Thursday, November 29, 2012

Zen And the Art of Shooting Lasers Out of Your Eyes

I'd like to think that most of the time I'm a pretty zen mom.

I didn't totally freak out when I caught my teen trying to make a super powered water gun out of the leaf blower and a bucket of water.

No one compliments my dinner? Water off a duck's back.

And when I see that someone has tracked mud across a clean floor, I take a deep breath and count to three before taking a shoe print analysis  and recalling the offender for clean up duty.

One* thing, however, makes me so insane, I'm pretty sure that if I really focused, I could shoot searing laser beams out of my mad, mad eyes.

All anyone has to do to bring me to this state of psychosis is to reply to my request for help cleaning up, putting something away, or being responsible for a basic household chore with the following phrase:

"But I didn't do it."

Because I didn't get mud all over those pants, but I just washed them and folded them anyway.

And I didn't eat lasagna off that plate, but I just put it in the dishwasher anyway.

I certainly didn't pee on the floor and leave those skid marks in the toilet, but I just wiped, scoured, scrubbed and sanitized the floor and toilet anyway.

I have no tolerance for the "I didn't do it" excuse and am frankly surprised my kids have tried using it more than once.

I think I need to work on my laser beam eyes.

*Okay, two things.  I also pretty much go ballistic if someone spills lemonade on the floor.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Doctor Who? A Halloween Costume Primer

There are a geeky few who watch the British TV show, "Doctor Who," and my boys are among them. Not only do they watch it, they love it. So this Halloween, they wanted to be the Doctor.

There are different versions of Doctor because he is 900+ year old alien with two hearts who regenerates every so often. This is a handy little plot device that takes care of any actor drama, or fan malaise that may occur. Current actor not working out? Just get a new one and have the Doctor "regenerate."

Anyway, Jonah chose to be the 11th Doctor and Isaac is the 10th. Just so you know this isn't an isolated trend, there were three 11th Doctors at our trunk or treat, and I saw friends pictures of Doctors in Sacramento and State College, PA. So, it's not just my kids who love this show.

Here's how I made the costumes:

A good friend clued me into the women's suit section at Goodwill. Finding a boy's suit at Goodwill would have been a miracle, and men's sizes were just too big. But Women's small was almost perfect. Definitely workable.

Isaac is wearing a size 10, ladies brown pin striped suit. I sewed along the outside edges of the pants to make them fit his waist and left the coat alone, although it could have used a little taking in. I just left it as it was. He wore a blue shirt, a Goodwill red tie, and a pair of Dollar Tree reading glasses. The sonic screwdriver was purchased from Think Geek last summer. Oh! And the red Converse: also a Goodwill find.

I also mussed up Isaac's hair, but it just wouldn't stay mussed for long. But I think he still looks pretty good.

Jonah has a corduroy woman's jacket with elbow patches, white shirt, braces, and mostly red bow tie. The fez was a one episode costume accessory, but we decided to throw it in anyway. We found some boots that were blue and spray painted them black. The sonic screwdriver was from Think Geek and also purchased last summer.

Isaac ended up with 11 pounds of candy and Jonah had 8. I think I will suggest some homemade DQ-style Blizzards in the coming days to use of some of their stash. In the meantime, we have Snickers coming out of our ears.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mary Poppins Costume (And Bert)

I have to admit, I had some fun dressing up for the Trunk or Treat last night. There were some things about the costume I loved (mostly everything about Robert) and some things about the costume I did not love (I think my hat should have been more petite, and my umbrella was all wrong).

Here's how I made everything:

Bert: vest and hat were found at Goodwill. The hat was literally the catalyst that got these costumes under way. If I couldn't find a hat like that, the whole thing was going to be a no-go. I sewed the neckerchief out of half a yard of red cotton. Robert already had the shirt and pants and rubbed a little charcoal from our fire pit on his face.

You can read about how I made the chimney sweep here.

Mary: I wore black tights and shoes that I already owned, and the black skirt was from Goodwill. The bag was also from Goodwill (I would have made a shell out of upholstery fabric, but I couldn't find a cheap remnant).

The shirt: The white shirt I found at Goodwill was actually a lot nicer and fit me better than the white shirt I already owned. So I put the Goodwill shirt into my closet and pulled this one out. I removed the collar and sewed in lace in its place. I also sewed lace around the wrists and down the button front on either side. I made a little bow out of red ribbon and attached it to the shirt with needle and thread.

The hat: Not perfect. I think it should have been smaller to show more of my hair. But oh well. I found it at Goodwill for $2.99, purchased some daisies and red berry things at Dollar Tree and attached them with hot glue.

The umbrella: Do not get me started. It was way too big and didn't even look good open in the photos. Ugh.

For my hair, I purchased a "bun kit" in the hair accessories section of Walgreens. It was not easy. My neighbor had to come over and help me. I don't think the bun kit was necessary.

Ideally, I will add a nice overcoat to this costume for next year and get a better hat. And a better umbrella.

But I have a whole year to worry about that.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Costume: Down to the Wire

Just a few more finishing touches on the Mary Poppins and Burt costumes so I will be ready for the Trunk or Treat tonight.

I have to make Robert's/Burt's chimney sweep and I need a black umbrella.

I was promised at one blog that the chimney sweep was easy peasy. Just buy a broom at the dollar store, deconstruct it and spray paint the handle black and use the broom bristles and some floral foam (also available at the dollar store) to make the "sweep" part.

Good fortune has been with me during the costume element gathering and I found a broom AND floral foam at the dollar store. In fact, I found a circular, disk shaped piece of foam at the dollar store. What could be better?

I had black spray paint here at home and quickly got to work deconstructing the broom into its chimney sweep parts.

The handle came apart easily enough and I sprayed it black. However, the bristles were firmly stuck in their broom-head assembly. They were NOT coming out. I tried to think of a way to cut them at the base to remove them, but I couldn't slash didn't want to spend time trying to figure it out. Also, the bristles are short and I figured would not make an impressive sweep.

