Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Christmas Letter

I was doing Christmas cards the other night and wondered if I really needed to do a whole "Christmas Letter"--you know where you brag about the wonderful things you did this year (or make stuff up so people think your life is perfect). Most of those on my list I stay in touch with through Facebook (and I'm on Facebook a lot) so they're pretty much up to date on the sitcom that is my life.  What more could I possibly have to tell them? But then I felt guilty--I'd gotten the pre-printed cards that already have our names signed to them and only had to address the envelopes.  So, because of pre-printed cards, and a small helping of Catholic guilt, here is my Christmas Letter to you:

Dear (Friend/Family/Person I haven't talked to in 5 years because you've gotten a little creepy since high school),

This year has been a busy one at the Graf household!

Husband is working hard and growing his company. When he started this he hoped someday to be the kind of boss who takes off whenever he wants.  If only our employees would play their role of indentured servants a little more diligently, but they insist on having lives.

Our son is in his last year of high school and will be graduating in June.  I go between being totally freaked out (Surely there's some essential skill we forgot to teach him?) and relieved that I am almost done being personally responsible for lost socks and missing school books.  Mostly I am freaked out (okay, and a tiny bit sad).

Our older daughter started high school this year and is a little disappointed that it's just like middle school, but with bigger kids. I tell her that one day she will be through with all this and off to college--where her classmates will be just like they were in middle school, but drunk.

The baby of our family turned 12 this year.  She now declares that I am no longer her favorite parent.  She went on one hunting trip with her father and decided that he is also no longer her favorite.  I guess she has yet to find a parent that will let her peruse One Direction videos and funny cat pictures on the internet to the wee hours of the morning.

Last March our older dog developed a cancerous tumor on his mouth and, after some creative financing (to the tune of $2,000), had it successfully removed. He is doing fine now, but I'm afraid to let him do so much as cross the street--we have too much invested in him.

The younger dog continues his quest to capture that spot of light reflecting off my watch face. 

Working from home allows me to lead a very full and exciting life. I now have an encyclopedic knowledge of Washington state sales tax laws and have perfected a technique that allows me to silently chastise the children while on hold with customer service. Giving up on my dream of being Rapunzel, I got my hair cut very short and can now pass off full-on bed head as a chic, contemporary hair style.  In my spare time I write blog posts about a bunch of silliness.

Here's hoping your Christmas Season is devoid of any Black Friday fist fights and your New Year is filled with unicorns and rainbows.



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Off With Her Hair!

Me, Before
Today I got a hair cut.  Not just a trim or a little bit off the top, but a hair cut.  My younger daughter told me it was the weirdest hair cut I'd ever gotten.  My older daughter said it looked too messy in back.  My son just silently looked at me and smirked. 
Ah, sweet words of praise from my loving family. 
My husband asked:  "Do you like it?"
And you know what?  I love it.
Super short hair has never been a dream of mine,  If I had my choice, I'd have long beautiful, flowing locks.  I'd spend thousands every year on special shampoos and high end styling products.  I would sob inconsolably if the stylist didn't give me just the right cut.
I would be Mudder Forking Rapunzel

Exhibit A: Me in 5th Grade
Unfortunately, as the angels were forming all my earthly parts, they apparently misunderstood when God said to give me thick hair and thin thighs.  Sigh.  My tresses are straight, fine-textured and thin. (Please see Exhibit A.)   I have tried every thickening product known to man.  I have moussed, I have permed, I have highlighted.  My hair simply isn't my crowning glory.  (I'm just lucky I don't belong to one of those religious sects that don't allow the women to cut their hair.  It would not be pretty.)

So when I went for a cut today I was ready for something a little different.  I was ready to give up the Soccer Mom hairdo.  I was ready to leave behind all the hairspray and unguents and limp, lifeless locks.  I was ready to let the world see my ears.

And, voila!  With a little help from my fabulous hairstylist, Marielle of Crown Creations Hair Design I now have a cut that says I have cheek bones and ears and more important things to do than mess with my hair.  This hairstyle is generally known as the Pixie and I am feeling genuinely impish.

 Off with her hair!

The "After" Shot

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Offending Friends on Facebook: Finding Forgiveness in Your Newsfeed

Facebook is an amazing invention, isn't it?  Being able to reconnect with that friend from high school, former co-workers, or your second cousin once removed...and finding out just how totally wack-a-doo they really are.

I try to only "friend" people that I would honestly talk to, like in real life, face-to-face, with no modems or key boards between us. And I am always pleased when I look through my list of Facebook friends and  see the wide variety of people I've had the privilege to know over the years.  From Buddhists to conservative Christians; old and young; right, left and center (and a few way out there in the outer realms of our galaxy--you know who you are) they are an interesting group.

So it comes as no surprise that a few of these people's beliefs I do not agree with 100% of the time.  You gotta admit, some of y'all come off as crazy.  But I know there are times that I may come off as a little loopy as well.  (And really, sometimes I am a little crazy. That whole giving-up-Facebook-for-Lent thing probably indicates some serious Catholic school/ internet addiction issues.)

The problem is that some of what we post on the internet we would never, ever say to some one's face.  "You're stupid if you voted for Obama!"  Really, in high school I used to let you cheat off my algebra tests.  "My religion is the only way--share if you agree." thanks?

What Facebook needs is a "Present Company Excepted" emoticon.  "If you like chocolate, you're going to Hell! PCE ;)"   You all might want to work on that one for me.

(Of course that would probably read "If you like chocolate your going to hell.")

During the last presidential election my mantra while checking my news feed was:

  I know these people. Inhale.  I like these people. Exhale.  These people mean me no harm. Namaste.

