I know that someday you'll find better things.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Encyclopedia of Our New Life

Shortly after Russ and I returned from our honeymoon, we participated in the Plano Writing Leadership Academy. (We referred to it as "writing camp" to our kids and students.) We'd always heard great things about the program from our school friends, so we were eager to experience it for ourselves. I'm not sure what I'd expected, but I can tell you this was not it. For starters, the theme was non-fiction. Despite my enormous collection of self-help books, I'm not much of a fan of non-fiction. I was disappointed that we were going to spend the next few weeks of our lives reading and writing within the confines of that genre.

By the end of the experience, my attitude toward non-fiction had changed radically. I'd read two really great books (that I still refer to often, even two years later!) and I'd learned a ton of great strategies to develop and strengthen the reading and writing skills of my students.

I developed a gratitude for the theme I'd originally resented. Non-fiction was out of my comfort zone, and I would have cheerfully kept it that way indefinitely had I not been compelled to explore it in this workshop. It challenged me in a way that fiction might not have, and it opened my eyes to all kinds of possibilities.

One of the books we read was called Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a quirky mom with a spunky writer's voice, organizes vignettes from her life into an alphabetical encyclopedia-style memoir. It is non-fiction, of course, and it was not awful. In fact, it was pretty entertaining. We then used this text as a model for creating our own "encyclopedias" from our personal life experiences. Again, not awful.

My original attempt at an encyclopedia is probably buried under the heaps of school stuff currently occupying the dining room. I'm sure I'll find it someday. In the meanwhile, I've compiled a list of topics pertaining to my new life. At first, I thought I'd wait to publish until each topic had its accompanying entry, but that could take a while. The New Me is okay with is trying to be okay with progress in lieu of perfection.

Encyclopedia of Our New Life: A Work in Progress

We are drinking less, and I suppose that’s a good thing. I don’t miss it that much, and I’m hoping that this drinking less will lead to weighing less sometime soon. Drinking more certainly led to weight gain this summer. 

It began innocently enough. When summer vacation arrived, our top priority was staining the fence in the backyard. The fence had never been treated, and even though it wasn’t that old, it looked awful—all weathered and gray and just generally yucky. The boards looked to be in solid physical condition, so rather than replacing the whole thing, we decided to clean and stain it. Ourselves. We had the time, right? Sure it might take some elbow grease, but we’re (relatively) young and energetic. Surely it would be cheaper than hiring a company.

So first we washed the fence with Oxiclean. By we, I mean Russ. The fence looked great. The rose bushes and other things impacted by the Oxiclean? Not so much. Next, something very unusual happened. It rained. Really. It rained on-and-off for several weeks. Great for the grass and greenery, great for the watershed, but it was a bit of a bummer for folks eager to stain the fence before the summer swelter set in.

Temperatures soared when the rain finally let up. We determined that the best plan was to wake up right at sunrise and try to accomplish as much as possible ahead of the triple-digit afternoons.

When you start working up a sweat at seven a.m., you get downright parched by eleven. Eleven is almost twelve, and if it is socially acceptable to have beer at twelve, then eleven is close enough.

The problem happened when we started waking up even earlier. And getting thirsty even earlier. Eleven became ten, and eventually nine-thirty, and in only a matter of days, we were slamming beers at eight a.m. Combine this behavior with the tendency to wear loose-fitting dresses in the summer (me, not Russ) and we are talking about a problem of significant proportions.

I keep hoping that cutting out the alcohol will help the finances AND help me to get back into pants before winter, but it’s been slow-going so far. The lack of progress could also be due to Russ’s rekindled romance with Walmart’s Oak Leaf cabernet. A not-too-disgusting compromise at $2.77 per bottle, it is cheaper than even a single glass of vino at a bar or restaurant. Of course, if you slam a bottle or two per night, the cost and calories do add up.

Is there a statute of limitations on college coursework? I’m reluctant to confess this in case it somehow nullifies my degrees.

I never passed College Algebra.

Oh, I took it plenty of times, but I never actually passed. When I think about all the money that was spent on this endeavor, I feel so guilty. I wish I’d been more respectful toward the situation. Had I been more focused, more determined, and more resourceful about exploring tutoring options, maybe I could have conquered it. Algebra was not a new problem for me, and there were times when I wished I’d been held more accountable earlier on. Like when I should have failed it in high school, for example.

These are the situations when failing a student really is the right course of action. I did not have the skills necessary to proceed. Maybe if I’d failed sooner, I could have either closed the skill gaps or developed an attack plan for the future coursework.

