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Hey, how have you all been?

I’ve been okay. I haven’t been doing much, really. I was sick for two whole weeks in April, and that sucked, but I’m better now. After I stopped being sick, I went to Europe for two whole weeks with my husband, because it’s our 20th anniversary this year, and we decided to go to foreign countries where I don’t hate the food. Ha ha, just kidding, Japan. (I don’t really hate your food, at least not all of it.) I will now say nice things about food in Japan: 1) Hiroshima-style okinomiyaki is the best. 2) The Japanese are much better than Americans at making salad. It’s true! 3) Japanese curry is delicious and I could eat it several times a week, probably, because I actually think I did do this while I was there. 4) The Japanese have much more interesting snack foods than we have. 5) You can get legit food at Japanese 7-Elevens. They make the American 7-Eleven dining experience look like…well, you already know what it looks like. 6) Japan sells a really good breakfast cereal I can’t remember the name of and I kind of miss it. (I can’t get it at the Asian market here. Sad face.) 7) The Japanese make pretty good sandwiches. 8) Japan sells better bread at their grocery stores than we sell here.

I’m still not a fan of miso, sushi, sashimi, seaweed, or the chewier sea creatures.

So should I tell you about my European vacation? It wasn’t super-European. I mean, we went to Paris for a few days, but then the rest of the time we were in London and Scotland, and I never know if the UK really “counts” as Europe. They seem to hold themselves apart a little. I don’t know. They don’t have the same money. But while I’m on the subject of money, can I just say (for the billionth time) that other countries’ money is so much prettier than U.S. money? Is there some reason we can’t use more color on our paper currency? I mean, come on. And when is Harriet Tubman going on the money, and are we really going to replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 because that seems like bullcrap, and even if they end up sharing, that also seems like bullcrap, and anyway, Andrew Jackson being on the money is bullcrap in the first place because what a jerk. But now I’m getting off topic.

Not that I was ever really on topic in the first place, but I’m going to try now.

Europe!

It was a super-long day of flying because first we had to go from Portland to Atlanta, and then we had the transatlantic flight to Paris, but I did not sleep at all on either of these flights. I did not have a big problem with jet lag. I never really knew what time it was the whole time I was over there. It was like being in another dimension or something. (I don’t actually know what it’s like to be in another dimension.)

In Paris I saw the Eiffel Tower (naturally), the Louvre, Montmartre, Notre Dame, and the Catacombs. The Catacombs were cool, but also kind of creepy. The bread in France is delicious. All of the food I ate in France was delicious. I did not eat anything non-delicious there. I also did not learn any new French, unfortunately, although I think my pronunciation may be slightly less awful now. (Slightly.) French cab drivers are a lot like Japanese cab drivers. It would be so easy to get hit by a cab or a bus in France. But I did not get hit by either, gentle readers. (But if I had, I understand the medical care is free over there, so maybe that’s why they’re so lackadaiscal about stuff like traffic laws.) This is not a slur on French cab drivers (or the Japanese cab drivers). IT’S JUST DIFFERENT, THAT’S ALL. Another thing about France (or Paris, anyway) is that all the women are thin. I saw maybe one overweight French woman while I was there, and honestly, I don’t even know that she was actually French. She could have just been speaking French and hailing from some other country. I’m a terrible French-speaker, so if she had an accent, how would I have known?

In London I saw Romeo and Juliet at the Globe Theatre, the British Museum (which was cool, but would have been cooler if I hadn’t been to the Louvre three days before, so my advice, if you go to the British Museum, is to not see the Louvre first, or at least let the memory of the Louvre fade from your mind before embarking on a trip to any other museum), the Churchill War Rooms, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and Wicked at the Apollo Victoria. I had never seen Wicked before–indeed, I knew almost nothing of Wicked, except that I read the book it was based on, and I might have heard one of the songs once. I liked it a lot. Romeo and Juliet at the Globe was really good, too. I was told we should get groundling tickets, but I thought that sounded like the opposite of what I should do because I’m too old to stand for two hours, especially in the rain. (For the record, it did not rain the night we were there, but it could have, and I am not any more inclined toward gambling than I am toward standing.) We went to an evening service at Westminster Abbey, which made me want to become an Anglican, or at least an Episcopalian. (Thirty-five minutes, start to finish. I FIND YOUR IDEAS INTRIGUING AND WISH TO SUBSCRIBE TO YOUR NEWSLETTER.)

In Edinburgh we went on a ghost tour and ate a lot of pub food. We also rented a car and drove out to see some old castles. Well, my husband drove. You could not have paid me to drive. I was not, frankly, super excited about riding in a car driven by someone who is not used to driving on the other side of the road, and there were some harrowing moments on our automobile journeys, but no injuries or fatalities to people or vehicles, and taking public transit would have turned a 40 minute trip into a 2-hour trip, so all in all I would say it was worth it. THE CASTLES IN SCOTLAND ARE AWESOME. We saw Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, of course, but that’s more of a museum. My favorite castle that we saw was Tantallon Castle in North Berwick. It’s on the coast, and it might be the most arresting scenery I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m going to share a picture with you.

 

 

 

 

That’s a view from the top. It’s pretty, but you know what? IT LOOKS LIKE CRAP COMPARED TO HOW BEAUTIFUL EVERYTHING WAS IN PERSON. So I’m afraid you’ll have to use your imagination.

Also while in Scotland, we toured St. Giles Cathedral, hiked up to Arthur’s Seat (it was super-windy and I forgot my ponytail, so my hair is like Bride of Frankenstein in all the pictures), and visited the Scottish Parliament. I had never thought about Scotland having a Parliament or not before this visit because I’m an ignorant American, but it’s only been around since 1999…which actually makes me feel even stupider for not being cognizant of its existence, but whatever. It’s a very weird-looking building from the outside, but quite nice inside. Actually, the building looks best from the aerial view; too bad most people won’t see it from that angle.

And then we flew home. In my opinion, two weeks was exactly the right amount of time to be gone. By the time we got home, I had actually started to miss the kids.

Well, that’s my vacation in a nutshell. If 1,300 words qualifies as a nutshell. I suppose for two weeks in Europe, that’s kind of a nutshell. And only one picture! That’s a nutshell indeed.

Last night I had a nightmare. It is the first nightmare I have had in a really long time. I define “nightmare” as “not merely an unpleasant dream, but a dream in which one is terrified and which continues to haunt the dreamer after waking.” It was horrible dream, with a lot of graphic violence and gore. I do not usually dream of graphic violence and gore. I do not usually partake of gore in any form. Well, okay, that’s not strictly true. I do read a lot of serial killer books, but I kind of skim over any gory parts and forget them relatively quickly. I do not usually partake in visual representations of gore, precisely because they are so much harder to forget. But this dream was violent and gory, in addition to terrifying. The worst part of the dream–which covered a time period of several days, possibly weeks–was that I kept coming to a point where I thought, “Phew, I’m safe. My family’s safe.” AND THEN WE WERE NOT SAFE. AGAIN!

I will not describe the dream to you. Usually when I have a vivid dream I like to put it on the internet and crowd-source an interpretation. But most of my dreams are fairly amusing in retrospect. Nightmares are not. But I actually did write this dream down earlier today. One might think that if a dream were very disturbing, as this dream was, one would want to forget it as soon as possible, not write it down for posterity. But I suppose when I get disturbed enough by dreams, I worry that there is some reason that I had the dream that I should probably try to understand. In hindsight this seems silly. Nightmares probably aren’t any more significant than ordinary dreams. Therefore, why should I try to understand them? Also, now that I have written it down, it does seem more silly than terrifying. That is, I imagine that someone else reading about it would laugh at it. I myself am not laughing yet. It’s still haunting me.

And now you’re curious. Don’t be. Suffice it to say that the dream involved a prison housing dangerous criminals under my garage. My family and I were living in our garage because our oppressive government had taken over the main house. The good news is that the garage (in the dream, not in real life) was perfectly adequate for a family of six. The bad news is that it was not adequate for a family of six and several dangerous convicts. If I wasn’t being threatened by dangerous convicts (who were also mutants (thanks to the inhumane living conditions in the sub-garage prison), I was being threatened by corrupt government officials (who suspected me of collaborating in the recent escape of aforementioned convicts). I was in a constant state of fear.

Yes, I realize it does sound a little bit silly. But it was not actually silly. Which you would understand, if you had been there.

I was wondering what might cause a dream like this, assuming it is not a message from God or something equally meaningful. Princess Zurg has been preoccupied with government oppression for at least a twelvemonth. I suppose that would account for me dreaming about an oppressive government (especially one that would take over my house and force our family of six to live in a garage, adequate as it was). And my husband and I did recently watch A Young Doctor’s Notebook on Netflix, which was much gorier than anything else I ever watch on television. (I couldn’t watch CSI because the one episode I saw kept doing close-ups of the victim’s vomit. I found that would not do. But Victim’s Vomit might make a good name for a death metal band. Not that I would listen to a band called that. I’m just putting it out there, in case there are any death metal bands looking for a new name. Use it with my blessing.) I watched those scenes with very squinty eyes, from behind my hands. So that might explain the uncharacteristic dream gore.

Where the prison thing came from, I’m not sure. I haven’t been threatened with prison in a rather long time.

