Of Chipped Teeth and Chicken Bones…

“Be honest, is it bad?” I gingerly grinned at the Turk, exposing my front tooth.

He bent down, tilted his head left and right. “It is not that bad. I mean, it is not good but I think no one notice if you don’t tell.”

I ducked into the 1st floor powder room, the one with the fabulous purple walls and paintings of cats in trucker hats, and immediately began practicing my new closed-mouth smile. I looked like I was seven years-old but it was either this new no-teeth-revealed grin or the possibility of death. Pandemic choices suck.

The route I’d taken to this moment was nothing short of a tour in stupidity led by no one but me. For the majority of my life I’ve danced over the line between vegetarian and mild omnivore on the reg. I’ll be a solid veg-head for years until one day mama needs meat. The problem is, when I come off the veg wagon, I go hard and scarf down meat like a T-Rex on a bender. No surprise, 2020 pushed me over the edge and suddenly, Mama’s raging on a meat bender. 

So, when my darling son left his plate of chicken wings unattended last Friday, Mama-Rex couldn’t help but snag one. But honestly, who can say no the hot, juicy, greasy joy of a Buffalo wing? Not this chunky gal, that’s for sure. As I shoved that wing into my salivating mouth and bit down I was ready for the burst of sweet, spicy pleasure to take over. (Is this why people do drugs? Oh lord, am I a buffalo wing junkie?) But instead of joy my body immediately filled with horror. I felt the crack. Then the chip. Then that terrifying feeling that you’ve just bit down on a rock. I rushed to my purple powder room to inspect the damage only to find a solid chip out of my front tooth. My fat ass chipped a damn tooth trying to steal a chicken wing. The irony was not lost on me at all.

Thoughts of Mama Cass flooded my psyche. (If you don’t know Mama Cass you’re a child. Goog her. She’s a legend.) Perhaps it’s an urban legend that she died choking on a chicken bone but my maternal grandmother Dink always warned, “be careful eating that chicken, you don’t want to end up like Mama Cass.”  Ok, so Mama Cass ended up dead and I only had a chipped chomper but I felt connected to that woman 100%.

“What am I going to do?” I whined to the Turk moments after the incident.

“I guess you have to go to dentist.”

“Obvi, but what about the ‘Rona?” 

“I guess we trust they take care.” He was very unconvincing. Partially because he isn’t really a fan our dentist and partially because he was standing on a ladder in the bathroom trying to rewire the exhaust fan simultaneously. My chipped tooth was of little interest to him. Thankfully his electrical work prevented him from asking for a blow by blow of the incident. I had no need to confess to my husband how I had really committed this atrocity.

Hesitant, I left an after-hours message with the dentist and prepared myself for a Monday appointment. But by Sunday I wasn’t feeling it. Was it chipped? Yes. Did it look bad? Oh, hells yeah. But I’d had a root canal on the same tooth years ago after taking a Thomas the Tank Engine to the front tooth by a post-surgical Nugget so there was no health danger. Was I ready to sit in an office, mouth open, sucking in germs during a pandemic with an airborne virus just to get it fixed? Maybe not. Perhaps I would just never open my mouth again. Practical right? At least I might finally lose that quarantine fifteen.

Sunday night I had fitful sleep. In my dreams Steve Martin was reprising his role of the sadistic dentist from Little Shop of Horrors above me while Covid germs permeated the air and catapulted themselves into my gaping mouth. I’d wake from one nightmare, walk around to brush it off, then return to pick up with another. I died at least three times that night and was near death more than I could count. By the time I woke up, I was convinced that this chipped tooth was going to be my death sentence. Was I really prepared to leave my beautiful babies to suffer through a future with The Turk? He can barely get them dinner when I leave it in the Crock-Pot.

As we sipped our coffee, I dropped the bomb. “I can’t go. If I go to the dentist I will die.”

“I agree.” He took a long sip from his little Yoda mug. That’s the thing about marriage, while being opposites is great, it’s always good to have a spouse that shares your same level of crazy.  

He put Yoda back on the counter, “I think it ok you can wait. We are red zone. It is very dangerous to go now. Plus, you see nobody but us and if you go out, you wear mask. No one can see.”

My Turk made a very good point. This whole mask thing could be my vanity’s savior. While maskholes argue about fabric face coverings impeding their personal freedoms, I’ve always been all in because: 1: I believe in science. 2. I believe in protecting society and 3. Most importantly, those masks hide a double chin like nobody’s business, and I will take that all day long. Now, as an added bonus that mask is going to hide my snaggle tooth until this virus subsides enough for me to get to the dentist. 

After some practice in the purple powder room mirror, I’ve resigned myself to my new look. I’m sure it would be considered nothing in some places (I’m lookin’ at you Kentucky, ) just know that the minute we are no longer in a danger zone, my ass is in that dentist chair.

2020, the year that just keeps giving.

Which is Better…This…or…This?

“Can you read the last two lines?” The doctor pointed to the card I was holding with his shiney new pointer to insure social distancing.

“Sure.” I was confident. Was it blurry? Yes, but I was certain I could get through those tiny letters with ease. “R – F – P – O – C – Z”

“Good job. Now can you read the bottom two lines?”

“I just did.”

The twelve-year-old optometrist shook his head slightly in a way that made it clear he was used to dealing with those in denial. “No, I’m sorry, but there are two more lines of letters below that one.”

My mouth fell open and my now failing eyes widened. “No way! Seriously?” I wiggled the card closer, then farther as I widened my eyes to the point they were close to bugging out of my head. (Let the record state, I was actually wearing my glasses.) Finally, I performed my recently adopted signature move: bowing my head to start at the top of my glasses then slowly tilting upwards and staring down in search of a sweet spot that would let me see something…anything…with a bit of clarity. That’s when I saw it. What I thought were just lines on the little card were actually letters but there was no chance in hell I was making out a single character. “I’ll be damned.”

Doogie Houser nodded knowingly. “Looks like it’s time to refresh that prescription.”

