Personal Entries

Cousin brothers

Making breakfast, I’m softly singing as Riley joins me in the kitchen.

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together, ” I sing.

“What are you singing?”

” John Lennon.  It’s a Beatles song.”  I tell him, and sing the lyrics again.

“Was John Lennon on drugs when he wrote it?” Asks Riley.

“No Riley,  he wasn’t on drugs!”  Yes, Riley,  he was on drugs.  Lots and lots of drugs.

“I’m he, and he’s him, and you’re me and we’re all together… That doesn’t even make sense.” Riley says. “Mom, he was on drugs, admit it.”

“I does make sense,” I insist, laughing.  ” ‘I am he as you are he, and you are me’… he’s saying that I’m you and you’re me.  That we’re all the same, we’re all one, we’re all interconnected.”

“Oh,” says Riley.  “So, it’s a song about West Virginia?”


My words come out in another burst of laughter, and because laughter is a rallying cry in this house, Matt has joined us in the kitchen.

“What’s inbreeding?” My eleven-year old asks.

“It’s what they do in West Virginia,” explains Riley.  “John Lennon wrote a song about it.”

Oh, that one.  What am I going to do with that one?




Personal Entries

Muffin lechery

Mr. Muffin

The boys settle at the table while I finish making a pot of tea.   I’ve made blueberry muffins for breakfast, and as they help themselves to the muffins in the basket,  Riley notices that one muffin resembles a human face.

Soon the muffin is serving as his puppet, and it has a lot to say.

“Heeey Matt,”  the muffin says, “heeeeey.  I’m Mr. Muffin, yeaaah.  How you doing?  Heh heh, heh.  Yeaaah.”

Mr. Muffin sounds a lot like a cross between Beavis and the late, gravel-voiced DJ, Wolfman Jack.

“Hey! You better look at me when I’m talking to you,” Mr. Muffin tells Matt.  “No respect, no respect.”

Matt is ignoring Mr. Muffin.  This is remarkable, as Matt’s hobby this morning is being easily offended.  It’s a hobby he’s really, really good at, as good as Riley is at his chosen hobby: being offensive.

“Hey kid,” Mr. Muffin continues, “you better look at me or I’ll kick yo’ a** !”

“RILEY!” I tell my 14 year old as I join the boys at the table. “No!”

But Matt and I are both laughing, and this only serves to encourage Riley.

“Mom,” says Riley in his own voice,  shaking his head and throwing up his free hand in a gesture of defeat. “It’s the muffin.  He has a really bad attitude. What?”

“Well, your muffin needs to behave,” I tell my son.  “Your muffin better take it down a notch, OK? “

Riley sighs and looks admonishingly at his muffin. Then the muffin is turned my way, as if noticing me for the first time.

“Heeeeey baby!” Says Mr. Muffin. “Hey pretty lady!  How you doin’?”


“How ’bout you give Mr. Muffin a kiss?” Suggests Mr. Muffin.


“Just a little kiiiiiiissss.”

I am not kissing a muffin, and I tell my son so.

Mr. Muffin turns to Riley, now.

“I just wanna little kiiiiss.”  Says a sad Mr. Muffin to Riley. “I just need love.”

“Oh, I’ll give you kiss, Mr. Muffin, ” says Riley, giving the muffin a quick peck between his blueberry eyes.  “Geez Mom, can’t you be nice?”

“I’m NOT kissing your muffin,”  I laugh.

“Just a little kiss. ” sniffs Mr. Muffin, inches from my face.  “Just ooone.  One little kisssss.”

It’s kind of sad, and maybe if I kiss the muffin we’ll all be able to eat breakfast.  I give in, and lean forward to give Mr. Muffin a peck between his eyes.  As I do, Mr. Muffin opens his huge muffin mouth and makes lascivious noises:

“He hllllllaa, heh he he ehhhhhhhhhhh.  Heh he he!  Tongue Kiss! Heh!”

I feel so dirty, and a bit disturbed.


Personal Entries

Two Whales

Sam and Mary–two whales–are swimming through the ocean when they spot a boat on the horizon.

“Oh no, ”  says Sam, ” we’re in trouble!”

“What is it, ” says Mary, “whatsa matter?”

