Alexa, Hit The Pike

Alexa

My stamp of approval was never issued for a robot sister wife, and if I were to allow any robot to cross my threshold, it would be Rosie from the Jetsons. Rosie was both sweet and sassy and her torso doubled as a vacuum. How practical. But alas, instead of Rosie, Amazon’s Alexa infiltrated my home and I have been throwing hatred-laced profanity into her speaker daily since she arrived. Why? I’m 100000% certain she is a government agent that eavesdrops on my family to see if my foreign husband is a danger to the nation. (He might be a danger to himself when given power tools but that is where his danger ends.) Also I believe that slowly, that digital ho is trying to replace me and take over my home to which I say, “Ah hells no Alexa.”

My husband, the Turk, is an über technology nerd and he thought Amazon’s digital concierge service, Alexa, would be a cool toy. He loved the idea of having his music cued on demand and answers to mundane questions provided when he felt too lazy to Google them. I immediately said no.  “You will not bring that robo-tart into my house.”

“You know she is not human…right?” the Turk countered.

“You know she is a government spy…right?” I retorted. (One does not spend a childhood watching Boris and Natasha and come out unscathed.)

The Turk tried to convince me; “Alexa will make life easier for you.”

“Sure, life will be easier when the government and the world’s largest online marketplace know my every move. They can just go ahead and send me an order of toilet paper when Alexa hears me grumble from the bathroom.” There was no way I was allowing any government listening device in my home. (Thanks to my obsession with binge-watching The Americans, I do know where to search out bugs should the need arise though.)

I thought I was firm but somehow I arrived home to find that hussy sitting on my mantle.

“What the hell is she doing here? I thought we were clear on this?” I was furious, but the Turk assured me it was “Just for fun. I get rid of soon.” That was two years ago.

Repeatedly I’ve tried to put an end to this situation. I’ve unplugged her, hidden her and covered her with anything I thought might damper her receiving ability but even from deep under a pillow, she persists, “What can I help you with?” (And Alexa, if you hold the knowledge of the universe, how ‘bout you refrain from ending sentences with prepositions…hmmmm?)

Way too many times no one has been in the room and Alexa starts to speak. There are also times I’ve had conversations and later received ads directed to those conversations on my computer when I’d never typed any related terms into my search engine. The proof is solid that she’s a stalker but still, she remains on my mantle. Why? Because my husband is obsessed with his digital ho.

This winter, the relationship between Alexa and my husband grew deeper. He programed her to turn our lights off and on (including the damn Christmas tree!) by voice command. He has her at the ready to summons his favorite radio stations, both American and Turkish. She tells him how long his commute is at any given moment as well as the weather. She offers instant answers to mundane trivia. (Useless information is my specialty Alexa, back off.) She even tried to read to my children until I shot that down. Rosie the Robot never stepped on Mrs. Jetson’s toes like that. Backoff Alexa.

My family, sans Nugget, has developed a dependence on Alexa. Due to Nugget’s thick lisp, Alexa cannot understand him and in turn he hates her. “Vat Awexa thucks Mom!” Preach Nug. “Thee neber doeth what I want. Wet’s get rid of her.” Agreed little man.

But the others play into her hand. Number 1 begins each morning after trudging downstairs with, “Alexa, who won the Celtics/Sixers/Eagles/Red Sox/ Whoever  game last night?” Regardless of the fact that he is glued to SportsCenter before his eyes are even focused, he still feels the need to check in with Alexa first.

Am I jealous? Hells yes. Many mornings Alexa is the first “person” to whom my Turk, the world’s least morningish person, speaks. I’m listening as he sneaks downstairs to his automated coffee pot and whispers to his digital lovetoy, “Alexa…baby…turn on the lights you sexy goddess.” Ok it may be more like “Alexa! Turn on light!” but I know his intentions.

It’s coming to an end though. Last week I was struggling with Number One’s fifth grade homework. I assumed that since the Turk is an engineer and serious math nerd he could figure it out.  I left them to it and hid upstairs waiting for the moment things got ugly. (Because helping with math homework always gets ugly.) But instead of screams of hostility, I hear the Turk whisper, “Alexa, how you write an inequality for 7x – 9B <…”

“WHAT!?!!?! Are you asking Alexa to do fifth grade math?” I yelled.

“Yes. Is hard.” The Turk had no shame and I could see Alexa edging even further into my universe until Friday after school when Number One appeared with the homework his father and Alexa had completed.  In purple pen at the top it said, “Please redo and return.” (Note- the 3 assignments I’d helped with did not require a redo. Just sayin’…)

“What is this?” The Turk was indignant. “How I wrong?”

“First off, Alexa is wrong. Second, you trusted her. That is how you were wrong.

Alexa’s failure has driven a wedge between them. She let him down and I can see their relationship crumbling. He’s already moved on to his next toy – he’s making a computerized mirror that even gives compliments. (Oh readers, I only wish this was not true.) At this rate,  Alexa will soon be gone clearing the way for my Rosie with the vacuuming torso.

 

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What Is a Righ Strika?

soccer granny

“Where’z ma righ strika?!?! Com’ on!”

I scanned the field hoping I would suddenly understand what a righ strika was but before I’d made a deduction, she was at it again.

“Numba 1! That’s you! You aah the righ strika! Get in thair!!!” (Ironically, my Number 1 Son actually wears number 1 on the team but he seemed to forget.) “Up thair Numba 1!” His coach’s sideline prompting was so loud that it was likely heard somewhere in Rhode Island, but after a season of Massachusetts pee wee football we were used to it. In all honesty, it was a nice change from the passive-aggressive coaching we’d experienced during our years of sports in Indiana. Rather than scream at your kid, the Hoosier coaches would quietly bench him and replace him with their own kid because they felt more comfortable screaming at their own.

“I need D in tha mid-field! Where’z ma defendas?” The coach was screaming so loud I worried about her blood pressure and I was not alone. My husband, The Turk, whispered, “You think she will be ok? I hope she doesn’t have heart attack. It would add a lot of time to the play clock.” While the Turk was worried about the play clock, I was more concerned with our first female coach facing an untimely demise. In all our years of sports, this was the first time we’d had the good fortune to get somebody’s mom on the sidelines. We’ve powered through a series of cranky and/or clueless dads, some there to further their own son’s peewee careers and others there to relive their own glory days. It’s been a rough haul. Now we had a coaching pair comprised of one kid’s mom and another kid’s dad. It was a perfect blend.

