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!

On The Road Again

Yesterday we embarked on our road trip to Albuquerque, and I have to say it hasn't been too bad. On Friday we picked Brad up after chorus and hit the road for the first leg of our trip - Orem to Durango, Colorado, about 400 miles. Today we only did about 250 miles, and it was substantially more painful. But we're here now, and we survived, so it's all good.

A few weeks ago we drove down to St. George, and Darcey was horrific in the car, and Darcey and Zack were horrific in the hotel room. So I took some preventative measures for this trip. First, I bought not one, but TWO portable dvd players, so both rows in the minivan could watch their own movies. I know that seems a little extreme, but at $89.99 plus tax each, it was still cheaper than one installed dvd player, and this way Brad and Noah don't have to watch many, many hours of Elmo's World with Darcey. Second, I reserved hotel rooms that were bigger than normal, so that hopefully not everyone would have to hear all of Darcey and/or Zack's incredible loudness.

The dvd players worked like a charm. Brad and Noah may as well have not been in the car at all, they were so quiet. They only piped up when they needed a snack refill. We had to make them take off their headphones in order to inform them of the lovely scenery that we were passing.

And lovely scenery it was, too - until it got too dark to see the scenery. None of us have been to Moab before, and it was strikingly beautiful. Not lush Switzerland beautiful, and not even fairly lush East Coast beautiful, both of which I prefer - I guess I really like trees. But the rock formations were interesting to look at, and intriguing enough that we're thinking about stopping on the way home for a closer look.

To make a long story short (not likely), the first half of our driving was excellent. Darcey whined, but it was bearable. Zack dropped his legos and also whined, and it was slightly less bearable, if only because I've been listening to his particular whines for 4 years now. We pulled into Durango at about 10pm, which means we made excellent time even with a 45-minute dinner break. When we got into the hotel, I was convinced that road trips were the new future for the Simmons family.

But when we left this morning, for the second, shorter, half of the drive, I was second-guessing myself. Several of the kids (and, of course, they wouldn't leave me out of it) had a bad night at the hotel. Darcey and Zack were so wired by 10:15 when they were finally in bed that Darcey lost it and Zack wouldn't stop talking, yelling, and picking fights for half an hour while everyone else attempted to sleep. Then Brad was awake from 2:30-3:30, during which time he spilled a cup of water on the nightstand and tromped back and forth through the room about 8 gajillion times, opening and closing the bathroom door (with the bathroom light on). To top it off, Zack woke up at 6. Fortunately, he followed orders by taking the portable dvd player into the bathroom to watch it; unfortunately, he first had to call "Mom! Mom!" until I got out of bed to make him stop.

So, to sum up without making you feel all of the pain, I was exhausted and Zack was exhausted and neither of us really wanted anything to do with each other. Brad and Noah continued their silent dvd vigil in the back of the van, Darcey was fine once I went in the back to sit next to her, and when I could keep Darcey and Zack quiet, then Ryan was fine too. So everyone was kind of on edge.

I think the answer is to drive straight through. I think the danger comes with having two travel days, not in having a 10 hour drive. We'll see next Friday, because we're driving home in one shot, theoretically. But overall, the kids were really, surprisingly good, and we're excited to finally be here.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Overheard At My House

For the last few weeks, I've been writing down some of the funnier (I think) things that my kids have said. My dad always said that kids get way more interesting when they learn how to talk, and while Darcey is certainly cute to look at, the other kids definitely can provide a serious amount of amusing conversation.

This first conversation happened a few weeks ago, when I told the kids that we were planning to go to Albuquerque, New Mexico while Ryan attends a Flash conference. (We actually leave this weekend.) They started shooting questions at me, bam bam bam, and I could barely keep up.

Brad: can we go somewhere in Mexico, like Puerto Rico?
Noah: can we go to China instead?
Me: Puerto Rico isn't in Mexico, and we're talking about NEW Mexico.
Brad: question one - when would we go?
Me: possibly in October
Noah: Can we go to Boston?
Brad: question two - would we still have enough money to go to California?
Me: California is not one of our choices. Neither is Boston.
Noah: Do they speak another language there?
Me: where, Boston?
Noah: Yeah.
Brad: Yeah, they do. They're really hard to understand.

These next three all happened at dinner, where the fare served was BLT sandwiches.

Noah: (looking at the bacon in his BLT, which he has already started eating) Is this bacon made out of pig or dog?

Noah, again: (examining his sandwich) I said I wanted this on toast.
Me: It is toast.
Noah: this is toast?
Me: Yes, toast is bread that is put in a ...
Noah: Wait - (thinks for a second) Toaster?

