Friday, December 11, 2009

Tis The Season

It was 10 degrees here in Grays Harbor last night. Our lake is frozen most of the way across into a beautiful glasslike crystal sheet of ice (teasing the children to try to ice skate on it although they are FORBIDDEN to attempt that or even go near it.) We're not used to these record lows around here. Car batteries are refusing to cooperate, tons of people's wells are frozen, and the local economy is getting stimulated as people are forced to buy deicer, antifreeze, and long underwear. Oh yeah, and a lady slept in her car outside of my house last night.

I obviously already knew that there were countless homeless people suffering in this weather. I just made a casual comment to the kids about how I was worried about those people without warm shelter just the other day. None of them were in front of my house though (yet.) Everything's always more personal & real when it's right in your own front yard. This morning, when I got up to get the kids off to school, I noticed a car parked outside. Not a big deal. It happens. A little while later though, the hazard lights came on & I realized that there was somebody in that car. So, I sent Dustin out to see if they needed help. He brought back a lady that was shivering violently. Her lips & fingers purplish-blue. She had a small fleece throw, a lightweight jacket, and a cast on her arm. She had let her car run to stay warm until she had run out of gas.

I set her up with a blanket & hot cocoa while Dustin went to town to get gas for her car. She seemed like a really nice lady. She made conversation with the kids as I hurried around getting them ready for school. The part that really hit me hard wasn't so much that she had to sleep in her car, it was the fact that as I got the kids ready, tears came to her eyes as she repeatedly said, "I used to do this with my kids." Tatton was getting all dressed up for his field trip to The Nutcracker & this lady told him about how she also went on a field trip to The Nutcracker in Seattle with her daughter's class years ago. I was reminded once again of just how much I really have to be thankful for that I so often take for granted. My kids were sitting at our dining room table wolfing down cheerios, hats and gloves at the ready for when they would leave the comfort of our 70 degrees home to board the school bus and go off to a day of learning & enrichment. Our needs were met. We were better than okay, great even.

I've caught myself feeling Scrooge-like & cranky several times over the last few weeks with Dustin laid off as the Holidays approach all too quickly. I keep trying to remember to focus on the Holiday traditions that bring family togetherness instead of stressing about getting every little thing on the kids' monstrous gimme-lists. It's easy to get caught up in the cycle of materialism and greed though. This morning, I remembered something: The best part of the Holidays is giving. I suggest that we all find a way to reach out to others this season.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

When It Just Happens

I love effortless learning. I try to learn that way as often as possible. Who am I kidding? I try to do everything as effortlessly as possible. The shower curtain in my kids' bathroom is a giant world map because when I saw it for sale at Walmart I thought, "Wow- if they're going to be sitting there anyway and they could stare at a map that whole time..." Effortless learning. Today, we were watching the football game. It was the San Francisco 49er's at the Seahawks. Good game too, by the way. The score stayed tied enough of the time to keep me interested. Oh yeah, and the Hawks won. :-) Lane asked, "Why would anyone name a football team something dumb like the 49er's?" Sean said, "They're from San Francisco. You know, like the California Gold Rush." Tatton asked what the name 49er's had to do with the Gold Rush, so I told him to go look it up. A couple of minutes later he said, "Ohh- I get it! 1849. Okay." The beautiful thing is, it didn't end there. Once we had reason to crack open those history books, the domino effect began.

Tatton read aloud about the events of 1849 from Don't Know Much About American History (by Kenneth C. Davis). His eyed were glowing with excitement as he exclaimed, "Oh my gosh! You guys think the economy is bad now! In 1849, there were so many thousands of people flocking to California that their supply & demand was ridiculous! Flour was $800 a barrel, sugar was $400 a barrel, eggs were $3 a piece, and shovels were $100. (This was at a time when skilled workers were making $2 a day!) Hey, guess what? Jeans were invented because a man noticed that miners needed sturdier pants & he invented Levi Strauss. Oh my gosh! Levi's were the first jeans ever invented and I'm wearing a pair of Levi's right now!"

He went on, "Hey guys! Chinatown came about because the Gold Rush brought so many Chinese people across the Pacific to America since there was a war going on over there & lots of people were out of work in China. But life in California, which the Chinese people called "Gold Mountain" wasn't much better than it had been in China. White people who couldn't find gold looked for someone to blame. They often unfairly blamed the Chinese & they were forced to live apart from everyone else & pay extra taxes. They had no rights. Many went home, but those who stayed created "Chinatowns" where they settled. I wonder if we would have Chinese take-out if there hadn't been a Gold Rush in 1849?"

Then he asked Lane this question: "Hey Lane- was the Underground Railroad the first subway system?" Thankfully, Tatton was too excited to allow Lane much time to answer since Lane didn't look like he loved being put on the spot with that question. Tatton answered his own question, "Nope! It sounds like it would be, but it was really a network of houses & other safe places for slaves who were running away to freedom in the northern states & Canada! The California Gold Rush heightened the debate over slavery because so many settlers moved to California so quickly that it had enough people to apply for statehood. The Oregon Territory was considered free, so southerners wanted California to be a slave state. But California's state constitution forbade slavery."

"In the Compromise of 1850, California entered into the Union as a free state. The Compromise also included The Fugitive Slave Law, which made it legal for slave owners to go after & capture runaway slaves who had escaped North. That was the most controversial part of the Compromise. There were people who helped the slaves run away. These people were called 'Conductors.' The most famous 'conductor' of the railroad was Harriet Tubman. $40,000 was offered for her capture! Mom, do you know when Harriet Tubman was born? It has a question mark here for her year of birth."

I remembered that I actually had a Time For Kids Biography called Harriet Tubman A Woman of Courage (by Renee Skelton) on the bookshelf. So, we got it out & started reading about her life. It said that she died in 1913 at the age of 93, so I had the kids do the math & we decided that she must have been born around 1820. We talked about her life being raised as a slave & how good we all have it in comparison. Especially striking were the pictures of the quilts used for code. The kids couldn't believe that it was against the law to teach a slave to read & write. Here we were with 5 books spread in front of us by this point, digging through the written word about people who never had that right. They were ingenious enough to find a way to communicate by sewing patterns into quilts that they would hang out windows or across fences without stirring suspicion though. My kiddos that are all about secret agents & spies thought that was amazing.

By this time, the game was a blood pressure spiking tie at 17 to 17 with only a few minutes left. We had casually covered History, Geography, Civil Rights, done some math and a ton of reading, (with Brooke throwing in synonyms for EVERYTHING due to her new found BFF the Thesaurus- more on that in a future blog) all while noshing on pizza and watching a good ol' Sunday football game. I LOVE days like this. Effortless learning & quality time. That's the stuff.


Don't Know Much About American History, Kenneth C. Davis, 2003

Don't Know Much About The 50 States, Kenneth C. Davis, 2001

National Geographic Our Fifty States, Mark H. Bockenhauer and Stephen F. Cunha, 2004

Building A Nation, Scott Foresman, 2008

Explore and Learn Volume 6 Atlas of the World, The Southwestern Company, 2005

Explore and Learn Volume 4 People in Place and Time, The Southwestern Company, 2005

The California Gold Rush An Interactive History Adventure, Elizabeth Raum, 2008

and of course, Brooke's friend: Webster's New English Language Thesaurus

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Miss Brooke Teaches Those Boys

Today, the fact that our youngest child is clearly the Alpha became a little more obvious. We've known it since she was 2. There's no denying it. Way back then, she could walk up to Russell who was 4 and say, "I want that swing" (that he was using) and he would silently hop off and give it to her. She's always done this. I've alternated between patting her brothers on the back for being so kind to their little sister and telling them that it's okay to stand up for themselves. Brooke will convince them to do things her way no matter what though.

Several months ago, a box full of educational character building tools arrived in the mail. I had signed up for it on a freebies website. I've been meaning to open it and put it to use all this time. However, it's been on the top of a bookshelf in a hallway instead. Yesterday, Brooke got it down and fell in love with it. She played school in her bedroom most of the evening using the colorful posters and white board. Then, this morning the game took a new turn.

Lane and Tatton were fighting over video games as they're likely to be found doing on a rainy Saturday morning. Miss Brooke (as she insisted we call her) arrived on the scene. She taped up her "visual aids" and used a drumstick for a pointer. It sounded something like this for the next couple of HOURS:

Brooke: "Lane, what are some ways that you can manage conflict?"

Lane (mumbling): "Umm- I dunno."

Brooke: "Tatton, don't you think that looking for a compromise might be a good start?"

Tatton: "Yeah."

Brooke: "Lane, what does compromise mean? Give me an example."

Lane: "To like make a deal."

Brooke: "Good, but that wasn't an example. Now class, I'm going to list some ways that we can manage conflict:"

(pointing with her drumstick)

"First, stay cool. Talk it over. Focus on the problem. Look for a compromise. Know when to walk away. Be a leader. Be a friend. Be reasonable. Be responsible. Practice real courage and put your ego aside. Mom, what's an ego?"

It was seriously cute. I was both laughing (in my head) at how seriously she was taking all of this and sort of shocked and amazed at how good she was at it. She really blew my "Boys knock it off!" out of the water! I also want to say to the boys that I'm very proud of them for what good sports they were and how long they let their sister "play school" with them when I'm sure they had other things they would rather be doing than being lectured by a 7 year old. The only less than nice thing they even said was when Brooke handed Russell a "detention slip" for not following "direkshons" and he said, "Oh! Come on! I have to follow your directions and you don't even know how to spell it right?!"

