Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pet Peeves

I have a bad habit of laughing at things that some people might not find so funny.  Or maybe more like, I laugh at stuff that most people DO find funny but have the good sense not to laugh about openly because it’s inappropriate.  Yeah, that’s more like it.   Consider this opening statement to be your warning.

I come from a family of savages.  We’re not what you'd call animal lovers.  This isn’t to say that we hate them, or that we’d ever be cruel or abusive to them (consider THAT your disclaimer).  We’re just not “those” kinds of people.  The kind that buy Halloween costumes for dogs, share a warm cup of milk with a cat, or hang Christmas stockings for pet goldfish.   You get the idea, right?  Good. 

When it comes to animals, of course we think they’re cute and furry and cuddly.  The biggest difference between “those” people and us is that we don’t get very attached to our animals.   For me, at this point in my life, I'm not interested in having anything else around that eats or poops.  Add in crotch-sniffing and feet-licking and I REALLY lose interest.  All of this could have something to do with the fact that, for many years, my dad was in the business of racing and training greyhound dogs.  I just think that pets are nice for other people.  I enjoy visiting other people's pets, until they start the sniffing and licking business (the pets, not the people).

IMPORTANT NOTE:  If you’re one of those pet lovers and hearing of animal suffering of any kind is going to make you vomit or pass out or hate me, then you really should stop reading here.   Back to my story…

So our dad raced and trained greyhound dogs.  He was never abusive to them, as far as I can remember.  They were always well cared for; clean, fed, let outside several times a day, yadda yadda yadda.  Here’s the rub:  At some point, as with all animals, their health would deteriorate.  They’d become ill, sometimes with illness that was not treatable and could potentially spread through the kennel to other animals.  So, dad did what any compassionate dog owner would do in that situation.  He took them out to the desert, shot them in the head, and buried them.  You think that’s horrible, don’t you?  Just wait.  There’s more.

We lived out in the country on several acres of land.  Dad built a make-shift track on which to train the dogs for their real races.  And everyone knows that if you want the dog to chase the little lure around the track, the best way to make that happen is to use live bait.   He’d buy a crate of five or six little bunnies.  Happy, furry, cute, soft, BREATHING little bunnies.  When it was time for them to do what they were born to do (die in the name of racing and excessive gambling), he’d take one out of its cozy little crate, whack its head against the side of a steel bar to knock it out, and hang it on the lure to eventually be devoured by a very ambitious—and hungry—greyhound.

Hey, don’t even start with me.  I TOLD you to quit reading way back there.

So knowing what I’ve told you thus far (I’m stopping there for fear of legal ramifications), is it any wonder my siblings and I don’t let ourselves bond with animals?  It’s an emotional defense mechanism.  With all of the canine killing and bunny bludgeoning that went on around us, it’s incredible to me that at least one of us didn’t end up a serial killer. 

I got to thinking about my attitude towards animals recently when a friend of mine, we’ll call her Liz (because that’s her name) had a rather traumatic experience involving two of her pets.  And yes, I laughed about it.   It seems that on Christmas morning, she and her children awoke to find that their cat had made a holiday meal out of their pet bird.  Did I mention I laughed about this?  I couldn’t help it.  I apologized to her for laughing, but then proceeded to make more jokes about it.  Defense mechanism, remember?   In the process of having her pain mocked by me, she opened up about other pet-related catastrophes in her lifetime, which made me laugh even harder.  I’m going to hell, I know it.  In case you’re someone like me who laughs at things you shouldn’t, I’ll share her experiences for the sheer entertainment value. 

There was the time she opened (or closed, I can’t remember, but it’s not important here) her garage door, only to discover she had hung her cat in the process.  You’re right, it’s not funny.  But yes it is.  Then there was the time that her cute little birdie was chasing a relative down the hall and the relative—out of fear for his/her own safety—ran into a bedroom and slammed the door.  Can you guess what happened?   Turns out birds don’t make very good door stops.

All of this is so amusing to me because I thought I had the worst luck with pets.  But I think Liz may carry more of a curse than I do.  Or, we may be neck and neck.  Take, for example, the time my grandma, much to my mother’s dismay, gave me a cute little baby chick for a pet.  I was around age five at the time, I think.  That stupid chicken would run all over the house.  I had no idea at the time how much that just annoyed the snot out of my mother.  One time, as it ran through the kitchen and mom was at the sink doing dishes, she took a step back and, CRUNCH, injured chick.  I was not very happy with mom about this.  I think mom was just plain not very happy that the injuries were only superficial.  But don’t judge her.  I can’t say for sure.   I was insistent that, as part of her penance for so carelessly stepping on my feathered BFF, she do round-the-clock nursing and let the thing sleep in her bed.  Being the good mom that she was and is, she agreed to this arrangement.  The bird was dead by morning.   When you’re a heavy sleeper and you roll over on a chicken in the night, you tend not to notice.   

Is it wrong that I’m snickering as I write this? 

Wanna hear about my cute little yellow lab puppy who died the first night I had him because he drank his tick bath water?  Probably not.  Or maybe my cat, Edwin who liked to crawl up in the car engine to keep warm on cold mornings?  I didn’t think so.

That’s enough storytelling for today.  Even I’m getting depressed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Christmas Message for the Frazzled

It’s Christmas time and I’m officially losing it. Anytime anyone brings up how busy they are, how much they have to do, how much money they don’t have and are going to spend anyway...well…I burst into tears. I can relate. I feel the hurt. I want the ride to stop and let me off. But I know it’s not going to stop. It’s going to keep going…and going…faster and faster…until it eventually becomes my own personal holiday tilt-a-whirl, complete with dizziness and nausea.