I’m not positive about this, but I think I’d taken algebra classes four times in college before the academic advisor decided to make a different interpretation of the course requirements.

“The student must take one math course beyond College Algebra,” she’d read from the catalogue. “Hmm. If we could waive the prerequisite of College Algebra, could you pass Statistics?”

Well, I could try. At that point, what were my alternatives? Would I never graduate? Did I even deserve to graduate?

Statistics turned out to be a successful experience, and what had once felt like an insurmountable problem melted into the distance and the transcripts.

While I’m grateful for problem solvers like that advisor, and for the mercy of the educational system, I still think about College Algebra. Why couldn’t I pass it? How much was genuine inability, and how much was the result of a discouraged heart?

Could I pass it now?

Passing college algebra is on my to-do list. (I also wanted to re-take the SATs to see if I’ve learned anything measurable since 1997, but I can let that go. Maybe.) I think I might try next spring. We have an amazing community college in our town, and Hannah is taking an algebra class in eighth grade right now, so she might be able to tutor me if I got stuck. With all the video tutorials and other resources now available on the internet, surely I could find support (or support groups, maybe?) if I really REALLY got stuck.

Anti-Pollyanna Game, The-
Remember that movie called Pollyanna, where the golden-curled ever-optimistic Hayley Mills heals the tiny town with her Glad Game? The object of the game is to soothe yourself through any of life’s disappointments by looking on the bright side and finding something to be glad about.

I have a game like that.

My game can prevent road rage, alleviate the agony of waiting in long lines at the grocery store, and even make peace with the crab grass on the lawn.

I should probably caution you that it is not very cheerful, though. In fact, Pollyanna would be mortified to be associated with my distorted version of her friendly little pastime.

Here is how my game works:

When something stressful or annoying happens, try to think of something truly terrible that will force you to extend your patience and compassion.

For example, if you get cut off in traffic, invent a tragic tale to justify the rude person’s behavior. He probably just received a call from the pet hospital that his dog was hit by a car, and now he is rushing to be by its side in its time of need.

Still irked? Compound the situation.

Maybe his dog AND his wife were both hit by the speeding car. Wouldn’t you be driving like a madman?! Oh, that poor, poor man. I certainly hope he gets there quickly and safely.

I’m realizing, as I type this, that the Anti-Pollyanna Game looks much more twisted in writing, but I’m telling you, it works! In fact, I’m playing the game right now.

Thank goodness my time-sensitive prescription in Dallas won’t be ready until after 2:30. It won’t goof up my afternoon/evening too much, considering that this minor time-setback will keep me off the road during what will surely be a fatal car wreck at that intersection. How could I possibly be annoyed about this situation when this delay will SAVE MY LIFE.

I’m thankful!
I’m relieved!
I’m the luckiest person in the world!
Bologna Hero-
There are foods that I cannot bring myself to purchase. Bologna is one of them. I’ve heard bologna referred to as mystery meat, but this moniker takes on new meaning in our home. Although I cannot muster the courage to purchase it, I cannot seem to refuse when Russ offers me a nibble of his sandwich. I’m almost embarrassed at how much I enjoy the taste. Twice I’ve even eaten an entire sandwich all by myself. Bologna (much like potato chips, beef jerky, and cocktail peanuts) enters our home when Russ shops unattended. I am not criticizing his self-discipline; I might be better about not purchasing junk food, but by golly, once it’s in the house, I’m the biggest culprit when it comes to consuming it. EXCEPT the bologna.

It must have been on one of those unattended adventures that Russ purchased the bologna. I have reason to believe it was early this past summer. He forgot about it, and I avoided it. The week before school began, I purchased several jars of peanut butter and several more jars of Polaner All-fruit preserves for the kids’ lunches. Two days into the school year, we received the nut butter ban notice. With a heavy heart, I checked the expiration date on the still-unopened bologna box. December 2012.
The following day, I held my breath and packed bologna sandwiches for everyone.

When the kids came home, they praised the sandwiches. Not just an isolated compliments, either. This was a full-on sandwich celebration, with many of the kind words being attributed to me for my role as the loving chef.

It was so bizarre. The sandwich chatter continued into the evening. Even when I wasn’t in the same room with them, keywords danced at the edge of my ears.
“Best ever!”