And So It Begins

I've realized that as the cold and impending gloom of the grey skies have set in, so has my need to write. Funny how that works. There's a reason that Seattle (the entire Pacific Northwest really- but Seattle gets all the love) has turned out so many artists. Well, and coffee shops to be fair. For me, it's a tradition and a survival instinct both. Not unlike the squirrels hoarding food away for winter or the geese flying south, once that cold moisture finds it's way to my bones my brain screams to be creative. Or maybe it's been creative all along but I had plenty of serotonin from long sun filled days of activity to quiet the noise. Who knows?
No matter what the reason, I have to say that I have a love hate relationship with this tradition. I have to say that "creating" words isn't really as productive as say, oh, vacuuming is. And at this time, I'm really forcing myself to go through the motions of day to day life. Things still have to get done. So, I do them with as little effort as possible and then I make a mad dash to the computer to research and type. I don't think it's healthy (but very little about winter feels healthy.) I've wondered more than a few times if I shouldn't get a sun lamp or something.
So, anyway... the blog will probably be getting updated more often. Until spring that is... ;-)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Being Thankful

Every once in a while the kids say or do something that makes me think that MAYBE I'm getting through to them. That happened this week with Tatton. Shortly after Lane received his Birthday presents, Tatton came down with a case of the woe-is-me-gimmes (go figure...) It went something like this:

"I don't have ANYTHING! EVERYONE has WAY more than me! Why can't I just have ONE single thing that I want for once?"

Note: This is one of my all time biggest pet peeves as a mother. I simply cannot stand putting in my blood, sweat, and tears just to be met with ungrateful whines and pleas that make it so brutally clear that my all will never be quite good enough. That said... I get it. I do. He's only almost 11 and let's face it- a human. Who of us hasn't thought that the grass just MIGHT be greener on the other side of the fence once or twice? So... I held my tongue (this time.) I simply stared at him as he went off about the injustice.

Then, he paused. The saying "I could see the wheels turning in his head" seems exceptionally appropriate as I felt like I could literally watch his brain switch gears. Seeming to be suddenly aware that he sounded like a big ingrate, he tried a new tactic. It went something like this:

"Okay, I know... I know... I have shelter, and food, and clothing, and education. Oh, and health care. But I mean, besides having my basic needs met... I don't have..."

He stumbled around with that for a few minutes more (going on and on about how ALL of the kids in his class have way more modern technology and way funner toys than we do) as I continued to stare at him in silence. Thankfully, he switched gears again. Just as quickly as his tirade had started, he let out a deep sigh of resignation and said, "I think I'm gonna shut up now." and turned around and walked out looking content as the cat that caught the canary.

I love that his thoughts basically came full circle and I never had to even utter a word. It's so interesting to me actually. The thing is, I have a major problem with the way that we as a society are so "gimme" oriented. I remember several years ago when I was a teenage mom and I felt like I had to bend over backwards to try to achieve enough to allow my children to have a "real" life. Of course, my ideals were unrealistic and when they weren't met, we all survived. Not to mention, learned and grew. That's when I first realized my first mistake: I thought that in order to be a "real" happy family we had to be living the "American Dream" which in my mind was a perfect suburban house with a white picket fence and 2.5 kids that were in every extracurricular activity imaginable and were always perfectly dressed. Only:

A. The concept of an "American Dream" didn't actually make all that much sense when I considered that when you break the words down what you're looking at is America (not the whole world or even all of the developed countries but one lone country that isn't all that popular due to it's known greed and corruption) and Dream (which can be defined as a series of mental images and emotions occurring in the mind; "I had a dream about you last night"
imaginative thoughts indulged in while awake; "he lives in a dream that has nothing to do with reality" have a daydream; indulge in a fantasy ;a state of mind characterized by abstraction and release from reality; "he went about his work as if in a dream" ) So, I was stressing myself out about an imaginative thought that is connected to a lifestyle in one country. My real life was still way better than a lot of other people's and as poor as I felt at times I was definitely better off than most of the people in Africa and Afghanistan just to name a couple of places.

And B. Nothing will ever be enough unless we first appreciate what we have. We all do it. We want that new car so badly. Then, after we've had it for a little while we start looking around at all of the other new vehicles on the road and we don't like our car that much anymore. Don't get me started on how many times I've changed my mind on what color I want my kitchen painted alone. And no matter how long ago you bought your cell phone / computer / gaming system you can bet that something newer and better is in on the horizon sooner than you can call your new crack berry a dinosaur. When will we ever be satisfied unless we stop in our tracks and take stock of how much we actually have to be thankful for?

My point is this: I'm so relieved that even though Tatton got greedy for a moment, I'm so relieved that he caught on to his thought error & corrected it on his own. It gives me hope that MAYBE someday my kids will be able to look back on their childhood with fond memories of family togetherness and special traditions and feel like they were blessed. This parenting thing can get a little scary and it's nice to have hope that I'm not just raising materialistic people who don't know how to be thankful for how good life really is. What are you thankful for?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I Wanna Fall In Love

All over again. Our life has just felt so... ordinary lately. Lots of end of the school year activities and events. Brooke's Birthday coming up. Brother-in-law moved in with us. Never-ending laundry & dishes, of course. The park is SLAMMED with people coming to escape the heat with a swim. Fun for them, work for me. I'm ready for our Anniversary. The big One-Three. We usually try to go away for the weekend or something. This year we're talking about going to Victoria, B.C. I can't WAIT! I miss my husband. We feel a little like strangers co-existing in this crazy busy world. I'm dying to just leave the "real world" behind for a couple of days. Only one more month... The count down begins.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Can't A Girl Get A Little Privacy?

This evening I got yelled at in the grocery store by a dermatologist. I've been painting the family business for the last couple of days (and wearing sunblock!) and I've got a lobster-ish look going. My eight year old and I were on the pudding aisle breaking down the cost of buying pudding cups in bulk vs. buying the mix and milk and making it ourselves. This man came along and smiled at me. I thought, "Oh- he thinks it's funny that I'm talking about the cost of pudding at length with a child." Then, he opened his mouth. Turns out I read his expression wrong. His smile was more like a smirk and that smirk was more like a look of disdain (the same look that people have when they feel awkwardly sorry for the homeless person begging for change on the corner and don't know how to react. Or maybe on second thought, the look that they get when the bumbling fool working the drive-thru window at the local fast food restaurant just can't seem to get their order right repeatedly.) He berated me for allowing myself to get burnt and warned me of the evils of UV rays. As usual, I attempted to lighten the situation with humor and joked that I was planning on going to The Relay For Life tonight but might get kicked out by the skin cancer group. He didn't laugh with me though.

The thing is, I'm getting really sick of people sticking their noses where they don't belong. Yes, I get that he was well meaning. He's not the first person this week or even today to be annoying though. Yesterday, I took my son to his bi-weekly therapy session. Interestingly enough, I ran into my long lost aunt that I hadn't seen in a decade. Since there's apparently not much else to do in waiting rooms, she filled me in on the soap opera of the the years of her life that I had missed. Her poor daughter (my sons age) was there for a counseling appointment due to (well, let's say a series of unfortunate events) and had to sit there as her mother told me all the bloody details on her daughter's problems (in front of her.) Then, she turned the table and said, "So, why does he have to see the therapist?" As if I was gonna sit there and spill my child's issues out for everyone in the waiting room. (I only do that sort of embarrassing gossiping on my blog because as we all know blogging is different. ;-)

I realize that I probably make people uncomfortable at times too. It's funny how it's okay for me to dish out TMI, but I get offended by other people's "openness". Let's face it though, nobody likes a dermatologist who brings his work with him to the grocery store or a fellow waiting room attendee who says, "So what are you in for?"

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Things I'll Do For $$$- (not for the weak of stomach)

I don't work 9-to-5. That's not the way I make my livin'. Nope, I clean public park bathrooms & empty 42 garbage cans whenever they need it. It's much like mothering. You can't help it if your baby's diaper needs changing at 2 AM. You just power through it. So it is with backed up toilets and vandalism. It doesn't matter if I'm wearing my best high heels and shiny red lipstick to go out on the town with my man. If the bathroom is in trouble, I must come to the rescue. It's sort of hilarious, because I do have a decent head on my shoulders and yet I REALLY, really like this nasty, manual labor stuff. I could have been a doctor... or a lawyer... or a, well anything I set my mind to. I'm scrubbing toilets though. And most days, it suits me.

Of course, there are the occasional times that I really, really, REALLY hate my job. For the first two weeks straight after we opened up the bathrooms for the season (they're locked during the months that freeze to prevent busted pipes) someone was "decorating" the bathrooms with their feces. Yes, feces. They started off small by wiping it all over the toilet seat and wiping with a pair of thermal wool socks then shoving those socks down into the toilet so that it flooded over on to the floor when flushed. That was pretty. Stuff like that happens though, so I just put on some rubber boots and latex gloves and cleaned it up. No big. The next day, they skipped the toilet and left a steaming pile on the floor in front of the toilet though. I was not impressed. Keep in mind that this was back when I had just discovered that I was pregnant.

