Thursday, November 30, 2006

Glowing Reviews

Yeah, right. Like I'm a doctor and I'm gonna perform THAT autopsy.

"Hi! I'm radioactive! Do my autopsy!"

Let's see what kind of results come out of it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Killer" Corn Casserole

This is my grandmother's recipe, although I've altered it somewhat. My changes basically involved tinkering with the thickening and seasoning. I didn't add any fat--that's all original. Ce Ce changed it to frozen corn after the advent of convenience foods. It used to be cut off the cob.

It is a no-frills, pure comfort food, 1930's dish that is guaranteed to cure what ails you unless you have a heart-related, fat-related, salt-related, or dairy-related problem. In that case, it'll prolly kill you, but I promise you'll die happy. I would WAY rather have a big dish of this than of ice cream any day.

MEDICAL WARNING and DISCLAIMER: If you already have high cholesterol, do not eat more than 1/4 cup per year of this stuff. It completely blocks arteries upon swallowing. The blogger washes her hands of any and all responsibility for any ingestion-induced health anomalies readers might experience.

(And, Lord, it hurts so GOOD! Thank you, Grandma Ce Ce, you were one of the world's greatest old-fashioned homestyle cooks! Thanks for giving me your old recipe box!)

Ce Ce's original recipe is for four small servings. That's what she and Grandpa would eat at one sitting. Our family of four never eats that. We are pigs. We eat, like, 12 or 18 servings and then sneak into the fridge and nibble on the leftovers. So you might try it once but you will find the yield is measly and you'll want more. So depending upon the number of diners at your table, double, triple, or quadruple your ingredients.

  • 1 pkg. frozen whole kernel corn (I think hers were 10-ounce boxes or bags; I just get the huge bags of frozen corn)
  • 2 Tbs. butter (hah! I use a whole stick and sometimes more)
  • 2 Tbs. flour (just make sure you have roughly equal amounts butter and flour, maybe a little more flour than butter; you'll see when you keep putting flour into the roux. It is right only when it gets really, really thick)
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • salt (to taste)
  • black and/or white pepper (to taste) I like the white pepper, but the kids think it's too hot
  • 1/2 pint whipping cream or heavy cream (I just buy a bunch of pints and keep putting them in one by one until it looks right)
  • Small tub grated Parmesan, Romano, or Asiago cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a small saucepan, make a roux using butter and flour.
  3. Bring corn, salt, pepper, and whipping cream to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes. (Do not add water to the corn; its own water and the cream are sufficient liquid.)
  4. Thicken corn mixture with the roux. Good and thick. It should be gluey together. You'll know.
  5. Place in a casserole(whatever size you need, or multiple casseroles) and bake in oven for at least 30 minutes, or until bubbling and a little golden around the edges and top.
  6. Remove from oven. Top with a layer of Parmesan cheese and put under the broiler until the entire top is a toasty light brown.
Done! Enjoy your decadence. You can put any extra in little Pyrex dishes and freeze for later, and it reheats as well in a pot as in the microwave or conventional oven.

Hooo-eeee. Suddenly I'm hungry.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006


We went to see Honey's family in Rochester, NY for Thanksgiving and the weekend following. It was a confusing Thanksgiving for me; my in-laws are usually in Arizona from October through April, and therefore we don't see them. Due to my father-in-law's illness, for which he has recently consented to a series of experimental treatments in Boston, they are hanging around until after the next treatment. So, in a bizarre twist, I did not have to plan and prepare the usual festive board. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I kept thinking I was forgetting something, and I had a sense of impending doom. All of that was angst that I was supposed to be planning and buying ingredients for all the dishes.

That's correct: I was feeling worry, doom and guilt, and wasting all this necessary energy on feelings I had no logical right to have!

Anyway, I was asked only to contribute a measly vegetable dish to the meal. I immediately settled on my grandma Ce Ce's corn casserole, the epitome of decadent comfort food. My son, G, has been known to try to appropriate the entire casserole for himself. Though I increase the amount I make each year, there is never enough. Not a kernel goes wasted at our house, and knowing that my sis-in-law's family are often very picky eaters, I thought it was a safe bet.

