Thursday, December 31, 2009

Resolve

I'm not one to make resolutions. Most of the ones people ever make in the name of the new year are destined for failure, half hearted and broken within days. It's not that I am without flaw or imperfection. I surely am flawed. It's not that there is nothing in my life which needs improvement. Lord knows that there are many. I just don't see the purpose in screaming aloud a resolution just because it happens to be the start of the new year.

This year, instead, I am making promises to myself. Things I will push myself to accomplish, hopefully this coming year. Things that really have no attachment to any time frame. Things I want to do for me.

I promise that I will try harder to submit some of my favorite photography pieces to the fair. I've wanted to for years, and somehow always managed to miss the deadline. But if life gets in the way, there is always next year.

I promise that I will find a place to submit my writing to and do it.

I promise that I will start donating blood on a regular basis.

I promise that I will take more time for myself.

I promise that I will go to the gym more often, even if all I do is sit in the sauna and enjoy the break from chaos.

I promise that I will spend more time at the park with my kids.

What promises will you make to yourself this year?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Give

Circulating inside each and every one of us is a precious commodity. One that we can give willingly. Something that can save the lives of others. Blood.

I've never donated blood before. I have certainly given much of my time, effort and energy to others, but have never once donated blood. I'd like to say that there are reasons, valid ones at least, for my lack of donation. But the truth is that I haven't always had one. I had problems with anemia in my teens and early twenties and had been told that I could not donate because of it. In the last 10 years or so, I've been pregnant quite a bit and thus ineligible to donate. But I haven't been pregnant all the time. And I should have donated. I will start now.

Tom was always better about it than I was. From the time he turned 18, he started donating on a fairly regular basis. He donated, that is, until he was diagnosed with cancer. No thank you, they said. He was forbidden from donating for 10 years. Those 10 years were up a few months ago, on the very same day that we got some news about another cancer.

Chemotherapy. For many it is their savior, but not without a price. It kills the good along with the bad, and right now it seems to be doing a lot of damage. As I write this, a donation from another giver is being pumped into someone I love dearly. Because of the generosity of a stranger, he will be better equipped to keep fighting.

I challenge you all to give. Call your local blood bank. You can save a life. And you never know when the day may come that you'll be on the other side.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

After

And then it was over. All the anticipation, all the shopping, all the wrapping is done. Meals have been made, cookies baked. Wishes made, most fulfilled. And here we are, after.

The floor is littered with tiny pieces of paper and tape. Parts of new toys strewn throughout the house. Remnants of the day, ones which will be cleaned up at some point. But not until after we play. After we make sure that every single new thing is removed from it's child (and adult) proof packaging.

I know people who always rush to clean up. Who want the decorations down and put away the day after Christmas. I've never been like that. I see the value in waiting. In taking these hours not to sort and organize, but to watch and play.

I'll find the carpet again eventually. The things will find a home. The kitchen will be clean. But it can wait. It can all wait. We've got new toys to play with first.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Home

I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents by the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Winter

As I sit here typing this morning, the scene outside is simply breathtaking. We have about 8 inches of snow on the ground, give or take. Though it was windy last night, it's calmed to the slight hint of a breeze. And there was enough moisture in the air after the clouds cleared that a fog formed. Still floating around in the sky, soft, fluffy clouds kissing the earth. With the fog comes the best part - the ice crystals. Every branch of every tree looks as though it's been coated with glitter overnight. When they talk of walking in a winter wonderland, it is mornings like this to which they refer.

It seems as though the cosmos, or fate, or some divine purpose is at work here in my own backyard. Someone out there knew that I had to wake up to these sights this morning. Someone knew I needed a nudge to feel Christmas. And here I am, list in hand. Ready to get all the last minute things done that I need to. Ready to see the joy on the faces of my children. Ready to share their anticipation. Ready to witness the power of believing in something magical.

Even though I'm not ready, I must be. For Christmas comes only once a year, and it, my friends, is here. Steal shared glances with your kids. Hug when the mood strikes you. Sing out loud. Kiss someone just because. Play. Laugh. Love.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

White

Since we have been here, the weather on Christmas has been different every year. The first year was a cruel joke. All excited about living somewhere that a chance for snow existed, we found ourselves outside wearing shorts in the 65 degree sun on Christmas day. It felt like just about every other Christmas of my life, those spent in Southern California.

The next year couldn't have been more opposite. A few days before Christmas, we had a huge storm roll through, one that left almost 2 1/2 feet of snow on the ground. We had drifts on the side of the house that were over my head. And though the sun was out on Christmas morning, we had more than enough snow on the ground to make it feel like Christmas. All those songs you hear, those pictures on Christmas cards, I knew then that they weren't a sham. White Christmases can happen.

Since that year, we've had a little snow on the ground, but nothing exciting. It's never been snowing on Christmas. As I sit here, less than 48 hours from Christmas morning, there are delicate snowflakes falling from the sky. Already a few inches on the ground and many more to come today, we are guaranteed to have another White Christmas.

There is something magical about snow. Maybe I just feel that way because I grew up in a place that didn't have it and to me it was always something I longed for. I didn't grow up shoveling and trudging around in boots. But, to me at least, it is magical. It can take even the brownest of winter landscapes and cover it with a pure blanket, hiding every flaw and imperfection. Trees that are already beautiful made more so. And houses, large or small, just look better with snow on the roof.

I've wished for a white Christmas about every year of my life, knowing that for most of them it was an impossibility. And here I am, getting my wish this year. A gift from the heavens, a feeble attempt at getting me into the mood for the holidays. The mood that I so desperately need to get into in a hurry. For the sake of my kids, I need to. But the truth is, for many years, Christmas has been missing something for me. And what it's been missing isn't snow.

I knew all along that in moving here, I was making a choice to be away from my family. I won't pretend that it was an easy decision to make, because it wasn't. We came here not for the snow, but to try and create the life we knew we wanted for our children, but couldn't have in California. We knew we couldn't stay there, but I wish we had found some way to.

To my sister in law, cherish this time. Enjoy it. It goes by too fast, and before you know it, you'll be caught up in the whirlwind of mothering. Take naps when you can, even if you don't think you need them. I assure you, there will come a day when you will give anything for that chance back. For you, I wish you calm and quiet. Take care of yourself. I love you.

To my brother, I miss you. No holiday is complete without the sarcastic banter that you bring. You are one of the only people in the universe who really understands me, and I hope that someday we can figure out a way to get together more often. Even though my son is just about as close as humanly possible to a daily reminder of you, he isn't you. For you, I wish you happiness and joy. You will be an amazing father. I love you.

To my mom, I wish you strength. The human heart is capable of far more than we ever think, and yours is capable of much. Take care of yourself. Find time for the things you love. Give yourself time to feel every emotion, and don't apologize to anyone for the way that you feel. Feelings aren't something we can control, they just are. Know that I am only ever a phone call or a chat away, though I wish with my whole heart I could be more. I love you.

And to my dad, I know that you asked that I not write about you here, and I've tried as best I can to abide by your wishes. Really, I have. But when in my life have I ever just listened to you? If there was any way for me to be there I would, just as I know you would be here, on Friday. But life has a way of changing our plans for us, often with no warning at all. For you, I wish you peace. I wish you health. I wish for you anything and everything you have ever wanted, and more. And I wish, oh how I wish, that I could be sitting with you, looking out a window together this morning. Snow, rain, sun - the weather is of no consequence. It doesn't matter what is on the outside of that window. It's the company on the inside that makes Christmas. I miss you Daddy, and I love you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Forward

It's easy to be cynical. I have a tendency towards it. The negative things are so obvious in our society sometimes that they can easily overshadow the good. What is harder is to be positive, to remember that most people at their core are good, and to see the bright side. Especially at times where it seems nothing is going the way you want.

As strange as it might seem, my faith in humanity was redeemed in the most unlikely of places this week. Twice in the same week, as though someone was telling me that I needed to smile. The first was while I was out shopping for those last Christmas gifts. Amidst the hustle and bustle, the elbowing and jockeying for position over the most sought after gifts, the general rudeness of shoppers, was a man. An elderly gentleman saw that I was struggling to get the bag and two children out the door at the same time. He smiled at Ally, told her to be a good little girl and listen to her mommy, then held the door open. As I passed him in the doorway, he sweetly replied that I was to have a Merry Christmas. By the time I could turn around to thank him, he was gone.