As the days went on, there were more piles. Always in the same spot. My ten year old son commented, "Whoa! What? Are they taking the All-Bran 10 day challenge or something?!" Unfortunately, it went on like this. Until one day, this person had written "Hi" with their stool sample on the bathroom wall. It totally creeped me out that they were leaving these "presents" for us and now "communicating". Later that night, we went to lock the bathrooms up for the night and there was a 5 gallon bucket in the same spot that the piles had been in filled with a toxic mix of vomit and poop. Poor Dustin had to carry it. We had to figure out what in the heck to even do with it. If it weren't so late at night, I probably would have called the health department for advice on how to dispose of toxic waste. My hubby & I laughed at the absurdity of the things that we have had conversations about since taking this job.

When I found yet another present the next day, I called the Sheriff's department to see what could be done. I was desperately wishing real life played out like CSI and they could just DNA test it. He was intrigued, but he didn't really have a whole lot of advice. He basically said that if it were him, he would just lock the bathrooms up and put a sign on the door saying, "Closed due to ongoing vandalism." We wavered between doing that and leaving them open so that we could finally catch who was doing it. My kids would ask me (eyes sparkling), "Mom? If you walked in on him doing it, would you beat him up?!" They REALLY loved the idea of me (total non-fighter) opening a can on the "bad guy". I told them that I wasn't going to start a fight with a guy who was in the middle of a BM, but that I would totally lock the bathroom gate so that he couldn't get out and call 911. They didn't think that sounded nearly as exciting.

Fortunately, it just stopped as suddenly as it started. I'm not sure why, but I'm thankful. I'm not going to pretend that aside from that issue the job is pretty. Believe me, you don't want to empty 42 garbage cans that have been fermenting in the heat. When I'm done with this job, I may be ready to become some sort of Maggot Specialist (they have those, right?) I bet you that I could qualify as an expert on maggot life stages. Don't get me started on how many people that I have witnessed in the throws of extra marital affairs. I've lived in this SMALL town my entire life. WHY on earth do these people insist on coming to my backyard for this? And why is the average time of day for cheating in a car without tinted windows right when the school bus drives by? I've lost count of how many used condoms and hypodermic needles I've had to pick up & dispose of. And they call parks family places. Ha!

So, why do I do it you ask? Simple. We get paid to live in our house and it allows me to be a stay at home mom a little longer. Not to mention, what would I have had to blog about today and gross you out with otherwise?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Summer Lovin'

At the risk of sounding completely mental, I'm gonna say that I'm really looking forward to summer. Yes, I realize that summer = kids 24/7 and that it wasn't all that long ago that I blogged about spring break killing me. Before that, I blogged about school closures for snow & floods driving me mad. I'm aware of the irony. I'm just so ready to chill out a bit schedule wise though. Take tonight for instance: I began getting the kids into bed at 8:00 PM. At 9:00 PM they were all still awake and whining about the injustice of going to sleep while it was still daylight out. To which the only decent reply that I could come up with was that I'm a horrible, monstrous ogre of a mother that doesn't want them to fall asleep in class. If it were summer vacation, we could have built a fire and roasted some marshmallows for smores instead and just slept in in the morning. At 10:00 PM, the boys had all finally fallen asleep but Brooke had gotten over tired to the point that instead of resting she was bawling that she missed her slide bed. Apparently, it was "the only bed I ever loved." (For those of you not in the know, her slide bed was a loft bed with a metal slide on it that she had outgrown and it took up 75% of her bedroom. We sold it on craiglist to get her a "big girl bed" over a year ago.) Now, it's the bed that got away.
OKay, off subject, I just clicked spellcheck and it's telling me that smores isn't a word. Neither is Craigslist. Is that true? I mean, smores... come on... Well, anyway, I want to go camping. I'd really like to go on a good hike. Washington summers are often gorgeous, 70 degree affairs just perfect for getting out in nature and taking in the insane amount of beautiful green-ness (Now that I know is not a word. No spell check required.) I'm psyched to see the kids run their lemonade stand some more. People are so good. Did you know that they almost always get tipped? I would have never have thought to tip at a lemonade stand. Heck, I'm sort of grossed out at the thought of drinking lemonade that was possibly made by children and would most likely never stop at a random lemonade stand & actually drink the stuff anyway. (Don't drink the Kool-Aid!!!) Hmm... I'm curious if spell check likes the word Kool-Aid or not. Let me see...

Nope. It would take Aid but not Kool. Interesting. Oh, okay... It will accept Koolaid. I could have sworn it was hyphenated.

There are only 24 days of school left. Which means that there are only 26 days until my baby girl turns seven years old. It's hard to believe that my YOUNGEST child is a shoe tying, fluent reading, teeth missing, real life first grader turning second grader. I'm actually kind of not okay with it, but just like all things I tell her not to do, she just keeps getting older even though I tell her to stop. One good thing about having older kids is that our summer vacation IS admittedly less complicated when we can go to the beach and not worry that any of our children will eat the sand or stick random objects up their nose. Having everyone potty trained helps too. My friend Chelsea & I were talking earlier about the logistics of going hiking with an infant. Kelty backpacks are fabulous, but where are you supposed to dispose of diapers when you're in the middle of nowhere? I mean, do you seriously have to pack it in pack it out? Yuck. I don't think we're missing out on anything there.

So, there you have it: the random ramblings of my sleepy mind. I'm dieting & exercising again. My brain is always a little, um, quirky on a diet. Hmm... maybe that's where the jonesing for smores thing came in... So, what are your summer plans?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fairytale Rom-Action

My daughter is going through a medieval phase. Her new favorite hairstyle is to french braid it the night before so that it gets all wavy and then wear it half down with two intertwining braids on the top half. She wears her hair like this with whatever shirt she can find with the puffiest cap sleeves. I think she's trying to channel her inner Gwinevere. The other day we were driving to her 6 month check-up for her ear tubes. Our ENT is over an hour drive away. Brooke talked about fairy tales the whole time.

She announced from the back seat,"When I grow up I am going to be a princess."
She said it just as certainly as if she had said, "I want to be a teacher" or "I want to be a veterinarian."

Boring, logistical grown-up that I am, I responded, "Oh really? Are you going to marry a prince or something?"

Boy, that put a burr under her saddle! "NO!!! I'm NOT going to marry a prince, Mom! I'm just going to grow up to be a princess. A SINGLE princess!" She sat there, arms folded, face scowling.

Perhaps it's the result of having three older brothers, but to Brooke, the mention of her getting married when she grows up always elicits anger. How dare mean mom mention that nasty word!

This all got me thinking about why my mind instantly goes to prince when I think of princess. Maybe my daughter had a good point. Why should she have to have a prince to make her a princess? Was I stereotyping? Being sexist? Why couldn't a girl consider herself a princess without a Prince Charming? After all, it's us princesses that have to kiss the frogs to turn them into princes. Not the other way around.

I realized that in my own (REAL) life, I often think that I need my husband to confirm that I am in fact his queen before I see myself that way. I wondered, "If it weren't for that confirmation, would I still feel worthy?" I thought of the many different ways that we women count on the men in our lives for validation. Would I bother dressing up if I didn't want him to tell me that he thinks I'm pretty? Would my goals be the same if I didn't always have it in the back of my mind that I am HALF of a couple? Where along the line did we decide that we needed someone to "complete" us? (Thanks Jerry McGuire!)

Just this last Valentine's Day, Dustin brought home a rose & a box of Sweethearts for Brooke. This bothered me at first because she was the only one out of our four kids that he brought something home for. When I told him that I was afraid that he would hurt the boys' feelings, he told me that they need to learn that Valentine's is about men pampering women. Just like Brooke needs to learn that as a female, she deserves to be treated a certain way. If little girls grow up to marry men like their daddies, then he wants to treat her like a princess & set the bar high.

As a woman, this made me feel both lucky to have a husband that values women and equally terrified that we would create a monster. I don't want my daughter to have entitlement issues or to just expect to always have a man to take care of her. After all, life is what happens while you're busy planning for other things (John Lennon). We have no idea how her story will play out. I desperately want her to be strong enough to handle whatever comes her way as a SINGLE princess (as she put it.) If she ends up with a fabulous prince charming, then that's just gravy.

Following this line of thought, I got scared that I had been a horrible role model to her. While I still solidly believe that the greatest gift a father can give his children is to truly love their mother, had I somehow (by being a stay-at-home mom that could possibly be a little spoiled by my husband) have communicated to my kids that women NEED to be spoiled? I suddenly felt the urge to prove to them all just how strong I really was. I wanted them to know once and for all that their daddy and I treat each other the way we do because we enjoy being nice to each other, not because we think the other person is weak or incapable of taking care of them self. Sure, I'd RATHER bake cookies while he changes the oil on the car, but do I really want my daughter to think that she doesn't need to know how to do "guy stuff" since her mom never did?

My mind went on like this for a while. Then, I realized something else. Dustin & I haven't always been this nice to each other. Even though we've been married for so long now that it seems like forever ago, the reality is that the first several years of our marriage were TOUGH and we had to learn to treat each other with love and respect. We got married when Dustin was 19 and I was 17. Nineteen year old boys aren't necessarily ready to be good husbands yet. Seventeen year old girls aren't mature enough to be great wives. Dustin doesn't go out of his way to take care of me because that's the way it's always been. It's a dynamic that we created & grew into. Suddenly, I didn't feel so worried anymore, because looking at it from that perspective, I felt more like I'd EARNED my crown as Queen.