Mystery meat, indeed. I started to wonder if they were messing with me. I was not adjusting well to the stay-at-home life. Envy consumed me in those early days—I wanted to head off to school, too. I wanted to use the new pencils and notebooks, too. I felt lonely and left out. I felt worthless and unproductive. Was the bologna praise their way of boosting my esteem?

Bountiful Baskets

Cable Bill
I’ve never met anyone who is lukewarm when it comes to the act of composting. It seems like there are only two varieties—those who don’t, and those who do it with a passion bordering on obsessive. Thanks to my birthday Envirocycle, our family now falls into the latter category.


Depression-Era Habits
I’m not sure anyone knows the perfect thing to say when they hear news of an impending divorce. Statistically speaking, we have more opportunities than ever to practice responding in a socially acceptable and supportive way, but it is still hard to know the best way to proceed aloud.

When I got divorced, the comment I encountered most frequently was this:

“Really? That’s such a shame. So there’s no chance of staying together? Did you really try?”

The try part was usually delivered with the same tone of suspicion reserved for young children’s restroom visits.
But I wasn’t preparing for a long car trip, and I wasn’t readying myself to step into a snowsuit, so the accusatory intonation, no matter how mild, stung.

Marriages are over long before anyone files paperwork at the county courthouse.
Marriages end, I think, before most people even feel comfortable sharing the true nature of their situation with even the closest of family and friends.

It is so SO far past the try stage.

To a degree, the path of getting divorced is perhaps more challenging than staying in a dysfunctional marriage. Choosing an attorney, dividing assets, paperwork, making new living arrangements, packing—it’s pretty overwhelming. If kids factor into the equation, multiply that responsibility by a zillion.

Staying put in a loveless marriage?
Definitely easier.
Sadder, though.

Staying seems easier.
Staying solves nothing.

If you want to get divorced, you have to be really brave. You have to summon strength you didn’t know you had. You have to make a permanent decision. You have to grow a tough exterior—quickly—to shield your heart from the “Did you really try?” questions that you’ll undoubtedly face.

Which is why, when I learn of impending divorces of close friends, I say this:
“I am so proud of you. I am so very proud of your awareness, and your courage, and your strength.”

And if the friend has kids, the celebration continues, for that friend has chosen to model happiness and hope for love. Isn’t that what we would want for our own kids, in their future? I would never, ever want our kids to feel socially compelled to remain in a loveless marriage.

And if the person is not a close friend, I say this:
“I’m sure this has been very stressful for you, and I hope things are more peaceful for you soon.”

And if I don’t know the person at all—a celebrity, maybe, or a politician—I say nothing out loud. Their private lives deserve the same respect that mine does.

But in my head and my heart, I’m thinking
I am so proud of you. I am so very proud of your awareness, and your courage, and your strength.
I’m sure this has been very stressful for you, and I hope things are more peaceful for you soon.

I would very much like to create a documentary. Those of you who know me will be quick to point out the obvious problems with this plan: I am a.) a recovering perfectionist who is b.) painfully introverted and c.) has incredibly difficult time finishing… almost everything, I suppose.

But! There’s so much I’d like to know more about, and it seems like a documentary is the perfect excuse to start those dialogues. For example, there’s a guy who created a tiny little minute-long documentary called “Learn”. (I saw it on youtube and you can, too. Here’s the address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xc0d510zTA4)

Think of all the strangers that he was able to approach in order to compile the footage to make this itty-bitty documentary. Since it was a documentary, it wasn’t creepy at all for him to be approaching those people and asking them to teach him how to do all those things.

Documentary Guy: “Hello, I’m making a documentary about learning new skills. Could you spare a few moments to teach me how to make tortillas (or origami shoes, or how to swallow fire, or whatever)?”

Normal Person: “Hello, I’m a normal person. I’m not creepy at all, but you will simply have to take my word on this. Could you spare a few moments to teach me how to make tortillas?

See the problem? I would very much like to learn how to make tortillas, origami shoes, and swallow fire, but without a documentary, it would just be weird.

Dollar Store
Dryer Lint


Excuse Notes-
Never have I been so grateful that excuse notes are only required for a late delivery and NOT a late pickup, for here is how yesterday’s note would have read:

To Whom It May Concern,

Please excuse Mia’s mom’s tardiness during yesterday’s elementary school dismissal. You see, the postman delivered Lego Rock Band AND the new microphone for the Wii, and as a responsible parent, she simply had to test it out to make sure it was appropriate for the children.