Then I remembered that G had recently brought home a set of fancy designer frozen cheesecakes that I had bought as a fundraiser for one of his many choir groups. I would take a cheesecake, too; I knew Grandpa liked it and so would the kids. So I'd also take a dessert. It could defrost during the six-hour car ride--that would be perfect.

For days before our departure, all I had was a little yellow post-it note with my big list: corn casserole. Take recipe. Cheesecake. Seeing it made me rather sad, as though in the back of my mind I was yearning to take on singlehendedly the annual hideous traditions and countdowns. Yes, it's painful; but apparently I love it. Who knew? There is something very gratifying about properly planning a big meal, working toward its fruition a little bit each day, and having it come off perfectly. Perhaps what I was feeling was actually the deprivation of potential triumph.

Also, as strange as it may seem, I LOVE to clean silver for a big holiday. It was always my job as a child, and I still find it very satisfying. I had eyed the silver suspiciously, as it told me it needed polishing, and I kept having to remind myself that I could get away without cleaning it since no one was going to use it for Thanksgiving. Sigh. There it still sits in the corner, glaring at me with little light reflecting out from under its brown tarnish.

Finally the day came, and the typical confusion initiated by the horrors of packing threw everyone into a tizzy and brought out the boys' frustration in loud, pummeling shows of aggression. I'm guessing that's a testosterone-linked thing. For me, the packing just induces an idiotic, sluggish, deer-in-headlights mental blankness followed by universally bad choices. I know when I begin that I am destined to pack the wrong things (it has ever been thus), and the feeling of defeat and ultimate disappointment throws me into a funk. Therefore I avoid it until the last minute. Planning ahead doesn't help. I've already tried that a million times, and all I've learned is that I will change my mind about every outfit that I planned, so there's really no point.

Days ahead, I had prepared my recipe card and put it in my purse. That's all there was to that, so it was time to get the cheesecake. I had reminded the family to remind me of it. Men. I opened the freezer door and they said, "Don't forget the cheesecake!"

Our freezer is usually a nightmare. I am anal about it and have it arranged in very carefully stacked little bricks of stuff: bags, boxes, loaves of bread, cardboard dividers laid flat like shelves between layers to boost stability and "ease of use." Hah. It took me ten minutes to remove all the frozen bricks of stuff and finally locate the cheesecake box. I had the entire countertop covered with freezer items. In order to differentiate the cheesecake from the things taht would go back in the freezer, I set it on top of the refrigerator, and then spent another fifteen minutes reconstructing the contents of the freezer. In the time it took to extricate the cheesecake and redo the freezer, I could have made a cheesecake from scratch.

We got in the car. A couple of hours later, Honey said, "And you put the cheesecake in the back, right?"


We looked at each other and laughed.

"Well, we DID remind you," they all said.

I figured it wasn't so bad. While we were gone, the house would be as cold as the refrigerator anyway; the cheesecake would have to defrost first and would probably still be good when we got back home.

Much too late, I realized I could have called my neighbor and told her to use the passkey to take the cake for her own family. But I also knew we had left the house in such a mess I was too embarrassed to do so.

At the last minute I bought a fresh cheesecake from the fancy-schmancy grocery in Rochester, and no one knew any better. But they sure knew that they liked it.


Friday, November 17, 2006


"I do feel that it's on the onerus [sic] of the business owners to secure their property . . . "

--Mayor of Putnam, CT, regarding "what retailers can do" to prevent crimes against their customers
Sales of the coveted PlayStation 3 game opened today. Scores of avid gamers had camped out on chairs under blankets and sleeping bags for three or four days in front of stores such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy. In our town, they had reportedly been permitted to abandon their spots to attend local college courses for a few hours. Their spots were "saved," and they retrieved them after class. In Putnam, CT, a car full of thugs drove up and started bullying would-be customers, brandishing a gun and robbing them of any cash they could get. One steadfast man refused to give them his cash and was shot in the chest/shoulder. His injuries are reported as life threatening.

At the large and popular mall in a nearby town, a successful PS3 purchaser was scoped out inside the store and then mugged upon exit. The security camera captured the incident, which came across on TV in very poor resolution. The mugging is clear. After throwing down the customer and stealing the game, the criminals jumped back into a waiting getaway car. One of the muggers wasn't so lucky, and didn't quite make it into the car fast enough. The others threw him out of the car and onto the parking lot blacktop, where they left him as they drove off. He, a minor, was arrested.

