Friday, November 11, 2011

A Great Many Things

Recently, a friend of ours asked me what career I'd choose, if not the path I've taken. It was difficult to come up with one solid answer at the time, and it got me thinking, not just about careers, but about the people and places and even hobbies not chosen. It's something, actually, that I think about often in one context or another, as I encounter the limits of my time or situation.

I've realized that my greatest disappointment has been the gradual realization that I cannot do everything I want to do. This may be obvious to some, but for me has been something that I have been denying, struggling against, most of my life. I have always been a person of many interests, who feels that there are just too many interesting and worthwhile things to learn and see and do, too many amazing people to get to know. Maybe this is how everyone feels, and I flatter myself imagining my uniqueness. Maybe I'm only unique in my stubborn refusal to accept this fact and move on.

In high school, I was a cheerleader, and I was also on the debate team. There were no other cheerleaders who wanted to do debate, and none of the forensics crowd wanted to be a cheerleader. This frequently presented a conflict, not only in the sense that I couldn't physically be at a debate tournament and a basketball tournament at the same time, but also socially, in that lots of people in either activity looked down on me for doing the other. Now, it was high school, for goodness sake, so I don't want to make it sound more dramatic and oppressive than it was, but the point is that I could have made things a lot easier for myself by just choosing one activity and going with it. But I didn't. I really put my all into both those activities and a dozen others, because I just wasn't willing to miss out on anything.

In college, things just got bigger in terms of the opportunities that presented themselves. I found that the less-structured class schedule allowed me to cram in even more activities, and before I knew it I'd found research and waitressing jobs, a sorority, a handful of honor societies, a peer-education group, the Student Activities Board, intramural sports, and so forth. Oh yeah, and I had a double-major, of course, because I couldn't limit myself to just one field of study. Looking back on my college experience, I'd still rate it as fantastic- I had lots of friends and got to do so many wonderful things, but if I'm honest with myself I know that I was stretched way too thin. I barely slept, my grades were good but not great, and though I held lots of leadership positions I was never able to do any of them as well as I'd initially hoped to.

I used to believe that things would change as an adult, that you pick your spouse and career and then things just play themselves out; you get more focused and your path is clearer. But it's not that way at all. There are more and more opportunities all the time, and I find that I am to the point where I can no longer choose "all of the above." I cannot take every job opportunity that comes my way, develop friendships with all the really neat people I meet, enroll the kids in all the sports or music lessons available to them. Because now the sacrifice is not just a few hours of sleep or some time to read magazines, but my relationships with my kids and my husband. And if I don't actively choose, sometimes the choice is made for me: having a second child means the distancing of a close friendship, teaching another class schedules me right out of a meaningful church activity. I'm being forced into depth of fewer experiences rather than breadth of many, and it is a difficult fit for me. I'm lucky to have a husband with great discernment about when to remind me of my limits and when to just quietly let me go.

I don't mean to imply in any way that I feel regret over any of my choices; I accept full responsibility for everything I take on or let go. I'm very happy with my life, my job, and my family, and I recognize the blessing of opportunities I have and tough decisions I'll never have to make. It's just that I can see the potential for equal happiness in dozens of other careers, cities of residence, and recreational activities. So many cool people I'll never make friends with, books I'll never read, offices I'll never run for... Sometimes I feel a longing for all the many things I won't choose, and am sad.

In the movie adaptation of Little Women I grew up watching, someone says to Jo March, "You should have been a lawyer." She answers, "I should have been a great many things." Another mom I met recently at Daniel's school mentioned this on her blog, about how this strikes her as a statement of all the possibilities this character sees for herself. I agree, and think that it doesn't just represent the recognition of possibilities, but a wistfulness for all the things she's passed up to do just what she's doing. It's something that shows her great passion for who she did choose to be, and I can really relate to that.

As frustrating as it sometimes is, then, to be excited about more things than I can accomplish in one day or week or lifetime, I do enjoy being a passionate person. In fact, I'd say there are few things I value as much as enthusiasm. I care so much about this hypothetical debate resolution that I want to have an elaborate argument with you about it. In my cheerleading uniform. Because right after that I'm going to go out to the football field and yell vehemently, jumping up and down in support of my friends' sporting event. I am going to try to keep a cleaner house than is realistic for me, overfill my weeknights volunteering for one more thing, and seriously consider setting a book-a-week reading goal. I will shoulder my father's longstanding accusation of having "too many irons in the fire," and allow my Gen Psych students to snicker when I open each chapter's lecture with a brief word about why this topic in psychology is truly one of my favorites. Because enthusiasm is what makes me who I am, and because the alternative, being apathetic or lukewarm or bored, is one thing I don't want to be.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween 2011

First we had pumpkins...

Then we had costumes. Here are our little superhero and princess, keeping it nice and gender-stereotyped.

And we had good friends, the Downings, who invited a bunch of us over to trick-or-treat and then have cupcakes and hot chocolate afterward. The kids had a blast running from house to house together.

So then we had candy.

In case anyone has forgotten how very difficult it is to get a group of kids to all look in one place for a picture, we had a reminder:

At some point during the taking of that photo (and about 10 others like it) I heard one parent comment that "with all these cameras, surely someone will get a good one with them all facing forward." Or maybe not. So that was one thing we didn't have.

Still, though, I'm glad we have the camera to prove that Eva is actually a vampire in disguise.

Hope you had a spooky Halloween!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Thing About Exercise...

Yes, yes. It's good for our physical health. It's good for our mental health. I know all these things. And don't get me wrong; we've been doing a lot of it lately. But I have a few beefs with exercise, and I think it's best to just get them all out there on the table. So the thing about exercise... that it takes a while to get the hang of it.
I've written in the past about Daniel's foray into organized sports. The first year he was less than enthusiastic about things like running, paying attention, or touching a ball in any way. This year was quite a bit better, in that he did some actual fielding in t-ball and even ran after the ball some in soccer. I wonder, though, how long it will take before he can get through a game without multiple reminders to continue playing. that it does funny things to your body.
Oh, not the good things that you expect to happen, like getting muscles and having more energy. I mean all the crazy pains and conditions and things not otherwise specified, like blisters and sore muscles and joint pain. From running, Kyle has developed hip pain, of all things, and therefore spends lots of time stretching and saying things like, "Ow! My hip!" like we're 75.

For my part, I have on-and-off pain only in the back of my left knee. I have a shin splint only in my right leg, callouses only on my right big toe. In addition, I have experienced a bizarre transformation in body shape. The more I exercise, the thinner my arms get. But nothing else. In fact, it's as if the fat from my arms has run down into my stomach, hips, and thighs, as I suspect they are getting larger. It's as if my body has decided it can give up a couple of limbs, but it's going to really insulate all the vital middle parts, which leaves me trying to propel my ample booty around with just these little chicken arms to balance everything out on top.

Here is me a little over a week ago, managing to look slightly chubby even as I finish a 4-mile race: that you have to keep doing more of it.
This is a complaint that is about to reach the tipping point around our house. This summer Kyle kept increasing and increasing the length of his runs, until he decided that maybe he should just do a half marathon. In training for this he would literally run from one end of town to the other and back some days. Now a 5-mile run, which used to sound like an impressive workout, has become chump change, a "short run." Pretty soon we are going to run out of time for each of us to get in all the running that we want to do in a week without abandoning the kids.

Kyle finished his race this past Saturday, a trail run through the local State Park. Despite the hip thing, he finished right around his goal time. He writes about his race and, uh, training here. I have to admit that I spent the morning pushing aside fears that he'd sprain an ankle or be attacked by some woodland creature, so I was equal parts relieved and proud when he made it to the finish line. Even though he's making all the rest of us look like slackers. that eventually your coach, instructor, or trainer will move or retire.
This was true in the case of Kyle's swim coaches, and it is true of my favorite Zumba instructor Claire, who is graduating and moving away in December. And if you are a sucker like me, you might be tempted to say something to the YMCA staff like, "If you don't find anyone else, I could maybe lead the class." And they might say, "Yeah, okay." And before you know it you're listening to Latin hip-hop during nap time, trying to figure out how you're going to pull this one off. that eventually everyone wants their turn.
Eva just passed the minimum age for tumbling at our YMCA, so we've been taking her to Tumbling Teenies. She really gets a kick out of the class, which is basically a minimally-organized free-for-all with trampolines, springboards, and giant wedge mats. By t-ball season she will be old enough to play anything that Daniel plays, which means we will have double the number of games and practices each season. We've already limited Daniel from doing fall tumbling because the older kids' class time conflicts with my Zumba. Seriously, we're having a hard time fitting dinner into our schedules some nights. I wonder how it will be in a few years when we're all having to advocate to fit in our favorite practices or classes. that it creates one heck of a lot of laundry.
Between the leotards, the soccer uniforms, the Zumba outfits, and all the running duds, I feel like we are doing piles of sweaty, stinky laundry every week. And don't even get me started about all the showering. Gosh, add in all the water we're drinking after exercising and we might be really exceeding our fair share in the utility usage department.