After performing several Freddie Mercury songs, she realized that the entire family would benefit from an opportunity to celebrate Mercury’s heritage-- a celebration in the form of hummus. It was the culturally sensitive thing to do. So urgent was the need, so sincere was the desire to honor one of rock’s greatest icons, that Mia’s mom set aside the fact that she’s never made hummus before.

It seems she also set aside common sense, as she promptly forgot to make sure she had the necessary ingredients to make hummus. They had chick peas in the pantry. Wasn’t that all that really mattered?

Unfortunately, the family was out of tahini, which meant Mia’s mom needed to toast sesame seeds herself. Furthermore, the red peppers, which had been in the jar in the fridge since Christmas, had molded. At this point, the only option was to slice and roast fresh peppers. (On sale at Sprouts this week, 88 cents each!) This worked out well, since the oven was already preheating for the sesame seeds, anyway.

Since all of this transpired at 2:28 pm, it seems a bit unreasonable to expect that Mia’s mom could have arrived for the 2:45 dismissal time. Especially considering the atrocious parking situation during dismissal, don’t you think? Thank goodness traffic started to clear up around 2:48.

Please accept this note of apology and the reassurance that this tardiness will not happen again.

Anytime soon, at least.
Exit Paperwork

My ex-husband’s mother, may she rest in peace, swore by the Flowbee for all her haircut needs. Not familiar with this as-seen-on-tv gadget, circa 1988? The Flowbee is a blade attachment for your vacuum cleaner so that you can cut your own hair without a mess. Vacuum too loud or scuzzy? You can even buy a small-but-powerful dustbuster-sized vacuum from the company. The idea is that the suction pulls your hair in, the blade trims it, and the remaining hair travels down the tube to the vacuum bag. Dot’s hair was fairly short and moderately stylish. You really wouldn’t have guessed that she was keeping her hair coiffed with a vacuum cleaner.

After the Great Hair Disaster of 2010, I thought I might just keep my hair short forever. It was far easier to get ready in the morning. Truly—it took me less time to get my two inches of hair ready for the day than it took Russ to shave his head, and it didn’t look completely horrible. 

The only real challenge was keeping my hair short. It never seemed to grow this quickly back when I’d wanted it to get longer.

Haircuts require two things: time and money. Neither were particularly plentiful in our household, so this posed quite the problem. To get a quick-but-moderately-priced haircut at a drop-in place like Great Clips or Pro Cuts often meant a long wait in advance, and to get a cheap haircut at the beauty school often meant a long time in the hair chair. Not to mention iffy results.

If I had a Flowbee, I could cut my own hair, any time of the day or night.
I could cut Caleb’s hair and save us even more time and money.
I could cut the girls’ hair, if they’d let me.
I could cut our dog’s hair for the summer.
If we had a dog, which we don’t. But if we did…

Because I'd mostly convinced Russ that it was a good idea, or maybe because I often take a little holiday from my impulse medicine during the first week of summer, we ordered a Flowbee. We also ordered the little vacuum, because what if our vacuum turned out to be too loud or too scuzzy?

Caleb was perhaps more anxious than I was for the Flowbee to arrive. This is probably because I’d promised to give him a Flow-hawk. Finally the Flowbee was delivered to our front door, and we eagerly unpacked it.

The little vacuum seemed rather tippy. We quickly discovered it was also LOUD. Like live-next-to-the-runway-of-an-airport (which I’ve done) kind of loud. This puts a bit of a damper on the “any time of the day or night” plan, because if you used this after, say, 10pm, there’s a very good chance it would wake the neighbors and maybe the dead.

We also realized that while it is very easy to use, and very safe, it doesn’t get Caleb’s hair quite as short as we’d like. He looks really good in a high-and-tight military-type cut, and the best we could do (with the plastic guards on) was a home-on-leave-from-the-military brush cut.

Would I recommend the Flowbee? Maybe.
If you have a good set of ear plugs, live in a fairly remote location, and are okay with a medium-length hairstyle, then this is the solution for you.
If that sounds like too much hassle, consider investing in a few hairpieces from Sam Moon (if you are female) or sporting a mullet.

Curious? Check out this guy’s tutorial on youtube. Although it is a bit tedious, I think you will be pretty impressed with his results at the end of the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xdNgL-TOg4&list=LPzZBNmRSZbnk&index=3&feature=plcp


Friday afternoon was spent frantically cleaning, for Russ had informed me that we were having company later that evening.

