Monday, December 9, 2013

Kids Say the Darndest (Sometimes Worrisome) Things

You can learn a lot from driving a carpool.  For instance, I've learned that a carful of kids may cause permanent hearing loss in a mere five minutes.  Especially if they are yelling "Do you like chili-ghetti?!?" at random strangers as we drive past, in a sort of non-scientific public opinion poll.   You can also glean valuable information regarding which girls the boys "like" and who said something funny in class.  This insider knowledge can then be used as leverage to get your boys to do their chores or be nice to one another!

My friends and I joke that our boys are the "goody-goody" type.  (Hey, there are definitely worse things!)  We call them "the squares" because they are so studious and conscientious and supportive of all the boys in their group.  Sometimes they surprise me with their focus on school even in the midst of other activities.  Case in point: on one return trip from lacrosse I had three sweaty players packed into my car.  You'd think after a strenuous practice they'd be discussing something testosterone-y.  Nope.  I hear "Dude, dude..." (because boys start every sentence like this)  "hey, what's your lexile score?"  Uh huh.  They want to know who is reading at or above grade level.

So maybe that one time was a fluke.  Certainly they are back there gossiping and swearing and plotting diabolical pranks, wouldn't you think?

My friend told me that her husband came home shaking his head at the conversation he heard on the way to another practice.  Our two boys were discussing the time they met at Cub Scout Camp as younger siblings and how they immediately knew they'd be great friends.  But there was worry because "I didn't know if I'd ever get to see you again!" (Never mind that they went to the same school and were in the same grade...)  They refer to this meeting as their friendship anniversary.  How cute is that?

Last week I was treated to a critique on music.
  • Dude! Dude!  Do you like this new Eminem song?  Personally, I like his solo stuff more than the duets.
  • Yeah, there's a lot more swearing in his old stuff.
They moved on to a discussion of other musical likes and dislikes and I predicted that in true "square" fashion they'd end with a Kumbaya-type pronouncement that it's all good.  I was totally shocked when the conversation switched and took on a different tone:
  • Dude, I hate stuff by Katy Perry or Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift.
  • Yeah, they suck. (cue high-pitched imitation of current pop hits).
  • I'd like to stab them in the back.
  • Yeah dude! Hey, write a song about this: "I'm dead because I got stabbed in the back but my music still sucks!"  (cue scary maniacal laughter from the back seat).
Dude.  That's when I readjusted my rearview mirror to keep a closer eye on those sweet, innocent, lovable boys. 

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Gobble Gobble!

The smell of turkey in the oven still brings me back to my childhood kitchen on Thanksgiving.  This despite the fact that as an adult I've spent more holidays in my own house trying to replicate the feasts of my younger years.  Never mind that my husband and I clogged up our kitchen sink with the skins from 10 pounds of potatoes the first year we hosted Thanksgiving dinner.  My father-in-law had to snake a mile of pipe to clear the soggy mess.  A few traditions have changed however.  For the better I'd argue.

Take cranberry relish.  My family always had the canned cranberry jelly that was splayed artistically across a serving dish.  Round slabs of wiggly reddish-purple tartness proudly bore their ridges from the oh-so-elegant tin can (because I think it was actually chemical-leaching tin back in the day).  It's a shocker that I left this tradition in the dust, right?  Personally I like the kind of chunky, sweet cranberry sauce with ingredients that you can actually identify and enjoy.

My family would move the kitchen table to the family room and add a few extension pieces to accommodate everyone.  I loved seeing the festive decorations: the same accordion-folded paper turkey centerpiece and taper candles were trotted out each year.  We lit those candles just long enough for the dinner and then blew them out and stored them in the hall closet for the next year.  After my father died my brothers and I were cleaning out the house and happened to find a stash of mid-length, ashy holiday candles, patiently waiting for their next job.  I took that silly Hallmark paper turkey.  He'll make his long-awaited return to the spotlight this week... if he doesn't crumble first.

When the guests arrived they were always dressed nicely in deference to the holiday celebration.  My Grandma wore her dress, nylons, and sensible low-heeled shoes, with the requisite tissue tucked up her sleeve for any unforeseen emergency tissue purposes.  My Nana came in a purple mumu ensemble (always purple) with loads of rings and necklaces.  My brothers and I had to wear nice church clothes as well.  It was festive and felt like a special occasion.  My boys fight me now and insist on wearing their dirty old t-shirts with sweats, their hair all greasy and unbrushed because it's their vacation (and who would dare make them think about personal hygiene when they're away from school I ask you).

So I still dress up, as was our family tradition.  A few years ago I even had my cute boots on.  Like a conscientious host, I waited until everyone had taken some turkey from the large platter and then went to the kitchen to refill the plate with heaping piles of perfectly-browned goodness.  As I was walking back into the dining room my heel hit the one spot of grease on the tile floor.  I did a perfect James Brown imitation - minus the hop back to a standing position.  I hit the floor, the platter smashed into a million pieces, and the turkey scattered to all corners of my kitchen.  A brief, stunned silence fell and then the men all started screaming, "Pick it up!  Pick it up!" as if the 10-second rule could erase the fact that white ceramic shards coated the meat like an early-Christmas snow.  My sister-in-law almost needed the Heimlich maneuver because she was choking laughing on the food she'd placed in her mouth the moment before she saw me disappear from sight.  One second I was framed in the doorway with beautiful turkey overloading a platter, and the next second I was gone; dropped down an invisible shaft.  We saved the legs, cleaned them off and put them in a Ziplock bag marked "Floor Turkey" but nobody seemed to touch that bag of leftovers over the next few days.  Weird.

I believe that was the same year we'd unearthed my great-grandmother's china set from my father's Hoarders-like home.  I proudly set the table with the fragile pieces and then stacked them next to the sink for gentle hand washing when we were finished eating dinner.  During my second bite of pumpkin pie I heard a huge crash.  A metal file holder that was on top of the refrigerator had tumbled - you guessed it - right onto the pile of china, breaking the top 5 plates.  Now we are forced to cut 5 people from our family gatherings, like we're at Tribal Council.  "Nope, she's voted out.  She brought crappy wine last year."

Some years we visited relatives and tried out new foods and recipes, hoping to eventually expand our traditional options.  Amy's sweet potato fries?  Yes please. Joan's special gravy?  Mmm.  David's barbecued turkey?  Uh-Huh!  One year I used a teaspoon to scoop out a dozen oranges to make bowls for individual sweet potato dishes.  I couldn't feel my index finger for the rest of the night.  A few years ago I decided to make an ambrosia, figuring "well, technically it has fruit in it and the kids can get some nutrition even if they don't eat the other side items".  I come from a long line of Jell-O aficionados.  My Nana made glorious jiggly concoctions from any number of fancy copper molds and my dad could suspend canned fruits in gelatin like nobody's business.  This ambrosia has now taken on a life of its own and my fluffy pink "fruit" dish is requested at all family dinners.

This year I look forward to a nice, smallish family dinner with our favorite dishes from years past and some wine and good company.  (Not the 10 bottles of wine that four of us consumed one year.  That was a rough Thanksgiving.)  Funny enough, with all of our mishaps, it's really Easter that tends to be our ill-fated family holiday.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving and your own crazy traditions.  I'll save some floor turkey for you!

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Friday, November 15, 2013

My Screaming Paparazzi

When I enter the room they scream.  No, not my fans (thanks again to all five of you).  Not even my crazy boys.

I'm talking about the guinea pigs.

Seriously.  They see me and start screeching.  Do you know how disconcerting it is to be recognized by over-sized rats who raise a high-pitched alarm to all other creatures within a two block radius?  I used to take offense, overly worried that a family pet might not like me.  (Clearly I have self-esteem issues.)  Then I realized that they do this vocalizing as a form of appreciation and begging.  They know that I am the one who makes sure they've got food, water, hay, and a clean cage.

If you have kids, you have immediately and correctly deduced that this was supposed to be their job and their responsibility.  You just know that they swore a promise to always look after these cute, vulnerable, little balls of fluff.  They very nearly swore on their mother's grave - oh, wait, that's me... and my sons will surely kill me with their lack of initiative one day.