Our relationship isn't a fairytale full of romance and white horses. It's maybe 20% romance and more like 80% action to keep the romance alive. I was scared that we were setting our kids up for disappointment by letting them think that there was such a thing as happily ever after in this modern day & age. I'm glad that what they're actually seeing is that you have to work REALLY hard at whatever you do, including love. And I'm okay with letting my daughter think that she can grow up to be a princess (as long as that means she believes that she deserves true happiness and understands that she has the power to slay whatever fire breathing dragons stand in her way by herself.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Spring Break

Worst. Spring break. EVER.

It should NEVER snow on spring break! There should not be hailstorms. Or high wind warnings. My yard should not be so engorged with water that when I step on the spongy grass, I sink in and am douched with mud and water above my ankles. Spring break should be about trading in winter boots for cute, strappy sandals. My kids should be running around outside & picking daffodils. After they spent 10 minutes outside, I had to make them all hot cocoa. This is not right.

I know that I have officially entered "mom zone" because what I was most excited about going into spring break was organizing stuff. I made this handy dandy chart in which the plan to spring clean something each day was layed out. It was a thing of beauty. Some of it has gotten done. Some more of it has not. My poor, poor children. Here they are on spring break, the weather stinks and the conditions indoors (with mom nagging them to clean out their closet) aren't much better. They don't sound too disappointed when we talk about school starting back up on Monday.

Last night Dustin was flipping through the channels and he paused on a reality show with hundreds of bikini clad college kids partying on some tropical beach. I asked him, "Why does their spring break look funner than ours?" Maybe it's because it's WARM where they are. It's 33 degrees here right now. Brrr-

Friday, March 27, 2009

Crazy, Tragic, Almost Magic...

I love this crazy loco life. Where do I begin?

Hmmm... we ALMOST traded in our car this week. For those of you not in the know, we're all kinds of crazy upside down on our car. We bought it new. Then, my kids jumped full force into thrashing it with all their might. There's a scratch that circles the entire car right at the same height of my son's handle bars on his bike. It's been puked in, peed in, I've lost track of the amount of spills... (WHY do teachers always send home these adorable little seedlings in yogurt containers full of wet potting soil?) I was detailing it in preparation for the trade in and I thought, "If my car knew that it was going to a better family it would probably clean itself."

So, we should have known better when a dealer in Seattle told us he could swing us an AMAZING deal that sounded too good to be true. Take the trade in? Sure, no problem! You don't want to put a down payment? None needed! Oh yeah, we have several vehicles that match what you're looking for and cheap too! We faxed him all of our paperwork and he said we were pre-approved & the monthly payments would be less than our current car payment. We made the hour and a half drive to the "big city" as soon as we loaded the kids on to the school bus on Tuesday.

We were excited to hurry out and see the vehicles in person when we got there, but he whisked us into his office promising we could check the inventory out later. He set a sizable pile of paperwork in front of us. We didn't quite understand why he wanted us to fill out the same papers twice if we were already preapproved but whatever... Then he asked how much we wanted to put down. We reminded him that he had said zero down. He alternated between making no eye contact and long, blinkless, creepy amounts of eye contact. He explained that he couldn't take the car as a trade in unless we put a big down payment AND tacked the difference on to the next loan resulting in gigantic monthly payments.

"Okay, no thanks then." we said and prepared to go home.

Then, he changed his story. All of the sudden, he COULD give us the original deal he had promised. He finally agreed to let us see some vehicles. Now, on the Internet they had a whole other inventory than the one we were now seeing. We were supposed to believe that all of the mini-vans that we had seen online had magically been sold the night before. (In this economy? ALL of them just like that? Yeah, right.) We test drove a few (although the salesman preferred to just circle the block. Good sign there...) He was desperately trying to talk us into an Excursion and while I totally dug the fact that it had NINE seats, that whole 8 miles per gallon thing wasn't cutting it. Not to mention, it was a diesel and diesel currently costs more than gas, so... no deal! Then, we test drove my dream car. It was a GORGEOUS, fully loaded Yukon with 8 seats, flip down DVD player, Bose stereo system... I could go on. I wanted it. BAD. Suddenly, I didn't care about gas mileage anymore. I was chanting, "I don't drive much anyway." in my head. I'm a stay at home mom. No need to commute = no need for commuter car, right?

So, it was a very sad day when the dealer said that the only way that we could finance the Yukon was if we keep the car. I sat there crunching numbers in my head, trying to justify having both vehicle payments. Sure, one of them would just be sitting there unused most of the time, but... what's paying a few hundred dollars a month for a vehicle you don't even drive, right? I'd put a for sale sign on the car, but once again... Same reason we can't trade it in: no one's gonna be willing to pay enough to balance out what we owe on it.

That dealer though... Man, was he persistent. He had a whole bunch of ideas up his sleeve for how we could "make it work". One of them included a series of bounced checks. No kidding. Now, ordinarily, there's a certain amount of people skills required to work with the public. Alienating your customers is typically frowned upon. I think this guy considered that part of Sales 101 though. He basically called us stupid right to our faces for not agreeing that his plans were genius. The hubby and I went over our budget and discussed in depth what we could cut and what we couldn't. The dealer (a divorced bachelor) insisted that we didn't need to spend so much on groceries and household items. Apparently, he didn't realize that there is in fact a different dollar amount for a family of six than for a family of one. He actually said, "You couldn't possibly spend that much on laundry soap and toilet paper each month. Just buy one ply." I have 4 kids. One ply or not, Costco sized cases of TP are a big expense around here.

In the end, the reality was that we really need to be putting money in savings and stocking up on food storage, etc. Slapping a few thousand down for a down payment and dishing out an extra car payment each month felt a little like standing in the middle of a windstorm with a pile of cash in the palm of my open hand. Hours into our negotiations the hubby and I looked at each other and said, "Let's go." and stood up and walked toward our car. Our burden. Our learning experience. Our dependable, fuel efficient little car full of scars to remember by. The dealer followed us, screaming like an angry toddler that didn't get his way, "I thought you wanted a bigger vehicle! Good luck cramming your family into that thing! Thanks for wasting my time!" I expected to be disappointed on that car ride home, but it was the opposite. I was proud that we had made the right choice. We laughed like crazy at the lunacy of that car dealer that was most likely a coke head from the look of things. And we were content in the knowledge that we actually already had what we needed and that life isn't about getting what you want but appreciating that you have what you need.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Goodnight Sweetheart...

I just love the phenomenon that is bedtime. No other time of day (although trying to get out the door to school is a close second) can get me so riled up. Okay, homework time gets under my skin too. (Wow, what's happening to me? I used to be so CALM...) Well, anyway... You know, it's not the going to bed part that's so upsetting. That part is glorious. It's the fact that my kids know just how to pull my strings and I fall for it every time. I mean, seriously, all 4 kids just HAVE to get out of bed to have a BM as soon as I've tucked them in every night? Then there are the drinks... and somebody always cries that they're starving... and don't forget the monsters. Brooke won't rest until I've checked out every shadow, nook, and cranny in her bed room & said double prayers to make sure those evil monsters and bad guys won't get her. I put them to bed at eight and here it is quarter after nine and guess what? I don't hear snoring. None. I would really be berating myself about this if it weren't for the fact that this is so classic. I know we're not the only home in America with kids who try to push the bedtime limits. I sure tried it with my mom. But still... Can't a mom get some peace?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

To Thine Own Self Be True

So, the truth is that I have always secretly cringed a little bit when someone makes a comment about "finding themselves". It's not that I have any problem with the concept of knowing yourself, on the contrary... I've never "got" why people didn't know themselves to begin with. For instance... treking around Europe. Sounds like a fun-filled adventure, but WHY call it "finding yourself", you know? Did you really not have any clue of who you were in America? You're with yourself 24/7, all up in your own head and it takes some sort of catalyst to help you discover the person that's been there the whole time? That said, I'm actually starting to "get" it a little. Even though I've always had a strong sense of self and have never had the urge to go searching for Natalie, I've gotta say that this year I've sort of begun to come into my own more than ever.

A while ago, I blogged about this underlying sense that something was off / wrong / going to happen. Let's just say that A LOT has happened, most of which I unfortunately can't blog about because of other people's privacy, etc. HATE that! It's funny how when you frame your life in a different light things start to look a little different. If I had gone on forever without anything rocking the boat, I may never have realized certain things. For starters, what I will & won't settle for. Sure, I've always known my likes / dislikes. It's just that when you're stuck in a rut, you don't always notice what is dispensable & what you are willing to fight to the end for. It's all just sort of THERE. Like white noise.

While I certainly haven't had an epiphany of near death magnitude or anything, I can definitely say that I know now that I have neglected a lot of things over the years. One of the safer subjects to use as an example is my health. I didn't set off in to my twenties thinking, "I want to put on some weight!" I just let it happen. A night of sitting on my butt watching movies and eating Ben & Jerry's here, a day of taking the kids to the park and sitting on a bench reading while they played instead of running around myself and then stopping for an ice cream cone on the way home there... 5 or 10 lbs. a year sneaks up you like a thief in the night. And even though my actions (like bringing the fork to the mouth) were big contributors, my biggest problem was my INACTION. You see, I am nothing if not complacent. I am practically a professional at compromising, making excuses, and letting things roll off my back.

