Friday, December 31, 2010

Raise Your Glass

Today is the day for that backward glance.  To sum up what the year has been.  Wow.  What a year. 

I guess it is fitting that the 30 day challenge ends today for me, though when I began it, I didn't intend for that. 

It makes sense. 

It's been a good exercise for me, even if now isn't really the time when I need more reasons to analyze myself than I already have.

It's been a way for me to at least acknowledge, if not fully confront, some of my 500 pound gorillas. 

I've had more than a few people ask me why I started it.  I'm not really sure, except that I tend to see challenges and think I can take them on.  Once I start, I am too stubborn to stop. 

Even when it's excruciating.

But it's done, and I answered them all to the best of my abilities right now. 

I've also had more than a few people, other bloggers, express interest in taking on a challenge.  If not this one, another.  I encourage them, even if I didn't love every second of it.  I will probably do one of the photography ones next. 

This exercise has helped me not just look back on the last year, but on my life in general. 

A little perspective is a good thing, especially now. 

Sometimes I just need to be reminded of it, whether by a question, or a friend, or a phone call from my brother at 2am. 

I am blessed to have so many amazing people in my life.

I am lucky to be where I am.

For all my readers, you are so important to me right now.  I just want you all to know that.  I've used this platform I have to air my grievances, to share my stories, to laugh, to cry.  This...this right here...and all of you that are here with me...this is a huge help in getting me through. 

Tonight, where ever you are, whether you are surrounded by friends and family, whether you are sitting on a couch in the dark alone (as I will surely be), whether you are the center of the party or the one sitting quietly in the corner, I raise my glass to you. 

May you be loved and give love.

May you fail when you are supposed to, survive when you have to and succeed when you want to.

May you smile at that reflection more days than not.

May you find joy.

May 2011 suck less.

Happy New Year.

Cheers!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Avoidance

Humans, as a species, are particularly well adapted for certain things. We are resourceful. We find ways to live in the harshest climates. We create.

And we avoid. We survive a lot by avoiding things. Even now, when the avoidance is the very thing putting us in harms way.

Back in the caveman days, we learned to avoid the things that were dangerous. Large predators were probably the first thing we actively avoided. We ran, we hid.

Then came weather, and our desire to avoid it. We built shelters.

Then came disease. We invented medications, water filtration systems, insect repellents.

We have developed complex societies. We've domesticated animals. We've built tools and technology that shape almost every aspect of life as we know it. And in the process, we've created many other ways to ruin it all.

Us humans, we are intelligent. And yet sometimes we are too stubborn to save ourselves.

We don't deal with the 500 pound gorillas in the rooms of our lives enough because it's too hard. We ignore the things that we know are wrong. We make excuses. We procrastinate. We wrongfully believe that we will always be able to right the wrongs tomorrow. Or the next day.

Since it's the end of the year and all, that time when you are supposed to be reflective and take stock of your life...I challenge you all to deal with whatever it is you are avoiding.

What's your 500 pound gorilla?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What It Is

One thing that I've said too many times this year and listened to too many people around me say is this:

It is what it is.

And it is. 

Life isn't always pretty.

Life isn't always fair.

Life isn't always easy.

Life isn't always fun.

As much as life can test us, as much as it can put us through, as hard as it is, as cruel as it is, it is always something else too. 

It is always beautiful.

Take a minute to look at the people around you today, to just watch them be.  Watch them laugh, watch them smile.  Give them your undivided attention.  Give them your time.  Give them your love. 

Forgive them.

Share stories and share memories.

Cherish every second that you are given. 

Be grateful.

Embrace the moment.

Time is fleeting, time is short, so make the best of what you have.

Life is what it is, and it is beautiful.

The Reason

I figured out why we had that car accident last week.

Aside from the ice and the semi and all that, I mean.

We heard today that the soonest the car would be ready is early next week.  Later in the week far more likely.

The kids are going to miss some school.

The trip continues to get more and more complicated.

There's a reason though.

I needed to spend more time here

Flagstaff, you are almost forgiven.  Almost. Just be nice on the way home, would ya?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Where My Girls At?

You know how I wrote about my husband seeing some of his best friends the last time we were in California and how great it was?  About how I missed so many of the people who I've been close to over the years and hardly ever get to see now?

People move, life gets complicated, more and more time passing between the moments we can see each other.  It just happens. 

During the scheming phase of this quasi-secret trip, I didn't say much to anyone about it.  I didn't want it to get back to my mom that we were coming.  It was supposed to be a surprise.  I didn't even tell people who live in a state different than my family does these days.

Until one of my very best friends in the whole wide world mentioned that she'd be in California for Christmas.   I can't even remember the last time I saw Blythe, and there is something very wrong with that.  Granted, now a days, I live in the middle of the country and she lives in the middle of the ocean.  But still, I haven't seen her in a long time.  Too long. 

As soon as she said she was going to be here, I spilled it that we were too.  Maybe we could set up a time to meet?  We'd both be busy, sure, since we're only here for a little while.  But find time we did. 