Moving along, though–school is finally back in session. I still haven’t told you about my camping experience from last month. I doubt very much I will ever be in the mood to do so. Maybe I’ll just hit the main points:

* They make air mattresses better than they used to.

* Flushing toilets at the campsite really do make a positive difference.

* A ten-man tent can fit a family of six comfortably. (It isn’t quite as roomy as a dream garage over a dream prison, but then, it doesn’t have the convicted felons either.)

* My husband made gourmet camp food. We ate better while camping than we usually eat at home.

* We camped at two different places. The first place was remote and quiet. It occurred to me, that first night, when I had to leave the tent to go to the bathroom (because ever since the birth of my fourth child, I have to get up at least twice during the night to go to the bathroom), that I should probably be afraid of killers possibly lurking in the woods, but I did not suspect there were any killers in this particular place. And if there were, maybe they would hit the RVs first. I don’t know why, but I think that’s what I would do, if I were a killer.

* The second place was very close to the highway. You could hear the trucks going by all night. Trucks going by on the highway at 55 mph are not quiet. Also, we were no longer camping with nice old people and their grandkids and their RVs but with younger and inconsiderate people who liked to play their obnoxious music well into the night and not retire until maybe 2 a.m. It occurs to me, in retrospect, that I was probably in much more danger of killers at this campsite, and yet I was not afraid of killers here either. Probably because I was too busy thinking about how I might become a killer if those horrible people next to us did not shut up or at least turn off their radio. But I did not become a killer, nor, obviously, was I killed.

* I got sunburned on my knees, but only on my knees. It’s a long story involving oversights in sunblock application. But I lied just now. I did not get sunburned only on my knees. I couldn’t find my hat before we left, so I also got sunburned on my scalp. Never again will I think to myself, “Maybe I should take a hat. Except I can’t find my hat. Maybe I don’t really need to take a hat.” Ladies who are slowly but surely going bald will always need a hat. Which reminds me, I should be looking into Lady Rogaine or something.

* I did not hate camping this year.

* I don’t need to go camping again next year.

That’s all I can remember, frankly. There was more, but who cares? I mean, if I don’t, why should you?

 

So now I have survived two traumatic experiences this summer. Back in June I was in a four-car smash-up, and yesterday I went white water rafting. If you know me at all, I know what you’re thinking: “Madhousewife, why were you white water rafting?” I am not fond of the outdoors. I don’t like to have fun. Therefore, it makes little sense that I should have been white water rafting. Except that my husband wanted to take me and the older kids white water rafting, so naturally that is why I was white water rafting. When my husband says he wants to do something that I’m not particularly interested in doing, my response is to murmur indifferently and hope that he will eventually forget about it. To say I’d rather not do something he’s decided would be fun to do is to invite criticism of my well-established hatred of fun. In addition to fun and the outdoors, criticism of my fundamental personality traits is something I don’t enjoy. I only invite personal criticism when it’s really important. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head. Maybe I will get back to that later.

Anyway, my husband went white water rafting with his co-workers as a team-building activity last summer, and for his birthday the white water rafting company sent him a gift certificate for a free white water rafting trip for an individual. This reminded him that he wanted to take me and the older kids white water rafting, and it wasn’t like he could not take advantage of one of us being free—hence, he booked us on a white water rafting trip. I was not excited to go, but I was willing to go because despite my hatred of fun and my apparent willingness to own it, I am clearly not willing to fully own it because I still occasionally feel guilty about it and doubt my own judgment when it comes to outright rejecting activities that I have no desire to participate in. I have no desire to spend three days at amusement and water parks at the end of this month, but I am uncomfortable saying, “I will not do that,” because a) it just seems rude to tell my family I won’t go on vacation with them, b) what would I suggest instead? I’m not a fun person, and c) even if they left me at the hotel to read a book, which I would enjoy, I would feel like I was missing something because the rest of my family is off having fun and—for want of a less cringe-inducing phrase—making memories without me. I have to go to the amusement park and the water park, or otherwise I am not part of the family. I would sooner excommunicate myself from the church (and I’m not aiming to do that any time soon).

When it comes to things I’ve never done before, there is also the remote possibility that I will end up enjoying it. It isn’t likely, given my nature, but how do I know unless I’ve tried it? I like to think that there are many things I’ll agree to do once. I once agreed to eat tripe. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. But now I know, and now when I’m confronted with the opportunity to eat tripe or not eat tripe, I can make an informed decision, with or without guilt. Well, in the case of tripe, it’s without guilt because there are several people in the family who won’t eat tripe. I don’t have to feel like I’m letting them all down by not eating it. Also, maybe I feel like some tripe today. I don’t know. I also don’t feel guilty about refusing to eat olives. This only affects my family when it’s time to order pizza. I guess this is one of those examples of when inviting personal criticism is worth the risk. I really hate olives. I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks. Thanks to experience, I also know that I really hate raw baby squids—eating them, not so much their existence—and I have no qualms about refusing to eat those, even if it means offending the entire nation of Japan, should I ever find myself in a remote fishing village there again.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Until yesterday, I had never been white water rafting. Maybe I would like it, maybe I wouldn’t. How would I know unless I tried it? I wasn’t excited to try it, but I was willing to try it, for the aforementioned reasons I have already explained, despite the fact that it involved the outdoors (which I’m not fond of) and also involved water, with which I have a complicated relationship. (I’m not sure it’s worth going into the history.) Despite the fact that I am generally terrified of drowning (part of my complicated relationship with water), my anxiety over the trip was not so much over the (distinct) (but at the same time statistically unlikely) possibility of drowning but the certainty that I was going to have to spend several hours in a wet suit, which didn’t sound comfortable (what if I get an itch I can’t scratch?) and that I would need to exert myself physically (physical exertion being another thing I have a complicated relationship with) in a manner that might require coordination (coordination also not being one of my strengths). So yes, I was anxious, but I wasn’t scared anxious.

That was before I got to the white water rafting place. The wetsuit actually wasn’t that bad. I got an itch. I was able to scratch it. It was unbearably hot, but they told me I’d be grateful for the insulation once I was in the 40 degree water, and I believed them. I still had my doubts about the physical exertion/coordination thing, but they were not overwhelming. What was overwhelming was when they started talking about what I’d need to do if I fell out of the raft or the raft turned over and everyone, including me, fell into the river. Obviously, I knew all along this was a possibility—falling out of the raft and into the river—but I didn’t know-know it until they were giving me instructions on how to deal with this scenario and I realized that I would never in a million years remember all of this stuff. I could remember some of it—Number One rule, for example, “Don’t Panic!” Easy to remember. Not so easy to follow, which brings me to my second overwhelming experience, the realization that I would, in the event of falling into a river, definitely not remember anything I was supposed to do except not panic, and therefore I would definitely panic. I’m sorry, but what is the alternative when you can’t remember how not to drown? I can’t think of one. At the same time, I can’t think of a better way to drown than to panic while underwater, so you see why my anxiety increased exponentially at this point. I really had no choice but to stay in the raft, and being ill-coordinated and inexperienced (at white water rafting), I was not 100 percent confident of my ability to do so. Did I mention that I was now rationally anxious, as opposed to just silly-anxious? Seriously, an itch I couldn’t scratch? How could that ever have bothered me? I’m some kind of idiot, that’s how.

Anyway, back to my story and my determined resolve not to fall out of the raft, since I had already forgotten 85 percent of what they’d told me to do in that event—possibly 90, I couldn’t really tell since I’d forgotten so much. I got in the raft. The raft was in the water. Because we booked the trip late, our family had to split up and be in two separate rafts. Sugar Daddy and Princess Zurg were rafting with some outdoorsy, fun-loving young adults (or maybe they were middle-aged adults, I couldn’t really tell since I was focused mostly on the drowning thing), and Mister Bubby and I were rafting with a family of four—outdoorsy, fun-loving parents and their game-looking teenage daughters, one of whom had been rafting before but not at this level of rapids. I forgot to mention that this trip included level-2 and level 3- and level-4 rapids and also a level-5 waterfall thingy at the end. None of these levels meant anything to me before this trip; frankly, they don’t mean much to me now, except I now know that level-2 is about where my comfort level stops. But back to my story. I was getting off topic. We were in the raft. The raft was in the water. SD was in another raft. He said he was actually kind of glad he was in a separate raft because then he could better watch me as I was having my rafting experience. Forget the logic of this statement. What you need to know is that my husband has admitted that he enjoys witnessing my discomfort, to the extent that it’s important to him to get a good seat. I’m going to leave that for now and come back to it later, or we’ll never get past the part where I’m in the raft.

We’re in the raft, the raft is in the water, and we’re rowing. Or paddling. I guess you paddle in a raft. They taught us how to paddle. It made sense.  I am executing the paddling motion. Am I awesome at it? No. Am I better at it than the girl in front of me? Yes. Is that saying much? No, but I don’t have any other reference. We are paddling in the raft, in the water, and we’re coming up on some rapids. What do they call these rapids? I forget. They all have cute names. One is “Maytag.” I do not like that name, but that is not the name of these rapids. I think these were “The Staircase” or something. Honestly, none of the names appeals to me, but that’s neither here nor there. We’re coming up on some rapids, maybe The Staircase, maybe something else fraught with devastating possibilities, and our guide—whom I like very much; he sounds a lot like the Crush the turtle in Finding Nemo, and I feel comfortable with him—tells us to paddle forward two, but I notice there’s a big rock where my paddle would go, and then the next thing I know, the raft is tipping and, despite my determination, I am falling out of it. I am telling this in slow motion. This is how it really went down: we’re paddling, everything’s cool, and then BOOM! I’m in the water and I’m drowning. I knew this would happen!