Obvi Doogie. Why else would I be sitting in an optometrist’s chair, fogging up my glasses in the midst of a surging pandemic?  If I could see the dust on my mantle from across the room, would I be in your office right now? No. I’d be home avoiding dusting. Since the beginning of this cootie-infused hell called 2020, I’d noticed my old bifocals were beginning to fail me. That’s when I patented my afore-mentioned head nod in search of a sweet spot in my progressives. As the year droned on I found myself upping the font size on my e-books as well as using old-lady mode on my laptop. Things were getting ugly. Faced with the new 2020 mask-glasses-perimenopause combo which results in frequent fogging, I found myself often trying to go sans spectacles. After I walked into a pumpkin display at the food store, I realized those days are over and Mama needed new specs.

I’ve worn glasses since 7th grade but I’ve usually been able to survive without them in an emergency (or at least when they’re fogged over.)  But as 50 stares at me from the horizon, those days are gone. I got my first set of bifocals at 41 but I also had a newborn, so it wasn’t really a big whoop.  Upon reading my new prescription last week, I found I’d gone from a solidly mid-forties prescription of a +1.5 in my bifocals to a geriatric-leaning +2.0 this time around and the whoop was bigger, but Mama’s gotta see. A few years ago, another optometrist suggested I try the bifocal version of contacts where you wear two different lenses – one eye for distance and one for close-up. When I wasn’t even capable of finding the door to the exam room after putting them in, that idea died. Fortunately, the advent of on-line glasses purchasing has made it easy to have an array of funky and fabulous frames at my disposal to temper the pain. What a time to be blind! 

My husband, the Turk, however, is new to this game and he’s not dealing well with it. Since I was booking myself an appointment, I went ahead and booked him one too. He swore that was futile, but I’d seen him doing the wide-eyed, arm stretch thing to read fine print lately. He’s also blind as a bat at night and all of us white knuckle all the way home when he’s driving in the dark. However, he refuses to admit he’s night-blind. He has worn glasses for computer work for a few years but essentially, he’s a four-eyed noob.

His appointment was after mine, providing just enough time for us to hand-off kid care duties. He returned home just as I was filling two different carts on two different sites with frames I’d tried on virtually right on my sofa. “Well?” I prompted.

He handed me his new prescription. “I am fine. He say I just need little tweak.”

Glancing over his prescription I nearly exploded. “Did he say anything about the kind of glasses you need?”

“I don’t know. He talk a lot so I stop listening. What is he, 14? Why he look like kid?”

I stifled a giggle. “Did he mention the word bifocal?”

The Turk snapped his head at me. “NO! Why you say that word? I am not old.”  The Turk loves to remind me that I am older than him. He constantly points out that he is a child to my old age. He is 1 year and 9 months younger but to hear him, it sounds more like I’m Mrs. Robinson and he’s 19. 

A Cheshire cat grin spread across my face. These are the moments for which I live. I pointed to the glaring +2.0 on his prescription. “Looky, looky grandpa. There it is. That means you got bifocals.”

“NO!” He yelled, grabbing the paper from me then pulling it close, then far, then close again in an attempt to focus on the tiny print. “How this happen?”

As I went on a diatribe explaining the aging process to my clueless husband, I felt validated. Sure, I was older and had old lady eyes but now so did he. He didn’t even get to wean into the whole bifocals thing like I did, nor did he want to sooth the pain of aging with some purple frames or rhinestoned cat’-eyes. (Ugh. Straight men.)

BOTH of our new bifocals should be arriving next week so New Englanders, rest assured, the roads will be safe from the Turk soon. Personally, I look forward to returning to a life in 12 font and maybe even recognizing my children when they are more than 6 feet away. I can’t wait to see what I’ve been missing!

No Turkey in Turkey and Yet, I Survived

An accurate representation of how I look as I judge your choices

Can we talk? I know this year has sucked some major buffalo butt. I’m all in on that thought process but we’ve made it this far, right? And if you have a brain in your noggin and believe in science, you can see that we’re close to the end of this race so now is not the time to sprint but rather it’s time to keep slow and steady for a successful finish. (You just got a running analogy from a chunky gal on her sofa that hasn’t been running in 5 years! Epic.)  Yet suddenly, as I peer out at humanity from the comfort of little wooded compound, I see people sprintin’ like a bunch of damn fools because nothing seems to be as important right now as a slab of dry turkey with a side of family drama to celebrate Thanksgiving. 

Understand this: I don’t just love Thanksgiving. I obsess over it. If I had to choose only one holiday to celebrate for eternity, it would be Thanksgiving. It has always been my favorite for a variety of reasons, most of which being pie. I love to decorate for Thanksgiving, cook Thanksgiving food, menu plan for Thanksgiving…all of it. Scratch that, I do not love to food shop for Thanksgiving because a Karen will take you out with a sucker punch if you reach for the last brussels sprout when she’s got it on her menu, but otherwise, I love it all. But this year I will love Thanksgiving differently and you should too. 

I have some practice at this though so let me help you out. Back in my expat days I arrived in Turkey in January, giving me a solid ten months before it actually hit me that there would be no Thanksgiving or Christmas. As November drew near, there were no mentions of pilgrims or turkeys. (Ironically there are very few turkeys in Turkey and turkey is called hindi which is a derivative of Hindistan, their name for country of India….yet an Indian is called a hint. Confused? Samesies.) My husband, The Turk, had been in the US for a few years but he didn’t understand why Americans have a primal need to gorge on tryptophan on the last Thursday of November, but I assumed we’d find a way to mark the occasion. We didn’t. That morning, as my fellow Americans roasted birds and rolled out pies, I went to work teaching present continuous tense verbs to Turkish kids and supervising recess. I gave directions in broken Turkish for the middle school play that was written in English and ate kofte in the cafeteria after wishing my coworkers “Afiyet Olsun” (Enjoy your meal) before a weepy phone call home that evening. But, I survived. 

Thanksgiving didn’t happen that year, and it didn’t happen for the next two years either because that’s how life worked out. However, there were plenty more after we repatriated and thanks to those missed years, at the next Thanksgiving, the pumpkin pie was life changing and the slab of turkey tasted as good as a hot prime rib. Thanksgivings happen every year and sometimes, they just can’t unfold like the Martha Stewart dream in your head. But there’s always another one comin’ down the pike to try again.

Christmas in Turkey was much the same and I have a solid feeling that Christmas 2020 will need to be unconventional just like Thanksgiving 2020 needs to be. I didn’t have the same love for Christmas, but the ritual was still deep in my western soul. I love the warmth of the twinkle lights from trees dotting windows. I love the cheer, real or imagined, but mostly I love those two days off when things are closed and the expectation for productivity is nil. But Turkey is a Muslim country so no Jesus- no Christmas…at least not really. 

