Wednesday, November 16, 2016


It's been a rough week, hasn't it?

I have been avoiding social media for the last several days, finding it simultaneously infuriating and heartbreaking, and for an introvert like me, I had my fill of everyone's emotional outbursts.

Back to YouTube.  Cat videos never offend.

I consider myself "apolitical", and I do so mainly by necessity.  With my husband on one side of the issues and my own family on the other, I play the role of Switzerland at family dinners, awkwardly coughing and changing the subject when controversial subjects arise.

For the sake of all of my Facebook friends, I wish they could do the same.  Not because their political beliefs are wrong or invalid, but because so much heartbreak could be avoided.

That friend you just cut down in anger.
Those generalizations pointed in your direction.
A relative you accused of something horrendous.
The pang of hurt when someone called you stupid.

Can't everyone be passionate and understanding?

Cael and Graham would occasionally repeat political soundbites they'd overheard from commercials and had what can only be described as "debates" as they ate their cereal or played with Legos.  And while they were all over the place --like seriously mixing up the details-- occasionally a little bit of insight would poke through.

"Graham, they want to build a wall so that there's a real border.  Like, nobody knows where America starts if there's no wall."
"No, that's not right, Cael.  And that's not what Hillary wants.  She said so in her emails."
"You know, she's gonna be in huge trouble because she sent thousands of emails.  She's gotta be way over on data and someone has to pay for it."
"Who, like us?"
"You, Graham.  You're gonna have to pay."

That's where I jumped in, and where Cael hit me with the fat truth.

"Boys, don't fight about stuff you don't even understand."
"We're not, Mom.  We have way better stuff to fight about."

Isn't that the truth.

Aside from guarding the Swiss flag, I've decided that this should be my new political role.  When I log onto Facebook and see friends arguing, I'll point out one of the many issues that require real debate, like the proper pronunciation of the word "mature".  When politics come up at Thanksgiving dinner next week, I'll artfully redirect the conversation to the raging battle between mayonnaise and Miracle Whip.

This week has been hard for everyone, but it's not too late to start addressing the real issues in your home and with your friends as well.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Shia LaBeouf's celebrity status.
Texting someone to say you're about to call.
The final episode of Seinfeld,  (Or for those that are daring, the entire last season of Lost.)
Fruit suspended in jello.
"Elf on the Shelf"
The sorcery of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers.
Buying Christmas gifts for pets.

Be passionate, but be understanding.  Even good people like Miracle Whip.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Carving Out Time for Halloween

I always got a little offended when people would tease me about first birthday parties being more about the mother than the child.  I still maintain that I reeled it in and didn't let any of my boys' parties become about me, but after this Halloween, I see the potential.

I've somehow inserted myself into Halloween.

HalloMEen, perhaps.

It's just... pumpkins.  I love them.  I love to display them.  I love to have a variety.  I love the smell.  I love the mental image they evoke.  And I really, really, love carving them.

I consider it just another extension of my creativity, just as I enjoy decorating my boys' cakes and creating our Christmas cards each year.  The difference is that, in years past, I would carve a pumpkin for each of the boys depicting whatever animal, vegetable, or mineral that captured their fancy.  They were too young to use a sharp knife and I still felt that this event was completely about their experience.

Over time, however, I discovered that I was kind of good at it.  Or maybe I'm not that good, but I am willing to dedicate six hours to one gourd, so that's got to be worth something.

For the last several years, I've been less receptive to traditional jack 'o lantern faces and more excited for challenged that involve varying depths or textures, which is even more of a feat considering that I have NO tools whatsoever, not even the cheap ones that come with templates at Walmart.

That's right, it's just me, a pumpkin, one sharp knife, and 8-10 hours of red-eyed dedication.

This year I originally planned to let the boys choose a design as I always had, but after helping me clean them out, Graham decided he would rather play outside in the unseasonably warm weather than design his jack 'o lantern.

All good, more for me.

The only issue was that I already had the pumpkin to carve for Adler (who couldn't verbalize it, but surely wanted an owl with textured wings)...

...a pumpkin for Cael, the pumpkin Graham abandoned, and one beastly giant.

I picked him up from a house outside of town that had large pumpkins for sale, and I could immediately envision the outstanding imagery I would lovingly carve into his face.

My first idea was a delicate, script font reading "Happy Halloween", but then I remembered that I'd done that text in 2014.

I considered "Trick Or Treat", but after making the first cut I discovered that the jumbo pumpkin had very soft flesh and wanted to split, so something with curvy, rounded edges probably wouldn't work.