So I went to Michaels, which is honestly a true sign of insanity, for pipe cleaners. As I walked in the store there was one check stand open and about 40 people in line. The line snaked back and forth and I tried to find the pipe cleaners as quickly as possible as more people queued up. I located the pipe cleaners, but guess what? No black. So I grabbed a couple multi packs and figured I'd use my handy can of spray paint to achieve the correct color.

Here's a couple pictures of the sweep before and after the spray paint. Looks like I'm going to need a few more coats.


Now about that umbrella.

I've been to five stores and not found the right umbrella. All I want is a regular, black umbrella.

Target and Ross had plenty of mini umbrellas that pop out with the touch of a button.

Fred Meyer had a $20 sport umbrella, which was huge.

Goodwill had lots of umbrellas to choose from, the day before I got there.

And Nordstrom Rack had a patterned, regular umbrella which I was just about to purchase and attack with my can of spray paint when I noticed it was $51.

T minus four hours until the trunk or treat and I am a umbrellaless Mary Poppins.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Procrastination: Making it Work For You

I have a pretty good exercise routine. The routine is important because it allows me to have a cookie or two, or five and not feel guilty. Or possibly, to purloin several Almond Joy's out of the bag of Halloween candy. (Kids don't like almonds and coconut anyway).

Here's my routine:
On mornings I drive Ethan to early-morning seminary, I return home at 6 am and do 30 Day Shred on DVD. I'm done in plenty of time to return to pick him up and deliver him to school.

On mornings when Ethan takes the bus, I originally woke to see him off to school, then promptly left the house to do 30 minutes of jogging-walking. However, as it has gotten darker and darker, I've now had to move my jogging-walking time up to 8am, which is just after the younger boys get on the elementary school bus.

Now, here is where procrastination has become my faithful exercise partner:

I realize that jogging-walking outside for exercise will probably stop at some point this Fall-Winter. It will get too cold or wet and I just won't want to deal with being outside. And 30 Day Shred can't last forever either. I know that one day will probably be my last day exercising until the Spring when I'm 10 pounds heavier for all the holiday and post-holiday snacking I'm sure to do.

I enjoy being somewhat in shape, and I enjoy the way my clothes fit nicely, and I realize that continuing to exercise is much easier than starting after a long time NOT exercising.

So every morning, when I'm dreading turning on the DVD or heading out into the cold to jog-walk, I ask myself, "Is this the day you're going to quit?"

So far I've always answered, "I can always quit tomorrow."

Just the thought that I can quit if I want to and that it can be as soon as tomorrow, keeps me going one more day.

And it worked this morning as I left for what turned into a 4-mile jog-walk.

I normally do 2 miles, but was feeling good at the point I'd normally turn around and return home, so I kept going. By the time I finally turned around and started heading back, it was cold and rainy and I just wanted to be home.

I thought, "I should have quit today."

But I made it home and took a really long, hot shower, and put on my comfiest jeans and slippers and only then, felt pretty glad I didn't quit today.

I can always quit tomorrow.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Afton Costumed: A Retrospective

I mentioned in my last post that I hadn't worn a costume for 20 years. In the interest of something to blog about, I decided to dig up photos of costumed me and put them up for all to see.

One costume picture I couldn't find was me as a back up singer to a lip-syncing, also white, Aretha Franklin. All I have to say is that I rocked the blue eye-shadow and ratted out hair. Can I get some R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

In this photo, my roomies and I are getting ready for the polyester prom, an annual event anticipated by all. It required a trip to the thrift store and the ability to dance the night away in thick, unbreathable fabric. In case you can't tell, I'm the beauty in the black and white number. Several at the dance commented that my hair-do that evening had a certain "Emma Smith" quality. (Only at BYU!)

Another annual event was the lip sync contest. This year my roommates and I favored the crowd with a fully choreographed rendition of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana." I was Barry. In the white suit. And I feel the need to tell you that we killed. It outdid our previous year's lip sync of a K-Tel commercial for an Abba compilation. 

That year I was an unfortunate Bj√∂rn Ulvaeus. (I have the picture, but I'm really hard to see. But as a consolation, here's a close-up of me as Barry sans wig and big fake nose).

I can't remember who this guy was, but he was clearly sponging off my polyester, white suit greatness.

And finally, here is my Aphrodite costume for Betsy's annual Halloween party. All the roommates went and had a great time. I don't know what else I can say about a toga except I can't believe I got all the way to my final year of college until I finally donned one.

So, as you can clearly see, I've worn costumes. I can't say that I've particularly enjoyed costumes. I always feel more comfortable in my regular clothes. I remember my Psych major sister trying to analyze me when I confessed this to her in college.

"That means you aren't truly comfortable as who you are." she said.

That never made sense to me. If I want to dress as myself, isn't that how I'm most comfortable?

Psych majors!

Friday, October 19, 2012

In Which I Wear a Costume for the First Time in Twenty Years

The monumental wearing of a Halloween costume by your humble blogger is still a few days off, but items for said costume are being gathered and scrutinized.

The plan is to be Mary Poppins. Robert is going to be Bert. I sprang the news on him just about an hour ago, after spending a few days rustling up the newsboy cap, vest, shirt and makings of a chimney sweeper. He was excited. I think he is still wearing the vest around the house.

I think it's safe to say that for a Mary Poppins costume, the hat is the most important part of the whole ensemble. Without the hat, you're just a dowdy lady with a big purse and umbrella. So the hat has been a little source of stress.

As you can see from the picture above, I've gathered three hats thus far.

Hat #1, on the left, is on loan from Andrea. It's a real hat that she really wears and which she has in multiple colors. (I saw three in addition to this one.) It is cute, but in a "I would actually wear that," way. I am just not getting the MP vibe from it. And besides, I don't want to hot glue stuff onto it, since it's still in her current hat rotation.

