Sunday, January 10, 2016

movie reviews 2016

It's that time of year again, when I start up the new lists that will help me to remember in 15 months if I did indeed read that book or watch that movie. This post is for the movies, and it'll likely include a whole bunch of flicks watched with the kids. I've been doing this since 2009, and each of the years since- 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Pass the popcorn, won't ya?

5. 1/30/16
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2
It's been a while since I last re-read the final book in the trilogy, so honestly, I was confused by some of the changes that the movie made to the way the plot progressed, because they seemed different, but then I couldn't remember what had happened in the book. By the end of the film, it all came back to me, and I guess I get how the changes made sense to keep the movie moving. This one was super intense, and I literally sat on the edge of my seat several times throughout the most suspenseful moments. But, I found the emotional connection to the characters to be lessened for me with the film. Sure, I still cried when (fill in major death spoilers here), but it wasn't as drawn out as when I read it. It would be great now to watch all four movies back-to-back!

4. 1/27/16
Blown. Away.  Brie Larson deserves all the awards for this performance, and Jacob Tremblay was eerily talented at conveying what I would imagine to be impossible-to-understand emotions for a young child. The novel transferred to the screen seamlessly, which likely has a lot to do with the author's involvement producing and screenwriting. This was devastating to watch, just as it was to read, but I couldn't be more impressed with the actors' performances. What an incredible film.

3. 1/25/16
Galaxy Quest
A friend of ours has been telling us for years to watch this cult classic. It was always on the list to get to, but with the terribly sad passing of Alan Rickman, it seemed like the time was now. We watched it with our 15-year-old, who was the only of our kids who would have the background knowledge to understand the humor in this. And damn, humor there was. We laughed, and I swooned, as usual, every time Rickman had a line. While his role in Dogma will always be my favorite, this one ranks high up there.

2. 1/17/16
Pitch Perfect 2
I'm of mixed feelings about this movie, because while I laughed and was entertained by the humor and fantastic singing, I was also frustrated and disappointed by the same old tired stereotypes and cliches. In calling herself "Fat Amy," is the overweight character embracing herself or just beating everyone else to the punch? Why does the overweight character always have to be the supersexualized, physically clumsy one? I know, I know, tired. And why are the only non-white characters relegated to the background, playing out stereotypical roles and having so, so very few lines? Meh. It could have still been as entertaining even with some adjustments that better reflect real life people.

1. 1/9/16
Even before we got our own canine named Max, the kids had seen the trailer for this film and were adamant that they wanted to watch it. I wasn't quite sure what the content would be, but I went to my favorite resource-- Common Sense Media-- for some info. When I saw the 9+ suggestion, I figured we'd give it a go, even though my youngest is only 8. What I didn't expect was having to explain about suicide bombers and illegal gun trafficking as significant plot points. Guess I didn't read the review carefully enough! This was much too intense for us; even the scenes of dogs fighting each other made my kids turn away. My teenager left the room because he wasn't feeling it either on this one, and I wished that I hadn't picked it up from the library. The ending made us think one thing at first, and that caused my 9 year old daughter to completely LOSE IT. The sobbing was heartbreaking, and both she and her brother declared their wishes that we had not watched this movie at all!

Friday, January 01, 2016

book reviews 2016

It's always a strange thing to start these posts at the beginning of the year, knowing that when it publishes the first time, there will just be the very first mini-book review as the only content. I've used these posts for the last several years to keep track of all the books I read over the course of the year, so it will get updated again and again throughout that time. I can't seem to let go of some traditions, so just like back in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, I'll post a few immediate thoughts and impressions after finishing a book. Please don't go looking for mega-deep thoughts or in-depth reviews here, but perhaps you'll find enough of a yay or nay to see if you'd also like a particular book.

5. 2/8/16
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
There is no shortage of quirky child characters in literature, but oftentimes those depictions lean toward the sugary-sweet, err-on-the-side-of-always-adorable. In this novel, Johnson balances the sweet with the sour in her depiction of young Frank, a boy who in most other settings would be wearing a label to explain his behaviors, anxieties, and impulses. Here we see a richly developed character who is lovable and terse, considerate and selfish, with his own way of perceiving the world around him. I adored this story for its characters and its earnest storytelling. A smashing debut!