Don’t get me wrong—Anya and James are fun-loving non-judgmental friends, and we’ve shared some grand adventures through the years: dancing, hunting, and playing billiards.

Mostly in the living room, and mostly with the help of the Wii.

Tonight would surely follow suit, what with the arrival of the Lego Rock Band, the microphone, and guitars. Yes, plural.

There was no need for the frantic cleaning. The house wasn’t that messy, and they wouldn’t have commented anyway. They probably wouldn’t have even noticed. I sure don’t notice when I visit others’ homes.

No matter. Panic is my talent; frantic is my style.

I know I’m not alone in this. Millions of those internet memes have surfaced in the past year with some witty remark or another indicating that we all get more cleaning done in the ten minutes prior to the arrival of friends than we accomplish during the rest of the week. Or month. Or was it year?

Here is a pearl of wisdom that I encountered in my travels recently that I hope to someday embrace. I wish I could remember what the circumstances were—I’d love to give proper credit to this wise soul.

Long ago, I made the decision not to gussy up the house for company. That way, when they return to their own homes, they can look around and feel pleased that their home is not nearly the chaotic disaster that mine is. I like to think that I’m doing a public service. If I can boost someone else’s confidence AND keep my own stress level down, it’s a win-win situation.


Going Blind-
Amazing sights often top the list of powerful of experiences in life—glorious sunsets, majestic waterfalls, and the first long-awaited view of a newborn baby. I have those memories, too, and I’ll cherish them always, but near the pinnacle of my list of profound experiences is the day I lost my vision.

In theory, it should have been the best year of my career: I had reasonable class-sizes, motivated and compassionate students, two planning periods every day, and tons of new technology with which to experiment.

Yet by the end of every school day, I was absolutely ill. Head pounding, nauseated, and utterly exhausted, I could hardly remain upright throughout dinner, never mind helping with homework and housework.

Surely it was stress, but how? Things were better than they’d ever been!

One fine Thursday, while I was enjoying lunch with friends in a colleague’s classroom, something unexpected happened. I lost total vision in my left eye. All of it. Completely gone in an instant.

The situation seemed so surreal, I began to wonder if I was dreaming. So convinced was I that this was a dream that I did not mention this unusual development to any of my dining companions. How would I even bring it up? The students were due back in less than ten minutes. No sense in stirring up drama. Besides, I still had my right eye. Logic reassured me I could deal with it later.

Logic could not squelch my anxiety, and internal panic set in. Frantically I looked around the room, willing my left eye to see. That was when I noticed a banner that said ‘OCKS!’


Things were getting very sci-fi, very quickly.

There are my friends.
There are the tables.
There are the chairs.
There is the trash can.
There is the door.
There is the banner above the door that says OCKS.

I cleaned my area, excused myself, and returned to my own classroom, running my hand along the wall to steady my nerves. What was happening?

In the privacy of my own classroom, several very unofficial self-conducted experiments revealed that all was not well with my right eye, either. I could only see the right half of the words on the posters on the wall.


Looking down at the novel I’d hoped to read with the students that day, I knew there was no way I could convincingly translate the blurry Morse code of ink that covered each page. (More precisely, the right half of every page.)

Because they were verymotived and very compassionate students, my students cheerfully complied with my spontaneous change of plans for our lessons without question. I sensed skepticism when I asked a helper to take attendance for me, but nobody actually said anything, so no explanation was necessary.Thank goodness.

And then, less than an hour later, my vision returned.
I chalked the whole thing up to stress.

Wow, that stress sure can do weird things to a person.

Everything returned to normal.
Until it happened again.
And again.

I knew what had to be done, but things had not gone well at previous eye-doctor visits.

There was the time back in high school when my cousin Justin had driven me to an appointment during a snowstorm.

“The roads are gonna be awful! Would you just pick already? Those-ones-look-fine-hurry-up-let’s-go!”

They did notlook fine. They made my ears—normally my finest feature—poke out like a Disney character’s. Which I did not realize until after we’d already made the purchase, of course.

Then there was the time in college when I thought contacts would be the solution to the vision challenge AND the ears-poking-out problem. Maybe things have improved in the contact lens world since 1998, but these were no picnic. They were rigid and oddly-weighted to correct for astigmatism, and they were nearly impossible to remove. The first night I spent nearly two hours clawing at my eyes in an attempt to extricate them. During the extraction of the second one—the home stretch!—the lens flew out, shot across the bathroom, and landed directly in the toilet.

