Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Little Black Friday Magic

Back when I could get all my Christmas shopping done at Toys R Us, I used to go out into the Black Friday frenzy with a couple of girl friends and take care of business. It was a rush and I always had a great time.

Then Christmas lists evolved and somehow, most of the things my kids wanted were NOT on sale and would never be on sale until next year when they would want something else completely.

Black Friday and I had had a good run and I was fine to end our early-morning relationship.

But before I could cut ties with Black Friday completely, I had a request from Ethan. He'd saved up some money and wanted to take advantage of some electronics sales. He wanted to stand in line at 4am on Black Friday and go shopping. So I took him.

It was just the two of us. We hit Toys R Us, Target and Fred Meyer. We were on a mission. We worked together. We got in and we got out. Mission accomplished!

And you know what? We had fun. So, for the last three or four years, Ethan and I have gone out on Black Friday together.

You know how kids build a wall of independence--which is good, but some of the bricks in that wall are "I have to pretend I'm not having too much fun with you" bricks. There are also the "we can't have meaningful conversation or you might think I can't figure things out on my own" bricks. And don't forget the, "if you like it, it must be lame" bricks.

I don't know if it's the extreme fatigue, or the Bizarro up is down, down is up-ness of the whole Black Friday concept, or the cover of darkness that accompanies much of the shopping experience, but Ethan temporarily kicks a hole in his wall of independence right through those bricks.

For a few short hours on the day after Thanksgiving, they're gone.

He turns into the chatty four-year-old who was full of wonder and excitement. Except he's 15 and we have more in common and can talk about ideas (well, sort of) and there is no need for facades.

Now, we haven't reached the "deep, meaningful conversation" level of interaction yet. He hasn't shared his hopes and fears--beyond "I hope the iPod touch hasn't sold out" and "what will I do if it has?!" But I don't care. Black Friday shopping with Ethan is one of those mother times were I think my heart might burst with happiness.

And that is why I will always venture out at 4am with Ethan on the day after Thanksgiving as long as he wants to go.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Update on The New Program

The New Program is so over.

Jonah was the only one dutifully recording his reading/homework/exercise hours each week and I have a feeling he was being generous with himself because he'd easily earn over 20 hours of screen time a week. With the buy back program, he'd end up with around $10 a week, which I thought was ridiculous. And then he'd play screen from 7am until I told him to go to bed, even if it was longer than his allotted time.

Isaac was writing down his hours, but he wasn't doing much homework/reading/studying. Somehow, he ended up with just as much screen time on Saturday as Jonah did, sans the money.

Ethan. We all just pretended Ethan was participating. He never wrote down any time, but he always ended up with a full day of screen on Saturday. In fact, the screen days were stretching beyond even 12 hours!

So I finally said Enough! We are going back to the old way. Screen can start at 9am and end at 8pm. No saving, no earning more, no getting money, no carrying over to next week.

So far I like this new, old program.

Except it's Sunday and I think everyone is upstairs playing Wii.

But it's quiet!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Halloween 2013

The older I get, the more I realize how stupid and confining my comfort zone is. I've been stepping out of it more and more, not because I feel like I have to, but because I really don't care anymore. It's a paradigm shift that would have been super to have about 20 years ago, but better late than never, right?

What better night to be uncomfortable than Halloween? Well, it wasn't exactly Halloween. It was Trunk or Treat which was October 24th. I had fun at the church party, even though I was super uncomfortable as a momentary center of attention (suddenly she remembers why she doesn't like to dress up), but after a while, I was just super uncomfortable in the giant blue wig that came with the Marge Simpson costume. A couple Advil later (keep a stash in the glove box because you never know!) and I was back in business.

Here's a side by side so you can see just how great the costume was:

And here's Isaac and his costume inspiration (Jonah was Samwise Gamgee):

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Economics of Changing Everything

It's been three weeks and we are still going strong with The New Program.

Well . . . strong-ish.

Week one was full of energy and excitement, as usual. I kept track of the boys' time doing homework and reading each day on the calendar in color coordinated pens. Extra time was given for memorizing a scripture, doing chores in a timely manner and random motherly whims.

Week two faced a major stumbling block when Robert and I spent three days in Bend. I wasn't there to monitor homework or reading time, nor was I able to record time on the calendar. I had to trust whatever amount of time the boys said they'd earned. Also, I started taking away time as penalty for getting to bed late and two boys lost 2 hours when they snuck 2 hours of TV instead of going to bed.

Now, here we are at week three. The boys are now responsible for recording their time on the calendar. Jonah and Isaac are excellent at following through with this. Ethan, not so much. This is where things might potentially fall apart. I'm too lazy--I mean, busy--to monitor all the reading and homework Ethan does and while Ethan is honest, for the most part, I don't think he has anything against evaluating himself in the best light.

The Program has evolved over the last few weeks.

Exercise is now one way kids can earn time. Also, Ethan gets time for homework he does in study hall at school. While I didn't want to include this because I have no control over monitoring, I realized there would be an incentive not to do homework at school, so I acquiesced. Kids can earn time and a half for reading the scriptures or working on Duty to God.

I've been taking time away for not following through on responsibilities or other infractions. I must admit, it makes me feel like Professor McGonigal to declare, "30 minutes from Ethan!" I kind of like it.

Finally, Robert and I decided we'd add an incentive NOT to play screen on Saturday. So we offered to buy screen time for $1 per hour. So far, Jonah is the only one to take us up on the offer. But Jonah is the one who has regularly accrued 12+ hours of screen time--more than the allowable hours on Saturday--while Isaac and Ethan usually have 4-6 hours accrued.

Today Jonah's brain wheels were spinning. He had 6 hours left over from last Saturday. I told him I didn't want to have time carry over from one week to the next so he would have to lose the 6 hours. He didn't care for this one bit! He had planned to sell that time to Isaac who only had 4 hours earned this whole week.

"No selling time," I told him.

We agreed that I would pay 50 cents an hour this one time only, and starting tomorrow, he would have to sell or use all his time by the end of the day or lose it.

