Monday, January 31, 2011

One Mom's Tip: Exercise on a Budget

I always speed walk with a huge grin on my face.*

I hate to pay for something I can get for free. Which is why I've had a hard time justifying a gym membership. Okay, I'm not being completely honest. The real reason I don't have a gym membership is that we have lots of other places to put our money besides a gym membership.

But seriously, why pay for something you can get for free?

How do I get my gym workout without the gym membership? I open the door and step outside. I get a cardio workout by speed walking or jogging. I do a little warm up stretching before and cool down stretching after and the best part is that I didn't have to spend time driving somewhere before I could start exercising. If I walk/run for 45 minutes, I'm done and back home after 45 minutes. No commute time.

If I want a little strength training I just pop in my 30 Day Shred DVD and grab my hand weights. It's a 20 minute workout that really delivers. I did pay for the DVD, so I guess that isn't actually free. And I paid for the hand weights too. But those were both one time purchases that I've continued to use for over a year.

You could check out other exercise DVDs from the library, download free walking mixes from iTunes, or get ideas for interval training from online articles. All free, free, free. 

For a few dollars, you could invest in an exercise band. It is small, versatile and compact (unlike that stupid, stupid exercise ball we have that no one ever uses, yet takes up an entire corner of our guest room), and watch some youtube videos on how to use them. 

Do you have any tips for free or low cost work outs?

*Actually, this is true when I listen to the Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me NPR podcast on my walk (free download from iTunes).

Friday, January 28, 2011

My Great Day

Portland is a great city. I love it here. So yesterday, on my birthday, I wanted to have a Portland day and check a few items off my Portland To-Do list.

I started the morning at the Barefoot Sage on Hawthorne thanks to a birthday gift certificate from Robert. I got the Sweet Feet treatment which consists of an herbal tea footbath (pictured above, but these are not my feet) followed by an aromatherapy sugar scrub, a 30 minute leg and foot massage and a hot rock treatment. It was so relaxing, I wasn't sure I'd be able to stand after it was done.

But, stand I did. I was on a mission! My next destination was down the street to the Waffle Window for lunch. I have wanted to try out the Waffle Window ever since reading about it on Samurai Mom's blog. I walked up and down the street looking for it and was about to give up when I spotted it. I'd passed it twice without knowing. It's around the corner from the Bread and Ink Cafe and is literally a window in a door where you place your order.

There are seats on the sidewalk, but it's January and even though the sun was shining, I decided to eat inside the Bread and Ink at the tables specified for Waffle Window customers. The Waffle Window offers both sweet and savory waffles to choose from and as much as I wanted to try the Banana Rumba, I went with a savory Three B's (pictured above, although I did not take the picture) with bacon, basil and brie. Yum!

Next stop, Voodoo Doughnuts. I'd never been but have wanted to go for a while. It was a fun in a sugary sleazy kind of way, and I got the perfect parking spot right in front (in front of the guy selling the homeless news and next to the porno theater). I got a bacon maple bar, a grape ape, a dirt donut and the voodoo doll (see below.)

I wanted to go to Powell's, but I also wanted to go home. I drove by and the parking garage was full, so I went home. It was a great, great day. So great, that I wanted to do it again today. So I did.

I don't know these people, but they are fans of the new Portland Timbers Major League Soccer team. Downtown in the Timber's store, for the next two days, a professional photographer is doing fan pics that mirror the latest ad campaign (like the one above). I really liked the sound of "professional photographer" and "free" so we went.

The boys were stinkers about it until we got downtown. They wanted to stay home and play the new Wii game we checked out of the library. Did I mention they have a day off from school? Well, they do. They can't just sit home all day and play video games. I told them the trip was mandatory.

They had a great time. We got there right when the store opened up and the line was really short and the photographer was great and the pictures will be emailed to us in a few weeks.

Then we ran over to Powell's. Yay!! I love Powell's. The boys were not so sure. Books are boring, or so they thought. We headed to the Rose Room and found the aisle of video game books and the boys were in heaven. In fact, I left them sitting on a bench reading their books while I went to search for a book for me. I didn't end up getting it because it was kind of expensive and I do have it requested from the library, but it's taking a while and I'm getting anxious.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Before I Get a Haircut...

Tomorrow I'm getting a hair cut. Nothing drastic, just a trim. Still, it's a treat. I love getting my hair cut and styled. Even though the style is never really exactly what I myself would do. With my fine hair, there are really only two styles I could have anyway: flat and flatter. Guess which one I usually get.

It's just nice to have someone fuss over me every once in a while. 

Before I go to get my hair cut, I will do all of the following:

Wash and style my hair - if you show up to the salon looking gross, the stylist might assume this is the look you are going for. She may not put as much effort into your cut and style because clearly you don't care about your appearance, so why should she? Also, by washing and styling my hair I can demonstrate my look and point out what I want different and what I want the same.

