May 18, 2012

Flashback Friday--Into the Wild Green Yonder

When I was growing up there was one rule for the summer--find something to do or mom would find something for you. And you can bet she wouldn't find something fun. No, mom would find chores for us to do around the house--vacuuming, dishes, or even (*shudder*) mating socks. So once we were up and dressed, we were careful to stay out of mom's sight until dinner. When you are too young for a driver's license but old enough to ride bikes, what do you do? That's right--you explore the neighborhood.

Of course, we grew up in a different time. My sisters and I would walk a couple of miles up to the convenience store and back just so we could load up on candy. We'd go hang out at the park all day just because we could. My younger sister and I were fond of cutting through all the woods around our house and following creeks and trails just to find out where they led. We were our very own version of Lewis and Clark.

I remember one such adventure that we had when I was in 4th or 5th grade (this would put Sissy in the 2nd or 3rd grade). The two of us were out exploring with my friend, C. In and out of woods, up and down trees, across creeks and ditches--no where was off limits to us. And so it was that we ended up at a fenced-off field right next to my neighbor's house. When we were young, we never considered the possibility that a fence might have been put up to keep something IN, as opposed to just trying to keep kids out. But a fence is no deterrent for experienced adventurers. It's merely a speed bump to go over (or under) and then continue on our way.

This particular fence was of the barbed wire variety. That just meant we had to be a little more careful as we navigated around it, which we absolutely did, and then we trekked off to worlds unknown. Walking through a field or forest that is unknown carries with it the feeling of something illicit and possibly dangerous. Would we get in trouble if we were caught? Would we discover some kind of secret hideaway? Would we stumble upon a hidden treasure that had been stowed away and then forgotten? It was with this excitement thrumming through our veins that we plowed through grasses that were taller than our heads, anxious for what might lie ahead.

We had only been walking for a few minutes when we heard a peculiar sound. It was a sort of snuffling/snort sound, and it was coming from somewhere ahead of us in the high grass. I was leading the expedition and I turned around to my co-explorers. They all confirmed that they had heard it as well, but we couldn't agree on whether or not to continue. There wasn't anything ahead of us that we could see. Maybe whatever was sharing the field with us couldn't see us either and would therefore leave us be.

Unfortunately, that wasn't to be the case. Suddenly the quiet of the field was broken up by the sounds of hoof beats...coming at us. We didn't stick around to see what we had disturbed; we turned and ran full out for the fence line. Over the sounds of our yelling and screaming, I could hear twigs snapping, the ground thundering and something panting heavily as it eyed its next meal. Whatever was behind us was huge, it was mad, and it was bearing down on us like a freight train. The race back to the fence seemed to take forever while visions of being trampled under the thing's massive hooves and then gobbled up like an afternoon snack flashed through my head.

Finally, the fence was in sight. C shimmied under the barbed wire, followed closely by Sissy. I was up next and as I was diving under, I swear I felt the creature's hot breath on the back of my neck. My heart was in my throat and I couldn't breathe. Faster, faster, faster! Just as I was thinking I was going to make it, my shirt got caught on the barbed wire. "NOOO! I don't want to be eaten! I'm too young to die! Pull it! Rip it! Do whatever you have to do, but get ME FREE!!" With an audible tear, my shirt came free and I tumbled out from under the wire, relieved beyond belief to be on the safe side of the fence at last. We had made it.

As the 3 of us stood there on the side of the road, trying to control our racing hearts and wishing we could remember how to breathe, we finally caught sight of the creature as it cleared through the grass and approached the fence. Despite my conviction that I was being chased by a 7 foot tall, fire-breathing creature of nightmares, it turned out to be merely...a cow.  And a relatively young one at that. She ambled over and got an eyeful of us. Then, with a very put-upon sounding snort, she shook her head and then disappeared back into the field.

I would like to say that this taught us a lesson in being more careful where we roamed, but I'm a terrible liar. When I look back at all the places we ended up, the jams we had to get ourselves out of, the completely idiotic things we did at the time in the name of fun, I'm amazed that we survived our childhood with all of our bones in tact. And, as a mom, all I can say is sometimes it's better to NOT know what your kids are up to.


