Pyeongchang

It’s the MOST wonderful tiiiiiiime… of every two years.

The Olympics.  I love the little flags.  The suspense.  The heartbreak.  The triumph.  The wipeouts.  I love the columns of numbers and the standings and the milliseconds.  I’d forgotten how much I love slopestyle and halfpipe and snowboarding motorcross.  I love the sweeping panoramic landscapes taken from helicopters.  I love the names and the diversity and learning about the different customs and parts of the host country.  I love the medal counts.  And the touching human interest stories.  I love when they take us to the homes of the competitors from all over the world and we get to see where little international athletes come from… Colorado and Utah.

Only two complaints in 2018… I had higher hopes for the debut of this new Big Yawn… I mean “Big Air” event.  That, and it seems the OAR (Olympic Athletes of Russia) team has really put a dent in the number of Svetlanas this year.  I definitely have not gotten my fill of Svetlanas…

 

Cache

Jaimie, please tell me you don’t have any more childhood rodent stories.  Oh, but I do.  And I don’t yet have to dip into my cache of James’ wild college mouse days.  One of my all-time faves…

So this one time, living in BFE, my cat had her litter of kittens in a wood rat’s nest.  The kittens were so, so cute.  The rat’s nest was logically disgusting but practically functional– well-built, centrally located… the perfect kitty cradle.  You’d think after a childhood of questionable run-ins with creepy crawlies, I’d be desensitized to the homes of furry woodland creatures.

Well a week ago my tire sensors mysteriously begin throwing errors.  The guy at the tire store tells me they’re scheduled to crap-out after ten years.  A morning or two later, my airbag fault light comes on.  Then I go to start my car last Saturday and it’s dead.  I’m annoyed but not surprised.  I’m the recipient of luxury automobile hand-me-downs.  My tailgate alone is a public service announcement.

I get out my handy dandy battery charger, raise the hood and what do I find?  A litter of teeny tiny kittens?  I wish.  Like a cake sitting on an engine cake stand, I find a perfectly formed nest made out of meticulously chewed bits of engine insulation, tire sensors and airbag wires.  With a giant pile of oak acorns squirreled into a pile on top of some sort of motor cap.

The boys had to see the nest after I shoveled it into the garbage can.

James smugly claims that he checks his engine regularly.  I’m clearly a rodent target due to my lack of interest in engine management and general automobile abuse and neglect.

So on Saturday we all pile into James’ Audi loaner car and head to Santa Barbara to pick-up his SUV from the dealership.  Apparently the check engine light came on because of *cough rodent damage cough*.  Our bill so far is up to $1,800…

A cat is looking pretty cheap right now.

Rats

Some of my earliest memories involve waging war against the wild.  My first rodent recollection involved a little something scurrying out from under the kitchen trash compactor and my dad’s swift, permanent stomp.  He used to get in big trouble for using my mom’s yellow dishwashing gloves to carry questionable small corpses from point A to point B.  Granddad uses “rats” as an alternative swear word.  So does his grandson, Jacob.

A few months ago when I noticed some strange things happening on the back porch, I thought it was probably the boys, or the puppies.  I accused deer of eating my succulents and moved them onto the fenced back deck.  Crocs were mysteriously moving.  Shoelaces were chewed.  Then one morning I noticed my Aeonium had bite marks.  The following day it was beheaded.  Did the deer stick their little noses through the slats on the porch?

My suspicions rise.  My little plastic gardening trowel is mysteriously wedged under the expensive outdoor armchair.  I eye the protective furniture covers dubiously.  What could be hiding under there?

I use two fingers to inch the furniture cover up like a couch-shaped pillow case.  Oh god oh god oh yuck, I can hardly look.  Something has made a nest on our loveseat.  There is a pile of black chewed-up fibers.  I stomp my feet and hold my weaponized broom at the ready as I tackle the covered chair next.  I have my knee-high rubber boots on for protection.  I inch up the cover, inch it up, inch it up…

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee— I scream like a maniacal little girl.  It’s a long tail on the armrest.  I run inside and slam the door and the boys are disgusted.  And thrilled.

