Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Vacation Day 2: Vet Day

It's only 10 a.m. but I can categorically state that this day is terrible. It was vet day. Grey Cat set an entirely new standard for bad cat behavior. I would rather go to the gynecologist than take these two yahoos to the vet. The entire rest of this post is whining, so feel free to skip it if you don't like whiney blogs.

They're easy to get in their carriers - Grey Cat likes car trips and Orange Cat doesn't resist. But once we're in the car (after carrying 40 lbs. of FAT CAT plus carrier weight by myself), Orange Cat cries rhythmically, incessantly, and ANNOYINGLY all the way to the vet. As soon as we arrive, Grey Cat starts freaking out in his carrier. He was actually hissing BEFORE we got to the exam room.

About the time we arrive in the exam room, my eyes start itching and my nose starts running from pet allergies, which are fine when it's just a couple pets in a house, but when it's all the concentrated petness at the vet (or a shelter), I'm miserable. Both refuse to exit their carriers and have to be dragged out. Orange Cat is fairly sweet to the tech, even gives a little purr, but Grey Cat takes a swipe at her, hisses, tries to bite me when I pick him up, and refuses to be weighed. We attempt to bribe him with treats. He is not that dumb.

The vet comes in. Orange Cat is fairly well-behaved, lets them draw blood, isn't bothered by the shots (he gets two a day for the diabetes, after all). He isn't happy with the exam and cries about it, trying to cover his anus with his tail stump like a little lid on a box, but he loses the battle. He is relieved to be free.

Then it is Grey Cat's turn. We have to chase him around the office before we can pick him up. He holds still on the exam table with me holding him (he holds the most still for me), crying and wriggling, for exactly 10 seconds. Then he is too strong, and I can't hold him still without being afraid I will break his neck, and he escapes. We graduate to a towel-as-straightjacket and the huge bicep-length gloves they use to handle raptors for the vet. With the three of us holding him down while he screams, the vet manages to sort-of examine him. He escapes again. The vet summons a second tech and a second set of gloves, as Grey Cat has now tried to bite everyone in the room, hissed, and taken several swipes at people. He hides behind Orange Cat, who is happy to serve as a bodyshield. Orange Cat is locked up. Grey Cat is trapped once more. With the four of us holding him down and Grey Cat screaming so loudly that he freaked out every other animal in the entire hospital, we manage to get one shot in him. We have to recapture him for the other shot. More screaming ensues.

Back in his carrier, Grey Cat continues to hiss at everyone who approaches the carrier. I pay the $180 (!!!) for these two extremely badly behaved cats, which I'm sort-of irked about becuase why should I have to pay to be tortured? But then $180 probably isn't nearly enough to compensate the vet for having to deal with Grey Cat. I apologize profusely and repeatedly. Fortunately, Grey Cat is not banned and the vet is quite gracious about it. (I have noticed, however, they trade off who has to deal with him every year. They're all happy to treat Orange Cat but Grey Cat gets traded.)

The only comfort I have is that everyone is so traumatized that when we get in the car, NOBODY cries on the way home, not even Orange Cat. "I hate you both," I inform them when we arrive home.

"Whatever, liar," they sniff.

I am now sweaty from the stress and exertion, have a tension headache, am suffering a nasty allergy attack; I'm exhausted, and my arms are sore from lifting the world's fattest felines repeatedly in their carriers (although at least that's helpful - I will be so ripped!). I think I need to go nap for several hours before I can manage to run the 8 million errands that constitute Vacation Day 2.

Worst. Vacation. Ever.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Vacation Day 1 Update

Day 1: Total failure. I took client calls, ran three hours of household errands (not "hey, those shoes are pretty!" errands), paid bills, did the household budget, cleaned the kitchen, did yardwork, and only read ONE fun book. I suck!

But worse! Tomorrow is vet day, I already promised my husband I'd run an errand for him, and I told a client I'd pick up some documents. Combine that with the trip to the bank I need to make and the fact that I just ran out of stamps ...

Day 2 is not looking much better.


I am on vacation this week, although the kind of vacation you take in your own backyard. I realized I hadn't had a real break in the two years I've been working on starting my own business, and this may account for why my brain has fizzled into nothingness. So with no pressing deadlines and a short week anyway, this seemed like a good time to hide from the world for a few days.

Unfortunately, I've never been very good at relaxing. My vacation is a mere 9 hours old, and all I've managed to do is sleep in for an hour. And then think, "Boy, I should clean the kitchen, and go to Menard's for some chickenwire for the garden, and this would be a great chance to finish my quilt and catch up on some work."

NO NO NO, brain! BAD BRAIN! We're supposed to be reading fun books and watching trashy daytime television or lying in the hammock! Not cleaning! Not shopping! AND CERTAINLY NOT WORKING!

It'll be interesting to see how long I actually manage to relax.