Women are the worst about this stuff. We smile through the pain of baking and frosting and Christmas program hopping and shopping till our feet--and our bank accounts--are on fire. All the while we’re stressing and panicking and budgeting. We do it all in an effort to simply “get through the holidays.” This phrase has become an overused and sad commentary on the Christmas season. I want that phrase to be banned, and I’m starting with me.

I don’t want to just “get through” the holidays. I want to enjoy them. I want to cherish them. I want to fa-la-la-la-LOVE them. Many of you have known me for a long time. You know how I’ve always felt about Christmas. Some of you were there the year I turned sixteen and my wonderful friends surprised me with a Christmas party for my birthday, complete with carols, a guy dressed as Santa, and a fully decorated tree. My birthday is in October. Get it? I. LOVE. CHRISTMAS. Or at least I used to, once upon a time. I’m trying to rekindle the yuletide flame.

In an effort to try to help my kids get over the notion that Christmas is all about how many presents are under the tree for them, I’m forcing them to take turns each day, as a sort of “25 Days of Christmas” activity, naming something they’re thankful for. That brings us to the purpose of this letter. What I need is to stop for a moment, for my own sanity and therapy, and think about the many, many blessings that are around me every single minute of every single day. Maybe this will help no one but me. If that’s the case, then so be it. But my hope is that it will rub off just a little. I know you’re stressed, too. I can’t possibly be the only one who is tired of Christmas flying past her every year like the obnoxious mom making a beeline for the cash register after having snatched the last Tickle-Me-Elmo off the shelf.

One of the many stressors for me this year was my silly Christmas card poem. If you’ve gotten a card from me in the past, you know I’ve been writing one every year for a while now. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but gee, I know some of you like it and look forward to it because you tell me so. But it’s one time-consuming piece of literature to compose, let me tell you! So in lieu of the annual poem, and in the spirit of the 25 days of Christmas that I’m imposing upon my own children, I’m sharing with you my list of 25 things I’m thankful for this year. They’re listed here. I have to say it was hard to limit it to 25. I have an awful lot to be happy about.

What about you? What are the blessings that are around you every day that perhaps you fail to notice this time of year because you’re so busy wrapping and ordering and cooking and hyperventilating?

I hope the season finds everyone healthy and happy and grateful for the everyday gifts. Merry Christmas!

25 Things I’m thankful for, in no particular order

1. four kids who are with me every day (no sarcasm there)

2. healthy kids

3. healthy me

4. the privilege of working with some of the finest people you'd ever want to meet

5. neighbors who shovel my driveway and put my trash out on trash day and change the high light bulbs and hang my Christmas lights and, and, and…I could go on and on.

6. new tires in winter—the ones I cried about in the fall when I had to spend waaay too much money on them

7. the world's kindest landlords. they mow my lawn, for crying out loud!

8. technology, baby! cell phones, texting, the www...I'm slightly addicted.

9. the wonder of orthodontics

10. the cutest little Charlie Brown Christmas tree we’ve ever had

11. snowball fights with my kids

12. the local supermarket's genius idea to have a guy sitting right inside the entrance playing one Christmas song after another on a crappy electronic keyboard. I love that guy! I start singing as soon as I walk in the door.

13. a marvelous 2009

14. a hair stylist who gives the perfect haircut…and is literally one minute from my house

15. a safe place to leave my little boys every day while I have to go to work even though I’d rather be home with them

16. a really comfy couch

17. a flip-of-the-switch fireplace

18. central air

19. the most incredible mountains just outside my door

20. a mom who raised me right and still doesn’t let me get away with much

21. sisters who live close by who make me laugh and who look out for me

22. three amazing brothers (ok, two are "in-laws", but not really) whom my kids adore and whom I love dearly

23. best friends who changed me by loving me in the way I needed to be loved, whether I appreciated it or not. I treasure you like no others.

24. my vast collection of Christmas socks

25. the knowledge that I have a Savior, Jesus Christ, and that because of Him, I get to keep all of the important stuff on this list forever and ever.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The burnt ones are yummy

UPDATE:  Prior to this post, where I announced that my love/hate affair with baking was over, I had promised my children that we would bake and decorate some Christmas cookies.  Today was the day for keeping that promise.  I snapped these pictures of the aftermath.  We have here a stocking, a star, a candy cane, and a Christmas tree.  At least those were their shapes going INTO the oven. 

Pray for my poor children.  Now read on...

"Dinner will be served when the smoke alarm goes off."
That was the mildly humorous phrase displayed on a refrigerator magnet given to me as a “gift” years ago by my mildly humorous parents. I think I was somewhere in my twenties at that time. You’d think twenty-something would be a bit young to have already established yourself as the Human Torch of cooking, but no. I began burning food in my early teens, I think. Then the microwave came along and made charring that much more convenient. I could scorch twice the food in a quarter of the time! Revolutionary! By the way, if you’re crunching numbers in your head trying to figure out how old I must be to actually remember the microwave coming along, stop it. Now. I mean it.

The approaching holiday season means cooking is on my mind. While I love this time of year, it always tends to make me feel a bit apprehensive. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, people expect you to cook stuff…a lot of stuff. More specifically, people expect you to BAKE a lot of stuff. Even MORE specifically, they expect your creations to be edible. This is where I typically run into problems.

My culinary shortcomings don’t stem from my inability to read and understand recipes. They don’t even stem from the fact that most days I’d rather run a full marathon—in Yuma—in August—while wearing black thermals—than prepare food. My cooking delinquency can be directly attributed to two distinct character flaws (which, by the way, are mostly not my fault): impatience and short attention span.