So I’m in the water, drowning. I don’t know what anyone else is doing because all I can think is, “Don’t panic,” and also, “Panic!” This is the conversation my brain is having with itself: “Don’t panic!” “I’m panicking!” “I said don’t panic!” “I know! I’m drowning!” “You can’t panic when you’re drowning!” “But I’m DROWNING!” “Okay, let’s think, what was that thing they said about recirculating? We don’t want to do that—“ “I AM F***ING DROWNING HERE!” “SHUT UP, I’M TRYING TO THINK!” “I’M PANICKING!” “What you don’t want to do is put your feet down, they told you not to put your feet down—“ “IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT THAT I GET SOME AIR RIGHT NOW” “I’M THINKING!” “Okay, I am breathing air now, but I can’t see anything and I can’t hear anything and the important things is that I’M STILL IN THE WATER AND NOT THE BOAT AND WHERE IS THE WATERFALL AM I GOING TO DIE” and on and on like that until finally I heard SD’s voice and the guide in his raft pulled me out of the water, and then I wanted to cry but I didn’t because the trip had just started and I had already almost f***ing drowned. If I cried at this point, what would I have left to do the next time I almost drowned? Do not be misled by my reluctance to type the F-word in public; I assure you that my private thoughts contained no asterisks. I’m sorry, I’m going to need a minute here.

It was terrifying. Also, cold, but at the time I didn’t mind the cold so much—frankly, it was rather refreshing—but the terror really put a damper on my mood for the rest of the trip. It turned out that the whole raft tipped over, so all six of us went in the river. Mister Bubby actually swam toward the raft. I learned to swim at an appropriate age, but apparently I can only access the skill if I’m not in a life-or-death situation, which, to me, pretty much misses the point of learning how to swim. But I don’t have time to dwell on that epiphany. All six of us eventually ended up back in our right-side-up raft and continued on our way as if we hadn’t just had a near-death experience.

Seriously, wet suits and itching. What was I thinking?

Actually, one of the previously game-looking teenage daughters now appeared to be even more traumatized than I was. She couldn’t stop crying. I knew how she felt. I would have been crying too, if I hadn’t been determined not to embarrass my son, who had made it clear before we got on the raft that he was not thrilled to be paired with me because I was so potentially embarrassing. So I was being strong, for him (not that he appreciated it), but my sympathy was with this poor girl, who—I believe I mentioned—could not stop crying. We kept paddling, she kept crying. We got to a part of the river where we had to get out and hike what seemed like a mile but probably wasn’t nearly a mile of rugged terrain, and she was crying the whole way. Eventually she and the mother just had to walk out, which left only four of us in our party, but that was okay. At least none of us was crying. Yet.

We got to the point where it was time to get back into the rafts, which were already in the water (having been zip-lined past the stretch that was apparently unnavigable), and our choices were to jump off a cliff into the water (about a 20-foot drop), or hike a more roundabout route to the place where the rafts were waiting. The jump was highly recommended by several, but I knew about this part of the trip from the outset, and I knew from the outset that I would not be jumping off any cliff for any reason, with any inducement. I don’t jump off of cliffs. I don’t jump off of anything. SD jumped off the cliff, but that was no biggy, he’d done it before. Also, he liked jumping off of things. Like diving boards and crap. MB and PZ also jumped off the cliff. I took the long road, along with half a dozen or so of my fellow catapedaphobic rafters. I can’t say the descent down the side of the cliff was a stroll in the park either, but there were ropes. I made it. I watched my children plunge into the river, on purpose. Then we continued on our merry way.

Really, there is not much for me to say about the rest of the trip. As I told MB and SD later, it might have been different had I not fallen into the river very first thing. Perhaps I might have enjoyed some of the gentler rapids. SD pointed out to me that I basically body-surfed a level-4 rapid on my back, which should have been awesome, but I really could have done without the experience. I spent the rest of the time just being afraid that I was going to fall in again. It is hard to forget that you just almost-drowned when your ears and stomach are still full of river water and your mouth is still full of the taste of fear. As we got closer to the end of the trip—the part where we were supposed to go over the waterfallOn the bus ride down to the starting point of the trip, I told MB—who was so bummed that he was with the embarrassing, fun-hating parent—that while I was definitely not jumping off a cliff, I did intend to go off the waterfall (which, like the cliff-jumping, was optional). I mean, why wouldn’t I? It was the climax of the trip, and after all, I’d never done it before, had I? And I couldn’t disappoint my son when I was the only parent he had in the raft with him, could I? So I said I’d go over the waterfall, but that was before I fully grasped the concept of “level 5.” As we got closer and closer to the waterfall, and they went over all the safety procedures for going over the waterfall, and they reiterated the stuff they said earlier in the day about the risk of “recirculating” (which I definitely didn’t want to do), I became increasingly certain that without a frontal lobotomy, I would not be able to enjoy going over a level-5 waterfall. And no matter how much I wanted to do it, i.e. not disappoint my son and miss the climax of the trip, even if I hated it, I could not make myself do it.

It turns out that I am only so much of a good sport about drowning.

It also turned out that of the four of us left in the raft (besides the guide), MB was the only one willing to go over the waterfall. That made me extra upset about not being able to make myself do it, because 12-year-olds shouldn’t have to go over waterfalls without their mothers. Right? I mean, it seemed that way to me. I can’t describe the guilt that went along with this decision, which I absolutely knew was the only decision I could possibly make because the flesh was weak and the spirit was also weak. It made it very difficult to enjoy the relief I felt over not having to go over a waterfall, which I now think was really unfair, but at the time all I felt was regret–and an overwhelming fear of drowning, of course, but that goes without saying.

So I got out of the raft and walked with my fellow waterfall-phobic rafters to the bridge where you watch fun-loving people go over a waterfall in a raft and possibly fall out and get sucked into a whirlpool thingy and “recirculate” and meet their watery demise, and my anxiety level went up again. Here I was, safe on the bridge, and there were my children in the river, about to go over a freaking waterfall. I wasn’t worried about SD—he’d done it before and not died, so I was reasonably confident he could do it again—but neither of my children had ever navigated a waterfall before, successfully or otherwise. PZ was even less good at rafting than I was, and MB was all alone in the raft with a dude who talked like the sea turtle in Finding Nemo (not that he wasn’t a consummate professional). I almost didn’t want to watch, but I did.

They survived. Nobody fell out. And the fun was finally over!

SD said it was very sad to watch me getting knocked around by the rapids, clearly terrified, but I can’t help noticing that while SD always says it’s sad for him to see me scared, he also can’t seem to keep from laughing about it. Perhaps it’s a nervous reaction and he doesn’t actually enjoy my fear, but it’s just that he keeps pulling me into situations where I will be very afraid. Situations like roller coasters and haunted houses and big water slides and white water rapids. And he seems to enjoy reminiscing about those experiences. I don’t mean to invite you to judge him too harshly, gentle readers. I’m sure he’s only able to laugh because he (unlike I) knew all along that I wasn’t going to die. I’m sure he wouldn’t laugh at my fear if he ever thought I was in actual danger. I think.

MB: You didn’t enjoy the rest of the trip because you almost fell in the river.

Mad: There was no almost about it! I did fall in!

MB: I mean you almost fell in again. You only stayed in the raft the second time because you grabbed onto that 12-year-old girl.

Mad: Yes. And thank God she was there.

That’s all I have to say about white water rafting. Except that wet suits smell like feet. But that’s another post for another day.

Blog-wise, anyway. I’ve been on vacation for the last ten days. I guess it was ten, I’m too lazy to count. You count for me: I left on the 23rd and came back on the 31st. What is that? Nine days? So nine days, not ten. This is the tenth day and here I am. Surprise! It’s good to see you too.

Let me summarize my vacation for you: We drove down to Gold Beach, which is in southern Oregon. There is nothing at all in Gold Beach except a jet boat tour that will take you up the Rogue River to the bustling metropolis of Agness, which also has nothing in it. I don’t mean to besmirch any of these fine geographical locations. The jet boat tour was a lot of fun. The beach at Gold Beach is very pretty. We ate lunch in Agness, and it was pretty good. We went to church while we were in Gold Beach, and I think we increased the congregational population by 20 percent. I find coastal towns inordinately depressing, but I enjoyed church there very much. It must have reminded me of my college days and the era of Mormon scarcity. Everything’s more precious when it’s scarce. Must be similar to the way Gold Beach residents react when they see a job. But I digress.

Anyway, we were in Gold Beach for a few days, then we drove down into California to see the Redwoods. We went to the Trees of Mystery, which has all the funny-looking redwood trees, and then we did some (very little) hiking in Fern Canyon. I want to tell you one thing about Fern Canyon: If you have the opportunity to go there, you must. It’s astonishingly beautiful.

