Tuesday, December 5, 2017

All I want for Christmas, 2017

This is my ninth annual Christmas list. Which is crazy. Some of you lucky people have been here that whole entire time. OR at least I think you have. I've managed to scare most everyone away over the years, but especially this past one. When this here blog started it was fun and whimsical and full of little tidbits about the kids...and then I became fueled by coffee and rage and thought that maybe this would be the year I start biting people. Which might still actually happen, btw. Year ain't over yet.



2017, the year that was actually a bigger trash fire than 2016. AMIRIGHT.

If you're so inclined, you can read some of my previous lists here. I didn't include them all because let's be honest...no one cares what I wanted five years ago. Not even me.

2016

2015
2014
2013


Yes, I really am an enormous child who writes Christmas lists. Every year around this time I think that I won't do it, and then I remember that it's basically the only tradition I've kept for this many years, soooo...

If this is your first perusal of my wishes, I should warn you that some of the things I want are silly. Some are unrealistic. Some are never even a remote possibility. Some require a Tardis to be built and functional and at my disposal. Some are entirely realistic. It's all random. Like me.

1. I want Congress to pull their heads out of their asses. Nearly all of them. There are a handful of people in there trying to keep it together, trying to do the right thing. Most of them are short sighted selfish assholes determined to do whatever it takes to ensure they get re-elected, totally willing to sacrifice whatever morals they once had in exchange for power and influence. Very few of them actually care about their constituents, but they sure are good at convincing people they do just long enough to get the votes. 

2. While we're on the subject of politics, I am totally in the mood for a coup right about now. A round of impeachments (one won't be enough...) would be okay too. Thing is...it is going to take decades to recover from the damage already done, IF we even can. Yeah, I've started to really think this might be the end of our country as we know it. I promise all the things I want won't be so melodramatic. Or political. Because you know, people are "tired" of politics....except it isn't politics. It's lives. Livelihoods. Safety. Security. Equality. Shit that is so much bigger than politics. If you can ignore what is going on, that's a direct result of the privilege you occupy in this fucked up society. 

3. I really want the DOE not to fuck with loan repayment programs, I really want the tax code not to fuck with people repaying loans or receiving tuition benefits from employment. I really want to live in a world where we don't punish anyone who isn't already independently wealthy for seeking knowledge. I'd love to live in a world where science is respected, where graduate students are encouraged and supported. I want to live in a world where kids can get food at school for free because they won't learn a damn thing if they are hungry. Wait. I said I was going to stop being political, right? There's always #4.

4. Here's some first world shit, okay. Jesus. I want to actually sit down for an hour a week and paint my nails. I don't need to go get manicures. I don't have the extra cash sitting around for that anyway. This is 100% on me, but I need to make time to do it. 

5. I want an uninterrupted chunk of time every day to write or record podcasts. A few hours would be amazing, but I'll settle for anything at this point. As I write this, my three year old is literally perched on my shoulder, squeezing my face with his chubby hands. Oh yeah, I started a podcast. HERE IS THE LINK

6. I want to be able to write an unlimited number of things for work. YOU GUYS I actually found a way to get paid for writing sarcastic shit, and I'm totally happy about this and also really annoyed with myself for not having done it sooner. But I can't flood them with too much content and need to pace myself so that I can keep doing this. 

7. I need more time in general. This past year has been SO busy that it isn't even funny, and it just keeps getting more busy. My way of dealing with all the stress in the world is to do whatever I can to try and help, which right now means that I've signed up to do a whole bunch of work, all volunteer of course...because our society is not designed to actually help people who need it and there sure as shit isn't funding. If you need me, I'll be at a coalition meeting or planning a support group or managing an online photo challenge or attending more trainings or coordinating fundraisers or working bingo. It might take me a second to get back to you, but I will. Because I also restarted my photography business too. FFS.

8. I want a better camera. I need a better camera. I need to make more money before I can buy a better camera. Santa....do your thing. 

9. I want a fancy schmancy wide angle lens to go with that camera. Make it so, fat man!

10. I need a few weekends with nothing to do so I can do some serious binge watching of all the television shows I am now behind on. Like, I need to not feel my legs and have my eyes glaze over and eat nachos.

11. I would love a pause button. My oldest kid is starting the whole process of looking at colleges, will be a senior next year. And even if he's ready, I'm not really. 

12. I need a money tree so that he can go to college without ending up under a mountain of debt like I did. Like I still am. Strike that. I need multiple money trees.  

13. I want to get my sleeve done. I have three tattoos on my left forearm now: the Wonder Woman symbol, a semicolon, and my dad's handwriting. I want a queen bee with a honeycomb background that weaves around all the existing work. I just need...wait for it...time and money. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA 

14. I want a massage, but the kind that actually relaxes me, not the kind that just makes it worse. The last massage I had was YEARS ago, and the masseuse whined about her life the whole time, and I was thinking the entire time that she needed to STFU and give me my money back because I am here for my blissful high priced relaxation, not to be your captive therapist. Of course I didn't say anything because she probably needed to vent, but damn. I've had pockets of tension built up in my shoulders and back since October, and I'm starting to think this might just be who I am now. 

15. I'd like my puppy to eat dog food and stop eating everything else. She's chewed up parts of the siding on the side of the house, the corner of an antique cedar chest, windowsills and more. Her current favorite thing to eat are LEGOs. Doesn't she know how hard that plastic is?!?! Stepping on one is basically the worst thing ever, so how she can voluntarily chew on them is beyond me. Dogs. 

16. I need all my favorite people who live inside my computer to live closer to me. Distance is dumb. I posted a thing about how adults are so quick to blame phones for increased rates of depression in teens, which of course meant that someone had to argue with me (because internet). Here's the deal though....the internet actually helps a lot of us make connections with people we have more in common with than the humans we might interact with on a regular basis in person. Proximity isn't a great predictor of compatibility, at least it hasn't been for me. I've got a ton of issues, and it's taken me forever to find people who understand...and they almost all live in my phone. They've helped save me a few times, so don't argue with me about about terrible phones are. Sigh.

17. While we're at it, could we just build a commune? My husband is pretty handy, plus he can make all the beer. I already cook for a small army. Let's go off the grid somewhere, but still have wifi. The only people who can find us are UPS drivers making Amazon Prime deliveries. Oh, and pizza. We will need pizza. Only the cool people are invited. 

18. I want a custom built spice rack. I cook nearly everything at home and I LOVE me some spices. All the spices. My pantry is teeny and I've been trying to get the handy husband to build me shelving on the door. He still needs to grout the tile on the fireplace and build the mantle though, so I need to have patience. He still hates Pinterest, btw.

19. I need a new purse. I got a crossbody bag a while back that is fine, mostly...but it's a little too big and I don't love the color and it's already showing signs of wear and I'm super picky and cheap (that's usually the limiting factor here). Gray crossbody, moderate size, lots of pockets all with zippers because five kids who think I am a pack mule and I need 17 pens all the time. Shut up. I need them. Sooooo, if you find one of those that doesn't cost more than $30, hook me up.

20. I want still world peace, an end to hunger, freedom for all, true equality and for Citizens United to be overturned. I want Ginsburg to stay on the Supreme Court forever. Someone get her some vitamins immediately. 