4. 1/29/16
Everything's Relative by Jenna McCarthy
The opening of this new novel had me really uncomfortable and somewhat surprised at the depth of negative emotion from this usually pretty funny, lighthearted author. Thankfully, the introduction simply served as a snapshot of the lives of three sisters when they were younger following the death of their father. To say that their mother mistreated them is an understatement, but they all survived, each developing their own unique coping mechanisms. I enjoyed the roller coaster ride that was the story of their adult lives after their mother's passing, with an interesting plot twist that forces each of them to make significant changes, be it related to career, relationships, personal appearance, or even all three. Humor comes second nature to McCarthy, so it's not surprising to have expletive-laden quips that cause a sudden burst of laughter while reading.

3. 1/24/16
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
I chose this as a holiday gift for my teenage son last December after reading the rave review snippets on Amazon. After he finished it, he brought it to me saying that I "MUST" read it immediately. I try to follow through whenever he requests that, because he's pretty good at knowing which YA books are the kinds I'll enjoy. I wasn't sure about this one at first, though, but in retrospect, I now can see the intentional turns that the story took, even though those were the ones that caused me to feel less pulled in to the story. Once some key points were revealed, my entire viewpoint shifted, and I wanted to immediately go back and re-read the first 2/3 of the book to allow for this new perspective. Such clever storytelling here, with important questions facing so many young people explored. As a debut, I was super impressed, and I hope Silvera blesses teens with another book soon.

2. 1/11/16
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
When I heard that Yang had been named the latest National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Library of Congress, I was reminded that I had never read this book. I'd heard about it in recent years as the popularity of graphic novels was increasingly being talked about, and as my own children have moved into this genre. I checked it out from the library and read it in about an hour before bed one night. My nine year old daughter had been reading it here and there for the previous few days as it sat in the living room, and as I read it, I was super aware of its complexity, wondering how much she was understanding. I was drawn into the storytelling and the symbolism, and I appreciated reading a perspective on a childhood experience so different from my own.

1. 1/2/16
Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow
I really, really wanted to love this book. I've long been a fan of stand-up comedy, and I will even admit to usually loving the movies in the genre of low-brow comedies of which Apatow has made several. I'd even had the opportunity to meet Apatow a few years ago as part of a blogger roundtable discussion at the junket for This is 40, and I thought he was pretty down to earth in his admitted insecurities and his way of incorporating aspects of his real-life marriage and parenthood experiences into his work. I thought this book would be a no-brainer win for me, but then I found myself plodding through many of the interviews. Some folks came off so damn self-indulgent and self-important in their "analysis" of their work, but even a little of that was to be expected. I think I just didn't like reading an interview format for almost 500 pages. Show me a video of these interactions and I may have been more engaged, but overall, I just kept wishing that I was done already.

As always, happy reading,

Thursday, December 31, 2015

where'd the time go?

Now's the time of year for us to repeat the same old refrains-- The year is over? But it feels like it was just summer! How has another year gone by? Where the hell did the time go?

Yup, I'm there. I could pull out all of those boring platitudes and more. My mind is reeling by the fact that tomorrow will bring the number 2016 to the end of the date. Just plain weird, people. Regardless of my inability to process the passing of time, yet again, I do have a tradition to uphold. So even though 2015 saw very little in the way of blogging, there were adventures that were had and memories that were made. Starting way back in 2007, I began recording a top ten of highlights from the year, and it's been a thing ever since. (You can find 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, too.)

So even though it could be argued that 2015 brought a fair number of challenges much as 2014 did, we also kept on keeping on, you know? But when I stop and think about the year as a whole, I most want to remember the positives, just like I did eight years ago when I dubbed this list:

The Top Ten Things that I Liked, Laughed At, Smiled About, or Generally-Remember-in-a-Fond-Way of 2015:

10. On our honor, we will try...
It had been many, many years since I last uttered the Girl Scout Promise, but this was the year that saw me not only saying it again, but teaching it to a group of exuberant, enthusiastic, excited girls. The late winter found me attending a meeting at which I thought I'd be signing up Red for a troop, but leaving with a New Leader packet and the goal of finding enough girls to start our own troop. Our short foray into the world of Brownies served as a nice way of getting my feet wet for the fall, when our new Junior troop year began. In the last couple of months, we've assisted with two community service projects, held our very first official ceremony, worked on several badges during troop meetings, and have begun spreading the joy that is Girl Scout cookie selling.