“That ship is a whaler,” says Sam, “and if we don’t do something they’ll harpoon us and kill us!”

“Oh Sam, no!” Says Mary, “What will we do?”

“Stay calm, Mary!  What we’ll do is this:  we’ll swim up underneath that boat, and we’ll blow out of our blowholes, again and again, until we capsize it!”

Mary agrees, and off they go.  They swim right up under the boat, and blow and blow until the boat flips, sending all the sailors into the ocean.

“Whew,” says Mary, “we’re safe!”

“No,” Sam says, “look on the horizon!  It’s another boat!  They’ll save the sailors, and then they’ll come after us!”

“Sam,” says Mary, “What’ll we do?!”

“We need to go scoop those sailors up out of the water and eat them, Mary,  and then they can’t chase us!”

“No way, Sam!” Says Mary. “You talked me into the blowjob, but you’re crazy if you think I’m going to swallow the seamen!”


Personal Entries

Physics question for you

My little blogosphere nerds! I know you’re out there, and it’s time to step up.

While playing Scrabble today, Matt asked this question:

“If someone were falling, and someone else shoved them as they fell, would it slow them down?”

Karen and I thought that, yes, it would slow them down.  I added that how much it slowed them down would depend on how far they had fallen when the shove occurred, and the total height of the fall after the shove (for instance, if there was enough distance left to fall that they were able to regain their original falling speed before impact).


A physics problem, which is a VERY NORMAL thing for me to diagram. I am CONSTANTLY diagramming out physics problems. * Object in right-most scenario is a tree.


And because diagrams ALWAYS help, I quickly drew one on our Scrabble tally sheet.  Karen commented that drawing a diagram about a physics problem was a switch, as I usually only diagram out issues of reproduction, fertility, and breasts.  Karen is often wrong, as I’ve noted on the diagram: Scrabble tallies are highlighted in blue with the final scores starred in green.  I totally beat her because she is so wrong, and I diagram much, much more than the sexy things.

I would call Jake at Chapel Hill to ask him to answer Matt’s question, but I’m a bit annoyed with Jake today.  Go ahead, ASK ME WHY and I will totally tell you.

But, blogosphere brainiacs, are we right? Would a mid-fall shove slow the faller down?  Would the amount by which the fall was slowed depend on at what point the shove occurred; how much fall was left?

Help me, Obi Wans.


*Bethany’s comment made me rethink my phrasing, so let me rephrase:

Would the shove slow the momentum of the fall? When you fall, I assume it takes a certain amount of time to get up to top speed. The shove would slow that speed, right? So that you wouldn’t hit the ground at the same speed that you would have had you not been shoved?

For example, if you fell off a skyscraper, and someone/something shoved you BUT GOOD about 15 feet from the ground, would you hit the ground less hard than had you not been shoved?

Personal Entries

Don’t be stupid, don’t die

Listen closely. Do you hear that voice?  The one saying, “Cam, please be careful! Please?”

That’s me.

This is what my parenting has been reduced to: urging boys to be careful. That’s it.   I feed them and implore them not to be too stupid;  not to die.  This might seem like a small job, but any teenage boy will tell you that being stupid and almost dying is the teenage boy’s goal.

What the video doesn’t show is me, moments before, calling out the window:

“Who’s on the bike?  Is that Cam?”

“Yes M’am!”  Said Cam, who is a very nice boy.

“Oh Cam, honey, I thought you were smart.”  I said to Cam, who is very smart.

“No, I’m stupid!”  Cam answered, and all the other boys cheered.

What you see, above, is what they did all day, only pausing to have a contest to determine who could stand outside in their bare feet the longest.

You might think that the purpose of sledding is to go down a hill as fast as you can, but you’d be wrong.  The purpose of sledding is to see who can most dramatically and inventively come closest to fracturing their skull, and if I had a dollar for every time I called out, “I DO NOT want to go to the hospital today,” I’d be a wealthy woman.

Be careful, don’t be too stupid, don’t die:  It’s more work than you think.


Personal Entries

King Tut’s Missing bits

Eight hours into the drive, and we’d played 20 Questions for the last hundred miles.  Things were deteriorating.

“Alright, I got one!”  Announced Jake, and Riley and I groaned.