When done correctly—emphasis on correctly—baking involves a decent amount of measuring, which means digging around for a lot of spoons and cups and sifters and, oh yeah, spoons. By the time I’ve measured out a half a teaspoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of Ajax and sifted out 1-1/4 cups of flour and mixed the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another, my dishwasher is pretty much full. Not to mention all that going back and forth to my cupboards and cabinets to find spoons and cups—it’s tiring and oh so time consuming!

Somewhere along the way, I watched a little too much Rachael Ray. She likes to “eyeball” her measurements. The first time I watched her show and heard her use that term, I knew I was on to something. Eyeballing is genius! Turns out, though, the eyeballing method is one of those things you should leave to the experts. Just ask my kids when they’re choking down yet another batch of my super duper extra crunchy chocolate chip cookies, made with lots of love and oodles of eyeballing.

Combine all my lack of patience with an inability to stay focused on the task at hand, and it’s trouble in the kitchen for sure. I am VERY easily sidetracked. Always have been. I can spend an hour preparing a casserole for dinner, place it lovingly in the oven, and as soon as the phone rings or someone needs me to drive them somewhere…poof! Casserole forgotten. An hour of preparation and it’s like it never existed. Until, that is, the smoke alarm goes off (reference opening quote) and all the children are asking why the house smells like burnt feet.

I'm even worse with cookies.  My mom always burned the last batch (sorry, mom).  I burn them all.  I'm pretty sure my kids would break into song if they never again had to hear me utter the words, "The burnt ones are kind of yummy."

You think I’m kidding, or maybe exaggerating, but I’m not. There is, after all, the time I nearly took out my kitchen…and my family…with a little grease fire. I had a craving for
tacos, so I put some grease on the stove to heat up. Nothing wrong with that, unless you suffer from a severe case of CADD (Culinary Attention Deficit Disorder) and you leave the room to start another project. The next thing I remember was being tapped on the shoulder, turning around, and seeing the sweet, frightened face of a tiny little blonde child. “Um, mommy, there’s a fire.” This was followed by panic, billowing smoke, hiding in the closet and crying (the child, not me), charred cabinets, and ultimately a nicely remodeled kitchen courtesy of our insurance company. Thanks a ton, AmFam!  Unfortunately, my insurance claim didn't include a big fat check to cover the therapy my kids would need after the fact.  Every time I'd go into the kitchen for months to follow, my little girls would ask, "Mommy, you're not going to cook, are you?" 

Sadly, I'm still not exaggerating. 

So, while I know the holidays are all about homemade goodness, I’m afraid I’m just not cut out for all this measuring and paying attention nonsense. After thirty some-odd years, it’s time to own my lack of talent and desire in this area. I’m giving up on baking. I think I’ll go tell my kids right now.

I wonder which song they'll sing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Feeding Frenzy

Today I got the chance to flex my social muscles--the grown-up ones. Those are different than the kind you use at your kids’ birthday parties or at play dates. I got to carry on conversations about things like jobs and paychecks and ex-husbands and the weather. I even managed to garner a few laughs with my sarcastic grown-up remarks, the kind that usually draw blank stares from my kids followed by, “Mommy, my science project was due yesterday.”

I had lunch with a whole bunch of other single people, a group that was formed for the sole purpose of having lunch together every Thursday. I like the concept, though I’m not sure it can work like they say it’s supposed to. No pressure. No romantic expectations (yeah, right). No scrambling for a sitter on a Friday night; just plain old platonic, loveless lunch.

I’ve resisted joining up with one of these groups for some time now. I can’t quite put my finger on the reason for it. It might be that I expect a feeding frenzy to break out at any minute when a bunch of supposedly celibate single people are thrown into a room together. We all ultimately want the same thing: companionship. It’s a little awkward thinking about who’s got their eye on whom, and how many are scoping out the group for their next romantic conquest. It’s labeled as a “just lunch with no love connection pressure” kinda thing, but everyone there knows why everyone there is there. Yes, I really did just write that.

So today I gave in. I wanted to see what this singles lunch thing was all about. I’ll be the first to admit I’m glad I went. I can honestly say I met people that I’d like to know better. Take the cute little single mom who sat next to me. We’ll call her Natalie (because that’s her name). When my BLT salad arrived with no B, and I was too gutless to go track down somebody and make them correct this horrific situation, who do ya think had huevos (huevos, eggs, bacon…get it?) enough to go to bat for me and my pathetic little meatless bed of greens? It was none other than my new BFF, little miss Natalie, who stormed the kitchen and demanded I get my B…and pronto. Shortly thereafter, I was informed that they were sorta out of B and my meal would be F. That’s “free.”   Pretty much takes the steam out of miss Natalie's heroic gesture, but I was grateful for her efforts nonetheless.

To sum up, singles lunches are good. I might even do it again. Next time, though, to save Natalie from having to open her can of you-know-what all over the poor kitchen staff, I may just BMOB.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

You win some, you win some.

I’ve decided that fun doesn’t exactly bring out the best in kids.

Gone are the days when you went to a birthday party, played a game, and got a prize *IF* you actually won the game. In the 21st century, children expect a reward simply for taking up space. Far be it from me to minimize the effort that’s required to breathe in and out, but does your mere existence really warrant an award of some sort? I don’t think so.

I allowed my nine year old daughter to have a Halloween party at our house this past week. Part of my preparation for this party was to come up with some games to keep the little goblins entertained. I made a trip to the store to stock up on some small prizes to give to the WINNERS of said games. As I was adding up in my head the number of prizes I would need, there was a little voice nagging at me. “You had better get enough prizes for all the guests. They’re going to expect that, you know.”

The mean mom in me had other ideas.

