The Graceful Chicken's Reading List, 2013

So, I only read a couple of other bloggers online. I am choosy, to be sure, as time does not seem to be cutting me any slack. At any rate, at the beginning of each year most of those bloggers clearly state what books they intend on reading throughout the year. Some even go as far as telling you which months they will be reading what books and invite you to read them and discuss them at the end of the month. It's an extremely hyper-organized world out there. I apparently fall terribly short.

But, I do read a lot. And while I have never said much about books here, I thought this year I would at least give you a glimpse of what is on my reading list for the year. I can do that this year because 1) I bought myself a bunch of books for Christmas (You're welcome, Self!) and 2) Kurt made me clean out our entire wall of books in the homework room on Christmas day (yay for the three hours of panic as I stacked and sorted, whined and re-shelved some of the hundreds of books we have been holding onto all these years....really, who needs an outdated Biology book or a second copy of Candide? Come on, Karen!) Needless to say, I have a lot of books that I intend on getting to this year. If you happen to see one you might like, let me know and we can chat about it in about 16 years or so.

The Graceful Chicken's Reading List, 2013
(In no particular order because that would require a level of organization that I simply don't posses!)

*Listening for the Heartbeat of God, A Celtic Spirituality - J. Philip Newell
(Already started this one and am really loving it! It is a refreshing look at an alternative understanding of Christian spirituality, one that was long ago voted out but merits being re-embraced.)

*Buddy (How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man) - Brian McGrory
(The title called to me for some peculiar reason....)

*The Dark Night of the Soul - St. John of the Cross

*An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith - Barbara Brown Taylor

*The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times - Pema Chodron

*Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith - Anne Lamott

*The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
(Only because someone told me once that I needed more easy reading. Thanks for the reminder, Dawn!)

*The Clash of Kings - George R. R. Martin

*Simplicity: Finding Peace by Uncluttering Your Life - Kim Thomas

*Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life - Emily P. Freeman
(I know this is a January book as I will be working through it with my mom's group.)

*Here and Now: Living in the Soul - Henri J. M. Nouwen

*it sucked and then i cried: how i had a baby, a breakdown, and a much needed margarita - heather b. armstrong (creator of dooce.com, one of the few blogs I read because she is usually super funny.)

*Hansons Marathon Method: A Renegade Path to Your Fastest Marathon - Luke Humphrey
(Although I am still uncertain about training for Boston, I am gathering some better info to prep for the next race I run, whatever it may be.)

*Chi Running - Danny Dreyer
(I am hoping I can decrease the chances of further injury by changing my form a bit.....this is much more difficult than I had once thought.)

Well dear readers, that should get me through January. I will update you next month. Only kidding! While there will surely be more, and some I am reading through with Kurt, I think this is a good start for now as I still have kids to raise, a house to manage, workouts and physical therapy to do, training to begin, students to teach, music to practice, etc., etc.....

Happy Reading!


Christmas Superlatives 2012

Best Overall Gift: Solomon's vacuum! The kid has been vacuuming non-stop for four days.....I awake to hear the vacuum going every morning. Such a beautiful sound: someone else cleaning! And bonus: Cleanest floors we've ever had (well, until he figured out he should throw crumbled stuff on the floor to have something to vacuum up).

Best Forgotten Gift: The car battery charger I bought myself for $70 at Costco. I forgot about it and left it still boxed in the back of my truck. The day after Christmas, I needed to run into the grocery store to pick up meat for pizza sauce. Kurt stayed in the car with the kids. Ten minutes (and five bags full of food) later, I came running back out to a dead battery. Kurt didn't realize that even though I replace the car battery every two years (something about kids leaving doors open, lights on, tough winters, etc.) you can't listen to the radio in my truck without the engine running. Anyway, as I was grumbling under my breath, I remembered my "gift" in the back. As luck would have it, it was fully charged! Two minutes later, we were on the road again. BEST. PRESENT. EVER. (Almost.)

Most Sung Songs: Have a Solly Jolly Christmas and Deck the Halls (with Boughs of Solly)

Best (and by best I mean worst) Gift Idea: The Family Band: Bass guitar for Aidan, keyboard for Madeline, electric guitar for Lilly, a Toca drum for Liam, a tambourine for Solly and a couple cheap mics to round it all out. "And then, oh the noise! Oh the noise, noise, noise, noise!" (I think the Grinch was on to something!) As if they needed anything to make them LOUDER! I may invest in Tylenol stock. And maybe Advil. And Bayer. And perhaps get some noise canceling earplugs.....or a new house to live in until the kids move out of this one.....good job, self.

Most Predictable Edible Gifts: The huge pack of Mac-N-Cheese Lilly has been requesting every year for three years now and the big box of Sees chocolates Kurt gives me every year (that last me through March, at which point I hang my head low and go into withdrawal from my one-a-day habit and wonder why I shouldn't just replace them midway through the year).

Most Appreciated Healthy Gift: My brother and his wife sent a big box of Florida oranges. Now, we had just bought a huge box of CA navels from a kid down the street as part of a fundraiser. They were disappointingly TERRIBLE! Enter the box of Florida Oranges that included Navel, Red Naval, Tangelos, and Tangerines. The taste testing was a fantastic hit and we have decided to follow the wise advice of: "Get your citrus from FL and leave the wine for CA." So true!

Most Well-Used Practical Gift: A few months back Kurt's folks gave us an early Christmas gift: a gigantic upright freezer. Who knew that something like that could make such a huge difference to a family of 7 (Yay for frozen desserts ALL THE TIME! Just kidding...) Now, I just have to figure out this "Freezer-Cooking" thing!

Coolest Gadget Gift: I found a company, RC Helicopter Select, that makes vehicles you can control with your iPod/iPad/iPhone. Madeline received the iSpy Tank. It has a built in camera so she can see everything the tank sees (up to 20 meters away) and can take videos and pictures. Great for spying on siblings in other rooms. (Because THAT is a necessity.) Liam received the little race car that he can control with his iPod. It can even go up the walls. Not very useful mind you, but quite novel and very cool, at least until it falls off the wall (or Solly rams it with his vacuum) and it dies.

Scariest Gift: Santa re-gifted a rather large boxing ring bounce house that we dutifully blew up mid-morning to show Solly what Santa had brought him. He immediately hid behind a couch and wouldn't come out until the thing was deflated. Some gifts are just like that I suppose. (Thanks for the terrifying gift Deb!)

Worst Christmas Moment: I was putting a load of the laundry into the dryer (no I don't know why I was doing laundry on Christmas, it just happened!) when out fell Aidan's iPod. Cleanest, non-working iPod you'll ever see. So shiny and dead. But wait....Lo and behold, after sitting in a bag of dry rice for 48 hours, the thing actually still works. Merry Christmas, Aidan! (So much for the long lecture of being more careful and responsible for ones possessions!)

Most Heartwarming Moment: As I was putting the kids down on Christmas night, Aidan called me back in and said, "Mom, we forgot to say a special prayer for Jesus today. Can you say one right now?" And so we did. And I once again learned from my child: even kids seek meaning for their lives beyond the surface of their material world.

May the rest of your year be merry and bright, making way for a New Year that bursts forth with  wondrous love, quiet moments and all the meaning your heart could possibly desire.


The Night Before The Night Before Christmas

"'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse....."

We all know how the poem goes. We all know the calm and peaceful scene that is set before us. Everything wrapped and ready. Everything in its place. Everyone fast asleep. No kids tossing and turning and whining and waking in the middle of the night. No trips to the bathroom. "Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse!" A great hush amidst the anticipation.

Obviously written by a man. Or at least by someone who purposefully skipped over the night before the night before Christmas. You see, I know my family is not alone in the mad scurry that happens this time of year. Usually it is nonstop for weeks around here. There is dashing and dancing, but not from any reindeer. And it all falls down to one night: the night before Christmas, when parents all over the country are up to the wee hours of the morning, working like crazy to make sure everything is wrapped and ready and in its place. And if Christmas Eve is calm and relaxed like in that beloved poem, then that mad dash had to happen previously, right?

Well, this year I took a different approach to Christmas. Why all that hustle and bustle? Usually by now, my cards have been sent, cookies have been baked and frosted, I've hosted a party or two, been to a few others, twisted time in order to be at three kids' winter parties at once (while still magically caring for the other two), hosted a recital, practiced violin for Christmas Eve, all while doing some sort of advent study, reading and writing and who knows what else.

This year was different. And thankfully so as I spent the last week managing a house with several different icky viruses going through it. Kurt had the flu, Madeline had a stomach bug, Liam had a combination of both, Lilly and Aidan are sporting lovely coughs and Solly is now chasing his nose all over as it constantly runs down his face. Good, good times.