Apply make-up - This may be a no-brainer for many women who don't leave the house without it, but not me. I wear make-up one day a week. Sometimes two. I realize that as the years pass, I'm less able to get away with the natural look, but I'm just too lazy to care. But on hair cutting day, I want to walk out of the salon with the total look: hair AND makeup. If my hair is going to be great, I might as well have eyes that pop and eyebrows that don't disappear half-way across my brow line.

Wear cute clothes - Why stop at great hair and make-up?

Think of somewhere fun to go - Hey, it's not every day I've got the beauty trifecta working for me: hair, clothes and make- up. Why not take advantage of it by heading over to the mall. Well, the mall is kind of far away. How about Target? I can walk the aisles passing silent judgement on people who look like they came to Target straight from their workout. 

Surely I can't be the only one who does this.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Night Mobius

It took me a while to figure out what was going on in this cute little story. The kids each watched it several times and really enjoyed it. Then they made a mobius strip to see how the story ended. It's a clever idea! Too bad it doesn't really translate to picture book format because I think this author could sell a lot of books about Wind and Mr. Ug.

Check it out.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Short Story

Thanks to Amanda, I found out about the Three Minute Story contest at NPR. Deadline for submissions was tonight, and Friday I submitted my story. According to the rules, the story had to be no more than 600 words and had to include a joke and crying. They're looking for stories that grapple with human emotion. This story has emotion, but I'm not that great at grappling.

Here it is. It's called Sugar Pie.

“A guy walks into a bar ...”

“Not now,” Jane said. “I’m not really in the mood for jokes.”

“I was just trying to distract you.” Aaron couldn’t figure out what else to do. Or say. “I’m sure Sugar Pie will come home when she gets hungry. She’s only been gone for an hour.”

“Sugar Pie is an indoor cat, Aaron. Indoor! She doesn’t have the skills to be outside. She’s a prime target for predators.” 

“Yeah, but we’re in suburbia. There’s nothing here that will hurt her.” He paused. “Except the coyotes.” Jane gasped, her eyes wide with fear. A single tear slid down her cheek. “But they’re nocturnal,” he recovered. “They only come out at night.” 

“You don’t think a coyote will get Sugar Pie, do you?” Jane took a few, short, exaggerated breaths and blinked as her eyes pooled with more tears. “Why did I open the back door in the first place?”

“Well, you did burn the pizza. There was a lot of smoke.” Jane let out a short sob. “The noise from the smoke detector probably scared her.” 

This was not helping. He should stop talking.

“She’s got a collar on, right? Maybe someone will call,” he reached out to pat Jane on the knee and she swatted him away with her wet, teary hand. He quietly wiped his arm off on the side of his jeans.

“I took it off when I gave her a bath!” She moaned as she stood up, went to the back door, opened it and cried, “Sugar Pie!” over and over, sobbing unabashedly between each call. Finally, she shut the door and walked over to the kitchen sink and let her tears fall onto the blackened, petrified pizza she’d tried to stuff down the drain earlier. Aaron came and stood by her side, but not too close.

“Why don’t we make some signs? I can help you put them up,” he suggested wondering what the boyfriend protocol was in this situation. How long did he have to stay?

“You think that will work?” She sniffed, then ripped a paper towel off the roll and blew her nose with a loud honk. This was her thing--the honking nose blow. He’d thought it was cute when they first started dating. 
“Absolutely. Those signs work all the time. I’ll even put up the reward. What do you think? Twenty-five bucks?” Aaron reached around the back of his pants for his wallet.

“Twenty-five?” she said, her voice full of awe.

“Well, I was thinking twenty at first, but I know how much Sugar Pie means to you.” Finally, he’d said the right thing. It felt good. He pulled the bills from his wallet and set them on the counter, pushing them towards Jane.

“I don’t think you do,” she said.

Later, as he sat on the steps of the front porch, picking burnt pieces of cheese and pepperoni out of his hair, he reflected on the last hour. Where had he gone wrong? A rustling in the bushes made him turn with a start, just in time to see Sugar Pie strutting out from between the leaves.

“Hey cat,” he said, stroking her fur. “Someone’s pretty worried about you.” He looked at the doorbell, then at his car, parked on the street. Then back at the doorbell. The cat sniffed and the crusty bits of pizza before choosing a brown bit of cheese and crunching into it. 
Well, he thought, it is about dinner time. He walked down the front path to his car, got in and drove away.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Not How I Was Expecting to Die

I was not expecting to die in the Marriott Center at BYU

It was the first time I'd had a date to a fireside. All the other times I'd just gone with my roommates. But for this one, I had a date. I was pretty excited. But I have to admit, I was even more excited to hear the speaker, Elder Howard W. Hunter who was practically the prophet of our church.

The Marriott Center had nearly filled it's 22,700 seats with equally excited BYU students, all there to hear one of the apostles speak to them. It was February 7, 1993. After the opening hymn and prayer, Elder Hunter stood and began speaking. Minutes into his talk, someone from the crowd began yelling. He jumped over the railing in the stands and started running towards the dais.

We found out later the man was Cody Judy. Not a student, but a man with a plan.

