December 14, 2013

Nightmares and Nonsense

Sassy is a sleepwalker. It doesn't happen frequently but it does happen. When we lived in WA, she would come downstairs, walk all the way around my bed to get to the side where I sleep and then utter something nonsensical before I would tuck her back in her own bed. By all appearances, she looked fully awake the whole time.

Since living in TX, it's only happened a couple of times. Once she came in and woke me up and asked, "Can I eat that?" She wasn't even holding anything. I answered, "No, go back to bed" and then she turned around and did just that.

Right now she is sick, poor baby. For 2 days she's been fighting a fever that has spiked to 103* several times and has caused some very interesting conversations. This morning she woke me up at about 4am--she was crying and said she'd been having nightmares. I climbed out of bed and snuggled up on the couch where she was camped. She tried to explain her nightmares but said she couldn't and eventually drifted off to sleep. Laid out on my side on my 2 inches of couch I attempted to do the same but with considerably less success. While she dozed off and on, I alternated between trying to keep my body on the couch without it going numb and racing through the day's packed schedule in my head.

Occasionally Sassy would wake up, always crying a bit. The first time she told me her forehead hurt. She followed that up with, "I didn't mean for it to be so big." Whaaa? You didn't mean to have a big forehead? Or a big headache? I just sat there trying to decipher what she meant while she just laid there with her eyes open and looking miserable. I gave up and she fell asleep again.

She woke up a 2nd time, crying, and I assumed she'd had nightmares again. She started gesturing to the air above her stomach and mumbling something I couldn't translate. On the 3rd try I finally got it--"There are so many dispensers here!" Apparently those invisible dispensers (?) were causing her a lot of anxiety. I just sat there staring at her. What was I supposed to say? Eventually she turned her head and caught me staring at her. That set off a whole new round of crying.

When she finally fell asleep again, I admitted that I was never going to get any sleep out there with her. I finally slipped off the couch and into my own bed at 7am. At 7:33 she woke me up because of her nightmares again. Back to the couch.

She mumbled some more nonsense 2 more times but my sleep-deprived brain can't seem to recall it, and she is currently still on the couch making her attempt at sleeping. I'm now afraid that after my restless night on the couch I may just end up sounding like her today. So if I wander up to you today and mutter something completely ridiculous, just blame Sassy's fever.

December 6, 2013

Thunderstorm Ahead

The weather in Texas is as unpredictable as the lottery. You'll have warm temperatures and clear skies, a perfect day to be outside. But then, as your eyes make another pass across that ocean of blue above you, you realize it's not as blue as it was a moment ago, not as bright. And that's when you see that wall of grey advancing.

It's a thunderstorm heading right in your direction. With little to no warning you are suddenly under a deluge of pouring rain, violent winds, and thunder that shakes the foundation of your house. Day turns to night as the sunlight is choked off by the swollen clouds. These storms are unpredictable, sometimes lasting just a few minutes and sometimes dragging on for what seems like hours. Those on the ground have no choice but to hunker down and wait it out, praying they stay dry, that the house will hold firm, that the trees will stay rooted.

As quickly as it starts, it's over. For Mother Nature, the orchestrator of the whole event, this is a chance to wash everything clean, to purge all the pollution and start anew. As for the rest of us, we are left shaken and anxious as we survey the damage and go about the task of setting things to right. It takes time for our nerves to settle, and we are just thankful to have survived the storm intact.

Life goes back to normal until the next freak storm, whirling tornado, or flash flood.

But, wait...didn't you know? This isn't just the description of storms in the spring, this is what it's like when Hurricane Bubba sweeps through. This is what it's like when his senses get overloaded, his anxiety spikes, or the world just does not match up to the way his brain tells him it should be. The yelling, screaming, kicking, hitting, throwing, crying commences and the only thing the rest of us can do is to hunker down and try to contain the damage. And when it's over, Bubba will carry on while the rest of us take longer to set things to right, both physically and emotionally.

While we return to life as usual, there is always that small part of us that remains on alert, that is on the lookout for another storm to pop up with no warning.

November 28, 2013

My Turkey's Name is Murphy

It's 8:02am on Thanksgiving. I have been up for exactly 32 minutes and already I have laughed and I have cried. And I'm the only one awake.

It started with me randomly waking up enough to look at the clock and realizing that I overslept. I was supposed to be up an hour earlier to get the turkey in. Jump out of bed, race to the kitchen, dig out the only-used-once-a-year roasting pan from where it is stored on top of my hutch and beneath all the mini appliances--without waking the kids, of course--and then start prepping the oven and the turkey.

The turkey was freed of all its hidden giblets and other unknown organs that I refuse to think about lest it remind me that I have my hand inside something that was once a living animal, and then it was rinsed and patted dry and set aside in the roasting pan to await the final treatment. On to the onions.

I know there's some secret to cutting onions without them making you cry but I have yet to discover that. And lucky me, I chose the onion that I had bought several weeks ago (don't freak out--onions are good up to 6 weeks after you buy them). I have discovered that onions are like wine or cheese; the longer they sit, the more they ferment and they grow more potent. While it was still fresh and usable, that seemingly innocuous onion was harboring secret kryptonite-like powers. I cut the ends off first and immediately smelled that obnoxious onion smell, but it wasn't until I cut the thing in half that it hit me. Oh, good heavens! The wave of onion vapors didn't just waft through the air, it came at me like a freight train and slammed right into my tear ducts. My eyes started to water and I had to turn my face away. Squeezing my eyes tight seemed to help a bit so I did that a few times and turned back. Good night! I swear, the onion had grown stronger. My momentary show of weakness was just the opportunity it needed to double its forces. My eyes started closing on their own and I had to force them open so I wouldn't cut my fingers instead of the onion. Tears poured out in a useless attempt to wash away the burn. It was all I could do not to rub my eyes which probably would have resulted in a trip to the emergency room so instead I grabbed the nearest towel and rubbed it on my face.

Yes, that would be the towel I used to dry my raw turkey after rinsing out the giblet residue.


I just used the essence of raw meat to cut through the onion burn.

On the plus side, it worked. So after some serious scrubbing, I finished prepping my turkey--buttered, seasoned, foil-tented (which is an art itself). I have 2 built-in ovens and I had already checked to make sure I was using the bigger one and had lowered the rack. This isn't the first time I've cooked Thanksgiving turkey in this house so imagine my surprise when the turkey didn't fit. I had to flatten down my beautiful dome so I could get it past the heating coils and still didn't fit. No problem; I turned my roasting pan sideways. It still didn't fit. My pan was just way too big. How was it that I didn't remember this particular problem?

I set the turkey on the stove and just laughed as I tried to come up with a solution that didn't involve ordering a pizza for Thanksgiving dinner. I took off the foil tent and then grabbed one of my other baking pans. I picked up the rack and set the whole thing down in the new pan. The rack was too big. The ends of it hung over the side. The turkey fit, however, and all the drippings would be caught in the pan so I figured it was a good last choice. I dug around a bit and found another baking pan. I had better luck with this one as I was able to force the feet of the rack inside the pan.

Turkey is in--crisis averted. Nothing else can possibly go wrong today. Right?

November 18, 2013

Driving Me To Drink

After years of dreaming, months of saving (then spending that savings and having to save it again), hours and hours of online research, and even a trip or two to look at our prospects, we finally bought a new car.

But have no fear, it was not a standard, boring business transaction. Oh no, we certainly can't have that. Because if I have to do something like buy a car, it can't be normal. It has to be (all together now) an adventure. Which is really just code for, "Am I being Punk'd?"

I had an inkling of what was to come when I got a phone call the other day. MC and I had applied for financing online for this one particular car lot we'll call The Lot (I know, creative genius, right?). The next morning I got a call from Bob. Let me clarify Bob. This was not "Bahb" who will scratch his belly while watching "da Bears", this was "Bobe" (pronounced quickly and succinctly) who looks like Eugene Levy with a bushy mustache and speaks like Chirag from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies. Are you with me? Ok. So, I answer the phone and he identifies himself as being from The Lot, which I knew we had applied at. Then he asks for Paul. Now, I generally don't use real names but I am going to make an exception here. MC's name is not Paul--it's Chris. Seeing as how I was sort of expecting this call, I went ahead and made the necessary correction, "Do you mean Chris?"

I was met with silence.
Then I added, "My husband is Chris."
Bobe replied, "He is sick? Oh, I'm sorry."
Me, "No, his name is Chris."
Bobe, "Yes, I'm sorry to call at a bad time."
Me: rolling my eyes and praying for patience, "Can I help you?"

I was so not impressed with my introduction with The Lot but since we might end up with another car company, I wasn't too worried. Fast forward a few days and we pull into a car lot to test drive (and hopefully buy) a van we saw online. As we walk into the office, a man comes out and says, "You must be Chris? I am glad you are feeling better." Nooooooo! My eyes shoot over to MC with a mix of disbelief and alarm. We're seriously going to do business with Bobe?! This better be a reaaalllly good car.