Zack rolled his race car across the dinner table, where it hit me on it's way onto the floor.
Zack, whining: Mo-o-o-m, my car fell!
Me: Then go get it.
Zack: I can't! I can't get it! You get it!
Me: Why not, are your legs broken?
Zack: Yes. (Pause) Are your legs broken?
Me: No, my legs work just fine.
Zack: Then you get it!

This last one was just this morning, while we were both sitting quietly at the table, eating our breakfast.

Brad: I want to get an animal I can ride. Like a really strong pig.

Man, these kids crack me up! Since Darcey isn't represented in any of these, here are some cute pictures that I took of her the other day.

If you've been following our backyard playground saga, you'll be happy to know that on Labor Day we came up with yet another way to possibly maim our children. We bought a dome climber, which is one of those half-spheres that you can find on most elementary school playgrounds, although smaller. The kids love it and it, so far, has yet to draw blood. It'll happen, though; from the following pictures you can see that the boys are less than timid about the perils of backyard play, and Zack falls pretty much every single day. I told Ryan that the next serious injury back there (broken bone, concussion, etc) I'm tearing up the grass and paving the yard with Nerf. He said that Nerf is a company, not a product, so what I'm actually saying is that I'd pave the yard with Nerf employees. I don't really care what we pave the yard with - I'd pave it with jello and feathers if that wouldn't be an unholy mess. Anyhow, for now, we're good with this. Soon it will snow and my ridiculous fears will transfer from playground equipment to skiing into a tree. It's a wonder I can sleep at night at all!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Just Rewards?

I think the world is paying me back (in a good way) for my honesty in the Tracfone-extra-minutes incident of last month. Or, the world is messing with my head. If you recall, I bought 900 minutes but was credited with like 1,800, and told the guy on the phone that it was more than I paid for. Which then resulted in me having to sit on the phone for 40 minutes of Darcey's nap while they tried to fix it. I know I did the right thing, but I was totally punished for it.

This week, I think I might be getting rewarded for my honesty. Or, I'm being given another chance to prove my integrity - not sure which one. I ordered an 8x8 photobook from Shutterfly scrapbooking our trip to California in February, using a coupon for a free book that they had sent. Of course I waited until the last possible day to order the book, and then when I did, the coupon wouldn't work. I was completely frustrated, and worse, felt that my honor was being called into question because I swear I had followed all of the coupon's rules in order to qualify for the free book. The audacity! (I mean that tongue-in-cheek.)

I sent an email to customer service, assuming that they'd reply the next day after the deal was over, and as such, I was out of luck. But here's where the karmic world started to smile on me: Customer service replied within an hour, telling me that because I had uploaded my own digital scrapbook pages into an album instead of putting my photos into one of their pre-made books, my album didn't qualify for the coupon. (Which is a load of baloney, because there was not one single word of exclusion referring to that.) But, the rep said that she'd put a new coupon on my account that would work with the album I had made, plus she'd give me another week to use it. How awesome was that! I didn't even have to complain, or argue about the technicalities, or whatever, she just gave me the free book that I was expecting.

Wait, it gets worse, and then better.

So on Friday I got my book in the mail. It's the first time I've ever made a digital scrapbook and had it printed, so I was excited to see how it was going to look. Turns out, a California road trip was too boring a vacation subject for them to handle - instead, they sent me an album from a trip to Kauai! It had loads of beautiful pictures, and some people who looked like they were having fun, but none of it was my kids at Legoland.

I called Shutterfly's customer service, gave the woman my order number and the order number than was on the Hawaii vacationer's book. The rep apologized profusely, promised to reorder both books and send it with expedited shipping. Then I Googled the person's name in the album, found some contact info, and sent her an email explaining that I've got her book and would ship it to her so she could have two copies if she wanted. She replied right away and said that she'd love to have me mail it to her, and she'd keep her eye out for my book, if she gets it.

The next day, my book came in the mail. The original one, the first one that they shipped. Apparently, they didn't switch the two books, they just shipped hers to me by mistake. But we both have two new albums on their way to us.

I feel no less guilty than if I hadn't told the Tracfone guy about the extra 900 minutes, but I'm reticent to correct this error. First of all, they only give a 30 minute window for cancellation, and then the album is on it's way to being printed. So, 32 hours later when I get the album in the mail, it's too late to stop the presses. And by now it's a full 48 hours since I called customer service. But even if they have already printed the new book, I could at least save them the shipping cost on my book if I tell them that I got the first book. Second, and this one's important, how badly will they screw up these orders if I call again? Will the hawaiian not get hers, too? I feel like it might be safer to let well enough alone.