The next morning, the last day of school, after I dropped the kids off and before coming home to pick up the rest of the things I needed to take back to school for the parties, I stopped for a much needed cup of coffee. A very much needed cup. I pulled into the drive-through and placed my order, spacing out to the radio in line. As seems to happen all the time, I was starting to tear up over some sentimental Christmas song when it was my turn at the window. I drove up and the barista handed me my cup. Then informed me that my order had been paid by the gentleman before me. A complete stranger had done something for me. For me? I told the barista that I would wait until someone came behind me, and I would do the same. Pay it forward.

There really is such a thing as the Christmas spirit. And it is alive and well. Share it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Trade

In any relationship, there are bound to be trade offs. It's wholly impossible for any two people, in any kind of relationship, to always be evenly balanced. Whether it's marriage or friendship, co-workers or siblings, someone always has to be the one giving more.

Though it would be ideal to get precisely the same amount of effort, love and trust out of every relationship that you put in, life just doesn't work that way. Instead, one half of the relationship is always giving more. The other side, needing more. I know that in my life, I've traded places with many.

In most relationships, that dynamic changes over time. Hopefully the parties switch sides, at least occasionally. Hopefully it isn't always one person expending more energy. Of course, each of us could probably identify relationships that we have like that. The ones where we are constantly reassuring, helping, fixing. Over time, relationships like that can drain the energy out of you. When it starts to become obvious that you aren't ever getting much back. When the relationship ceases to truly be a relationship. When it becomes a parasitic one rather than anything resembling a symbiotic one.

Even those parasitic relationships, some call them toxic, they serve a purpose for those of us in them. For if you are anything like me, and I'd suppose that some of you are, a part of you needs to help, to fix, to reassure. And in that sense, the relationship serves a very real purpose, even if what you need isn't coming directly from the other person at all. Even if you are really only getting what you crave from the relationship simply by being needed.

I think that we all have to feel needed. At least women, anyway. It's what drives us to motherhood. What makes us so desperately want a person to depend on us for every single thing. And that innate sense of helping isn't something that goes away easily. It remains with us, most of us, forever. It is a great strength, but also a great weakness. It leaves us vulnerable. Let's all hope that those who surround us can appreciate the beauty of that weakness, without ever taking it for granted. For if they do, they are doing a great disservice to us all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dice

I started going to bunco a few months ago, dragged there by a friend who had been with the group for years. I only knew a couple of the other players from seeing them in passing at school, but decided that I would go and see if I had a good time.

I've played bunco before, with a couple other groups. But this group was the first one that I really fit in with. At least without trying. It's an interesting dynamic, for sure. Any decent sized group of women is sure to be filled with some kind of drama at least occasionally.

The last group I played with was filled with women who obviously all felt like something was missing in their lives. All had husbands with good jobs. All had kids. Some worked part time, but most were stay at home moms. And they were all missing something. None of them seemed content with their lives, for whatever reason. Perhaps it was because they were all too busy comparing their lives to the lives of the others. The proverbial grass was always greener. Or so they thought. It was funny for me to be there, since I'd met many of them while working at a local kid's clothing store. They, the loyal customers. I, their "employee". They could look down on me, feel sorry for me. When they found out that I lived in homes not much different than theirs and had more education than they did, they suddenly didn't like me as much anymore. They couldn't pigeonhole me and make themselves feel superior. Needless to say, I was never invited back to that group. And even if I ever was, I wouldn't be going.

This group is different. Very different. Another bunch of moms, though more work outside the home in this group. Their homes are well kept and warm, not cavernous and showy. They actually care about each other, not just pretend for the 3 hours a month that we are together. It's different. Maybe the thing that makes it so different is that we all recognize the imperfections in our lives and embrace them. We are not embarrassed by them, glossing over the unkind details. We lean on each other and we ask one another for help. We commiserate with one another, rather than judging. All this, and I have only been a member of this group for about 6 months.

Aidan asked me a while back what bunco is. I laughed a little. He asked again. He must sense that I am always insanely excited about it, and so he naturally assumed that it must be something really, really fun that he is missing out on. I told him that it's just a game, played with dice. Nothing else. He nodded his head, a little confused. Why would I be so excited to play with dice? It's because bunco isn't about the game at all. It's about the time, the friends, the food and of course it's about the drinks. It's about the only thing most of us do in any given month that is just for us. There aren't any tasks to be completed, no errands to run, no one else needs us to do anything for those 3 hours. It's not about the game, really.

To the lovely women who have welcomed me into their group, I thank you. You all really have no idea how much I needed this in my life right about now. Or maybe you did, and you needed me too. I'll see you all in a few weeks. The dice are waiting, and so am I.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hats

Every once in a while, I just have to do it. Sometimes it is because people ask me for advice. Sometimes they ask for clarification of an issue. Sometimes they gets themselves into a situation and need help to get out of it. And sometimes I just have to do it because there are times I have to do it. Even if no one wants to hear what I say when I do it. Sometimes, I have to put my lawyer hat on.

Most people here are shocked to find out that I have a law degree, figuring I am just like most of the other stay at home moms in the area. Most have college degrees, some left lucrative careers, but as far as I know, I am the only closet lawyer. Most times, it comes in handy. Usually, I am able to help others with their issues, or at least point them in the right direction. But there are times that I hate having such an analytical mind. Sometimes I hate asking questions that I have to ask.

I know there are people who hate it too. Who have a hard time seeing me in my lawyer hat, and distinguishing that hat from the others I wear. Mother, daughter, sister, friend. Sometimes my hats might disagree with each other. But wear them I must.

Ultimately, though, I hope that it helps people. Even if they might not see it quite that way at any given time. Lawyers are taught to see all the sides of an issue. To find options. To explore alternatives. And to seek out the best answer for their client. That's all I have ever tried to do. I'm taking my lawyer hat off for a while. I hope I don't have to put it on again any time soon. It's not something I particularly enjoy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Book

As soon as I am done writing this today, I will be dragging out the book. Only a chosen few know which book I am talking about, but it's one that has directly resulted in my reputation this time of year. I have a reputation for making cookies for everyone. Teachers, neighbors, coworkers, family. Everyone. I even ship them in little boxes, lovingly protected by bubble wrap.

I have many cookbooks to be sure, but there is only one cookie book. It's a book that has been passed down for generations, and it was one of the things that I received on the day of my wedding. I think in many ways, my mom was happy to pass it along. She didn't have to make the cookies anymore. It was now my responsibility.

There have been years that I have baked over 10 different varieties, not even including the fudge. The biggest problem that I face now is that it seems like everyone I know has a different favorite cookie. It gets hard to eliminate any of them from list.

This year is a little different though. I'm running out of time. Today is pretty much the only day I have left to get the majority of the cookie making done. Tomorrow is the last day of school, and I have a list of teachers that gets longer every year. Partially out of necessity, I have had to trim down the total number of cookie types this year, exchanging larger batches for variety. I'm sure I will be making at least one trip to the grocery store today. I always manage to run out of something.

I've got a lot of baking to do. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Traditions

This is the time of year that even the most non-traditional people start to rely on traditions. That you start to look back on your life, and the things that you have always done on Christmas. The places you go, the foods that you prepare, the songs that you sing.

When I was a kid, we always started the season by going to breakfast with Santa. It was at one of the department stores, and we went every year for years. Many more years than I believed. But we went for several reasons. My brother believed far longer than I did, and at some point I learned it was nicer to play along and let him than spoil the fun. My Grandma Doll went with us almost every year, and it was just a required part of the holidays. The other reason - they had the best hot chocolate in the universe and they would give you as many marshmallows as you wanted.

My dad has been a part of many men's organizations over the years, and when I was a little girl, one of them operated a Christmas tree lot. And so, for years, he spent time volunteering at the lot, helping countless other families create their own traditions. When I begged him enough, he'd let me tag along. Those nights I spent huddled around a trash can bonfire, listening to crazy stories told by the other guys, watching my dad be the strongest man I'd ever seen, those are nights that I will always remember. Never mattered how cold it was, he loved doing it. There was a certain sparkle in his eye, one that I truly only ever saw there. I can't drive past a tree lot without thinking about those nights.

When I became a mother, my parents insisted that I follow the Santa rule. They followed it for years, and they knew that if I did too that there would be times when we weren't all together. But it was important to them when I was a kid. And it is important to them now. Santa comes to our house. If anyone wants to see the kids open presents, they have to be here. No ifs, ands or buts. That's just how it is.