Then I texted Kim.  And I emailed Shannon.  They live in California still, but I don't even get to see them when I make trips out here all that often.  I wondered if they might be able to get together too. 

The four of us met in the dorms in college.  We've been roommates and bridesmaids and godmothers to each others kids. 

None of our kids have met each other (at least I don't think so).  We haven't all been together since Blythe got married almost 7 years ago.  Back then, I had two babies.  Between the four of us, we've added five more kids since then and there is a set of twins on the way now. 

Today is the day.  We're all meeting in the middle, nearest the one of us very pregnant with that set of twins, today.  Today! 

This would be one of the reasons I was insanely, dorkishly excited last week. 

I can't wait.  I need to see these ladies.  I need to talk to them in person and share smiles and laughs.  I need to hug them.  Just a few more hours...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Airing of the Grievances

Happy Festivus!  My apologies to those of you that didn't watch Seinfeld as much as I did.

Drum roll please....

It is time for the Airing of the Grievances.

It is so past time.

It is 10:30 Christmas night and I am sitting alone in my parent's family room.  Everyone else left, not that I blame them.  It smells nasty in here.  Aidan barfed.  All.over.the.rug.

Because nothing says Christmas like vomit.

I am pissed off that my car is in the shop in another state. 

I have a headache, and my stomach has been tied up in knots for days now.  The stink in the air isn't helping.  Told you there was a reason everyone left the room.

I think I am done.  I'm trying not to let the events of the last few days spoil the magic of Christmas. 

I'm trying.

I'll be more upbeat tomorrow, after the barf stench fades a little. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Worth Everything

Today I will sit and talk with my father.

Today I will cook with my mother.

Today I will tease my brother.

Today I will laugh with my sister in law.

Today I will see my children play with my nephew.

Today I will put gifts under a tree with my husband.

For tomorrow, it is Christmas.

The Christmas worth driving through snow and rain for. 

The Christmas worth scheming and planning for.

The Christmas worth everything.

I am thankful.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Going

I've made my list and checked it twice. 

I've wrapped and sorted and packed.

I've been checking the weather maps obsessively for weeks.

I've had my kids write letters to Santa informing him of their plans.

I'm doing something I haven't done in too many years.

I'm going home for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why Santa Claus is a Woman

I decided this last night.

It's a lie, all of it. 

I think Santa Claus is really a woman. 


Would a guy have designed this hat?

I mean, really....once you look at it the way I did last night there can't be any other possible option.

Santa Claus knows what is sitting beneath the tree for all the kids on the good list.  Actually knows. Like, before Christmas morning.

Santa Claus has never forgotten Christmas.

Santa Claus will let kids sit on her lap all.day.long.

Santa Claus can get everything done while everyone else is sleeping.

Santa Claus has a predetermined route, all planned out and everything.

Santa Claus is the one driving the sleigh.

Santa Claus gets children the things they actually want, as opposed to what is on sale, what is easy to find or what they need.

Santa Claus knows the sizes the kids wear.

Santa Claus will stay up all night making sure the gifts are wrapped.

Santa Claus knows that you have to wear a black belt if you're rocking the black boots.

Santa Claus won't hesitate to sneak a bite off the plate a kid left.

Santa Claus has a pair of fat pants...this might be related to that last one.

I'm sure that there are more reasons that Santa Claus is a woman....I just can't think of any more right now.

Much like Santa Claus, I've got a million things to get done in the next few days.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Necessity of Laughter

After yesterday's post, I am sure that there are people out there who think I am nuts.  Maybe I am.  At this point, I probably am not in the best position to be judging that anyway.  

Truth is, there isn't much in my life that is funny right now.  Being a grown up sucks.  Feeling like the weight of the world is always on my shoulders, like no matter how hard I try, I can't make things right. 

I want to go back in time.

I envy my kids a little for that.  They are still there, in that place I long to return to.  They still think that Santa can magically bring them anything they want.  They still believe that their parents are invincible.  They've never had reason to think otherwise.  They are innocent and happy.  Life is still fun.

If only it were possible to recapture that. 

So, yes, life gets complicated.  That old adage about life not being fair....well, it's spot on.  These days, I find myself desperately clinging to the humor in life to survive.

I know that some people probably don't understand me.  To them, all I can say is that I have to do what I have to do sometimes just to get through the day.  I'd rather it be laughter than any of the other crutches I could turn to. 

I've been asked too many times this week how I am managing.  Partially, I really do think I am just on autopilot.  I do what I have to do because I need to do it. Period. I have too many little people relying on me for things, and as much as life is disappointing me right now, I want to protect them from all that.  I do what I need to for them.   The rest of my day to day survival can be attributed in large part to laughing. 

I laugh because if I don't, I will cry. 

If we lose the ability to laugh, no matter what else is going on, we begin to take ourselves far too seriously.  We start to resent the reality when what we really need to do is embrace the opportunity.

