Thursday, August 31, 2006


Ixnay on the Ishfay! I sooooo have to get one of these. There are other great fish here, but this is the one I have to have. It will go great (here in my studio) right next to my bumper sticker "So many Christians. So few lions." Here's the thing. I am a woman of deep, abiding, and somewhat complex faith. I LOVE church. I am ALL ABOUT liturgy. I talk to my kids all the time about values and faith. But Lordy, Christians know how to work my very last nerve.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Gamer's Life For Me

"Mashed goblin heads." (<-- My older son's answer to my question, "How was game? What did you do?") That's what my kids did last night - they mashed goblin heads. Here in the Bible Belt, Wednesday nights are sacred fellowship time. Sports practices and school assignments are arranged to leave the night open. Most of my neighbors gather with their church families and pray. My family? We do gather. We gather our kids and their like-minded friends. We usually feast. And then we get down to serious family activities like goblin head mashing. (Praying is entirely optional.) I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. I am raising a herd of gamer geeks. RPG's R Us. I love it. My kids know how to follow a cross-referenced index; they have to use diplomacy to gather the party together and develop strategies; they have to write character backstory; they learn to speak up in a group; and they are whizzes at adding/manipulating the numbers on thrown dice. But there are times when I realize how sweetly not-normal my kids really are.

For example:
This summer when we helped VBGF move, she treated my crew to dinner out at the Chinese Buffet. My children LOVE the Chinese Buffet. They were dashing around, happily babbling, comparing choices, and racing each other to the best stuff. Did I mention that they LOVE the Chinese Buffet? Me? Not so much. I was sitting at the table waiting for the whole thing to be over when my youngest, Havoc, rushes to me holding one hand up with the other, blowing on his bright red finger tips.
"Lovey, what happened?!" I asked, as I scooped him up into my lap. With tiny tears leaking out of the corners of his eyes, he said, "I encounterd a steaming hot plate and suffered one HP damage." Then he held his fingers up for me to kiss it all better. I gave him extra squeezes and didn't let him see me chuckling. He is definitely sweeter and geekier than the average bear.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Better, Stronger, Faster And Also? Oozing Tapioca

My computer? She's ALIVE! (Again.)
We (and by 'we' I specifically mean Sweet Hubby all by his lonesome) had the technology to rebuild her. All that had to be done was to remove her brain and stick it in a smaller, sleeker, newer body with about quadruple the memory. The only 'hitch' is the possibility that a few recent, snarky emails from my ex (Mr. Tapioca Head) may have been lost forever.
Same brain but smaller, sleeker, younger body with a better overall memory and fewer specific memories of my ex?? SIGN ME UP, I say!

In other news - I've changed my self diagnosis from 'sporadic grammar nazi' to plain and simple 'word nazi' because really? (and obviously) I don't actually get punctuation. Fragments are cool with me. Spelling mistakes don't bother me too much either. (I have a cousin who is brilliant and a PATHOLOGICALLY horrendous speller. It fascinated me all through high school and didn't seem to hold her back as she went on to get a Master's from Harvard and a PhD from Vanderbilt.) But the 'wrong word thing' can make me twitchy. Previously, I've worried about my son's chances of getting a job (since he suffers dreadfully from a serious but common form of almost-malapropitis) but apparently I need not worry AT all. There are jobs a plenty (especially in the food service industry) for people who don't know one word from another. At Kroger's recently, I saw a sign posted that instructed folks making their salads at the salad bar to "disgard" any food that is dropped. (Aside from the 'ick' factor that they would have to post a notice like that - what were people doing before the sign?? - I have to admit that it COULD have been a simple spelling mistake.) My local bagel shop has posted a 'Help Wanted' sign that says they are looking for someone who is "friendly, able to follow instructions, willing to work weekends, and conscience of others." Jiminy Cricket!

And there is one other word confusion (non food service industry related) that has amused me this week. (It is possible that you will not be as amused as I was but to put my amusement in context you have to understand that at the time my other entertainment options were pamphlets about STD's, information on the state's most wanted 'deadbeat dads', and horrifyingly graphic posters informing me of the truth about meth bugs.) You see, I spent quite a while at the child support enforcement office this week trying to understand what the heck is going on with our 'case'. The case worker kept talking about garnishing my ex's paycheck. I tried not to snicker (really!) - but the image I kept seeing was of some official state personage drawing cute little doodles and pasting precious stickers all over his check. I know they use the word garnishee (to mean the person whose wages are being withheld) and I know that they use the word garnishment (to mean the amount they are withholding), but I was taught in school that the verb for withholding pay was 'garner' and the verb 'garnish' was along the lines of fancy restaurants decorating their signature dishes. It's possible that I was wrong to begin with. It could also be that the word usage has shifted thereby rendering my understanding archaic. I'm ok with language shift. I find it interesting and generally think it's a positive force in the world. However you'll just have to disreguard my chuckling at the silly pictures my archaic understanding paints in my head.