I settled on a large tree, but 12 hours later when I had it finished, it looked incomplete.  I perused Pinterest until I found this photo of a beautiful sculpted leafy pattern, so I modified the shapes to curve around the tree.

The two days before Halloween passed by in a blur of seeds and slippery pulp beneath my feet, but I managed to finish the tree, the owl, a menacing toothy-grinned face, and even loosened my Halloween control enough to let Cael attempt his first jack 'o lantern.

He did a fantastic, smooth, clean job.  I'm probably going to have to purchase twice as many pumpkins next year.

When it was finally trick-or-treating time, I lit them up and stepped back, please with my work and thinking that the results were almost worth the 18 hours of effort.

And even though it was a little less about them and a little more about me, the pumpkins made the smile, so I'll call this a successful "HalloMEen".

...even if it took me a full 24 hours.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Halloween Procrastination

I've had a hard time maintaining a posting schedule lately, because Halloween.

I actually only had Halloween listed as one item on my "to-do" list among other tasks like "send out thank you notes for Cael's party that was almost a MONTH ago", "dog haircut", and "finish painting" (another project that got back-burnered).

It also appears that someone wrote "poop" in shaky handwriting on my to-do list, but I would have to make time for that later, because as of Friday afternoon, my boys had no costumes, no carved pumpkins, and no candy to pass out.

There was time to resolve the latter two issues, but the boys were pretty unhappy when I announced that I would not be purchasing costumes this year, and they would have to come up with a plan using materials we had on hand.

We spent literal hours googling "last minute costume ideas".  No thanks, I don't want my nine year old son to be a sexy pirate!

We tried "last minute costume ideas FOR KIDS".  Who has 20 feet of extra sofa batting and a gallon jug of aubergine glitter?

Okay, maybe we'd have better luck with "EASY last minute costume ideas FOR KIDS".  Sure, that cardboard box vending machine was cute, but it was too late in the game to construct a 6-piece harness.


Finally.  Our final search yielded two results: a lumberjack and an iPad.

Graham latched on to the iPad idea, and Cael was ready to channel his inner lumberjack as soon as I agreed to draw him a beard for trick-or-treating.

He really is his father's son.

It was easy enough to pull off this look with a plaid flannel shirt, jeans, some suspenders ( I did break down and buy these), a beanie, and a plastic axe that actually came with a store-bought fireman costume from a few years ago.

Graham's would be harder to execute, but as soon as I had the image in my head, I started to get excited.  I cut up an old computer box, spray painted it with some metallic spray paint I already had on hand from that painting project I had put out of sight and out of mind.

Unfortunately, it has also put me out of hardware.

I covered the front of the cardboard with some black posterboard, measured and printed out some app icons for the iPad screen, and glued them on in the proper position.  A few more details like the battery and signal strength gauges pulled it together, and I was finally able to sleep knowing that I could throw any old costume on Adler.

When the time came for trick-or-treating last night, I was proud to see my kids so happy, excited, and sufficiently costumed for very little money.

And the money was a very important part, because not only had I not forgotten about the pumpkin carving, but I went a little overboard.

Check back tomorrow for a photographic explanation of my orange hands...

Thursday, October 27, 2016

OCD (Out of Character Disorder)

"Mom, you're like totally obsessed now."

I'm really not, or at least I don't feel like I am.

I don't know if my psychology degree is to blame, or the hours I spend thinking and analyzing everything from my kids' behavior to my own, but over the years I have become pretty self-aware.  I know all of my idiosyncrasies and the ways I can be overly sensitive, or predict the precise moment a specific event will tip my emotional scales from fairly balanced to someone-get-her-a-stiff-drink.

It's this awareness that helped me realize that I have a one-track mind when it comes to the things that I enjoy.  Obsessive-compulsive interests, if you will.

I've done this my whole life.  When I was in high school, Alanis Morrisette became very popular, and despite the fact that I couldn't identify with her angry lyrics, I was hooked.  I knew every word of every song.  I knew about the artist herself-- where she grew up, how she liked to style her hair (which I may have attempted myself a time or two) and spent the better part of a year wishing I'd been so lucky as to have a hit album rather than frizzy hair and thick glasses.

This happened in college with just about any Tom Hanks movie.  It happened a few years ago with the Hunger Games book series, despite the fact that I am, in fact, a grown-ass woman.  It happened when I rediscovered "Whose Line Is It Anyway" and was able to find every old episode that ever existed and spent a good two years memorizing most of them.  I even got to see a couple of the guys on their comedy tour and sat in the front row.

Apparently I'm a media superfan.  I'm super into the things that interest me.  I am not, to be clear, of the fan variety that mails locks of my hair to celebrities or pins their photos to my bathroom mirror.