On the other hand... I'm sleeping like the dead every night, Kyle's lost 20 pounds, and they're gonna pay me to do Zumba. So maybe it's not all bad, but I'm keeping my eye on it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Funny Things are Everywhere (Fall Edition)

Recently there have been all manner of funny things going on around here:

Eva Sees Dead People
A week or so ago the kids and I were driving to the YMCA, past the Catholic cemetery in town. Eva looked over and very matter-of-factly said, "I see a ghoost."
"What?" said Daniel and I, looking out the window.
"A ghoost. Over there (pointing). Between those big stone things."
"I don't see anything," said Daniel.
"Ghost? Are you saying ghost?" I asked, a little creeped-out, craning my neck to look among the gravestones while driving.
"A ghoost. He looks all lonely."
"Well, we must have missed it, whatever it was," I said, trying to dismiss the subject.

But in my head, I was thinking this:

On the way home, Eva looked over at the cemetery and said, "The ghoost is gone. Maybe it wanted to be a mommy ghoost, so it laid an egg and when it hatched it had a friend and was NOT LONELY anymore!"

So really, what I should have been thinking is more like this:

...and the Silver Spoon...
When Eva goes to bed at night, she likes to sleep with a lot of "friends." Her usual crew is a water cup, a stuffed elephant, three stuffed monkeys, a pillow-pet unicorn, and one or more baby dolls. Oh, and Eva squeezes in there. A few weeks ago she won a beanie-baby cat from the prize box at her school, and this joined bedtime gang. The problem with small toys, though, is that they tend to get lost in the night or fall through the bars of the back of the crib, and 2am finds Kyle or I pawing around in the dark under the toddler bed. This usually leads Kyle to some sort of proclamation about the small toy and where it should "keep watch" while Eva is sleeping. After a few days, then, Kyle pronounced that the cat should sleep in the doll cradle next to Eva's bed. Stifling my instinct to keep a cat out of a baby's cradle, I got on board with the new location for the cat.

One night, soon after the ghoost incident, I was putting Eva to bed and having an argument about where the cat would sleep. Eva was proposing putting it in various locations around her bed, and I was getting increasingly frustrated. Finally, I just said, "Eva, the cat's in the cradle!" and then immediately burst out laughing at myself. I came upstairs shaking my head, and Kyle said,
"Did you just yell 'The cat's in the cradle?' You know what that made me think of?"

I know, it makes you think of this.

Just in Time for Hunting Season
Over the weekend I was in Walmart, which is generally a bad idea, but especially so on Saturday or Sunday. I was kind of in a hurry, but as I booked it across the store I saw something that just made me stop dead in my tracks.

Camouflage lingerie.

At the time, I thought to myself that maybe this would be a good way to get the attention of a hunting-obsessed spouse. Or maybe some women want to look really sexy while hunting.

But then I had the mental image of some man looking frantically for his wife, unable to find her anywhere because she's blended right in to the background.
"Honey?... Honey!!" he'd call.
But she wouldn't hear him, because she'd have drifted right off to sleep, totally unnoticed. Which makes this the perfect backfiring, sex-avoidance lingerie.

I am Cornholio!
Today Eva got up in the middle of lunch to use the restroom. After a minute or so, she called out my least favorite phrase of parenting, "Mom! I'm ready to wipe!"
When I went into the bathroom, I found her sitting on the toilet with her longish shirt pulled over her head like this:

"What are you doing?" I asked her.
"I'm trying to keep my shirt from getting poop on it."
"Okay, I guess that's one way to do it."
"Will you please wipe me now?"

And all I could think was, "So what you're saying is you need TP for your bunghole?"
Huh-huh. Huh-hu-huh.

I hope everyone out there is having a funny week!

From there to here and here to there, funny things are everywhere. - Dr. Seuss

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Dairy Queen Abdicates Her Throne

My daughter Eva is a fairly adventurous eater. She has always been willing to try things like salmon, edamame, gyros, and curry, usually with a shrug and a pronouncement like, "Yummy!" This is convenient for me, but I suppose not unheard-of amongst preschoolers.

Slightly more unusual, though, is her outstanding attachment to cheese. It's often one of the first things I hear her tell people about herself, and even one way she categorizes people ("Daddy and Daniel DON'T like cheese, but Mommy and Eva DO like cheese"). She has the uncanny ability to sense when I'm about to grate some cheese, and before I've even closed the deli drawer I can hear her running from the other end of the house to see what she can mooch from among the dinner ingredients. She's willing to eat feta straight from the brick, and when I built our container garden the summer before last, she insisted that she wanted to use one of the plots to grow cheese. It's not surprising, then, that she also enjoys sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and just plain old milk by the glass.

A few weeks ago, we took Eva to the allergist. There were a lot of reasons we finally went, including congestion that coincided with ragweed season, her history of breaking out in spots after taking penicillin, and her daily complaints of stomachaches (and okay, let's be real here, mostly it's that we've already met our deductible this year). They tested her for dozens of things, and when it was all over I saw the doctor make only 2 marks on his paper. Some kind of outdoor mold, and... cow's milk. I gasped a little when he said it, and looked quickly at Eva to gauge her reaction, as if at 3 she could really grasp the ramifications of such a pronouncement.

The doctor explained that this meant no milk, cheese, yogurt, or any processed food containing cow's milk of any kind for one month, at which time we could check in with her symptoms and consider gradually adding back limited exposure to some cooked milk products. Eva continued playing in the exam room, but seemed to be slightly more interested in our conversation now. I started kicking myself for promising to get her ice cream if she did a good job at the allergist. As we walked to the car, I explained that we'd have to find some other treat, and Eva was pouting and yelling as she stomped, "I. Am. Not. All. er. gic. To. MILK!"

We went to the store to buy some soy milk and to look for a treat, only to find out that there is pretty much milk in EVERYTHING. I was a little overwhelmed when our first half-dozen label reads turned up milk in the allergy warning section. I also felt like THAT MOM the next day at her school, asking that my child be given special treatment in the breakfast menu department. Eva seemed a little bummed out that first day, but the idea of having her own special milk in a pretty container perked her up a little.

The thing about this whole story, though, is the way Eva adjusted in a heartbeat. She pouted in the parking lot, let out a disappointed groan in the grocery store when she learned chocolate is now out, and then woke up the next day a new kid. Bam! No more asking for cheese, no hard feelings when other people get ice cream, no trying to sneak things or push limits. Nothing. Now, before eating any food she asks in a deadpan voice, "Does this have any milk, dairy, mold, or cheese in it?" despite my reassurance that milk, dairy, and cheese all mean the same thing and that mold is not really a food allergy. This morning she corrected me when I sleepily poured cow's milk on her cereal. She is becoming a connoisseur of milk alternatives, and claims that soy milk tastes like marshmallows while some brands of almond milk taste "like icky."

This is not the first time Eva has reacted this way. She practically emerged from the womb sucking her thumb, and as soon as she had hair she began using her other hand to engage in the simultaneous hair-twirl/thumb suck maneuver. When her hair started falling out Kyle and I launched a full-out intervention, with lectures, restrictive hairstyles, continuous daytime parental nagging, and nighttime mitten-wearing. We didn't even attempt to address the thumb-sucking, we just wanted her to stop pulling out her hair. And it was a terrible, losing battle that left all three of us frustrated.

Until this summer, when we went to the dentist. He took one look at her mouth and said, "I see we have a thumb-sucker here." That dentist explained ONE time that she needed to stop doing that, because it would keep her teeth from working properly and make her look less pretty in the long run. That night I found her digging through her sock drawer, looking for something to put over her thumb to stop her from sucking it at night. She wore the socks on her hands for about a month, but I honestly never saw her suck her thumb again after the first day or two. It was Kyle and I who suggested she stop wearing the socks at night, so thoroughly did she stop both the thumb sucking and the hair-twirling that day. Completely cold turkey.

And this is one of the most amazing things about my daughter; that she is able to use her stubborn will of steel to just let things go at the drop of a hat, even when that thing is something that is such a part of her that it's practically a defining characteristic. More than anyone I know, when she decides she's going to do something she just does it. I am both awed and scared to death by this quality, and what she may be capable of in ten years.