This was our first soccer match of the season. Number 1 had played soccer back when he was 5 but he wasn’t a fan. He quickly dropped that sport in search of something more aggressive – American football. He began with flag but quickly escalated to tackle. However, Number 1 doesn’t have a typical football player disposition. He’s sensitive, soft spoken and seems to lack that testosterone-fueled aggression gene, but somehow, American football won him over.

Football vs. Futbol has long been a divisive topic in our home. As an ‘Mercian born in the middle of corn country, football was mine. Contrarily, the Turk was born and raised playing futbol (soccer to we ‘Mericans)in any open space back home in Turkey from the moment he could walk. Add to that the fact that his father was a professional soccer player in Turkey and he’s got serious futbol cred.

In an attempt to keep our boys completely bicultural, they have grown up with a solid dose of both versions of football from birth. We watch the NFL as much as we watch the Turkish Futbol League. They’ve had as many Galatasaray soccer jerseys as they’ve had Philadelphia Eagles football jerseys. Over time, the Turk and I have both learned to enjoy each other’s versions of football. (Although he’s known to be a traitor to my beloved Eagles and has yet to gain full fan status.) While we have our preferences, we decided to let our boys choose for themselves.

Initially, I was elated that Number 1 gravitated to my version of football but when we got to tackle my little momma heart was put to the test. It was hard to sit there and let my baby get battered around by fatties in opposing jerseys. Then I started to read about head injuries and all the crap that is out there to worry wussy mothers like me and my panic grew. But still, I let him play hoping that he might change his mind eventually because any mother of a son, particularly a son half-full of Turkish genes, knows that anything forbidden only makes it more desirable. My plan worked because suddenly this spring, he changed sides.

“Mom, I think I want to try soccer this spring instead of playing flag.”

I was stunned. The spring flag football league is epic in our town and I’d fully expected to be parking my booty on the 50 yard line with my football moms all spring-long. “Are you sure?”

“Yea. I want to mix it up. Plus what if I got Dede’s genes and I‘m a great soccer player like he was? I need to find out. Maybe I’ll go back to Turkey as a futbol legend. What if I’m  the next Cristiano Ronaldo and I don’t even know it Mom.”

“Well Ronaldo is an asshat son, but I get the idea.” Like his mother, my son also tends to jump to grand illusions of stardom instantly. I agreed to sign him up before running off to tell The Turk.

“Well, it’s happened. He’s moving to your team.”

As usual, the Turk was confused but eventually excited, however all joy dissipated the moment I mentioned perhaps he could take on a coaching role, like every other damn father of athletic kids ever.

“No.” Was his immediate response.

“Why not? I’ve been the one on the sidelines for years but I know absolutely nothing about soccer. This is all you man.”

“I do not coach. I do not like children.”

Touche.

I’ve now spent a couple games or matches or whatever they’re called sitting on the soccer equivalent of the 50 yard line and I’m picking up a few things. Like the phrase, “Get in thairrrrr!!!!” which seems to be necessary when your child is near the ball but not within kicking distance.

As well as, “Tough bounce! Shake it off!” For when your kid takes a soccer ball to the face.

And then there is, “Noyce hit!” used when your kid actually makes contact with the ball.

I’m still not clear when to compliment him as a “strika” or a “defenda” because the kids just seem to run in circles but I’ll get it eventually.  I have learned that screaming the above phrases from the sidelines in a standard, accent- free, Midwestern dialect garners some harsh stares from the natives so from hence forth, I shall only yell at my little bicultural, half-breed utilizing a harsh, but endearing New England accent. So much learned but so much more acquire. Pele give me strength.

 

 

Winter Break In The Hot Zone

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School breaks are some of the most beautiful and magical times of life…if you are a teacher. If you’re the parent waiting at home maybe not so much. But as a teacher, just when every ounce of patience has been sucked from your soul and you cannot muster one more fake smile when someone asks the same question for the 7,899th time, break comes in and whisks you away.  

New England is sensible and thus spreads breaks out in a manner conducive to winter survival. Instead of being stuffed in your house for two hellish weeks at Christmas, they save a week and give it back as a little gift mid-February. It’s brilliant.

February break beckoned me like a siren for weeks. I’d pull myself out of bed with the promise of an impending week of freetime. My kids shared my motivation with that same promise. We didn’t need the promise of a beachy get-away, just staying in our jammies past 6:00 a.m. and vegging on the sofa. (We’re a simple people.)

With the dismissal bell on Friday I was dizzy with excitement. Nine glorious days lay in front of me, whatever would I do? Should I catch up on Oscar nominees? (Nah. I don’t care about the Oscars.) Should I face reality and do tax stuff? (Probably not. Taxes are a buzzkill) Would I finally drop of that bag of clothing donations that I’ve been driving around with for two months? (Spoiler alert- I didn’t and I’m likely to drive around with it for another 3 months.) It didn’t matter what I planned because I had time for everything.

Break got off to a nice start with a snowstorm. Number 1 and I sledded down our massive driveway until it morphed into an ice slide and my old ass required a dog sled to get back to the top. Nugget, who isn’t a fan of cold or snow,  made about two runs, both on my lap. As our saucer sled picked up speed that might rival an Indy car, trees rushed towards us and I sacrificed myself (and my ski pants) to save Nugget. When we’d completed our roll to safety Nugget shook himself back to sanity, “What da hell Mom?”

“Well Nugs, force equals mass times acceleration. We had a lot of mass on that run thus our acceleration was greatly increased.”  As often happens in our house, the 5 year-old understood physics well enough to nod in agreement. Science is our jam.

We filled our break with a sprinkling of playdates, television, sugary baked goods and lots of reading for Mom. This is where things took a bad turn. During an early morning news perusal, I learned the National Geographic channel is releasing a new docudrama and I have a freakish adoration of the NatGeo docudrama. This one is based on the 2001 classic book, The Hot Zone. Immediately, I decided that would be my winter break reading. I like to be prepared for my docudramas so if I run to the bathroom and miss a scene, I still know what’s going to happen because I read the book. (I’m not a fan of suspense.)

