Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolutions for 2008

I am continuing my tradition from last year, which is to shun the standard New Year's Resolutions everyone makes, and instead make a list of the resolutions I should have made last January 1. I love setting goals and I do believe in the power of a fresh start, but I am realistic enough to know that when I wake up tomorrow, I'm probably going to eat the other half of the box of Nilla Wafers even though I shouldn't, so why make an even grander list of the things I'm going to fail at also? Besides, I am pretty good at psyching myself up for goals all during the year. The beauty of doing resolutions my way is that I get to focus on the positive, which (if I were making resolutions, which I'm not) would be something I'd like to work on more next year.

So here are my resolutions for 2008, in no particular order:

1. Go to Europe. Live my childhood dream of visiting Paris, speaking French to actual French people. Don't even mind too much when I can't understand their replies, just be happy because I went to Paris! Also see Milan, not enough of England, and freeze my tush off in Switzerland, one of the most gorgeous places in the world. Realize that the best vacations are made up of beautiful scenery, old (and interesting) buildings, and people I love. Gelato doesn't hurt, either.

2. For the first time in my entire life, get in the habit of going to the gym every single day. Every day! Since September! And also for the first time, finally start to understand why people enjoy exercising.

3. Lose 17.5 pounds. This comes as a surprise, since one of 2008's resolutions was also "Eat whatever I want." Does guilt burn calories?

4. Start taking English classes. Realize they are way, way harder than what I was used to, but also kind of like the idea of pushing myself. Get out of my comfort zone. Read some classic books and poetry and annoy everyone within the sound of my blog by whining about school. Vow to keep next year's whining to a minimum.

5. Keep writing this blog. Be constantly surprised that anyone is willing to listen to the insecurities and craziness that goes on in my head.

6. Hold an impromptu high school reunion on Facebook, with all of the people that mattered so much back in the early 90's. Discover that we've all grown up, matured, and put things behind us. Also discover that these friends still matter, and be grateful to have a second chance with their friendship. Life is a little richer with them in it, like they filled a hole I didn't realize they had left.

7. Keep on truckin, one more year. Survive Darcey learning to walk/climb/draw on the walls and enjoy her talking/smiling/laughing. Survive Zack learning to write his name on every surface including, but not limited to, the walls, counters, tables, desks, the floor, and his jeans, and enjoy his crazy personality. Survive Noah and Brad learning how to ski and the paralyzing fear that they will crash into a tree, trigger an avalanche, break a leg, or something worse, and still send them off with excitement that they are doing something they love. (That's one of the hardest things to do when you're a mother.) Enjoy Noah learning to read (and loving it), and trying to keep up with his older brother. Enjoy Brad learning to like Noah as a friend, singing in the choir, and taking on more independence. Enjoy Ryan's company, our late-night discussions when there's no one to interrupt us, our friendship. Especially enjoy his presence at home more, now that his work schedule is more relaxed. Look forward to the day when we can travel more and do more with the kids as they get older, and know there's no one else I'd rather do those things with than him.

If I were the resolution making kind, which I'm not, here are some things I would resolve:
-To tell people how much they mean to me, more often. Give more compliments.
-Lose the cynicism that I've acquired, and reclaim the optimism I seem to have abandoned. (This might make my blogs less interesting, but I'll try to make it work.)
-Take things less personally, and forgive quicker. Not get as riled up about mundane things. (Is this my blog's death knell?)
-Keep exercising. Lose 20 pounds. Still enjoy life and food.

So many people are saying "good riddance:" to 2008, but I have to say that it hasn't been a bad year for me. Yes, our IRA balances are pathetic, but I'm not a great saver so they were kind of pathetic to begin with. I've seen a lot of personal growth this year, a lot of great family experiences, I have amazing friends who are supportive and patient with me and boost my spirits any time I talk to them. Ryan and I see the hand of the Lord in our lives, and there's not much else that can reassure us in turbulent times than knowing that someone's looking out for you. I feel a lot of gratitude for having such a full and blessed life, and my New Year's wish is for all of you to have love of family and friends and God. I hope your 2009 is everything you resolve it to be!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Money Is An Object

Sometimes I wish I was one of those people who buy things for fun - the people who can spend money without the constant analysis that I seem to have. For whom the phrase "money is no object" actually applies - even if I say it, money is always an object. And rarely an object of pleasure.

Of course, the problem isn't money. It's the fact that I have to over-think every decision. With a notable exception for, strangely, those decisions that turn out to be life-changing but I didn't recognize it at the time. Those decisions are completely off-the-cuff. But when it comes to something as trivial as how much to spend on a mixer repair, my stress level hits Def-Con 5 and all of a sudden the various options need the kind of examination not given to the Shroud of Turin.

Today's mental battle started about ten days ago, when my KitchenAid mixer broke. Out of nowhere, this horrible clanking sound. I took it to The Mending Shed to have it fixed, and the guy took one listen and said it's a bad gear that will cost $75 to fix. That's fine - the mixer is about six years old and I really like it. I liked it even more after I hijacked my neighbor's handheld mixer and realized I can never go back. It'd be like going from a cable modem back to dial-up - completely intolerable. (Only someone from a developed country like ours can take a stand on luxury items like this - I recognize just how frivolous this would sound in, say, India. But I digress.)

I called today to see when the repair would be done, and was told that as it turns out, the part is no longer available. The entire motor housing would need to be replaced, to the tune of $175. Instantly my brain is whirling through the different scenarios: Can someone else find the obsolete part? Is a 6 year old mixer worth $175 to fix? Would I be better off just getting a new one? If I get a new one, should I stick with KitchenAid, or try a Bosch? All of these, and many more, in the thirty seconds of "ummmmm" that I gave the guy on the phone.

I told him to fix it, but I don't know if that was the right decision, and the kicker is that I won't know if it was the right decision for years. If the mixer only lasts six months before something else goes wrong, it was the wrong decision. But if it lasts another six years, then it was a good one. But until there's a final judgement, I'll be in bad-financial-decision limbo, neither able to reconcile myself to a loss nor to celebrate a good call.

This was minor compared to buying a new car in October. I felt like my mental status and hyper-analytic-ness were under a microscope. I hate buying cars. I am absolutely baffled by people who find any happiness in either the process or the result. When people say "congratulations" for buying a new car, I always find that a little inappropriate. Shouldn't they really be saying, "Hey, good job on going thousands of dollars in debt on a depreciating asset that is already worth less than you paid for it!"?

The way cars are sold also make me bananas. The salesman holds all the cards, and we're the humble petitioners, begging for whatever tiny scrap of a discount they might be willing to toss our way. Information is distributed so lopsidedly that you can't help but assume that there's something they're not telling you that would make a difference in your purchase. Since we don't get a real price up front, and don't know all the other fees and whatnot, there's no way to compare apples to apples. And it doesn't matter how much I can haggle the guy down, I always feel like a sucker.

I hate feeling like a sucker.

The only other industry that makes its sole profit on people failing to beat the system are the casinos. The house always wins, and it is the same when you buy a car, although less showgirls involved. There's no way to beat the system, to get a better deal than the dealer wants you to have. That's why, even though car salesmen are considered the least trusted profession, according to this USA Today/Gallup poll, there's no big rush to make a change in the system - it works.

The capitalist in me has to applaud, because it makes complete sense to put a high price tag on something. If at least one person buys it at that price, then fantastic! And everyone else who wants to pay less, well, the dealer can then look generous by knocking $500 off the price (but not more, because after all, they have to make some profit off of this, right?) But now that everyone knows not to pay the sticker price, you have an entire industry being deceptive about how much their product costs, at the expense of consumers who feel taken advantage of, who are convinced that the dealer is raking in the dough.

These are all of my beefs with the car industry even without any of my hostility about the bailout. You don't even want to get me started on that.

So knowing I was going to get a bad deal, I drove myself absolutely crazy. I got as much information from Consumer Reports as I could. I haggled with the salesman (who, I was dismayed to see, had many "Salesman of the Whatever" certificates on his wall) and walked away to think it over. I tried to weigh each option in my head and try to find the absolute best use of our money possible - which to me meant spending as little as possible.

It wasn't until we had signed the paperwork and been handed the keys that we finally saw the car we bought, because it was sent down from a different dealership. It didn't have automatic windows or doors. I didn't even know car companies MADE cars with a crank for the window anymore! I was half afraid that when I peeled back the car mats I'd find holes for our feet to help pedal. (I'm guessing I paid an anti-Flintstone fee that I didn't realize.)

To make a long story short, my over-analyzing about each penny caused me to scrimp when it would have been worth it to spend. It's the same mistake I made when we bought our minivan, not spending the extra few thousand to get the automatic sliding doors. How many more purchases will I skimp on before I let go of this insane need to spend as little as possible? I don't want to throw money away on frivolous things, but I don't want to throw money away on junk, either.

There's got to be a great economics chart out there, that shows quality on one side and price on the other, and you buy a product when the quality is highest at a still-affordable price. I try to approximate this data in my head, and always seem to miss the mark, spending too little (like the mediocre dishwasher, or the injury-inducing wooden swingset), or spending too much (like the Swiss Pass train tickets this summer). Some of it stems from unrealistic expectations - the last sedan I bought was 14 years ago, so the number in my head that a car "should" cost was too low. Our mental estimate for what our kitchen remodel "should" cost ended up being pretty close, so I don't have a lot of angst over that. Our recent road trip to Albuquerque didn't fulfill the required amount of fun to have made it worth it, so there's some regret there.