Mostly though, I'm just impressed. The other night she and I were driving back from a road trip to Columbia, and I was listening to an old Sarah McLaughlin live album. Before it even came on I realized that this will be my song to her. She is already learning the words.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Things Unlikely to Happen at My House (That Have Nonetheless Happened Recently)

Either we are evolving as a family, or there is a whole lot of crazy going on around here. A sampling of some unusual occurrences at our house this fall:

1. Allergy medicine for dogs
We love our dogs. They are surely a part of our family, and we take seriously our promise to love them and feed them and generally keep them healthy and happy. We even took them to doggie school back when they were young and we had no children. However... we are not the kind of pet owners who buy our dogs Halloween costumes (or clothing of any kind, for that matter). We do not make our own dog food or bake them cakes for their birthday or take them in for fancy grooming. We have lots of friends who do these things, and we fully support their right to do so, but we are just no-frills dog owners. Until recently, when poor Barney's fall allergies became so bad that we noticed him spending most of his days sneezing, scratching himself, biting his toes, and losing hair in big clumps.

And so we did some online research about the relative benefits/risks of giving dogs Claritin and Benadryl, talked to our vet, and eventually settled on Benadryl. I knew we'd gone over the edge when my grocery list included, "Kyle and Barney's Benadryl." Unfortunately for Barney, the benefit seems minimal, at best.

2. Regular free time
This fall Eva went off to half-day Preschool and Daniel to full-day kindergarten. I put in a request to teach an extra class, and entertained a potential part-time therapy job, but neither of those things worked out. So now I have two mornings per week to be at home, by myself, cleaning or grocery shopping or exercising in quiet. I am able to have coffee with Madeline, or to get through Walmart in under an hour. It truly is an introvert's dream. It also gives me time for the not-so-unlikely inevitability of volunteering for the PTA (or PTC, as it's called here) at Daniel's school.

3. Daniel kicking the soccer ball. A lot.
I love Daniel dearly, but he's not exactly a focused, competitive athlete. He spent most of last year's soccer game-time standing in one place on the field, looking at the clouds or the grass. Sometimes he would saunter around the field behind the pack of kids, bobbing his head around as he moved. At one point, we tried to motivate him by offering him a piece of candy for every time he touched the ball. This backfired, though, when he kicked the ball once and then immediately turned around to run over and claim his prize.

So imagine our surprise when, this year, he's suddenly willing to run all over the place, actually trying to kick the ball. I'd estimate that he's made contact with the ball dozens of times within the first two games of the season. He's still shy about kicking toward the goal, and still should probably be the last choice for goalie, but I'll happily spend 6 of my Saturday mornings watching this. It sure beats paying $15 for him to pick clover all season.

4. Running for relaxation
About 18 months ago, I started running for exercise. This is unlikely in itself, but Kyle (whose running during college swim practices made him the object of jokes) started running too, and just to top off the unbelievability, we're both still doing it. Now the problem in our house tends to be that we're each trying to run in the afternoons, after school and before dinner. That's a narrow window, and as we're both able to run farther and longer it's just hard to find time for both of us.

This week I identified a perfect hour-long gap (during the aforementioned free mornings) between volunteering at Daniel's school and Eva's pick-up time. There's a nice bike path around the public schools, and I've been using it to run. Yesterday, as I put on my headphones and started trotting along, there was a perfect cool breeze and one nice puffy cloud in an otherwise blue sky. I ran past kids at recess who waved at me, two moms who cheered for me, and a senior citizen loudly singing to the music on her headphones as she walked. I found myself smiling, beaming even, as I jogged. If someone had told me two years ago that I'd be running around town, grinning like a weirdo about it, I'd have never believed it.

5. Kyle singing
Last year I sang in our church's Christmas Cantata. Practices for this year's performance started last night, and on the way to church I chided Kyle about joining in this time around. He shook his head when I brought it up, but then after the meal really did make his way upstairs for practice.

Who knows what will happen next around here?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Just Call Me Lois Lane

This weekend is formal recruitment weekend for sororities at the university in our town. For most normal 30-something Kirksville couples with kids, this means nothing. But in our house, the second weekend of September is always chaos. As the Recruitment Advisor for Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, I spend Thursday through Monday galavanting around town with a herd of nervous college women. Most nights I am not home until after midnight, and in the mornings I am usually engaged in some kind of excessive-grooming-while-frantically-texting kind of activity. By lunchtime I'm back out the door in my matching outfit. Yeah, that's right; I said matching outfit.

For Kyle this means he gets to step around boxes of centerpieces, tablecloths, sweaters, and other party planning materials for most of August, then gradually help move those boxes to my car over the course of recruitment weekend. In exchange for getting our guestroom/study back, he is asked to help protect a delivery of 10 dozen flowers from our kids for three days (while they "perk up" in preparation for use on Saturday). He agrees to be a special kind of single parent for five days; the kind who has an anxious, overtired, coffee-swilling debutante breezing through the house from time to time.

Some years, this does not go so well. Like the year Kyle and both the kids got a stomach bug in the middle of our preference party, and I ended up having to explain to the dry cleaner why there were vomit stains on my formal. Or when Kyle put his back out and crying infant Daniel had to hang out in an alley behind a banquet hall with Aunt Madeline.

This year, though, I must admit that things have gone remarkably well. I was able to sleep in until 8:00 this morning (a feat in our house). The house is clean, the laundry is done. Children are well-fed and rested. They went off to church on time and in appropriate clothes this morning. Yesterday, without being asked, Kyle retrieved all the empty food containers and boxes and aprons I'd left in the car when I'd returned home at 3am, washed and put away or disposed of everything. This weekend he has listened to me discuss my frustration with Panhellenic Coucil, my reflections on the decorations and venue for Open party, and a full oral dissertation on whether it would be more tragic to have more people than we can seat and feed at Invite or too few people to set us up to make quota.

One thing I love about the advising position I have is that I get to help in lots of practical ways that people don't always see. I enjoy thinking about little details, and keeping things running behind the scenes so that everything goes smoothly for the people who are in the spotlight. Many of the ladies in the organization have no idea how much work I do, but there are always those who do and who remember to recognize that and say thank you. I never, then, come out feeling unappreciated.

Kyle, though, probably deserves an honorary membership for all he's done over the years to support Alpha Gam recruitment. He has brought babies to me to nurse between parties, has managed mealtimes and bathtimes solo, made coffee and kept children quiet. He has hauled things and solved computer problems and put off going jogging and had some lonely nights at home, all after working a full week of his own. I'm certain that he's never gotten a thank-you note or an advisor appreciation gift. It's also pretty clear to anyone who knows us that things like matching outfits and party planning, cardigan crises and bid signing are about the last things in the universe Kyle would be interested in. But he never makes jokes, never accuses me of being petty, and never questions my priorities as I run off in my matching t-shirt.

And I think to myself, "So THIS is what it's like to be with Superman..."

Friday, August 19, 2011

What Grandma Has Been Waiting For

Okay, okay already! Here's the first day of school picture:

This is not, by the way, the outfit I picked out for Daniel's first day of school. He decided that he really needed the Batman shirt instead. Eva's eyes look a little sleepy still in the photo, but she perked right up soon after this.

Both kids had good days. Daniel told us that he, "had fun all day" in kindergarten. His teacher this year is my friend Teresa. She is very experienced and someone I'm already in contact with often, so this is great for both Daniel and me. I am very glad there are people in this world who are willing to spend their entire day in a room with 20 kindergarteners.

Eva was excited that she got to pour her own milk during breakfast on the first day of preschool. May the Lord bless those preschool cafeteria workers and their nerves of steel.

And You Can Tell Everybody That This is Your Song

This morning Eva was using the bathroom (with the door open, as usual), and she was singing a song she'd made up. It went like this:

"I love my mom-meee!
Yes I do, I love her very much!"

At this point, I was thinking how sweet she is.

"I also love poop and pee,
but right now I am only going pee!
Actually I love everything in this whole world!
Except monsters."

At least the part about me was first.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


The other day I was running on the treadmill while Eva was in tumbling class at the Y. I was thinking about how it was a pretty passable alternative on days when it's too hot or cold to jog outside. Then I had to laugh at myself, remembering a day this past winter when I ran in the very same spot, cursing the oppressiveness of running indoors facing a cinderblock wall. As I ran I began counting other issues I frequently go back and forth on in my head, and could barely keep track of things from the past week alone. I had to conclude that my internal monologue could be accused of being a worse flip-flopper than anyone who ever ran for political office.