Red and me with our troop (who aren't as Minecrafty pixelated in real life!).

9. Nifty Public Relations!
At some point back in the spring, a couple friends and I learned that the NPR office in Washington, DC, gives public tours. For free. You just sign up online and show up with your ID. Holy cow. I loved this idea so damn much that I went twice in 2015! First, my friend CE and I went on a beautiful day in June, and we not only had the best tour guide, but we saw several NPR folks during our tour, either in passing through the office or working hard at their desks, like Lakshmi Singh, Susan Stamberg, and Bob Boilen. I just knew that teenaged JAM, who has been listening to NPR since he was a little one, would love this tour. Though we didn't have a tour guide who was nearly as engaging as my first round, we still had a blast, and it was so fun to watch him get excited about something that I enjoyed just as much. I have a feeling that we'll do this again some day when the other two are a little older.

Yes, we said, "This is NPR," a ton of times. Just as excitedly as you would imagine.

8. It's always good to get away.
We may not be able to jet around the world, but we can get away a few times a year in simple trips that still make us happy. This year saw us boarding an airplane in April to head to Florida for the kids' big sister's college graduation! We had fun family visiting time, poolside and at the beach, which made everyone happy. Our year also included two camping trips, one at the beginning of the spring and another at the end of the summer. Two perfect times to sleep out in a tent, cook outdoors, and walk in the woods.  And I'd be lying if I tried to deny the awesomeness it is to travel on my own, too. Early in the year, I had the opportunity to get away for a whole week to stay up with my parents. Though my mom was recuperating from some health issues, and even had a minor eye surgery while I was there, we had a fun week just hanging out.

Congratulations K!!
Man, how we love to camp!
You have these goofballs to thank for me, along with my selfie-taking Grandma! (And honestly, a trip home wouldn't be complete with a fried clam dinner from Hank's!)

7. A family who selfies together... has a ton of laughs!
Oh yes, we do adore taking family selfies. We take them to commemorate particular family outings, or sometimes just for fun when we're out and about. While lots of folks sigh about the selfie trend, I've come to embrace it, and that's saying a lot since I'm not usually a fan of getting my picture taken. But when we five crowd together for a group selfie, smiling or making funny faces, there's a joy in recording that single moment. When one of the kids wants to get in a pic with me, I'll take it, because I know that those days might be limited. So yup, we're selfie-takers, and we take a lot of them. And that has brought me many smiles this year.

Hikes, date night, shaving cream pie fights, beach days, snow days, book festivals, just off festival rides we are clearly too old to ride anymore, and camping trips...
... more beach days, museum outings, more hiking, parade watching, new doggie smiles, more camping, and just plain silly-- you name it, we selfie it!

6. Four decades down, one tattoo up.
It was finally time for Hubby and me to join the 40s club this year, and when my turn came (five months after his, five months in which I loved reminding him that I was still in my 30s!), I knew it was time. I'd long wanted a tattoo with a special design, but I couldn't figure out just how I wanted it to look or where I wanted it to be. I'd gotten a text tattoo five years back, so I wasn't too concerned about the pain level, but I needed to figure out those other pertinent details. Working with an artist at a shop near our local university, a plan was made and one week before my birthday, my new tattoo (the design of which you'll understand if you know my real name!) was inked on my upper back. I adore it.

If you want a recommendation, I loved this guy!

5. Cheering for this kid spring and fall!
Pudge aged into the machine pitch level of our youth baseball league this spring, and in the fall, he played the shortened season with the older kids serving as pitchers. His confidence ebbs and flows, but he certainly brings a ton of spirit onto the field with him every game. And he looks freaking adorable in his uniform. In the fall, he was quite thrilled to be able to play catcher now and then, even though it meant a quick gear change. I love cheering for him out there and watching him learn to be a good team player.

Great players need to fortify with quick PB&Js on the sidelines!
Protecting all the important parts!

4. She made it to the stage!
This was a big year for Red, who auditioned for one of the "extra" roles in our local high school's fall production-- a completely new experience for her. I was so proud of her getting up there and singing and dancing in front of strangers, facing the fear that I could see in her eyes. When the email came that said she'd be one of the five little kids in the play, we both squealed. From September through November, she went to after school rehearsals and sang the songs again and again. I purchased my first pair of jazz shoes and learned how to apply stage makeup. Then the four nights came for her performances, and she left the house with so much excitement replacing that old fear in her eyes. I almost couldn't believe my eyes watching her on stage-- really acting out her role as one of the orphans, with dramatic facial expressions and awesome body language. We especially loved the one little joke about her red hair, and she remarked afterward how great it was to hear the audience laugh after she played it up.