May 16, 2012

Mavis Tackles Paperwork

Today Mavis and I will tackle that most insidious of all household evils--papers. You know what I'm talking about--junk mail, school work, announcements, statements, newspapers. It all adds up until you feel like your furniture exists solely to provide a place to stack it all. It's time to take control.

My first piece of advice is to invest in a filing system. It could be an actual filing cabinet, a drawer in a desk, or even an old milk crate. Just be sure you have labeled, easy to access files for your various things, such as utilities, car, medical, phone, taxes, banking. My husband and I found a 2 drawer filing cabinet that a business was tossing out. We also picked up a couple of paper trays from a thrift store. When the mail comes, I immediately dump all the junk mail into the recycling bin next to the desk. Everything else is opened--outer envelopes, fliers and ad inserts, and anything else I don't need goes right into the recycling. Bill pay stubs are torn off and put with the return envelopes in the "Bills" tray and statements are put into the "To Be Filed" tray which we empty and file when it gets full. (This goes against Organizer Wisdom which says you should only handle each paper once, but it works for us.)

When the kids bring home school announcements, I write all the pertinent information on my giant desktop calendar that's hung on the wall and the flier is tossed. If I have to keep the paper for some reason, it stays by the calendar so I can find it again. When they bring home graded papers, I look over it all and recycle them as well. I only keep really unique artwork and original stories and they go into a bin I have for each kid just for keepsakes.

If I get restaurant coupons or take out menus to places I actually go, I put them all together with a clip magnet and hang them on my fridge so I can see them at dinner time. Recipes should be put in an index box or a notebook. If you still have a recipe from 10 years ago because you "might want to make it someday"--get tough and throw it out. If you ever do get around to being ready to make it, you can most likely find the recipe online.

We subscribe to an entertainment magazine (for me) and a Highlights magazine (for the kids). I read mine from cover to cover, write down the titles of any books that sound interesting from the reviews, and then--you guessed it--recycle it. (I'm from the Northwest. What can I say? I'm big on recycling.) The kids like to read theirs over and over (okay, it's mostly just Bubba) so I keep them all in a basket. When they start to get worn, I toss them as well.

The trick with all this is to keep at it. It doesn't take much for the papers to gang up and attempt a household coup, but if you take care of everything immediately, it's that much easier to stay one step ahead.

May 9, 2012

The Call of Nature

Last night I started looking up campsites in the TX/OK area and I can almost smell the campfire already. Summer camping is a long family tradition that goes back generations and is continuing with me and my family. I grew up camping every summer. We started out tent camping and us 3 girls became pros at putting up that 2 room tent. We never quite mastered the using-nature's-bathroom-without-peeing-down-your-own-leg skill though, so it was always a blessing when we found a site near restroom facilities. And when our parents finally bought a small motorhome? We had it made! We had air conditioning and soft beds! And anywhere we stayed we would scout out blackberries that my mom would throw together with some Bisquik to make a blackberry cobbler in the oven. That's the life right there.

MC and I dream of one day having a pop-up or small trailer but for now we are happy with our tent. This year we even have 2 tents--one for us and one for the kids. We always try to scout out a site that's near water (preferably a river) and that has hiking trails. Those 2 things will bring hours of entertainment for all of us. And if that isn't enough, MC invested in a wrist rocket for the kids to practice their target shooting. It's basically a sling shot that we use to shoot BBs. We save our empty soda cans and use them as targets, and the kids can then indulge in glorious visions of stalking villains and taking them out with a single shot. I wasn't too sure of this activity at first but it turns out it's pretty fun. And it makes me a whole lot less nervous than the kids' other favorite way to pass the time--playing with the mini ax. They don't actually "play" with it, they just get to use it to chop up firewood while Daddy closely supervises and teaches them proper use, but it still puts me on edge. When they pull out the ax I retreat to the comfort of my tent and escape into my book, praying that I will never have to whip out my "I told you so".

Our Nintendo DS comes along on the trip but it's reserved for the drive there and back, and then it's kept in the van for emergency use only. Otherwise, it's an electronic-free weekend. The kids bring lots of books, we have cards and games, and we all do some exploring. We have lots of fun just sitting around the campfire talking. That's the best part in my book--just hanging out and enjoying each other. And the more time we spend around the fire, the longer that smell will cling to our clothes when we get back. I always hate to wash our things after a camping trip because then I will no longer have that smoky campfire smell in my nose.

