An Excessive Amount of Literature

Every year around April, the Friends of the Public Library holds a massive, week-long used book sale in the local mall. I know this because I came across it completely by accident last year, and consequently staggered home with 25 lbs of books and the lingering feeling of having been hit by a book mobile.

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Last year’s books. I feel like that sideways one in the middle was something I was embarrassed about, but now I can’t remember what it was.

Accordingly, when April rolled around again this year Facebook had the common decency to remind me of what I had posted about a year prior, which was buying an excessive amount of books at said book sale. I immediately checked the mall’s website and discovered I had a tremendously long wait of three whole weeks before it was time.

On Monday, the dawning day of the book fair, I showed up five minutes before the mall opened and prowled like a cat in front of the doors, hissing at passerby that looked like a threat.

I needn’t have worried; the glorious thing about a large library book sale is that a) there’s frequently multiple copies of the same book, 2) no one really knows what they’re looking for until they see it and can’t plan ahead, and δ) everyone has different tastes in books anyway. And fortunately, showing up at 10:00am on a Monday meant I was mostly competing with nice retired people who weren’t there to aggressively snatch books the way I was.

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Table one of many.

I’ve never been able to give away books, unless I picked them up by chance and they turned out to be incredibly incompatible with my brain (I’m looking at you, The Martian). As such, even now, I’m envisioning loading all these books I’ve gathered in the last year and a half into a moving van to haul to wherever it is I live next.

That’s the problem with growing up in a household that had a certain reverence for books. Now I can only think of them in that high fantasy “BOOKS ARE MAGIC” mindset, which is often untrue and highly inconvenient, but I suppose there are worse things to hoard. Like garbage, or slunk pelts.

With book prices drastically varying from $1 to $3, I had to be very picky naturally bought any book that looked worth having. I followed a very complicated strategy:

  • Buy any book that I had read before and enjoyed, but didn’t own
  • Buy any book that I’d heard good things about but never read, such as New York Times bestsellers or classics I hadn’t gotten around to
  • Buy any book that just looked vaguely interesting
  • Buy any book

And so I came back with a modest nineteen used books. It’s very handy that I have a nice reading chair in my room now.

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While I was in line to buy them a man complimented me on my “Great Gatsby” reusable shopping bag. I had to admit I’d never read it and just bought the whole book-themed bag collection at Barnes and Noble. “Huh,” he said. “I thought it was required reading in all high schools.” Cough.

Now, of course, I’m facing the problem of running out of space (again) in my room. My bookshelves will probably house this batch of books with a little rearranging, but the next batch will overrun everything and soon I’ll be just like that nice couple in that Hoarders episode that had a house like Flourish and Blotts.

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I don’t have any more room to expand outwards, but I suppose I could stack another bookcase on top of that first bookcase. And then maybe a miniature bookcase on that tall bookcase, and a corner bookcase for the corner, and then I can just move into a library.

But fortunately it’s all over and I can begin methodically working my way through the new books, at least until next week, when an entirely new book sale begins at the other local shopping center. I regret nothing but my rapidly emptying wallet.

Unreasonable Amounts of Garbage

Back in Idaho, we were green accidentally.

In true survivalist/homeschooling/country family fashion, we raised our own animals for meat, grew our own vegetables, and bought in bulk what we couldn’t make ourselves. Mom’s favorite summer time activity was to show up at the house with approximately 300 peaches from the local farmer’s market, that she would meticulously peel, slice, and can so we could have peaches all winter and all through the zombie apocalypse.

We did composting, we did recycling, we used washcloths and linen napkins in place of disposables, and we weren’t even really trying, because that’s just what all the other survivalist homeschooling country families were doing. You just did it.

Then I moved into an upper-class suburban family of three to six boys, and there is so. Much. Trash.

At some point my credit score crept up to “inundate with offers” level, and I began to get three or four credit card offers in the mail a week. And this was TERRIBLE.

“Look at all this junk mail!” I would cry, holding up the single envelope I had retrieved from my employer’s 30cm mail stack. My employers would give me sympathetic looks while I ranted extensively, even as they sorted through their fifteen daily catalogues.

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Sample of the catalogues this house receives daily.

I put myself on every “do not contact” list I could think of, immediately called to get myself off any catalogue I randomly received, and transferred all my bills to paperless. But it was too late, the itch was already under my skin.

Every day I make the kids snacks for school. Three to six snack bags holding a disposable drink container and a prepackaged, meticulously wrapped processed snack or plastic baggie holding goldfish crackers. I’ve started searching for reusable containers in the house for their snacks, but when things are Done A Certain Way around here, they stay DACW forever. None of the boys will appreciate being given reusable water bottles.