Merry Christmas. I guess. 
#stillagrinch

Also, the war on Christmas isn't a thing. It's bullshit drama created by one "news" network (air quotes intentional here), to rile people up.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Another year, without you.

Dear Dad,

It seems like I am forever writing the posts like this one on these days, the ones between Thanksgiving and your birthday.

These days always belonged to you. I don't know why I ever believed that would change once you were gone.

Your birthday is tomorrow. You would have been 65 years old. You would have insisted that you weren't 65 because 65 is old, and you weren't ever going to get old.

You were right, you know....you didn't get old. These days, though, I wish you'd had that chance.

65 never would have meant retirement for you, the consequence of having owned your own business your whole life. You always said you'd probably end up working until the day you died because you'd have to. There was no golden parachute waiting. No pension. Not enough Social Security to survive.

You were right about that too. You went in to the lab the day before you died. Wiped the counters down, tidied up the office, left notes with instructions for those left behind.

I wish you were here tomorrow. I wish you could share this 6 pack of Coors Light with me. I wish you could pretend to refuse the piece of cherry cheesecake that you'd inevitably eat. I wish you'd spend fifteen minutes insisting that you were still 21 years old. I wish you'd get annoyed when everyone started to sing, then let the tiniest hint of a smile out at the end.



I wish.

I wish you were still here. I wish you were here to see your oldest grandson finish his Eagle, I wish you were here to reassure me when he was having trouble healing after his wisdom tooth removal surgery this summer. I wish that you were here to see him eager and excited to begin his college journey soon. I wish it. I wish it for him and I wish it for you. I wish it for me. He needs you right now. He needs to be supported and loved and encouraged. He needs reassured that this thing he loves so much in the world is worthy and important. He needs to know that this path he is intending to walk down will be a rewarding one. He needs reminded that success in life isn't about how lucrative a career is, but about whether it brings him joy and helps others. He needs nudging. He needs to know that he can make a difference in the lives of other people. He needs you.

I wish you were still here. I wish you were here to see how much your oldest granddaughter has overcome this year. I wish that you knew how hard this year has been for her, and how proud I am of her for fighting to stay here. She needs you right now. She needs to know that there are people in her life who don't need questions answered before they love you. She needs to know that there aren't hesitations or reservations, that there are always people who will be there to hold you up. She needs to know that she is loved for who she is, not for who anyone else wants her to be. She needs to be accepted without labels or definitions. She needs you.

I wish you were still here. I wish you were here to watch my middle one transform this year. She was always the one you gravitated towards, the one that gravitated towards you. Your death was the hardest on her, I think, and I think it still is. She asks about you more than the rest. She's nearly as tall as I am these days, not that it's saying much. She joined the track team and ran hurdles this year. She kicked them a few times, crashing and burning on the ground, but she'd get up and hobble to the finish line. Then she'd get up and do it again. She runs them because you did. She shaved quite a bit of time off her triathlon pace this year, and somehow convinced the rest to join her next time. Oh, and she volunteered to play tuba in the band. It's nearly as big as she is. She needs you in the stands, in the audience, on the sidelines. She needs someone to wipe her tears and tell her she can do it. You were always my biggest cheerleader, and she could use you now. She needs you.

I wish you were still here. I wish you were here, sitting in the dinner theater this week when the curtain opens on the first night of the rest of your grandson's life. He was scared to show up to that first audition, afraid he wouldn't be able to read the lines, unsure of what to expect. And he nailed it. This kid, the one who was just a baby when you left, he's amazing. He struggles with so much stuff in this world, but you'd never know it. He's happy, he's mellow, he's giving, he's stubborn and determined to do the things he loves even when it is hard. He makes me so proud, and I can just imagine how proud of him you'd be. He needs to know that there is a place in the world for people who don't fit into the boxes others try and shove him into. He needs to know that it's okay to be different. He needs to know that his passion is important. He needs you.

I wish you were still here. I wish you'd had a chance to meet our last, the one we named after you. I wish that you could see how much better we are at this whole parenting thing this time around. I wish you knew how much he helped me heal, how complete we are with him here. I wish that you could see how much his siblings adore him, and how much he loves them all. I wish that he could grow up in a world where you existed, in a life that included you. I wish that you weren't just stories and pictures in books and on walls. I wish he could crawl up into your lap and insist he isn't tired as he nods off to sleep. He doesn't even know that he needs you, but he does.

It is hard for me to fight off the envy this time of year. I see so many people my age talking about losing their grandparents. Most of them still have at least one parent. The envy is ugly, and I try to push it away. Really, I do. It hurts.

And it's not fair. None of it is fair. I shouldn't have to be here without you. My kids shouldn't have to grow up without you. They shouldn't have to face their upcoming milestones without you here.

It's not fair.

Then again, you were the one who drilled this truth into my brain: life's not fair, and then you die.

And it's true. I just wish it wasn't.

My kids, they need you. I need you.

This year has been a hard one for me. Harder than anyone really understands. There are so many times I have wished you were here to talk to. You could be harsh and abrasive at times, but you always seemed to know when I needed reassured that everything would be okay. No matter what happened, I could always come home. I could always call. You would always help. I've needed that a lot lately, and living in a world without you here sucks.

My kids, they need you. I need you.

The closest they come these days to you is us. I hear your voice in my husband sometimes...especially when he walks through the house turning off all the lights, again. Or when he's teasing the older ones. Or when he talks a big game like a tough guy, then sends me text messages telling me that he's fallen in love with the school the oldest wants to attend.

I hear you in my words, when I'm telling the kids to "do it right or you'll do it twice". When I tell them to make good choices as I send them off into the world for the day. When I quietly tell the oldest one to ignore what everyone else says, that I believe in him. That I always have.

You always come up whenever there are strawberries in the house. You were with me last night when I brought home a fresh tree even though I swore we weren't getting one this year. You told me to get the good one even though it was a little bit more, because even if I hate Christmas sometimes, smelling a fresh tree instantly transports me to a world where I am a little girl again working the tree lot with you, watching you help dreams come true for other families.

I got the tree, Dad.

It's a hell of a tree.

I love you, Dad. I miss you a whole bunch, especially right now.

Happy birthday.

Love,
Kelly

Friday, November 3, 2017

A story about a boy who became a young man, then learned to fly.

Dear Oldest,

I asked you yesterday if you wanted me to write something in honor of the fact that we are hosting your Eagle Scout Court of Honor tomorrow. You said you thought maybe I'd written something, or at least included it in some of the other things I've written, but as it turns out, I haven't said that much about it.

It was long enough ago that you've
changed significantly since this picture
was taken at your Board of Review.

You've been technically done with it now for several months, having your Board of Review so long ago I couldn't even tell you which month it was when it actually happened. We just hadn't gotten around to this formal part because, well, we live in a house with seven busy people. Drumline ate up most of your time in the spring, then it was summer and you wanted to wait until school started because you wanted to be able to invite more of your friends.

As is often the case in our house, we had to just pick a date and start planning. You know as well as I do, we'd be busy doing 17 other things tomorrow if we hadn't just decided to go ahead and send out invitations.

Your dad started working on a slideshow of pictures a few weeks ago. I haven't watched it because I can't. I mean, I will when there are people here obviously, and I'll do the best I can not to cry in front of everyone, but I will probably fail miserably.