Today, as I pondered what still needed to be done, I realized that I still need to somehow scrunch everything but the shopping into the next 24 hours. And yet I sit here in the great hush, awaiting the excitement of tomorrow, the day before Christmas. And I am calm. Because I have a constant reminder in my heart of the meaning behind it all. (Hint: the craziness is not it.) And I don't intend to do it all. And maybe because everyone else is asleep! (Woo hoo! It's ME time!) And because I managed to clean out our pantry today. And now I have a place to crawl into and hide for the next two, long, kids-out-of-school weeks. Unless of course I make it to the grocery store tomorrow and then I am stuck having to suck it up and do what good moms all over the country do at winter break: take a deep breath and remind myself that these are the best of times, they don't last forever, hold on tight and enjoy the ride. Oh, and lock the kids outside. They really need some fresh winter air.

Here's to a calm and peaceful Christmas. May your joy be full. May love abound.

Merry Christmas.


Moment of Pause

This morning, all across America parents hugged their children a little longer, a little more tightly. We held back tears of sorrow and fear as we put children on busses, or drove them to school and watched them go. Our hearts wept for those who lost their sons and daughters, their wives and friends. And as we mourn the lives lost, we also mourn once more for the loss of our illusion that this world is safe, that our schools are safe havens, that our children are somehow protected from the evils that we know exist.

"Mom, why are you standing outside with us at the bus stop in your pajamas," my kids wanted to know as I hopped out of my usual seated position in the warm car to hold them close to me just a moment more.

How can I tell them of the heartache spread deep across our country today? How could I ever explain? What kind of answers can I give to their questions, the same questions I have wrestled with for night after sleepless night? Questions with no answers.

In the wake of the CT tragedy, we easily get lost in darker places. People have turned atheist for far less. Nothing anyone can say or do, write or preach can make it right. And even those of great faith take pause: Where was God? Where was God on Friday morning as those parents thought they were sending their children off to just another ordinary day? And why didn't this most powerful and all-loving Creator step up to the plate and prevent such a horrific scene from unfolding? We shout it in our hearts, the swell of anger at God, questioning why He failed to show up for work that day. And those who normally bear loud witness to the glory of God, go silent. Why? Why not express doubt in troubling times? Why not disclose our anger, our disappointment? Why not share with the world the inner turmoil that takes place even in the hearts of the faithful?

Our questions about God's inaction remain unanswered. We are a creation given free will, each containing within us the potential for both ultimate good and ultimate evil. Yet in the inner most depths of our hearts, we often wish for more: more miracles, more immediate actions that point to an ever present and vigilantly armed God, a God at the ready, a God who will not let a single act of evil prevail.  In our despair, we may even think we want more smiting. But God, God is sometimes still. God is sometimes silent. Or maybe our angst and sorrow are too loud to let Him through. If we are most honest, we can admit that it is a grueling and unsettling act of faith to believe in a God who at times seems blatantly apathetic. As an impatient child of God, I want to know the answers right now, this very minute. Yet, as a parent I realize that sometimes there are no good answers, sometimes the child is simply not ready. I recognize God's silence. It's all too familiar.

But if there is anything we learn from those who have born witness before us, it is that God is present, even in the midst of such tragedies. That God was there, God is here now. God is always. God loves the victims, the survivors; those who mourn and grieve, and yes, that same God that loves you and me has a love big enough to surround even those who commit such heinous acts. While we struggle to understand and to forgive, God's love remains and with great love, He weeps. Because at the end of the day, we are all children of the same Creator and as a good parent does, God mourns the loss that took place in the heart of that lost soul long before these events occurred and He mourns for the lives of the victims, and their families and for all of us.

While we may be left wondering why we believe and how we can go on trusting in One who does not seem to care enough to act out loud, we come to see God: In the teachers who told their students that they loved them, in case that would be the last thing they heard. In the staff who shielded students from bullets. In those who rushed at a gun-weilding man in the off chance they could prevent what was to come. In the faces of children whose only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In all those, in the coming weeks and months, who will bear the burden of loss with those who mourn. God will tend to the basic needs, to the survivors, the families and the community through the hands of those serving one another.

We may be unsettled, shaken, and tiptoeing around the shattered pieces of our own faith, yet we know that there is truth in the sermon being preached all over the country: evil will not prevail. If we are struggling to see how, we, of many faiths, must do as those have done for generations before us: find strength in the believers of old.  When our faith teeters on the edge of unbelief, and we are tempted to jump ship, we must rely on the faith of our fore-fathers and mothers, of Moses and Abraham, Sarah and Hannah, Job, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph.... And when we wonder why we bother praying when our prayers seem to go unanswered, we pause and recall Jesus who went to a lonely place and prayed and wept. And so we, too, pray. And in that prayer we find stillness where it did not exist just moments before. And in the stillness, God.

May we hold on to the morsels of our faith so that God can begin the rebuilding, just as He has done before and will do again, in us and in our world. Let there be peace on earth, friends. And let it begin with us.


The Art of Gift Giving (or Lack Thereof) (Part 3)

As you may have noticed, gift giving is not my strong suit. And I knew that this year would be no different when I realized that half of the presents coming from Santa this year were hand-me-downs from a fantastic friend who has saved Christmas at least twice now. (Thanks Deb!)

And then, I realized just how bad I had become when I was thinking about Solomon, not quite two, and what he might want for Christmas. I had originally thought I would get him a toy vacuum because he is totally obsessed with ours. And then I saw a cool, cordless Electrolux at Costco for only $70 and I thought, "Wait a second, why not cash in on his obsessiveness and get him to do a little cleaning while he plays?" But I ended up passing because that seems like an awful lot to spend on a kid who may very well be scared to death of vacuums next month.

Then, when we were at Target yesterday, Kurt and I, awesome parents that we are, managed to lose Solomon. Where did we find him, you ask? In the vacuum section of course. And that is when I saw this super cheap Dirt Devil Stick Vac on sale for only $20 and get this, it comes with a super long cord, which is his favorite part of course! SCORE! (Target saves me again! Thanks, BFF!)

And that is when it hit me, I just bought a real vacuum, with a super long cord, for my 23 month old child, I TOTALLY need to write my own parenting book because you never see THAT idea in any of them. And what a brilliant one it is, you know, if you don't get too caught up on safety and other such nonsense. I mean seriously, they make play ovens for kids, how much worse can a stick vac really be? (Maybe for a stocking stuffer we'll get him some rubber boots, you know, to appease the grandparents.)

And so dear readers, the moral of this thread is, don't trust me with your gift ideas. Unless you have a two year old; then I've totally got you covered!


The Art of Gift Giving (or Lack Thereof) (Part 2)

Gift giving to children is an entirely different cup of tea. You see, with kids, there is very little anxiety because when you give a gift to a child, you can usually tell exactly how they feel about it. They are super excited to open it and for the most part happy to get a gift, whatever it may be. And even if they really like it, they are likely to fling it aside and go off to play in the snow anyway so no pressure to find the "perfect gift."

And the best part, if they get all snooty and complain that it "isn't what they wanted" you get to give them a lecture about how they should be grateful because there are kids in Africa who don't even have food to eat, much less a crayon to play with. And when they still act so entitled, you can tell them about your grandparents and how they had to walk up that ice covered hill just to get to their stockings and then you could ask:

"You know what their stockings were stuffed with? Grapefruit and Oranges, that's what. 

And do you think they complained? No, they didn't.

Do you know why? No, not because they loved citrus. They didn't complain because they were super hungry and they knew if they complained about the citrus acid being too much for their empty tummies and how they were really hoping for toys instead that the fairy in charge of ungrateful children would come into their rooms that night and steal all their belongings so that they'd have to go to school the next day in only their underwear and coat and when the teacher asked why they wouldn't take their coat off they would have to admit to their selfish ways and everyone would shake their heads and not want to play with them ever again. Because they knew that they only had one pair of underwear and it was probably dirty!

So, how do you like the broken red crayon I gave you now? Yeah, it does totally rock. You're welcome." 

And then next year, you can give them the blue one to create a matched set. And if they complain then, I highly recommend you take back the crayons and tell them you will get them something else. Then take five minutes to hand-make a card, complete with your handprint on it, draw on some eyes and a nose because obviously they think THAT is the best gift ever, five years straight....
Gift-giving to children is a piece of cake. As long as you are willing to go that extra mile. 


The Art of Gift Giving (or Lack Thereof) (Part 1)

Around this time every year I start to recognize that some people are simply natural gift givers. You know the ones; they always seem to get it right. They don't even have to know you very well but they pick up on your intricacies and even the smallest gift is about as perfect as you could have imagined. It's as if they put in hours and hours of contemplation (which they don't because they are naturals!) on what that one perfect thing would be and then they make it happen with ease and grace. And it never breaks their bank because they always know where the best deals are. And sometimes they already have the perfect item on hand. Because they are psychic. Which is why I think we should go on a witch hunt and get rid of them all. Or at least ban them from the holidays because honestly people, YOU MAKE THE REST OF US LOOK BAD!