Hat #2, in the middle, was purchased today at a Halloween store for $9.99. I believe I saw a sign that said, "no returns." Which is just my luck because as it turns out, I don't think this is the hat for me either. I was going to spray paint it black and try and rough it up a little. Online advice I've read suggested getting it wet to reshape it.

Hat #3, on the right, obliterated any desire I had for straw hat re-shapery. I found it at Goodwill tonight for $2.99. It's crumpled and there is a bit of wire in the rim that will allow for additional mashing up. I just have to remove the netting, satin ribbon, and gold lame band and hot glue my dollar store daisies and red berry things and I think I will be good to go.

Next on the costume assembly agenda: beating myself up for buying a $10, non-returnable hat and general stressing out over how much moola I'm sinking into this costume.

Costume guilt. Great. (This is why I've avoided costumes for 20 years)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The End of an Era

For three years I've carried this purse around.

You can read all about how I made it myself here

For three years I've received compliments on this purse. I kid you not. People actually come up to me and tell me they like my bag. It happened as recently as two weeks ago when I was shopping in Fred Meyer. 

Getting all these compliments is a heady experience. I got used to the compliments--depended on them, even. So it was with much confusion that I explored my growing malaise with this purse. It was getting tattered and worn. Even though I'd thrown it through the wash on multiple occasions, it just seemed dingy and old and dated. 

I started to wonder if some people were seeing the bag before they'd see me and thinking, oh, here she comes with that purse again. Is she going to hang onto that thing forever?

I'd be all ready to ditch the purse for something new when someone would compliment me again. I felt like shouting, "Are you kidding? This thing? Can you see how old and worn out it is? Do you not realize this same fabric has been on the shelf at JoAnn for over three years? There is nothing special about this purse!" But, of course, I never did. 

It took months for me to reconcile the possible loss of compliments with the intense desire for something new. But I've finally done it.

The old purse made one more trip through the wash and was folded up and put on a shelf in the closet. (A much higher honor than the under-the-bed status of my former purses.)

So, here's to another three years with my new Margaret Sling Bag.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Facts

The fact is, Robert got three hours of sleep last night. Actually, that's just a guess because I didn't exactly remember the time he came to bed, but I turned in around 11pm and it was later than that. When the dull green glow of his blackberry illuminated our bedroom, it was around 2am. He got up, got dressed, and went back downstairs to work.

Most nights Robert gets about four hours of sleep and every once in a while, six. You might think that six hours is a perfectly grand amount of sleep, and it would be. If you weren't already so behind on your sleep to begin with.

The fact is, if Robert gets six hours of sleep, that means he worked eighteen. If he's not sleeping, he's working. Oh, he takes five to ten minute breaks for meals, but sometimes, when he's home, I'll bring a plate of food in to him because he doesn't have enough time to stop working and come out and eat with us.

This is the schedule that he keeps seven days a week. Every day. And he's been doing it since at least May. And, as he lamented last night, there is no end in sight.

That isn't precisely true--things will hopefully end in another three to six weeks--but I have no doubt it feels like there is no end in sight. He said, "there are three ways I see this ending. One, the project ends. Two, I die from working so hard. Three, I quit. But I don't really see a reason to quit."

"Um," I interjected. "I think your imminent death is reason enough to quit."

"Well, sure." He replied. "I'd quit if I was going to die."

So this is his life.

Since May, I can count on one hand the number of days he hasn't worked.

He got half a day off when Jonah had surgery, which was nice. He slept over half the time, including during Jonah's recovery time. He climbed onto the hospital bed and snuggled up to Jonah and went to sleep.

Before that he got a Saturday, Sunday and Monday off. We went to a nearby lake and played and had a picnic.

In one week we have tickets to travel to Minnesota for a wedding. Robert checked with work and they said they thought he should be able to take Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. However, there was no guarantee. Now, it looks like he won't be able to travel with us.

Finally, the fact is, since he's salaried, there is no overtime to this hellish schedule. He's working 130 or more hours a week. Every week. Since May.

Is there any other business in the developed world that makes its employees work like this?

Maybe the better question is: is there any other business in the developed world that wants to hire an engineer who would be happy to work 60 hours a week?

Monday, August 27, 2012

To Muster, or Not to Muster

I most definitely, one hundred percent, do not want to have a garage sale. The very thought of the work it would take to go through closets and bedrooms and kitchens and that storage area under the house that is only accessible by going through the two and a half foot-tall door on my hands and knees gives me heart palpitations.

So there's that. But also there's pricing, organizing and advertising. After all that, the chances that I would actually have things that someone wanted are slim to non-existent.

If, by some chance, I was able to bring myself to sort and sift and organize and advertise, half of my merchandise will probably be reintroduced back into the house by the boys, who, regardless of the fact that they've not thought once about Candyland (with half game pieces missing) for the last five years, will suddenly become very sentimental about Candyland and insist that we put it back into that little space under the eaves and not think about it for another five years.

What I really want to do is purge. I want to get rid of stuff and reclaim my space. I love space. It calms me. It makes me happy. And I don't mind purging. It's a solitary job and doesn't require that I post ten color coordinating signs at intersections with in a two-mile radius of my house. Purging is good.

This time, however, the amount of stuff, as well as the type of stuff that is going to be purged warrants a garage sale. It can't be denied. And that garage sale is breathing down my neck and whispering things in my ear like, "it's time," and "you know you want to," and "you can't put this off much longer."

But I CAN put it off longer. We just won't be able to park in the garage for a year.

That shouldn't be a problem, should it?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

4 T Hike

Stop the river right here--this moment in time, when the boys are not too big or too little to go on a fun hike with their mother. This spot in the fast-moving river of time is--knock on wood--perfect. Today, hiking the 4 T Hike with my three boys, was like one of those mother moments that normally exist only in the ethereal cloud of wishes that seems to always be just out of reach of every parent. If there was complaining, I'm choosing to ignore it. I will remember only the friendly banter between the boys, the laughing, the running, the counting of banana slugs, and more than anything, the "thank you mom's." 