Apparently, I have some issues with money. There's probably an Oprah episode that shows how to have less anxiety about money, something like opening my arms to spending will allow me to embrace my inner peace. Whatever. Ryan, for once, had a positive view of my broken mixer repair bill. He said congratulations on using your appliance so much that you wore it out. He's not focused on the money at all, just that I need a mixer and this is clearly one that I can't live without.

At the end of the day, money, like dishwashers and cars and mixers, is just an object.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Getting Back On The Wagon

This year, I'm going to do something that no one else in the whole world would think of - I'm going to vow to lose weight! That's right, I'm blazing a trail, and I invite all of you to follow in my slightly overweight footsteps. Join with me, in this bold new tradition!

Okay, just kidding. I know that I'm not the only one reaching deep down and trying to find some willpower to help drop the 20 pounds. But as some of you might remember from last year, I hate New Year's Resolutions. I completely dislike the idea of being one of the "Lose 20 pounds" lemmings that follow each other off the cliff every January, only to find themselves at the bottom of the cliff in March, a few pounds heavier. And probably dead, although I might be taking this analogy a little too far.

I don't want to be the person that every woman's magazine, grocery, or apparel store is going to be marketing to - the chubster who is making the same goals as they did every year since they had any body-consciousness. I don't want to be that person.

The problem is mostly timing. In the spring, there's the big push (by magazines and ads, mostly) to get your body swimwear-ready by summer. And in summer, it's easier to imagine a diet, because of all the great fresh fruits and vegetables, plus the idea of baking a loaf of pumpkin bread is ridiculous in 100 degree heat. By fall, though, biology kicks in - there's no more talk of diet as we start to bulk up for winter hibernation. The idea of a nice thick layer of fat to help keep warm is good - if I still lived on a farm in 1834. But no one told my body that we moved (and found a time machine).

I think there's a conspiracy. The marketers who are my nemesis in April are busy telling me that the holidays are all about indulging and don't give me a lick of encouragement to buy anything other than the chocolate chips that are on sale.

By January, those marketers have fattened us up like lambs to the slaughter, and have primed our guilt and our pocketbooks to buy every frozen diet entree, every meal replacement drink, every gym membership, every skinny diet guru's book that they can sell us. Plus new shoes and clothes for the gym, because you certainly won't be effective on the treadmill in what you bought back when you were not planning on losing weight. This is the New You! The New You needs to look her best! (That advice will be $59.95, no checks or money orders.)

Well, not me, sister. I'm going to beat them at their game. I'm not going to be at Weight Watchers on January 2, ready to hand over my credit card with all the other Resolutionaries. I don't need the fresh start of the New Year to unleash the New Me. I'm going to start tomorrow.

That's right, I'm going to beat the crowd by going to Weight Watchers tomorrow morning. That way, by the time everyone else shows up two weeks later, I can be one of the "regulars." I can look down my nose at all of the newcomers, who are only there because of their resolutions, and won't be taking up valuable meeting space six weeks from now.

There's really no reason to wait. I've already done the indulgence route, and frankly it's not doing it for me anymore. I've been going to the gym almost daily since September (minus two weeks of never-ending sickness on Darcey's part). I have a husband who is completely supportive and encouraging. The only thing I fear is deprivation. I have true fear of having to say no to eating something I really want. I'm afraid that I'm going to be miserable and never get to do what I want ever again. I'll be one of those boring people, ordering salad at Pizza Hut, chewing on my celery stick at a party when everyone else is having cookies. Looking with longing at the ice cream section of the grocery store, or the chips and cookies aisle.

But there's nothing to do with fear other than face it. So I'm going to, tomorrow. I'm going to stare down that scale at Weight Watchers and the scale is going to blink first. And then it's going to wince when I step on it, because like I said, I've got some weight to lose. But I'm not going to care about that, because I'm a trail-blazer! I'm clearing the dieting path, so all of you can follow after!

I just don't want to find you at the bottom of the cliff. That's going to be messy.


Yes, that's right, I'm back from the world of exams and papers and reading-out-of-obligation and back into the world of the living. I apologize for not posting during the last few weeks, but if I was overwhelmed before, the end of the semester brought work like I had never dreamed. I made a to-do list of all the stuff that needed to be turned in, with like two weeks left to go, and it was 14 items. And while I normally pad my to-do lists with easy things so I can feel some sense of accomplishment (i.e. take a shower, eat lunch, etc.) these were all hard things, including reading two plays, one book, writing three papers and 6 journal entries, etc.

So it is with great pride that I say I finished this semester. I feel like I've whined about this topic so much that most of you are saying, "Enough all ready!" and I apologize. I don't like to be so one-note but school was very much all-encompassing this semester. And if you can handle one more blog entry about it, keep reading.

I figured out why this semester was so hard for me.
1. There is a lot more work required in these classes than my previous ones. I haven't decided if it is English in general, because there's a lot of reading and writing required, or if it is attending school two days a week. The business classes I took would be one night, for three hours, and one pile of homework for the week. Tons of class discussion and lectures. These English classes were 2x per week, 1 hour and 15 minutes each, so less lecture time and two piles of homework for the week.

2. In the business classes, it was clear that people were there to get the degree, because the piece of paper was worth a lot. I think the degree is second, in these classes, and learning is first. I love that. A degree is so far off in the future I'll be flying my air-car to graduation. I'm there to learn, most of all.

3. I'm being challenged to think and work in new ways. I got used to the read-the-text, take-the-test type of classes, and I'm good at those. These classes I had to be much more creative and analytical, and it took a lot more brain power than I was ready for.

By the end of the semester, I felt like I had found my groove. I was getting my work done and not stressing, at least until the very end when everything was due. I realized that I probably will be pretty good at this one day, but I wasn't there yet. It's nice to have a challenge, to know that I have room to grow and the possibility to excel in a field that is hard. I like the idea that one day this will be easy for me.

Naturally, this semester wasn't going to let me off the hook so easily. On Monday I had one large project due in my mythology class and one final in the critical lit. class. The project went well but the teacher handed back a paper that I had turned in, which was two pages too short. I knew it was short but I figured I'd rather turn in something concise and too short than something long and bloated. Apparently, bloated is preferable, because the paper came back, "Well written! C-"

I don't get C-'s. Ever.

Then on the 20 question final exam, I had to leave one question completely blank. I had so little idea what the answer was that I couldn't even make something up, and I'm usually pretty good at BS'ing my way into a correct answer. That was frustrating.

So instead of feeling like I had conquered the world when I left school that night, I felt like I'd gotten a good bruising myself. I was drained, deflated, exhausted. I had no energy left, and no sense of accomplishment. But I had learned enough in school to misquote these lines from a poem:

This is the way the semester ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Thanks, T.S. Eliot, that was perfect.

By Tuesday morning, the whimpering was gone and I was a new person. All of a sudden, I had no major obligations, and on top of it, it had snowed about 4 inches and I had nowhere I needed to be all day. I spent the whole day at home, relaxing. Wednesday I got stuff done, but Thursday was another snowy day at home. I love it!! I have had the absolute best week this week!

I'm also counting down the days until the first time I say "I'm bored." It's coming, I know it. At some point I will have caught up with my backlog of tv shows and projects I've been dying to work on and end up with that restless feeling that tells me I want to be accomplishing something bigger. It's a vicious cycle. Sorry you guys are along for the ride. I'll try to keep next semester's whining to a minimum.

So, I'm back. I hope to do more writing over winter break - I've had weeks worth of thoughts banging around in my head that have need a blog entry to let them out, but by now they might be too stale for consumption. I have loads of thoughts on the bailout, for example, but I think the bailout might have been done to death. I also never was able to perfectly crystallize my hatred of the auto industry due to our new-car buying experience in October, and now it might be too late. Also, I didn't get to moan quite enough about losing a hard drive in the family computer, the one that had my entire iTunes library on it (instead of on my laptop) because my laptop's hard drive is smaller than my ipod's. And that the external backup drive it was saved on ALSO failed. But those will have to wait for another day.

Thanks for your patience with me. I promise to keep future school whining to an absolute minimum.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Recommended Reading

My sister-in-law Kim was looking for a book recommendation this week and asked me what I would recommend to her. That's kind of a dangerous question. In fact, most people don't ask me about books, because they know I probably won't stop talking. But she asked, and if I've got a captive audience I'm going to take it.

I couldn't recommend just one, however. It's like if I had 500 children, how could you pick your favorite? I would be able to tell you the stinkers, that's for sure, but could I pick just one?? I don't think so.

I decided to go according to mood. Sometimes you want a book that's light and fluffy, sometimes you want some serious thought-provoking stuff, sometimes you want a rip-roaring adventure. So here's a list of some of my favorite books. Most of them I've read more than once, and all of them would be worth having a conversation about. I hope you enjoy the list, and please put in the comments other books you'd recommend, or your thoughts on my faves. Just don't tell the other books that they aren't my favorites - I wouldn't want to hurt their feelings.


If you aren't picky about bad writing and just want something action-packed, try The DaVinci Code. Sometimes I wanted to tear my ears off, but the story was too entertaining to stop.

If you are in the mood for romance, try Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Yes, it's trendy, and tends towards juvenile, but it's good, mostly clean escapism.

