Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thinking out loud.........

Well, the world didn't end and we had a wonderful Christmas. For one thing, the power stayed on, which was a nice change from last year when we spent the entire day in the dark and had Jack in the Box burgers for dinner. This year, we had Jeff's steelhead he caught two days before and it was delicious! Presents were plentiful and it was a great day to just hang out with the family.

One thing I couldn't believe was some of the comments on FB from kids who didn't get what they wanted. Are you kidding me? Selfish little brats! If you woke up on Christmas morning, you got what you wanted. Be happy. Seriously, I think we all need to rein it in a little when it comes to materialistic Christmases. Me included. I (once again) overbought, overspent, overdid it. My kids didn't get iPhones or anything like that, but their arms were full of new, fun things nonetheless. Our living room overflowed with gifts. And for that, I am thankful - that we were all together, that we could provide these gifts, that our lives are plentiful and full!

As I write this, it's a quiet morning (even though it's well past 10 a.m.) because all the kiddos are sleeping. Harrison had a friend spend the night. I'm laying in bed, looking through Facebook, checking my email, blogging and I'm STARVING! I really want someone to bring me breakfast in bed. From Starbucks, please and thank you. Jeff is out on gymnastics carpool duty as Arlie is at a three-hour workout. So, he's out of the picture for serving Your Royal Highness. I suppose I should get up and cook a big breakfast for the kids and the sleepover friend, but then I think......nah!

That is one area where I suck as a mom. I HATE MAKING BREAKFAST! To me, the perfect breakfast is a coffee and pastry, preferably made and served by someone else. I'm not one to whip up eggs (which I don't care for and suck at making) and/or waffles, pancakes, etc. I just have no patience for breakfast. I'm usually starving when I wake up and if it's a work day, I'm busy getting ready and often grab something I can eat in the car on the way to work like a frozen waffle with peanut butter. A big, hearty breakfast with any type of meat and/or potatoes is more like dinner to me, and certainly not something I want first thing in the morning. Yuck!

So, even when my kids have friends over, I just throw out some cereal and milk. Or do nothing now that they are old enough to make their own pancakes (and mess up the kitchen in the process). In fact, I'd like nothing more right now than to just sneak out and get myself a coffee and a doughnut and eat it in peace somewhere (the driver's seat of my car will work just fine).

On another subject, the week between Christmas and New Year's feels kinda "dead." I keep forgetting that most people have to work (I am off the same times as my kids because I work for their school district). But yesterday I remembered I still have to pay bills, schedule appointments, call people for things, etc. I'm on vacation....sort of. But since we've spent most of it just hanging around the house, it feels kind of empty. I think I better plan some fun stuff to do before the break is over so I don't feel like we wasted it! For one thing, we still have Groupons to go see a big light display that we never did before Christmas. We'll do that tonight or tomorrow. There are a ton of things we COULD do, but who has a huge after-Christmas budget? I guess I should try doing all those crafts I never got around to doing for the holidays! HA! I still have a huge batch of sugar cookie dough in the freezer that I never got around to baking either! I even bought special squeeze bottles for frosting this year so we could have a real Santa's workshop of cookie-baking but they are still sitting empty in the pantry. SIGH!

I do enjoy the after-Christmas sales, but I'm so cheap I want to wait till next week when everything is 90% off. Of course, there's no selection left by then. I did buy some new boxes and bags for wrapping next year. I reuse them until they're practically falling apart, so this year I had to recycle a bunch. The nice thing about the after-Christmas sales is that since we have both a January and February birthday in our house, I can pick up great birthday presents on the cheap!

I always love giving gifts and watching the recipients open them and this year I was especially excited for the things I got Jeff. I think the best thing (and his favorite gift!) was an artist's rendition of his dog, Shade, that I had done for him. It was a 5x7 sketch with color and included a matching ornament. It really captured our old dog! I also got him a four-hour chartered fishing trip and tickets to a hockey game. I always find men in general to be difficult to shop for, my husband included, so I was pretty excited about some of the things I got! He was very happy (and got lots of other presents too!).

It's almost 11 and still quiet. Maybe I can sneak out after all! Gotta use those Starbucks gift cards sometime, right? :)

Friday, December 21, 2012

The end of the world as we know it........

I'll wait while you get that song stuck in your head. Good? Ok.