James and the hunting puppies are under a lot of pressure to save us.  They choke.  It escapes.  And we go about disinfecting EVERYthing.  Then we invest a small fortune in an arsenal of rodent eradication.

A night or two later, James declares victory, thanks to the shocking effectiveness of the $50 “Ratinator.”  The electric chair for rodents… powered by dog food.  Which I’m convinced is the primary origin of this entire situation.

At dinner that night, James proudly declares the death of my nemesis.

Nate eagerly asks where it is.  He wants to see it.  “Where is it?  Where’s the rat?”

Of course James says it’s in the trash.  Nate promptly jumps up from the dining room table and beelines it for the kitchen trash can and opens the lid.

Oh Nate…

Much to his disappointment, of course James is not referring to this trash can.

Slug Bug

Growing-up in Santa Cruz meant I was indoctrinated early into the competitive thrill of one of my favorite care ride boredom busters: Punch Buggy.  This is the game where you see a Volkswagon bug, yell out the color and the associated phrase, and then gleefully sock your fellow passengers.  Plus you keep a running count to assert your car calculating dominance.

My cousin Kimba taught us Punch Buggy and we were instantly smitten.  We used to rack-up thirty or forty points in just one trip to the grocery store.  Who wouldn’t love punching their brother three dozen times?

So James seems to have introduced the boys to this game over the past few months… unfortunately cementing it as “Slug Bug.”  Tomato, Tomahto.  I’m pretty sure there is nowhere in the world with more VW bugs than Santa Cruz in the late eighties.  Well maybe Cuba?  Definitely not Germany.  And certainly not Atwater, California.

The boys might just know every Slug Bug in SLO.  They know which ones go from which house to “their work” and home again.  And when.  There’s the modern yellow Slug Bug on our road, and the hidden vintage red Slug Bug parked secretly between two sheds.  On Chorro alone, four consecutive side streets produce 1 Slug Bug Red, 2 Slug Bug Whites, 1 Slug Bug White and a Slug Bug Green.  It’s a valuable lesson in negative numbers when you try to beat Mama by yelling out before establishing visual confirmation.  In December there was a Christmas window display featuring a silvery Slug Bug.  And at our favorite toy store, I racked up three in a row boxed against one wall.

The very best part of all this competitive car counting?

Jake and Nate don’t know what slug means.

Genius

In mid-December, we enjoyed a wonderful weekend visit from our dear, dear friends, Andrea and Andreas.  Yes, we mostly like them because their names match way worse than ours.

I’m kidding.  Andrea was my very first work mentor, way, way back when Ebay was the darling of the dot com boom and we were selling data centers full of million dollar babies.  I’m all about selling a few big, expensive things versus hundreds of little cheapies.  I just made it out when big hardware went out of fashion and was replaced by disposable paper plates.

Back in the day, I clicked with Andrea immediately.  Not only did we share the matchy-matchy name connection, but we also both had been named after our mothers.  Our lifetime friendship deal was sealed the day we discovered we had the same birthday.

When their kids were little, I babysat on occasion.  I established myself as the Queen of Orange Cows (also known as root beer floats with orange soda)… a trick at perpetual infamy I’d picked-up from my own babysitter.

One day three-year-old Maddy came to visit us at work.  I remember her big blue eyes and her Cindy Brady hair.  At some point, it was just the two of us in a sea of cubicles overlooking Great America Parkway.  She took one look at me and asked, “Do you have money?”

“Of course!  What’re you thinking?”

She takes me by the hand and leads me to the big vending machine in the break room.  “Lemon Heads, please.”