As he gathers the keys, he informs us that the car we really wanted has been sold but our other inquiry is still on the lot and, by the way, there is now a third one as well. At least we have options, right? And just so we were aware of how new the vans were, Bobe repeatedly pointed out that one was an "oh-ten' and one was an "oh-eleven". (Am I the only one who finds this not only wrong but highly irritating???) Stepping outside we go to the van, open it up and try to check out the interior. Given that it was now 6:00, it was too dark to see anything and the interior lights didn't come on. And when MC tried to turn the key in the ignition, we discovered the battery was dead. Not a good omen.

But not to worry, Bobe saved the day. As he explained, "Dees cars, you leave da lights for a week and da battery, it does not work." Noted. He was able to jump off the battery and get it going for us. We looked it over, tried out all the seats, fiddled with all the knobs, and then away we went. Once away from The Lot, I felt a little better. The car drove really nice, it had lots of bells and whistles (you know, like A/C and heat, windows that roll down, and a radio), and was in great condition. Yay!

Back at The Lot, we ask Bobe if we can test drive the 3rd van and he then informs us someone is on their way to (possibly) pick it up. Seriously? We weren't gone that long. Did you not feel like mentioning that we had our eye on it as well? But whatevs. We liked the one we test drove. Even though we now found out it was $1000 more than the one we came to look at originally.

Of course it was.

But it did have everything we wanted, the price was still good--even with a warranty, and they were willing to finance our less-than-stellar credit. Deep breath, try not to hyperventilate, "We'll take it!"

And so began the hour and a half process of watching Bobe type at his computer and then wander around the office asking questions and searching for his stapler. We came to the conclusion that Bobe was trained at the "Hello, my name is Peggy" school of customer service. After comparing the 2 warranty options, we asked if he knew what the difference was. Big mistake. He then took the brochures and proceeded to read aloud what each one offered. Dude, seriously! Did you not see us doing the exact same thing just a minute ago??? After letting him recite a few lines and sharing "you have GOT to be kidding me" looks, MC interrupted with, "We'll take #2."

Bobe kept reading.

This whole time, I'd been bouncing around in my chair like a 5 year old hyped up on Red Bull and off her Ritalin. Leg bouncing, foot tapping, eyes rolling, head bobbing, arms flailing randomly. The stress of adding another bill combined with having left my phone with the minions and my book in the car couldn't compete with the Addled Tortoise From India and I was ready to bounce off the walls. MC just sat there silently chastising me.

Until Bobe kept reading.

When MC starts to lose his cool, something is going wrong. (Or right, depending on how you look at it. I found it highly entertaining and a very good distraction.) When Bobe would stop for a breath, MC would butt in with, "That sounds fine. We'll take that one." Only after the 3rd or 4th time and MC raising his voice just shy of a growl did Bobe finally catch on.

The rest of our time there was an exercise in patience and loving your fellow man as Bobe kept pronouncing our last name as "Tarp" instead of "Tharp", couldn't figure out what to do about the odd spelling of MC's name, lost his stapler--twice, kept pointing out that the van had power seats (only on the driver's seat but he chose not to catch our correction) and generally tried his best to not listen to us.
"Do you want 60 months or 48 months?"
"We want 48."
"We also offer 54 months."
"We want 48."
"Here is the price for 54 months." Grrrr!

But in the end, we became the proud owners of a fully-functioning, good-looking mini van that is only 3 years old and comes in a sparkling, metallic, Seattle Seahawk blue. Oh, and we are also the owners of a contract signed in blood wherein we pledged to pay out in sweat, tears, and our very souls for the next 48 (NOT 54) months until the thing is paid off.

Let the adventure begin!

(Editor's note: MC pointed out that since we were buying a Dodge at D**** Imports, it must be the employees who were imported and not the cars.)

November 8, 2013

Flashback Friday: Explicitly Yours

I'm bringing Flashback back!

Yeah, it doesn't have the same kind of zing as bringing sexy back, but I have to work with what I've got. And what I've got is a new Flashback.

Today I present to you one of my more humiliating moments (and that is truly saying something). And it's actually pretty recent. So buckle up for another ride on the "Why does this have to happen to me?" train.

MC and I have now celebrated our 18th year of marriage. (Go us!) 18 years, 3 kids, 8 addresses, 10 pets and a countless number of cars later and we are still going strong. One of the challenges of keeping a marriage strong for so long is sustaining the fire. How do you keep that spark alive when your spouse has seen you sick, grouchy, and PMS-ing? When he's had a front row seat during 3 births (and yeah, it's all miraculous, but it's still not pretty)? When you have intimate knowledge of your spouse's morning breath, snoring habits, bodily functions and smells (and yes, I'm talking about mine), how do you ensure that the fire is still burning?

Over the years, we've found ways to get creative. I won't go into too many details except to say I love smart phones. I can text my husband little hints and secret messages all day long at work to build up that anticipation. I can send him pics (Hey, don't judge! 18 years, remember?) and get that oven pre-heated while still doing the laundry at home. And we take full advantage of this modern wonder.

If you are one of my FB friends, you know what's coming. If not, let me enlighten you. On a very boring, nothing special day in April of last year, MC was sitting at the computer with his back to me while I was waiting for the mom of the little boy I took care of to pick him up. Realizing that certain aspects of our marriage had been a little too neglected, I decided to offer up a remedy for that in a simple, clear cut manner. Anticipating the moment when MC would get the message and then turn around to give me that saucy little wink, I sent him a text. A very special text. It didn't involve any pictures--hello? Sitting with a 2 year old?--but I did make a suggestion for the evening's activities.

I was not I could have been but I was still disappointed when it failed to stir MC from his computer screen. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt since he had no idea what was being sent--maybe he was planning on looking at the phone in a minute. So I waited. And waited. Still nothing. I busied myself with Little Man until I couldn't stand it any longer. Finally I had to ask, "Seriously?! No reaction at all? I got nothin'?" Unfortunately MC had no idea what I talking about. He never got the text.

And why, dear children, didn't he get my text? Because I didn't send it to him. I SENT IT TO SOMEONE ELSE! There are a number of people that I could have accidentally sexted and it would have been no big deal. (Not sure what exactly that says about my friends...) If I had sent it to one of my sisters, perhaps, they would have laughed and it would be brought up at family gatherings for the rest of my life but I would have been laughing with them. Even my parents would be a good recipient as they would no doubt just tease me a bit and move on. But, did I sent this explicit invitation for some sexy time to any of them? Noooooooooo! Of course not--then I wouldn't bother blogging about it. So who, you ask, was the lucky one who got to read the plans I was making for my hunk of Man Candy?

The mother of the child that I provided child care for.

That's right--Little Man's mama, whom I had texted earlier, was sent the message that was meant only for MC's eyes. It takes a lot to embarrass me but I have to tell you I. WAS. MORTIFIED! She's not one of my liberal minded friends, she is a conservative member of the Texas bible belt. How in the world was I going to face her? Day after day? And was I actually going to have to explain to her that those words weren't really meant for her? I mean, I hoped she knew I don't swing that way, but still...Gah! Oh, and did I mention she's the sister of my sister-in-law? What will I do if this gets back to my husband's family? I will never be able to live this down!

I did the only thing a mature, married, responsible woman could do in this situation. I apologized by text so I wouldn't have to look her in the eye while doing it. I mean, seriously, what was I supposed to do? Wait until she came by to pick up the precious child she entrusted to me and, as I'm handing him over, apologize to her for soliciting her for sex? My willingness to embarrass myself only goes so far. Luckily, she took it well. She is, after all, married with 3 children so it's not like she's never had to pre-heat the oven herself. But that didn't make it any less embarrassing when she came to pick up her son.

And the reaction I got from MC? Sooo not the one I had planned. Instead of an afternoon delight I got to play witness to him wondering how on earth he managed to snag such a brilliant wife.

Needless to say I am much more careful when I send out any...personal...texts to my husband now. Yes, I still send them but I double- and sometimes triple-check the recipient before I hit send. It would be just my luck that I would send one out to the wrong person and they would actually accept. I have enough blog fodder without that.

November 1, 2013

Isn't School Over Yet?

When I was in school, my favorite subjects were English and History. Now that Bubba is in school, I LOATHE English and History. I can't tell you how much I hate these classes. Why is that? I'm so glad you asked.

