This Post is a Fuggly Hack

I don’t have a Real Post™ today, because I lost my grip on the amount of time I’d planned to use to write something thoughtful and profound and ended up using all of it to scan images of the family for a school genealogy project due tomorrow; attempts to fix my printer’s sudden amnesia regarding our WiFi connection; and copying out Sunny’s math homework by hand, while squinting at a series of tiny, texted images sent by an angel of a fellow parent, whose child did NOT forget his math book yesterday.

The first of four pages.  And yes, the hand is supposed to have four fingers, though I'll admit that it does resemble a pinkie amputation, rather than the thumb-tuck i was going for.

The first of four pages.*

And then I had to finish up my wordcount, because if I want Thanksgiving off from Nanowrimo, I can’t start slacking now.

So instead of entertaining you with my quirks and eccentricities and the epic battle to keep our elderly cat as continent as possible—or at least incontinent in acceptable areas—here’s a link to  terrific article by Cory Doctorow, which was published in this month’s issue of LOCUS:

My theory is that the parts of our brains that keep track of other people and try to model them, the seats of our empathy, can be tricked into treating the adventures of imaginary people as though they were real. Even though your rational mind knows that imaginary people are inconsequential, the largely automatic, unconscious systems that organize information about the people around you in order to figure out what they’re likely to do — and that let you predict how they feel in given situations and sympathize with them — don’t differentiate between information about real people and imaginary people.

“Stories Are A Fuggly Hack” Cory Doctorow, LOCUS, November 2014, p.25

And while you’re reading that, I’ll be trying to get my printer to cough up those school project photos I scanned and/or hacking away at the fuggliest story I’ve written, to date.

Wordcount, ho!


*And yes, the hand at the bottom is supposed to have four fingers, though I’ll admit it does resemble a pinkie amputation, rather than the thumb-tuck I was going for.


Random Thursday: Random Travels and Battle Sheep

Random Thursday (ˈrandəm ˈTHərzdā): the day on which Sarah plunks down all the odd bits and pieces she’s been sent by friends or has otherwise stumbled upon this week in an effort to avoid writing a real post, the assembly of which usually ends up taking twice as much time as sitting down and creating actual content.

My MIL is doing well (thank you for your kind thoughts and crossed fingers), I made it to the next level of interviews, traveled by train to Chicago all by myself (hush, it’s a Big Thing),  had a marvelous time with two of my favorite people (and one favorite’s teenaged daughter), and made it back home in time for a two hour nap before taking the kids to the annual school Luau and Backpack Dumping.

Been an active week.

The kids’ school stuff was waiting for them when I dropped them off this morning for the first (half) day of the new school year.  The entire household is very excited about this new opportunity for intellectual and social growth—with the sole and unsurprising exception of the kids, who just last week were complaining loudly about how boring summer camp was, until they realized they only had four days left.

I took the day off, so in a little while, I’ll head back pick them up, along with all the forms we forgot to pick up at the Luau.  Oops.

But for now, it’s time to relax, have another cup of coffee, and offer random, illustrated pieces of the last couple days:


The Windy Rainy City

Chicago Tour2

It doesn’t have a thumb in it, but I’m pretty sure I did take this photo. Jane wasn’t with me and it’s on my phone, so unless a pickpocket took pity on me, it’s mine.

My friend thefirstmausi and I (and her daughter) met early Tuesday morning at the Chicago First Lady Boat Dock—and when I say “met”, I mean for the first time in person—to take one of the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruises.

‘firstmausi has the best ideas.

If you ever have the chance to take one of these, please do.  The docents are a hoot—they know their stuff and they also know how to make it interesting—and since Chicago is a tall, busy city, it’s easy to miss all the beautiful structures—historical and new—if you stick to the streets.

And also hidden urban folk art.

Graffitti Chicago

Plus, you’re on a boat on a river, so everything is relaxed and lovely and mercy those bridges are low.

I’m going to go again the next time I’m in Chicago, because the city is constantly in flux and I want to see the results of all the construction and restoration efforts that are just getting started. . .  and also because I missed most of the last half of this one due to the rescheduled rainstorm—which was inexplicably moved up from Friday, and whose decision was that?—drove us inside.

There were large windows and we could hear the docent, but we always seemed to be on the wrong side of the boat to see whatever she was describing.