The mean mom in me thinks that we’ve turned our kids into a bunch of gooey little marshmallows, if you must know the truth. When I say “we,” I guess I’m not exactly sure to whom it is I’m referring. Perhaps it’s the fault of us parents. We understandably want our kids to be happy and comfortable and to never have to deal with disappointment or loss, in whatever form it may come. So we shelter them from those things. The problem with that, unfortunately, is that those things are the stuff of which reality is made.

Perhaps it comes down to influences outside the home. Take school, for example. When my daughter competed in the school spelling bee earlier this year (and won, thank you very much), I fully expected the principal to bring out a box of trophies—one for every single kid who had competed. She was falling all over herself trying to console the ones who were in tears for not having come out the winner. If that had been ME as a kid (and it was, more times than I care to admit), my mom would have marched me over to the corner, told me I did a good job, then whacked me across the top of the head and told me to suck it up and get over it. Now there’s some reality. Why aren’t more parents and adults teaching children how to lose? Note: I’m not suggesting that anyone run out and whack their poor-sport kids across the heads (sometimes a swift kick in the backside does the trick just as well).

Let’s get raw for a moment. Isn’t the world mainly made up of a bunch of losers? No matter what the contest, whether it’s a spelling bee or bobbing for apples or running for president, there is always just the one winner. Everyone else falls just a little short in the end. And that’s okay. I for one am quite glad that, when it comes time to pick a president, we don’t have a system (at least not currently) in place which allows everyone who “played” to get the prize just so nobody feels bad. It’s a ridiculous notion. Yet we are teaching our kids that this is how the world works. “You don’t need to work hard. There’s no need to excel. You’ll eventually end up with the same prize as that other kid who worked and studied and prepared his guts out and EARNED that blue ribbon.” Maybe we need a little less of that and a little more, “Sometimes you won’t get invited to the neighbor kid’s birthday bash. Sometimes you’ll come in dead last and barely get a pat on the back for your efforts. Sometimes you’ll work and slave and do your best and still someone else will do a little bit better. Sometimes you’ll go to a party and play games and come home with nothing but cavities and a sugar buzz from all the cake and ice cream you ate.”

So, to the parents of the sweet kids who came to my Halloween party, I apologize for the fact that everyone didn’t end up with a prize. In my defense, though, it wasn’t entirely my fault. The mean mom made me do it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

It's all fun n games 'til somebody loses a toe

My first winter away from the southwest desert taught me two things:

1. Snow boots are an essential part of any winter ensemble.

2. When in the midst of a crisis where appendage loss is looming, call the medical professionals. Friends are useless…and mean.

My kids and I are sissies. It’s not our fault. We hail from a place where a sixty degree forecast had us scrambling for the heavy coats and Duraflame® logs. Like I said, sissies. That all changed last year, though, when we packed up our t-shirts and flip-flops and moved to a genuine four seasons climate.

Our experience with snow prior to that move went something like this:

Freak snow “storm” hits the desert on a January morning. Mom piles on the coats and hats and gloves and sends kids excitedly outside to frolic. Five year old daughter makes it approximately six-and-a-half steps out the door before slipping on a slick spot and landing flat on her back.

Frolicking over. Snow sucks.

Fast forward to the first snowfall of the season in our new home. The park across the street was no longer a park. Its vast, grassy play area was transformed into a pure white winter wonderland. My little desert rats were practically salivating at the thought of all the romping and snowball throwing they could do. That blanket of white was calling their names.

I suppose my first mistake (rest assured there are more to follow) was letting everyone be in charge of dressing themselves. I gave them all a once-over before sending them on their merry ways and shutting the door behind them.

Hats: check. Gloves: check. Coats: check. And off they went.

Being the conscientious mom that I am, I would periodically peek out the window to count kids and make sure they were all still relatively unfrozen. At some point I noticed the feet of my second youngest child. He had somehow managed to get past me with no boots, just sneakers. I was concerned, but the snow was shallow and he’d been out there a good fifteen minutes already with no complaints. I was sure that, once his feet started to feel wet and cold and uncomfortable, he’d come running inside and we’d put the boots on. See? I told you there were more mistakes to follow. Another thirty minutes went by. I kept up my periodic checks, sure each time that I’d see my boy dancing around in a frost-bitten frenzy. Nope. It was obvious to me that the cold, wet snow had yet to penetrate those sneakers.

Under my breath to no one in particular: Wow, those seven dollar Walmart shoes are really giving mommy her money’s worth.

Truer words were never spoken.

I’m sure I don’t need to spell out the rest. Forty five minutes of snow play was enough for them. They were all hungry and cold enough by then to call it quits. They left their snow gear—including boots and seven dollar sneakers—at the door and got a few minutes into their snacks. What came next was the kind of horrifying cry of anguish that sends shivers down a mom’s spine. I turned around to see my boy—yeah, the one with the sneakers—writhing in pain on the floor, clutching his bright pink…no, RED feet and screaming uncontrollably.

“Mommy! My feet hurt SOOOOOO bad! Aaaaaaaaaahhhhh! Mommy, help meeeeeeee!”

I snapped into action and did what any insane, freaked-out, loving mother would do: I sat down at the computer.  Through the wonders of instant messaging, I sought the help of a seasoned “friend” (using that term loosely at the moment) who lives in one of those really bitterly cold, mountainless prairie states. Surely, I thought, he’s got experience in this area.

Freaked-out: Are you there? I need your help!

Unsupportive prairie state friend: Yes?

Freaked-out: What do I dooooo? I think my boy’s got frostbite on his toes. He’s screaming in pain! Has this ever happened to you?

Unsupportive prairie state friend: Uh, what makes you think he has frostbite?