Sometimes that means you have to find ridiculous humor in things that shouldn't be funny.  Sometimes that means you have to be willing to laugh at yourself.  Sometimes it means you smile when your heart is breaking. 

As I've said to at least one friend before, you only get one trip around the carousel...you might as well enjoy it.    Don't spend all your time regretting not getting on a different horse.  Don't think about what you left behind, the things that couldn't make the trip with you.  Don't live in woeful anticipation of the ride coming to an end.  Enjoy it while it lasts.  Let yourself ride.

My Dad, sticking his tongue out at me.
Throw your hands in the air, let the wind whip your hair around, and just ride. 

Just ride.


The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.
~e.e. cummings

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Blowing Sunshine and Other Funnies for Your Saturday

Bah Humbug. 

I've been told that I need to write things more upbeat.  Put on the happy face.  All that jazz.

Merry Christmas or whatever.

I'm not normally one to blow sunshine up anyone's ass, but I'm too tired to argue about it at the moment.  So I will tell you all the funny things that happened this week.

Apologies for my abrasiveness.  Well, not really.  I'm not terribly apologetic about it, I'm just saying that because I am supposed to.  I have a short fuse lately, and my censor button seems to need repairing.  So if inappropriate humor makes you fidget in your seat, it's best to stop reading now.  Or up there in that last paragraph, where I was talking about blowing sunshine up your ass. 

Anyhow.  Back to the funnies. 

* I bought leggings this week.  With zippers on the sides.  I am a 33 year old woman.  What the hell was I thinking?  Granted, they were $3.74 on the clearance rack at Target.  But still.  Needless to say, I haven't worn them.  You should stop wearing leggings by middle school.  Yes, even if you are a size 2.  I recently came across a woman older than me wearing leggings and a regular shirt (not a tunic or dress thing, just a shirt).  Even though she definitely had the body to pull it off, it's not something that should be attempted past the age of 10.  Just saying.

* A wonderful stomach virus made it's way through the house earlier this week.  I realized how bad it must be when one of my children (who will remain nameless for their own well being) told me that their pooper was angry.  Seriously, I cannot make this stuff up.   You don't want an angry pooper. 

* I got my drawers moistened.  While I was in the shower.  I was taking the mom equivalent of a shower, many of you will know what I'm talking about.  You know, how you can shampoo and condition your hair, exfoliate your face, wash your body and remove all undesirable hair with the shower door half open in exactly 3 minutes?  That shower.  Anyhow, I should have known the boy was up to no good when he shut the bathroom door.  When I got out, I opened the door.  No one was screaming, the house wasn't on fire and I could hear all 4 of them, so I figured there wasn't a problem.  Then I walked around to my side of the bed and realized that he had squeezed out the entire tube of hand cream.  On the nightstand, on the carpet and all over the inside of the drawer that once contained said tube of hand cream.  That drawer was getting a bit chappy.

* I went to 4 stores that sold bread in one day, knowing full well that we were completely out of it at home and still came home breadless.  That takes a special kind of skill.

* AJ got playdough from his auntie for Christmas.  They have been playing with it and cleaning it up, so I haven't taken much notice of the colors in the set.  I can tell you there is pink though for sure.  I've pulled out two globs of pink playdough from his nose.  Tom pulled one out too.  Ok, so maybe there isn't much pink playdough actually left at this point...

* My dear husband inappropriately texted the wrong guy at his office party.  He meant to text dude with the same name #1, but accidentally sent it to dude with the same name #2.  Which would have been fine if it wasn't intended to remind him to put his cell phone away during dinner through the use of the not-so-subtle message "Keep it in your pants".  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he is mine.  All mine.  Fortunately dude #2 laughed.  Because if he hadn't....well, this might not be so funny.

* At that same party, we took some really awful white elephant gifts for the exchange.  Like so bad that I can't believe Tom actually went to a cash register and paid for them while his daughter was with him!  The peel and stick invisible boob lifts...really?  Really???  Believe it or not, we brought home something worse.  This.   Underwear actually designed to make your ass look bigger.  No, I'm not kidding.  Thankfully we got a case of wine to go with our new Booty Pop panties.  If I'm going to make my ass bigger, I'd prefer to do it the old fashioned way, thank you very much.

Have a wonderful Saturday.  Or don't.  Whatever.

After I torture my two year old by taking him to visit the dude in the red suit today, I'll be settling in for some adult beverages.  That is, of course, assuming I am not struck by that lovely stomach virus in the next 12 hours.  You really shouldn't drink with an angry pooper.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Insufficient Glitter

We haven't had hardly any snow here this year yet.  Normally, I'd be itching for snow by now, wishing for a huge storm to blow in. 

The kids are officially antsy.  Ashley woke up one day this week angry.  She looked outside expecting to see the world covered with a wintry blanket and saw the same old stick trees and brown grass that had been there the day before.

They want to go sledding and throw snowballs.  They want to make snow angels and snowmen.  They want to build the driveway ramp and catch snowflakes on their tongues. 

