Monday, November 30

Thanksgiving staycationing


Since we normally go to the beach for Thanksgiving but veto’d that for this year, we told the kids we’d have some Local Adventures. Ben told Dad and Patsy we were going to the Space & Rocket Center (really, Ben? that was just one of our suggested plans!) and they made plans to go with us.

This worked out well, as I forgot that my dad is a total Space Nerd. It was like having a guided tour.

They took us to a Mexican restaurant afterward for Thanksgiving lunch. (We normally do the Shrimp Basket at the beach.) And then they let me force Hamilton on them on the drive home.

Ani was at daycare, because we didn’t think she was old enough to enjoy the place. (A lady behind the counter confirmed that it’s usually ages 6 and up that get the most out of it.)

Tuesday, they had friends over. I came home from a walk to children playing in the yard, aww. It was nice to see the beautiful bed of yellow leaves our ginkgo drops. It always seems to coincide with Thanksgiving and we miss it every year, coming back to no leaves.

Wednesday, we sent ALL the kids to the daycare and Kris and I had a day-long date. This involved Goodwill, Katniss Everdeen, a walk behind the mall, tacos and asking Jaimie if we could come hang out at their house for awhile. (Dad and Patsy picked up the kids since they wouldn’t have their usual Friday and we were like “what do we even DO with all this kid-free midweek time?!?”)


When we came to pick them, they were finishing E.T., which the kids hadn’t seen (but apparently discussion of it came up on Monday?). Zoe was rapt by the movie. Ben was on an iPad. Ani was building her an “own car” with blocks. Cash crawled up in my lap. When the movie cut to a shot of the mom looking adoringly at Elliott, Cash looked up at me. Like “yeah, I get that That Look means you love your kid so much and hey, that’s how you feel about me!” (What? It was a SWEET MOMENT.)

Thursday, lunch at MawMaw’s. Zoe and Cash stayed behind to help decorate the tree. (We made Ben come home with us, which he was Not Happy about but got over super quickly. They never understand why we separate them sometimes.)


Friday, we put up our tree and hit Christmas at the Falls. We’ve never gone so early in the season. It was CRAZY PACKED. Ani loved the “choo choo.” (We all kept saying “remember when Ani was scared of the train?”) Finished the night with hot chocolate for all four kids.

Saturday morning, we wrangled the kids into semi-matching attire and drove over to Attalla in search of intriguing, shaded backgrounds. They played along nicely. (Yeah, if the shoot is outdoors, no way to have the girls’ eyes visible. But I don’t have a light kit for indoor shoots!) Then we came home and I worked up the photos AND ordered Xmas cards. (Impressed myself, I did.)

Xmas card photo shoot 2015

In the afternoon, we took them and their bikes to the wildlife trail. We need another small bike with training wheels. Eventually the outing was a success and man oh man was Ani excited about bikes!

That night, we made a turkey and pumpkin pie. (We had ham and pecan pie on Thursday.) Since it was a special occasion but no Supper Club, we sat in the dining room.


And since it was a 5th Sunday, that meant potluck at the church.

Ani was so confused, she asked for three days “go to church?” No, sweetheart, it isn’t Sunday. It’s a holiday week... NONE of us even know what day it is.

I am so glad to have gone back to work. Which I only do for THREE MORE WEEKS. Deep breaths. Our waiter last night asked where we worked and this was my first time to answer “I work at the Gadsden Times now but only for three more weeks and then I don’t know what happens...”

But I know God is good. And that I have turkey leftovers.


(Also, our week of Thanksgiving Staycationing was when I officially dropped NaNo. I had logged in every other day and done at least SOMETHING. I have a pile of 16,000 words I wouldn't have otherwise and I do hope to finish the story someday. So overall, I'm glad I did it, even though I didn't finish!)

Tuesday, November 10

Changes afoot

This has been a big year for Change. Small changes: like, we pulled out the carpet on the stairs, got a different computer when the old one died. Midsize changes: we have a different van; I have a different hair color. And some pretty big stuff: changing schools, getting a cat and quitting my job.

Yeah, I turned in my notice at the Times. My last day is December 18.

I have always said that I would never quit my job at the Times, as God made it for me. A graphic artist position in the newsroom? For a gal with a BFA in graphic design and a minor in English? PERFECT.

Kris once said something similar about his youth group in Cullman. He felt like God was telling him he needed to make a move to the Gadsden Vineyard, but Kris was like “I’m not leaving my kids.”

But one by one, they left him. Moved or changed churches...