I think what the Mayans were trying to say is that today is the end of the world as we know it. That from today forward, we should embrace a whole new world (now get THAT song stuck in your head!). But seriously, maybe instead of focusing on doomsday now we can focus on moving forward with a renewed sense of what's important in the world. Leave behind anger, violence, hate, bullying, oppression, injustice, pain and suffering. And embrace kindness, inclusiveness, peace, love, fairness and joy.

Now, before you start waving your peace signs and singing "Kumbaya," let me explain. It only takes a second to change your thinking or your actions. Instead of rushing to anger when someone cuts you off on the freeway, or snapping back with a snarky comment when someone insults you, try taking a second to ask yourself if it's really worth it? I think the events over the past year have shown us that, in the bigger scheme of things, very little matters beyond keeping those close to you safe and wrapped in love. Being unkind or angry takes a ton of time and energy - effort that could move mountains if put to good use.

Sure, we all lose it from time to time. I can count at least two times in the past week I've lost it - screamed when I should have talked, blamed when I should have left it alone, berated when I should have lifted up. We're human and we're not infallible. But it's amazing what happens when you just stop for a second and say " can I change this?" I, myself, committed to doing acts of kindness. Not just "26 Acts of Kindness" for the Newtown victims, but small kindnesses that I can do every day. I fed a homeless man. I bought my co-worker a cookie. I let a frazzled lady cut in front of me in line at the post office. Because, really, these things were small fry compared to the bigger picture. And it only took me a second and little effort to do them, but perhaps they made another person smile or feel special or just relieved a bit of their daily stress.

We have a lot of "No Hate" against bullying, food drives, inclusion programs in our schools, etc. going on in our world. But it doesn't take a huge effort, or even an organized one, to make a difference. We can start by modeling kindness to our kids. And not letting them think they are entitled to everything under the sun. Nothing fixes your perspective like getting outside of yourself and helping someone else - or just seeing that other people have troubles too.

So maybe this IS the end of the world - of all the craziness and insanity that our world has become. The ONLY way to change that is to change your ways. Change your perspective and change the way you react to things. Think before you act out in emotion. Don't think before you do something kind. Just do it.

I'm grateful to be alive today. To wake up in my house, to have food to eat, to have too many Christmas presents to wrap. All good things. But it's not just today. I'm grateful for that every day.

It's the end of the world as we know it............and I feel fine!

Christmas fails.........

In the spirit of Christmas and lovingly handmade gifts, I came up with two projects I thought I could actually do this year. I bought the supplies well ahead of time, read and re-read the tutorials on Pinterest, and imagined the perfect results in my head. Turns out, imaging things does not make them come to fruition.

My first project was a photo-to-wood transfer project. I spent $21 on gel medium (bought the big jar because I was certain I was going to LOVE this project and want to make hundreds of them). The idea is you cover a piece of wood (in this case, pre-cut wood plaques from Michael's) with gel medium and put a photo that you've printed on a laser printer on top of the gel medium upside down, so the photo will transfer to the wood. You have to leave it overnight first, and in the morning, you get the paper wet and rub off all the paper and voila! A beautiful wood transfer that you then cover with Mod Podge (bought two big jars, at $8 each) and present as a gift. Well. The first thing I did wrong was I didn't use a laser printer. Because who has a laser printer at home? And who has time to go to Kinkos? Not me. So, I used my regular ink jet printer after reading that some people had success with this. Big mistake. The pictures printed fine and everything went according to plan until the next day when I rubbed off the paper and half the printed picture in the process. Whoops! I asked Jeff to sand them down so I could try again. Same results. Crap. Only one turned out even halfway and then I decided it needed to be painted black around the edges so I attempted to make it look "antiqued" by rubbing it with an emery board. Oh my. I sent it to my sister anyway, since it was intended for her and was a picture of her and her beloved on their wedding day. It's not at all what I wanted it to be but since it's the only one I didn't trash, I sent it anyway. FAIL!

My second project still sounds good in theory but I never had time to actually DO it. First I bought a metal stamp set at Harbor Freight. The set contains the alphabet and numbers and a few characters. The idea is that you buy some metal washers at Loews or Home Depot and you "stamp" words or names or what have you into them. You can layer the washers by size and then you string them on a chain, perhaps add an embellishment, and you have a delightful custom necklace. Since it took me so long to get around to doing it (read: I still haven't done it!), I decided last-minute that it would also be cute to make them into ornaments so I had to buy another $10 worth of heavy-gauge wire to string them on. Well. One day it will be really cute. Only not for Christmas 2012.