We have developed other traditions as well. The tree, whether fake or real, must be decorated in a certain order. The birds always go on first. My grandfather, my Pap, insisted that there always be birds on the tree. Some of the birds on my tree are the very same ones he used to put on his. And the last thing to go on the tree must always be the angel. The kids rotate years, taking turns putting on the last finishing touch.

One of the funnier traditions that I started involves underwear. Every year, Santa brings the kids practical things in addition to the fun stuff. They get toothbrushes and socks. And they get underwear. And the underwear gets hung on the Christmas tree.

I could probably write all day about the traditions that we celebrate this time of year. There are many more than I've mentioned here. There are the traditions that I remember from my own childhood. The new ones that we are making with each passing year. Memories are made, and they are the one thing that you can carry with you forever. I hope that my children will someday look back and fondly remember the things we are doing with them, as I remember what my parents did for me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Days

I think I have been listening to the holiday stations on the radio too much lately. And I think that the kids have been singing the 12 days of Christmas too much lately, especially given the fact that as of yesterday, there were 12 days left until Christmas. This year has snuck up on me faster than any has before and I realized that I have a tremendous amount of stuff to get done in the next few days. Before they are out of school for the break and home all the time.

In honor of the season, the craziness of it all, I give you my new, modified lyrics. I shortened it for you, so all you need to imagine is that last verse of the song. I know you probably all have a million things to do this week too. ;)


The 12 Errands of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

12 packages to ship
11 dozen cookies
10 gifts left to buy
9 carols to sing
8 rolls of wrapping paper
7 ugly sweaters
6 strings of lights
5 HUGE meltdowns!
4 trips to see Santa
3 class parties
2 exhausted parents
and a half decorated Christmas tree!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Indefinite

Along with the rest of the nation, I've been following the Tiger Woods story. Once only known for being the best golfer in the world, he is now know for being a cheater. A big one. It seems like every day more and more women come forward admitting to relationships with him. Another "hero" fallen.

It's nothing new. It's nothing that professional athletes haven't done forever. It's nothing that politicians haven't done forever. It's nothing that men in generally high positions of power haven't done forever. For as long as there have been marriages, there has been infidelity.

In college, I took an interesting class, during which time we debated whether human beings are really and truly intended to be monogamous creatures. And we came to the conclusion that women may very well be, but men probably weren't. Over the centuries, our society decided that men and women are supposed to be married and faithful and all that, forsaking all others. But clearly, that isn't always the case.

Many men are surely capable of being content in their married relationships. But many aren't. And it seems that an increasing number of women are straying from their partners these days. Hurting not just their spouses, but their children in the process. And, occasionally, ruining their careers. All in the name of personal satisfaction.

The difference between today and times before really isn't that more people cheat now. At least I don't think so. It's that we as a society seem to care about it more. The paparazzi, the presence of cameras everywhere, and the pervasiveness of the internet mean that it's easier to not just get caught cheating, but it's easier for everyone else to know about it instantly.

It is sad what has happened to the Woods family? Sure. I feel tremendously sad for his children. I feel sad for his wife as well, assuming of course, that she was really unaware of his propensity for this type of behavior before marrying him. Women who choose to commit to men knowing they do this, for lack of a better way to put it, get what they asked for.

But do I feel sorry for him? No. With as much as he had at stake, he still couldn't manage to control himself. On top of the world one day, a media pariah the next. Hanging up his career for an indefinite period of time so that he can work on his family. Maybe he should have thought about that before. It didn't seem to bother him before he got caught. He was never forced to reevaluate his role as husband and father until that fateful car accident. Had that not happened, no one would be talking about any of this.

In this day and age, you would think that they would know better. You would think that people this high profile would realize that the whole world is watching them. The internet and the media certainly sped the downfall of Tiger, but he started the fall himself. And he has no one else to blame.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lights

For as long as we have lived in Colorado, this time of year has always meant one thing. The Parade of Lights. The city puts on several parades a year, but the biggest one of them all is the Parade of Lights. And for every year that we have been here, we've been in it.

The preschool always had a float in the parade. Every year that we have been here, we've had a preschooler. And every year that we have been here, someone in our family has been on that float. It's been a partnership between the preschool and Miller farm, a local family run farm, that lets us use one of their huge trailers for the event. Every year, the preschool teachers would swear they were never going to do it again, and every year we parents would manage to talk them into it.

Every year, I've been involved a little more in the planning of the float. The first year, we didn't make it to the actual float decorating day because Aidan decided to play hide and seek that morning. We spent hours looking for him, not hours doing what we were supposed to be doing. He had made his bed, with him in it and managed to lay there completely still for hours.

The next few years after that, I helped plan, but had sick kids when the time came to actually do the decorating. One year, it was snowing so hard that most of the floats didn't bother to show up. It was freezing, but our float was full of kids. Tom rode on the float that year, but I didn't get to see the parade because the snow was too deep for me to get over there in time. There was the time that half the lights on one side went out right before the parade started. And then the time that the generator for the lights ran out of gas and a dad got sent to the gas station in a hurry so we could make it into the lineup. We've had fun.

And then there was last year. The parents met for the meeting to come up with the theme before Thanksgiving. We decided on the Stars of Alpine Preschool, and designed the most elaborate decorations yet. And then over the break, something terrible happened. The daughter of one of the teachers was in a horrible car accident, ending up in the ICU with a shattered pelvis. We quickly switched from float decoration to food delivery and hand holding.

At some point, a handful of parents decided that we were going to figure out a way to make it work. We knew how important that float was to so many people. No matter what, we'd get that float ready. It wasn't easy. And not without blood, sweat and tears. A lot of tears.

I enlisted the help of my father in law, and he really made it come together. He cut out all the wood stars and other prop pieces we needed, and I spent an afternoon painting them all. The stars went to school and were covered with the hand prints of all the children, helped by a pair of mom volunteers. Another mom who had children in the preschool before, who had ridden on that float in the past, offered to help me do some of the detail work on the signs. Even though her preschool float days were over, she helped. Anyone who has been through the doors of that preschool knows how much it meant.

The initial plan was to have all the lights purchased, but that had been put on a back burner obviously. Instead, parents brought tools and extension cords and every spare light they could find from home.

It took a lot of people putting in a lot of work. When the teacher with the injured daughter arrived at the farm that morning, seeing her face made it all worth it though. Her daughter was fighting to recover, and her progress had been nothing short of miraculous. And though it might seem like something that shouldn't be too important, I think that float really meant a lot to her. Though the teachers always said every year's float would be the last, they were always joking. Until last year. Had we known that it really would be the last float, it would have been even more bittersweet.

The school has changed so many policies in the last year it's ridiculous. And they have prevented the preschool from participating in just about everything. The farm field trip. The parade. The things that our preschool was known for in the community. And what had become an annual tradition for the families of our kids is gone.

Tonight, we'll be at the parade. But it will be different. We'll be sitting on the side of the street, watching the other floats pass by. Wondering why the adults feel so compelled to take something so amazing away from children. On the other hand, it will be the first time I am really able to watch the parade. To sit and see the looks on the faces of my children when Santa arrives at the end .

It will be different this year. But we'll be there. We always have been and we always will be.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sap

For years I have given my mother a hard time for being sappy. I'm not. Never have been. Every year at Christmas, there is an unspoken competition. Who can make Mom cry first? I'm pretty good at it, and we all know her weaknesses. Truth is, whenever we ask her what she wants, she always says nothing. So we are left to our own devices and we get her the things that we know she will love, though they generally make her cry. Personalized bracelets, photo albums, singing cards. Slam dunk, guaranteed tear jerkers.

She's always been the type of person who cries at Hallmark commercials. Movies make her cry, even the ones that she has seen about a million times. She knows how they end, and yet ends up teary eyed. I used to harass her about it, because I used to be the furthest thing from sappy. Used to.

Though I try to be strong, and I try to be stoic, I just can't do it all the time anymore. I used to be better at it. When Gary was sick, we had no choice but to stay positive when we were with him. I learned to cry when he couldn't see me. I got good at it. When Tom was sick, I was marvelous at hiding my emotions. We were living in the apartment at the time and I would cry the entire time walking out to take out the trash, and the entire way back. But I would be fully composed by the time I came back in the door. I had to be. When Ashley got hurt and needed emergency surgery, I stayed strong, holding her until the anesthesia took effect. Only after she was asleep did I let myself cry.