The weather isn't cooperating though.


As much as it would normally bother me, I could care less this year.  It would take a miracle to get me into the Christmas spirit, and though snow would be a good start, it wouldn't be enough.  Not even close.

I haven't baked hardly at all.  I haven't wrapped a thing.  There is a box of lights that has been sitting on my back porch for weeks now.  I just don't care about whether they get put up enough to do it.  I avoid Christmas music, changing the station as soon as a song comes on. 

Today is the huge frenzied school party run back and forth between the classrooms day.  I was up late making treats for class because the kids asked, but will be the first to tell you there is no joy in it for me this time around.  I am actually dreading the class parties.  T minus 2 hours and 30 minutes.  Normally I wear red or green.  Not this year.  I am wearing brown. 

Sitting here on the couch, forcing my youngest to take a nap early, I am looking out the window.  Tiny little snowflakes are falling from the sky, not even close to enough to stick, but fall they must.  It's sunny and snowing.  Welcome to Colorado.  The sunlight catching on the snowflakes creates the illusion of glitter coming from above. 

I can't lie, it is beautiful. 

But it's not enough.

10 Minutes

I spent pretty much all day today going.  And going.  It's almost 10pm and I just sat down.

It's that last week of school before break, the kids will be home 24/7 soon, I still have a million things to do before Christmas kind of panic. 

I found the unfindable in the unlikeliest of places, the thing that is going to make me an awesome mom come next week.

I scored a pair of jeans for myself for less than $10. 

I got my baby boy the thing that I know will drive me crazy but that I know he will adore.

I wrote out almost 100 envelopes for Christmas cards.

I think I managed to get all the gifts taken care of for the teachers and other special people at school.  I hope so anyway....I am out of time if I missed someone.

I made, cut, frosted and decorated 117 tree shaped peanut free brownies for the parties tomorrow.  I keep waiting for the day that my kids ask for something easy and simple. 

I did all those things because I had to, because I needed to. 

And for 10 minutes in the middle of the craziness of my day, I sat in my car and cried until there weren't any tears left.

Guess I needed to do that too.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fancy Me

So I bought this black sweater dress a few years ago with all the best intentions in the world.  I was going to wear it and it was going to be awesome.

Don't you hate it how the magic of the fitting room mirror seems to fade the minute you bring something home?

That dress is still sitting in my closet, still has the tags on it. 

I even bought leggings to wear with it today.  I was going to wear it to Tom's company Christmas party tonight.  I has visions of how cute it would all be.  And then I put it on.

Turns out that sweater dresses aren't my thing.  Shocker, I know.

The look on my husband's face told me that it just wasn't going to work.  It's okay though, I already knew what his face was saying.

I'm not that cool.  I'm not that trendy. 

We both used the excuse that it wasn't dressy enough.  Whatever works, right?

I wore old reliable, also known as my go-to little black dress. 

It's cute and all, very flattering and pretty.  I just always end up wearing it.  Every time I think I am going to branch out, push the envelope of my personal style, try something new...I end up in the dress. 

At least it sparkles.  And it does the ladies justice.  You women know what I'm talking about.

So I put on old reliable.  I engaged in the annual curling of the eyelashes.  Pulled out the beautiful antique jewelry passed down from my grandmother.  Put on the heels. 


Supposed to be proof that I curled my eyelashes, but it's too dark in here because everyone is asleep.
 I'm not so much in the mood for parties right now.  Or fancy.  Or associating with other humans in general really.  But you gotta do what you gotta do.   And tonight, I needed to be fancy. 

As we walked into the party, I instantly holed up in the corner with the people I can actually talk to at these events without wanting to gouge out my eyeballs.  Then I complimented one of them, a perky, trendy young woman on the adorable sweater dress she was rocking. 

She can wear it.  I can't. 

And I'm okay with that. 

My sweater dress didn't do the ladies justice anyway.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Myth of Choice

I'm just in the mood to touch third rails these days.

What I am about to write about is something that I feel very passionately about and fully expect people to disagree with me about.  It's an issue that I am torn on myself in many ways, at a loss of what I will do when the time comes that I have to cross that bridge.

It's about school choice.  Or the myth of it.

I call it a myth because it isn't really something that many people have a real choice about.   Sure, there is a vocal group of parents who preach about the virtues of it, who hang on to the notion that their children deserve the best, that they know what is the best for their children. 

I'd like to make an argument that school choice is actually not a good thing for most kids.  And it hurts the quality of the education received by just about all of them.

Before you all go grab your torches, hear me out. 

Back before we moved here, I was in a credential program.  I student taught in a public school in a low income neighborhood.  The school had a fabulous reputation, all the employees at the university nearby would attempt to open enroll their kids there.  So you had this socio-economic dichotomy of kids.  One end of the spectrum next to the other.  We had kids with parents in jail sitting next to the children of associate deans. 