"I have a bomb!" he shouted as he rushed towards the rostrum. He was carrying a brief case, which I assumed had the bomb. You could hear the confused murmurs in the crowd. I turned to my date. "What do we do?" I said.

By this time Cody Judy was standing right next to Elder Hunter who was standing steadfast and immovable. The other dignitaries on the dais had evacuated. The only other people still left were Elder Hunter's two bodyguards. They would not move either, even though Cody Judy demanded they do so. He thrust a stack of papers in front of Elder Hunter and demanded he read them. Elder Hunter would not.

We later learned that these pages were a document detailing Cody Judy's plan for him to be the church's new leader.

The crowd of students in the Marriott Center understandably became more agitated. I clearly remember thinking that I never would have imagined that I would die this way: in a bomb blast at a church fireside. I wondered how big of a crater would be left in the place of the Marriott Center. I felt a strange peace though--like I was in the right place, and that I wasn't alone.

Out of the confusion of all the students, some rushing for the doors, others crying, a few started singing, We Thank Thee O God For a Prophet. It wasn't long before everyone had joined in. It completely changed the spirit from one of confusion to one of strength. I felt peace.

Cody Judy looked out at the crowd and smiled. He thought we were singing to him! Of course we weren't, but it was enough of a distraction that a group of students who were sitting behind the dais in the stands jumped out and were able to take him down. Security staff then came in and got things under control.

Elder Hunter's own security guards immediately moved him to the floor and shielded him. But it was quickly over and Cody Judy was hauled away. The contents of his brief case, besides his manifesto, were a taped up mobile phone that was supposed to look like a detonator, and some 8x10 glossies of Cody himself. No bomb.

After a few more hymns, now led by the chorister and accompanied by the organist, Elder Hunter stood up to speak. The title of the talk, An Anchor to the Souls of Men. The first words out of his mouth after that 10 or 15 minutes of terror were this:

"Life has a fair number of challenges in it, and that's true of life in the 1990's. Indeed you may be feeling that you have more than your share of problems."

We all laughed at the irony and I think Elder Hunter chuckled too. He went on to give a wonderful talk and we all went home afterwards, changed forever.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Brain Grindings

I started reading my journal today because I thought I might write about the time in college I thought I was going to die. It's a good story that will have to wait for another time because after I read about that night, I couldn't stop reading my journal. It's great fun to see what was going through my head when I was 20ish. I was so ... something. Naive? Young? Clueless? Yes, probably clueless. I was a late bloomer for sure.

But I was a thinker and I was a writer. So I filled up journal after journal of clueless stream of consciousness. It's good stuff.

I came across this quote by Mark Twain that really spoke to me at the time, and I recorded it in my journal on 28 February 1993:

"What a wee little part of a person's life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, not those other things, are his history. These are his life and they are not written. Every day would make a whole book of 80,000 words--365 books a year. Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man--the biography of the man himself cannot be written."

If I remember correctly, I found that quote in a Reader's Digest we were using in the bathroom for emergency toilet paper. (TMI?)

At the time, this meant a lot to me. Maybe because I felt I had so much more to offer than what people were seeing on the outside. I had thoughts and ideas that I wanted to share, but didn't know how. So I wrote in my journal. And as I look at page after handwritten page, and read what was going through my head, I am transported right back to my college house and bedroom. My bed was jacked up on cinder blocks so I'd have more storage space underneath, and I'd sit up there with my pillow and blanket, and I would write my deepest feelings.

On the next page I see this, highlighted in yellow:

Goals for 1993: See a Sting concert, quantity not quality dating (this is how I will feed myself!), spend all spare time in the library, maximize my wardrobe.

(I am so tempted to edit that "dating" bit.)

So, dead Mark Twain, I believe it's best to keep those 80,000 word books off the shelves thank you very much. Although I must admit, it is just as great as I thought it would be to finally have someone who knows and loves my brain grindings.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dear Quaker Oatmeal People

This week is the 3rd grade Wax Museum. Each student chooses a historical or famous person to learn about. They write a one paragraph biography, memorize it, dress up as their person, and on the big day, they stand quietly around the room like wax statues waiting for parents to activate their memorized speech. This is usually done by stepping on a paper dot on the floor that the kids have colored and labeled with "step here."

Jonah is Abraham Lincoln. In my memory, the mandatory item for Abe Lincoln's costume is the Quaker Oatmeal container hat. I seem to remember oatmeal containers being the perfect size for the Abe Lincoln hat transformation. But apparently, the container has shrunk, or my memories have super-sized. Either way, wearing the stovepipe hat requires a precarious balancing act whose difficulty is only marginally reduced with the help of ribbons to tie under the chin.

Quaker Oatmeal, is it too much to ask that your oatmeal containers be the size of 3rd grade heads? I believe this change could be a win/win situation.

Think of the increase in sales around President's Day alone! Every elementary school class in the nation would probably request parents to save their oatmeal containers to send in for special President's Day craft projects. Sales would skyrocket.