You can say you knew her when...
Proud family with our little actor!
3. Blue hair don't care! 
This was the year that JAM finally outgrew me, so now I know how weird it can feel to be giving parental lectures while looking up. We tracked his growth for a couple months, standing back to back with a level balanced across our heads until the day that the level leaned down toward me for the first time. While that was certainly a memorable event for our oldest child, it's not the memory I wanted to primarily focus on here. Instead, let's remember 2015 as the year that my first child asked to change his hair color. Drastically. From light brown to bright blue, with a stopover in bleached blond land for a couple hours. It initially began as an idea for a Halloween costume, an homage to his favorite musician, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day fame, but when I told him that I wouldn't mind helping him do real dye versus blue hairspray, there was much rejoicing. He's still rocking some blue even after a haircut all these months later, and rumor is that he won't be returning to his natural hair color for a while if he's allowed to try out some other colors. We shall see.

Kinda reminded me of when he was a toddler with white blond hair!
Blue looks good on him.
JAM as BJA, though I knew he needed heavier eye makeup!

2. He got a big wish granted for his 40th, too!
I'm not sure that this has made me smile as much as it's made me worry, but I know how much absolute joy it's brought him this year, so here it is. Hubby finally got his motorcycle. He aced his classes, acquired the gear, and has enjoyed short and medium rides for months now. I try not to wring my hands after he leaves, but I do let out a little sigh of relief upon his return. I even hopped on for one very short ride home from a friend's house this fall! He's happy, that's for sure.

You can't tell, but we all know he's smiling under there!
The kids think one must wear this kind of facial expression when even just sitting on a motorcycle.
This is my "what the hell am I doing face" and his "I can't believe this is happening!" face!

1. And then there were six!
When it came time to brainstorm ideas for this year's list, the number one spot was the first one filled, because if you asked any of us in this wacky group what our best family experience was this year, you'd get a unanimous answer in the form of three little letters. MAX. Little Max, a mini-dachshund with big eyes and a ton of love to give, has been the very best thing to happen to our family in a long time. He remains everyone's favorite to sit with on the couch, even when he's stinky. His tiny little legs love a long walk or hike, and so far, the care-taking of Max has been somewhat evenly shared among everyone. The kids don't shy away from doody duty, which is awesome, and his name is probably the one word said most frequently throughout each day. Maxie Max, thank you for bringing us the best smiles of the year. You're clearly the most perfect doggie for our family, particularly because of your penchant for snuggling and napping. We love you so very much.

Sleeping, climbing on his doxie bff, or hanging out with his people, Max is just the freaking best.
Hello! It's me! I am so happy!

With those memories officially recorded as the highlights of the year, we can call it a wrap on 2015. It's always a lovely moment to be on the precipice of a new year, wondering what will happen between now and the next year end's round-up. Here's wishing you and yours a year full of hearty laughter, goofy selfies, new adventures, happy trails, and lots and lots of love.

For auld lang syne,

Friday, November 27, 2015

what is 40?

This was a milestone month for me, as November 2015 marked 40 years since I pulled in my first breath. Turning 40 is an oft-reflected upon occasion, and I would be lying if I said it was no big deal to me. It truly was a BFD, in fact. No tears were shed, but instead, at the precise minute that I was born all those years ago (or as precise as my cell phone's clock could be), I simply took a deep breath and closed my eyes. This was 40.

In Hollywood, 40 is glamorous. Get-your-groove-back. Botoxed and lifted, or professionally made up. On screen, 40 is slim, regular hours at the gym, personal trainer kind of physique. That may be some folks' 40 reality, but not so much mine.

