I know that someday you'll find better things.

Monday, April 28, 2014


So much for everybody knowing your name...

"I always wanted to have a long name that could be shortened to a cool nickname. Like Samantha. I could've been an awesome Sam," lamented Hannah at lunch on the heels of a discussion about namesake juniors, seniors, and thirds.

"I actually wanted to name you Samantha!" Russ confided.

Hannah's eyes widened at this news. "Really?"

Zero effort was made to conceal my eye-roll, and I'm sure I probably sighed dramatically, too, before I offered my two cents on the situation. "I bet I know why he wanted to name you that, and probably why your mom shot it down, too," I told her.

Why?" All three kids leaned forward eagerly to hear why Hannah was not Samantha.

"Because," I announced definitively, "your father used to have a HUGE crush on Sam Malone."

"Who's Sam Malone?"

"A character from a popular TV show from the eighties," I explained.

"Hmm... that doesn't... I'm not sure... I don't think that was her last name," Russ said, taking out his phone to look it up.

He was right. The lovely Alyssa Milano, who played Sam on Who's the Boss, had the last name of Micelli on the show.

"Then who's Sam Malone?" the kids asked.

We looked it up.
Do you remember?

The show was Cheers.
The actor was Ted Danson.





Dinner Plans

When you see what I plan to serve my family for dinner for the next three days, you are either going to be very impressed with how far I've come in the "letting go" department or absolutely appalled at just how low my standards have dropped.

If you are a purist or affiliated with Child Protective Services in any capacity, I recommend that you sit this one out. You are about to witness things that you'll never be able to un-see.

To heck with sodium and preservatives; it's going to be a busy week, I can sense it. 

Desperate times, folks.

For example, Mia has a dentist appointment tomorrow afternoon, which means that most of my morning will be consumed by thinking don't forget about the dentist, don't forget about the dentist, don't forget about the dentist and by repeatedly doing the "math" of what time I will need to retrieve her from school. 

There's other stuff going on, too, I just can't remember what it is right now. And probably I won't remember, at least until we're past the dentist appointment so there's room in my brain for something new to remember (or forget).

So brace yourself, because this menu is a real doozy and not for the faint of heart or blood pressure.

Since some of the readers are on similar shoestring budgets, I will list the cost of each meal, too. And I do use the term "meal" loosely. Everything was purchased at Walmart. Things could have been done cheaper. Things could have been done with coupons. Things certainly could have been done more healthfully.

But they weren't, not this time.

Monday: Indoor Picnic
-Really big sandwiches (grinders, hoagies, heroes, subs--whatever you call them) pre-made from the deli--$5.98 for the giant one, $5.48 for the foot-long.
-Potato salad, pre-made from the deli, $2.98
-Mixed-vegetables, frozen (well, we won't eat them frozen, of course) $1.08
Total cost: $15.52
Bonus: There will totally be leftovers. Tomorrow's school lunches are practically made!

Tuesday: Breakfast for Dinner
-Blueberry pancakes and/or maple pancakes, premade from the freezer section. The label says things like "natural" and "preservative-free" but really, who knows? More importantly, who cares? Not me, at least not this week. 24 pancakes for $3.50, so I purchased two bags of 'em.
-Breakfast sausage links. Usually I go with the turkey variety, not because I'll eat them but mostly because they are less gross to cook, at least in my mind. I don't know what's going on in the turkey market, but I am NOT paying $6.98 for one package. I went with the Johnsonville pork variety, $3.24.
-Hashbrown patties (freezer aisle). Not happy about turning on the oven now that the outdoor temp is on the rise, but I'll get over it for the sake of convenience. $1.88
-Strawberries, fresh. 2 lbs for $3.00. Not too shabby.
Total cost: $15.12
Bonus: There's no way that Russ and the kids will consume 48 pancakes, right? Maybe I can squeak another meal out of this.