PS - one task I WILL be completing during my vacation is an update of my templates to include more Peoria bloggers on the links section there. I read a great many of you daily and have for some time now; I'm just rotten with html so I always have to work up to updating the template!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Just Every Now and Then, It Would Be Nice of Our National Leaders and Commentators Could Be a Little Less Provincial

I don't have a real strong opinion on whether English should be an "official" language of the U.S. or not. It says a lot about Americans and our stubborn monolingualism that we're incapable of conceiving of large numbers of people being effectively bilingual. Amusingly, many theology professors have told me that it's only in the U.S. that students of theology (and average churchgoers) have such a hard time conceiving of the concept that Jesus spoke probably three or four languages - Aramaic, koine Greek, the formal Hebrew of the Torah, and possibly at least a smattering another local language (or two!). They want to know which ONE language was the REAL language Jesus spoke so they can only worry about that one. Some go so far as to insist it's "impossible" for anyone who's not a scholar to speak more than one and Jesus was a poor carpenter's son.

I think immigrants should try to learn English - not because "this is America, darn it" but because it will give them so many more chances in life, not just in the U.S., but around the world (more on that later). Also because English is simply a fantastic language with a stunning literary tradition that's worth learning for its own sake.

But THIS is a sentiment I'm getting really tired of seeing, in this case from George Will: "Among those is this: The idea of citizenship becomes absurd when sundered from the ability to understand the nation's civic conversation." (He's supporting the concept of refusing to provide certain governmental documents, particularly ballots, in languages other than English.)

Apparently these people who insist our nation will go down in flames if we speak more than one language here have never heard of Switzerland, a strong democracy of long-standing that has FOUR official languages - French, German, Italian, and Romansh - which officially calls itself by the Latin name of "Confoederatio Helvetica" so as not to favor any one language. (And the entire darn country speaks English too!) Belgium does okay speaking French and Dutch (Flemish), with an officially-recognized German-speaking minority. The Republic of Ireland deliberately resurrected the dying Irish Gaelic language and made it an official national and governmental language - alongside English - to STRENGTHEN its democracy.

These situations are all quite different from one another, and from ours. But this assumption that speaking more than one language dooms a national democracy or national culture is just so ... well, stupid. So monomanically monolingual!

English doesn't need "saving" by the U.S. government. (Frankly, almost anything worthwhile should be protected from the meddling of the U.S. government, which is what bugs me about these so-called faith-based initiatives - keep the state out of my church, darn it!) The international language of commerce, arts, and - yes - the internet (90% of all internet communications) will do just fine on its own. Part of English's worldwide popularity stems from its flexibility and ability to absorb other words it finds useful or descriptive.

Frankly monolingual Americans should probably be begging our Mexican and Quebecois neighbors to teach us a second language: When the entire world speaks English AND another language (I read there are more English-speakers in China than native English-speakers in the entire world), that puts Americans who can ONLY function in English at quite a disadvantage on the world stage. Why would a rapidly-expanding Brazilian multinational bother to hire a monolingual American when it has its choice of perhaps as many as a billion people (estimates vary considerably) who can speak English AND another language and can therefore function in more cultures and countries? German chancellor Willy Brandt once said, "If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen" ("you must speak German").

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Veggie Garden

I've blogged before about my adventures in gardening, a hobby which my husband introduced to me and which I turn out to really ENJOY (surprising; I'm not really an outdoor kind of girl. Or a physical labor kind of girl) and have a bit of a knack for. It's fun because I get to do lots of research - on plant biology, soil chemistry, varieties of plants, genetics, etc. - and I get to do practical stuff with my hands, too. And it results in something pretty. For me, that's like the perfect hobby.

I'm on a crusade against lawns - they're a biologically-dead monoculture inappropriate to the local environment that require major applications of toxic chemicals (that run off into our waterways and seep into our groundwater) and routinely mowing using fossil fuels to keep them looking their best. This, I think, is not only environmentally irresponsible but actively sinful. So we're on a mission to make our yard more environmentally-friendly, by overseeding the grass with clover (better for the environment, bees like it, requires virtually no care, and we don't have to actually rip OUT the grass), by eliminating grass in favor of beds of other plants, and by putting in a vegetable garden.

The other plants we've put in so far include local "weeds" (lilies of the valley!), bulb flowers, prairie grasses and flowers (again, no care, so pretty), and a garden of plants that appeal to native birds and butterflies.

But we took a large section of our yard, where the ground was irritatingly rolling and hard to mow anyway, and where the sun really beats down mercilessly, and we've put in a pretty large vegetable garden. (Around 250 plantable square feet.) Mr. McGee built the raised beds out of untreated 1x6 pine (untreated or arsenic leaches into your food - tasty). Yes, they will rot faster than cedar. But they're a lot cheaper, and most books I read said by the time the pine rots out, you're usually ready to move at least part of your garden anyway - trees grow, shade moves, etc.

Here's an overview of the garden. I couldn't find anywhere to get up above it for a better picture:

(Click to enlarge!)

If you're not interested in plants, skip this paragraph. It's planted with:
Left front: Corn
Left middle: Tomatoes Black from Tula, Early Girl, and Pink Girl; Pumpkin; Melons; and carrots
Left back: Empty so far; too far under the lilac bush. Maybe lettuce in the heat of summer when lettuce needs shade.
Middle front: Onions, bush beans, chives, squash, and four varieties of peppers I can't remember the names of.
Middle middle: Unfinished; intend to plant various herbs and successive plantings of carrots, radishes, etc.
Middle back: Anise, Sugar Snap Peas (so far a failure), Tomatoes Yellow Boy and Grape Hybrid, Pepper "Chocolate Beauty," Eggplants, and Radishes. (plus some empty space)
Right Front: Turnip Greens, Kohlrabi, and some other green I forget the name of.
Right Middle: Broccoli, Slow-Bolt Arugula, and Mizuma Mustard Greens.
Right Back: Four varieties of lettuce: Black-Seeded Simpson, Green Salad Bowl, Red Salad Bowl, and I forget the other one.