And I realized, the job God gave me left a while ago. The graphic artist position closed. (But Andy Powell had retired and they changed my designation to reporter, though I was still doing the same things — putting together the magazine, designing pages and writing the occasional story.)

Other changes are happening at the Times and soon I’d be a full-fledged reporter. (Which I do not think I am cut out to be.) I had anxiety about it. If I stayed at the Times, it would be out of fear. Fear that we couldn’t afford to lose my income. Fear that we wouldn’t have insurance.

I don’t want to base my decisions on fear.

For two months, we quit using my income to pay any bills. We were fine.

I thought “Ani is doing so well, but maybe she could use me at home.”

Ha. Hahahahaha.

Ani might not be at home.

A couple of weeks before I told my editor I was quitting, the evaluator for the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB) met with Kris at EvenStart. Ani will probably be attending AIDB. She will probably start in January.

Kris and I went to tour the school yesterday. I had to get in the shower an hour before I usually do, so the kids had to help Ani get ready. They wanted to know why. Kris explained we were visiting a school Ani might switch to, a school for people with low vision.

“Would Zoe go too?” the boys wanted to know.

She could. We feel that at age 9, Zoe is old enough to make the call. AIDB has a summer camp and I plan on Zoe going next year and seeing if she would like to swap schools.

(I think Zoe would have qualified this whole time, but Ani began EvenStart at age 3 and Zoe was nearly 5 when she started. Also, I’m not sure it was part of the city school system then? Like, if Zoe had been in the system longer, she might have met with AIDB but she didn’t? And she’s done really well at Striplin.)

The school tour was great; we loved it. The principal and others agreed: let Zoe decide if she wants to go.

When I picked the big kids up last night, Zoe told me she wanted to go. I told her that’s fine, but we’ll stick with the plan: attend the summer camp. She could go in the 4th grade.


I won't be at the Times anymore. I'VE WORKED THERE 15 YEARS.

Changes. They are afoot.

Monday, November 2

All Souls Day

Pumpkin carved by @kriscatoe

A photo posted by Laura Catoe (@damecatoe) on

I think the last time Kris carved a pumpkin was the year we got married. The kids enjoyed it. (It's a marker of enjoyment when they ask to have their picture made with something.) He had them pull the pumpkin guts out. They loved the way it looked lit up. Magic!




Kris' parents came over and were going to take them trick-or-treating while we hosted our costume party, but before they made it to the first house, it started to rain and didn't let up! So the kids did one house: ours. We made them ring the bell and say "trick or treat." Their little unprompted "thank you"s were the sweetest thing.

Lots of cool costumes, as per usual. Couples' costumes:

Rick & Evy Legend of Zelda Kiki's Delivery Service

Couples in non-matching costumes:

June Cleaver & Wolverine Halloween 2015 Halloween 2015

Families & friends:

Halloween 2015 Halloween 2015 Halloween 2015


Halloween 2015 Liz-a-go-go Halloween 2015

Tuesday, October 20

Great Wolf Lodge


A couple of years ago, I saw a link for an indoor water park in North Carolina. "Oh hey, that might be a great idea for a family that sunburns really easy." But my kids couldn't swim yet, so I placed it on the Future Considerations list.

When we decided to go to Cincinnati, I looked on Expedia for hotels. The Great Wolf Lodge came up. "The kids would LOVE that," Kris and I agreed. (Also, we knew we wouldn't be taking a beach trip this year and it seemed like a good swap.)

So we booked two nights in Mason and told the kids "our second hotel will have a pool."

They LOVED it.

Aside: before we checked in, I wanted to hit a grocery store for some snacks and beverages for the room, so we located the place and then Googled for "grocery store" in the parking lot. Google sent us not to the closest Kroger but the one in Kings Mills. But this was perfect, because it wound us past this awesome-looking abandoned building and a beautiful twisty fall road. (Turns out this place was the Peters Cartridge Co. It didn't look or feel creepy to us. Your mileage may vary.)

We told the kids we were too tired from the book festival to hit up the water park that night, but there was trick-or-treating and a nighttime presentation/story time. And the kids loved that the room had its own little "kids cabin" with a television — so they stayed up late watching a movie.

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The water park opened at 10am, and we played for three hours. Until Ani was sleepy and I was hangry, well past low blood sugar and unholy annoyed. We ordered some pizza from the lodge's pizza place and after we ate, Kris took the big kids down for Round Two (another nearly three hours) and I made Ani take a nap.

After some dinner, we took them to the resort's arcade.

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They already want to go back.