So I go in and take care of "the girls" as we've come to call them.  They stand up on their shelf with their little paws and noses pressed against the bars as if to say, "Hello dear lady, we do so love that you bring us a spot of fresh veggies and crisps.  Please ma'am, we want some more."  Yes, they sound like Oliver in my head - another issue I'll have to hash out with a therapist someday, but just go with it for now.  I am the one to close the window when it's getting chilly, to remind the boys that the water bottle is nearly dry, and the poop has been piling up at an alarming rate.

Which brings me to my next issue: the cleanliness of their living conditions.  I actually researched guinea pig bedding options when a friend mentioned that I could do away with the ridiculously overpriced shavings and switch to reusable fleece "bedspreads" instead.  There is a market for this kind of stuff.  I kid you not.  People make piggy blankets for like $70 a pop.  But there are also YouTube how-to videos for those DIY pet owners.  That would be me.

So I dragged my boys with me to the fabric store.  Man, even that sentence sounds boring.  Yes, I forced them to be involved in this scheme of mine to furnish our guineas with visually stimulating, yet absorbent new materials.  Yawn.  They pointed at the two closest options and we left as soon as possible.  But the most important material I had to purchase online.  "Zorb" is like a miracle cloth that can hold an inordinate amount of liquid - think Sham Wow, but without the irritating pitchmen.  People use it to make homemade diapers for their kids.  (I said "people", not me!)  You sew this stuff to the fleece, the guineas love it, and appreciatively soil it all to hell. Then you remove the whole shebang and throw it into your washing machine and voila!  Fresh pen, no pee-stained paper globs to deal with, easier cleanup all around.  Right?  Well, there is still the matter of sweeping up the mind-blowing amount of little poops they produce.  Guess who ends up doing that part.  Oh yes, that would be me again!

Initially I made two blankets, and then realized that we needed to cycle through these things at a quicker pace.  My kids' friends come over to hang out and play video games and they're very nice to pretend that they don't mind the offensive smell coming from the guest room.  My boys call this the "GP room" and we used to joke that it stood for either guinea pigs or grand parents (when they visited).  Now it's really just the "Geez, pew!" room.

So I went online and ordered more Zorb.  Right around the same time I got black rubber gloves for my son's Halloween costume.  We also got a new shock collar for the dog and an orthotic neck-support pillow.  Hmm... I can just see the blushing confusion over at Amazon, thinking there's some kinky stuff going on over here.  Let's see them come up with some suggestions now!  Hey, it's what my screaming fans demand!
We're rock stars today!

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What I'm Truly Thankful For

It's November and my Facebook News Feed is filled with wonderful messages of daily gratitude that my friends have shared.  I love reading these messages and I am ultimately jealous because I will never be so on top of things to post a positive tribute each and every day.  I'd be the one with multiple bullet points or numbers, struggling to catch up to the current calendar day of thanks.

And so it got me thinking.  What am I genuinely happy and thankful for?  What is the essential element that we all reference in our own words of specific thanks and gratitude?

LIFE.  I'll say it again: LIFE.

This crazy, wacky roller coaster we are on with its unexpected turns, the highs and lows, the seemingly endless black tunnels that eventually open up to a burst of brightly colored images whirling past us at a breakneck speed.  We can't possibly take in all of the details that are constantly hurled at our overwhelmed senses.

I was thinking about a new life that recently entered into my own family and that, in turn, caused me to remember the ones that have also left my family.  It's a balance.  Life marches on.  My young son noticed the strong connection between death and new life, especially since the passing of both grandfathers was soon followed by the birth of a new cousin.  I am so grateful to welcome a sweet, pure soul to my family, my community, and to this world.

What would I teach this new person?  First, this is not The Game of Life.  We don't all start out with a fair share of the money, with a guarantee of a job or salary.  You may stumble upon more of life's pitfalls than some.  You should be thankful for all of the gifts you are given along the way.  You should always support those who are closest to you.  Who else is guaranteed to be there for you besides your family?  My parents are both gone.  It's just me and my two brothers and our growing families.  That's really what it boils down to.  In my spin around the gameboard I've been lucky to assemble a cheering squad of friends in my work and my community who I consider my extended family.  And of course, my own nuclear family and in-laws who support me all the time.

I used to be resentful of people who could not know my pain.  How could they be happy when one of my loved ones was no longer on this earth?  Why did their grandparents get to live longer than my mother?  Why did my grandmother, in her senility, get to outlive her own daughter?  She didn't even comprehend the loss.  Then I realized that I could not begrudge another person's happiness because of my own sense of loss.  New life demands a celebration.

I can't count how many times I have been present when an innocent life has slipped free of its earthly body, when a patient has finally given up the painful struggle.  I believe in angels.  I have to.
So many tiny eyes never get to witness the beauty of a butterfly's wings while others grow weary of the sight, distracted by artificial images of the world around them.

Photo credit: Life of David / / CC BY-NC-SA

So I say, to my new niece, to my children, to my friends and family: Go out and embrace LIFE.  Take it in, wonder at the good and the bad that it has to offer.  Look at everything as if through a child's eyes.  Do it for those little ones who will not be able to see it for themselves.  Do it for your own children, so that they can learn what it means to be grateful for what they have, even if it the thanks may be meager.  Teach happiness and love by example.

This November, I am grateful for this amazing journey LIFE has given me.

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

We Totally Did The Mash

Our elementary school has hosted many Father-Daughter dances and Father-Son baseball outings. But never anything for the moms.  Our reward is the sense of fulfillment we get from organizing and running every PTA event, finding new creative ways of raising funds to keep the school functioning, and managing our children's classroom lives on a day-to-day basis.


All of that changed the other night.  My amazing friend pitched the idea for a Mother-Son Monster Mash and then pulled it off with flying colors.  The decorations were out of this world, there were activities to keep all of the boys occupied even if they didn't want to dance, and the food was Halloween-inspired tastiness.  I mean, who doesn't want to eat a cup of snot or guts - with Oreos on top?  (Personally I might eat anything with smashed up cookies on top, but I digress).

The best part was the fun spirit that filled the multi-purpose room.  All of the moms wore costumes and the boys felt special accompanying their "dates" to the dance floor after adorning the moms with unique monster corsages.  Who doesn't want a googly-eyed creature on their arm?  (Not referring to my son here).  I stopped to talk to another mom about my son's Minion costume and while I was explaining the exhaustive homemade process, I accidentally dropped the F-bomb.  At a school event.  Again.  Whichever one of my friends had the over-under for 5 minutes got the payout for that bet.

I escorted my Minion to the photo booth and carefully instructed him to step over obstacles because the poor boy could not see anything through his limited-view eye hole.   I was dressed in a coordinating unicorn costume ("It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!") and was immediately drenched in sweat and flushed from heat stroke.  My unicorn was a furry-inspired pajama onesie that I found on the internet and supposedly people really wear these things to lounge around at home.  What???  I could only wear this thing if I was lounging around in the Arctic.  With my other furry-animal-pajama-wearing friends.  That reminds me of a certain music video...

So the song "What Does The Fox Say" started playing, and being the insane mom that I am I dragged my reluctant son toward the dance floor.  I think the combination of heat, nervousness, and mortification caused him to have a mini-breakdown.  He started crying because he didn't feel like he should leave me but he definitely didn't want to be near me while I was busting my moves in public.  I looked on in envy at the other mother-son couples who were shakin' it.  Flying toilet paper rolls unfurled over the crowd periodically.  The fog machines kicked into high gear, the DJ was getting into the groove and I looked over to see my Minion up on stage dancing with his friends.  Ah, life was good again... and then the fire alarm started blaring.

What do responsible moms do in this situation?  A few ushered their sons outside per regulations.  A few more went outside with the express intent to direct the firefighters to the appropriate location.  Most stayed inside to keep dancing.  Sure enough the fire truck, lights flashing, showed up and the crew got down to inspect the source of the alarm.  Um, could it be the wall of fog/smoke inside?  A rumor swirled around that one of the boys might have pulled the alarm.  Because of this, the DJ was playing "I Knew You Were Trouble" when the firefighters walked in.