Earlier in the week, Isaac begged not to have to do his homework right after school. We had this problem last year: Isaac would beg to do his homework after dinner, then forget until about 30 minutes after bedtime. He would end up in a panic, staying up way too late to finish everything.

So this year the only option was to do the homework right after school. And Isaac was on board with that for the first few days. But soon he started begging to put off his homework until later.

My answer was always "no," but when his begging became annoying, I made this offer: he could postpone his homework in exchange for 1 hour of screen time, but could earn that 1 hour back if he completed his homework and was in bed with the lights out by 9pm. So far, he's taken that risk twice and it has worked out for him.

I feel like The Program has taken on a life of its own. It is growing and evolving and becoming more and more about incentives. Our currency is screen time and we are wielding it to get desired behavior.

I, for one, welcome this new economy, but am still not convinced it will last.

However, if it lasts only long enough so that my boys establish good habits of time management and self mastery, then I say, mission accomplished.

Friday, September 6, 2013

One-Canoe Garage

Early in the summer, Robert got the idea that we should have a canoe. I pointed out the problems with having a canoe like not having a place to store it. Also, canoes have four seats, while our family has five.

But it was okay. Robert was just looking on Craigslist. No decisions were being made. Just looking.

But then there were emails with someone who wanted to sell their canoe, and an appointment was made for Robert to go look at it. And I said, "I didn't think we were buying a canoe."

And he said, "we're not buying a canoe. I'm just looking. I don't even have a way to get it home."

Apparently he did have a way to get it home, because that evening, he came home with a canoe.

With in the next two days he purchased a roof rack system (more expensive than the canoe) and life jackets and Other Things that go in a special duffel bag that stays with the canoe. And then he took the canoe to Hagg Lake, and Sturgeon Lake and Trillium Lake. The boys love it.

But as the weather cools and the days shorten, I want to park my car in the garage again. The time has come to find out where to put the canoe.

Robert called me to the garage. "If I move this," he said, pointing to the bike racks on the ceiling, "and change this," he said pointing to something else I can't remember, "I might be able to rig something up so we can hoist the canoe on a pulley system and hang it here."

I imagined the canoe falling on my head while I was carrying groceries into the house.

"Or," I said, we could put it on the side of the house and cover it with a tarp." We walked out to the side of the house to survey the scene. "We could fashion a platform with all this wood I've been begging you to get rid of," I pointed out. "We could turn it upside down on the wood. The canoe wouldn't even touch the ground. And we would use bungee cords to keep the tarp on it."

It was the perfect solution.

But, Robert is not an engineer for nothing. If there are two ways to do something, there are probably three, or four, or ten. So he got on the internet and started searching.

Guess what he found out?

REI, that company that sells outdoor stuff, has figured out everything that would be easy and perfect for storing our canoe and has created a website explaining why all of it is wrong, wrong, wrong.

"It says here a canoe should never be stored outside," Robert read. "And that it should be stored right side up with the tarp suspended above so it doesn't touch the shell."

Thanks a lot REI.

I don't think I'll ever get my car in the garage now.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

My Problem with Programs

The end of Summer vacation is right around the corner and happily, the days of counting down the hours until the first day of school are behind me. My boys are independent and fun to be around (most of the time) and I enjoy doing things with them. There is less fighting and more cooperation; less whining and more thank-you-moms.

And with the oldest six months from 16 and less inclined to find his younger brothers and his parents interesting, I dare say our days of willingly hanging out as a family are coming to an end. I knew the window would be small and feel like I've made the most of our time. No regrets there.

With the commencement of any big life shift, there is a tendency to make sweeping changes to "make life better." To be more efficient, healthier, smarter, better prepared, etc. And so it is, with great trepidation, that I attempt household reform for the school year.

Just a word about my track record with household reform: For the most part, I've been a failure.

Any chore program, homework program, screen restriction program, life improvement program or dinner menu program I've tried to implement has worked for precisely two weeks before falling apart. Two weeks. Not "approximately" two weeks. Exactly two weeks.

I think I know what it is about those 14 days that ultimately spell doom for everything I try. We start off strong, committed and excited. The kids are motivated by whatever harebrained reward scheme I've come up with that will suddenly Change Everything. But after about 7 days, the rewards seem to lose their motivational power.

It then falls to me to be the motivator--the one to keep the Program alive. And I do. But it's exhausting. I'm a mom, not a police officer. I can't keep track of every little thing that is, or is not done by three boys. I have a life. Does the mediocre kitchen clean up job "count," or do I monitor the re-doing of the job to my standards? I nag, kids whine. Everyone is miserable. Why are we doing this?

I'm done.

Fourteen days.

I'm no idiot. I can spot the trend. I would be insane to try and implement another program that will Change Everything.

So here's the new Start of School program that will Change Everything:

Old Method
No television, video games, computer games, handheld games during the week. Period. If it has a screen, it is off limits. (Exceptions: family movie night or game night that might include playing Wii, occasional stay-late at friends house). Saturday is a "knock yourself out" day. Do as much screen as you want between the hours of 9am and 8pm.

Problems with Old Method
1. 15 year old who thinks rules don't apply to him and plays Minecraft and Spiral Knights constantly when he is home, under the guise of "working on my writing skills."
2. Saturday hours of screen time have extended during the summer to something more like 7am to 11pm.
3. The Mom Idea that kids will not want to stay inside on a sunny day was wrong.
4. Fighting over computer time has reached epically annoying proportions.
5. Opportunities for fun Saturday outings are rejected because "I don't want to waste my screen time."
6. The disturbing "watching TV and playing the computer at the same time" trend.

New Method Proposal
No screen during the week and you must earn your time for Saturday. Time can be earned by doing homework directly after school. Extra time earned for reading. (One minute study/homework/reading equals one minute screen). Time will be earned for doing chores in a timely manner and taken away for not doing them in a timely manner.

I can't think of any other ways to earn time right now, but I don't want to make it too complicated (see "track record" above).

Probable New Method Pitfalls
1. Me having to keep track of earned time during the week.
2. Me having to monitor the kids on Saturday to see that they don't exceed their earned time.

So, there it is. I'm throwing my hat back in the Program ring.