No, I am only kidding. But unfortunately, I happen to dance around in another category of gift givers. And not the in-between, so-so gift giver category. No, try as I might, I am a terrible gift giver. A creature of habit, there are some people who have received the same thing from me every year for almost a decade (like the calendars I make for the grandfolk...is that even a word? While it is tedious and time consuming, I don't have to think about it. I just know what I am going to do and eventually I find an hour in the middle of the night, around December 27th, to get it done....every few years I even manage to surprise them and get it to them before the New Year begins! And so I feel accomplished.....See? I am a terrible gift giver!)

At any rate, I finally figured out why this is. You see, while the old saying goes, "It's the thought that counts," for some of us, it is the very act of thinking about gifts  (or anything really) that is the core of the problem. We don't have a lot of time for thinking beyond the moment, the day to day stuff that is so darn demanding of us. And when we do finally find that moment (likely in the middle of the night, perhaps cleaning kid puke off a bathroom floor before accidentally sticking our heads through a wall) it is quite likely ridden with anxiety.

What does that person like/need/want? What can I get them that they don't already have? What can I afford? After all, I could quickly find myself in the Best Gift Giver EVER category if I had unlimited resources or even only one person to buy for! And finally, there is the fear that they will have to fein excitement or appreciation over the worst present ever! I am just crossing my fingers that my poor gift giving skills never come face to face with someone with terrible receiving skills. Then, feeling really bad, I will offer to buy them a pony or a Ferrari, whichever they want more. It kind of eases things over, ya know? (At least until I ask if I can borrow their credit card!)

So that is why Target and I have become best friends because who can't use a Target Gift Card? It's like the best do-it-yourself gift ever, or at least tied with Coffee Shop, iTunes, Amazon and Wine Store Gift Cards.  And if that person lives out in the boonies, hours away from the closet gas station much less a Target, well all they have to do is hop online and BAM! Still the best gift ever. And if they don't have access to the internet well, then they can give it back and take the pony. (That jerk.....I can call them that because without internet, they will never read this.....)

See what I mean?


Chicken Gifts

In case you need a gift idea for your pet chicken, might you consider this Hobbit Hole Chicken Coop? It's a little pricey (like $2800 pricey) but never fear, it ships for free! (Phew, I was so worried I would have to pay extra for shipping! See Kurt? I'm a crazy good shopper!)

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of seeing all my random chicken paraphernalia, I just posted a page About My Chickens. Check it out if you have a free minute or feel like wasting one or if you are desperate for gift ideas for that chicken lover in your house!


Mad Housewife

No, silly readers, this post's title is not talking about me. Baggage is not coming out of the closet; dirty laundry will remain out of sight and nothing is coming home to roost (although, Kurt did just get back from a trip so perhaps I am mistaken about the roosting part). Trust me, if I were spilling my less than savory details of homemaking, it would most likely be in person over a nice glass bottle of wine. And I know the perfect one.

Enter Mad Housewife

For those of you who like a good, cheap bottle of wine, this Cabernet Sauvignon could very well fit your bill. (If you are scratching your head wondering how 'cheap' and 'good' can describe the same bottle, and were looking for a review that gives you more than name, color, price and a thumb up or down, feel free to go away by clicking here because this is most likely not the right blog for you!)

At any rate, a friend was coming over to tell me about how her boyfriend of three years dumped her and so I bought a bunch of wines for her to choose from. She chose this one because of the name, which is, of course, why I bought it in the first place. (Clever wine maker!) At around $8 a bottle, it was what I'll call a just right red. Nothing fancy. Nothing too notable. And we easily finished the entire thing over dinner, dessert and discussion (with a handful of kid interruptions in between).

For more info on this and other Mad Housewife Wines, click here

Got a good, cheap wine to share with us? Feel free to add a comment below! Otherwise, just have a great week!


Happy Hanukkah

This morning I glanced at my calendar to see Hanukkah Begins. I immediately started dancing the hora in my head and skipped over to dig out our dreidel. The kids picked up on my giddiness and excitedly inquired about what was going on.

"It's Hanukkah," I explained. "Time to celebrate!"

"But Mom," they said, looking confused. "We aren't Jewish." (Shoot, maybe I need to pay more attention at church! Seriously though, I had to smile because, yay, my kids knew it was a Jewish holiday!)

"Well, that is true. But it doesn't mean we can't join in the festivities. After all, it wasn't our birthday last week when we celebrated with your cousin and we celebrate Christmas which isn't our birthday either. If we are all children of God, then why not rejoice with our brothers and sisters and share in their celebrations of God and his triumphs?" (Plus, Solomon gets to wear his yarmulkas and who doesn't love that? Except for possibly Solomon....)

I bounced around singing the song I learned in elementary school 30 years ago, when schools didn't get sued for including the word God in stuff:

'Tis the week of Hanukkah good tidings we're bringing,
This holiday we celebrate with dancing and singing,
Gather round together the hora we'll do,
Then we'll sing the song that our forefathers knew.
Hush now, and come now, the candles we'll light one by one,
Then we'll tell stories of God and his glory and how precious freedom was won.

(Or something like that.) The kids watched with something like glee on their faces.

My thoughts drifted upward as we went about preparing for church. How would our world look if we all regularly rejoiced with one another? If we were to recognize our sameness and unity in creation rather than focusing so much on our differences and uniqueness?

When we lived in CA, I excitedly participated in Diwali, the Festival of Lights, with my Indian friends. I learned about Eid from my Pakistani students; I marched in the head of the dragon for a Chinese New Year parade in my classroom. We lifted up and exalted God through the very act of celebrating with one another, of celebrating each other.

As we continue in this time of Advent, preparing for Christmas to come into our hearts once more, why not rejoice in the whole big shebang? Joy is worth sharing with all God's children, whatever our beliefs may be. And really, who doesn't like a good reason to party? (My Red Solo Cups are always at the ready....how 'bout you?)

P.S. Please don't mention to my kids that the Hanukah tradition also include eight nights of gift giving....eight nights, five kids....it might just break the bank!

P.P.S. Here's a fun Hanukkah song to lighten your day. Or if you prefer the original SNL version, click here.


The Article (Part Two)

Shortly after being interviewed for the article in Southwest Metro Magazine, I was contacted about doing a photo shoot. They wanted to take pictures of me cooking with my kids. Just about nothing could be farther from my comfort zone than being photographed for a magazine, except maybe being photographed for a magazine with five kids while we pretend to be doing something we aren't actually doing while getting everyone to not only behave but smile like they mean it. (It's amazing how kids can be so completely excited about their mom's worst nightmare.)

Imagine how that photo shoot went. It was EXACTLY. LIKE. THAT! For a full hour. Good, good times.

Actually, after the initial phone call with the photographer, low grade panic set in as I questioned: How can this be an authentic picture when they want me to cook with my kids for an article on stress management? Seriously! Managing stress means NEVER COOKING WITH CHILDREN! At least in my house and with my kids. How can you be authentic when the very nature of the picture is not realistic? And to complicate matters, what does a person who only wears jeans and/or workout clothes wear for a magazine picture? I started having images of me in yoga clothes doing funky yoga poses while the kids tried knocking me over. Now THAT would have been authentic!

And I had very little help from Kurt. The conversations went something like this:

"Kurt, what am I supposed to do for clothes and hair?"

"Whatever you want. Just don't do that alien hair," he said.

I was about to argue that if I am to be me then the pig-tail knots in the back of my head is the most fitting for my personality and not really alien-like at all and then I recalled dropping off my kids in the gym childcare on Halloween. A little boy looked up at me and then, pointing my way, said to another kid, "Hey look! An alien!" Ok, maybe Kurt has a point.
Usually I don't wear the antennae...

"So, what do I do? I don't ever wear it down." (I'm still wondering why I need it at all actually.)

"Just pull it back," he suggested. "No alien knots though."

Again I wanted to argue the cute-ness of the alien hair when I remembered a conversation I had with a friend. She had tried to get her second grader to put her hair up like mine. "Look how cute it is on Karen," she said. Her daughter replied, "I am NOT wearing my hair like THAT!"

"Ok," I said in defeat.

After deciding that we would make pizza, the only meal other than pancakes that my kids actually help with, and deciding that for the sake of being me I had to go with jeans and a t-shirt, any t-shirt would do, and that the kids would wear whatever their little hearts desired, we were ready to go.

And it was fantastic despite Solly running around looking for stuff to eat and Liam announcing half way through that he was done and walking out of the kitchen only to come back when bribed with extra screen time. The very young photographer told me several times how good the kids were and how she wished all her subjects were so well behaved. I assured her I had threatened the happiness of their entire childhood if they behaved otherwise. She laughed. (I was not kidding.)