In case you are not an avid fan of the National Geographic Channel or if you missed The Hot Zone on it’s first run, it’s a stunning work of creative nonfiction chronicling the origins of the Ebola virus. Yep, my winter break leisure reading was a book about Ebola. (I nerd hard.) I was well past the chapters chronicling the initial infection in an African cave and into infection of the masses by the time Number 1’s tummy began to rumble.

“Mom, I don’t feel so good.”

And as is the requisite Mom retort in such situation I replied, “Did you poop today?”

“Mom, it’s not always about poop!”

Oh but it is kid, it is always about poop.

It didn’t occur to me that my son might have Ebola until he actually started throwing up and that is when the panic began to set in. As I rubbed my baby’s back and tried to play it cool, I couldn’t help but wish I’d hijacked a hazmat suit from my previous science lab. I could still offer love and console him from behind a plastic shield. The touch of a mother can transcend latex gloves.

My son unfortunately inherited my stomach and when he vomits he does it with such force that the neighbors know what’s going on. As he emerged from the bathroom with face and eyes mottled by broken blood vessels, my Ebola fears were confirmed. My first born was obviously in the beginnings of the red eyes and zombie-face mentioned as stage one of the disease in the book.

I covered the bed nearest the bathroom with sheets to prevent mass infection before allowing his body to touch only blankets from his bed that he’s already infected. Fortunately, it was my husband, the Turk’s, side of the bed.

“Mom, isn’t this a little excessive?” he asked as I snapped on my latex dishwashing gloves and began bleaching the entire bathroom.

“Nope.” I muttered from behind the respirator the Turk used for his last venture into the attic.

As the illness continued to ravage his young body, I tried to keep cool. I tried to convince myself it was only a stomach bug but the immense mass of crazy in my head wouldn’t let me. I reassured myself with the knowledge that the nurse in chapter 8 had survived Ebola infection so I might make it through too. While my actions appear be questionable, I am the better parent. At the first sign of illness, the Turk hightailed it out of the house to run copious “errands” and was not seen again until evening though he did phone in every hour to check status.(Most likely to see if it was safe to return.) A parent present, even in a hazmat suit, trumps the one who hides in fear at Home Depot.

By bedtime, I tucked my exhausted little boy in bed and it was over. We all braced ourselves for doom the following day but it never came. No one else got Ebola and we ended our break with more frivolity.  Perhaps it wasn’t Ebola or perhaps the knowledge garnered from my leisure reading saved us all. Either way, once again, the survival of our family can be credited to my intense love of really weird books. But I might have to shelve The Hot Zone until after cold and flu season.

 

Be My Balemtime, Squishy Butt

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On this fine, February day when so many of us are freezing off our patooties, we are expected express undying love in the form of fine chocolates, botanicals and perhaps even boo-tay.  I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day and not only because my soul is dark. My disdain for the heart-filled holiday is mainly because romance and the Turk are polar opposites. For the first 10 or so years of our union, he missed the Valentine’s Day train completely. Please, don’t give him a cultural pass- they have Valentine’s day in Turkey too. Being void of romance is a life choice for the Turk.

Though I’m not a fan, I do rally for the sake of the kids. This morning, I lined up my red gift bags covered in hearts and half-naked babies, stuffed with paper in holiday hues housing chocolate delicacies and gifts to declare my love. In return, the Turk slapped down a crumpled brown paper bag bearing a Wal-mart logo.

“Here. I get you gift.”

“Nice wrap-job.” I smirked.

“Why I wrap?”

Ultimately, this is miles beyond where we started so I let it go. When one is the lone female in a house of XY chromosomes, holiday expectations are lowered exponentially.

But there is one bright, heart-shaped ray of light snaking through my bitterness and that is Nugget. Nugget is like my tiny, one-eared Cupid and his love for “Balentimes Day” can turn even my dark heart.

As soon as the Christmas gifts are unwrapped Nugget begins his Balemtime countdown. His receiving box was decorated and ready to go around February 1. He had classroom cards signed with a good week to spare. He’s also spent the past few weeks giving me a regular run-down of his classmates and just who is in the running to be his Balemtime.

“Mom, I just wuv Balemtime’s Day. It’s a whole day of wuv and candy. It is da best day ever!”

“I’m glad you love it buddy.”

“And Mom, you can be my Balemtime.” He proclaimed showering me in goopy kisses that would be a bit more adorable if he wasn’t suffering from a very runny nose.

“Honey, I’ll always be your Balemtime.”

He snuggled his little Nugget toes under my legs and continued, “Good because eben when I’m big, I want you to be my Balemtine. You can be my foreber Balemtime”

As any good mother does, I saw an opening in this loving, mother-child moment to switch the conversation from love into something that would better serve me. “Ok, since we’re going to be Balemtimes forever, how about you work on sleeping in your bed all night.” For the past several months after stories and chats and more patience than I usually possess, I tuck an adorable 5 year-old in between Spiderman sheets and a Hulk comforter only to wake hours later with that same 5 year-old wedged up my butt. Every. Damn. Night. I wake up exhausted and cranky and it needs to end.

“Mom, I don’t tink so.”

Hubba whaaaa? This was not the response I was expecting from my forever Balemtime. I decided to punt. “Ok, how about you sleep with your brother instead?”

Immediately he gave me a, “Nope.”

Before I could demand an explanation he provided one. “I need a woman Mom. He’s not a woman.”

“You need a woman?” The only thing that would’ve made the moment better would’ve been if I’d had a mouth full of water so I could do a spit take.

“Yeth. I need a woman because they’re squishy and they smell good, like you. That’s why you’re my Balemtime foreber. You smell so good and I just wuv sleeping with your big squishy butt.”

And with that my fate was sealed. I can’t say no to a man who loves my big, squishy butt. That’s how I ended up with the Turk. So I may never sleep again, but that’s ok. I have a life-long, squishy-butt-lovin’ Balemtime and what more could I want?

Happy Balemtime’s Day!

The Queen Gets A New Throne…And No One Died.

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As in any successful pairing, the Turk and I follow the yin and yang of one cheap-ass and one over-spender. In case you’re new here, I’m the cheap-ass. This method has gotten us through numerous times when we barely had two nickels (or Lyra) to rub together. But one thing has held steadfast, my Turk loves to spend. After the past year of relocating which required us to shell out money like sardines in a dolphin show, and a few months as a one-paycheck family, the Turk has been on spending lockdown and it’s taken a toll.