Wednesday: International Night
-Beef Lo Mein (freezer aisle-- Birdseye) "family size" $6.76
-Sweet and Sour Chicken (freezer aisle-- Birdseye. It seems to include rice and vegetables) "family size" $6.76
-Broccoli, frozen-- $1.08
-And, because for reasons unknown, Chinese food always always makes me ill, an Amy's single-serve gluten-free, dairy-free, meat-free tofu pad thai meal, $3.48.
Total cost: $18.08
Bonus: I'm not sure if a bonus exists for this meal. Um... it's cheaper than a restaurant?

Is frozen Chinese food good or gross? 
Who knows? Who cares? Not me! 

Will the kids like it? They don't have to. 
That is one battle we absolutely do not have. 

The official family policy is as follows:
The good news is you don't have to eat it.
The bad news is you won't get dessert.

Will they survive this mega mommy-lapse? 
Let's hope so.

Bonus: I'm predicting that their daily water consumption will quadruple with the amount of salt they're about to consume.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Be All You Can Be

On Monday, I decided to join the National Guard.

I can’t really identify the reason. Maybe it’s because a part of me feels guilty for not following through with the Air Force ROTC thing back in college. Maybe it’s because I want to serve and contribute to our nation. Maybe it’s because I want to finally do something that will make my parents and children proud. Something big. Something meaningful.

Maybe this is the mid-life crisis I’ve always heard about.

It has to be the National Guard. A full-time military career wouldn’t work for our family’s schedule. One weekend a month and two weeks out of the year seems reasonable, right?


I informed Russ of my decision on Monday evening. He was supportive but skeptical.

“So you’re okay with it, then?” 

That was easy-- almost too easy. I'd expected more resistance. Or at least some discussion.

“This just seems like an odd choice. I thought you were anti-National Guard," he said.

It was a fair observation.

“I’ve never been anti-National Guard, per se. I just don’t think it’s appropriate to send the part-timers with local commitments and families into combat ahead of the skilled career soldiers. I mean, I understand why the military does it, but it has always struck me as extra-tragic.”

My mind always goes back to one of my former students, a boy who had to go live with his grandparents when his mom, a single-parent, nurse, and National Guard member, was deployed following 9/11.

“Yet you’re willing to be a part of that potential tragedy?” Russ implored, calm as ever.

I was ready for this question--I'd asked myself the same thing during the process of deciding.

“I suppose. But I don’t think that they’d really want to send me over there. I’m fairly good with guns and all, but let’s be honest—my attention span’s not the greatest, and I tend to be a little impulsive. Plus, I have zero medical training, so it’s not like I’d be of any value in that department. I’d probably be a data analyst or something. Maybe human resources. Or organizing things. I’m pretty good at organizing things. And cleaning. I could definitely clean things.”

So the matter was settled.


I was confident with my decision right up until it was time to fall asleep that night.

That’s when the doubts started to chew away at my plan.

What if they don't let me have my concentration medicine? What if I'm assigned to work in an area with ultra-high-efficiency fluorescent lights and those blinding migraines return?
How will I find out what contains gluten and what doesn't? What if those stupid tumors along my spine come back? And those mysterious high fevers that I always get whenever I don’t get enough sleep-- how will that work out?

Anxiety coursed through my veins and pounded in my ears while that familiar feeling of suffocation began to squeeze at my chest. It had been a while since I’d had a midnight panic attack. So long, in fact, that I’d almost forgotten how uncomfortable it is.

I got out of bed to retrieve my anxiety medicine, but the worries came, too.

Oh, God. What if they don't let me have anxiety medicine?

Wait, aren’t soldiers with anxiety disorders usually discharged from service? Oh boy. How long would it be before I got kicked out?

Peace washed over me and all my worries evaporated when I realized:
I’m such a mess, they probably won’t even let me in.


On Tuesday, I decided it was time for a different plan.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Local Luxe

Kenny's Wood-Fired Grill in Addison has been our special-occasion celebration venue for the past few years. While it is reasonably priced, the service and food at Kenny's is of an unparalleled decadence.

Servers transfer your martini to an ice-cold fresh glass every ten minutes to maintain the integrity of that Grey Goose on tap, ready and waiting for you at precisely 28 degrees. 