And for those of you who have made it this far and would like to see the final outcome, click here keeping in mind that the online version is only a snippet of the entire print article. Gimme a shout if you would like to see it in print. I have plenty to go around.

The Alien Hair
(Seriously, how is this not totally cute?)


The Article (Part One)

"When life gives you lemonade, make lemons. Life will be all like: WHAAAAT?!?!"
-Phil's-osophy (from the T.V. series Modern Family)

Recently, a writer from Southwest Metro Magazine contacted me about interviewing me for an article she was writing. (Yes, you can laugh now.) While not on my bucket list (although, like any good 'to-do list' keeper, I quickly wrote it down just so that I could cross it off), I enthusiastically agreed.

The topic(s): Stress Management and Balance

Hee hee hee.....I know, right?! Apparently she hasn't read the blog (ever) or she would know that my form of stress management looks a little like a drunken sailor in a row boat in the middle of a hurricane who thinks maybe if he blinks ten times real fast while clicking his heels together that it will all suddenly disappear until he realizes he forgot the glittery shoes and doesn't even have a dog named Toto. (No offense to you drunken sailor: you're doing a great job....)

According to the editor of the magazine however, if I can qualify for the Boston Marathon while raising five kids, etc., etc., then certainly I know something about finding balance and managing stress. She obviously has not seen me running wilding into Ashtanga yoga on Friday mornings, hoping I haven't missed anything only to find that I am the first one there, have ten minutes before class starts and oh, I forgot my deodorant, again.....breathe (but not too deep because eeeew)....

At any rate, I gathered my thoughts (like four single spaced pages worth.....I think I could have written the entire article actually) and chuckled a whole lot in the process. I mean, let's be real: stress management with five little kids in the house is as much about containment (as in, keeping kids contained) and having healthy outlets to let off steam as it is about balancing everything perfectly in order to avoid stress. With a full house, there is always stress somewhere (I usually see it following the Solomonster around like his own personal shadow....you know, the kind of shadow that jumps out at other people and makes them run their shins into something painful before landing on that hidden lego with bare feet).

And balance? Really? If you mean balanced like the little runt of a kid flailing her arms and legs wildly at the top of a teeter totter while the larger than life bully just sits there at the bottom laughing, then yeah, I have that balance thing TOTALLY worked out.

Those are attainable goals perhaps on the very best of days and far fetched dreams that get swallowed by chaos on the bad ones. And I can talk till I am blue in the face about being intentional and proactive, yet flexible, and about taking necessary breaks, keeping fit and maintaining a nutritious diet, regularly challenging yourself and your family and most importantly, finding the humor in everyday life. (For crying out loud, laugh a little more y'all!) But truth be told, this is a work in progress at best. I would even venture out to say that for most of us it is a never ending work in progress.

I heard it said recently that you shouldn't compare the inside workings of your family with the outside view of other families. The truth is, we all have strengths and weaknesses and most of us are pretty darn adept at keeping those weaknesses tucked just out of view. So if for any reason I have ever come across as "stress-free and balanced" (which you, dear reader, know is laughable) you can trust that I certainly have some rather big kinks in my personality to work with (gosh darn that Myers Briggs!) Just ask my husband. Or anyone else who has ever interacted with me, ever. And those kinks permeate our entire household and mix with everyone else's kinks and guess what? (No, we are not a kinky family....) We continually fail to manage stress or keep any sort of balance and the house teeters precariously close to completely out of control more often than even I will admit. (Although, I just did....Phew, there, I said it. What a load off!)

Anyway, although a tad outside of my comfort zone, the interview was both interesting and enjoyable and after forty minutes or so she had what she needed. And I was all: "But wait! I haven't gotten to the best parts yet! And then one year, at band camp...." Kidding, of course. I was, however, left wondering if I would walk away from the experience sounding like the idiot that was me on the phone or if perhaps she had picked up some brilliant tidbit to quote me on, while she browsed the internet....

And then there was the photo shoot.....

--To be continued-- (Don't say I didn't warn you!)


Bye-Bye Bikini

We wandered through the summertime, And drifted into fall
We never thought of winter at all. How foolishly we tossed away
The buttercups, the time -Who'd have thought
We'd have no more songs to sing, Hills to climb?

We summered in each other's arms, And slumbered in the glow
We never heard the whisper of snow. But summer's not forevermore
No matter how we tried -The trouble with hello is goodbye
--The Trouble with Hello is Goodbye, Sergio Mendes (1975).....also June Christy (1977)

Ok, so now is a good time to stick your finger down your throat and GAG! But if you liked the cheesy music in the 70s, feel free to look that one up on your own and reminisce at your own leisure.

At any rate, a friend reminded me today (speaking of clothing) that if you don't absolutely love something or haven't worn it in a while (try a decade!) then get rid of it.

I'd like to tell you, dear readers, that I am the master of this, that I get rid of anything I haven't worn in a year, that my closet is almost bare because I don't hang on to anything past its fashionable expiration date. But then, I would be totally full of it. And my hubs would call me out on it in front of you, skeletons would fall from the closet and a huge internet scandal would erupt....or not.

But today, a friend handed down a pair of jeans she no longer loves, which I am gratefully wearing as I type, and so I went into my closet to see what I could maybe part with when what to my wondering eyes did appear but a miniature swimsuit and not from this year! Actually, not from this decade. Actually, not from this millennia if you really must know.

You see, I always thought that after having kids I would be one of those lucky ones who could get back in shape and squeeze my way back into my beloved bikinis, which by the way are still super cute even 15 years later. (Just not on me!) Alas, here I am, almost ten years since having that first child and no matter how much I work out (which is all the darn time), no matter how fit I keep myself (my resting heart rate is 45 bpm while rocking a kid, if that counts for anything), and no matter how much I use my Jedi mind tricks and Superwoman powers to will it to be, it simply ain't happening folks! Having kids has simply changed me. I mean, the shell of my former self is still here but whoa.....While bacon certainly transforms turkey into something close to divine, it doesn't crisp up the skin on turkeys or graceful chickens.....They say kids change you, ya know. I suppose it just takes some of us a while to really accept that change for ourselves.

So, here I am, with three super fun bikinis that, truth be told, even if I did feel comfy in, I wouldn't wear them in public ever again now that I am older and have more modest tastes, to say the least. (And I am certainly not going to wear random bikinis around the house, I mean, who does that? Crazy moms, that's who!)

And so, I just wanted to share with you a parting of the ways and tell you that I am putting these in the donation pile that will go out in the morning....

Because if I post it here, then it must be so.

And so I am going to do that now. Any moment.

I am going to just give them up for good......embrace the changed me.....embark on the path toward maturity and a lighter closet, one free of last-lifetime's stuff.....really, I am.

Ok, tomorrow....I'll do it tomorrow.....

No matter how we tried -The trouble with hello is goodbye.....


Better With Bacon

It's almost sacrilegious, but every year I contemplate breaking from tradition and leaving out the turkey from our Thanksgiving feast. I know, I know, I hear it every year: "But Moooom, you HAVE to have a turkey on Thanksgiving!" What kind of American am I without a Turkey-day Turkey? I mean, there are charities in place whose sole purpose is to provide a turkey dinner to people who cannot otherwise afford it. Leaving it out is almost as crazy of an idea as us Southerners forgoing black eyed peas and rice on New Year's Day....almost.

But, you see, no one in the house likes turkey. Not even the kids who tell me yearly we must have one. Don't get me wrong, it is not that any of us hates turkey. We don't turn out heads in disgust when we see it on the table. Admittedly, we even like some of the left overs. It's just that, if given the choice, ANY.OTHER.MEAT.WOULD.BE.BETTER! (With the exception, for the kids, of fish.)

And every year I think I should add something new to the table in hopes that it will fill the Turkey void when I finally take the plunge and exercise my right as house chef of creating the perfect Thanksgiving Day menu sans Turkey. Last year, I made Cornish Game Hen in hopes that the novelty of everyone having their own little bird would do the trick. Somehow, because of how "cute" they were, it did not.

So, while talking about Thanksgiving to my physical therapist as he bruised my leg up yet again, he casually mentioned knowing someone who made Bacon Wrapped Turkey.

Wait. A. Minute! HOLD THE PHONE!

The fireworks in my head were exploding: "Well DUH! Everything is made better with bacon!"

Breakfast? Better with bacon.
Burgers? Bacon!