To make things worse, there is the matter of what I like to think of as my "passionate verbal style." Others might call this being "dramatic" or "prone to exaggeration," but no matter how you characterize it the end result is that I not only seem to change my mind frequently, but to really strongly do so. For the most part I think I keep this to myself, but surely those who know me well have caught on.

For instance, this week I alternately had the following thoughts:
-I love my body. I am healthy and strong. I can easily run 4 miles, and I do a decent Cuban Salsa. Not bad for 33!
-Wow, I should not exercise where there are mirrors, as it highlights the fact that my thighs are both large and pale. I need to shape up immediately or else stop leaving the house in shorts. I look (gasp!) middle aged!

-I can't wait to have more free time this fall when the kids go to school. I can have some time to myself to grade and clean the house. Then I can focus all my attention on the family when they get home, which is really what I love.
-I hope I can pick up some more hours at work this fall. There is no reason to sit around when I could be using those school hours to work back toward a professional career. We'll find time to clean the house on the weekends, and I'll feel so satisfied to be doing what I love.

-We are so blessed. We live in luxury compared to most of the world. How lucky we are to have plenty of delicious food and a beautiful, comfortable home. It's noble to be teachers, and good that I can be at home with the kids. We have plenty of money, and God has always provided for us. We should buy generous gifts for each other and all our friends and family.
-Money is so tight. It's shameful what we pay teachers in this country; we should have been doctors or lawyers. We really need to be saving more, but it's hard enough trying to keep us on budget all the time. We need to STOP spending so much money; I should identify some kind of homemade item to give out as gifts to our friends and family.

-Seriously, what is with all these women who do their hair and makeup to work out or to go to the pool? I have WAY more important things to worry about than how I look during the summer; I'm so glad I can feel free to get dirty at the park or get my hair wet at the pool. When I work out I'm there to exercise, not impress people.
-Wow, those moms in the wading pool look so together with their designer sunglasses and perfectly-styled hair buns. And look at how that substitute Zumba instructor's lip gloss matches her little workout outfit. How cute is she? I look like a disaster; hair flying everywhere and mascara smeared around my eyes... I need to look like I have a little more self-respect.

-Sunscreen for the whole family! No way am I gonna fall for that "tan is healthy" myth of my parents' generation. I'm just gonna pack that SPF 100 in my purse so we can reapply all day, 'cause nobody's getting skin cancer on my watch!
-Vitamin D deficiency is a serious problem in this country. The people of my generation are just suncreening ourselves to death! Outside in the sun, Family, 'cause nobody's getting Alzheimer's/autism/diabetes/depression/rickets/Parkinson's/cancer on my watch!

-I love having a garden. It's so important to me that the kids know where their food comes from, and I love that we're eating chemical-free food right from our backyard. I think I learn something new every year.
-I stink at gardening. I hate watering it, I don't know when or how to harvest anything... I never make time to look up the answers to problems with pests or plant diseases. I think I kill a new variety of vegetable every year.

So, I'm wondering, do other people do this? Is this constant internal struggle normal? Or is it a manifestation of some kind of rampant insecurity? I don't know; I just keep going back and forth.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Why I Love Coffee

Recently, our daughter Eva (3) has figured out that she can get herself out of bed in the morning instead of waiting for us to come get her. She has also figured out that if she stands on the side rail of our bed, she can get her face right over my ear as I sleep on my side.

A sampling of whispered phrases that have abruptly started my day this week:
"Mom... Can you get me some Raisin Bran and juice?"
"Mom... I have pee in my pants."
"Mom... Daniel is up already and he won't share the green crayon."

Of course, this is preferable to her previous strategy, which was to lie in bed, yelling into the monitor, "Mommy and Daddy, I want to get UP now... Mommy and Daddy, I want to get UUUP now..." over and over until one of us lost the game of Parent Chicken and went to go get her.

Of course, when it's 6:11 in the morning, there really isn't a GOOD way to wake up, is there?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Funny Things Are Everywhere (Summer Edition)

Kirksville Signage
There is a baseball card store in town that, for years, has had a sign in front of their store, right near the road advertising a "Really Big Sale!" Kyle and I like to joke that this is the longest-running sale in the history of baseball cards. Well, last week, they replaced the sign with one that says, "Really Really Big Sale!"
It's like they were lying all those other weeks.
This is almost as good as Kyle's favorite Kirksville sign ever.

Also, the electronic sign in front of our Walgreens scrolls through a number of messages that change every week or two. The other day I noticed this advertisement:
"We now sell hair feathers!!!! Only $4!"
Good thing they put four exclamation points after that, because I don't think three would have accurately captured my excitement over this joyous news.

The Significant Lack of Napping in This House
Daniel is very talented at coming up with excuses to get out of his room during rest time. One day, about 5 minutes after his last trip to the bathroom, he asked if he could get up now. When I pointed out that he'd done more getting up than resting so far, he said he'd been asleep just then, and had just woken up.
"So you mean to tell me that in the last 5 minutes you fell asleep, napped enough to be rested, and just woke up?"
"Daniel, do you think I'm dumb?"
(looking at me like he's not quite sure what to say) "Yes?"

When Eva can't fall asleep, what she usually does is attempt to sneak out of her room, which has the noisiest door ever, and sit on the stairs. When we ask her why she's up, she says, "I just want to sleep a little bit." When we tell her, "Good. Our goals are the same, then. Go get in your bed and sleep a little bit." she gets really upset and cries that she's just not tired. I don't think that phrase means what she thinks it means...

Musical Comedy
Early in the summer, at one of Daniel's t-ball games, Eva stood up from her chair on the sidelines, threw her hands out jazz-style and broke out with, "I love to SING!!" Indeed she does. The private speech she uses to talk to herself is often sung, as well as a good portion of her communication with us. Some notable ditties include:
-(as I sweep the kitchen) "Wow, these floors are DIRTY!... There's lots more dirt over heeere!"
- (in the car one day) "I've got sunglasses and a pony tail... Sunglasses and a pony tail... Sunglasses in the front. Pony tail in the back..."
- (calling from the bathroom) "MOM! I just went POOP! Pooo-oo-ooop! Poo-oop in the POTTY!!... Can you wipe me, please?"

Speaking of Poop
On another poop-wiping occasion, I commented on the enormous dropping that had come out of my tiny daughter, and Eva said, "I know! Holy Smokes, right?!"

Dental Drama
Last week Kyle was brushing Daniel's teeth, and Daniel was crying loudly over Kyle bumping a mouth sore on the inside of one of his cheeks. Kyle asked him how long he'd had that sore spot there, and he exclaimed dramatically, "90 YEARS!"

There is a lot of debate in our house over whether the phrase is, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit." or "You get what you get and you don't make a fuss."
One night I was trying to convince Eva to let me have the first turn brushing her teeth (instead of letting her go first), so that I could move on to Daniel.
"You get what you get, and you don't make a rude, Mommy."
Alrighty then.

Heat-Related Humor
Like most of the Midwest, we've been in the middle of a massive heat wave. Our strategy for this has been twofold:
-First, we've abandoned the 30-minute per weekday TV limit, and have been sitting in the dark cave of our house, with the thermal curtains shutting out the cruel sun, watching TV and videos and enjoying the Wii.
-Second, we've been to the pool nearly every day. Twice, oftentimes, when you account for morning swim lessons. Our deck is always full of towels and swimsuits, hung out to dry.
Yesterday, we tried to change it up a bit by washing the cars in the driveway and letting the kids play with the hose. It didn't take long for things to go downhill, and pretty soon Daniel was screaming, "Eva! Eva! Spray my BUTT!" He also followed me around, trying to spray MY butt.
Eva kept coming up to me, spraying me point-blank in the face, then saying, "You better watch out, Mommy!"
Daniel kept begging Kyle to spray him full-on in the face. It's kind of hard to want to spray water right up your kid's nose like that (when they're being good, that is), even when he's asking for it. We were trying to imagine what a neighbor driving by might say...
"Geez, that crazy hermit family turned off their TV and came out of there... Wow, the boy seems to be obsessed with butts... I see they torture their kids, too. Do they own anything other than swimwear?"

I hope everyone else is having a funny summer!

Friday, July 22, 2011


As I mentioned in my last post, we went to visit friends in the Chicago area last weekend. While we were there, we went to Ikea in one of the suburbs. For those of you not familiar with this store, it is a three-floor wonderland of practical, inexpensive Swedish housewares. Because I am cheap, married to a man of Swedish descent, and interested in clean lines, I like to think this is really my kind of store.