Can I buckle down and make it work this time? Will I give up at the first sign of the endless nag/whine cycle? Or will I be a disciplinarian, lovingly but firmly guiding my children to learn and implement the skills of self-mastery they will need to be the successful, community-contributing super-stars I hope them to be?

p.s. track record!

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Branch in the Road

The other day I was driving Ethan to work. Along one of the rural country roads, a large tree branch had come down and was blocking about half of one lane. The drivers had adjusted. There was enough of a shoulder on the oncoming lane of traffic that they simply gave a wide berth to the lane that had the tree branch. Everyone was taking it nice and slow, but both lanes of traffic were moving.

I dropped Ethan off at camp and by the time I passed the tree branch scene again, a motorcycle cop had come to direct traffic. He was now letting one lane of traffic through at a time while making the other wait. I assume this was until someone could come to haul the branch off the road.

I wondered about the efficiency of the "group think" solution to the tree branch problem versus the inefficiency of the "institutional" solution by the cop. Why did he feel compelled to stop what was clearly a win-win solution to the problem and implement his own win-lose solution? Was it because this was his job? Did he have a procedure to follow that didn't allow him to use common sense? Was he afraid of a law suit should someone accidentally run into the branch and have an accident?

I know this idea has applications in other situations too. It doesn't always work to have a group of people who are directly affected by a problem, concern or issue come up with the solution, but a lot of the time it does.

I don't know what else to say about this because I'm tired and want to go to bed. But I know there is something more to this and I'm just scratching the surface. Something about zero-tolerance policies, or national health care, or the US Postal Service, or Congress.

What happens to the quality of solutions when we are constrained by rules that don't always make sense? I seem to remember hearing about a small dairy that had to close because of new rules about milk that were designed to favor big milk producers.

I'm sure there are more examples.

I'll figure it all out later.

Monday, July 8, 2013


It's kind of my goal to take a hike every week during summer break. There are so many great places to hike around here that I think we ought to take advantage of them. Besides, hiking is free--other than gas to get to the hiking venue--and good exercise.

I'm hesitant to make an official "goal" though because I don't want to be tied down that way. What if I don't want to hike one week. I need the flexibility not to hike. And I don't want the goal hanging over my head making me feel guilty.

This is summer break, after all. Not a time to create burdens for oneself, but to cast off the troubles and schedules of the school year and "go with the flow."

(My flow always includes reading and naps.)

So, here are the hikes we've done so far:

Latourell Falls in the Columbia River Gorge was a 2.3 mile loop with a 425 foot elevation gain. It was a fun hike, the trail was uncrowded, the scenery was gorgeous and the upper falls was spectacular. There was a stunning view of the Columbia River at one point. However, I think we had to leave the trail for a bit to reach it. We went to Dairy Queen for S'mores Blizzards after.

This next hike wasn't really a hike, but it was definitely a walk. (Do you see how I'm already fudgeing the truth in order to keep the goal alive?) This is Knights Ferry, California. A booming gold rush town that fizzled out after the gold rush, and after the railroad went through the town of Oakdale to the south west. The railroad ruined everything for Knights Ferry. We took a walk, maybe a mile loop. There was no elevation gain. There was a covered bridge. The longest covered bridge west of the Mississippi

Next we hiked Powell Butte in Portland and got stunning views of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams. In real life, Mt. Hood was a stunning presence in the above picture. Unfortunately, photographic evidence does not attest to this at all. It's possible we hiked 3.5 miles. The parking lot was closed for construction, so we had to walk up from Powell Blvd, which was a pain. And it was one of those really hot Portland days. So sweating was involved. Elevation gain about 220 feet.

Last week our hike took us out to the Oregon Coast and Ecola State Park. We hiked the Tillamook Head trail which was a 3.6 mile loop with a 900 foot elevation gain. (I saw 700 feet somewhere else, but it felt like 900 and that's what I'm going with.) At the top of the trail--which, by the way, was the farthest point of Lewis and Clark's expedition (they were looking for whale blubber)--you get a spectacular view of the Tillamook lighthouse perched off the coast on a craggy rock. 

Here's what it would have looked like (see below) if we hadn't been socked in with fog (see above).

After that hike Robert noticed our huffing and puffing and in one case, profuse sweating (we were hiking in fog!) and said, "Gee, I thought you guys were in better shape." I don't think I will invite him on the next hike.

Friday, May 31, 2013

So, Here's Something . . .

I got a phone call, out of the blue, from a friend of a friend wondering if I'd be interested in ghost writing his book. It's a business book but he wants it written as a novel, so it's more interesting to read.

I've never done any ghost writing, but I imagine that every ghost writer has to take that first job--the one where enter the unknown and aren't sure if they've got the chops for it. (Or am I the only one who thinks she doesn't have the chops for it?)

I've talked with several people who have ghost written books before, gotten some advice, and have spent the last two days wondering if my anxiety is because this is way out of my league and I should say "no thank you," or if it's due to having to step out of my comfort zone.

I really, really like my comfort zone. It's so . . . comfortable. And there are on-line games here. And peanut M&M's. Why would I want to leave?

After talking to my friend tonight, I feel like I'm ready to take the next step, which would be sitting down and asking more detailed questions. Like, "do you have ideas for chapters, characters, a plot arc? Is there a beginning, middle and end?" Because if I have to pull a whole book out of someone based on a couple ideas, I might be in over my head.

Of course if I do decide to do it, I have no idea how to negotiate a contract. I don't know what to ask for money wise, or where to insist my name appear? (By the way, did you know that "Seven Habits" was  ghost written, along with almost every other business book? Crazy!)

So, that's what's going on this week.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Spring Break 2013: The Middle of Nowhere

Nothing makes a small town seem big like driving through a bunch of other, much smaller towns. That was the case with John Day, Oregon, which seemed like a booming metropolis once we reached it after a five hour drive.

For Spring Break we decided to check out John Day Fossil Beds National Monument near John Day Oregon. My mother lived in John Day from the time she was a newborn to five years old. Additionally, my grandfather was the first Branch President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in John Day after my grandmother mailed their tithing to the Portland, Oregon Mission President. So in a way, I felt very much like I was returning to my roots.