If you want a fictional Nazi-Germany book, try The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It's sad, (but aren't they all?) in a positive way. And Death is the narrator, which I just love.

If you want a great historical fiction book, and can handle a little bit of risque, try Memoirs of a Geisha. Might be too much if you're sensitive.

If you're looking for a Harry Potter replacement, try The Bartimaeus Trilogy. The first two books are great young adult fantasy. Skip the third book, unless you are okay with unhappy endings.

If you want a fantasy series that will last you for months and months of reading, try The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He wrote 11 volumes and then died with one book left. It's being released next year. They suck you into this world, kind of like Harry Potter, but it's a big commitment. But you also don't have to ask what to read next for a really long time.


If you want to challenge your brain, but not too much, try Freakonomics. It's faux-intellectual - it gives you the feeling of learning stuff but in the most entertaining way possible. Plus now you have all sorts of facts to dazzle people with.

If you want something to talk to your doctor about on your next visit, try Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande (his other book, Complications, is also very good). It 's a fascinating inside look at the medical system, although slightly scary right before surgery. :)

If you want a true adventure story, try Into Thin Air. It's fast paced, a little heavy on the swearing, but a fascinating story of the disaster on Everest. If you want a little more Everest after that, try No Shortcuts To The Top.

If you want a good book about grief, try The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

If you want a fun memoir, try A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. Also the sequel, She Got Up Off The Couch. Totally fun and entertaining.

If you want a memoir about someone overcoming great obstacles, try The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

I feel like I've left off a ton of great books, so remind me in the comments.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Stuff You Might Not Know About Me

So I'm sitting on the couch, eating a turkey-and-cranberry sauce sandwich as is my day after Thanksgiving ritual, and I realize that that's a little weird. Not weird to me, because that's how I grew up. But Ryan thinks it's gross, and when I stop to think about it, he's right. If I hadn't eaten a turkey-and-cranberry sauce sandwich every day after Thanksgiving my entire life (barring the year we ate Pizza Hut for Thanksgiving, of course) I'd think it's gross, too. But to me, it's perfectly normal. So I decided I'd make a list of things about me that you may or may not know, and yes, I think it's perfectly acceptable to keep a scorecard and thereby rate how much you know me.

1. I love mechanical pencils. I'd rather write in pencil than pen, and I'd rather write than type (although I usually choose typing just for efficiency's sake). If I have to use a pen, I prefer black ink to blue.

2. My biggest pet peeve in the entire world is listening to people chew. I could write an entire blog entry about how much I hate this, but that's a little obsessive and I'm trying to let go of that. But seriously, people - chew with your mouth closed!!

3. Brand new notebooks are almost sacred to me. It's like the clean pages represent a new beginning, like I can use this book to create the best version of myself. It is so special that I frequently don't use the first page - I leave it blank, so as to go back and turn it into a title page if the notebook ends up as special as its potential warrants. It has never warranted, though, and every notebook I own has child scribbles on every third page.

4. Similarly, I sometimes buy a new pen (ahem, or pencil) to go with my new notebook. As if the inspiration for my bestselling novel is trapped and just waiting to be released by the perfect writing implement. I can spend a lot of money in the school-supplies aisle to assuage all of my unfulfilled dreams.

5. I think I could eat mint chocolate chip ice cream every day of my life and never get tired of it.

6. I love the smell of baking bread, but am always disappointed that it doesn't taste as good as it smells.

7. I cook food that I think will impress people. I don't know why, but it seems that I have a lot of emotion tied up in food. I think it's because no one ever raves about the way I washed eight loads of laundry in one day, so I have to make a killer batch of cookies and earn my kudos that way. My favorite people are the ones who I can count on to lavish praise over my food.

8. I have the ability to cram an inordinate amount of dishes into the dishwasher. If someone else loads the dishwasher, I can come in behind them and rearrange things just so, and fit another 3 bowls and a cookie sheet in there. We call this "Tetris-izing." Of course, this is pretty annoying to the original dishwasher-loader, so I usually refrain. But the talent is still there.

9. I'm pretty good at Tetris. And also, Whac-a-Mole.

10. I love being alone. Love it. Probably because I never, ever am alone. I think Ryan feels a little threatened by this, but it's not a reflection on him - if I had to not be alone, I'd rather be with him. I don't want to be permanently alone, of course. But the idea of a weekend somewhere all by myself is the closest thing to heaven I can imagine.

Okay, that's it for now. I have a feeling that the more I think about it, the more my personal idiosyncrasies will come to the surface, but if I throw them all out at once, everyone's going to think that I'm a crazy nut-ball. A few quirks is okay, so long as the surface veneer of normalcy isn't disrupted too much. Oh, and one more bonus quirk - the cranberry sauce has to be the jellied kind, that comes out of a can and still looks like the can. Now, that's totally gross.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Not To My Liking

As it turns out, there are things that I like the idea of, more than the actual thing itself. I found this out yesterday at Brighton Ski Resort, laying on the ground on the side of the mountain for the fourth time in an hour and a half. I really, really want to like skiing, but I don't think I do.

Ryan, Brad, and Noah took up skiing last winter. Well, the boys ski, Ryan tried skiing once and hated it, so he switched to snowboarding which he adores. Maybe "adores" is too girly a word for snowboarding - he thinks it's sick, is that better? I completely support this new family endeavor; in fact, it was my idea in the first place, and I love that the boys have something to do with their dad. Darcey's too young to learn yet, and Zack is technically old enough but has quite mastered the skill of "sucking it up" when something goes not quite right - in short, he cries too much for skiing. His tears would freeze to his little face. But I fully expect them to learn when they're older and eventually this will be a family activity that we can enjoy together.

Maybe we can do it together, but I don't think we'll all be enjoying it.

I want to enjoy skiing so badly, I really do. But I have this fear of speeding out of control down a steep mountain that kills any potential fun. My stomach starts churning on the lift and doesn't stop until I've made it to the bottom of the hill. I watch my kids ski, and they fly down these hills like their pants are on fire. Don't they know how much the tree is going to hurt when they smack into it?? I think that's what makes this so unfun for me - the knowledge of all the things that could go wrong. It's one more burden of being an intelligent person, I suppose. :)

Ryan and I went to Brighton yesterday because my brother Tim is here visiting for the week and he watched the kids for us. Ryan was excited to take me to Brighton, where he bought season passes for himself and the boys, but I had never been to before. After a couple of runs down the very crowded bunny slope, I decided that I remembered enough from last year to head to the real slopes, so we went up the Majestic and Snake Creek Express lifts until we were at the very top of the mountain.

Can I say, Utah has some wonderful mountain views. Not Switzerland beautiful, but beautiful in it's own, browner, way. What I wouldn't give for this state to be more green, like Switzerland or even Maryland for that matter. But I digress.

So there I was, at the top of the mountain, and the only thing between me and certain death was two slats of wood strapped to my feet and the grace of God. That's when the self-talk starts to sound like this: "What on earth are you thinking, being up here? Is life so bad that you need to throw yourself down a mountain at 30 mph? Did this seem like a good idea to you? Or do you just like pain?"

Well, I don't take that kind of talk from anyone, especially not myself, so down I went. Also, down was my only option at that point. Ryan stayed with me for a little bit, but I went so slow that he was always ahead of me, and it kind of didn't matter if he was 10 feet in front of me or 1,000 when I fell because he couldn't get back up to where I was to help me. I tried to cope with the steepness of the slope by doing my nice S-turns back and forth, back and forth, but I was absolutely scared to death. And this was supposedly a green run! Whatever! At one point I just stepped down the slope sideways until the hill was more gentle again.

I tried all of my mental techniques that normally help me through challenging things. Positive self-talk wasn't working (all I could say to myself was "Okay, get up, okay, don't get too close to the trees, okay, keep going, no, don't stop, it's okay, trees! Trees! Okay, get back up...) I turned on my ipod, but the book I was listening to was in the middle of a swordfight and was a little too tense. So I thought, happy music might help. I turned on the soundtrack to Mamma Mia, and that was peppy. But none of those things stopped me from falling, or made the ground somehow level out under my feet.

The worst was when I had lost Ryan and was convinced that I had taken the wrong path down the hill, because clearly the path I was on was more advanced than the green beginner's run I should have been on. (It was the right one, though.) So I'm inchworming my way down, and these two kids about Brad's age fly past me and then stop. The boy looks up at me and asks, "Are you a beginner?" Gritting my teeth, I say, "No, actually, this is my second year." He say, "Be careful, there's some really steep parts here." I tell him thanks, which in my mind was the only word I could come up with other than "Why you smart-aleck little jerk, thanks for the 'warning,' I suppose you couldn't have told me BEFORE I got on the lift?" 'Thanks' was about the only thing I was thinking that I could actually say out loud.

It took me well over an hour to get down to the bottom of the hill. Maybe longer. But I got down, found Ryan, told him I was done, and took my skis off. I fell one more time as I was walking - WALKING! - to the car, and it was literally all I could do not to throw my poles and scream obscenities at the top of my lungs. And I am totally not that kind of person, but oh my gosh I was about to be.

I settled for crying, which is the kind of person I am. In the car, I blubbered for about 15 minutes, not only because it had been really, really hard to get down that mountain, but because I'm not the person I want to be. I want to be someone who flys down, who is in perfect control and isn't scared of anything happening. I want to talk about skiing and look forward to skiing and be jealous of someone who is going when I can't. I want to love it. But I just don't.