Most of what we've planted is organic and of course we're using organic methods in the garden itself. Putting the garden in was a lot of work, but keeping it up doesn't require very much more work than mowing that section. On days it doesn't rain, I spend 10-20 minutes watering (with a watering can, not a hose; all my hoses seem to have holes in them). On weekends, I weed, which takes less time than you'd think and I find relatively pleasant and my husband is out there with me while we work. (As this is a Friday, excuse the rampant weeds, particularly in among the Squash and Bush Beans - the seedlings were really too small to weed around very effectively last week, so the weeds are everywhere in that bed.)

The past four years we've very successfully grown herbs in container gardens on patios and balconies, and it was such a treat to ALWAYS have fresh parsley and not have to spend an arm and a leg for it at the supermarket. This made me much more willing to branch out and try veggies.

What's the deal with the random orange juice container? I poked a hole in the bottom and I fill it with a gallon of water and then it "slow drips" to water the tomatoes so it can get nice and deep in the soil (5 plants, so one each weekday it doesn't rain; tomatoes, my books tell me, like a gallon of water a week). The first week you start in close to the tomato, the next week you back up six inches, so the roots have to reach to get to the water, and you end up with a healthy plant with a deep root system without a whole lot of standing around watering. Up above, it's watering my Yellow Boy.

Here you see our bed with the Beans, Squash, Weeds, Onions, Peppers, and Chives. The peppers are seriously suffering for nitrogen; fortunately, my neighbor works at the ag lab and diagnosed the problem instantly upon seeing them when he came over for a drink the other day. I've fed them dried pigs blood, and they're greening up. (Although the nitrogen may retard the bulb growth of the onions by favoring their leaves! I love these little puzzles!) The boxwoods you can see on the left will eventually form a sort of "living fence" between the patio and "formal" part of the garden with more formal flowerbeds, and the vegetable garden.

These three beds are basically all greens, plus broccoli and kohlrabi. (If you've never had kohlrabi, it looks like something aliens would eat and it's REALLY GOOD. I met it last year for the first time and woah, mama!) The kohlrabi is the two rows in the front center there; the broccoli is the two thin-looking rows in the middle bed. Both take much longer to grow than lettuce and so look quite scrawny right now. We've also had a few problems with rabbits in the greens; we may be putting chicken wire up this weekend.

Last night we had company for dinner and served a salad of young Mizuma Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens, and baby Arugula. Oh my GOD do greens fresh from the garden taste like HEAVEN. I could happily convert my entire yard to nothing but lettuce and just eat my way through it all.

As for the newspaper you can see on the path between - newspaper is an easy, inexpensive, environmentally-friendly way to kill grass. It smothers the grass and then composts into a fairly rich soil-additive. We've been putting sand and gravel left over from our patio-laying project of last summer down as the paths for now; eventually we'll probably put something prettier, but it does the job for now. We haven't quite finished with the paths, as we didn't get the last two beds in until recently, so in parts of the garden you can see the newspapers sticking out, or even grass where we haven't covered the grass at all.

Finally, this is my Black from Tula tomato, an heirloom variety that I picked up at the Luthy Botanical Gardens spring plant sale, so it's way ahead of my other tomatos; you can see it's already set fruit. I'm super-psyched; these are REALLY TASTY tomatoes. I hope I manage to get at least one. Since it's my first year with veggies, my goals are modest.

Two books I have found ridiculously useful during this process have been On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen for its biological and chemical and evolutionary information about various fruits and vegetables, and Square Foot Gardening. We did not slavishly square-foot our garden (as you can tell), but we used a lot of his techniques and ideas.

Now everybody can stop bugging me for pictures of my garden, about which I brag constantly so my distant relatives and friends are curious to see it! And if you're very, very nice to me, I might let you eat my veggies!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Feminist or Just Lazy?

It's a bit misleading that I refer to my husband as Mr. McGee on this blog; in fact, we have different last names. People often ask me why we have different last names, and in some ways this strikes me as a strange question, probably because I don't have a very good answer; but then I think the guiding principle of my entire life can be summed up as "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

But people ask me about keeping my last name a lot, and I feel like I should have a good answer; they obviously expect one. I've thought hard about it, and I think it's a combination of several things. First, I'm very family-oriented, proud of where I come from, and I didn't want to 'give up' that part of my name. Second, I felt like it would be really weird to have been called one thing for 24 years and then change to something else. Third, I have a hard time handwriting my husband's last name. Mine is all loops and much easier. Fourth, changing your name requires a lot of paperwork and I am fundamentally lazy when it comes to paperwork. Plus I was busy at the time, getting married and finishing law school and whatnot. And Mr. McGee didn't care what my last name was as long as I married him.

When my mother heard I was keeping my name, she snorted and said, "Your father got just what every man wants."

"What's that?" I asked.

"His wife took his name and his daughter kept hers."

