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— SJ

Mundania: Funniness

When Ranger was a toddler, he loved it when DJ got home from work and headed back to the bedroom to change out of his office clothes. Ranger would race back ahead of DJ, slam the door, and lean on it with his entire little body. DJ and I often looked over the heads of our kids and remarked, “Funniness is happening.” So Ranger, giggling hysterically, would yell, “FUNNINESS! DERE’S FUNNINESS!”

On a related note…

During my summer of home improvements, I impusively bought a dry-erase paint kit and used it on a small section of the kitchen wall. It’s a big hit with everyone. I use it to write General Information like, “Dad will be home late” or “Here’s the plan for this weekend” or “Supper is on your own tonight.” As pictured, it’s also used for various family interactions — including DJ and me practicing our Spanish skills (I currently hold a 1034-day streak, and DJ maintains a fantastic 1061-day streak). The little creatures at the bottom were added by each of the kids, sort of as personal avatars.

(I just realized my sentence should say “mis hijos,” not “mi hijos,” because while Spanish has some marked improvements over English, gender and pluralization of adjectives are NOT two of those features

But we don’t require fancy dry-erase walls for useless communication, oh no. I stuck this list to the fridge after organizing the spice rack, only to find it vandalized a day or so later.

And speaking useless, whoever developed the theme of this puzzle was having a good creative day.

As an aside (which I can do because this is my blog) I was introduced to this type of puzzle in my fifth-grade gifted program. I could not solve them. The clues were too twisty, I mixed up the X and O and O-with-a-dot, and for years considered them impossible. Even now I can’t handle these puzzles on any level above “normal.” But every time I solve one, it’s a victory for my twelve-year-old self.

My twelve-year-old self, by the way, would have stopped and read the names on this “Santa’s List” decoration, just like my forty-something self did. And I think Santa bought an old list. I highly doubt Bob, Susan, Debby, and Gary are eagerly anticipating the arrival of their YouTuber plushies and asking for games for the Nintendo Switch.

I went to Staples to print out some D&D files for Gamerboy. He’d borrowed a thumb drive of mine to put his files on. I messaged him from the store (I’m red, Gamerboy is purple):

Oh, yes. Funniness is still happening here.

Names 2022: An Overdue and Overlong Discussion of Names

Lately I read a book that I enjoyed… mostly. Not completely. It was set in modern-day (smartphones and internet), and the 30-something main character was named Roger. That really bothered me. While it wasn’t impossible that someone born in the early 90s would be named Roger, it’s much more likely he’d be an Eric or a Cody. I powered through until we got a new character introduced to us. She too was about 30 years old, and was named… not Emily. Not Megan. Not Kayla. Nope. Barbara. In a book that featured pixies, wizards, and a magic house, these out-of-time names most jarred me out of my supension of disbelief.

If you understand why, then you too must be a name-nerd. And if you are a name-nerd, welcome to my overlong name-discussion post!

Recently, I came across this article suggesting the Top Ten Name Trends for 2022. I’ve observed that as far as naming trends go, experts have close aim, but not dead-center. If you want to find someone who hits the name trend in the bullseye, find a young couple who think they’ve discovered a new and exciting name for their to-be-born child. A thousand other parents will have discovered exactly the same name at exactly the same time. This is how we end up with Jennifer and Jason in the 80s, Olivia and Tyler in the 90s, Madison and Braeden in the 2000s, and Charlotte and Aiden in the 2010s. (And, for good measure, Roger and Barbara — #22 and #3 in 1945, respectively.)

Anyway, let’s go through this entertaining article, shall we? It provides 10 categories of up-and-coming names, and I provide commentary on them all.

1. Playful Names. Some parents forget they aren’t naming a doll. Lucky, Bee, Ziggy, and Ozzy are cute on toddlers, or even as a bubbly high school nickname, but might be hard to take seriously on an adult. “Contact your local realtor, Lucky Jones, for all your real estate needs!” That said, I do kind of like Teddy, Gigi, and Trixie.

2. Escapist Nature Names. Although I love the concept of these names, I’d still balk at using a lot of them. Sometimes giving a child a name like Ocean or Woods is just an invitation for mean kids to, well, be mean. On the other hand, there’s a real dearth of good nature names for boys, and I think Ridge and Reef are good options. I do find it annoying that Sequoia is labeled as a girl’s name, when the original Sequoia was a man who developed his Cherokee language into a written form. Not that girls can’t be named for him; but boys should be too.