One of the first steps to success is a word director's say all the time: Action!
I've decided that my 30th birthday present to myself is going to be becoming more pro-active. I feel like, "Heck, I'm turning 30. I'm mature. There's no reason to allow negativity in my life when I'm capable of doing something about it." So, I'm going to speak up when things don't sit right with me. I'm going to take care of my self mentally, spiritually, and physically. Life's too short to not be true to yourself.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Wee Irish Lass

I LOVE interesting questions. For instance, someone asked me why I updated my blog in celebration of St. Patrick's day after writing an anti-Valentine's post (as if I am anti- all non major Holidays.) Interesting observation. You see, I LIKE St. Patrick's Day. In all honesty, I really like all things Irish, but that's neither here nor there. Growing up with red hair, I always loved throwing on some green for St. Patrick's Day and feeling sorta leprechaunish (except for that one year when I decided to skip the green since I thought getting pinched sounded fun. Hindsight is 20/20.) My love grew a few years ago when I was homeschooling Lane.

Homeschooling was a big adventure. I wasn't sure if I was capable, but even his teacher suggested I try it since conventional schooling wasn't working for him whatsoever. Going into it, I knew that if I depended on workbooks and pencil and paper learning it was going to be a wash. I had to make it more interesting for him. So, I got really into themes & tried to make learning a big game. Towards the end of February, we began our unit on Ireland. For a month, I printed out what worksheets we did use on green paper. I sent away for posters and maps from Ireland's tourism industry. We researched how kids in Ireland did school and we pretended like we were a schoolhouse in Ireland when we were doing our work. Required reading was any book that took place in Ireland (you can ALWAYS count on Magic Treehouse to have something geared towards the elementary school set that fits in with your theme thank goodness!) All of our story problems were about Irish things like: If the O'Malley's have 4 lbs. of potatoes and...

The Grand Summit of our theme was when we made a traditional St. Patrick's day dinner & invited his grandparents over for it. All week leading up to the dinner, we worked on our menu. Math was doing cost comparisons to see which grocery store was the best place to get our supplies and then figuring out how much we needed to buy & how much it was all going to cost to make an Irish dinner for 8 people (answer: super cheap!) Then, we mixed & measured & poured. We had fun sampling a variety of cheeses and herb butters that are traditional in Ireland with our corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes (and green kool-aid, of course, however nontraditional that may be.) Then, Lane presented his report on the history and geography of Ireland. It was a lot of fun.

We're not homeschooling anymore and I have to say, when something like St. Patty's day rolls around and reminds me of how much fun we had I sort of miss it. I guess I could try to incorporate more of those semi-educational experiences in our day to day life, but public school already takes up so much time & energy. There really is something magical about homeschooling.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tween Transitions

Have I told you lately that I feel old? Really, REALLY old? Yeah, that's what happens when you have children entering adolescence. Welcome to puberty, Hensley family! It's that time in life when kids sprout up, fill out, and maybe even mouth off. Yay! The crazy thing is that we expected it to be hitting with Lane since he's only 8 months away from being a full fledged teen. His greasy hair and squeaky voice didn't surprise us at all. Tatton did though. He's exactly two years younger than Lane and sure enough, he's got the same symptoms. Plus, he's moodier, utterly angst filled. Thankfully, the kid totally digs science, so I was able to explain it all to him very technically and every time he starts to drive me crazy I can say (feel free to tune out on this part):

"Your hypothalmus is releasing gnRH which travels to the pituitary gland releasing two more hormones (LH & FSH.) Your gray matter is growing rapidly especially in the frontal lobe which is the control center for "executive functions" like planning, impulse control, and reasoning. So, of course, sometimes things seem a little off balance. As complex as technology has become no man made machine or system can quite match the complexity of the human brain."

I usually ramble on like that until I see his eyes get good and glazed over. Sometimes it takes longer than others. I like when it takes hardly any time at all. Easier that way. I'm really not prepared for this though! There are two kinds of moms: the ones who relish the baby stage and gleefully read Dr. Seuss books and sing along to The Wiggles and the kind that I'm not. I admire those moms... the ladies who don't mind playing taxi for sports and orthodontist appointments and all of the other stuff that is too much for any calendar to hold. The people who don't think it's disturbing to buy their kid's razors and shaving cream. When I was driving my 10 year old son to a sleepover birthday party, it occured to me that even though we had talked about drugs and alcohol several times over the years, he may not know about huffing and so I had to talk to him about that. I can't believe my baby's old enough that I have to give him lectures on the dangers of huffing before I drop him off at a friend's house! (Or that he is old enough to roll his eyes and say, "Duh, Mom! I'm way smarter than to damage my brain like that. Why would I breathe in toxic fumes on purpose? DUH!") Notice that his statement began AND ended with a DUH? This is scary territory.

So, I'm controlling what I CAN control. I'm making sure that my boys get the extra nutrition that they need right now. You can tell a mom who's grasping for control when you see the lady reading labels on every box in the grocery store & cramming omega-3 fatty acid capsules down her kids' throats. I'm reading books that remind me to be firm yet fair and I'm trying to show them that I believe they're responsible by setting realistically high expectations and holding them accountable. I'm scheduling constructive family time, especially activities that work all of their newfound tension & aggression out by using their large muscle groups (I decided that it's worth it to sign up for that YMCA membership now.) And most of all, more than anything, I'm saying my prayers and thanking Heavenly Father that I have a few more years until my daughter goes through puberty and that I don't have to deal with bra shopping or menstrual cycles YET. This parenting, it's heavy stuff.

I need ten thousand angels.

Friday, February 27, 2009

What Daddies Do Best

I have had an epiphany. My life CAN go on without me. You see, I'm a prideful little thing and I have been operating under the assumption that I am the only one capable of doing what I do. Not so. Turns out my husband & children are far more capable than I have ever given them credit for. Last week, I developed a horrible kidney infection and ended up in the hospital. As I lay in that hospital bed, I was panicking about all of the things that I was supposed to do that week. It's a horrible feeling to be so sick that it's impossible to live up to the expectations that you put on yourself. I was certain that it was the end of the world as we knew it. Then, Daddy stepped up.

My husband isn't usually the splitting the housework / cooking / kids stuff responsibilities sort of guy. We have a fairly old fashioned dynamic. He prefers for me to stay home and let him handle the bread winning thing largely because he doesn't want to have to come home after work and work more. It's just convenient for me to stay home and make a mad attempt at domesticity. Ordinarily, I'm happy with the set-up. I've never been too worried about the evils of stereotyping or the women's rights agenda. Most days it just seems like we're both doing what we're best at and balancing our partner out. The only time that I get bent out of shape about it at all is when for some reason the thought, "What if I died?" runs through my head and I freak out at the thought of my husband being left with our four children and no mommy to supervise.

It's times like that when I spring random comments on him like, "Do you even know where the kids' doctor's office is?!" as the poor guy nervously backs away, cornered by my accusation that he couldn't ever hold it together without me. In my mind, it's a sad, sad scenario without me and I picture my children starving and filthy in the hands of the man who knows not the name of their home room teacher or the proper dosage of Tylenol to give them. Don't get me wrong, he's a great dad. He's just always been the fun one. He's the one who comes home from work and plays video games with them and comes up with the best ideas for building cool snow forts. He doesn't need to know if they're up to date on their vaccines or where I keep the birth certificates because I've always selfishly taken care of all of that. From the outside looking in, I've realized that I'm a control freak, a workaholic without a job with a monetary paycheck. All these years, it wasn't that he couldn't do it. It was that I never backed off enough to let him steal my glory.

The thing about being a stay at home mom, you don't really have a lot of chances to shine. Sure, I can pat myself on the back on the rare occasion that my kitchen floor is sparkly clean or I make my way to the bottom of the laundry pile. Overall though, it's a lonely, boring, thankless job. The only sources of pride and accomplishment that I really have come from watching my kids be healthy and happy or having my husband tell me that dinner was delicious. So, I grasp on to every little morsel of power that I can. I plan menus to ensure that all nutritional bases are covered and I volunteer in classrooms so that both the school and my kids get the message that I DO care about their education. I buy a plethora of books & subscribe to Highlights and National Geographic kids and Boys Life so that I can pat myself on the back knowing that they're reading. It's all really a little over the top & ridiculous once I've stepped back and looked at it.

So, it took me well over a week to get well enough to have energy to even get out of bed in the morning to get the kids off to school. I didn't know how they would manage to get on the bus on time or how on earth they would have a successful day at school without me making them a protein shake or helping them match their outfits. I was sure that home work wouldn't make it into backpacks and that by the end of the week they wouldn't even have any clean clothes to wear at all. Boy, was I wrong. Everything flowed beautifully. When they came home in the afternoon, I was amazed at how NICE they looked. What's more, my house looked nice too. All week long, I never lifted a finger and somehow my dishes got done. I never even heard any nagging or arguing. The kids did their homework. They brushed their teeth. Dustin took them all to the potluck for Tatton's soccer team (and made the food to bring) and took Brooke to the daddy-daughter dance. He not only fed them well, but delivered meals to me and made extra trips to the grocery store whenever I ran out of cranberry juice or anything else. He refilled prescriptions at the pharmacy. The only thing I noticed missing was the stress. When I do everything that he did, I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off. We're always rushing and I'm always nagging. I hate to say it, but I think he MAY be better at my job than I am. Surprisingly, that makes me happy.