The other day I got a call from someone at Bubba's school giving me a heads up that he failed the Reading pre-test they were given. Of course, this isn't just any pre-test, this is a practice for the BIG ONE they have to do at the end of the year--the STAAR test. This is the test that teachers around here dread because every year the test gets harder but the curriculum doesn't, so the kids and the teachers can't really keep up with what's on them. Oh, and the teachers are pretty much graded on how well their students do. Kids fail? Must be bad teaching. Personally, I hate them with every fiber of my being. Sassy come home last year in tears because she was told that she'd better be ready for the STAAR test--the one that if she didn't pass, she wouldn't move on to the next grade. They were already telling the kids about the 6th grade STAAR--she was in 4th grade! She was stressed out over a test 2 years away! I flat out told my kids, "I don't care how you do on the test. I care how you do in your every day work in class."

So Bubba failed the precursor test. If he fails the BIG ONE he will have to have a tutoring class just for the test, he may have to attend summer school, or he'll simply be held back. The best thing? There is no consideration for the fact that this is my Autistic son we're talking about.

In their defense, they have the same problem many in Bubba's life have--how much do you coddle a kid who aces his classes and does math for fun? He is super smart; we all acknowledge that. But how about acknowledging his shortcomings?

In October I had the joy of attending his annual ARD meeting. This is the meeting where we go over his behavior and education plan for the year. At least, that's what they say it's for. What it really is is a chance for all those involved to re-read the paperwork that was in place at the last meeting and tentatively ask, "Are there any questions?" while hoping and praying that mom doesn't open her mouth. I got pretty lucky the last few years in that I felt there were some who were actually proactive in the ARD meetings. That wasn't the case before that school and so far that hasn't been the case after.

I walked into the meeting and I got to meet the woman who is in charge of Bubba's 15 minutes per week of speech. (Yes, I said 15 minutes A WEEK. I spend more time than that in a day working on his enunciation, socialization, and awareness. I almost think, "Why bother?" But that's all he's ever been allotted in school. Bless you, public education.) She spent about 2 minutes (literally) in the meeting introducing herself and saying things were fine and then she left. Then the lady in charge of the Special Ed program began reading through page after page of ARD notes while a fresh faced college grad (who didn't look any older than the lady in charge), an older administrator (I'm assuming since no one introduced themselves), and Bubba's math teacher sat in. College Grad's job was to take notes so he had no say in what was going on and Administrator most likely has never set eyes on Bubba.

Since I am not with Bubba for the 6 hours he's in school, I rely heavily on the teachers to help me out with what his needs are at school. I know how he works, having homeschooled him and the fact that, you know, I'm his mother, but I don't know how things change for him unless they tell me. Bubba certainly isn't sharing anything. The kid doesn't even know when he has homework. Anyway...we get through the reading of The Plan, blah, blah, blah...and then comes my favorite part.

"Do you have any questions or concerns?"

See, if I don't ask questions or bring things up, no one else will. YES, I have concerns. My child had to drop Art class (which I told everyone involved before school started that they should take him out of that class) and they put him in a social skills class. I approved this (as a possibility even though no one told me it actually happened) with the understanding that he would either be helping the teacher or doing some kind of computer based curriculum. Imagine my surprise when he came home from school all excited because his new teacher told him he could download Minecraft on the computer to play during class. When I mentioned at the meeting that I had a problem with this, I was met with blank stares and the sound of crickets. No one knew what Minecraft was. I said, "None of you have kids, do you?" They don't. (It happens to be a videogame the kids are crazy about.) After spelling it out so everyone could write it down, I explained that while I don't have a problem with the game, I would prefer my son to be doing educational work while in school. (The next day Bubba was disappointed because the teacher told him mom said he can't do Minecraft at school. Thanks.)

I also had to mention that unless Bubba made some drastic improvements, not only would doing the Reading STAAR test be a struggle, but I'm not expecting him to pass. It's not the Reading so much that he has a problem with, it's the spontaneous writing that he won't do. You can't plunk him down in front of a test and tell him to do expository writing. It just ain't gonna happen. It stresses him out beyond belief to have to think of something to write. It took HOURS of listening to him yell and scream and argue and negotiate before he would write a half page letter to his pen pal last year. There's no way he's going to write without me there to ride herd on him and in a finite period of time.

So their oh-so-astute question was, "Would he do better in a small group?" My response, "A small group is fine; other kids won't bother Bubba. BUT, if you think him screaming, throwing things, crying, yelling, and tossing furniture might disrupt the other students, you might want to think about changing his accommodations to include one-on-one test administration." You would not believe how long it took to convince them.

And in History? He has a huge assignment for National History Day. All the Jr High and High school kids were given this assignment back at the beginning of school. They had to choose from a pre-set list of topics and do a report--either a written report, a video, a documentary, or a visual presentation. It has to include a process paper detailing how you found all your research (RESEARCH! I won't even get into what it's going to take to get that kid to do research.), a bibliography divided into primary and secondary sources, and a written report somewhere between 1500 and 2500 words. It took 12 hours to get half a page out of this kid!!! Are you kidding me?

What this really means is that, if I don't want my son to fail the class, I will be spending all my free time over the coming weeks "helping" him do a research paper on how the Nazis took away the rights of the Jews. Good night! Doesn't that sound like fun? And just so I was aware of what was going on, his teacher emailed me letting me know he was behind on the assignment. I emailed back and told her I hated the assignment. I also said the two of us would get it done but since I refuse to do the work for him, she can expect crap. (I'm sorry, but writing is not his gift.)

You know what the worst part of all of this is? It's not feeling like dealing with the school is pointless, it's not the idea of us both ending up in a crying heap at the library, and it's not the sinking feeling that my son will probably fail in 7th grade. What bothers me most in all of this is I look at him now and I'm already thinking high school and beyond. When I approach these behavior/education planning meetings, my goal is, "What do we do now to prepare him for life on his own?" What bothers me most is I know this is just the beginning. We have years ahead of us of assignments, projects, essays, presentations, and work that his brain is capable of doing, but because he'll get frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, and beyond stressed, he may not be able to complete.

Where do I draw the line between building my child's independence and aiding him in his struggles?

And how do I help both of us accept it when we fail?

October 18, 2013

It's Amazingly Awkward Girl

I literally just got back home from listening to a band play at a bar in Dallas and all I can think is, "Man, it's a good thing I got married young."

I met MC when I was 18 and we were married when I was 20. I had a lot of boyfriends in school but I never really did the dating thing. I never went out and tried to pick up a guy, or try to get picked up by a guy. After tonight I realized that if my getting married had hinged on my ability to do that, I would probably still be single.

I've been going out dancing with the girls for years. We always go out as a group, usually about 3 of us, and it's always a girls' night. I've gotten pretty good about putting out that "I'm married" vibe so I don't have to worry about some random guy trying to hit on me. Occasionally there will be a guy who wants to break into our little dance circle but he gets shut down pretty quickly and moves on to someone with a little more alcohol and a little less common sense. I will be the first to admit that having a guy hit on me after being married for 18 years and at my somewhat young-ish age is appealing. I mean, seriously...who doesn't like an ego boost now and then, right? But the flip side is, do you really want to brag about getting hit on by a guy whose eyes are glazed over and is slurring his words? Yeah, not so much.

So, dancing? It's a girls only affair.

I have a friend who is married to a drummer in a band. I've been telling myself I'm going to go hear the band play but have just never made it. Well, I finally made it tonight. There was no special effort to look nice, just jeans, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes. I did have my hair done (meaning washed) and eye makeup on, but that was more so I wouldn't resemble a zombie than to impress anyone.

After paying the cover, I see Drummer Boy and greet him and I'm bummed to learn that I'll probably be it as far as fans go. His wife stayed home and I knew no one else there. But I had paid the cover and I already made my presence known; it was too late to back out now. The thing about me is I can be embarrassingly outgoing...when I have someone with me. By myself I sort of shrink up and try to find a way to blend into the background so no one will try to do something horrible, like talk to me. Looking around I saw I had 2 choices. I could A) sit at a table by myself, or B) sit at the bar by myself. I chose the bar because it was close to the stage and it just felt less...pathetic.

I planted myself on a stool and decided to order a drink. I'm really not much of an alcohol girl as it seems to only be available in 2 flavors: gym sock sweat and cough syrup. Except for hard cider. I love that. Only they didn't have any. Well, fine. I won't order a drink then. I'll just sit here by myself and look like I'm having the time of my life. Alone.

That actually wouldn't have been too bad except I discovered that sitting by myself at the bar was sort of like hanging out a neon sign that screamed, "She's all alone! She must need company!" While I have no problem turning someone down, I discovered it was made all the more difficult when I couldn't hear what anyone was saying over the music. How do you silently tell someone to go away...without resorting to the use of one particular finger?

If (God forbid) something were to ever happen to MC and I was single again, I'd never make it in the dating world (not that I'd want to). I panic every time someone comes near me. I even stabbed one guy in the eye. It was not pretty.