And so, this year, while we give thanks that Lilly is nut-allergy free and we fill our house with pecan pies rather than epi-pens (I plan to force feed her Pecan Pie and Yams with Pecan Crumble Topping and Cranberry Salad with a Side of Pecans JUST BECAUSE I CAN!) we will be attempting to liven up the old Thanksgiving Turkey tradition with a huge HUG of BACON. Worse case scenario, we still don't eat the turkey, we enjoy a big plate of crispy bacon, and we can blame Rusty* for something other than the bruises on my leg! Win-win! (Thanks for that, Rusty!)

[[[And here is where you have to imagine a picture of the pre-cooked, Bacon-Hugged-Turkey.....apparently I am out of free storage space on Google....I'll post pics once I figure it out.]]]

May your Thanksgiving be Happy, with or without the bacon!

*Full disclosure: I completed an 8 mile run today, with mile four pretty much entirely uphill and into a strong headwind and I only slowed to an 8-min pace......While I cannot yet vouch for his recipe suggestions, Rusty, from OSR (physical therapy) obviously knows what he is doing and I would highly recommend him to anyone with physical therapy needs**.....No, I don't get a referral fee.....Yes, I am actually being nice.....Make sure you tell him I sent ya..... Actually, on second thought, you probably shouldn't.....

**Disclaimer: While there COULD be fear of retribution if my opinions were not what they are, I promise my opinions are very much my own......seriously.

Happy Thanksgiving!


This Is (Not) the Day

Every morning I think: "This is the day. This is the day that I will get my house completely organized, top to bottom. This is the day that the floors get mopped, the kitchen drawers get sorted through, the blog post gets written. This is the day that I take half an hour to sit down, relax with a cup of hot coffee, read, think, write, meditate, pray. This is the the day I will stop doing whatever it is I do that doesn't accomplish much of anything and simply get everything else done."

And then the kids wake up and I am struck by another, equally powerful, gut twisting thought: "Holy Buckets! That day won't be here for another 16 years!"

And since I haven't the time to sit and write I thought I would share a thousand words (in pictures of course) to explain why I can't sit and write. (Even as I type this, I am standing.....)

What? What is that, you ask? Why, that is the ENTIRE BAG of bunny litter spilled all over the basement floor. 

Thanks be to Solly.

This is how the Solomonster has chosen to sleep recently. His head resting with his nose smashed against his crib. It beats the other favorite position which is falling asleep where his screaming left off: standing with his head resting on top of the crib's side bar....yes, he can and he does.

This is how you know a Solomonosaurus isn't feeling very well. He is not only still, but totally passed out on the stairs, at 2 in the afternoon.....yes, I know he is still in his PJ's, cut me some slack, will ya?

This is the fruit of my labor.....oh wait, no, this is just the mess made while making the fruit of my labor.....Madeline's birthday cake was well worth it....no, I don't know why there are headphones on the kitchen counter.

Homemade cake, Birthday Celebration #1
Costco Cake, Birthday celebration #2, Slumber Party....with six other little girls: Ella, Elsa, Ellie, Lilly, Lily, Mia, Sophie and Madeline (You think she could just choose girls with the exact same name to make it easier on us.....and had the other girl she invited shown up, we'd have had another Lily in the house.....) But none of that was nearly as exciting as having my very own Lilly awake me at 1:00 in the morning because she didn't feel right. I took her into the bathroom to inspect and found a caricature of my Lilly....her lips and mouth were so swollen she looked like a Simpsons cartoon character....after a phone call to the nurses line and an hour of watching her post-antihistimine after shuffling Lilly and her friend back into their room since the friend had decided to join in and I found them curled up, asleep on the bathroom floor after talking to the nurse.....and then another hour of listening to Solomon cry in his crib since apparently he was feeling left out, I started wondering what the heck was going on and WHAT ON EARTH WERE WE THINKING? At any rate, Lilly had a blood draw yesterday to rule out a possible allergy to pecans since that was the only unusual thing she ate the night of the puffy lipped Lilly....results next week.....if only I had thought to take a picture, then this caption wouldn't be novel-long! Sheesh!
Liam takes eating a palate of colors to a whole new level......"Look Mom, there are LOTS of colors next to my toast!" (Remind me to invest in a good dental plan.....)

Salsa looks so happy when he cleans......

And for a not-quite-two year old, he has pretty darn good form.....he must have a great teacher.....

Really, he could teach lessons.....

Well, until the urge to ride the broom outweighs the fun of using it correctly.....I only wish he didn't need to pour out the entire box of cereal in order to have something to sweep.....I guess he thinks the house is too clean otherwise......
See, Kurt? I told you so.

And that is why this is NOT the day....and neither is tomorrow, or the next day, or the one after that......

Next up? Hopefully a post about the magazine article we are going to be in next month....assuming I can actually catch a good night's sleep in order to remember what it is about and why we are in it.....


Car Confession, Take Two

I realize, while my last post was authentic to the core, it did not cast me in a favorable light. But how many of you have felt that exact same way? How many times have you wished you could tell the inconsiderate or dangerous driver in the other car exactly what you thought? And be honest, haven't you ever thought, "If only I could ram them, just a little!" Or is it just me? (Road rage anyone?)

Turns out, the lady I chastised yesterday may have been the wife of the Swim Meet Director.

Still, even had I known that from the beginning, it would have been tough to overcome that more aggressive part of my inner being. (She-wolf has a tendency to say what she thinks and while 'rude' was probably not the best choice of words--inconsiderate, now that would have been better--it was the only thing that came to mind in the moment.)

At any rate, I realize that the anger I felt was not the passionate anger of Jesus as he overturned the temple tables. It wasn't about justice for all or speaking as a voice for the outcasted, oppressed and marginalized. It was really all about the inconvenience I felt (and I am sure the cars behind me felt) at having to wait for someone who had been a little on the thoughtless side.

Nonetheless, even though I couldn't control her behavior, I should have had better reins on mine. I should have acted with grace and forgiveness, modeling loving Christian behavior to my children. After all, the cloak of Self-Righteousness looks good on no one. And truth be told, most of us have been on the other side of that conversation in one way or another. But Bratty Inner Child, still completely convinced that the other woman was in the wrong, struggles with the lessons of Aunt Prudence. Why is rising above our own immaturity so difficult sometimes?

As it turns out, if we were all perfect, we wouldn't need grace. And the more comfortable we become with the grace we have been offered, the better able we are to offer it to others (even in the most difficult of moments). And sometimes it takes practicing grace in our own lives to accept it for ourselves. And that is worth the effort.

Sorry inconsiderate lady. I shouldn't have called you rude. 
(Even though it was....) BE QUIET INNER CHILD!


Voice of the Inner Child

Recently, I have been made acutely aware of the ridiculous nature of other drivers. Now, don't get me wrong. I am no perfect angel here. I tend to go heavy on the gas....but I don't text while driving and try to stay off my phone in general. I try to remember my children are learning from me and paying attention to the traffic rules (which they constantly question me about) and they see whether I model car safety, or not. And so I do the best I can.

But lately, well, I saw one woman reading a magazine while driving ON THE HIGHWAY. A few cars later I glanced into the cab of a truck to see the driver with a huge sandwich in one hand and watching something on his phone with the other....I am not sure how he was steering actually. (Yes, I know you can use your knees, but driving a huge truck? Going 65?)

And then a few days ago I was cut off by a man in the preschool parking lot and about two minutes later he cut me off again down the road. No more than ten minutes had gone by when yet another driver (also watching his phone) ran a red light in front of me and the other lane of cars turning left on our green light.

Seriously, it is a dangerous world out there. I keep telling Kurt, if ever we find ourselves with too much money, I may just start ramming into people just to prove a point or two. You know, not if it would jeopardize anyones safety but seriously. Maybe I need to consider joining the police force.

At any rate, today was the final straw and I played the role of Graceful, Like a Camel.....or perhaps it would be Graceful, Like a Pit Bull.

I had the four little ones in the car as we were trying to leave Aidan's swim meet. The parking lot was so full that people had parked in all sorts of random places leaving only one path to exit. As I was nearing the front of the building, toward the latter part of the loop, the car in front of me stopped and the driver got out. She began to unload the back of her vehicle and then completely left her car blocking the only way out. Had she pulled over maybe three more inches, the rest of us could have gotten past. Instead, there we were, sitting, waiting. The line got longer and longer, probably ten cars or more back.

"I wonder if I should just jump in her car and move it over," I said aloud.

"No Mommy, they might think you are stealing it," Lilly told me.

"Yeah, and you might get arrested," Madeline chimed in. (Does it count as partly my voice of wisdom if it is my children who say it????)

Five or ten minutes went by when she finally came out to gather more things. I rolled down my window.

"Excuse me, could you please move up and over about three inches so the rest of us can get by?" I asked, as politely as possible.

"No, you'll just have to wait," she said.

"Really? How very rude of you!" I said, completely losing my patience. She looked at me as if I had slapped her in the face (Minnesota is not known for people saying what they actually think.)