These days, I am so overwhelmed emotionally that I cry about everything. I find myself randomly tearing up at the littlest things. Sometimes they are happy tears, sometimes they are sad ones. I've learned that there is comfort in letting go of the emotions. Of letting myself feel them. I try to keep myself composed around the kids as much as possible, but it seems to only get harder the older I get.

The kids always want to listen to the Christmas radio station right now, and there are times I just can't do it. Darn that Josh Groban. Even those Hallmark commercials, they get me now. Break out the tissues, I've turned into a sap.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Angel

There are choices in this life that no one should ever have to make. Situations so unimaginable that no one should ever be thrust into them unwillingly. Yet, the cruelty of life says otherwise. The pain that people in these positions must feel is something that I cannot fathom.

My thoughts and my prayers are with them today. May they have the faith and the courage to do what they need to. And may they have the love and support to get them through it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cheer

After all the years that I have been doing this, you would think that I would know better. That there would be at least some half-hearted attempt at a minor calculation before it all begins. That I would figure out how many to get before I actually order them. To devise a way to avoid the yearly re-ordering. It seems like every year I need more. Christmas cards.

I suppose that I shouldn't complain really. I am lucky to have a large family. I am blessed to have many friends from all phases of my life. I try to keep in contact with everyone as much as is practical, and for some all that we manage are the yearly cards.

I always hated the letters that people would write and put in their cards when I was a kid. They seemed so distant and generic. Giving updates about everything their family was doing, with little relevance in my life. And then I had kids and life got busy and there wasn't time anymore to hand write out ever single letter. I started writing the letters too.

For the last however many years I have done the cards and the letters. I've told people stories about the kids, about our trips, about our life changes, and about the additions to our family. I've put a shiny, happy, positive spin on everything that happens in our lives. Made it sound good. Left out the disappointments and the failures. The illnesses and the challenges.

This year, I ordered my cards and got them in the mail yesterday. Most of them, anyway. As always seems to happen, I ran out and had to order more. As I was filling them out, I made a decision not to write a letter this year. Anyone who really cares about the minute details of my life knows them. Anyone who wonders what the kids are up to generally asks. I know many people follow this blog for family updates. And, really, I just am not in the mood this year.

If you are wondering about anything that is going on with us, ask. If you want to talk, call. If you want to anonymously follow our lives, read. All that will give you more information than any generic letter ever could.

As the holiday season is upon us, reach out to those you love. Don't settle for a photocopied letter and a stamp.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Special

I am special, but not always in a good way. When I was four or five years old, my knees started to hurt me. After seeing our regular doctor and an orthopedist, the diagnosis was made. I have chondromalacia. Generally an ailment that affects marathon runners in their 40's, I was the youngest person this doctor had ever diagnosed with it. Lucky me.

I spent the better part of my youth struggling with my knees. If I overdid anything, they would hurt. Even just walking sometimes made it unbearable. I spent the last hours at Sea World being pushed around in a wheelchair once when it was really bad. It made sports a virtual impossibility. I would try to play, but they acted up. I never got good at anything because I could never play long enough or hard enough. The sports that I really wanted to play were out of the question because there was too much impact. I could swim, but that was about it.

My parents were very reluctant to have it treated surgically because of all the horror stories they heard about the patients who underwent the procedure. When I was about 10 or so, the surgery began to be done with arthroscopic methods, and thus was less invasive with a shorter healing time. They still waited a few more years, making sure that there weren't long term side effects for the patients. Finally, when I was 14, my knees were to the point where something had to be done. I was in pain almost all the time and the surgery seemed safe. A couple weeks after I graduated from 9th grade, I went in for surgery.

Had I known how hard the recovery was going to be, I might never have agreed to it. One knee was worse than the other, so it was the one repaired. The surgical procedure is called a lateral release, and it basically helps to reposition the knee. I was in a full leg brace for 6 weeks and it took well over a year for me to be able to walk up and down stairs without feeling like I was going to fall. With time and healing, it got better. A little.

It's been a long time since that first surgery, and I was told then that I would probably need to do it every ten years or so. I'm way past that. I have stuck to my guns though, and refuse to do it until and unless I really can't take it anymore. Thanks to the surgery, I now have arthritis in the joint on top of the condition itself. I don't need a barometer to predict the weather, my knees do just fine.

I've been thinking about my knees a little more often than normal these days. They are getting worse. Again. And every time I step outside, they hurt. Though the cold doesn't bother the rest of me all that much, it bothers them. I've learned to live with the pain. To take medication to treat the symptoms. And as much as I possibly can, I try to just ignore it. The idea of going through surgery with four kids just isn't an appealing one.

I'm special. And I'm tough. At least in some ways. ;)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Coat

One thing that everyone here seems to know about me already is that cold weather doesn't bother me. I generally wear my capris and flip flops. It needs to be below about 25 degrees or actively snowing for me to put normal shoes on. It just doesn't phase me.

I think part of it is that I cannot stand to be hot. And when you bundle up, you get hot. Even if it's cold outside, at some point, you get hot. And whenever you go inside a building, you have to take off layers and layers of stuff and carry it around with you. Or leave it on and get even hotter. None of that holds much appeal for me.

The neighbor just shook her head at me this morning and I had to chuckle a little. There I am, outside shoveling the driveway in six (yes I said 6!) degree weather, it's snowing, and I was just wearing a light sweater. No coat, no hat. Truly it needs to be below zero for me to go that far. Or I have to know that I am going to be outside for an extended period of time.

It's a running joke at school. There are people who wait to see just how cold it needs to get for me to wear shoes. I am constantly scolded for the kids too. Except for Aidan, they tend to be like me too. They don't bundle. Cold doesn't bother them too much. I guess I got too used to living here, and they did too. I can't help it if they are like me.

Last week, a cold front came through and it got cold enough that I made Ally and AJ bundle up to go pick up the others from school one day. But I still didn't have a coat on. Problem is that if AJ is all bundled up, and I am all bundled up, it is hard to hold him. There just too much fluff in the way. And, really, it's not like it's that cold anyway. ;)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Clark

Though I'm just not feeling the Christmas spirit this year, I'm gonna have to start soon. I'm going to have to dust off all the Thanksgiving stuff and put it away. I'm going to have to clear out space and drag boxes from the basement. I'm going to have to rearrange the normal decor and move the furniture. Most people would assume that all the fuss is for the benefit of the kids. Or for me. True, to some degree it is for the kids. And it's also true that I do generally love Christmas. But there is a bigger reason for all the fuss.

I married Clark Griswold.

My husband is like a kid in a candy store when he walks through the Christmas aisles at the store. If you can inflate it, slather it with cheer and illuminate it, he wants it. And our front yard display is easily the biggest in the neighborhood. Our electric bill suddenly spikes in December, but he never blinks an eye at it. It's the price we have to pay for our house to be seen from outer space.

Over the years we have collected a pretty large assortment of Christmas decorations, most of which are for the outside of the house. It takes up an entire corner of the basement. Every year I try to talk him into getting rid of some of it. Not an option. He repairs anything broken by the wind. One of the Santa decorations really has seen better days, but I'm sure he'll be out in the front yard in his usual spot.

It started when we got our first house. And when we got our first Santa. Back then, the inflatable yard decorations were still fairly new. And we had one. A giant glowing red beacon that we could see from a mile down the street. The neighbors started to give Tom a hard time about his huge Santa. That's when it all began.

He's perfected the necessary electrical arrangements that must be made to light a yard to the scale he wants. It took blowing out a lot of fuses the first few years, but he's got it down to a science now. There are lighting stations, timers and more extension cords and splicers than any one person should ever truly need.

Our house now has made things interesting for him. It has a huge front yard, more to cover with stuff, which he loves. Putting the actual lights on the house is more of a problem. The first floor of the house has 9 foot ceilings, and the peaks over the garage are pretty high. Even with a decent extension ladder, it's pretty intimidating to get up there. He has to get on the roof to put the ones over the porch. The first year we were here he got up there before realizing that he wasn't sure how he was going to get down. I thought for sure I'd have to be calling TJ to bring the fire truck to rescue his brother. But he managed to get down. Not without me laughing at him for a good long time though.

A lot of planning and work goes into Christmas around here. But, like in the movie, there is always that moment when he plugs in that last string of lights. When the fuses and circuit breakers are tested. Then magically all the lights come on. And he sits back and admires his work. Yes, the neighbors still give him a hard time. But that is part of the fun.