3. Bridgerton-Inspired Names. These names are taken from the Neflix show/book series that I didn’t watch or read because romances annoy me. As far as I can tell, the stories are set in a fantasy version of “Jane Austen times” where women can reasonably expect to marry dukes and they all have beautiful names. These names, in fact, remind me a lot of the way Twilight picked out the trendiest names from the early 20th century — “trendy” as in “not at all trendy in their time.” The names on this list are frothy and smell of lilac: Hyacinth, Cressida, Portia, Rupert, Theo. I think Euphemia and Prudence are both horrid, but I doubt I’m going to be consulted. DJ and I seriously considered Genevieve and Phoebe for our girls; that’s how forward-thinking we are.

4. Nonbinary Names for Boys. As Sparkler pointed out, “nonbinary” and “boy” are mutually exclusive. What they meant was “gender-neutral.” I’m all for it. An annoying aspect of our naming culture is that as soon as a name is thought of as a “girl” name, it’s no longer an option for boys. One of the most crushing disappointments of my young parenthood was when I realized that Avery was no longer a “boy’s name” and I couldn’t use it for a son. Twenty years later, I have to ask, why is this even a thing? (I know why.) To heck with that. Boys need good options and there’s no good reason they can’t share the same name as a girl. Of this list, I like Holland, Indigo, Winter, Shiloh, Honor, and Wren.

P.S. Dear 2002 SJ, You were right; Avery is a great name.

5. Spirit and Soul Names. This is the 2021 incarnation of the old virtue names like Faith and Charity, and the neo-spiritual names like Destiny and Promise. I tend to find these names both lightweight and showy, like a sequin-covered jacket that doesn’t actually keep you warm. But others are welcome to lik them, even though I reserve the right to raise my eyebrows at a kid named Psalm or Righteous. I know of a child named Galilee and it’s cute on her, and I think that True would look good in a novel. I just don’t really love any of the names on this list.

6. Names Ending in S. This category intrigued me most. As a culture, we do tend to gravitate to certain endings in any given era. Think of all the names you know that end with -a or -en. I’m interested to see if there is a rise in names ending in -s. They certainly sound posh, I’ll give them that. Perhaps a bit too high-gloss for someone who named her own sons very solid, even stolid, names. But even I considered Hollis. I like Wells, Rhodes, and Hollis, and I could see a certain type of family carrying Ignatius and Osiris with aplomb. I’m not crazy about Banks or Collins for girls… but I guess according to my passionate rant in #4, I have to admit them as options. Darn intellectual honesty.

7. Retro Nostalgia Names. Maybe this is what that author was going for with his Roger and Barbara! (He wasn’t. He just didn’t take the time to google baby name lists according to birth year.) I confess, I don’t like any of these names very much. They aren’t retro and cool to me; they’re just stale because as a kid I grew up hearing these names on, you know, adults. Younger people don’t have that strong an association, though. I’ve heard kids with the names Frank, Hank, Gus, Etta, Ellie, Mae… oh, and also Ellie Mae. I don’t like them much but I figure I’m likely to have grandkids with these names so I’m getting used to them.

8. Next Wave Musical Names. These names range from fairly standard (Aria) to imaginative (Sonnet) to downright startling (Strummer?). As with Spirit and Soul names, these have a high gimmick factor to me and I don’t love them. However, I have to admire the inclusion of Solo, which is both musical and a Star Wars reference — double gimmick!

9. Punchy R Names. This was another category that interested me from a “sound” standpoint. I myself like short names beginning with R — my first heroine in my first real novel was named Ria. (Well, okay, that was her nickname. Her whole name was… was… look, I was 17, okay? Why bring this up?) I like several names on this list, including Reed, Ren, Rox, Rowe, Rome, Rumi, and Reeve. A pregnant friend is considering using Rue as a middle name. I don’t think all of these options make great names, but I like their sound. Rye and Roux, however, edge pretty close to the line between innovative and silly.