Here's the thing: you can't send the cute, young guy in first to an event with a bunch of moms standing around.  It's like throwing innocent Christians to hungry lions in the coliseum.  The appreciative chorus of screams was almost deafening.  I can't be sure, but I might have seen boys roughly shoved aside so that grown women could get closer to the ax-carrying public servant.  I'm surprised that no one started chanting "Take it off! Take it off!"  He gamely smiled and tried to make his way through the growing throng of costumed moms, all snapping pictures while he valiantly tried to do his job.  Eventually we were all sent outside so that fans could blow the offending smoke (and, coincidentally, wads of TP) out of the room and the alarm could be silenced.  After one group photo with the fireman that is.

During the chaos someone fell and bumped their head and an ambulance joined the foray.  Small groups of mothers and sons wandered off toward home rather than wait for the party to resume.  I felt proud that I was not involved in the harassment.  In reality it had something to do with the fact that I looked like this:

In any case, that was the best Inaugural-Farewell Mother-Son event ever!!!        

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Conference Week - Are You Kidding Me?

My kids have had shortened school days this entire week so that the teachers can schedule parent conferences during normal hours.  My middle schooler literally attends classes for three hours per day.  Seriously?  What's the point?  By the time they return home, hungry for lunch, I've just finished putting their breakfast bowls and plates into the dishwasher.  Here's what I've learned this week:

  1. One positive: I don't miss making lunches.  At all.  I love that they can come home and prepare their own meal and I don't have to stress over the carb-to-fruit ratio in their snack selections.
  2. Clothes worn for three hours still end up in the laundry basket, same as all-day school clothes.  I say they should wear the same shirts and shorts every day of the week to achieve maximum filth allowance before I have to wash them.
  3. My friends will say "the hell with this" and take their children on vacations, posting fabulous pictures on Facebook to make me jealous.  If you're gonna do that you have to keep it a secret for those of us doing extra dishes and laundry.
  4. Even though my older son has bonus hours to do his homework he will still be up until 11 pm  working on it because he has more time to procrastinate. 
  5. The school website does not offer any obvious information on how one would request a conference with a teacher.  They want to go home early and I don't blame them. (Have you been around middle schoolers lately? Shudder)  There are, of course, bright red links that will show me how to donate more money.
  6. The elementary school runs a book fair during conference week so that my kids can bug me every day to spend more money on junk.  Not even books; they want the posters and pointers shaped like a little hand (Why? Is my kid giving a Power Point briefing to Mickey Mouse and needs to direct his attention to some important notation?)
  7. The only thing my child is learning each day relates to who has mastered a new Rainbow Loom pattern for their armload of bracelets.  They're wearing so many of these I fear they'll get an injury.  Maybe I should make a video showing how to make a splint on the  Rainbow Loom. 
  8. I can't catch up on all of my recorded shows in only three hours!  How am I supposed to watch The Walking Dead, Vampire Diaries, and Saturday Night Live before the kids walk in on an inappropriate scene?
  9. My timing is all thrown off because they're out of school so early.  That margarita at 2:45 pm is probably not ok.  But at least the subsequent ones are sort of on track.
I was going make a list with 10 things I learned, but then I figured "Hey, if the schools can skip out on instructional time and leave things hanging, I can too!"  So there you go.  Thank goodness it's almost the weekend so my kids can recover from their stressful few hours of learning.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Too Old For Midnight Movies?

I recently bought my ticket for the premiere showing of the next Hunger Games movie - Catching Fire.  No, I'm not a teenager.  Yes, this makes multiple late-night premieres that I've gone to.  Yes, I realize that I should hang my head in shame.  But this time, the movie plays at 8 pm on the night before the official opening date, rather than the usual midnight (or later) option.  I'm not really sure why but I embrace it wholeheartedly!

Have I gotten too old for midnight movies?  Well, the last one I went to with friends ended up being very low-key.  We drove around a quiet suburban area in search of a coffee house that was still open only to end up at the 7-Eleven grabbing large cups of peppermint flavored mochas and some snacks.  When we were allowed into the auditorium I nearly fell asleep waiting for the movie to start.

I'm obviously not incapable of staying up all night.  I work the night shift for crying out loud.  You know, my patients really appreciate it when I'm not nodding off at 4 in the morning.

Years ago my friends and I started attending the midnight movies when Twilight came out.  Then the Harry Potter films demanded our allegiance.  And of course now there's the Hunger Games.  Certain movie theaters tend to have a huge turnout, with people camping out for long periods of time before the big event.  I've stood in the rain and in freezing temperatures with these wackos, waiting to be led in like cattle to the slaughterhouse.  The only thing that makes it more humiliating is the costumes and t-shirts.  Oh, did I mention that I made Team Jacob and Team Edward shirts for us?  Yep, that happened.  A friend and I bought tickets late one year and ended up at an out of the way theater for one of the Harry Potter movies.  I had brought my son's Gryffindor tie (I had to sneak it out of his room when he was asleep, shhh don't tell) but nobody was dressed up... well, except for that one girl in the black witch costume.  Awkward...

Then there are the hordes of teenagers.  Why the hell are they all out on a Thursday night?  I know they have school in the morning, and it's not like the movie only shows the one time.  Can't they go on the weekend?  Or the next night?  One time there were a bunch of girls in full footed pajamas with crazy designs on them.  Standing in line for popcorn in their fleecy onesies I tell you.  I was appalled... and soooo jealous.  I wanted to be all cozy watching the movie, falling asleep in my pajamas.  Every time stupid Bella was sitting morosely under a blanket I got sidetracked, dreaming of nodding off in a dreary little town like Forks.

Well, this time I'll be wide awake, ready to enjoy my early-not-midnight movie premiere.  Bring it on!  And then I can head straight home, undo my Katniss-braided hair, and get into my own flannel pajamas.  So -yawn- excited!

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Friday, September 20, 2013

What Do You Want To BE this Halloween?

I should have avoided the store.  Instead, I let the nostalgic memories from childhood celebrations lure me in, and I found myself dumbstruck in the local Spirit Halloween store.  What has become of October 31st?

I won't even attempt to detail the origin of Halloween, but can we all agree that it was never a Satanic ritual, and in fact stemmed from a celebration of the fall harvest?  Are you with me?  Are we still on the same page?  Good; let's continue.

When I was young we decorated our house with a scarecrow my dad made from PVC pipes and old clothes.  Black cat pictures hung in our front window and Jack O'Lanterns were carefully crafted and carved by each member of the family.  One year I used orange halves as ears on a Garfield-inspired pumpkin.  My favorite, most comfortable costume consisted of long "footie" pajamas and a teddy bear and voila I was a middle-school 'baby'.

But now?  Have you seen the offerings?  Unless you are that awesome (i.e. crazy)  mom who decides to painstakingly create your kids' costumes from scratch, they will need to choose a store-bought abomination. Admittedly, these are more realistic than in years past, but I can't understand what sellers are thinking.  Why do they make child-sized hooker clothes?  Or little boy axe-murderer outfits?  And why are we, as parents, tolerating this shift to the extremes?  Personally, I love The Walking Dead.  But my kids should not want to dress up as Rick Grimes, Daryl Dixon, or the pajama zombie girl... because they shouldn't get that pop culture reference!

Let's pretend that our entire civilization collapsed (think Mayans) and future anthropologists only had access to Halloween stores to learn about our culture.  I said pretend.  I know that's not gonna happen but I'm making a point here.  They would theorize that people died off after becoming zombies (some people still say it could happen, whatever).  Unfortunately our armed forces, police units, firefighters, medical professionals, and even super heroes were unable to help anyone because they could not run in their platform hooker shoes and fishnet stockings, with their super-tight corsets pushing their bosoms up so far they couldn't breathe.  They were then easy targets for the lunatic clowns and serial killers that finished everyone off.  The babies apparently turned rabid and ate each other (seriously, what is up with all the creepy baby decorations???).  Only furry hoodies and leg warmers remained.

Do I miss the days of the plastic costumes that tied in the back and made you sweat profusely, and the plastic masks with miniscule eye holes and mouth cutouts?  Yeah, I kinda do.  I was C3PO and Wonder Woman in those getups.  Good times.  That scene in ET where the kids go out trick-or-treating in the early evening represented an ideal Halloween - maybe one that only briefly existed.  I'd love to see a return to that innocent time.