Once he gets it all set up, I'll be more in the Christmas spirit. How could I not be? I married Clark Griswold, and I love him.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Bowl

There aren't many things in this world that can put a mother's life more on immediate hold than a good old fashioned stomach virus. I had lots of things I needed to get done today, and none of that matters much right about now. Besides, now I have a chance to get some of the things done at home that I needed to work on anyway. Like the gift I need to give tomorrow morning for a friend, not even started yet. Who, me? Plan ahead? Nooooo.

Ally started it last night, and Aidan is down now too. They each know the drill. The bowl. All the time. We even have a designated bowl for just these occasions. The kids have affectionately named it the "throw-up bowl". Trouble is that we need two today.

We had a nice little break there, just about two weeks since the battle with pneumonia was over. In the meantime, we have only had to deal with teething and asthma - the usual stuff. But it looks like the germs are being shared again. Bring on the Lysol.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Howl

My baby is hurt. Not any of my human babies, but one of the canine variety. Maddie.

She is a pure bred beagle, and she's been with us for almost 10 years. After struggling with the loss of our first baby, there was a void in my life. I so desperately needed something, someone, to take care of. I needed someone to need me. Since our further attempts at getting pregnant again weren't working, I started to sink further and further into a sense of hopelessness.

We got two kittens right after we got married. But, as all cats are, they didn't seem to need much. They were terribly affectionate cats, but they were cats nonetheless. I needed something a little bit more needy. And even though it was a terrible idea at the time, we decided to get a puppy. We lived in the condo at the time, with no yard. We had only a small patio. It wasn't a dog-friendly place to live. But we didn't think too much about that at the time.

We actually did a little bit of research on breeds before we started looking. For some reason, we settled on a beagle. They were small, they were good family dogs and they were darn cute. We found a breeder not too far from us that had a litter almost set for adoption. And there were a couple puppies left.

We went to look at them, nervous but excited. It took some time to stomach the idea of paying $400 for a dog. But when we saw her, we just knew. The breeder almost tried to talk us out of getting her. She was the runt. By far the smallest of the litter. Her markings weren't distinct - she would never be considered show quality or qualify for prime breeding. We didn't care about any of those things. We just wanted a dog. When she looked up at us with those big giant brown eyes, we knew. She was the one.

At six weeks old, she was teeny tiny. She fit into the palms of our hands. We brought her home and set out her bed and toys, many of which were bigger than she was. I'll never forget that first night. She cried and cried and cried. She missed her mama. And she wasn't sleeping. So Tom did what any good new father would do, and picked her up and put her in bed with us. Little did we know that was the start of something.

Maddie slept under the covers in bed with us. She'd tunnel down to the foot of the bed and sleep between our feet. You would have thought she was hot down there, but she loved it. And there she stayed for a long time. She was our baby. She went everywhere with us. We took her on trips. We took her camping. One camping trip we brought home a solid brown dog - she had learned how fun it was to dig up the ant hills and was completely covered in dirt. Our friends marveled at this strange little dog, the one who would climb trees. She always was a bit different.

We thought we lucked out when she was a little puppy. She was well behaved and quiet. We had heard stories about the problems with beagles. We took her to a puppy training class and quickly began to see what they meant. She was fine with people, but she didn't much like other dogs. She never became socially friendly around other dogs, no matter what we tried. And then it happened. She found her voice. Not until she was about six months old, but find it she did. She learned to howl. She howled at anything and everything. And we learned to deal with a dog that howled. One without an off switch once she started.

Eventually, the day came when she wasn't the only baby anymore. And this hyper little dog, the one that howled at everything and was fanatical about playing with tennis balls, walked over to her previously unused dog bed and laid down. The day Aidan came home from the hospital, it's almost like she knew that her role in our lives was different now. She went from being the spoiled only child to being just the dog. Surprisingly, she was amazing about the transition. Never once did she show jealousy towards him, even when she got kicked out of bed.

We moved to a house a while later, and with that came a backyard. And with the backyard came another dog. It wasn't entirely intentional, mind you. I went to the pet store to get some dog food one day and they had an enclosure set up with a dog in it for adoption. I came home with more than just dog food. And Maddie was okay with it, she didn't mind sharing her new backyard with another dog. She had someone to keep her busy.

Over the following years, we added more children to our family. We moved to Colorado. And she always handled those transitions well. She has a bigger backyard here, more wild animals to howl at, more room to run. Until now.

While we were gone last week, something happened. I can't be sure what exactly and we will probably never know. But she is hurt. Her knee is injured, most likely damaged permanently. She may be able to heal somewhat, but will never return to her old self. The vet has mentioned possible surgery, but she's an old lady now, one that carries quite a few more pounds on her frame than she should. That part of being a beagle caught up to her too. It's probably not really a feasible choice.

So here we are, all these years later with a puppy that suddenly needs us more than before. She can't get through the dog doors. She isn't supposed to go up or down stairs. She needs to be carried. Tom built her a ramp for the stairs outside, though she stubbornly tries to use the stairs still. This puppy, now my old girl, is hurt.

It's a tough road ahead for her, a tough one for all of us. We are forced to accept that she will never again be the same. No more climbing trees. No more digging in ant hills. No more chasing balls. Of course, she can still howl. Somethings never change. My baby is hurt, but as long as she is comfortable and not in too much pain, we will help her. We don't have a choice. She needs us. And though I was the one that needed her in the beginning, we all need her now.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hurry

In addition to the million other things I have to do today, I have a big project to finish. I have to complete the annual calendars. Every year since Aidan was a baby, I have made calendars with pictures of the kids for family members. It started rather simply, with a generic one from a catalog that you just inserted a regular size photo print into. At some point, I decided that wasn't good enough and started looking for other options.

I do it now through Shutterfly, one of the most well known photo websites. I haven't had the time or frame of mind to even think about the calendars until I got an email a few days ago from the website. They have a fabulous sale going right now, which ends tonight. So the clock is ticking. Trouble is that it normally takes me about a week to get it all done. I have 14 hours left.

We store our pictures on an external hard drive, and it takes forever to sort through them. Really, I need to find some better software than we currently have, but it just hasn't been on my priority list. I have to crop them and edit them, figure out which go together, find layouts that work and put it all together. It should be simple, but I'm picky. That doesn't help.

It wouldn't be so bad, but there are a lot of other things going on today. The older kids are home this morning for late start. Ally still has school at her normal time. There is an assembly at school, and both Aidan and Ashley are winning awards, so I have to get back there for that. Maddie is at the vet, and we are waiting to find out what is going on with her. While we were gone, something happened and she got hurt. I'm hoping the news isn't bad. I'm not sure how much more of that I can handle right about now. Did I mention that it's only 15 degrees outside and snowing?

I'll find a way to get it done. Always do.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Back

We are back home and life is attempting to return to normal. Well, whatever normal is anyway. Normal is far from it these days, and most things just seem like going through the motions. It's hard to put into words what happens when your priorities are tested, but it's not a pleasant experience.

There is a saying that you can't go home again. And it's true. God, is it true. It sure would be nice if it wasn't though. If it was possible to reverse time. To go back to a place where innocence reigned. Where parents were invincible. Where time seemed to creep forward ever so slowly, rather than racing by as it does now.

There are choices in my life that I have made that I question. Right now, that seems to be a constant. The primary one of course, is my choice to move. It was not an easy one. It was years in the making. And it was done for the right reasons. It was done for the sake of the three little lives I was responsble for then. I don't know if it was the right decision. I hope it was. It doesn't seem like it today.

If I could be in two places at once, I would. If I could magically transport myself from here to there at a moment's notice, I would. And today, I know in my heart that if I could move back, I would. If only. I can't.

The only thing harder than being there for someone when they need you is knowing that you can't.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hiatus

I'll not be around here for a while. I've got things to do, people to see, miles to drive and images to implant in my memory forever. I planned for this blog to be a daily thing, and up until now it has been for the most part. But it just won't be happening for a while. Sometimes life gets in the way. I'll be back when I can. XOXO

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Irrational

As I have written about before, the kids go to an IB school. Each month focuses on a different profile, one which the kids are taught about and shown how to emulate. Personality traits that won't just make them good students, but make them successful members of society later on in life. One of them is being a risk-taker. I like to think of myself as risk-taker, as an open-minded person. That I am willing to try anything. Of course, I'm not really as much as I would like to be. I just want to put myself in that category.