But that gave ‘firstmausi and I time to talk, so I can’t complain.*


In the Pink

One of the only things Sunny likes about going back to school is getting new shoes.

You can’t tell from the photo, but these things are bright, bright pink.  With neon color splashes on them.


She loves them so much, she asked for a second pair, exactly the same, for gym.

And went to school today, wearing them with her new, lacy school dress, which is bright purple.

Clutching her pink, hedgehog-shaped pencil sharpener.  Named Fluffy.

Guess where we had breakfast?

Guess where we had breakfast?

Why not?


Taxi of Shame

Chicago was a seven taxi trip for me—five of them on Tuesday—and totally worth the cost.

I like taxis, especially when I’m alone in a city I don’t know well and won’t be staying in long enough to learn bus routes.

You get in, given them an address, and they take you there. No transfers, no missed stops, no walking.

My only problem with this method of transportation, aside from the environmental impact, is that I’m total crap at flagging them down, and I’ve learned—thank you, Manhattan—that throwing myself on the mercy of the nearest hotel doorman or even random strangers works a lot better than throwing myself in the middle of the street.

I’m not easy to miss, so I assume my body language isn’t confident enough . . . or I have a random secret invisibility superpower that only works on cabbies.

I’m fully aware that this may be two ways of saying the same thing, but having a superpower is way cooler, so we’ll use that one.


In the Pink, Redux

Jane wore some pink today to school, too.


Unlike her sister’s shoes, this image has the intensity juuuuust right.

Not that she didn’t opt for awesomeshoes of her own this year:


That’s my girl.


Psst, Lyra

These are what I think of, when I think gooseberries, which grew wild in our yard when I was a kid:


What we had Tuesday evening** were apparently cultivated Cape gooseberries.

Cape gooseberreis

What else would you serve with memoir bandal cheese and purple heirloom tomatoes?

(The pita chips from the hummus, right)


Battle Sheep!

I can’t take a trip without getting something for the kids, mostly because I love them and also because dear god the puppy dog eyes.

To amplify the incentive, they were supposed to come with me but we couldn’t make it work.

Guilt is a great motivator.

So is shopping at cool toy stores. Like Marbles: The Brain Store.***

A somewhat bewildered ‘first mausi found a Gummi Candy kit that’s perfect for Sunny, my budding Mad Scientist and gummyworm addict.

And for Jane?

Battle Sheep

It’s like Risk.  With SHEEP.



Tuck This in Your Garter . . .

Flask Building

‘firstmausi and I saw this building after the rain chased us below deck, so I have no idea what the docent said about it, if anything, and I haven’t had the chance to track it down, yet.

Until someone can tell me what it’s called or what it’s for, I’m dubbing it “The Flask Building’, because that’s what we thought it looked like from our angle and I persist in the delusion that I’m funny.

So if one of the characters in my wereduck story has his office in the Flask Building—and he will, ’cause I wrote it up on the train—this is why:

Flask Building 2




*I might complain about the photos she took of me—I really should know better than to bother picking up my hairbrush in Chicago—but I’ll wait until I see what she does with them.  If it’s blackmail,  I might have to travel to Germany to retrieve the negatives—darn!

** I was able to meet Lyra for a wondrous hour or so at One North Kitchen, which has good food and fantastic staff. Our  waiter—who made the mistake of joking about writing his memoirs in front of two writers who were more than willing to run with it until he fled—sold us on a plate of bandal cheese with (purple) heirloom tomatoes, crostini, and gooseberries.  She and I had also ordered two other appetizers—herbal flatbread and hummus, YUM—and were holding seven different conversations at once, so by the time we noticed the gooseberries, we’d forgotten what they were.  I figured they were a kind of baby tomatillo, which sounded plausible to Lyra and the passing bartender we asked.  He went to check and it turned out we were both wrong.  And now I’m trying to figure out where I can get gooseberries up here . . .

***Can I just say here how much fun I had trying to explain to two German women the ode to commercialized history and disposable income that is the American Girl Doll Store?  I finally gave up and agreed with ‘firstmausi and her daughter:  “Only in America.”  Such a proud moment.

Bragging on my Kids: Waxing Eloquent

Jane has a school project based on The House of Dies Drear, in which the young characters find a pre-Civil War chest in the attic of the house they’ve just moved into—or so I’m told, as I haven’t read it, myself.

Her mission is to build a chest and fill it with five handmade things that one might find in a pre-Civil War chest, accompanied by annotated cards.