Man, if any kid shows up with a simple sheet-ghost, or better yet: a Charlie Brown sheet with multiple holes cut in it, I'm going to dump my entire bowl of candy in his or her little plastic pumpkin.  Make that their king-sized pillowcase.  I guess some things have to change.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sometimes The Journey Is More Entertaining Than The Destination

My friend, Brenda, is a die-hard Journey fan.  She purchased tickets to see the band (again) on their 2013 tour and I agreed to (once again) accompany her to one of their concerts.  I like Journey songs, I've seen them in concert three times (although never when Steve Perry was with the band), and I find it an entertaining experience.  Last night the actual concert itself took a backseat to all of the crazy events that occurred on our "journey" to see Journey!

All day yesterday Brenda struggled with the idea of not attending the concert because she wasn't feeling well.  We put a message out on Facebook that she'd grudgingly sell the tickets, but there were no takers.  Finally, at 3 pm she decided to bite the bullet and make the most of it, sickness be damned.

We headed in to San Francisco on BART, which can be an experience in and of itself.  At 6 pm it's still a commuter's world so we weren't too fazed by any passengers on the train.  Uneventful so far, right?

Our venue was the recently-created America's Cup Pavilion on the Embarcadero.  We started heading in the proper direction, intending to hail a cab, when we saw a cute man on a bicycle offering to take passengers in his "pedicab" to their destination.  We laughed and hopped aboard this modern-day rickshaw but the entire time all I could think about was my weight and how maybe I should've skipped lunch because this thin guy had to schlep my big ass around town.  All in all, it was a gorgeous, temperate ride and we enjoyed the views along the waterline with the wind whipping through our hair while his little speaker on his back pocket blared Journey tunes.

Upon arriving at the park we walked past beautiful yachts that defy imagination.  The large "boat" with a helicopter looked just about right - OK, I'll take it.  To the tune of $50 -75 million.  In that case, no thanks.  I'm good with my ten-year-old Honda.

We got settled in our seats - I mean, on our assigned bleacher numbers - and impatiently sat through the opening act, each time sighing when they started a new song.  Come on already!  I looked over to see Brenda peeling a banana.  Who brings a banana in their purse to a concert???

Banana with Coit Tower in the distance
We started people watching to pass the time and here's where it gets interesting.  Our neighbors on my side were two lovely women, about our age, who arrived carrying two wine glasses each.  They got up to get more drinks a few times, going down the benches in front of us as you would when you're traversing bleachers and your seat is near the closed-off end: they asked a few people to scoot and they stepped down two rows to the concourse.  On their second trip "Angry Lady" in the front row started yelling and got all heated, saying "Go that way to the stands!  The stairs are right there!  You can't go this way!!!" and jabbing her finger at them in fury.  They laughed and went around but Angry Lady actually "told" on them to the seating director who just raised his hands in a "what can you do?" gesture.  Angry Lady eventually told on someone smoking, and later complained about the people walking back and forth in front of her... in the walkway.  She got into a shoving match with some guy although I didn't see what precipitated it.  Who starts a brawl while "Open Arms" is playing I ask you.  Later when he passed by again they furiously flipped each other off.  Ah, good times with mature concert-goers.

The nice ladies returned with two more drinks and sat down to enjoy the concert.  The drunkier one next to me kept offering me one of her glasses of wine. "Vino?  It's OK, I don't have hepatitis or anything.  I'm actually married with two kids."  Uh, thanks but no thanks.  Although in retrospect, maybe I should've taken it just to keep her from drinking more.  Didn't matter.  She whispered/yelled into my bad-hearing ear, "I have to tinkle again".  I shit you not.  So she stumbled down the bleachers - two people away from Angry Lady - and returned a little while later with two more drinks!  Which she offered to me again!  She leaned over and asked "So, where do you work?"  Really?  Are we going to have a get-to-know-you conversation at a concert while you're sitting on my bad side?  She told me about her child who has a lifelong disease.  She introduced herself as "Anghrrgft" or something like that - I couldn't hear and she was slurring.  Pretty soon Anghrrgft was slumping forward with her eyes closed and I feared she would hurl all over me and the people in front of us.  Hey, try to aim it at Angry Lady!  Thankfully, she got up and tried to navigate the two stairs down, literally falling the last step and banging her head against a guy's head in the front row.  Her friend watched her stumbling and tripping down the stairs and eventually went to help her, but left her purse and drinks next to me, asking "Can you watch these? I'll be right back."  Uh, sure.  I'm not going anywhere.  This is all too interesting... oh, and Journey is playing some songs too.

The band sounded pretty good, although they kept playing new stuff.  Nobody goes to a Journey concert to hear new stuff.  A few times confetti shot out from the stage and wafted toward the audience and the brightly colored papers looked beautiful in the amplified spotlight beam.  Until the man behind me exclaimed, "Ooh, butterflies!"  No, he wasn't "special".  Just maybe had never seen confetti before.  I don't know.

Meanwhile, Anghrrgft's friend returned alone, drank both glasses of wine while enjoying more of the show, and eventually left with her purse when Angry Lady vacated her throne and people could step down without fear of a beating.

At the end of the concert more butterflies flew through the air and we joined in with the throngs of people heading home.  Although we planned to hop on another pedicab back to the BART station they were all on the opposite side of the wide street so we ended up walking the whole way.  Damn, no cute boy to huff and puff over us - or because of the exertion.

We stepped into a BART car and stood in an open area, noting that it smelled a bit like marijuana.  I thought nothing of it until Brenda jabbed me and I turned around to see Stoner Guy (who looked an awful lot like a poor man's Shaun White) toking on a pipe - right in the middle of a packed BART train!!!  He was blowing the smoke right on some business guy who was asleep in front of him.  Aaaannnddd, the lady next to him acted like nothing was happening!  We looked around at the other people - who happened to be mostly smiling, go figure - and nobody called this guy out.  He was stoned out of his mind and kept trying to engage people in conversation but he was laughing too much.  He got up, stumbled to the doors, realized he was not yet at his station, and flopped back to his seat.  The lady next to him, whose eyes were reddening as we watched, finally got up and stood across the aisle.  Her boyfriend or husband did nothing.  Brenda and I were looking around like, "Are we on that show 'What Would You Do'???"  You can't just light up on public transit.  Brenda tried to give him the benefit of the doubt saying maybe it was medicinal use.  NO. STILL... NO!  Thankfully he got off the train somewhere around Oakland and peoples' smiles eventually faded.

But not mine.  That was such an entertaining night.  And just think, I could've been home doing 7th grade math with my son and missed all of that!  Until next time people... Be Good To Yourself!!!!

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Are You Smarter Than a Middle Schooler?

The school bell is about to ring.  Everyone is looking around nervously, hoping they are in the correct place.  Papers clutched in sweaty hands are checked once again so that each person can compare the class schedule to the numbers on the doors. Finally the buzzer sounds and people shuffle in to find a seat - hopefully near a friend - while the teacher starts going over a wealth of pertinent information.

Back To School Night at the middle school has begun.

Parents are supposed to follow their child's regular class schedule, going to each classroom for a condensed introduction and a review of the policies for that period.  Ironically the only people who look confident and assured are the volunteer students who are helping to direct lost parents to the proper classrooms.

I suspect that the scene looked very similar when my friends were in middle school themselves.  You have the focused ones who walk briskly to the next classroom, never looking up at others passing by.  There are the people who linger in the quad and talk loudly instead of worrying about the next bell.  Still others struggle to get where they need to be - whether it's because they are lost or running behind.  My husband was stressing me out as we approached a classroom and the bell rang while we were outside.  He's muttering, "We're tardy!  Not in our seats yet!  I hope they don't lock the door before we sneak in!"  Dude, settle down.  You won't get a detention, trust me.

The teachers would introduce themselves and the name of the class, and inevitably one parent would stand up, blushing, and leave the room in search of the actual place they needed to be.  I took particular enjoyment in that.  On the other hand, there was the dad who waited for a good 12 minutes while the teacher went over a detailed handout, only to finally get up, walk to the front of the class, and ask for a copy since he hadn't received one.  While the teacher turned to retrieve the page for him he smiled at the class and did a Forrest Gump wave.  Seriously?  It took you that long to realize you were missing something that everyone around you was reading?