Usually I try to make the biannual Ikea trip a childless one, because this just makes the whole thing go faster (and those who have shopped for anything with me know that including any form of the word “fast” is laughable to begin with). This year, though, my friend Melanie mentioned that they have a really fantastic play area at this particular branch, and that you can leave your child there with attendants for an hour. Combined with the cheap kids' meals in the in-store cafe, this was enough to convince us to bring Eva and Melanie's kids Aidan and Catie with us.

When we got there, we waited in line to check in at the (objectively super-cool) play area and talked about all the fun things we could see there would be for her to do. While we stood there I reminded Eva to be sure to tell the lady if she needed to go to the bathroom, since she is occasionally too shy to ask strangers in time. I'm not sure whether it was because she overheard this exchange, or because she is truly a lazy child-hater, but when we got to the front, the exchange with the childcare worker went like this:

“Yeah, she needs to be fully potty-trained to come in here.”
“Yep! No problem.”
“No Pull-ups.”
“Right. We're good.”
“She seems a little short. She needs to be 37 inches to be allowed in. I'd better measure her.”
“Oh, okay. I think she's right about 37 inches, actually.”

The worker and I lined her up next to the ruler, and she was 37 inches on the dot.

“Actually, she's pretty close. I don't think she makes it.”
Pointing at the ruler, and demonstrating her 37-inch height, “No, she clearly does.”
“Actually, that 37 inches is supposed to be without shoes. I think you need to take her shoes off so we can measure her again.”
“Okay, fine.”

Without shoes Eva is still about 37 inches if she tilts her head just right, but if not is about 36 and 7/8 inches.

“Yeah, I'm going to have to call my manager over here to look at this.... Hey, can you come here for a minute? This little girl is too short, and I just want to make sure.”
“Yes, I'm sorry. She is too short to play here.”
“Wait a second. She's right on the line. She's fully potty-trained and is mature and independent. She'd have her two older friends with her. Can't you just let her in?"
"No, Ma'am. There are regulations put forth by our insurance company for her safety. That ball pit, for instance, is really deep."

Let me just stop here to point out that she ACTUALLY used drowning in a ball pit due to a 1/8-inch height shortage as her excuse to exclude my now-teary child from the visibly awesome play area. It was everything I could do to avoid making a very rude comment as we took Eva and walked away. If I thought sarcasm would in any way improve her chances of getting in or be any kind of good example, I would have really gotten on a roll. Instead, I bit my lip and let Eva pick a pity toy from the stuffed animal bin in the kids' furniture section.

The next day we all took the train downtown, where we took our collected four kids to the Chicago Children's Museum. The first activity that we came to was a rope tunnel leading up from the first floor to the second, then across the stairwell to a bridge on the other side. There was a sign that indicated the activity was for children five and up, but that younger kids would be allowed at their caregiver's discretion. Everyone wanted to go, and I hesitated for a second, worrying that it was very high and maybe Eva was just too little. But Kyle said he thought we should let her try, and of course she booked it right up that tunnel, pushing Daniel to move it along a little faster because he was holding her up. I have to admit I cried a little as she pulled herself out the top.

Man, I love that kid.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

First-World Problems

Last weekend, we visited our friends Melanie and Andrew near Chicago. We only go every other year, and they visit us here in Kirksville in the off years. Though the exact nature of our plans change somewhat each year, there are some constants to our traditional visits:
1. When in Chicago, we always go to Ikea and we always take the train to the city one day. When in Kirksville we visit (the recently defunct) Washington Street Java Co.
2. We always hire a babysitter and go out on a double date to dinner.
3. We use the visit as an excuse to make special breakfasts, like quiche or souffle or homemade waffles.
4. We usually unintentionally develop some kind of phrase for the weekend; usually some inside joke that is repeated amongst us several times over the course of the few days.

This last part of the tradition is nothing that we plan, but is something I've noticed over the years. One year, during a game of Taboo, Andrew kept insisting that the answer to Melanie's clues about a party thrown by Mexicans was a “festivo.” This is funnier when you know that Melanie is Mexican. The rest of us spent the remainder of the weekend trying to work “festivo” into the conversation as frequently as possible. One year, someone was relaying a story about Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger where he had concluded a meandering list with the phrase, “...and things such as this.” Try adding that phrase (in the Arnold voice, of course) to the end of all your lists. We enjoyed that joke into the ground for a full weekend.

This year, there were a number of times where one of us (usually Melanie, actually) punctuated the end of someone's complaint with the conclusion, “Ah, first-world problems...” For instance, any complaints about smartphones freezing up, what someone doesn't like about this Wii game, or old Teva sandals not feeling “squishy enough anymore” was met with this reminder.

The interesting thing about this is that it really resonates with what I've been thinking about myself lately, only with different words. See, recently I've been noticing that the things that make me crabby about my day-to-day life are those middle-aged suburbanite kinds of things that the idealistic, high-school-aged me would be mortified to see the present me complaining about. It's embarrassing, quite frankly. Really, there are people starving, being opressed, dying, and THESE are the issues that consume my thoughts?

On the other hand, though, they seem so VERY IMPORTANT to me in the moment, and have just been adding up until I feel like I want to explode in a petty, spoiled combustion. So, for the sake of avoiding that, please read now my list of first-world problems, so that I can get them off my chest for good:

-The lid on my washer has stopped staying open alone and slams (hard, and loudly) any time I make the mistake of leaving it open without my hand on it. It hurts my ears, and sometimes my arm or fingers, and loading my laundry one-handed while holding the lid makes me seethe and curse my top-loading, non high-efficiency laundry existence.
-I'm pretty sure that the brown in our family-room curtains is a warm brown, while the brown in the rug is a cool brown. Nobody else notices or cares, but it quietly mocks me every time I walk by.
-No matter how many coupons I clip, I just don't think we have the money in the grocery budget to have a glass of wine with dinner every night. There are health benefits to doing that, you know...
-The filters in my vacuum are always clogged. There are three of them, and their constant maintenance prompts me to avoid vacuuming our house, which used to be one of my favorite chores. Also, one of the attachments is broken. Also, I have a favorite chore. I'm quite sure a Dyson would be so much better.
-The kids won't jump off the deck into the pool at swim lessons. For some reason, this is the issue I've decided to enter a power struggle over. It just irks me, because I've seen both of them do it before, when their teachers and I weren't asking them to do it. Seriously, that three-year old is not watching ANY videos until she just JUMPS IN on her OWN when I SAY to!!
-The (non-chemo) treatments for my (not-life-threatening) skin cancer are expensive. Paying those bills is infringing on the back-to-school shopping budget.
-My favorite Zumba class at the YMCA is right when we'd really like to be eating dinner.
-The shelving unit that I wanted to buy at IKEA does not fit into our car with car seats and luggage, so I could not get it. I will have to pay outrageous shipping costs, convince some childless truck-owner to road-trip to Chicago, or forget about it. And it really would have tied the room together.

So that's it for now. Some of you have already opened another window in order to quietly de-friend me on facebook. For those of you who decide to hang on, I promise that this is a regular cycle for me, with a period of adding to this list, then days later feeling grateful and content and subsequently ashamed about it. Maybe rereading Freedom of Simplicity again is in order. Let's all hold our breath and hope I move back into the grateful phase as soon as possible.

What are your first-world problems?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Last night our electricity was restored, after being knocked out in a massive, windy thunderstorm Sunday night. It's funny how attached we are to our electricity, and how many times I forgot and flipped a switch, opened the fridge, or even tried to make coffee these past few days.

It was the same way two years ago, when we were without power for three days after a tornado flattened the next street over and did some moderate damage to our house (see that story on Kyle's blog here). This time, though, it was a little less depressing, since the damage to our house was minimal by comparison, and the weather in the days after the storm wasn't dreary and rainy.

Because of our experience with the tornado, we are not a family that takes bad weather lightly. Sunday night our weather radio was only talking about a thunderstorm warning, but when the rain started blowing in around the cracks in our (closed) windows and doors, we decided to wake the kids and go downstairs anyway. Only after we'd settled into our basement bathroom did the weather radio begin instructing people to take shelter. By that point, we could hear glass breaking somewhere upstairs in our house.

Let me just say what a terrible feeling that is, to think that something is going very wrong and that you are required to just sit there and let it happen, because there is nothing you can do to stop it.

The funny thing is, even though my nerves felt like they were on fire, in the back of my mind I really feel like somehow we cannot be hit by another storm, as if our past experience must have inoculated us against all further inconvenience and homeowners insurance claims. Like we are invincible somehow, since we already had our turn. As we sat there, listening to the storm blow and blow our house and imagining all our belongings getting soaked, all I could think was, "Seriously? Again? No way."