You could even include directions on the back of the container for how to make not just the Abe Lincoln hat, but a magician's hat, a straw boater and much more. Get Martha Stewart on this and I'm sure she'd come up with 30 winning ideas before lunch. Quaker Oatmeal could be as synonymous with hat crafts for 3rd graders as Rice Crispies is with Rice Crispy Treats for lunchboxes.

And Quaker Oatmeal people, if you are reading this and like my idea and decide to make your change, could I ask one more thing? Just give me a little heads-up so I can go out and buy Quaker Oatmeal stock. Or you could just send me a nice big check for my idea.

You're welcome.

I took Natalie's suggestion and have notified Quaker of my great idea.

*Update 2* (In which I stop holding my breath for that big check)

Thanks for thinking to use our containers for your son’s school play costume. We appreciate your suggestion; however, we're not able to accept any ideas for legal reasons.

We appreciate you choosing Quaker Oats, Afton. Good luck with your future craft projects.

Quaker Consumer Relations
A Division of PepsiCo
Ref# 027408567A

Monday, January 17, 2011

One Mom's Tip: Podcasts

Cleaning the house can be boring. Music helps, but often it becomes only background and you are left alone with your thoughts and a toilet brush. Which isn't always a bad thing. I'm just saying, sometimes it's nice to be able to switch focus to something interesting to take one's mind off mundane or disgusting tasks.

I use podcasts.

I used to listen to podcasts when I exercised and it made me actually look forward to my four mile daily power walk because I could listen to something interesting, different and sometimes funny every day. I've started running now and one pod cast recently took my mind off my circular run for over half a mile.

My podcast of choice for cleaning day is How Stuff Works. It's free from iTunes, as are all the other podcasts I listen to through NPR. How Stuff Works is a 15-30 minute show about how different things work. Things like dreadlocks, cremation, the Life Straw, homelessness, octopi, the MARS turbine, being a knight and much, much, MUCH more.

Tonight while I dusted I learned how moonshine is made and that today's NASCAR is a direct result of bootleggers running moonshine in their souped up cars and then deciding to see who's was fastest. I bet you didn't know that.

While I folded laundry I learned about credit default swaps (a little thick, but still interesting).

While I cleaned out the tub I learned about where the superstition about Friday the 13th came from.

I spent maybe 2 hours cleaning, but it was actually enjoyable because of my podcasts.

So if you need to do some housecleaning but dread the drudgery, download a few podcasts onto your iPod and start listening.

Other podcasts I enjoy are NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, This American Life, and the CBC's The Vinyl Cafe.

Do you have a favorite podcast?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Boy Books

Facts about me:
1. I love to read.
2. I especially love to read books I think my boys might enjoy.
3. My boys rarely take my recommendations...
4. ...but other boys do!

Since I often get asked to recommend books boys might like and since I often spend a lot of time writing out my recommendations, since I usually think of one or two more every time I'm about to stop making my list, I'm compiling my list here. That way if you ask me for book recommendations for a boy in your life, I'll be able to direct you to this blog post.

Airman by Eoin Colfer - Combines adventure and fantasy, a young man uses his fascination with flying to save himself, his family and his entire kingdom. For mature middle graders and up.

Epic by Conor Kostick - Fantasy and science fiction, on New Earth violence is banned, but Epic, the virtual reality video game provides the arena for settling disputes. As you create and build your character in the game, you build your status and opportunity in real life. Great for mature middle graders and up.

The Heir Series by Cinda Williams Chima - Fantasy, each book focuses on a different character and their special gifts and talents that end up coming together to defeat the evil forces in a great wizard war. Possibly young adult, there is a little romance and kissing that may not appeal to younger boys.

Airborn, Skybreaker, Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel - Fifteen year old Matt Cruse loves his life aboard the greatest luxury ship in the sky in this Victoian era, alternate history story. (You might even say series has elements of steampunk to it.) His greatest desire is to one day become captain of his own airship. He meets wealthy Kate Devries who is determined to prove girls can be scientists too. Lots of adventure! Appropriate for middle grade although there is a bit of romance as the series progresses that may not appeal to younger boys.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud - Bartimaeus, a powerful, sarcastic djinni narrates this story of Nathaniel, the young magician who summons him to exact revenge on an enemy. Barimaeus makes his snide remarks in lots and lots of footnotes, a style that works well and brings humor to this otherwise serious tale. Middle grade and up.

Dark Life by Kat Falls - Science fiction, with most of the land covered by water, pioneers set out to explore and settle the last frontier--the ocean. Ty, the first child ever born underwater is more at home there than on land. He meets Gemma who is looking for her brother and together they help to defend the underwater settlement against bandits who would destroy everything. Perfect for kids 10 and up.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld - Fantasy, steampunk, alternate history, takes place at the start of World War I when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are assasinated. Europe is divided into two factions: The Clankers who rely on machines and the Darwinists who rely on creating new species. This book has two narrators, Prince Aleksander the son of Ferdinand, and Deryn Sharpe, a girl who poses as a boy to train as an airman for the Darwinist cause. First in a series, the second book is Behemoth. Middle grade and up.