I think the key is that I'm not an adrenaline junkie. I despise roller coasters for that very reason. In fact, I think a great part of my life is devoted to avoiding adrenaline, especially in life-threatening situations. I'll take my adrenaline in something a little tamer - board games, for instance, or watching Jeopardy, or maybe a spelling bee. Or those last five minutes of a test when you aren't sure you are going to finish in time. That's my kind of rush. Hurtling down a mountain on purpose? No, thank you.

So I've got some pre-paid day passes that I bought at a discount and a season's ski rental and a super-cute matching ski coat and pants set that are all the accoutrements of the hobby that I don't enjoy. I don't give up easily, though - the wellspring of eternal optimism that is constantly bubbling under the surface keeps bursting forth with these great ideas like, "Maybe all I need is another lesson, and then I'll like it!" Well, if they give lessons on "How To Be Less of a Chicken" or "Convincing Yourself That Scared = Fun" or "Making Trees Not Hurt When You Hit Them" then sign me up! I might try it one more time, but for now I'm putting it with scary movies and Thai food as one of those things that I wish I liked, but just don't.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Help Wanted

No mother can watch the children she loves grow up and discover themselves without imagining what they’ll be when they grow up. Like Brad – will he turn his art skills into a career? Will Noah end up as a stunt man, or maybe a boxer? That boy can take a hit like no one else. Will Zack be an actor, with a specialty in crying scenes?

Darcey is my only girl, and while my only hopes for her are to see her wear a tutu in ballet class someday and finally have hair long enough for me to braid, her current skills are not putting her on a path for productive employment. Based on Darcey’s talents, here are some potential careers:

Mountain Climber – Strap a harness on this girl and set her off – as long as there’s a kitchen chair for her to start off from she can climb any height. Darcey’s favorite thing to do is to scale the countertops and cruise around the kitchen, getting into anything she can reach. The entire contents of my kitchen are on top of the refrigerator currently.

Stuffed Animal Tester – Darcey loves stuffed animals. She calls them “babies” and has several that she will hug all day long. But she’s not attached to any one in particular – she’s an equal opportunity squeezer. She could take this an evil direction and end up like Elmira from Tiny Toons – squeezing kitties as hard as she can. It could go either way.

Beauty Queen, or Diva – for an 18 month old, she shows an amazing interest in all things beauty related. She sure doesn’t get it from me – it must be coming from the Simmons’ blood. One day I was painting my toenails while Darcey took her bath, only to find her standing with one leg hanging over the tub’s edge and whining for me to paint her nails too. She adored her ballerina costume on Halloween – I think she likes being pretty.

Imelda Marcos – Darcey loves shoes. I mean she LOVES shoes. Unlike Noah (and Grandpa Fred) who seem to be happier trodding along with bare feet, regardless of heat, snow, ice, or sharp pointy rocks, Darcey prefers shoes to all else. She will bring me shoes to put on her and will get mad if they are so big that they fall off. She had me put her borrowed ballet slippers on over her footie pajamas, which to me counts as double shoes. “Shoes” is one of the seven or eight words that she knows. That girl is going to have quite the shoe collection someday.

Sidewalk Chalk Artist, Muralist, or Tagger – Darcey loves pencils, crayons, and markers, and her favorite canvas is anything other than paper. The floor is preferred, but the table, counters, and walls are always an option. She could follow in Grandpa Bob’s footsteps and turn pro on the wall-drawing thing, or she can turn juvenile delinquent and become a graffiti artist. Zack will probably go that way – he’s tagged the kitchen cabinets, the wall, and the floor with his name. You’ll notice I haven’t nominated any of my kids for Nuclear Physicist. I’m just hoping they stay out of jail.

Darcey would also do well in a variety of very niche-y jobs. She’d make a great Lego Dumper-Outer, a Spice Drawer Emptier, a Thrower-Of-Important-Things-In-The-Garbage, a Penny Sucker, or a Cell Phone Button Pusher. But the last I heard, none of those jobs pay very much, and the job stability is in the toilet. Banana Smashers or Middle-Of-The-Night Screamers just aren’t in high demand right now. Maybe when the economy turns around, she’ll be perfectly positioned for the coveted job of Couch Cushion Puller-Offer, but for now she’s just going to have to stay unemployed.

But if you hear of a job for a Library Book Page Ripper, let me know - I have just the girl for you.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Make Love AND War (Marshmallow War, That Is)

I would like to take a few minutes out of the California Proposition 8 everybody-hates-Mormons bashing to talk about one thing that I personally love about the Mormon church, of which I am a lifelong member. It is the Church's position on jumbo marshmallow wars, which the Church is all for. In fact, Monday night has been proclaimed as Family Marshmallow War Night, and tonight our family celebrated this event like we never have before.

Okay, for reals the Church does not take stands on either political views or which squishy projectiles are lobbed about on Monday nights. And it's a good thing, too - we know people who would much rather throw Nerf footballs or Froot Loops, and I say, more power to 'em! That's what makes this world a beautiful and diverse place! But in my house, it's marshmallows.

Traditionally, Monday night in the Church is known as Family Home Evening. Way back in like the 1930's, FHE was established as an evening every week for families to stay home and spend time together. It's interesting that this started before working moms, competitive soccer leagues for 6 year olds, televisions in every bedroom, drive-thru dinners, endless after-school activites - back in the olden days that we think of as idyllic. The Church foresaw our day, a day when if there wasn't a specially designated day to spend as a family, well, we just might never see each other.

It's never been a big deal, Family Home Evening. The Church gives suggestions, aids for lessons, and doesn't allow wards to schedule meetings or activities on Monday night, but other than that, FHE is pretty much supposed to be whatever works for your family.

I'll be the first to admit, Family Home Evening hasn't always worked well for our family. I know it's going to be a bad night when the kids start fighting over who gets to (or who has to) say the opening prayer. Honestly, when praying is the source of an argument, it's pretty hard to feel like a happy family. Those tend to be short nights. We've squeezed in FHE before I left to run errands or in the car on the way somewhere. We've held FHE during dinner, when we've got a semi-captive audience. We've held it with a whiny child in the bathtub. We've done the entire program in less than five minutes, just to say we did it. And we've skipped it, more than I'd like to admit. But we've tried hard, we really have.

We also don't put an awful lot of effort into lessons. Oh, I've tried, believe me - but inevitably, the night I've spent two hours putting together the most well-crafted lesson possible, with applications for each child at their specific level of development, that's the night that Brad's friend invites him to go mini-golfing with his family, and I have to say no, and then Brad's sulkiness infects the whole family. So the lesson is usually an article out of the Friend magazine. Generally, the article is one that has to do with sharing or being nice to your brothers. We need a lot of help in those areas. It would be perfect if the Friend printed an article about a little boy who learned not to hit other kids with light sabers and also not to steal Lego Indiana Jones figurines from his friend while also being nice to his brothers, sharing his toys, and helping a little old lady cross the street. And getting his Eagle Scout. That article I'd laminate.

All in all, our family has done an okay job of holding FHE, but not of enjoying it too much. Ryan and I knew it was what we were supposed to do, so we did it, but the testimony wasn't there. After all, they still can't share, and how many lessons have we had on that topic?? So was it even worth doing, if they aren't learning anything?

Tonight, I got my testimony of Family Home Evening, or Family Marshmallow War Night as we have now dubbed it. It was nothing out of the ordinary, to begin with. Noah was in charge of the music, but couldn't think of an opening song for us to sing, and then got mad when everything I suggested was not what he wanted. So we sang "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam," number one on the Simmons Billboard Top 100 Church Songs. Then Brad said an opening prayer, and then Zack gave the lesson. I read a Friend article, and let Zack repeat parts of it after me (it was about a girl who shared her ice skates with a skate-less friend). We then played a game, also from the Friend, which took approximately forever and we cut short. Noah was in the bathroom when it was time for a closing song, so I picked "Called To Serve" (Number 5 with a bullet!) and Brad said the closing prayer, although I had to stop him from using the game timer to time himself praying.

Here's where it got good. It was Ryan's turn for the treat, which he hadn't planned for, but luckily I had a bag of jumbo marshmallows leftover from the last ward party we had planned. Brad happened to be laying on the living room floor (we long ago gave up the idea of everyone sitting nicely on the couch listening to the lesson, the way it is in the pictures) so I stood over him and dropped a marshmallow into his mouth. It boinged off his face and we all cracked up. Then Noah wanted his marshmallows that way, too. Zack wanted to be the one to drop the marshmallows, then Ryan made me lie down and take one in the face. We were rolling on the floor, laughing so hard as almost none of the marshmallows did anything but bounce off noses, foreheads, and teeth.

I'm not sure who threw the first marshmallow. It might have been me, it might have been a kid. But the idea was contagious, and immediately everyone was in a massive marshmallow war. There were marshmallows flying all over the room, whacking people in the sides, the heads, the backs. I was laughing so hard I was crying. Ryan, Brad, and Noah had good aim from playing baseball, and Ryan throws hard. Every so often, Noah would just sit on the couch and eat a few marshmallows, before continuing the fight. Zack wasn't a big target, but he wasn't a big threat, either, although he did get me once right in the face. Ryan got smart fast and put his ski goggles on, and the boys followed suit. After 15 minutes, we were sweaty and exhausted.