I find other people's reaction to my name says a lot more about them than my keeping of the name says about me, and some people get really worked up about it. Our old neighbors were briefing our new neighbors on the neighborhood when they bought the house; Old Neighbors said of us to New Neighbors: "They seem nice enough, but -" (horrified whisper) "-she kept her own name!" Some people congratulate me on my forward-thinking feminism. Other people get all in my face about my nasty, evil, marriage-destroying feminism. A few have openly wondered why I would get married (or why my husband would marry me) if I "wasn't committed to marriage."

I was married in a cathedral in a Mass I did the translations for myself! I have a mortgage with this man! How much more committed can I get???? A name is just a name. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is with you longer than your children.

I'm not adamant about it. I often go by Mrs. Him socially, and particularly to the kids in the neighborhood. (I remember my own consternation, as a child, when instructed to address a particular married woman as Ms. Maiden rather than Mrs. Married. VERY CONFUSING.) I almost always make restaurant and hotel reservations in his name, which is much easier to spell. Now and then he gets called Mr. Her, which cracks us both up.

I do sometimes worry that when we use our different last names, people will think we're living together but not married! The horror! Which always reminds me of a friend's mother in college; my friend never spoke of her father and we all assumed her parents were divorced. Her mother came to visit and told a story that began, "When my husband died ...." From the looks on our faces, she could tell this was a surprise to us. "ALISON!" she barked at her daughter. "Are you letting your friends think I'M DIVORCED again????"

I am bothered, though, by the absolute pandemic of calligraphers in the United States whose careers are dependent upon the ability to properly address envelopes for weddings who can't manage to address an envelope to a married couple with different last names. I routinely get them for "Mr. Him and Miss Her" (living in sin, apparently - don't tell the diocese), or for "Mr. Him and Mrs. Her-Him" (our names sound awful hyphenated), or for "Mr. Him and Mrs. Her," which alarms me the most because I always wonder for a second why someone is sending mail addressed to my husband and my mother. I have yet to receive a single one properly addressed to "Mr. Him and Ms. Her" or even to "Mr. and Mrs. Him." Either one would be okay.

My goddaughter, who is 10, has the most creative solution for the puzzled: she simply splits the difference. Half my letters from her are for Mrs. Him, half for Miss or Ms. Her. I save these envelopes because they're so cute they make me grin.

So there you have it. Depending on how YOU feel, I'm either striking a blow for marital equality and happier marriages, or I'm out to emasculate my husband and destroy the institution of marriage as we know it.

Just remember that your opinion says a lot more about you than it does about me. (Also, isn't a man who fears emasculation if a woman keeps her own name, like, pre-emptively emasculated? Sticks and stones, dude.)

Armageddon Occurs Directly Overhead; Cats Miffed

A little before 6 a.m. today, we had a thunderclap smack-dab overhead - it literally sounded like it was 8 feet above my neighbor's house - that was so loud it sounded like a gunshot report. Only like 10 times louder than any gunshot I've ever been near enough to hear. My ears are actually still ringing.

This was followed immediately by the heavens opening up (it was not raining before the thunderclap) and POURING down rain. Like, Biblical deluge rain. (Although only 10 minutes' worth.) So I suppose it was good the thunder woke me up with a rush of adrenaline since I had to run all over the house closing windows.

The cats, however, have gone into hiding. Orange Cat is under the master bed and refuses to be enticed out even for food. Grey Cat made a beeline for the basement, and ditto. Normally by 6:15 they're pretty sure the world is ending if one of us hasn't groggily stumbled downstairs to feed them. Today, they're pretty sure it's already ended and they're not coming out until Armageddon is safely over.

Ears still ringing. Ow. (And, 20 minutes after the Armageddon-thunder, the sun is coming out!)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Master of Disaster

Yesterday I:

1) Dumped water on my keyboard.

2) Dumped water all over myself while trying to water my plants. Twice. Had to keep changing pants.

3) Gashed my finger open in the garden. I can't remember the last time I saw so much blood.


4) Burned my arm on a 350*F pan because I'm an IDIOT.

If today is not better, I'm going to end up at the ER!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Good Day

Before we get to my good day, my little sister had a good day of her own,
graduating from Notre Dame!
(Which probably made it also a good day for my parents
and my ND-crazy grandparents.)


It may be hard to believe, but there actually was an objector to me and Mr. McGee getting married (not at the actual ceremony, fortunately!). A friend of Mr. McGee's thought I was out to domesticate and suburbanize him and deprive him of the fascinatingly cultural urban life he was meant to live, which was funny, because I would have been happy living in a downtown loft and going out dancing until dawn on a nightly basis, whereas Mr. McGee really wanted a lawn to mow and a garden to putter around in and a little space between us and the neighbors. In other words, he domesticated and suburbanized me.

But his friend was convinced that marrying me was the worst mistake Mr. McGee could ever make, and that it would ruin his life. The friend was extremely vocal about this massive error Mr. McGee was about to make. Now and then, when one of us is having a rough week, I wonder if his friend was right, even though I know that's only even remotely true in an alternate universe several universes over from this one. But I don't think we every really grow out of being 16 and having these insecurities that we know are crazy, but still can't help having.

We had nothing to do today. We woke up early, lazed in bed, and poked around the house. We went to a local art fair around noon, where we chatted with some friends, looked at the art, and bought a small piece of pottery I really liked. Restaurant leftovers from last night for lunch while we watched The Producers and hurt ourselves laughing. After all that exercise, we had to go outside for a rest in the hammock.