10. Euro Chic Names. Here’s the thing about taking a name from another culture or language: it might not be the chic choice you think it is. I once met someone whose family emigrated to the U.S. from a South Asian country when she was very young. Her grandmother said, “Look, if we put an extra letter on the end of her name, it’s a flower in English!” So she grew up as Tulip. She embodies the name well and I’ve stopped thinking of it as odd… but it is odd, because for some reason we just don’t use that flower as a name. So when I see a list of names whose context I don’t understand, I’m skeptical. That said, this list has some nice-sounding names like Tova, Stellan, and Viggo. I know of a child named Petra. I’d be tempted to use Cosmo simply because of my lifelong love for the movie Singin’ in the Rain, in which the sidekick Cosmo Brown was way more interesting than the heartthrob Don Lockwood.

And those are my thoughts on the whole thing! Ha ha. That was a joke — I could write another equally long post on this topic. I won’t, but feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

Names are both highly personal and highly public. It’s a parent’s choice, but a child’s identity. Your name can say a lot about your background, your subculture, your parents’ class aspirations… or maybe none of those things. We tend to look at new trends with suspicion, while utterly accepting past trends without question. (Ever taken a look at names from 100 – 120 years ago? I had a great-uncles named Jewell and Bobby Blair, and great-aunts named Zethel and Gundine.) All in all, it’s endlessly fascinating to me.

Yet for all my decided opinions, I have to remember a foundational truth: all names are, ultimately, made-up sounds that we’ve deemed acceptable to apply to people. And that gives a lot of latitude for which names people can choose to bestow on their children.

Sparkler is 15!

She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s witty, she’s interested in everything from silly animal videos to scientific discoveries. She practices her guitar without being reminded, talks out her thoughts a lot, and loves drawing original characters.

She likes knowing things. Years ago when a co-op teacher asked “What’s something we get sometimes in the winter?”, four-year-old Sparkler piped up with, “Hypothermia!” Yesterday when her biology teacher showed the class some magnified cells and asked if anyone knew what it was, fifteen-year-old Sparkler said, “I think that’s yeast.” Both teachers were impressed, but that’s Sparkler.

Sparkler has wrestled with many deep questions and struggled with loneliness. But at the same time, she’s a very optimistic and sociable person. She likes hanging out and talking to me. She loves discussing history and religion and big ideas with DJ. She and Bookgirl go on long drives to listen to music together. She and Gamerboy laugh at the same memes and hold loud conversations in the kitchen while doing chores. She and Ranger go on walks or create worlds in sand while also creating worlds in their heads. She remains the… well, the sparkle in the household.

Last year when Sparkler and I were gone for a weekend, we returned to a warm welcome. Did I say “we”? I mean “she.” Her brothers said passing hellos to me, but they followed Sparkler around the house, catching up on a weekend’s worth of conversation.

Her actual birthday was yesterday so this post is a day late. I think this happened last year, too. Her birthday falls at the end of summer and the beginning of the school year, and runs the risk of falling through the cracks entirely. Except that this is Sparkler we’re talking about. She doesn’t let herself get crowded out — and to be honest, most people are happy to skooch over and make room for her.

Happy birthday to our new 15-year-old. Whatever your new year holds, we know you’ll bring us all along on the adventure. We love you!

Mundania: Mostly House Stuff

Well, how about if I fling some random pictures onto the blog and tie them all together with clever captions? Cleverness optional. (Many years ago, a friend and I bemoaned the fact that “cleverness” is such a clunky word. We thought that “cleverity” was a much better form, and that’s what we used. Why, yes, that’s exactly what conversations with my younger self was like.)

Over the course of the summer, I caught a few cool clouds on display. Behold:

This giant bunny has emerged from the tree and wants to be your friend. Honest.

This dragon is shushing a loud worm. You know how worms can be.

It’s a whale in the sky! Or maybe just a big fish. The Bible never actually calls it a whale, you know.

Oh, and Sparkler and I spotted this in town. I just… I mean, it seems like the Methodist church might want to revisit its branding policies.

This has been a summer of A Thousand Mundane Chores. Our thirty-year-old house is feeling her age, so I found myself spending my days doing terribly unfun tasks like Scrubbing the Porch and Repainting the Shutters and Cleaning the Kitchen Cabinet Doors.

Years ago, I repainted our black shutters a more stylish red and gray. This summer I refreshed them — finishing them to the day 11 years later. I was not thrilled with my younger self’s decision to do two colors, and the quality of work definitely has a “if you look too closely it’s your own fault” vibe. But they do look better at a glance.

We had our old, ailing storm door removed. I repainted the front door and the frame to make it look like we meant it to be that way. (Sparkler observed that a lot of my decor philosophy consists of things happening and me trying to make them look deliberate.) I’m actually very pleased with the new front door look.