And then I had to temporarily hide some of their posts from my news feed.  You know, just so I could still look them in the eye when I ran into them at the grocery store.

But you know what?  The kicker is that I value all these Facebook friends because they are unique, opinionated, crazy people  And I have to remember that when I read their status updates about the world economy, gun control or their chocolate preferences (Extra Dark or Die!) they are not judging me, but expressing themselves. I will try not to become offended just because I don't agree with them.

And as a small favor to me, your former Catholic school classmate, your step aunt twice removed and your favorite Words with Friends opponent, please use the Flaming Rhetoric Filter on your Facebook settings (Ok, yeah, there is no such thing, but maybe one of you could work on that as well.)  Remember that your status updates are seen not only by your biker buddies or your fellow Tea Partiers, but your great aunt Mildred, Joe at the bank and me, your favorite right wing liberal friend.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Thinking Girl's Halloween

Last weekend I took my teenage daughter shopping for a Halloween costume.  Sigh.  Just that first sentence can cause anxiety for many parents:  overpriced skimpy outfits designed to make your sweet girl look like a stripper.  The trip was my idea, as too many years in a row she's left her costume choice to the last minute.  One year she was certain she was going to be a goth nerd, had it all planned out.  Then two days before Halloween she asked me to find her a bee costume. 

Plenty has been written about the trampification of Halloween, so I checked out Party City's website for what they thought were appropriate costumes for girls.  Looking under the "Careers" category, I thought I'd find doctors or athletes.  Instead I found:

"Cupcake Cutie"--What do you suppose that pays?

"Miss Demeanor"-- I have heard of career criminals, but they say crime doesn't pay.

And one of the more modest costumes from the Teen section, "Crystal Ball Gypsy"--Now here's a career choice I'd never considered, perhaps because I clearly don't have the chest for it. (And where's her crystal ball?)
My younger daughter is easy--she always wants to dress as something creepy, anything as long as it's not "cute".  We'd gotten her costume (from Party City, I might add) weeks ago.  Zomberina, hopefully not a career choice, but not too skanky, either.  
So my older daughter and I went the local thrift shop to get ideas for her.  The problem is that while she's a teen girl and wants to fit in, she's also sort of a braniac bookworm so she wants to dress as something interesting.  She'd thought of going as a character from one of her favorite book series, Divergent by Veronica Roth, but it's not an easily recognized costume.  Last year she went as Katniss from The Hunger Games and all day at school people asked why she hadn't dressed up.
When we couldn't find anything else she liked, she decided on going for her first idea.  I pointed out that she'd spend all day explaining to people what she was supposed to be.  "Well," she said, "I'll just tell them I'm a Dauntless member from Divergent.  And then I'll tell them to try reading the book."
You gotta love a self confident bookworm.
This is basically what she's wearing to school today, with the Dauntless "tattoo" on her forearm:
Looking cool and promoting literacy--it's what Halloween is all about.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mental Health Mornings

We are on our second week of Late Start Wednesdays and I have had an epiphany of sorts.

Our school district rolled out this new plan just before the school year started, as we were all happily buying items on the school supply lists, counting the days until out little angels were back in class.  The idea is to add extra time to the rest of the school week and leave Wednesday mornings for teacher collaboration. Can I just say, parents don't enjoy having the school schedule tampered with.  When you have everything planned out so you can just get everyone where they need to go on time, it's hard to appreciate any need for change. Since I work from the home this wouldn't mean more than a slight adjustment to my schedule, though I will admit I wasn't thrilled with my kids hanging around the house any longer than necessary.

The first Wednesday on our new schedule I figured I'd get up at regular time and get stuff done while the kids slept--kind of like summer vacation, without the summer or the vacation.  I must mention that I get up at the crack of the crack of dawn--usually by 5:30am--as that's what time my crazy, hard-working, business-owning husband gets up.  Something about birds and early worms, I don't know, it's too darn early.  I don't drag my sorry carcass out of bed because of any sense of wifely duty, but because he is just too darn loud in the morning.  If I'm going to be annoyed anyway, I might as well be up and ready to take a swing at him.

So that first Wednesday I got up with the best of intentions--kitchens would be cleaned, laundry would be washed, my inbox would become my outbox.  The reality?  I lost all five lives on Candy Crush (what human could clear all that jelly?!), checked out Facebook and flipped through TV channels.  Nothing got accomplished, zip, zero, zilch.

So this week I was determined to make better use of my time.  I would exercise before the kids got up!  I would be all done and ready to move on with my day before the school bus pulled out of the neighborhood.  Hard working husband got up and left the house at 4:30am, however, and I have a strict policy that feet do not hit the bedroom floor before 5am.  No exceptions, no way (unless, of course, it involves me hopping on a jet to an exotic location).  So I figured, as I sleepily said good bye, that I'd just stay in bed till 6am. 

Once again, no was body parts were exercised and no work was completed.  I was still too sleepy for coherent thought and it was too dark out for my morning walk.  Instead I sat on the couch and was amazed at the sheer number of infomercials.  (Did you know that Chuck Norris is still alive?)   I might as well have staid in bed.

And that's went it hit me, like a light bulb above my head, a message from God, a voice of sanity in the wilderness:

I should have just staid in bed.

All this time I have felt guilty if I didn't get up with my husband and get something done.  He works so hard and I feel lazy if I don't put forth the same effort.  If I'm not doing work for our company (which I've learned  should not be attempted before 9am when the caffeine has had a chance to kick in), I should be doing something that seems worth trading a paycheck for.