Unfortunately, Grandma and Grandpa's John Day stint was short and my mom can't remember a thing about it. So we focused on the unique and beautiful landscape in Central Oregon.

About 45 minutes from our destination (The John Day Best Western Hotel) we stopped for a (boys only) potty break and photo op. While the landscape was definitely high desert, there was a distinct beauty in the colors and landforms. 

Once we checked into our hotel and met up with our friends who'd traveled with us, we made reservations at the Snaffle Bit Dinner House for a delicious, large meal. Since we were in cattle country, I took advantage of something called a Cowboy Wrap, which was roast beef, garlic mashed potatoes, bacon and chipotle sauce all wrapped up in a giant tortilla. It was amazing. I ate half and saved the other half for lunch the next day.

Day two found us at the Sheep Rock Unit of the fossil beds. Home to the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and ranger station for the monument. The boys had fun earning their Jr. Ranger badges, watching a little paleontology in action through the lab window, and taking a little hike. We couldn't have hoped for better weather. Blue skies with high clouds--not too hot, not too cool. Perfect!

After Sheep Rock, we headed west to the Painted Hills Unit--about 45 minutes away. As we drove, the clouds descended and it threatened to rain. That's when I saw something strange on the horizon: a very odd-looking tree. A SHOE tree!

There was no question about whether or not we would stop. This tree literally came up out of nowhere on the Ochoco Highway. The closest town (if you could call it that) was Mitchell (population 129). The boys had fun climbing and throwing shoes onto the tree. (There were plenty of "windfall" shoes on the ground beneath the tree to try and hurl).

By the time we arrived at the Painted Hills Unit, the sun was out and things were stunning again. We took a few short hikes and admired the stark, but beautiful scenery. This area is 33 million year old volcanic ash fall. The color in the hills is minerals leaching out. We saw a couple other cars, but for the most part, we were the only folks around this pleasant March afternoon.

We had dinner at the Dairy Queen, which, incidentally, cost just about as much as our fantastic beef dinner at the Snaffle Bit. I sat at my window seat, watching the only stop light in Grant County order traffic along the highway (Grant County is the size of Connecticut!) I couldn't help but wonder how much or little things had changed in the 60 years since my mother lived there. Kids walked up and down the street in the evening, perfectly safe, out on their own. Every pick-up had a Border Collie in the bed. The 100 year old Chinese pharmacy still stands from back in the Gold Rush days. 

I could easily picture my grandparents and their young family as part of this community.

On day three we headed for home. But not without a few stops first. We stopped at the James Cant Ranch and toured the building. Then Jonah and Isaac took the trail down to the John Day River to skip a few rocks. It was early in the morning and the sun was just coming over Sheep Rock.

On the way home, we stopped in Fossil, Oregon. We'd heard about the fossils ripe for the picking behind Wheeler High School. After looking around Fossil a bit (and finding a few non-paleo fossils, like a working cigarette vending machine and a working phone booth still with the 10 cent price advertised on the glass) we made our way up to the high school.

The boys had a blast digging and splitting open rocks to find plant fossils. (Proof that Robert came with us--see him in the upper right corner of the picture?) It was actually quite easy to find the fossils. All you had to do was pick them up off the ground. But that didn't keep the kids from digging to see if they could find something more exciting.

We took the scenic route home and passed the Clarno Unit. Scenic, in this case, meant windy roads because other than the stunning Palisades rock structure at Clarno, I didn't see anything super scenic. We passed through Maupin on our way back to The Dalles and on the road home.

It was a long drive coming and going, but totally worth it to explore this totally unique, beautiful corner of our state. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Special Spoon

Somehow I ended up with a spoon from the church kitchen.

Actually, I "borrowed" a bunch of spoons, forks and knives from the church kitchen for a Christmas party I had a while back so I wouldn't have to use plastic ware and this little spoon ended up left behind when I returned all the other flatware.

Anyway, the spoon. It's plain compared to my other Oneida "tea rose" spoons and somehow, it's been designated as the special spoon. The boys taunt each other when they get it passed out to them at a meal.

I can understand if that was the only odd spoon out in our silverware drawer, but it's not. There is another spoon that is different. Robert purchased it in Japan when he was over there for work so he could eat at his hotel room and not have to buy every meal out. And the spoon came home with him.

"Why isn't that spoon the special spoon," I asked.

"It just isn't," Jonah said.

"It's not fancy. This other spoon is a little nicer. I would think this would be the special spoon."

"It's like when Indiana Jones chooses the cup at the end of The Last Crusade. He picks the one that is plain because that is the cup of a carpenter. This spoon is like that cup."


I'm not sure if they actually think they have the holy spoon, but considering it is church property, there might be something to their reasoning.

Friday, March 1, 2013

A List

Things I Would Like to Do Today

Run/walk 2 miles
Write Goodreads review on the best book I just finished (Truth in Advertising by John Kenney)
Work for 45 minutes to an hour at my job
Go to the Dutch store to by hagelslag
Prepare my Sunday School lesson so I can help in-laws move tomorrow
Write a clever Facebook status update about how my neighbor used his car remote to lock his doors last night at 2am and made the horn honk three times working in the fact that I wasn't able to go back to sleep after 2am. (check!)
Put a note on the windshield of neighbor's car asking very nicely to not honk the horn at 2am.
Return/Pick up books to/from the library
Start a new book
Eat breakfast (not including the chocolate peanut butter cookie I already had)

The thing is, if I'd gotten my running clothes on and just left the house when the kids went to the bus stop, I'd already be back from my run/walk and halfway through breakfast.

Instead, I put all that effort into the Facebook status update and the subsequent checking back for comments and/or likes.

*Update - conference call with 2 sisters and run/walk is out. I'll do it tomorrow. Probably.
Also, the neighbors are having a garage sale, so the passive aggressive note leaving will have to be scrapped too.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Moment

I ordered five plastic "cloches" for my garden from Amazon and today they arrived. They are big, but light. I didn't know they were here until Jonah and Isaac came home from school and saw them on the front porch.