We were supposed to get brand-new floors in the dining room and kitchen. Because of a combination of Home Depot’s crappy floor-installation process and just the fact that this is a bad time to need anything, we ended up putting new rugs down over the shabby old flooring. At least my living room isn’t overwhelmingly brown anymore.

While doing Mundane Homeowner Task #648 (cleaning the doorbell button), I opened the front door and told Gamerboy and Sparkler, “I’m going to be cleaning the doorbell button so if you hear frantic ringing, that’s why.”

It turned out that despite the ten thousand doorbell rings over the years, the grime came off very easily. After a few minutes, I poked my head inside again.

“All done. No ringing after all.”

“Darn,” said Gamerboy. “I wanted to yell WHO IS IT every time you rang it.”

“And I,” Sparkler said, “was going to fling open the door and say, ‘Okay, lady, we hear you!'”

“Sorry to ruin your plans,” I said. “But it’s all clean now.”

“But does it still work?” Gamerboy asked. “You should try it.”

I pressed the button and rang the doorbell.

“WHO IS IT!” Gamerboy yelled.

“OKAY LADY WE HEAR YOU!” Sparkler yelled.

I slammed the door on them, but could still hear them laughing.

*

Over the years, I’ve wished for a better front porch. I grew up in a two-story log house with a wide porch on either side. DJ proposed to me on that front porch, in fact. Alas, my house here has a concrete slab that isn’t wide or romantic. But this summer, I had a pretty revolutionary thought: what if, since we can’t redo our front porch, I just make do with what we have. Huh. Oddly, the thought kind of came packaged in my mom’s voice.

So I scrubbed, trimmed, painted, and rearranged. The result is… well, still a concrete slab. But it’s a pleasant place to sit in the evenings, which is really all that’s required of a porch.

This summer we said goodbye to our faithful old minivan. It wasn’t that we were tired of her; it was just that after years of tireless service, she was pretty tired and glad to move on to retirement. There, I got four “tires” in a sentence talking about a minivan. Such cleverity.

We replaced the minivan with a RAV4. It’s newer, cuter, and smaller. DJ and I reasoned that our kids would be moving on before we needed a new vehicle.* So currently we can’t fit the whole family into one vehicle. I’m actually still not used to the idea that I can’t fit as many people and groceries and possibly an extra car into my vehicle. It’s hard transitioning from being minivan family.

*Since we still have three kids who have to learn how to drive, this might be an overoptimistic conclusion.

What with DJ’s surgery, all the work I’ve had to put into the house, the various frustrations with the flooring, and the disarray of the world in general, the summer has been full if not always a grand lark. School “soft opens” tomorrow, and will be in full swing by next week.

But the evenings are still nice, if you have a front porch to enjoy them.

Gamerboy Graduates!

He did it! Gamerboy finished high school, donned the gown, developed a deep grudge against the mortarboard cap, and graduated.

As with Bookgirl’s, the ceremony was hosted by a state homeschool organization, who did it up very nicely with a processional, a speaker, and parents presenting the diplomas. This being many people’s first big event in a post-covid world, everybody was a tad slap happy. It was a boisterous crowd, and the kids on stage did everything from secret handshakes to a football-inspired pantomime (both parents did the touchdown sign) to a quick hip-hop shuffle on the way down the steps. Someone in the audience had an air horn.*

DJ and I really didn’t know how much Gamerboy was going to enjoy the event. He doesn’t like loud crowds and he’s never quite sure of what to do with himself in unfamiliar situations. But it was important to him to walk and receive his diploma. So he put on the gown and the hat, and…

That hat.

See, here’s a thing about Gamerboy: he’s got a literal big head. That head is the reason why he was born via C-section after 12 hours of labor. It’s also why we haven’t found him glasses that fit him, and are just going to have to go to contacts. So we got this mortarboard cap that was labeled “one size fits all” and I thought, “Yeah, right.” The cap didn’t fit him at all; it slid off every time he moved. He had just as much success wearing it upside down:

He also t-posed, because that’s what the kids these days do. And yes, the hat is wonky and part of the tassel is caught on his eyelashes. Because it’s funny, that’s why.

But when the time came, he balanced the hat on his head and processed down the aisle to “Pomp and Circumstance.” Of course, he plugged his ears because the crowd was so loud, and somebody had an air horn.