Freaked-out: He was out in the snow for a while then he came in and started screaming and holding his feet and he says his feet hurt and DID I MENTION HE'S SCREAMING???!!!

Unsupportive prairie state friend: Did you send him out in his bare feet?

Freaked-out: Of course not! How stupid would I have to be? He had sneakers on.

Unsupportive prairie state friend: Uh.

Freaked-out: What should I do? I’m afraid his toes are going to start breaking off!!!!!

Unsupportive prairie state friend: Uh.

Freaked-out: Should I put him in a warm bath? Rub his feet? WHAT! DO! I! DOOOO????!!!!

Unsupportive prairie state friend: So, you really didn’t know that you shouldn’t send a kid out to play in the snow in his sneakers?

Freaked-out: He says it hurts so bad he can’t walk. This is terrible! What if I’ve damaged him for life?!

Unsupportive prairie state friend: You really think his toes are going to break off? That’s funny.

I’m happy to report that, thanks to the helpful suggestions of my wonderfully sympathetic friend, I was able to save all ten toes and everyone lived to tell the tale.  The lessons learned did not come easily, nor will I soon forget them.   This is mainly because I'm reminded by my loving friend on quite the regular basis that I was an idiot on that fateful day.  I can own that. 

Another winter is just around the corner.  I’m fully prepared this time. I’ve got the snow boots—and the pediatrician’s phone number—at the ready.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Abbreviation abuse is no laughing matter. LOL.

The writer in me is loving all of this digital age stuff.



Instant Messaging.

Thanks to modern technology, I can conveniently and simultaneously bombard my hundreds of friends—or maybe slightly fewer than that now--with all of the random thoughts that are scurrying through my brain…at any given moment! I venture to say that I might even be addicted to these instantaneous forms of communication. Some folks drink. Others smoke. I’m high on social media.

But certain people out there are seriously killing my buzz.

Not everyone shares my deep and abiding love for a little thing I like to call “the English language.” Unlike many of my fellow raconteurs (I had to look that word up to make sure it meant what I thought it meant--it does), I’m unwilling to send out any communication that looks like the following just to shave seven or eight seconds off of my typing time:

          UR going 2 B ok. U will find the right person 4 U and U will fall in love and she will appreciate U 4 who U R.

I took the above from an actual comment left on a friend’s Facebook® page. Side note: I had to paraphrase a bit. I’d like to add that paraphrasing a bunch of random letters and numbers is not as easy as it may sound.

Is it really so taxing on the fingers--and the brain--to type out the words “you” or “are” or “to” or “be” in their entirety?

When I try to decipher some of these cryptic messages, it reminds me a lot of being in my car at a stop light and attempting to read the vanity plate of the driver in front of me. As in, the guy who tries to make a very clear-cut humorous or political statement to the world using seven or fewer letters and numbers on the back of his car. Statements like: RUD14ME, or GBL WMR or AHEADAU.

I sit and stare at it for several seconds. I can’t quite make it out. I lean forward, poking my chin over the steering wheel. I squint, too, as though that’s going to help. Still nothing. Then the light turns green and the guy speeds away and for the rest of the day I make myself nuts wondering what he was trying to tell me. How will I ever know? He’s gone!

Much of what I see on the internet these days is causing me this same kind of anxiety. I feel like I’m decoding one mysterious vanity plate after another, squinting and leaning in closer to the screen in a futile effort to make it seem a little bit like English.

As annoying as all of this abbreviating can be, nothing will make my eye twitch faster than the random and pointless use of the cancer of all internet-speak: LOL.

LOL used to mean something was funny. It used to mean that the person on the other end was experiencing a brief moment of irrepressible joy. Now it simply means, “I’m done talking…I think.” It’s become a form of punctuation; a period at the end of a boring sentence.

"I went to the store. lol"
"Those green beans were delicious. lol"
"My grandma died. lol"

 It’s the written equivalent of that uncomfortable moment at the door after a first date: Do I kiss him? Do I tell her I’ll call her? I don’t know what to say here. Wait! I’ve got it…LOL! Whew. That was almost awkward.

Let’s get real. If everyone is really laughing out loud as much as they claim to be, wouldn’t the result be a sonic boom such as the world has never heard? The other possibility is that the computers and cell phones of the earth have all been overtaken by a bunch of hyenas.

My point is, if UR going 2 abbrevE8, please make sure U do so responsibly. Do UR best 2 B courteous 2 those 2 whom U send UR txt msgs. TY. LOL.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gag Me With a Jelly Shoe

The 80’s are calling. And for reasons beyond my understanding, people are actually answering the phone.

I work on the campus of a major university. Day after day, more and more, I am seeing things that I thought…or hoped…I’d never have to see again. I can live with the way-too-big earrings. I can even live with the way-too-small jeans (on other people, that is). The wide, studded belts secured loosely around the outside of the oversized blouses are, well, nearly tolerable. But I saw something the other day that made my blood run chill. It’s almost too painful for me to type out loud.

That’s right, I saw a female student donning a pair of stirrup pants. Oh, the horror!

It’s been coming, slowly but surely. I honestly kept hoping, though, that maybe it wouldn’t really catch on. Perhaps someone would get hold of one of my high school yearbooks and see how dreadfully hideous we all were. Word would spread and this trend would be stopped cold, before anyone had a chance to even purchase a single pair of stirrup pants or jelly shoes or checkered Vans®.

Each of the decades has left its own fashion smudge on society. The 70’s brought us bell bottoms and platform shoes. I was a mere child in the 70’s, but I’m a big fan of any ensemble that creates the illusion of a smaller butt and longer legs. The 90’s were all about the grunge. Oddly enough, every girl wanted to dress like Kurt Cobain. The baggier your big, ripped flannel shirt, the better. This certainly wasn’t my favorite look, but you can’t dispute the value of such a low-maintenance style regimen. It was wash ‘n go, only better, because the “washing” step was completely eliminated. Just go. Many of us saved a lot of money on toothbrushes and shampoo in the 90’s.