Then we drove back into Oregon to see the Oregon Caves. Those were cool. Another thing that has to be experienced in real life. I tried to take pictures, but pictures don’t work. They really don’t. That didn’t stop me from taking them, of course. I kept trying to get them to work, but they just don’t. I’m sorry, but that is my excuse for not posting pictures of my vacation. You can thank me later.

Then we spent a day in Medford just taking a breather. This was one of what my husband has come to term “dog’s butt days.” (I hope you appreciate that hyper-link I went to all the trouble of providing, even if you don’t feel the need to click on it.) It is his concession to my need to not be constantly doing something, i.e. my preference for always doing nothing. Medford really is a bustling metropolis, next to Gold Beach and Agness, but there is also very little to do there. So I did the laundry and saw Brave with my daughters. (We had to drive to a theater in a neighboring city, though, since the one theater in Medford was not showing anything we wanted to see.) And that was the dog’s butt day that was.

The next day we drove to Eugene and visited with some friends. Eugene is just as depressing as it’s always been. Not coastal-town depressing, but I-used-to-live-here-and-I’m-so-glad-I-don’t-anymore depressing. No offense to Eugene. Well, none taken, I’m sure! Eugene is a special place. Unfortunately, it occupies a corner of my memory which is reserved for Very Dark Periods of my life. I get a similar feeling of dread every time I drive past an apartment building we used to live in. It’s all part of Life When Life Sucked. And you know, it’s not like life never sucks now, but compared to the way it sucked then? Well, there’s just no comparison. What’s the difference? Money. I’m sorry to say. But it’s true. I’ll never forget the first day I walked into a grocery store and thought to myself, “I can totally afford to buy whatever kind of breakfast cereal I want.” Money may not buy happiness, but it certainly mitigates the sadness. If you don’t believe me, ask a poor person.

The next day, which was yesterday, the last day of our vacation, we drove to the Enchanted Forest in Salem, on our way home. The Enchanted Forest is another thing that has to be seen to be believed. I call it the poor man’s Disneyland. My husband calls it “charmingly low-rent.” It’s the sort of place that my older kids should totally be over by now, but we go there every year and they still love it.

We took my mother-in-law on this vacation. At first she wasn’t going to come. I mean, at first we had planned for her to come, but then she spent three weeks in Chicago with her newborn grandchild and feeling like she was driving her daughter-in-law nuts, so she came back here and said she didn’t think she wanted to come with us on vacation because she didn’t want to drive me nuts. My mother-in-law is always talking about how she doesn’t want to drive me nuts. Really, it’s her son she drives nuts, not me. But after Sugar Daddy and the kids used all their powers of persuasion to get her to come with us, she said she would leave it up to me. To which I said, “…” Because what does one say? My suspicion was that she didn’t really want to come with us and maybe she wanted some time to herself after a stressful three weeks with her other grandchildren and daughter-in-law, but if I told her to go ahead and stay home if she wanted to, she would have interpreted it as “I’m too polite to tell you that you’ll drive me nuts.” So whatever. I don’t remember how it all went down, but she ended up coming after all.

Let me tell you: Never again. NEVER AGAIN. She really didn’t want to come. I was totally right about that. The kids drove her crazy, she drove my husband crazy, and even I, who don’t have the energy to be driven crazy by people to whom I’m not married or who didn’t come out of my birth canal, was driven crazy. The hours in the car were the worst. She was constantly sighing. She was like Al Gore in the 2000 presidential debate. Sigh. SIGH. SIGH. I want to tell you: I love my mother-in-law very much. Generally speaking, she does not drive me crazy. I’m very happy to have her living near us now. And I am very invested in her NOT getting sick of us in the first year. So, no. No more vacations with Grandma. She needs her space.

School starts on Tuesday. I’m very nervous about it. I just think I’m not prepared. This is my own special neurosis, perhaps, but I seem to feel unprepared on my children’s behalf, because I don’t know what they can expect. In the event that one of them goes to school on the first day and has no idea what to do or what’s going on, even if I were right there next to them, available to guide them through this difficult time in childhood, I would have no freaking clue how to help them. It’s ridiculous because I’m definitely NOT going to school with them, and therefore there is no realistic scenario in which I would need to help them navigate their day or find their locker or the cafeteria or whatever–I don’t know what kinds of problems they may or may not have, that’s how unprepared I am!–and so why should it bother me that I would be utterly inadequate to the task? I should just be grateful that they’re going to school and I’m not.

I guess I just need everything to go smoothly. I may have a psychological post-traumatic-stress thing going on because I was not prepared for when Princess Zurg entered kindergarten, I did not know what to expect, and kindergarten was a disaster. More to the point: Kindergarten through fourth grade was a disaster, an almost-daily disaster, during which it was not uncommon for me to receive phone calls during the day from someone at the school asking me to intervene in the disaster that was my daughter’s education and hoping that I could solve it, which I never could. Never mind that my other children have had very successful school experiences. PZ herself has since had successful school experiences, including a miraculously successful transition to middle school. Why should I be so nervous about her starting high school? Because I’ve been to that high school, and it’s big and scary. I don’t want someone to call me in the middle of the day and make me go down there. I’m afraid.

This year Mister Bubby starts middle school. I am somewhat less nervous about him because he always seems to manage just fine–or at least well enough that it is easy for me to ignore what he is not managing. I am being darkly facetious here. It’s the guilt talking. He really is a very capable child, despite the fact that he spent the first six months of his life glued to my breast. I really need to let that go. Plus, his BFF will be with him. You can get through anything with a BFF, can’t you? Have I ever mentioned that I have this secret fear that MB and his BFF will have some falling out because I have never had a lifelong BFF-ship and don’t understand how friendships can possibly last longer than a certain amount of time? I am gathering more material for my next therapy session as I type.

Elvis is also transitioning this year. He has spent the last three years in what they call the “lower social communication classroom” and now that he’ll be in fourth grade, he will be in the “upper social communication classroom”–the “lower” and “upper” refer to grade level, and the “social communication” refers to the fact that all the students are on the autism spectrum. Elvis has always had less expressive language capability than his classmates, and although he’s had a lot of improvement, he still communicates on a much lower level than his peers, even in this classroom where everyone has a social communication deficit. So–regardless of whether or not I’ve explained this situation adequately, I am nervous because academically there is a big jump between the lower and upper section, and I don’t know how he’s going to do with the increased expectations, not to mention the changes in general. He’s gotten much more adaptive over the years, but he’s still pretty rigid, and you know what? I’m pathologically pessimistic, even when I strongly desire not to be. I am refusing to think about this matter any more until somebody makes me. I just can’t take the stress.

And Girlfriend also has a transition, which I am mostly happy about because she will finally be in school full-time. I ought to be doing cartwheels. Metaphorical cartwheels, but still. Anyway. I don’t really worry about her. She likes school and is excited for school. She will need to get up earlier than she’s used to and she’ll be in school much longer than she’s used to, but I think she’ll be okay. Unfortunately, our school district has made some really big cuts this year and the target class size is 39. I think the first grade classrooms will all have 37. I have no reason to be particularly worried about my child, but I just can’t get my head around 37 first-graders in a classroom and what that will possibly look like. Well, I can see what it will possibly look like, but I’m trying to envision the not-disastrous scenario, and it is very difficult for someone of my personality type.

There is also the fact that her teacher is someone of whom the school psychologist once said, “That woman should not be in front of a classroom.” (This is hearsay, as far as I’m concerned, but only secondhand, and from a very reliable source, which gives me pause. Well, first I’m pausing because I can hardly believe a professional would make such an admission to a parent, but also I am pausing because, well, if she said it, it says a lot.) Personally, I don’t know that she’s that bad a teacher. MB had her for first grade, and he did fine. But still. With 37 children in the classroom, do you really want the teacher of whom such a thing was said by a fellow faculty member? Of course, I knew this was the teacher Girlfriend would get. I don’t have the social capital to get my kid into the Desirable First Grade Classroom with the Legendary Wonderful Teacher. I don’t even have the social capital to get my kid into the Other First Grade Classroom with the New and Therefore Unknown-Quantity Teacher. This is a natural consequence of my failure to join the PTA and volunteer at school. If my daughter burns out in first grade, I will only have myself to blame.

Just kidding. I will totally blame someone else. I don’t really anticipate that there will be a problem–at least not a problem that directly affects my child. But this might be because I am wearing myself out with all the other back-to-school worries. I simply don’t have the time and energy to worry about child #4. It’s the same reason there are no photographs of her between the ages of two and twenty-three months. And now I’m re-hashing my guilt over that, too. Thanks a lot, me. Great job!

Like I said, there’s plenty for the next therapy session.

Gentle readers, adieu.

So we went to The Dalles this week, just like I told you we would. Did I overpack? Just a little bit. But I also forgot to pack socks for Elvis, so it kind of evened out.

Speaking of Elvis, he was sick last week and over the weekend. When he woke up on Monday, he seemed fine. Back to his old self. Then we drove out to Multnomah Falls and hiked to the top of the waterfall. He didn’t seem very fine after that. More to the point, he didn’t seem very fine during that. He started coughing again and every few minutes he’d yell out, “I hate it! I hate this walk!” On the one hand, I appreciated his direct communication. I can’t recall him ever telling me he “hated” something before this. “I don’t like,” sure, but never “hate.” So that was like a milestone achieved, and that was cool. On the other hand, 1.2 miles and 11 switchbacks of “I hate it!” got a little annoying. The good news was that he felt a lot better about the experience coming downhill.