Earlier this summer, after I exhausted myself re-watching the entire "White Collar" series for the fifth time, I saw a commercial advertising the next season of "The Voice", and it reminded me that I had never set my new DVR to record the upcoming episodes.  I have always liked singing competitions, and last winter I leisurely enjoyed watching Jordan Smith absolutely dominate all of the other artists, and was happy when he won handily.  I forgot all about the show and the season that aired last spring, so I thought it would be fun to start watching again.

And it has been.  The kids have gotten involved too, choosing their favorite contestants and campaigning for them to be chosen or stolen, and have begun asking about the coaches themselves.

"Who is Adam?  I mean, why is he famous?"

"He's the lead singer of a band called 'Maroon 5'.  You'd know a lot of their songs, I have them playing in the car."

"Who are Alicia and Miley?"

"They are singers, too.  All of the coaches are.  You might know a couple of Alicia's songs, and you've heard Miley's 'Wrecking Ball'."

I'm not particularly proud of that iTunes purchase.  We'll gloss over it, mmkay?

"Play something you have of Blake Shelton's, Mom."

No, nope.  I don't own any of his songs because I DON'T DO COUNTRY MUSIC.  Never have.  My disdain for country music has been as much a part of me as my name or the color of my eyes.  But with my two boys looking up at me without judgment for having watched the same seven episodes of "The Voice" on repeat for two weeks, I couldn't shut down their request.

"I don't really like country, but I'll find something on YouTube so you can hear what it is like."

And that's when my interest "disorder" took on a new and very weird twist... I started to like Blake's music.  I bought the song the boys liked the most and played in the car for them.  YouTube led me to others that I enjoyed and then later loved, and before I knew it, I'd purchased 19 of his not-so-twangy songs that have been on (you guessed it) nonstop loop.

I feel like a fish out of water.  If I like country music, then should I question all of the other things I believed about myself?  Tomorrow will I give up coffee and start homeschooling my kids?  Will I begin eating pickles and book a hot-air balloon ride?

"Mom, you're like totally obsessed now."

Maybe I am.  Maybe I'll be watching old seasons of "The Voice" for the next six months while wearing a cowboy hat and a plaid shirt.  And maybe there's just one more thing for me to do.

Just kidding.  Maybe if my hair looked like Alanis Morrisette's...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Big Wheel Keep On Turning

"Hello, Mrs. Foreman.  This is the principal at the elementary."

Uh oh.  Can anything good start with that?

Maybe if you're the mother of little girls with pink painted fingernails and pillowed reading corners, yes.  Maybe even if you're the mother of that variety of boy that prefers digging quietly in the dirt or chasing earthworms and dragonflies.  But I'm not.

I held the phone as I looked around my living room.  Shoes everywhere.  Sixteen legos strategically placed around the sofa, just waiting to be stepped on.  Bits and chunks of paper that I already know once read "fart poptart" before being ripped up before leaving for school in the morning.

No, a call from the principal only means trouble.

I tried to imagine the different ways this could play out.  

"We're afraid your son has vomited on six other children.  Wait... seven."
"Ma'am, your son de-pantsed a boy on the playground that disparaged the St. Louis Cardinals."
"Did you instruct your children to start a poker ring during recess?"

I definitely didn't expect what I heard next.

"I'm just calling to let you know that Graham was nominated by his teacher as our "Rockstar Student" of the week.  He was chosen for being kind to other students and always following directions.  As part of this, he got to visit with me, I tweet out his photos, and we make a phone call home so that you can chat with him.  Would that be okay?"

"Of course!"

I was surprised, but Graham must have been even more shocked, because as awkward as he is on the phone, his responses were even more stilted than I expected.

"Grammy, I'm so proud of you!"


"Are you excited? Your teacher chose YOU!"

"I guess."

"I love you!"


"And do you love me?"

"Uh huh."

"I've always thought you were outstanding, but it sounds like everyone else does, too.  Doesn't that make you feel good?"


"I'm still really proud of you!"

"Yeah.  Bye."

It's probably for the best that they weren't awarding eloquence yesterday.

Graham has always been my easiest, my gentlest.  But he is also a bit of a wallflower, and not one to stand out in group settings and preferring to be one of the crowd.  And while this distinction obviously made him a bit uncomfortable, I'm so glad he got to feel the heat of the spotlight for a bit.

Because when he gets home, he's still picking up those legos.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Book of Expletives

Apologies for the extended absence.  For the last week and a half I've been toggling between preparing for Cael's ninth birthday party with ten friends, recovering from said party, and most recently, shouting in anger at my various devices as they all unify to tell me that my camera's memory card has been somehow corrupted and ALL OF THE PHOTOS are irretrievable.