Let's not forget those fat blue-cheese-stuffed olives. If you happen to finish yours within the ten minutes between glass-transfers, they bring you a whole new skewer of them. YUM!

Then there's the tenderloin crostini with the bearnaise sauce and demi glace and the oh-so-delicately-fried portabella appetizer. Every entree is a winner, too. And while there are several dessert options, the only one we've ever tried-- ever needed to try-- was the bread pudding, which I am pretty sure is made from the previous day's fluffy, eggy popovers.


When Russ asked if he should make a reservation for my upcoming birthday, he was surprised when I declined.

"You know how accommodating they are-- I'm sure they can do all kinds of gluten-free things for you if we ask," he said.

"It doesn't matter. I'd still have to see all those lovely delicacies being delivered to other tables nearby. I'd be green with envy if you ordered any of our old favorite things, but I don't want to hold you back, either. And I'd feel stupid asking them to periodically transfer my iced tea to a new cold glass. Forget it. It's just not the same."

Russ countered with a completely different proposition: spending a day at Spa Castle.

Oooh, now that would be a treat.


Spa Castle is an exotic paradise located only twenty minutes from our house. It's what I imagine a five-star all-inclusive resort in Korea (the good Korea) might be like. I say this because depending on the day or time of day that you're there, yours might be the only non-Asian face in the whole resort. This is not a bad thing-- you just literally feel as though you've traveled to another country.

Minus the annoying jet lag, of course.

There are ten saunas and even more pools and hot tubs. I'm honestly not sure how many-- maybe 15? Some are co-ed and swimsuit-mandatory, while the au naturale in-the-nude pools are segregated by gender. Many lounges, social areas, and even a fitness room round out the day-admission area. Spa services (massages, accupressure, manicures, etc.) are also available for an extra cost.

The facility is incredible, and the entrance fee of $35 is reasonable. I've heard that sometimes there are $17 deals available on Groupon and Living Social, though I've yet to encounter any. Rumor has it that you can also purchase a reduced-price ticket ($20, maybe?) if you spend a certain amount of money (again, $20, maybe?) at an Asian grocery store called H-Mart, which is located directly across the street from the Carrollton facility.

The entrance fee allows you to be there for a full 24 hours. While this may seem implausible, the amount of lounges and luxurious nap-areas make it a genuine possibility. Additionally, a very snazzy place referred to as the "locker room" offers all the creature comforts you could possibly need for a multi-hour stay and are available free-of-charge.

I don't just mean drinking water and towels, either.
Shampoo, soap, conditioner, detangler, toothbrushes, toothpaste, lotion, razors, deodorant... 

If you are starting to think this sounds like a dream-come-true, there are a few drawbacks that anchor Spa Castle firmly in reality.

1. The Food Options

The facility has several dining options including at least two sit-down type restaurants, a Starbucks stand, a frozen yogurt stand, and a snack bar. While the cost of the menu items is a little on the high side, my greatest challenge was finding gluten-free/msg-free options. The nature of Asian cuisine, compounded by the language barrier, made this part of the experience a bit discouraging. I had the best luck interacting with the staff at the snack bar, as most of their menu items are more "Americanized" as are the teenagers staffing that area. They understood the problem and came up with some creative options-- I ended up having a modified Philly cheese-steak sandwich on corn tortillas, and it was delicious.

Later that day, my hopes soared when I saw a family unpacking a makeshift picnic from an assortment of tupperware containers.

During checkout, I asked the manager about the possibility of bringing in outside food, and apparently it is against the rules. I tried to explain about the gluten/msg problem, but I am not sure she understood.

Language barrier.

Nobody searches your bags upon entry, but I do like to follow the rules. I don't mind not eating--especially if it keeps me out of gluten-pain-- but if hunger sets in, it could really put a damper on the pleasure of the experience and the length of our stay.

2. Kids, Especially the Unsupervised Variety

We'd read on Yelp that unsupervised children ran amok in herds (I still can't fathom who would cough up $35 per kid to be in such an adult-oriented environment) and we tried to build our experience around this factor. 