Lying there rocking gently in the hammock with my husband, a man whom I'm crazy about (mostly in the crazy-in-love way but occasionally in the driving-me-crazy way), sharing an iPod while he read a book and I dozed in the warm spring sun, I thought, "This is a good day. A really good day."

I glanced over at my husband, shading his eyes with his book, so deep into the plot he didn't even notice me sneaking a look at him from under my hat. Surrounded by the garden he loves and which we built by hand together, a work-in-progress meant to keep us busy for many summers to come, he looked so serious, so handsome. So husbandy. So mine.

"No," I amended to myself. "This is a good life."

This Does Not Look Like A Ball

I am trying to improve my knitting skills, which are currently limited to baby booties and misshapen winter hats, so I got this kit for knitting cat toys (at Target) and today I managed two of the little toys. First I knitted a fish, on the left there, which you can see is loosely and rather poorly knit. I improved on the second toys, a ball with a tail. But the ball isn't really all that ball-shaped, and it really looks like nothing so much as ... as sperm.

But regardless of the shape of the alleged ball, I'm not sure I've ever knitted anything with quite as much immediate gratification. Because the cats went crazy for them as soon as I finished and were chasing them and carrying them around and fighting over them. I felt so loved and useful.

Grey Cat with Fish:

Orange Cat with Ball:

Friday, May 19, 2006

In Which I Migrate Outdoors, With Cats

Following up on my rubeishness of yesterday, today I went to Farm & Fleet where I did indeed find value, but not the sort of rabbit fencing I was looking for. Farm & Fleet - I'm unsure whether they mean a fleet of boats or a fleet of trucks, but I think trucks - is sort-of like if Home Depot and K-Mart had a love child who was really, really interested in livestock. You can get your clothes, housewares, building supplies, plumbing do-dads, and cow feed all in one place.

What I actually got was a puppy crate, since Grey Cat screams at the top of his lungs when we go out in the backyard. It's distracting and it really ruins any attempt to have a gin & tonic on the patio. My mission was successful; Grey Cat and Orange Cat both are now happily ensconced in their puppy crate in the back yard, eating clover and watching the wildlife.

They have managed to "tree" a particularly dumb chipmunk, who went in the downspout to get a drink and now, because he sees the cats, is terrified to come out. They've been staring at him for the last twenty minutes because they know he's food, but they know they can't get to him. He's been staring and twitching for equally as long, unaware that they're caged.

In somewhat related news, I can bring you the cat/chipmunk saga as it's occurring since my husband insisted we get a wireless router and I am actually blogging from the great outdoors. (Or at least from as much of the great outdoors as I can see from my patio.) And all I can think is, "ISN'T TECHNOLOGY COOL????"

(Update: Chipmunk still trapped. Cats still fascinated.)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I'm a Rube!

I have had my first real experience of a Chicagoan treating me like I'm an idiot merely because I'm downstate. It was so amusing I could hardly keep from giggling (which probably wouldn't have helped).

When I grew up north of Chicago (north of "the city," I was about to say, as if it's the only one worth mentioning), I definitely thought of "downstate" as an unfortunate place to live, so far out in the stix that I couldn't imagine how people could stand it. When I was living in the 312 (then 708 ... then 847 ... all without moving) area code, I considered 815 basically the end of the universe. 309 and 217? Forget about it.

I've lived a lot of places since then, which cured my snobbery about rural and semi-rural areas, and I was thrilled to be moving to Peoria ... right up until I realized I was getting a 309 phone number. Isn't it funny how that's the one bit of snobbery that stuck with me?

At any rate, I'm dealing with a Chicago lawyer who suffers from breathtaking arrogance and who is utterly convinced I have neither intellect nor education because I live outside the six-county Chicago metro area. Every time I talk to him, he lectures me like I'm a particularly stupid child (and, snobbery moment, like I didn't go to a way better law school than him). His filing was so bad the court instructed him to at least read the table of contents of the statute in question before going to court on it, but he keeps trying to convince me he's right and I (and the court, apparently) are complete idiots, based on our geographical location.

I think I find this less-annoying than I otherwise might if I had grown up here and been dealing with it all my life. I'm definitely the kind of person who'd get a chip on my shoulder about that. But since I recognize my own youthful attitudes about "downstate," and since I've been dining out on his spectacularly bad filing for two weeks now, I mostly find it amusing.

So I am officially a downstate rube. And it feels so good.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

People Watching

I find my fellow members of the human race endlessly fascinating, and one of the best parts about running errands or just being out and about is the perpetual human theater of "being in public." Here are a pair of scenes from the ongoing play:

Scene I: A few weeks ago I was at Kroger, on my way back to my car after picking up a couple of items, and a toddler - right about 2 years old, I'd guess - broke away from his father, who had turned completely away from him to examine his car. The kid was going top-speed down the busy parking lot TOWARDS THE TRAFFIC LANES. I was across the traffic lanes from him but I was three steps into traffic anyway, heart in my throat - this kid was CLEARLY about to get run over - when another woman shouted loud enough to startle him and was able to catch up with him in the second he paused, and snagged him. (Note on the basic goodness of people: There were about six other women and two other men in the parking lot at the time who had all started towards this wayward child. This woman was merely the fastest and closest.)