Just as we did after our last basement party, we sent Kyle upstairs to survey the damage. He returned with the happy news that everything was dry, and that it was only a couple of storm windows that had broken. This did NOT help me overcome my denial, as I hardly felt surprised.

In the past few days, I've been thinking that I need to get past this feeling. I know that sometimes more than one bad thing happens to a person or a family or a neighborhood. I need to remember that there are people in the world who endure one hardship after another after another, and many of them don't even get a nice house like mine to be concerned about. How spoiled am I that I complain about having to drive up the street to McDonald's to use the internet? Really, it could hardly be said that I've experienced my share of hardship in this life.

I am grateful that, this time, we are back to normal barely 48 hours after the storm. No chainsaws or insurance adjusters or contractors were required. All the meat from our deep freeze got a trip across town to our friends Madeline and John's house (seriously, they should start charging us for our bi-annual invasion of their freezer space). The kids were overjoyed that we broke our fast food ban in order to use the internet Monday morning (really, with all the downed power lines in the roads, the internet was the best way we could think of to check whether our classes were canceled). We really don't deserve much sympathy for this storm.

It is nice, though, to recognize how much power we take for granted in our everyday life.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

10 Years

So today is Kyle's and my tenth wedding anniversary (it's traditionally the Tin Anniversary; try to make a good gift out of THAT). In some ways it's hard to believe it's been that long (I guess time really does fly when you're having fun). In other ways, though, I think we've come a long way since early in our marriage (It feels like I should put something in parentheses here).

To celebrate, this past weekend we dropped the kids off with my parents and spent the weekend in St. Louis. We did things that childless people do, like shop and sit in bookstores, stroll leisurely through the art museum, and eat dinner after 8:30pm.

We went back to the hotel where we stayed on our wedding night, the Millenium Hotel near the Arch. While I don't feel that the hotel itself is anything super-special, the Sunday brunch in the revolving restaurant at the top of the building is really fantastic, and we've always cherished fond memories of gorging ourselves there our first morning as man and wife.

When we attempted to check in this weekend, however, we learned that the cleaning staff wasn't keeping up with the number of guests checking in and out. So, being one of the few couples not wanting to get to the Cardinals game on time, we agreed to wait for a bit. Turns out that "a bit" was actually two and a half hours. During that time we had some drinks and free appetizers in the lobby, and entertained ourselves by talking about how we think each other has changed or stayed the same in the past ten years. Really, though, I think the most telling example of how we've changed is made by comparing this anniversary evening to one we had nine years ago, celebrating the end of our first year of marriage.

That year, we were in downtown Chicago. I had just finished the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day, a 60-mile walk to raise money for cancer research. My feet were blistered and my legs sore, so we decided to eat at the restaurant in the hotel where we were staying. After being seated, we realized the following:
-We were the youngest, least well-dressed people there (and we were wearing our nicest clothes).
-There was not a wine on the wine list that we could afford.
-We couldn't comprehend anything about the menu. At all. I don't even know what language it was in.
Did we leave? No. Did we tell our Fancy Waiter that we were clueless and needed help? No. We were so young and self-conscious, and so in denial that we just tried as hard as we could to look like we belonged there.

We stalled for as long as we could, then each took a stab at ordering something we thought sounded like something we could eat. I'd identified a word that I thought suggested a kind of pasta, so I ordered that. Kyle ordered something that he thought included a word for beef, only to receive a condescending look from Fancy Waiter. "Are you sure, Sir? That is an appetizer." We fumbled a bit, and told the waiter that he would get that to start, and then Kyle pointed to something else on the menu that turned out to be a main course. Fancy Waiter then asked me if I'd like an appetizer, and then barely hid his sneer when I said we'd just share the one. Looking back, I'm pretty sure he was thinking, "This isn't Applebee's, Lady. We don't share here," as there was no stack of little plates on the table. We tried to play the wine off kind of cool, by asking Fancy Waiter to suggest something that paired well with our meals. He asked us what kind of wine we usually drink, like did we like dry or sweet, or something with "a nice oaky flavor?". What I was thinking at the time was, "Earnest & Julio Gallo, Buddy. Five bucks."

In the end I don't remember how we played off the wine question, but I don't think we fooled him into thinking we were connoisseurs. He ended up choosing one that "just happened" to be already opened but mostly full, that he could give to us at a special, lower price. We muddled through that expensive, uncomfortable dinner of tiny, fancy food as quickly as we could and then debated over whether we should attempt to locate a nearby Burger King or hope that we could find some filling desserts on the menu. We stuck it out to the finish and did have some decent desserts, if I remember correctly. What I will never forget, though, is how timid and embarrassed and out-of-place we felt, but we were too young and proud to admit that we'd wandered into a situation that was over our heads.

Fast forward to the present time. At our hotel this weekend we agreed to wait for our room not because we were too timid to refuse, but out of genuine sympathy for the clearly harried staff we'd seen being yelled at by other guests. We asked for a restaurant suggestion from the hotel Concierge, but decided the menu and decor in the brochure wasn't really our style. So we went against her warning and took our chances reservationless on a Saturday night. We walked into and back out of a restaurant that we thought looked too stiff and fancy and empty for us. We ended up going for a nice but VERY long walk from our hotel to get to a place my brother had shown me online called Copia Urban Winery.

And it was perfect. The decor was nice, but comfortable; our waitress was great; our meals fantastic. We looked at the 12-page wine list for a few minutes, but still asked for a suggestion. This time, we were able to say, "We like dry, spicy, reds, nothing over fifty dollars," and then reasonably discuss different varietals until we arrived at something we thought sounded good. I nursed a couple of terrible blisters I'd formed walking to the restaurant in my strappy shoes, and decided to just walk barefoot back to the hotel. The next morning, when we were told that the Sunday brunch was full and that we needed reservations, Kyle talked the host into letting us have a table anyway. Once again, we indulged in the fabulousness of mimosas, made-to-order omelettes, and a full table of dessert options (That's champagne AND cheesecake! For BREAKFAST!).

Reflecting on this weekend, I think the moral of the story is that now, ten years after being married, I finally feel like we're grownups. We are not embarrassed to admit we aren't familiar with any of these wines or too proud to let all of downtown St. Louis know that my feet hurt. We don't care as much what other people think of us. I think that getting married so young has caused us to be adults that really just GO together. We like the same things, and we know what those things are. We are both happy to have ended up with someone who does not get bent out of shape over a little hotel mismanagement (which turns out to be very useful in getting a fancy suite, comped by the apologetic front-desk manager). We're satisfied with an overnight getaway instead of a fancy cruise, with living in a small town, with our dogs and our kids and our house.

It's been a great ten years.

Maybe in another ten years we'll be better at picking hotels, and hopefully by then I'll have learned to wear more sensible shoes.

Monday, May 30, 2011

May Days

May is always a busy month for us. Some of this comes from the final push at the end of the school year, when we are as tired and burned-out as our students, and when Daniel's school holds extra end-of-year festivities. Jogging that can be reasonably avoided in below-freezing weather now has no good excuse for being put off. Activities like t-ball and library reading programs are gearing up, the garden needs some early tweaking, there's always some spring landscaping or home improvement that needs completed; these are normal things that inevitably come with warmer weather and longer days.

Some of it, though, we brought on ourselves. When we were trying to plan (as much as one plans these things) the kids' births, we aimed for the end of the school year, thinking the beginning of a 3-month vacation from work would be a great time to have new babies in the house. Though that indeed worked out well at the time, I neglected to think about those babies becoming kids who would one day become old enough to walk (to the mailbox, to intercept the Oriental Trading Company party supply catalog), and talk (about the kind of cake and decorations and parties they would like to have for their birthday), and even write (an extensive guest list of everyone they'd like to invite to said party). Both of our kids get very excited about their birthdays, and so now for our family May also includes lots of planning of birthday festivities and special visits from extended family.

Last year we did throw Daniel a full-on party for his birthday, but not being pony-hiring, bouncy house-renting kind of people, we wanted to send the message this year that not every birthday will include a bash bigger than the year before. So we decided on a casual weekday get-together in the park for each child, with cake and lunch for a few friends. As usual, the kids had very specific cake requests, but thankfully nothing as gravity-defying as Daniel's cake from last year.

Eva had a butterfly cake, and was thrilled about having a few friends to share it with. Grandma Jan came for her birthday, and we had a nice day. So far being three involves significantly less napping than being two, and a bit more of a sassy attitude, but is still pretty fun.