Was I going to fish for it, sanitize it, and put in my eye?

Desperation forced me to set aside those experiences and to set up an appointment.

“Well, what brings you in today?” Can cheery optometrists be trusted, I wondered.
“I think I might be going blind,” I whispered, worried that if I used my speaking voice, I’d burst into tears right there in front of him.

He checked my eyes while I explained the odd circumstances of late.

“Your vision is quite good," he announced, "I could write you a light prescription for glasses, if you’d like, but it might not be worth the hassle of keeping up with them.”

Wait. What?

He said he suspected that I was suffering from migraines, and he recommended that I visit my physician. Very common, lots of preventative medication available, blah-blah-blah.
I struggled to listen to everything he was saying, but it was hard because my brain just kept singing I’m not going blind! I’m not going crazy!

I’d always thought that migraines were headaches, but apparently they can manifest themselves in all kinds of ways—a sort of ‘total body experience’ for a percentage of the population. Sometimes people can have an early warnings of an impending migraine-- seeing wavy lines, odd glows, or even partial words are just some of the aura indicators that a migraine is imminent. Many things can trigger migraines, he told me. Foods, smells, lights…


Like… new super-efficient fluorescent lighting, installed at my campus last summer? Clearly it was unofficial self-conducted mini-experiment time.

I wore sunglasses indoors at work the very next day. I may have looked weird, but I felt fantastic. By the end of that week, I felt ten years younger. It wasn’t long before I’d reclaimed my energy and health.

For the next two years, I wore sunglasses at work. The As Seen on TV HD Vision ones were my favorites because the lenses have a wonderful goldeny hue and the frames aren’t brain-squeezers. No one at work—staff nor students—ever gave me a hard time about my new accessory. My family, on the other hand, was very vocal with their opinions when I decided to get a few of those jazzy glasses-holding chains. I promised to never wear those in public—at least around them.

I never had another episode of blindness at work again. At Home Depot, twice. At Goodwill. At Kroger. At Ikea, even, but never again at work. You never know when an energy-efficient destination will sneak up on you. I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping sunglasses with me nearly all the time, just in case.

The modern world is a vicious place if you are sensitive to energy efficient lighting.

Sometimes I wonder if there are lots of other people out there with similar symptoms, wondering why on earth they feel so awful all the time. Are they secretly terrified that they are going blind? I predict that more of these cases will surface now that regulations are becoming stricter about energy consumption and efficiency.

In fact, I should probably buy stock in As Seen on TV HD Vision glasses.

Good, Better, Best-
“Have a better day,” the cashier said.

I contemplated that. 
Not a good day, like so many people bid us as we move through our daily existence.
Not the best day, either. That would be presumptuous—best is somewhat sacred.

Best not to spend that top-spot billing on a Tuesday that involved a trip to the supermarket, the gas station, and the post office.

A better day.
Better than what? Did I look like I wasn't having a good day? I wondered briefly if I should be offended, but I quickly dismissed the thought.
Better than it had been prior to this conversation?

What did she mean?

Maybe I was over-thinking this. Better is superior to good without the responsibility of best.

If this was her intention, I liked it.

I hope my day lived up to her request.

Hoblitzelle Park


Jan told Russ, “I tried the Stay-At-Home-Mom thing once. I had all these projects I wanted to do. It was okay at first, but without the extra income, there was no money to be able to do the projects. I was looking for a teaching job by January.”

I know exactly what you meant, Jan.

Job Search

Kenny’s Woodfire Grill
Kids’ Adjustment


Marathon Kids

Married to a Millipede-
“Your sock situation is out of control,” I seethed. It sounded meaner than I’d meant, but I couldn’t help it; I was certain I’d be pairing socks in my dreams that night.

“You’re right. I’m so sorry,” he replied, forever sincere. “You must feel like you’re married to a millipede.”

My annoyance defrosted by leaps and bounds as I pondered this.

Married to a Millipede: A Collection of Memoirs by Courtney Sanders-Robinson

This has potential, I thought.

Suddenly, I was grateful for our sock farm.

Meat Paradox-
If Russ and the kids suddenly went on a permanent vacation, I’d probably never eat meat again. This is not to say that I dislike meat. I enjoy meat quite a bit. Especially steak. And burgers with beef from Truth Hill Farms. Oh, and chicken flautas… yum!

I don’t like buying meat. I also don’t like preparing it.
I can do both of those tasks, and I can do it fairly well, but it grosses me out.