If you haven't been camping, you are missing out. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to sleep on the ground and we're usually limited to Port-a-Pottys for the weekend, but the benefits are so worth the inconvenience. We wake in the morning and the only sound is chirping birds and maybe the sound of a nearby river. No traffic, no alarms, no TV. Without electronics we have to rely on each other and Mother Nature for entertainment. This means hiking, playing in the river, exploring our surroundings, playing cards and games, and talking with each other. Novel concepts indeed. We breakfast on bacon and eggs cooked up on the propane stove or cereal and milk in front of the fire. We dine on hamburgers, hot dogs and soup. But really, dinner is just a stepping stone to get to the real treat--s'mores. No camping trip would be complete without making your own s'mores. I don't really like marshmallows but even I can't pass one up. Instead of the usual graham cracker, marshmallow and Hershey combination, we will vary it up a bit. Sometimes we substitute Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for the Hershey's, or we might use chocolate graham crackers instead of regular ones. Either way we end up with an ooey gooey concoction that is bound to send us into diabetic comas. Or at the very least, leave us with really sticky fingers.

This year, Bubba has stated that he's no longer interested in being outdoors--he's more of an "indoorsman". But we are going to drag him along anyway. It's really not about the outdoors. It's about spending one on one time with your family and making memories that will last a lifetime. And that is worth any inconvenience.

May 7, 2012

Maybe It's Time For a Bicycle

I am a serial killer. Of cars. It's not that I set out to destroy cars, I just have a gift. I'm not sure if it would be negligent homicide? Death by proximity? Whatever it is, I'm tough on my cars and tend to run them into the ground. I've had so much car trouble, in fact, that I keep a tow truck driver on speed dial. When I call, he doesn't answer with "Hello", he answers with "Where are you this time?".

I once had a station wagon that I killed when I neglected to keep oil in it. I believe that is the only instance where an auto death can be directly tied to my lack of car upkeep. Usually I am presented with odd problems. For instance, I was driving my Blazer across an overpass 4 stories up when the front axle decided to break. That was a little scary. Especially when I couldn't get it to go any further than the junction where 2 freeways merged. The sway bar in my previous mini van broke when I bottomed out in a pothole. Supposedly sway bars are next to impossible to break. (Like I said, it's a gift.) I also had a car suddenly start smoking from the steering column while I was driving. Turns out some of the wiring was frying inside; it was quite interesting at the time. I've had more than my share of flat tires, a shredded fan belt, leaks in the radiators, a broken thermostat, a whole army of dead batteries, fatally wounded transmissions and even bad gas that caused my car to spontaneously shut off while driving. I've driven 2-doors, 4-doors, station wagons and mini vans, and just about every one of them has died a suspicious death.

So it really should be no surprise that Suzy is ailing. Suzy the grape, our beloved purple mini van, is starting to give out. The surprise is that this time it's different. She's like one of those fiesty old ladies you meet whose mind is sharp as a tack but her body is failing. Suzy's engine is holding strong but her body is starting to give out. The passenger window won't roll down. The sliding door locks stick and now one of them won't open with the power lock button; it has to be opened manually. The driver's side slider is getting tough to slide open and closed. The speakers are going out. Getting any FM channels is hit or miss. If I do get one to come in, it will turn off--and then back on--whenever it feels like it. There is a hidden leak in my cooling system so I don't have A/C (as you may remember from last summer). My heater core has gone out so I can't use my defrost or vents and it leaks inside when it rains. Oh, and my cup holder is broken.

These are unusual problems for me. How can Suzy run great but be such a mess on the inside? While I can live without the radio (as long as the CD player holds up), I dread getting into the van in the 90* heat with only one window down to cool everyone off. I'm considering shearing off the whole top and turning Suzy into a convertible. Who says a mini van can't be topless?

When I lived close to my sister we used to rely on each other for everything. We balanced out each other's weaknesses to the point that we used to joke that between the two of us we made one really great mom. I'm thinking that would be a great concept with all my cars. If I could just take all the cars I've owned and piece them together, I would have one smooth ride. Yes, it would probably come out looking like Dr. Frankenstein's version of an automobile, but a girl will do what she has to for A/C!