The students brainstormed lists of stuff and the teacher chose five things for them, which is good, because my daughter’s ambition knows no bounds and we only have until this Friday.

She spent Saturday painting a landscape in the style of an 19th Century artist*. molding an inkwell out of black, bakeable clay,** dipping a feather in black paint for a quill, and sewing a pincushion out of eighty-eight cents of upholstery fabric to hold my one darning needle, which is attached by black thread to a wooden spool that cost two bucks.

That left Sunday for the last thing on the list.


At this point, I was hoping we could just buy a couple of beeswax tapers made by someone else’s hands and call it a day, because I know for an almost very nearly  fact that people did buy candles in 1865.  But Jane was adamant.

An adamant Jane is an immoveable object, and a Jane who is adamant about doing her homework correctly can force me to do almost anything.

So we bought some wick and granulated wax and found a way to melt it without ruining my only double-boiler:

1865 Candles 4

I also rigged up a handy-dandy cooling rack, just like the ones they had in 1865, minus the pots, the barbecue tongs, the phone books, the Norton’s Anthology, and the American Collegiate Dictionary . . . and the TV listings doing their valiant best to keep the wax off my stove top.

1865 Candles 2

Necessity, ladies and gentlemen, is a mother.

The process was surprisingly easy, once the wax melted.

1865 Candles 9


1865 Candles

Or easy for me, anyway, because I wasn’t allowed to help, other than keeping the water and wax levels up, occasionally readjusting the rack, and telling her to be careful at regular intervals.

This is the point where Jane said, “Oh, wow!  I’m making candles! Look, Mom!  I’m actually making candles!”

1865 Candles 3

And she was, layer by layer by layer, by layer . . .

Until, after about an hour and a half, she’d created these:

1865 Candles 8And, unfortunately, this:1865 Candles 7

But she’s proud of herself, for good reason.

And if they look a little more like white carrots than tapers, who cares?

Now, all we have to do is make an authentic looking chest out of cardboard***—and by we, I mean Jane and my husband, ’cause I’m too busy prying a fine layer of wax from every surface of the kitchen with my plastic dish scraper, may its inventor be ever blessed.

And Jane has to write up the cards for each item.

She wants to use the quill.

Cover me.


Stay tuned for a report of Sunny’s Charlotte’s Web diorama, for which she’s chosen the scene where Wilbur is told he’s going to be slaughtered and he runs around screaming, “I don’t want to die!” 

Because she wants HER shoebox creation to have moving parts.

If she asks me to crochet “Humble” into a embroidery thread spiderweb, I’m heading for the hills.


*In acrylics, not oils, because I’m neither rich nor insane—despite the fact that I just every single one of you snickering just now—and I knew going in who would be doing the clean-up.

**Anyone who remembers the footnoted sugar paste – food coloring debacle from a month ago can rest assured that I learned my lesson and bought pre-colored Sculpey.

***The rules say that each dimension of this thing needs to be between one foot and one yard, which cleverly means that we can’t go out and get a bankers box at Office Max, because those are only ten-inches deep, $#!% it.

Abraham Lincoln’s Possessive Skittle Named Bob

Janie’s teacher gives the best writing assignments.

Last week, she had each of her students give her a noun, and told them to write a story using all the words, ten of which needed to be possessive.

Believe me when I say that this particular combination of nouns could only be supplied by this specific fifth grade class:

Moon, Skittle, Turtle,????????
Hair Tie, Tortoise, Nintendo,
iPhone, Platypus, Hair Ball,
Wii, Abraham Lincoln, X-Box,
Chalk, Apple, Chair,
Pencil, Book, Lip Balm

It’s like a chance poem, isn’t it?

Janie—who contributed Abraham Lincoln to the list, instead of hair ball, much to my surprise—sat down with her notebook and wrote this, giggling the whole time.  It needed to be tweaked a few times for a missing noun or two and again after I won a short argument about the definition of a possessive noun* and lost a debate about the possessive form of platypus.**

This is the final result, shared with the author’s permission:

Never Loan Abraham Lincoln Your Lip Balm
By Janie Wesson (©2014)

Once upon a time there was a Skittle named Bob who lived on the moon, and since the moon doesn’t have Wi-Fi The Skittle named Bob’s iPhone could not make calls to his friends, Tortoise and Turtle, Platypus, and Abraham Lincoln. But his computer worked, for some strange reason, and the Skittle named Bob invited his friends.