You know this about me, though.

Your dad was a Boy Scout. He made it to the rank of Life, the one just below Eagle, before general adolescence and after school jobs and I came along as distractions. I've always said that I tried to get him to finish it, and I think he'd even agree, but it just didn't work out that way.

Before we even had children, we had the conversation about scouting. I'd never been involved, except for one Girl Scouts meeting my parents forced me to attend. They were sewing tiny little pillows. I turned around, walked out the door, never wanting to go back. My brother wasn't a scout. I didn't really know what all was involved, aside from what I saw while dating your dad. We debated whether we'd want our kids to join, especially after the controversies that the organization faced back then.

He was torn. I was sure I didn't want anything to do with the organization.

Then you came along.

As you got nearer and nearer to the age Cub Scouts starts, he grew restless. He was still conflicted, but found himself weighing all the things he had learned and experienced, all the friends he had made. You've heard his stories about the epic 50 mile backpacking trips, especially the one about the bear, more times than you can count. He loved being a Boy Scout.

The compromise was a simple one. I'd agree that you could join, but he had to be involved in leadership. He hesitated, but only for a moment. He wanted it for you that badly.

Little did I know that a decision made purely out of the fondness for his memories would lead us here, over ten years later.

They say that only 4% of kids who join scouting complete the Eagle rank. Out of your original Cub Scout Den, you're the only one who stuck it out until the end. Over those years, you were met with many decisions about what you wanted to do, which way you wanted to go. I think you were about 12 or 13 when you first mentioned that you wanted to finish it. I don't know that you realized just how much work was involved, but you set the goal.

To get there, you had to forgo other things, and some of those things are the things you love the very most in this world. Top of that list? You took a year off of winter drumline to finish up your last few badges and complete your project.

I know that it was probably the hardest decision you've made in your life so far. I know adults who would never be able to give up something they love that much, even if it was only for a year, so that they could complete a goal.

You begrudgingly chose to focus on Scouts, because you knew that the older you became, the harder it would be to finish. Can you imagine trying to get any of it done this year, with the class schedule you have right now? Your dad nudged you in this direction, urged you to learn from his time in Scouting, hoping that you'd make the choice, but left it to you.

We laid that decision at your feet and walked away.

And you did it.

I know how hard it was, seeing your friends go on to Worlds without you. You know what, though? They understood, which is why so many of them will be here to celebrate with you. The drums waited. And you're back now, leading the bass line, going to Worlds this year.

I've always been the peripheral parent to Scouting. Dad has always been the one more involved. I've been just far enough away to watch you grow and mature through the years, in part because of your journey in scouts. You've gone camping in the mountains in the winter. You've gone canoeing and fishing and shooting. You've designed a project to benefit the hospital you've been volunteering at for years. You've developed the discipline it takes to make hard choices, to see the benefit of long term goals. You've learned to write letters to elected officials and draft personal statements. You've put together presentations. You've become a leader for your troop, for your little brother's den.

You've grown up, matured, changed for the better.

You aren't the little boy who started on this path. You're a young man now, and I'm so proud of who you have already become and who you will someday be.

Spending time this week in preparation for this event, I got to really thinking about the Scout Law, and about how much you exemplify the ideals.

Trustworthy. You are honest, even when telling the truth is difficult.

Loyal. You might tease your friends and your siblings constantly, but you'll protect them to the ends of the Earth.

Friendly. You are a social butterfly, finding connections with people in so many different facets of life.

Courteous. You are well mannered and respectful, you understand the importance of gratitude.

Kind. You love big. You always have. It's just who you are. You are a natural caregiver.

Obedient. I've told you on numerous occasions that you broke me in gently as a parent, and I mean it. You have never had a behavior issue that couldn't be fixed by a snack and a nap.

Cheerful. You're an optimist, always seeing the best in people. Even living with me. (ha)

Thrifty. You are diligent about saving towards things you want, and those things are always, always, always instruments.

Brave. You take on new challenges, jumping in with both feet. You aren't afraid to fail, and even if you do, you dust yourself off and learn so that you can do it better next time.

Clean. Literally and figuratively, you're a good kid.

Reverent. Though we aren't a religious family, I've told you from the time you were young that spirituality isn't something tied to a book or a building. It's more than that. It's faith in something bigger than yourself. For you, it's the outdoors, but even more than that, it's music. That's where your center is, where you always go when you need to sort things out. I can always tell when you're working out something in your head, because you end up at the piano playing Mad, Mad World. 

I'm proud of you, sweetie.

I hope that you enjoy your day tomorrow, and I hope that everything you sacrificed to get here was worth it in the end. I love you.

Spread your wings and fly, Eagle.

Love,
Mom

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Meal Planning, Budgets, Recipes, Shortcuts and Tips.... or how to not hate feeding your family

This is one of those posts I have been meaning to write for a while now, but life keeps getting in the way. As it does.

I was prompted to write this one on a day last week when I saw at least 7 (but probably more) friends stressing about dinner in my newsfeed. Talking about whether they should do a meal subscription service. If so, which one? Do they need an instant pot? Why bother if all the kid will eat is the same three things? Allergies? Texture issues? Very limited budgets?

The biggest issue with these challenges is a simple one: it's endless. Ongoing. Every damn day. It isn't the kind of grown up life thing that happens only every so often, so you can ignore it for a while if needed. Nope. People have to eat every day. It never ever ends.

Then there is the matter of the dishes. THE DISHES. Shakes fist at the sky. Again. Like yesterday.

Also, I'll have you know that in order to even write this post, I'm postponing the morning round of kitchen cleaning. The things I do for you people...

Because there is a lot of information to cover here, I'm going to attempt to organize it in a way that makes sense. It might work. Heh.

Before I get there, a few disclaimers. First, I am sharing what I've learned over years of feeding a small army of humans. Second, there are always going to be pieces that might help you, pieces that might not work at all for your family. That's okay. I hope you find something in here that is useful. Take just that piece and use it, don't feel like this is some list of requirements or something. Third, the wonder of the internet means that apps and websites are forever changing and evolving. This info is current as of today.

STEP ONE : TAKE INVENTORY

Don't worry, this step doesn't involve scary accounting terms, just make a few lists.

1. Items you already have or keep stocked
Open the pantry, the fridge, the freezer. What is always in there? What do you always have? Are there staples that you always keep on hand? Is there stuff in there that you can't identify because it's been so long?

If there are pantry items that need to be used up, frozen foods that are approaching their use-by date, put an asterisk next to them. If you aren't sure how long food stays good for, use this handy chart.
We'll work on getting those used in a few steps.

Here's a pretty basic list of pantry staples you can use to assess your inventory. Feel free to ignore stuff you're never going to use. I buy just about all of these in bulk because we have so many people and I cook nearly all of our meals from scratch. I stocked up on mason jars to keep things fresh, and buy whatever I can from the bins in the bulk section of the store to reduce wasteful packaging. It's also a hell of a lot cheaper. Your quantities should be determined by how fast you'll likely use up the items. In other words, big box stores and huge quantities won't save you money in the long run if they spoil or you never use them. On the flip side, smaller quantities of just about anything that is packaged will be more expensive. Look for the per unit price, not the overall price, to tell if you are actually getting a good deal or not.