Ship Breaker by Paulo Bacigalupi - Postapocalyptic, dystopian, Nailer is lucky to be small enough to  work on light crew, crawling through the ducts of massive tanker ships to strip copper wire, a dangerous job that is hard to come by and even harder to keep. The story is raw, harsh and frightening, a little dystopian and very much amazing. This book was the winner of the 2011 Printz Award, chosen by librarians for excellence in young adult literature. There is some violence in this book, so it is probably more appropriate for 14 and up.

Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer - Epic fantasy, a great book but might get a little thick in places for younger kids. Just see what Amazon has to say.

The Fiddler's Gun by AS Peterson - This may be the only book your son doesn't like because there is a girl as the main character. But I have to list it anyway because it's a wonderful book and for much of it the girl, Fin, is mistaken for a boy. She certainly fights like one! Historical fiction, takes place at the start of the Revolutionary War and follows the adventures of Fin Button as she runs from her life in an orphanage to a life of adventure. If your boy doesn't like it, you certainly will!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

In Which I Become Susan Heffley

Last night as I stood at Walgreens, looking for a day planner for the son who lost his when he lost his entire backpack, I was surprised at the lame selection. It's January after all. The beginning of the year. Shouldn't there be all kinds of planners to choose from? Evidently not.

The very best one I found was this one:

And I couldn't help feel a bit like Susan Heffley, Greg's mom in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie and books. It just sounded like something she would do. I knew that Ethan would never use a "Mom's Busy Year" planner, but I also knew I could fix it so he'd never know what it really was. The planner had several sheets of cute stickers to use for things like appointments, sports practice, birthdays and holidays.

But this sticker had to go. There were twelve of them. I just stuck them in random places on the big family calendar I keep on the fridge. Maybe someone will get the hint.

I then removed any evidence of the word "Mom."

Finally, I covered it with this super awesome boy paper, front and back. I used spray glue, which I love but which always makes a big mess. At least I know the cover will not come off by accident during math class. Can you imagine if Patty Ferrell saw the "Mom" cover? She would make Ethan's life miserable.

No one, including Ethan, will every find out.

Unless they read this blog.

*Update - Guess who just called from middle school to say he found his backpack? 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wit's End, We Meet Again

How do you lose your whole backpack? How?

Maybe the question I should be asking myself is, who would want to steal a whole backpack?

No, no. I think I was right the first time.

Here's the thing. I don't know what to do with this kid. Today also happened to be progress report day. You know all those times I asked him on Saturday night or Sunday night--or any night, really--"is all your homework done?"

And you know how he said, "yes" and then proceeded to play Wii, or watch lame videos on the computer, or stay glued to his DS or his brother's DS and the only way I'd find out is because I happened to notice light coming from under the doorway at 10pm?

Well, evidently, his definition of "done," and my definition of "done" were not the same.

What do I do?

Well, other than the obvious--all screen off limits until I have proof that all homework has been turned in. And he feels bad about it. He really does. I just don't think he can organize himself well enough to figure out how to do everything. Which really isn't that much until it all piles up.

Or disappears when he loses the backpack.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On Weather and the 24 Hour News Cycle

Today is the day that the weathermen predicted we would have 6 inches of snow in downtown Portland. Snow in downtown Portland means even more snow in the hills, where I live. I was excited about the snow because a) it's pretty, b) it's fun for the kids to play in and c) we haven't had a snow day this winter yet.

As we got near and nearer to today, the big day, the forecast got more and more conservative until this morning when all offers for snow were rescinded. Instead, we will have rain. And it might freeze, but probably not.

Well, thanks a lot.

This makes me feel like I am wasting my time watching the weather reports. Although I usually watch while I'm making dinner, so it's not a total waste of time. Dinner does get made and the family has been pretty supportive of my feeding them. But seriously, what's the point. I'd do better to just see what the weather is like when it's happening. You know--open the door and stick my head out. Or look out the window and see if things are wet, dry, or windy.

This thought led me to consider the 24 hour news cycle and the recent shooting of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The tragedy in Arizona set off an unfortunate run of news stories blaming toxic political rhetoric as the cause of the shooter's violent outburst. As in, if the politicians could just talk nicely to each other, then maybe there wouldn't be crazy people.

While it would be nice if everyone could talk nicely, the logic is flawed. But are the news people to blame for pushing this story? The news is on TV 24 hours a day. They have to come up with something to say. Even if that something is the rantings of people in shock. Or people who haven't had time to learn all the details. The information we get is opinions rather than facts. We hear comments based on fear and anger, not rational thinking.

That's not news.

The 24 hour news cycle does plenty to stir everyone up. It creates division. It promotes conflict. It shines a light on the faults of our public servants and makes us forget their humanity. It makes us feel the need to take sides instead of stand united.

So, boo to the news. You don't offer me useful information and might possibly be a catalyst for crazy people.

And boo to the weather reports. I want snow!