Why I even thought I had time to do crafts is beyond me. I've always considered myself a crafty person, but the truth is, I am only crafty for the under 12 set. Any kids' craft I'm all over - I can and will do them. But adult crafts - you know, things that are supposed to actually look good? Not so much for me. Add to that the fact that things have been crazy around here this 2012. One crisis after another and no time to breathe, let alone eat or pee some days. Crafts? Fugghedaboutit!

In the same vein, while I was nearly done with my shopping Thanksgiving weekend, I failed to do the extended family shopping until the very last minute and thus was scrambling to mail packages yesterday to the tune of $60, give or take, for postage. Now, I am trying to reconcile this in my head. I used to send gift cards, then decided presents were more fun and more personal. My siblings and I long ago decided to only exchange gifts between the kids. After exchanging the same $10 Target gift card over and over for years, we decided a couple of years ago to send ornaments instead. After all, the kids will be grown one day and then they would have a collection of ornaments for their very first tree in their new apartment. Except that ornaments have to be mailed. In a box. Which is like buying a whole other gift when you consider the postage for each package. So, it makes sense to me to just send gift cards in the Christmas card envelope I was going to send anyway! Gah!

Speaking of Christmas cards, mine are still sitting on my kitchen table. I just finished printing the Christmas letter at 12:35 a.m. on the day the world is supposed to end (it didn't). Now I have to fold and stuff them and hopefully tomorrow I will mail them. I feel like I'm very far behind on this task this year. And the main reason is this: we had NO opportunity to take a family Christmas picture. Seriously. Not because we were pressed for time. But because we were never in the same place at the same time long enough (and/or dressed for the day) to snap a picture. So, I just made a collage of some photos from the past year and called it good. Thank God for Costco, who printed my cards overnight AND had the very good sense to offer stamps for sale right at the checkout. Yay!

I have not baked a single thing this year. Which is weird because I've gained three pounds. Oh yeah, that's all the sugary treats we've received in various gifts. I had every intention of baking several delicious seasonal treats and distributing them to friends and neighbors. Instead I made homemade Bailey's. That's good enough, right?

I have not wrapped many gifts - maybe five or six. I have dozens and dozens more to wrap. I spent WAY too much money - again - and tonight, after adding it all up and paying the bills, I seriously considered doing a huge "return" field trip tomorrow to take back half of what I bought. I go through this every year and always tell myself "this year it will be different:" but it never is! I read a great motto for Christmas gift-giving this year. To reduce the amount of gifts you give and stay within budget, follow this rule: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. Or, like a friend of mine shared, each child gets a book, a movie, an outfit, and a toy (or gadget). I would even add in "an experience" (i.e. tickets to a show/concert). But the way I shop has no rhyme or reason to it, other than "I got it on sale!" I like everyone to have a lot of gifts to open so I buy a lot of things. Christmas morning unwrapping goes on a while in our house. My kids don't receive many gifts from anyone outside the immediate family so I always want to make sure they have "enough." And the truth is, they ALREADY have enough!

We made a list of things we wanted to do over the Christmas season and we're chipping away at it slowly. Most of it will happen after Christmas. Mostly, I just hope the power stays on this year so we don't spend Christmas day in the dark and eat Jack-in-the-Box for dinner because it's the only place nearby that's open and has power! This year HAS to be better than that, right?

What are your Christmas traditions? Here are some of ours:
1. Bake and decorate sugar cookies (Arlie baked sugar cookies last night but then left for Spokane, so....we'll see how that turns out!)
2. Build a fort for sleeping in on Christmas eve (kids only - so far there are beds on the ground but no giant "tent" up yet)
3. Drive around to see cool light displays (we saw one at a church)
4. Go ornament shopping to get new ornaments for each family member (this year I'm scrapping that one in favor of going AFTER Christmas and buying them on clearance!)
5. Watch Christmas movies (we've watched a few)
6. Read "The Night Before Christmas" on the night before Christmas, from a very old book (mine when I was a child)
7. Buy chocolate Advent calendars and open a door in the big Advent house each day (how come I never get a chocolate Advent calendar? Next year I want one with Lindt truffles in it!)
8. Decorate our house to rival Clark Griswold (yes, it's Griswold with an "o," not an "a," like people keep writing. Stop it! And yes, we did it. "We" meaning Jeff did it. He rocks!)
9. Get Christmas jammies (did it, but only for the kids this year)
10. Take a family Christmas picture for the Christmas card (nope, not this year!)
11. Drink Bailey's every night (mommy only)