But they didn't just run in the house and tell me I had a package. Nor did they come running in the house carrying the package.

Here's what they did:

They rang the doorbell and when I opened it, they were both carrying the giant box like it weighed a million pounds. (It weighed four pounds). They struggled to come in the house and made me think they were really having to work for it.

And it was just one of those moments where I thought my heart would break for the love of seeing these boys grow up. It was so sweet to see them work together to pull one over on me me, to make me laugh. How did I get so lucky?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Last night Robert went to bed around 11:45 and was paged at 1:30am and stayed up, working, until 7:30am. He was able to have some time this morning to sleep, and in order to keep things quiet, I grabbed my hair dryer, a brush, a few hair products, and my clothes and planned to shower in the boys bathroom after my morning run.

However, I quickly found that letting a sleeping husband lie is a hard thing to do. More precisely, staying out of my bedroom is a hard thing to do. I had to venture into the bedroom four separate times for various things:

1. deodorant
2. shoes
3. moisturizer
4. shampoo, conditioner, scrubby thing

Here are the things I did NOT go back in my room for and decided I could live without for the morning:

1. a book to read
2. make-up
3. toothbrush
4. wedding ring (no need to read anything into this)
5. hair clip used during blow drying

(Also, I tracked dirt all though the house, but could not vacuum it up.)

In a few weeks, it is likely (although Robert won't let me start telling people yet) that Robert will start working night shift at Intel. There are a lot of good things about this new position, the best being that he will get to spend more time with the family and will not need to be accessible 24/7.

However, I'm really, really grumpy about the fact that I will lose access to my room, my stuff, my bathroom, all my clothes, shoes and anything else I might want on the spur of the moment 3 to 4 mornings a week.

I don't know how I'm going to do it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In Which I Get My First Trophy

Remember the American Mother's Gala I wrote about last week? Well, I went. And guess who else went? Robert! At the last minute he was able to go and so we were able to both have a lovely salmon dinner and chat with other lovely couples at table #9.

He escorted me to the stage and I watched as my friend Liz became the 2013 Oregon Young Mother of the Year. (yay Liz!) The evening ended with me getting a Willow Tree statue of mother and child on a lovely base with my name engraved on it.

It was all very nice. And I'm glad that Robert was able to walk me to the stage.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Goldfish Torture Update

It's been two and a half years since I became a pet owner, against my will, at the Intel Family Picnic and wrote this highly controversial blog post. (Sixteen comments! That's more than any other blog post to date!)

As you know, we started off with two goldfish. About a year into the goldfish captivity, one fish decided to make a break for it while we were away at Yellowstone. Don't worry, the fish were being carefully cared for by responsible friends who were following my meticulous instructions to replace the water every 2 days--or 7 days. Anyway, Ned (or was it Lucky) leapt over the edge of the bowl and landed on the kitchen floor. He wasn't discovered until our shoeless, sockless friend wandered into the kitchen early in the morning and, well, I'll just let you fill in the details yourself.

Lucky (or Ned) on the other hand, decided his captivity was better than a tenuous chance at freedom (the devil you know . . . ) and stayed put. He swims today, just a few feet from where I sit, in the same fishbowl I put him in back in August of 2010. I am mostly ambivalent about his existence. There is, however, a part of me that is resentful he has lived so long, if I'm being perfectly honest.

There are plenty of goldfish advocates out there who claim I'm torturing this fish. And maybe I am. But I wonder what I should have done when my children ran up to me, thrilled with their newly-won prizes in little plastic, water-filled bags?

Should I have dumped them in a pond or flushed them down the toilet to put them out of their misery and prevent their eventual suffering? Would that have been more humane?

I guess the reason this compassionate move didn't occur to me is because while raising a goldfish, I'm also raising three boys. Humans. Children from my womb. Making them flush their living creatures down the toilet just seemed . . . wrong. I'm not ashamed to say, I am more concerned with their upbringing than I am with the upbringing of a couple fish.

Should I have insisted they return the fish at the family picnic? Maybe. They might have gotten over that eventually.

Should I have made them turn them over to the employee at Petco, where the goldfish could live out their lives in a 20 gallon tank? Until someone came to buy feeder fish for her turtle.

Should I have purchased my own 20 gallon tank, a filter, and all the other tank paraphernalia for two goldfish? Am I wrong for not wanting to make a huge investment on pets I didn't want? Pets that everyone told me would be dead in 6 months. Pets that cost 29 cents each?

I know there are plenty of people out there who will say I was wrong to keep the goldfish in such a cruel way.

You know what? I can live with that.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Feeling Awkward Anxiety

Last year I, along with about ten other women, was honored by the Association of American Mothers. There was a luncheon and we learned about this fine service organization and all the great things they do on a local and national level. Then we were invited to apply to be considered for Oregon's Mother of the Year.

I did not want to be considered for this, mostly because I didn't want the responsibility that goes along with it. I feel very comfortable with the level of responsibility I have right now. I also feel good about the contribution I make to my family and don't need any outside validation. So, I didn't apply.

Besides, being singled out causes a bit of anxiety for me. I'm good at blending. Just let me blend.

But, as part of my being honored, I have also been invited to the Gala dinner. This is where the Oregon Mother of the Year will be chosen. There is a dinner, which is free for me, but $45 for anyone else who comes to see me honored.

This Gala is a fundraiser and I was encouraged to invite as many people as I could so that they could raise funds for their organization. Fine. I got one person. Robert. I told him about it three months ago, but now that we are down to it, he has to work. Evidently, I was supposed to remind him, which I did, but not at the right time. Anyway, that is neither here nor there.

So, I am going to be honored as a mother all by myself. But, I get a salmon dinner. So, yay.

I just got off the phone with one of the Gala organizers and she said she would put Robert down as a "maybe." I told her I was pretty sure he wasn't coming and that she should just count me only. Then she said this:

"All the husbands escort their wives to the stage."

So, of course I read a bunch of stuff into this, because I'm so good at picking up on non-existent nuance and meaning. What she was really saying was: I will be the only one without a husband, I will stick out, I will feel awkward. This is just not done. Everyone else will have someone to escort them. I will walk alone.

