Brains

This year it seems Halloween materialized in our rearview mirror, out of nowhere, tailgated us at 90mph and then passed us on the right.  By the time we realized what had hit us, it was Wednesday.

Our school doesn’t allow us to wear costumes to celebrate Halloween, which is worthy of an all out open letter to our principal Mr. Mayfield… if such a letter can be written in disguise?  I’ve never been in trouble with a principal and I’m not about to break my perfect record.  In any case, that means we have to pack a lot of hallow into the eve.

This year Jacob decided he wanted to be a Zombie Hunter.  We’d seen the costume last year, but it wasn’t available in our size at the time.  Apparently eight-years-old is the threshold for killing mythical monsters that eat brains.  Fortunately, this year we had no problem getting a plastic bullet bandolier, bloody axe and mini zombie head holster.  It seems zombie hunters are from the outback, as it also came with a nice Crocodile Dundee hat and duster.

Historically, Jake has been the kid open to costume repetition, but this year Nate got creative.  He decided to follow in his brother’s stealth ninja footsteps and wear Jacob’s ninja costume from last year.  Only this year, he was a zombie ninja.  Of course I was game as I like little boys in matching outfits and families with costumes that “go together.”

We threw our kale salad together, barbecued our burgers and headed down to the Squire Canyon Halloween Headquarters at Matt and Jean’s house for our second annual neighborhood potluck and tractor ride trick-or-treating train.

After last year’s experience with Jake’s stealthy black ninja costume and his actual disappearance into the landscape come nightfall, I came prepared this year with a big tube of 50 premium glow-stick necklaces in various shades of cool and pretty.  And got to meet every kid in the neighborhood.  I wish I could say I’d strategically planned this as a friend-making tactic… but alas, I’m just a zombie mom with an overactive imagination.  The necklaces were a runaway success.  I’m two for two following the 2015 breakout hit of my witch fingers and noses.

As I gaze upon my zombies with their bloody axe and crooked tooth (perfectly timed for a mouthful of zombie… no make-up needed), I can’t help but feel nostalgic for Halloween’s past.  The evolution has been so fast:

2009: It started with the softest, fattest giraffe on record.
2010: Followed by the girly ducky.
2011: Jake went with lion and Nate doubled the cute factor.  Nate went with lion, too, opting for a wardrobe change to zebra.
2012: Encore of Jake the lion.  Nate let me dress him as a sock monkey.
2013: All of my voting powers vanished.  Superman and Supahman make their strength known.
2014: Hiccup and Toothless, brought to us courtesy of DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon.
2015: Weapons become the number one criterion in choosing a disguise.  Swords dressed as identical ninjas hi-ya onto the scene.
2016: If it’s not broke… Jake is a ninja again.  Nate is a Star Wars Storm Trooper.  Both feature weapons.

This year the creep factor has creeped in.  Although I have to say, there was one afternoon when Jakey and Nate conceived of the zombie ninja costume.  They gathered up some Scotch tape and markers and then suspiciously shut the door to their room.  All was quiet.

The door opens and Jacob has his arm wrapped protectively around his brother’s shoulder, ready to present their creation:

Nate as… Zombie Ninja… strategically covered in bits of colored tape cuts, scars and other various zombie wounds.

I have to admit, it was pretty dang cute.

 

Sweetie

My mom tells this story about one afternoon when I was little, baking with my grandmother, Sweetie.  I honestly have almost zero memories of my grandmother that don’t involve her cooking or baking.  There was one time I remember her yelling at my cousin Kimmy for dropping and exploding an entire gallon of milk inside our front door… but even that involved food.

Anyway.  So Sweetie and I are baking cookies.  I remember we would make these cookies with cinnamon and sugar that were little round pinwheels.  I think we called them snails… appetizing, right?  So she’s holding this big knife that she’s been cutting dough with and she turns to little three-year-old me and says, “Jaimie, let’s bake your hand.”  And of course I look bravely horrified as I hide my chubby little hand behind my back and use my best, stranger-approaching-in-a-dark-parking-garage, “No!”