Why would you wait three or four days with a large wad of cash outside in public for a stupid GAME?

Why would youths commit a crime and doom their everloving entire futures for a stupid GAME?

Why can't a mayor speak basic English? And why does the mayor blame the business owners who are paying the taxes that support his town for the crimes committed there? No wonder we're all so effed up.

Dumbasses all.


Pedantic Rant

Language is, as I keep having to remind myself, constantly evolving. Sometimes I read or hear a snippet of language that makes me fight with every cell of my being against that evolution.

As a writer, editor and former university lit and writing instructor, paying careful attention to English is my greatest joy. Now, as a parent, I also consider it a duty. It's my job to train my children properly. I don't trust our public institutions to do it well or at all. When my kids bring home school flyers, newsletters, announcements and homework assignments riddled with spelling, grammar, and mechanical errors, I scream and flap around the room like a dangerous, injured pteranodon. I also pen the corrections in red ink and send the papers back.

Yes, I am an ancient being. In my kids' eyes, I'm a crazy old bat, but it truly bothers me when a publisher or an instructor has not only not proofread the work, but also perhaps never learned what would have been correct in the first place. Our kids derive impressions from what they see in print and see and hear in other media. I want it right.

Flamboyant upsets about school documents, however, are minor compared to my fiendish reaction when I listen to public radio or PBS TV and catch a linguistic or grammatical hiccough. After all, it was Robin (Robert) MacNeil, formerly of the PBS MacNeil-Lehrer Report, who wrote all those fabulous books about the history of English, especially American English. (I've read every one of them, Robin--I love you!). It's a sad statement on people's disregard for language that, from the current mainstream media, I expect gaffes. In fact, I'm so jaded that sometimes I consider journalistic mistakes a sub-form of entertainment. As they say on the NPR program "What Do You Know?," "anybody who says otherwise is itching for a fight." So bite me. I laugh and hide my disgust behind a wall of derision. But PBS and NPR can do better, and I expect a higher standard from them.

A particular grammatical anomaly has been bothering me for years. I tend to hear it on the car radio or on TV, but because I am a mom driving or cooking or driving or cooking or waiting for kids or watching kids or cleaning or helping kids with homework, I cannot write it down the moment I hear it. My moments for the mighty pen are almost always inopportune.

This year, PBS TV takes the cake. The paragraph below illustrates an error that has driven me crazy for as long as I have heard it in colloquial speech. I do have the grace to thank wonderful PBS for finally clinching it for me at a time when I could commit it to paper and web. It's recent in my experience; I never heard it, say, ten years ago. When I hear it, I feel almost violent for two reasons: 1) I hate the mistake and want to hunt down and strangle every person who makes it; and 2) I have looked so long and so unsuccessfully for a name, diagnosis, and cure for it, and feel so defeated in my failed, dogged dedication to that end, that I want to explode.

Here is an example, as quoted verbatim from an early September broadcast of PBS's Newshour with Jim Lehrer. Context: The interviewee spoke about the alleged inaccuracy of a 9/11 "docudrama" [would you guess that I hate that coining?] to be aired on a major network channel.

Does this linguistic faux pas have an official name?
  1. Newshour Guest (someone named Thompson from Syracuse University): . . . we're walking around with ideas that we don't know where they came from.

I believe this is a corollary to the following sort of thing:

2. We were looking for cut firewood which we didn't have any.
3. At the garage sale, I found a broken-up set of encyclopedias which I had no clue of finding the A.

I don't mean to say that we can't understand the sentences. We certainly can decode them easily. Despite their inefficient articulation, they make sense in an awkward way. Let's figure out where their problems originate. First, each sentence contains a "which"/"that" (these are called "broad pronouns," as is "who").

Usually, these words indicate either restrictive or non-restrictive clauses. Since there are no commas before the whiches or thats, these "errant" clauses must be restrictive. Why? If you were to take the restrictive clause out, the sentence could stand independently, but it wouldn't have that special detail restricting the recipient(s) of the agent's action. Example (note lack of comma):
"He spent hours nursing the Indian guides who were sick with malaria."
"Who were sick with malaria" tells you which specific Indian guides were cared for. Not all of them were cared for; only the Indians with malaria were. Nursing care was restricted to malaria victims. Thus the restrictive clause.