But I'll still watch you tonight while I'm making dinner.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Symbiotic Relationship

Ethan loves to shoot the air soft gun he got for his birthday. He lines up soda pop cans on the fence and stands back to take shots. Or sometimes he just walks right up to the cans and shoots at point blank range. He prints targets off the computer and works on his accuracy. Any time he has free time, he's out in the back with his gun.

Of the several rules and responsibilities we have for the gun's use, one is that he must pick up all the little colored plastic pellets he shoots around the yard. Shooting is fun. Picking up pellets is not.

Ethan, however, has found a way to satisfy this rule without having to do the actual pick-up work.

Isaac collects air soft pellets. When we take a walk through the nearby woods, he is always on the lookout for pellets. He picks them up and puts them in his pocket. He is not allowed to go into the woods alone, so he can only go pellet-hunting when Mom or Dad go with him. Which is not nearly as often as he'd like.

Now, when Ethan shoots his gun, he doesn't worry about how many pellets he expels into the nether regions of the yard. As soon as he's done, he comes in the house and announces to Isaac, "If you pick them up, you can have them."

Isaac rushes into the backyard, sometimes in his stocking feet, mostly without a coat, and scampers around picking up all the pellets he can find while Ethan sits in the warm house, smugly shirking his responsibility.

Both boys are so completely happy with the arrangement I haven't been able to come up with a logical protest.

But something about it doesn't feel right.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Don't Fence Me In

Ethan has been fencing once a week since September. He really enjoys it and the club is wonderful. Great owners, teachers and parents. It's the type of thing you could easily sink a bunch of money into if you were so inclined. I'm not, but not because I don't think fencing is a great sport for Ethan to participate in.

See, I also want to help him go to college. And I think it would be fair to also offer the same thing to the other two kids. Plus, there's braces, and did I mention those two other kids? Those two other kids like to do things also. They like to play basketball and baseball and they take swimming lessons in the summer. All of which costs more money.

Good news though--some universities offer fencing scholarships. This is where my checkbook starts coming out. I'd be willing to invest a little moolah in the chance that Ethan could get a full ride scholarship to college. Here are just a few of the universities with division 1 fencing teams: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Duke, Cornell, Columbia, Penn State, Stanford, Notre Dame.

I don't want to seem like a mom who's down on her kids, but at this point, I don't really see Ethan getting in to any of those universities. Even if he was a world class fencer. Because I can almost guarantee there will be other world class fencers who also have good grades.

But, you never know...

Last week Ethan brought his Flip camera and a tripod to practice so he could watch how he fences and try to improve. I'm not sure how much he's watching the video critically and how much he's watching it with this in mind.

But, you never know.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Specially Dyed

I just bought a pair of jeans from Eddie Bauer. They fit like a dream and are nice and long. But I noticed a tag on the inside of the jeans when I was putting them on the other day. It said this:

Specially Dyed - We used a special dyeing process to achieve the beautiful coloring in this fabric. Please wash separately before wearing, and be careful around light-colored clothing and other surfaces as some color may rub off, especially when damp.

If I understand them correctly, their "special dyeing process" results in pants with color that doesn't really stay where it's supposed to stay and may ruin other clothes. This doesn't sound special. It sounds like they made a mistake and are just trying to cover it up by slapping a fancy word on it.

Meanwhile, the color of the jeans isn't anything to write home about. It's not more beautiful than any other color of jeans I looked at before selecting this pair from Eddie Bauer. It's denim for crying out loud. Why not just use the dyeing process that won't cause your skin, light clothes, or a random white sock in the washer to turn blue?

If Eddie Bauer can use the word "special" to cover up their poor dye job, why can't I use it?

How about this: I made this chicken using a special baking process. So if it seems a little dry, that is just a result of the specialness of the process. Isn't it a lovely golden brown?" (I think this was the same technique used to explain the very first Blackened Red Fish.)

Ethan could use this technique too: My bed was made this morning using a special bed making process. The bed may look unmade to you, but without the special bed making process, I wouldn't have been able to attain this natural, beautiful look. To avoid any shock from the sight of my bed, you may want to close the door to my room.

Here's what Intel would say: Our employees are involved in a special work process. You may notice that  your husband/father comes home after the family is asleep and leave before the family is awake. Or you may not notice him at all. We recommend keeping a current picture of him somewhere in the house so the kids don't forget what he looks like.

I'm sure there are plenty of other applications for the "special process."

Words can change everything.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Jell-o Project: A Present From Tokyo

You know who I really miss? My friend Debbie who moved to Singapore like 2 and a half years ago. And the bummer is Singapore totally suits her and her husband, who have spent their time very wisely, traveling to some of the most amazing and beautiful spots on the planet. So she is going to be in Asia a while longer. Being awesome and letting me live vicariously through her.

It's easier to live vicariously, though, if one's blog is updated more regularly, hint, hint.

Anyway, Debbie came to visit me today, which I totally appreciated since I'm sure she has many people to visit while she is here. And she came to my house, even though I would have driven to see her somewhere. But I won't lie, it was nice to be able to have her come to me. And she brought me a present! These beautiful Jell-o molds. I love them.