But you know what I realized?  I do work really hard.  Even if everything I do doesn't create any income, it's not like I'm sitting home all day eating bonbons and watching soap operas.  Okay, I'm on Facebook way too much, but the rest of the time I'm doing something essential--invoicing customers, paying bills, taking dogs to the vet and kids to the dentist, grocery shopping, arguing with grumpy teenagers, writing, looking fabulous--all day long.

And you know what's important for good health?  Sleep!  Actual studies by actual scientists show that people who don't get enough sleep have a harder time regulating their body weight. Sleep could practically be considered a type of exercise.

So next Wednesday I will be doing something beneficial for both my physical and mental health.  I am going to sleep in.  And if my husband complains, I will suggest he do something for his health and let me sleep.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

You Don't Have To Go To School, But You Can't Stay Here

"The Most Wonderful Time of the Year", Staples commercial
It's happening--my kids are going back to school!  I have been looking forward to this for the past several weeks, posting funny pictures on Facebook and sharing the fabulous Staples commercial.  I'm worried, however, that some of my friends and family might misunderstand my joy at losing my kids to the system (the school system, that is--my children are not being taken by CPS, though I have threatened it a time or two over the summer).  It's not that I don't love my kids or enjoy spending time with them, but honestly, eleven weeks is a bit much family together time for even the most sane parents.  And most days my sanity is sketchy at best.

Consider it this way:  it's summer and your three best friends are coming for an extended visit--let's say eleven weeks.  You're super excited!  These are your three favorite people in the whole world--they're like family! ;)  You clean the guest rooms and stock the fridge, thinking of all the fun you'll have.

The first week or so of their visit is great.  You laugh, you eat, you remember what great people these are. But then you realize that while they are on vacation, with no worries or responsibilities, you still have stuff to do:  cooking, cleaning, walking the dog, paying the bills, etc and so forth, ad nauseum.  Maybe you couldn't get time off work, so while your house guests stay up late and sleep in every morning, you must drag your tired self to work.  Or perhaps you work from home, trying to fill out confusing government documents and taking important customer calls in the dining room while your friends play Xbox in the living room or chase the dog through the house.  Or insist on giving you a detailed  plot outline of every Harry Potter book they've ever read when you have shit to do.

Sigh.  Suddenly having care-free friends in your house all summer is starting to wear on you.

Sure there are the good times, a weekend camp out or a trip to Pike Place Market's gum wall, but these are sandwiched by endless days of "The cable's out!", "When's dinner?" and "How do you get permanent marker off the dog?"

Your house guests, of course, are having a great time.  They eat whatever they want (Fruit Loops for lunch, anyone?), sleep till noon and shower only if they smell worse than the dog.  Occasionally they invite other friends over (who must also be fed) or ask that you take them to other people's houses (and then come get them up at the drop of a hat).  They don't worry about picking up or pitching in--they're on vacation, after all  You witness their leisurely, sun-soaked days while you're going about the business of real life and you start to feel that maybe it's time your friends went home.  Or anywhere else, really.

You don't have to go back to school, but you can't stay here.

Luckily, the government says all children must attend school and so today I thank the educational system, the teachers and the United States government for evicting my summer guests from their beds and getting them out of my hair for six hours straight. 

As I finish this post, my children are all in school and my house is blissfully quiet.  I think I even had a complete thought.

The most beautiful sight you'll see:  school bus picking kids up in our neighborhood today.

Friday, July 26, 2013

White Water Parenting

Traveling with children always presents a certain set of challenges, but vacationing with two teenagers and a tween has occasionally pushed my husband and I to our limits of the "Fun Family Memories" parents, turning us into "Just Get in the Car and Be Quiet" parents.  While planning this summer's trip,  I tried to find something that we'd all enjoy, but didn't have to drive eight hours to get to, or fork over money we don't have to wait in long lines for over-priced activities.  Or that wouldn't  lead my husband and I to AA.

When I hit upon going to Leavenworth, a Bavarian-themed town in Eastern Washington (a mere 2.5 hours away), I was sure I had a winner.  My husband was excited to go white water rafting, we could invite his mother along, and with the hotel serving up putt-putt golf, a swimming pool and a game arcade, there was something for everyone.  Our oldest quickly voiced his disapproval--he had "plans" for that weekend, complaining loudly and often about the injustices of a family vacation.  Our middle child was unimpressed and the youngest had some serious misgivings about bouncing around on a raging river in a glorified floaty.

I don't care, just get in the car and be quiet.

Our journey started off smoothly enough--having Grandma in the car with us damped down some of the outbursts of teenage irritation.  (Note to self:  bring mother-in-law along on all trips.)  When we got to our rafting trip, however, I started to feeling some doubt.  I looked around at the other participants and noted the lack of children in the group.  I worried they all knew something about this adventure that I had somehow missed in the fine print.  Was this not appropriate for the under 20 set?  Were they all judging me for exposing my children to danger?  It didn't help that our guide, in giving the training speech, was talking about what to do should you fall out of the raft.  Or as he specified, were "forcibly ejected" from the raft.  Um, wait...What?!

Once we went through the first set of rapids (class IV, huge wall of water in my face, felt like I was about to be forcibly ejected), our two younger children began to have a few doubts of their own--younger daughter was clinging to my arm and asking when it would be over--but nothing says family togetherness like fighting a wall of water in a glorified floaty.  We paddled on.