We finished the rest of The Philosopher's Stone on the way home. Every time I paused it, Ben wanted to resume. There were like five minutes to go when we got home, so Ben just stayed in the garage until he could hear it all.

(I got Ani out of the van ASAP to let her swing before it got dark. Swinging is her Favorite Thing right now, and she did so good on the trip with nothing much to keep her entertained. Yes, sweetheart, let us swing!)

Robot seemed pretty happy that we were home.

"We rarely leave for days like that," I assured him.

Cincinnati's Books by the Banks

Off to Cincinnati

I knew I wanted to see Rainbow on her Carry On tour if at all possible, and the closest city was Cincinnati. It worked out really well that the event she'd be at had a kids section. Books by the Banks it is!

Bonus: Samantha would be attending as well. (Seeing a fandom friend in person twice in one year? Is that allowed?)

I made sure to finish my fanmix prior to the trip, right? We barely even listened to music! We knocked out a couple of episodes of Radiolab and then began the first Harry Potter book.

"This book is kinda good." – Cash's review of the first few chapters. (He was later shushed by Ben for talking during the scene in Ollivanders.)

Our hotel was in the Cincinnati Enquirer Building and OMG, I didn't make a WKRP in Cincinnati joke during THE WHOLE TRIP, I cannot believe.

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It was Cash's first time to be in a hotel and that was pretty adorable. When it was time to sleep, the room had two double beds and a sofa bed, so we were two by two. "Night night, GrandDad," Ani said. Kris was like ??? (but I think it's because she had her first spend the night away from home at the water tower last weekend).

When taking THE WHOLE FAMILY to Cincinnati because you want to attend a book signing, I highly recommend having a Fandom Friend on scene. Because Samantha and Lena got there first and texted me what I needed to do. (You had to have a line ticket for the signing. When I got mine, I was able to join them in line.) I'd never met Lena, but we all hung out like we'd known each other for a long time.

Lena, Sam & Laura

Samantha had a gazillion books to get signed. (Not only hers, but ones for a fan in Israel and one for a blog giveaway). And she'd made us all Watford scarves! (The school colors plus a W.)

I brought Carry On, because, hello, it is the Carry On book tour. And my special edition of Fangirl, because if you have the chance to get your Special Edition signed, YOU TAKE IT, right?

Untitled Sweetest inscription ever

I had a set of bookmarks to give Rainbow, so when the three of us made it to the front, we sort of had mass bedlam for a moment. For photos, one of the festival staffers would hold your phone and you'd pose in front of the table, but Rainbow knew we'd be hitting her up for a group photo, so she stepped out from the table and got one with all of us. She was like "yeah, these are getting Special Treatment."

While I was in line for the signing, Kris was in the Kids' Corner. Man, Books by the Banks had an excellent Kids' Corner. Samantha & Lena went to get in line for Rainbow's talk and the kids' took me to see their area. We waited in line for balloon animals and face painting. There was singing and dancing and instruments you could try to play...

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I stayed until I saw how all of their faces turned out and then went back to get in line with Samantha & Lena.


(The pizza slices are a World Ain't Ready reference. And Samantha wore her shoes!)

Rainbow's talk was a lot of fun. I'd seen a girl earlier with cool hair, and she was sitting in front of us. I noticed she had Sherlock-themed shoes as well, so I made sure to tell her I liked her ensemble from head to toe. She liked Samantha's shirt, so we chatted for a moment. (Samantha found her on Tumblr!)

Kris texted me like "hey, we're on your left when you leave the room" so I was so busy looking for them that I almost didn't notice Rainbow as she walked by to get to her afternoon signing. So I kind of tackle hugged her. But she's lovely, so she just rolled with it.

We were all starving by this point and multiple people told us we must try Cincinnati Chili, so we all ended up at Skyline Chili.

The city seemed so cool and inviting; I wish we'd had more time to spend there! But after dinner, it was off to our next destination.

Since that was a totally different day, I think I should make it a totally different post!

Here endeth our Cincinnati Adventure.

Power nap

Sunday, October 11

Carry On fanmix

Listen on 8tracks

My last mix was all ladies vocals, so I wanted this one to be all dudes. And since the book is set in Watford, I wanted to focus on English bands.

Now, on my Fangirl mix, the Snowbaz track was Bastille. So, obvs, a Bastille track! Man, the choice was WHICH ONE(S)? Because I can only have two by the same band when uploading to 8tracks. (Seriously, there were at least six contenders. But I didn't have a strong opening song, so let's pick which Bastille song can set us up best...)