Back to the inordinately long time spent in the child support office on Monday: I've been trying NOT to blog about my ex all week but he has been such an icky, icky pain in the potatoes that short of not writing (like the past five days) I think I just have to let a little bit of rancid tapioca leak out into the blogosphere.

Here is the smallest peice of it:
For about the past three years, I have wanted to have my child support switched from being paid directly by my ex to going through the state. He and I have had any number of unpleasant disagreements over silly little things like my ex deciding he'd 'overpaid' me and skipping an entire check (at Christmas - twice!) or his trying to argue that he can't pay me anything for a month because he lost his job even though he has just received ELEVEN THOUSAND dollars in severance. Aside from the fact that the state and I agree that severance pay does in fact count as 'income' in terms of maintaining one's children - someone please explain how he could justify to himself having a fat bank balance while his kids get nothing on which to eat?! Anyway... each time I have suggested we let the state decide what's fair, he has bullied and badgered, wheedled and argued, and generally made life unpleasant in the extreme for me (and more subtly for the kids.) He has thrown hissy fits about how having his wages withheld by the state for child support would make him look to his employer like a 'deadbeat dad' which he is not. I bought that - because for all the financial shenanigans he's tried to pull - at heart, he is no where close to a 'deadbeat'. He does eventually come through with most, if not all of, what we agreed on. He is way more annoying than criminal. In the interest of finding compromise, I have protected us by getting the amount of child support officially updated by court order but never gone on ahead and turned the whole case over to the state. It's just not ever gotten to the point of being worth the inevitable price of extra emotional stress on the kids when he gets into passive-aggressive mode. So imagine my surprise when I get a postcard from child support services saying that a case has been 'opened'. (<-- Dated the day after our most recent mediation session failed, btw.) I could only assume that he had done this in an effort to get his child support lessened.

Apparently, once a case is opened, the state goes ahead and processes it and informs you about the outcome later. While I was biking, a lot happened. My stack of mail included:
*a request for me to provide a copy of my divorce decree (oops - missed the two day deadline on that one!)
*a judgment setting our child support AT THE EXACT AMOUNT it's been for years. (Maybe that will change later, but it was a relief to see it reiterated all the same.)
*a copy of the form sent to my ex's employer requiring them to garnish his wages (as you can imagine, hello kitty stickers were envisioned but not actually included)
*a very serious looking (and confusing!) affidavit of income/expenses to be turned in NO LATER THAN Aug 28th (hence my time spent desperately trying to look at anything EXCEPT the meth bug poster!)

The case worker, who by the way had not returned any of my phone calls, despite the increasingly desperate messages I left as the deadline drew near - was GREAT in person. She answered my questions. But she was puzzled why I was asking so many. Why hadn't I asked all the procedural questions when I opened the case? I explained to her that I hadn't opened the case, my ex had. She looked at me. She looked at her file. She looked more closely at her file.
"But you're the custodial parent?"
"And you've always been the custodial parent?"
"But your ex - who pays you child support - opened this case?"
"I assume so. I didn't do it. I think he was mad at me when he didn't get what he wanted in mediation."
"Does he realize he opened a case with the child support ENFORCEMENT office?"
"Again, I assume so. Is everything ok?"
"It's fine - I've just never, ever heard of anyone opening an enforcement case against themselves."

She mentioned at one point that he could 'close' the case if he wanted to. I panicked a bit about that asking whether that meant he could decide to go back to paying me directly instead of through the court. "Oh no honey! He'll be paying the court for, um let's see, 11 years. There's no going back on that. But he could come back and close the enforcement case against himself." (She chuckled and shook her head, muttering under her breath "Lordy - a case against yourself." I really liked her.)