I'll share the details of the party eventually.  I'm just not ready to speak of this unfairness yet.

You can imagine how quickly I accepted when Joel suggested a mid-week date night to go see "Book of Mormon" at the University of Iowa's brand new auditorium.  I needed some time away, am never one to turn down a dinner out, and all I knew of the show was that it was funny.  I needed some funny, so it was a match made in heaven.

After dinner and a long walk from the recesses of the parking lot, we finally reached our seats in the nosebleed section (all we were able to snag on opening night).  We settled in and chatted with the stranger in the seat next to me whose quick analysis of the asymmetrical overhead lighting and its ability to "create balance in the space" told me that this was, in fact, one of those theater lovers, so I shifted toward Joel and avoided eye contact.  I'm much too introverted for snooty small talk on a Tuesday night.

Within a few minutes the show began, and from the very start it was entertaining.  The singing was great, the characters were very identifiable, but it is SO.  SO.  INAPPROPRIATE.

Ya'll, it's hilarious.  It's shocking.  It's going to send us all to hell for sure.

Since they don't allow photography during the show, I have no visual evidence to show you what went down, but I dug around on the internet to get some comparable examples.

Throughout the majority of the show, I looked like this:

Many of the older women in the audience looked like this:

And pompous theater guy next to me was clearly struggling between being offended and trying to maintain proper theater decorum.

See this photo?  There were about as many "F" bombs in this performance as there are grains of sand on that beach.

And after belly laughing at it a mere four days after our friendly neighborhood Mormons actually knocked on my own door, I'm quite confident I'll be spending eternity in a spooky Mormon hell dream of my own in about 45 years.

But the predominant feeling of the evening was complete discomfort at having to experience this show in close proximity to so many strangers.  It took me back to when I was in sixth grade, and shortly after my mom had died.  Two of my favorite former teachers offered to take me and my best friend to a movie as a kind gesture during a hard time.  The most popular movie in the theaters was "Forrest Gump", and I was thrilled to be seeing it with my friend on one side and my school teacher on the other.

That is, until Jenny took her bra off, and my face felt as hot as that fiery scene above.

Turns out, 22 years have passed and I am not beyond blushing like a fifth grader.

(Check out the opening scene of the show as performed at the Tony's a few years back... I promise it's safe.)

So in conclusion, if you can handle a round of Cards Against Humanity, you're probably tough enough, but if you're timid around vulgarity, steer clear.  Because it's hilarious.  It's shocking.   

And it's sending me to hell for sure.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sweet and Seven

Let's call this period of time "Ego Week".  It's actually 16 days to be accurate-- the day after Graham's birthday to the day before Cael's, during which time Graham is only one year younger and still riding the high of new presents.

For such a sensitive and sweet boy, he knows how to milk an advantage.

Graham's birthday is always a bit of a challenge.  When asked for gift ideas, he makes suggestions for cheap, meaningless items like "bubbles and balloons" or for things that don't exist, like "Nikes that are purple but say 'BOY' on them so people know they're not girl's shoes".  In short, it's up to me to find things that he will enjoy and make the experience special for him independent of the gifts themselves.

That was my biggest challenge this year.

I did get the bubbles and balloons.  I also got a some books and art stuff, a couple of small Lego sets, some fun bike accessories, and passed on a few ideas to my family.

And then it was time to make a cake.

You guys, I had the hardest time mustering up any motivation this year.  Perhaps it was because Graham had requested a Minecraft cake and I was not particularly excited or inspired by the subject matter, but from the moment I started baking, I just couldn't get invested, and that really hurt me in the long run.  Only Adler was really in the game.

All of the example photos on Pinterest looked largely the same, so I tried to copy my favorite parts from each and combine them into one confection, but my lackluster attention caused me to make a lot of mistakes, like attempting a square cake that was much larger and thinner than I expected and forcing me to bake three layers instead of two, using a whipped chocolate frosting instead of something firmer that would support the fondant, not making my own fondant and using dry store bought stuff, and just not caring sufficiently.  For the first time, I found myself wishing I'd just bought a grocery store cake.

To be fair, it was 3:30am and I had stared, unblinking, at the cake for 40 minutes without doing anything.  Eventually I stuck a creeper and a pig on it and gave up.

But my sweet Graham was so excited and grateful, despite the fact that he HAD to recognize it was not as detailed or as polished as I would normally expect.

And he loved his new shoes even though they were green, because his birthday was first.

Happy Birthday, Bubba.