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.