And happy.

That, my friends, is why we have Family Home Evening all of those nights when I'd rather have Family Strangle Your Kids And Spouse, Too Night. Because occasionally, in a rare moment when the stars align and people are feeling spontaneous and the parent in me isn't watching the clock to get the kids in bed so I can finally have some alone time, those nights are when magic happens. It only takes one night like that to erase lots of fighting-over-prayers nights. It can't be forced or scheduled or quality-timed, it can only happen when the possiblity's there, and that's why I think the LDS Church has got this right. Maybe our normal Family Home Evenings are nothing to write home about, but because we do it every week, one of those weeks is bound to be everything I want it to be. And this week, we wanted it to be Family Marshmallow War Night.

Tonight, the world is a beautiful, and slightly sticky, place to be.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

My triumph this Halloween is Noah's costume. He requested a Ned Nederlander costume, from The Three Amigos, and I have to say, I totally came through. All I had to do was order a time machine online, then set it to 1986 and go back to the day when Three Amigos costumes were actually on sale in stores. What could be easier than that?

I'll tell you what isn't easier: gluing thousands of sequins on an altered suit in exactly the right pattern to mimic Little Neddy Knickers' costume. Fortunately, the sequins were on a strand, so it's not like I was hand piecing every one, but it still took many, many hours of work. Ryan even pitched in and did a section while I was at school, bless him.

I could not be prouder of this costume. Noah is the only child of mine that I would do this for, for the simple reason that he's the only one who would appreciate a costume like this. He's the one, if you recall, who wore his Spiderman costume for, what, six months after Halloween because he loved Spiderman so much. Grocery store, library, he'd wear it everywhere we'd let him. After that it was Star Wars, then Harry Potter, then Star Wars again. I doubt that he'll wear this one to the same extent, mostly because he's older, but costumes matter to him in a way that my other kids can't possibly rival.

Take, for example, Brad. This year he wanted the Scream costume with the mask that has blood running through it. It's gross and scary and what more do you expect from an 11-year-old boy? I, for one, would have expected him to at least WEAR THE MASK!!! Honestly, why did we buy it if he wasn't going to wear it? He left today to go trick-or-treat with some friends in another neighborhood, and decided not to bring the mask. I'm not sure of the real reason, but the reason he gave was that he couldn't see out of the mask and he didn't want to be hindered while he ran from house to house. Hmph. He's smart enough to know that if he claims "Safety first!" as his excuse that I won't call him on it. But I still think he owes me $30. Although the fact that the remainder of his costume is basically a black witch's dress might be punishment enough.

Zack is Indiana Jones, and his costume came together easily and cheaply. Tan pants from Savers, a tan shirt we already had, and a hat we got from a Cub Scout cowboy-themed activity years ago. He uses a belt as a whip, a true throwback to the 1930's era. No coat, though, and that might be a problem if it gets chillier. The weather is great right now, at 5 p.m. it's 68 degrees, but it's threatening rain. You won't hear me complaining about global warming when it gives us such delightful Halloween weather. (Update: we had a smattering of rain, but it only came down hard for a couple of minutes, otherwise it's been beautiful.)

Darcey, my little angel, thank you for being a girl! One of my neighbors has all girls, and she brought me over a ballerina costume which Darcey loves. She keeps picking up the tulle skirt and saying "Pretty! Pretty!" This costume alone might have been worth having a fourth kid. I love being the mother of a girlie girl!!

I took Darcey (in a stroller) and Zack around the neighborhood for an hour or so, with my neighbor Jen and her boys. It was fun - Zack and Davey are both old enough to "get" Halloween, but young enough that they are satisfied pretty easily. In fact, at one point Zack just said, "Let's go home" so we did. Noah and Josh went with Ryan and they lasted longer (and probably hit a lot more houses in that time), and Brad is still out with a friend. Brad is testing the hypothesis that the rich houses further up the hill from us give out substantially better treats, which makes up for the houses being farther apart (and also, uphill).

The best, best part of Halloween is that the family two houses up from us hosts huge outdoor gathering, with fire barrels and homemade chili with whatever kind of animal he hunted this year. It is festive and happy, and the whole neighborhood comes and goes the whole evening, making our cul-de-sac a happening place. It reminds me just how much I love this neighborhood - people are caring and thoughtful and friendly and welcoming, and I love it. My kids have good friends here, from good families and it feels like a giant support system. So my very favorite part of Halloween is seeing all of my friends and neighbors. And there's tons of candy involved, which is just icing on the cake. I think I really like Halloween.

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Once-Every-Four-Years Political Rant

I've decided that the presidential race is lingering on way past its usefulness, and it's time for it to be over.

I'm tired of reading baseless accusations from both camps, as if neither has a fact-checker on staff to make sure they are telling the actual truth. I'm sure they've both got plenty of spin doctors, though. I'm tired of having to take everything I read with a grain of salt.

I am done with personal attacks, especially when they sound petty. If I read one more article decrying Palin's $150,000 wardrobe, I might just scream. Seriously, what would we think of her if she was wearing the suit she bought three years ago at Sears?

I don't want to hear how this or that candidate is going to help or harm a certain demographic. It makes us think that politics should be completely self-serving, and we should base our vote on who was going to be best for me. Maybe I'm crazy, but I think it should be based on who is going to be best for the country.

To be clear, I'm definitely a conservative and plan to vote for John McCain. Ryan and I are self-employed, our company pays for our health insurance, and we are firmly middle-class. Obama's health insurance plan probably will neither directly damage or improve us, and his tax cuts will probably help, since we're far below the $250,000 threshold of "wealthy." But how is it fair to tax the wealthy, because they had the ingenuity and perserverance and, yes, luck to get where they are? Most of us who work hard and would like to be considered wealthy someday aren't going to leap from making $50,000 to $5,000,000 a year with no stops in between. We'll hit a point where further growth will come with a tax increase, and is income growth really the behavior we want to limit with tax disincentives?

Growing up, my mom drilled into me that "fair" doesn't always mean "equal". Sure, I'd love to make as much as these richie riches who are being targeted for tax increases. And who wouldn't love to be handed a stack of cash for no reason? But it's not fair to spread money around that way, in the name of trying to be equal, and I say that even though the spreading will benefit me.

I'm also completely fed up with ideas that defy logic. For example, one of Obama's suggestions to fix the downward spiral in the stock market is to eliminate any penalties for pulling money out of retirement plans. Which is a fantastic idea, truly brilliant, if your goal is to make sure people lose as much money as possible and send stock prices down further. I mean, SERIOUSLY?? If there was no penalty, then scared seniors (and non-seniors who want to maintain their current lifestyle now that living on debt is not an option) will pull their money out, leaving them with no money in the future and causing stock prices to plummet because of the massive number of people selling. There must be another side to this story, because at least one person thinks this is a good idea, but it seems like a short-sighted quick fix that will leave the country worse than before. The right answer would be to encourage people to be BUYING stocks now, not selling them. Does Obama still have room on his advisory staff for someone with a little common sense?

And you know what else ticks me off currently? That John McCain voted for the bailout. My very favorite part of his platform was his declaration that any budget that hit his desk with a single item of pork would be vetoed. There is an air of entitlement in Congress (and among the constituents, I'd expect) and a feeling that there is free money available, and if they don't get their hands on it someone else will. When the first $700 billion bailout was rejected, the solution was to sweeten the deal and essentially make a $110 billion bribe to the congressmen who could be bought. It's disgusting, and the fact that McCain voted for it implies that pork is allowable if the rest of the budget is "too important" to die. He totally let me down on this one.

Any parent knows that the more you rescue your child from consequences, the less they learn and the more painful the lesson will be when they eventually have to learn it. This country needs some tough love, not more coddling. I still think McCain is more likely to tell it like it is, and Obama more likely to try to please as many of us as possible, through giving us money and trying not to let life hurt. But that makes Obama more electable, unfortunately. We're a bunch of children being asked if we want an ice cream cone or a vaccination - we know the shot will make us healthier in the long run, but the ice cream cone makes us feel good now. Sadly, though, the ice cream cone is all sweetness and no substance, and it looks like that's what this country is going to choose. Is it any wonder that we have an obesity epidemic?

So, my vote is to move the election up to tomorrow, let us vote and get the whole stupid thing over with. Chances are, once we have the stability of at least knowing who the next president is going to be, the markets will calm down. Remove one (big) piece of uncertainty and people will start feeling a little more confident. Here's my prediction: gym memberships are going to be on the rise, due to people needing to work off all that ice cream! After all, the government can't take away all consequences, no matter how hard they try.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

When "Fun" Turns Into "Work"

I can't remember if I mentioned this in a blog entry before, but if I did, well, you get a bonus! I switched my major from Business to English this semester, and I have to say that English is about a thousand times harder than Business ever was. I expected that, given my love of reading, that English would be the most commonsense place to put my learning energy. After all, they say you are most successful at work when you do what you love. Apparently, all I've done is take something I love, reading, and turn it into work. And then add a heaping pile of writing, which was already work, on top. And don't even get me started about all the thinking I have to do! I tell you, Business was the easy road.

This semester I'm taking Myths and Legends in Literature and Critical Analysis of Literature. Here are the main arguments I have against me being an English major:

1. Business classes offer evening classes that meet one night a week for three hours. You get all your learning in one fell swoop, and then you don't have to think about it again for days. English classes don't offer night classes, and the day classes meet two days a week, for 75 minutes each. It is definitely not the most efficient use of time.