I taught there.  It wasn't a good school.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  The teachers were disinterested.  Uninvolved in what they were doing.  They pandered to the parents of the kids that mattered, the vocal ones who would raise hell if they didn't get their way.  The other kids fell by the wayside.  Sure, a handful of the kids got a great education.  Most of them didn't.  You can probably guess which parents were the ones raving about the school, getting it the reputation it had.  Little did they know.

When we moved here, part of the draw was the school system.  Not wonderful, but far better than the one in the area we lived in at the time.  At least on paper.  The schools we left didn't allow open enrollment.  The schools we moved to did. 

At the time, we were naive enough to believe that was a good thing.  I see how it isn't now.

Sure, you can handpick a school that excels in the area your child is interested in, which presumes that any 10 or 14 year old really knows what they want to be when they grow up.  It also assumes that you can just get into the school you think is best.  That there aren't ridiculous waiting lists or test-in requirements.  That the open enrollment period doesn't mean that parents who have the desire and ability to sleep overnight in the dead of winter outside a door should be the first to get their kid on the list.  It also assumes that the parents can get their student to and from the school that is best for them, assuming they get in.  Working parents, you might be out of luck here. 

My biggest issue with open enrollment is something else entirely though.  Something that most people never even think about when they are thinking about the best interests of their child.  It is this: the very idea of open enrollment removes a certain degree of investment in the school by the parents and children who are supposed to go there.  There isn't as much motivation to make it better, to work on flaws, to revamp curriculum, to raise money....well, because if we don't like it we can always just go somewhere else.  Pack up my stuff and leave.  It doesn't force anyone to care as much as they should. 

Alright, got your torches fired up yet?  I thought so.

Now, don't misunderstand me.  I am not saying that parents should stop being focused primarily on what is best for their child individually, but there is a slippery slope that starts when the pursuit of what is best for "me" begins.  At what point do the schools fail to offer the same quality of education because one is labeled "good", the other "bad"?  At what point do parents hide behind other justifications for their choice, and the schools become racially segregated?  What about the kids at those schools?  The ones there because their parent couldn't sleep overnight in a parking lot, or drive them across town every day, or pay for tutoring to get them to test into a special elite program.  What about them?  Are they less deserving of a quality public education?  Of course not.

This is the problem with school choice.  It is a myth, available only to those with the means and knowledge to truly pursue it.

Now, I won't go into which schools are which in this district.  I'm not about to make accusations about anyone.  I don't point fingers.  I don't judge what one parent does for their child, especially if it is done in the name of their best interest.  What I take fault with is the system that allows this in the first place.  The system that, in fact, encourages it.

School choice came about as a way to improve schools.  In a lot of ways, it's only stratified them more.  But, like so many things in this society we live in, once that power is placed in the hands of the masses, it's virtually impossible to take it away.  Can you imagine the uproar if open enrollment was discontinued here?  Good god

I have another year before I have to cross that bridge.  Before I have to decide whether my oldest will go to the school in the boundaries or whether I attempt to open enroll him somewhere else.   More likely than not, he will go where his friends go, assuming I can get him in there.  Wherever there is.  Middle school without pre-existing friendships is not a torture I will subject him to.  I lived it.  It was hell. 

I find it laughable that the school choice expo here is held after the start of open enrollment.  It's almost like the district is just throwing a bone to the parents who don't really have a choice, trying to convince them they do.  By the time the expo was held this year, the coveted spots in the so-called desirable schools were gone. 

So you see, there really isn't so much choice in the choice as advertised. 

Unless you know how to game the system. 

And that, my friends, isn't what public school is supposed to be about at all.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Tale of the Headless King

Over the years I have acquired at least five nativity sets, not including all the figurines and nightlights that are single pieces.  I'm talking five separate sets of people.

By now you all know about our vast Christmas collection.  

The first nativity I got was when my cousin was selling for a home based group.  I bought a set from her with glass figurines and a mirrored base.  It was small and simple, and it served the purpose I needed it to when I was in college. 

The second one was a gift I got from my aunt at my bridal shower.  The third was the set that my grandmother used to display in her house, and it was passed to me the year she died.  It is one of my most cherished Christmas items, and the kids know it is important to me.  They know they can't touch that one.

When Aidan was a baby, my mother in law made a set from tiny terra cotta pots.  It's adorable, and no matter what I tried, the kids always wanted to play with it.  As with all the other sets, I'd shoo them away and direct them towards the special toys and books that came out at Christmas time.   I had other figurines for the kids to keep in their rooms, but they always wanted to play with the people in the sets. 

About three years ago, back when I was actively ebaying, I came across a ceramic nativity set at a garage sale.  All the characters were children, the colors muted and soft.  The pieces weren't in perfect condition, but the set was complete.  I bought it initially planning to sell it.  I should have known better.



As soon as I brought it home, Ashley found it.  She carefully took the little statutes from the foam box and set them up on the table and began to play with them.  Ally noticed and started to play too.  Aidan came over and told the girls that the baby wasn't just a baby.  He was Jesus.  They looked at him, not really understanding what that meant, but figuring he knew what he was talking about.