My epiphany is that I've been way over complicating things. All of these years of futilely chasing supermom status has been silly. It's nice to know that I can afford to get sick and that my family will survive. While Dustin has happily slid back into his breadwinner role as I've gotten healthier, it's nice to know that I'm doing what I'm doing voluntarily to make his life easier and not because he's incapable of it. And I really appreciate what a good job he did of taking care of me when I was sick.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine's Schmalentines- Why I Want To Boycott

Don't ask me why, but I'm SO annoyed that Valentine's Day is this weekend. I just want it to go away. I tried singing "Valentine's Day Go Away" to the tune of Rain, Rain Go Away but obviously the meter was off. So, here's what I'm thinking...

A. If my hubby decides to spontaneously bring me flowers or chocolates or take me out to dinner on any random day, I am charmed at his romantic gesture and think, "He loves me! He REALLY loves me!" If he feels pressured into forking over hard earned cash on marked up flowers because the calendar says that it's the day when all people are supposed to write their paychecks over to Hershey's and Hallmark? Not so romantic.

B. I have 4 kids. Which means that there are 4 class parties involving purchasing & addressing cards & candy for their peers & teachers and sending in treats so that they can eat themselves into a sugar high meets belly ache right before riding the school bus home to me just in time for their blood sugar levels to crash and the tantrums to ensue.

Plus, in the latest sign of our hard times, recent retail polls indicate Americans are going to spend less on Valentine's Day this year.

Say it ain't so.

In the middle of a soul-crushing recession, with dire economic news unleashed upon us every day, the bad news is that Americans are expected to shell out a mere $14.7 billion on romantic gifts this weekend.

Stop me if I sound stupid, but why are we spending one red cent on this so-called holiday -- especially right now? Believe me, there are better ways to share the love and smarter ways to spend your money.

Materialism run amok...

I have nothing against romance, love, sex, frilly red hearts or an excuse to eat chocolate (mmmm... CHOCOLATE...)

The problem is that Valentine's Day, like many other American occasions, has grown from being a celebration that once aspired to some meaning, to being a trashy, materialistic extravaganza.

Think about how much pressure there is to participate:

Every schoolchild, practically, is expected to make or send cards to their classmates or bring treats to class. I just spent $26.00 on stuff for my kids' class celebrations. My two older boys were like, "Uh- Mom? Do I really have to give even the boys in my class cards that say I love them? Isn't that sorta creepy?" Luckily, I found snack size Snickers bars that just say To: & From: in lieu of the usual sappy, cutesy variety. You can't go wrong with a Snickers bar. They say, "I love you as a friend, Man." more than "Be mine.", you know?

Some single women feel so left out on Valentine's Day that they've been known to send flowers to themselves, so they won't look like losers. As if the absence of a bouquet or the baggage of a significant other should really tattoo "LOSER" on your forehead. How sad is that?

And don't assume couples are happier: For many, Valentine's Day is a yearly excuse to have a nasty fight, with partners feeling unloved & neglected . . . because they didn't get a stuffed bear or some candy. Seriously?

It's equations like this that lead millions of consumers to spend $14.7 billion. While the economy is melting way faster than the polar ice caps...

A short history of a dumb day:
What makes this ritual even more puzzling is that Valentine's Day doesn't even have a good story (see: Christmas, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July) or spooky ghosts and pumpkins. In fact, we don't even know the real story for sure.

Valentine's Day is simply put big business.
Basically, throughout the millennia, February was always a slow shopping month. Then, because a couple of early Christian martyrs (both named Valentine?) might have died for love, a holiday emerged.

I'm not making this up.
A priest secretly married lovers in defiance of a Roman emperor's decree and supposedly was executed for it.

Another man, as legend has it, was rejected by his mistress, and -- you'll like this -- he carved out his own heart and gave it to her. Yech.

Somehow, about 1,700 years later, we're stuck spending gobs of money on predetermined displays of "romance."

So, here's what I'm thinking: if it's really the romance that you're looking for, give each other massages. It's free. Or you could always buy a pint of whipping cream for two dollars. I doubt I need to elaborate further. Take care of a chore that your loved one doesn't love doing for them so that they don't have to. Take the time to really have a conversation with each other. Curl up on the couch and watch a movie together. Make a concious effort to incorporate romance and gestures of affection into your every day life 365 days a year and don't stress out about making a commercialized, hyped up "holiday" into an unrealistic one day event full of too high expectations and flowers that die right about the time that you get the credit card bill for them.

And if you really need further inspiration:

Monday, February 9, 2009

Updated Repost: In Memory

So, today was my grandpa's memorial service. Well, technically his THIRD memorial service (two in Arizona & now the family one up here in Washington.) The man was well loved. It was a beautiful service. I had two favorite parts. First, I thought it was amazing to hear people speak about him & I was amused that several things that I had said about him in my blog were what other people remembered most about him too. My cousin spoke and Oh My Goodness! Was it touching. He described my grandpa to a tee and I wanted to jump out of my seat screaming, "YES! I remember that about him too! Wasn't he awesome?!"

Then, my grandpa had prepared for this. He made a DVD. Going to someone's funeral and then hearing their voice is a crazy thing. The dvd started off with him reading poetry that he had written (beautiful!) with his paintings as a background. Then, several pictures from when he was a very young man to just this last summer. It was great to see a ton of family that I haven't seen in a while and just to hear every one share about grandpa. It was brought to my attention that apparently more people are aware of my blog than I knew and several people had read my tribute to him. So, I decided to repost it so that the family members who were alerted to it didn't have to wade through a couple of weeks worth of posts to find it. So, here it is again:

The world lost a wonderful man yesterday. One of thee best men I've ever known actually. If I had to say what's shaped me into the person that I am today, having my grandparents in my life was possibly the biggest contributor. My grandpa didn't have an easy life, but he made it a fabulous one. In his book Daddy Your Shoes Didn't Fit My Feet, he shares with the world glimpses of his life story (as much of it as you can fit into under 200 pages anyway.) There's no doubt that he was a survivor. The saying "Out of difficulties grow miracles" is one way to describe his life. A lot of people allow themselves to be broken down and quit in the face of adversity. My grandpa used it as a tool to make himself into an inspirational motivator to those around him.

Growing up in the hills of Kentucky, my grandpa lost his father to a heart attack. His dad was only 38 years old and my grandpa was 11. That loss changed the dynamic of their family forever and the next several years would prove to be painful and terrifying for the family. After leaving home at a young age, my grandpa used his persistence and hard work to build himself the life he had always wanted. He proved to be quite the entrepreneur and was running a successful logging company (among other side ventures in real estate and such) when he started having chest pain at age 36. After running tests for the next few months, the doctors gave him a grim verdict: he had severe artery disease and if they did bypass surgery (which was brand new in 1970) that he would probably die on the operating table. They said he most likely only had about 6 months to live. In his usual "grab life by the horns" fashion, he set to work trying to get things in order for his wife and 4 kids. He didn't want to leave them with the same stresses and struggles that his family had faced when his own father had died.

It was then that my grandpa learned a valuable lesson. He sold his prestigious home in town and simplified their life. By being forced to slow down & downsize because of his health, he was able to realize something. Page 138 in his book says:

"The next few months taught me a valuable lesson. Happiness isn't found in prestige houses, big bank accounts, shiny new cars, or diamonds and silk cloth. Happiness is having peace within. It comes when we can accept who we are inside and are willing to trade worldly wealth for quiet time with your wife. It's when you relax before a fireplace while rocking a child that you helped bring into this world and let the sound of his rhythmic breathing bring peace to one's soul. It comes when you walk hand in hand with your five and six year olds, while the sun is dropping behind the evergreen trees, and you don't feel rushed when you stop and watch the hard working ants drag cuttings of cherry tree leaves. He doesn't seem to know where home is. The leaf is much bigger than he is, but he wants it all. I had spent much of my life like the little ant."

I feel so blessed to have come into my grandpa's world after he knew all of this, because all I ever knew of him was a man that acted as if he had all the time in the world to spend with me and made me feel like the greatest treasure. He had this gift for making you feel like you were his favorite person in the world & that you were a person of worth with talents and a purpose. I've never had self-esteem issues and I'm sure alot of that is because of his unconditional love since the day I was born (and technically before because I've read a love letter he wrote to my mom when she was pregnant with me that made it clear that he loved me even before I was born.) For a long time, with the way that he praised me and spoiled me, I thought that I was certainly his favorite. As I got older, I looked around and realized that that was just the way he treated everybody. He was always taking people under his wing and building people up. Now, I frequently run into people who ask, "How are your grandparents doing?" and they tell me how my grandparents have helped them get through a difficult time of some sort or enriched their life one way or another. "If it hadn't been for your grandparents..." is something I hear alot.

I have so many awesome memories of spending time with him. He loved to garden and always grew berries for us. When I eat a warm strawberry off the vine, I think of him. He also loved to fish, and I can't eat smoked salmon without thinking of him either. I remember spending the night at their house, he would always make me a special breakfast and so I also think of him when I think of omelets or waffles. There are so many memories of him tied into food. I think because like everything else he did, he just poured so much love into it. It wasn't really that he was giving me food so much as feeding my soul. Over the years, he became an amazing painter and his eye for beauty and love of nature are documented in his many paintings.