As the trip continued some amazing things took place.  After we passed the roughest of the rapids,  our guide let a few members of our rafting team try out the kayaks.  Our oldest teen got in one and was immediately transformed into a smiling, confident young man who seemed to be a natural on the river.  Our middle child went in a two person kayak with her father and they ended up tipping themselves into some lesser rapids. Once they managed to right themselves, she was no longer so blasé.  This river was the real deal and she'd have to work to get to the end--and she enjoyed the challenge.  By the last leg of our trip, our youngest, the one who had to be talked into this whole thing, was sitting on the edge of our raft, paddling along with everyone else and hardly flinching when splashed or bumped.

I sat in that raft in the middle of the Wenatchee River and was amazed at the confidence of our children and their ability to adjust.  I was proud of each of them for finding their way in this adventure I'd forced on them,  And then I gave myself a small little pat on the back for coming up with this idea (and for having such wonderful children).

Parenting, if you will, is like white water rafting.  You head out on your adventure with excitement and energy, but when you get a look at what you're in for you start to wonder if you're up for it (but by then it's too late).  You hit those first big bumps and you learn you'd better hold on tight and paddle for all you're worth.  Once you reach a patch of calmer water and get a chance to look back at where you've been,  you realize you're a little tougher than you thought.  And you just keep going.

Or parenting is like white water rafting because you do a lot of yelling and praying, praying that you're going to make it out of this alive.
While this is an actual photo of our trip, identities have been changed to protect the innocent (and so you can't tell how much I was screaming).

Thanks to Osprey Rafting Company for a fine afternoon of adventurous parenting.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Serious Business Stuff vs. Important Life Stuff

It is a fact that I have a slightly above average head size, a family trait I have passed on to two of my three children (sorry kids!).  I like to tell people this makes more room for all my brains, but I suspect my husband sees it as a sign of my hard-headedness.  However you look at it, there is one thing of which I am convinced:  there is a finite amount of space in my head and I am guarding access to it like a shotgun-toting father of a teen girl on prom night.

There are some things I choose not to let into my consciousness on principle, like the name of Kim Kardashian's baby, the minute details of Lindsay Lohan's time in rehab or anything to do with the "Real Housewives" of anywhere.  None of these people are allowed anywhere near my synapses.  As Gandhi once said "I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

I am not generally a facts and figures kind of gal ("gal" is a word my husband uses in everyday conversation--it always makes me think of one of the female cast members of Oklahoma).  Any seminar titled "How Algorithms Can Improve Your Life" would be a sure sign to me of the coming apocalypse.  I was a liberal arts major; I'm more about ideas, different view points and no wrong answers.

Unfortunately, there are all sorts of situations in adult life where there are very wrong answers.  My husband owns his own business and I, as Empress of the Office (his Gal Friday, if you will) am in charge of accounts payable/accounts receivable/payroll/taxes/insurance/etc./ad nauseum.  Here, there are wrong answers up the ying-yang and if you slip up some government-type person will come audit you, hanging out in your office/dining room for three days straight, looking disapprovingly at your filing system.  (Or so I've heard.) In this instance I must put my large noggin to work and store all sorts of tax code, procedures and accounting software. 

For the most part I am okay with this--we have a CPA who oversees the important stuff (and doesn't laugh at me when I screw up)--but other times I feel the facts and figures encroaching on my brain cells.  Today I received an email from our payroll company that made me want to pull up the drawbridge and call for the hounds:  "Are you compliant with these employment regulations?"  Huh?  What regulations?  Where?!  I don't want to know about any regulations!!!!

In order to protect myself from this evil, I immediately called upon the Angel Gabriel Garcia Marquez, flipped open my thesaurus (safe, unmolested, impervious) and quoted the first line from Pride and Prejudice ("It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.")  I quickly deleted the message.  Crisis adverted...this time.

What if the minutiae of Serious Business Stuff knocks out of my head something I think is really important?  What if the tax rate in Moclips bumps out the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody?  What if the method to run corporate credit cards through QuickBooks replaces the spot where I kept the plot summary of Jane Eyre??  Could my ability to twirl Double Dutch jump ropes be taken over by my supreme skill in billing air compressors to third party leasing corporations that are being dropped shipped out of state?!?

So I put up my walls, I listen to my music loudly as I work, maybe dance a little, and I refuse to open any email that contains the words "permit", "policy" or "accreditation".  Occasionally I allow my husband to talk business to me, but only if he buys me dinner first and has my mind back by 11pm.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Not-So-Super Mom

Today I realized I'd thrown out my youngest child's important school paper, complained about having to attend my middle child's track meet and turned my grumpy teenager into angry teenager by not agreeing right away to his request.

Sigh...Maybe I wasn't meant to have children.

We all have those days where nothing seems to go right.  The oven breaks before a big dinner party, you stain your favorite shirt before an important meeting, the dog needs to go to the a vet when the check book is empty.  When you're a parent, however, particularly a mother, it always seems to be your fault.  No more juice in the fridge? Mom... Can't find your favorite shirt?  Mom!  Late getting up for school?  MOMMM!!!  (I've often threatened to change my name to something they can't drag out in that whiny tone.  Maybe Bob.)

I realize some of this is my own fault by doing too much for them.  If I never washed their clothes, they couldn't blame me when they were out of clean socks.  If I never made dinner, they wouldn't notice it was late.  If I didn't love them unconditionally, their complaints wouldn't even bother me.

Ah, there lies the rub. 

Who doesn't want to be Super Mom?  Faster than a puking baby, more powerful than a two-year-old's will, able to leap a pile of laundry in a single bound.    But I am normal, everyday mom who wants what's best for my kids, but some days I'm just too human to pull it off.  Or too tired, or "Do you really need sequin shoes to go with your Dorothy costume?"