Ah well, What happens happens. And what doesn't doesn't. What really matters is just chilling with the family whenever and wherever we can. And drinking Bailey's every night. Or maybe that's just me. :)

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Today's school shooting in Connecticut that left 20 children and six staff members dead is an unspeakable tragedy that has left everyone feeling numb and helpless. As someone who works in a kindergarten classroom, I find it impossible to imagine someone harming innocent five- and six-year-old children. I've heard people say, "How can you look at a little child's face and shoot them?" and the only thing I can answer  is that the shooter must have been insanely blind to his victims.

People are spouting off about gun control and the improvement of our mental health system. And both have valid points. The guns used were purchased legally and owned by the victim's mother (say some sources). Perhaps she did not take measures to keep them from her son who suffered from a personality disorder (as some sources claim). Or perhaps she purchased the guns FOR the young man, unaware that he would ever use them to harm someone - including herself. The guns were not assault rifles, they were handguns and many, many people own handguns. Should there be more gun control laws? Arguments abound on both sides. Personally I don't think anyone should own an assault rifle. But I think it's fine to own a handgun or hunting rifle or shotgun for personal protection and hunting. And I think if you own them, you should be responsible for locking them up and denying access to anyone except the registered owner. But I also know that no law keeps someone from committing a crime. People do bad things.

Should our mental health system be improved? Hell yes! Too many people suffer from mental illness and/or the effects of abuse and there are precious little resources to help them deal with it. In my own family, we deal with depression and anxiety, and our personal foray into the world of mental health and the treatments available have been full of frustration and disillusion. The sad truth is, most people are left to seek help on their own, if they are lucky enough to have insurance to cover the very expensive medications and counseling that are so helpful in the treatment of mental illness. If a person is suicidal, they wait in an ER until a bed is available at a facility that might be hours away from home, and even then, they are often given a standard 72 hour stay at which time they are released to their own providers (if they even have one). We couldn't even find a support group in our very progressive city of Seattle for teenagers suffering from depression and anxiety that wasn't also a drug and alcohol treatment facility. Not every teen who suffers from mental illness has a drug problem (although many do, because where treatment lacks, drugs and alcohol work wonders to numb the pain). We started our own group, but we're not professionals. And my family is very lucky - we are in a demographic that has access to mental health insurance, live in a progressive and accepting city, and have the education and resources to seek out treatment - and yet we still fall flat when it comes to finding something truly worthy of making a change.

But today, right now, none of this matters to the parents of the children who lost their lives today, or to the families that lost an adult member. Because I'm guessing those babies had presents under the tree already, that perhaps Santa photos were just taken, that they were going to be the center of attention at a big, family holiday gathering. I'm guessing their parents started today like any other day - looking for a lost sock, stuffing a folder hastily into a backpack, wiping sticky syrup off a tiny face and saying a hasty goodbye without ever knowing (or even considering) that it would be the last time. Parents were likely off at their jobs, or running errands, or home caring for younger siblings when they heard the news. They probably rushed to the school in a surreal daze, thinking surely their children were unharmed, and, for some of them, knowing that it had to be the worst possible situation when they could not find their child's face in the crowd.

I'm guessing the adult staff members were going about their business but sprung into action at the first sign that danger was imminent. Because when you work with children, they are ALL your children. If you are a parent and work with children, your mother instinct kicks in and you spread your mother wings and shelter all of the children you come in contact with. Your professional training kicks in, the lockdown procedures are begun, but never in a million years would you think it would ever be "the real thing" when you turn off the lights, lock the doors, shelter the children and place a ridiculously thin piece of black laminated poster board over the glass in your classroom door. In the dark, you feel insulated to the danger outside, but glass is thin and doors cannot stop a bullet.