They had a big party. First they played with Platypus’s Wii, X-box and Nintendo, until they broke the X-box’s console. Then they played Hide the Apple, which turned into Keep Tortoise’s Hair Tie away from him (Tortoise didn’t have hair, but he did keep a hair ball as a pet). Next they played Hide Abraham Lincoln’s Chair.

Lincoln had a temper today and he got mad at Turtle for using his pencil in Turtle’s coloring book and for losing his chair’s cushion. After that they played with The Skittle Named Bob’s sidewalk chalk.

All was well, until Tortoise stepped on Turtle’s chalk drawing, and he got mad and stepped on Tortoise’s drawing, who got mad again and stepped on Platypus’s drawing, and she sued Tortoise for being a sore reptile.

The Skittle Named Bob couldn’t take it any more so he had to end the party. While he was cleaning up, he found the hairball’s tie, the apple’s core, the Wii’s controller, and realized that Abraham Lincoln had stolen his lip balm.


The writer in me would have added an em-dash to the last phrase for dramatic impact, but parents are supposed to keep their mitts off the punctuation, unless asked, which I wasn’t***—and I probably shouldn’t pass my addictions to my children, if I can help it.

But the Reader and Mommy in me?

They think this is awesome.


*By using her own, handwritten notes.  Her expression was something I will treasure.

**My expression, I’m told, was mostly confused.  It’s right, but it doesn’t look right.

***Jane wants you to know that I wasn’t asked for help very loudly, with hands on hips and a very stern look.  That isn’t how she phrased it, but that’s what she looked like when she absolutely didn’t ask.


Images have been released into the public domain by their creators, according to Wikimedia Commons.

Apples for the Teacher

Is there anything less welcome in the middle of a workday than receiving an e-mail from your kid’s teacher with the subject line:

[Your Child’s Name]’s Homework/Performance/Participation/Behavior?

And then receiving another one an hour later, with your other kid’s name in the subject line?

There probably is, but it sure doesn’t feel like it at the time.  At the time, it feels like winning back-to-back Razzies for being The Worst Mom in the World.

I mean, one iffy apple can happen in the best of groves, but two on the same branch?  That tree must be slacking.

According to my children’s teachers, our little autodidacts decided to take this semester off.   I don’t know if they decided this independently or dropped out in an act of surprising solidarity, but either way, the timing is worrying.

Jane was doing the homework written in her assignment book, because we were checking that, but she wasn’t writing everything down, clever girl, and wasn’t turning in what she did do, for reasons we have yet to ascertain.  And then she lost—or “lost”—the assignment book.

Sunny simply decided she didn’t want to participate in class, and didn’t.  She was doing the work that was in her take-home folder, but there were also a lot of assignments lost between school and home, and back again.

My husband and I learned about all this last Tuesday.

Except for the reasons behind it.  We can guess, but we really don’t know, and it’s possible they don’t either.

Today, we have back-to-back conferences with Jane and Sunny’s teachers, and the principal, to see if we can help the kids turn this around.

In the interim, we cut off all non-school use of screen time, including Jane’s beloved iPod and the TV.

I gave Jane a composition notebook for her assignments and due dates and she came up with the idea of having her teacher initial her homework list at the end of the day, at least until we could trust her.  Her teacher believes in student responsibility, but has agreed to this for now.

We had a series of talks with Sunny about the importance of homework that may or may not have made a dent.

And I didn’t turn on my computer on weekdays until the kids were officially in bed, except for school-related work—permission forms wait for no one, and Jane had an essay draft due.

We did our homework together—I dug out my yellow legal pads and favorite Ninja pencils and generated some wordcount—and in our free time, we played and danced and read and drew and make sure work was finished and put INSIDE folders and backpacks.

Not next to, not underneath, not on top of.  INSIDE.

We’ll find out this afternoon if this has been working.

The kids say it has, but we’re waiting for third-party confirmation.

If they’re right, we may continue the no screen time rule on school days.  The TV may remain off until Friday evening—after all homework is done.  I may have to adjust my blogging schedule a bit and move some deadlines.

Because maybe it’s not only the accountability, but the playing and dancing and reading and drawing that’s working.

Because maybe those Razzies were earned.

Maybe all apples really want is to know their tree is paying attention.