I have irrational fears, some so laughable they amuse people. There are many things that repulse me. That I find abhorrent. And just plain gross. Some of them are justifiable, at least in my mind. Not sure that really matters in the grand scheme of things, but it helps me feel better about my issues.

Anyone who has been around me long enough knows most of these things about me already, and will find it funny that I am airing them publicly for anyone to read.

  • I am terrified of injuring my hands or eyes. This one, I really believe, is a legitimate one. Though I might take it to a whole new level, that is. People who are double jointed make me shudder, especially if they can do it with their hands. Aidan already knows this, and he has a good time with it. He pulls his fingers backwards just so I will make that face.
  • I am even more weird about my feet. I don't have any issues with people touching them, so long as they aren't tickling me. I know many women who can't stand to have pedicures because it grosses them out. I'm fine with it, but don't mess with my toes. They bend one way only, and if the good lord wanted space between them, he would have put it there from the factory. I can't do toe spreaders. And the idea of someone moving my toes upright freaks me out.
  • I have serious control issues when it comes to any form of transportation that I am not in charge of. I almost always drive when we go somewhere, partly because I like to drive. But mostly because I can't stand to be a passive sitter. I don't do well as a passenger. I'm about this close to needing anxiety medication to ever fly. It's that bad.
  • I have issues with certain foods. Brussel sprouts are just gross, but beets are the all time biggest offender. I have friend who swear they are delicious. That's fine. I'm not eating them. And I won't even eat anything they touch, since it will be contaminated with red beet juice. Yuck.
  • I can't eat anything off a bone. Just. Can't. Do. It. I don't have issues making the food for other people. I just can't gnaw. Blech.
  • I have to smell everything before I eat it. This one is totally justified. If you've ever had food poisoning, you know this is a good thing. Of course, I probably err on the side of caution a little more than truly necessary. I will throw out any food that doesn't smell right to me, even if it's not close the the expiration date. Drives my husband crazy. Every so often, I catch one of the kids doing it, and I have to laugh. I know where they got that one from.
  • I have a totally irrational fear of potato peelers. I can't say for sure that this isn't a direct result of some childhood injury, but I sure don't remember one. I am constantly thinking that I am going to hurt myself with them. I'm way overly cautious when peeling potatoes, and it takes me forever to do it. Anyone who has ever offered to help me make dinner knows that the first thing I will delegate out is peeling.
I think we all have strange things we are afraid of, or that weird us out. At least I hope we all do. We all do, right? Right?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cheap

At the request of a friend, I am throwing some fast, easy and cheap dinner recipes on here. Times are tight, but you gotta eat, right? Here are some super fast go-to dinners, quick and pretty well-balanced. All can be made for 4-6 for about $10 or less with little preparation time.

Papa's Casserole
- one can peas, drained
- one can corn, drained
- one can reduced sodium cream of mushroom soup
- one pound browned ground beef, cooked with a tsp of dried onions
- combine all the above in a casserole dish, cover with mashed potatoes
- bake at 350 for 20 minutes

Chicken Tacos
- 1 pound boneless chicken
- 1 pkg low sodium taco seasoning
- 1 can tomatoes, half drained
- combine and put in crockpot, cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4.
- shred chicken, put in tortillas with beans and shredded lettuce.

One pot spaghetti with a twist
- brown 1 pound ground beef, drain and set aside.
- cook 1 pound pasta, drain and return to pot
- add one large can or jar of spaghetti sauce, meat and a drained can of corn with peppers, stir to combine and heat through.

Chili
- brown 1 pound ground beef (I add dried onions to the meat)
- one large can chili beans
- one can finely diced tomatoes, drained
- 1/2 small can tomato paste
- Combine all ingredients in crock pot, season with desired pepper and chili powder. Cook on low for 2-4 hours, until bubbly.
- we eat it with fritos and shredded cheddar cheese

Chicken and dumplings
- 2-4 breast or other boneless pieces of chicken, cut into small pieces
- 2 cans cream of chicken soup
- one small onion, diced
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 1/4 cup carrots, diced
- bay leaf
- one chicken bouillon cube
- 2 cups water
- add all to the crock pot, cook on low for 6 hours
- tear refrigerated biscuit dough into 1 inch pieces, roll into balls and drop into cooker. Cover, cook on high for 30 minutes.

Teriyaki stir fry
- defrost one frozen bag of stir fry vegetable blend
- cut up 1 pound boneless chicken into bite size pieces
- cook in 1-2 tbsp oil on stove on high until chicken done
- add vegetables and heat through
- toss to coat with 1/2 cup teriyaki sauce (I like Yoshida's gourmet sauce too)
- serve with steamed white rice

Chicken fried rice
- cook white rice, set aside
- dice 1 pound chicken, cook in oil on high until done
- add thawed frozen mixed vegetables, cook through
- add 4 cups rice, 2 tbsp butter and 1/2 cup soy sauce, toss and heat.

Homemade chicken nuggets
- Crush 3 cups corn chex cereal
- add 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp seasoned salt
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- combine all dry ingredients
- cut chicken into bit size pieces, coat with melter butter and roll in crumb mixture
- bake at 400 for 20 minutes, check for doneness.

Chicken noodle soup
- dice two chicken breasts and one small onion
- cook in vegetable oil until onions are clear and chicken is done
- add 8 cups chicken broth, 3 diced stalks celery, 2 large diced carrots and 2 cups pasta of choice - bring to a boil, then cover and reduce. simmer for 3o minutes.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pile

As much as I hate cliches, they really do come about for a reason. Someone once uttered some saying for some valid reason, and it stuck. Because someone else picked up on the phrase, and noticing the same thing, repeated it.

The one that seems to come to mind the most for me this morning is that if you want something done, ask a busy person. Especially after the week I've had, that saying sure rings true in my head. When you combine the facts that I have four children, help with three classrooms, will drop whatever I am doing at the mere suggestion of coffee or lunch with a friend who needs it, and my general inability to say no to helping with just one thing, it adds up to a lot. Because the one thing that someone needs is never really just one thing. And there's almost never just one person that needs it.

But, as the saying goes, ask a busy person. They will find a way to get it done. They will figure out ways to squeeze more things into their day. Between the obligatory minimum of three trips to school and my seemingly weekly trip to the doctor, I've made homemade chocolate chip cookies and homemade pumpkin pie in the last week. I've sorted and distributed case after case of popcorn. I've graded papers for school. And more, and more, and more. It comes with a sacrifice though. My carpet desperately needs to be vacuumed and my bathrooms need cleaned. I just haven't had time this week, because I've been too busy making time for everything else. For everyone else.

Add to all of the things I have to do the reality that I am completely and totally preoccupied with something else. Someone else. And things that are far away from me and that I have no power to change. Yet, the thoughts that endlessly swirl around my head. That make me spend time replaying times in my past, wishing I could go back and relive them. That make me wish that I had not always done things the way that I did. That make me long for another time and place.

I've got a lot on my plate. So if you need anything right about now, feel free to just pile it on. I'll get it done.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sand

Time is an interesting concept, and our relationship with it inevitably changes as we age. I can remember being a kid and thinking that summer vacation would never get here. That Christmas was forever in the future. As I get older, those days arrive on the calendar sooner and sooner. Times speeds up more and more.

In the last few weeks, it seems like the sand has been running through the hourglass even faster than before. I feel like I've watched myself age visibly. I've had more than my fair share of gray hairs for years now, but they seem to be multiplying nightly. And they are spreading like wildfire, through the front and side of my head, to the places that I can see every time my reflection glances back at me in the mirror.

Time is a gift. Life is precious. And you only get one shot at this moment. Make the most of it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Roof

If I don't seem to be writing as regularly as I normally do, there is a reason. And it's a valid one. I'm in the process of losing my laptop. I haven't been able to boot it up at all in days, and I think it is about ready to be roof tested.

So, if I'm not around much, you know why. Hey, Santa....got any spare computers in that bag?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Unnecessary

So I have this friend. We've been friends for over 15 years now. We've made huge decisions about life only after asking what the other one thinks. We've been in each other's weddings. We've shared things with each other before anyone else knew. And we have a rule, one rule, a rather simple one actually, when it comes to gifts.