I left the school feeling somewhat dazed.  My head spun with information, rules, expectations, and a dizzying glimpse into the requirements my son would be expected to achieve this year.  If I had to go back and redo middle school... yeah, I don't think I'd make it.  They're completing detailed science experiments and lab write-ups, learning computer programming, typing long essays on Google Docs, and figuring out math problems that can stump the teachers.  My friend was incredulous that her 6th grade son had a year-long syllabus for his class.  I'm pretty sure I didn't know what the word "syllabus" meant until my second quarter of college.  (I am now convinced that my grades would have been much better had I figured it out the first quarter).

I sure hope my son understands the concepts because what's being taught has moved beyond my comprehension already.  Are you smarter than a 7th grader?  No.  Obviously not.

Meanwhile my 4th grader is coming home and using new words he's learning in class.  "I am optimistic that my inquisitive and loquacious friends will not be punished for the pandemonium they are creating but I'm sure that they will be elated if we can reconcile the situation in a prudent fashion."  Huh?  Let's just go back to telegram communication.

Sons smart -(STOP)-  Mom confused -(STOP)-  Use small words and short sentences -(STOP)-

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Grind

It's official.  We are back to the daily grind that is school, complete with early morning grumpiness, half-assed lunches hastily thrown together, homework procrastination and complaints, plus mental exhaustion and bad attitudes.  Oh, and my kids are affected too.

I truly enjoyed having the summer off.  I tried to keep my kids busy with camps and scheduled activities but the lazy days with no plans were just as pleasant (especially if my kids were in another room arguing where I couldn't hear them).

Every year we go through the same end-of-summer routine, designed to fool people into believing that my boys are always well-groomed and properly clothed.  As if they hadn't been running around in shoes with holes in the soles, wearing shorts so small they look like Magnum, P.I. would've worn them.  We take the kids to get haircuts and new clothes and they whine and complain like there's no tomorrow.  Why would parents torture their children so?  Fresh, new, clean, stylish clothing and comfortable shoes and outerwear - it's just preposterous!  Throw in the crazy lady at the store who is clueless that her child in the stroller has been screaming at the top of his lungs for 20 minutes straight.  She unknowingly follows us to different departments, oblivious that her 4-year-old is crawling beneath the fitting room door while my kid is forced to try on clothes.  I had to quickly yell, "no kicking intruders in the face!" to avoid bloodshed.  We made it out of the store with 3 large bags of clothing, two unhappy boys, a new store credit card activated so we could get maximum discounts... and a very empty bank account.

I wish I could say that we had a fabulous celebration to mark the end of another summer vacation.  But no. Unfortunately we had to attend my father-in-law's funeral and say goodbye to a wonderful man who shaped my husband into the person he is, and was a Grandpa beyond compare.  What a way to mark the last weekend of break.  The good news is that we got to hang out with family that we only rarely see, and got to meet relatives that live out of state.  My boys and their cousins enjoyed each others' company and messed around with bows and arrows, and pellet guns.  My husband and his brother agreed to take the kids downriver on inflatable rafts - which lost air and took on water and provided a great visual as the teenage fisherman had to pull my brother-in-law's boat to shore because it was so low.  The adults hung out, reminisced, and went through a boatload of wine and beer.  Tomm would have wholeheartedly approved.

The problem arises when you have 11 people sleeping at a residence with 3 bedrooms.  Where's everyone going to go?  Tomm's brother had been at the house already when we arrived and we of course let him keep the guest room.  My brother-in-law, by default, got the second guest room.  Something about needing their 2-year-old in the same room with them, yadda yadda yadda.  The other grandchildren had makeshift beds in Grammy's room, like a big sleepover.  That left me and my husband and our 12 year old.  Luckily my in-laws have a great support system in their town and many friends who offered to create various sleeping arrangements.  We were informed that we could use a friend's RV in the driveway.  I've already written about my family's experience with a tiny camper so we were picturing nice large accommodations.

Here's what we saw upon arrival:

Yeah, see, that's a shell, not really an RV.

So we did what we needed to do and we shut up, trudged outside to our "camper", hiked up the step stool to the oh-so-spacious musty interior, and went to sleep.  This worked out fine until the last night when it started raining.  Luckily my husband woke up and closed the vent that was directly over our bed.  I had a hard time falling back to sleep because I thought I kept hearing dripping.  I checked the other vent and it was closed.  No other sign of rain getting in, so I proceeded to fall back to sleep.  I was awoken by a slow drip of water onto my shoulder.  The "sealed" window above the cab was leaking - on my side of the bed.  From multiple places.  The owners had put a foam mattress pad down for more comfort, and I soon discovered that foam mattress pads absorb an awful lot of water, and then disperse it across the material.  So no matter how far I kept scooting into my husband's sleeping zone, I was still laying in a puddle of water.  I managed to find a position that was mostly out of the water, that was relatively comfortable, and I started to count down the remaining hours until daylight.  I considered making my way inside to a couch or recliner just as another waterfall rained down onto my back.  My brother-in-law found this to be hilarious as I later recounted our restful night.

As another year of schooling gets underway and we try to remember the routines and habits that were forgotten over the summer, we are thankful for the family that we have around us, who share the good times and the bad times, and who laugh at our expense.  And I'm thankful for my own comfortable bed with no waterfall feature.

Hope you all have a great start to fall and another year of happy chaos.  

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Send In The Clowns

I have always been an optimistic person.  A bit goofy perhaps, with a wry sense of humor.  It's how I look at the world.  Having boys is often like one big, long practical joke, but I have always chosen to perceive their antics in a humorous light.  When friends stress out or worry about something, I question, "Can you do anything to change the outcome?  If not, direct your energy somewhere else."  So, I am seen as light-hearted; naive even.  I like to laugh at the world, not drown in sorrow.

But today I wrestle with sadness, both my own and my family's.  My father-in-law passed away this morning after a quick, steep decline in health.  Actually, his health had been slowly getting worse over the past few years, but this roller coaster peaked in just the last month or so before plummeting swiftly into the abyss. We sat down with our boys and explained that Grandpa was dying only yesterday, so they are still processing everything.  My older son asked, "Why is life so cruel?"  But see, here's where you have to look at things from the optimist's perspective.  He lived a long and happy life.  He celebrated 44 years of marriage just last week.  He was able to see his five grandchildren and spend cherished times with each of them.  He traveled Europe when he was in his 20's, learning languages and drinking good beers.  (Which is why it always confused my husband that his dad chose to drink Michelob later in life.)  He retired from a job that he loved, created a wonderful home on property that dipped down to a river, and spent time doing things he enjoyed. He kept learning and taking classes just for the hell of it.  The man learned Arabic - just because.

When my own father passed away two years ago it was completely unexpected and a bitter surprise.  But I came to regard that as a positive thing.  I had seen him 2 days before, and left him with a hug after I told him I loved him.  He went so quickly that there was no hospital stay; no debates about his care.  I never had to juggle trips to a medical facility in between other obligations, struggle with the financial aspect of care, or feel resentment that a shell of a person only marginally resembled my dad.

Last year my nephew, wise beyond his years, surprised us with his take on life.  He looked around at family members who were crying after yet another loss and said, "Don't be sad for what is in Heaven.  Be happy for what you have here."  He was five at the time, but so astute.

So I choose to see the world in this light.  Bad things happen.  How do they shape us?  How do we deal with challenges and then present this affected persona to those around us?  I still want to stick with humor.  I've found it suits me well.  But if I'm not quite my usual self, you will hopefully understand.

When I was younger I received a music box as a gift - from my parents, I think.  It was a copper clown and it played "Send In The Clowns".  I had heard Judy Collins sing this over and over again from our state-of-the-art 8 track player and the melody haunted me.  I admit that I still don't fully understand the symbolism of the lyrics, but Stephen Sondheim explained it like this (I got this info from the always-correct Wikipedia):

It's a theater reference meaning "if the show isn't going well, let's send in the clowns"; 
in other words, "let's do the jokes."

After 9/11, after countless hours of depressing, frightening, overwhelming images of terror, shows such as Saturday Night Live struggled to find the balance between humor, reverence for the situation, and hope.  When can we go back to our regularly-scheduled program?  When will I be able to fall back on the inappropriate jokes that help me get through?  Time will tell.