So I spent a half hour digging through the recycling bin and located the important school paper.  It may be a little wrinkled and slightly damp (and it just may smell like beer), but it'll be signed and turned in tomorrow.  Middle Child agreed that track meets aren't all that fun, even though she likes the practices.  We decided that maybe next year I could just come watch one of her events and then go home to make dinner.  Grumpy Teenager is still grumpy that the decision he thought was a simple yes or no question needs to weighed in by his dad.  This one, at least, will be blamed partially on my husband (and, no that doesn't make it any easier, but it gives me something to hold onto as I face the wrath of our son).

It's a bird, it's a plane...Oh never mind, it's just my mom.

Today's motherly misdeeds were brought to you by Not Enough Sleep, Too Many Details in One Middle Aged Brain and ARGH, You Need What When?!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Swimsuit Season: Terror in the Dressing Room

I did it, I tried on the first swimsuit of the season.  Men cannot understand how traumatizing this is, they who spend their summers in baggy, elastic waist swim trunks. Most women, however, know that feeling of dread as you walk to the dressing room, a variety of choices in your hand--something colorful, something black; something teeny something tent-like.  None of them will fit right, you tell yourself, let's just get it over with. Or maybe you're optimistic:  They're all so cute, it'll be hard to  pick just one!  (Note:  If that's your internal monologue, you are obviously under the age of 21 and your actual weight matches that listed on your driver's license.  You may stop reading this now, as it doesn't pertain to you.  Or better yet, bookmark this post and come back to it ten years and two kids from now.)

My husband and I are getting ready to go on our annual anniversary trip to Las Vegas (read:  No Kids!!!) and I realized all my swimsuits make me look very matronly.  While some may consider me to be a matron--mid 40's, three kids, minivan and the prerequisite wedding ring--that doesn't mean I want to dress like one. I am hardly obese, but with age comes not only great wisdom, but a slower metabolism.  A few parts of me may be a little rounder, and squishier, than they once were, but that doesn't mean I want to dress like my grandmother.

A few years back I read an article about choosing swimsuits which claimed less is more.  The idea is that if you wear the skirted, cover-up type suit you will look heavier than if you have more skin showing.  The article suggested a string bikini, since the fit is adjustable and therefore will not cut into your flesh, causing...spillage.  In theory this made sense and, feeling adventurous, I went to the local Walmart (first mistake) and choose a couple mix-and-match pieces from the Juniors section (mistake #2) and took them home without trying them on (and three's a charm!).  Let's just say these so-called swimsuit pieces didn't quite cover all my pieces.  I then got to experience the joy of waiting in Walmart's "customer service" line to return them.  The next two summers were very matronly.

This year I planned to get into better shape before our trip through better diet (lots of fruits and vegetables!) and exercise (gym workout every day, maybe running).  As happens all too often, life got in the way.  While I am eating healthier and exercising three times a week, this has not budged a single fat cell.  Apparently my body thinks my family is going to set me adrift on an ice flow, so it is guarding those fat reserves as if my life depended on it.  Let's just say I am not what any self help magazine or lingerie catalog would consider swimsuit shape.


So I walked into Target thinking I'd just get a boy-short style swimsuit bottom and maybe a tankini top.  I looked at the choices, which weren't that different from what I had at home, and felt defeated already.  The bikini styles were so much cuter, with more variety and more colors.  And then I remembered that article.  Well, what the H-E-double toothpicks, I thought. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Which is how I ended up in a dressing room in a bikini--black bottoms with tie sides and green and white polka-dotted top.  And it wasn't horrible.  It's unlikely that the pool boys will be throwing themselves at my feet, but it wasn't horrible.  I will probably not even frighten any small children, though I may provide a cautionary tale to those hard bodied 20-somethings.  The way I figure, most of those at the pool will be drunk anyway, who'll notice if I brought my muffin top with me ?  I myself may partake in a blended drink with an umbrella and fresh fruit garnish (for my diet regimen, of course.) so perhaps I might not notice either. 
And there it hangs, on the back of my bedroom door, reminding me every day for the next three weeks that fruits, vegetables and exercise are the holy trifecta of swimsuit season.

Monday, March 18, 2013

If Loving You Is Wrong

Sometimes it's a guilty pleasure, maybe the desire for the unattainable, or just an obsession with a bad boy.  Many of us have had at least one love that we know is wrong, but just can't seem to quit.  I have three.  The objects of my affection may never reciprocate my feelings, and while I know it's wrong for me to care for them so, I just can't--no won't--live without them. And my husband isn't even jealous.

First I will come clean and admit that I love my dishwasher.  Before you start googling "human/dishwasher love", let me state emphatically that this is a spiritual love and not anything base or, ahem, dirty.   Most of the places I've lived as an adult had either no dishwasher or the cheapest model available, possibly purchased on a street corner in the dead of night and very likely from a third world country (whose inhabitants had no idea why we crazy Westerners couldn't just wash our dishes by hand).  One of these could barely even be called a dishwasher--dish rinser would have been a more accurate term.  It absolutely would not wash off peanut butter--this had to be hand washed first and then put in the dishwasher, thereby negating the purpose of this appliance.  The model we have now, a Bosch (which those of you in the know will recognize as the Cadillac of dishwashers) will clean pretty much anything.  I like to test it every once in a while to see its devotion to me and my dirty dishes.  Lasagna pan?  Sure.  Old moldy coffee cup that's been sitting in the back of my husband's work truck for a month?  Clean.  Knife with peanut butter on it?  Hallelujah!  I believe!!  My dishwasher is that love that gives you everything you ask for and never lets you down.