And a bond was forged forever.  I love reflecting back on twenty-something-me.  Did I think, “Hmmm, I should ask your mom?”  No.  Did I pause to consider whether little hard candies were a good idea?  Negative.  Did I regard her health, her teeth, whether to stall or redirect or talk her into a better choice?  Absolutely not.  If I’d been in food service I’d have been one of those server dingbats that loudly proclaims, “Who wants soda and dessert?” Then cluelessly misreads the parental dagger eyes and wonders why my tip is so low.

Today some college kid refilled Jacob’s “special drink” Shirley Temple without even asking.  Despite it being in his favor, even Jake proclaimed it “bad service.”  Winning.

One of my favorite Maddy stories is when I dropped some coins into the hot tub for her to dive down and retrieve… she loved swimming.  But she was so little she just floated to the top.  And no, I didn’t abide by her request when she told me to “Hold her down” so she could reach them.  Appears I had a thimble of common sense.

So anyway, the kids have grown-up and gone off to college and we enjoyed a lovely day and a half with Andrea and Andreas.  We had a late lunch in AG and then a feisty game of Connect Four and Battleship at the coffee shop.  Andrea and Jake both share a competitive streak and an intimidating game face.  Later that evening, we walked the Avila promenade and enjoyed a nice sunset dinner over wine and several rounds of hangman.  As an onlooker, I especially appreciated how far Nate got with the name “Bob,” and how long it took for him to recognize the answer when faced with __ A T E.

Over dinner we got to hear about Andreas’ job as Dean of Athletics at a Junior College on the Peninsula.  He told us about the various sports and curricula he overseas, including dance.  Knowing his esteemed background as a soccer coach and the fact that he’s at least 6’3″, I pressed him on dance.  So, “What kinds of dance?”

He lists them confidently… “Modern, creative, tap, jazz, ballet…”

And with impeccable timing and a poker face, Jake asks, “Line?”

Life Skills

Nate is six-going-on-seven and let’s just say, he pretty much floats through life.  Maybe it’s a youngest kid thing?

He’s never entirely sure where he is in time and space.  Most mornings he asks, “Is it a school day?”  He still references things that happened months or years in the past as “yesterday.”  Most things he’s looking forward to are optimistically “tomorrow.”  There’s a lot of asking, “The tomorrow after tomorrow?”  Minutes and hours and weeks are essentially decades and eons and millennia respectively.  He requests things like going to Granddad’s or going to Pennsylvania on a weekend afternoon.

So James has us focusing Nate on life skills.  There’s a lot of emphasis on clocks and calendars and being aware of the body language and emotions of those around you.  His questions are generally answered with questions.  The kind of questions meant to promote critical thinking, thinly veiled by just a smidge of eldest child snoot.  Poor kid is outnumbered by a bunch of bossy first-borns.

Today we were discussing finishing up our Christmas shopping— we’ve had a plan to split-up the boys and let them pick something out for each other.  James lays-out two options: get our lists crossed off today, or wait until next weekend.

Nate votes for before Christmas.

We explain that both options qualify.

So then he chooses next weekend, because that’s closer to Christmas than today.

I try to explain to him that it’s better to get your Christmas shopping done early, rather than waiting until the last minute.  Procrastination is not a Fucillo family core value.

A beat… “Why?”

Looks like 2018 will also be about life skills.

Alinea

It’s December fourth.  And almost unfathomable that it’s been 360 days since our little world changed.

James left for Stanford last night for a series of appointments and scans today.  This generally coincides with the soles of my feet prickling all day with anxiety and me recommitting to meditation instead of listening to political podcasts.  The promising news is that these days are much fewer and farther between, and last year’s Christmas week of entirely silent nights is beginning to fade.

The San Luis Obispo sky was crystal clear today.  And so was James’ scan.  Dr. Sung said things look so good that he doesn’t have to go back for his next check-up until June.  Rainbows, hummingbirds and hearts.  It is sweet, sweet music to our ears and my tears are pure relief and gratitude.