He didn't get much education growing up in Kentucky & Virginia, but he was absolutely one of the smartest people I've ever known and he loved learning. He was always up for a conversation and our talks would usually turn to the subject of goals and how smart he thought I was. He was so proud to see his kids and grand kids succeed and he always made it clear that he knew I had the brains to do anything I wanted in life. I still believe that and I'm so thankful that he instilled that confidence in me. The first mail that I ever received was when I was in preschool and my grandparents went to Arizona for the winter. I loved getting my "love letters" from my grandpa. He taught me so many life skills. Things like how to really talk to someone, how to look someone in the eye and truly listen. He showed me how to care about what people are saying and to have a servant's heart to help them if they need it. The first time I ever drove a vehicle was with him too. One afternoon, he just stopped by my house and said, "Do you wanna go for a ride?" and tossed me the keys. I was so nervous driving his truck, but he was patient as I swerved back and forth over the center line at 10 MPH, just casually talking the whole time and giving me the occasional pointer on driving.

Yesterday was my grandma's 70th birthday. My grandpa had begun planning for it over a month ago. He had arranged for all 4 of their kids to fly down and surprise her. I don't know if he knew then that he was going to pass away, but I wouldn't doubt it. I am shocked and amazed at the poetry of the way that he held on until all 4 of his kids were there and had a chance to say good-bye and be there to support my grandma. I have never known anyone else so capable of willing themselves to live. It was 39 years ago that they told him that he had about 6 months left. He has endured through heart attacks and strokes and heart surgeries over the years and has lost almost all of his siblings to heart disease in that time.

I'm sad for my grandma. I can't imagine losing your spouse after 53+ years of marriage, but I'm so thankful that our family (and community) had the privilege of having him in our lives for 39 years longer than the doctors told him we would. He passed away with the same dignity and with the same inspirational strength and love that he lived his life.

The work an unknown good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green.
Thomas Carlyle


Check Out: Daddy Your Shoes Didn't Fit My Feet by Fred Holbrook

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Homework Headaches

Dear Blog,

Good mothers work hard to ensure their children's academic success. I aspire to one day be one of those mothers. Right now though, not so much. This week, I've decided that I'm more burnt out on school than I EVER was when I was a student myself. Why is that?

A. Son #1 has never been a fan of school. I accept this. We've done everything that we could think of to convince him otherwise since 1st grade, but sometimes you just have to face it. Some people just hate school with a passion and as a parent you reach a point when you realize, "Hey, I can't FORCE somebody to like something. I can only force him to go." That's it. I've given him rewards for improving his grades and punishments for letting them slip. We've medicated and tutored... the whole nine yards. Honestly, he's doing better now than he ever has (which means we're celebrating his C average) but I can't take a whole lot of credit for his success. He has some fabulous teachers and he's matured a lot this year as well. He still hates writing. As he threw a royal fit over the injustice of having to write a 5 paragraph report the other night, I was utterly perplexed. Doesn't he realize that 5 paragraphs is nothing at all? I write that much on my blog voluntarily. For fun even.

B. Son #2 used to LOVE school. Up until this year, he never had less than straight A's (or S+'s the elementary equivalent of an A.) All of a sudden he's avoiding his schoolwork like a draft dodger in route to Mexico and his report card is sporting (gasp) F's. Here I've spent (I don't want to tell you how much) money over the years on book collections and educational games and science kits to nurture his gifted brain that was frequently bored and now he's decided that it's all "too hard" and won't put in ANY effort. I'm sorry Son, but you can't throw in the towel and drop out in 4th grade. You were born in the wrong era for that. Not to mention, you've spent the previous years of your childhood rubbing salt into your brother's wounds about how you can't believe he struggles in school because it's "so easy" for you. I suppose the fact that his report card is now better than yours should be deemed some sort of justice for your arrogant ways, but I can't get past my frustration with your laziness to truly enjoy the poetry of your brother getting to celebrate pulling in better grades than you for a change. All I know is, I do feel sort of childish for splashing you in the face with that cup of ice water the other night when you were throwing a tantrum about your homework that should have taken 30 minutes tops and you had already extended it into a 3 hour ordeal complete with tears and teeth gnashing while blaming every one but yourself.

C. Son #3 brought home a packet of work that they had done together in the classroom and he had apparently not "gotten". His teacher attached a note, "Mrs. Hensley, Russell doesn't understand this. Please work with him at home." Sure, I can do that. Then, I look through the packet and see that he REALLY didn't understand it. A weeks worth of math worksheets all incorrect. A weeks worth of alphabetical order worksheets also all incorrect. A couple of Scholastic News reports on Barack Obama's inauguration and Martin Luther King, Jr. day looking like Greek to him. So, I'm sitting with him at the kitchen table trying to find a way to explain something that his teacher obviously must have explained already only I don't have a masters in teaching and am wondering how I'm supposed to make it make sense if she couldn't. Somehow, we managed to get it all done (while fighting with Tatton about how he MUST finish his homework... and trying to convince Lane that the 5 paragraph report is NOT as big a deal as he's making it out to be and that he should really just plop down at the table and write it one paragraph at a time... and practicing reading with Brooke...)

I'm just trying to figure out how when I was a kid, I managed to go to school, pull in good grades fairly effortlessly (I don't remember shedding all these tears that I'm seeing from my kids now) and still had time to run around outside climbing trees and riding bikes on my evenings and weekends? I don't remember my parents spending hours upon hours with me coaching me on reports and nagging me about all of the homework in my 30 lb. backpack. In fact, I don't remember having a backpack that caused chiropractor visits at all. So, when did this happen? When did it change so that my adult years now involve more schoolwork than my childhood ever seemed to? When did my kids stop having time to play and why does it seem we barely have any time to have a life outside of school unless their grades suffer for it? Grrr- maybe I was naive when I went into this parenting thing, but I'll tell you what: I never anticipated being this burnt out & exhausted from educating my kiddos and I would have never guessed that I'd have a kid who required anti-anxiety meds to go to school. Here our nation is in the middle of a childhood obesity epidemic and my kids are being held in at recess to catch up on missing assignments and doing even more schoolwork instead of physical activities on their evenings and weekends. I kind of doubt that their brains are even retaining any of it anyway since they're so burnt out themselves. That's my family planning motivation right there. Even though I'm a baby crazed mama who would LOVE to have more kids, I KNOW that I don't have the time or the energy for another one because I'm already so stressed and busy trying to keep up with the schoolwork for the ones I have. When you start getting so stressed over your child's homework that you break down and toss a glass of ice water on his tear streaked, whiny face, it's a good sign that you're incapable of handling more offspring and that MAYBE you shouldn't have had quite as many as you had in the first place.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

He Said What?!

When I was pregnant with Lane, my husband was known to make "innocent" comments that just sounded WRONG. (Okay, you got me, he STILL does that.) Early on in the first trimester, Dustin (who was 19 at the time and still a long, lanky young man who actually had some pretty hot, defined muscles but had always wanted MORE muscles) said: "Hey, maybe if our baby is a boy he'll get my height and your thickness and be a linebacker." That's right. My thickness. I remembered this comment the other day when we were having trouble finding the boys new pants that fit. Lane didn't get that "thickness" and like his father before him, he swam in the 14 regulars he tried on and we were debating on whether mandatory belts or slim fit was the best course of action. Tatton and Russell on the other hand... Well, let's just say that they couldn't get their respective pants to button up. So, we ventured into the Husky section. Tatton has been sensitive in the whole body image department lately and I felt the need to give him a dressing room pep talk. I told him about how my brothers (all buff & stand out athletes, etc.) had to wear huskies. I remember them (right at Tatton's age) putting on a little pudge around the middle right before they hit puberty and got tall and muscly. That was when I had my "Oh..." moment and realized that my sons had indeed gotten my "thickness" that their father had requested. Word to the wise though Guys, even if made in the spirit of future football hopes, NEVER call your wife THICK, okay?

During that same pregnancy, Dustin also said, "Hey, our baby might be a white person like you, huh?" Um, excuse me? I mean, we're both white, so I don't really know what that even means... He clarified. "No, I mean REALLY white like you. I hope he's got my coloring." Oh, do you now? Well, I feel pretty, thanks. For those of you who don't know, Lane did indeed turn out to be a white person just like me. Lane and I both come in two color options: pasty white bordering on translucent and lobster red when exposed to the sun. In the skin department we seemed to split as a family 50/50. 3 of us are "white people" and the other 3 can stay in the sun for HOURS just getting bronzed and bronzer. Ultimately, I agree with Dustin now. I kind of wish that all of the kids had gotten his coloring. Worrying your child is going to get a blistering sunburn because they've been outside for 15 minutes and you forgot to put sunblock on them is not nearly as nice as having kids that never seem to burn whatsoever. I'm sure the two kids who got my skin tone would have preferred to have skipped having access to that part of my DNA. Poor Lane, between his OCD issues with worrying about being sick and his history of sunburns, he's been giving himself skin cancer checks since he was 6. "Uh, Mom- does this mole look like it's suspicious to you?!" is something I hear a lot.

Well, I guess I'd better go clean some more. :-( I hear I'm having a Super Bowl party at my house tomorrow. Don't get me wrong. I like watching the Super Bowl too. (Okay, okay, I don't LOVE football, but I like the food and commercials.) I just have no idea how I had absolutely nothing to do with the planning of this little shindig and yet I'm doing the cooking & cleaning for it... ??? It snuck up on me and morphed into something WAY bigger than I expected. It started off a few days ago when Dustin said, "Oh, I was planning on having a couple guys over to watch the game." I said, "Okay, cool." Next thing I knew, our guest list had multiplied faster than rabbits. Everybody is bringing friends and their friends are apparently bringing friends... I don't even KNOW most of these people. When I made a begrudging comment about it to Mr. Wonderful he said I was being anti-social and snobby. I'd like to make a statement: The correct term is LAZY. I just don't like having to do extra cooking and cleaning, thank you. It takes energy to entertain and make conversation with people you barely know.