For now, send in the clowns...  

Don't bother.  They're here. 

In Memory Of:

Thomas Nuelle - 1935 - 2013
Lew Thomas - 1933 - 2011
Bobbie Thomas - 1941 - 1993
Kerri Anne Thomas - 2012

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

World War NERF

With four boys hanging out today, I knew that there were potential fights and battles that could arise.  Cue screaming and running around - while they pulled out every weapon in their arsenals.  My house looked like a toy gun warehouse when they were finished.

I have never met a boy who doesn't like a good shoot-em-up kind of game.  I know that some parents start off thinking, "I will never let my child have a toy gun in this house, ever!" but have you met boys?  They realize early on that their thumb and forefinger make a great pretend gun - even before they know how to use those two fingers to hold a crayon, feed themselves, or pee standing up (you had to think about that for a second, didn't you?)  It's hardwired.  Just like they know how to make some elaborate noise with their lips to signify that they have just destroyed something (usually you or the dog) with their powerful finger-shooter.

I never actively tried to keep gun toys out of the house, nor did I invite them in.  But at a certain age, it seems that friends and relatives began giving my sons NERF guns, and we have never been the same household since. Like the Lego company, NERF has some smart developers.  Remember when they just made foam footballs that your goofy neighbor would pick apart every time you wanted to play?  Well, they hit the jackpot when they started making guns that shoot foam darts.  And then they realized that kids aren't happy having only one version of a toy if they can collect an entire series of money-making plastic junk pieces.  It started off innocently enough for us with one gun per boy, and has spread like exploding shrapnel through our house so that they each own about a dozen guns (or more - honestly, I can't keep track and I'm too scared to go hunting around in their rooms).

I could live with the guns themselves, if I had to.  But the NERF bullets are another story.  These things must multiply in the night.  Foam cylinders attached to rubberized suction cups can be found under every piece of furniture I own.  They are stuck under couch cushions, inside lamp shades, half-covered in the dirt of a potted plant, sticking on sliding glass doors, inside shoes... you name it.  I have yet to find any swimming around with the fish in the aquarium but I have plucked some off the glass that covers the water.  Of course, after a while all of the darts disappear from the boys' rooms and they beg me to purchase more so that they can keep 'killing' each other in friendly sibling games.

Enter the NERF Blasters.  These don't use the usual darts, they shoot discs instead.  So you have to purchase a bunch of different ammunition packs for each kind of weapon they own.  Well played, NERF, well played.

All of these plastic guns need to be stored somewhere.  They are just long enough and oddly-shaped that they don't fit neatly into any toy storage or closet shelf that exists in any home.  I joked that I was going to build a gun rack for my boys' rooms to store their guns.  It seems I wasn't the only person to come up with this idea!  Just hop on Pinterest and search "Nerf storage" to see the crazy creations people have come up with to categorize and hold all of the weapons.  And I thought we had a lot of guns!  People, when you need to build a giant PVC pipe frame to hang 50+ guns, you might have a problem!  There's no way I'll let my boys see those crafty creations people have come up with.  Part of my excuse for not buying any more guns centers around the fact that we don't have anywhere to keep additional guns, so I'll let my organizational incompetence help me out for once.

Ironically, it is these "wars" that bring them closer together.  My boys actually get along for quite a while when they are shooting and dodging foam darts.  And it's not just for the little guys.  Sure enough, each Christmas my twin brothers (who I will just say are in their 30s) run around with multiple guns and extra ammo clips, trying to ambush each other.  At least they let the younger kids play too.  Usually my boys are recruited to run down the hallway to draw enemy fire so one brother can try to get the upper hand. And so the NERF legacy passes on through the generations.

If our world is ever attacked by a species that has vulnerable flat, glass surfaces, they are in sooooo much trouble!

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

"Come Here Kitty" - What Not To Say When Camping

For the past several years our family has gone on an annual camping trip to the beach with my husband's childhood friend.  (Technically we missed a year because we vacationed in Hawaii instead - and I have no remorse. I'd totally do it again.)  On the day of our trip we shove all of our necessary gear (and some random crap) into every possible crevice and then squeeze ourselves into any remaining car spaces.  This year we all forgot to bring pillows, so you can see that the "roughing it" mentality must have taken over.  That, or there was no room left after the Jaegermeister, Hershey bars, gourmet coffee, and electronic chargers were all packed away.  I mean, ya gotta have the necessities, right?

I grew up camping with my family every summer, although I have since been told that taking a trip in an RV and staying at a KOA doesn't count as roughing it.  I beg to differ.  We would cram all five family members into a tiny little Toyota Chinook.  Although the name may reference salmon, you need to picture us as sardines instead.  The entire bottom area became a full-size bed... once you disassembled the table and rearranged the couch cushions to make the oh-so-comfy bed.  My parents slept here.  The area over the cab could be pulled out into another double bed and my twin brothers would sleep there.  I got one of the "hammock" beds that swung out over the bottom area.  Each night my mom would shepherd us kids to the bathroom to brush our teeth and we could not go back into the camper until my dad had gotten the metal hammock bars locked into place.  This became known as my dad's "Cuss Time", although I should point out that the tin can was not well insulated and we were privy to all of the swearing as my dad repeatedly bumped his head against the bars and his legs went numb from kneeling on the lowered table/bed.

5 of us traveled and slept in one of these
When I was about 10 they suggested I have my own pup tent outside of the camper.  I was thrilled with the idea of my own sanctuary away from them, and my dad was downright joyous.  I was allowed to use the ancient green, canvas, military-style tent.  Literally two poles, some side ropes to anchor it down, and two flaps that tied around the front pole.  But it was my space.  I read my mom's old Nancy Drew books by flashlight after I climbed into my sleeping bag.  It was heaven - until we camped at Yellowstone and I woke up one morning with a ginormous pile of buffalo dung mere feet away from my tent.  That could've ended badly.

We soon upgraded to a larger, used RV.  It was a total piece of crap.  Half of our day was spent on the shoulder of some God-forsaken highway or other, waiting for the engine to cool down so we could switch our fuel from gas to propane and resume our travels.  Every day. But it was bigger!  And with an indoor toilet that proved quite useful on cold nights, or during bouts of the stomach flu.  Did I mention that these camping trips brought us all closer while simultaneously causing us to hate each other?  That's what camping is all about.

So now my family goes to the lovely California State Beach campgrounds.  No KOA here.  The bathrooms and showers are designed so that they can be cleaned daily with a high-powered hose.  Thus, no soap dispensers, no mirrors, no towels, and definitely no toilet seat covers.  The mere thought makes my OCD friends literally shudder in disgust.  When my boys were younger I would herd them into one shower room.  I'd get everything set up while they undressed and we would pray that the shower we picked actually worked that day.  Otherwise you'd have to decide to redress and file into another shower or make a quick naked run for the next open door.  If everything went smoothly I could get us all cleaned up in about 10 minutes, or 5 quarters' worth of water (yep, you gotta pay to spray).  Of course, it rarely went smoothly.  Logan would be crying that he wanted a bath while the water spurted in different directions and never sprayed far enough away from the wall to be effective.  After carefully removing all sand from their crevices and washing off the rashy areas I'd instruct them to get dressed while I showered.  Too often I'd turn around to see them sitting down to put their pants on --- sitting in the sandy, cloudy, standing water from numerous previous showers.  Mmmm.  I am happy to say that they shower by themselves now and I can be at the campsite enjoying a margarita, oblivious of any standing water issues.

Back to the sand and the chafing.  Every year it's an issue.  My boys used to play in the breaking waves near the shore and body surf right up onto the beach.  They would accumulate so much sand in their shorts that they were weighed down by these saddlebags.  After the first day the waddle-walk would make its appearance and for the rest of the trip all we heard about was the chafing.  We tried compression shorts under the suit, cutting out the lining (with a Swiss Army knife's scissors no less), layers of underwear, wrapping their upper thighs with bandages, and finally we broke down and got wet suits for them.  That seems to have helped some, but it created neck and arm irritation to replace the thigh irritation.  I can't win.