2. Once a week classes assign homework once a week. (You don't have to have a college degree to figure that one out!) You have a whole week to do it, and it was usually a reasonable amount, like one chapter. My English classes assign a pile of homework on Monday and then again on Wednesday, so I am doing homework most days of the week. For example, read one chapter plus write a 2-page double spaced report about it. It is an overwhelming amount of work.

3. Business classes are logical and common sense. You read the text, memorize the answers, and regurgitate it onto the exam. Most of the information you would have already known from watching a season or two of The Apprentice. In English, you read the text, then you have to think about it, and come up with some interesting thoughts that you can then write about. You have to think of intelligent sounding comments about the text for the class discussion. It's just think, think, think, all the time! I don't know what they expect of me in that English department!

Doing this much reading and thinking and writing has left me no time for other things that I consider fun. I haven't done much recreational reading this whole semester; in fact, I started listening to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle three weeks ago and am barely crawling through it. (It doesn't help that the book, billed as a "thriller" is so boring that I was palpably disappointed when I realized that the book comes in three parts, not two, and I'm only a third of the way finished! I don't know if I can take 14 more hours of dog training techniques.) I have gotten to read a lot of interesting things I wouldn't have tried before in these classes, but nothing that I've gotten to pick myself just for fun.

And my television watching has gone right down the toilet. I have given myself a fairly rigorous tv schedule, and even though I'm pushing myself, my viewing habits are just not up to snuff. In case you were wondering, here's my personal TV Guide:

Monday: Heroes, Samantha Who?
Tuesday: House, The Biggest Loser (2 hours long)
Wednesday: Pushing Daisies
Thursday: Survivor, The Office, until recently Project Runway (and Top Chef starts next month)
Sunday: Amazing Race

Fortunately, I download all of these so I can watch them whenever I want. I like to put them on my ipod and watch them on the treadmill, because I'm a big fan of multi-tasking. But tv shouldn't be a task that has to be wedged into my schedule - it should be a thing I do to relax, because it's fun and, theoretically, entertaining. But my hyped-up school program is turning everything else in life into a chore, a time-sensitive item that goes on a to-do list.

Tomorrow I'll be three weeks behind on Heroes, and I think I'm going to toss that one. The Amazing Race makes 45 minutes on the elliptical seem too short, so that one's staying. I am usually home on Tuesdays, so we watch The Biggest Loser as a family (the family rule is: no mocking fat people). Ryan and I watch Survivor and The Office together, so those are staying too. The rest are going to be gym fodder. I miss being able to sit and watch a show and not think about the homework I should be doing.

This was just the frivolous stuff that I've given up, too. I also need to find time to do other things that have to get done, like pruning the lilac bushes (for the first time since we moved here) and making Noah a Three Amigos costume for Halloween. (He wants to be Ned. They don't sell a Ned costume at the store.)

The saddest part for me is that I love school and I love learning. I think, in moderate doses, these classes would have been a blast - the Myths teacher is creative and fun, and the Critical Analysis class is changing the way I read in mind-blowing ways. I could probably have handled one class, but not two. I am about 6 classes away from an Associate's Degree in either Business or English, and I wonder if I might be better served polishing off a Business Associates Degree and then going back for more English when Darcey's in school. But English is where my interest lies, and I definitely feel more comfortable in English classes than Business. But an English degree will take me longer if I can only do one class a semester. But a Business degree might never teach me how to form sentences that don't start with "But".

Well, my friends, as it's election time, let's take a poll! My father shed his blood in Vietnam so you could have the right to vote on an anonymous blog about what my major should be, although my guess is that wasn't what he had in mind at the time. Doesn't matter - this is America! You all helped me with my photobook debate (end result: emailed the company to assuage my guilt, they told me to keep it, yay!!) so let's get some good thoughts about this one. Besides, I can't think about this anymore - I've got a 5-7 page paper due tomorrow and I need to save all my thinking for that.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Week In A Fallout Shelter

If my family ever needed to live in a fallout shelter for any length of time, I'm fairly sure we'd go stark, raving mad by the time it was safe to go outside again. We saw a fallout shelter at the National Atomic Museum, and Noah immediately asked, "Can we get one of those?" He thinks they'd make a great hideout, which is true, I suppose. Noah loves hideouts and secret places, which is why we've had to have so many discussions about not going on other people's property, even if they do have a perfect little hidden corner for a hideout. Thank goodness Noah's cohort, I mean, best friend Josh has extra-cool parents who built them a hideout on their own property (out of a tarp, I think) so we don't have to invest in a fallout shelter.

In a lot of ways, family vacations are an interesting psychological test, one that you would imagine a room of researchers dreaming up in order to see at what point ordinary humans break under stress. "I know!" one researcher says, "Let's take two adults and put them in a minivan with four kids who each want something different for dinner. Let's make sure that the floor is so covered with trash, toys, clothing, unfolded maps, and the random half-eaten banana that the kids need to be lifted by crane into the backseat. Then we'll make them share beds with each other. In fact, let's make sure that no one can spend more than, say, a five minute shower without being together. How long do you think they'll last with all of this forced togetherness?" Then he laughs his mad scientist cackle, because that's how crazy this idea is.

For me, the Vacation Rorschach test has revealed that I don't do well having zero time to myself. I've watched my well of well-being slowly draining away, leaving me with the dregs of irritation and ill-temper. Every day that goes by leaves me a little bit grouchier, a little bit less patient and less able to put up with the kids' junk. And the researcher would also note that the kids' moods and behavior have gone downhill in direct proportion with my mood and behavior. Coincidence? Or Psychic Phenomenon? The world might never know.

I had very high hopes for myself this week. I made the boys bring their homework and lots of books to read, mostly to assuage my guilt for taking the boys out of school for three days, but also because I have this picture in my head of being this fantastic mom who does all sorts of educational stuff with her kids for fun and instills learning and all that. On Monday, we did some flash cards and spelling with Noah, and a little math with Brad. On Tuesday, I thought about pulling out the books but didn't have the energy. Today is Wednesday, and the kids have watched about 6 hours of Nickelodeon. We have gone to museums every day, but I don't think we're breaking even in the brains department - I think the kids are watching so much hotel tv that they are actually getting stupider.

So that's why I don't homeschool my kids. I can see myself having all this ambition but getting so tired of the constant work that I'd throw in the towel. And here's my dirty little secret - I like having a break from the kids every day. It's a time for all of us to recharge, to be away from each other and have some independence and breathing room. Here's the best part: the kids like it, too. My kids adore school, and spending time with their friends and playing at recess and eating lunch without me telling them to eat their vegetables and no, they can't have their cookie until they eat their grilled cheese sandwich. They like the break from me, although I don't know that they could articulate it. We all seem to get along better with a little time apart.

Today (Wednesday), I was able to get us a little breathing room. We went to the Balloon Museum (which was on Brad's must-see list) but no one was interested in walking in an orderly manner from one exhibit to the next, observing and reading and getting a little smarter at each one. No, they were interested in running from room to room, in three different directions, and most especially in not listening to me. We left, picked up some "authentic New Mexican food" which tastes exactly like what I would order at Los Hermanos back home, and put Darcey down for a nap. When she woke up, we went down to the front desk and had them print me directions to a park, any park, that had playground equipment for the kids. It turned out to be the best thing for the whole pile of us. Noah and Brad organized the kids there into a game of freeze tag. Zack got to run and climb and ignore me without a single museum docent telling him not to touch something. Darcey toddled around, dug her feet in the sand and attempted to eat rocks when I wasn't looking. It was the most argument-free two hours of our whole trip.

I got myself a little breathing room, too. I hadn't brought a book or anything to do, so naturally, I was bored. The only technological gadgets I had were my ipod (with nothing new on it) and my cell phone, which used to be Ryan's cell phone and therefore has no interesting person's phone number on it. Well, it has mine, but I couldn't very well call myself. I called my friend Rachel, but she wasn't home so I left a message that went something like this: "Hi, Rach, it's me, I'm at a park in Albuquerque and I'm bored, so I thought I'd call you because I'm bored. You don't have to call me back, I'm just bored and, well, talk to you later." I didn't realize that there was a mom my age standing 10 feet from me, so now people in two states can know how pathetic I am! Fortunately, there is something about being a mother of small children that automatically gives you freedom to chat with complete strangers about any intimate detail of your life, including, but not limited to, morning sickness, working vs. stay-at-home, career ambitions, and family planning. And, man, that picked me right up and put me back in the saddle completely! I didn't realize how much I needed friends - other people to talk to, to get me out of my own head and give me some much needed perspective on life.

I ended up being late picking up Ryan from his conference, but I told him that he should be happy I was late, because he ended up with a much nicer, saner wife than the one that dropped him off that morning. Now with some added well-being, I realized another thing about vacations that the researchers wouldn't have predicted. Yes, cramming six people in a minivan or into two hotel beds for a week in a strange city with no one to be entertained by but each other sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it's also, strangely enough, the recipe for fabulous family memories. My boys might be getting stupider by watching The Three Amigos seven times, but today I overheard Noah telling Brad that when they are married and have their own kids, they can still do their new secret Three-Amigos-inspired handshake. And who knows what other gems they'll pull out of the pressure cooker of this trip! Some of my best childhood memories are from vacations - listening to Weird Al, playing post office in the ocean with Dan, going to Friendly's with my brothers in Colonial Williamsburg, playing cards in Georgia, and eating at Waffle Houses.