"I am dropping off food for the meet," she said, glaring.

"While blocking all the traffic," I replied. "It's just rude." (No, the irony of me acting rudely by calling her rude is not completely lost on me.)

"Well, I am getting ready to leave now," she said, closing her hatchback.

"Still rude!" I said, rolling up my window, leaving Wisdom and her posse in stunned silence.

As she was driving out of the lot, I couldn't resist offering a little reminder honk.

Point Bratty Inner Child.

(I told you it wasn't over!)

Oh, and kids? Do as I say, not as I do!


Why Parents Don't.....

Why responsible parents don't.......

Let toddlers pour their own cereal:

Although, you have to admit, he did a pretty darn good job, you know, if he were feeding the entire family......and we ate face first like the cat.....

 Let their toddlers do the cleaning:

In case you are wondering why this is an issue.....that is the toilet brush he is mopping the floor with.

Don't assume homework is being done just because a child looks busy:

Vocabulary Flashcard

Vocabulary flashcard

Um, vocabulary pictionary card?


Voice of Reason

A flip switched this weekend. Or perhaps I just reached that milestone (one of the ones that they don't keep track of once we get past adolescence) in which the Calm Voice of Prudence wins out over the Demanding Screams of the Inner Child. It took me long enough, I know. But hey, at least it happened.

You see, the Monster Dash Half Marathon was Saturday. I have been running for a few weeks now, slowly, cautiously but running none the less. Last week I was able to complete an eight mile jog, with very little in the way of repercussions afterwards. I have spent months now working through the physical therapy exercises that seem to take up far too much of my day but also seem to be helping. And so, with my new zero-gravity Hoka One One shoes in hand, well, on my feet technically, (think marshmallow boats) I decided I would go ahead and do the Monster Dash with my friend, running very slow miles, until I needed to stop. No one really thought I could do that for it isn't in my nature (the slow nor the stopping). Shoot, even I doubted my ability to keep hold of the reins under such circumstances.

But, after getting past the initial longing to line up right behind the elite runners, I soon found myself on a nice, gentle run with good company and all sorts of time to people watch. It was like being a moving spectator. Why, this isn't nearly as bad as I had imagined, I thought.

As I was nearing the point where the 10 mile race veers off to its finish and the half marathon race continues on, I told my running partner that I was not going to go the distance. I needed to stop, to play it safe, to listen to my body. I wished her well and then took the path toward the 10 mile finish. But as I neared the finish line I hesitated. I actually jumped into the grassy median between the two roads and ran alongside the 13 milers until I had to stop and make a decision: go against my gut and push on, or walk to the buses and ride to the post-race party knowing I hadn't finished the race I signed up for.

My Inner Child screamed at me: We don't quit in the middle! We don't run just some of the way! We don't stop short! Don't be a woos! But, my Wiser Self came through strong and clear: Sometimes you have to lose a battle in order to win a war. Sometimes you have to be forward thinking, not stuck in the immediate. Sometimes you have to play it safe now so that you can continue to play later. Keep your eye on the ball. (The ball is Boston, child, Boston!)

And when none of those tactics worked, Wise Old Prudence aimed low and asked the Bratty Child: Do you really want such a slow time to show up on our record? And BAM! Just like that, I walked off the course.

Point for Wisdom.

(I have learned that we often have to work with people from where they are, not from where we want them to be. That's just life and apparently it even holds true when we are dealing with our own inner discourse. I have a feeling this battle is not entirely over though. Just a hunch.)


The Homework Conundrum

I don't mean to keep coming back to the same old issues but I have to revisit the problem of homework.

Yesterday was a very difficult day. A very, very difficult day indeed. Aidan pulled out every trick he knows (did I mention it was difficult?):

"It's too hard."

"I'm not smart enough to do it."

"I can't do it."

"It's too much. It can't be done."

"It's not fair."

"I don't want to go to this school. It's too much work."

And the whining and complaining and Crocodile Tears and bumping things around went on and on and on. For over an hour. At which point he finally asked for help. And after he agreed to calm down, I got him started on his reading questions (there were four.....they took just over TEN minutes.....to finish all of them.....) And we talked about using his time more wisely and how he would be done already if....blah blah blah, same old, same old, I could be a politician, blah blah.....and then he got to work and within an hour or so had finished up two days worth of math as well. Problem solved. No pun intended.

And then this morning, I found the real answer to why Aidan can't seem to get his homework done.

Because he is doing other things......

Like creating this......

Maybe now Gibson is equipped to help fight off the evil homework demons so that Aidan can get his work done in a more timely manner......maybe.....


That Kind of Week

It never ceases to amaze me how the ridiculous things in life seem to clump together. You know, like when you can't find your car keys and you look everywhere, finally find them and are ready to head out the door, but then you can't locate your cell phone and so you call yourself from your land line, trying to listen for the ring and then you remember the battery is dead and so you have to search and of course it is right where you left it, plugged into the charger IN THE CAR and then when you arrive at your destination you realize you forgot your purse/wallet/money/grocery-list/coupons/you get the point and the story goes on and on and on. (INHALE! There's nothing quite like a good run-on sentence to set the mood....)

Or how about when you want to take pictures of something cute your kids are doing and you realize the camera battery is dead so you reach for the camcorder and find out that you have no film, so you decide to use your cell phone and find you are all out of space and by the time you delete enough photos to take the picture, your kids are off doing something far less amusing like pouring out the cat's litter box and food all over the basement floor. (SOLLY!)

Well, that's the kind of week I have been having. You've got to know it is one of those weeks when  you manage to step on a dead mouse in the gym parking lot the day after you clean up the dead Robin on your deck (who killed himself flying into the window, stupid bird....betcha wish you couldn't afford to fly now, don't ya, poor little robin?!)

I had forgotten about this incident actually......yes, it is in fact possible to step right into the middle of a squished pile of oozing mouse and forget about it ten minutes later.....How, you ask? Have five kids and then get back to me.

As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, I had forgotten about stepping into the smear of dead mouse until I was doing some physical therapy exercises later that evening and heard something scratching around in the walls. I didn't think much of it as I have all but surrendered to the fact that despite owning an eager and hungry predatory animal, we attract, and probably breed, the little buggers in our basement. I just shrugged my shoulders at the sound of scattering about in the fireplace and went to bed, leaving the hunting for the cat.

The next morning, after throwing my neck into a knot of spasms while rolling out of bed in just the wrong fashion, I proceeded to make my tomato-cheese-egg scramble when I realized I needed something downstairs. At the bottom of the staircase, I was met with a very happy kitty, gnawing away on a long-tailed, headless creature. At first all I saw was the tail shooting out of his mouth but then he decided to give me a nice little showing of the headless mouse as if to brag about his accomplishment. For some ill-conceived reason, it was at that point I tried to get Leroy to let go so that I could throw the carcass away before it made a big, bloody mess on the carpet. He clamped down hard, teeth against bone, and out shot what appeared to be a tiny stomach, duodenum and all. (At least, it is what I imagine my stomach would look like if I were a mouse...) I was so revolted yet so completely mesmerized by the tiny body part that I snatched it up in a plastic bag and took it to show everyone upstairs. (Yes, I really did.)

Needless-to-say, no one else was quite as fascinated. And no one enjoyed anymore of their breakfast either I don't think, myself included.

Later that evening, the girls, Liam, Solly and I went to the craft store to find little chickens to make Madeline's diorama for a school project, because what more fun could you possibly imagine having than taking four small children to the craft store late on a Friday night? We searched for an hour and could not find exactly what we were looking for (seriously, you'd think chickens would be easier to come by y'all). We finally opted for some brown pom-poms, googly eyes and colored paper from which we shall attempt to make our own darn chickens. I have to admit, I couldn't help but think, if only she were doing a story about dead mice.....actually, given that she has a first year teacher, the shock value alone might be worth making one up.....

And THIS is why I am not writing everyday in October....

Have a nice Sunday! You know, if you can get the images of dead animals out of your head.....


The To-Don't List

October is the month when bloggers all over the internet make the great effort to write every day for 31 straight days. You may remember my attempt at that last year....and then the following silence as I had to break from writing and get caught up with the life I had left behind for a full month. (Those poor, poor starving children.....)

This year I added the daily-post idea to my Do-Not-Do-List, my To-Don't List if you will. 

You know, most of us from time to time (some of us obsessively) make to-do lists. Some people even write things on their to-do lists that they have already done just so they can cross it out and feel like they accomplished even more, so I've heard, ahem....But have ya ever stopped and just written all the things down that you are simply not going to do today? The great thing about a To-Don't list is that when you are done making your list, you can feel totally accomplished because by not doing those things, you are done with the entire list, just like that. Genius, I know. You can thank me later. 