For me, this is 40:

un-Botoxed laugh lines that have been in existence longer than the previously smooth surfaces

sweatshirt-clad selfies with Hubby

worries about Chemistry grades, playground dramas, and STEM fair projects, Parent Round

weekly attempts at yoga that have more effect on my mind than my waistline

a collection of friends who have seen me in all my glory- good, bad, and crying-face-ugly

an affinity for stretchy pants

a preference for a good book, a blanket, and my couch over a night on the town

middle of the day doggie snuggles

late weekend mornings care of DVR-occupied children

Student Council inductions, honor roll ceremonies, parent-teacher conferences, holiday concerts

therapy sessions, parenting websites, teary nights, commiserating with friends

questioning almost as many parenting decisions as when I first became a mama

wondering when I'll feel like a real grown-up

wondering if other 40 year olds feel like poseurs, too

wondering if my parents felt like this!

appreciating things like interesting insects and beautiful birds and the oldest tree in the forest

working hard every day, getting by, but always worrying about what the future holds

cycling through jealousy, guilt, and gratitude... wash, rinse, repeat

being connected to the same person for more than half my life

definitely not my new 20, but hopefully its own rightfully appreciated decade

I may not have cried outwardly, but there was still a bit of mourning in saying goodbye to my 30s. Way more than when I left my 20s, perhaps because at that point, I had been feeling like a 30-something for a while already. I'm pretty sure I've been thinking I was in my 30s since JAM was born. (FYI, I was only 24.) Anyway, that's a whole lot of number dropping just to say that I'll miss that decade's identity. I'm not quite sure I know how to be a 40-year-old, so for now, I'm winging it.

That's what 40 is, overall- still pretending I know what I'm doing, just in a different age bracket.

Monday, October 19, 2015

we needed a win

I intentionally remind myself, quite frequently, of all the good things that we have going on in our lives. I do this because I'm a weak person who is prone to jealousy in all its forms, and though I love to celebrate my friends' successes, sometimes they have a negative spiral effect on my perspective about my own family's life.

For many years, I've suffered from some recurring house jealousy, and as friend after friend has moved into spacious and attractive single family homes, our cozy little town house has sometimes felt as if it's closing in around us.

Three years ago, we put our townhouse on the market and tried to get into a bigger house. In hindsight, I'm glad that we didn't get a buyer for our place, because the two houses we were looking at back then would not be a great fit for us in our family's current day to day life. But a couple weeks ago, a single family house came on the market, and after going to see it, we immediately decided to make an offer and to simultaneously put our home back up for sale.

What followed was an anxious and busy weekend of prepping an offer and doing (almost) all the things on the ever-accumulating list of little house repairs, along with cleaning out some of the excess junk that magically appears in corners and on shelves and such. After an exhausting four days, we learned that our offer, though above asking price, was still not sufficient to grab what was arguably one of the most beautiful houses to come on the market in our city in many years.

It is really damn hard not to feel as though we just can't catch a break.

After shedding tears that felt silly, effectively mourning something we never had in the first place, we continued to trudge along. We've had several showings of our house in the last two weeks, and we've received positive feedback, but even if we had a buyer offer our asking price tomorrow, there still remains the issue of no house to move into. So while it's been quite lovely having a house that's almost always 95% clean-- just in case-- the whole house hunting process is losing its luster pretty quickly.

It was hard not to feel like a plain old loser when our offer wasn't accepted. I had committed the cardinal sin when we looked at the house, in that I immediately began planning the next 30 years of my family's life under its roof. (And in its gorgeous backyard, as well.) When that loss became apparent, Hubby and I lamented our pattern of striking out. Hubby's last words in one of our conversations really stuck with me:
"Our family needs a win."
That it did. That windy path that started with looking at a newly listed house for sale wandered back into well-trodden conversational territory. Territory that was hinted at in the last post right here, after the passing of our Betta fish Corny-- the children's nonstop campaign for a pet. Now mind you, the children were mostly of the understanding that their desire to get a pet, more specifically a dog, was not shared by me and Hubby.

They were wrong, but only because as the grown-ups in the family, we felt it was our duty to be the practical and responsible ones. We have a tiny house. Dogs need a lot of attention. The cost of food and care are high. Dogs can be stinky and messy, and dog hair is just not something that either one of us wanted to deal with. But underneath all that, all the realistic challenges that the children couldn't really understand compared to the delightful idea of having a dog in the house, the truth was that of course both Hubby and I have long wanted a dog. We both grew up with dogs. We both like the idea of a companion, a child-like creature who cannot talk back. Of course we wanted a dog.