But then I'm wondering if I'm trying to justify this decision because, really, I want two copies of my book. I want to send one to Ryan's sister Shauna, who came with us on our trip. As with the Tracfone incident, I want to prove my honesty by telling them about the error, but I want them to say, "Oh, go ahead and keep it. It'll teach us a lesson to have to absorb this cost!" Maybe the world is saying to me, "You were honest once, but let's see if you'll do it again now that you know the cost that might be involved." Maybe I just like making a relatively simple situation into an overly complicated moral issue, when it doesn't have to be.

World, you are one tricky son of a gun. Make sure you vote in the poll and let me know what you think.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Best Meal I've Ever Cooked, Ever

In the year and a half I've had this blog, I don't think I've once posted a recipe, but the dinner I made tonight is worthy of broadcasting to the world. Yea, I would verily shout from the mountaintops how fantastic this dinner is. Zack was the only one who rejected it, and that's a pretty successful meal in and of itself. And the fact that it is basically a copy of one of the most successful restaurants in Utah Valley doesn't hurt either. I told Ryan that I plan to make this every week for the rest of my life, and he said he'd like to eat it every week for the rest of his life. If that's not a match made in heaven, I don't know what is.

The recipe is for Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Salad. The pork is almost achingly sweet, and the other ingredients are so savory that they balance nicely. I didn't make the recipe up; there are thousands of versions all over the internet. But I want to give you the one I made, which I can verify is abso-stinking-lutely delicious. If you haven't eaten at Cafe Rio, and so don't know what it is supposed to taste like, try it anyhow - it's worth it.

Oh, and P.S. - the recipe made a ton, so if you're a local friend and want a taste, come on by tomorrow and try some!

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Salad
5-6 lb pork roast - I used 2 3-lb roasts that were on sale for $1.49/lb, so whatever you can find should be fine (I've heard this works with beef also)
One large can of red enchilada sauce (24-32 oz or so) I used mild, but that is up to your taste
One can of Dr. Pepper (I grabbed a 20 oz bottle from the refrigerated section)
1 cup brown sugar

Put the pork roast into your crock-pot, mix enchilada sauce, dr. pepper, and brown sugar in a bowl and pour over the roast. It should cover them about halfway up. Cook on low 6 hours or so, until you can shred the meat with two forks. Put the shredded meat and the sauce from the crock-pot into a large skillet. Now is when you taste it and make adjustments to the sauce - I needed to add more brown sugar to make it predominantly sweet, with a spicy aftertaste. Yum! I let it simmer for a little while so the sauce could reduce, but basically, it's done at this point.

4 t. chicken boullion (I threw in one boullion cube)
2 t. minced garlic
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/2 onion
3/4 t. salt
2 cups white rice
4 cups water

Chop the onion and cilantro fine, throw it all in a pot and cook it like you would regular rice (simmer 20 minutes or so).

Cafe Rio Salad Dressing

1 1/3 cups sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 bunch of cilantro
1 package ranch dressing mix
4 tbsp. salsa verde (green salsa)
2 cloves of garlic
1/8 tsp. Tabasco sauce
juice of one lime

Mix all of these ingredients in a blender or food processor.

Other salad ingredients: black beans, shredded romaine lettuce, tortillas, shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo, tortilla strips

Here's how you put it together, if you haven't had one before.
Heat your tortilla in a frying pan, 30 seconds on a side. Put tortilla in a bowl, sprinkle some cheese on it. Fill tortilla with a scoop of rice, some black beans, some shredded pork, some lettuce, some pico de gallo. You can also add sour cream, guacamole, and tortilla chips, but you can leave them out if you are calorie conscious. Top with some of the dressing, and mix it all together.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Diets Suck

Sorry to be so crass, I don't generally use the "s" word, but it's true. Diets do suck, and I'm hating mine right now.

Maybe I'm just in a bad mood right now, because I've been pretty positive the last 5 weeks that I've been seriously dieting. I've been stressed by the amount of work school has been (business classes were waaaaay easier than English), feeling like I'm barely keeping my head above water in most of my responsibilities, and just realized that in setting my blog's comments to "moderate" it means that a bunch of comments have piled up that didn't make it to the site, and it's my own dumb fault. So I'm a little down on myself currently.