Our morning started at 8:30 am at the zoo. We hiked across Hwy 26 to the Markham trail and headed up to Council Crest. It was still a little hazy when we got up there but most importantly, it was cool and lovely, which is so much better than hot and miserable. 

A few of us ate our Cliff energy bars, even though we weren't even half way through with the first T of the 4T hike: the 4 mile "trail." I would have taken more picture of the boys on the trail, but they hiked at a pretty fast pace and I didn't want to make them stop. (And I'm choosing to not remember the moss covered bench photo that never happened because one child refused to cooperate unless he could sit in the middle.) 

The second T is "tram." We climbed the hill to OHSU and made our way to the tram (free on the downhill ride). The kids were blown away by the height and the view. 

Their chattering on the ride down mostly covered the topic of best places to land should the tram suddenly break free of its cable and come crashing to the ground. Pile of dirt was overruled by a nice, cushy house. So they collectively hoped we'd fall on a house. I, instead, dwelled on some new and unwelcome thoughts I'd never even considered before.

Regardless of their falling best-case-scenario discussion, the boys rode right up in front and watched our entire descent. 

We got off the tram and onto the third T, the "trolley." In real life, this people mover is actually called a "street car," but that doesn't fit with the theme, so we called it the trolley. Can I tell you how great it felt to sit down after that 4 mile hike? It was delightful. Isaac was the only kid would would admit to feeling tired and thankful to be off his feet.

These signs kept us on track for our entire hike, except for once, when we took a wrong turn and had to backtrack. After getting back to the point where we took the wrong turn, we noticed that the trail marker had fallen over and was laying in the ferns and ivy.

The fourth and final T was "train." Here, you can see the MAX train coming up the street for our ride back to the zoo. Yay! The tickets we purchased on the trolley ($1.50 for kids and $2 for adults) were good for two hours, so we were ready to jump on the train as soon as it came. 

This wasn't the best picture of the boys, but the look on Isaac's face reminded me of the McKayla Maroney is not Impressed meme. (Isaac is not impressed with the lack of pierced, tattooed, stinky he-shes on the MAX train.)

We finished our 4 T hike with a fifth T, "treat." This is where I gathered up the sixth T, "thank you's." It was mostly thanks for buying lunch at Dairy Queen, but I like to think there was thanks for the fun Portland adventure we shared too. 


Friday, August 10, 2012

Notes on Gardening and Napping

Today I harvested all the veggies from the north garden bed. I want to plant a fall crop of root veggies and lettuce and maybe some cilantro. Oh, and I want to try and get beans going really quick. And peas.

I've never planted a fall garden before.

Also, I canned three-bean Salad today. I've never canned three-bean salad before either. The beans look all wrinkly in the jars and I bet no one in my family will actually eat it except me. Isaac kept asking if it really had three beans it in. I said, "Yes. It has wax beans, green beans and kidney beans."

"But does it really have only three beans?"

"Yes," I repeated, and covered the varieties of beans the salad would contain. I knew what he was really asking was whether or not the salad would have a total of three actual beans in it. But I thought my answer cleared that up since I stated the three varieties. Anyway, we went back and forth like this for a while until I showed Isaac the actual salad and he understood.

Also, I'm kind of tired of summer and want to just take a nap. All the time. Which is pathetic because currently Robert is working 18+ hour days at Intel, 7 days a week and if anyone deserves a nap, it's him. Not me.

Still . . .

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Camp Ireland!*

When Ethan was eight years old, he attended Camp Ireland, a Cub Scout Day Camp, with his pack. For five days, boys flung things, painted things, hammered things, sang things and got things very dirty. In short, he was in boy heaven. Ethan returned for two more years as a Cub Scout and never forgot Camp Ireland and his desire to be one of the beloved staffers. 

This year, his dream came true and he became, Nom Nom, Staff in Training.

After a week of prepping the camp for little Cub campers, Camp Ireland opened with a medieval theme. Nom Nom taught kids Rounders (a medieval type of baseball), Wizardry, and Pan Pipes. The last week in July was Isaac and Jonah's pack's week to attend. They loved seeing their big brother in a leadership role and told any other staffer who would listen that they were Nom Nom's brothers.

As I watched Ethan perform in skits, flag ceremony and at the Pan Pipe station, it was obvious he was completely in his element. Little kids followed him like he was the Pied Piper. He was large and in charge.

Here is Ethan performing as "trusty squire" (notice the coconuts) in the "Medicrine" skit. Spoiler alert: A loon full of sugar helps the medicrine go down.

This is Ethan singing "If I Weren't a Staffer." I don't know where he learned these songs (other than the four weeks at camp). He told me numerous times that the entertainment portion of camp was pretty unorganized with the staffers planning skits seconds before they actually happened. This looked pretty practiced though.

This is a skit that I remember doing when I went to girl's camp. "Oh it's the raisins that make, the Raisin Bran taste great." Ethan's departing lines are "No! I'm the main character. You can't take me! I'm the most important person! Nooooooooo. Ugh. Ow."

Last night when I brought Isaac and Jonah home from their last day of camp, Isaac was--big surprise--getting a little emotional. Next summer can't come soon enough as far as he is concerned. This rag-tag group of teenagers somehow created magic out of duct tape and sling shots and bars of hotel soap. Oh yes, and BB guns and bows and arrows. Can't forget the weaponry. 

Both Jonah and Isaac are now eagerly awaiting the time they too can get a job at Camp Ireland and be the cool staff member, just like their big brother Because being the one all the little kids worship is a good job, if you can get it.

And I have no doubt they will.