She was appropriately, mirthfully, apologetic.

Turns out there was a family tradition of taking the extra dough, tracing my hand with a knife, sprinkling it with cinnamon and sugar and then baking it into a sweet little hand cookie.

Meanwhile, as I’ve mentioned, Nate has a mouthful of treasure and is in complete Jack-O-Lantern mode, just in time for Halloween.  His one front tooth seems to have migrated front and center, and perceptibly lower than the rest.

A couple of week back, we were all chatting around the dinner table, confounded that Nate had already spent his Tooth Fairy two-dollar bill on an after school sno-cone.  In any case, he’s really been struggling to eat just about everything.  We were having ribs for dinner which is really one of James’ specialties.  James is up for challenging just about anyone to a rib cook-off.  Do you hear me Bobby Flay?

So we’ve spent the majority of dinner talking about Nate’s dental situation when he refuses to eat his ribs.  I suspect a combination of not wanting to get his hands sticky, and it being a challenging meal for a little one-toothed beaver.

I get up from the table and say offhandedly, “Just wait a second and I’ll cut it off.”

Nate’s eyes get as big as saucers and he exclaims in his best, grandmother-approaching-with-a-large-knife, “No!”

Summer of Love

It’s true, the summer of 2016 was possibly one of the best summers of my life.  Minus the moving part of course.  What made it so good you ask?

First, I ate three and a half months worth of perfect peaches, sometimes two a day.  Not one single mealy bite.  Honestly, our local produce manager is a stone fruit genius.

Jacob and I also came to the joint conclusion that he was ready for Harry Potter.  Oh how I’d waited for this moment.  Years and years of suffering through The Big Book of Sea Creatures and Naked Mole-Rats, hoping that one day we could finally graduate to thousands upon thousands of pages of witchcraft and wizardry.

It was heaven.  The best part of every day.  Every night Jakey and I would cuddle up with our electronic tome graced with a few well-placed faceless animated illustrations.  We read one chapter every night, sometimes two.  We tried really hard to get Nate to join us but his five-year-old Muggle mind just wasn’t ready.

Jacob acted out almost every scene.  Each character’s emotions, battles, forgivable and unforgivable curses.  The only downside was when (spoiler alert) Dumbledore’s death unexpectedly coincided with some of our darkest, darkest days this past winter.  A strange twist of fate.  But it was also a wonderful, magical, intoxicating escape from reality.  And we really needed that escape.

Once it was over, we were desperate.  We read the Harry Potter stage play… and the screenplay.  We read How To Eat Fried Worms.  It wasn’t as good as I remembered.  We read five entire Calvin and Hobbes anthologies.  They were just as good as I remembered.  We read three Cynthia Voight novels I read in fifth grade.  And now we’re five books into a modern day series on greek gods and a young demi-god named Percy Jackson.  It’s not quite the same, but it’s as close as we can get to the magical summer of peaches and Potter.

This past week, we spent a beautiful autumnal weekend in Ashland, Oregon.  We stepped into the elevator of the Ashland Springs Hotel and the back wall has a glass case housing a leaf collection over one hundred years old.

And I say, “Hey Jake, look at that leaf collection.  It’s like yours!”

And Jake says, “What Mom??”

“That leaf collection.”

“Mom, that wasn’t me… That was Calvin!”

Mission Impossible

For several weeks now, we’ve been waiting for Nate’s top right front tooth to fall out.  Let’s just say, it’s been pretty disgusting.

Like a miniature garage door or the hood of a white slug bug… back and forth, up and down, twisting and turning.  It’s gotten so bad that you could tell his tooth had actually died and changed color… he looked like a little Chip Gaines.