Earlier this week, Jakey was telling me about all the things his after school program leader, Skylar, has been telling him about her favorite show on Netflix, Chef’s Table.  He was literally able to recite every highlight and the entire storyline of the hour-long episode about one of the most famous chefs in America, Grant Achatz, including his infamous rosemary scented pillows.  He knew the story about his cancer and his inability to taste and that he still topped the charts as the best restaurant in America.  His restaurant is called Alinea, meaning “the beginning of a new train of thought.”

After much begging and my PG warning of potential swear words, the three of us cozied up and watched half the episode last night, and the rest of it tonight.  What an hour.  The boys and I talked about innovation and creativity and the adventures and risks of trying new foods.  As we watched the show with the subtitles on (usually our weak grown-up attempt at minimizing the 3 s’s: swearing, sex and shooting), Nate learned that slow is not spelled SLO and asked, “Why is the food so little but served on such big plates?”  Jacob took away that if the doctors recommend a drastic surgery and give you abysmal odds, you talk to more doctors.  And I ask him, “Did Miss Skylar know about your dad when she was telling you all about this particular episode?”

And he says, “No.  It never even popped into my mind until just now!”

And it’s another precious, little gift… served on a rosemary scented pillow.

Lightning, Piper, Princess & Perfect

What’s in a name?  There are entire books written on the subject.  I read once that the names you choose for your kids are mostly about the image you’re trying to project as parents.  I never really could wrap my head around why our boys ended up with old-timey biblical names with short modern nicknames, until upon further reflection, I admitted that James and I are all about old antiquey things with a modern sensibility.  And there it is.

Now our new pointer puppies, Lightning and Piper, were formerly known as Lightning and Lambchop.  And of course given the fate of our foodie namesake chicken, Chicken Nugget, we could not have any squirmy little puppies roaming around with tasty nicknames.  Plus Lightning and Piper shorten to Lights and Pipes, and based on our life of self-inflicted, perpetual house projects, that just seems fitting.

Given Jacob and I are eyeball deep in our seventh Percy Jackson book, I looked to these exciting tales of teenage, Greek demigods for inspiration.  How about Percy and Piper??  How cute would that be?  Guys?  Hey guys?

Despite the two-pronged trident on her forehead and thus her potential lineage to Poseidon, Zeus won-out and Lightning stayed Lightning.  Plus Granddad reasoned, it’s not a good idea to have two dogs with the same syllable starting their name.  You get confused when yelling at your dogs… I mean the dogs get confused.  Which is exactly why his puppies evolved from Butterfly and Bullet to McFly and Bullet to MacFly and Geronimo to Mac and Mo.  The “M” in Mo is more of a soft n…

I can totally picture Granddad’s exact response to that bit of teenage sarcasm.

The same weekend when Lightning and Piper joined our family and tipped the scales in favor of girls rule, boys drool, Chicken Sando also got two new beautiful step sisters.

Now these chickens, these new chickens are something else.  They are fluffy and pristine fashion model chickens.  One wears those fringed boots I see babies wearing on Instagram.  They prance around and roll their eyes at James and flip their hair like girls on the CW.  Meanwhile Sando is friendly and fun-loving and down-to-earth.  She’s a bohemian who loves to roll in the dirt and once jumped on top of a garbage can to peer eagerly into the dining room window.  She’s a people chicken.

Sando is Cinderella… before the ball.  Covered in ashes and sand and looking a bit like she was just attacked and had all her ribbons ripped off by two evil stepsisters.

Fittingly, I floated the names Anastasia and Drizella, but I couldn’t get a single taker.  Instead the boys have named them Princess and Perfect.  Hard to argue with that.

Yesterday we spent close to an hour trying to get Princess and Perfect to come up the hill and go back into the coop so we could go to the movies to watch Coco.  Sando was the perfectly little trained puppy we wish our puppies would be.  Meanwhile Princess and Perfect kept flouncing down the hill, further and further into the depths of Tartarus (sorry, another Percy Jackson reference).