I wasn’t going to buy anything from the gift shop because I already have two Multnomah Falls magnets. But then I found one with Big Foot on it, and I just had to get it.

We had lunch at a place called Char Burger. Sugar Daddy described it as “charmingly low-rent.” I’d say that about covers it.

On our way out to The Dalles we stopped at Rowena Crest Viewpoint or Vista Point or whatever it is. We were just going to look around a little bit, but then we started following this path to see where it led, and it led, like, a couple miles away. Needless to say, Elvis “hated” that walk, too. I can’t say I blamed him.

When we finally got to the hotel, I lay down on the bed and fell asleep. SD gave me the best Spring Break present in the world: he didn’t wake me up to take the kids swimming in the hotel pool. I completely missed the hotel pool experience. I just slept until dinner. It was kind of awesome.

For dinner we ate at Spooky’s pizza parlor in The Dalles. Spooky’s is charmingly…something. We ate there the last time we went to The Dalles and were so charmed we just had to go back. I just have to ask you, how do you resist a restaurant with a mascot like this?

There is a knitted afghan of that logo hanging in the dining room. That’s what I mean by charming.

Also, the pizza is quite good.

The pizza might have been more enjoyable if Elvis hadn’t been coughing up a lung and yelling, “I’m sick!” every five minutes. Good thing Spooky’s was hopping that night, or our party might have drawn undue attention to itself. (Or maybe the attention would have been due. But it wouldn’t have been wanted. That’s for sure.)

I can’t remember if I mentioned this in the previous blog post, but we did take Grandma along for this trip. I only mention this now because Grandma, Princess Zurg and I were sharing a hotel room, and Grandma does snore. Which is fine, really, because I understand that sometimes I snore, too. I mean, people snore. My mother snored like a chainsaw. So does my mother-in-law. But this is not really what I meant to tell you. My MIL volunteered to sleep on the couch-that-folds-out-into-a-bed so that PZ and I could each sleep in our own bed. (I really wouldn’t have minded sharing a bed with my own daughter but she’s kind of particular, and anyway, Grandma volunteered so who am I to argue?) PZ and I fell asleep while my MIL stayed up watching Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. (I can’t watch that show ever since SD pointed out that it’s 20 minutes of two-second edits. Now the thought of it makes my brain hurt.) Anyway, I wake up in the middle of the night and my MIL is snoring. Okay. I get up to use the bathroom and I see that not only has my MIL not pulled out the couch-bed, but she is in fact sleeping on the coffee table. Okay. I mean, not okay. That’s really pretty odd, isn’t it? I mean, my MIL is used to sleeping in different places, I guess. She slept on her couch every night for 30 years until she moved up here and bought a bed. (It’s a long story.) And she’s not very tall, so if she’d decided to just fall asleep on the not-very-big couch in the hotel room, that would have been one thing, but the coffee table? That was unexpected.

But I digress.

The weather on Monday was sunny. On Tuesday it rained. So we went to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, which is always a pip. Then we went into Washington and visited the Maryhill Art Museum, which was interesting. It’s in the middle of freaking nowhere, and they have a large collection of artifacts from Queen Marie of Romania. Stuff like her crown and thrones and jewelry and stuff. Lots of furniture that did not look remotely comfortable. I can understand maybe a throne that isn’t comfortable. I mean, how much time does the queen really spend on her throne? Probably not that much. But sitting chairs and benches and stuff? It was all made of bronze or something. Absolutely no cushioning whatsoever. There were pictures of her and her children lounging on them. Really. I don’t know if they did that often. Maybe those Romanians are just made of sterner stuff than I. Probably so. I mean, most folks are, and heaven knows the Romanians have had a time of it. Uncomfortable furniture was probably the least of Queen Marie’s concerns.

The Maryhill Art Museum also hosts a large selection of Rodin sculptures as part of its permanent collection. I thought that was pretty interesting, being that it seriously is in the middle of nowhere.

As I recall, the museum is housed in philanthropist Sam Hill’s former mansion. (I made a lot of “where in Sam Hill” jokes that day which were underappreciated.) Sam Hill was also a Quaker pacifist and he had erected a World War I memorial fashioned after Stonehenge. It is not too far from the museum, so of course we had to visit that too. Actually, it was the whole reason we went in the first place. If there had been no Stonehenge, what would have been the allure? Romanian royalty and Rodin? I’m still a little unclear on how all that Rodin ended up in the middle of eastern Washington. But life is a mystery.

Now that I have this new laptop I have the new version of Microsoft Word, whatever that is called. Word 7? Word 24? I have no idea. Anyway, it’s taking a lot of getting used to. I finally figured out how to make the spacing the way I like it, which is the way it used to just automatically be in whatever ancient version of Word I was using for the last five years. I want to tell you kids that I am not enjoying getting old and crotchety nearly as much as I expected to. It doesn’t help that I am aware of the fact that I’m old and crotchety. In fact that may be the entire problem. Old and crotchety people aren’t supposed to know that they’re old and crotchety. They’re supposed to just think that the world is getting worse and stuff just isn’t as good as it used to be. The key to happiness may lie in a lack of self-awareness—in which case I am in a lot of trouble, as I’ve always been very self-aware. Sometimes it’s a blessing, but other times a curse. What can I do?

I spent most of today helping a friend with the last dreadful tasks of moving out of her house. I feel terrible because her husband started a new job on the other side of the country a couple months ago and she’s been here all alone with her four kids taking care of all the house and moving crap, and I have been so absorbed in my own stupid crap that I haven’t been any help to her whatsoever. Until today, of course. Better late than never, I guess, but still, I expected better of myself. I told SD that if he ever decides to take a job on the other side of the country and leave me to pack up and move the house by myself with all four kids, he can expect to hear, “I’ll miss you, honey! Don’t forget to write!”

Seriously, between dealing with my own crap over the last two weeks and watching my friend trying to disposition the last of her crap (really the absolute worst part of moving, in my opinion—all the leftover bits of crap that didn’t fit neatly into boxes but can’t just be thrown out), I am more determined than ever to stay right here until I die. UNTIL I DIE.

Yeah, I’m back.  And eager to tell you all about my crazy, crazy four-week “vacation” with the family.  Actually, I’m not eager to tell you about it.  I’m just anxious to get it over with so I can go back to blogging about my regular stupid life and thoughts and stuff.

This is going to take a while, so get comfy while I blather on and on about stuff you don’t care about and post unremarkable pictures of things that don’t interest you.

Day 1, 3:45 a.m.

We all stumble out of bed and get in a taxi to go to the airport.  Already I cannot resist the temptation to provide a gratuitous anecdote:  The night before, after getting off the phone with the taxi service to confirm the reservation, Sugar Daddy told me that he thought this taxi service might be with the Mafia.  Why would he think such a thing?  Well, he’d just finished reading a book by Milton Friedman that talked about how all these industries, notably taxi services, are cartel-ized and crap and often have ties to the Mafia–like the Russian Mafia is supposed to run all the taxi cabs in New York or something, I don’t remember–anyway.  And this cat on the phone sounded like he might be from Russia or something.  How big is the Russian Mafia in Portland?  I don’t know.  Was SD being serious?  I don’t actually remember.  But our driver that morning happened to be the wife of the cat SD spoke to on the phone.  She told us how she and her husband–let’s call him…”Andrei” (he’s from Georgia–not the peach state, but the other one)–have owned and run this business for the last several years, and it’s been very successful for them.  They have several cars, in addition to the black SUV we were riding in–black Mercedes, black…I dunno, other cars…all these black cars–and she said, “Yeah, my parents think he’s in the Mafia.”  I was going to say, “Ha ha, just like you, SD!” but I didn’t.  I mean, he could still be in the Mafia.  You never know.

Anyway, we flew to Phoenix and waited around for a couple hours for our connecting flight.  I saw a bearded lady and her girlfriend hanging out by the restrooms.  Not in a creepy way, that’s just where they happened to be.  I mention it only because this was the first time I’d ever seen a bearded lady who appeared to be bearded on purpose.  I’ve seen ladies with beards, but those have always appeared to be incidental beards that could be explained by medical conditions, medication side-effects, some random genetic thing or other circumstances beyond one’s control–but this gal had the full Brigham Young treatment.  (Or, if you prefer, Abraham Lincoln.)  She was owning that beard.  I’m not saying it didn’t look good on her, as far as beards on ladies go, but it was something new for me, so I’m including it here.  You’re welcome.

Anyway, then we flew into Louisville, Kentucky.  By this time we’d already been up for twelve hours or something, and we still had to drive to Lexington to get to our hotel.  In Lexington we stopped for dinner at Billy’s, which serves western Kentucky-style barbecue, even though they’re not in western Kentucky.  When we walked into the restaurant, the power had just gone out.  We chose to wait for a spell and see if it would come back on.  It eventually did, so we got to eat there.  SD had the mutton, which is apparently a western Kentucky specialty.  I guess historically they’ve had a lot of extra sheep lying around.  I don’t know.  Barbecued mutton is pretty tasty, though, I have to say.  Mister Bubby, who fancies himself a barbecue connoisseur like unto his father, had the pork ribs and was so pleased by the experience that he chose to buy a t-shirt to commemorate the experience.  The front had a fierce-looking hog on it.  On the back it said “Get Porked at Billy’s.”  In fairness, nobody realized that was what it said on the back until the shirt had already been purchased, but there it is.