They have to be totally unnecessary. No matter if it's birthdays or holidays, we have forbidden each other from buying anything remotely useful. We don't ask what the other one needs, because it's completely irrelevant. We get each other the things we won't buy for ourselves. The things that other people don't get us. Things that serve no purpose, really, other than to just be for us.

I got her Christmas present today. And it holds absolutely no relevance whatsoever. There's no significance to the type I chose, other than I know she will love it. Sure, I've bought her about a million purses in the last few years, but none of them were ever practical "mom" purses. They were always cute, smaller than useful, and just seemed like something she'd like. I got her a bracelet with her son's name on it a while back. And though it's tied, by necessity, to her role as a mother, it has no real use at all. It's just cute. And it's not like he wears it anyway.

Merry Christmas Blythe! I hope that you will enjoy this totally pointless and unnecessary trinket. Love you!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Diffuse

Part of my job as a mom is to clean up other people's messes. Over the years, I have cleaned up a lot of them. I'm always cleaning up after the kids, for sure. But every so often I find myself cleaning up the messes that other people make. Not just the physical ones either. Sometimes there are bigger messes than a roll of paper towels and a bottle of cleaner can fix. Yet I find myself following behind, picking up the pieces. I'm like the social equivalent of a trained bomb diffuser. And I wonder why I do that.

Why do I try to fix things? I guess there really is no good answer for it, other than I am being a good friend. I see people that I care about mess things up, and I feel like somehow it is my job to help them put things back right. I've been burned before, more than once. Usually, the people who created the mess in the first place don't even know that I bothered to clean it up for them. They just think that things magically worked out somehow.

Sometimes they ask me for help. And yes, sometimes they just expect that I will do it. And usually, I do. Okay, almost always I do. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to think of a time when I didn't.

There is a word in the dictionary that I say a thousand times a day, yet can't seem to understand in my own world. No. I think that it's just one of those unchangeable personality traits. I'm a fixer. It's what I do. I just wish that sometimes I wasn't.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Generic

One of the skills that I have refined the most since having kids is shopping frugally. Just this morning, I spent a total of $45 on groceries for the week, saving over $30 in the process. I always love the look on the checker's face when they see the totals on the bottom of the receipt. I've even had a few ask how I do it. Coupons, store sales, specials, and generics. Whenever possible, I wait for something to go on sale and use my coupons then, often stacking store coupons with manufacturer ones. It's really a science. Mostly though, it's about timing and patience.

One of the easiest ways to save money at the grocery store is to buy generic. The store brands, the stuff with limited advertising. The cheap stuff. I buy a decent amount of generic items. For example, canned and frozen food really isn't much different. I almost always buy generic cheese. I've started buy only blocks and shredding it myself at home. Not only is it a lot cheaper, but you get the added benefit of avoiding the preservatives they put on the pre-shredded stuff. Plus, it just tastes better.

Some generic cereal is okay, but some isn't. Some are good, some are just plain nasty. Often the store brands actually have higher sugar contents than the major brands, and with planning I can get those for less than the store brand. Generic ice cream and dairy products are sometimes truly better than the major brands. I only buy store brand sour cream these days.

Some stores have better generics than others. Personally, I love Target's store brands. I've yet to find anything that I don't like, and we have tried many of them. Some of their stuff is actually far superior to the "real" stuff. Their trash bags are much, much better than the expensive ones. And, like I've already said before here, I love the Archer Farms stuff. It really is the best pasta sauce I've ever had. And their Up & Up diapers are great. Not only do they work well and are half the price of the other brands, they are cute!

Of course, there are things that I just can't go generic on. The things that really aren't as good. And the things that will go unused in the house. The things that I will be harassed about if I buy them. Toilet paper. Razor blades. I made that mistake once, and will never do it again.

It's taken me years to perfect it, but I'm pretty good. I've got to put this analytical mind to good use somehow. ;)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wipe

If I were to ever break down a year into the time spent doing the things that I do, there would most certainly have to be some unexpected categories. Among the predictable facets of my life, there are those you wouldn't expect to add up to any measurable amount of time. But add up they do.

There is the time spent sleeping, which adds up to a lot, I'm sure. But not as much as it probably should. With motherhood comes a lengthy journey with insomnia. Even when I can and should be sleeping, chances are that I'm not. Whether I am up late cleaning, doing laundry, watching recorded tv shows or surfing the internet, I'm generally up late. Add to that the fact that AJ still gets up at least once almost every night and Ally's general penchant for waking with the sun, and I don't get much sleep.

There is the time spent cleaning, which I fear would rival the time spent sleeping. It seems like a neverending process. As the cliche goes, a mother's work is never done. It's the truth. I am never ever just done. Even if I have just put the last soiled items into the washer and put the last clean dish in the cabinet, I'm not done. There is always something.

The time spent cooking is on the rise these days. We almost never go out to eat anymore, and I have really been refining my cooking skills. Trouble is that there are a lot of things about cooking that can't be rushed. For example, I make a killer beef stew. But one night, I started it a little later than I planned and cooked it on higher heat to cut down the time it took. The meat was chewy and the stew didn't end up the right consistency. It seems like I am spending more and more time in the kitchen. And the more I become aware of what scary things are in processed and pre-made foods, I am cooking even more from scratch. Doesn't help that I get my arm twisted by my kids. Mommy, can we make a pumpkin pie like in preschool? Sure, why not. I didn't have anything else to do for the next 3 hours.

Sleeping, cleaning and cooking probably take up almost all of my time on that chart. But there are other categories too. Like the amount of time spent nursing. Though it is much less this year than last, I have spent a good chunk of my time with a kid attached. Especially with a newborn, it seems like that is all you ever do.

There is the time spent in the car, shuttling kids from here to there. I generally make at least 3 trips to school on any given day. Add in church, scouts, daisies, soccer, playdates and the obligatory runs to the store, and I can put a lot of miles on my car without ever leaving a 10 mile radius. There are times that I feel like I live in the car. And my car shows the signs of being lived in. Like my house, it is littered with dirty socks and shoes, papers from school, coffee cups and snack wrappers.

Speaking of those papers, I spend a lot of time just sifting through the papers from school. Between homework, returned assignments, art projects, PTO papers, announcements from school and monthly calendars, we get a lot of paper. With three kids in school now, it gets overwhelming. I wish the school would figure out a way to streamline the process a little more. Save a tree.

I spend a lot of time pushing kids on swings, reading stories and kissing boo boos. I spend a lot of time brushing hair and brushing teeth. I spend a lot of time negotiating outfits. It can take forever to get the girls dressed in the morning. Though there are times I just give in and let them put together whatever they deem a fabulous outfit, there are times that I stick to my guns. There are just times that you can't wear purple crocs with red tights.

I think the funniest chunk of how I spend my time is wiping. I wipe noses, and sometimes I have to actually chase down kids to do it. I wipe tears of all kinds. Sad tears, hurt tears, tired tears, angry tears. And yes, I wipe butts. I am paged to the bathroom more often than I'd like. "Mom"..."Mom!"... "Mooooooooom, I went poop!" That's one of those milestones I really look forward to with the kids. If I ever added it up, the time spent in there would be shocking, I am sure.

If only they could figure out a way for me to add more hours to my day, maybe, just maybe, I'd get some time for myself. Until then, I'll be busy. Someone is paging me.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Things

Even though Thanksgiving isn't even here yet, I'm starting to get in the holiday spirit already. Maybe it's the fact that the kids sing Chrismas carols year-round. Maybe it is the relentless onslaught of catalogs arriving in the mail. Maybe it's that I have started creating lists and budgets. Maybe it's my attempts at looking forward to happy things. Maybe it's just wishful thinking. But whatever it is, it's working. I love Christmas.

In the spirit of the season (you know, the one we aren't really in yet), I started humming that song. The one about my favorite things. And I started thinking about mine. And I realized that most of my things weren't things at all.