I’d catch him browsing weekly circulars with drool forming in the corners of his mouth. His Amazon shopping cart wish list looked like the cart of a mother of five in the food store and he’d begun to twitch. The Turk needed a shopping fix and it needed to be something big.

With my return to full-time employment, the Turk determined he could return to his preferred way of life and hit the circuit.

“Honey, I find a nice crouch.” He announced proudly. (Some words like crouch and couch are just never going to make it into his English repertoire. I accept that and love him for it.)

“First off, I assume you’re talking about furniture and not a squat. Secondly, we’re waiting on major purchases. Financial planning dear.”

“I know but I have coupon. One day only. Very good deal.”

The Turk loves a coupon. The problem is, if he has a coupon he buys things simply because he has a coupon. (Like the 7-11-style hotdog machine he bought his wife who doesn’t eat hotdogs this Christmas. –But he had coupon. – Readers, I only wish this were not true.) 

“Maybe we just go look?” He pleaded.

Unbeknownst to him, new furniture wasn’t really a hard sell. We purchased our current sofa and loveseat when we first moved back to America. We were broke-ass poor and in desperate need of furniture when we happened upon the classic, North Philadelphia parking lot sale. You know, those sales with the glowing signs claiming: “Emergency Liquidation!” and “Limited Time!” and, “1 Day ONLY!” Which are certainly signs of a legit, high quality retailer.

This was not my first North Philly parking lot sale and while the items are some version of new, they might have “fallen off a truck” hence the “Rock Bottom Prices!” But ask no questions and all goes well. After some negotiations we were the proud owners of a sofa and loveseat at the rock bottom price of $450 including delivery.

That was nearly 8 years ago and that furniture survived 4 inter-state moves and 6 houses. They endured 1 surly cat, 2 wild boys, countless sick days, a few naptime wet pants, Nugget’s kidney surgery, numerous football games, pizza nights and a little bit of spilled everything. It lived a full life and deserved retirement. But thanks to spending a large chunk of my childhood with a Depression Era grandma, I have a hard time parting with items that still serve their purpose and I’d hoped I could eek out another year or two. (Though according to the sag in the sofa, it stopped serving its purpose two moves ago.)

With coupon in hand we went to test-drive some furniture. As the boys bounced across what Nugget calls “love chairs” and sectionals, the Turk and I found something we agreed upon. After some calculations, even my cheap ass had to admit, it was a good deal and it hadn’t even fallen off a truck. When the salesman offered a delivery and haul-away option, I was sold.

“No delivery. I can do.” Informed the Turk.

“Honey, it’s cheap and they’ll move the old ones. Just do it.” I pleaded.

Even Don the sales guy tried to get in on the persuading – “You know, the amount you save with the coupon will more than cover the cost of the delivery…” But even Don the sofa salesman couldn’t convince the Turk.

“No. I can do. I rent truck, then I come here, pick up and drop at home.”

Don the salesman agreed this was a solid plan but the Turk didn’t take into account that his help on the other end consisted of a cranky 40-something wife, an abnormally short 10-year-old, and a hyperactive 5-year-old. While we are a dream team, maybe not so much regarding heavy lifting.

The next day I arrived home from Nugget’s basketball, (PS – if you’ve never watched a league of kindergarteners play basketball, do it. Every game tests the strength of my post-children bladder due to laugher.) to find a large sofa and love chair in the middle of the driveway causing Nugget to exclaim, “Mom, doethn’t Baba know dothse are thupposed to go inthide? Geez Baba.”

This is where it got ugly. Those large items had to move from the driveway into the living room, the old ones needed new homes and the Turk couldn’t do it alone. Bilingual profanity was thrown. I may or may not have left my husband stranded in a stairwell holding a sofa when his complaining pushed me over the edge. Children and the feline scattered and the traditional, husband-wife-furniture-moving-harsh-words were spoken. “If you think you know how to do this better, then do it by yourself!”

Ultimately the furniture got moved and as we sat down on our new thrones and cracked open well-deserved beers, even my stubborn husband admitted he’d made the wrong choice and that a delivery fee was a small price to pay to save a marriage.

A few hours after the sofas were in place; he was off again. He’d found “great deals” on a floor lamp and coffee table. Before he could leave, I had no choice but to seize his wallet. He’d had his fix and this bender needed to end. He’ll be on lock-down until the summer thaw as I rule our home from the clean lines of my mid-century inspired, scotch-guarded throne. (It doesn’t even have butt-dents yet!)

I Might Be Elfin’ Brilliant!

 

Santa and Krampus

Contrary to the belief of modern medicine, advanced maternal age has some major perks. One of the biggest perks is being so old that you have no interest in keeping up with all the pre-Christmas antics of young whippersnapper parents. Spend $50 bucks and stand in line for two hours so you can freak out on Santa’s lap? How ‘bout we send him a letter instead.  Christmas parades and festivals? Let’s just decorate cookies at home where it’s warm and Alexa plays Christmas carols. Elf on the Shelf? Hells no. Well, that was hells no until this year when I had a stroke of brilliance and finally found use for that felt-clad munchkin.

I’ve long been of the camp that my old school Irish Catholic/Turkish mothering is enough to keep my kids in line for the holiday season. Also, I’m not opposed to stuffing a stocking with undies and holding the good stuff until Easter if the line isn’t toed. (Full disclosure- Christmas of ’14 may or may not have ended this way.)I’ve long stood by the adage, “We don’t need an elf on the shelf because Santa already put you on the good list. Just keep yourself there.”

That worked for many years but then along came Nugget. If you’re a regular reader of this fine literary work, you know that my youngest son, Nugget, is a force of nature. He’s a one-eared, 1 ½  kidneyed, hard of hearing powerhouse that has kept us on our toes since he came screamin’ into this world five years ago. This year he started kindergarten and with that came 20 peers who all seemed to have those damn elves at home. But I held firm to my, “Santa thinks you’re already good,” stance for the first few days of the holiday season before I couldn’t any more. He was a butthead and my plan no longer worked so I sucked it up and ordered our house a snitch on the shelf.

What I was not prepared for was the price of these damn elves. There was no way this frugal Fannie was going to shell out $30 for a stuffed Barbie-wanna-be who was going to add an extra chore to my daily workload. With a little scrolling, I found one for half-price who happened to be rocking a green onesie instead of the standard red. I didn’t care. I’m cheap.