She returned the child to his father who, instead of thanking her profusely and kissing her feet, ass, and the ground she walks on for saving his child from being run over, gave her an extremely dirty look and sullenly, angrily, and in a very curt tone of voice said, "Thanks." Clearly implying exactly the opposite. Guilt/embarassment at losing track of his child manifesting as anger? Worst parenting ever? I don't know, but I wish PeoriaIllinoisian's wife had been there to give the man a piece of her mind. He needed a piece of SOMEBODY'S mind. And that fast-on-her-feet angel who snagged that kid deserves some special strawberry danishes in heaven.

(Of course they serve strawberry danishes in heaven, duh. I have a master's in theology. I know these things.)

Scene II: Today I was at my bank waiting in line to make a simple deposit. (I am ashamed to admit that despite being a child of technology, I don't actually know how to make deposits using the ATM and I don't trust it anyway. I haven't actually used an ATM in the United States in at least four years. I only use them abroad, and only because you get a better exchange rate.) I finally got to the front of the line, and as I waited patiently for a teller to open up, this LITTLE OLD LADY who had just entered the bank saw one of the tellers come free, and literally darted in front of me (and everyone else!), across the bank to get to the teller without waiting in line! Apparently she had really urgent banking business! I'm not sure I've ever seen a little old lady move quite so fast!

Complaints about how my generation is ruining America with our rudeness are officially disallowed; at least I don't budge in bank lines!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Marital Fidelity

Eyebrows: Ooooh, sweetie, come look at the neighbor's clematis! It's growing in beautifully!

Mr. McGee, in mock horror: Eyebrows! I don't look at other women's clematises!

Cat Help

There's a phrase in our house, coined by Mr. McGee, that when you're doing something trying to help, but it's actually making things worse, this is Cat Help, named for Grey Cat, who always wants to help with things because (as noted before) he believes he is people and doesn't realize he has no opposeable thumbs. The phrase was coined during patio-laying, when Mr. McGee was kneeling down, hard at work, and I decided to come drape myself on his back to hug him.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"I'm helping!"

"That's not help. That's Grey Cat help!"

I was cat helping again the other day, when he was cooking and I, trying to be helpful, kept putting utensils he hadn't finished with in the dishwasher and ingredients he had yet to use back in the fridge. I ended up banished from the kitchen for all my cat help.

Last night I agreed to play board games with Mr. McGee. I really don't like board games, and he really does, so on rare occasions I agree to play. We got out Monopoly (the horror!), set up the board, and proceeded to play.

Or try to.

Grey Cat saw no reason why he should not also participate, and proceeded to steal our little characters. We gave him his own to play with (the dog one, of course), and he left our dudes alone after that. But he could NOT let the dice alone. After all, we were throwing the dice and making them roll and bounce, and he could do that too. Every time we rolled he'd peek his head up and swipe one of the dice off the table. He had the most injured look on his face when we reprimanded him repeatedly because he was just doing what we were doing! He really gets miffed by people games that he can play too and we won't let him. Like puzzles - he can dig around in the box just like we do, and he's an EXPERT at pushing the pieces around on the table. It's the best cat-game ever, and he has no idea why we keep yelling at him for imitating us.

We gave up on Monopoly after a while because we just couldn't keep the dice away from Grey Cat (who was joyously tossing his little game piece around the room, attacking it and swatting it) and tried Scrabble. This went less-well, if possible, because Grey Cat would not be content with just ONE tile. He wanted to push the tiles around on the board like we were doing, which wasn't really conducive to keeping the words in word format. Too much cat help.

And yet I can't train him to hit the snooze button on my alarm clock. Learn to imitate that, you ridiculous cat!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Music Toy Nirvana

I got a little $1.49 cable to connect my iPod Nano directly to my Bose Wave Radio.

It's the most beautiful $1.49 I ever spent.

Now I can fully enjoy the glory that is the shuffle mechanism on the iPod combined with its massive storage capacity through the magnificent sublimity of the Bose speakers.

Ahhhh .... bliss!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

In Which I Am Mean to Grey Cat

Grey Cat does not believe he is a cat. Grey Cat believes he is people.

For example, when we stayed at my parents' for a few weeks in transit from North Carolina to Peoria (cheaper than renting a short-term apartment and food ever so much better), Grey Cat would come in with all the people in the evening to watch the news. My parents have a big sectional sofa. The normal cats would seek out human laps, or lounge over arm rests. Not Grey Cat. Grey Cat believed he was people. Grey Cat observed that each person had their own cushion on the sectional, so he would claim a cushion and lounge on it, looking in the general direction of the TV, and periodically sneaking looks at all the people to be sure we were still playing the staring game. (Grey Cat is not one of those cats who is interested in television; once he ascertained that the noisy football game could not ACTUALLY get to him, he never gave it a second look.) If you tried to move Grey Cat, he would bite you. That was his seat. What was hilarious was that he behaved like a 6-year-old in the back seat of a car: If you put a finger on his cushion, he'd bat it, or try to bite it. We could entertain ourselves for an hour at a time sneaking things onto his cushion and making him crazy about it. "Mom! He's on my side of the seat again!"

So Grey Cat believes he is people. Grey Cat is also more than a little neurotic about being left behind when people leave the house, as he was once abandoned and doesn't like to see the food-bringer leave. The first year I had him, he would fling himself - all 20 lbs of him - against the front door so I couldn't open it. I used to take a ball with me and throw it down the hallway so he'd chase it. He'd be thinking, "Can't ... leave ... doorstop position but ... must ... chase ... ball ... GAAAK!" and go after it.

