Thursday, May 30, 2013

Guilty animated pleasures (P.S. thank you Gillian Anderson)

I was listening to NPR the other day and on there was an interview with Gillian Anderson for a series called "Movies I've Seen a Million Times." 

Since she was the serious one on "The X Files" I figured her response would be something deep and intellectual and not available in Red Box (which means I probably haven't and will never see it). Instead her response made me smile.
"As happens when you have youngsters, there are certain films that they watch and they can watch it, you know, a hundred million times. It was 'Cars' for a while and then it was 'Kung Fu Panda,' but I have to say that one of the ones that I always sit down for to watch with them is 'Madagascar 2.' ... To me it is one of the funniest movies ever made — funnier than Woody Allen, funnier than ... I can't believe I just said that. I cannot stop laughing when I see this film and I don't know how many times I've heard some of these jokes but they just bring a smile to my face."
That's right, Dana Scully says "Madagascar 2" is funnier than Woody Allen. And Dana Scully is a smart lady. (I'm not really a Woody Allen aficionado or anything, but from what I know of him, he's considered a rather humorous fellow, right?)

I'm so grateful to her for wearing her mom pants without shame (and making them look go-ood in the process).

Gillian Anderson made me feel like it was OK to come clean about one of the movies I've seen a million times and that I'm actually still willing to sit down and watch with Lily:

"Happy Feet 2."

My neighbor lent us her copy of it months ago and because Lily is a bit ... obsessive ... about certain movies, so it hasn't been returned. 

And you know what? I'm not really pushing Lily on the issue either. 

So there. I'm that neighbor.

"Happy Feet 2" is funny and sweet and has great music. 

I love watching Bryan the elephant's seal try to maintain control of his beach (and sounding like any weary parent trying to please the masses while still asserting dominance). 

I think mama emperor penguin Miss Viola's telling the ever-fretting Mumbles that the world's dangers are actually opportunities is great advice to all parents to allow our children to explore their environment more. (In fact, I've been trying to maintain some extra distance at playgrounds and have been astounded by Lily's ability to climb ladders of all varieties and interest in swinging across the monkey bars). 

And Bill and Will krill (voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) are hilarious. 

A krill that's having an existential crisis? Brilliant! I couldn't find the clip where Will decides he's going to move up the food chain and "munch on something with a face," but it will also make you giggle (unless you don't find animated krill attempting to hunt an animated sea lion amusing. In which case you really have no business reading this blog at all.)

And this part:

This is made even cuter because Lily sings along. Yeah. Adorbs.

But the part that always get me the most are when the elephant seals join forces with the Adelie penguins to help save the trapped Emperor penguins. (What? Have you ever even been to Antarctica? You don't know what goes down there. It's perfectly feasible that a flock of small penguins teamed up with a bunch of elephant seals could move a big block of ice with the help of David Bowie and Queen.) 

Anyway, I'm sure this will be blasphemy to music snobs, but I like this version of the song. Pink! (the voice of Gloria*) has a phenomenal voice and that paired with the imagery and high-stakes trapped Emperor penguin scenario always gives me goosebumps. Also, I think one of the first times I watched the movie was right around the shootings at Sandyhook. I was feeling very tender and watching my little girls and hearing Pink! belt out "Why can't we give that love one more chance?" just smacked me in the gut. 

I'm perpetually in a glass case of emotion.

So that's that. Now, thanks to Gillian Anderson's "Madagascar 2" confessional I've been outed as a "Happy Feet 2" fanatic.

P.S. A belated Memorial Day thanks to all those that have served our country (especially my brother and my technical nephew and my technical uncle-in-law**) and all those who've made the ultimate sacrifice. You were all on my mind this weekend. 

*So, in case of shady parenting backfiring, in order to replace the unending loop of Disney music we'd been listening to in the car with the Pink! album Brad bought me for Valentine's Day, I told Lily that Pink! was Gloria from "Happy Feet." So now Lily really loves listening to "Gloria from Happy Feet" music, except that I'm sick of it and Pink! is pretty inappropriate for a 2-year-old to be listening to (hopefully, she'll never ask me what a walk of shame is). But it is cute (in kind of a messed up sort of way) to listen to her sing "Try." I've actually been telling her that Gloria from Happy Feet wants her to "try, try, try" to use the potty. It's given me mixed results.

**Is that even a thing?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Porch light birding and small miracles

So every year about this time we notice a high level of bird activity on our front porch. I'm not sure what kind of bird it is (for accurate identification purposes we'll just call it a brown bird), but it likes to nest on one of the lights.

Prime real estate for birds.
We try to discourage this nesting behavior because it usually results in small mountains of bird droppings right outside our front door and on more than one occasion we've had to dispose of the remains of brown bird progeny that fell from the nest before their wings were in working order. Last year, after the babies had cleared out, we removed the nest in hopes that they'd take the hint that we're not looking for tenants. 