             I was lamenting the issue of missing Christmas one day at work when a coworker explained I was wrong. “Why you are saying that? We have Christmas here.”

            “Um no you don’t. Not only do we have to work on the 25th, we also a faculty meeting.”

            “Of course, we work on 25 December. Why we not work on 25 December?”

“Because it’s Christmas.”

“No, is not.”

            “But it is.”

            “Is not.”

            “Christmas has been on December 25th for my entire life and for the lives of those before me.”

            The young teacher crossed her arms defiantly as the lights glinted off her massive, gold necklace that spelled out ‘Allah’ in Arabic. “Is wrong. Christmas is January 1.”

            “Well, I’m sorry but according to Christianity and the Western world, Christmas is December 25th.”

            “Is wrong.” She was steadfast.

            I didn’t want to get all Sister Margaret on her ass and school her in the concept of Christmas as taught through my seven billion years in Catechism, so I just nodded and headed off to my awaiting class of first grade Turks.

That evening the Turk confirmed my encounter. “She is right. Turks have no clue there is difference. I didn’t know until I go to America.” These were the days sans social media when people really didn’t know how Morgan in Montana or Ipek in Istanbul celebrated holidays via photos of their living rooms on Instagram. (Ahhhh the good old days when an influencer wasn’t even a thing.) “Just wait.” He said. “Next week they all put up trees and lights for New Year and have no idea that it is not Christmas.”

So, here’s the thing. Now is not the time to have a traditional holiday gathering. It sucks but we’ll live. This COVID crap-show is real and if you don’t know someone who has been directly affected, consider yourself incredibly lucky because I have dear friends who have had their lives devastated by this crap. There are many ways to celebrate the holidays -and like the Turks, many different days to do it too. Cook for your own little fam or eat a turkey hoagie in your jammies with a TastyKake pumpkin pie. You do you, just don’t do it in a big-ass, obnoxious group. I spent three years without Christmas or Thanksgiving and in the end, it made me into the over-the-top holiday diva I am today. Save the power so you are alive to go bigger next year.

Gobble, gobble and afiyet olsun from our bicultural house to you!

My Bookstore, My Hidey-Hole

For nerds like me, bookstores and libraries are a sacred place offering, dare I say it, a religious experience that even a heathen like this ol’ gal can get behind. From the smell of the books to the wafting scent of coffee pouring throughout, bookstores are a little slice of heaven right here on planet Craphole. As one might surmise, bookstores weren’t a big thing in rural Iowa back in the ’80’s but I did spend copious hours in the musty local library, paging through books no one my age had any business viewing and I could tear up a Scholastic book order like Amelda Marcos at a shoe sale.

 With each of our moves I have managed to find a favorite bookstore to provide solace for my transient soul. After moving to Turkey I stumbled upon a tiny-wonder with a small selection of English titles but a phenomenal section of Turkish/English translations. After Turkish class, I would disappear inside that bookshop for hours and imagine myself back in a world where I didn’t struggle to communicate and where the task of speaking wasn’t exhausting. After a couple Turkish coffees and a few stories by Aziz Nesin, I was ready to take the ferry home and struggle my way through my new language.  

When I returned to the US, I had a toddler in tow so I shifted to frequenting children’s bookstores and soon found them to do for my kids what bookstores have always done for me, provide an epic escape from reality. In every city we’ve resided, we’ve found a compatible match and trips to the bookstore have always been transformative and frequent. After moving to Massachusetts a couple years ago, it only took about a month before we found our spot- An Unlikely Story Bookstore. This amazing independent gem also happens to be the brainchild of Diary of a Wimpy Kid genius, Jeff Kinney.

Once found, this store instantly became our nerdly hidey-hole. If there was an early dismissal or day off, we’d make the 30-minute drive to hide out in the stacks and blow way too much dough on books. But when Covid-19 hit, the entire state locked down, including our hidey hole. I was dependent upon the library’s online platform or the USPS (and we know how reliable they’ve been lately…) to deliver a fix when I started jonesing for a hit of magical realism or dystopian humor. Finally, after six long months, when An Unlikely Story finally opened for ‘appointment only’ shopping, I sprained a finger hitting the “sign me up” button. Yes, while the rest of humanity was pushing for an appointment to get their nails did, my priority was getting an appointment at the bookstore. (Said it before and I’ll say it again, I NERD HARD)

My offspring were excited, but they were more in it just to get the hell out of the house and get some new goods. But Mama needed to smell the paper, rub a hand across those glossy covers and spend some capital on mind-candy. I counted down the days until our bookstore fieldtrip. When I got the email asking, “Is there anything special we can help you find during your visit?” I replied with a hard no. Rather, I planned to gaze lovingly at the shelves while waiting to find my new love peering out from the shelf. 

As we pulled into the empty parking lot my heart began to flutter like I’d had too much Turkish coffee. I’m no fan of humans and I really hate crowds even when there is no pandemic. This bookstore was always packed so knowing we were part of a select few chosen ones allowed to enter this holy ground made me swoon. “Guys, look. There are only two cars here besides us. This is gonna be awesome!!”

“Yea Mom. Cool.” (Boys are the ultimate buzzkill.)

At our allotted time, a bookseller I renamed Judy (because she looked like a Judy…duh) joined us in our socially-distanced line in the parking lot. Judy offered a warmer welcome than I’ve received at family gatherings. “If you need suggestions or have questions, just ask. Our booksellers are as happy to see you as you are to see them. We are so glad you’re here.” 

After giving us the now requisite instructions about one-way aisles and hand sanitizing stations, we were unleashed into the store. We were three steps in when an angry Karen began to throw a hissy fit after Judy asked her to do the unthinkable and pull her damn mask over her nose.

“Well fine but don’t bitch at me when I barf all over your damn store!”

I was about to turn and tell Karen to simmer down and sit and spin, but Judy was all over it. 

“How about you step over here away from the children so we can talk about this.” 

Karen wasn’t ready for Judy and Judy owned it. I may have stepped on my child trying to eavesdrop on the situation but suffice it to say, I want to be Judy when I grow up.