I realized that even though I was reusing the same plastic water bottle until it wore out, I was still going through one every week and a half. And this was TERRIBLE (even though it goes in the recycling). Because, of course, this house isn’t under my control, will never be under my control, and it’s really about how much waste they will always put out. When you live rent-free in your employer’s home, you just shut up and let them do what they do.

So instead of focusing on my host family, I’ve gradually been changing up my waste output. I discovered, to my delight, that there was a Zero Waste movement out there that offers suggestions for phasing out excessive trash, and I’m incorporating that into my own life, if not the kids’. Metal water bottle, bamboo toothbrush, reusable grocery bags, bulk foods.

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In short, I’ve become one of those people. I had avacado toast and did yoga this morning. It’s only a matter of time until I have white-person dreadlocks and a “Meat is Murder” t-shirt.

 It’s not perfect and it won’t be perfect until I have a place of my own, but at least I can try to watch what I’m buying.

But no composting in the backyard, that’s frowned on around here.

Tea for Two

If there’s one thing I recommend in life, it’s to surround yourself with people who are classier than you. People who will force you to go to the opera, for instance, so that you can feel like you don’t have a cultured bone in your body and aren’t even sure how to properly shout words of encouragement after a performance.

Or people who are so particular about where they have tea that they will drive a full two hours to a special tea room just to have it there.

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But they sell books like this there, so it’s worth it.

I have a friend named Katrina who is the closest thing to a mythical being that I’ve ever known (besides my father. Hi Dad!). Katrina will float into a room in flowing lace dresses and stripy socks. Katrina will bring her own tablecloth to a Panera Bread to class up her meal and protect her board games from surface residue. Katrina’s apartment is a greenhouse with taxidermy thrift store finds and moon sigils. Katrina may be an actual witch.

And Katrina loves tea just as much as I do, which is why we went out and had some as fancily as we could. I threw on the most intricate outfit I could, which happened to be almost entirely white, and this was good because Katrina’s outfit was almost entirely black and we looked like chess pieces.

Fancy chess pieces.

Tea was at Teaberry’s, a tea room in a restored Victorian home, and every inch of it was covered in tea-related decorations.

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Every.

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Inch.

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Teaberry’s seats you at an elegant table, and gives you a charming teacup and a beautiful menu, and lets you be completely overwhelmed by the variety of tea available to you. That first page of the full-sized menu is all tea, and only the beginning. After perusing the intimidating options (“Teaberry’s Black Rosehip Almond-Infused 417 Year Old Ginger-Spiced Ming Dynasty Loose-Leaf Chai”), I settled for something that was probably “Black tea, no spices.” I’m not adventurous.

We also ordered soup and mini sandwiches, because mini sandwiches are The Law in a tea house.

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The soup is also served in a teacup. No two teacups are alike here.

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The variety mini sandwich pack. Every mini sandwich you could every want with your tea. Also mini quiche.

Looking around, at least half of the other guests had attempted a garden party outfit or at least their Sunday best. A few men even had top hats, though I’m not certain if they borrowed them from Teaberry’s itself. In fact, in the middle of the meal, Katrina looked at me and said very firmly, “While you’re here, be sure to visit the bathroom. It’s worth it.”

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The bathroom was worth it.

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I already have far too many hats of my own, but I considered trying to smuggle a few out under my dress.

With the overwhelming amount of options available, we ended up packing most of our meal home, and Katrina grabbed a blueberry scone to go, because scones in a tea room are also The Law.

Teaberry’s also has a separate gift shop where you can spend an outrageous amount of money on tea-related things you never knew you needed, like the aforementioned Shades of Earl Grey. I bought nothing only because I had just spent all my money on my meal, and besides, I really didn’t need a twelfth teacup for my room.

Not at $25, at least.

Privacy: None

My views on privacy have changed drastically over the last ten years. In 2007 I was signing up for Runescape with a yahoo email my parents never would have let me have (featuring a fake name, a fake birth date, and a fake security question, just to be safe). I never posted ANY identifying information on the internet. What if the internet monsters found out where I lived, made the 30 mile trek from the nearest big city, and came knocking on my door? I’d have an awful lot of explaining to do to my parents after the internet monsters had been shot fifteen times and set upon by several large dogs.

When I first made my Facebook account in the early days of 2014, I used a fake last name and obscured most of my face in my picture. I only friended people I knew and had all the privacy settings set to “most paranoid.” I didn’t post anything, I just lurked on the pages of other people and pretended I was AFK when people talked to me, in case they were internet monsters in disguise.