And anyway, from a bird's perspective I just can't imagine that life on our front porch is all that tranquil and kid-friendly. I mean, would you really want to raise a family where a 40-pound beagle mix barrels toward your home barking with the menace of a cantankerous old man waving a shotgun any time another canine walks within 200 miles of the perimeter of our house? 

Your kids are gonna end up messed up living under those conditions. 

But the brown bird seemed unfazed by the dog and his ceaseless lawn surveillance. 

And sure enough she returned this year. 

Each time we'd open the front door we'd hear squawking and wings flapping as the disgruntled fowl scrambles to the nearest tree away from our offending noises and prying eyes. One day I noticed a few tell-tale strands of grass and other landscaping debris balanced carefully on the light and within a day or two there was a full nest.

I tried to reason with the brown bird. I told her that there were plenty of great bushes in the vicinity for nest-building and that we were rather obnoxious neighbors, but she was insistent that this nest was best (for you literary sorts, yes, I'm quoting the venerable P.D. Eastman. Clearly, I'm well-read.)

Sadly, in the end, the nest was not best. 

The other day I found the nest lying on the porch. A single, tiny egg cracked on the concrete.

The crime scene. Well. We don't know that any crime was committed.
Maybe it was just a wind scene. Either way the  little whitish pieces at the top right is the broken egg.
As much as I disagreed with the brown bird's choice of real estate, I was sad the nest fell. 

And I know I'm anthropomophizing here (but hey, that's what we human's do! We're a self-centered lot) but I felt so sad for that mama bird. Here she'd put all this work into selecting a dry location for her home and then finding the choiciest bits of grass, twigs, string, paper towels, and what appeared to be part of a feminine hygiene product (OK, maybe she wasn't discerning enough) to construct a cozy spot to lay her eggs and just like that it comes crashing down.

If she'd seen any news reports about those tornado victims down in Oklahoma I'm sure she would shake her head sadly and say "I know just how they feel." This life is such a messy business.  

But I don't want to end with cracked eggs and tornadoes. 

A month or so ago I noticed a robin swooping in and out of a bush next to my garage -- her mouth full of nesting material. I've been peeking in the bush every couple of days since -- one day finding one tiny blue egg. I picked up Lily to show her. "See honey, that's a robin's egg. Pretty soon a little bird will hatch out of it."

Then the two of us would check on progress, too. "Shhh! We have to be quiet," Lily would tell me as we crept up to the bush. Sometimes the mama bird would be there -- glaring at us and refusing to budge. Sometimes she'd be off running errands. The other day she was out and about and we peeked in and found these guys:

Those little fuzzy balls (cue inappropriate giggling from any of my siblings)
 kinda look like the dust bunnies that frequent my kitchen floor
-- but they are, in fact, baby robins.
So on one side of my driveway an avian tragedy and on the other side an avian miracle.

This life is a messy business. But it's also sweet, too.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

If I only had a third arm (plus a 'Parkly Deer update)

I realize on my afternoon walks that my crew and are a rather ridiculous sight. 

Snacks -- who still refuses to recognize me as the alpha dog in our pack -- races ahead at the highest speeds he can muster while tethered to 150+ pounds of human and wagon. Jovie in her big floppy sun hat flings toys, sippy cups and apparel out of the wagon whenever I'm not paying attention and Lily -- lately clad in her new Tinkerbell costume -- yells at her "No Jovie!" with the practiced voice of an older sister who is tired of having sippy cup duty foisted upon her afternoon after afternoon. I'm in the middle -- dog leash pulling one hand, wagon dragging the other -- the victim of some sort of modern-day rack (not the kind that gives you rock-hard abs ... the medieval kind that attempts to dismember you by pulling your limbs in opposite directions). 

If it's early in the walk, chances are I'll stop and snap squirrel pictures while the dog practices tackling SUVs; if it's mid-way through the walk, I'll stop periodically to grab Lily's hand to cross streets (she likes to walk now, too, in order to practice hopping, pick up various sticks and talk to the ants); and if it's toward the end of the walk I'll have a bag or two of doggy doo. 

It's no wonder, then, that at least once on every outing someone shouts from their car or declares cheerfully as they're walking by, "Wow! It looks like you've got your hands full."  

In fact, I'm often told this multiple times on a single walk -- especially if it's a really nice day and lots of people are out and about. So, say, I go on three walks a week and I hear it twice a walk ... I'm not great at math but that's, what? Six? Six times a week I hear that I'm overburdened? Six times a week I get helpful reminder that at this point I'm really more of a draft animal than a person? 

I know six is a relatively small number, but it seems exponentially larger when a person with free hands and sanity to spare acts as if they're offering you a really novel piece of information.