And this is the point where I wish they never included me in this event. I don't want to go. I don't want my salmon dinner. And I certainly don't want to be the only person to walk up to the stage without an escort. I want to stay home and read a book.

This is not a good time of the month to feel stress and anxiety. Emotions are very close to the surface (a.k.a tear ducts.)

Update - 48 minutes have given me a little perspective and I'm going to own this. I can do this.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Here's Something New

I was at Bandito Taco, sitting across from my fifteen-year-old last week. It was a "You're Done With Finals" celebratory lunch. It was fun. It was mom and son bonding at its best. He said, "thank you" for the meal about five times in twenty minutes. It was a perfect moment.

Except I couldn't take my eyes off that fuzzy pre-pre-mustache above his lip. It was too dark not to notice, but also very, very fine. It was driving me nuts.

What do you do with a thing like that? Is it even razor-worthy? Should we just bleach it? Did facial hair even fall into my realm of responsibility? (I was fairly certain it did not.) This was uncharted man-territory for sure and I was lost. One thing I knew for sure, however:

That thing had to go.

I waited until our magical, special Bandito Taco time was over, until we were about half-way home, before I broached the subject.

"When we get home," I said, "I want you go to upstairs into my bathroom. I want you to open my bathroom drawer and find dad's electric razor. Then I want you to shave that thing off your lip. You know what I'm talking about, right?"

He smiled and nodded. We didn't need to discuss the issue further.

Later that afternoon the thing was gone. Mostly. He probably could have done with a bit of an electric razor tutorial, but I was not going to be that tutor. But, best of all, I had my boy back.

My butting in is probably just getting started. After all, if my realm of responsibility includes shaving instruction, maybe I could suggest a cooler hair style? Well, any hair style, really.

Because lately, when I sit across from him at dinner, I can hardly stand looking at his hair.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

In Which I Consider Teaching My Children to Lie

Yesterday I got a dramatic haircut. Five inches of hair was cut off and I went from having hair that just hangs to an actual cute style that requires "product." I love it.

I thought it was a big enough change that the kids would make some kind of comment when they got home from school. I know change is hard for kids, especially when it comes to seeing their mom change, so I wasn't expecting anything overly kind or gushing with praise. Maybe an acknowledgement that my hair looked different. Or even an "I don't like it," would have been fine. It's a big change after all.

But they said nothing. Not one thing.

Later, I met up with Robert at the Blue and Gold dinner in the evening at church. I'd given him a head's-up that morning that I was getting a drastically different hair cut. I expected that he would say something. But he didn't say anything.

Meanwhile, my friends were making nice comments. I even had one friend's husband comment that he liked it.

It's not that I require validation from the boys in my family. In fact, I've made a point NOT to need validation from them. It saves a lot of hurt feelings. I'm confident in my cooking and clothing choices and hair style: I don't need them to tell me I've done well. It's nice when they do, but I understand that type of observation just doesn't come naturally to them. It's all good.

But today I forced the issue.

I had Isaac alone in the car as we drove to his appointment with the eye doctor.

Me: Isaac, do you notice anything different about me?
Isaac: Your hair?
Me: Yes, I got five inches cut off my hair. How come you didn't say anything about it.
Isaac: When did you get it cut?
Me: Yesterday!
Isaac: Oh, yeah. I guess it is really short.

Then, when Ethan came home from school I asked him.

Me: Ethan, do you notice anything different about me?
Ethan: Hair cut.
Me: Yes, how come you didn't say anything?
Ethan: Why should I say anything? I noticed. What else was I supposed to say?

Finally, I asked Jonah. I went through the same routine as with the other two boys and when I asked him why he hadn't said anything, this is what he said.

Jonah: I didn't have anything nice to say. It's a big change. It's like when you see a guy with three eyes. It's surprising and it takes you a while to get used to it.

I believe it's time to teach my boys the art of diplomacy. Maybe even a little white lying. After all, if it's helpful and if it's kind, does it really matter if its 100% true?

Thursday, January 31, 2013


When I was a young, twenty-something newlywed, I went to a weekly Relief Society activity. I can't remember what we did, but I do remember overhearing a woman talking to her friends. This is what she said:

"I was putting on my make-up and noticed a little wrinkle in my chin. I was so depressed about this new wrinkle and about how I'm getting old. And as I was obsessing in the mirror over this wrinkle, I got a little closer and realized it wasn't a wrinkle, it was a whisker!"

She couldn't figure out what was worse: her failing eyesight or the fact that she had a whisker.

Meanwhile, I was shocked and disgusted. It was like finding out who Santa was and how babies are made all in the same fell swoop. Still, it couldn't be true. This scenario would surely never play out in my own life. Would it?

Last week I turned 44. With each advancing year, I feel more and more connected to this woman from my past. The body is an amazing thing even when it starts to betray us. However, with the right lighting, I am proud to say, I have yet to mistake a whisker for a wrinkle.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cleaning The Whole House: 31 Easy Steps

Just like a two-year old, I crave routine. Unlike a two-year old, I also have a fondness for order. To fulfill my needs for routine and order, I clean the house, top to bottom, once a week. After I clean, it's easy to do a quick pick up or wipe down here and there to maintain routine and order until Sunday night, when everything returns to chaos.

Monday has been my regular house cleaning day but this week, there was a holiday on Monday and the kids were home from school. Cleaning the house while the kids are home is a stupid, frustrating, and redundant task, so I usually wait for everyone to be gone to get my effective cleaning done.

My goal is to have the house in perfect order and be completely done by the time the kids get home from school. This rarely happens, but I get pretty close and then I can finish the rest after dinner.