We'd been talking for weeks about the possibility of getting a dog like the incredibly chill and loving dachshund that belongs to friends of ours. Small dog = okay in tiny house. Shedding, minimal. Hmmmm.

Our family needed a win. With this thought echoing in my head, I looked at rescue sites, read listings for doxies who were adorable, but not quite the right fit, especially with our need for a dog that would be good with young children.

Every time I sent Hubby a new link to a dog, or brought up the idea again in casual conversation, I had a voice in the back of my head asking incredulously, "What are you doing?!" I admitted aloud that I didn't even know what was going on that I was taking this seriously after all this time. I thought again and again about how this could go, and yet I continued to Google our way to a new family member.

Then it happened. Over the course of three days, we submitted our application, got our references in line, and heard back that we seemed to be a good match for the 3-4 year old dachshund male that the rescue group was fostering (after an initial mistake that resulted in an email that informed us that he was no longer available for adoption... but an hour later, that mistake was corrected and we had the green light!). We tried to get in touch with the foster parent Saturday afternoon to set up the meet and greet that could lead to us taking him home, but we didn't hear back. We visited friends on Sunday, and as we left their house in the later part of the afternoon, we thought we'd give the foster one more call, just in case.

Not only did she answer the call, she was willing to meet us as soon as we could drive up to her area. A little over an hour later, we were sitting on the floor of a meeting room in a pet store, watching a mini-dachshund run around smelling all the smells and peeing and pooping out his nervous energy. Not only did we pass the inspection, but the foster helped us walk around the store getting the initial supplies that we needed for the brand new sixth member of our wacky family. Though it was past the store's closing time, the staff was very accommodating and kind, as well.

We loaded up the little guy in his crate in the car, and we headed home. The big topic of conversation, of course, was over what to name our new guy. His listed name of Chaz had only been used for the last month or so while he was in foster care, so we didn't feel that we needed to be married to that, and we wanted to give him a new name to associate with his new life, maybe helping to eventually erase any possible negative times in his past. Lots of names were thrown around, including our original (half-joking) Ron Swanson. This little guy just didn't seem like a Ron, Swanson or other, and the lot of other suggestions given just didn't feel right.

Until Max. A smile slowly crept up on Hubby's face at Max, and he nodded. The kids, too, agreed that Max sounded like a good fit. Maxwell, if we're feeling formal, but Max in everyday use.

First official Family of Six selfie

Getting introduced to his new home, aka High Alert Status

After the kids went to bed, Max discovered the heaven that is the couch corner...

... and lying on Daddy, too, bringing life down to a total Code Green
This is the moment that Max begins to realize that his Mama is a selfie fan. It's going to be a long life.
We're officially dog people. Sure, our dog is smaller than probably every cat I ever had as a kid, but he's got a big spirit. A big spirit that is curled up on a blanket at my feet, snoring his head off right this moment.

At least he's not farting like last night. Seriously, people, this dog could not be more perfect for our family.

Monday, September 28, 2015

two years, four months, and sixteen days (give or take a few days...) or ode to a fish

There once was a family that was pet-shy. Though the parents had grown up in families that included dogs and/or cats throughout the years, they themselves were not quite over the shared emotional experience of approximately seven years caring for a cat with digestive issues that required special food and mental health issues that required an antidepressant.

"No pets," they said. "But we want a pet!" the children said. Back and forth. Forth and back.

Until a day in May when it seemed that the then five, seven, and twelve year old might just be at-least-momentarily satisfied with a little fish in glorious reds and blues.

Names were suggested, and a pull-from-the-hat was conducted, with Cornelius winning out over the other, now-mostly forgotten other names. A feeding schedule was created, and in the beginning, there were arguments about whose turn it was to feed Corny because everyone wanted to be the one to do so. Eventually that wore off, until the visiting toddler friends would be the ones to remind the children in the morning. "Whose day is it to feed Corny?" said in an adorable toddler tone would be just the prompt the children required to remember to tend to his needs.

The mom tended to his cleaning needs, perhaps not always as often as she should have, but always before it got to be a problem. She, perhaps, was the one who interacted with him the most, in as much as one can interact with a fish. But she will swear that their fish had personality. When the food container was shaken over the tank, she would notice his quick ascent to the water's surface, sometimes while puffing his gills in what she would call his "intimidating" act. She would giggle and talk to him in a way that might have appeared silly for a scene containing only an adult and a Betta fish. She frequently joked about his lazy qualities and the fact that they had in common a love of lying down, for the fish did often swim into his floating log and appear to settle onto the surface, resting his lower fins and not moving for extended periods of time. She would reassure folks upon seeing a nervous expression on their faces, "No, no, don't worry. He's alive. Just relaxing." A shake of the food container would usually be enough to get him swimming around again.