"Gee -- you have your hands full!"

I reach deep down into the bowls of my weary soul and extract the sincerest smile I can muster. 

"Yup! I do!" 

So it was a nice change of pace the other day when one of our walk regulars who has a fondness to Snacks saw us and said, "Wow! It looks like you could use an extra arm!" 

"Yes! Yes, I could!" 

Ever since, I've been daydreaming about the possibilities of an extra arm. 

I decided early on that instead of just growing an extra limb nuclear-disaster style, it would be really helpful to have a movable prosthetic. The usefulness of the third arm extends only as far as where it's located on my person. So, for instance, when out on walks, I'd want the extra arm to be on the middle of my back:

What? I never said I was an artist.
In this case, the main purpose of the extra arm would be to pull the wagon so that it would free up an arm to carry bags of doggy do, snap pictures of squirrels (real and stone) or retrieve whatever items Jovie has decided to use in her experiments with gravity.

When it's time to make dinner and the baby is freaking out because she wants to be held, (impossible to do when I'm attempting to chop various items with a large knife or remove super-hot items from the oven) a side arm would be beneficial.

There, there little Jovie.
Just let the creepy animatronic arm
make you feel better so mommy
can slice this tomato
that's bigger than your head.
Then there's the scenario when I have to lug an overflowing basket of laundry and a 20-pound baby down to the basement. I think maybe an upper-back arm to wrap around Jovie half-piggyback style might work (this one I haven't thought out fully ... in fact ... it could end very badly for the baby the more I stare at the picture).

Maybe I should just install a laundry chute.
And, of course, for moments when I'm on the phone and both girls want to be held because they're feeling neglecting and under-loved and in need of undivided (hahahahahahahahahahaha) attention, a shoulder arm to hold the phone would be ideal. 

What did you say? I can't hear you. What was that? 
Since I don't want to have to alter all of my clothes to accommodate a third arm, I'm thinking some sort of vest fitted with various sockets into which you could plug in the arm would be ideal. 

Then again, maybe the extra arm option would be more trouble then it's worth. I don't know about any other moms out there, but I probably already push the boundaries of my multitasking with the two arms I have. I mean, should I really be talking on the phone while doing the dishes, holding a kid who's either pulling my hair or grabbing for the phone, and picking up a dish towel with my toes? Perhaps we were only given two arms because that's the maximum amount of upper-body motor engagement* our brains can handle. 

On a totally unrelated note (and as teased to in the title) the 'Parkly Deer are gone!!! They were out within the past two weeks along with the rest of my neighbors' Christmas decor, but on our last walk they'd disappeared! No more Christmas in May. I wonder what prompted the sudden spring cleaning? I'm kinda sad about it. I was really hoping they'd hold out until ... well ... next Christmas. And just add more decorations. 

*That's right. Upper-Body Motor Engagement. That's a thing I just made up. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

"This is Water" and attempting to relocate out of the center of the universe

If you haven't seen it floating around the interwebs yet, please watch "This is Water" the commencement address late novelist David Foster Wallace delivered to Kenyon College in 2005. Chances are, you've probably already seen it, as I am perpetually behind hip interweb happenings. But if you are like me, here it is:

You can read the unabridged version, too. I wish I had heard this or read this after I graduated. I can't even remember who delivered the commencement address when I graduated from Penn State nine years ago*. 

Anyway, my 22-year-old self would've benefitted mightly from a reminder that I was, in fact, not the center of the universe. That I wasn't some glowing paradigm of success, education and wisdom just because I had a diploma. That my youth and education weren't evidence of my superiority. That I wasn't any more deserving of exemption from the annoyances of day-to-day existence than anyone else.

Of course, given my 22-year-old self's self-centerdness, I probably wouldn't have heard the message. Or maybe I wouldn't have thought it could ever apply to me. Wallace says it's critical that we transcend our natural state of self-centeredness, that we make an active choice not to get stuck in the mud of our own ego
"If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important - if you want to operate on your default setting - then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren't pointless and annoying. But if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars - compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff's necessarily true: the only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship."
Yes. YES! 

He's not saying anything new, really. We can't control what happens, but we can control how we react to it. But Wallace's interpretation is clothed in this wonderful and relatable imagery of our everyday drudgery -- it's a message that we can hear because we've all been in that grocery store. 

Life is full of ongoing conversations. This video seemed to be the next installment in a conversation I've been having one with myself and with others on breathing and acceptance and humanity

In fact, just the other day I was on the phone with my sister Laura discussing empathy and how hard it is to practice with everyone you meet and how it can be even harder to practice with the ones closest to you. We decided that we'd known we'd reached a higher plane of empathy when we could bestow the gift on our husbands -- our nearest and dearest who frequently fall victim to our unwillingness to transcend our day-to-day petty ugliness. 