Here's how I clean house:

1. Everything has a place. If there are not enough places for the stuff, I get rid of some of the stuff.
2. The iPod needs to be updated with all of my favorite, current podcasts and I listen to them in this order throughout the day as I clean:
     a. Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me
     b. Stuff Mom Never Told You (usually 2 episodes)
     c. Stuff You Should Know (usually 2 episodes)
     d. This American Life
     e. The Moth
     f. Freakonomics
     g. Stuff You Missed in History Class
2a. Completely shut down computer
3. Start a load of laundry and put in ear buds. (Some laundry is started the night before)
4. I take a giant Ikea reusable bag and collect everything down stairs that belongs upstairs, including any towels or other laundry that needs to be done. Then I take the bag upstairs and leave it.
5. I dust/polish the dining room table, piano, buffet, computer desk shelves, etc. Empty garbage under desk, file any papers and put everything in its place.
6. I clean the kitchen counters, empty/load dishwasher, clean fish bowl water, Comet the sink, wash windows behind sink, clean and polish kitchen table (stack chairs on top of table), wipe down my laptop, sweep floor and mop floor.
7. Change laundry
8. Clean downstairs bathroom, toilet, sink, mirror, mop floor, replace towels with laundered ones.
9. Replace decorative couch pillows, dust table in TV room. Dust as needed
10. Tidy Robert's office if possible
11. Vacuum entire downstairs (downstairs is now complete!)
12. Upstairs, empty Ikea bag and toss contents into correct rooms.
13. Change laundry
14. Clean playroom: put all toys away, throw away garbage, return Wii stuff to proper place, dust as needed.
15. Vacuum playroom
16. Clean kids bathroom, tub, sink, counter, toilet, mirror, replace towels and empty trash and mop floor. (I can do this in about 10 minutes)
17. Change laundry (clean laundry gets dumped on my bed. The pile is growing)
18. Clean Isaac and Jonah's room, pick up floor, return everything to its place, make beds with fresh sheets if necessary (about every 4 weeks--they actually sleep on top of their bedspreads most nights) dust.
19. Go to Taco Bell drive through, order burrito supreme and Dr. Pepper. Return home and eat for 30 minutes. Then back to work!
20. Clean Ethan's room, pick up floor, return everything to its place, make bed with fresh sheets, dust
21. Change laundry
22. Fold all laundry
23. Put all folded laundry away
24. Mop laundry room floor (about this time, laundry should be all done, or the last load in the dryer)
25. Vacuum boys bedrooms and hall way (about this time, kids start getting home from school)
26. Make my bed, dust/polish all wood, pick up floor, throw garbage away, general tidying
27. Clean master bathroom, sinks, counter, mirrors, shower, toilet, replace towels, mop floor, return laundry baskets to closet.
28. Vacuum my bathroom (that's right, my stupid bathroom has carpet!), bedroom, hallway, stairs and landing.
29. Put vacuum cleaner away.
30. Take a bath, read book, use one of those fizzing bath bombs, relax.
31. Go to bed.

If all goes well, the next day I wake up to a perfectly clean house and every laundry basket is empty and all the clothes are put away. Everything is put away in fact. Maintenance is easy for the next 4 days. Routine and order abound.

Friday, January 18, 2013


"You probably got it all figured out, Corey. If you start out depressed everything's kind of a pleasant surprise."
Lloyd Dobler

This morning I was watching a news story about a woman who's destination wedding went horribly, HORRIBLY wrong. 
First of all, when she arrived to her New Orleans hotel, the grounds didn't look anything like they did in the online picture. There was NO GRASS. The hotel offered to lay down green carpet for her. Can you imagine? Green carpet. As if!
Second, her flowers arrived and some of them were dead! Newsflash: they were all dead. Admittedly, some did not look as if they were freshly cut.
Third, her fiancé's rented three-piece suit arrived and it was the wrong size.
Fourth, on the day of her wedding, while they were taking pictures, it was really humid and after several photos, they had to unzip the back of her dress and put ice packs on her back. She thought she was going to faint.
There were a couple things running through my head as I watched this little story, but the big thought was this:
If that bride would have kept things simple she would have had a much better day. It's my firm belief that the more epic your plans, the more epic your potential for disappointment. I admit, the pendulum swings both ways and epic delight is also possible with ones epic plans. However, it's been obvious to me since I was 15 years old that the more worked up I got about something, the more I tried to control the world around me, the more disappointed I would become.
Much better to roll with the punches, go with the flow, and keep it simple stupid.

  • A dance where I spent four hours getting ready was always more disappointing than a dance where I threw an outfit together last minute.
  • The 16th birthday where I'd pictured the car in the driveway, complete with giant bow became hugely disappointing when what I actually got was a volleyball.
  • Slaving over a time consuming breakfast of blueberry-orange french toast served to a bunch of eat-to-live boys becomes nothing more than self-torment. 
Except when it comes to personal integrity and virtue, I don't think there is anything wrong with low expectations.  Figure out the one or two things that are most important to you and focus on those. Then let everything else go. 

I'm much happier when I think about how dry and warm I am in my house rather than how nasty my carpets and floors are. 

I'm thrilled that my kids don't complain when I have grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner that their lack of appreciation for a fancy meal doesn't bother me. Much. Anymore.

When I attend church events with absolutely no expectations, I have a blast!

For me, a big part about keeping it simple is not looking out, but looking in. Stop paying attention to what everyone else has that I don't, and focus on all that I have. 

I have a lot. I have enough. I have everything I need. I am happy.

Keep it simple stupid.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Jell-o Project: Not as Bad as it Looks

The comeback Jell-o had to be a Statement Jell-o, and nothing makes a statement like Red Hots, celery, nuts and mayonnaise. Oh yes. This Jell-o contains all four of these delightfully mismatched ingredients, and more.

It should be noted that Jell-o salads with creamy middle layers should never be attempted in a mold. I've made this mistake once before and will not make it again. It makes for a perfectly ugly turn out.

Also, the next time I make a Jell-o with nuts, and a darkish piece of walnut is front and center for the photo shoot, I will remove said walnut or turn said Jell-o. (I swear. It's just a walnut.)

The final lesson learned is that whenever one feels sad about the feedback she received on her Jell-o salad, one should drive the bulk of the left-overs to Mrs. Andrea Bell's house where all bad feelings will suddenly disappear as Mrs. Bell gushes over and gulps down convincing amounts of Jell-o.