For the past few months, I’ve been trapped in a meat purgatory. I can purchase and prepare the meat, but then I can’t bring myself to eat it. Or, I can eat the meat, as long as someone else purchased and prepared it.

This summer in Maine, I picked apart a lobster like a pro. I inherited this keen ability from my mother, the planet's leading expert in lobster-picking. Restaurants could hire her. Restaurants should hire her. "Leave no limb unpicked" is her [unofficial, unspoken] golden rule. Someone should make a reality show about her. The world has never seen anything like it, trust me. I sat at that picnic table and picked until the pile of lobster threatened to topple right off the dish. My husband's expression said, "What the hell is your problem? I watched you scarf down a lobster roll yesterday in well under ten minutes." But I just couldn't do it. After helping to clean up from dinner, I re-heated a piece of leftover pizza and ate it when nobody was looking.

Now that I’m the primary cook at home, I’m still hungry by the end of most meals. I need to find a way to hypnotize myself out of this habit.

Back to the self-help section of the library, I guess.



One really good idea

Hannah and Caleb like when the weekend visitation schedule aligns with their bio-mom’s payday. On those weekends, they live large—restaurants for every meal, fun destinations like Dave and Busters, and sometimes even mini-shopping sprees. I’m not trying to make our kids seem superficial, because really, they are pretty level-headed--especially Hannah. What kids wouldn’t like that kind of weekend every now and again?

Hearing them speculate about if it was going to be a payday weekend prompted me to ask Hannah if she knew when our payday was. (Teachers here get paid once a month.) She sincerely had no idea. That made me feel really good about the choices we’re making and the example we are setting for the kids. I’m happy that we are comfortable with the same standard of living on payday as we are on the days just before payday.

“Quad C”
Russ and I struck a deal. If he could get a whiskey still, I could get a few quail. It sounded like a reasonable compromise, except for the fact that my quail would benefit the whole family whereas his distillery would not.

According to my Big Book of Joy, quail are tidy, quiet little creatures that require very little space and minimal care. The book even said that those small mostly-plastic dog carriers are ideal quail huts. They are inexpensive and readily available; I’ve seen several on craigslist and at Goodwill.

With the general chaos of the start of the school year, I forgot about my quail plan for a while. There’s a new show on TV called Revolution that has reminded me, though, and now my quail need is back with a vengeance. 

It’s the only way I’ll be able to feed my family in the event of an apocalyptic power failure, but nobody around here seems to appreciate this.

Qwerty keyboard

Revolution (TV show)
Mia told us recently that the substitute really seemed to like her. She said she thought it was probably because we were rich. I choked on my milk. (It may have been wine. I’m not sure.)

Rich, us? I pondered this as I looked around our home. Every piece of furniture in the family room is from craigslist. Every article of clothing in the kids’ closets comes from consignment sales, consignment stores, or Goodwill. The stuff in their dressers—socks, underwear—are new, but all the play clothes are Goodwill hand-me-downs. Toys? Same origin, unless it was a gift from the grandparents. And if they only knew how many lentils and other legumes I sneak into their meals in order to make the meat go further, I might have a mutiny on my hands.

“Rich, us?” I finally said aloud. “What makes you think we are rich?

Her body language took on a “duh, Mom” demeanor.

“Mom. Really? We have tons of awesome clothes and cool toys and so much good food. Our house is like a castle! And you always say we have the best yard in all the land. We’re totally rich.”

When she said the part about the best yard in the land, I blushed. I do say that quite often. Our old yard was hardly bigger than a plastic kiddie pool, so this one does feel like a golf course. Okay, a mini golf course.  Still, I never imagined that my kid would start boasting about being rich!

I was mortified and heart-warmed all at once.

“Medium,” I told her. “We’re medium. You’re right—we really do have so much to be grateful for in our lives. And we do have the best yard in all the land. The important thing—the thing that really makes us special—is that we are happy with what we have. So in a way, medium feels like rich. But… please don’t tell people we’re rich. If you really need to tell them something, tell them we’re a happy medium.”

School lunches
Scottish Rite
Spelling Homework
Suitcases, two



I remember Utz brand potato chips from New England, but you can’t find very many Utz products in Texas. Maybe that’s because Plano is the Frito Lay capital of the planet. When I was a kid, I thought the puny Killingly Frito Lay factory was the one and only, the big leagues, something to put the Quiet Corner on the map. If the breeze was blowing just right and the humidity was heavy enough, the smell of potato chips would waft our way, hovering over town with its greasy, salty goodness. Here the only evidence of Frito Lay that I’ve encountered is the sponsorship namesakes and the email extensions. Every so often, I’d have a student in my classes whose family had been transferred from the northeast, and we’d reminisce together about that special smell. 