In a non-restrictive sentence, you'd add the comma:
"He spent hours nursing the Indian guides, who were sick with malaria."
In this case, all of the Indian guides were sick; therefore he nursed all of them. He did not restrict his care to only certain Indian guides. This "who . . ." clause is non-restrictive, because it tells you that all of the guides are sick, not just some of them, and all of them received nursing care.

So far, so good; but applied to the errant sentences, the rules don't work. Something is wrong with the usage of that/which; it doesn't belong where it's placed. In errant sentence #1, the "ideas" are ones "that we don't know." But why is "where they came from" appended to our not knowing? In errant sentence #2, we didn't have logs, but why is "any" appended to the sentence? To put it another way, and it's definitely not pretty, logs were the things of which we had none. In errant sentence #3, the encyclopedia searcher had no clue about where to find one of the volumes. Among the mixed-up and possibly incomplete set of encyclopedias, the garage-sale shopper couldn't find the A book.

I once worked with a very wise editor who taught me that one of the most important strategies for fixing broken writing was finding out what was missing. This is particularly true in technical writing, where a missing step, ingredient or material completely invalidates instructions for the audience and might even result in ruined work or actual physical injury. Let's try rewriting these sentences so that they work. What's missing?

Warning: these reorganizational fixes may sound "clunky," but they are grammatically correct.

#1: We're walking around with ideas whose origin we don't know. Or: We're walking around with ideas, the origin of which we don't know. We don't know the origin of the ideas that we're walking around with. (Hah--don't end a sentence with a preposition!)

#2: We were looking for cut firewood, of which we had none. We were looking for something we didn't have any of. (Again, don't end a sentence with a preposition!)

#3: At the garage sale, I found a broken-up set of encyclopedias, among which I could not find the A volume.

In each case, the "broad pronoun" is misplaced, and what's really missing is a preposition in the proper position. The that/which needs an "of" or "among" to go with it; otherwise the sentence is nonsensical. Moving elements around also improves the sentences' clarity.

Whew, that was tiring! Well, I feel a little better knowing that I have diagnosed and cured this anomaly. I still want to know the official grammatical name of this error.

And I still want to strangle anyone who commits it. Don't commit it; learn it, know it, fix it!

Don't even get me started on the difference between "which" and "that." Oh, and don't forget "who." Remember those b-r-o-a-d pronouns! I might have to illustrate the nonspecific "it" with a baseball bat, and that would be really ugly. But effective. (Hey--don't start a sentence with "but"!) I'm not worried. Until you learn the rules first, you won't know how. Oops, look at that just then; also, don't begin a sentence with a preposition. About now--oops--that was a preposition again!

I know. The sentence you want to say contains two words and starts, "Up . . ." Oh, never mind. You know the appropriate word. And in case you're wondering, it's a possessive.

Next in this series: part of the Paramedic Method for reviving poor writing. It involves rescuing writing via ten-point resuscitation.

Heh. Like I can write a series.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Useful Graphics

An audience's interpretation of a sign or graphic design depends on both the design and the person hoping to decipher it. Factors that can get in the way of the message certainly include context and culture; but the weight of responsibility for an effective message rests on the graphic design. Successful design delivers an accurate message, without the words, to the greatest possible audience regardless of external factors.

I was just cleaning out a set of three kitchen utility baskets, mostly used as catch-alls for frequently consulted paperwork, when I revisited this item that's probably been buried among some town catalogs for at least a year. It's a sheet of stickers. Each sticker is about one inch square. I can't really remember exactly how they were intended to be used, but I think they were sent by my former insurance company for use in an "asthma self-care workbook" that they promote in order to "help" asthmatics track and record their asthma maintenance habits.

I don't want to be cynical or sarcastic or anything, but it seems to me asthmatics (at least experienced ones, even children) are pretty darn good at using whatever means required of them, since they really, really hate it when they can't breathe. This must be why I simply popped the sticker sheet in a basket and forgot about it. If I were sedated through a whole day, I would still remember to take my meds. They do, after all, keep me alive.