But let me celebrate one thing: I've been going to the gym daily - that means every single weekday - for three weeks in a row. And the two weeks before that I went two or three times also. Five solid weeks of working out consistently, and it's amazing! I've never ever ever been able to keep that kind of momentum. Three weeks is about the longest I've gone, and never every day.

I couldn't understand people like my friend Susanne who not only enjoy exercising but have some kind of fundamental need to do it every day, but I'm starting to get it. There is such a feeling of power when I can tell my body to do something and then accomplish it, even though it's hard. Being sweaty doesn't bother me quite so much, although I have to admit that I favor the machines positioned right under the ceiling fan. (I've often thought that treadmills,etc. ought to come with built-in personal fans, directed right at your face. Maybe it has to be powered by your footsteps or something. That's my million-dollar invention, right there.)

I wrote a month ago about my adventures at the Zumba class. I've gone for 5 weeks in a row, and I'm amazed to find out that I can hold my own now. I even invited my friend Sylvia to come with me last week, which means that I trust myself enough to risk potential humiliation in front of someone I know, not just random gym rats in the freeweight section. I can last the entire hour without feeling nauseous, and here's the weird thing: it feels really good. Really, really good! I am turning into the kind of person who actually likes to exercise!

Today I rocked at the gym. I went to a class that had a 10-minute cardio warm-up and then 50 minutes of weight training with free weights and hand weights. I've done this class before, and it totally kicks my butt. I was able to move up from the 3-lb weights (hey, don't laugh, at least I'm trying) to 5-lb weights, and I hope to one day put some weight on the bar itself. We were doing some exercises to work some arm-related muscles, I think it was the deltoids and the trapezoids and possibly the rhombuses, and when I thought my arms were going to fall right off onto the ground, I let my arms hang for a few seconds. Then my inner Jillian kicked in and I could hear her screaming at me in my mind to get off my lazy butt and keep working!! (Jillian is the fire-breathing trainer on The Biggest Loser, and man, I think I'd keep working just to stop the screaming insults from her.) I started laughing when we tried to do some more lunges and my muscles were shaking so bad I could barely keep my balance, but I love that now when I'm going upstairs my quads hurt and when I bend over my abs ache. It's like a little, constant reminder of how hard I worked.

To top it off, after the class I hit the elliptical machine for 20 minutes, and then walked around the entire neighborhood for another half hour. I'm like some kind of working out machine! I'm unstoppable!

But let me tell you what is wanting to stop me: the scale. The freakin' blinkin' scale! Over the last five weeks here's what my stupid scale has said.

End of first month of diet, no exercise: Down 2 pounds.
End of week 1: Down 1 pound.
End of week 3: Down 3 pounds.
End of week 4: Up 1 pound.
End of week 5: Down 3 pounds.
As of today, Up 2 pounds.

So with eight weeks of being super careful about what I eat, including only a single slice of the ice cream cake from my birthday, I have lost a grand total of 6 pounds. Five weeks of exercising, and my weight is zigzagging up and down like a rollercoaster.

I hate rollercoasters.

Watching The Biggest Loser is encouraging and at the same time giving me all sorts of unrealistic expectations. I enjoy seeing people make such radical changes in their life, but when the contestants are lamenting only losing 8 pounds that week instead of 10, I can't relate. I'd just like to be consistently losing and not gaining. I'm so frustrated with this whole stupid dieting process that I'm afraid I'll do damage to my newfound exercise habit. If nothing else, it's making the other half of the ice cream cake in the freezer looking less like a sin and more like a just reward.

I know I need to just not weigh myself, but when the scale is down, it gives me such an emotional boost that I can't resist the temptation to check. Of course, when it's up my mood plummets in response and I vow to throw the scale away altogether. But I need the accountability, so it will stay in my bathroom closet, the specter that haunts me even on my best days, making me question whether all of my hard work is doing anything at all, or whether I ought to just eat that cake.

I don't have any pithy or amusing or even positive thoughts to wrap this all up. I'm not going to eat the cake, at least not today, but I don't have it in me to throw it away either. Maybe that means I'm not all the way committed, but I'd rather think it's a tactic, like Brigham Young keeping a plug of chewing tobacco in his pocket and asking it, "Who is going to be master, you or me?" Well, mint chocolate chip ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins, who's in charge here, you or me? Clearly, it's me, and that's why you are still in the freezer!

(As a side note, Brother Brigham only lasted 9 years off tobacco before he started chewing again as a pain reliever, and then quit a second time for good. I have no idea what this means for my diet, but if I haven't lost this baby weight in 9 years, I'm eating that cake!)