The first guy who sat at the bar 2 seats away from me introduced himself and asked my name. Then he offered to buy me a drink which I politely declined. Another man kept giving my shoe a high-five when he walked by until I stopped sitting with my legs crossed. In the spirit of the season, there was a giant skull that was lit up from the inside that sat on the bar behind me. One gentleman asked me if I always bring my ex-boyfriend's skull with me. I answered yes. He was just playing around and before he left, he warned me not to make out with it. Thank you for that sound advice, sir. I'll try to contain myself.

At one point, a young man planted himself right in front of me and started speaking. First of all, you're blocking my view. Second, I can't hear a thing you're saying! No, it doesn't do any good to talk right into my ear. I STILL. CAN'T. HEAR. YOU. I honestly have no idea what he was trying to say to me. Until he asked for my phone number. Really??? Is that how the bar pick-up/dating thing works? You know nothing about me, not even my name, but want to call me up sometime? Do you just collect numbers and then call them all the next day hoping you'll get a hit? Like a dating lottery you hope today's collection of numbers pays off?

Oh, but wait. It got better. Screaming back to him I held up my left hand (which is actually naked thanks to a loose prong on my wedding ring) and replied that I was married. So sad, now go away. His response? "Me too." What?! Then what are you doing?!?! And then he proceeded to pull his dog tags out from his shirt so I could see that he's in the military. Because knowing he's enlisted will forgive the fact that he's a married man asking for a strange woman's phone number. Ew.

Eventually, by avoiding eye contact and showing off a studious interest in the band, I managed to get across my extreme disinterest and he went away. Then Super Fan showed up. This was a guy that I assumed was friends with the band as he kept hopping up on stage and getting right in their faces to take pictures of all of them. It was only when he planted himself on the stool next to me and asked me what the band's name was that I realized his enthusiasm may have been fueled a bit by alcohol. He asked if I knew the band and I told him I knew the drummer. He then proceeded to scroll through all the pictures on his phone and asked me if I wanted him to send them to my FB page. Um, no, I'm good, thanks. Unfortunately I have a habit of talking with my hands (especially in noisy bars) and as I was gesturing to his phone, I managed to poke him in the eye--under his glasses. Oh yeah, I am THAT good.

Oh, and did I mention that I was only there for 1 hour?

While I guess I wasn't actually hit on a lot, I realized that I don't even know how to have a conversation with a strange man in public without a safety net. Is that weird? Or is that just part of being married so long? I can sit and have conversations with men I don't know at church, at the kids' schools, at...okay, that's the extent of my social life but you get the idea; a bar just feels different.

And that's why I'm glad I don't ever have to try to navigate the dating scene. Not that it would have to take place in a bar, but at some point I would have to figure out how to make conversation...without causing bodily harm.

MC, don't ever leave me.

October 11, 2013

The Fair and the Not So Fair

Dilemma: Your children have a day off of school for Fair Day and are given free admission tickets. And while you are looking forward to a family outing, they would rather stay at home and aren't all that revved up about going to a Fair when they know rides aren't on the agenda. What do you do?

Solution: You drag them along and tell them they will like it or else. But as a concession to them, you do let them bring along a book.

Yes, this is exactly how our Fair Day went down. MC and I did debate whether or not to leave the kids at home. What was the point of taking them if they weren't going to enjoy it anyway? Sassy was the only one who was at all interested in going (At least, until she was reminded about the no rides policy. That's what we have Six Flags season passes for.). As it's supposed to be a family event, the choice was either the whole family goes or we let the kids stay home while us parents went. The kids would've been fine on their own but they are always at home. We decided to make them go if for no other reason then they could be bored away from home.

Upon arriving at the Fair, the first 15 minutes sounded like this (thank you, Bubba):
"I don't think I like this parking space. We're going to fall! I'm afraid to climb out!" (We were parked on an incline.)
"Hey, Bubba, you're standing in an ant hill." (followed by wailing and running)
"I hate this day! I hate bugs! Why does this have to happen to me?! Get them off!" (which MC proceeded to do since Bubba refused to swipe at the ants biting him lest he actually touch one)
"How long do we have to stay? Can you see everything you want in 2 hours?"
"Is it too late to turn around and take us back home?"
Howdy never said a peep as he had his nose buried in his phone.

I finally had to tell Bubba he wasn't allowed to walk next to me anymore because I couldn't handle another word of complaint. (Oh yeah, I've got Mom of the Year in the bag.) Gritting my teeth and silently repeating the refrain, "I will have fun. I will have fun.", we finally made it past the gate and began the debate of what to do first. Since most of us didn't want to be there to begin with, it was really a futile exercise but I feigned enthusiasm and we set forth on our journey of FUN.

We started off at the pig races where we cheered on speedy swine with clever monikers such as Piggy Monster, Jean Claude Van Ham, and Squealy Nelson. And we couldn't help but wonder, what happened to the loser? Was he served up as dinner? And is eating a sausage on a stick while watching a pig race morbid?

At the petting zoo, we joined in the long line of people thrusting seed- and grain-filled hands in the faces of uninterested animals in the hopes of getting them to slobber all over us while eating said seed and grain. We threw out the appropriate animal puns ("Alpaca suitcase for our trip", "Hey, Marty! Guess what day it is!"), oohed and aahed over how cute baby animals are, and then slathered ourselves in hand sanitizer before moving on.

My favorite thing about Fairs nowadays is that everything you can possibly imagine is offered up FRIED. I have to admit I'm a big fan of deep fried food. And deep fried dessert? Does it get any better? There is no limit to what can be deep fried anymore. We made a trip to the Texas State Fair and on various menus we found meatloaf, beer, brownies, pumpkin pie, s'mores, moon pies, lemonade (!), PBJ&Banana, cookie dough, butter (comes with a coupon for 10% off your next angioplasty), jambalaya, Snicker's, Reese's peanut butter cup (I may have to try making this at home), latte, cheesecake, and Nutella (hello, heaven!)--all preceded by the words "deep fried". Some people go to the Fair to drool over the hottest new sports cars on display or get fired up at that adrenaline-pumping ride. Me? I like to salivate over artery-clogging sweets.

Once we were refreshed with cold drinks, we moved on to the Craft Pavilion. It was in this building that we saw 2 contest entries of space ships made out of differing materials. It was in the middle of debating whether the ships were from Battlestar Galactica or from Firefly that I realized I was having a great time with my family, despite our previous efforts to the contrary.

After the requisite funnel cake (see previous deep fried comments), we parked the kids with their games and books and MC and I checked out the new car display. Others may dream of Hemis or sporty looks or great sound systems; I dream of stow-and-go seating and an excess of cupholders. (One day I shall have that new minivan. Oh yes, I shall.) And what I discovered while there is that while giant Man Trucks have the option of a step up running board, it's not an option for me. I couldn't get myself up into a truck without help from the steering wheel, the door and my husband--much to the delight of a passing couple.

In spite of Bubba's fervent wish, it did take us more than 2 hours to see everything we wanted to. In fact, it was only after spending 6 hours out there that we finally headed home...with happy children. I'm sure they would never admit it, but I think their day at the Fair with mom and dad was...not horrible. And that's all I can ask for. 

October 9, 2013

The Ride of a Lifetime

As my kids have gotten older and I have finally found a stable job that I enjoy, I have found that my life has settled into a happy sort of chaos. We have our lazy, no expectation days followed by double-booked days and events that spread us out away from each other, and then back to those moments of welcome boredom. It's in those quiet moments that I take a look around at my kids and think, "Life is grand."

I navigated the roller coaster ride of child rearing with nary a scratch and have children who are funny, kind, smart, caring, and a joy to be around. I survived raising 3 children who are all close in age--and I've kept them all alive! I endured the around-the-clock feedings while dealing with depression. I stayed sane when my newborn daughter would wake up at 3am hungry and her cries would stir my Autistic 2 year old, who would then stay awake the rest of the night. I managed the twists and turns of teaching little human beings to eat with utensils, talk, use good manners, read, tie shoes, get themselves dressed, and how to use the potty. Through heart-wrenching drops and climbs, I've learned to navigate the world of special needs and how to guide my son and his siblings through it. My kids are great students, are active in church, have friends, care about the world around them, and are just good people.

And with their ages at 10, 13, and 14, I do realize that my ride on the parenting track is far from over, but I can't help but think, "Parenting? Dude, I've got it down."

Wouldn't you know, just as I'm about to strain my arm from patting myself on the back, the teenage years rear up and come at me, and they are armed with a wicked set of brass knuckles. My confidence is shaken, my methods are questioned, and my joy becomes the silver lining on an otherwise cloudy day.

I'm not prepared to handle serious teen issues. Isn't it enough that we've pulled through the world of Autism in tact? Then again, maybe surviving that particular Fun House was just preparation for what's ahead.

So I return to the ride, have my ticket punched, get strapped into the car and hold on tight as the ride begins.