Things on my current To-Don't List: 

-- Scrub toilets (Seriously an overrated act.....they just get nasty again anyway.....plus, why have all these kids if they don't do the least desirable chores? It would be irresponsible of me to NOT teach them basic house care like scrubbing toilets, mopping floors and catching spiders....)

-- Run through pain (You'd think that would be instinctive, but then, you'd be wrong.)

-- Get edgy about the girls' soccer games (But seriously, you'd think the coach would teach them to NOT kick the ball right in front of their own goal so consistently.....maybe they should put that on their To-Don't Lists!) (Just kidding Kurt, the cats you are herding wouldn't listen to you anyway!)

Speaking of cats:
-- Worry about the cat getting out (Sorry cat, you're on your own if you take that risk, tsk tsk.....and for the record, I'm not saving your booty if you have to be put down because you attack the neighbor WHO'S ONLY TRYING TO PET YOU! Bad, bad Leroy Brown....)

-- Take any more music students (I currently have 5 students with the two families I kept from last year, an all-time low, but it has made quite a positive impact on our family life....amazing how much more time and less stress goes along with NOT working every afternoon! Who knew?!)

-- Become one of those moms I've heard about recently who start drinking right after dropping their kids off at school (Trust me fellow moms, I get it! The morning frenzy can be completely ridiculous and utterly overwhelming, but maybe you are taking the old saying "It's 5:00 somewhere" just a wee bit too far? Just saying'....)

-- Take up citizenship in crazy land.....My good friend told me today that I shouldn't do this and you know what? She's spot on! Thanks for the advice, Deb!

-- Blog everyday in October (You're welcome!)

So, what would you put on your To-Don't list right now?


For Your Weekend

Before bed last night, Lily sat up scouring over the costume catalog.

"Mom, I want to be a honey bee for Halloween," she declared.

"Great! You already have a honey bee costume," I replied.

"But it doesn't fit me very well," she said. "And look, there is a good one in here." She held up the catalog and I sat down beside her so she could point out the costume.

"They even have honey bees in your size, Mom," she said, flipping a few more pages to show me an entire row of some slightly more adult (read: skimpy) honey bee costumes. "Maybe you could be a bee, too!"

"You mean we could be mommy bee and baby bee?" I asked.

"YEAH!" she said, grinning from ear to ear.

"I don't think I am going to get a bee costume, Lily," I told her.

"Well, then what are you going to wear?" she inquired.

"I'm not going to wear anything," I said.

"You mean, you're going naked?" And with that she collapsed in a fit of giggles, never to be heard from again.

Have a great weekend!


Love Me Some Gator Stories....

While in Florida, I was told of a story (that I later read in an online news article) about an airboat tour guide who had been giving an airboat tour. In order to try to attract the gators closer to the boat, he dragged his hand in the water. Well, you can imagine what happened. But in case you're not from those parts, I'll tell you: his hand was bitten clear off his body! But the best part of the story was that he was later fined for feeding the gator. Now, I'm no genius, but I am pretty sure that the natural consequence of losing a hand is probably far bigger an incentive NOT to feed alligators than a little monetary fine. But then, you never know in FL.

So, today my mom sends me an article about a lady who fell into a canal. And had her arm bitten off. Of course.

This story in and of itself is not funny. Just another little old woman falling into the canal (seriously people, if you don't have great balance, STAY AWAY FROM THE WATER'S EDGE!) It just accentuates the point I am trying to make about NEVER GOING IN THE WATER IN FL....silly northerners....(unless you are trying to lose weight because I understand that losing body parts can help with that.)

At any rate, the end of the article caught my attention because they quoted the man who rescued her from the water. It read:

Zickefoose said he'll treat the small gators he sees differently. 

"In the future, I'm going to take out my net and smack them in the head. I want them to be afraid of me," said Zickefoose.
And perhaps there is the real problem. Good luck with that Zickefoose. (My guess is he is a likely candidate for making the next article my mom sends me.....)


The Homework Problem

While some kids will happily do their homework with very little in the way of parental involvement (i.e.. Madeline), others will do anything and everything they can imagine in order to avoid it. 

Aidan is one of those kids. He has procrastination tools in his tool box that rival the world's greatest slackers. He has spent countless hours whining and complaining, has perfected the art of staring into space, gone out of his way to "forget" the work at school (at least it seems so), and has even helped his sister complete her homework (instead of doing his own???) by reading her the directions aloud, explaining the work and going as far as correcting it and signing off on it like parents are supposed to do daily. 

But today......today we have reached a new low. 

"Mom! Come here, quick! I think I am setting a new world record!" Aidan yelled at me this morning.  (He is home from school because he was out late with his father last night attending his first, and perhaps last, Rush concert. He is supposed to be completing his homework and resting.)

Out of idle curiosity, I walked over to find this:

Wait for it.....

Wait for it.....

There isn't a whole lot you can say to this. Really.

"Um, Aidan? What are you doing?" I reluctantly asked.

"I've been like this for at least ten minutes, it's a new world record I bet," he said.

"But.....why are you doing it?" I questioned, hesitantly.....very hesitantly.

"Because Solly likes it!"

That's when I walked away. And the next time he starts to complain that he has too much homework and can't get it done, I believe I will direct him here....a little reminder of the truth behind his homework problem.

Have a great day!


Letter to My Teenage Self

This week, Emily Freeman who writes one of my favorite blogs, Chatting at the Sky, is challenging her readers and fellow bloggers to write a letter to our teenage selves. This was an interesting exercise and I must admit, quite therapeutic. It is longer than I had intended, big surprise, so you might not have the time, or interest, in today's post. Unless you are my mom, or future teenage daughter, then I am sure you are interested. Happy reading!

(draft 1)

Dear Teenage Self,

I was challenged to write you a letter. And so I am. But I also know you so well that I know nothing I say will change a thing you do or don't do nor would I want you to alter the course of our life so, carry on.

Your Future You

(draft 2)

Dear Teenage Self,

You are kind of half spaz, half idiot but you turn out okay and get us here alive (although I think that is more divine intervention than anything you have done!) so enjoy the ride.

Your better self

(draft 3)

Dear Teenage Self,

There are far too many things I want to tell you and I know you will have a hard time listening because you don't like people to tell you much of anything. I get it.  It can be hard to look at yourself honestly, to hear the truth, to learn from mistakes. But I promise you it is okay to be wrong. It's okay to make mistakes and you won't die when people call you out on them. A little vulnerability won't kill you. So pay attention.

See that scrunchi on your wrist? You might consider getting rid of it a decade sooner than you think.....just saying.

Being a teenager is not easy. But you will look back fondly on it like you do of most things. You are lucky. But for those harder times, the times you don't expect to happen but they do anyway, the times where you feel like crawling into a hole and never coming back out, the times where your laughter and joking are replaced by tears and sorrows and you can't seem to find your way out of that darkness, for all the times when the only thing you can do is pull the covers over your head and sob silently into your pillow, (no, I am not trying to freak you out but s#!t happens) here's what you need to know. It's going to be okay. It's normal to feel ups and downs. It's normal to feel like a misfit; it doesn't mean anything. It certainly doesn't mean you are.

And you might not know it now, but you are stronger and more secure than most people your age. You roll with the punches, you ooze resilience, you laugh in the face of, well, everything. And that will be your greatest gift so no matter what anyone says, hold your laughter close. (Just don't hold it in because you might implode!) People will remember your joy (read; obnoxious laugher) and quite frankly, that's a pretty good way to be remembered. (You might want to lay off the dairy now though so that your joy is the only thing they remember....)

But, I know, even in your confidence, you are confused and you hold onto some inner demons. So, here it goes. When you listen to stories other middle school girls tell you about all the things they "have done" with boys, it's okay to feel bothered by that. You aren't weird if you don't feel that way about boys. Trust me, that will come in its due time, kinda like a hurricane (with the same potential for utter destruction....). It is normal to have mixed up feelings and ironically enough, most people you know feel that way at some point, they just don't tell you. But if you open up, others will, too.

When a friend convinces you to throw a huge co-ed party at your house, it's okay to feel out of place and uncomfortable, even in your own home (and especially in the solid salmon colored outfit).

Partying will never be your thing....actually, large groups in general will never be your thing, and while it doesn't seem so cool right now, it really isn't a bad thing at all. You will go with the flow with that party and everything will come out all right but remember, when the stakes get higher, it's okay to say no, loud and clear. Saying no will sometimes be really, really difficult but more often than not it is the difficult thing that is the right thing.

And no, I am not referring to your homework. You need to say yes to that much more frequently than you do.

When your best friends tell you in the locker room that you are built like a boy and have no hips, and that you will have a hard time giving birth when you are older....well, let's just say you don't need to lose any sleep over it.