Time marched, or perhaps better said, swam on. Corny's novelty definitely wore off, but the children still took time to feed him, always waiting to see if he would do his dramatic big gulping movement with his face coming up out of the water for a split second as they dropped his food in. The daughter even fashioned a hanging toy from twine and colorful buttons that she suspended in front of the fish tank so that Corny could have something "for entertainment."

He wasn't a pet to snuggle. He wasn't a pet to cuddle. He wasn't the pet they had wanted.

But he was loved.

Two years, four months, and fourteen days after Corny became a part of the family, the people went away for the weekend. Upon their return, Corny was no longer a part of the family. No tapping on the side of the tank or shaking of a food container would get him moving again.

The parents waited until morning to break the news, trading what might have been a tough bedtime and night's sleep for a rocky, emotional morning before school on Monday. As soon as the words, "We have some bad news. Corny --" escaped their mouths, both younger children, grown to seven and nine, burst into loud, unapologetic tears. Their eyes darted to where the tank still sat, as always, and their wails took on the tone of confirmation. The parents tried to ease the blow with the knowledge that Corny had actually lived longer than the average life span for his kind of fish, but they knew full well that death at any time is still a hard pill to swallow.

When given the chance to choose how to handle Corny's body, the children's vote was a unanimous three for burial in the garden. The father, trowel in hand, prepared a small hole near the back of some bushes, and the children watched as the mother placed his body onto the paper towel they had prepared for him.

He was only a Betta fish, but he was their pet. Thank you, Cornelius, for giving them that.

Monday, September 21, 2015

if you continue reading this post, turn to page 43

As a kid, I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure books, but I couldn't ever be satisfied by following just one or two story lines. I had to systematically follow each possibility, each turn that was available. It was an undertaking, re-reading to each fork in the story and keeping track of each way already followed while pursuing new paths.

By the end of all possible stories, I was exhausted. But I knew all the paths, all the endings. No stone left undisturbed. No story left untold.

Dammit if life is nothing like a CYOA book in that sense. While we can ponder all the what-ifs, we can't truly see what our lives would have been like had we made different choices at key moments in our histories.

Don't get me wrong; I don't want to go back and change any of my important decisions. But I still have a curiosity of how different things would be had I pursued a different course of study in college, or if we hadn't taken the vacation with friends whose darling baby gave us the reassurance we needed to try to grow our family beyond just one child. What if I didn't have the liquid courage to kiss the tall, cute guy at the college party freshman year?

Like I said, I don't want to live those other lives, but I'd love to read them as stories or watch montages of them on the screen, just out of curiosity. Alas, that's not how life works. Instead, we make decisions and move forward, each moment in time forever sealed with that one fateful choice.

Fork in road - - 1142202
Dave Spicer (, via Wikimedia Commons 

Thinking in a forward direction, however, we do get to choose. I have wondered if marriage itself could be compared to a CYOA book, because each day we make choices that can affect where we're going. I've been making a concerted effort to keep this frame of mind in my day to day behavior, especially toward my husband. After being a couple for over twenty years, it's easy to take him for granted, and we may not always think about what we're saying or doing in our interactions.

It's funny, because I know what I want our "ending" to be, for we have talked at length about what we want out of life when we no longer are responsible for caring for the kids. (Yes, there will come a day, even though it feels a million years away.) For us to get to the part of our story where we travel around the country in our tricked out RV (with some DIY hacks, I'm sure), we have to make the right choices now. Gotta get to the correct page numbers, right?

I guess, in a way, marriage is like a CYOA book, though we only get one shot to work our way to the end of the story. There are no true take-backs or do-overs in relationships, though we certainly are human, so we sometimes need to ask for and to give forgiveness as an old path is reconciled.

But, I do believe that we're trying our best to make the decisions that will lead us to our ultimate goals. Not that I'm in any hurry to make it to the final pages of our shared stories, mind you. Hopefully this is one thick book, with tons of chances to turn to a new page.