I told her that I'd gotten one check - but that it was short by several hundred dollars of the amount he was ordered to pay. She said that since it was the first one, the garnishment probably hadn't taken hold yet and he'd just mailed in a random amount himself. (Why he didn't mail in the amount he's been paying that happens also to be the amount he was ordered to pay - I cannot begin to guess.) She asked me if I wanted her to send a letter of contempt. Er - no. I just want the fair amount of money. She said he would probably make it up at the end of the month - but she reassured me that he couldn't 'skip' checks anymore. The amount in arrears would always show and he'd have to catch up or the state would take steps. (She said one of those 'steps' could be putting him in jail overnight. Heaven forbid!! Can you imagine how awful that would be for the kids (not to mention for him)? I suppose that's what makes it effective - but really! There is no way I'd be ok with that.) Her parting words to me were, "Well if you change your mind on Thursday - just give me a call and I'll send out that contempt letter."
If only I could convince her to garnish the letter with some 'my precious pony' stickers, I might be tempted.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I finally have time in my studio to write, surf, and blog - and guess what??

My computer is sick. Really sick. Sweet hubby made me pull the plug. He tried to walk me through some patches or fixes or whatever and we discovered that my browser had been hijacked and the spybot search and destroy program was itself devoured by whatever's lurking. Until he can bring home some major diagnostic suite, he had me unplug her to make sure that whatever is going on can't replicate and eat the hard drive or randomly email anyone I've ever emailed. She might need the computer equivalent of chemo. Sigh. I guess I'm grateful that, unlike when the kids get sick, I don't have to do extra laundry.

I spent the first half of the morning moping around, whining (to Wasabi) about how much it sucks not to have computer access. I even railed against the gods of the ether who seem to enjoy sowing obstacles along my blogging path. I resigned myself to cleaning out a huge box of old paper/mail/random crap that's been skulking around since we moved (LAST YEAR!!!)

In it, I found an old address book. As I was trying to decide if I had the energy to sort through it or if I should just toss it, a card fell out. It was a nine year old Christmas card from the sister in my French host family. Twenty years ago (last month!) I stayed with her family and over the next ten years we kept in touch. I never got back to France, but I saw her when she was here. She (and later she and/or her husband) would stay with us or we'd meet her/them wherever they were going. That Christmas card was all about how she and her husband were finally getting to immigrate to the US. A few months after she sent the card, she called me and left me a phone message with her new address and phone number. Before I got around to writing that info down, a huge storm zapped our machine and killed it. We had just moved into a tiny (770 sq ft!) cabin and I was pregnant with Havoc. I couldn't keep any food down; I had two small boys at home; we had NO money (to replace the message machine, much less make an international phone call to her old number to try and get her new one); and by the time I sorted things out - I had no way to find her.

Her old number was dead and my letters got returned. I have mentioned my mad computer research skillz before, right? I tried Googling her a couple (er, well maybe 4 or 5) years ago with no luck. Her name is Roxane and Google would ask me if I meant "Roxanne". Her last name happens to be a past passive participle (? I think) of some irregular French verb. Aside from some odd French websites, I found nothing. When I saw the card this morning, my first thought was how sad I was that my computer was comatose. If my computer was working, I'd try again to find Roxane. I walked into the bedroom, stubbed my toe on SH's office chair, bumped his desk, and eeeked when his computer screen lit up. (RIGHT! That's a COMPUTER!) It's not MY computer, but hey, she won't mind. I have computer access again. YAY! (Go ahead, ask me how much more work I've done sorting through papers.)

I HEART Google! I got two good hits! The first one listed both her and her husband's names and gave their street address (and the name of the realtor who sold them their new house - but I didn't give a shit about that). The second one was her name (spelled correctly) in an elementary school PTO newsletter thanking her for her help with career day (computer science). BINGO! That's MY Roxane! AND the newsletter gave me the zip code so I didn't even have to look that up.

I called Sweet Hubby and bragged about my amazing research abilities (neglecting to mention the role my poor stubbed toe played) and do you know what he said? (Hint: it was NOT along the lines of "Honey, that's great!")
He said, "So did you call her yet?"
I said, "Um, no. I'm going to WRITE her. I have her ADDRESS."
He said, "Why didn't you use that to get her number? "
Aside from the fact that it hadn't occurred to me (and that even now that he's brought it up, I have no idea how to convert the one to the other), I realized I'd be too nervous to call. I think writing a letter is more up my alley. Chicken Street. That's where I live, apparently. Google me and I bet that's what you'd find. (Well, you'd find that and a question about a recipe for lasagna in French. If you want some serious fun (or are just trying to avoid a pile of year old mail on the floor), try having Google 'translate' that recipe into English for you.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Idea Bunnies

I have started about twenty entries this morning and haven't been able to settle into any one of them. I seem to be having the opposite of writer's block. Or maybe not exactly opposite. It feels a bit like chasing mental rabbits. I dash into a herd of them and they scatter. When I try to run one down, it manages to dart ahead and hop to the side. I chase and chase and no joy. I give up. I flop down (huffing and puffing) with no idea bunnies in sight. If I stay here quietly, I suspect they would slowly surround me again - but to be honest - I have WAAAY to much housework to do to sit here and wait for the mental rabbit herd to regather.