We had 45 minutes from the minute we entered, and we covered ground like a pack of nerdy gazelles. Nugs was sucked into the Star Wars section like there was a tractor beam on him. Number 1 was down with the science books and I did a serious dive into sci-fi and general middle grade fiction for the podcast (if you’re not listening, check us out at twolitmamas.com) before exhausting our budget. We saved our last ten minutes to check out their brilliant gift section which held important gifts like socks with profanity, Ruth Bader Ginsberg action figures (RIP queen) and a timely workbook entitled, “Anyone Can Be President.”

As we wrapped up our adventure, I made a pitstop next to the life-sized statue of the Wimpy Kid (appropriately masked) and ordered a cup of joe to get me back home. I was topping off my oatmilk when Nugget burst into tears.

“Nuggie, what’s wrong? Did you want coffee?”

“No.”

“Did we not get something you wanted?”

“No.”

“What is it? Wasn’t it good?”

“I don’t know Mom, it was good but it wasn’t the same.”

And my brilliant little baby was right. While I absolutely adored my private shopping spree, it wasn’t the same. A bookstore isn’t just a retail space. It’s warmth. It’s safety. It’s shelf after shelf of possibilities and sure, all of those things were still there, (plus badass Judy handling Karens at the door), but he was right. It wasn’t the same. This pandemic world we’re being forced to deal with blows and while anti-social Gen Xers like me are doing fine with this isolation, it’s not working for everyone. (Or my ass…to be honest, my ass needs a little more accountability than six months of stretch fabrics can provide.) Unfortunately this was a  reminder that while we’re slowly accepting our new normal, our kids might need a little more time. But in that time, we can devour a few books and hide away in some amazing tales until this dumpster fire is over.

Homeschooling in Oz

We are almost two months into this homeschool madness and I am happy to say that not only has my wine consumption leveled out, but my kids have actually learned a few things. I know, right? I’m as surprised as you are on both counts! To be honest, unlike many parents who made this same choice to homeschool this year, I wasn’t jumping in blind to this whole education thing. In my 20 plus years I’ve taught some of society’s biggest asshats but I knew that even on my cherubs’ worst days, homeschooling them would not be that bad. Afterall, I taught English to entitled middle schoolers in a private school run by the Turkish mafia while nine months pregnant. I could certainly handle my two half-breed Turks.

Being the gal I am, I spent the month leading up to this adventure reading up on every style of homeschooling out there, from recreating school at home with a formal curriculum to the ultra-hippie unschooling (which is basically a damn free-for-all), before deciding on a spot in the middle. We’re taking an experiential, thematic, hands-on, cross-curricular, project-based educational approach here at Oz Academy. Oz Academy is the name I gave my little project not just because it’s a play on our last name, but because I can be either Glinda the Good Witch or Evillene the Wicked Witch at the drop of the hat. I like flexibility. 

So far, I’ve learned a lot through this whole experience. Like, I’ve learned that though I tried my best to make genetic odds work in my favor by mating with a math wiz, my kids did not get those genes. Conversely, I’ve learned that helping those students through that remedial 7th grade math class last year was the most beneficial thing that ever happened in my teaching career. I’ve learned that spelling and English are boring, but they can be fun if you combine them with cool stuff like science and monster myths. I’ve learned that my Nugget isn’t possibly ADHD (as reported by past teachers) but rather he’s – hot freakin’ mess akin to a squirrel on a sugar high -level ADHD. I’ve learned my 7th grader is a major slacker if left unattended and that my 2nd grader didn’t really learn what he should’ve in 1st grade. Most of all, I’ve learned that I am a big fan of not getting up at 4:30 in the morning to get to school by 7:00 and I much prefer a school day that starts at 9:00.

While there is a ton of work and I’m always tired from this process, I’m can’t imagine doing homeschool in a better geographical location. We’ve got the Mayflower and Wampanoags, Salem and Plymouth, the ocean and the bogs and so much more just minutes away. 

We’ve spent so much time on Cape Cod, we’re like the cousins the Kennedy’s don’t want to claim.

We’ve slogged through enough cranberry bogs to make our own Oceanspray commercial. (The boys are cran-grape dudes but I’m a purist)

We’ve caught snails and hermit crabs, dissected lobsters and used the leftovers for lobster rolls.

We’ve observed tides on the ocean side, then rushed across the Cape to compare the same tide on the bay side.

We’ve built Day of the Dead altars and the boys got to know about their grandfathers on both sides.

We’ve painted, drawn, sewn and sculpted.

We’ve mastered enough Turkish to get into trouble. (Nugget embraced the word ufak – pronounced like ooooo-f-u-c-k. It means small in Turkish but to Nugget it has many uses, none of them being small.)

We’ve biked miles and miles and kept Mom limping along.

We’ve made new homeschool friends and kept in touch with our homies.

We’ve read books about the Jersey Devil and compared the Boris Karloff Frankenstein with Mel Brooks’ version. 

We’ve become addicted to both the Munsters and the Adams Family.

We’ve fought over math and when it comes to pre-algebra, f-bombs have been dropped.

We’ve had to backtrack and re-teach, jump ahead and repeat.

We’ve cut days short when frustration was too much.

We’ve worked longer than expected and finished sooner than planned.

And we’ve had way more ups than downs. Ultimately, as the Covid rages again and politics crumble one thing has become clear. This decision to check out of society and take this less-than-standard approach to work and school was not an easy one but here in our little corner of the world one thing has been abundantly clear, we are exactly where we need to be in this moment and this mom is going to soak up every minute of it. (Even stinky farts when we’re snuggled in watching Morticia and Gomez.)

Perhaps the truth really came last week when the Turk eavesdropped as Nugget, my long-time special ed kid, was reading to me. That evening during cocktail hour the Turk said, “Honey, what happen to him? He can read. I hear him. He can read so good now.”

“I know right? He’s really taken off.” I beamed.

“I think maybe you know how to do this.”

*insert resting bitch face* “Ya think?”

Like I said, we’re right where we need to be.

Mother Nature Wants Me Dead and She’s Getting Closer Every Week

With much effort, I hobbled down the stairs Saturday morning. Each step required more grunting and wincing that normal but at least it was better than the week before. I may still be in my forties, but my knees didn’t get that memo. Through my best efforts of stuffing my body full of glucosamine chondroitin since about 1999, I have the knees of an 85-year-old. (Thanks genetics.) On top of that, for the second time in six years I’ve torn things inside my knee, but I’ll get to that later. That story involves a much larger animal than the one I was about to find in my living room.