Besides, I'm not quite sure what to make of these designs; what do they mean, exactly?:

Text says, "FLU" across the pair of lungs. Meaning? Flu happens in the lungs. Is the sticker so that I can warn unsuspecting passersby when I have the flu?
This is supposed to depict a "flow meter"; it's a device that determines whether or not I'll make the Breathing Olympics. But on the sticker it looks like a mercury thermometer.
Time to write a note to the doctor, since I can't breathe well enough to speak out loud?
Look out, muggers! I am a dangerous asthmatic with a potentially deadly inhaler, and I know how to use it!
No, really! I'm not kidding! And not only that, but I carry more than one inhaler!

While he's out of the room, it's a chance to snag the doctor's prescription pad and write up some extra scripts for myself!

This is a rough depiction of my most recent chest x-ray, showing me swallowing my gum before I get in trouble.

Always remember to run away and cower in a corner of the room whenever you encounter anyone bearing a hypodermic larger than you!


Monday, November 13, 2006

Slob Outing

It's not an outing for slobs. I'm "outing" the slobs. I realize there may be some irony in this--I'm exposing the mess of my tragic private family room in a public venue, so it must somehow reflect me, too. But, honestly. It seemed the appropriate thing to do in relation to the preceding post. And in that post I proved that I should be absolved of complicity in the MESS. I assure you that I am not a white-trash mama. But my kids might fit in fine in the trailer park, or a pig sty.

After writing that post it occurred to me I should just go look around the room again to make sure I hadn't been exaggerating about how my barbaric children routinely violate their home environment (must exercise journalistic fairness). We won't even bother going into their bedrooms. Tyke's is typically better than G's, but to tell the truth Tyke is certainly no saint. G.'s room is just truly scary. The floor is his closet and the cabinets, drawers, etc. are his trash cans. If I called the Fire Department or County Health Department to do an inspection, we would surely be cited. (Ohh, there's an idea; maybe that's what I should do? But who would pay the penalty? Oh, yeah. Me.)

In my tour of the family room I realized that the same old areas have been legendary problems from Day One since we moved here. Since I'm going to "out,: I of course have to post pics.

Site #1: The "Put Away Box"

See? It really does say, "PUT AWAY" on it. But despite the fact that both of the boys are many years ahead of their grades in reading skill and comprehension, when it comes to the box they feign illiteracy. Box was partially cleaned out last night. Remaining contents of box:
  • two nice dress shirts (choir performances and dates at swank events, you know)
  • 1 completely broken microphone for computer karaoke
  • 1 stuffed bear
  • pair red Old Navy flip flops (might be mine--can't tell difference between mine and G's)
  • three broken guitar strings
  • 1 book on cool tricks you can do with magnets (the magnets have been separated from it and lost; probably they're now in the vacuum cleaner)
  • 1 half-used tin of Bed Head Shine Wax
  • 30 or 40 miscellaneous ancient homework papers (G.'s) and a printed copy of a script I wrote that keeps getting threatened to be produced on stage by the theater kids, but they keep losing the script so that will never happen
  • 1 notebook of dark, brooding, ballad-like adolescent poems that G. refuses to submit to the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival
Next, Site #2: The Dying Chair

After many weeks of shopping and deliberation, we bought this sturdy farm-style dinette set about 11 or 12 years ago. The table came with six chairs. At this time, three chairs remain intact and one is well on its way out. This is a problem for us, for we are a family of FOUR. We need FOUR chairs. The chairs have been systematically destroyed by an ADHD boy who initially could not sit still. Then, once he achieved an age when he could sorta sit still (like a year ago), he started destroying the chair via sheer powerful manlike weight and chronic twisting in the seat. As shown, the dying chair (missing one rung so far; another is halfway out and the bentwood back has broken out of its hole and can't be fixed) is being used as a clothes horse for three different fall/winter coats that of course have not been properly hung up in the closet. This actually demonstrates some advancement. Usually the coats are on the floor, not on a chair. "What, you mean it's a floor? I thought it was a closet."