I've decided that my 30th Birthday present to myself is going to be learning how to be assertive and speak my mind more often. We've already established that I'm thick, pale white, and snobby. I don't see how throwing bossy into the mix could really hurt anything.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Damaged Goods

Hello. My name is Natalie and I am broken. (You all say: "Hi, Natalie!) I have a few different posts in the drafts department addressing this issue. However, it wasn't until a couple of comments from my hubby this week that I have finally decided to throw this subject out into the blogging universe. I have never broken a bone in my life. I do not have any chipped or cracked nails to speak of. I barely even have any split ends. The harsh reality though... I am utterly broken. For all of my pseudo outer strength, it has become clear that my insides are something like scratched Teflon. Black, things rarely stick, and the few areas that things do stick are because there's some sort of damage that makes me hold on to things that are in fact not supposed to stick. I've "scrubbed' and "scrubbed" to get rid of the stuff that isn't supposed to stick (like priding myself on my lack of tears) in order to make room for the stuff that is (like being able to cry), but sometimes I think that all of that scrubbing is just making my Teflon more scratched. And I really don't want that because as bizarre as some people may think that having a slippery black heart may be, it's REALLY convenient. My Teflon has served me well, People.

They say that admitting to weakness is really a sign of strength. You're supposedly "strong in your vulnerability". So, I envy other people who can just be emotional. I have NO CLUE how to do that. For a long time, I prided myself on my lack of tears. I thought it meant that I could handle anything that came my way. My husband says that it means I'm cold though. I said, "Of course I'm cold! It's freaking 26 degrees out!" He didn't laugh. I guess because I've also always prided myself on laughing things off. Humor helps. Or at least that's what I thought. He just looked at me with this face that said, "You sad, sad, creature. You don't really know how pathetic that is, do you?"

I feel somewhat defensive about these accusations. He makes it sound like he thinks I'm some weird, psychopathic monster. After 13 years of marriage, you would think he would know me better than that! I'm not incapable of love. I can sympathize with the best of them. I just have a tendency to rationalize why things aren't a big deal. Other people allow themselves to be overcome with emotion and act on impulse. When they feel angry, sad, scared, etc. they scream and cry or act out one way or another. I usually just go, "Oh, okay..." and deal. Now, whether the way that I "deal" is healthy or not... I'm not the one to say. It FEELS fine. It apparently freaks my husband out. He listed off a whole bunch of examples of times that I have been inappropriately stoic. Who knew I was scaring people with my lack of emotion?

This week, when my grandpa died, I was sad. I calmly talked to my mom on the phone when she told me, then came out and calmly told Dustin the news. I got out some old pictures and looked through them and then wrote a blog about him. Dustin kept coming up and hugging me tight and (with tears in HIS eyes) surveying my face for some sign of emotional breakdown. After a while, he asked me why I wasn't more upset. I told him because we mourn for those of us that are left behind, not the ones that pass on. My grandpa is in a better place. I think that the hardest losses to take are when you had unfinished business with someone. The wife who just had a fight with her husband and said some cruel words as he drove away before getting in a car wreck. The mother who lost a child and wasn't able to experience all of the stages of raising them. I didn't have any unfinished business with my grandpa though. I had already gotten more love and support from him than a lot of people receive in a lifetime. I have nothing but gratitude for the time that I did have with him. So, why would I NEED to put on a big display of grief?

Now, Dustin is concerned that I may not cry at his own funeral (barring an unexpected turn of events resulting in unfinished business, of course.) He pointed out that he's never seen me cry at a funeral. I NEVER cry during movies. I NEVER cry when I get bad news. So, he thinks it's probable that my eyes will be dry when he dies. Obviously, I can't predict how I would react, but I'm assuming that losing my spouse would probably spur tears. But even if I DIDN'T cry... that doesn't mean I loved him any less. It probably just means that I'm mentally checking off all of the reasons why it's going to be okay & making mental notes of all the things that I appreciate or want to remember. That's how my mind works. I usually step back and assess the situation and find the solution or at least the positive before I bother waisting any energy freaking out. I REALLY hate the way it feels to freak out. Alternately, I love the empowerment of being able stay calm. There's a certain confidence in being pro-active about things instead of well, just crumbling. I hope he realizes someday that it's a useful trait when he's upset and I'm able to handle things for the both of us. Seriously, it's people like me who can stay cool under pressure that can act as crutches for the people who are falling apart. So, call it psychopathic or cold or whatever you want to call it... I still really like my Teflon. Oh, and my heart really isn't black. I swear. Certain individuals just assume that because I have a good poker face and prefer to analyze things.

Maybe that does mean I'm broken. Maybe I'd really be "living" if I just threw caution to the wind and went through life FEELING my way through situations rather than strategizing and interpreting shades of grey. I'm sure I could pick up a Dr. Phil book about this or something... but damaged goods or not, I dunno. That's what he says.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What A Guy

Russell, bless his heart, has a new habit. As soon as he takes his clothes off, he throws them in the DRYER. Now, keep in mind that he's only 8 and the world of laundry is fairly new to him. So, technically, it's pretty sweet to see him doing this "helpful" thing on his own. In his mind, he's just being a responsible big person who washes their own clothes. I tried to monopolize on this and teach him to throw them in the washer instead. He really seems to like the dryer though.

This morning, I walked around the lake picking up MORE litter that the flood brought in. When I came inside, I was feeling pretty nasty. Call me a girly girl, but tromping through the mud, standing garbage cans back upright after draining muddy water from them, and picking up soggy garbage makes me feel downright smelly. So, I ran a hot bath and went into the laundry room to wash my work clothes in HOT water (and extra soap... with an extra rinse cycle...) Sure enough, sitting there in the dryer were the jammies that Russell had taken off before school this morning. It made me smile. Eventually, I'll get him to put them in the washer and add some soap, etc. For now, it sure is cute & definitely one of those things that I want to remember about him later.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Little Miss Sunshine

So, after glancing over my last few posts I realized something. I've been really gloomy, whiny, sort of lame, and have blogged about my messy house in excess. So, in honor of the sunshine making an appearance today (seriously gorgeous out!) I'm going to randomly list off a few things that have actually made me HAPPY this week:

My kids went back to school. Enough said.

Okay, okay, yes, I do feel like a mean mommy for celebrating that, but hey! Even they appreciate it. The reality is, even though they're just like most kids and they say they don't like school and they love breaks as much as the next kid, they also admit to liking the way it feels to get back to their familiar schedule and friends. And... (probably shouldn't admit this because I'm not sure what it says for my cooking...) they LOVE eating school lunches. My kids seriously get excited about the lunch menu. Plus, even though I'm not thrilled that back to school also means evenings full of homework, overall our evenings are nicer when school is in session because we had a chance to miss each other during the day and we only have to play nice for a few hours before it's bedtime and everyone has stuff to talk about over dinner because we actually went out into the world and acquired some new info to share. It's a win-win.

The second thing I'm happy about is that I spent some really nice, much needed time with my hubby yesterday. I've gotten spoiled since usually he has every Tuesday off and so each week while the kids are all in school we get 6 hours of uninterrupted mommy & daddy time. However, that hasn't happened for a while because, you know, no school. We've spent plenty of time together but it hasn't really been quality time. It's been "surrounded by a ton of other people who are all simultaneously demanding attention while we're attempting to work together to divert a crisis" sort of time instead. We're both stressed. We're both grouchy and we've both been flinging snarky, underhanded comments at each other more than usual. Not exactly a honeymoon period around here. So, yesterday, simply going out to Olive Garden for lunch together felt SO NICE! Like "Wow, maybe we CAN stay married" nice. We both enjoyed it so much that he arranged for his parents to take the kids overnight on Friday. Now, I have something to look forward to this weekend. Which is GREAT since Monday & Tuesday there's no school again making this a 4 day weekend for the kiddos AND there are a couple of half days after that for report card prep! Yikes! Makes me wonder how my kids are ever going to learn anything this school year... Is a dozen 6 hour days of school per month enough? That's like 72 hours of school this month... Anyways...

I would also like to rejoice that the flood waters have receded and the sky is an amazing shade of blue. I can't imagine how overcome with joy they must have felt when the bird brought the leaf back to the ark, because as it is my joy this morning when I pulled open the blinds and saw the sky was over the top. I don't know if my body could have handled THAT much serotonin if I had been in the ark. As it was, I had to restrain myself from dancing and singing as I went for a walk this morning. The people on musicals make it look so easy to just burst forth into song as they run through rolling fields. Even though I was tempted, I just couldn't sing "Doe- a deer, a female deer" as I sprinted along at the park though. I might have channeled a little Bon Jovi & hummed a few lines of Living On A Prayer... but you'll never get me to admit that.

Really, when I'm being honest with myself, I have a TON of stuff to be thankful for and I could go on and on about things that I'm happy about this week. I guess I just lost site of that for a while. There's nothing like public school, a lunch date with the hubby, and some sunshine to remind me how good I've got it. Hope you guys are having a good week too!