My next love is as big of a shock to me as it was to my teenage daughter.  Who would think that a middle-aged mother of three would fall so hard for the rap song  "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore?  The first time I heard it I was just flipping through radio stations, went past it, then had to go back.  But then I knew:  we were meant to be.  It has a catchy beat, quirky lyrics and will get stuck in your head before you can say "I'm gonna pop some tags." By a Seattle-based rapper, the song and video do not talk about drugs or contain half naked women (which seem to be the staple of the rap world), although I'm sure "your grammy, you aunty, your momma, your mammy" would not approve of some of his language. But that's part of the fun of this song--I get to remember the me that could use swear words with impunity. Now my kids looked scandalized when I sing along with "I'm in this big ass coat."  Thrift Shop is that bad boy we've all fallen for--sure he's fun, but you can't take him home to meet the parents.  Or you kids.

This last love has left me so conflicted, I can barely say it here.  I love Amazon.  While this local company lets me purchase everything from rain boots to MP3 downloads from the comfort of my own laptop, delivered to my door in two business days, I am wracked with guilt every time I log in.  In my former life I was a bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company a well-respected, independently owned bookstore.  Many independent bookstores are slowly being forced out of business by competition with huge companies, who can bargain for higher discounts and therefore offer lower prices.  This sounds all well and good to the consumer (competition is good, right?), but when you consider these smaller bookstores are staffed by real live people who actually have a say in what appears on their shelves (as opposed to say Costco, who has a corporate book buyer determining their stock), Amazon is the devil.  But I love Amazon!  It all started when I got a Kindle for Christmas a couple years ago--I was hooked after the first ebook download. I can read, play games, stream movies, search the internet and then toss it in my purse and take it with me.  The Kindle was my gateway drug.  Soon I discovered all the wonders that had to offer.  Not just Kindle books (which I download for free from the library), but clothes and shoes and toys and and ipod cases and movies and...Oh, I was hooked big time.  But what about my bookseller friends?  Was I being disloyal?  Was I shopping them out of a job?  It doesn't count if I don't order my books there, right?  I'm very likely going to bookseller's purgatory, where the none of the books have spines and you receive 20 cases of  Donald Trump's rewrite of "Pride and Prejudice."  Amazon is that boyfriend that showers you with attention, but treats your friends like shit.

Barbara Mandrell, that country songstress who rose to fame in the 1980's, knew the turmoil a heart goes through when your love is forbidden. 

Your mama and daddy say it's a shame
It's a downright disgrace
Long as I got you by my side
I don't care what your people say

If loving you is wrong, I don't want to be right.




Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Dog's Life

Many of us have memories of a favorite pet from childhood.  My family's dog Ralph came to us when he and I were both one.  My mom said that during my toddler years he would follow me around the yard, guarding me from trouble.  Of indeterminate parentage,  Ralph taught me the unconditional love only dogs can offer.  He made me a dog person before I even knew what it was to be a person.

Yet, if you had told me that I would one day spend what roughly equals a mortgage payment on medical bills for my current dog, I would suspect you'd been dipping into the kitty's catnip.  However,  I recently financed (yes, financed) cancer treatment for a dog who only cost $250 brand new, straight off the show room floor (complete with new puppy smell).

Granted, this is not just any dog.  Jack is a 6-year-old yellow lab who is known and loved by the entire neighborhood. He was named after the dog in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series and the main character from the book I, Jack by Patricia Finney.  As a puppy he loved nothing more than chewing up anything left unattended:  shoes (especially if they were new), the kids' toys (several Polly Pocket dolls lost limbs one summer afternoon) and even the pump hose while it was still attached to swimming pool, thereby flooding  the entire backyard with water.  Luckily for us all, he grew into the best dog ever.   He knows how to sit, spell (W-A-L-K) and when to act ashamed ("Uh-oh, Jack, what did you do?").  He is a bird dog extraordinaire--pheasants and ducks alike quake at the mere mention of his name.  He is the giver of kisses and the healer of broken hearts.  Jack is a good dog. 

So when we found the lump on his lip the size of a blueberry and the vet mentioned the dreaded C word, I was more than a little upset.  I knew Jack couldn't stay with us forever.  Maybe one day when he could no longer keep up with the younger dog retrieving the birds, after our son went off to college, when our girls had grown past the age that a snuggle with the puppy boy made a bad day a little brighter, I knew we'd have to let him go.  But not yet.

My husband's parents were originally farmers.  Any animals they had served a purpose:  cats killed mice, dogs kept away coyotes, pigs were bacon.  My husband always told me he'd never let a dog sleep in our house--they'd be in a kennel outside.  Today our dogs each have a memory foam bed next to the fireplace.  He always said that he wouldn't pay large amounts of money to keep a dog alive--he'd just go back across the street and buy another lab for $250.  Yet we agreed that Jack was too good of a dog to let go without a fight.  And this kind of fight costs roughly the same as our house payment. 

Yesterday the vet removed the tumor, took chest x-rays and an aspiration of his lymph node to see if the cancer has spread.  Now we wait and see if our future holds a dog named Jack.  And while we make payments on his medical bills, we love him and spoil him and let him give us as many kisses as he wants. 

When the day comes that Jack is no longer a happy dog, when going for a walk no longer makes him wag his whole self with excitement, when his body no longer lets him enjoy this life, I will have to let him go.  That is what good pet owners do.