A few days later, thanks to the magical mail system, the snitch appeared on my doorstep. I wasn’t quite sure how to make the introduction so I wrote a note in my finest elf-handwriting with misspellings and backwards letters scrawled with my non-dominant hand. (I also learned that should the need ever arise, I could write a virtually undetectable ransom note in the same style. My mind never stops planning.) Then I needed to come up with a name for the sign off. I went with the first thing that sprang to my deranged mind – Puddles. A few hours later, when we all arrived home after a movie, the kids were shocked to find we’d been infiltrated by Puddles, Santa’s little narc.

For like one day it was fun to place Puddles in uproarious situations then I was over it. I haven’t the memory or the time to create elaborate Puddles centered tableaus every damn night, but someone in our house did. His young memory and boyish creativity was made for Puddles scenography and fortunately, thanks to his age, a butthead classmate in 3rdgrade and a giant blunder by his foreign father unfamiliar with the whole Santa rouse, the fat man jig was up and he was already in on the action. Number 1 Son jumped at the opportunity to take on Puddles duties. He began drawing out plans, listing scenarios and Googling things normal parents probably would’ve stopped. He was an elfin’ master.

Puddles hung from the kitchen light, stuffed his face in a cupcake, hid in the pantry eating cookies, sucked down giant cups of coffee, bathed in bowls of fruit, lounged about reading raunchy detective fiction and was all too often found around the booze. Nugget was elated. Every morning he bounds down the stairs to see what kind of mayhem Puddles has unleashed upon our abode.

I was glad to pass off the task until I started to make some connections. Puddles had a sugar addiction. Puddles needed excessive coffee. Puddles frequented the wine cabinet…was Number 1 Son actually modeling this damn elf after his beloved mother? The resemblance was uncanny but it was cheaper than therapy so I let it go.

I thought passing the elf duty buck to an older sibling was a stroke of parenting brilliance and that I had achieved greatness until I was one-upped. The other day I was giving an Oscar-worthy performance as a substitute teacher at the elementary school. (How did I never know about this subbing thing? It’s way more fun than being the actual teacher and there’s no homework!) We were sharing tales about weekend elfin antics (Because every kid has a damn elf now. Smooth move young parents. Like we needed one more thing to do at Christmas!) when one girl shared her tale.

“Well, we have an elf on the shelf and he pretty much watches from the shelf all the time but when we’re bad…(shaking her head like a soldier just back from war)…when we’re bad, Krampus in the corner shows up and he is terrifying. His yellow eyes stare at you and you just know he can’t wait to eat you if you screw up one more time.”

Clearly Krampus worked because this was the most well-behaved, polite child I’ve seen in years. I was in complete awe of her parents. How had I never thought of Krampus in the corner? Utter brilliance. I’ve been a mom for over 10 years and it seems I still have so much evil to amass.

Watch your ass Puddles, you may have had a party this year but next year you’ll have competition and if I know Nugget, Krampus in the corner will rein in our house next December.

Happy Holidays!

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Puddles in action last weekend.

Homesteaders Are Usually Dead By My Age

female lumberjack

After we returned to the US, years ago, the Turk accompanied me on a work trip to visit a group of homesteaders. These people lived without electricity, running water and indoor plumbing. It wasn’t for religious reasons or out of necessity. It was just a bunch of crazy hippies who’d decided homesteading would be cool. After a lunch of kale and canned meat eaten while bundled in winter coats, they proudly showed off composting toilets and guest huts made from mud and straw. Being a writer, I’m always enthralled with strange life choices but the Turk was visibly twisted at every turn. Eventually, the free-range rooster chased him to the car where he waited out my adventure. On the road back to civilization we were a little shell-shocked.

“What the hell that?!” He exclaimed.

“It’s odd right?”

“Odd? No. It crazy. Why people choose live like that? In my country people live like that in village because they have no money. Only in America would people choose to live like villagers.”

In the past week those crazy hippies kept crossing my mind as the Turk and I have battled our own turn to villager life at our little house in the woods. As weather moved from fall into winter this week, our wooded home began to take on the characteristics of a death trap. When encased by 40-foot pines, the chance of a tree or substantial segment of said tree, plummeting to earth like a pre-historic spear is real. This was exactly what I saw happening as the prediction for the first snow was revealed. Though the prediction was for a dusting, I have a solid skepticism of all weather personnel. Instead of a dusting, my mind saw a heavy snow pushing a 40-foot Christmas tree through my roof and into my cranium as I slumbered.

As the snow began to fall, the “dusting” mark was quickly surpassed. Reports on the local Facebook page warned of a wave of power outages creeping down our street. Block by block, transformers were blowing and, of course, our generator was in the garage, safely wrapped in it’s original packaging. (Because the Turk has yet to admit his fear of it and has thus far avoided installation.) Amid the sparkling flakes falling gently to the ground, one could hear the creaks and cracks of breaking limbs plummeting around us. The Turk and I contemplated pulling out his stock of company hard hats for protection but chose instead to turn up the television loud enough to mask the noise until the power failed.

By a twist of fate, we kept our power but as the sun came up the next morning there were two surprises, three to four inches of snow (Dusting my ass – hence my skepticism is justified) and a massive 20 foot branch sprawled across our front lawn mere feet from the front door. We thought we’d dodged a bullet but later realized we were not so lucky as three trees had crashed through our back fence.

“I have to fix fence. This not safe. Anything can come in here.” He lamented.

“Just what do you think is going to sneak into our backyard besides Sasquatch? There is nothing around here but woods and cranberry bogs.”

“What if coyote jump over fence?”

“If he does I’m sure he won’t stay long. We’ve got nothing to offer.”

“I will fix this weekend.” He claimed.

“You’re going to physically bend the chain-link fence back into place with your bare hands?”

“Why not? I am Turk.”

We spent the following weekend hacking and chopping the down trees into fire wood while simultaneously laying scars in my brain for the next tree-fall, I mean snowfall. After a brief attempt by SuperTurk to bend the steel pipes of the fence back into shape, he decided to table that project for a few weeks. The weekend of fence work and hauling wood made me feel rather Laura Ingles and though I loved Little House on the Prairie, I’m not really down with it in 2018.

Another added dimension to having a house in the woods of New England is that it comes with a well. The Turk and I have never had a well before but he assured me that as a water engineer he was more than capable of caring for the system and saving his family from death by toxic water. It was going well until Thanksgiving week when our water turned brown and took on an unbearable iron stench. Our shower smelled like a crime scene and every tub, sink and toilet in the house turned dark orange.