August 12, 2013

"The Internship": On Screen and In Person

MC and I spent an evening at the discount theater as we took in 2 back to back movies. Love date night! One of the movies we saw was the "The Internship", starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. They are watch salesmen who find out that the company they work for has folded and they are now unemployed. Left with no options, they apply for an internship program at Google which promises job opportunities for the winners, and, surprisingly, are accepted as interns. The joke comes in the fact that they are old school, pre-social media throwbacks who are out of their depth among shiny, fresh-faced college whiz kids who've grown up being plugged into laptops, iPhones and iPads.

Among their little team of interns, which includes their 23 year old manager/mentor, Vaughn and Wilson look like dads coming to check up on their children who've been away at university. They just don't belong. Of course the other "Nooglers" (what they call new Googlers), run around spouting code and html and CSS language that goes right over the old men's heads. But while Vaughn and Wilson's characters have a steep learning curve when it comes to computers, they have something the other kids don't: people skills. They have been salesmen for years and are adept at the art of customer service and relating to other humans. They know how to motivate and connect people and ultimately succeed in pulling their little ragtag team of misfit Nooglers together.

The point being that it takes all different types of skills and talents, working together, to make a team successful.

Yay for message movies! Now we're all happy, happy, joy, joy and we can all get along.

I least, I thought we could.

Jump forward 12 hours and I'm sitting in a meeting at work with 2 of my bosses and the other 3 writers on our team. We are behind in production and are getting a dressing down as well as a pep talk from the head of our department. As they are trying to motivate us to work harder, the other female writer pipes up with the suggestion that she is willing to put in extra hours to get this done even faster than expected and maybe the rest of us could, too.

Sounds reasonable, right? So why did I want to punch her in the throat? Possibly because I think I'm becoming ageist. Either that or I'm getting old. (Sadly, I don't know which is worse.) The thing is, she's young. Really young. Like, maybe all of 20. She's this cute, perky little thing with her I'm-so-alternative-I'm-hip lip piercing and her tattoos. (Yes, I have tattoos, too, but I'm sure somehow they are "mature" tattoos.) And while we are on the same team, I have to admit that it grated on my nerves a bit to have this KID making suggestions on how we can do better work.

When did I become a bitter grown up?

I mean, I have no problem with teens (other than the whole sagging pants thing). I don't complain about kids loitering at the mall or listening to loud music (Although, now that we're on the subject, when did movies get so loud?) and I'm not intimidated by crowds of teens hanging out on the sidewalks. So why do I have a problem with this girl, who is barely out of the teen years herself?

During our 6 week internship, we were offered prizes such as gift cards and laptops and iPods depending on our production. Perky Girl usually won the prize of the week as she was putting in 10-12 hour days because, in her words, she "had nothing else to do". I, on the other hand, was working full time along with taking care of my 3 children and my husband, and was involved with sports and Girl Scouts. I was lucky to get in 3 hours in a week and then I would just work like crazy on the weekends and cross my fingers that they wouldn't kick me out of the program for low production.

I believe my problem started back then, when I realized there was only one other intern there who was over
the age of 35, and most weren't even over 25. Now we're down to 4 and I'm the only one over 30. The others don't even look like they are old enough to drink but are probably closer to 25. Did I mention that NO ONE in the office is my age? With the exception of my boss' boss, who I've only met once, I'm the oldest person there. I'm fairly certain I'm the only one with children. (Did I mention Perky Girl is closer to Howdy's age than mine?) So how did it happen that, while I'm in constant amazement of my age when I am certain I am so much younger, I am suddenly feeling old?

It has no bearing on my ability to do my job, that's not an issue. But I had to bite my tongue when she suggested we put in extra hours to get the job done faster because I didn't think pointing out the fact that I have a household to run and children to care for would compute with these young and unfettered little pups.

I guess I can admit that I really don't have a problem with Perky Girl; she's a very nice person and a good worker. My problem is the fact that, as MC was kind enough to point out, at work I am the Vince Vaughn. And how appealing does that sound?

August 5, 2013

Holy Bulging Bikinis, Batman!

I've made 4 trips to the water park this summer and I've decided there should be some rules when it comes to swimwear. Actually, I think there should be some rules when it comes to dressing in general, but I'll save those for another rant  post. For today I'll stick with the swimsuit...uh...we'll call them suggestions, not rules, just to prevent any ruffled feathers.

1.     If you wouldn't walk through the mall in your bra and underwear, don't wear a bikini outside. 
MC can't understand why women don't just wear a matching bra and underwear set to swim in. It covers the same amount (sometimes more) and is likely to be cheaper. It's true. If I can look at you and get a pretty good idea of what you look like naked, you need more clothes. If you are wearing a bikini, you are asking (and getting) men to look at you. Fact. In my opinion, bikinis are only acceptable on those who are younger than 2 or are pregnant. I know many who won't agree with pregnant women in a bikini but pregnant bellies are beautiful to me. Not to mention finding a maternity suit that doesn't make you look like a beached whale is next to impossible. Although I would still ask that you keep your baby feeders properly covered.

2.    A swimsuit should offer as much support as your undergarments do--maybe even more.
Ladies, we all know that age and gravity are not our friends. A bathing suit top should offer support--not
just a means to cover the Girls. We all know that as we get older the Girls tend to lose their perkiness and head south. I DON'T NEED TO KNOW HOW FAR SOUTH YOUR GIRLS HAVE TRAVELED! Especially if your bikini top has to rest on your belly button just to keep you from flashing what no one besides your husband wants to see. Harsh? Maybe. But so is sharing with the rest of the world your jiggling waist adornments. 

3.    Buy for your size!This is a pet peeve of mine, especially when I see fit young girls squeezing themselves into jeans a size or 2 too small, which then creates a muffin top on an otherwise slim body. I saw a very large woman at the waterpark in a nice bathing suit that covered what needed to be covered and fit her well. They make swimsuits that fit every body type and shape. There's no excuse for squeezing into one that makes you look like a stuffed sausage or puts your junk on display for all to gawk at. Find one that fits! Bring an honest friend with you to the dressing room if you have to; don't depend on the opinions of the salespeople. They want the commission; they will lie.

4.     White is not an acceptable color for swimwear.
This goes for men and women alike. I don't care how thick your clothing is, if it's white and wet, it's not pretty. There's just something about white fabric when it gets wet that allows it to highlight every bump and dimple that the good Lord gave you. I accept the fact that we all have cellulite, that doesn't bother me. But I do prefer a little mystery as to what's underneath that swimsuit.

5.     Just be modest.
I'm all for being confident and comfortable with your body, no matter what size you are or how much cellulite  you've got or hair on your chest you have. But there is a difference between being comfortable and drawing attention to features that are meant to be kept private and treasured. On a trip to Puerto Vallarta with MC the year after we got married, I wore a bikini. I was thin enough to get away with it and I figured I was in a foreign country so it was okay. I keep that photo as my motivational pic to lose weight. In fact, I look at it quite a bit while I'm eating my midnight snack of M&Ms. However, I couldn't do that again even if I still had that body. Why? Because I'm convicted that my body belongs to my husband and he is the only one who should be seeing it in any state of undress. To be scantily clad is to draw attention and inspire thoughts in other men that should only be thought of by my husband. Men are visual creatures and will picture a woman naked when she is almost all the way there. They can't help it. So why, mothers, do you allow your precious treasure of a daughter to prance around in a bikini that will only cause men (and boys) to think of her in lustful ways? They may never act on it but they will have that image of your sweet princess in their head. And men, wearing form fitting swim trunks that emphasize your junk, not matter what size it may be, is just gross. We are not impressed. If we are staring, it is not because we are lusting after you, it is because we can't believe you deluded yourself into thinking that wearing tiny spandex underwear in the water was a good idea. (The same applies to Olympic swimmers--sorry.)

I realize that some of you heartily disagree with my stance on swimwear, but that's okay. You give me and my friends plenty to look at and talk about when we are at the waterparks.

May 11, 2013

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

I was sick a lot as I grew up. Pneumonia and/or bronchitis every year, sometimes ending up in the hospital because of it. My earliest memory was when I was 3 and I was in an oxygen tent; I remember my mom walking into the room. I have forgotten my daughter at church but THAT I remember. My first ulcer occurred at the age of 7, I've had viral meningitis twice, countless rounds of pneumonia, and Bell's Palsy a total of 5 times. At one point during that time the doctors apparently told my mom that my condition was dire but I never knew about it. When I look back at all those times of being sick, I just relate it to someone who gets a cold every winter. It's inconvenient and a nuisance, but you just deal with it.

Through it all, my mom always took care of me. She never once let on that any of it was any worse than just a typical cold. She just wiped my forehead, fed me chicken broth and did her best to cheer me up. As I got older, I tried to return the favor when she was sick, and I credit her with my tolerance and low-stress attitude when my kids are sick.

You know, it's funny...when you are little, your mom is your entire world. As you get older, you drift away, start to build up a little independence. Eventually, you're grown and when someone says you look/act/sound like your mother, you grumble and groan because no one wants to grow up to be their mother.