Jacob has a lot of poultry practice planned with these two prissy pea-brains.  Another night like last night, and they’ll be remembered as Dinner and Dessert.

Double Trouble

Two to wash, two to dry
Two who wrestle, two who cry
Two to kiss, two to hug
and best of all, two to love

Jacob and Nathaniel are ecstatic to introduce

Piper Annabeth Aphrodite Fucillo
&
Perseus Lightning Hazel Fucillo

Piper and Lightning were born with their seven brothers in the early hours of
Thursday, August 31st on Chanticleer Farm in Santa Cruz, California.

Lightning & Piper

Jake, Lights, Nate & Pipes

No It All Gift Guide for Boys (Ages 6-9)

Santa is a girl.

You know it.  So is the Easter Bunny.

And since I’m assailing assumptions and trashing traditions, I’m also getting a little bored with the Want Need Wear Read Christmas categorization of the mommy blog world.  It seems like this is just the year to blow ’em up and start anew.  The whole point of gift giving is to put oneself in the shoes of the receiver, right?  And if you put yourself in the little crocs at our house, all you want is an Xbox.  And if you can’t have an Xbox, then you want money for video games, Star Wars Legos, Minecraft and Pokémon.

But Santa doesn’t just take orders from little dictators sporing cutie eyes.  She likes to be creative.  She likes to give the unexpected.  She likes to give orders.  And so in the spirit of little boys, I’ve come up with four new categories for 2017:

Fight, Flight, Write & Sight

A little background behind these new categories that will undoubtedly sweep the nation, and Pinterest, in a little boy pitchfork mob protesting Want Need Wear Read.  For better or for worse, the current administration will undoubtedly be working this into their next press conference…

FIGHT: There just seems to be something about testosterone that drives an insatiable need for inventing, finding, fashioning and testing all manner of weapons.  Somehow these little people emerge from the womb with a sixth sense of projectiles.  The trick is to harness this sensibility for good, like developing skills in physics and engineering, keeping them occupied outside for blissful hours of mama time… and watering plants.

FLIGHT: What’s better than running at top speed with a new weapon?  Swooping down on your opponent from above, with said weapon.

WRITE: Despite the allure of keeping them illiterate and thus powerless, the benefits of paper entertainment tip the scales.  Reading and writing projects actually work these days, unlike those delusional attempts at airplane coloring books during the toddler years.

SIGHT: It doesn’t seem like it, but they’re actually beginning to care about how they look.  Mirrors and reflective windows at night still provide endless hours of fun.  As they say on the soccer field, “You gotta look good to play good.”  Grammar shmammer… how’s my hair?

And now, the 2017 No It All Gift Guide for Boys (Ages 6-9):

FIGHT

Slackers Danger Toys: OK, that’s not exactly the official brand; I may have embellished a bit.  Our local toy store recently exposed us to all kinds of intriguingly high priced adventurous backyard danger… enter the Slackers line of various ninja training contraptions: ziplines, slacklines, ninjanets, swings, water toys… everything your little martial arts monkey’s heart desires.  I now have a whole new vision for our back meadow.  ER doctors rejoice.

Chess set: It’s not as violent as Harry Potter wizarding chess, but real chess still lets you simulate fighting under the guise of developing strategic thinking skills.  I’m kind of digging these vintage Russian chess sets… election interference not included.

Hose nozzles: What more can I say?

Pet paraphernalia: Toys, leashes, collars, cookies: Oh do I have a delinquent doggie drama drafted for you.  Puppies appear to be an endless pit of cute-induced consumerism.  Little boys just eat it up.  So do pointer puppies.  Literally.