*My 800th post!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Top Secret Spy Birthday

Last Saturday we had some friends over to celebrate Jonah's 10th birthday with a spy party. The first major "win" for the party was finding this packet of printable party things. It was a life saver and a bargain at $16. I also found a blog post about another spy party and basically copied everything they did. What would I ever do without the internet?

Jonah's cake was the bomb, literally. I used the Wilton sphere cake pan and made--for the first time--fondant. I was walking a fine line between disaster and success. But I had my sister Angela there to help, and as it turned out, four hands were exactly what was needed to get the fondant to comply with our wishes. 

When the guests arrived, they picked their disguise and got their picture snapped for their Special Agent badge. Then it was onto their spy training activities, starting with code cracking. I used Wingdings font and typed out a few kid's jokes and Chuck Norris facts for them to decode.

Ethan was our super junior agent trainer and took everyone outside for the next activity. . .

. . . spy extraction. The agents used their water guns to free a fellow spy/action figure from a block of ice. We had a bucket of water for quick fills and Ethan brought a little salt shaker in case things went too slowly. They didn't.

Training went back into the house for laser beam avoidance. The laser beams, by the way, were set up to protect the present table. Because you never know when your presents might be in jeopardy. Presents, really, are always in jeopardy.

Junior agents tried to get through the laser field without getting slashed to bits. Thankfully, they did great. And they took the task very seriously. And this is where my party photography stopped.

The final training activity was bomb detection. Ding Dongs were hidden around the yard and neighborhood with clues leading agents to each one. After all the bombs were discovered, the junior agents headed back into the house to be sworn in.

But when they entered the house, they found out the birthday presents had been STOLEN! Where a stack of gifts had once been, now a single manila envelope lay. Trainer Ethan opened the envelop to reveal that two traitors were in the ranks: Mom and Angela! And now they were no where to be found. An audio file was played on the computer with my voice stating the presents had been taken for their own good and that they would never find them. Muahahahaha! 

Another message--written in code--revealed our hiding place at the playground.

Ethan made sure that the agents armed themselves with fresh water in their guns and headed out to apprehend us. But after dousing us thoroughly with water, we told them that we'd been set up and that a message in our pockets revealed the real traitor. When they decoded the message, they found out ETHAN had been the traitor all along!

We ran back to the house to try and find him, recovered the presents and congratulated ourselves on a successful mission. 

Then we had cake, lunch and opened presents--not in that order--and everyone went home. 


So glad that's over.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Good Old Days, With a Side of Coulrophobia

I'm looking for vintage pictures of boys for a book I'm putting together of all my "How To Be A Boy" posts. I'm searching for pictures of boys being boys: getting dirty, playing with bugs, getting into trouble, with grass-stains and holes in their pants, swimming, fishing, camping and anything else that is quintessentially boy.

And then I found this.

The thing that strikes me most about this picture is the boy: he seems so pleased to be sitting next to this nightmare personified. Meanwhile, the clown has that far-a-way look in his eyes, like he's just imagining what this kid will taste like medium-rare. Sorry, it's true. Look at those eyes!

I guess there was a time when creepy clowns were not creepy (Probably around the same time eating meat and vegetable-filled Jell-o was the norm). Instead, they possessed had magical healing properties. Or maybe the prevailing wisdom was that a grown man in face paint would simply scare the sick out of any hospital-bound child.

However, no sugar-coated explanation can distract from the creep-factor in this kid. You might be able to convince someone this was just how they did things back in the 60's. Clowns were cool. Clowns were The Thing. That somehow, even with this kid's I'll-see-you-in-your-nightmare smirk, clowns were nothing to be afraid of. 

Until he picks up the gun.

Sweet dreams!

Monday, July 16, 2012

How to be a Boy, Teen Edition: Brushing Your Teeth

Brushing our what?

Oh, so that's what that bristly thing in the bathroom drawer is.

Hmm, interesting.

Once a week should probably be enough, right?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

In Which a 40-Something Woman Develops a Fear of Dogs

I've ridden my bike once since the accident. But that was definitely a "getting back on the horse" type of experience. Walking has simply seemed like a less risky form of exercise. Because if an unleashed, unpredictable dog can step into the path of your bike once, it could certainly happen again.

Tumbling over the handlebars of my bike and into the grassy shoulder of the Pirate Park path after t-boning an energetic Labrador left me with nothing more than some barely brag-worthy road rash. I didn't even manage an impressive bruise, although these 40-something bones were achy for a good week.

And while a very small part of me felt vetted as a biker, the bigger part of me didn't want the uncertainty of the "dog factor" again. And so now I walk. And I feel great. Unless an unleashed dog happens to show interest in me. And they have shown interest in me. Maybe because I'm moving so quickly, or maybe there is just some animalistic need to smell me. But they sometimes get right up in my business and I have to swerve or slow down or risk getting my legs tangled up with dog legs and once again, ending up on the ground at the expense of an unleashed dog.

I never noticed how many dogs go unleashed until my tumble. In fact, I barely had the dog/leash/owner on my radar. I was in the zone and paid attention only long enough to navigate around them as I biked or jogged or walked by.

Now, when I see a dog loping ahead of their owner, my survival instincts kick in. "Potential threat at 12 o'clock," I seem to hear from the far corner of my hypothalamus. My body prepares to evade the four-legged free-spirit while I start to steam passive aggressively: Clearly societal rules apply to everyone except you and your dog, I think. Apparently, your dog is perfectly capable of forgoing millennia of inbred animal instinct to not chase something that moves. Undoubtedly, you've decided to agree with your dog, that you are indeed some kind of all-powerful deity and have no need for silly, mortal, Pirate Park path courtesies.

Is it so hard to hold the end of a leash in your hand? Try having it around your neck, Narcissus.

And it's so cute how you think shouting, "He's friendly!" should be enough to calm any and all distress; that you think runners/bikers/walkers have just been hoping a friendly dog would approach them to play while they try and keep their heart rate up and burn calories so they can enjoy a couple cookies later in the day. (Okay, five cookies.)