Aside from your general sandy, grimy existence during camping you get to deal with the wildlife.  The upside of beach camping is: no bears, and minimal bug issues.  What we've discovered instead is that Santa Barbara has quite a skunk population!  Last year as we were all sitting around the campfire I heard a rustling sound and looked over to find a skunk heading my way.  Like the brave, protective men they are my husband and his friend immediately jumped up and ran for the hills, leaving me frozen in my seat, worrying that any move would cause it to spray.  The brazen little guy walked directly under my camp chair and out the other side and I finally scampered away - all while the "men" directed flashlights at our furry visitor from the bushes.  This year we joked that we should clean up early to avoid more visitors, but of course you forget such ideas when you've been enjoying a campfire with some drinks in hand.  It turns out that PepĂ© was digging through our trash bag, brazen as can be.  If we tried to shoo him away his tail would stand straight up and we stopped menacing our visitor.  Thankfully he ran away instead of spraying us when somebody lobbed a rock near him.

It reminds me of my first trip with my parents in the ol' Chinook.  I was that kid who followed all wildlife, believing them to be like friendly Bambi.  My parents quickly ushered me inside when they heard me calling "Come here kitty!"  Sure enough I was going after the resident skunk, trying to entice it back to our campsite.  Looks like after all these years my Dr. Doolittle skills were still in effect.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sister Wives at the Lake

My older son, Zack, was away at Boy Scout Camp this past week.  He returned today - filthier even than the previous year.  Logan was happy to have him home, but thankful for some time spent with friends while his brother was away.

Cut to a week ago, after all the area troops had packed up and driven off.  After a few moms had their sobbing breakdowns while concerned onlookers debated whether coffee, alcohol, or sedation was the appropriate antidote.  My friends and I tossed out the idea that we should take the younger kids on a mini vacation and wouldn't that be fun?  In true summer fashion we let the idea percolate for a few days before then frantically contacting anyone who owned a suitable rental house on a lake and begging for the opportunity to throw money at them so we could make this dream a reality.  Thankfully we found a large house and confirmed all the details - 22 hours before arrival.

California has many beautiful recreation areas near oceans, lakes, and rivers.  Our last-minute plans meant that we didn't do too much research regarding water activities that each area could offer.  We envisioned sitting on a deck, sipping cold beverages while the kids jumped off a dock into crystal blue waters.  Imagine our surprise when we first saw the lake from shore.  The very name of the lake would suggest sparkly, refreshing water, but it was "clear" that summertime algae reigned supreme.  Our neighbors had angry-looking pit bulls and we couldn't let the kids go out front for fear of a contact high.  In fact, much of the area had experienced quite a hit during the economic downturn.  Half of the businesses were closed and the rest specialized in tattoos, liquor, or smoking accessories - or all three.  I bet you could even get a tattoo of your favorite brand of alcohol or your best glass pipe if you wanted to.  I'm guessing that the dentists in the area moved on first.  You might be hard-pressed to find anyone with a full set of teeth.

The owner met us at the house to go over logistics.  We brought up our concern regarding the amount of algae and he asked if we had a boat.  Nope, must have forgotten to pack the boat.  In talking with friends since our return, the first thing they tell me is "Oh, yeah, that lake's really known for boating activities, not swimming. You need to go out a ways for nice water."  Apparently everyone in the state knew this except myself and my two mom friends.  The owner then suggested that the four children could "swim" in the 3-person hot tub which was unheated.  He also explained that there was great fishing right off the dock.  Carp on one side, catfish on the other (how the fish know which side to stay on is beyond me).  He said we could simply use corn kernels on our hooks to catch 7-20 pound fish which none of the moms wanted to even handle, let alone gut, clean, and cook.  Thankfully the "fishing" was really more of an impatient "casting" activity that kept us all busy.  The kids swung their poles around with abandon and the moms did extreme Pilates moves trying to avoid carelessly flung hooks - think The Matrix, but with  barbed corn kernels flying in not-so-slow-motion through the air, barely skimming our eyebrows.

This is not to say that we didn't come close to reeling in a big one!  We spotted a catfish, swimming toward us.  All the fishing lines instantly converged in that one area and the dumb fish slowly bobbed toward the surface, mouth open.  Not floating, but not really swimming.  In their zeal to catch anything the kids kept dropping their lines right next to the oblivious (dying?) fish.  It neared the dock and again bobbed upright with its mouth open.  This had now become that annoying carnival game where you just have to drop the hook into the fish's mouth to win a fabulous prize.  Still, we could not do it.  I'm sure the fish was thinking "Why are these people hitting me in the face with corn?  And what is it with this house and corn all the time?"

Lest you think this trip was a bust, I can assure you it was a memorable adventure.  I laughed quite a bit, hanging out with my friends and the kids.  We even spent a day at a beautiful, clear, little lake just up the road a bit.  The kids swam and splashed for hours.  The kids loved this trip, played well together, and kept themselves occupied.  The moms drank some tasty beverages and reveled in the knowledge that there were two other capable adults willing to play Mom to any kid that needed something.  Splinter removal?  Sure, see that lady over there.  You need food?  Lemme fix something for you.  You broke something?  OK, I will super glue it while your mom takes a nap. You want me to pull that clump of slimy seaweed off your fishing hook?  Uh, go ask her instead.  I can definitely see the appeal of having Sister-Wives.  Shoot, it's so easy!  It takes a village... and some whipped cream vodka, but we were so on it!

In true form, minutes before leaving we noticed my child was crying out on the dock, clutching his injured hand.  I went running out to help and came upon his friend heading back up toward the house.  I asked, "What happened?" to which he answered, "I have no idea!" and continued on.  The next mom also asked this boy what was going on and he said, "I told him not to do it" and kept right on past everyone.  Logan had pinched his finger in a gear meant to raise and lower boats into the lake, not children - go figure.  After an ice pack and some simple first aid we were ready to go.  In the car, I started having some misgivings.  The children had splashed out almost half of the jacuzzi water during their "swimming" sessions and the only hose I could find to replenish it drew water from the lake.  It looked clear enough but the swampy odor gave away its origin.  I told my friend, "I may have made a mistake using lake water for the hot tub".  She answered, "I'd like to go on record saying I told you not to do it!"  Ah, gotta love my supportive, mature Sister Wives!

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Motherhood Is Like a Bridesmaid Dress

As parents, we are constantly looking forward: to the next milestone, the next accomplishment, the next level, the next birthday... the next night when all is quiet and we can finally relax.  Sometimes we forget to look back.  Or we forget what it was really like when our own kids went through various stages.

I am fortunate enough to have my nephew with me once a week during the summer.  He is five (going on 23) and he brings to mind all the funny stuff from that age with a figurative smack to the head, like "Oh yeah!  I remember when they did that!"

He has a one-track mind.  Any game that is worth playing is worth doing for hours straight.  He was laughing with my older son and kept saying "Again, do it again Zack!" because thankfully my boys can be sweet and sensitive and loving with him even when it's impossible for them to be kind to each other.  And he remembers when he comes here that Auntie Karen has Hungry Hungry Hippos.  That fun game gets trotted out every time he's here.  The noise of plastic hippo heads slamming down onto marbles skittering around on a plastic surface really wakes you up in the morning. It should be called Miserable Miserable Migraine.

Last week he was obsessed with the idea of going swimming.  Just one problem prevented us from doing this: I don't have a pool or belong to a homeowner's association that has a pool.  He kept pointing out places that might have pools.  I tried to distract him by taking him to a friend's house.  I told him, "My friend has chickens, a bunny, and a duck that you can see.  Won't that be fun?"  And he said, "A duck, huh?  You know what ducks do?  Swim!"  Yeah, kid.  I get it.  So today I had plans to meet a friend at her pool and go swimming - but he didn't want anything to do with that.  Of course, my dog appreciated the thought... she got into his backpack, pulled out his flip flops, and proceeded to chew them into small rubber chunks.  I bet the duck doesn't pull that crap.

I love the kid conversations that go places you never expected.  Today he tells me:

I have a friend named Emma.  But she hurt her hand.  Twice.  I thought I was the baddest friend ever and that I hurt her.  It turns out she ran over her hand with her own bike.  I wasn't the baddest friend ever!  So we went and watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Alrighty then!  The rest of our conversations center around "Why?" or "How come?"  I forgot how much explaining my days contained when my guys were younger.