But the 80’s. Oh, the 80’s. What was pretty about that decade? Nothing, I say. The bangs were big and sticky. The shirts were oversized. The pants were undersized. What’s most amusing and puzzling to me is that we spent a lot of time, energy and money just to achieve ugly. I primped and primped and primped some more with all the gel and the hairspray and the bright blue eye shadow. While that layer of lacquer was hardening, I’d spend several minutes working up a sweat trying to safety pin the sides of my pants to make them as tapered and unflattering as possible. After that, it was time for another lacquer application. All that work just to look like a "Thriller" extra.

Oh really, who am I kidding here? It comes down to this: My feelings about 80’s apparel are likely rooted somewhere in deep bitterness over the fact that there’s nothing in my size that can legally be called a “skinny jean.” In other words, if this throwback trend continues and my beloved bootcut pant becomes obsolete, I’ll be in a world of hurt. It’s muumuus and denim jumpers from here on out.

I’m not happy about that prospect, not one bit. The 80's may be calling, but the 90's brought us Caller ID. I'm using mine.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

If You're Happy and You Know It, Tease Your Hair

Being a relatively recent transplant to the state of Utah, I have to admit I am fascinated by so much of the culture here, particularly in Utah County, a.k.a. Utah Valley, a.k.a. Happy Valley. Incidentally, it took me about six months of living here before I even figured out that those three locations were one and the same.

Besides the religious influence, the food storage fanaticism, and the unusually high volume of anti-depressant consumption (I am not making that up--they don't call it Happy Valley for nothin'), there is one aspect of the culture in particular which greatly fascinates—no—puzzles me.

It’s the hair.

Can someone please tell me what is going on in Utah Coun….er…Utah Val…er…HAPPY VALLEY with all the hair teasing? Am I the only one who is alarmed by this epidemic? Everywhere I go—work, church, the mall, the grocery store—I see tiny, otherwise attractive women with hair taller and wider than the Wasatch Mountain range. Many unsettling thoughts run through my flat-haired head when I happen upon these 1960’s throwbacks. I wonder if any of these women have mirrors in their homes. I wonder if they have hefty chiropractor bills from all the top-heaviness. I wonder if it hurts when they bump into walls or get stuck in doorways. I wonder if their friends and husbands are too kind or just too afraid to ask them, “Are you really going out in public like that?” I wonder if they all have to drive convertibles or at least cars with sun roofs. I wonder if they have to stand so many feet away from the grill flames when they attend neighborhood barbecues, or if the neighbors are simply kind enough to make sure the fire department is on standby.

I always thought that the whole idea behind teasing and putting product in the hair was to create an “illusion” of body and volume. I guess I missed the issue of Cosmo that said sleek was out and coon cap was in. I really need to do better at keeping up with these beauty and fashion trends. When I think of the hours I’ve apparently wasted in the bathroom trying to achieve that combed, nest-free look, I feel positively embarrassed at my hairstyling ignorance.

Now don’t get me wrong. I mean to take nothing away from the women of Happy Valley. I’d venture to say that Utah County is home to some of the best-looking women on earth. As a whole, they are kind, intelligent, cheerful (see previous happy pills reference), service-minded, God-fearing, and family-loving. Truth be told, I had never seen so much perfect skin or so many perky backsides in my life until I relocated to this place. Not that I typically notice those things. Oh, nevermind.

So I just can’t figure out how it happened. Perhaps no one ever explained to some of them that “mop” is a figurative reference to hair, and not actually something to shoot for.

However it happened, however the line between beauty and birds’ nest was blurred, I refuse to give in to the pressure. I don’t care if everyone in Happy Valley is doing it. They’ll have to pry my flat-iron—and my happy pills—from my cold, dead hands.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

All that glitters is...pure eeevil!

I have a house full of children who are all, apparently, in the "creative" phases of life. They love to generate stuff, and lots of it. If it involves markers, crayons, paintbrushes, beads, fabric, or wood, my children (minus Lucas) are all over it like the mustard to the ham. Oh, and glue, too. Let's not forget the glue.

I'm not gonna lie. I won't be winning any mother-of-the-year awards any time soon. I don't love craft projects so much. When my oldest daughter screeched the words, "Mommy! I found the craft box in the garage!" the other day, I felt the acid churning in my stomach. I thought I had stacked an adequate number of empty boxes on top of it when we moved in 10 months ago. Guess not. Drat.

Our beloved, dreaded craft box contains all of the above mentioned items and then some, plus a bonus: GLITTER. I was going to use an exclamation point there, but that would indicate some excitement or enthusiasm on my part. I don't like glitter. To quote a flair button on a friend's Facebook page, "Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies." I don't feel the need to elaborate on that. It stands on its own.

In a world where I have approximately four to five hours every night at home to cook, do laundry, pick up toys, clean up messes, post to my blog (uh huh, that's a have-to), exercise, do dishes, give baths, help with homework, run errands, cuddle my kids, change diapers, and perform countless other not-so-trivial tasks, the sight of glitter tubes and paint containers emerging from the craft box is enough to send me straight to my room with an Ambien-laced cup of chamomile.


I reeeeeally want that mother-of-the-year award. This is my year. I can feel it.

So I fake the glitter love, for their sakes. I watch them work their sparkly magic, my countertops and floors acting as the unwilling canvas for their masterpieces. Some of it even ends up on the hundreds of sheets of plain white paper that they kipe from my printer.