In 2016, when I had moved to the east coast, I got my first ever phone. A smart phone. I connected my accounts to it gradually, until eventually everything about me was tied to the little pocket screen in some way.  I realized, slowly, that no one was out to get me because I was boring and not plotting to take down the government more than two or three times a year. I relaxed.

But it wasn’t enough. I had to completely get rid of any notion of privacy. It all had to go.

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So I got an Amazon Echo Dot!

Picture this: You want to buy speakers to play your Pandora music, but instead you can have speakers and also a little cylinder of Google that listens to everything you say or do, all of the time! The future is here, my friends.

You spend the first few minutes with your Echo Dot connecting it to your Amazon account, your music accounts, your preferred news source, your location for traffic and weather, and your soul for appropriate tithing. Then, when it’s all said and done, you can activate it with its wake word: Alexa. Call it that so you feel personally connected to it.

From there, you can talk to “her.” “Alexa,” you could say, “what’s the weather like tomorrow?” Or, “Alexa, let’s play rock, paper, scissors.” Alexa will play music for you or sing for you herself. Alexa will flip a coin, play the news, or control the lights in your room if you already have lights that are smart enough to be connected to things.

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This little thing will do it ALL.

Alexa feels like one of those generic robots every home had before the uprising. If she had arms and legs she could be your own personal assistant. As it is, I wish she had little wheels to zoom about the place like a Roomba. Imagine if she could answer your geography questions while cleaning your floor!

The kids love her, but haven’t quite figured her out yet. “Alexa, would you please play ‘Do-ray-mi’?” they’ll ask timidly, and Alexa, unused to people being polite, will sit there in stunned silence until I harshly bark an order at her.

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I felt like the black-on-black look was inelegant, so I added a doily.

I’m not sure I’d recommend getting her, because there’s not a lot she can do that you couldn’t already do on your computer, but if you want to shout verbal commands at your very own primitive A.I., this is the way to go. She’ll also tell you a joke if you ask her to.

“Alexa, tell me a joke.”

“Who brings kittens gifts at Christmas? Sandy Claws.”

Incredible.

Vacation Like a Rich Person

If you want to escape it all for the weekend, to commune with nature in the wildest parts of America, I highly recommend anywhere besides the Poconos, which might have been nature at one point but is now just a lot of rich people pretending.

Still fun, though.

On the weekend my board gaming friends booked a “cabin” in the “woods,” although in this case “cabin” means “fancy wood-paneled home with Jacuzzi”, and “woods” means “some trees in a gated community surrounding a ski hill.” I had figured going into it that we were in danger of being hunted down by serial killers as we lay defenseless in our ramshackle cabin, but there was a security system and you couldn’t get through the gate if you looked like a murderer.

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It’s a cabin because it’s brown.

While there were technically woods surrounding us, all the houses were very closely packed in, lining the twisting roads like an otherworldly suburb. It was quite nice, actually- they had clearly put in an effort to preserve the trees when they built, and regular suburbs could benefit from the increased amounts of nature.

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All the other “cabins” were at least partially hidden by the trees, allowing you to pretend you weren’t within 200 yards of another vacationing family.

It was St. Patrick’s Day weekend and we had hundreds of board games to get through. It was heaven.

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I came very prepared for St. Patrick’s Day.

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The hot tub was built into the enclosed porch, which was excellent because it allowed us to get very hot, step outside, roll around in the snow, and submerge ourselves again while icy.

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I may have taken a creepy picture of two of my friends talking in the early morning, but they were very cute, and I have no shame.

We spent most of our time in intense relaxation, being as we are all introverts who need a little space throughout the day. We would converge in the kitchen for meals, feast merrily for an hour, and then retreat to quiet corners and watch Planet Earth for a time before board games commenced again. It was lovely.

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And then, when it got too stuffy indoors, a group of us adults would swarm the nearby sledding hill and show the local kids just how slowly you could slide down a hill on a sled that was the 1971 Chevy C10 of racecars.

We returned to our normal lives reluctantly, but satisfied in the knowledge that we had made a lot of exceptionally lazy memories. We also learned that there’s no limit to how sick you can get in a minivan with six other people on a winding hilly road in the Poconos.

The Philadelphia Flower Show

Until last Sunday I knew very little about Holland, save for a vague idea that wooden clogs were involved somehow. Now, however, I can confirm that tulips, windmills, and bicycles are the other three things in the Netherlands. Sometimes bridges.

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Often all at once.

On Sunday I dragged James to the Philadelphia Flower Show on the basis that he had to, because I was his girlfriend and I said so. I find bullying and manipulation to be excellent cornerstones of a relationship. Plus I bought him lunch.