Our visit took place during Spring Break. We reasoned that Monday would be our best bet for a peaceful day-- hopefully most folks wouldn't galvanize their troops until later in the week. Furthermore, we predicted that the presence of children would increase throughout the day, and that they'd probably be most drawn to the outdoor bade pools, so this is where we began our adventure when we arrived shortly before 9 am. 

Once the children swarmed the area, that would be our cue to head indoors to Sauna Valley.

Because how many kids would want to run amok in small, 185-degree huts, right? More than you would think.

Our plan was semi-effective, but by nightfall, the unsupervised herd was primarily indoors and running from hut to hut. 

Open the door, giggle, slam the door closed. 

They seemed to be playing some sort of game involving who could complete the open-giggle-slam cycle the fastest, the loudest, and the most enthusiastically.

With our nerves unraveling and our tension-levels moving toward pre-spa restoration, we decided to separate and try out the naked pool/bath experience.

Which was fine, until Russ encountered some of his middle school students.

Lesson here? It's probably better to come here on a school day.

And that is precisely what we intend to do.

If you plan to visit Spa Castle, here are a few tips:

-Aim for a school day and arrive early.
Avoid weekends, holidays, and (as we learned the hard way!) school vacation days. 

-Bring your own beach towel.
Actually, bring several-- some to dry off with and some to use as "liners" in the saunas, on the lounge chairs, and on the nap mats. Even though they provide towels, you'll be more comfortable with your own. You'll have an assigned locker where you can store them. Same thing with bathing suits-- pack several. I hate the feeling of a damp suit when I am ready to feel dry, so I was glad to have a back-up suit when we switched to the saunas. Next time I plan to pack three or four suits along with some gallon-sized ziplock bags to put the wet ones into so that my regular clothes and other dry items don't get damp.

-Prepare for your visit the way you might prepare to be a contestant on Survivor.
a.) Leave your jewelry at home. Even your wedding ring. There are so many pools, it would be impossible to find it if it slipped off of your finger.
b.) Don't bother with makeup-- you'll probably just sweat it off, anyway. 
c.) Wear something loose and comfortable that you can change into and out of quickly and easily. They'll provide a "uniform" for you to wear while you're actually there, so no need to dwell on fashion.
d.) Choose a hairstyle that is low maintenance AND comfortable for lying on your back in the saunas (goodbye, traditional ponytail!) I had good luck with Heidi-style braids. 
e.) If food sensitivities are an issue, eat a big meal before you go and keep some snacks ready in the car for the trip home. Note: they will not let you go out to the parking lot and re-enter. Once you're out, you're out for good.
f.) Sunscreen and sunglasses!
g.) Be ready for the nudity factor, and don't dwell on it. I noticed that those who went to extremes to conceal their bodies ended up attracting even more attention because of the theatrics. Just go with the flow.

If you are in the area, I would definitely recommend giving this place a try. I'm very eager for our return visit. If Dallas isn't in your future, I've heard there is a second location in College Point, New York. A third location is currently under construction in Manhattan.

To learn more about the sauna options and their effects, click here: http://spacastleusa.com/tx/sauna-valley/

Here is a promotional video I found for our Texas location:

(If you are viewing this on a mobile device and it doesn't load, use this link to go straight to youtube:

Here are some screen-shots from the Spa Castle website:

There's some wide-angle camera-trickery going on here.
Also, the pool on the right is clean. It is that color due to its green tile.

And finally, here are my favorite saunas:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Hamster Heartbeats

Hannah sighed, clearly frustrated by the schoolwork on her computer screen. "There's this thing I have to figure out as part of my homework, and I'm not sure I understand it. Could I read it to you?"

"Of course!" I was happy to (try!) to help. So much of what she is learning is so intricate and sophisticated that it was an honor simply to be asked to be of assistance.

"Okay. The heart rates and lifespans of mammals are inversely related. A cat has a heart rate of 126 beats per minute, and a hamster has a heart rate of 630 beats per minute. A cat lives for 15 years on average--"

"No way! This is utterly fascinating. I've never even considered that before. I mean, I know hamsters have a shorter shelf-life, so to speak, and people are always talking about "cat years" and "dog years" but now it totally makes sense."