Ever tried to extract glitter from linoleum? Or a five-year-old's scalp? Don't bother.


Wireless Woes

I wasn't given a writing assignment, per se, this time around. I just felt inspired by a recent real-life incident that annoyed the snot out of me. So here goes. Feedback welcome, as always.

Wireless Woes

I went to the car wash yesterday. I wasn’t hurting anyone. I was minding my own business. I only wanted my minivan cleaned, nothing more. I sat patiently while the work was done, sipping my diet soda and thumbing happily through the pages of a waiting area magazine, when “she” walked in.

You know who “she” is. You’ve been accosted by her at some point, either in the grocery store aisle, the line at the bank, or maybe even in the hushed lobby of a doctor’s office. She’s the one yammering into the air and making eye contact with, well, no one. You wonder to which of the forty people in the room she might be speaking. Nobody seems to be engaging her. You even wonder if she is talking to you. Then you see it, the tiny bud in her ear and the itty bitty hot pink phone in her hand. She’s chatting away with someone possibly hundreds of miles away. Not only is she not addressing anyone in the vicinity, she is tactlessly unaware that you or any of those other unfortunate people are even in the room. Nor does she care, for that matter. It gets better. When she was born, doctors discovered that she was missing a vital body part. That’s right; she was born without an indoor voice box. She’s loud. She’s boorish. And she “needed” to make a phone call. Right then. It couldn’t wait. The guy on the other end needed to know immediately that she wasn’t really up to much of anything.

I want more laws for people like her. Here in Utah, we already have cell phone laws in place, like the one that prohibits texting while driving. We all know this is a matter of public safety. Likewise, men and women with certain medical conditions-like the absence of an indoor voice box-should have their phone usage closely governed. This, too, is a matter of public safety. Yesterday, for example, as I sat with the other increasingly irked patrons in that small waiting area listening to one side-the LOUD side-of a totally unnecessary conversation, it was all I could do to keep from calmly walking over to her and making that bud a permanent part of her ear canal. My new law idea could prevent such an incident. Purchasing a cell phone shouldn’t be any easier than buying a gun these days, especially if you’re going to use your phone as a weapon for crimes against humanity. I want medical records queried and background checks performed before any store clerk carelessly hands over one more cell phone to a member of the general public.

Where did the manufacturers come up with the Bluetooth® moniker, anyway? Wouldn’t “BlackEye” or “PurpleShins” be a more fitting name for this device, since that is what many of us wish to administer to its users when we encounter them in public places? And speaking of manufacturers, they could do us all a favor by turning back the technological clock a few years. I recall the infancy stages of the cell phone, when they were all hand-held and the size and weight of a cinder block. I say we revisit the good old days of cumbersome phone designs and make it highly inconvenient for this woman and her minions to annoy us in our car washes.

Would it have been too much to ask of her to simply take her conversation-and her outdoor voice-outside? Of course, when I say “outside,” I mean Wyoming…or Canada.

I probably sound bitter…and intolerant…and slightly disposed to violence. Perhaps. But this isn’t about me. I’m not the bad guy here. I just wanted my car washed. After all, texting and driving in a filthy car can be extremely distracting. Safety first. That’s my motto.

Stairway to Heaven

This is actually a post from my personal blog, but it's one of my faves, so I'm including the link here. Why a link instead of copying/pasting here? It's too annoying to try and include the pics, and the pics are very important! Anyway, click here if you're in the mood for self deprecating humor.

Assigned topic: Mixed Veggies

So, this week's (actually given 3 weeks ago...oops) assignment was mixed veggies (again, thanks A LOT, Jon. I'm practically giddy with anticipation for the next topic).

I was stumped. Beyond stumped, really. So here's what I came up with. It ended up being more of an exercise in brainstorming for ideas than a writing skills practice. Here goes nuthin:

Most of us have them, those five or six or twenty cans of mixed vegetables staring at us each and every time we open the pantry in search of an easy side dish. We buy them because they’re cheap (for a reason), knowing full well that they’ll never see the light of day once we get them home and place them on the shelf. When it’s time to make dinner, we inevitably pass over them like the poor fat kid we’d never pick for our dodge ball team in the third grade. For those of us finally ready to free up some cupboard space and make room for edible food, the following is a list of the top ten alternative uses for those nasty little bits of jumbled up produce:

1. Who needs ipecac? Use them to induce vomiting in a child who’s ingested a toxic substance.
2. Sprinkle them evenly around the perimeter of your home and you’ve got cheap pest control.
3. Keep nothing but those mixed veggies in your kitchen and you’ll lose those extra pounds in no time, since you’ll completely lose your desire to eat.
4. Give the kids a fun craft project. Find some thread and a needle and transform those mixed gems into some lovely Christmas tree garland.
5. Dry them out and make jewelry.
6. Rice at weddings has been so overdone. Throw the veggies instead.
7. Buy a goat. They’ll eat anything.
8. Forget spanking. Consider the forced consumption of mixed veggies as an effective method of child discipline.
9. Put them in fruitcakes to give away during the holidays. Sure, it’s gross, but let’s get real. It’s fruitcake. Your friends and family will never eat it anyway.
10. Make soup for people you hate.

If none of these seem like viable options, you may need to resort to more extreme measures, such as cooking and eating your mixed veggies. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

Writing Assignment: Door to door salesmen

Where’s the Beef?

In my little corner of the planet, there’s more to spring than chirping birds, sun-shiny days, and blossoming blossoms. Spring has its drawbacks, too. It is often ushered in by an unwelcome hint of partially-thawed meat and super-strength cleaning products that waft in the cool April breezes. Yes, in my neighborhood at least, the phrase “spring has sprung” can sound more like a grim warning than a joyful declaration.