This year’s theme was Holland (last year’s: Ireland. So close), and as stated above, Holland has a lot of bicycles and windmills. It’s enough to make you wonder if each individual artist began to set up their displays and grew increasingly depressed as they realized that every other artist had been in possession of the same idea.

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“We’ll have windmills! And hanging flowers!”

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“We’ll have hanging flowers! And bicycles!”

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“We’ll have bycicles! And bridges!”

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“We’ll have bridges and hanging flowers and bicycles!”

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“WE WILL HAVE A BRIDGE MADE OF BICYCLES WITH HANGING BICYCLES. Also tulips.”

Don’t get me wrong, it was all lovely, at least those exhibits that I fought my way through the crowd to see. Sunday was opening day and the crowds were thick, resulting in many blurred photos as professional photographers used the heads of passerby to brace their heavy-duty cameras.

Getting through the crowds rapidly became exhausting, and I had bought all my windowsill plants for the day, so I was about to release James from this special guy Hell when I caught sight of the “Live Butterfly Exhibit.” With BUTTERFLIES! LIVE ONES!

So we stood in line to funnel into a netted room, where we were handing q-tips dipped in sugar water to try and tempt the exhausted butterflies to us, so we could carry them around like fairy wands.

But as it turns out, butterflies just take what they want.

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It took me five minutes to pry this one off of the netting, and only because I wanted my sugar q-tip back.

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Got you, you little punk.

Catching butterflies was hard work. James and I struggled to coax the fragile things onto us for what felt like ages, while small Disney princesses in training waltzed by with sleeves covered in the floaty things. If that’s not a sign that I’m old and no longer desirable by the fairies, I don’t know what is.

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Most of the butterflies went to the ceiling to rest. I couldn’t reach them. James could, but he was too busy remarking on how short I was.

I caught sight of a large blue butterfly and spent the remainder of my time in the enclosure trying to get it to love me. “Go on, have a sugar stick,” I whispered, shoving the q-tip at its feet until it latched on to avoid being pushed off the plant.

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It requires immense concentration, badgering a butterfly to accept you as its new owner.

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Success! The q-tip is gone for good, mind you.

Once my life goal of holding a blue butterfly for thirty seconds was accomplished, James and I packed up and headed out, and I faced the reality of my ever-shrinking windowsill space for my new plants.

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The little ones will need big pots soon. I have no space, but I need more.

Fortunately, there is a solution to dwindling windowsill space: Hanging plants.

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All the hanging plants.

Can We Have Spring Now?

On very rare occasions parents can be right about things. In this case, that thing is snow- or, more accurately, that snow is not nearly as fun when you’re an adult.

Now, four walls and a fragile personal space bubble is the most separation I have from my workplace, and my morning commute is mostly me forcing myself to get out of bed and walk the ten foot hall to the kitchen, so driving isn’t really an issue. (Disappointingly. If I lived far away I could claim the weather was too bad to drive in.) Rather, the very reason I’m here is to be at the house when the children can’t go to school, such as during a snow day, or one of the forty-three vaguely patriotic holidays the teachers have off.

I’m watching the snow fall right now.

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That, ladies and gentlemen, is an ornamental rich person fence. It keeps the poor people safe from the lawyers on the other side.

Fortunately, by the time it started snowing in earnest it was too late for the school to give them back, but Tuesday is gearing up to be another snow day, which means three to six stir-crazy boys frothing at the mouth to get outside, freeze to death for an hour, and then smuggle snow back inside and dump it all over the mud room, to be repeated in another hour.

All day long.

This wouldn’t be so bad if they were a little older, of course. After a certain age you can pitch them outside and keep an eye on them through the window, in the comfort of your well-heated home with a glass of warm milk. But with the mixture of ages, and their tendency to try and sacrifice the little ones to the snow gods, I need to be right out there with them the whole time.

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Fortunately, there’s always one that volunteers to shovel the driveway.

I combat this in the only way I know how: By stalling in the garage so that I don’t have to venture out into the frigid wind, which the children can’t feel because children are blissfully unaware of temperature extremes. It’s the same reason these children can play outside in the 90F, 90% humidity of a summer day.

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Here’s a good garage game: You take some cones, and you hide a container of bubble solution under one. And then, wait for it, here’s the good part- the child checks under them all until they find them! Now it’s their turn to hide and your turn to find it. Tip: It’s under the one they keep looking and giggling at.

As I was writing the entire power system flickered, which probably means the laundry has stopped and the kids will be coming home from school even earlier.

But good news, it’s Friday!

Good news for the nanny, at any rate. Possibly not so much for the parents.

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