Can I be honest with you? I am JUST.LIKE.MY.MOTHER. And that isn't such a bad thing.

Both my parents are hard-working, do-it-to-the-best-of-your-ability people but I believe I inherited my mom's desire to be the best at whatever job I'm given. After deciding to close her successful, in-home hair salon, my mom sought full-time work outside the home and found a job as a receptionist at a mortgage loan company. She ended up learning the ropes and became a loan processor--with no prior training and no college degree.

My mom has always insisted that we can be anything we want to be and that there is nothing we can't accomplish. And she truly believes it. She has raised us 3 girls to stand up for ourselves against anyone, to not let anyone push us around and to always fight for what we believe in. And she proved it in her actions. All my life I remember her battling with her weight. A few years ago she finally decided it didn't matter what anyone else thought, she was going to change her life---for HER. And she did. Over the next 2 years she changed the way she cooked and ate and she became more mobile and lost 150 pounds.

From watching her and her sisters, we learned that your sisters are your best friends, that when everyone else fails, your sisters will still be there and no matter how much they may irritate you, you need to cherish that relationship.

Because of my mom. the scent of Lysol is the smell of freshly made beds, open windows with the spring breeze drifting in and a clean house. You always knew you had clean sheets on the bed when you could smell the Lysol. The smell of chocolate chip cookies in the oven means you are loved. It means you got to sneak bites of cookie dough while being warned against all the perils of raw eggs and then you got to eat warm, gooey cookies with a glass of milk. Just because. I associate banana bread, zucchini bread, pies, sugar cookies, molasses cookies, and fruit cake (even though I refuse to eat fruit cake) with warm kitchens, gift baskets, well-used aprons and love. Yes, I associate food with love. But when you grew up with a mom like mine, who could cook like mine (fried chicken, beef stroganoff, lentil soup, lasagna, chili, the best cinnamon rolls in the ENTIRE. WORLD.), you learn you're loved when someone goes through the effort to feed you like she did.

I love my mom, and not just because she made my bed and was a great cook. I love her because after I grew out of my desire to always dress like her in 4th grade-size business suits and pantyhose, and I found my own style that was completely opposite of hers, she would shop for me, knowing that if she hated the pattern or color, I would probably love it. And she'd shop for me anyway.

My love of books and reading came from her. There was never a trip or vacation or a day off that she didn't have a book in her hand.

I think my love of laundry came from her as well. I have very vivid memories of coming home from kindergarten and early elementary and finding her in front of the TV watching "Young and the Restless" or "Days of Our Lives" with piles of folded laundry around her.

She was involved in our schools, in our PTAs, in our lives. She knew our friends and the kids we went to school with. If we got excited about something, she helped us pursue it. She encouraged us, cheered us on and even gave us a kick in the butt when we needed it.

When our hearts were broken from boys or "friends", she was quick to reassure us that they weren't worth the tears or that they were just "jealous". Of what I never figured out but I appreciated the effort.

She's been an awesome grandma to her 7 grandkids and has always provided a warm, loving, stable home to all of them. All of her kids (and even those grandkids) have come back home to live with them at some point and she just opens her doors to them.

I know my mom feels like she isn't appreciated, like we don't notice all the things she does. But we do. She is the one who taught me to leave notes in my kids' lunches, who taught me you don't have to have a man around but to appreciate it when you do, who taught me to never leave home without clean underwear in case you get in an accident, who taught me how to make blackberry cobbler when camping, who taught me to love really sappy love stories, who taught me how to make a bed so tight you can bounce a quarter off it, who taught me how to cook enough spaghetti to feed 8 but never how to cook for 1, who taught me that Vick's is a wonder drug, who taught me that when it comes to your kids you can become a rabid wolverine or a soft, snuggly mama cat--whatever the occasion calls for, who taught me it's never too late to go after something you want, who taught me to be true to yourself, even if it goes against what everyone else is doing.

I may try hard not to stress like she does or to limit my refrains of "were you born in a barn?", but I can't say that growing up to be like my mom could ever be considered a bad thing.

May 9, 2013

There's a Badge for That

I recently read that a study shows 69% of parents say raising boys is easier than raising girls. I happen to have 2 boys and 1 girl and was one of 3 daughters myself; I would have to agree with that claim. And if any additional proof was needed, I would encourage any doubters to take over my Girl Scout troop for the weekend and then tell me how much easier boys are.

Last weekend I took 11 of my 14 Girl Scouts on our first primitive troop campout. This meant tents, campfires, no electricity, bathrooms 3/4 of a mile away.  For (some) grown-ups, this is an adventure. For 10 and 11 year old girls, this is a true hardship. Most of the girls got to experience their first campout in February at an official Girl Scout camp--which meant cabins, a kitchen, close bathrooms--but this was taking it up a notch. I tried to prepare the girls and I answered all the questions that came up. And I mean ALL the questions, including:

"We have to set up the tents? I thought there was some kind of robotic...thingy that did it for us?"     Really?

"What do we do if a bear attacks us in our tent and then the tent is torn up and we spend the rest of the night cold?"     First, there are no bears. Second, if we are attacked, being cold won't be our first concern.

And my favorite...
"Can we bring makeup?"     You are 10. You shouldn't even be wearing makeup! Who are you going to impress--the squirrels?

Since I had the majority of the gear and all of the food, Suzy was loaded to capacity when we pulled up at our meeting spot. In fact, I had to unload totes and tents and folding chairs just so I could make room for 2 girls that I had to pick up. Once we were finally packed up and ready we hit the road--only 30 minutes late. Of course, that combined with weekend rush hour traffic and an accident right as we got on the freeway put us even later. We arrived at our site with about 20 minutes of day light left. Pretty much just enough time to scout out where we were going to pitch the tents.

I have to say that I'm impressed at how well the girls came together to put up the tents--even ones they weren't sleeping in. They worked really well the whole weekend whether it was on cooking duty or washing dishes or hauling all of our stuff in--and there was a LOT of hauling. Did they do it without complaint? No, but neither did us adults. The fact that they stuck it out though makes me proud of them.

And what would an outing be without learning something? We taught the girls how to tie knots (Real knots with names, not just jumbled messes. Impressed?), how to build their own campfire, wash dishes without a sink, put up a tent and identify poison ivy. And they actually taught me a thing or two as well.

Like, if it's dead, it will entertain them. It started with a petrified squirrel carcass at the school where we met before heading out and continued with a dead baby crawfish. I'm not sure why dead things fascinate them, but there ya go.

My girls aren't the only ones who missed the concept of "roughing it". In the mornings, with 15 girls standing in line to use the 2 bathroom stalls, we had to fight through the crowd of high school girls who were there on a class trip. See, they were all using the ONE outlet in the entire camp to STRAIGHTEN. THEIR. HAIR. I am not kidding. They had 2 flat irons plugged in and were taking turns in front of the only sink and mirror to get all gussied up. I remember camping when I was in high school. It did not involve fixing my hair or applying makeup that I would then just sweat off.

I have come to think of these girls as "mine". They are MY girls. And as such, when they come at me with attitude, I respond as if they were my kids. I admit that I went "mama" on them once or twice. In their defense, they went to bed really late, we wore them out, they were tired. In my defense, I was up even later and have zero tolerance for kids getting snippy with me. Deal.

I have a lack of fear of things in the woods. The first night something came exploring through our site, growling and sounding a bit put out that we had secured all the food and trash. At least, that's what I'm told. I slept through it. I even slept through my tent-mate and co-leader trying to wake me up when she was freaking out. I even braved the walk to the bathroom at 11pm at night with nothing but my little flashlight between me and whatever was following me in the brush because it meant I didn't have to wait on 11 girls to pee first.

What I also discovered is that if you present it right, you can get girls excited about poop. We played a Nature Bingo game. The girls were given blank Bingo cards that they then had to fill in with nature things they thought they might see. Animal poop was one of the things they came up with. And they got really creative with it, too, using big words like "scat" and "feces". I've never before seen girls go running toward their friend after hearing that friend shout, "I found scat!"

Something that I could've done without learning is that I have a lot more endurance than I thought. When I say we had a lot of gear, I mean we had hundreds of pounds of stuff that had to be carried in and out. We couldn't pull right into our site--we had to park about 3/4 of a mile away and walk it all in. We were smart and brought dollies to load everything on but when the path wasn't rocky and uneven, it dipped into a sand trough. Not fun. We had 3 coolers (1 filled with 8 gallons of drinks along with much of our food), 4 tents, 17 chairs, 6 totes, 2 campstoves, 2 folding tables, 3 lanterns and a bunch of firewood. There were other things we had to carry in as well as all of our personal gear. We discovered the only way to traverse the path was to strap as much as we could on a dolly and then walk with it being pulled along behind. And did I mention the ancient dollies were so heavy that I couldn't actually carry one by myself? By the time the weekend was over I'd had a serious workout. Zumba's got nothin' on primitive camping.