Newsflash: If I wanted to play with a dog, I'd have one of my own.

And most importantly, he'd be on a stinking leash.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Happy . . . Oh, Whatever

Yesterday Jonah turned ten years old. It was a day I was determined to get right.

Just a few weeks ago, when I was looking over my archive of family photos, I noticed that I didn't have a single picture of Jonah's birthday for about three years. I know we must have had little parties for him. I clearly recall one in which Ethan did some magic. But I can't find a single photo of his birthday.

Jonah is the middle child, and as much as I tried not to, I've neglected him. I'm a failure as a mother!

But not this year. This year there would be presents and blog posts and facebook posts and activities and fun and memories aplenty! But more importantly, there would be pictures.

Jonah wanted a blueberry pie for his birthday "cake" so we started off the day picking blueberries--even though the U-pick field was not technically open for business yet. We had the place to ourselves!

After blueberry picking, we went to 7-11 for their free Slurpees in honor of July 11, or 7-11. We like to think of it as 7-11's way of saying Happy Birthday Jonah!

The remainder of the day included lunch at Chevy's, complete with singing waiters, a sombrero, and a special ice cream treat, a one-day reprieve from No Screen Summer, a dinner of hotdogs and watermelon (Jonah's special request) and swimming. I didn't get picture of all those things unfortunately.

I purchased several fun presents, even though Jonah would only tell me two things he wanted. "A Pokemon deck of cards" and "button batteries" for his sonic screwdriver. I somehow managed to figure out several other gifts he would hopefully like, wrapped them in fun robot paper and set them out near his cooling birthday pie. 

Jonah walked through the kitchen and spotted the wrapped presents, honed in on one, picked it up and declared, "I didn't want a Pokemon deck of cards! Why did you get me a Pokemon deck of cards?"

Naturally, I felt blind sided. And not just because he can tell what I got just from the shape of the wrapped box. "Because you asked for a Pokemon deck of cards," I offered.

"No! I didn't." Now the tears were coming. "I said the only thing I DIDN'T want was a Pokemon deck of cards.

My mind played back the scene from less than 24 hours ago. Jonah was hovering around the display of Pokemon cards at Fred Meyer. He pointed out a Pokemon DECK and said, "See mom, just like this." I know that is what he said and I will know it till the day I die.

It was about this time that I felt this, maybe, could have something to do with why I don't have a lot of pictures of Jonah's birthday. Or Ethan's birthday. (Somehow Isaac has birthday pictures galore!)

I was able to get Jonah to stop crying long enough to pose for a picture with his pie and open his other presents: a shrinky dink set, a window-cling craft set, a how-to-draw-dragons book, and, of course the button batteries. I'd done okay.

But that didn't mean that I didn't have to return the Pokemon cards (original demand was for the return to happen that same night but I stood my ground and insisted on first thing the next morning), for two packs of Pokemon cards that even though Jonah chose himself, had to be brought home and wrapped.

And if there are not very many pictures of Jonah's birthday, that is why.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Telling Secrets

There is something about bedtime that erases all kid-related unpleasantness from the day. When I see my little boys snuggled up in their covers, with the bedroom lights on low and the fresh smell of toothpaste on their breath, it's as if all my boys' best qualities have risen into view right along with the night moon.

They are cute and sweet and clever and oh, so precious.

And that may be why during bedtime long ago, I started telling them secrets. I believe the secrets were originally a way to distract them and settle them down; maybe keep one quiet while the other prayed? Sooth hurt feelings of one when the other got to pick the night's CD.

However it started, this is what happened: I leaned in close to one of my children and started whispering. "I love you very much. Today when you helped me take the garbage out and I didn't even have to ask, that made me so happy. I love the way you are responsible with practicing the piano and can tell you are learning a lot. I love to hear you play the piano. I am so glad I get to be your mom."

As I whispered these secrets, whoever I was whispering to would get very still and very quiet. And usually, after I finished telling the secrets, they stayed still and quiet. Win-win!

The other day Jonah and Isaac reminded me that I hadn't told them bedtime secrets for a while and said it was something they both really loved. (Just as a side note, and in case the sound of little birds chirping and sappy violin music is getting too loud, this all stemmed from a conversation about whether or not I'd ever spanked my kids. I have, and what little spanking occurred, generally occurred around bedtime. But miraculously, the boys don't ever remember being spanked. They DO, however, remember The Secrets.)

That night at bedtime Jonah reminded me, "tell us secrets, mom." So I did.

I leaned in close and whispered the best things I could think of: How Jonah is so creative and expresses complicated ideas through drawings and how wonderful I think he is. I went on and on and was pretty proud of my original and meaningful examples of Jonah's unique personality and positive qualities.

I am creating wonderful memories. I am a Good Mom!, I thought

I finished and stepped back, ready to bask in the look of wonder and confidence in Jonah's face that I'd created.

"That's exactly what you said last time," he said.

"I did?" Hadn't it been more than six months since the last time I did this?

"Yep. Can I get another secret?"

Um, I kind of said everything I could think of.

"Only one secret a night," I said quickly. And while I pondered the rejection of my verbal gift, any potential disappointment was outweighed by the realization that he'd remembered.

But best of all, he doesn't remember me ever spanking them.

Monday, July 9, 2012

How to be a Boy: Packing for Scout Camp (or, How to get Your Mom to Hem Your Pants at 10:45 pm)

You're going to Scout Camp! Prepare yourself for a week of maximum fun and minimum hygiene. All you have to do is gather some pants, socks, underwear, a toothbrush (Oh, who are we kidding. You're not going to brush your teeth) and your Boy Scout handbook and throw them all into a backpack. Does this task seem overwhelming? Well, that's because it is.

Why don't you sit down and play a few on-line games and let your dad do the dirty work. When he asks you to help, let him know you're confident he can handle packing. When he insists you come upstairs and find the flashlight and compass in your mess of a bedroom, give yourself about ten more minutes on the game and then walk slowly upstairs.