Sparkler got a video of us onstage (at Gamerboy’s repeated request). We didn’t do any cute handshakes or pantomimes. Gamerboy just enveloped DJ and me in his huge hug, we dropped his diploma, and we all laughed. His school career wasn’t always a smooth ride, but we made it.

I think that deserved an air horn.

Congratulations, Gamberboy! We love you.

**

* While watching the pre-ceremony slideshow of all the graduates, I was pretty sure I recognized one of the names. I went in search of her family — easy to do because everyone sat in alphabetical order — and was delighted to find out that I was right. I’ve known her father literally since I was born. Back in our little Mississippi town, our families grew up together. When my dad died, they were there. When their mother died, we were there. As adults, we don’t cross paths very often — we aren’t the type to go on vacation together or anything. But we always keep up with each other and know each other on sight. It was extremely special to me that my son graduated with their daughter.

They were the ones with the air horn.

Jones Vacation 2021

With life returning to normal and 4/6 of us fully vaccinated, the Joneses happily embarked on summer vacation. It was the kind of trip we all like best: we stayed in a vacation house in a quiet spot not terribly far away, planned a couple of fun things, and otherwise — in the words of my teenagers — “just vibed.”

We went to Williamsburg, a perennial favorite area. In previous years, this is where we brought our little ones to that place of near heavenly transcendence, Great Wolf Lodge. Now that they’re older, we had to look around for other attractions.

There is always, of course, Colonial Williamsburg. DJ would probably live there if they’d let him, I find it interesting, and Sparkler enjoys it; but overall it has always failed to enchant the kids the way Great Wolf Lodge always did. Still, it was a good place to start. We arrived on a 90-degree afternoon, which was a great way to appreciate what life was like in bygone days! It was easier to appreciate it in the buildings that had air conditioning, of course. The kids were good sports — and honestly interested in the printing press and the courthouse constructed of bricks that were older than the U.S. itself — but even DJ and I couldn’t last too long in that heat. We’ve agreed that one day we’ll come down to Williamsburg, stay in the grand Colonial Williamsburg resort, and canvass the town by ourselves.

And we did get a selfie, so it counts as a real experience.

You might notice that Bookgirl isn’t in this photo. Huh, wow, you really are paying attention! She had to work, so couldn’t drive down with us. Instead, she drove down halfway on Monday evening, and DJ met her and brought her the rest of the way. On Thursday, I took her halfway and she drove the rest of the way home. It wasn’t a difficult drive for her, but it was the longest she’s had to navigate by herself. She did great and I wasn’t even worried at all ever so that’s all good.

Our vacation home was tucked away behind an RV camp on a “lake.” It was really just a very wide creek, but Mattaponi Lake sounds way better than Jackson Creek so for the purposes of vacation marketing, it was a lake. (Note: I changed the names slightly because AirBnB protects its hosts’ addresses unless someone actually books a stay.)

The first thing we noticed upon arrival was a goose. No, wait, three or four geese! Oh good heavens, look at all these geese. Dozens of them roamed the property, which they obviously owned. We kept out of their way, so they let us stay.

Besides geese, we also saw a heron. As with the “lake,” this bird might not be exactly a heron but it sounded good so that’s what we called it.

We surprised a pretty sizable turtle, who was probably on the prowl for frogs. He did not appreciate us at all and hauled shell for the water. At the same time, we startled a wild rabbit out from under the porch, who dashed off in the other direction. “It’s the tortoise and the hare!” Gamberboy yelled.

Sparkler and I had noticed two birds — I think they were barn swallows, and that sounds good, right? — who were very busy near the dock. DJ discovered why: they had a nest of very hungry babies. Sparkler would sit out on the deck and watch the parent birds swoop back and forth, bringing food to the babies. “They don’t seem to get much of a break,” she said. “I thought maybe that was how it was for you when we were little.” Yes. It was indeed.

It rained one day. Simply a deluge. What a lovely day for a walk.

But on other days, the sun made diamonds out of the ripples:

Sparkler got a chance to go out in the kayak. Of all our kids, she’s the one who most enjoys “messing about in boats.”

And there was, of course, gaming to do. This was the game Ranger got for his birthday, The Voyages of Marco Polo. What with travel and graduation and colds picked up due to travel and graduation, this was the first chance we’d had to try it out. It was sufficiently complicated with lots of little fiddly pieces, and DJ and I liked it. The boys prefer games with a deck-building mechanic. Fine, then, DJ and I will play it when we go to Williamsburg by ourselves.