2. Things you already know how to cook confidently
I know it probably sounds weird to think of this as taking inventory, but it is essential. Brainstorm, then write down every meal you know how to make. Every meal the other people who cook in your house can make. My husband LOVES spreadsheets and entered them all into a Google sheet online (you can use this for free, and I love free things...they are my favorite). Don't discount any meal, no matter how simple it is. If you can make it and people can eat it, it gets put on the list. When I finally made this list, it was easily over 150 meals. I've since added more. You do not have to eat the same seven dinners every week...but if that kind of routine works, do it.

3. Things you'd like to learn how to make, but don't know how
Another list, I know. This is where you write down the things you'd like to learn how to cook. Don't be afraid to think big here, and include any meals from restaurants you like, foods from other cultures that you might not have attempted making before. Add them all. It's a fantasy list. Have you always wanted to learn how to make Beef Wellington? I have. Seriously, it is on my list. No, I still don't know how to make it.

I set a goal to attempt no more than one new recipe a week, if I'm feeling adventurous. Some weeks I just don't have the energy for that nonsense, so I go with the reliable meals.

4. Resources
What cookbooks do you have? Do you ever use them? Do you know what the terminology means? Does the difference between chopping and mincing matter? (short answer: sometimes) If you can get your hands on one, I highly recommend the America's Test Kitchen series, taken from the PBS series.

If you don't have cookbooks, don't worry. You're reading this on the internet! Hooray! The internet is FULL of recipes. Some websites are more likely to have reliable, tested recipes. I LOVE food.com and allrecipes.com, but here is a list of a whole bunch more.

allrecipes.com
foodnetwork.com
food.com
yummly.com
chow.com
epicurious.com

You're likely to have some degree of success with these websites. Also, anything Alton Brown, make it. Just trust me.

I have a 3 ring binder with clear sheet protectors. If a recipe is a success, it is allowed in the binder. If it fails, it goes into the trash.

Hit or miss places to find recipes include: Facebook videos (they look good, but I've had some horrendous failures), Pinterest (I really do love this site, BUT have had 50/50 success/failure with recipes here), and other blogs. I have a recipe blog, long neglected, if you're inclined. debiehivebuzz.blogspot.com.

STEP TWO: PLANNING AND SHOPPING
Depending on your budget limitations, this could go one way or the other. If dietary restrictions or picky eaters are you main constraint, and cost isn't the biggest issue, plan your menu first. If cost is your most limiting factor, plan your shopping first.

Either way, you'll end up with the same goals.

I learned a very long time ago that I hated grocery shopping with the fire of a billion suns. I go once a week, occasionally more often to pick up fresh produce if needed. I hate hate hate it. I also know that the only way I can feasibly stick to a weekly budget is to limit trips to the store, because even if you are planning just to get one thing, it's never just one thing. To limit those trips and costs, I meal plan, one week at a time.

If cost is your major constraint, build your menu based on seasonal produce and whatever meat on sale. Check the discounted meat section. ALWAYS. If there is something you might use in there, take it home and freeze it before it goes bad. If you're cooking that night, you can easily buy the bruised produce, the day old breads, and save some money. Look for sales on shelf stable goods and stock up when you are able. It may be better to buy meat in bulk and freeze it in smaller sections to use for multiple meals. A whole chicken costs much less per pound than cut chicken. Chicken thighs are much cheaper (and taste better) than white meat. Ground turkey is often cheaper than ground beef, even more so in bigger packages. Again, section and freeze into meal portions. On the flip side, frozen meat can be cheaper than fresh, depending on sales. There are some cuts of pork and beef that are very inexpensive, but do well in slow cookers, so save the money and get the cheaper cut. I buy all our beans, rice and pasta in bulk as well as other pantry staples because it is so much cheaper per meal.

I use a blank monthly calendar template. There are a million online. Do not pay for this. I print them out a few months at a time, because I like pens and paper. If you're a virtual person, good for you. There are calendar apps and list making apps too, but I can't tell you about them because I don't use them. Get off my lawn.


I fill in the calendar first with the dates, then any activities or obligations we have BEFORE I even think about meals. If I know that we're going to be at a high school football game one night, I plan a meal that works for that. If I know that we're going to be home all day, I'll save longer prep meals for those days.

In our house, we aim for 2 vegetarian meals a week. More involved dinners with longer cook and prep times only get made on weekends. Nights that I am working, there's usually a crockpot involved. Busy school nights, I focus on quicker, easier dinners. I do not have an Instant Pot, but people swear by them. I do have two crockpots that get used multiple times a week. Sheet pan dinners are also quick and easy. 

When you are planning out the meals for the week, check over that inventory list. What frozen stuff needs used up? Spare produce that will go bad before the end of the week? Work it in.

There are some amazing apps and websites out there that will help with planning around certain ingredients, or avoiding them for allergy (or picky eater) purposes. Yummly.com allows you to build groups of recipes that exclude items.

A few sites that find recipes based on specific ingredients are supercook.com, myfridgefood.com and myrecipes.com.

Have a recipe that you really want to try, but someone is allergic to one ingredient? Have everything except one ingredient to make that meal? Look for substitutions here. I kid you not, there are ways to make dairy free, egg free, gluten free things that taste good. I promise.

If there is a way to bundle recipes that use shared ingredients, do it, that way you won't waste anything remaining. If you're looking to make meals that will have leftovers, plan your quantities of ingredients accordingly.

Certain meals are easier to make in larger quantities than others, such as the baked penne I made last weekend. LUNCHES FOR EVERYONE.


Once you get the meal list done, make your list. Start with whatever pantry staples need replenished, whatever items you routinely buy. Then add breakfast items or whatever you need to pack lunches. Then go through the menu day by day, adding whatever ingredients you need. Snack options in my house are generally fruit and whatever other snack item was on sale that week. Good luck kids!

I use online coupons that get loaded directly to my card (Kroger stores). It's another step yes, but doesn't take too long, plus it saves money.

STEP THREE: PREP AND COOKING
This is actually the part that I don't mind. When I was pregnant the last time, we did a decent amount of prepping and freezing meals ahead of time since I knew I was having a c-section. It was a lifesaver, and there is really no good reason that I don't do it more often. This is the list we used, plus a few extra recipes. These are all freezer-to-crockpot meals.  If you are generally pressed for time, weekend prep and freeze sessions are amazing. Buy meat in bulk, section it into meal portions and freeze, or cook it ahead. Mashed potatoes can be made in huge amounts, then used for the next day's meal with just a simple reheating. Roast a chicken one night, make stock for soup the following day.

Frozen cut vegetables are generally very inexpensive, often even cheaper than fresh and there is zero room for shame in my life for using them copiously. Frozen, diced, cooked chicken is so amazing in quick meal prep that I feel like it's my dirty little secret, but seriously....I love this stuff. It's cheap too. If you know that you've got a few nights of prep work ahead, cut the vegetables all at once, and bag them in the fridge for the next day. Need browned ground beef for two meals? Do it all together, save half.

If there are other people in your house eating, then there are other people in your house that can help prep or cook. Even young kids can help with many aspects of cooking. And everyone can do dishes. I also started teaching the kids to cook, and each night one of them is supposed to help with dinner. It's SO MUCH more work in the beginning, but they do end up being helpful once they get the basics down.