“Mom, you’re not going to believe this, but it happened again.” Number 1 was wrapped up in a faux fur blanket on the sofa, sipping cocoa and watching his little brother swirl a flashlight into the fireplace like it was Studio 54. 

“Look Mom! He likth it.” Nugget switched the flashlight to flash mode and wiggled it around the dark insert just enough so I could catch a glimpse of something behind the glass, in the back corner.

“I think it’s a gerbil.” Number 1 declared.

“How in the hell would a gerbil get in our fireplace kid? What? He escaped the pet store, made a break for it but took a wrong turn which landed him on our roof before he fell down our chimney?” My son has officially hit that middle school age when all common sense and logic leaves them for a few years. (I’ve spent half of my life in middle-school so I’ve understand this horror.)

“Good point.” He nodded.

“I think itth a baby mouthe. Thee…he lookth like a baby mouthe.” As Nugget trained the light on the criminal in the corner, two little eyes glared at me.

“Oh I know you, you little…”

“No potty wordth Mom.”

This furry little fool staring out at me wasn’t the same one that was in my fireplace a month ago, but I’m pretty sure they were cousins. 

For the next few hours the furball in the fireplace and I stared at each other with distain. Thanks to the afore mentioned jacked-up knee situation, I had to spend significant time on the sofa, icing my gam and unfortunately, the sofa is directly parallel to the fireplace.

So what happened to the knee? Funny story. A couple weeks ago I was doing my miles in the cemetery across the street, rounding the corner on mile number two and a solid half-hour into solving a cold case on the true crime podcast blasting through my earphones. I had a little pain in my arthritic old knee so I thought I might end it early when my phone rang with a call from my neighbor.

“Hey, I’m right behind your house.”

“I know. Get out of there.”

“Huh?” This is when I saw my other neighbor waving at me from across the street like an airport worker flaggin’ in a big one.

“Get out. Brenda just called and there is a coyote behind you. Run.”

I froze. Instantly, I thought, “But I’m too fat to run!” but run I did. I didn’t look behind me or beside me, I just took off running as my neighbor flagged me in. It seemed the coyote ran into the woods behind me but was close enough to be considered the danger zone. Brenda explained she’d been trying to flag me down since she’d seen it start across the street but couldn’t catch my attention. She had no idea I was closing in on the perp from a ‘78 homicide on the podcast. 15 minutes later when my adrenaline subsided and I had to walk up the huge hill that is my driveway, it became clear that something in my knee had gone awry during my daring coyote escape. A week later the doctor confirmed, (after laughing hysterically at the how-it-happened segment of the appointment), thus leading to my horizontal position on the sofa when the Turk decided he was going to extract the beast in my fireplace. 

“I get him out now. He is so cute. We cannot let him die there.” 

“Come on, I might be cold-hearted but no one said anything about leaving the furball in there to die.”

The Turk was holding a towel as he went for the handle on the only thing separating my home from a soot-covered animal. 

“What’s your plan?”

“I just open and grab him.”

Visions of my family chasing a crazed rodent through three floors flashed before me. “Hell no fool. Have you seen that thing?” And that’s when the fluffy rodent took his cue and began jumping frantically in front of the fireplace door.

“What the hell he is doing?”

“If you took our ADHD 7 year-old, fed him lots of sugar and then turned him into a baby squirrel, that’s what is there.”

The Turk’s eyes bulged. “Whoa.” He threw Number 1 the towel. “You hold like net and catch him if he go crazy. I just open door a crack.

Number 1 rolled his eyes. “Baba, this is not a plan.”

“It is. I go fast and if I miss you catch him like a football.”

That’s when I couldn’t take any more. I had one working leg. I was in no shape to go squirrel hunting. I hobbled into the kitchen and returned to the scene with a jar of Jiff. “Here. Put this on a plate to distract him, then you can grab him and take him out.”

The Turk rolled his eyes. “That is stupid.”

“Actually Baba, that makes sense.” Number 1 went on to quote something he’d seen online about animal behavior to justify my plan and thankfully, eventually, convinced his insane father to give it a try. I wasn’t considering animal behavior. I was just going from a commonsense standpoint. If someone wanted to catch me, (aside from a coyote) I could be easily distracted by a little peanut-butter. Add chocolate to the peanut-butter and I’m yours.

Moments later, the Turk scooped up a peanut-butter covered furball and deposited him outside. Nugget followed behind with the remaining peanut-butter because he worried the little guy might still be hungry. “He can thare with hith thquirrel friends.”

Just another, typical weekend in our insane homestead. Thanks 2020!

Decisions Have Been Made…Forward Ho!

cowgirl mom

I started teaching by doing art classes for kids in college. After grad school I taught in Philadelphia, then in Turkey, Iowa, Indiana and Massachusetts. I’ve taught everything from art to science and a million things in-between. Until recently, (and except for teaching for the Turkish mafia at that one school…) I’ve always been in progressive education. I believe in progressive education because it’s hands-on, experiential, project based and above all else, student led. There is nothing like sitting with a class and asking them what they want to learn then boiling it down to a curriculum. For close to 25 years I have passionately followed my students on crazy academic adventures while touting the importance of making learners not memorizers. I’ve been watching light-bulb moments from surprising sources for my entire career and it has fed me.

Twice in my life I’ve ventured into public education, never lasting more than a couple years at best because public education is so very different than those places I’ve taught and it’s frustrating. Public education in the US is broken but tradition is strong and we’re all scared to change it. I was scared to change it. My own kids went through public education and we did ok for a while but this year, even before the world exploded and sent us all into our foxholes for home learning, I sensed my boys losing their light.

Nugget is in special education. Between being Hard of Hearing, ADHD (as hell!) and in need of occupational and speech therapies, he’s also very young for his grade so he needed that nudge that comes from special education. He wasn’t a huge fan of school but he did well for a few years, until first grade stole his light. When he couldn’t stay focused or keep up with the math, he was left to falter. He sunk into a hole whose sides were made of self-loathing, low confidence and a hatred of school. Thankfully, that’s about when Covid hit and I got a front seat to his situation.