I'd been commenting to someone earlier that I think I took more pictures of Jell-o in 2010 than I did of my own children. Don't accuse me of exaggeration because that would force me to count, and then I'd realize it was true, and have all kinds of guilt issues.

But I don't feel guilty now. I want to start looking for the perfect Jell-o to make in these molds. I know I'll love taking pictures of Jell-o from these molds!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Stuff I Learned from Having Boys: YouTube

My kids have been an education. I've learned many of the regular things you'd expect a mom of 3 boys to learn: always keep plenty of baking soda and vinegar in the house, make sure you check behind the bed for dirty underwear on laundry day, and anything can be turned into a weapon.

I've also learned a few lessons I never could have predicted. For example, there are kids who make videos while they open packages of Pokemon cards and then post those videos to YouTube. I guess the real shocker isn't so much that people make these videos, but that other people actually watch them. 

Here are a few YouTube video series I never would have heard about if it were not for my boys.

Will It Blend - Nerdy blender scientist blends all kinds of cool stuff in his pricey Blendtec blender. Stuff like an iPhone 3G, glow sticks, golf balls, a crowbar, a Wii remote--you know, stuff you really need to reduce to dust. My favorite episode is the Old Spice episode, but you really need to watch some of the other ones to understand the humor before you enjoy a bottle of Old Spice being blended. There is one thing that won't blend, however.

Is it a Good Idea to Microwave This? - In the same vein as "Will it Blend," but with young men in their 20's who either have a very forgiving mother, or who are totally destroying their frat house basement*. This show has been banned in our house because the teens use PG13 language while they hide behind a tinfoil door and watch what happens when they microwave Nerf guns, paint balls, fire crackers and more.

Fred - If you haven't seen "Hey, It's Fred," count yourself lucky. Some fourteen year old boy has created what might possibly be the most annoying character in the history of characters. Fred Figglehorn is a 6 year old boy with a helium balloon voice and a raging case of ADHD (emphasis on the H). The videos are fairly benign, until your 8 year old begins to talk like Fred. Then you have problems. Here's Fred getting a haircut. Word on the street is that Fred is getting his own movie. (Scholars of The Bible will surely recognize this as one of the signs of the apocalypse.)

The Annoying Orange - The biggest thing Annoying Orange has going for it is that it's not Fred. If Fred and the Annoying Orange ever got together it's possible the result would be an effective form of torture.

KipKay Hacks - This guy tells how to take regular stuff around the house, take it apart and put it back together to do something completely different. Make the world's loudest alarm clock, a high powered t-shirt launcher or learn how to build a laser guided sling shot.

There is one series of videos Ethan likes made by a boy who reviews different electronic gadgets with his cat puppet sidekick. They have amazing repartee.  

However, I think I've reached my limit for boy videos tonight. Jonah is still channeling Fred and I have a bit of a headache.

*I've recently learned that the microwave testing is all done outside. You can learn more by checking out the comment I received from Jonny Paula in the comments section. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

One Mom's Tip: Laundry

Each Monday night every laundry basket in my house is empty, the washer is empty, the dryer is empty and every item of clothing or linen is folded and put away.

Does this sound impossible? Do you think I'm lying? I'm not. I've found the secret to doing laundry and I'm going to share it with you. Here it is: fold everything right when it comes out of the dryer.

OK, that's not the only part of my secret, but it's a big part. Don't let the clean clothes turn into Mt. Laundry because then weird mental things start happening. Even though it doesn't take all that much time to fold everything, the task seems overwhelming.

First you need to have a paradigm shift about laundry. Folding clothes does not take very much time and you need to prove it to yourself. Next time you're switching loads, time yourself on how long it takes to fold everything. Stand right at the dryer and fold things as you pull them out, or if you have another load to dry, pull the dry clothes into a basket and just fold while you stand there. Just once. Just to see. If it takes more than 5 minutes to fold everything, you are doing it wrong.

Here's how I reach my laundry nirvana every Monday night.

1. Monday is my cleaning day, so I usually spend the day cleaning anyway. It's best to have a big block of time dedicated to laundry if you want to get it done all at once. Laundry is in progress while I knock off other cleaning tasks. I find it to be an efficient use of my time.

2. Get things going the night before your cleaning/laundry day if you have lots of sheets and towels to wash, but keep it moving. One load after another after another.

3. Every time a load comes out of the dryer, fold it. You can then put things away, or wait for the stacks to get bigger before taking them to individual bedrooms. Just get things folded.

4. Save socks for last. Don't waste time searching for socks in a big pile of laundry. Get rid of the pile and then deal with the socks that are left over.

5. Put all folded clothes away. Either have your kids do it or you do it, but JUST DO IT.

Take control of your laundry and I will see you in Laundry Nirvana!