The showpiece activity of the week was a day at Busch Gardens. No, Busch Gardens is not a historic mansion that you can tour, although all the kids thought it was when we said we’d take them there. (Why would they think we’d take them to tour a historic area on vacation, anyway?) It’s an amusement park. An amusement park, furthermore, built as a marketing tool for that one corporation you immediately think of when you think of “fun for the whole family”: the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company.

Busch Gardens is ostensibly a theme park, the theme being “Europe.” Yes, you can experience all the wonders of Europe in one small park! There’s England:

And Ireland:

And Germany and Oktoberfest, which are two different sections. Oktoberfest features this dreamboat to welcome you to the pleasures within:

Also, not pictured, are France (where we ate French fries), Scotland, and “Festa Italia” which features Roman numerals and a teacup ride of rather lovely patterned cups and a tall teapot called “Turkish Delight” whose relation to Italy is fuzzy. This version of Europe doesn’t feature Spain or Portugal or Sweden or Austria, but it does have Sesame Street for the summer.

Busch Gardens is corny, but overall it’s rather charming. The kids liked the rides, while DJ and I liked the shaded walks, the variety of music, and the rescue animals. Anheuser-Busch no longer owns the amusement park, but you can still see Clydesdale horses and buy beer.

Plus, we couldn’t possibly have had better weather. I told DJ that the sky looked almost fake blue — like he’d chosen it online from several “park weather” options.

The kids ended the day pretty worn out. They learned an important truth about amusement parks: 67% of it is standing in line.

But they all bought plushies so they ended the day happy.

DJ and I discovered that doing an amusement park with four kids who can go off on their own all day is absolutely the way to do it. We earned this day together — us and those barn swallows.

Even with spotty wifi at the vacation house, all of us enjoyed ourselves. We played games, saw wildlife, did an amusement park, and vibed. Now it’s back to real life (and much better wifi) — but it was a great vacation at the “lake.”

Ranger is 12!

Our youngest is now a Big Kid, which seemed unfathomable ten years ago when he was a toddler who referred to milk as “ungk” and helped himself to my ice cream bars out of the freezer. He’s grown into a giant in the household — he’s the tallest by a comfortable margin — and has proven himself to have the same capacity for games that his older brother has. Instead of a couple of brothers shooting hoops in the driveway, my boys play online games together. He gives Gamerboy a run for his money, too.

One thing that hasn’t changed from the time Ranger was a baby is his good humor. He takes pride in being a “nice person,” and he goes through most days in a pretty good mood. He’s easy company — although you do have to be pretty interested in the things he’s interested in because he does talk about them a lot.

In honor of Ranger’s 12th birthday, here are 12 of his favorite things. I tried to draw out some explanations, because his train of thought doesn’t always board as the same station as everyone else.

  1. My family
  2. Our pet
  3. I enjoy my genes (“What do you mean by that?” “That I’m healthy and I’m very creative. And tall.”)
  4. Friends
  5. Failboat, Ryan George (both YouTubers)
  6. Games (He loves everything from learning to mastering to discussing the finer points of strategy afterward. He doesn’t like losing. But he’s a good sport.)
  7. Plushies
  8. Computer (“What do you use it for?” “I use it for games like Hearthstone with Gamerboy.”)
  9. Pizza (“Italian pizza.” “As opposed to… what other kind of pizza?” “There are a lot of different kinds. I just like the original Italian one.” “I think you mean good old American pepperoni.”)
  10. My community (“What do you mean by that?” “My neighborhood. And Scouts.”)
  11. School subject: science. (“Well, I mean, learning about science. Actual science is terrifying. Even botany — fungi are terrifying. They have spores and the fact that might have originate from animals, not plants.”)
  12. My life (“What do you like about your life?” “Well, the fact that I exist, the fact that I have a caring family, and the fact that I have a lot of supporters.”)

He’s very affectionate — I get at least five hugs a day from him. He loves being given a list of goals and accomplishing them, like his dad. His siblings are slowly realizing that their baby brother is grown up, practically a contemporary of theirs. I have to say, I too love his life and the fact that he exists.

Happy birthday, Ranger. We love you!

The Gall…!

“When a 47-year-old overweight man staggers into the urgent care complaining of chest pains,” DJ explained afterward, “they get the ambulance there real quick.”