As our records would indicate, it appears this is Nate’s third lost tooth.  Technically he lost his first lost tooth twice.  And his second lost tooth once, and now his third lost tooth… well, we’ll get to that.  Amongst all this dental detritus, I remember Jacob also losing a tooth.

I also remember the Tooth Fairy going to bed under an extreme haze of exhaustion and then bolting upright in her four-poster bicuspid bed at 5AM because she’d fallen asleep on the job.  She recounted the story to me the following day… do you remember that scene in Mission Impossible where Tom Cruise is lowered by a cable into the most secure vault in the world?  It was exactly like that.  Except instead of a vault it was a shared bedroom, and instead of a weight-sensitive floor with lasers, it was a weight-sensitive pillow with lasers.

The Tooth Fairy tried to pull the little teepee tooth pillow from under the big pillow from under the big head of the eight-year-old whose been plotting his future fame via the capture of the Tooth Fairy since before he had  teeth.

After an extremely tense moment with a lot of waking-up sounds and movement, she crouched down next to the bed, with her little tiny arm still trapped under the pillow, while averting her gaze and holding her breath for a full minute.  I know, I know… how did her fairy arm reach from under the pillow all the way to the floor next to a twin bed?

Magic… must be magic.

She somehow used her teeny tiny fingernails to eek out that tooth, throw a packet of Pokémon under the bed and bounce.  Fortunately, based on her last visit, prizes under the bed is becoming her new signature.

Meanwhile, today at school, Nate’s front tooth finally fell out, leaving a nice big gap and taking his look from Fixer Upper to Beaver.  Unfortunately, when I picked him up after Sun n’ Fun today, he told me not only about how he’d finally lost it, but how he’d then lost it.

Maestra Coronel had given him a “Tooth Necklace,” which is a little white plastic tooth shaped box, on a string.  Sometimes I kind of wish I spent my days in a workplace where having a stash of Tooth Necklaces was the norm.  Anyway, as he was running across the playground, the box popped open and his tooth went flying.  Cruz was the last known eye witness.  We re-searched the expanse of rocky blacktop and unfortunately, only found two white shriveled tooth-like rocks.  Or what we thought were rocks.  Who knows how many treasured teeth litter the playgrounds of America?…

Always the optimistic pragmatist, Nate wrote her a note and called it a night.  He’s confident that her little magnetic tooth detector will lead her straight to it, no problem.  Though a couple of days ago, he was seriously contemplating how she does it all… I mean, “Mom, how does she fit those Pokémon packs into her tiny little backpack?”

Must be magic.

Namey Namerson

James and Jaimie.  Yes, it has it’s pros and cons.  Party intros: pro.  Snail mail: con.  And over the years we’ve met many folks that make our names seem crazy different: Mario and Martha, Andrea and Andreas, Tom and Thom.  In any case, we love names and our matchy-matchy couple kindred spirits.

James’ health is good, thank you so much for asking.  And while we’re on the topic of names, I have to share our continued serendipity.  As we were comparison shopping surgeons (not as fun as Back-to-School shopping), we came across both a Singer and a Sung.  Highly comforting when someone is going to take a laser to your larynx.  Dr. Sung is our unsung hero and the leader of the most important team we’ve ever assembled.  Who else is on our little dream team?  Dr. Reddy and Dr. Swift.  Exactly what I’m looking for when it comes to dealing with a life-threatening disease… Preparation and lightning speed.

James’ last appointment in mid-August went swimmingly.  All clear.  All happy.  He has his next appointment this Monday with Dr. Swift and a follow-up with Dr. Sung in a month or two.

Yesterday I had a quick appointment with an oral surgeon because I have a small bump on the inside of my lower lip that doesn’t seem to be going away.  Probably scar tissue or a salivary gland or heaven forbid, something else.

My only hesitation?  Tomorrow I head back for my appointment under local anesthesia with Dr….

Slaughter.