My mind was racing at the implications. No wonder doctors placed such an emphasis on heart-health. It's as if we only receive a set amount of heartbeats, and when you reach the limit, your time is up.

"And sorry for interrupting," I added.

"A hamster--" Hannah resumed, the edges of her expression en route to exasperation.

"Just tell me this. Are you conducting an experiment? Is this biology? Physics?"

"Algebra. It's a math problem. Don't get dazzled by the details, okay? We're not supposed to care about the hamsters. Forget the storyline. We just need to look at the numbers and determine the function that represents the correlation."


My feelings weren't hurt, of course, because it was about the seventy-thousandth time I'd been given that reminder.

That is when I began to formulate a theory that perhaps there is a function to represent a correlation (inverse-relationship, perhaps?) between mathematically-capable people and curiosity.

I think I know what the graph would look like, too.

Disregard the wobbles. It's just a sketch.

If I did this correctly, it is saying that people with a higher mathematical strength have a diminished sense of curiosity. They care so much about the way the numbers fit together that they don't even pause to consider the hamsters or the cats or what this might mean for the longevity of the human species.

I also tried to make it asymptotic, so that neither the curiosity line nor the mathematic-strength line will ever cross zero. 

This means that nobody is 100% curious and 0% mathematically capable (or 100% mathematically capable and 0% curious) because that just seems unreasonable.

I realize that math and research do seem to have a working relationship. Just not in the classroom, I suppose.

Tesla, Newton, Einstein, and Curie would need a different graph. Unless they were medium-curious and medium-capable.

It's possible. In a lot of ways, medium makes the world go 'round.

My theory may need more research and refinement, but that is going to have to wait. Right now, I have some burning questions about hamster-heartbeats and lifespans that are begging for some answers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Don't stand too close to me or you might just win the lottery. I'm positively oozing with luck.

Yesterday I had the grand privilege of doing yard work.

Only someone who is very, very lucky has an opportunity to maintain her own lawn.

After all, someone must have time to do such a magnificent task. Most of the people in our neighborhood are not as lucky as I am. They don't have the luxury of time, so they are stuck hiring landscaping companies to do the work for them.

Poor things.

At some point in the last few weeks, the warm weather brought out the buds on the trees and the last of the fall's leaves finally dropped. 

That was my signal that it was finally safe to take action.

Rain was in the forecast, but if my luck held steady, I could take care of my business before the sky fell.

The dark clouds kept the temperature from getting too hot. Luck!

A pleasant pre-storm breeze cooled me like a fan. Double luck!

The leaves were not as lucky as I; the breeze was not kind to them at all. The neat piles I'd raked scattered with each gust.

Poor things.

I tried not to let it frustrate me. There are people in parts of the world that are not as lucky as I am. They don't have lawns or trees.

Poor things.

My neighbors, too, were not as lucky as I; almost all the leaves from my lawn blew onto their beautifully manicured lawns, despite my incredibly valiant attempts to prevent that from happening.

Feeling appalled, embarrassed, and guilty, I willed the leaves to stop blowing away while frantically trying to corral them into the over-sized brown paper sack of a yard bag.

Stay put, I telegraphed.
"Stay put," I whispered.
"Stay put!" I begged aloud, but the leaves did not obey.


By now I was certain that luck was on my side: the wind drowned out most of my yelling, and anyone interacting with nearby lawns didn't speak English anyway.

In a fit of futile guilt-propelled effort, I chased the leaves up and down the street, mentally composing apology notes to the owners of every home I passed. Luckily, there wasn't much to say.

I've heard that lottery winners lives often take a turn for the worse following their windfalls, and this does not surprise me whatsoever. 

It seems that being lucky can be its own curse.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Quitting is highly under-rated and has an undeservedly bad reputation.

Here are some quotes about quitting that some kind soul gathered and posted on the Goodreads website. I hope you find them to be as discouraging and inaccurate as I did.

“It's always too soon to quit!” 
― Norman Vincent Peale

“Age wrinkles the body; quitting wrinkles the soul.” 