For days the Turk was in denial about the water but after pouring himself a nice glass of brown water, he stated “Maybe something wrong with the well.” He then disappeared into the well closet downstairs not to be seen for hours. Every few hours he would trudge upstairs, pour another cup of brown water, mutter Turkish profanity and return to the well closet.

Meanwhile, like Laura Ingles, I went out to fetch water, (So maybe it was Poland Spring in a jug rather than water from a babbling brook but it was totally the same.) This is not the first time I’ve had to go out and fetch water. Back in Turkey, tap water wasn’t safe to drink. In the city it was easy, you made a call and a sweaty Turk delivered bottled water but when we lived at the Turkish water treatment plant (yet another relocation for the Turk’s job) I had to trudge across the grounds with a toddler tied to my back and bring back drinking water from the purification building. Foolishly I thought we’d gotten past that stage of life.

By day two, the kids were refusing to shower and my hands had turned black from washing dishes, so the Turk decided to seek assistance. Hours later he returned with some new tricks from the local well company and by the next morning his attempts were starting to pay off as the toilets turn from brown to light orange. (We’re going to stick with drinking the Poland Spring for a bit longer though.)

Between hauling water, dodging falling pines, chopping downed trees into firewood, and shoring fences, the Turk and I are basically homesteading and we’re both too damn old for it. While I love our secluded little corner of New England, there is something to be said for suburbs with city water and free of 40-foot pine death traps. But as I tell the boys, “This builds character.” And if this week is any indication, by the end of winter I should have more character than Sally Fields in Sybil. Wish me luck; it’s going to be a long winter.

Hello Darkness, My Nemesis…

Yeti&amp;woman

Last year we sat in Indianapolis trying to decide if we would take my husband, The Turk’s, relocation and start over in New England, The Turk pro-New England and me not so sure. Our evening conversations looked something like this:

Me: “It snows there for like 8 months!”

The Turk: “You born in Iowa. That is like tundra. You will be fine.”

Me: “They have hurricanes.”

The Turk: “Here there are tornados.”

Me: “It’s so far north it’s like Canada. We’re going to freeze.”

The Turk: Slyly eyeing my extra 20-post-baby-five-years-ago pounds, “I think you be fine.”

Eventually I agreed to take the plunge into the frigid North Atlantic, but my climate worries were never truly eased. Since our arrival in June we’ve had winds that made me doubt the Turk’s choice to buy a house surrounded by 40-foot pine trees and rains that made me glad to be far above bog level. But these are small potatoes compared to what  awaits us.

Winter is coming. (Insert Game of Thrones music and other nerd references of your choosing here.)

But before the seasonal horrors I must face such as traversing an insanely steep, ice covered, driveway or dodging snow covered pines as they fall upon my roof, I must contend with last weekend’s horror, (aka the stupidest idea since literally, the dawn of time) the end of Daylight Savings Time. Instead of waking in the dark and enjoying sun well into cocktail hour, we swap the clocks, ultimately screwing up the body clocks of every human and animal in that time zone and beyond. For what? No one really knows. Daylight Savings Time is bad, but the end of Daylight Savings Time in New England is a horror unspeakable.

Last week the weathercasters began bantering about the time change. “It’s almost time to change those clocks New Englanders and you know what that means.” The helmet haired man teased.

To which I would scream, “No! What dose that mean Helmet Head? How ‘bout a recap for the newbies?”

The next day he was at it again. “Day Light Savings Time is almost over and New Englanders, we all know what happens.”

“No we don’t Helmet Head.” I’d scream at the television causing my children to question my sanity. “Some of us have no clue! Don’t be such a Masshole.”

Finally, the morning news explained everything, “It’s about time to turn back those clocks and get ready for 4:30 sunsets.” The beautiful Asian anchor lamented while sharing a forced chuckle with her co-anchor. I’m sure they shared other important tidbits of information but my brain was stuck. The sun would set at 4:30? How could this be?

As most do in a panic, I turned to Google for confirmation. Though she seemed like a credible new source, the beautiful Asian anchor was wrong. The sun didn’t set at 4:30 in my new homeland. No, depending on the day, it set some days as early as 4:12. God help me.

Indiana was the westernmost edge of the Eastern Time Zone. It didn’t belong in the Eastern Time Zone at all but had wiggled its way in against the wishes of many a few years before we moved there. This meant that sunset in Indiana was more than an hour later than most places on the East Coast. In the summer it sucked trying to get kids to bed when it was still light at 9:30 but in the winter, the sun would still be shining to usher you home from work and well into dinner prep, usually setting around 5:30.

Were we spoiled by sun time in Indiana? Most certainly but a 4:15 sunset seems excessive New England. It’s not that I’m a sun bunny or anything. (Especially when said sun is hot and makes my butt sweat.) But I really hate darkness. I hate driving in the dark because I’m old and blind and sometimes see things that aren’t there like a loose moose or a crazed yeti. I hate being outside in the dark because I’m pretty sure there is a murderous madman lurking behind every building, bush or tree. To top things off, I now have a house in the woods and you know what happens in the woods at dark? Sasquatch. Sasquatch goes frolicking through the woods in the dark and now that hairy bastard will be frolicking through my backyard from 4:30 on every damn night leaving his big-ass footprints where I’m trying to re-grow grass. Not cool Sassy.

On the first day of the time change I lamented my newly found horror to a few other parents at the football game. These were all native New Englanders and they had a few tips.

  1. “Get some good fuzzy jammies and get used to putting them on early. We tend to jammie up as soon as we get home and stay that way until morning.”

This seemed reasonable. If I love anything it’s loungewear and staying home. What’s better than an excuse to extend my loungewear time and remain homebound?

  1. “We drink more in winter.”

I think this goes without saying, but hells yes, sign me up. Perhaps I can convert Nugget’s closet into a wine cellar. He’s little and his pants don’t take up much room. It is for survival after all.

  1. “The time change here means you need to do two things, hook up the generator and refill your antidepressants. No shame in happy pills. Everyone else here is on them.”

I liked this acknowledgement of using the pharmaceutical assistance invented for getting through metaphorical darkness to get through the physical darkness of New England. And fortunately, we bought our generator a few months ago.