The sad, sad truth is, it is so very easy to walk on to a school campus without being noticed or questioned. Of course all school employees are trained to question anyone without a badge, but parents escort their children on to school campuses every single day and there is no way to know if they are legitimate visitors or not. My own school is in a heavily wooded area. Even in the best of circumstances, there are many places to hide out and wait and it would only take a second to slip into a classroom. We simply cannot protect ourselves from the evil of the outside world. A movie theater is not safe. A mall is not safe. Our own cars are not safe. Nor are our homes. We live with our guard up immediately after a scary event, and then the barriers, physical and imagined, come down and we ease into the naive reality that we are "safe."

What can we do? We cannot hide in our homes (which, again, are also not safe - ever heard of a home invasion burglary?). We must live our lives and move forward. Perhaps we are too afraid of knowing that any single day could be our last. Accidents happen. People get sick and die. Babies get shot. Is there any comfort in living our lives as though each day could be our last? Can we ease our burdened souls by living as compassionately as possible? Doing good each day? Reaching out to our fellow man?

I hate to question my own faith, but of course God has to play a role in this because I've heard His name a lot today. "God, where were you during today's school shooting? God: I'm not allowed in schools." Where WAS God? Certainly taking God out of schools played no role in the shooter's choice to do what he did today. I don't want to get into a religious debate, because I'm not honestly sure where I stand with it all, but if anything, one could argue that God made the shooter the way he was, mental illness and all. I like to believe that God is there to protect us, but bad things happen all the time and where is God then? I don't know. It's kind of hard to wrap my head around our God allowing twenty innocent lives to be taken so soon. Heaven needed more angels? I'm betting the parents of those children are saying "Screw Heaven. Give me one more day with my baby!"

So, we pray. And we shake our heads in disbelief. We rail about gun control and our mental health system. We look for someone to blame. We hug our own kids tighter, and, let's admit it, say thank God it wasn't MY child. Hopefully we fight for the changes we believe need to be made and we think twice about how we treat people and we try to be a little more compassionate. But nothing will bring back those brave teachers and helpless children who's lives were snuffed out so methodically by someone who was too sick or too much in pain or just too out of touch to think first. We all hurt inside. But none more than the families who's arms will ache to hold their loved ones one more time. Surround them with love, God, if you're still there.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's just.....a lot.........

Today I was feeling a little frazzled right from the get-go since I woke up late, but thankfully, had showered the night before so my morning "getting ready" routine was a bit shortened. Still, despite my best intentions, I never seem to get my shit together and get out the door on time, or, gasp!, early! At any rate, I left earlier than normal and it took me nearly 40 minutes to get to work. It's, like, nine miles away. Not sure what was going on there. Work was fine - I mean, it's a very stressful and non-stop job. Working with special-needs kids is perpetual motion and a whirlwind of activity, sprinkled with mini-crises and I am SO grateful it's not a full-time job. It exhausts me, although it's rewarding. However, it is not without it's comic moments, and while most of them involve the kids, today it was all me. I stood at the laminating machine pushing things through, all proud of myself for getting a big job done, when I realized (after it was pointed out to me by the teacher) that the machine was not even on. All of my papers and cards were scattered all over the floor. It was one of those "fuck this!" moments - I was already late leaving for the day and so I just calmly picked it all up, sorted it out, and stacked it neatly on my desk for tomorrow. Sigh!

Nearly every day after work, I have to rush to pick up one of the kids and today was no exception. Because I rarely have time to eat my lunch during my work day, I was starving and ended up driving to pick up Hannah while eating peanut butter off a plastic knife. That's dangerous, right?

So, then there were some chauffeuring duties and finally home. I had a huge list of "to do's" but I ended up doing entirely different stuff. Like organizing the silverware drawers, working out, and whipping up an entirely strange dinner of meatballs and cheese and crackers.

I think the past couple of days have been weird - mostly because of the absence of Shade and all the questions that surround the "second guessing" one does after making the decision to put a dog down. I think we did the right thing for Shade, letting him go out with some dignity, but it was a very sad decision. And being there when he left this world was both sad and beautiful. It was a peaceful way to go, and I was glad to be there to help usher him into "doggie heaven." But, though Shade was a huge part of my days in the past six years, he was an even bigger part of Jeff's life for 16 years. A constant companion, a hunting partner, a pain in the ass, sometimes. But still, he had him longer than his own child. That's pretty huge. And it's not just something that you "get over" as quickly as you might think. That, combined with a ton of extra work at his job has created a big stress ball for Jeff these days. Which is a bummer right before Christmas. Still, he is such a good sport. I could only hope to be as patient and reasonable as he is.