Likewise, my 6th grader was miserable. “Mom, it’s just so boring. Why do they just talk about things but never let us do it?” If I were not literally in his classes for my own job I would assume he was exaggerating but he wasn’t. I saw it every day myself. He was earning High Honors without doing homework or needing any help at home. Now, he’s no dummy but he’s also no boy genius. He simply wasn’t challenged, and it was killing him. He was bored and resentful.

I knew these things but like most of society, I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d always dreamed of homeschooling Nugget but finances didn’t allow for it. I knew his learning style wasn’t conductive to standard public-school methodology but what could I do until we could find a way for me to stay home? Plus, my view of homeschooling was very tainted by the anti-Darwin, militant Christian homeschoolers I’d met in Indiana. I didn’t want to be lumped into that.

We got Number 1 into a new charter school for the following year but in my gut I wasn’t sure that was the right move either. I waited anxiously all summer as the public turned on teachers, calling us everything from lazy union hacks to ungrateful slackers. (Hey? Weren’t you all just calling us heroes a few months ago when you got stuck teaching your own children and realized what buttheads they are? Whatevs.) I Zoomed into school committee and union negotiation meetings (while sucking back medicinal boxed wine) hoping, as the Quakers say, a way forward would open. But it didn’t and the union is still fighting valiantly.

Early on in this whole Covid mess, the Massachusetts head of education gave an empowering address about how this is the time to look at how we do things. This was the time for us to get progressive and make changes. My heart leapt as I screamed, “Hell yes!” startling my kids and cat. This was what I had been preaching for 20+ years. But now this is the same man who demands teachers sit in their classrooms to remotely address students because teachers should not be trusted to work from home. (Though we did it successfully for months prior.) It seemed that even in times as unprecedented as this and in a state as progressive as mine, the comfort of tradition paralyzes.

About a month ago, my husband, the Turk, and I were sipping cocktails in the treehouse and it all hit. “I can’t do this.” I said.

“Do what?”

“I can’t put the kids through this school mess. Nugget reads lips. He can’t read lips if everyone’s in a mask so it will be worse than last year and Number 1 is miserable. There is a better way to educate kids than this. I don’t want to do it like this for them.”

My dear husband simply said, “Don’t.”

“But what about money?”

“Honey, we have no money in Turkey and we make it. We have no money in Philadelphia and we make it. We always figure out. Now is for kids. We make it.”

Within days I devoured a million articles and books about homeschooling and soon found that there were very limited anti-Darwin militant Christian homeschoolers here in New England, but lots of hippies(and former teachers) like me that didn’t believe in the system anymore. I cheered along to podcasts about creating learners instead of memorizers as I went on my walks (I looked like a nutjob but I was moved.) and was empowered to rewrite my children’s education path and homeschool for the next year.

So Mrs. O is trading in her title. The boys helped create our curriculum and we managed to find a way to spend most of the first month at the beach doing everything from reading currents to analyzing bryozoans. (When mom taught science and dad is a water engineer, we go hard in the science zone.) We’re all excited about this new page and I’m proud of myself for putting my money where my mouth is and taking this philosophical plunge. The Quakers were right, a way forward did appear, just not where I was watching.

As is always the case with us, we never know what’s next so stay tuned because it’s bound to be interesting!

 

Fair Thee…Oh Well

Portrait-Photo-Fair-Winner

I’m not sure how your summer has been, but here in Massachusetts it’s been less than awesome. In addition to sharks, (which are still eating people, if case you wondered,) we’ve added jellyfish the size of Micronesia that look like massive blood clots. Pretty. We’ve taken the nation’s standard mosquitoes and elevated ours to deadly EEE mosquitoes. Oh yes, our mosquitoes cause your brain to swell and, quite often kill you. Of course, our ‘hood was the first to reach critical threat level and we’ve had a dusk to dawn curfew for weeks that will continue until the first frost. Awesome. Then of course there’s the whole Covid mess keeping us locked up. Thanks to the Covid, you can’t come visit us unless you’re from a handful of nearby states and we can’t come see you either. And for the cherry on the sundae, we’re in a rare drought that has killed off half of my garden against my best attempts and it’s been hot as balls in a place that isn’t supposed to be hot as balls. So, how’s summer you ask? Pretty typical for this year. 2020 Sucks.

One of the worst parts about this summer of 2020 is that there is basically nothing to do besides whine, complain and fight about opening schools. (I have literally run out of eye-rolls for this whole school topic. Ugh. Make it end.) Generally during this time of year, I enjoy forcing my family to accompany me to arts festivals, county fairs, and freak fests. I make them oooooooh and ahhhhhhh at paintings of sand dollars and smell candles made by stinky hippies. I adore exposing my sheltered husband, The Turk, to freakish American things like renaissance faires and carnivals. I’ve forced him to tour various state fairs as I painstakingly regale him with tales of my childhood as a competitive cattle showman and pie baker while we snarf down fried fat topped with sugar. This is my happiness. This is summer.

But thanks to 2020 that joy was dashed. No funnel cakes. No gargantuan pumpkins. No cow poop. No polygamist lion tamers in Renaissance attire. No joy. 2020 sucks. Instead, we’ve done as we have for the past six months and stayed home. Thankfully, our 3-foot deep pool provides me with enough room to paddle around on a noodle and sip spritzers, otherwise, I’d have done a Thelma and Louise ending months ago.

While many friends have been given respite by sending the kids to grandma’s, 2020 meant grandma couldn’t visit because she was from one of “those” states. The Turk remains hidden in his basement office and I knew if I didn’t want to visit the Betty Ford Clinic post Covid, I needed a plan.

“Boys, it’s fair time.  We’re going to do 4-H projects like we’re prepping for the county fair!” I announced only to be met with the larger than average looks of confusion.

“Whath a 4-H?” Nugget lisped.

As a kid back in Iowa there was literally nothing to do. (I remind my kids of this when they whine that the ocean is cold. “Suck it up kids, there’s no ocean in Iowa.”) So to keep us busy, my parents put us in 4-H the day we hit the 9 year-old eligibility date, meaning our summers were completely devoted to preparing projects and animals for the county fair. This also meant my mother got to farm me out to those who held skills she did not. (80’s parents were legendary at that.) I went to her girlfriend Karen for sewing, Grandma Pete for upholstery and refinishing, Dad for woodworking and my other Grandma for pies and bread baking. By the time I was a teenager, I could Martha Stewart with the best of them and had the purple ribbons and State Fair cred to show for it and my mother had peace and quiet.