So these are some thoughts I've had while living in our temporary fallout shelter this week. I've seen some things in my Vacation Rorschach test that I don't necessarily like to see in myself, but I know that the kids will take more positive from this than negative. I can't wait to see the things, ten or twenty years from now, that the kids have taken from this trip. That's why we do it, that's why it's called a "vacation" and not "torture." Even when it feels an awful lot like torture. Or a bizarre science experiment. I can hear the evil genius laughing right now.

Trip Recap

I knew that if I waited long enough, I'd forget everything we did, and guess what? I was right! Which doesn't give me as much pleasure as being right normally does. Anyhow, here's a quick overview of what we've been doing all week.

On Monday, we dropped Ryan off at his convention in downtown Albuquerque. This picture (which we actually took on Sunday) was a bench on the street by the convention center.

The boys' first choice for activities on Monday was the National Atomic Museum - not because they know that nuclear energy is the solution to the energy crisis, but because the museum has a giant rocket in front.

Zack is putting his massive amounts of energy to good use. Riding the bike powers a little black and white tv, which was showing Clifford at the time. If it was tuned to Nickelodeon, the kids might never have gotten off. I'm ordering three for our family room.

Zack took this picture, isn't it cuter than you'd expect from a four year old with a camera?

Zack took this picture, too. Just to prove he's not a gifted photographer.

For lunch, we had to go to Waffle House, where we spilled water not once, not twice, but three times! The poor waitress had to keep coming over to collect massive piles of wet napkins. If it hadn't been Waffle House, I would have left before we even ordered - I knew it was going to be that bad. But when else am I going to eat at a Waffle House??

After lunch we went back to the hotel for Darcey's nap, and two hours of Spongebob on Nickelodeon. Then we went back out and attempted to go to Petroglyph National Monument, which (after the Balloon Failure, I mean, Fiesta) was tops on my list. As it turns out, I forgot to pack a carrier for Darcey, and the one stroller-friendly hike had no petroglyphs. So we left, with two strikes on my must-see list.

That evening I took the boys swimming again, which they loved and I sat, freezing. The couple from last night showed up again, but we had chatted over breakfast and it turns out that they (especially the husband) were super friendly. I'm not sure why the wife seemed so grouchy that first night, maybe she needed one more styrofoam cup of wine to loosen up. Anyhow, it was enjoyable to chat with them and I got bonus points for taking them to the pool again.

On Tuesday, we started at my #3 site on my must-see list, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, which was a little less interesting than I had hoped. One thing that made me particularly crazy was that the entrance to the museum was through a gift shop, which is lower than what Disneyland is even willing to stoop to. The kids wanted to touch everything, so they were banging on the drums and I kind of didn't care, since they made us go in there. On the bright side, it was easy enough to tell them we weren't buying anything, since they weren't used to asking for trinkets at the beginning. On the down side, they spent a lot of their short attention span on the gift shop and didn't care much for the exhibits. This was the beginning of the end of museums for us.

Afterwards, we hit the Natural History and Science Museum, which we all really liked. It had lots of learning-type of information, but all of the exhibits were as flashy and entertaining as they could make it. So the kids enjoyed it a lot, and I felt like we might be learning stuff too. They got to touch a snake, which they loved. Boys, whatever.

We watched The Alps on the big Imax-type screen, although I had to take Darcey and Zack out early because they were so loud. I thought it was pretty cool to see locations that we have actually been to, so it was especially disappointing to have to leave early. But if I had been thinking, I would have not bothered to have even tried, because it was so disappointing.

We had a late lunch at Wendy's, and for the record I am just done eating fast food. If I never have another cheeseburger in my life, it will be too soon.

On Wednesday, we took the museum part of our trip one museum too far. Brad had requested the Balloon Museum, but they were totally not able to focus at all on anything other than running from one thing to the next. It was not pleasant, for me anyhow.

I capitalized on their abundance of energy by taking them to a playground, which breathed new life into our trip. Wednesday needed to be a rest day - attempting a museum was probably a mistake, but they could have played at the playground for hours and hours.

On Thursday, Ryan was done with his conference, so we went together back to Petroglyph, with some fabric I bought as a wrap for Darcey. Instead of counting ancient Native American drawings, the boys counted how many gigantic millipedes they found on the trail, whether dead or alive. (There were 19.)
The petroglyphs were pretty much as cool as I had thought, but the whole being-out-in-nature thing is not my forte, as many of you know. I was fairly nervous about finding a snake or lizard or whatever that thing was that was making a clicking noise off in the bushes. We couldn't do the whole hike because Darcey wasn't too thrilled (it was near naptime) and Ryan, who has a cold, wasn't feeling 100%. But I got enough petroglyphs to say I have seen them, which is more than I can say for hot air balloons.

Zack sure loved running around the trail, stopping to look at the bushes and the stinkbug and the millipede he accidentally stepped on. He'd crouch down and examine everything with such intensity that I'm really glad we went there. I may not be too fond of nature, but my boys love it, and I want to nurture that. Just, from indoors if possible.

Another stroke of luck, although this sounds more like a bad news/good news story. On the way to Petroglyphs, the Check Engine light came on in the van. Which would be bad enough at home, but takes on all sorts of urgency when we're driving 10 hours through barren wastelands the very next day. I dropped off Ryan and Darcey for naptime, and took the boys to a Toyota dealership to have it looked at. The good news is, the part that is broken a)Is not essential, b)Doesn't need to be fixed before we leave, and c)Was a recall, so it's under warranty and I won't have to pay for anything. Whew! This could definitely have not ended well, but fortunately this Toyota has been a fantastic car to own.

I took the boys swimming this afternoon, during daylight hours for once and in moderately warm weather, so we stayed for an hour and a half or so. Then the whole family went into Old Town to look around, buy trinkets, eat authentic New Mexican food (which must mean expensive and not very good, according to the place we went), and watch some Native American dancers. We took a shortcut home, which in Mudgett parlance means we got lost, but made it back here eventually.

And that brings me to right now. We're leaving tomorrow, and we think we'll skip a scheduled stop at Arches to make it home by tomorrow night. I'm planning on stopping at Four Corners Monument, because that is exactly the kind of tourist trap I love. My life won't be complete without a picture of my children in four different states at the same time - I think it's the perfect physical representation of what being the mother of four kids is, being pulled in four different directions at once. If only they had a giant sombrero like at South Carolina's South of the Border - now there's a tourist trap that's close to my heart. I'll let you know how this one stacks up.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It Wasn't Me!

It's never, ever a good thing when a total stranger stops you in the hotel hallway and asks, "Do you have a son named Zack?"

The correct answer is, "No, you must have me confused with someone else." And then run in the other direction.

Going with that first instinct was the right idea. Unfortunately, I chose the honest route and said, cringing, "Yes - why do you ask?" Hoping against hope that it was "I just wanted to tell you what a cute kid he is!"

As it turns out, Zack was locked inside a stall in the men's room, where the door went all the way to the floor so he couldn't crawl under, and crying because Brad had pushed him and now his thumb hurt. I'm guessing that there was some amount of yelling and/or angry threats exchanged, or else how would this guy have known my kids names? And come to think of it, why exactly did he think I was their mother in the first place? I could have been just some random person in the hotel. Do I have "Brow-Beaten Mom" tattooed on my forehead? Or did one of the kids stick a note on my back that says "Blame Me!"

Fortunately, Zack managed to unlock the door while I was getting the hotel manager to come over with a key. In the meantime, I was ready to die of embarrassment and also to lock Brad in a bathroom for a little while. Or myself. Maybe if I was really quiet they'd forget me in there, and then I can have a nice, anonymous life where no one stops me to tell me something horrifying about my kids. Sure, I'd have to live in the bathroom, but I'm thinking that's a pretty attractive option right now.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Well, I saw about 699 fewer balloons than I had hoped to see when I woke up at 5:15 this morning. In fact, it seems as though the Springville Hot Air Balloon Festival, with it's 15 balloons, which I so flippantly dismissed when someone mentioned that I didn't have to drive 10+ hours to see some great balloons, is about 15 times more impressive than today's display.

Brad and I, intrepid vacationers, braved the cold and the fatigue and the ridicule of certain family members for whom the Balloon Fiesta was a serious waste of sleep. And for our reward we saw, drum roll please! One balloon! One magnificent hot air balloon!

It was sponsored by Allstate. It didn't get off the ground. My guess is there's a few people reveling in the fact that theirs is the only balloon featured on today's newscast. Stinking capitalists.

So, in other words, Brad and I get to be unspoiled when we go to the Springville Hot Air Balloon Festival next year. We will be spared the embarrassment of saying something stupid, like, "You've been planning this all year and all you could come up with was 15 lousy balloons? Back when we when to The Fiesta (you know which one I mean, obviously there's only ONE Fiesta, everything else is just a Fiesta-wannabe, sorry to be the ones to tell you that!)" No, Brad and I won't say anything stupid like that, instead we'll be saying, "Wow, I had no idea that Springville was so impressive!"