Fortunately for him, the EMTs — unlike his wife — hadn’t left their phone charging and on silent. They arrived in minutes, gave DJ nitroglycerin, and whisked him to the nearest emergency room. By the time I returned to my charged-up phone and found the texts, voice mails, and messages from DJ, he was already hooked up to an IV, had a dose of morphine, and been seen by a doctor.

Furthermore, he had good news. Well, relatively speaking. What he feared was a heart attack could, instead, be symptoms of a gallbladder attack.

A week later, DJ and I know a lot more about the gallbladder. We found out that a lot of our family and friends have had problems with it as well. At the time, however, my knowledge was a bit spotty. My mom suffered from gallbladder attacks when I was a young adult; I remember her being in a lot of pain until she she finally had to have it taken out. My memories of that whole event are fuzzy, though; at the time that she was undergoing surgery, my sisters and aunt and I were frantically getting our newly-opened tea shop up to code before the health inspector arrived. Mom’s surgery, the inspection of our tea shop, her recovery, and our passing certificate from the health department are all just one big stressful tangle.

So really the only part I took away was that it might not be his heart. That was good enough for both of us.

DJ spent that night and half of the next day in pain. Not even the morphine could kill it all. The sonogram was so excruciating he nearly threw up. Yet through it all he maintained his poise and politeness. He even did his daily Duolingo lessons, keeping his 921-day streak unbroken.

“I’m impressed,” I told him. “I can say sincerely that you’d do great in childbirth.”

It turned out to be a very easy diagnosis: the gallbladder needed to come out. The next day, the surgery was squeezed in between two others. Just about the time I was starting to wonder about the result, a nurse called to say that he was in the recovery room and did fine. Half an hour later, he texted me; about an hour later he called. He was groggy, but even immediately after surgery, he was in dramatically less pain.

The surgeon said that the gallbladder had been sick for a while, and was surprised that DJ hadn’t been suffering for weeks. But the first symptoms DJ felt were the ones that drove him to the urgent care. Well, actually, DJ drove himself, which in retrospect was a very bad decision; but all the rest of his decisions were good.

We got him home the day after his surgery. He was sore and tired but remarkably perky considering he’d just had an organ cut out of him. His improvement has been steady, so that a week after surgery, he was back to work. His abdomen looks like he was attacked by someone with a small knife and bad aim, but the soreness decreases daily. We are amazed at how quick the onset was, and how quickly they took care of it.

A day or so after he got home, DJ got an email from the hospital. “They want me to take a survey about my experience.”

“I know what you should say,” Sparkler piped up. “‘It was terrible! I can’t find my gallbladder anywhere!'”

Welcome Back, Back Yard

DJ remarked to one of our kids a couple of weeks ago, “It’s really springtime — Mom is working on the back yard.”

Over the years, I have put in a lot of effort to “get the back yard in shape” for summer. We like to hang out around the fire pit (which, as a reminder, is literally a pit we build a fire in), roast marshmallows, and have friends over. Here’s an evening in 2018 when DJ led a D&D campaign around the fire.

But the past two years haven’t been this way.

In 2019, we’d just lost E, and no one really wanted to hang out in the yard where he and my kids used to play all summer. I did some half-hearted trimming and clearing-out, but we just stayed inside a lot of that summer.

Then came 2020 and all its weirdness. I didn’t want to deal with the back yard. I started fantasizing to DJ about having a house in town with a tiny yard that I could mow with a manual push mower. What with the broken trampoline, various other junk, an overgrowing fire pit, a defunct sand pit, and weeds around the fence and deck… the yard just wasn’t welcoming anymore.

This year, however, I took notice. Not only was the back yard a sad remnant of the summer haven it used to be, but my body was feeling the effects of slowing down. My lower back hurt for a week just because I’d bent down to clean the dining room floor. I’ve never been a paragon of fitness, but all of a sudden I felt creaky and weak, and I didn’t like it at all.

I hate mindless exercise, but when I have a purpose — such as getting the back yard in shape — I can go for hours. I mean, I hate yard work too, but at least I accomplish something that way. I decided I’d tackle the yard again this year.

The first thing I did was disassemble the broken trampoline. (I saved one of the springs in memory of E.) The desolate late-winter light gives the whole thing a post-apocalyptic vibe.