“We’re going to refinish, reupholster, paint, sand and sew.” And while most 12 and 7 year-old boys would likely run at such a suggestion, Covid boredom has been rough on the youth of America and they jumped at the prospect.

We started by stripping down some old stools from the garage. Nugget stripped off the  cracked and crumbled pleather like he’d been stripping his whole life and his brother was handy with the staple remover. Though I was reluctant at first, Nugget convinced me to turn him loose with the electric sander.

“Tthththththththththeeeeeeeeeeeeeee  Mmmmmmoooooooooommmmmmmmm!” His whole body shook and his teeth chattered the entire time but he was a master. Number 1 was our design lead. He chose a nice navy paint for the legs and three contrasting fabrics for the seats because, “That’s who we are as a family Mom, a colorful mess.”

It took a few days of hard work and lots of staples but we are now dining on our posh creations. The Turk was probably the most impressed and even sent photos to his mother in Turkey. “I cannot believe you guys made these and I cannot believe I like them.” We definitely earned a purple ribbon.

Next we sewed floor pillows for the living room with Number 1 running the sewing machine and Nugget taking on the role of lead stuffer. Those were a solid blue ribbon with state fair advancement.

We had one round of zucchini bread with zucchini from our garden, (Before death by drought) and it was bad. It would’ve gotten a white ribbon for sure but we took a second shot and upgraded to a recipe from Auntie Martha Stewart and hit it out of the park.  Likewise, Number 1 mastered a chocolate cookie recipe to die for.

Currently, we’re sanding down an old coffee table for a lesson about stain and then we’re learning to make pasta. This plan has kept them busy, excited and hopefully laid the ground for some life skills. So while we might not get the ribbons in real-life, we’re earning them. The only problem with this plan is that I didn’t get to farm them out for a damn thing yet. Friends that make wine, where are you? I’ll send them your way.

Here’s the final products so far!

 

SQUIRREL in the Hole!

mother squirrel

I know, I know. You’re sitting at home, hopefully staying a responsible six feet from every fool that does not share your immediate DNA or a significant love connection, and you are dying to know about any updates with the squirrels on the Ozemet Compound. (oh, FYI – I’ve recently decided to changed the title from homestead to compound since it sounds more badass and since I really haven’t left since somewhere around March. I’m considering putting in some driveway spikes to keep out the maskless if this crap continues much longer. My compound, my rules.) I get it readers. My pain is your entertainment. So, you’re up on the news. You’ve binge watched all your brain can handle and now you absolutely must know…did the squirrels finally come to kill the Turk? Don’t worry. I’ve got updates.

To recap our spring, we were invaded by squirrels (Of course we were because, 2020.) My husband, The Turk, used some hard-earned Turkish Commando experience to battle the furry bastards. He finally managed to trap a wayward squirrel, or as I like to call them, fluffy-tailed-rats, in our above-garage mother-in-law suite. While he caught one, weeks later we found his friend in a rough state of decomposition. Though a squirrel crime scene was disgusting, this was finally the necessary prod The Turk needed to begin the much-needed renovation and give us some extra space.

The first step was to clean up the crime scene then seal off the area so not one, single fluffy-tailed-rat could penetrate the premises ever again. While this put our human minds at ease, it really pissed off the squirrels who’d taken up residence.  During the process, numerous fluffy-tailed rats stalked, threatened and vowed retribution. They peered in the windows and stood on branches outside our bedroom squeaking what could only be death threats at the Turk for stealing back our home.

However, after the snakes moved in, (again, read all about the annual snake invasion here) things started to simmer down, until last weekend. The Turk and I were upstairs folding laundy when a kid-scream pierced our peace.

“BABA!!!! BABA!!! There’s a squirrel in the living room!”

The Turk ran down the stairs with impressive agility for one in his mid-forties.  “Where he?”

Number 1 son pointed franticly to the fire place, thankfully enclosed in a steel and glass fireplace insert. “He just ran by!”

“I thaw him Baba. He wath thoooooo fat!” Nugget chimmed in.

It took a few moments but as the Turk and his mini-Turks peered at the glass door of the fireplace insert, two tiny paws and a rodent-esqe face suddenly appeared. The Turk screamed like a 13-year-old girl at a KPop concert before taking full inventory of the situation.

“What he is doing? How he get there?”

“I’d say he’s trying to watch Bob’s Burgers with us Baba.” My exact-replica son quipped.

The Turk shot him a nasty glare and the 12-year-old had the good sense to shut his pie hole.

“Don’t open that fireplace door Baba! He’th totally gonna get out and run all over our house.” Nugget added, never one to be left out.

By the time I arrived on the scene the Turk was shining a flashlight around and making squirrel noises.

“There isn’t really a squirrel in there is there?” I’m not sure why I possibly doubted this, (Because, 2020.)

“He is here but he not showing his face. Look.” He shined his flashlight onto the glass to reveal a multitude of fluffy-tailed-rat handprints reminiscent of a window adjacent to a toddler car-seat.

The next morning, following my coffee with Al Roaker, I flipped off the television and a small face appeared below it. Two rodent hands framed a fat, black face in the glass of our fireplace insert. “HONEY!!!! HE’S BACK!”

This time the Turk flew to my side. “What is dat?”

“I’m not sure. I think it’s a mouse.”

“It so fat. Maybe it is rat.”

“If there is a damn rat in my fireplace it’s done. I’m moving. There is no other way.” (Some things are non-negotiable in my existence.) Thankfully at that moment he turned and revealed a battered and balding, yet still identifiable, fluffy tail. “He’s one of them.”

“That is it. Now I set trap. Game on bastard.”

I must admit, I love it when the Turk goes all Midnight Express. At this same moment our  large and incredibly surly cat sauntered by and glared at our new resident who was still peering out from behind the glass. “Get him Cengiz! Get the intruder.” I’d assumed that a lifelong housecat had some internal kill switch that would kick in whenever he was presented with a rodent. Nope. Cengiz gave me a look that said, “I am not your pawn woman” before taking his usual spot in the sun where he proceeded to lick his missing testicles.