Stand at your bedroom door and scan the room for your flashlight and compass. You don't see it, of course. Your room is a mess. All you can see is dirty clothes, a couple empty chip bags, and every piece of the board game Risk. Go back downstairs to your computer game and let your dad finish up.

The night before you leave, stay up late watching TV even though you have to wake up at 4:30 am the next morning. Before you go to bed, rifle through the clothes on the floor to find something to wear the next day. Make sure that each item of clothing is official Boy Scout clothing even though official Boy Scout clothing is not mandatory.

When you notice you can't find your favorite official Boy Scout pants, interrogate your mom. She does the laundry after all. Where did she put it?

"I think dad packed your pants," she suggests. "Why don't you wear the official Boy Scout pants I bought you two months ago?"

"Those aren't official Boy Scout pants," you tell her. "They're blue, not green."

"But the tags say, 'official Boy Scout uniform,'" she says. "Why don't you just try them on?"

Do some huffing and puffing about trying on pants. Why does this have to be so hard? You have to get up early, after all. You don't have time for this. Start to try the pants on over your pajama bottoms, then huff a little more when your mom tells you to take your pj's off.

Well, look at that! The pants are too long. These will never work. "I'll have to tuck them into my shoes!" you complain. "Why did you pack my Scout pants anyway?"

There is no possible way you will be ready to go to Scout camp now. You might as well just not go!

"I'll hem the pants for you," your mom offers. "Just go to bed and I'll hem them for tomorrow."

Then go to bed and sleep well. You'll be going to Scout camp tomorrow.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Hat

This is Ethan before going to work at Camp Ireland Cub Scout Day Camp. He is a staffer who will help Cub Scouts learn and have fun throughout the summer. It's been his dream to work at Camp Ireland, ever since going as a Cub Scout himself, eight years ago.

As part of his uniform, Ethan got a coat and hat that say, "Camp Ireland," and "Staff." He wears them, along with his Scout socks, pants, belt and shirt (two Scout shirts, actually) each day with pride.

I think the hat has magical powers.

The hat has caused Ethan to start tucking in his shirt. It has caused him to--dare I say it--act responsibly by doing things like packing his own lunch and practicing magic tricks he'll be doing at camp. The hat has made him wake up on time each day and get ready without any nagging or prodding from me.

The hat has caused him to mature several years in just one day. It's boosted his confidence and changed his attitude. He wears the hat even when he changes out of his scout clothes. He wore it to light fireworks on the 4th of July and when we went shopping for a tiny tube of toothpaste for his own week at Scout camp. 

I arrived a little early to pick him up yesterday and listened as they practiced the Camp Ireland song. They were pumping their fists and shouting in unison the words to the song. There was this feeling of belonging and camaraderie that was so uplifting. And every staffer was wearing their special hats. 


Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Jell-o Project: Fancy Schmancy (Or, Total Request Jell-o, Part 2)

When I returned from my trip to California last week, there was a letter waiting from my sister in Virginia. She'd photo copied a recipe for Raspberry Chocolate Gelatin from a magazine and folded it up and put it in an envelope, stamped and addressed it, and mailed it through the postal service to my house here in Portland. Let's hear it for snail mail! (Ironically, this exact recipe was also one of the three Betsy had sent electronically through Facebook only days earlier.)

Like the watermelon lime squares, this recipe doesn't exactly use Jell-o brand gelatin, but rather plain gelatin and pure fruit. And, since it's raspberry season here in the Pacific Northwest, and since I was having a little soiree for the 4th of July, I thought it would be the perfect time to try it out.

The mold is a Dixie cup, which makes each of these little desserts the perfect size for sampling. Jell-o phobes don't have to make a big commitment to the jiggly stuff and could be more likely to indulge. So that's a plus.

Another Dixie cup plus: when it comes to unmolding, you simply rip the cup away to reveal a perfect little mold. No need to dip the mold in warm water while trying to coax your creation onto a plate in once piece.

Straining the raspberry pulp was time consuming, but I let gravity do most of the work while I worked on creating a layered cornbread salad, also for the 4th of July get-together. Other than that, the preparation of this dessert was quite straightforward.

And now for the taste reaction:

I loved the taste of pure raspberry gelatin and the chocolate provided a nice contrast to the fruit. The texture was a little firm. I guessed that most people, upon seeing the dessert, would anticipate creaminess rather than jiggliness and would find the firmness off-putting. The next time I create this dessert, I'll try it with half the gelatin. It's possible that the structural integrity will be compromised, but maybe not.

Robert happily ate all of his raspberry chocolate gelatin, but would not comment. He instead gave me a knowing look that said, "I refuse to answer on the grounds you will blab everything I say on your blog."

This shrewd move caused any other comments to be curtailed, so I had only the powers of observation at my disposal. Although, dear Bekah said she liked it and would happily eat another if she hadn't been so full.

While most people who took the raspberry chocolate gelatin left remnants of the gelled substance on their plates, I should mention that among the dessert spread was banana cream pie, chocolate cake with salted carmel icing, blueberry cheesecake, and brownies with home made ice cream. Every plate had a generous dessert sampling, so I can only hypothesize that my guests were slightly stuffed and, contrary to popular belief, there isn't always room for "Jell-o."And that could be the biggest discovery of all.

Someone call Bill Cosby.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Jell-o Project: Total Request Jell-o

Guess who's legitimizing Jell-o? Food Network, that's who. They've come out with some pretty fancy recipes that are sure to skyrocket Jell-o back to a place of prominence on dinner tables everywhere. Even though the three recipes they published don't exactly use Jell-o. Let's be clear: if it wiggles and jiggles, it's still Jell-o.

This Jell-o Project goes out to Betsy, who sent me the recipe, along with the two others in the magazine with the oh-so-subtle caveat, "I'll be watching your blog."