Tackle boxes: Granddad had the brilliant idea of putting together tackle boxes for two aspiring fishermen.  We’ll see if they follow in their mother’s waders.  Oh the thrill of fighting unseen fish.  In any case, the beauty of this present is that all tackle boxes are environmentally and fiscally responsible as their contents simply spawn from the rusty, questionably sticky, overflowing and dented depths of other tackle boxes.  It also appears that even with all the hipsters and artisans these days, no one is making a new version of a vintage metal tacklebox.  Portland, are you listening?

Rock em Sock em Robots: Solid giggles.  We pretty much only patronize wineries, coffee shops and burger joints with complementary robot fighting games to pass the time while you wait for your food.  The link goes to Amazon, but after reading the reviews, I’d recommend finding an affordably priced old timey version on eBay.  Looks like it was originally made by Marx, not Mattel.

FLIGHT

Tree swing: Now if you’re not quite ready for all out American Ninja Warrior, may I suggest a nice tree swing or rope swing?  Some pretty cute choices available on Etsy (tree not included).  Looking for a middle of the road choice between your average swing and Slackers?  I’m considering the Swurfer.  Note to Swurfer: You’d sell more to Santa if your models wore their bike helmets.

Chicken swing: Urban farming is all the rage these days.  And what could be better than watching your ninjas swinging next to your chickens?  Extra points if you make it.  I also see an unmet business opportunity on Etsy… not one single handmade chicken swing to be found.

Terrariums: Their plastic cages for capturing and studying nature are cracked, lost or no longer secure jails, I mean habitats, for creepy crawlies and airborne anthropods.  Just be warned, you may find yourself raising 19 tadpoles into young adulthood.

WRITE

Star Wars Lego Advent Calendar: This will undoubtedly be a hit (and yes, I mean to your wallet).  Keep in mind, it’s more of a Thanksgiving present.  Carefully consider your roll-out strategy and how you might leverage this daily reward system in relation to the training programs on toilet-seat lowering and pet chores to which they are already enrolled.  Maybe, just maybe, your six-year-old will finally begin to grasp the concepts of past, present and future.

Avatar: the Last Air Bender Library Edition Series: Interested in less ninja sparring and more ninja reading?  Look no further than these five oversized hardback graphic novels.  Buy yourselves many a lovely restaurant meal as the big ninja reads to the little ninja.  Plus carrying it around makes their nunchuk-chucking arms tired.

Plants vs. Zombies: Some little boys just can’t seem to get enough of these.  I know I sure can, but I’m not the target audience.

Quarter Collecting Portfolio: The boys have had a grand old time dumping mountains of coins into little piles all over the living room, searching for elusive state quarters.  Tell yourself they’re absorbing a smidge of geography.

SIGHT

T-shirts from Unusual Places: Insert some variety into their wardrobe of Pokémon and Minecraft t-shirts sourced from your usual weekend haunts.  A recent trip to my local Parks & Rec uncovered a file cabinet full of what can only be described as “Little Boy Cool Approved” SLO Skate Park t-shirts and stickers.  Our beach-side coffee shop has a display sporting two designs: graphic octopus and Bob Jones Trail tees.  The only caveat?  Buy ’em when you see ’em… inventory management is not their strong suit.

Used wetsuits: Last year’s Gift Guide brought you the gift of the year for coastal elementary schoolers.  Boogie Boards.  But unless you live on the Gulf of Mexico, this gift is almost useless without a skintight thermal blanket.  Be vigilant.  Never let your guard down.  You may find it on Craig’s List.  eBay.  In that granny antique store on the corner.  At the flea.  $20?  Buy it.

A big mirror, hung down low: I recently read an article on Houzz that really got me thinking.  This is brilliant.  Most nights I find we’re talking at the dinner table and they’re busy making faces at themselves in the reflective windows behind me.  How do we think Jim Carrey got so good?  Mystery solved.

Great American Root Beers 10 Pack: Jacob recently spotted this variety pack while running errands with his dad.  What could make you look cooler than casually drinking a flight of root beers to determine which one you like best?  Uh… a flight of root beer floats… duh.