I do not work as a short order cook. I do not make separate dinners for my kids. I do not make them something else if they don't like what was prepared. If you want to do those things, more power to ya. Honestly. Me? I'm making one dinner a night. Most kids will learn to eat most foods with enough time and persistence. (seriously, last night my 14 year old told me she finally likes this one type of rice I make. ***takes victory lap***). The way we have always handled it was this way: you have to try a bite. If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it. There's the cereal. Even with sensory issues, texture issues, a few go-arounds with elimination diets, and strict dietary restrictions, most of my kids are adventurous eaters.

Also, Spaghettios are a meal. So is cereal. Not every night has to be fancy.

STEP FOUR: DISHES
Ugh. Dishes. Speaking of which, I need to go do mine.

I'm sure that I missed a ton of stuff, so ask me questions. I'll edit and add things as we go. Good luck!

Monday, September 18, 2017

To the one determined to fix everything...

Hey sweetheart. It's actually a few days past your birthday, but I didn't get a chance to do this before it came...probably due at least in part to the fact that I'm spending an hour a day just trying to get you to take a nap these days.



You don't want to go to sleep. Something exciting might happen and you might miss it, which is unacceptable. "No nigh night". On repeat. Every day.

You're three now. You tell me all the time that you are a big boy, not a baby, but the way you are loved on and spoiled by everyone else in the house tells me that you're going to stay the baby forever whether you want to or not, so you might as well enjoy it.




Your current obsession, and by obsession I truly mean OBSESSION, is tools. All the tools. With a tool belt and a tool box and a fix-it hat and a work bench. They have to go with you everywhere you go, just in case something needs to be fixed. You love Bob the Builder, you love Handy Manny. You even adore those house renovation shows your sister forces you to watch. Anything with a tool.

When we were talking about your birthday, you naturally wanted a fix-it birthday....except that apparently not enough other kids your age are as enamored with this stuff as you are, because those plates and napkins just don't exist outside of online orders. So, I ended up having to make you a cake which wasn't the worst thing in the world. It wasn't so much a cake as it was a construction zone.

I'm not even sure you ate any cake because you were so busy digging in it.



Busy. That's a good word for you.

Systematically testing the fences for weaknesses, you can jump the gates and be out the door in mere seconds. You are nearly inconsolable every day when all your people leave in the morning, and ecstatic when they come home. You have already learned which sister is the fun sister and which sister is the one who will console you and give you whatever you want. You know which brother will sit and watch movies with you and which one will play in the dirt. You know that if you ask all of them, they'll all drop whatever they are doing and play hide and seek with you.

You've got them wrapped around your little finger, dude.



You moved rooms this summer, sharing with one of your big brothers now. You gave up the crib too, sleeping (I use the term loosely, of course) in the fire truck bed that once belonged to him. The fire truck bed that is a duplicate of the one your oldest brother had when he was your age.

(Your mom is far more sentimental than she lets on...)



You started learning some of your letters, love cutting paper even if it means you have to stick your tongue all the way out. You hated story time the first few times we went, telling me that the library was full of "scary kids", but you've adjusted to how the whole thing works. You even (gasp) touched the parachute at parachute time today and then talked and talked and talked about the parachute when you were supposed to be sleeping.



You're silly, on purpose. You already tell jokes, which is honestly a little scary. You pick up all of our phrases and mannerisms, the funniest of which is how you have to adjust your hat exactly like your Dad does. He didn't even realize that he does it as often as he does until you started mirroring him.

Then there is the standing leg crossing that has to happen all the time, just because you see us do it. Even when it means you fall over.



You are terrified, TERRIFIED, of any bug that flies right now, after being stung by a wasp in the head twice this summer. It's understandable, and also really cute when you freak out over a butterfly. You're slowly realizing they aren't trying to eat you, and I get the hesitation. I try not to laugh. Honest.

Your hair is still as our of control as it ever was, and will stay that way for as long as you have hair, thanks to the wonder of that double crowned head of yours. Now, you know that it's pointy and so you just tell people you have pointy hair whenever anyone comments on it. Which is hilarious.



You love getting muddy in the backyard and playing with the hose so much that your dad had to disconnect the valve on the back. Taking the hose off wasn't enough. You learned how to connect it. Five kids, and you're the first one we had to do that with. High five, man. Whenever he forgets, though, and leaves it connected, your spider sense tingles and within seconds you are out there, spraying the dog, your siblings, anyone who tries to wrestle the hose out of your tiny little hands.

Your eyebrows carry more expression in them than most people have in their entire bodies.



I have to get this done before you wake up since any amount of distraction on my part means that you've disassembled some part of the house. Or started eating ice cream out of the carton with a serving spoon. Again.

Sleep well, my little boy who insists he is a big boy and isn't a baby except for when he climbs up into my arms and rests his sweaty head on my chest. Recharge those batteries. Your brothers and sisters will be home soon and it's your turn to be "it".

Happy birthday, sweet boy.

Love,
Mama

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Groundhog Day

I woke up this morning and it was Groundhog Day, but not the kind in the movie where one person is subject to the same repeating set of circumstances and trying to change them to escape the monotony, but the kind where I asked for this monotony in the first place. Dreamt about it, in fact. Never believed I would be allowed to have it, fought for it, wished for it with every ounce of my being. I created this monotony. With intention.

Wake up, get teenagers out the door, make smoothies, kiss husband goodbye, engage in a game of twenty questions on the way to middle school, at least half of them generally about my abundant failures as a mother, then the daily conversation with the kid transitioning back to public school about why he's going and why he needs to go every day and why we are doing this and reminding him that he actually likes it, and then finally getting him to get out of the car...and then the real part of groundhog day starts when I attempt to tire the toddler out enough that he will nap so that I can have a moment of time to myself, never knowing if it will be successful or if I will spend three hours this afternoon begging him to sleep because I need him to sleep because I can't take it anymore.

For the love of god, child. Nap.

I'd almost entirely forgotten how isolating being home alone with a toddler all day long is. Almost. I remembered, of course, because I have been here so many times before, but I'd forgotten as a survival technique, one passed down since the beginning of time that allows and encourages us to have more kids when we begin to forget just how bad it was in this stage.

I've forgotten many times. It comes back. It always comes back.

I don't need to be reminded that I'm fortunate to be home. I don't need scolded for complaining about mothering. This isn't some declaration to the world that I resent my child or children or husband or life. I've done away with those who make those accusations because mothers are their own worst enemies. Yes, I'm looking at you. I know with certainty that I will one day miss this age and this time and this smothering and this constant need and I know it because I have been here before time and time again. I know.

And yet, I'd forgotten.

There is tired and there is a soul-leeching kind of tired that goes so far beyond physical exhaustion. There is tired and there is this.

This child, I wonder, is he really more demanding than his siblings were at this age or am I just older now? Did the others push my buttons so constantly and have I just forgotten, or has he discovered novel ways to drain my life force? I can't honestly tell. It's been a while since I have had to endure this isolating constant demand every single day.

There are always people who say things like, "it will be so much easier with just one home", "you'll have so much time with just the baby", "you'll finally have a break". My husband of all people uttered some of those words, and when I looked at him with eyes that could bore a hole through his soul, he immediately understood just how wrong he'd been. Or maybe he did. Maybe he doesn't really understand, but maybe he has learned to trust my judgment better since we are doing this now for the fifth time. Again, I can't really tell.