He is the only cat I know who gets super-psyched when his carrier comes out because he gets to go somewhere. He totally doesn't care where. He just likes going with. If the suitcases are out and the carrier is NOT, he will keep packing himself in your suitcase and crying until you relent and get out the carrier, whereupon he will nap contentedly in it for hours on end, stopping only to periodically come get your attention with headbutts and cat-chatter, so that you will follow him to the room with the carrier, whereupon he will dart into it, poking his head back out to make sure you see that he is ready to go.

(What's totally mean is that when we're going without him, I put the carrier out just so he'll stay out of our suitcases while we pack and not cry for two straight days. Then I always feel rotten about tricking him.)

So life is tough for Grey Cat in the spring, for a variety of reasons. For starters, the sun gets up substantially before the foodbringers, and Grey Cat believes breakfast should appear with the sun, this being the only form of time he can tell. He is being starved - STARVED, I tell you! - and he is vocal in his unhappiness about this.

But worse than that, we go outside in the spring. To work in the yard, or just have a drink on the patio we laid last summer. Grey Cat cannot stand this. It drives him berserk that we are WITHIN VIEW and excluding him from something people. He goes from window to window bawling, and for a 20-pound male cat, he has a seriously girly meow.

"Dammit, someone snuck in the house and is torturing Grey Cat again," I told Mr. McGee as we weeded.

"Probably terrorists," he agreed.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Oprah on Marriage

I've got a lot on my mind lately, which makes it hard to blog because it all wants to come out at once in one massive, disorganized, 300-page post. But I've got a bit of a bug today, so I knocked off early and caught some Dr. Phil and then Oprah. I TiVo Dr. Phil now and again (with only 5 1/2 channels to fill the glory of the TiVo, I TiVo a lot of random things), but I don't typically watch Oprah. Today she had on Lance Armstrong's (first) ex-wife, the one who's not Sheryl Crow. The theme of the show was women who lose their identities in marriage, who expect perfection from marriage and the identity as a wife, who focus on the wedding rather than the marriage, etc. A worthy topic and certainly a major potential problem for couples making the marital leap. But the TONE of the show really annoyed me; Oprah said, "That's why I never got married" (fear of losing her identity to someone else), and the whole show had a sense of "marriage is inherently dysfunctional and bad for women."

It annoyed me.

I married a man who makes me feel more authentically ME, and who supports me in expressing my personality as fully as possible. When I have moments of housewifely inadequacy, typically when the kitchen counters look like a war between red wine and tomato juice was fought atop them, or the bathrooms haven't been cleaned in a shamefully long time, I wail to Mr. McGee that I'm failing him as a wife. He snorts and says he didn't marry "a wife" in the abstract; he married me, and he's not all that worried about dishes on the counter or dust bunnies under the bed as long as I'm happy. (Mr. McGee can be quite the smooth-talker.)

Marriage is difficult, particularly at first. For me, it was the knowledge that I was now legally bound to this man forever and ever, so that a spat about whose turn it was to clean the litterboxes wasn't just a spat; it was an argument that was obviously going to last FOREVER because I was legally bound FOREVER to a man who argued with me about litterboxes and ohmygod what have I gotten myself into? For other women I've talked to, the big hurdle, the ones with all the fights and arguments, was moving in together, or having the first child, or merging finances, or even deciding to get married. Marriage IS hard, and it isn't a fairy tale, and people DO focus too much on the wedding and not enough on the marriage.

But I don't think that's a reason to dismiss the institution entirely, or even to suggest that "most" women lose themselves in a marriage. There's so much rhetoric about marriage: who should be allowed to get married; what the gender roles in a marriage should or shouldn't entail; what women need to do, or ought not do; how we let down Jesus/feminism/America/the biological imperative by doing this or that within our marriages.

But rhetoric aside, the truth is that I'm just happy. I like being married. I find it empowering. It makes me a better, and bigger, and stronger person. I like my husband. And because of all that, I find it hard to get worked up over "marriage" as a political issue in general, or other people's functional-but-different-from-mine relationships in particular.

What does annoy me, though, is when people tell me I shouldn't be "happy" because marriage itself is a dysfunction, or because my marriage doesn't conform to this or that political or religious "ideal" of gender roles. Bite me, I say to you: I'm happy.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Scrub Toys

So the kid two doors down has a new bike, a Kawasaki this time. And a coordinating helmet. I don't know if that came with the bike or not.

This kid, as I have written before, is a scrub. He is my age (28), hasn't finished college, doesn't have a job, lives with his parents, and yet miraculously manages to afford - at my last count - at least six bikes in the last 18 months. Furthermore, as I complained before, he gets up at the ASS-CRACK OF DAWN on weekends, which no self-respecting slacker should do, and rides his bikes around the neighborhood. Sometimes he goes up and down the block, particularly when he has a brand new one. Sometimes he goes round and round, so I wake up to "VROOOOOOM! vrooooooom vroooom vrooom vroooOOOOOOM VROOOOOM! VROOOOM!!!!! VROOoooooom vrooooom vroooooom vroooOOOOOM!" and so on. Sometimes he actually has the good grace to leave the neighborhood, but only after he revs his bike five or six times in the driveway and then guns it like crazy to leave. When he borrows his parents car, he manages to gun that too. He revs a friggin Honda Accord like it's a racecar. Our bedroom windows face their driveway with nothing in between to muffle the sound, so I get to wake up to his motor symphony basically every weekend.