Site #3: The "Computer Desk/Composer's Music Station"

You can see three or four speakers. Though they don't all show in the photo, there are, all told, six speakers. Four were brazenly stolen from parents' stereos, and two rightly belong to the computer. The damper-covers on the stereo speakers have been ripped off "so it sounds better." Behind the computer screen and to the left of it (not very visible), you see a brown thing with white masking tape stuck on it. This, friends, is my antique mahogany piano chair. Yes! That's right! A chair on top of the table! G. broke the seat (have we identified a trend here?) when he kept twisting in it and his butt broke right through the leather upholstery. The chair is really now more of a frame. So he thought, why not? Why not use the chair as a shelf instead? So he did. And on top of the chair he placed my rather expensive Sony stereo receiver, which he brazenly stole from his parents' library. And on top of that he put a CD rack and the jar that holds student pens/pencils. It gets worse. What else did I find at this station?
  • bunch of random short snippets of electronic wire
  • two pairs sunglasses; one is red and has flashing lights inside the frame, but of course they don't work anymore
  • drawer full of unlabeled floppy disks, cds, and CRUMBS from stashed SNACKS (I did not open the drawer; they just leave it that way)
  • two packets of lens tissues and one bottle of spray for cleaning glasses
  • seven seasons' worth of borrowed "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" DVDs
  • headphones (legitimate; it is a music station, after all, and the rest of us don't want to hear the noise)
  • brother's Winnie-the-Pooh ballpoint pen, gift from Disney World, under the chair
  • one inconsitent and mostly non-functional iPod whose enormous, expensive and painstakingly assembled library was accidentally erased
  • 3 video game CDs
  • guitar slide
  • dismantled fiber-optic pen parts
  • unidentifiable broken metal parts of something else
  • papers and bits of papers; printout of a Carnegie Mellon college website about the Computer Music department
  • liner notes to electric guitar strings
  • roll of masking tape that belongs in the family tool drawer
Site #4: On the Fireplace, or, I Give Up

  • Hubby's bass guitar amp; that's the one thing that actually belongs there
  • four big plastic boxes full of building blocks, Lego, army men, and assorted "precious--can't live without it" but completely unused detritus
  • box of Lego Constructionary, with most parts missing from box
  • a bike helmet that belongs in the garage
  • a bag of army men that belong to a kid not in this family
  • box for tragically cheap electric guitar recently purchased by G. (you have to keep the box, you know, but some people are too lazy to just take it to the attic)
  • the guitar itself (in its case for the first time; that's an improvement!)
  • box for the computer piano console (you have to keep the box, you know, but people are too lazy to just take it to the attic)
  • computer piano console (note: on the floor)
  • four loose, out-of-order printed piano pages for Bach's 'Toccatta and Fugue' that should be on the regular piano
  • various parts of borrowed Nintendo Gamecube and two controllers
  • USB cord that probably goes to console
  • plastic Zorro sword (bent out of shape) used for last year's Halloween
After compiling this, and seeing it all at once in concentrated horror, I really do give up.


Hall O' Shame

Just in case I was getting a little tooooo complacent about my behavior as a swell mom who always tries to do right by her kids, destiny kindly stepped in this morning to kick me in the everlovin' broadening butt.

I was still lying in my toasty bed, slightly awake and savoring the marvelous softness of the sateen sheets and comforting weight of the gigantic hand-made afghan, when the Tyke came into the room and hovered over me in the semi darkness.

"Mom, did you see a thing of skeletons on the table?"

A 'thing of skeletons'? What is a 'thing of skeletons'? I groggily called to mind a picture of a cellophane package full of, perhaps, plastic glow-in-the-dark Halloween party favors or something. It didn't sound familiar at all.

"What do you mean by 'a thing of skeletons'?"

"You know, it was some papers I had on the table with skeleton drawings on it. It was my homework, and I need it to turn in today, and now it's missing."

Ohhhhh, THAT thing of skeletons. Now I knew what he was talking about: he had a two-page, double-sided worksheet for Spanish. The assignment theme was the Mexican holiday the Day of the Dead. It had vocabulary, a word search puzzle, and a multiple-choice word-matching exercise on it. It had made the rounds all over the family room, dinette, kitchen counters, you name it.