Briefly for a time there I wasn't "just" a mother. I was a teacher too, but not even just a mother and a teacher. I had a limitless list of goals and standards and resources and materials and I was the administrator and the educator and still the wife and the mother and the chauffeur and the chef and all the other things. And you know what? I was damned good at it almost all of the time.

More than that, it was the first time in my nearly 17 years as a mother when I didn't feel like I was just a mother, and it was the first time when I was treated by everyone around me as just a mother. My husband, my family, my own children. I had some other redeeming societal value beyond serving them.

And then it was gone.

Putting my son back into public school, even with me still working with him on virtually all of the things I had been when he was here full time, has caused a great shift in my identity. Again.

Who am I now? Am I just a mother again? Is that all?

The fact that I actually started working outside the home in this intervening time, by the way, is of no consequence here. I don't even really remember who I used to be anymore, have no idea who I'll one day be, away from all this, and so I go to that job to pretend. To escape from this.

I don't even write very often anymore, though it represents such a huge piece of my identity. The reasons at least as plentiful as the number of children I have. I don't write because I don't have time. I don't write because when I do get a break, literally all I want to do is sleep. I don't write because it frustrates me to live in a world where the work of creators is so arbitrarily rewarded. I don't write because I am not in the best state of mental health and haven't been for a while, and even though I am better than I was doing a few months ago, my absence here is indicative of my overall well-being. I don't write because I am tired of writing about my dead parents, but I know I'm not done writing about my dead parents and will probably never be done writing about my dead parents and maybe that it just part of the shitty reality of having dead parents. I don't write because I don't like to accept these truths. I don't write because I am completely fucking exhausted from arguing with people and having strangers tell me how to live my life and for a long time I tried to keep them around, convincing myself that someday, somehow I could make them understand and gain some empathy, but then I realized that they weren't budging and I was only harming myself, and so I've started to remove them from my life, even if they were only ever part of my virtual life anyway, but also even when they have been real presences in my actual life.

I haven't written about this summer and probably won't write about this summer in detail ever, but suffice to say that it was awful in so many different ways, and I know with absolute certainty that the kids going back to school won't make things better and may create new problems but I'm still relieved sometimes to see them walk out the door for a few hours. And maybe that makes me a horrible mother. I'm sure that some people would categorize me that way, but those people don't know what we've been dealing with, what I've been dealing with either directly or indirectly more than anyone else because it is the mothers who shoulder the bulk of the load for all of this worry. It just is.

I'm not looking for validation or answers or sympathy, either. Instead, I am attempting to demonstrate how motherhood somehow simultaneously came to be the most important responsibility I will ever have and nowhere near enough. For me, for them, for any of us.

How can it be both of those absolutes at the same time? Who did this? Why is our society built this way?

Obviously the answer lies in the patriarchy, but us, the mothers of the past and present, we're complicit in it all. And for what? So that we can feel like successes and failures both constantly?

There has to be a better way. There must. Which direction that path goes, though, and who builds it, I don't know. I'm too fucking busy and exhausted.

Motherhood is exhaustion, love, resentment (yes, it's there in some form) and guilt for all of the above.

Guilt for loving them more than myself, more than my partner, more than my parents; and then living constantly with the consequences of each truth.

Men, fathers, it seems, don't have these choices thrust upon them, or if they do, they're more able, encouraged and expected to compartmentalize everything while we're expected to mesh it all together seamlessly and endlessly in between trips to the gym and healthy dinners until the day our children leave us and we are left here, having forgotten entirely who we are.

I see the effects of this disconnect constantly, as a doula, as a mental health advocate, particularly one working with new mothers, just being introduced to the fresh hell we expect of them.

We don't have a village. We have the people who show up with the pitchforks and tell you how you're doing it wrong, but we don't have a village of people who will ever help you when you need it. We don't. Do it on your own, mom, and do it all perfectly, or we're coming for you. If you haven't learned to question everything you are doing and learned to hate yourself and question why you ever wanted to have children in the first place, give it a few days or weeks or months. It'll come.

It will come and slap you on the face when you're standing in the middle of a grocery store with a screaming toddler, having forgotten why you were there in the first place.

It will come when you are being paged to the daycare room at the gym because that one time you finally managed to combine the self loathing with enough motivation to work out failed epically because your kid won't stop crying.

It will come when you cringe but smile and nod when someone tries to tell you that you'll miss this time someday, makes you feel guilty for not adoring every single second.

It will come the first time your kid shares a class birthday with a mom who has to out-mom you.

It will come when a kid leaves your house with a goody bag full of stuff you didn't want to buy for ungrateful children who ask, "is this all we get?"

It will come when you look around and realize that everything nice you once owned is broken or ruined or sticky or gone.

It will come when someone asks when you're going back to work and you calculate how many years it has been since you worked in that field you were once passionate about but will never get hired into now because you are old and ragged and worn down and have different priorities.

It will come when your last kid goes to school and you stare at the wall wondering what the hell you are supposed to do now.

It will come, because it always does, and sometimes it will come relentlessly and constantly. If you're willing to deal with all of the people shaming you for feeling these feelings and you dare speak it aloud, other mothers will reach out. Quietly. Usually privately.

And they will say, "me too", and you will know that you aren't alone. None of us are, really. We just never managed to construct that village for ourselves and each other until we were already here.

And we will do nothing to fix it because we are too exhausted.

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

To the one always tucked under my wing...

Dear Chicken,

I wrote yesterday about how I almost forgot that we'd changed your nickname here. Someone asked me shortly afterward what it means, "Chicken". Most people probably think it's some reference to you physically somehow, but it isn't that at all. It has to do with the fact that since you were the tiniest little baby, you've been a tucker. A burrower. Fairly often nestled under my arm, up near my ribs. Even now, you still do it. When you're really tired or sick or frustrated with the world, you'll still draw your legs up under both you and me, and get fully tucked in.

Under my wing.

I'm the Chicken Mama. I just might stay that way forever, and I'd be okay with that.

It's your ninth birthday. Nine years since you showed up that stormy August afternoon. The air was heavy and damp, the barometric pressure helping you along in the way that it seems to. You were, at the time, the earliest of my babies. Knowing that you were so early, knowing that you were a boy, knowing all the problems your brother had down at sea level with its abundance of oxygen, I worried. I was afraid that you'd have an even rougher time than he had.

And then you came. Itty bitty with those tiny little legs, but breathing well without any help. I didn't really breathe that sigh of relief for a few hours, always thinking the nurse was going to come and take you away to the NICU. But you stayed. Nestled and tucked.

You were a feisty baby, wanting to crawl and walk and run and jump as soon as you were able. I think you were barely two years old the first time I found you on top of the refrigerator. You haven't ever stopped climbing since...until this summer when you broke your arm. Two places, not one, because you are an overachiever.

For your birthday today, you got to go back to school. Happy birthday? I know it isn't exactly what you had in mind for today, or for any birthday really. Especially this time around.

I thought you'd be home this year. The stacks of curriculum materials remind me of it constantly. I know you thought you'd be home this year too. We all did, until an opportunity arose and we jumped at the chance. And maybe it works and maybe it doesn't, but we know that there are always options if we need them.