Once the accumulated junk was hauled away, the trampoline left a tidy circle of bare ground. I briefly considered planting vegetables or flowers, and then hauled away that junk thought. A garden is like yardwork that needs a babysitter. No thanks.

What if, instead, I used that pre-cleared ground to make a new fire pit area? One that didn’t constantly grow in on itself, or fill up with water for two days after every rainfall? (I referred to it as “the elemental pit — sometimes a fire pit, sometimes a water pit.”) In lieu of landscaping cloth, I laid out some of the hundreds of paper grocery bags we’d collected since the grocery store stopped taking returns during COVID. Then Darren and the kids carried a couple dozen bags of gravel and sand to the site. We got a firebowl, and I gathered twelve baskets-full of broken edging and paving stones I’d accumulated over the years. Meanwhile, I cleaned up the sand pit. And spring came, making the back yard look less like something out of the Hunger Games.

Last night we inaugurated our new fire pit area.

I wish it were bigger around, that the gravel were deeper, that I could string lights above it… any number of Pinterest improvements. But as it is, it’s good. The kids enjoy playing in the sand pit and talking to each other, DJ and I enjoy the fire, and the physical labor has helped with the creaks in my middle-aged body.

The back yard is welcoming again, and it feels good.

Mundania: Getaways and Grown-up Kids

It’s spring, at long last. You know what that means! It means that the Joneses are living their same ordinary lives, illustrated by whatever random photos I decided to take at any given moment. Here’s one to open with:

“Hey, y’all, hey look at me, I’m a tree! I’m a tree!”

(In less than a year, this ambitious little cloud would branch out into snow business.)

Elsewhere, this plaque caught my eye because… well, 2020 was just a hard year for everybody, wasn’t it?

Mom gave me this tablecloth. It’s pretty, but it had a few stains I didn’t know what to do with. So I dyed it. I chose pink, which went on very dark, and at first I was afraid I’d created a Murder Holiday Tablecloth with dramatic bloodstains. It all evened out in the wash. I was miffed that the polyester lace squares took the dye way better than they should have, but overall it’s… cheerful, anyway.

This picture features the tablecloth that my mom gave me, paired with the china that DJ’s mom gave him. The unironed wrinkled look is all mine, though.

I don’t like it when parents refer to their grown children as “babies.” This is completely my opinion and shouldn’t in any way decide what you want to do. But my kids aren’t babies anymore, and in fact I enjoy them a lot more now that they’re not. So I don’t call them babies.

I mean… seriously. This is a young man — with a beard that he’s spent many years cultivating.

And we no longer have to lift up this one so he can reach this spinning-wheel thingy at the park. (Wow. It wasn’t that long ago, either.)

Yet… my children can still fall asleep in my lap. Only they’re way bigger now, and it’s because they work all week and are also doing two classes.

Springtime does bring one change to the household — it’s conference season. And this year, there are actually a few conferences. DJ has several lined up, which of course eats up our weekends. So he took a couple of days off last week for a quick little getaway. We can do these overnights now that, you know, we don’t have babies.

DJ searched AirBnB and found us this little schoolhouse built in 1888.

It was renovated and improved, of course, but they preserved the look of the schoolhouse. The ceiling and floor appeared to be original — or at least old.

I was particularly impressed by how they created “rooms” by putting the bed on one side of the divider and hanging the TV on the other side.

AND EVEN BETTER was the creek just a few feet away from the house. It was a fast, happy, rushing creek and I loved it.

Also, I assume this was where the outhouse once stood. We, fortunately, had an indoor, enclosed, tip-top modern bathroom including a toilet with a small nightlight.

The little schoolhouse and the remains of the community around it gave us a lot to look at and think about as we drove. But none of the 19th-century farmhouses and mid-20th century postwar houses caught my eye quite like this round house. My mom said it looks like a very substantial yurt.

Back home, I visited my friend in her new home. She said that they discovered they have a lilac bush at the side of the house, on account of it suddenly bursting into purple blooms. She sent a cutting home with me because DJ loves lilac; it reminds him of growing up in New Hampshire. Looking for a vase, I pulled out this little pitcher that someone gave me for a wedding present. So we put this New Hampshire flower in a Mississippi vase, and had our Virginia daughter hold it for the picture. I think that’s a nice wrap-up for a Mundania.

Well, actually, I need to point out how the rabbit is keeping an eye and ear on me, hoping for a treat. (He got one.)