Yes, I had seen it various times over the three-day weekend. It kept getting moved. He put it in the wrong places time after time, and I kept putting it where I hoped he would see it and put it properly away in his notebook, but he never did put it away, even when I asked specifically. This is a constant occurrence and makes me nuts. I did remember grabbing a bunch of stuff and throwing it in The Box.

In our house, I have tried (with barely marginal success) a "Put Away Box" method for relocating kid stuff. It is perhaps the stupidest and most pointless thing I have come up with to date. The idea is that as I move through the house throughout the day, I pick up the kids' crap (they consider any horizontal surface fair game) and throw it in the Put Away Box. Before bed, they have to take their junk out of there and put it where it belongs. [*snicker*guffaw*]

The usual verbal litany of putitawayputitawayputitawayputitaway does not work with them, because like most kids, they are blessed with selective hearing. They also generally don't care at all about punitive consequences. They will just take the consequence, no matter how negative, and keep doing the undesirable behavior.

My kids are phenomenal when it comes to mess. In fact, they almost without fail put things where they absoluely, positively DO NOT BELONG. I absolutely, positively cannot keep up with the mess, no matter how valiantly I try, and I do try very hard. If I spend the six hours when they are at school cleaning up, then within a half-hour of their coming home, it will be worse than before. They are the Tazmanian Devils of slobbery.

Case in point: I was talking to my mom-in-law, whom I adore, on the phone Saturday. She mentioned how she doesn't understand the way kids are these days (in reference to two other grandkids). And I went on a rant about the vagaries of her other grandkids, and, while walking around with the phone, went to the boys' "computer desk," which is also a music/composition center. It's also a place where one of them loves to chain-snack. I narrated my finds to mom-in-law. Under the desk I found the usual tangled snakepile of electrical cords, broken guitar strings, autumn leaves from shoe bottoms, and bits of paper. But--surprise! A new discovery like no other: I found a black sock, covered in CRUMBS, stuffed into a plastic cup holding dregs of curdled milk.

A crumb-covered sock. In a cheesy cup. On the floor. Under the desk.

She howled.

I've had it.

I'm leaving.

Now I'm going to say the usual parent thing: If I had EVER done ANYTHING that disrespectful to MY parents' house, they would have kicked my stupid teenage a$s inside out until it was hanging out my mouth. You just don't make mess like that. You just don't to stuff like that.

Well, in my mindless routine, mixed with motherly wrath and righteous indignation, I apparently picked up a sheaf of Tyke's homework, and I saw that some of it was out of date and already corrected. I thought perhaps I had tossed it into the Put Away Box. Tyke reported that he had already looked there. I asked if maybe he had already put it in his notebook inside the backpack.

"No, Mom, I left it out on the table so that I would find it this morning. Did you throw it out, Mom? Did you throw it out?"

This is not the sort of thing to tell me first thing in the morning. I am not a morning person. I lit into the Tyke like white on rice.

"This is why we have the Put Away Box. Because you and your brother put things in the wrong place. WHEN YOU HAVE SOMETHING IMPORTANT THAT YOU DON'T WANT TO LOSE, PUT IT AWAY IN THE RIGHT PLACE!"

I was also maybe extremely pissed off that I was being blamed for throwing away something that had been chronically, carelessly left lying around. How dare I do what I ought by all rights to do?

I did remember picking up some papers, and thought I might have tossed out an old spelling practice sheet.

Oddly enough, when I looked, there was no trash in the kitchen bin. I was perplexed. No one else ever takes out the trash but me, or the boys who are forced to take it out once a week, the night before garbage collection. There was no bag in the bin, not even an empty bag.

When DH came down to head to work, he said that he had made G take the trash out last night. Leaving Tyke weeping on the dinette floor, we went into the garage and DH rifled through the bag. I stood by and spotted a wad. It was the Spanish homework.

So I was the culprit. Without giving it a second thought or even remembering I had done it, I had thrown out the homework, thinking the whole sheaf was corrected, acknowledged and past being needed.


I'm still mad about all the stuff being disorganized, and for being blamed. Of COURSE I should get rid of stuff if people are not going to take responsibility for it. (Shouldn't I?) But I do feel sorry for the poor Spanish teacher, Senorita Rebecca, who is going to have to look at that slightly damp, crumpled and stinky paper decorated with a couple of smears of tomato paste.