So I'll leave you with this - yesterday I was on the interstate behind a Batesville Casket Company semi and on the back it said, "Drive safely. Heaven can wait."
Isn't that great?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Fun Facts About You - It's A Middle School Thing

Apparently, every single teacher gave the kids a 'Fun Facts About You' sheet to fill out in class on the first day. My two sixth-graders and my one eighth-grader complained mightily about how 'boring' this was and they implored VBGF (whose school doesn't start for two weeks) not to torture her students this way. She told them it really helps her to know her students as individuals and besides they're often hilarious and teachers need all the laughs they can get.

Wondering if my kids were more on the 'boring' side or the 'often hilarious' side, I asked them what kind of questions were on the sheet. The Ninja Princessa said that one of her teachers asked her to list her three favorite foods. She answered (honestly): pomegranates, tofu, and cabbage.

That's my girl. Her favorite foods are a weird, seedy, fruit thing; a gelatinous, bland, non-meat thing; and a stinky, vegetable thing. I'm not an expert, but I suspect her answer will stand out amid her classmates' answers of pizza, chicken fingers, and french fries. Chaos' favorite movie answer ("8 Legged Freaks") might stand out too, but then again, it might not. I'm pretty sure that all of Chaos' friends love that movie too. (But did they write it down, that's the thing.)

I know teachers at the beginning of the year are incredibly busy. Do you think they could possibly have had time to READ all of those answers? If teachers had unlimited time, just imagine what they could do with all that information! They could know who was in which friend clique. They could spot new pre-teen trends. They could compare this year's answers with past classes and chart subtle, historical shifts in adolescent attitudes. They could entertain themselves by playing guessing games tomorrow evening at Back To School Night - matching incoming parents with student sheets before reading nametags!

But surely the teachers have only had time to skim. Right? Right?
Oh Lordy. I might need some fashion advice. I need something clear, but understated. Something classic. I need the kind of outfit that says, "I really do cook normal food" and "He must get the gene for loving mutant, alien spiders from his father."
What do you think? Black, strappy sandals or closed-toe flats? Hmmmm?

Friday, August 18, 2006

What I Did This Summer

Biking 450 miles from Central Vermont to Montreal (and back) is fantastic. You should do it. However, if you decide to, here are a few bits of advice:

(Pre-Bike Trip Advice)
Bike the Blue Ridge Parkway for a couple of days on your way up to Vermont if you happen to get stranded in Wytheville, VA and towed to Roanoke on a Saturday after all the mechanics have left and won't be back until Monday.
Get your hair cut by the Vietnamese barber on Williamson in Roanoke. He's open on Sundays, charges $10, and cuts hair like Edward Scissorhands. Really. (Also, if you tell him you want your hair to look like Armando's from the Mexican restaurant, it'll be short enough to fit under your bike helmet and be much cooler (temperaturewise) - but it'll be spikey on top, which is fun. Even if you don't remember until later that you have no hair gel and no room for hair gel in your bike bag so it'll really only be spikey that first day. For ten minutes. Before you put your bike helmet on to ride back to the hotel.)
Believe the mechanics who think they might be able to find out what's wrong with your car and get you on the road by Thursday.
Go right ahead and rent a car and drive yourself the rest of the way to Vermont on Saturday. It'll save you the cost of hotel rooms and you won't have to put off your bike trip to Canada by almost a week AND you won't miss your nephew's first birthday. (Alternatively - if you don't take the advice about the rental car and you do take the advice about biking the parkway - DO wear sunscreen because then you'll be able to ignore some of the advice once you get to Montreal. Keep reading and you'll see.)

(Actual During The Bike Trip Advice)
Bike with your Very Best Girlfriend. She rocks.
Talk to her after breakfast and before actually getting on the road. (Especially if that amount of time is a long time because you haven't gotten your poop in a group.) VBGF's rock in general, but take it from me, they're a leetle grumpy at that particular time of day.