1. Bastille: "Skulls"

You know what? I can't even excerpt the lyrics here, as too many are appropriate. Lyric vid instead:

For Simon, heading back to Watford after his last summer in care. His roommate/nemesis isn't there and he can't stop thinking about him.

2. Arctic Monkeys: "505"

Oh no, wait, another one where I'd have to list like all the lyrics. Man, lyric vids. Nice.

For Baz, who is trying to get back to Watford. Baz, who has some complicated feelings for his roommate/nemesis.

3. Mumford & Sons: "Believe"

I don't even know if I believe
Everything you're trying to say to me

So Simon and his girlfriend break up. He thought she was his happy ending. He's not so much upset about losing her but the future he had planned.

She can’t leave me like this. She can’t leave me. We were settled. We were sorted. We were endgame. (If I get an endgame.) (You have to pretend that you get an endgame. You have to carry on like you will; otherwise, you can’t carry on at all.)

Also for all that being the Chosen One business and how the Mage wants him to leave Watford.

4. Raleigh Ritchie: "Bloodsport"

I've had the name of this song on a post-it at my desk FOR AGES. Sometime months ago when Rainbow mentioned it in a tweet. Here, I am sure Google can find that for me... yep:

Haha, look! Back when she still had to be cagey and not say which book she was working on.

When I finally got Spotify to let me listen to Rainbow's Carry On mixes, I chose one song from each for mine. Bloodsport from Baz's. THIS SONG, MAN.

5. Bastille: "Weight of Living, Pt. 1"

Your Albatross, let it go, let it go,
Your albatross shoot it down, shoot it down
When you just can't shake
The heavy weight of living

Both our boys are carrying an albatross: Baz being a vampire, Simon being the Chosen One.

(And seriously, so, so many Bastille tracks work for them; I just picked based on where I had gaps in my mix.)

6. Troye Sivan: "BITE" (as suggested by princess-gengar on Tumblr)

Ha, she suggested that song weeks before the book came out. The song has the lyric "a phoenix in the fire" and the book has this line: "I feel like a phoenix rebirthed itself in my lower intestines."

7. Dawn Golden: "All I Want" (Manila Killa remix)

Y'know what, let's go with this verse:

Your eyes, they did flutter again
And my mouth it did hang wide
When you told me 'every little thing is going to be alright

As a funny reference to this passage:

He’s right here. And his lips are hanging open (mouth breather) and his eyes are alive, alive, alive.

(And the vibe, think more of the scene with the stars/space.)

Because if we use this verse instead:

Break the locks on the gate
While I try to forget
I used to be something great


8. alt-J: "Every Other Freckle" (you could pretend it said 'mole' right?)

I want to share your mouthful
I want to do all the things your lungs do so well
I’m gonna bed into you like a cat beds into a beanbag
Turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet

Oh, my, alt-J! (But c'mon, bonus points for the mention of crisps, right?)

Snow kissed me last night until my mouth was sore. He kissed me so much, I was worried I’d Turn him with all my saliva.

9. Hunter Hunted: "Ready for You"
“This,” I say. “I want to be your boyfriend. Your terrible boyfriend."

So they get together and it's like "yay! excitement!" But then...

10. Sleeping At Last: "The Safety Dance"

Simon has Reasons that he thinks Baz will move on to somebody else. Hence, song for the leavers' ball scene but it's mellow.

11. Saint Raymond: "Young Blood"

Um, okay, blood is in the title? And it's happy and this mix has a LOT of mellow? And the accent? (Shhh, I can't let a mix have an uneven number of tracks unless it's 15.)

But no, wait! There is the line about "if you're gonna tell me, tell me now"

“You can change your mind,” he says.
“I won’t.”

12. Fun.: "Carry On"

The one from Rainbow's Simon mix. (This is such a good song. I mean, Rainbow writes excellent books but also? GOOD SONGS.)


Tuesday, September 29

A house with guitars


Sometime at church last month, I thought about my guitar. It’s been stashed under my bed for years. Pretty sure the last time I played it, Ben was a baby.

“It’s just such a hassle to get it out,” I told Kris. “Because first I have to tune it and the battery in the tuner is always dead and it takes a nine volt and who ever has one of those? And I don’t have any songs memorized, so then I have to find chords. I’m not sure I would even remember how to make chords.”

And then we went over to Kris’ parents to pick up the kids, and whaddya know, Zoe had been asking them to get her a guitar for her birthday.


Zoe and I walked around in the parking lot. Kris’ dad had told her that I played the guitar. She wanted to know if she could play mine.