I love super crazy tight hugs from my baby boy, who just recently figured out what a hug was.
I love arguing with my six year old over who loves who more first.
I love my husband's face when he is trying really hard not to laugh at Ally being naughty.
I love the cards my oldest son makes me, and leaves randomly around the house.
I love listening to my kids talk to my dad on the phone.
I love the smile on Ashley's face when she sees me waiting for her at the end of the day.
I love baby toes.
I love holding my sleeping babies, no matter which one.
I love the smell of candles.
I love the first sip of coffee.
I love freshly painted toenails.
I love the smell of a clean kid.
I love my contacts.
I love my dog's obsession with tennis balls.
I love pristine wood floors.
I love a quiet nighttime snowfall.
I love a crisp fall breeze.
I love a book or movie that makes me cry and laugh.
I love bunco. Not the game, but the excuse.
I love swimming, but I love a good hot tub even more.
I love bread.
I love when my car is actually clean.
I love bad TV.
I love perfume. But only in small quantities.
I love to take pictures.
I love to drive fast.
I love the fact that I can clean my house in 15 minutes if I have a really good reason.
I love containers. I really love containers.
I love football and chips and beer. And I really love salsa.
I love Kermit the Frog.
I love peaceful gardens.
I love music that reminds me of a time in my past.
I love sharks.
I love to play the Devil's Advocate.

There are many more things I love, for sure. But these are the things that came to mind just now. As the song goes....these are just a few of them. What are yours?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Know

There are times in my life that I absolutely hate knowing as much about things as I do. I can't just hide my head in the sand when something happens and I know what it means. I can't plead ignorance, though there are certainly times that I wish I could.

Sometimes, I just know things. Whether through my education, my training, things I have helped others through or things that have happened in my own life. I just know.

Life would be much easier at times if it was possible for me to live an oblivious existence. To really and truly embrace the notion that nothing is wrong. But I know better.

There is power in knowledge, but there is a tremendous burden as well.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Witch

It's about that time of day. Any mom out there will know what I'm talking about. The Witching Hours. The time of day when your normally sweet children grow horns. When they are wholly incapable of playing nice with one another. When the whining increases precipitously, until it eventually peaks. When the volume in the house becomes deafening. When you lose what is left of your daily patience.

When you start to hate your husband for being somewhere else. When you start to resent the fact that he is at work or driving home or on a business trip or heaven forbid, doing something fun. When you would give anything for a few precious seconds of quiet. When even the strongest mother will start to crack. When the words "fine" and "whatever" are uttered not from the mouths of children, but from the mouths of their mothers.

It is this time of day that I referred to a few weeks back. I was at school picking up the kids when another mother, her oldest the same age as Ally, glanced up at me with that look of desperation. I know it well. Her kids, they weren't listening. They wanted, needed, had to have right now! They were pushing one another. They were whining. And she was done. Ready to give up and accept the fact that she had brought forth into this world rotten little children. That she had failed as a mother. Ready, that is, until I looked at the clock, and said aloud, "Well, it is almost 4:00, you know?" And she looked at me in disbelief. Suddenly she wasn't alone.

"Wait. You mean, it's not just me??? Your kids do this too???"

Yes, yes they do. They all do it sometimes. Almost always during the witching hours. It's okay though. Daddy will be home soon. He'd better be.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Farm

A little over a week ago, we went to Miller Farm. It's a local family run farm, one that I first discovered on a field trip when Aidan was in preschool. It's a full working farm, and part of the trip includes a hayride out to the fields where you can pick your own vegetables. In the class, they would then make soup from the veggies. It was a great learning experience for the kids, and we always has a blast.

The last couple of years, Grandma Kathi got to go on the trip, since I was home taking care of younger kids. I'd been there already, and I wanted her to have some fun too. And then this year, something happened. The preschool was forbidden from going on field trips entirely, and the Farm trip wasn't going to happen. Not content to give up the trip, I organized a little trip. I invited all the preschool kids and their families, but almost no one showed up. Since it wasn't technically a school activity, I guess people didn't feel like it was important. Which is just sad. It was a bit bittersweet, since the rest of the kids weren't there.

It was Tom's first trip out and it was fun to watch. He was just as impressed with the potato harvester as the kids were, and I think he had just as good of a time as they did. I can only hope that the preschool finds a way to get that field trip back next year. It's really a shame that the grown ups in charge of the schools can't seem to comprehend what they are taking away from the kids.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Grumpy

I'm more than a little disappointed in my neighbors this morning. It seems like it gets worse every year. Our neighborhood is no fun. We are the communal equivalent of a party pooper. It's that bad.

When we first moved here, we knew that we were moving into a fairly isolated, relatively small community. New communities tend to be filled with young families, so we were told. What we didn't know was that far more than half the houses in this new development would be occupied by people without kids. Empty nesters, single people, working childless couples and retirees. Those are the people who surround us.

Sure there are families, but we are far outnumbered here. And with that comes a price. One that becomes more and more obvious as time passes. There isn't much fun going on. There was a street last night that had only one house with lights on handing out candy last night. One. There are at least 12 houses on that street.

There were more than a few houses filled with people, people who were home, yet chose to hide out in the back of their houses. Not wanting to be bothered with children. Or just not wanting to be bothered in general.

Nights like last make me miss our old neighborhood even more. Back when we had a neighborhood that actually felt like one. We had haunted houses, fire pits set up in driveways. We went through bags and bags and bags of candy. We had a great time. And here, we have dark porches. Streets full of dark porches.

I think that next year, we might be finding another place to trick or treat. Somewhere that people aren't too wrapped up in themselves to hand out candy to children, enjoying that one night a year where they get to pretend to be someone else. It's just a shame that the place we call home can't be like that.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Martha

I just about lost it last night when we were carving pumpkins. Somehow I had not noticed that Tom cut the bottoms off of them instead of the tops when he was cleaning them out. I was probably busy doing something else and not entirely paying attention. It wasn't until I started helping Ally carve hers that I realized the difference. And he excitedly asked me if I thought it was a great idea. You can put the candle on the bottom, then replace the pumpkin on top instead of trying to cram your arm inside with a lit candle from the top. Okay, I thought. Makes sense, I guess. And then he confessed where he got the idea from. Martha. As in Stewart.

He's been home a little more than normal lately, between taking a random day off and the weather. Not that I am complaining. But he watches some funky stuff on TV. He loves Let's Make a Deal and The Price is Right. I forsee watching a tremendous amount of game shows when we are retired. And, apparently, he likes Martha. Not that there is anything wrong with that. After all, I was watching it with him yesterday morning, in awe of some of the costumes she had on the show. But then he fessed up. It wasn't on yesterday's show. It was from a few days ago. He was watching it when I wasn't even around.

As it turns out, it is a pretty good idea. The pumpkins came out good, and it is a whole lot easier to light the candles this way. That Martha....she knows her stuff. And I never would have guessed that my husband is a fan. ;)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lick

My dear husband got another year older yesterday. It's an inevitable part of life, and not always a pleasant one. But, at least it's one that comes with cake. So, it's not all bad. He knows all too well that he got to pick what I made for dinner and the kind of cake that was made. Considering the amount of plate scraping and spoon licking that occurred yesterday, I'd have to say that they both were enjoyed.

Tom has a short list of things that he will always choose if we are at a restaurant or if he gets to pick what it being made for dinner. Last night, his choice was a predictable one. Chicken parmigiana. He should have been Italian. I've made it for him many times before, but I changed how I cooked it last night and it turned out better than ever before. It's even better than I've ever had at an Italian restaurant.

For his cake, there really was no question. The man loves all that is chocolate. He wanted a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I found a recipe that uses buttermilk, and decided to give it a shot. The frosting was a huge hit, as you can see from the pictures below. Warning: Do not make this cake unless you really, really, really love chocolate.


Happy Birthday honey. I love you.


Chicken Parmigiana
  • 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • stick of butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put butter in 13X9 baking dish, melt in the oven. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Combine dry ingredients in a shallow flat dish. Using tongs, dip chicken in melted butter, then coat with crumb mixture. Place back in baking dish. Bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with cheese and let sit for a few minutes before serving.

I serve with cooked pasta and sauce. My personal favorite is the quattro formagio sauce from the Archer Farms brand at Target. I should get money for plugging this sauce as much as I do. It's that good. I add a can of drained finely diced tomatoes to the sauce and heat.

Chocolate Overload Cake

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 squares unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk (can make it with 1 tbsp vinegar, then add milk to make desired amount, let set for a few minutes to thicken)
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

Combine all ingredients. Mix on low for one minute, then on high for 5 minutes. Pour batter into two 9 inch round, greased and floured pans. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Assemble and frost when cooled.

Spoon-licking chocolate frosting

  • 12 oz bag of semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk

Melt chocolate chips and shortening together. (Using double boiler or microwave) Do not overheat. Add sugar and milk, stirring until fully combined and fluffy. Use to fill and frost cake. Make sure you leave some in the bowl. Let the spoon fighting begin.

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