I know you struggle because you have been told repeatedly that you are ugly. But you are not. Your brother is in pain and he tells you lies to hurt you because he thinks it will make him feel better. One day he will say he is sorry and he will mean it. Try to forgive him now and ignore everything he tells you. You have no reason to be self conscious about your teeth or your smile or anything else. I know your inner critic believes the lies and so you think you are the ugly duckling of your family.
Perhaps if you feel that way you ought not draw attention to yourself with the explosive shirt, although, I think I'd still wear that one....which is your fault.
You see yourself as homely and plain. I wish I could convince you otherwise but since I know you won't listen, just know that your adult self sees your beauty, inside and out, and one day you'll see it, too.  Just keep fighting off that voice in your head that tells you otherwise.

Believe it or not, boys will actually be a huge source of stress for you, LIKE EVERY OTHER GIRL YOU KNOW. It will be a challenge to keep things in perspective. And you aren't going to have a lot of guidance in this area, at least not that you are going to listen to, so pay attention.

Boys are not worth your time until you are at least 18, so focus on practicing piano and violin a lot more, will ya? 

Sigh....still not listening? Ok. Here's the truth. When you are in ninth grade, a nice boy is going to ask you to the school dance. You say yes and then this unexpected thing happens. A knot begins to grow in your stomach. You worry that people will think you like him in a way you do not. And you worry that you can't tell your parents because you don't tell your parents anything personal. The worry eats away at you and you put so much weight on it that it becomes a huge, intrusive, ugly monster and right before you get swallowed up by it, you tell him you can't go with him. (That happens all in like 24 hours.) That monster is called anxiety. Get used to it because you'll see it from time to time and you need to learn to deal with it. I won't tell you to go ahead and go with that boy but lighten up. It's okay that you are all of a sudden uncomfortable with the idea of boys or worse yet, talking to your parents about anything relating to, well, anything. But it won't kill you to just tell your folks what is going on in your life. I know your siblings' stories now so trust me, they'll think nothing of it.

When your interest in boys reappears, it's okay. You don't need to feel guilty about it. And when your mom has a complete conniption fit because at fifteen you start to go out with a twenty year old from another church, Well Hello! You are only 15! What are you thinking?! Seriously, can you really blame her? (No, it has nothing to do with the fact he is Presbyterian...try again.) You will be the one to crush him though. The truth is, you have a very competitive nature that really enjoys "the chase" and winning over the boy but is not so into the actual relationship part. Don't worry, you'll grow out of it soon enough. Just remember, every time you break a heart, yours shrinks just a little, so ease up on the boys. They have feelings too and you will hurt far too many along the road if you aren't careful. Remember, it isn't all about you. Oh, and you know Karma? You don't want to be on her hit list.

When you get to high school, you will fall for a guy that is really not a good fit for you (as if the last one was). You know what? Go for it. You need to learn about love and failure, with someone your own age! But try not to let boys get in between you and your friends, or you and your education, or you and your music, or you and God. You will miss a lot and experience a lot of heartache by hanging out with that boy and his buddies instead of your girlfriends and your music and God. Guess who will still be in your life years down the road? Be patient and have faith that you will meet the right person one day. (Psssst, it isn't him....nope, not him either.... You know how you dream of owning an Italian violin and having a pet wolf like that friend of yours does? Well, let's just say one day you'll meet an Italian Wolf. And you won't have to house train him either! Score!)

Now, on to your parents. They only want the best for you. They will love you and support you and will forgive you so many times that you will lose count. Reach out to them. It will make things easier even if communication with them seems like an impossible feat. And don't forget to forgive them, too. Sometimes even parents make mistakes.

And savor your time with Grandpa, he won't be around much longer. Listen to him closely, okay? One day you won't be able to remember the sound of his voice and your heart will ache.

And your mom? She is right a lot more than you think. When she suggests that maybe you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket, (or wear that particular outfit) there is a darn tootin' good reason. Listen a little more, will ya?

Seriously, you let someone take this picture? In knee high socks with shoelaces printed on the front and jean shorts? And what's with the midriff?  Show-off....or could you not afford the rest of that shirt? Yeah, I do sound like your mom.....get used to it.

Speaking of your mom, one day your dad will tell you that your mom is the strongest person he knows. That is probably true, but Karen, he is not talking about muscles! Stop taking everything so literally. You don't have to rush out and lift more weights so that you can be strong like her. You already are.

Oh, and when your Aunt tells you at the regional track meet that, "Wow, you sure have slimmed down," she is not saying you were once fat and now you look so much better. You look like an athlete and not a little girl, that's all. It doesn't mean you need to take your fitness obsession to a whole new level. The goal is not greater vanity. Good health is fantastic but your worth is not based on your personal fitness, how much weight you can lift, speed, agility, strength, tone or any other physical attribute. And no one, especially those who matter most, will ever care if you have six pack abs and striated shoulders...(Although I have to admit, your older self is impressed....look at those abs! Oh, sorry, no, don't focus on that. You spend far too much time doing crunches....go do your homework!)

You can't believe it now but your body will one day fail you. Try not to get too attached.

At the same time, for crying out loud, DON'T GIVE UP! When you see that you are running 5th in that track meet and you know that you have to be in the top four to advance, don't slack off because when you do, you will miss out on a chance at state. The person in front of you....Actually, you know what? Do it your way (you will anyway). Either way, you will learn a huge lesson.

As a matter of fact, in all that is right and noble, NEVER GIVE UP! And even more, DON'T QUIT BEFORE TRYING! You will continue to struggle because you want to be the best and the fact is, you won't be. There are always bigger and better fish in the sea. You won't begin to learn and understand that until college and beyond so for now just be the best you can be in all you do but also go ahead and try your hand at some things that are new and challenging for you. That will take you a lot farther than letting your fears keep you from trying things at all. Certainly, you will fail, over and over, and that is okay. It won't kill you.

But that gigantic, fiberglass horse might....get away from it quick, please!

Your heart is big, so much bigger than you know, and you want to give the people you love everything you can and you want to love everyone. You come by that honestly but be careful. There are a lot of broken people in this world and some of them will take advantage of your giving spirit. Don't let it break you.

And speaking of love, the people you love the most will often hurt you the most. Forgive them and move forward. They are holding on to pain you can only imagine. Love them anyway.

And when your school experiences the year of terrible tragedy and Callie is killed in that car accident, trust your instincts and go hug her brother, whom you don't yet know.Your sadness over a life lost is not a sign of weakness. When you see him in the hall and are filled with that sudden urge to do something for him, well, it's called compassion. You will know it when it hits and you will do the right thing.  That one act of kindness will mean the world to him and as a result, you will find yourself in the company of some wholesome new friends. Trust yourself. Harness that compassion and hang on tight. Love is the way to life.

Don't sell yourself short when it comes to school either. You place a much higher premium on your many extra curricular interests (mostly boys) but in the end, your education is important to you. Listen in that AP English class. Your teacher will like you more (which isn't saying too much since she doesn't like you at all) if you settle down, stop joking around and especially stop the incessant giggling. Just give her some respect. She is old and has been teaching a long time. When she tells you that you are not good at writing (which, by the way, is not really what she said if you had been paying attention....) and that you can't mix metaphors, don't stop writing silly, just try harder. Your writing will one day save your life. Or at least get you through some tough times. And for crying out loud, READ THE BOOKS YOU ARE ASSIGNED! You will really like them. Trust me, they're awesome. But really, just pay attention to what she has to teach you. She will die the next semester.

Finally, when it comes time to look at colleges, remember, there is a much larger world out there than the university your boyfriend is going to. You already know he isn't right for you. You already see the red flags but you are afraid of change. And you are stubborn. And you don't want to let anyone down. That's okay for now. I am not going to tell you to go somewhere else because those experiences will shape who you become and that road will lead you into an amazing life of love and laughter and loads of children. (Yes, loads!) But if you really want something, go for it. (Except for that entire head of cheese covered broccoli....I highly advise not going for that! Oh, and one day your ego will lead you into a Goldschlager drinking contest against a guy twice your size.....big mistake....huge! Although I must say, the resulting alcohol poisoning is great prep for labor....) But I digress, don't putz around wondering if you should or shouldn't do this or that. Paralysis doesn't get you anywhere. Trust yourself, you are wiser than you think (minus the parenthetical above of course). Just get up and go to it. Don't look back. Let go of resentments and regrets, let go of your fears, let go of the safety you feel in the small world of the known. They don't get you anywhere. And when things get tough remember, sometimes the roads you take will not be familiar and will not feel safe. But it's okay because you are in good hands and all those roads lead to home.

Good luck and keep laughing! You'll need it!

Your Older Self

p.s. Look out for school buses when you take your drivers test.....and for God's sake, pay your speeding tickets BEFORE they suspend your license! Better yet, SLOW THE HECK DOWN!