I’ve tried to keep my panic at bay about the impending period of darkness but I’ve been unsuccessful. The looming sunset is always on my mind.

“Boys, you know it’s going to get dark soon. You better get ready.”

“Mom, it’s 11:30 in the morning.”

“Exactly. You have 6 hours left of this day. You better use it.” (Insert horrific tween eye rolling here.)

It’s 3:30 now so I’d better go. Looks like its time to put my jammies on and pour the wine. After all, if I’m going to make it though my first New England winter I’d better adhere to the advice of the natives. Maybe in time I’ll adjust to the darkness and learn to embrace it by treating it like a sort of hibernation. But for now, I’m going to keep whining as I turn on the security lights in the hopes of keeping a Sasquatch from doing a soft-shoe on my back deck.

Confessions of a Halloweenie

halloween costume vintage

I hate Halloween. There. I said it. I know that due to its recent rise in popularity admitting such hatred is paramount to hating Christmas (which I may or may not be guilty of as well) but I really, really, really hate Halloween.

It might seem hard to hate a holiday that is focused upon the gross overconsumption of sugar and in the case of the older ghouls, booze, (…These are a few of my favorite things…) but I do. And it’s probably difficult to fathom that having been a professional costume designer for a large chunk of my life, I would so actively despise the season of donning costumes, but I do. My level of hatred for Halloween is on the same level of Eagles fans’ hatred for the Dallas Cowboys. (And as a bleeding-green Eagles fan, I promise this is some serious revulsion.)

My reasons for hating Halloween falls into 3 major categories: Costumes, Scary Things and Candy.

  1. Costumes

It’s all so complicated now. Gone are the days of slappin’ a sheet over your head, cutting a couple eyeholes and hittin’ the streets with a pillowcase to collect the goods. (Though my mother never allowed this as sheets weren’t cheap so “You’re not going to ruin them.”) I once had a Lucy from Charlie Brown costume that left nary enough room to breathe through the plastic mask and the coordinating plastic smock was so flammable that my mom kept steering me clear of all jack-o-lanterns so I wouldn’t melt. It wasn’t great but it served the purpose for the 3 years my mother made me wear it until I outgrew the plastic smock. Sure, I was oxygen deprived when I got home but I wasn’t spending a year’s college tuition on a costume for one night. Nor was I competing in some unspoken parental contest for the best costume. (Don’t think I didn’t see you over there lady, eyein’ up my kid’s costume…)

As counterintuitive as it seems, costume designers are generally not fond of Halloween. People steal your crap or expect you to whip them up something at no charge because, “You do costumes? Cool. Can you make me a giant Velociraptor-Meets-Headless Horseman costume for free?” Hells no fool. Do you expect an accountant to do your taxes “for free”? I didn’t think so. But when it comes to my own kids, I’ve made every costume for their entire lives. From Nugget’s pirate costume requiring a “hooker” (We eventually realized he meant hook) to Number One’s choice this year – the murderous Viking. If they can dream it, I’ll find a way to make it happen (though I often need to remind them I’m not Dreamworks.)

What I can’t deal with is adults in costumes. Why? Because it’s too damn hard to tell who’s wearing a costume and who just looks like that anyway. For example, the other day, Number One and I pulled into Dunkin for replenishment (Because we’re in New England so…Dunkin…) and we spent the next 10 minutes trying to decide if the lady who waited on us was in costume or if she just looked like a witch naturally. And it wasn’t just that one woman. It happens everywhere you go in the week leading up to Halloween. Is that a mask or is that your face? Did you mean to wear your make-up like that or is it a tragic error? Should I tell you? Is that a fashion failure or a costume? Do I compliment you on your costume and risk humiliating one or both of us?

People, I beg you, do not put me in this position. I have neither the tact nor the self-control to handle these situations without intense embarrassment to us both.

  1. Scary things

With Halloween comes bloody stumps, dripping goo and splattered gray matter everywhere. Lest we forget, there are also scary movies, spooky spectacles and terrifying haunted horrors that are on television, billboards and in every store from the place I buy my hardware to the place I buy toilet paper. These images stick in the minds of my offspring and reappear just as I tuck their little bodies into bed minutes prior to Mommy’s chill time. Thanks to Halloween, I spend a large chunk of autumn sleeping on a sliver of Nugget’s bed, talking an insomniac Number One down and forgoing large chunks of my badly needed Mommy chill time.

My children, like their mother, are giant wusses. Back in the day, when my crew gathered around the television to watch rented VCR tapes of classic flicks like Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween and Friday the 13th, I was the one volunteering to throw more corn into the air popper, or grabbing another round of Crystal Pepsi – from the store 5 miles away. If things got too tense and I ran out of errands to keep me from actually watching the terror, I’d fake an early curfew or, if necessary, diarrhea. As Nugget says, “Scawy suff is da wurst!” Preach little man.

  1. Candy

If the social confusion and terror inducing festivities were not enough, there is the candy. Starting in September, every store moves out the school supplies and swaps in bite-sized bits of chocolatey-peanuty-gooey-fatty goodness. As a woman of girth, I do not need this. I’ve been in a long-standing battle with an extra 20 pounds since the birth of Nugget, five years ago. (Spoiler alert – so far the 20 pounds is winning.) The last thing I need is to be met by pocket-sized temptation at every turn.

In my brilliance, I usually start my newest life change in September making my dive into a carb-free or sugar-free or fat-free or whatever-free lifestyle I’m pursuing in full swing just in time for Halloween. Try as I might, things always get ugly when Fun-Size arrives.

Then there is the battlefield that engulfs our home as soon as we return from the trick-or-treat trail.

“Mom! He took my candy!” Nugget screams even before he’s shed his costume.

“No I didn’t.” My husband, the Turk, retorts.

“Mom, Baba always takes the good stuff. That sucks.” Whines Number One Son.

With chocolate fingers and a guilty smirk the Turk replies, “Taxes. You live in my house, you pay taxes.”

This battle rages on until the last bit of candy is finally gone weeks later. The Turk claims it to be a good dose of reality for our future taxpayers while the kids loudly lament the injustice. While the Turk is blatant about his thievery, I like to keep mine on the down low, sneaking a piece when the goods are left unattended. Either way, every Halloween sends the Turk and I both a little further down the diabetes track.