Mad:  He can’t wear that to school.

Mister Bubby:  Why not?

Mad:  Never mind.

MB:  Why, what does “porked” mean?

[Long silence]

Mad:  It doesn’t mean anything.  It just sounds like it ought to.

It doesn't mean anything.

Anyway, the next morning we drove out to Middle-of-Nowhere, VA, to visit one of SD’s old mission companions.  I’ve told you about him before.  He’s the cat who wanted to be a professional wrestler but ended up working for Coca-Cola and doing competitive eating on the side.  I’ll call him Mr. Awesome.  Mr. Awesome, you may or may not recall, has eight children, all under the age of 12.  His wife is a freaking saint.  But I digress.  Anyway, Mr. Awesome was training for this hot dog-eating contest, so he had cooked up about 40 hot dogs and challenged any kid who was game to eat two hot dogs in the time he ate twelve.  He was going for twelve in two minutes–trying out a new method–and he came in a little over two minutes, but our boys were suitably impressed nonetheless.  Mister Bubby–who had been watching marathons of Man vs. Food on Netflix–managed to eat two hot dogs in one minute and forty-nine seconds.  Elvis ended up ending four hot dogs, but it took him considerably longer (thank goodness).  For the next several days, Elvis’s new mantra was “I will eat twelve hot dogs when I get bigger.”  We’ll see.

So, yeah, this was the middle of nowhere and there were no hotels, so we all spent the night at Casa de Awesome.  At about 9 p.m. the power went out.  (There had been thunderstorms earlier.)  Unfortunately, the electricity also powered the pump to the well, so here we were, sixteen people in the pitch dark with no running water.  Fortunately, it was time to go to bed.  In the middle of the night the power came back on, so that was nice.

The next day was Sunday, so we went to church with them.  On the way over, I found the church I’m joining if this Mormon thing doesn’t work out:  “Liberty Cowb0y Church.”  Because that’s just awesome.

This day also happened to be Father’s Day.  We didn’t really celebrate it.

After church we made our goodbyes and drove to Richmond.  Then we drove out to see a friend of mine from college who I hadn’t seen since…college.  So, fifteen years ago, give or take.  She looked exactly the same as she always did, except her hair was longer.   That was fun, though.

The next day we drove out to Jamestown Settlement and then Historic Jamestown.  It was kind of drizzly that morning, a la Portland, so it wasn’t very crowded.  We saw several other Oregonians while we were there (most of them Beavers, but still, kind of weird).  We opted for Jamestown over Colonial Williamsburg because it seemed more our kids’ speed.  In retrospect, it was probably more my speed, too.  Here are some obligatory photos:

Girlfriend with a cannon

 

Blacksmith dude

A cool-looking rooster and his friend

They have recreations of the ships that brought the English settlers.  You can go on them, unless they’re out at sea.  They take them out to sea just because they can.  They’re pretty cool.

The Godspeed, which we could not board because it had just come into dock

 

The Susan Constant

 

Girlfriend being camera-shy

 

Some huts in the Native American village

 

I can't remember for the life of me what these are, but they're cool.

 

A monument

 

Inside a church or courthouse or something

 

No idea, but it looks neat

Yes, that’s my son walking on the historic homesteads.

It's not like they're the original bricks or anything!

 

Behold, a historic building of some kind

Another friend of mine from college (whom I hadn’t seen for five years) met up with us at Jamestown and we had dinner together, and then SD took the kids back to the hotel for a swim while my friend and I painted Williamsburg red.  Just kidding.  We went shopping and had some drinks.  Well, limeade.  It was still fun!

The next morning, before leaving town, we made a quick stop at the Poe Museum in Richmond.  It’s very small, but very cool.  It has all kinds of neat Poe artifacts.  Not re-created, but actual!  (If you’re into that sort of thing.)  Princess Zurg mainly appreciated the gift shop, since it has all kinds of creepy Goth things that she likes.  Here are some pictures of the parts I could take pictures of:

Not so creepy in the daytime

 

The Enchanted Garden

 

And with that, we got out of Dodge, i.e. Richmond, and headed out to see my BFF in Front Royal.  That part sort of bleeds into the D.C. part, which I have reserved for Part 2, so that’s all for today, suckahs.  See you in the funny papers!

I was just kidding.

But now I will be serious.  [Insert serious-looking emoticon here]  I will be honest with myself, and with you.  I am blogging today, right now.  I will not try to blog tomorrow or the day after that or the day after that, because on Friday at 3:45 a.m. we are dragging the kids out of bed and going to the airport and starting our month-long “vacation.”  While I am on “vacation,” I will not try to blog.  When I come back from “vacation,” I expect that I will purposely avoid blogging for a while because I will feel obligated to tell you all about my “vacation,” and by then I will be so thoroughly sick of my “vacation” that I will want to forget I ever went on it, and I will certainly not want to talk about it.  Also, I will be volunteering at cub scout day camp that week, so I won’t really have time anyway.  Or rather, I will not be inclined to make time.  Really, the earliest you can expect to hear from me again is September, after everyone goes back to school.  And by then you will either have forgotten all about me or you will be in the “anger” stage of grief and not want to hear from me anyway.  It’s hard to say, but in any case, there won’t be much point in blogging by then, but I’m sure I won’t let that stop me.

Now that we know that, what do we do?

Here’s how much I want to talk to you about my upcoming “vacation”:

[That blank space was supposed to represent “not at all.”]

This morning I have been making a packing list and a list of things to do today.  One of the things I’m supposed to do is cancel the newspaper.  Not put the newspaper on hold, but cancel the newspaper.  Technically, I was supposed to do this a couple weeks ago.  It’s been a long time coming.  No offense to the newspaper, but our relationship just isn’t working anymore.  We don’t read the newspaper.  We went to Sunday-only a few months ago, or maybe it was a year ago–I don’t really remember because the newspaper is in denial and keeps delivering weekday papers to us even though we’re supposed to be Sunday-only.  Actually, now that I glance at my bill, it would appear that they no longer offer a Sunday-only option, but only a weekend-only option.  So that’s fine.  That might account for some of the extra, non-Sunday papers that I see, but I also know that the newspaper occasionally calls and leaves us messages about how they’re giving us a free trial of the weekday delivery even though we don’t want it and have, in fact, explicitly requested that they not do that.  I’ve been trying to call subscriber services this morning, but all I get is a busy signal.  Of course there is no option to cancel one’s newspaper online; that would be suicide.  I understand.  They want me to tell them to their face.  Or at least confront that poor sap who answers the phone, who will probably be out of a job soon because people like me keep cancelling their subscriptions.  People like me, a former newspaper woman herself, are killing the newspaper industry.  Do you think I don’t feel guilty about this?  DON’T START WITH ME.  This is not something I do casually, believe me.  I mean, I can’t even get them to take my phone call; it’s like they know what’s going to happen, poor bastards.  I suppose I could write them a letter.  Send it certified mail.  They will probably respond by giving me another free trial.  Would it be better to place a vacation hold, then cancel the paper for real when I get back?  Am I going to have to get a restraining order on my newspaper?

There are a lot of things to be done for this “vacation.”  It’s no wonder I’ve put them off for so long.

The other thing I’m going to do is get my hair cut.  I’m just going to walk into one of those cheap salons that only little kids and heterosexual men get their hair cut at.  I always feel a little cheap and silly doing that, being too old and female to pass for a little kid or heterosexual man, but the sad fact of the matter is that I can’t bring myself to spend $40 on getting my hair cut.  It’s not because I feel guilty about it, or I don’t think I’m worth it.  I tried it a couple times, and it just wasn’t for me.  For one thing, they always style my hair in a way that a) doesn’t suit me, and b) I couldn’t possibly maintain myself, even if it did suit me.  And when all is said and done, my hair looks just as good as when I spend $20 on getting it cut.  I’m not saying that the cheap-salon ladies are as talented or conscientious as the decent-salon ladies.  I have no idea whether they are or not.  I know they are quicker and more readily available than the decent-salon ladies, and that counts for a lot with me when the only other thing I have to go by is how good my hair looks afterwards, and I’ve just told you that I can’t tell the difference.  It might be that I have no taste.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  But I really think it’s just my hair.  Putting a $40 haircut on my hair is like putting lipstick on a pig, or something similarly proverbial.  It just isn’t worth the trouble.

I would like to do something different, i.e. good, with my hair, but I have to be realistic.  This is my hair we’re talking about, not theoretical hair or someone else’s hair.  It is the hair I’ve lived with for forty years now, and I know this hair.  This is what I want to tell the ladies who cut my hair:  I know my own hair.  You don’t know my hair.  You see how bad my hair looks and feel sorry for me–you want to do something about it, and I understand, I do–but I know my hair, and you cannot change it.  My hair is curly.  Not curly in the good way, but curly nonetheless.  Half of it is like wire, and the other half is what you would probably call “flyaways.”  “Flyaways” are those random stray hairs that you try to tame with the hair product for taming flyaways.  Those hairs in my case make up half of the hair on my head.  They will not be tamed.  They have minds of their own.  The wire-hairs have minds of their own also, although they are a bit more pliable and tend to hang out together more.  You think you can straighten out the wires or make them curl in a particular way, but I’m here to tell you, No, you can’t make them.  You can’t make any of the hairs on my head do anything they don’t want to do.  And they don’t want to curl in any one way.  They want to go in all kinds of ways and reserve the right to change their minds about which ways they might want to go at any time.  They shun commitment; they are like the Hugh Hefner of hair, and yes, it does look just as pathetic and sad on me as it does on Hef, but I have learned to accept it.  The best I can do with my hair is to go along with what it does naturally and make like it was my idea.  It may not be pretty, but it works for me.