Jake’s had some pretty obscure picks on his turns, the Lost Library of Alexandria being my favorite.  Jake also tends to overthink his yes and no answers:  he won’t give a definitive” yes” to a person being dead if their body was never found.  Amelia Earhart could, after all, still be alive.  This leads us to ask questions like, “Does a recognized and respected governmental body consider them dead?” Or, “Other than conspiracy theorists, do normal people believe this to be true?”

“Dude,” I ask him now, ” is it something we all know?  Do we even have a chance, here?”

“Yes,” he says.  “This time I promise you all know it.”

“Riley knows it?”  I clarify,  “Matt knows it?”


“Wait, wait.”  Says Riley,  “I know it, or you think I should know it?”

“You know it,” insists Jake, ” I know you know it because we’ve discussed it recently, and you care about this.”

“I care?”

“Yes, you care a lot about this.”

Hmm.  OK.

It’s a person.  A man.

A man who is dead.  Definitively dead?  Confirmed dead?  Yes.

Not an American.  A European.  He’s lived in the last hundred years.

A famous, dead, male European, who is neither an artist, an athlete, an inventor, nor a scientist,  an academic, a  royal.

Was he a political leader?  Yes.

“Is it Hilter?”  I ask.

“No.” Jake says.

I think for a minute.

“So,”  I ask, ” you’re telling me this is a dead, European political leader of  the last hundred years who Riley not only knows, but cares about?”

“Yes,” repeats Jake, “Riley really cares.”

“Riley really cares.  Was he a leader during World War II?”


“Is it STALIN?”

‘Yes!” Exclaims Jake, “It’s Stalin!”

Riley turns in his seat and stares at Jake.  ” I really care about Stalin?”

“Oh my gosh, Ri, yes!”  I say.  “You LOVE STALIN!  It’s always Stalin, Stalin, Stalin.  All the time with Stalin. I need to remember to get you that Stalin poster you wanted for your room.”

Riley and I are laughing now, and Jake is trying not to laugh as he defends himself.

“We just talked about it yesterday!  You asked about Mel Gibson, and we ended up talking about the Holocaust.”

“Wait, ” I say.  I was part of this conversation, and I don’t remember Riley caring deeply.  “Riley asked about Mel Gibson, and we all ended up discussing World War II? Or you and I expounded while Riley’s eyes glazed over?”  Jake is passionately interested in history, and I don’t think he can imagine that anyone else wouldn’t be just as interested.  It’s STALIN, for heaven’s sake!  Stalin is a rock star in the world of history!

“Yeah, that,” laughs Jake.

“But now that we know Ri caaaares about this stuff, there are no limits on what we can use!  Riley, do you care deeply about Nicholas Sarkozy’s Economic policy?”

“Yes, but I really care about Nicholas Sarkozy’s pinky toe.”

“Oh, you do love the politically offbeat details!  How about Vladimir Putin’s pet kitty?” I say.  “Or, Margaret Thatcher’s….”

“Left hairy nostril?”  Suggests Riley.

“Yes, Margaret Thatcher’s left hairy nostril.  Because you care about your international politicians.”

“I do care.  What about Castro’s favorite nephew?”  Ask Riley.

“Ohhhh,” I say.  “Who wouldn’t know Alberto?”

Jake has given up at this point, and is laughing so hard that no noise is coming out.  He manages to squeak, “King Tut’s missing penis?”

And then we’re off on a discussion of poor King Tut’s penis,  recently in the news.  It’s been lost, it’s been found, it’s been deemed a genetic mutant-penis which never would have worked properly anyway.  Poor Tut.

Poor us.  At ten-thirty and  after a day spent driving, I’ve just missed the turn  for my hometown because I was distracted by our conversation about King Tut’s missing bits.  The exit is miles behind us, and I only realize what I’ve done when we are almost to Philadelphia International Airport.  Tired and punchy and not making the best decisions, I exit I-95 off an exit-only ramp, and we spend the next half-hour winding our way through some rough parts of Philadelphia as we hit detour after detour.  All because of King Tut’s missing penis, which we all care about, deeply.


Personal Entries

Don’t steal my cat, bro

I’ve been reluctant to discuss my summer plans, as I’m afraid it might be read as an invitation to come rob my house while I’m away.  Please don’t do that, OK?