So, Utz is something of a rarity.

I only seem to notice the brand around Halloween. Last year, I scored a huge pumpkin-shaped container of individually-packaged pretzels on clearance at World Market. The pretzels made great school snacks, but the container was the real reason I made the purchase. It is the perfect size to hold a full batch of homemade laundry detergent. We made the detergent (“Robinson Rag Soap” was Caleb’s suggestion) on New Year’s Day. Here it is, almost October, and we still have maybe a week’s worth left. That’s nine solid months for a family of six!

While grocery shopping the other day, I noticed that Utz had rolled out their Halloween line again. This time, the treat within was mini-cheeseballs. Same big pumpkin container. I bought two. Why in the world did I think I needed two more gigunda pumpkin containers?!  I’m sure I’ll figure something out, and when I do, I will let you know.



Window Payment-
Our home was in excellent condition when we purchased it. The previous owners had been meticulous about maintenance and general care. The house inspector said he’d seen houses half as old in much worse shape, and he was genuinely surprised and impressed at the age and condition. We were thrilled with this news. The only real issue was the windows. Roughly half of them had broken seals, which the inspector said could lead to serious energy loss.

Energy loss? That’s my weakness!

A few months later, a door-to-door salesman stopped by (those guys are Russ’s weakness) and we set up an appointment to learn more about these state-of-the-art, energy-conserving, easy-to-clean, miracle windows of the future. They’re twelve panels thick. They’re custom-fit. They reduce dust and allergens. They insulate so well that this one customer’s cat got confused when his “warm spot” was now as cool as the rest of the house…

We had to act fast to lock in the special rate.

We’d just finished paying off the Big Pig and Russ’s student loan. The salesman reminded us that eventually the windows would pay for themselves in electricity bill savings, so we signed up.

Yup, even though we are allergic to consumer debt, we signed up.

For the low, low price of $8,000, we had new windows installed in the kitchen and family room. Ten windows. That’s… $800 per window?! We reasoned we could pay $600/month across ten months and then just use a bit of tax refund or savings to knock out the remaining amount.

Stupid windows. I don’t even think it makes that much of a difference in our comfort level. We marveled at first, but looking back I wonder if that was maybe to soothe our own egos for having been such suckers. We will not be getting the other 12 windows replaced anytime soon. We’ve already started to put up the Gila film (love that stuff!) and honestly, it seems to do just as good of a job at controlling the temperature. If we have to put that sticky-clay-rope weather strip stuff on for the winter, so be it, because I am NOT going to get more new windows!

Wine (see Alcohol)
Working Out




Friday, September 14, 2012

Mission(s) Accomplished

If I only I had the time to do xyz...
How many times in the last decade have I thought that?

Well, now I have the time. There are so many things I've wanted to do, I've decided to keep track (in a place where I can't lose the list!)

1. Walk my kids to and from school.
2. Prepare school lunches so the kids don't have to buy hot lunch.
3. Become a frequent visitor to the local libraries.
4. Make healthy meals for the family.
5. Keep on top of the clutter and house cleaning.
6. Participate in parent-child stuff at the kids' schools.
7. Exercise more frequently.
8. Communicate with family and friends more often.
9. Volunteer for things.
10. Grow something (other than dust on furniture!)
11. Eliminate dust on furniture.
12. Learn as much as I can about the kinds of jobs that are out there in the world, especially those that offer a healthy work-life balance.
13. Find more ways to support sustainable living habits.
14. Meditate. (This one could be the trickiest of all!)
15. Write. Part of me fears that I might lose touch with this now that I am away from the classroom.
16. Organize... everything?

I know there will be other things to add, probably very soon. I'm looking over my list and having flashbacks to teaching. In his memoir Knots in My Yo-yo String, Jerry Spinelli had a chapter called "Sixteen Things I Wish I Could Do". I'd study that list with my students, and we'd make observations about Spinelli's list. Eventually they'd notice that each item began with a verb. Without too much further prodding, they'd notice that no two verbs repeated. We would use it as a model for our own lists. Man, I used to love seeing the stuff they'd come up with.

I wonder what the eleven-year-old me would have listed.
I wonder what those students will wish for when they are my age.