He is wrecking my quiet enjoyment.

So I don't want to call the cops because a) Peoria cops have better things to do, like chase down gang bangers and b) I don't want to be known on the block as the chick who calls the cops. (I'm a weenie, so sue me. Homeowner peer pressure is the only reason I mow my lawn.) But I can't decide how to handle it: Should I approach him? Or should I approach his parents? When the kids on the block ride their bikes through my yard or go ding-dong ditching, I speak with their mothers. But this "kid" is my age. But then, his parents are more like my peers, being homeowners on the block, and more likely to be swayed by shame to make him cut it the hell out. I'm guessing he's not really Mr. Responsible. On the other hand, how totally lame is it to go to the parents of someone who is, after all, a legal adult? Feels a little high school to go over his head and bitch to his mom when he and I are the same age and he's had 7 years to get used to the privileges and responsibilities of full legal adulthood.

I haven't yet come to any decision; I think I'm secretly living in hope that he'll just get bored of his bikes. Or move out. Or something.

But I'm curious to know if anyone else had a similar issue, and if you complained to the scrub, or to his parents!

The Busy! It Burns Me!

Busy, busy at the McGee household as we simultaneous try to start the gardening season and I try to finish my charitable year, which wraps up for the summer in a few weeks. (Very civilized, that: every group should give you summer vacations.) Right now I'm busy producing article after article after article for our year-end publication, and my Architect Friend, who's in charge of it, is totally riding my ass about it.

No, really, she's not. She actually just told me that she reads my blog every day so I feel obligated to tease her in blog-print. Happy now, Architect Friend? *wink wink, nudge nudge*

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Pink Wine ... Mmmmmmmm ....

While I realize that "The Pink Shit That Grandma Drinks" is not actually the name of any variety of wine, my husband knew exactly which bottle I meant.

Those Monks Better Be Right about Physical Work Being Holy and Stuff

Dethatching front lawn by hand. Not enough thatch to rent a dethatcher. Arms may actually fall off. Blisters growing. Husband doing much funner yardwork.

If fingers do not fall off, will blog later.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Call for Help

I dropped by Menard's today where, yes, I saved big money. For those of you not from the midwest, Menard's is like Lowe's or Home Depot, but twice the size, half the service, and therefore much cheaper. Also, it has a gigantic outdoor lumber yard with all the stuff Home Depot and Lowe's have to special order for you.

For those of you not from the U.S., it's a building materials and hardware store larger than the King's Cross railway station in London.

Anyway, I was having a problem acquiring a particular product, and I could NOT find a clerk to help me. I wandered, I searched, I even tried shouting, "Hello, I need help over here!" to no avail.

So I called the store on my cell.

I told the guy who answered where I was and asked if he could send a clerk. He called a clerk on the walkie-talkie and sent him right out to me. "It'll be like OnStar," he said, teasing me. "I'll stay on the phone with you until he gets there. Just stay calm, ma'am - help is on the way!"

Worked a treat.

But, oy, what a commentary on modern America, where it's easier to phone for help when I'm actually standing in the store than it is to find a real live person.

Avian Screw

Memo to the birds twittering at the tops of their tiny little lungs outside my window at 2, and 3, and 4 in the morning:


Also, the girl birds you're likely to attract in the middle of the night are obviously demented, and not what you're looking for in the mother of your eggs. So shut the hell up and go to sleep!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Bacon Cures Epic Crankiness

Eyebrows has been cranky, dealing with contractors who don't return calls and seedlings that won't grow and rabbits that don't understand they're not supposed to be able to jump that high! It's crossed from crankiness into epic crankiness; someone needs to write either a five-book prose cycle or a two hundred page iambic pentameter poem about it. It's just that epic.

I called my mother to complain about my epic crankiness, and she said it wasn't really fair because she never dumps her cranky on me. I said I'd be happy to listen to her cranky. She said she never calls me when I'm cranky. I said that was hardly my fault, was it? She said she brought me into this world and BY GOD she could take me out of it. (No, she didn't really, but I wouldn't have blamed her if she had.)

At any rate, Mr. McGee eventually made me bacon, and the truth is that bacon will stop me in my tracks no matter what I'm in the middle of. I would stop three feet from the summit of Mount Everest to eat hot bacon, even if it meant my feet would get frostbite and fall off. And so the bacon stopped me in the middle of my epic crankiness, with its salty, artery-clogging goodness. I could tell Mr. McGee disapproved of my snacking on bacon to cheer up, but he was wise enough not to object because, well, epicly cranky wife. Plus, it's entirely possible that had he tried to remove any bacon from my plate, I might have turned feral. And I think he likes all his fingers where they are, attached to his hand and all.

Monday, May 01, 2006

It Is Too Better!

Today I had one of those days where it seemed like every website I needed to visit was optimized for Internet Explorer and ONLY IE.

One of them actually refused to load content and chided me, "You're not using IE 5 or better!"

"Yes I am!" I objected. "I'm using Firefox! That's way better!"