There have been a lot of challenges in our lives recently. It's been a stressful year. And the holidays always sort of culminate in some extra stress simply because of all the "stuff" that goes on in relation - extra activities, performances, shopping, parties, prepping,'s fun but it's also a lot. Just a lot.

Some days I just long for things to slow down. I miss the simpler days - I'm not sure when those were (haha) but I almost always feel like I run out of time to "get it all done" and there seems to never be a dull moment or a time when one of the kids or one of the adults isn't in crisis to some degree. Chaos reigns and we thrive on it, but simple is good, too. Simple is nice. Time to just be and enjoy. Especially during the holiday season. I am determined to get me some of that.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Shade's best, last day ever........

Today we had to make a difficult decision to put down our big, smelly, oaf of a dog who caused us many headaches but was a loyal companion and a big cuddler, the infamous Shade. He was 16 years old, which is nothing short of a miracle for a big dog like him.

Lately, Shade had started losing control of his bladder and bowels and we spent the last six months trying to accommodate him, keep him clean, and stay one step ahead of his frequent bathroom breaks. But, alas, there were a lot of accidents and pretty soon he was confined to his kennel, with breaks in the evening when we could keep a closer eye on him. We washed blankets hundreds of times, and spent hours cleaning. Plus, it was not fun for the poor dog. We tried medication, which gave us a brief reprieve, but the problem continued and it was soon time to make a tough decision. He had many "old age" problems, including losing his hearing and sight (not entirely, but definitely lost some of his "crocodile jaws" skills when he could snap a piece of food out of the air like nobody's business!). He was covered in benign tumors and had a strange "horn" growing out of his head. He was a mess, but he was a happy mess.

When Jeff made the decision to make today his last day, we decided to give him the "best, last day ever!" Yesterday, Jeff took a half day off work, came home, and gave Shade a good bath. He then took him a long, long walk in the neighborhood and surrounding areas. Later, Shade hung out in the garage with him, while Jeff puttered around. Then, they took a nap together, snuggling on the floor. Next, we took him to McDonald's for dinner and he got his own quarter pounder with cheese, fries and a Coke! We went to a church nearby that had a fantastic light/music show and Shade got to run around, get petted by the church ladies, and people promised to pray for him and our family. It was very sweet.

After we got home, Shade enjoyed a nice bowl of ice cream with whipped cream on top - just like his master! Later, he got a huge blanket nest for a bed, next to Jeff's side, and he slept all night in our room with us (something he hadn't been able to do for months because of the accidents). In the morning, he reluctantly extracted himself from his warm bed and went downstairs where Jeff prepared him a big breakfast of eggs and veggies. Shade gobbled it up!

We took him with us when we dropped Arlie off at gym, then went to the trail for a nice walk in the rain. Shade enjoyed a Hershey bar before the walk, and he had a grand old time sniffing around the park. Back in the car, we picked up Arlie at gym and then we all went to the vet. By this time, there were a lot of tears, doubt, sadness. At the vet, we were taken into a private room and they brought us a blanket for Shade to lay on. He was a good boy, laying down for us, and we snuggled him while they shaved his leg and administered the medicine. A few seconds, and he was gone. We held him and cried and Jeff said "You were a good boy, Shade."

Goodbye, old friend.We will miss you. The house will be so quiet without your Chewbaca-like noises, your incessant barking, and your high-pitched whine. No longer will your ginormous claws dig into an unsuspecting person while you try to be a lap dog - all 70 pounds of you! Ok, so there are some things we won't miss TOO much. But your enthusiasm for walks, short rides in the car, and just being a side-by-side companion for Jeff will be truly missed. You were a loyal hunting companion, even if you wouldn't retrieve. Your sweet face, soft ears and snuggly self provided warmth for all who cuddled with you. No one could do crocodile jaws like you! You inspired many a blog post and kept life interesting, if not exhausting and exasperating. You will be missed!  Good dog, Shade!