For his birthday, Daniel got a visit from Grammy, a tiger cake, and a good time running around the park with friends as well. It seems that for him, being five is a little more moody than being four. Some of this seems legitimate (like coming to the realization that several of his favorite friends will not be attending the same school as he will for kindergarten), and some seems a little less so (like pouting about not being able to invite everyone he knows to his party). Let's all keep our fingers crossed that some extra attention this summer will help smooth this over.

Also in May, we found out that Kyle was granted tenure and was chosen to teach a month of summer school (yay extra paycheck!). Our friend Madeline got an exciting new job, and of course there was the successful yard sale and purchase of the Wii. We decided to celebrate all of this by holding a happy hour at our house, complete with appetizer food for dinner, mudslides for the grownups, and a whole lot of Mario Kart and Guitar Hero.

Now that we're through all that, I'm looking forward to relaxing into our summer routine. We've had our first visit to the city pool for the season, and summer classes start Monday. Tonight Kyle and I began giving some attention to our summer movie Netflix queue. Not to jinx anything, but hopefully the beginning of June marks the start of a nice, restful few months.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Crazy For Sale

This past weekend I joined forces with a group of friends for our annual yard sale (because nothing draws a crowd like a "multi-family sale"). The yard sale is always one of my favorite events, not only because I'm earning money for ridding my house of stuff we don't need, but also because of the total lunacy that usually surrounds any yard sale. And this year did not disappoint.

For some background, I should share that we held the sale at the home of my friends Mat and Marbree, who last year bought their house with the previous owner's contents in an estate sale. Last summer, their yard sale was the most unbelievable one ever, because nearly the entire house was open to the public, and nearly everything was for sale. Though this was not the situation again this year, I think their house still carries a reputation among some in our town for being the place to be for this sort of event.

We had some rain, we had some huffy customers, and we had somewhat of a challenge displaying and keeping track of eight different families' things, but in the end I'd say fun was had by all (plus we made a boatload of money). Here are some of my favorite stories about this year's event:

-Fending off the early birds
We planned to have the sale Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, so Marbree ran an ad in the paper and posted signs around the neighborhood on Thursday. Friday morning we all got together to finish setting up, and already there were cars lurking around the house, driving back and forth and around the block. We made a giant sign (easily 3x4-foot) that said:

Yard Sale is 4-7 Friday
8-2 Saturday
Early birds pay double
Exact change required

The text on this sign was bordered with florescent pink spray paint, and the thing was taped to a trash can blocking the end of the driveway. Despite this fact, most of the people from the steady stream of foot traffic seemed very surprised to hear that we were not yet open. Somebody criticized us for not having everything organized and clearly labeled. And over and over I heard people say, "Oh, I saw the sign back there; I just didn't read it." Wow. All I can say is "wow."

By the time we did actually open for business, there was a sizable crowd of people waiting on the driveway to get in. Mat stood guard outside while Marbree passed out money aprons, notepads, and change to the rest of us. I could hear Mat saying things like, "I will talk to you about the price of that item at 4:00." Really, it was enough to make me wish I could be outside looking in just for the comedic value of poor Mat's situation.

So apparently the ad in the paper was very... effective, because at the opening there were a number of people interested in some of the large items that had been individually listed. In particular, one of the first women through the door started negotiating with me right away regarding the price of a stroller I was selling out on the driveway. We agreed on a price, and I started working my way out of the garage to set it aside for her while she continued to look.

When I arrived outside, the stroller was being clutched by another woman who wanted to know the price. When I told her that it was already sold, she demanded, "Did they already give you the money? Because if you don't have the money in your hand it isn't a sale!" I tried explaining to her that I had already negotiated a price and made a verbal agreement with this other person, and she cut me off to say that she would give me full price right there if I would just give it to her. Meanwhile, this woman's father(?) started moving toward me, waving money and hollering about how if I had any business sense I would know that you sell it to the person with the money, and that if I knew anything about having a sale I would give it to them right now.

I agreed to go back into the garage to see if the original buyer would be interested in giving it up. When I found her, I told her that there was another buyer who really wanted the stroller, and was willing to pay full price for it. She looked up and loudly yelled,"But YOU TOLD ME I could have it for $25! That's the price, and I'M getting it!" Ooohh-kay.

So, back to the driveway to tell buyer #2 that it's definitely been sold, where she and her father continued yelling things like, "But we're giving you full-price!" and "But you still don't have her money!" Hilariously, my friend Jennifer took this opportunity to stick her head in and joke that I might break my word with the original buyer for an additional $5 over the original asking price. Dirty looks from everyone involved...

In the end I had to use my Mommy voice, make direct eye contact, and say, "I'm sorry. It's been sold." And with only one more admonishment from the father they turned on their heels and left. After that start I was worried about the rest of the weekend, but really that was the worst part, and I got it over with right away. Most other people barely negotiated at all.

-The things people will buy
In packing up for the sale, I realized that Daniel owned 30 pairs of underwear. Judging this to be ridiculous for a family that usually does laundry once a week, I slipped 15 or so of them into a bag for bulk sale. Thursday night, as I priced things while watching television, Kyle noticed the bag-o-underwear and expressed his skepticism that anyone would buy USED underwear. Oh, but I knew they would sell. And what a satisfied smile I had on my face Saturday morning, as I collected that dollar, because after all being right is worth a little extra.

Really, though, I have never seen anyone who can sell junk like our friend Mat. Last year when they sold the unwanted contents of that estate purchase it was like watching a thing of beauty. Half-empty can of WD-40? Fifty cents. Old coffee can full of rusty screws? Seventy five cents. This year I collected payment from a man with a repurposed peanut butter jar full of nails marked $1.25. "He said he'd take $1 for that!" the buyer informed me. I'll bet he will. I saw another man buy a roll of flashing left over from some project Mat or someone in his extended family had done. "I don't even have anything to use this for," the man said as he dug into his pocket, "but it's a good price, and you never know when it might come in handy." Yep, like when you'd like to make some money in a yard sale.

Funny stories aside, though, I think we all came out pretty well. I was glad to see Marbree and Mat sold the most, because I'm pretty sure it took lots of time on their part to get their garage ready, organize the stuff, and keep track of all the money. For me, it was definitely worth my time. We made enough for everyone to pick out a prize, and let's just say that because of Kyle's pick Wii have all been playing Mario Kart this weekend (he does not endorse this pun, by the way).

Until next year!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

We Sterups have had quite a week. I was having a hard time deciding how to write about it until this title occurred to me, and now it fits so well I can't believe it took me so long to think of it.

The Good...
-Mother's Day weekend was nice. Eva's birthday cake turned out well, my mom visited, and Kyle and I got to have a date. The weather was beautiful, so I got the last of my garden put in for the spring. The kids made me nice gifts and Kyle got me Tina Fey's new book in audiobook format (because it's always funnier to hear the author read their own words). Wonderful!
-The Day Planner smiled on me this week. My friend Madeline and I found time to have lunch together on Wednesday, and the kids even let us have a conversation. I was sweating all week, trying to find a babysitter for Thursday, until our preacher's wife and daughter called and just volunteered to take care of it for me. Daniel and Eva finally got a long-awaited play date with their friends Dalton and Evangeline on Friday, which meant I got a talk date with their mom Janice.
-The kids and I went with our friends Lena, Gus, and Jennifer to LaPlata (the next little town over) for a picnic lunch on Thursday. LaPlata has a train station with quite a bit of rail traffic, so they've built a little lookout house with a deck right near the tracks. You can sit and watch the trains go by, which is a total plus if you are a five year-old boy or someone who loves one.
-Some of Kyle's students were in a play at the school Friday night, so we took the kids. It was called something like: Cinderella-the Untold Story, and contained people dressed as Cinderella, Snow White, and Ariel, which is a total plus if you are a three year-old girl or someone who loves one. We went out for ice cream afterward, and ran into several families of friends from church.
-Saturday we went to Daniel's soccer game, the library, and to friends' house for dinner. Our church divides everyone up into groups of four or five families, and we eat with our group once a month for a year. We had good food, the adults had good conversation, and the kids had fun playing together.
-Sunday afternoon we went to the circus. Much to our delight Gus and Lena were there, too, and so we all sat together. Eva kept saying "Wow!" throughout the lion act, and Daniel laughed quite a bit at the performing dogs and at the clown whose act relied on fart jokes. As circuses go, this one is a little lame and cheesy, and as Jennifer pointed out, it kind of "gives you a PETA feeling" for the animals. Still, I'd say fun was had by all, which made it a worthwhile event.