Get a good map before you go.
Assume a map obtained at a bicycle shop, written by cyclists, for cyclists qualifies as 'good' or even that it will be remotely helpful. (On the other hand - DO get this 'cyclist-specific' map if you are the type of person who doesn't want to be bogged down by pesky details like names of cross streets or beside-the-point information like, say - that the bridge you have to take is CLOSED and the ferry that runs only runs NEXT MONTH. In fact, if you are the type of minimalist person who would want to make do with such a map, shoot me an email and I can hook you up, baby!)

Follow the cycle shop's advice to enter Canada at "quaint" crossing stations.
Be put off by the fact that what appears to be a tiny, stone outhouse in a corn field that smells overwhelmingly of cow poo is in fact the 'crossing station'.

And Do:
Get so excited about your very first border crossing that you make the tiny, wizened, old, French-speaking man stamp your passports even though he is irritated beyond belief at having to do so.
Get freaked out and run off the road just because there is a GINORMOUS, cow-manure spreading machine, driven by 10-year olds heading directly for you. (Instead, hold your ground - and your breath - and the boys will wave as they pass you with INCHES to spare.)

Also don't (this one is VERY important) - DON'T:
Pass up the first 'restaurant' you see just because it doesn't look anything like a restaurant. I promise you it may be the only food source in ALL OF CANADA - or at least the only one until Sabrevois which is 400 km from the border even though the well-meaning locals on the island in the middle of Lake Champlain just before the border will assure you that there are many, many amenities (like places to exchange money, pee, and get food - some food, any food) 'right as you go into Canada'.

Believe any well-meaning locals.
About anything.
Especially if you ask them "How far is ...?" and they look at you as you straddle your bike and then they proceed to tell you how long it takes them to drive it in their car and then they try to convert that into how long it would take THEM to bike it.

Do - by ALL means DO:
Bike the extra kilometer out of the way in Sabrevois to the 'restaurant' at the marina (even if it takes you 15 minutes to figure out whether or not the restaurant is open because (besides being in French and consisting entirely of abbreviations) the weathered sign at the crossroads doesn't list hours of operation or even days, it lists MONTHS of operation. Hint: it's Canada - and it's a restaurant at a marina. If it's warm enough for you to be pedaling, then chances are, you are there in a month warm enough for boating, which means that it is well worth your while to hie thee hither to the only food source short of your final destination of the day which appears to be
more than twenty miles away on your cyclist-specific map.
Burst into exhausted, low-blood-sugar-fueled tears of relief when the nice little man and his wife who own the marina restaurant assure you that it is less than 10 km (not even 6.2 miles!!!) to your destination, no matter what your shitty (er, I mean cyclist-specific) map says.

Order this amazing Canadian comfort food from the nice little man and his wife who speak French AND English, take Canadian AND American money, don't get offended when you ask them twelve times if they are SURE of the distance (and they are not only sure but also RIGHT!) and who, incidentally, are completely wigged out by American girls who burst into tears.
Be surprised (if you ignore my earlier advice about not bursting into tears) when the nice little man tries very, very hard to convince you to let him (and his wife if you don't trust him!) drive you by truck (that one right there in the parking lot) or by boat (that one right there at the dock) those last, little 10km even if you have stopped crying and pigged out on the yummy poutine and feel quite up to returning to the fray with renewed vigga (<--that last part being my beloved Grandpa Jack's phrase.) Do: Stay here. It is on the bike path, it's incredibly affordable, and is run by a wonderfully nice woman named Madame Boutine (which is NOT to be confused with poutine even though they rhyme and are both Canadian and comforting!) Really - Auberge Harris is a perfect cyclists' hotel.
Get in a HUGE fight with your VBGF within sight of Montreal (even if the fight is about the fact that you can SEE Montreal, but due to the shitty (er, I mean, cyclist-specific) map, you can't for the life of either of you figure out how to GET there.)
Also, don't:
(VBGF-like) Pretend to bike off forever but really just turn the corner out of sight and throw your water bottles at a wall. (They bust open and you have no water to drink and it doesn't get you into Montreal.)
And don't:
(Me-like) Cry for an hour trying to figure out how you're going to get back to the States all by yourself. (It makes your eyes swell shut and gives you a blinding headache and still doesn't get you into Montreal.)