Hours later the little face disappeared, and he hasn’t been seen since. In response, both the Turk and I began our preventative measures. I scheduled a chimney cleaning that I’d been putting off since last fall. I plan to have my chimney sweep investigate the invasion and put an end to any more. Meanwhile, the Turk has planned out a Rube Goldberg-esque contraption that will fit perfectly within the fireplace insert with all the bells and whistles necessary to scare off the entire squirrel community. All we can do now is cross our fingers and hope my chimney sweep shows up first.

 

 

Hold Your Flute St. Patrick, I’ll Get Rid Of These Snakes

snake tamer

Readers, join me as I commemorate my third summer of survival here in the city by the bog. The learning curve has sometimes been steep but we non-New Englanders have made it through snakes, squirrels, chipmunks eating our cars, foxes crapping on our front step, 40 foot pines swaying in gale force winds, sharks, jellyfish, deer ticks and mosquitos carrying deadly cooties and other perils my mind has blocked for sanity. We’ve held our own and managed to come out on top…except when it comes to the damn snakes. I’ve shared many tales of woe starring one or more of those limbless bastards and yet, here is one more.

I have no love for snakes but as a former science teacher I was able to develop a professional tolerance.  However, the three men in my family are utterly traumatized by them, especially 6 year-old Nugget. A couple months ago Nugget was helping the Turk clean up some leaves behind the garage when they happened upon a nest of baby snakes. According to reports, Nugs caught a glimpse of one, six-inch baby murder machine and was paralyzed in fear. He shook. He screamed. He cried and then he fled. Since that incident in June, he will not enter any nature-filled area until I have done a thorough sweep for any snakes or even any sticks that might resemble a snake. As he says, “I’m juth not a fan of thothe damn thakes Mom.”

His father, the Turk, isn’t a fan either but he’s doing better. So far, he’s only run into the house screaming once this year which is way better than last year. He even felt so brave that last month when it was time for the annual sprinkling of the Snake-B-Gone (Seriously, it’s really a thing. It smells like Christmas morning and it works.) he took it upon himself to get the goods and secure the perimeter instead of waiting for his bad-ass wife to do the deed. Unfortunately, he made the newbie mistake of ordering Snake-Away (which smells like your grandma’s attic rather than Christmas morning). The scent of cinnamon and cloves drives snakes back to the bog better than St. Patrick and his flute, but the scent of moth balls makes them roll their little snakey eyes and chuckle as they take over your home.

Because the Turk has spent the last two summers commuting into Boston every day and I am not an epic snake-scardey wuss, reptile management has been my dept.  But thanks to the quarantine, he thought he’d take over this year and as husbands do, he assumed he knew the ins and outs of the job without consulting the expert…me.

Upon its arrival, he headed out to spread the first dose of Snake-Away that evening. As a former science teacher who sat though countless middle school “favorite animal” presentation, I know that snakes are most active during cooler parts of the day…like evening. But the Turk didn’t ask me. His evening time, cool weather dosing gave him an up-close interaction with a big mama snake in the backyard before he was sent into heart palpitations when the side-yard ferns began wiggling revealing a snakey love fest. By the time he found a recently shed snakeskin under one of the front bushes, the poor man was shattered. Noob. Breathlessly he rushed into the house, covered in sweat and fear.

“It will be ok now. I put out whole bucket. No snake will come.”

“Your lips to God’s ears honey. I don’t think you three wussies can handle any more snake sightings.”

24 hours later, Nugget and I were heading out to the car and a snake was waiting for us next to the driver’s side. Nugget freaked. “I will not go out there! No way! I’m thayin’ inside forever!”  I spent the next 2 days slinging 60 pounds of Nugget over my shoulder for every entrance and exit from the house.

On the third day when he’s almost forgotten about it, I made the mistake of dropping some top-shelf profanity when I nearly stepped on a pair of snakes on my way to the mailbox. “Thee Mom! The thankes are still here. I’m never leavin’ again!”

On the fourth day Nugget peered out the window to see one sunning himself on the lawn. “THANKE!!!!!!!!!!”

As we rushed to the window for confirmation, the Turk was pissed. “What is dis? Why they not leave? I use whole bucket of Snake-Away and they not go away!”

“That’s because you used Snake-Away. You need Snake-B-Gone.”

“You are crazy. There no difference.”

“No dear. Snakes like the smell of old ladies but not the smell of Christmas. Snake-Away is old lady.”

Number 1 son chimed in in a typical 12 year-old fashion. “You should kill it.”

I agreed. “My grandma used to hack off their heads with a hoe.”

“That is because your people are crazy.” The Turk retorted but then something dark sparkled in his eyes. “But yes. I can kill him. That will make them all run away because they scare.” He waved to Number 1, “Get me big rock.”

Within seconds the Turk and Number 1 were locked and loaded on the front step.

Shaking my head I muttered, “You better not miss.”

“I miss.” He confirmed. “Probably good. You know in Turkey if you kill snake his wife take revenge.”

“Hubba whaa?” Even after all these years my husband still drops these little jems of Turkish madness that send me spinning.  “So if you kill a Turkish snake his little snakey wife will come and get you?”

“Yes. Maybe I should not kill.”

Fortunately, Nugget had a doctor’s appointment offering me a hasty retreat from the madness.   I slung Nugget over my shoulder and left the other two to battle the 12” garter snake currently holding them hostage. Minutes into the appointment my phone chimed with a text.

“We have big problem. I am right.”

“About what?”

“I Google it. If you kill snake, his wife take revenge. Maybe I did not miss him. Maybe I kill him. She can come for me.”

There are no emojis to accurately represent my wide-eyed horror at watching my husband’s descent into madness, so I texted back the only thing I felt to be appropriate. “Ok.”

When Nugget and I arrived home an hour later, the snake was where we left him. I’m pretty sure when I approached to make sure he was alive, his rearing up was accompanied by him flashing two little snakey middle-fingers as he chuckled in my face.

That afternoon I explained to my husband the nuances of snake management, complete with a new bucket of Snake-B-Gone. A little mid-afternoon sprinkle of the cinnamoney goodness and poof – I haven’t had a snake flip the bird since, though I remain on high alert with my Snake-B-Gone at the ready.