I know that you're nervous about going back because that last time went so badly. I know. I'm scared too. I want to swoop in and tuck you under my wing and fly away from all the things that scare us both. But I can't. It's my job to nudge you, to nudge myself right along with you, to do the things that are scary sometimes.


Of course, as I am writing this, you are at lunch recess, probably playing with all the friends you've already made. As I am writing this, your fears and worries are probably fading away into the midday breeze. I am confident that you will be okay. I am.

And I'm confident because you are okay. You're so very different than you were the last time you were in that space. You're not just a few years older, but you're more aware, you're more observant, you're more empathetic to others. You've got a toolbox full of skills you didn't have back then, and only a few of them have anything at all to do with school.

I know you're going to be okay, but I'm going to miss having you around all the time too.

This year I've watched you grow up so much in so many ways. When Dad went to the scout store to pick up your new uniform shirt, he called me and asked how long you were going to stay in. I asked you. Your immediate response, "Eagle". And you just might do it too. Watching your brother finish his, you know what an accomplishment it would be and how much hard work is involved....but hard work is basically your favorite thing anyway.

You're always the one offering to help with projects around the house. With cleaning. With dinner. You even offer to help with the things no one else wants to, the things they all run away from. You aren't afraid to get dirty or sweaty, blisters are badges of honor in your world. While some of your siblings are content to stay inside where the wifi is, you're out in the yard seeing how deep that hole can get before the day's end.

You amaze me sometimes with how your mind works, so different from my own. It seems like any time I'd present you with a new concept in math, you'd sit with it for a few seconds, then come up with some way to solve it I'd never imagined. You don't just think outside of the box, you deconstruct the box and use it for scaffolding to build something more amazing. I can't even explain half of the things your brain can comprehend so quickly...you just have a way of figuring things out. Solving problems. Seeing it all differently.

It's refreshing. And humbling for me, as both your parent and teacher, because you're constantly making me question what I think I know, making me realize just how little is certain and how much is possible.

In much the same way it has worked for your brother, your love of math has translated to a deep love of music. Never fall out of love with it, never. I know that we'll have to work a little harder to get your hands on all those instruments now that you're back in school full time, but we have our own mini symphony at home. The piano is always open for business here. And you can do choir now too, jazz hands included.

I'm so proud of you that I could burst sometimes, and I was never more proud of you than I was this morning walking into school.

I asked you if you were okay. You said no.

I asked you if you were nervous, your eyes filling with tears you managed to fight back. You said yes.

Then you grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the door.

You did it. 

Like I wrote just yesterday, being brave isn't about not being scared. It's about being afraid and doing the things that scare us anyway.

You're still the bravest person I've ever known.

I love you.

Happy birthday, sweetheart.

Love you more first,
Chicken Mama

Monday, August 14, 2017

Before you go to school this year, 2017

I asked you all yesterday if you still wanted me to write this post. You're getting older, you deeply enjoy your independence and privacy, and yet still demand that I do this thing. Kinda like the birthday letters every year that I'll apparently never stop writing.

It's a little ironic, since this blog started all those years ago as a way to chronicle your childhoods, then morphed into whatever it is today, albeit now complete with nicknames to preserve your identities.

Then again, it isn't like I've been writing much anyway...

Two of you will go back tomorrow, two more on Wednesday, and then it will be me and the toddler staring at each other all day every day. I'm sort of excited about that but also dreading it at the same time because I am your mother and your mother is an emotional minefield when school starts anyway, but this year especially.


Let's just get this over with. Next year, I'll have to write five of these things. Gulp.

To The Oldest...
I cannot believe that you are going to be a Junior this year. Are a Junior. As in only have one more year of high school left after this one and then college will happen. I suspect that you'll end up going to that very-nearby school, and so you won't be GONE gone, but it will still be different. And weird. And the house will feel a little more empty. I'll still worry as much, if not more, though, because that is how I operate. You've changed what you want to be when you grow up a few times in this last year, which is totally fine by me. In fact, I encourage it. I want you to try out new things and decide what you actually like to do and discover that what you thought you might love is indeed something that you loathe. It's waaaaay easier to change your mind now than it ever will be further down the road, so try on some stuff while you can. Besides, I don't even know what I want to be when I grow up yet, so I can't reasonably expect that you should know. 

In the past year, you finished up your Eagle rank in scouting (though we still haven't had your Court of Honor because we're busy people with procrastination issues), you got your license (and FINALLY calmed the hell down about driving after you passed the test, which is a good thing because you were really freaking me out there for a while), you won another state championship with drumline, earned an academic letter and an invitation to National Honor Society, and pulled off damn good grades while doing band and volunteering. You got even taller (which, really, is that going to stop soon because it's going to get hard to find pants eventually...), and it's been surreal to watch your face and your silhouette morph from awkward teenager to young man. It really is the weirdest thing to watch happen. People who don't actually live you with you can see the changes because they are so dramatic, but the reality is that the degree of those changes was enough for your dad and I to witness it from day to day. SO WEIRD. In the best possible way, but still strange. 

I know that you are already worried about your class load this year. 5 AP classes at once is, in a word, RIDICULOUS. I mean, come on. It's a lot and it's going to be a lot, so hang on to those mental happy fun time vacations in band and try not to stress too much, even if that battery time signature is almost impossible. Time management is an important life skill, and you're really going to need it this fall. I will make you take breaks. I will force you to sleep and eat. I will shove you outside to go run off that frustration. I will remind you to go swim laps at the pool because you're the one who promised your sister you'd do the triathlon with her next year. 

Mostly, though, enjoy this time. There isn't much of it left, this adolescence. Laugh, play, do jazz hands, make occasional bad decisions (but not too bad or permanent, please). Squat on all the things. I love you. So does your Dad. He's just messing with you. But you already knew that....

To Freckles....
HIGH SCHOOL ALREADY?!?!?! What happened, kid? When I was filling in the breaks for the school year on the family calendar yesterday, I had to write down that it was going to be your 15th birthday next year, which is not possible. You were just six years old, wearing enormous sunglasses, utterly convinced that you were Sharpay from  High School Musical.

You can't be going to high school. 

But you are. Mostly because you don't listen to me anyway. You do your own thing. March to your own drummer...but never ever in actual drumline because that is your brother's thing and ewwwww. This year has been one full of changes and drama and hard things for you. You've forced yourself to do so many things that I know you didn't actually want to do, or maybe you partly wanted to do them but were afraid, and then you went and did them anyway. You've stood up to adults when you had to, you've fought for what is right more times than I could count. You've helped make an entire school a safer, more welcoming place for kids who might not have a safe welcoming place anywhere. 

You did that. I just showed up occasionally and brought snacks. 

You've spent another year volunteering at the Humane Society, hanging out with all the cats because you are actually a human cat, entirely convinced of your independence, but always wanting to know that I'm not too far away. Not too close either. 

I know that you're a little (okay a lot) nervous about school this year because there are so many changes coming, but it will be okay....and it will be okay because I've known you for your whole entire life, and I know that sometimes I just have to slow down and kick you out of the car, then drive away super fast before you can hop back in. And once you're there, you don't just survive whatever the new and scary thing is, you kick its ass. Because you're amazing. 

