything can taste that good.

But no one is born knowing how to create this sort of magic: it takes time and practice (I’ve been baking chocolate chip cookies for nearly sixteen years).  I laugh when people tell me they can’t cook or bake because that statement is bullshit.  If you can read and follow directions, you can cook or bake.  It’s the easiest and best chemistry, right up there with blowing stuff up and setting it on fire.  Men and women have been cooking forever; that a modern person can’t boil water for pasta or make a cake from scratch is laughable.  If my nieces and nephews can assist me mixing together my ingredients then a full grown adult can make spaghetti and meat sauce.

Even though he didn’t get to help me make them, the kid sure has enjoyed the fruits of my labor.

That’s him saturating his cookie in a glass of milk. Kid knows his stuff.

Now, if only his mom would go into labor….

Post Wherein I Am Awful to the Sisterhood*

Some Chick is being a real twat to my Fake Bro-dawg.  Little does she know he’s telling me everything that is/has happening/ed between them and I am so totally going to write an awesome story based on this winter and she is going to be such a complex and horrible character she isn’t even going to recognize herself in the character and she’s going to continue being horrible to really decent dudes until one of them points out that she is this character and she can feel shamed.

This is assuming she knows how to read.

*In my defense: if she wasn’t being so horrible to my Fake Brother then I wouldn’t be being horrible about her.  I’ve also never met her, but still… she’s being dumb and Francie^ doesn’t deserve that!

^”Francie” also doesn’t deserve me perpetuating that fake name for him… sorry, bro.