Chicken Death Destroyer Fucillo

It is with sincere grief and mourning that the family of Chicken Death Destroyer Fucillo, of San Luis Obispo, announces her disappearance and assumed passing, on Friday, September 8, 2017.  Although a curious hawk was observed patrolling the area, authorities have identified the prime suspect as a coyote spotted in the early morning hours late last week.  Chicken, or as her friends called her, “Dee-Dee” or “Deathy,” will be lovingly remembered by her adopted family, as well as her loyal step-sister, Chicken Sando.

Born and raised in Santa Cruz, Dee-Dee was raised by a committed and fiercely protective mother.  Following in her mother’s footsteps, she spent the majority of her time aspiring to motherhood and recently moved to the Central Coast looking for love.  True to her name, Mama Bears had nothing on Deathy— she’d peck your eyes out if you approached her nesting box.  She enjoyed sitting for long stretches in the dark and was unapologetic about her resulting traditional build.  In her spare time, she practiced mindful meditation and spent hours in chicken pose.

A celebration of Chicken Death Destroyer’s life will be held Sunday at the Squire Canyon Coop with the good Reverend James presiding.  In lieu of flowers, friends and family are working closely to raise funds toward a new Defender Chicken Coop.

Pecking Order

When Jakey was two or three, he used to declare “the boss” for the day.  He would say things like, “Daddy is the boss today!” and it meant that Dad got to decide everything for the day.  Sometimes I was declared boss.  But let’s be real, he crowned himself Baby Boss on Day 1.

Now it’s a well known truth amongst groups of animals that there is a pecking order.  It seems to be the nature of things.  If you’re the dog, or the youngest child, the fingers are always somehow holding their noses, and pointing at you.

And as Nate can attest, our house is no different.  He has been blamed for countless missing items, broken items, offensive smells, muddy footprints, crumbs, fingerprints, flooded bathroom floors and candy wrappers stuffed behind couches.

Earlier this week, I came home and was gazing out the kitchen window as I cleaned up after dinner.  Wait… is that my new flip flop way out in the middle of the yard?

I go out and retrieve it and place it back with its mate, next to the front door.  A little while later, James mentions offhand that earlier that morning, he found his flip flops flung off the back deck— somewhere between the chicken coop and the steep hill that descends into the Chicken Nugget Danger Zone of Fox Apps.

I casually mention this mysterious flip flop phenomenon to the boys.

They feign ignorance.  I’m probably embellishing but I remember some whistling and toe scoffing and renewed curiosity in the merits of our ceiling.  What I do know is that Nate floats the following theory, “Do you think our chickens did it?”

The pecking order is in full effect.

Fortunately he has the good sense not to propose the tadpoles.  Though they’re absolutely at the bottom of our household food chain… literally.  Sando tried to eat one of our frogs tonight while Papa was visiting.  But I digress…

A day or two later, the mysterious flip flop caper comes up again and Nate asks, “But how exactly would the chickens kick the flip flops so far?”  And he’s officially outed himself.

Nate really needs a dog.

Croak

My house is invariably filled with Jacob’s nature projects.  Just in recent memory we’ve had an “insect collection” he created in a cardboard box with various bugs impaled on toothpicks… a cost-conscious entomology exhibit?  A water bottle filled with rosemary next to my side of the bed.  An incident where he captured an entire jar of bees at Nate’s baseball game.  This spring’s only live display in his entire class with a terrarium of beetle varieties during the unit on insects.  The expired moth the size of my face he found in a Days Inn stairwell and brought home from Pennsylvania.  Oh, and let’s not forget the largest, most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen captured and then put in my freezer for safe keeping.  The boys called it a “spant” (spider ant).  Google called it a Jerusalem cricket.  I called it the fastest way to losing your TV privilege for a week if it isn’t removed from my freezer immediately.

This afternoon, at school, he found and tamed a praying mantis the size of a spant.