The Bad...
-Eva burned her hand on our toaster oven Tuesday night, and not just a little tiny spot on her knuckle or something. She got the whole back of her (dominant) left hand, and it blistered and broke the top layer of skin away. She screamed a lot, and I have to admit I didn't blame her one bit. I spent the rest of the night feeling a little sick about the whole business. Luckily we'd already had the kids' school physicals scheduled for the next day, so we were able to have a doctor assure us that it should heal up okay with minimal scarring.
-I found out recently that I have skin cancer on my face. And though I am told that this is "the kind of cancer you want to have" (in case any of you out there are wanting to have cancer, go with basal cell carcinoma), it still requires treatment in the form of removal. And so treat it we did this week. The drill is that the dermatologist takes off a layer of skin, analyzes it there in the office, and if they determine they've gotten down to healthy cells they sew you up and you leave. If not, they take and analyze additional layers until they're sure they've gotten everything. The office I go to schedules everyone who is having this procedure for the same day, so the reception area is full of people with bandages and paper drapes, waiting for their results. People, as it turns out, who are all 60-80 year-old men. Except me.
-I heard a lot of other people's bad news this week. A close friend's grandmother died. My favorite (very young) professor from college has breast cancer. I feel a little heavier for all of them.

The Ugly...
-The kids had to get their shots updated this week so that they can register for school in the fall. Eva only had to get one, but Daniel had to get FOUR separate shots. He did the best he could with that, but his cry with each additional shot just sounded more incredulous and appalled.
-The spring spider onslaught has begun. I killed one in the shower this morning and three this afternoon while cleaning downstairs. Yecchh!
-The semester ends this next week at the community college where I work. I've been grading papers this weekend, and while some of them are really great work it is just so discouraging to sludge through the ones where the students clearly didn't put in much effort. Or papers from students who were getting good grades, but didn't follow the directions on this last assignment, and are now not getting such good grades. It's really just painful to enter the points sometimes.
-Finally, there's my face. In order to remove the damaged section of skin on my forehead, they had to use some local anesthetic. Only apparently I am nearly immune to this anesthetic, and they had to continue giving me more and more to get me numb enough for the procedure. At the time, the doctor pointed out that I was getting quite a goose egg from all the medicine, but said gravity would drain it down out of my head over the next few days. He stitched me up and covered the lump and the stitches with an attractive giant white gauze pad. Great. Until the next morning, when I took the gauze off and looked in the mirror. What I had going on was a nice row of black stitches right across one side of my forehead, while the center of my forehead and eyebrows were puffed out about a quarter of an inch. Seriously, I looked pretty much like Frankenstein. Today on the way home from church Kyle pointed out that it now seems to have drained down into the space between my eyes, right at the top of my nose. It is making the bridge of my nose and my eyelids swollen, resulting in something that looks like a cross between a lizard-woman and textbook renderings of a child with fetal alcohol syndrome. I can't wait to see where that will end up tomorrow.

So that's our week. To sum up, that was three lunch dates (plus one dinner), three doctor's visits, two family outings, and two nasty skin injuries, each with their own prescription cream. I'm hoping this next week is a little less exciting.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Favorite Child

A couple of months ago, I saw someone write on their blog regarding their favorite things about their children. Maybe because we just celebrated Mother's Day, or maybe because I am only one stack of papers and two finals away from a summer of abundant family together-time, I have been thinking a lot about that post and about my own kids. I realize that I often write about them here, mostly in ways that will surely embarrass them once they are adolescents. It has occurred to me that they might like something flattering to read one day, that day in the future when blogs are completely out of fashion and they access mine in order to provide further proof of my total unhip-ness.

So here it is, Daniel and/or Eva of the future (whoever stumbles onto the blog archives first):

Daniel, you have been my Buddy since day one. I'm continually amazed by your complete and total sweetness. The way you lavish me and everyone around you with affection is almost overwhelming sometimes; I don't think I could possibly be hugged or snuggled more by any one person ever. I'm so excited by your creativity, your ability to make up outrageous stories or to go through reams of paper just drawing, drawing, drawing... You aren't even five yet, and already I think you are a better artist than I am. I love that you see beauty everywhere you look. I love that you save the best thing on your plate for last, so that you can look forward to it. I love that you stand in the middle of the soccer field like Ferdinand the Bull, picking me a bouquet of dandelions while the game goes on around you. I love that you invent games where plastic dragons savagely destroy your dinosaurs, but also cry because you think the Grinch is too mean to his poor doggie. I am so glad that, no matter what I'm cooking or baking, you always want to help me. I like you and love you so much; you are definitely my favorite child.

Eva, you have always been My Girl. I'm continually amazed by your tenacity and independence; even as a small baby you rejected being rocked, and just wanted us to leave you alone so you could sleep. The way you jump right in to whatever you're doing is almost frightening to watch sometimes; it's no wonder that by three you've broken your leg, contracted pneumonia, and burned your hand. I'm so excited by your enthusiasm; it seems there's no end to what you believe you can do. You know your home address, the first three verses of Genesis, and all the words to several of your books, all without me teaching them to you. I love the way you lend or share your things so freely, but hold on so tightly to our family. I love that you sing Happy Birthday to each of the 46 cakes in our Birthday Cakes for Kids book. I love the way you say, "Mom, I love ya'" instead of the more formal "you." I'm so amused that you will eat the breakfast of three adult men, but turn down dessert rather than eat your meat at dinner most nights. I like you and love you so much; you are definitely my favorite child.

So there you have it, kids. And just in case you're checking, like the blogger I stole this idea from, I used exactly the same number of words for each of you.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Clash

Guess who got herself dressed this morning?

I did turn her shirt around and change her into some jeans and tennis shoes before taking her to the library and the park. At the library, though, they heard a story about Pecos Bill and made "spurs" out of foil stars and pipe cleaners. I forgot to take those off her before taking her into Jimmy Johns with me. I noticed several people pointing at her and smiling, and thought they must just be saying how cute she is. Then in the parking lot I noticed the spurs.

Seriously, I should have just left her in the flowered leggings.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Threat Level Midnight

Recently, our children have gotten into the habit of using threats in an attempt to get their way. The problem (for them) is that many of their threats are, well... not threatening at all. For instance:

-"That's it! I will NEVER be your grandfather!" from Eva, upon being denied candy before dinner. She has also threatened to not be Daniel's father anymore.

-"Fine. If you make me leave now, I will NOT wear my coat outside!" from Daniel, upon being told that it was time to go to school. He was unmoved by Kyle pointing out that this does not make anyone else cold on a 40-degree morning.

-"I am going to walk out of this room right now, and you won't have ANYONE to fight with!" said Daniel to Eva when she wouldn't give him a toy this afternoon. Wouldn't that be a shame?

Sometimes, though, the threats are annoying, childish, and repeated so many times that I think I might lose my mind:

-"I will not be your friend ANY MORE!" said in response to any perceived injustice.

-"If you don't stop that I'm going to flush you down the toilet!" is a new favorite, a special gem introduced to us this week by Daniel's buddy Gus.

Occasionally, the threats get dangerous, abusive, or just totally out of hand, like when Daniel threatens to jump out of the moving car and actually pulls on the (thankfully child-safety-locked) door in the backseat during any of he and Eva's auto altercations. I've also recently overheard:

-"You aren't allowed to come play at our house anymore!" to their friend Peter, after an argument over a toy.

-"You are getting kicked out of this family."

-"If you don't we will rip your arm off," said Daniel to Eva (on the way home from church, no less), in support of Kyle politely asking Eva to remember to keep her hand in her lap instead of pulling on her hair in the car.

Really, it's these last ones that get me. Did they hear them from some tyrant child somewhere, or are they exercising their creativity in a seriously misguided way? Even considering my less-than-perfect parenting, the kinds of threats we make around here are, "Do you need a time out?" and "Should we move your behavior clip to yellow?" Certainly we don't use violent limb removal as a deterrent, and I'm fairly sure Eva's grandfathers have never mentioned disowning her...

Does Daniel threaten kids like this at school? If so, are we on some DFS watch list?

As funny as it can sometimes be, I hope this is a phase that passes quickly. I feel like the threat of threats is constant around here, and like I am a drip of water, trying to wear away a stone of unpleasant behavior. I've tried explaining, imploring, reminding how these words make people feel, suggesting alternate ways of solving disagreements, praising their kind words, repeating myself, complaining about the issue. I have downright forbidden talk of stunt-jumps from our moving vehicle. I am officially open for reader suggestions.

Seriously, though, if they don't stop it soon, I might NOT let them come play at our house again.