I also learned that I am a horrible judge of distance. My co-leader and I printed a map of the hiking trails
ahead of time and planned out a hike to end at a playground. After walking for 45 minutes and still not seeing a playground in sight, we gave up and turned around. And that 3/4 of a mile hike to our site? We grumbled all weekend because we were told it was only 1/4 of a mile. It sooo was not a 1/4 of a mile. Well, it turns out it wasn't 3/4 either. See, in an effort to keep my mind off being stalked by woodland creatures on my way back from the bathroom, I counted my steps. 749 steps from the bathroom to our campsite. Then I came home and measured my stride so I could prove to the park guides they were wrong. And they were. But so was I. It turns out we were just under a 1/3 of a mile away.

But don't tell my body. It still wants credit for that 3/4 mile workout.

May 3, 2013

Let's Hear It For The Boys

They say you're never too old to learn something new. I find that's especially true when you have children. Well, my children at least. It seems I'm learning something new every day with them. I suppose it keeps it interesting anyway.

This week I was able to accompany a group of 8th graders from Howdy's class on a field trip. When I heard they needed chaperones I asked Howdy, "Do you mind if I go?" He responded with, "Do you have to go?" At that point I had no option but to inform him that I WAS going and he could deal with it. I mean, it's not like I was going to (purposely) embarrass him (much). Sheesh!

So we loaded up 3 buses and 3 cars full of kids and adults and headed to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. I was put in charge of my son and 7 other boys. I consider myself the cool mom (even though my kids refuse to corroborate my claim) and I saw this as an opportunity to garner more cool points--plus I was getting to check out the new museum for free! I figured it was the kids' trip, I'd just let them set the pace and look at whatever they wanted without me herding them anywhere. Of course, after we were let inside and told we had 1 hour (!) to explore the 6 levels before we had to meet back up to leave, a little herding might have occurred.

Despite having to rush through several exhibits and skipping one floor entirely, the trip was enjoyable and educational. And in my quest to open the minds of my followers, I will share with you what I learned.

1. That ripe onion smell is universal among middle schoolers. At first, I was irritated when there wasn't
enough room on the buses and a bunch of us parents had to drive. But when I finally had my group assembled and I got a whiff of that pungent odor that can only come from teenage sweat glands, I suddenly became grateful that I hadn't been surrounded by kids on the drive over.

2. Apparently the past tense of "squeeze" is "squaze". As in, rhymes with "ways". And that came from one of the parents.

3. No matter how you pronounce it, the word Uranus will always make kids giggle. So will cross sections of a human body...a human male body. The educational value is completely lost when it involves private parts.

4. The southern US is closest to the sun on Dec. 21st and farthest away on June 21st. Doesn't make sense to me either but I didn't create the universe. One of my kids read a factoid about the moon and responded with, "Hey, that's actually true!" Yes, because they filled an entire museum with made up stories. Good to know they got one thing right.

5. If it has buttons and lights, the kids will not be able to resist. It didn't matter if it was the life cycle of the fruit fly or a breakdown of fossilized dinosaur droppings, they had to stop and touch all the buttons and check out anything with a screen.

6. No matter how much his friends like me, my son will never think I'm cool. OK, so I don't actually know if any of Howdy's friends liked me; at least they were polite and well-behaved. But Howdy was careful to keep a minimum of 10' between us and up to 100' feet when possible. I get it, I do. Your own parents are never cool. But don't I at least get points for holding back and not humiliating the kid in public?

April 26, 2013

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby


Sex. Sex. Sex. Sex. SEX. sex. Sexsexsexsexsexsexsexsexsexsexsexsexsexsex. Seeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeexxxxxxx. 

Am I making you uncomfortable yet? Yes? Than you probably don't want to continue. Go ahead, close the
page, go back to scrolling FB or Pinterest or something safe like that because I am going to talk about sex and not everyone can handle that. 

Which kills me.

Let me back up and give you a little context here. I grew up in a very open and honest home. Discussions about sex or including sexual innuendos and/or graphic jokes were a frequent occurance around our dinner table. (How you feel about that is irrelevant. That's just how I was raised.) The first time I ever went into one of those stores that sells sexy lingerie and toys that you don't want to explain to your children, I forgot my ID and had to tell the clerk, "This is my mom--she can vouch for my age!" That's right--I was there with my mom and sister. 

I started going to church when I was 16 and now my family and I don't always see eye to eye on issues regarding sex. And while my values may have shifted, that openness and desire for frank discussion were firmly implanted in my DNA.  I believe it was created by God and given to us to repopulate, of course, but also to enjoy with our spouse. It's a bond, a closeness that we can have with no one else. What am I saying? Sex is GOOD and given to us by God. Should we enjoy it? Absolutely! With our spouse. 

So why, if God has given us something beautiful and enjoyable to share with our husband or wife, do we treat it as if it's dirty

We may teach our kids the mechanics of how babies are made but how many of us actually sit down and answer the specifics about sex with our children? I'm talking frank discussions that answer questions like:
Is masturbating a bad thing?
What happens when I am drawn to porn?
Is it bad to buy toys?
Is role play acceptable?
What is a BJ/69/missionary/add in your own embarrassing word here?
What do I do if things aren't so healthy down there?
What happens when I am so worn out and tired from raising my little babies and my husband still wants sex but I don't want to admit to him that he's just another line on my To Do list?
How do I ask for something that I want? What if he/she thinks it's weird?

Maybe none of you have ever had any of these questions. Maybe I'm just a freak in a conservative society. And maybe I'm also secretly a millionaire with a Barbie figure! Whether you admit it or not, I'm sure everyone has had at least one question about sex that they wanted answers to but were too scared/embarrassed/ashamed to ask. Or maybe the problem is, you have no one TO ask.

I've been very lucky in having 2 sisters that I can go to with any question, no matter how bizarre. Heck, I can even go to my mom when I'm sure it won't embarrass her too much. But I think many in the church are missing this connection.

Let's just be honest here. You're married? I KNOW you have sex. It's not a secret. Everyone knows you do it. So why can't we discuss it with our friends? And I don't mean in a general, jokey sense where we talk around it. I mean, do you have that person that you can talk to when you have a question or concern? I hope you are at least open with your spouse but what if he/she comes to you and asks if you'd be willing to try XYZ but you aren't sure what to do? Do you go online for your answers? Wouldn't it be best to go to someone you trust, who has the same values and beliefs that you do and discuss it with them?

I believe that sex is a good, wonderful thing within the confines of marriage and if I want to discuss it, I will get the best feedback from someone who is approaching it from the same set of beliefs. Think about it. If you are unhappy with your spouse's performance and you talk to someone who doesn't have your same set of beliefs, is there a chance that he's/she's going to tell you to look somewhere else for satisfaction? Or perhaps to engage in activities that fall outside the construct of marriage?

Again, I feel blessed that even though my sisters and I don't agree on...well, almost everything, I can go to them and get advice or get questions answered or, honestly, we can just vent. But not everyone has that. There was one instance where a dear friend of mine opened up to me and admitted that she wasn't happy with her sex life with her husband but didn't know what to do about it. It wasn't a new problem for her but she'd never discussed it with anyone. That breaks my heart. That kind of thing can wear on a relationship. How long had it been going on without her knowing where to go or what to do? I'm not saying that anything I said to her helped, but sometimes just knowing that you are not alone is a huge thing.

Do I have any magic words or advice on how to approach someone with this kind of topic? Sadly, no. All I
can say is that if you have something on your heart that you need help or advice with, start with the person you trust the most. And be honest. You'd be amazed at how many people go through the same things.

Sex is still a private thing between you and your spouse and shouldn't be broadcast across the internet (or a blog--sorry, MC), but there's no reason that we shouldn't be able to confide in those closest to us about something that is such a big part of any marriage. Try opening up. I think you'll be glad you did. 

April 12, 2013

Into the Forge

I had an epiphany of sorts about a year or so ago, and since then it's been stuck in the back of my head. Some days it's a constant voice in my ear and other days it's only a faint background noise, but it's always there. I haven't wanted to share it before because I felt that I needed to get the words right first. This wasn't something I just wanted to slap up onto my blog haphazardly; it needed to be molded, shaped, worked into the kind of story or lesson that would make sense to someone other than myself.

On Wednesday, I attended a ladies' class at church called "Real Women, Real Stories" and the speaker discussed a song by a woman named Laura Story entitled "Blessings". Here is the chorus:
'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

After discussing Laura's story and hearing our speaker share her own story, I felt like I couldn't hold this back any longer.