And that’s why I won’t pay $40 (plus a tip) to get my hair cut.

One thing I can’t avoid at any hair salon, however, is the lecture about what kind of shampoo I use and the crappy dye job I perform on myself.  I will have to steel myself for that again.  But it grows late.  Gentle readers, adieu.

Yesterday when we came home from church, my husband told me to take the church bag into the house or he would “cut me.”

This morning I was in my car in the Target parking lot, and I needed a pair of scissors. There’s a pair of scissors in the church bag, but the church bag wasn’t in the car because I took it into the house yesterday to avoid a violent confrontation.

The moral of the story: Passive aggression is emotionally satisfying, but it won’t cut the string on a brand-new pair of flip-flops.

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Where have I been? I’m so glad you asked. We went on our excellent Spokane adventure week before last. On the drive up, we visited the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center. It’s pretty nice. We saw some birds of prey. Like, two. Well, technically, three, but the third one was so tiny, I’m not so sure it was really a bird of prey. What does it prey on, insects? They were all lame, anyway, which is why they’re in captivity and not technically “preying” on anything. And by “lame,” I mean literally disabled, not the other kind of lame that I usually mean. No, in point of fact, they were cool. There was a lot of other stuff at the museum, but blah blah, who cares? We bought some cherry syrup and some dark cherry salsa. Apparently the Dalles is known for its cherries or something. In any case, the salsa is delicious. That’s all I have to say about that.

We rented a house in the mountains near Spokane. We had lunch with the divine Tracy M, who showed us all the wonders of downtown Spokane. (It didn’t take long, but who wants to spend a whole day sightseeing, anyway?) I wish I could have spent more time with Tracy, actually. A while back I offered to punch her ex-neighbor in the face for her, and I regret that I wasn’t able to get around to that. Maybe next visit.

SD noticed–somewhat belatedly in the season, but unlike me, at least he noticed–that my swimsuit was falling apart, so I had the pleasure of shopping for a swimsuit in late August in Spokane. There was one in my size at the Sears. It wasn’t hideous, so I bought it. And thus I avoided having to hold my old swimsuit together with duct tape for the rest of the vacation. It was a Spokane Miracle.

We went to the Silverwood Theme Park, which is an amusement park-slash-water park. The first day we just did the amusement park side–roller coasters and carnival rides and whatnot. I don’t like amusement parks because I don’t like lines and I don’t like roller coasters, but this isn’t about me. The second day we did the water park. I don’t like water parks because they combine everything I don’t like about amusement parks with everything I don’t like about public pools. But it wasn’t horrible. At a certain point, Girlfriend decided that she’d had enough, so we changed back into our regular clothes and rode on a Ferris wheel and bought a snow cone as big as her head. I don’t know why a person would want a snow cone as big as one’s head, especially in blue raspberry, but mine is not to question why.

Here’s a tangentially related aside: At the end of the second day, SD wanted to take the older kids on Aftershock, which is the big-deal roller coaster of the park, so I was tasked with distracting the younger two kids with ice cream. I found a little place called the Giant Ice Cream Scoop or something similar, and I decided to stop there because I didn’t know if I’d find ice cream anywhere else, and I like to take the path of least resistance. Whilst standing in (the very long) line, I realized that they didn’t call it the Giant Ice Cream Scoop for nothing. Here are your ice cream buying options at this establishment: There is a kids’ cone, which consists of 2-3 large scoops of ice cream. Then there is the regular “single scoop” cone, which is the size of a small cauliflower. Then there is the “double scoop” cone, which is the size of your head. Literally, your head. I saw people walking out of the store with ice cream as big as their own head, I kid you not. I repeat: I am not trying to be funny here. Suffice it to say that I didn’t buy any ice cream for myself, I had to eat way more of the kids’ ice cream than I actually wanted (it was vanilla–eh), and we still had to throw some of it away. So that was an experience. The moral of the story: I can understand wanting ice cream as big as your head. The snow cone as big as your head is still a puzzlement to me. And it cost just as much as the ice cream. End tangentially related aside.

The next day my husband had kindly designated as “Dog’s Butt Day.” We didn’t do anything but hang out at the cabin. Well, I did laundry. My father arrived, and I think he played with the kids. It was nice. The next day we visited my uncle and aunt, and that was fun, too. The next day we went to church and I came home and took a nap while everyone else went hiking. The next day we went home. The end.

.

Can you tell I’ve lost my vacation-blogging mojo? I’m sorry, but there just isn’t that much to tell.

Actually, here’s the thing: it’s lunchtime, and Elvis wants a sandwich, but we have no bread. We have to go out and buy bread before I can make him a sandwich. He’s not going to give me a minute’s peace until we do this. Actually, he’s not going to give me a minute’s peace until he goes back to school next Tuesday. But I really should go out and buy bread now. I’ll catch you chumps later.

Sugar Daddy:  Your uncle lives in Spokane, right?

Madhousewife:  Yes.

SD:  Do you want to visit your uncle this summer?

Mad:  I guess.  If he’s around.

SD:  That’s right, they’re all over the world these days.  It’s just that I’m planning our vacation, and this amusement park the kids wanted to go to is in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which is about an hour from Spokane.  I guess we could find some other stuff to do around there.

Mad:  White supremacy stuff?

SD:  Yeah, I figured we’d visit a couple of camps, hang out with some Tea Party folks.

Mad:  Sounds awesome.

.

Last night our family went to the library, and Girlfriend checked out A Flea Story by Leo Lionni, which is about these two fleas who are hanging out together on this dog–hanging out near the dog’s tail, as it happens, and the one flea decides he wants to move to another part of the dog, but the other flea is happy where he is, but he lets the other flea talk him into going with him.  So they both travel to the dog’s head, but that isn’t good enough for the flea with wanderlust; he wants to hop onto a nearby chicken, and although the homebody flea just got comfortable on the dog’s head, he goes with the other flea to the chicken, but then the other flea wants to go someplace else, and so on and so on.  //SPOILER ALERT!!!//  Eventually the adventurous flea decides to hop onto this bird so he can fly, but the other flea, the one who never wanted to leave his original spot on the dog in the first place, decides that he’s had enough adventure and decides to go back home to the dog.  The adventurous flea says he’ll come back someday and tell the other flea all about his journey, but he wonders if words will be enough.  Meanwhile, the other flea finds his beloved dog, settles back in comfortably and says that between what he’s seen already and what his flea friend will no doubt tell him all about later, his life will be very full indeed.

When I read this story, I immediately thought that this Flea Story was the story of my marriage.  SD is the adventurous flea.  He always wants to be doing something.  I prefer to stay home, but I let him drag me places because I don’t want to be a fuddy duddy, even though I really am one.  I try to fight that part of my nature, but it gets more difficult as I get older.  I like to be comfortable.  Correction:  I like to be very comfortable.  Travel isn’t comfortable for me, even though it is enjoyable enough at times while I am doing it, and I appreciate the experience in retrospect.  I enjoy having the experience behind me at least as much as I enjoy being amidst the experience, and having the experience before me makes me feel tired.  You probably gathered as much from my various pre-Japan-angst posts, but if you didn’t, I’m telling you now.

Leo Lionni is not usually a judgmental author, but the fact remains that in the story, one of the fleas wants adventure and excitement and to experience the unknown, and the other flea is happy hanging out on a dog’s butt.  I reiterate:  a dog’s butt.  It’s hard not to read some judgment into that.

So here’s my poor husband, trying to plan something new and exciting for us to do–someplace new and exciting for us to go–as a family for our vacation, and I haven’t quite recovered enough from my trip to Japan to muster up any enthusiasm for further travel in the near future.  Nothing sounds exciting to me–or rather, I guess I just don’t really like excitement.  I don’t like fun.  I am a fuddy duddy at heart and I always will be.

And now that this book has entered our home, every time my husband tries to talk to me about our vacation and I don’t have any useful contribution to make to the planning thereof, he’s going to say, “Oh, I forgot.  You’d rather hang out on a dog’s butt the rest of your life.”

Yes.  Yes, I would.  And I’m okay with that.  For now.

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To me the worst thing about coming back from a vacation is not the unpacking or the fact that you have to go back to work before getting a proper rest from all that exhausting fun, but it’s the writing of the unavoidable post about your trip. It’s so tedious for me that I can’t imagine it could be any fun for you, and yet, people are going to ask me how Japan was, and they’re not going to be satisfied with “It was fine,” so here I am, blogging about my Japan trip, even if it kills me.

We flew first to San Francisco, then from San Francisco to Osaka (Kansai). That second leg was about twelve hours, I think. It wasn’t bad. We’d been up since 3 a.m., so I actually slept quite a bit. It was not difficult. I also read a whole book, but not any of the books on my list of books I must read in 2010. It was a killer book. And do you know, I have no recollection of the plot now? I can’t even remember what it was called.