May 4, 2012

In Case of Emergency, Pray

I love being a girl. I love makeup and dresses and shoes. I love chatting with my girlfriends and getting weepy at movies. I love that it's socially acceptable for me to know squat about my car and have to rely on a guy to fix it. Yes, being a girl definitely has its perks. Of course, it also has a few negatives, such as that unwanted monthly visitor and PMS and childbirth. And makeup and hairstyles and getting weepy at movies. But one of the toughest things about being a female is always having to be alert. We are taught that women are the easier targets and so, at a young age, we are also taught how NOT to be a victim.

Once you get your driver's license and become independent, things get even tougher. Getting gas becomes a chore with tucking your purse out of sight while at the pump. If you have to go in and pay, you take that purse and your keys with you and you always check your back seat before you climb in lest you've acquired an unwanted visitor who is hiding back there. Going shopping? NEVER go to your car with your arms loaded. Wear your purse over your shoulder and tucked tightly under your arm. Shoulders back, head up, keys in hand, constantly scan your surroundings while making eye contact with every person you see.

When I was in middle school and high school, our city had a big gang problem. One of the popular ways for a new recruit to be initiated in a gang was for him to hide out under a car at the mall. When the unsuspecting driver stood at the door to unlock it, the recruit would then slash the driver's Achilles tendon. So in addition to the crowd scanning, back seat checking, I-am-not-a-victim routine, we now had to add checking under the car.

It's no wonder I've grown up so paranoid. See, I have this secret hobby. I like to plan out and prepare for worst-case-scenario/disaster events. I don't mean that I have an underground bunker or that I stash freeze dried food in case of a zombie apocalypse or anything. No, what I do is anytime I find myself in a situation that has a 1 in 20 billion chance of turning into some kind of nightmarish event, I think, "What would I do?" For example, when I was first married and unemployed, I would wait until MC was off to work and then I would soak in a hot shower with the radio on. I made sure the house was all locked up so no one could get in. But, what if someone did get in? I would need some kind of weapon. It wasn't unusual for me to shower with MC's hockey stick or a hammer close by. Do you see what I mean?

Another example (and this one is pretty recent) happened while I was in the car. I was delivering a new piece of glass to my friend. I had this 2ft sheet of glass just propped against the passenger seat while I was driving. I looked over and it occurred to me that if I got in some kind of accident or had to swerve suddenly, that glass could easily slide across the seat and slice through my leg. So I mentally prepared myself. "What would I do?" Well, assuming it didn't cut through my femoral artery, I would have a little bit of time before I passed out from blood loss. I'd need a tourniquet. I don't wear a belt but I did have a long winter scarf on the seat next to me. And I'd have to call 911. Was my phone close enough that I would be able to reach it after I'd stemmed the bleeding?

These are the things that routinely go through my head. I haven't shared this with many people, but I DO know that I am not the only one. So you would think that with all my disaster preparedness I'd be great in times of crisis. HA! That is so patently false as to make me laugh. I am horrible in a crisis. Everything I've ever learned or been taught flies right out the window and I just stand there, mouth gaping open like a fish, while everyone else around me scurries into action. The only time I can say I've actually been proactive during a moment of crisis was the one time I shouldn't have been proactive.

I was at home in my split level house, just me and Howdy (who was a baby at the time), when I heard a noise downstairs, someone was moving around down there. My heart jumped into my throat as all these horrible thoughts flashed across my mind like the news ticker on CNN. Theft. Rape. Torture. Murder. Someone was in my house and it could only be bad news. I was terrified. I don't own a gun, I don't know any self-defense moves, and I had a sleeping baby. What should I do?

I couldn't just sit there and do nothing so I relied on my fall back emergency plan--I called my sister, who lived 2 houses down at the time. I told her what was going on, and then I told her I had a plan. I was going to get a knife from the kitchen and go downstairs TO. INVESTIGATE. (Yeah, you read that right. I told you I'm useless in a crisis.) I left the phone off the hook so she could call 911 if she heard me screaming (Seriously. That was part of my plan.), and then I went and grabbed the biggest knife I could find.