“Well, you’d need a left-handed one,” I explained. We talked of guitars. She was determined to use “a toothpick” on hers. Okay.

Zoe got her guitar Sunday. It’s beautiful. Small-sized and left-handed. We’ve asked Jordan to give her lessons.

Ron had tuned it, mentioned getting a tuning app.

A tuning app. Yessssss. So much easier! And... not something that was A Thing when I played, oh, LIKE A DECADE AGO.

Zoe is so stoked about her guitar. She wanted me to get mine out. Dutifully, I did. I downloaded a tuning app first.

But... I pulled the guitar out of the case... and it was... in tune? HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?

First time out of its case in YEARS (and it was in tune???)

A photo posted by Laura Catoe (@damecatoe) on

I showed Zoe a couple of chords. It helps that if we sit face-to-face, our hands are mirror images. “This finger, on this string, on this fret.”

Last month, I made a mix cd for Samantha’s birthday. She’d once sent me a link to Aaron Tveit covering Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” (I still haven’t heard the original.) I put his cover on Sam’s mix, which we drove around listening to in the van for a couple weeks.

“Can we listen to track six?” Zoe would ask. Little TSwift fan.

Last night, I Googled for the chords to the song. Why, here is a video of a girl showing you how to play it.

Guys. THE INTERNET. I just. Glad that’s it there, y’know?

So Zoe and I rocked a little last night. I had an extra guitar strap. I gave her my capo so she could try the Frozen tutorial.

(She’s gonna be way better than me at this guitar thing; I can already tell.)


Sunday, September 27

Moon Festival birthday

Zoe's 9th birthday

Zoe is 9 today. It is also the Mid-Autumn Festival (a.k.a. Moon Festival). That seemed like a perfect theme for a birthday party.

Some traditional customs for the Moon Festival are visiting with family and eating moon cakes. Hence, Moon Pies for her birthday cake:

Preparing for the #midautumnfestival Alabama-style #moonpie

A photo posted by Laura Catoe (@damecatoe) on

For food, we picked up Asahi. (We considered getting "real" Chinese food, but Zoe loves Asahi. Why split hairs?)

She was SUPER STOKED to have a bounce house in her backyard.


Ani got in on the fun, too. At first, she didn't get the whole bounce house thing. She does now. (This post might be more coherent if they weren't all outside in the bounce house at this very moment, making a huge Sunday morning racket. Sorry, neighbors!)

Discussion came up at school last week about does Zoe have "real parents" in China. Zoe posed this question to me off-hand as something she and Sophia discussed in P.E. one day. It seemed to me like someone had said to her she didn't have Chinese parents? And I was like "yes, of course you have a set of Chinese parents. You wouldn't exist if you didn't."

But I think that whatever was said bothered Sophia, so she told her mom, who mentioned it to Kris when she saw him at the Moxie and he sent me a text. He worries that Zoe will be bullied. So I told him I'd bring it up again while he worked late.

Zoe didn't offer much more but the gist I got was kids not knowing how to ask about her biological parents. All I really wanted to know was did the questions feel mean? I asked her this; she knows the difference between when questions are curious and when they are mean.

She didn't know.

She didn't mind telling Sophia about her family because she has been to Sophia's house. (Nice boundaries, Zoe!)

"Well, if other kids ask and it feels mean or you don't want to tell them, you don't have to," I told her. "You don't have to mean, but you can tell them it's not their business."

I gave her the example that when friends come over to our house, if they are curious about the girls' hair and vision and how albinism affects it all, I will tell them all I know. If we are out shopping for groceries and a stranger asks why their hair is white, I say (nicely) "that's just how it grows!" (Because that's a true answer and I don't think it's up to me school them on albinism. Ask Google. My girls are just out running errands with their family.)

When Kris came home, I told him I thought Zoe was okay about it all.

"She answered my questions and then began to tell me about how her bracelet broke and she had way more emotional investment in that. Whatever went down, I think she's fine."

I tried to explain to Zoe that Kris and I really are her parents. We are very much "real parents." That I thought what the other students wanted to know they just didn't have the word for — "they mean biological parents."

I told Zoe that there is no physical relation between me and her or Ani. But neither do I have any blood relation to Daddy or to GrandPatsy... we are all still family, though. She knows that I do have a blood relation to the boys.

Which somehow segued into wanting to know how boys are made versus girls and how are twins made again?

And jeez, I just wanted to make sure Zoe didn't feel bullied and HOW COME WE ARE TALKING ABOUT SPERM NOW?

Anyway, Zoe is 9. And she's doing fine.