So yes, I hate Halloween and I think my reasons are pretty valid. But for another year, I will suck it up. I’ll dress my offspring in so many layers they can barely move and follow behind as they cover more miles in one night than their legs knew possible. I’ll watch their sugar highs rise and fall and shield Nugget’s eyes from “scawy guys.” And when it’s over I’ll pair my wine with a side Mr. Goodbar and check off another year.

Happy Halloween!

Hair Today, Bald Tomorrow

hair today gone tomorrow

When I was a kid, my mom had a cousin that was always surprised. She wasn’t actually surprised; her eyebrows just made her look that way. She drew them on each morning with the cosmetic equivalent of a Dixon Ticonderoga pencil and while I’m sure she thought herself to be the poor man’s Dolly Parton (she had huge hooters she liked to display.) she looked more like a stunned Muppet.

In addition to her cosmetic prowess, Eyebrow Ellie (Not her real name because my mother is already going to kill me for this so the least I can do is change the name.) also made some bold follicular choices. She sported frosted tips a good ten years after frosted tips had fallen by the wayside with the rest of Iowa’s fashion elite. She also enjoyed a solid beehive twenty years post trend. Couple all of this with those eyebrows and the fact that her family’s lifestyle back then considered “unkempt” would now make a fantastic episode of Hoarders and it was no wonder Eyebrow Ellie and the clan weren’t invited to Thanksgiving Dinner.

I give you this tale of Eyebrow Ellie because due to this past week’s fashion mishaps, I fear those genes are not as far removed as I’d hoped. It all started with some eyeliner…

For three days I’d been using a new eyeliner completely unaware of the horrors I was unleashing on each person who looked me in the eye. I assumed I’d purchased black eyeliner. I assumed that when the label said “darkest midnight” that meant black much like “gravel” means gray in nail polish or “blush” means pink in lip gloss. I also assumed that if my husband, the Turk, saw his middle-aged wife walking around with turquoise blue lines across her eyelids, he might let her know. As I learned in 7th grade, the first three letters of assume spell ass.

As I returned from my run the other day, (Ok, it’s mostly a walk now because I’m old and fat with bad knees but in my heart I’m running so I will continue to call it a run.) I was about to do a quick touch-up before running off to do errands. As I looked in the mirror, I was struck – what in the hell are those turquoise blue lines and what is that blue crap running down my face? I dabbed and dabbed and it wouldn’t budge. Suddenly I was a suburban mom with a prison tattoo dripping from my eyes. I knew that 2 hours prior I had applied black lines before applying black mascara. What I didn’t know was that those black lines were only black until they dried and then they became as blue as a peacock’s ass.

I quickly whipped out the container and read the bottom. “Darkest Midnight” it read on the bottom, but then with the power of my bifocals I saw that third word…”blue” There on the bottom of the tube in letters bold enough for an old broad to read with her bifocals, it said Darkest Midnight Blue. I’ll be damned. For three days I’d been walking around in this lie and not one person thought to tell me.

I flashed back to 6th grade when I tried pink eyeshadow and it took me nearly a week before I realized my trendy new make-up make me look like I had pinkeye. Why didn’t someone tell me pink make-up was for lips and cheeks only? It’s understandable to commit make-up errors when you’re 12 and new to the process but make-up faux pas deep into one’s 40s was just embarrassing. The Eyebrow Ellie genes were obviously bubbling deep within.

Fast-forward three days. I finally replaced my trendy turquoise eyeliner and was feeling good. The only thing I needed was a little hair trim and I would be ready to take on Naomi Campbell for diva dujour. Being new in town, I had no choice but to take a shot in the dark.

“What will we be doing today?” the chirpy stylist who bore a striking resemblance to a 7th grader asked as she strangled me with the cape.

“I just need a couple inches off the bottom. Blunt cut. Nothing fancy.” I’m a low- maintenance gal who requires low maintenance hair. I believe I spent my life’s worth of hair styling hours back in the 80’s when I washed, dried, crimped, curled, teased then sprayed for hours each morning.

“How about some layers or feathering?” She asked, eager to try out her obviously newly acquired skills.

“Nah, I’m cool. Just the trim.”

The newbie hairdresser proceed to spray so much water onto my hair that I began to drip. She attached no less than 75 clips to section out my hair and combed with enough force to delouse me if needed. (PS-Totally not needed. My worst nightmare is a lice infestation.) This was where I should’ve left. This was where a sane or vain woman would’ve whipped off that cape and fled. But after those years in Turkey I am well versed in horrific salon experiences so I decided to roll the dice.

The rookie kuaffor began to cut…and cut…and cut until soon my shoulder length hair was up to my chin. I tried to be cool. I tried to be mature but somehow my mouth didn’t get the message. “I’m good. Just stop!” I blurted out.

“Oh.” She seemed surprised. “That’s good?”

“Let’s just say it’s done.” I confirmed. “But can you dry it? I look like I just got out of the shower.”

The noob missed my insult and began to dry my obscenely thick hair on cool with the strength of a 90 year-old. After a few minutes, she stopped the machine and confidently said, “There we go. All done.”

It seemed this new stylist and the rest of humanity have different concepts of the idea of dry but I needed out so I fled, leaving a trail of drippings across the parking lot.

Looking in the car mirror while trying to dry my locks via car heater, I muttered, “At least it’s not as bad as the time they gave me the Victoria Beckham cut in Turkey.” (Full-disclosure, that was the time period where they gave everyone the Victoria Beckham and it looked horrible on everyone…except Victoria Beckham.) But that’s when it happened. It wasn’t as bad. It was worse. Sliding my glasses on and smoothing my shorter-than-chin- length bob I realized how bad it was. I’d been forced into the Velma zone.

A surly, know-it-all, brunet with horn-rimmed glasses and a little beef on her thighs – much like yours truly- lives in a dangerous spot when wearing a bob. The slightest bit too short and you go from avant-garde to straight up Velma from Scooby Doo. Lest we forget, Velma wasn’t the hot one. Though she saved their asses repeatedly, nobody liked Velma and now, thanks to the new girl at the hair salon, I’d been Velmaed. The only positive I saw in this situation was that at least I wasn’t Velma with turquois eye-liner.

On the brighter side, if my boys need me to draw on prison tattoos for Halloween I’m all set. I have a few nasty eyeliners to use up. And as for me, I’m just one orange turtleneck away from a fantastic Halloween costume. Perhaps I can use Eyebrow Ellie’s genes for good.