I didn't sell it. 

I figured that it was better for the kids to have a set that they actually could touch and feel and play with.  That they could set up and read books to and tell stories about.  Through these tiny statues, they have learned the story of Jesus' birth, the tale of the Three Kings.  They have learned what Christmas is really about.

Every year, we need to do some repairs to the pieces.  A natural by product of little kids playing with ceramic statues is that sometimes there are accidents.  Sometimes something breaks. 

Sometimes someone loses a head. 

As we were unpacking the decorations a few weeks ago, I noticed one of the kings needed his head reattached.   It's okay, though.  They invented super glue for a reason. 

Just like I found this nativity set for a reason.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Laundry - Strategies, Stain Removers and More

One of the most annoying side effects of having a herd of children is the laundry. 

It.Never.Ends.

Inevitably the second I put the last item in the washer, fill the container with detergent and push the button, someone spills something.    I gave up hoping to ever be done with this chore a long time ago.  A very long time ago. 

I can't ever declare victory.

I've tried all kinds of strategies with the laundry to see what works the best.  I just about have it down to a science now.

Don't attempt to wait for your husband/boyfriend/significant other to do the laundry.  They won't.  I've performed this experiment a few times, each an abysmal failure. 

Don't rely on your children to tell you that they need this shirt or these pants for school tomorrow.   Or that their soccer uniform is dirty.   Or that the only tights that match that dress are rolled up in a ball under their bed.  Or that they threw something into the hamper sopping wet, leaving it to mildew and stink.  Even if you are not doing laundry every day, you should inspect for these things. 

I generally do laundry twice a week, otherwise I end up doing laundry every single day.  Even splitting the chore up into two portions leaves me with about 8-10 loads at a time, not including the days when sheets are changed.    Six people generate 2-3 loads a day.

Sometimes you have to do a load or two even if you weren't planning.  We all know that there are things that can't sit and wait a few days.  Most of them involve stains.  Wash them now.   I will put a stain remover guide at the bottom of this entry for you all.  I've learned through years of stain removal to always have a small arsenal at my disposal.

I sort the clothes, but not in an obsessive way.  I do lights and darks.  New denim and anything red tend to go with into a load of their own with other very dark clothes just in case they bleed a little.  Color catchers are lifesavers when you have to mix colors that have no business in a washing machine together.  You know, the white shirt with red trim, the sweater with multi colored stripes, those things.  Get a box of color catchers and save yourself the headache later on trying to fix the clothes.

I avoid dry clean and hand wash only clothing like the plague.  I adore wrinkle free clothes, and will totally justify the extra few bucks they cost to avoid the extra work.  Tom's entire work wardrobe is wrinkle free for that reason.  I don't iron.  Like ever.   I go to great lengths to avoid it.  Clothing that has a tendency towards wrinkling or having hems roll gets hung to dry out of the washer and smoothed out.  This works especially well with all the girls pleated skirts and crisp cotton dresses.  For items that are dry already and have a few wrinkles, there are spray wrinkle releasers that work great.  Spray, stretch out the item and smooth it down.  A quick toss in the dryer for a few minutes will usually do it too.

Anything with screen printed images, glued on sparkles or glitter needs to be washed inside out, which is almost never a problem.  You see, everyone I live with seems to have this habit of taking their clothes off so they are turned inside out.   Even the socks and underwear.   As much as it drives me crazy, it is better for the clothes in the long run.  Washing and drying wears them out faster than actually wearing them does. 

In my house, the laundry room is downstairs but all the bedrooms are upstairs.  Makes no sense to me either.  Because of that, and the constant nature of laundry here, I fold laundry straight out of the dryer and put it directly into baskets for each person.  I hang all hanging clothes and put them on the closet bar we installed in there.  About once a week, it all goes upstairs. 

I don't use fabric softener very often, dryer sheets are cheaper and work as well.   I never use regular bleach, only the color safe stuff.  Get yourself a decent laundry detergent, and no it doesn't have to be the expensive name brand stuff.   Right now I am using the eco friendly high efficiency liquid sold at Costco. 

I don't fold socks.  It's time consuming and my least favorite chore.  They get put in a sock bucket that gets sorted and folded when people start to run out.  And that part, everyone helps. 

Here is a list of stains I have conquered and how to get rid of them.  Most important tip with stains is not to put anything stained into the dryer until you are sure it is out.  Heat will set many stains.