During one warm, seemingly blissful afternoon in particular, my kids feverishly work on their math homework. I stand staring blankly into my open refrigerator, indecisive about the evening meal. Outside, children romp innocently in the grass of a nearby park. All of us are blissfully unaware of the evil that lurks just around the corner.

The doorbell rings and instantly my kids abandon their studies to run to the door. I, too, feel a twinge of excitement. Is it another friendly neighbor bearing a gift of baked goodies…or perhaps a potential playmate wanting to whisk one or more of my children away for an hour or so? I open the door and my excitement immediately gives way to horror. It’s a salesman—one of those door-to-door kind. The warm weather brings them out like it’s brought a trail of ants to my laundry room. I sprayed the ants with a toxic substance. They went away. Use of that tactic on a human (I use that term loosely here) could have some legal ramifications. I’ve been meaning to check into it.

His opening line to me is an inquiry as to whether or not my family eats meat. Faster than I can sarcastically reply with, “Duh, of course we…,” the man is standing—and perspiring—in my kitchen, with all of his wares laid out in their marbled glory on my counter like a buffet spread at an Atkins convention.

As he works his protein-peddling magic, I come dangerously close to buying more meat than my family could ever consume in a year. In what can only be described as a temporary onset of insanity, I agree to make a purchase; one so hefty that it actually requires me to pay in installments. He excitedly trots out the front door and across the street to gather up the necessary documents from his MeatMobile-slash-office. My heart begins to pound out of my chest. My palms sweat and my knees knock together.

What am I thinking? Who finances meat purchases from a 350-pound guy in a Datsun? How do I get out of this? Am I really about to sign my life away for a few bacon-wrapped filets and a hundred or so pre-made burger patties? My panic swells as he turns from his truck to make his way across the street once again. This is it. I’m trapped. No turning back now.

Then it happens.

As the unwitting peddler takes a few steps into the street, his giddiness over the possibility of a profit seems to distract his mind from the “look both ways” rule. Without warning, like a lead-footed answer to a prayer, a bakery truck driver speedily rounds the corner and makes minced meat out of my salesman. I stare in disbelief for a moment or two, morbidly amused at the irony of being saved from burger bankruptcy by a bun-wielding bread truck. Disaster averted. I return the checkbook to my purse and shut the door.

Now, kids, what shall we have for dinner? I suddenly have a taste for pot roast.

Writing Assignment: Waterfalls

I’m pretty sure I’m a boring mom.

No, my little angels haven’t flat-out told me so, but based on their typically unenthusiastic responses to the activities I select, it’s the only conclusion I can draw.

I brainstorm. I stew. I fret. I plan. I even Google, for crying out loud. And still I come up short.

Now, before anyone starts thinking I’ve raised a litter of whiney little ingrates, I should give my crew their due credit. The typical “family fun day” scenario typically goes something like this:

I announce our planned activity.

They giggle and clap and hop on one foot excitedly (That’s the grateful part. It ends there).

They cram into their car seats and seatbelts and complain about drive times and seating arrangements for the next fifteen minutes.

We arrive at our destination and pay the arm and leg necessary for five people to gain admission to ANYTHING.

They proceed to fight, yell, cry, spill, escape, and sometimes vomit. Yes, I said vomit.

When all’s said and done, the car ride scenario repeats, but with the addition of griping and moaning over their disappointment in the fact that our adventure was either too short, too long, or too lackluster.

Finally, we arrive home just in time for me to rush to my underwear drawer, dig out my private stash of Double Stuf Oreos, and retreat to a bubble bath for the next two…maybe five…hours (oh, if only).

Now, on a more pleasant note, I wish to state for the record that my efforts do not always fail so miserably. As a matter of fact, this story has a happy ending. Mother Nature helped me out on this one.

On this particular day, I did my usual planning and stewing and announcing. The kids did their usual giggling and clapping and hopping. I was hopeful, but based on past experiences, cautiously optimistic. We were headed to the mountains for a picnic lunch and some fresh air. These are things I enjoy just as much as the next girl, but mountain drives and national forests are just teeming with opportunities for the usual escaping and vomiting I mentioned earlier. Like I said: Cautiously. Optimistic.

The picnic was packed. The kiddies were belted in place. The tension was mounting. As we made our way bumpily up the side of the mountain, I was bracing myself for the impending ulcer-like symptoms which always seem to accompany me on our family “fun” days.

But then, as we rounded a bend on that winding, jagged, mountain road, something magical happened. From the back seat, an excited four year old yelped, “WATER!”

Then three other enthusiastic voices chimed in, “Where? Where? WHERE?”

It took me a moment, but I finally spotted the object of their giddiness. Alongside our jam-packed minivan, a small stream followed the road, until it wound around, crossed in front of us, and made a measly five-foot drop to the ground below, where it once again formed a stream on the opposite side of our path. We had found a waterfall! Our very own little Niagara Falls in the rough, dry mountains of southern Arizona!

We eventually made our way over to wade barefoot in the chilly stream waters. Suddenly the picnic lunch was forgotten. The quarrels over who rides shotgun were momentarily set aside. I could not believe it. These kids were actually satisfied. No, these kids were happy! After all the past money and energy seemingly wasted on movie tickets, pizza parties, and carnival rides, it turns out the best entertainment really can’t be bought…or even planned.

Later that afternoon, as I drove in silence with my satisfied little customers snoring in the back seats, I offered my silent gratitude to Mother Nature for coming to my rescue, saving me from a life sentence as the World’s Most Boring Mom (from one mom to another, thanks…I owe you one)!