If you've read my blog at all, you know that I live under the cloud of Murphy's Law. Just look at my Friday Flashbacks--it's the whole reason they exist. I'm not grumbling about it; it's the way life is. And I'm sure I'm not alone. I have never had to deal with tragedy in my life. Compared to others it's been a fairly easy life. I still have both my parents, my siblings and my kids. I've never been divorced or suffered from addiction or dealt with major medical problems.

But I can attest to the fact that life is hard. Some days I feel like life is like that bird sitting on the light pole at WalMart just waiting to take a crap on your head. It sucks.

While I don't have a tragic story to tell, I do have a long history of...I'll call them "dings". If you've ever lived
in TX, you know what a car caught in a hailstorm looks like. If you don't know, let me describe it to you. It's as if someone climbed up on the car with ball peen hammers strapped to their shoes and tapped out a dance to the rhythm of "Welcome to the Jungle" by GNR. You know a hail damaged car by the pock marks covering the hood, roof and trunk--hundreds of little dings. That car is my life. I've never had a car that was totalled in a life-altering crash; I have a car that is covered in dings.

It's all those little things in life that, taken one at a time, may not be so bad. But when you are under a constant deluge, it starts to take its toll. Most things have occurred since I've been married, but considering I've spent almost my entire life married, that is more of a commentary on my life in general and not on my marriage or my husband. MC has been self-employed for most of our (almost) 18 years of marriage. If you know someone who is self-employed, you know it's feast or famine. For us, it's always been more famine. Ding. Throughout the years, we've bought houses as fixer-uppers knowing we would gain equity if we fixed them up--but we never did. Ding. We've lost 3 houses and 1 car to repossession. Ding. Once we started popping out kids, I stayed home to take care of them and so we lived on one unsteady paycheck. Ding.

After Howdy was born, I was introduced to the world of depression. This started my on-again, off-again relationship with medication. Ding. When Bubba was 2 days old, he had to have a life-saving surgery and spent 2 weeks in the NICU. Ding. We had no insurance. Ding. When he was 15 months old, he was diagnosed with Autism. Ding. While pregnant with Sassy, I drove myself to a psychiatric hospital while fearing they would find me unfit and take away my children. Ding. 

We can only afford older, used cars that typically have over 100,000 miles on them. I have gone through 6 that I can remember. Ding. My current vehicle has no heat, no a/c, no vent or defrost, 1 working window, no radio and doors that unlock when they feel like it. Ding. Since moving back to TX, MC has had 3 really good jobs come up that we thought were done deals that ended up falling apart--one of them after we committed to moving back from WA. Ding. 

I have had Bell's Palsy 5 or 6 times--I've lost count. Ding. After the 4th time, the doctors discovered that it's not actually Bell's Palsy but a genetic defect that can be corrected through surgery. I have no insurance. Ding. Each time it occurs, I recover less. Ding. 

After spending a year so broke our friends at church actually took up a food collection for us and I tearfully accepted free school supplies, I finally got a job. Yay! In ISS. Ding. We don't take vacations. We don't splurge on clothes and toys and entertainment. We do have cable TV and we do have cellphones. Those are our luxuries. My kids are learning not to ask for new clothes or new shoes or frivolous things like CDs, games or toys because we can't afford them. Ding. 

I have had a tire blow out on a loaded U-Haul that I was driving, run out of money while moving to WA and got stranded in CA, lived in a house that flooded every time it rained, had 3 different purses stolen, had a neighbor kid steal $1500 cash that MC dropped, been detained for shoplifting, had pets die while traveling, and made at least 3 trips to the ER with my kids. I've had 2 ulcers, viral meningitis twice, pneumonia more times than I can count and I started going grey at 15. Ding, ding, ding!

Have I depressed you yet? Take heart because here is where my epiphany comes in.

It's easy for me to go back and look at all these events and see where God's hand was. At least, most of the time. Despite all the hospital visits as a child, I am still here. Despite all my broken down cars, I have never been involved in an accident more serious than a fender bender. Despite losing homes and being broke, we have always had a roof over our heads. We've never gone hungry. At our worst, we were still better off than many people across the world and even in this country.

But here is what came to me. What if God was using all these events, all these trials and burdens and misfortunes to mold me into something better? What if each time something "bad" occurred, God scooped up that event in His hand and yielded it the way a sculptor would yield his chisel? Chipping away the harsh corners, smoothing out the rough edges, digging in to bring out the details? Creating a statue is a long process that requires patience and dedication. It requires the vision to see which parts of the stone need to be hammered away and which only need to be reshaped and polished. It requires returning to the stone again and again, chipping away bit by bit until you get the desired results.

What if that is what God is doing with me?

And how much harder would it be if the stone resisted?

Think of a blacksmith. A blacksmith uses the heat of a forge to soften steel, making it pliable, bendable, moldable.
Rods of steel are heated among coals that are over 2200 degrees Fahrenheit. Once properly heated, the blacksmith uses his hammer, anvil and chisel to mold the metal rod into something useful, something with purpose, something valuable. What if that metal decided it didn't want to bend? What if, despite repeated thrusts into the forge, it refused to become malleable? How much harder would the blacksmith have to work to finish his creation? How many more trips to the forge? How many more swings of his hammer? It's only when the steel rod bends to the will of the blacksmith that he is able to create his masterpiece. Only when the steel stops resisting is the blacksmith able to see his vision come to life.

So what if the next time Murphy's Law rears its ugly head at me, instead of ranting and raving to God and anyone else who will listen, what if I stop and just let God take me where He will. What if I was able to just go with it, lift it up to God's hands and say, "Father, please use this to mold me, to sculpt me, to polish me into the vision of the child You want me to be"?

Will it still be stressful? Will I still be scared? Probably. But when you get on a ride at the amusement park, isn't it a lot less scary when you know what the end looks like? When you know that no matter how many dips and turns and gravity-defying falls you may take, you'll come out okay at the end? And you won't just survive, you'll always have the memory of that adrenaline rush and when people ask, you can say with a smile on your face, "What a ride!"

February 18, 2013

Parents, Beware!

(Oh, sweet, sweet blog--how I've missed you. It's amazing how much working full time cuts into my blog time. And really, how wrong is that?)

I've just returned from our first Girl Scout campout. That's right--I'm now the leader of Sassy's Girl Scout troop. Because, you know, I didn't have enough things to do. Friday evening we headed out in a caravan of 4 cars that held the 10 girls who were able to go, myself, and the 4 other moms who were so gracious to come along to provide extra wranglers help. We are a troop of Juniors--4th and 5th graders--and in my car, I had 2 of our 4th graders. It was only a 1 1/2 hour drive to camp (plus a 20 minute potty break and a 20 minute WalMart stop for last-minute supplies), but oh, the things I learned on that road trip.

Let me give you parents a warning. If there is anything you don't want the world to know about you or your family, don't talk about it around your children because they will TELL EVERYONE. Repeatedly. And at top volume. Nothing is sacred to our children. I know what you're thinking--"Yeah, yeah, I know. That's why we don't cuss/gossip/discuss finances in front of the little angels." But you don't understand. They hear EVERYTHING. And then they tell their friends. And their friends' parents. And anyone else who will listen. They'll just keep going and before you know it, everyone is looking at you funny and giving you a little extra room when sitting near you and you find yourself discreetly sniffing under your arms and doing the breath test to see why everyone is suddenly shunning you.

I'm not kidding. Here is what I heard during our trip, completely unedited and in no way exaggerated:

"Hang on. Your life story is hard to sort out. Let me get this straight..."

"My dad had a special surgery."

"My Grandma smokes."
"My parents don't smoke. They're good people."

"My mom is 40. She's celebrated her 20th birthday twice."

"I cussed in my dream but it's okay because I was asleep and didn't know no better."

"My mom doesn't like camping. She likes all that frou-frou, fancy stuff."

"My mom can't take care of me because she has a stupid new boyfriend. He was in jail but he's out now."

"You're a middle child, too? Don't you hate it? No one pays attention to you! They only pay attention to my little brother."

Girl 1--"Are you a Christian?"
Girl 2--"What's a Christian?"
Girl 1--"Miss Slacker, are you a Christian?"
Me--"Yes, I am a Christian."
Girl 1--"Then can you explain to Girl 2 what it is?"
Me--"A Christian is someone who believes in God and follows the bible and the teachings of Jesus."
Girl 2--"Then I'm definitely a Christian."
Girl--"Oh. I'm not. I'm a Hindu. My mom is a Hindu. My dad is Hindu, too, but he believes in God."

"My mom quit her job but she had to wait awhile to do it or they wouldn't give her the money she needed for her new job."

"I'm not allowed to eat at fast food places. Do you know how they cook their chicken? They put in all the feet and beaks and gross stuff!"

Needless to say, once the girls got past their rousing rendition of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" and dove into Kid Confessions, the trip became most entertaining. And when I wasn't trying (and mostly succeeding, I'm proud to say) to smother my laughter, I just kept thinking, "What in the world is my daughter sharing with her driver???"