And trust me, there is nothing here to take, except the cat.  If you are reading this and forming a plan to come rob Vaka Design’s house? The cat is all yours.  Mazel tov.  His food is in the cabinet next to the sink, and I wouldn’t advise substituting a cheaper brand, as a cheaper brand leads directly to bloodshed. Did I ever mention that I keep the diamonds in the cat?  I do.  And the gold casting grain, and the sapphires, the emeralds, and any extra hundred dollar bills I have lying around.  All IN the cat.   Not that I’m recommending it, but that cat is extremely valuable, and it would behoove someone to steal him while I’m gone.

The c-clamp holds the diamonds in


I haven’t taken a vacation since I started the business, and holy wowwy wow wow,  I need one.   I’m a bit fried, and my attitude ….well, blogosphere, my attitude sucks just a bit, and nobody does sucky attitude as well as I do.  Not to brag, but when my attitude goes bad, it goes impressively bad:  Nothing is good!  Everything is bad!  Nothing will ever, ever work out!  I throw myself into that bad attitude like an LSD-tripping pig throws itself into mud;  the suckiness is me and I am it; it is everything.

I don’t do things in halves, do I?  Nope.  Maybe I need a break?  Chyea.

When you work from home, you never really stop, do you?  The best things about working from home are also the worst things:  your work is right there,  right in the next room!   It’s wonderfully-slash-terribly easy to zip back in to do one more little thing.  It’s guilt-inducing when you don’t go back in.  You might break at the end of the day, but you never really stop thinking about work unless you go far, far away.

So, off to Maine I go!

As many of you know, I spent my childhood summers in Maine, with my grandparents.   Recently, my Mom razed the old cabin and built a new one. With indoor plumbing!  I kid you not, we now pee inside, like the highbrow folk.

Our house in Maine

Our house is on a lake, close to Mt. Desert Island and Acadia National Park, and so the boys and I will be doing plenty of swimming and hiking and climbing on rocks and slapping at mosquitoes.  Life will be good, and I will be posting from Maine.  Because I still like the blog and I like you, just not gold.  I hate gold.   I HATES IT!

In the meantime, I’m tying up my loose ends.  We’re  getting our house pretty and nice so that it will be nice to come home to, and I’m finishing up last-minute orders.  Now that I know they are last minute orders, and then I get a break?  I love them, just a little.


Media and Art · Personal Entries

A toe in the pool of prepubescent crazy

We have two weeks of stuff to cover here, so let’s all pipe down and focus, shall we?

We have field trips with insane preteens,  a class mural,  swearing off dating forever and ever until I die and the pixie haircut which accompanied this decision,  and a graduation or two.   Where shall we start?

Although I’ve worked myself up into quite a state thinking about the haircut and the swearing-off dating,  I’ll start with the mural because it gives you something to look at.   Complaining about my bad attitude towards dating has no visual hook.

This year, as I have in previous years, I offered to do a painting with Matt’s class.  The idea is this: I provide all the materials, and guide the kids through the process of creating a large-scale collaborative painting.  I provide the steadying adult voice of reason, and they make all the decisions and do all the work.

After much brainstorming and voting, the kids decided to paint an amusement park scene,  anchoring the painting with a horizon line and a roller coaster, and setting the scene at night.  They would all add their own elements to the painting, and each would also draw themselves on the roller coaster.   They worked together to come up with a strong, cohesive theme, and I was impressed.

Which is why I’m so, so baffled about how we ended up with this:

Click to enlarge this fabulousness: 5th grade Amusement Park, 4 ft x 7.5 ft. Acrylic and watercolor on Arches paper.

An amusement park with an erupting volcano, under attack from nine space ships, three dragons, two bears, and many, many zombies.    I had no idea how much time zombies spend at amusements parks.

I’ve learned some things about fifth-graders:  They’ve dipped a toe in the pool of pubescent crazy.  They like to draw very, very small.  Their collective goal is to out-funny one another.  They don’t do collaborative. They erase each other’s preliminary drawings, and this goes about as well as you’re imagining it does.

1.  This, blogosphere, is Tiger Woods on the moon, in a bikini.  His golf club is floating away, and that’s why he’s shouting, “Nooo!”   “Let’s draw all his girlfriends, too!” Said the fifth-graders. “Nooo,” said Ms. Stein.