So, this blog has chronicled close to eight years of nature loving, pet needing, trivia winning, animal magnetizing, Wild Kratts watching thrills and spills.  And of course it’s all catching up to us now…

Over Memorial Day weekend, Angela had her birthday at a beautiful local vineyard with a Pinterest perfect house, outdoor fireplace and pizza oven.  The kids spent several blissful hours playing in the trough fountain filled with river rocks… and the most darling miniature frogs.

Jake caught frog after frog.  He was in heaven.  They’d had an entire weekend of all you can drink sugar and minimal sleep and now unlimited amphibians!

We ended up bringing three or four home in our little plastic terrarium.  After one night, I made the boys take the tiny Barbie frogs down to the creek so we wouldn’t end up with a tank of cuisses de grenouille.

A day or two later, Jakey says, “Mom, what do you think this is in the tank?  Do you think they’re eggs… or poop?”

Turns out, it wasn’t poop.

So now when we want to go out of town for the weekend, I hire chicken-sitters, and worry about who’s going to take care of our 19 tadpoles and 5 baby frogs.

We’re learning a lot as we witness the development of tadpoles (also known as renacuajos in Spanish) into little frogs.  There’s nothing like drinking your morning coffee while watching tiny little legs sprout.  Mmmm, drink it in.  The current danger is that once they turn into frogs, they sink like stones.  Despite the dry stones in their tank, unfortunately there have been a few Darwinian casualties… croaked.

Now we have two tanks, no thanks to me.  One for babies and an “aquatic terrestrial” set-up for froggie graduation.  $4 tank from the thrift store plus $115 in various items from PetSmart.  Not sure who the smart is referring to but I have a feeling it’s not us…

Last weekend James had a very concerning but important epiphany, “Jame, do you remember what everyone kept complaining about at Angela’s birthday?”

“Uh no, what?”

“How exhausted they were from the frogs croaking all night long.”

Gulp.

Nate Date 2

Last weekend I had a hot date, both Friday and Saturday nights.  You know it.

Friday evening Nate and I painted the town red… or more like turquoise blue.  When I asked him out I was fairly surprised at his response.  I mean of course he said yes, but when I asked him what we should do he exclaimed, without a moment of hesitation, “Paint toes!”

Took the words right out of my mouth. I’m always in need of a pedicure so of course I was game.  I can certainly get behind a manly pedi.

It turns out it was his first time.  He got cold feet as we pulled-up to the nail salon.  Turned out he was shy about a stranger touching his feet.  He told me his brother only let’s his dad touch his toenails… uh, TMI?

In the end, he quite enjoyed the warm shoulder wrap and foot soak.  He was disappointed that he didn’t get much of a massage— the tip certainly reflected the oversight, though he may have turned the other cheek given the complimentary Sprite.  So far so good.

We headed to the restaurant he’d picked out.  Subway.  He told me he’d heard it was good and that they’d have Airheads.  I thought about calling my emergency “out.”  Is this why we’ve only double-dated since September 2013?  He ordered a ham sandwich and it came with a red plastic Cars watch.  After he’d convinced me to program it for him, it’s all he talked about.  At one point I was eating my inedible salad while he ate his sandwich standing up in front of the entrance.  It was odd.  He seemed like he was enjoying himself but maybe a bit distracted… he kept looking at his watch and yelling out the time.

We headed downtown for an after fast food stroll.  We held hands.  We both got limoncello gelato at Giussepe’s.  Turns out we both love lemon.  Every few minutes he’d blurt out the time.  6:32!  6:34!

At Barnes and Noble he tried to race me on the escalator.  He’d completed some kind of summer reading list— seven books about Plants fighting Zombies and something called Avatar.  He talked a lot about “airbending.”  I don’t even know.  He got some kind of free book called “I Can Read!”  Well, maybe?  He had me read him the menu at Subway and the gelato shop so I’m not so sure… I do know he can read a watch.  6:54!  Is he counting down the seconds till this date is over?