― Douglas MacArthur

“I shed a tear when I meet somebody who always quits. Reliable people are so rare in this world.” 

― BauvardSome Inspiration for the Overenthusiastic

“I never said it would be easy. Giving up is easy.” 

― Maria V. SnyderInside Out

“The heartbreak of losing fades over time, however, the burden of quitting last forever.” 

― Sarah van Waterschoot

And then there is the middle-of-the-road perspective, partially accurate, but not particularly soul-satisfying:

“Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.” 

― Lance ArmstrongEvery Second Counts

“The time to quit is before you wish you had.” 

― Kimberly K. JonesSand Dollar Summer

I don't know about you, but I get the impression that these inspirational gems were created by people with very little experience in quitting. It is easy for outsiders to pass judgment on quitters, but they do not know what we know.

Quitting--quitting just about anything, really--is much harder than anyone would care to admit.

Take it from me, a serial quitter. I've quit big things and I've quit small things. I've quit things that are overwhelming and things that are insignificant, and almost none of it was easy.

I quit a marriage, and it was pretty darn difficult. (If you missed it, read about it here)

I quit a career, and it tore me to shreds. (If you missed it, you can read about it here)

Almost a year ago, I quit caffeine/coffee (mostly) which was surprisingly not as hard as I expected, but that's probably because consuming it resulted in an elevated level of anxiety that was more punishment than pleasure.

Recently I quit college and a semi-developed dream for a very cool career. Boy, was that tough. (You probably saw that one, but just in case-- read about it here.)

I do not regret these things I have quit.
Not at all. 
Quitting has been a most positive and liberating experience, even if it didn't feel that way at first.


Of all the things I've quit, the thing I am most proud of is quitting drinking alcohol-- a habit that had a fierce hold on me and (you probably didn't know this, because I can be quite good at concealing certain things) had me already more than halfway down the path to bonafide you-know-what-ism.

Because I don't do moderation.
Never have-- always been an "all-or-nothing" kind of gal.
(Not always proud of it, though.)

So, on Sunday, November 10, 2013, I quit. (The day's hangover really reinforced the decision.)

The sobriety-streak lasted two days.

"I don't want to be a drinker, but I don't think I can quit this," I confessed to Hannah on Wednesday morning. "I think I'm going to need professional help here. Or at the very least, a new hypnosis cd."
"I think you can do it. Forever sounds like a long time, but I bet you can quit for a week. Can you quit for a week?"
"Maybe. Probably. I guess I could try."

And I did it!

It was a long seven days, but I did it, just like Hannah knew I could.

"See?" she said.
"But I miss it!" I lamented.
"Seven days is a big record," she said. "Would you really want to have to start over from scratch?"

No way.

The drinkless days started to snowball, and at first I was acutely aware of their passing. I had every day marked on the calendar, and sometimes I would stand in front of that calendar and think twenty-two days, twenty-two days, I don't want to have wade through twenty-two more days before I can have a new record...

Sixty-four days, sixty-four days. 

I don't want to lose credit and have to start all over.

As of today, it has been 140 days.

My sister is currently trying to quit smoking-- her decision was the impetus for my reflection on this subject. I know she can do it-- I am completely certain that despite the intensity of the challenge, she can take back the power from those cigarettes and leave that habit in the dust.

Ashes to ashes.

It won't be easy, of course, but quitting never is.

She'll miss it dearly for many days, the same way our hearts grieve a loss of anything or anyone close and comforting. 

Then one day, she will wake up, and it won't feel quite so bad.

By Day 140, she will feel fantastic and proud and absolutely unwilling to relinquish that victory streak.

Of all the things I've read about quitting, this is the one I hope will resonate with my sister's resolve:

“Quitting is not giving up, it's choosing to focus your attention on something more important. Quitting is not losing confidence, it's realizing that there are more valuable ways you can spend your time. Quitting is not making excuses, it's learning to be more productive, efficient and effective instead. Quitting is letting go of things (or people) that are sucking the life out of you so you can do more things that will bring you strength.” 
― Osayi Osar-EmokpaeImpossible Is Stupid