Let's just pause here for a moment. See, I had an upstairs balcony with stairs that led to the backyard. I could've scooped up Howdy and made it to my sister's without the intruder ever knowing I was gone, and then I could've called the police to come out and do a drive by. But no, not me. Knife in hand, I creep downstairs, forgetting the fact that if you approach an intruder with a weapon that weapon is most likely to be turned against you. What I would've done in the face of an actual madman intent on doing me harm I'll thankfully never know because it turned out to be merely my husband. He had forgotten some tools and he popped in to grab them. He didn't shout up at me when he came in because he was worried about disturbing me and the baby. I got scolded after I explained why I was carrying a knife, and I had to reassure my sister that I wasn't being murdered while she waited on the phone, but all was well.

So, am I paranoid? Yes, I've been trained to be. Am I well-equipped to handle an emergency? Let's just say that I hope your life is never in my hands. (Maybe that's why I harbor secret fantasies of being a kick-a** warrior chick who can take out the bad guys without breaking a nail or a sweat.) And while I may grumble about some of the things I have to deal with as a girl, I am forever grateful that as a girl I am expected to run from trouble while it is the guys who are expected to run toward it.

May 2, 2012

A Letter To My High School Self

While trying to figure out the best advice to give my niece and nephew who are still navigating high school, I couldn't help but reflect back on my own high school years. There were things I loved, things I hated and things I wish I could go back and change. Would I go back and do it all over again? Yes--but only if I could do it with the wisdom that comes with hindsight and experience. (After all, I'm not completely insane.) Or at the very least, I wish I could send some advice to the teenage me. This is what I would say:

Dear Slacker Teen,

You did it! You made it through middle school. Now you just have to survive the next 4 years. I know the idea of high school is a bit daunting right now but, for the most part, it's not as bad as you fear. You're going to feel a little timid about getting involved in things at first--don't! Jump in with both feet! These years will go by so fast; soak up every experience.

When you get the chance to take Advanced classes, sign up--and stick with them. Challenge yourself. And when you get straight A's, don't start thinking you're all that. You're not. You will find out after you meet graduates from other schools that your 4.0 GPA is highly overrated. There are schools out there that have a much harder curriculum. Don't make the mistake of thinking you are smarter than anyone. And while we're there, throw out all your pedestals right now. No one deserves to be perched on one. Not boys, not friends, not teachers, not celebrities. Pedestals are rickety and unbalanced and the fall from one can hurt both you and the person seated on it.

Don't pick on any of the nerdy kids. It will take you awhile to admit it, but you are one of them. Those smart kids? Those drama geeks? Those goody two-shoes? They are some of the best kids you will ever become friends with. And while we're at it, don't pick on anyone. Ever. You have no idea what's going on with them inside or what they are dealing with at home.

When your best friend asks you to go to church with her, go. Don't wait, because when you get older you will find yourself wishing you had had more than 2 years' worth of devotionals, youth rallies, camp and hanging out with the youth group. Those kids will become lifelong friends and you will wish you had spent more time with them.

Spend less time with boys. Having a boyfriend isn't everything. Right now your Daddy is the only guy you need. Don't put yourself in a situation where you will have to deal with temptation. You are not strong enough. And when that boy that you are convinced you love threatens to break up with you unless you have sex with him, junk punch him and run in the other direction. Despite what you will think at the time, he is not The One. For that matter, neither are any of the other guys you will meet in the next few years, so don't waste your time. Trust me on this. You will meet your Prince Charming not long out of high school, and your relationship with him will be more than you ever imagined. Be patient; he's worth the wait.

You will have moments of bravery, moments when you put yourself out there and throw caution to the wind. Good for you! Do more of that! Be that girl and take risks. Don't ever let the opinions of others stop you from doing something you want to do. That is the person you will grow up to be. You will be the girl who dresses up when no one else does. You will be the goofy mascot or the loud cheerleader--whatever it takes to make your family and friends laugh and feel better. You will embrace every opportunity to perform in public--even if it means embarrassing yourself. You might as well start getting used to it now.

My last piece of advice for you is the most important. If I could go back and force you to do one thing, it would be this: Stop Worrying! Don't stress so much! Boys aren't worth it, you've got the schoolwork down, and you'll never see most of your classmates again after graduation. Just relax; have fun. Concentrate on enjoying your friends and doing what you love. Stay true to yourself and never mind anyone else. Once you get this lesson down, the rest is just cake.