Jack is the dog our kids will remember their whole lives.   He will be the dog that sets the benchmark for every other pet they ever own.  When they come back to visit us as grown ups and we reminisce  about the old days, I know Jack will come up with every other memory.  Remember when we first got Jack and his coloring was so much like Sam's we said they were brothers?  How about when he was a puppy and used to stand on top of the dining room table?  Or how he ate half of that birthday cake and then got sick all over the house?  Now that was a good dog.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

White Girls Can't Hula

(I am a week and a half into my Lenten Facebook Fast and realized that without my addiction, I have lots to do.  Like lots of stuff I wasn't getting done because I was busy dinking around on Facebook.  So, being busy, and therefore exhausted, I also haven't been writing much.  I was determined to get something written tonight, when I discovered this post I started in January and never finished.  Here I give you the reason why I'm giving up my Caucasian Membership Card.)

I recently returned from a family trip to Hawaii and I have come to a startling conclusion:

I am entirely too white.

Yes, it's true--with a ethnic background made up exclusively of Northern Europeans, I spent a week in tropical sunshine and never got more than a shade past pasty.  I have tried to embrace my milky skin tone, but having married into a family of olive-complected sun-lovers does tend to give one a bit of a complex. 

How I look to Hawaiians
While I would have liked to come home with a Coppertone tan, I realized during our trip that it was more than my skin color that pales in comparison to the Hawaiian natives.  It became clear as I listened to tour guides, talked to locals and watched the dancing at a luau that perhaps my personality was also too white.  Have let myself slip into a stereotype of a "typical" Caucasian American?  I might as well been wearing Bermuda shorts, socks with sandals, and camera draped around my neck.  As the locals talked about traditions and local culture, I felt like I must seem pretty bland and boring to them. 

While I don't mean to suggest that being a Caucasian American is a bad thing, let's face it, we don't always embrace differences, which doesn't make much sense, living in a melting pot of a country. (Give us your tired, your poor--unless they speak a funny sounding language or worship a god other than our own.)  We also don't have the best reputation when dealing with native people (smallpox anyone?) or those with skin color any darker than taupe (I'll take a side of segregation and Jim Crowe laws, please).  What did we Northern European Americans contribute to the cultural landscape?  White bread, fast food and strip malls, to name a few. I can proudly say my own ancestors brought you Ballard and lutefisk.  (Ohh, how exotic!)

One of the bus drivers in Honolulu explained the meaning of aloha as "sharing the breath of life" and that Hawaiians used to greet each other by breathing through their noses into each other's face, thus sharing their spirit.  "Haloe", he said, meant "one who doesn't share the spirit."  Apparently some non-natives took offense to strangers exhaling in their face. 

I have decided to be haole no more.  I will breathe in your face and accept the spirit of my fellow humans.  I will learn about other cultures and step out of my comfort zone. 

How I think I look in Hawaii
I will not wear socks with my sandals.

A recent issue of Sunset magazine has an article about the Hawaiian lifestyle, by Kaui Hart Hemmings, author of The Descendants. In it she describes the kind of laid back life style and spirit of community many would envy.  I am ready to embrace my place as a true Hawaiian cousin.

I may have been born an uptight white girl, but I believe I have the soul of a wahine (who just happens to burn unless she's wearing SPF 30 sunblock). 

(In researching the term "haole" I stumbled across an article entitled Haole? The Unbearable Whiteness of Being.  I wish I would've come up with that title first.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I'm with Stupid

It was my great misfortune to be born into an intelligent family.  I am the youngest of five children and whatever nugget of wisdom I came upon was already old news to my siblings.  I remember coming home from first grade bursting with the knowledge I had gained that day, excitedly sharing with one of my brothers my new found facts.  I was told in the most bored way possible (which can be achieved only by an older sibling to an occasionally annoying little sister): "Well, of course, everyone knows that."  I was the youngest, the smallest and knew the least.  No one asked for my opinion.

This did not squelch my thirst for knowledge, but only drove me to learn more.  I became an avid reader, got good grades in school, attended college and got my BA in English.  I still assume everyone knows more than I do, but this just makes me want me to keep learning.

Now, I am no Einstein; there are many things I do not understand.   There are gaps as big as the universe in my comprehension of such things as actuary tables and football, calculus and insurance policies.  However, I try to consider more than one side to any argument, gather as much information as I can, and carefully weigh all facts before forming an opinion. (I also hate to be wrong, which makes it sometimes difficult for me to come down firmly on one side or another.)   I will freely admit to many unflattering character traits:  I am a mediocre house cleaner, at best; I will choose to eat apple fritters over vegetables and wonder why I'm not losing weight; and I rarely remember to floss.

But I am not stupid.

Which is why I feel compelled to remind those on social media  (or the news media, or any particular religious group or political party):  Just because I don't share your opinion doesn't mean I don't understand the topic.  Facebook is a great place to catch up with old and new friends, share recipes and ideas.  I have no problem with you voicing your political or religious views there.  But please, for me, your oldest friend from high school/new acquaintance/fellow soccer mom, don't make broad statements against those who might not share those views.  That political figure you didn't vote for?  Guess what, I did.  That group of people who don't think your religion is the only way to heaven?  Might be me.  People who prefer dogs over cats?  Guilty as charged. 

Am I a bad person because I don't agree with you?  I hope you don't think so.  Remember, it's me, Kristin/Kris/Krissy/KLAG.  We used to finger paint together/skip study hall/stay up all night complaining about our parents/boyfriends/jobs.  Don't you recognize me from over there?  I am not crazy because we're on different sides of a debate. We're just on different sides. 

You can rest assured that I weighed the same facts you did, I considered the "what ifs" and "what fors" and might have come to a different conclusion.  Please do not group me into the "you're either with me or you're wrong" group of those who may (or may not) be ruining our country.  Just because I took 2+2 and got 3+1 or 5-1 instead of 4 doesn't make me against you.  I just see it in a different way.