- Small, but noticeable stains on white clothing - bleach pen.
- Grass - liquid detergent straight on stain, rub in until stain lifts, repeat if needed.
- Fruit juice - soak immediately in cold water, pretreat with liquid detergent.
- Tomato based stains - soak in cold water, pretreat with liquid detergent.  If colorfast, pour white vinegar over stain and let sit a while, then wash.
- Milk based stains - soak in cold water, rub with Dawn liquid soap and let sit, then rinse with cold water to remove grease.  May need enzyme stain remover.
- Blood - enzyme stain remover all the way.  Love that stuff.  Works wonders.
- Tape and sticker residue - wash in warm water, pick off the residue by hand.  Use goo gone if persistent.   Do not dry until all removed.
- Gum - goo gone or nail polish remover. 
- Ink - nail polish remover.
- Red wine - pour salt over the spot and let sit to soak up the wine.  Rinse in cold water and repeat until clean.
- Grease spots on dark clothes - liquid Dawn soap right on the spot, let it sit and wash like normal. 

If you have another stain you need help on that isn't listed here, ask me...chances are I've battled it before.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Teacher's Gifts

One of the inevitable side effects of having kids in school is the twice a year buying of the gifts ritual.  Two times a year, all parents are expected to do something nice for the teachers.  Holidays and end of the school year.

Where exactly this expectation comes from, I am not totally sure.  I think I can say with a fair degree of certainty that most teachers don't go into the profession for the gifts.  The kids, for the most part, would probably opt to make a nice card or draw a picture for their teachers.  Who then is the real reason that we parents feel so compelled to buy gifts for all the teachers twice a year?  The only culprit left to blame is us, the parents. 

If it wasn't for the fact that reality often follows the Keeping Up With the Joneses mindset, it might not be such a big deal.  In my experience, though, parents seem to jockey for bragging rights with gifts, often putting the teachers in an uncomfortable position.  If it wasn't that way, parents could get a small, modest, heartfelt gift and be done with it.  And some people do. Up until this year, I've resisted the peer pressure and baked cookies for teachers.  The kids help bake the cookies after we find out which ones the teachers would like, then they help package and deliver them. 

This year, though, I am not sure I will get to all that baking.  Then again, I'm just not sure I want to.  And the classroom teachers the kids have this year are all different than we've had in the past, so there is no expectation of home baked goodies.  And to be honest, I am fine with that.

I am going in on the class gift, organized by one parent, in one class.  The others...well, I haven't thought much about it yet. 

In order to keep the gift giving at a manageable level, I think it is best to set a dollar amount you will contribute per teacher and stick with it.  Whether you are going in on a group gift or buying a gift card to a coffee place, keep the amount the same.   Personally, I keep it at $10 per teacher/aide/school employee. 

Class gifts can be the simplest, easiest way to get a teacher something that they want and that means something from the kids.  The precondition here is that whoever is organizing it actually knows what the teacher would appreciate the most.   A $150 gift card isn't awesome if it's to a store you never go to.  Keep the requested per child contribution low.  $5-10 at most.  If doing a class gift, please take into consideration that there will always be families that can't contribute.  Do not exclude those children from signing the card, though.  If you are worried about racking up brownie points with the teacher, offer to volunteer or something else, don't try to do it in dollar amounts. 

If a class gift isn't being organized or you don't want to take part in it, the same rules apply.  I guarantee the teachers don't want or need 20 apple themed picture frames or 30 coffee mugs.  Don't buy them things like that.  Also, don't buy them things they won't use or don't want.  For instance, don't get a coffee gift card for someone who doesn't drink coffee!  Don't get a massage for a person who can't stand them!  Most teachers would love classroom donations - feel free to ask what they need!  I am sure they will tell you!  Keep the dollar amount in the same neighborhood though.  $5-10.

Don't forget the other people involved...the art teacher, the music teacher, the PE teacher, the office staff, the janitor.  They deserve recognition too!  This is another reason that the dollar amount should be kept at a manageable level.  You probably have more people to get things for than you realize. 

As with the classroom teachers, though, I don't think that most of the people who work in any capacity with your children at school do so with the expectation of lavish gifts.  They do it because they love it.  And to be honest, many of them would be more touched by a handwritten note or a picture drawn by the kids than a gift they will never use.

So, as a summary:
1. Keep the dollar amount low, manageable and within your budget.
2. Only get them something they actually want and can use.
3. A little something with meaning means a lot more than a big something with no heart.

Resist the urge to spend a lot of money on teacher's gifts.  And please, please, please do not attempt to organize a class gift that requires a contribution of more than $5-10 per child.  The teachers don't expect it, the kids don't have any real investment with it, and there are a lot of people who truly can't afford it.

The biggest smiles I've ever seen on a teacher's face involved hand prints of the kids on canvas bags, pictures and cookies.  And those things, they sure didn't cost much.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Christmas List, 2010

Last year before Christmas, I wrote a list of all the things I wanted.  Some were simple, some were totally outlandish, some were necessities, some were excesses I could never dream of.  I wrote that list all the way back in October of last year....man, I guess I was feeling really optimistic.

Believe it or not, I actually got some of the things on that list from last year. 

I didn't get a pony though.  Insert world's tiniest violin.

It's only a few weeks to Christmas, and I haven't written my list yet.  I suppose I should, though at this point in my life, which is a very different point than it was in October of last year, the only things I really want this year aren't "things" at all. 