I knew that my kids would grow up quicker than I'd ever expect.  Now I wonder, how did we go from this cute, wondering stage to the sullen mood swings that encompass the tween years?  People always tell you "Enjoy it.  They'll grow up in the blink of an eye!"  And I've been very cognizant of that.

I was a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding when Zack was only 4 months old.  During one of the slow songs I suddenly started balling.  My concerned husband looked around, embarrassed for me (because of me), and then asked, "What is wrong???"  I answered, "Zack will be married soon!" to which he laughed and shook his head because I was acting like the crazy, hormonal woman all mothers can instantly become.  And then, as if fate wanted to magically remind me that my child was still a tiny, nursing infant... the spaghetti strap on my dress finally gave in to the overwhelming strain from my engorged breasts - and SNAP!  As the strap whipped backwards, nearly blinding the bride, it was like a metaphor for motherhood.  You are consumed with unbelievable maternal love (or alcohol-rich milk that will need to be pumped and dumped) until the stress becomes too unbearable and you snap unexpectedly and spectacularly.  And it's all in the blink of an eye - unless you're standing too close behind.

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Sarcasm Genes

I remember the first time that I realized my mom had a sense of humor.  Sure, we'd had times where we all laughed and joked, but I'm talking about a good, raunchy, somewhat inappropriate appreciation for the funny stuff.  She came home from work with an accordion-folded printout of a conversation from her company's interoffice email (although it was definitely not called email at the time).  She and her friend were discussing the merits and the drawbacks of their "Wang" computer system.

Don't you hate it when your Wang is inoperable?
My Wang is never up for long before it stops servicing me.
Will your Wang work better if you slap it around some?

The rest of the conversation went back and forth along these lines but it contained sarcasm and puns galore and I loved it.  I saw her in a new light.  Wait a minute, my mom can make funny penis references?  How is that even possible?

Since having kids, my main method of communication consists of sarcasm and humor.  How can you take anything seriously again when you have vomit on your front (or back) and you are absolutely positive that your sweet infant is busy creating diabolical plots designed to wake you up the exact second that REM sleep is achieved?  Sarcasm had been passed down to me and childbirth had switched that gene to the "on" position.  In fact, some people will tell me that they enjoy my blog and find it hilarious (thank you to those 3 people) and they usually ask me, "Have you always been this funny?"  And I reply, "No!  Absolutely not.  I was shy and quiet and barely talked to anyone who wasn't a close friend --- until I had kids.  And then, blamm-o, you're like an instant stand-up-comedian because your life is a freakishly funny mess of bodily functions, crazy kid sayings, and constant criticism from everyone, including your own tiny children.  What else are you gonna do?  You have to use wit to get by."

I'm not so sure how this sarcasm gene passes on to boys.  My preteen son is becoming proficient in this special language and uses it all the time!  He's so snarky that I cringe at times.  Especially when he speaks to adults as if he's grown and buddy-buddy with them.  For example: my friend offered to give Zack her ticket during our school's annual Ice Cream Social.  He could not figure out why anyone would willingly give up their frozen treat until she explained, "I don't' like ice cream".  To this, my 10-year-old said, "Why, were you dropped on your head as an infant?"  Gah!  You can't say that to an adult!!!  And I wasn't even there!  Luckily my friend also has boys, and thus appreciates the humorous side of things, and she was laughing when she told me this.

Now, my younger son is the one who gets these venomous attacks courtesy of his older brother.  Thankfully, he is relatively immune to the daily berating and criticism.  Yesterday, while out on a walk Zack was constantly griping about his brother (all because of a video game they were playing earlier when Logan's character had left the screen where Zack was playing, so you know it's all out war now).  What was supposed to be a relaxing walk turned into a migraine-in-the-making.  The damn dog would not stop whining and yipping because she wanted to catch up with Logan on his bike.  Logan was not looking as he slowly pedaled across the road - in front of a car.  Zack was busy commenting on the near-crash and calling his brother an idiot.  I finally lost it and said, "You are not allowed to call your brother mean names!  So stop!"  Zack said, "Well, I can't help it if he's a moron.  I'm just saying it out loud.  You know we were all thinking it."

Oh my head.  Hey, who wants to talk about their Wang computers?

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Camp YaWannaMaybeShower?

Ah, summer.  A time for exploration, fun, and learning --- at camp.  This childhood right of passage continues in our household.  Both boys are signed up for a few different camps so that we, as parents, don't have to come up with songs and crafts and daily entertainment designed to tire them out and use up all that boy energy.  That job is delegated to some weary adult volunteers and kids who are barely older than my own.  But it means a few hours of time to myself, or time with only one half of the Brawl Brothers, so I'm alright with that.

My youngest goes to Cub Scout Day Camp.  He comes home telling me what they did at each station: arts and crafts, engineering, archery, BB guns, swimming, etc.  Apparently they had a helicopter land in the field today and a demonstration of police and K-9 dogs!  All part of the planned activities, don't worry... well, as far as I know... come to think of it, that Timmy is a troublemaker.  Anyway, I guess it beats the entertainment they had the first day when Logan exclaimed, "Today there was a mime.  She sucked."  I answered, "Why would you say that?" and he said "She kept talking".  Ah, well, yes, you might have a point there.  In any case, my youngest packs his backpack each day with the necessary supplies.  Hat, sunscreen, towel, swimsuit, goggles, lunch, canteen - you get the picture.  He can figure this all out on his own and he rarely forgets an important item.

Now, my oldest... well, it's always interesting.  Zack is signed up for his second year of Boy Scout Camp where he will be gone for an entire week. You may not know the ways of the Boy Scouts, but they encourage the campers to be responsible and pack their own bags, without parental help aside from a little oversight and verbal guidance.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  I was practically sitting on my hands last year,  itching to jump in and fold things and pack them away perfectly into his giant duffel bag, like olive-colored Tetris pieces.  And how do you convince a child that they will need extra clothes when they insist they've got enough?  Our conversation went something like this:

Z:  OK, I've got everything.
Me:  You only have 3 pairs of underwear.
Z:  Yeah.
Me:  Aren't you gone for 7 days?
Z:  Uh huh.
Me:  Well, you do the math.  How many more pairs of underwear do you need for after the showers?
Z:  They don't have showers.  You use a bucket of water to wash off.
Me:  Excuse me????  Then take some wet wipes to clean yourself and pack some more pairs of undies.
Z:  I won't need them.
Me:  Just humor me!

And when he was away at camp, someone was kind enough to take pictures of the boys during the week and upload them onto their Troop website.  This is an example of what I saw:

This picture doesn't even look like my son.  The dirt has changed his facial features.  He's probably shlepping some of their "bathing water" right there, but I know for a fact that he didn't use it.  He came home with that same dirt smudge on his face 4 days later.  And that shirt never did give up its stains no matter how many loads of OxiClean laundry I put it through.

But here's the kicker:  He only had 2 pairs of Boy Scout olive green socks.  Each day's batch of pictures showed him wearing those green socks so I was cringing.  Two pairs of socks in one week in those kind of dirty conditions???  When would I see him wearing the extra white ones he'd packed?  Well, my answer came when I finally dumped his duffel bag onto the floor of the garage after he returned home.  From the bottom of the bag came 6 perfectly rolled balls of socks, scampering out like frightened little hamsters.  This included one pair of olive green socks.  Yep.  He wore ONE pair of nasty socks the ENTIRE WEEK!  They could've walked themselves home.  He said he couldn't reach to the bottom of the duffel bag to find the extra socks, and they didn't have enough time to change so he just grabbed what he could find.  Ohhhh myyyy.......

I remember a parent laughingly advising us to put a $10 bill at the bottom of the soap container to see if he'd even notice.  I'm pretty sure I can skip that step.  Why even pack soap when we both know it'll never see the light of day.  But I cringe because this year he's signed up for Horsemanship...  Followed by Cooking.  Uh huh.  You can see where I'm going with this.  This year in addition to the dirt, he may return home with some additional friends.  I'll introduce you to a few of them: Valley Fever, Hanta Virus, Swine Flu, SARS, Ebola, Rickets...