He really wanted to go by the Apple store so we spent a few minutes at the short table in the back.  And then it was time to call it a night.  I asked him to walk me to the door and he asked why.  I told him he should always make sure a girl gets home safely and that if he’s lucky, he’ll get a goodnight smooch.  He raced right on in to show-off his blue toes and his red watch to his roommates.  Figures.

The next day he went to the Ravine water park in Paso.  Lucky for me, his pedicure got chipped and he immediately asked me out again.  I knew it was love at first sight.

 

Flatrock

Over the week of July fourth, we braved three airplanes and several hours in a car to get to one of my most favorite places on Earth, a 100+ year old train station dragged up the mountain and converted into a hunting cabin on 3000 acres of Pennsylvania wilderness.  Flatrock is a super special place for us.  It holds hundreds of family stories across several generations.

Jacob has been to Flatrock three times so far— once when he was a few months old and still small enough to be bathed in a turkey roaster, once when he was three and picked-up a live mouse by the tail with his fingers, and now when he was eight and can catch tarantulas in jars.  Nate’s first trip to Flatrock was when he was about sixteen months old and busy spending hours toddling over the edge of various decks straight into the depths of countless rattlesnake dens… I didn’t get to pee for three days.

This summer’s trip was so much fun.  Shelley, Kashava and Shaddai came all the way from Michigan and the Pittsboro Birds came up from North Carolina.  We really missed the Wilsons but they were certainly there in spirit, as we enjoyed slice after slice of Honey Baked ham.  It was a reunion of cousins and aunts and uncles and recently befriended locals.  Only James would be strolling through two different towns in Central Pennsylvania and run across two people he knows.  I mean really, the Camp Cook as he’s leaving the Bellefonte YMCA, and then his new buddy Buck, in a sub sandwich shop?  I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t been there…

We fished in the stream and the pond.  Nate was especially determined— catching ten fish at the pond.  I did in fact win the “Bass Fishing Competition” and was the only one to pull a big brookie out of the stream, but, I mean, I have a reputation to maintain.  The little pack of boys spent hours chasing each other around the second story, starting water fights at the spring, and harassing salamanders by the dock.  Two-year-old Bry Bry was hilarious.  He spent most of the trip doing “‘neak attacks” which involved sneaking up on you and pinching your knee.  If you do it back he declares, “I’m.  Not.  Happy ’bout.  Dat!”  And stomps his little square foot.  He’s also laid claim to “his Jacup.”  I can get him good and riled up about “my Jacup.”  I love pushing a two-year-olds buttons… and don’t worry, Bryan can hold his own.

James put on another memorable fireworks show but despite all the talk, the dock remained standing.  We adventured to both the Bear Cave and the Indian Cave.  The boys uncovered two arrows and an old campfire full of arrow heads at the Indian Cave.  Granddad almost rode a stone toboggan over the side of a wooded mountain but fortunately, disembarked from the stone age seesaw just in time.  A lighthouse puzzle was completed.  Several gallons of Penn State Peanut Butter Swirl mysteriously evaporated.  And we basked in the luxury of a real shower.  Flatrock has gone from the 1800’s witch’s kitchen to Chateau Flatrock to Mar-a-Lago.  The Sutz has never been nicer.

We enjoyed all of our normal haunts– time in Selins Grove with the beloved Ruds.  The boys had stars in their eyes at 11PM when they gazed out at the lighted pool with a diving board and a water slide.  I think they slept in their bathing suits.  We spent hours in an indoor basement pool at the State College Days Inn.  We walked miles around campus, attempting to hike-off the ice cream cones we ate that were the size of our heads.  And then the boys put me on a train in Harrisburg to a long girls weekend in NYC.  They ended the week like kings, swimming all evening and topping it off with a “kids all-you-can-eat rib feast.”  The Red Lion Inn had no idea how unprofitable that promotion would be.

Flatrock List

Hmmm… I wonder who added “A Xbox” to my travel list?