Anyway, here is my list.  Not that I have any delusions of a rotund man in a red suit putting anything under my tree or anything...

1. I want some really nice new cardigans.  The last one I bought myself was three years ago. 

2. I want an immersion blender so I can force my family eat even more soup than I already do.

3. I want a super awesome recipe organizer, right now I'm using a 3-ring binder and sheet protectors.

4. I want a real Christmas tree.  (shhh, don't tell Tom...he HATES our fake tree and begged for a real one this year)

5. I want someone to remind me to set the programmable coffee maker that I already own at night before I go to bed. 

6. I want laser eye surgery so I can actually see my alarm clock at night.

7. I want Ashley's hearing to magically get better.

8. I want to go back to when I wrote my last list and live the rest of my life the way I did then.

9. I want a teleporter.  Or a private jet.  Or a clone.

10.  I want a miracle.

C'mon Santa...you made good on some of my wishes last year....and mostly I just want that last one.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Grace

It is with great sadness that I write this today.

It's not every day that the news affects me so deeply.  Elizabeth Edwards lost her battle with cancer yesterday, only hours after announcing publicly her decision to stop treatment. 

NPR's write up on her death.

My heart aches for her family.

This woman was an example of so many things that we should all aspire to be.

When life handed her wealth, she advocated for those without.

When life handed her the loss of a child, she picked herself up and went on.

When life handed her the spotlight, she brought attention to her passions.

When life handed her disease, she fought with everything she had.

When life handed her humiliation, she weathered it with dignity and respect.

When life handed her a stop sign, she accepted.

And amidst everything she endured throughout her life, she showed us grace.

Her words, profound beyond measure:

  Terminal disease is a great clarifier.  It takes you in the direction
away from the mirror and toward the window.

The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful. ~ these words taken from her final message to her supporters

Rest now, Elizabeth.

Your fight is done.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Things Children Should Not Be Allowed To Do

There are a lot of things that children should not be allowed to do. 

Wrestle alligators. 

Chase tornadoes.

Play with shards of glass.

Light stuff on fire.

Things like that.  Those ones are obvious anyway.   There are a lot more things that are on that list, or at least should be in my opinion. 

Then there are the things that other people let my children do.  Without my permission.  I wish they wouldn't. 

First on that list is something at school that grates on my nerves.  Sign up sheets for parties.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for celebrations in the classroom.  I love that they still let kids be kids, even if it's only for the designated 15 minutes at the end of the day.  But who in their right mind thought it was okay to put the kids in charge of the sign up sheets?  Honestly.

I had already told my kids that I would bring something to their Halloween (oh, wait, I mean Fall) parties.  I made over 100 little owl graham cracker things since they all wanted me to make them for their classes.  Fine.  It took me a while to even find all the stuff I needed, let alone make them.  I had nightmares about marshmallow eyes. 

Then, the night before the parties, Ashley came home from school to tell me that she had signed us up for gift bags.  You what?   Really?  With less than 24 hours notice, I now have to assemble gift bags for the entire class too?

That's awesome.

Kids should not be allowed to write on sign up sheets.  Especially not without some kind of parental advanced warning system.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Why I'm Avoiding You

I generally have this annoying tendency to avoid people, even people I like.  I find myself doing it and wonder why inside my head.  I argue with myself internally as to what the reasons are, and those are the kind of arguments that you can never win.

Lately, though, I am intentionally doing it. 

It's just better that way.

Trust me on this.

I don't want to make small talk.  I don't want to talk politics.  I don't want to hear about what the PTO is or is not doing this week.  I don't care about the drama at school.  I don't need to be caught up on all the gossip of the week. 

I don't want to deal with all the things I am committed to, though I will.  I will show up and do what I must then leave.  I will smile and be friendly when I am supposed to, then quietly make an exit when no one notices. 

I don't want people to ask me how I am, particularly if they don't understand where I am right now.  Where I am, it's not a good place.  A few of you know where that is.  You've been there.  You know how I feel right now.

I don't want to tell people I am fine.  I don't want to lie to you.  I don't want to lie to myself.

You know that headache you get when you've spent all day trying not to cry?  When you've done all that you can to keep it together?  When you spend far more hours staring at the ceiling than sleeping?  When you know that your fuse is very likely the shortest it's ever been and you know that it's just better to avoid other people? 

That is why I'm avoiding you.

Nothing personal, really.  It's not you.  It's most definitely me.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December

It's the first day of December, and I am watching The Nightmare Before Christmas.  I love this movie.



I am dark and mysterious.

I am so often misunderstood.

I understand how Jack feels out of place.

I know how Sally wants to be loved.

I was a naughty kid who loved mischief as much as the next person. 

I've both been the dreamer who clings to the ideal and the skeptic who knows it is impossible.

This is as close to the Christmas spirit as I can muster right now, tree going up in flames and all.

I've still got 24 days.  I've got to start making Christmas, making Christmas.

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