2.  This pretty little clock and the things drawn around it are the work of a very sweet autistic boy who joins the class for much of the day.  The kids collectively bossed him about his clock being off-theme.  When he left, they all started drawing clocks.  I urged them to erase their clocks, and they took this to mean that they should erase anyone else’s work that they didn’t like.

3.  Bears!

4. “Honey, what is that?” I asked.   “A volcano,”  she said. OK.  By this point I had realized that artistic coherence was a pipe-dream.

4.5.  “I’m confused about why you’re drawing ice cream cones in the sky.”   “I like drawing ice cream cones.” Later, these became ice cream cone rockets.

5.  An upside-down zombie paratrooper with an ice cream cone instead of a parachute.   This drawing was explained to me at the time, but because fifth-graders all talk at once, all I heard was, “MS. STEIN HE ERASED MY CAN I PAINT NOW ZOMBIE PARACHUTE FAIRY ROLLER COASTER FALLING HAHAHAHAHA BEARS!!!!!”

6.  This family of zombies did not make sure they were securely belted in before the ride started.  Luckily, they are the walking dead and so their fall can’t kill them.

7.  Several things are happening in this part of the picture.

a.  A dragon is heating up some pizza.  The dragon was drawn by child A, and the pizza was drawn by child B.  Child B did not discuss the addition of pizza with child A, and child A was not pleased.  Pizza made a mockery of the dragon.

b. Medusa and Frankenstein are getting married.  I have no idea.


The kids, somehow, came away from all that lovely planning with the message, “Go forth and draw twenty-three different pictures!  Make it as random as you can!”  Amused, shell-shocked, baffled; halfway through the first day I caught Matt’s teacher’s eye.

“Wow,” I said, shaking my head in disbelief.

“I know!”  She said excitedly, “this is the best they’ve worked together all year!

Teachers are not paid nearly enough.



Personal Entries

Turkey sex

After a weekend of non-stop soccer games (nine of them, blogosphere!)  I’m a bit tired this Monday morning.  Riley, who played five of the nine games, is not.

Concerned about commitment in turkey relationships

As I prepare to make his breakfast, I ask him how much he’ll eat this morning.  One egg, two eggs, egg-bacon-and-cheese sandwich?

“One and a half eggs, and bacon,” Riley answers.

“One and a half eggs, it is. ” I say.

“Seriously?  They don’t really have half eggs, do they?”  My son has a  special knack for being very bright, and yet obtuse, at the same time.  It’s kind of charming.

“Yes, Riley,”  I say,  “Sometimes when the chickens leave work early, they don’t have time for a full egg, and they abruptly stop.  They go half.”

He shakes his head at me as he starts to put on the clothes he’s brought downstairs.  “I don’t think I like your attitude.  But you know what would be perfect?  Turkey eggs.  They’d be the right size. Why don’t we eat turkey eggs?”

“Maybe turkeys would be harder to farm for their eggs–“

“That’s discrimination!  Turkeys get it on, too!”  And he finishes with a low, Barry White-style, ” Yeahh, baby!”

“Dude, I don’t think I can deal with turkeys getting it on at seven in the morning.”

“Now Mom,” Riley says, “Turkey sex isn’t something to be embarrassed about.”

I look over my shoulder to see him looking at me with a mock- serious, quasi- parental look.  It’s makes for a comical blend with his skinny little farmer-tanned, boxer clad body.

In a soothing voice,  Riley continues, “When a man turkey and a woman turkey want to be very close—“


“Mom, it might embarrass you now, but turkey sex is a normal, healthy part of an adult turkey’s life,”  Riley explains.  “So, as I was saying, when two turkeys want to be very close, and they are in a committed relationship—“

“Riley, ” I laugh, “Stop it!”

“A committed relationship, Mom!” And then he breaks into a speech I’ve given many times,  “and if the turkeys aren’t sure that this is a committed relationship, they should wait.  If turkey sex is a good idea this week,  it will still be a good idea next week, too.  So just wait.  There will always be more turkey sex available—“

“Breakfast is ready!”  I announce. “You’re a turkey,” I tell him as he sits down.

“A COMMITTED relationship, Mom.”

Thank you, Riley.