Make up with your VBGF (if you ignore the earlier advice about skipping the fight altogether)and then (this is key) toss out the shitty, cyclist-specific 'map', listen to the advice of a friendly local cyclist*, and when you finally arrive in beautiful, incredible, fantastic Montreal - stay here. It costs a ridiculous amount of money but it's the perfect place to celebrate your birthday. With your best friend. With whom you don't ever, ever want to fight again.
(*N.B.: 'local cyclists' are altogether different from 'well meaning locals'. A local cyclist is not a person who tells you they just love to bike and do it all the time. A local cyclist is a person actually on a bike who claims to have just this moment come from the very place you wish to get to.)

Do (and I never imagined I'd have to give such weird advice as this, but...):
Watch out for odd, Canadian men named Rene on the Metro. If you ignore my earlier advice about the sunscreen then by this point in your trip you'll have had to put up with twelve million and two coments about your peeling sunburn (which people in Canada have apparently never in their whole lives seen). And if you're not careful, a very weird dude will reach over and peel skin off of your back while all of his very, very drunk friends laugh - and THEN he will chat at you and tell you he's a dermatologist and he will crowd onto the same Metro car as you and he might even sit on your lap to the next stop. Um, all I'm really trying to say here is - wear sunscreen in Roanoke.

Go sightseeing around the old town and port of Montreal. Soak up some of the culture. Practice reading the signs. They're in French but often have pictures accompanying them.
Wonder why the security guard roars up from out of nowhere and pulls a little Dukes of Hazzard fishtail stop on his side of the fence if it takes you too long to figure out what the signs at the port say in French. (Hint: The signs say "STAY OUT. NO PICTURES. NO LOITERING. NO TOURISTS. YOU MUST HAVE ID BADGES AND HARD HATS. BIO HAZARD. TRESPASSERS SHOT ON SIGHT. " Those little pictures are fine and all but they don't give you a very clear picture of exactly how touchy Canadian officials are if you don't manage to decipher all of it quick enough and happen to stand with your bike looking at their port for too long - and there's not much point in today's tense atmosphere of trying to explain that if you don't have room in your tiny, little, bike pack for hair gel and panties then you are not likely to be toting around a bomb. Just smile and thank the nice Canadian official and move along. And don't even THINK about asking why there is a bio-hazard warning when the guide a mile away said they only shipped 'cereal' from this port.)

Try to leave Montreal. Ever. Because as hard as it is to find your way into, Montreal is even harder to get out of, what with random policemen detouring you off the only bridge fit for sane cyclists and directing you over to the one miles and miles down the road that is even more miles up in the air so that you have to pedal for an hour uphill and then clamp down on your brakes to slow down to a mere 50 mph on the downside while trying not to get vertigo from seeing the St. Lawrence whooshing by thousands and thousands of feet below you.

Stay at Auberge Harris on the way back too, if you can. It's really that nice of a stop.
Pick the hottest day on record in New England to ride 72.3 miles from Auberge Harris, out of Canada, down through upstate New York (yeah, that sounded weird to me too, sorry), and back to Burlington, Vermont. I know, I know - you're going to say (as did I), "but how am I supposed to know when I start out and it's 70 degrees that in one short week it could top 100 degrees?" I have no answer for you on that one.
However, to make up for it-
Stop here on the last leg. It is air conditioned; they'll watch your bikes for you; and they give out free samples at the end of the tour!

(Final Bits Of Advice, Post Bike Ride)
*I hope this advice will not apply to very many of you but...
Love your little sister and thank her profusely for letting you stay in her home while she is frantically busy trying to pack up her whole house so she can rent it to a family of six who are moving to Vermont from Oklahoma in 10 short days.
Look too closely at your little sister - who works a more-than-full-time job with the county child/family services, and who has a one year old, and whose husband has been in France (i.e. not here helping pack the house) for the past two months - and definitely
Notice that said little sister has not packed a THING.
Kill her for breaking that promise about fixing the airconditioning in the Subaru you are taking off her hands and driving 20 hours back to the SOUTH in 100 degree heat.
(Especially if you have ignored that advice about not noticing that your sister has become a complete zombie and NOT PACKED or arranged for movers or anything) - Drop the Subaru off (after 20 hours of sweating and cursing) at home and turn around and fly immediately BACK TO VERMONT with your godmother to spend the weekend packing and cleaning like mad things.
Fly back home in time to hear about the first day of school and throw a big family party for Mayhem's 12th birthday.

(Completely Bonus Advice only for those who have wacky 12 year olds)
A bike is great - and Mayhem loves the new one we gave him. But this is the present that really brought down the house and will be remembered in family lore.