Monday, January 3, 2011

One Mom's Tip: School Lunches

Here's my favorite time saving tip for making school lunches:

I make multiple sandwiches at once and store them in the freezer. I have 3 kids so I make 2 loaves worth of sandwiches at a time. I spread a little PB on each slice of bread.

Then drop a little blob of jam on every other slice.

Put the sandwiches together and cut off the crusts with a sandwich cutter. This is the Cut n Seal from Pampered Chef but you may be able to find something similar from other retailers.

Save the crusts to feed to the ducks until you find out that bread crusts are actually bad for the ducks, then make them into bread crumbs or stuffing, or croutons. or just throw them in the trash and try not to think of the starving children in Africa.

Put your sandwiches in little plastic bags and place them on a cookie sheet to freeze so they will keep their shape. Once the sandwiches are frozen you can store them in a big zip lock bag in the freezer. Every morning, simply grab sandwiches from your stash to put your kid's lunches together. By lunchtime, the sandwiches will be defrosted and ready for eating.

I also use this bag-and-freeze technique for cookies or muffins for a fabulous school-lunch-making time saver.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Fourteenth Day of Christmas Break

This morning, right before I woke up at 6:45 to get ready for church, I had this dream:

I was visiting a private Christian K-12 school with the particular intention of talking to someone about their policy of not checking out books about the Bible (in this case, Noah and the Ark) to Mormons. Their explanation was that Mormons were not Christians and therefore would not be allowed to check out books about the Bible. I arrived at the school and found a quiet place to sit down and work on my laptop while I waited to speak with someone in charge. I had to go to the bathroom and since there happened to be one in the corner of the room, and since I was the only one in the room, and since I knew I could go quickly, I decided to leave my laptop where it was and go. 

When I came out, I saw an androgynous sort of girl in a wheelchair waiting for the bathroom. I apologized for taking so much time (I was having a hard time getting my new size 8 jeans to button up, which is TOTALLY not the case in real life, yay!) and she said it was OK. I finished and when I returned to the spot where I'd left the computer, it was gone.  

I was infuriated! My computer had been stolen at a private Christian school in the few seconds I was in the bathroom. CHRISTIANS! How could they! They wouldn't even let me check out a book about Noah from their library on their high-faulting moral grounds and then one of them stole my beloved laptop. Who wasn't acting like a Christian now? (Soon to be me.)

I found a nice girl who said she'd take me from room to room to see if we could find out where my computer went. She did, but it was a joke. We were going to the kindergarten room and the 1st grade room. I knew they didn't take my laptop. I told her I'd seen a girl in a wheelchair and she got a look on her face like she knew just who I was talking about. She told me to wait in the hall and went into a room.

She was there for a long time and after a while I went in. There was a chubby boy who I then realized had been pretending to be the girl in a wheelchair earlier. "Give me my laptop." I demanded.  

"OK, alright, I've got it here somewhere." He said, and started looking for it around the room.

"Get it for me now!" I said. He was stalling, but why? I knew he had it.

"OK," he said again and started to circle the room around a big main table in the center. He reached down into one of the many backpacks and shoulder bags laying around and pulled out 2 small cards. I knew he was trying to distract me and appease me with something else and suddenly I knew what it was!

"If that is a coupon for a free smoothie at Jamba Juice," I said, "I'm going to punch you in the face! Give me my computer!" Chubby froze, then slowly lowered his hand, and the cards, back into the bag, hiding the cards from my sight. No sudden movements. "Give me my laptop! Give it to me now!" I said.

And then I woke up.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Thirteenth Day of Christmas Break

The good news is I don't have to labor all day preparing a turkey dinner.

The bad news is we had to throw the turkey out. The turkey did not stay cold enough overnight while it was in the brine in my big canning pot in the garage. This morning the turkey was 48 degrees. Too warm to be safe according to our Internet research. So the turkey now resides in the garbage. So sad. But at least we know we will all live through the night, right?

More bad news: Ethan's birthday present, the Eye Clops Mini Projector has broken after less than 2 hours of use. That was enough to put him into a mild depression, but this morning, his new BB gun also appears to be faulty. He paid about $50 for it, so it clearly wasn't the best weapon his money could buy, and it was his money.

While we are on the subject (and Ethan is on the subject a lot this morning), the iPod dock that he won a couple months ago from selling cookie dough for the school fundraiser has broken. The HD digital video camera he bought on Black Friday, that he got up at 3am to stand in line for, was defective and had to be returned the same day. And furthermore, everything he has will one day break. Everything breaks and it's not fair.

My new year's resolution this year is to only type one space in between sentences. It's a hard thing for me as my middle school and high school teachers drilled the two-space thing into my head and fingers for years and it's something I don't even think about until after I've done it. (I just did it again and had to backspace!)

My other resolution is to write more. I want to set a time goal but I'm afraid. I will have to think about it a bit more, but I think I could do a graduated time goal so that by the end of the year I'm writing more and more each day.

Happy 2011!

Robert and I saw The Tourist tonight with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Wore my Frosty Forest parka. Only had to take one call from the babysitter about misbehaving kids. A fun movie.