Even if you are officially taller than me now. Gosh. 

Bravery isn't about not being afraid. It's about being afraid and doing the right thing anyway. Keep doing the right thing. I'll keep abandoning you in parking lots and dropping off snacks periodically. I love you, and I'm proud of you. Dad basically is you, just an older, balder male version of you, and he thinks he is awesome, so naturally he thinks the same about you. *winky face*

To Mini Me...
This might actually be the calmest year yet for you, with the least amount of changes ever...and just thinking about that has me giddy. GIDDY, I tell you. You don't do change well. You come by that honestly. This year, though, should be smooth sailing. Same school, same teachers, nothing dramatic in the foreseeable future. ALL GOOD THINGS.

I know you are trying to decide between doing swimming and volleyball for the fall, but the gravity of a decision like that one is something I am welcoming in my life right now. Last year, it was the whole reintroduction to public school after being homeschooled thing, and it went way easier than I anticipated it ever would or could, mostly because of your social butterfly-ness. You really do love the people. 

For the first time in maybe ever, you'll also be on your own in a school without a single sibling present. You just get to be you, not so and so's sister, although honestly I don't see how people could ever really confuse you with your older siblings because you are all as different as can possibly be. 

For this year, keep trying new things. If you want to switch instruments, do it. If you want to try a different sport, do it. If you meet new friends and want to spend time with different groups of people, do it. If you fall in love with the art class you are currently convinced you are going to hate but I'm encouraging you to try anyway, do it (okay, this is me being optimistic here...)

Keep cooking and baking and making us watch all those cooking and baking shows. Keep taunting your siblings into joining you in the 5ks and triathlons. It's good for them, and for you. Keep making Dad take you out fishing and backpacking and hiking, and always make sure he stops at the video game place on the way home. Every time. I know you will make sure. 

Stay passionate about fighting for justice and fairness. I'll be the first to tell you that it can get exhausting, seeing things about the world that other people are content to ignore...but never ever ignore them just because you can. Drag out a spotlight instead. As you do.

You come by that part honestly, too. After all, you got that nickname for a reason. I love you. Have an amazing year. 

To Little Boy (a.k.a. Chicken)...
I haven't written much here lately, so I almost forgot that we switched your nickname...since you aren't so little anymore. Chicken still fits though, and I am perfectly content to still be the Chicken Mama. 

This year....oh, this year....big changes for you. Sudden, too. But, as you will learn many times in your life, sometimes you have to seize an opportunity, think happy thoughts and jump in with both feet. Right now, that leap of faith is one where you go back to public school. You're even going back to the same school. But it isn't the same school, not really anyway. The building is the same. It's filled with a lot of the same people. But it's a completely different place now. It just feels right. 

I learned a very long time ago to trust my instincts when it comes to my kids, and this time, my gut told me this was the right time and the right place for you to go back. I know that you are nervous, unsure of what to expect, afraid that what happened last time might happen again. I know. And I will do everything in my power to try and comfort those fears...but I'm nudging you back out there for a reason. A simple one, really.

Because it feels like the right thing to do.

You need it, my child who loves the people the very most. You need the daily friends and the constant interaction. You need a break from dealing with a toddler all day too. I mean, obviously the downside is that you'll have to wear pants. That's unfortunate, but there is a price to pay for everything, right?

You've grown up so much these last two years being home. You've learned so much. You've flourished in ways I didn't even think possible. You aren't the little boy you were back then. 

You aren't. You are this strong and determined and confident kid now. And I'm proud of you. I hope, hope, hope that this year is a good one. I feel like it will be. And if it isn't, there's always other options. We know that now. Some of them don't even require pants. I love you.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

7th Annual Photography Challenge Contest!!!

It's time for all that hard work to pay off!!! Before we get to the contest this year, I wanted to take a minute to thank you all for participating. Every year, this challenge gets bigger and bigger...and YOU get more and more talented. It is always hard to choose photos for the contest with so many wonderful submissions! Thank you, everyone!

These are the 20 nominees for the contest this year.  Each will be captioned and then numbered, at random.  To vote, please click on your favorites in the poll.  It is on the left margin of the blog.


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You can vote for more than one picture if you'd like, I will set it up so that you may vote for one or all of them. The only way for votes to be properly counted is to register them in the poll. Leaving a comment isn't enough. The poll may only be visible on web editions, not mobile. If you are on a cell phone, click the link at the bottom of the post to "view web version", which will allow you to vote. The voting will end at Noon MST, Wednesday, July 12th.

Anyone who visits this page can vote, so get your friends to join!

Also, if you're on a web version, you can click the images to enlarge them and scroll through them easier.


The prizes you are all playing for are listed at the bottom, with links to the amazing sponsors. Please show them some love and good luck!




CONGRATULATIONS TO THIS YEAR'S WINNER, ANGELA LINTON-CANFIELD!!!


1. Lighthouse
Jennifer Tallman

2. Firebreather
Holly Rexroad

3. Irises
Kelly Ceschin Acker

4. Bubble
Kate McAllister

5. Gravity
Carolyn Mears

6. Snail
Angie Simas

7. Prom
LaTonya Davis
8. Ocean
Maureen Corcoran Maslauskas

9. Blacksmith
Sarah Hovey Bouvier

10. Bee
Katie Duff

11. Rays
Mark Rodriguez

12. Bamboo
Heather Fleshman

13. Feline
Paula Gill

14. Wheel
Gretchen Chateau

15. Reflection
Melissa Zamora

16. Tracks
Tiffany DeHart

17. Barn
Angela Linton-Canfield

18. Horse
Davis Larsen

19. Shinedown
Deb Nelson

20. Ashley DeBie
Luna



2017 PRIZE CONTRIBUTORS!!!!

SLOMBIE from The Crumb Diaries
$100 credit from Heather & Arick Reese
Custom Personalized Funko Pop from Alicia Belden
Jewelry from Penny Jules

Handmade Hoop Art by Punkin Monkey Boutique

I Just Want to be Perfect, courtesy of Chrissy Woj

Orange Essential Oils from Young Loving,
courtesy of Magan Sattler

Salt/sugar bath bomb sets from Dreamscents Parfumerie


Corn heat/cold therapy bags from Mom Cave Designs

Handmade washcloth and Sampler Set from Elysium Botanicals

Pampered Chef items from Jen Cooke

Custom family cross stitch from Rhiannon Sykes Jordan

Wonder Woman Jamberry set from Rhiannon Sykes Jordan 

doTERRA Serenity oils from Camie Kirkevold

Beer infused beard oil sampler from Beer'd



Twin Peaks, The True Story

Nail polish from Bad Bitch Polish

Custom Tumbler from Team Burns Designs

Custom Tumbler from 5K Kustom

LEGO earrings from Maria Ostrowski








Pearl bracelet valued at $90 from Jessica Wilson, Vantel Pearls
$35 store credit from Erika's LuLaRoe VIPs
Super Surprise Box of Awesomenessfrom Cheese Doodle Dad
Jam/pickle/chai sampler from Nikki Ewing













Also up for grabs:

- Coffee and wine basket from Sammie Prescott  at Raising Taters!
Prizes are subject to change because life happens. 

Thank you again to all who participated and contributed prizes!!!! GOOD LUCK!!!!!

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