There's not much to tell, other than it was dark and cold and early and I'm not a big fan of any of those things. The news reports at 5:15 were saying that the wind had died down from yesterday and that it looked like the mass ascension was a go. At 6:30, they announced over the loudspeakers that they were going to have a pilot's briefing to decide if the launch would take place. At 7:00ish, they said that once the sun came up, the wind should die down and the launch would happen. But it stayed windy (and cold and early) even when it was no longer dark, but we didn't hear the announcement saying "Don't bother sitting there freezing to death, go home!" In their defense, Brad and I could have just missed the announcement because we were huddled on a picnic bench watching last week's Amazing Race on my ipod.

Poor Brad got his hopes all up when a couple of people rolled out their balloons, but when they were half full and so hard to control that they threatened to wipe out bystanders, they deflated it, along with our Fiesta dreams. We boarded a shuttle bus and headed back to our car, totally defeated.

But I count it as a win that I got to do this with my kid. That if we had to be let down, at least it was experienced together, and maybe it can be a slightly painful bonding moment. I love Brad, and doing this with him makes it much less disappointing. Plus, my fallback reply to anything negative nowadays, at least I got a blog entry out of it, right? And a bonus, we got back to the hotel at 9:00 a.m., so we had a whole day to turn this ship around!

As part of Ryan's Flash conference that he's attending this week, they had a screening of a movie called "Romeo and Juliet: Sealed With A Kiss" that one guy spent 4 years solid making by himself in Flash. He did everything, over 100,000 drawings, all by himself. That is amazing! What an accomplishment! I'm not a huge fan of animated movies (oh, the irony of being married to an animator) but I enjoy the occasional Disney movie, and figured that this would make another nice Princess-type movie that one day Darcey's going to want to dress up as. Imagine my surprise when, during the first two lines of the movie, I realize that the main characters are SEALS!! Not that I have anything against seals, but it was so completely not what I was picturing that I had to stop myself from laughing out loud! And then I had to spend the next twenty minutes trying to take it seriously, but I had ruined it with my human expectations. No one else in the theater was a bit surprised - there were signs and posters and the dvd for sale in the lobby, but somehow I missed all of that completely. Which I find hysterical, myself.

The boys got to participate in a drawing class taught by the lone animator (wait, that's a great title: The Lone Animator) after the movie. I had left the movie early with a fussy Darcey, so Ryan took this shift walking the halls while I sat in the back of the class and tried not to fall asleep. Not the Lone Animator's fault - I was just tired from getting up so early and sitting still wasn't helping. The boys enjoyed the class and ended up drawing some pretty good characters from the film.

My family found it amusing when the Lone Animator was introduced by a woman who asked, "Who here has ever met a Disney animator before?" Like he was some kind of rare, exotic species of animator, only found in the deepest, darkest recesses of Burbank.

The highlight of my day came when we were driving around searching for something to eat for lunch (which had to be take-out, because of the state of our children at 1 p.m.) and I drove right past a WAFFLE HOUSE!!! I haven't eaten at a Waffle-House since the summer before my senior year, which would make it 1993. Waffle Houses are ubiquitous in the Southeast and we'd hit them on our yearly vacations. Holy cow, if I had driven by a monument to Mudgett sentimentality, I wouldn't have been more surprised! It took every ounce of self-control not to pull into the parking lot, singing the Waffle-House Family Theme Song at the top of my lungs! In case you didn't grow up in my family, the song goes like this, to the tune of "Popeye The Sailor Man."

We're a Waffle House Family!
We live in a frying pan!

Okay, that's all the theme song we wrote. We only wrote a theme song at all because one time we went to a Waffle House and there was a jukebox, which listed the Waffle House Family theme song as one of the options, but the jukebox didn't work and left us to our own devices. Oh, my gosh, what if this Waffle House has a jukebox?? It might have made this entire trip worth it, balloons or no.

I stayed home for Darcey's nap today, which I really needed, while Ryan took the boys to a dinosaur Imax movie at the Museum of Natural History. It is right near Old Town, where yesterday we wanted to stop at a shop called Candy Lady, but it was closed when we got there. I told Ryan to take the kids there, which turned out to be bad on me when it turned out that the Candy Lady was a combination candy/adult novelty shop! Again, not something I generally encounter in Orem. Is this the way the rest of the world is? Am I luckier to live in Orem than I realize? Tomorrow am I going to find myself in a Native American pottery/lingerie store? Or take the kids into a combination smoothie place/adult video rental? What kind of sickos lure kids and families into a candy store with a not-even-curtained area labeled 18 and older? All I know is those pervs make some pretty good chocolate covered pretzels.

We polished off the day by going swimming. No, make that just the kids who have only one brain cell left and decided to freeze it for posterity. It was in the mid-to-low 60's with a decent breeze, but the kids figured that since the outdoor pool was heated, it was fine. I wouldn't let them get in the hot tub at first because a couple was in there. We lasted about 30 minutes or so - it would have been longer but Zack wouldn't go into the hot tub (later) because it was too hot, and so he stayed colder longer. I, naturally, value my brain cells and decided to sit fully clothed on the deck, shivering in my sweatshirt. When we first got there, Noah did a big cannonball into the pool and accidentally splashed a woman in the hot tub. As soon as he resurfaced, I told him not to jump in anymore because he was splashing other people (they were the only other people around) but the woman had to chime in and deliver a minor lecture about getting her hair wet. I had to refrain from pointing out that sitting in a hot tub was not the safest place for her special hairdo.

The nice thing is that the day's biggest disappointment happened so early, that the rest of the day totally redeemed it. I got a nap, which is close to a miracle, and everyone seemed to have an overall good day. Plus they visited their first adult novelty shop/candy store, so when they end up in therapy, we can at least pinpoint the day their lives started going downhill. Now that's what I call a family vacation!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Don't Rain On My Fiesta!

The whole reason we left on Friday and split our drive over two days was for the sole purpose of attending the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, which is an annual event celebrating hot air balloons. Each year they have 700 balloons all take off at once, every morning, in what is called a mass ascension. It happens at dawn, so you have to be there at like 5:30 to watch, and that is frankly a ridiculous time of day. I don't care who you are, no one can be in a fiesta mood at 5:30 in the morning.

The also do this thing called a Night Glow, where all of the balloons are in the sky at night, and they all light their flames at the same time. It's compared to lit christmas lights, all over the sky, and it is supposedly gorgeous. They had that scheduled for tonight, Saturday evening, at the much more reasonable hour of 5:30 pm.

Until, of course, it rained. And was windy. And had severe thunderstorm warnings, hail the size of nickels, and possibly a tornado warning. So our whole Saturday evening plan was canceled.

I'm completely bummed by that, because it means two things. One, we all of a sudden don't have plans for tonight, and Two, if I want to see the stupid balloons, I'd have to get up at like 5 a.m.! And if I want to see them, I have to get up that early just to check to see if it's been canceled or not. I'm still hurting from last night's bedtime fiasco, do I want to follow that with an intentional early morning? But I came all the way here, can I really miss the balloons just because I'm tired? It's a frustrating question, mostly because I didn't think I'd have to answer it. I want to see the balloons, so I'll get up tomorrow, but I won't be happy about it!

Instead of tonight's balloon event, I ended up taking the boys to a children's science museum called Explora, while Ryan and Darcey napped. The boys loved this place - it's very similar in concept and size to the Discovery Gateway museum in SLC, but somehow crammed way more exhibits into the same square footage. Or maybe it just seemed that way. It wasn't a mammoth building, but the kids were constantly going from one activity to the next. It was a good introduction to our vacationing fun.

This should show just how windy it is here - I guess it's valid to cancel the night launch. My kids were ready to launch themselves with the wind so strong!

You won't even believe what I attempted to do while we were there - they had a high-wire bike across the second floor of the building, and I rode it! Okay, to be fair, I only rode it part of the way before I had to turn back, because after all, I am a gigantic chicken when it comes to anything stupidly death-defying. Who in their right mind rides a bike on a wire over nothing but some science attractions to break their fall? But if you know me, and my level of chickenness, the fact that I tried at all is fairly impressive. This picture that Brad took doesn't show how far up the wire is, but it's two stories.

This is how many Zacks there are when he is whining in the car, or late at night in a hotel room when everyone else is sleeping.

Afterwards, we went into Old Town for some dinner. Most of the shops were closed, so we'll have to go back there, but Brad loved the area so he's excited to go back. We ended up eating at the Quesadilla Grill, which served overpriced but tasty gourmet quesadillas. It won't be around too long, in my opinion. The place was dead - it was just us for a long time, then one other couple came in. A group of people showed up and then left when they realized that the place doesn't have a liquor license. There's an issue that doesn't seem to plague Orem restaurants! But the kids seemed to like it, and since the hotel serves breakfast AND dinner during the week, it's okay to splurge on the weekend. (I have to keep telling myself that, so the cheapskate in me doesn't hyperventilate. It's hard taking my inner cheapskate on vacation, I'll tell you that much.)

I'm trying out a new theory on this trip - play it by ear. I did our Europe trip as scheduled as I could get it, and I didn't have a single minute to do much more than check out Albuquerque on before we left for this trip. It's about as radical a change as I could make, but so far I'm enjoying it. There's not a ton of pressure to see certain things, and it's not a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so it's okay to take it slower. We'll see how I do - I'm not known as a laid-back traveler. But maybe I'll surprise myself. Hey, I rode a high-wire bike today, I know I'll surprise myself!