I've taken your challenge, Betsy, and give you one of your own: Let's see how your family likes a little Jell-o at their meals. As part of the Jell-o Project, I'd be interested to find out if your family reacts the same way to Jell-o mine does. Will they love it or hate it? Will you have to force them to eat it just so you have get an honest, blogable reaction? Will you have left-over Jell-o in your fridge for 2 weeks before you finally dump it down the drain? Or will the left-overs be dumped that night? I'll need a complete blog write-up with all the scientific details.

Consider the gauntlet thrown.

Watermelon Lime Gelatin made its table debut last night with high hopes. It is, after all, simply pureed and strained watermelon, sugar and lime juice. There were no chunks, no shrimp, no hidden crushed pineapple. It was just plain watermelon juice, gelled.

The mint leaf on top did cause some concern and I'm not sure it made enough of a difference to the taste that I will include it next time. "Do I eat it?" Was the big "mint" question. I wasn't sure how to answer, especially after my piece of mint was not as tender and swallowable as I thought it would be.

Other than that, this dish was delightful. At least to me.

Ethan and Isaac insisted on eating their watermelon lime gelatin sans utensil because slurping is more fun. Jonah ate his, but didn't ask for seconds, as I thought he would. (Watermelon is his favorite fruit.) Robert ate his and was pleasant enough about it.

We will see how everyone feels when they find out we're eating more Watermelon Lime Gelatin tonight.

Friday, June 29, 2012

What We Did

I wasn't going to let Robert's crazy work schedule keep me from having a little summer get-a-way, so I took the kids and some swimsuits down to Angela's house in Oakdale for a week of fun in the sun.

The one thing I can't quite get over is that I drove the 670 mile trip all by myself. Actually, that was 670 miles one way. So I guess I drove 1340 miles all by myself. I feel like I can do anything now.

We left last Thursday at 3:30 am. Crazy you say? It's not. Getting an early start was wonderful. I was perfectly awake (my sleepy time is always in the afternoon) and there were only truckers in the slow lane on the road. And by 7am, we'd already had 250 miles under our belts.

Making this trip by myself was a big deal for me. But we also did a lot of other things.

We went out for yummy sushi. All the kids like sushi except for Jonah, who was a good sport and tried some anyway. Isaac mostly likes California roll, so he didn't partake of the more exciting pieces. Which only left more for me. Yum!

The restaurant was new and while the food was excellent, there were several service issues. This bowl of chicken udon was one. I'd asked the waitress about food for my two boys who weren't going to eat a lot of sushi. "How big is the bowl of udon?" I asked. It was $9, so I assumed it would be a family-sized bowl. "Does it feed four?"

She looked confused so I said, "or does it feed two?"

"Yes, it feeds two," she said, and I asked for her to bring it out with an extra bowl so Jonah and Isaac could share. 

As you can see from the picture above, the bowl was way more than enough for two little boys. The bowl was so large, the spoon kept falling into it and getting lost among the noodles and chicken. I was irritated since it was so inconvenient and unwieldily. Could the waitress not have made a more appropriate suggestion?

After sushi we went out for Thrifty ice cream, which is really now Rite Aid ice cream. Then we headed over to Uncle Andrew's fire station. The kids got to sit in the trucks and even work the lights (but not the siren) on one of them. 

The next day we drove out to Columbia, about a 40 mile drive. Columbia is a preserved gold-rush town and was at one time, the second biggest city in California. It was really interesting and I could have easily spent more time there. 

Angela bought all the kids bags of chicken feed and we went to feed the chickens--the same breed that was originally kept in Columbia. Eggs were a valuable commodity among the argonauts, sometimes selling for as much as $3 each.

We enjoyed listening to a street musician play authentic old west songs like "Ring of Fire," and "King of the Road." Although none of the kids would dance, I emptied out my change and let them drop coins into the musician's bucket. I'm sure he was thinking he'd rather hear the silence of dollars dropping than the plink of quarters, dimes and nickels. Oh well. You get what you get and you don't throw a fit. 

We bought candy at Nelson's Candy Kitchen, and no, they don't give discounts to people who's last name is Nelson. We asked. Jonah was pretty excited about his milk chocolate California bear. I got rocky road fudge, Ethan got peanut brittle and Isaac got classic gummy penguins and frogs, just like the old miners used to enjoy after a hard day of panning for gold.

They offered stage coach rides for $6 each--$3 extra if you wanted to ride shotgun up on top. We passed on paying for the ride because we were going to get old fashioned photos done of the kids. However, when we went to inquire, there was a 2 hour wait. We will just have to do that another time.

Just past Columbia there is a trout fishing farm. They provide the rods, bait, net and that hook remover thingy and we pay by the inch after we catch the fish. We ended up with four lovely trout that Andrew prepared fabulously on the grill when we got home. 

Jonah was so excited when he pulled out his fish. "My first fish! My first fish! Mom! Get a picture!" (I did, but it didn't turn out very well.)

We didn't do much else at Angela's house. Except bowling, playing video games, attending a ward diner and seeing Madagascar 3. Oh yeah--and swimming.

We swam in the afternoon and in the evening. And we would have swam in the morning too, but it was usually too cool. 

There were lots of cannon balls and belly flops. We floated and dove and played sharks and minnows. (And when I saw "we," I mean "the kids." I just mostly floated.) 

The kids, for the most part, got along just fine and the minute we walked in the door from our 11 hour drive, Jonah asked if he could Skype with Calvin. Later that night, before bed, he came into my room and said, "Mom, I miss Calvin." And then, first thing this morning: "Mom, is it too early to Skype with Calvin?"

I should also mention that the food was delicious and Angela and I stayed up late doing digital scrapbooking and watching movies and attempting to watch North and South (I don't think Angela is convinced parts 2, 3 and 4 will be worth her time.)

What we did, was have an amazingly great time.