Upon arrival at Kansai, we took the train to our hotel in Kyoto. It was early in the evening, so we strolled about the city and we found a place to eat, which brings me to my first recommendation for people who are planning a trip to Japan.

Recommendation #1 for people who are planning a trip to Japan: Learn Japanese.

So anyway, we managed to order some food at this restaurant, mostly by way of gesturing, and it was pretty good. I’m not a fan of Japanese food in general, and I really don’t like sushi, but my husband has always been convinced that I would like sushi, if I could just have some good sushi. He’s never explained why all the sushi he’s fed me before was good enough for him but not for me, but that’s neither here nor there. He ordered some sashimi at this place, and he said it was good, but you and I will have to take his word for it, because I still didn’t like it. We also ordered some Tako Yaki, because it is an Osaka/Kyoto specialty, supposedly. Tako yaki is fried octopus balls, or rather, fried balls of octopus (as opposed to octopus testicles), and I only mention that because a) it was good, even though I’m not such a fan of the octopus in general, and b) my husband couldn’t stop saying “octopus balls” for the next several days, and I just want you to get a feel for how it was for me.

The next morning we had a traditional Japanese breakfast at the hotel. I can’t remember if there was any raw fish involved. There was some salmon, but it was cooked. There was also miso soup, which I don’t care for. I don’t care for traditional Japanese breakfast food, either, as it turns out.

Anyway, after breakfast we traveled to Kibune, which is this small fishing village, and we saw some shrines.

Lots of stairs in Japan, incidentally.

You get a fortune, see, and if it's bad, you tie it to this thing and ask the god in the shrine to change it, or something. I think.

This is the marriage tree. Or trees. Trees that are married together become one.

We stopped for lunch at another place where they didn’t speak any English and we didn’t speak any Japanese, and we had some more Japanese food. The first course was this little bowl of raw squid in honey mustard sauce. Yes, I ate the raw squid. I can still taste it, in fact. Okay, I’m going to need a minute. … All right, I’m okay now. The second course was…wait for it…sashimi! I ate (some of) the sashimi. It was at this point that I thought to myself, “If I have to eat Japanese food for the next nine days, I’m going to lose a lot of weight on this trip.” My husband informed me that the sashimi was exquisite, and conceded that it was perhaps entirely possible that I just don’t like sashimi (as I have been saying for the last thirteen years, not that anyone’s counting). I believe the rest of the meal was cooked. It was fine, although I still would have killed for a peanut butter sandwich, but that’s another story.

Mmmmmm...raw squid

After lunch we hiked in the Kyoto Ancient Forest. It was very pretty. There were some more shrines.

Check out those roots!

A shrine with some plastic buckets in it. Not sure what that was about.

Then we went back to the hotel and I, feeling quite ill between the jet lag and the raw squid, went to sleep and didn’t wake up again until the next morning.

The next morning we traveled with my mother-in-law (who had arrived the previous evening, while I was sleeping) to Hiroshima, where my brother-in-law and his new wife live. My BIL took us to the A-bomb dome and also to the Peace Museum (which he’d never been to, despite having lived there for the last three years). The museum is very interesting, and it takes quite a bit of time to go through. They save the worst part for last, which is all the artifacts (including skin and fingernails from one victim, but that wasn’t as bad as the melted tricycle, actually) and the artwork inspired by the horrors of nuclear war. Hiroshima is a very nice town, though. For dinner my BIL took us to get Okonomi-Yaki, which I actually enjoyed, so I can no longer say that I dislike Japanese food entirely. Just generally.

River in Hiroshima

The bomb exploded about a hundred meters above this dome.

The next day was the wedding. My brother- and sister-in-law were married in a Shinto temple on Miyajima Island.

Miyajima Island

The ladies wore kimonos. We had to get up at 6:30 to go to the kimono shop. It takes a good thirty minutes to get into a kimono, just so you know. There are layers. First they bind your breasts (or in my case, my bra). Then they just keep wrapping stuff around your midsection and pulling you tighter and tighter. By the time they are finished, you can only take shallow breaths. If you yawn or sneeze, you might break a rib. That said, I have never had such good posture. And I looked pretty freaking awesome, as any fake-redheaded gaijin would in such a get-up.

Madhousewife in Kimono

Also, they gave me the biggest shoes they had, and they still weren’t big enough. Also, these shoes were seriously–seriously–the most uncomfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. They hurt from the moment I put them on. Also, they look a little silly with the socks, don’t you think? But that’s how it’s done. (Shrug.)

Worst. Shoes. EVER.

The wedding ceremony itself was very cool, although I didn’t really get all that was going on, it being in Japanese and me not speaking (and more to the point, not understanding) Japanese.

This is the badass dude who pulled the "Just Married" rickshaw.

This is the bride's badass hairdo!

Fortunately, for the reception I was able to change out of the kimono and into normal clothes (and shoes) that did not enforce my good posture. I am sorry to report that I chose to wear pantyhose, but I don’t believe I looked that passe. The reception was very nice, but it was also (mostly) in Japanese. My husband and his (other, already married and not living in Japan) brother got to speak, and they spoke in English (and their speeches were translated into Japanese by the master of ceremonies). The rest of it I didn’t really get, but the food was wonderful. Mostly cooked, and not especially Japanese, although it was still a little bit Japanese. It made up for the fact that the party lasted about three hours (but seemed longer).

The next day my BIL and his wife and her mother (who spoke hardly any English, but that only meant her English was a hundred times better than our Japanese) took us on a whirlwind tour of Japan, or at least their neck of it. We went to Himeji Castle, which is supposed to shut down for the next five years, as of April 11 or something, but we didn’t actually go inside the castle because that was, like, a three hour line and none of us was up for that. The outside is perfectly impressive, though.

Lowly peasant's view of Himeji Castle

View from Himeji Castle (no lowly peasants in sight)

Then we traveled back to Kyoto, where we stayed in a Ryukan (traditional Japanese inn) for the next couple days. More Japanese food. Sleeping on futons (not as comfortable as you might imagine). I didn’t use the big bathtub, the name of which I can’t remember, because I wasn’t so into soaking with a bunch of Japanese strangers (or American acquaintances, for that matter), so I didn’t get the full traditional-Japanese-living experience, but I’m okay with that.

We visited a lot of shrines and temples (approximately 47,000), saw the Great Buddha in Nara, where we also fed some deer because there are a lot of deer in Nara, and I bought a lot of souvenir magnets. Can you tell I’m getting tired of talking about Japan? Let’s have some pictures instead.

The Golden Temple

General environs of the Golden Temple (pretty, eh?)

Famous rock garden I can't remember the name of

Another temple/shrine I can't remember the name of, but trust me, it's in Japan

Detail of aforementioned temple

Entrance to Todai-ji Temple

Todai-ji Temple

The Great Buddha

Supposedly if you have an ailment and you touch the corresponding body part on this guy, it will cure your ailment. Unfortunately, the bottom of his left foot was inaccessible, so my plantar wart is still with me.

Doh! A deer! (A female deer)

I think this is some place of a Thousand Lanterns, but I didn't count them.

A pretty view in Nara

You see, it’s very beautiful over there. It was especially beautiful because the cherry blossoms were in bloom.

Cherry blossoms!

Our last day was spent shopping. I bought some Snoopy chopsticks at the Snoopytown store. It was pretty awesome. Then we had to go to the airport and fly home.

The flight home sucked, incidentally. I couldn’t sleep at all. I did watch two movies: Me and Orson Welles (an Oscar-worthy performance stuck in the middle of an extraordinarily mediocre movie) and The Blind Side, which was very good. I also watched a little Californication, which was edited for airplane viewing. Lots of references to “melon farmers” and each episode was fifteen minutes long. I didn’t get much reading done, as if that didn’t go without saying.

Random factoids about Japan:

* They like to keep the insides of their buildings very warm. And humid.

* Where there are Western toilets, they are super-toilets. They all have bidets and seat warmers.

My husband takes pictures of toilets.

* There are a lot of rules about feet and shoes and where feet go when they are shod and when they are not.

* Some Japanese words are funny, if you’re in the fourth grade.

Right back at you, Hiroshima!

* There are funny signs in English, too.

"Catch your needs!"

My husband's still upset that he missed photographing the "Tits Cafe."

As I was saying earlier...

* They have some seriously crazy television programs. The commercials are especially awesome.

* Lots of people ride bicycles. They don’t have bicycle racks. They have bicycle parking lots. And no one wears a helmet, not even the babies sitting in the basket on the handlebars.

* People dress better to go out in public than they do here.

* The streets are very clean and safe.

* You can see stuff like this in shopping centers.

Mine is not to question why.

* Celebrities who would never do advertisements over here will do them over there. Tommy Lee Jones sells Boss coffee, which makes sense. Doesn’t he look boss?

Yes, sir, I will buy that coffee!

On the other hand, Leonardo DiCaprio sells Bridgestone tires, which I still can’t figure out.

* Number one important factoid about Japan: They also like the Giraffe.

Unfortunately, I did not get to ride this bus.

I think that is all, gentle readers. And now I must adieu. Or rather, sayonara.

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