Here's the recipe:
2/3 cup red hots
2 cups boiling water
6 oz. Lemon Jello
1 1/2 cups applesauce
8 oz. cream chese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup chopped celery

Dissolve red hots in water, then dissolve Jell-o in water then mix in apple sauce. Pour half into a casserole or glass bowl. Mix cream cheese and mayo together until smooth. Add in celery and nuts and combine. Spread mixture over the first half after Jell-o is set. Then add the remaining Jell-o and return to fridge to set completely.

And now for the feedback:

Me: I thought it was delicious. The cinnamon smell was delightfully obvious and the texture of the apple sauce, red layer was perfect. The middle layer was a bit much to take on its own, but together with the cinnamon-apple layer, it made a surprisingly good combination.

Jonah: Really didn't have any words for the Jell-o as he was eating it pretty quickly. He said he liked it al lot, although he did not request seconds. As a result, my findings on this subject were not conclusive.

Robert: Ate it. Kindly encouraged others in the family to eat it as well. Said it was "not bad." I suspect he is remaining vague in order to decrease his presence in these blog posts.

Ethan: Ate one bite, nearly threw up. (Or maybe he's just getting really, really good at pretending like he's going to throw up.)

Isaac: whiffed the Jell-o. Looked at the Jell-o. Refused to even go near the Jell-o. As a side note, he also refused to eat his beef stroganoff and his broccoli.

In conclusion, they can run, they can hide, they can fake vomit but it doesn't change a thing. Jell-o is back.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Confession (Shh . . . Don't Tell)

I don't care for Girl Scout cookies. I don't dislike them, but I'm definitely not ga-ga for them either. And they're pricey. I'd rather not purchase them.

However, it kills me to walk by those sweet little girls standing outside the grocery store, or to turn away the cuties at my door. The only way I can do it is if I have a good reason. A reason like, "I already bought some."

So, this year I'm buying Girl Scout Cookies so I don't have to buy Girl Scout Cookies.

A box of Thin Mints and a box of Samoas, to be exact.

Now, if your darling child is selling Girl Scout Cookies and wants to sell some to me I will say to her with my most sincere frown-smile , "Sorry, I already bought some."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Not the Last Straw, But Definitely a Straw

This evening I read a Yahoo News article about a woman who went a whole year without wearing makeup. Imagine! A whole year. No make up. But that's not all. She also didn't wear jewelry and didn't use hardly any hair product.

The result: A book deal.

I, on the other hand, almost never wear makeup and jewelry. To wit, my ear piercings are practically closed up so that if I wanted to wear earrings, I would have to perform very minor home surgery before doing so. (Notice, I'm leaving out any mention of hair product here.)

The result: The only book deal I've gotten was when I purchased Is That a Word: The Weird and Wonderful Language of Scrabble for 35% off the cover price.

The worst part is I can't help but think that the "doing something for a year and then writing about it" boat has sailed. And I missed it.

Just like I missed the "monetize your blog" boat and the "make money selling crap on Ebay" boat.

I made Jell-o every week for a long time and blogged about it, but I don't have a book deal for that. I also wrote some very helpful instructions on how to be a boy which I have on good authority would make a wonderful book. Almost as good as I could Pee on This and Other Cat Poems, I have in fact been assured.

(Yes. Someone actually pretended they were a cat writing poems about peeing on stuff and got a book deal.)

However, I am nothing if not introspective. I know, deep down, what the problem is. I've always known what the problem is. It's that I don't flirt. I refuse to flirt. I want to be recognized for my own merits and personality. Not because I degraded myself (read: make eye contact with, speak to, or in any way acknowledge another person) to get someone's attention.

This has been, in fact, more than just an idea. It's been my personal life policy: I will stand over here, against this wall, where I blend in almost perfectly, and not say a word. And the right person will notice me from across the room and somehow be able to see my talent and ability coming off me in waves of pure light without me having to say anything at all. And I will get a book deal and be the next JK Rowling.

No begging, no rejection, no humiliation.

(And here, I can hear the voice of  Dr. Phil saying: How's that workin' for ya?)

No book deal, Dr. Phil.

And so, to the woman who didn't wear make up for a year and wrote a book about it I have this to say: Your stupid experiment is a straw--not the last straw--but a substantial, longish straw that will motivate me to take a risk or two. To at least get myself closer to that dock from where all the boats are leaving.

(Seriously? No makeup gets you a book deal?)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Life Imitates Biscuit

I didn't write one single thing on this blog in December 2012. I will blame it on the fact that for Christmas I made my boys three sets of pajamas, three robes and three quilts which incorporated scraps of fabric from the Christmas pajamas I produced for them over the last 7 years. It was a lot of work. I started in September and finished the two days before Christmas.

I wanted to blog in November about how I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time ever. The turkey was a miracle of moistness and was the best tasting turkey I ever had. It was a miracle because it was the second turkey I'd ever attempted. I credit our digital thermometer, Alton Brown's brine recipe, and Robert's superior graphing skills (see graph below) for my wild success.

Robert accurately predicts the time the turkey will be done.

Another thing that happened: I was called to teach Gospel Doctrine class at church. It was a little overwhelming and time consuming. Ultimately, however, I've found preparing and teaching to be very rewarding. It's just a lot of work and a little bit of worry. But, my begging and pleading paid off and the bishop has called a second gospel doctrine teacher for the class. So I only have to teach every two weeks. I'm beyond thrilled! 

We had a lovely Christmas and everyone was happy. So, mission accomplished. 

Robert purchased and returned both a Kindle Fire and an iPad 3 or 4 between Black Friday and the day after Christmas. So he essentially got nothing for his birthday or Christmas. Nothing except two boxes of Panda Licorice. 

Last night we watched the Oregon Ducks beat the Kansas State Wildcats in the Fiesta Bowl. Jonah asked if he could eat a biscuit I'd just baked and in the style of a true artist, noticed a "face" burned into the bottom of his biscuit. I had to take a picture.

Now it is January. The days are getting lighter and longer. All the holiday stuff is down and I've been throwing out all kinds of junk we don't need anymore. Life is good.

Everyone is healthy (knock on wood) and we are all safe and happy. We have plenty to eat and forced air heat to keep us warm and sweaters and coats to wear when we go outside. What more could I want?