But like Wallace says it takes practice.** Breaking the habit of judgement and assumption about others*** may be a life's work. But a worthwhile one, I think.

I suppose given the calamity of the world, that it's pretty indulgent of a stay-at-home mom in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet fret over how people can be nicer to one another. Or more patient or understanding or whatever. It seems an oversimplification of a problem that's plagued humans since the beginning of it all. 

I'm a self-centered being afterall, so I don't write anything without a huge amount of self-conscious. 

 But then I re-read what Wallace had to say: 
"...The most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude - but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance."

* I think it was the CEO from Pepsi -- the only reason I think that is because Penn State had some sort of contract with Pepsi so that only Pepsi products were available on campus -- including, in this case, commencement speakers. 

** Not to keep bringing up yoga -- but I think it applies. My instructor says frequently that the great thing about practicing yoga is that there's always room for improvement, always something new you can do to better yourself. In that way, there's never a point when you're done -- when the work is complete. When all that practice results in your best self. I think it's hard for us, aware as we are of our own mortality, to look at life as practice. It's the only one we have -- this is it! But when you're looking at becoming more than you are today, I think the word practice is approachable and doable. Every day doesn't have to be winning the game. Every day can be about improving our technique, and in that way it's something we can all do without fatigue or exhaustion or fear of failure.

***So, I've been trying to practice empathy while driving. I make a lot of assumptions about people when they cut me off or drive too slow or take up three parking spaces with their brontosaurus-sized SUVs. But I don't know. So when I find myself starting to yell, I also remind myself of my own driving ineptitude. A few weeks back I was driving near dusk and I was waiting for a light to change when some kid shouted at me from the backseat of his car "Turn your lights on asshole!" (actually, I couldn't hear him, but the sentiment wasn't too hard to lipread). The kid was too young to know about driving laws, so I'm assuming he was just repeating whatever it was the driver had just uttered. I don't think of myself as an asshole (an at-times absent-minded driver? Yes). It kind of sucked that based on just his driving by my car this person had formed an opinion about me. I'm trying not to pass on that suckitude to others. It's taken a lot of practice.

P.S.***** Happy Mother's Day, mom. You were first and best role model for how to treat others with compassion.

*****Wait can you have asterisks and a P.S.? Isn't that tangent overkill?! 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Squirrels in sombreros and notebook paper letters

I only have a limited amount of time before it's May 6, thus making this week's squirrel installment late to the Cinco de Mayo party (but fashionably late, I'm sure you'll agree):

This poncho is keeping my paws cozy.
I snapped this picture during a walk on Thursday, which also featured this living-and-breathing baby squirrel*:

I wish I had a poncho to hide under.
Maybe that lady will just think I'm part of the tree.
Looking at this squirrel now, he doesn't seem very remarkable. But, he was quite small and having a lot of trouble climbing the tree, so I'm pretty sure he was just a kid in need of some parental supervision (I made surely Lily got to say hi to this squirrel, but I tried to redirect her attention from the street where one of his siblings was definitely not living or breathing ... Her little soul floating away to squirrel heaven -- a place I imagine to be filled with trees, acorns and scores of eager, but dimwitted beagle mixes ready to be mocked for their rodent-hunting ineptitude). 

On a non-squirrel-related news, I got a letter in the mail from my sister Laura the other day. It was handwritten on a sheet of notebook paper and made me feel nostalgic for the pages and pages and pages of letter writing and journaling I used to do on notebook paper. The gliding of a pen across a crinkling piece of paper just feels less sterile and calculated than clicking away on a keyboard. Maybe because there's less revising ... so the soul of your writing is purer. 

It wasn't a long letter, but it was lovely. And I especially enjoyed this part and thought I'd share (hope you don't mind Laura!):
"I look forward to our vacation, to the momentary blips of greatness, to the wind blowing through my hair making me feel fresh and clean and ageless. To the sand squishing through my toes, which always makes me feel perpetually about 7. To being surrounded by the faces I love most on this planet. And maybe I'm looking forward to the juicy gloriousness of not cooking and cleaning all week, at least not alone."
My sister is such a poet. Even her texts and e-mails are filled with rhythm and heart. She inspires me to be more thoughtful in my day-to-day writing -- to approach my corresponding with the world as if I'm sitting down at an old desk with a pen and a piece of paper and no white out. 

Of course, if I took this more romantic writing route in the environment I work in now, well -- my novel would've long since become covered in spilled chocolate milk or water color pictures of "Blueberry Cat" (Lily's latest muse) or random pen scribble. 

So for now, I'll be practical. 

*I had no intention of this blog becoming so squirrel-centric. I guess it really is true that you never know where your story will take you.