I try not to take it personally, but I have to say the presidential race was tough on me.  So many opinions being shared so vehemently.  I try to remember that these are people that I know and respect, friends and family.  People who have taken 2+2 and gotten 4, while I was composing an essay on what the number 4 means to me.  I'm trying to be open minded and take it all in stride.

So feel free to share with me whatever you're passionate about.  Tell me how your day was, boast about your kid, promote whatever cause you want.  Un-friend me for my opinions if you must, just please don't call me stupid.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Candy Revolution

I don't know if you've seen them, hanging out in front of the local grocery store in their blue vests, stopping people and asking for money.  They always have impeccable manners and a winning smile, pawning off boxes of candy on their unsuspecting victims.

They are Camp Fire girls and they are out to take over the world.

It seems innocent enough:  young children raising money for an organization by selling mints and Almond Roca--even their candy supports a local company (Brown & Haley out of Tacoma, Washington).  They ask politely and they always say "Have a nice day" if they're turned down. 

I suggest you don't turn them down. 

The Camp Fire organization promises to give young people the "opportunity to find their spark, lift their voice, and discover who they are."  Sounds like a call for uprising to me.  They send out these fresh-faced minions in their badge-covered vests, weaseling their way into the community with their Almond Caramel Clusters and sweet smiles.

The next thing you know, the whole country is living the Camp Fire way of life.  They will teach your children manners!  They will encourage our young people to participate in charitable giving (one local group collected donations for a no-kill cat shelter) and involve themselves in the community (marching in Christmas parades and making Valentines for veterans).

They want your children to spend their summers outside!  At camp!  During these indoctrination "summer camps" your children will learn to swim, in lakes, and breathe fresh air.  They will roast marshmallows and sing songs of revolution, such as Tarzan of the Apes (in which the radical Tarzan proclaims his love for "bananas, coconuts and grapes") or Black Socks ("They never get dirty, the longer you wear them the stronger they get").

Once they learn the Camp Fire way, these youngsters will grow into responsible adults, with a sense of camaraderie and money handling skills.    They will become community leaders and contributing members of society.  They will possess the secret of the Creamy Smooth Mint Patties.  There will be no stopping them.

What can we do about this coming coup?  I suggest you stop politely when approached by the Children of the Blue Vest, ask what they recommend, and then open your wallets to them.  They will remember those who've supported their cause and will find room for you in their brave new world. 

And when you see that other subversive group, the Girl Scouts, peddling their cookies next month, give 'em a wink and the secret hand shake.  Tell them the Camp Fire Girls sent you.

(The Camp Fire organization is made up of both girls and boys, but I 've only come to know the female of the species.  My apologies to the young gentleman revolutionaries for excluding them.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hollister Knows Breast

Recently at a Houston mall some moms got into trouble with the mall cops for breastfeeding their babies at a Hollister store.  If you're not familiar with the Hollister chain, it's where anorexic teenagers with too much money go to have their hearing damaged--oh, and to buy clothes.  When you walk into the store you will notice two things:  it is too dark to see the clothes and too loud to hear what the sales clerk is saying.  "I think she just welcomed me to the store.  Or did she say I was too fat and old to shop here?"  Just smile and nod...

Which makes me wonder why anyone would want to feed their baby there.  It is loud and dark and full of sulky teenagers.  How can this be healthy?  They may be well fed, but you will probably have to teach them sign language.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am all for breastfeeding.  I successfully breastfed three babies past the age of twelve months.  I often fed my babies in public and was never once asked to leave or given a dirty look.

Why, Kristin, how is it you managed to give your baby the best choice in nutrition, at any time of day, without having to stage a militant rally? 

Umm...I didn't flash my boobs?

Before you had children, did you walk though public places with your breasts hanging out or did you keep them in your shirt?  (Spring Break freshman year doesn't count)  Why is that once you reproduced the rules changed?  The pictures these women posted on Facebook of their Nurse-In shows several side-boob shots (okay, also seen at every major awards show) and several full boobie shots with baby attached to the end (kind of like a baby pastie).   

I understand the argument these women make.  Breastfeeding is not dirty--they should be allowed to feed their babies any place and not have to huddle in a smelly public restroom.  When my children were newborns, they ate so often it sometimes seemed that I should just leave the darn things out.  And I know some babies resist being covered with a blanket, but if you can't be discreet perhaps it's time to rethink the breastfeeding-in-public thing.  Or move somewhere that's a little more comfortable with bare breasts, like Rio De Janeiro, or some place featured in the old National Geographic magazines.  (And honestly, Honey, the girls don't look quite as good as they did freshman year.)

The thing that bothers me the most about these stories is it makes breastfeeding mothers look like some sort of weird, new-age hippie freaks.  (You know, like Alicia Silverstone or Mayim Bialikok.)  I never chewed my children's food for them, nor did I carry then around twenty-four hours a day until they were bigger than me (and I had developed a herniated disc).  And I say once a child can sit up at the table and order for themselves off the menu, it's definitely time to wean them. 

Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience for both mother and child.  But not for the others shoppers at the mall.

The funniest thing about this story would have been the reaction of the Hollister employees to a nursing woman. ("OMG!  That lady has her boob out!  Eww, totally gross!")  The store manager asked the woman to leave, telling her she couldn't do that on Hollister property.  She told him
"It’s Texas. I can breastfeed anywhere I like."  Apparently hungry teenagers in over-priced clothes are outside the jurisdiction of the state of Texas, as the manager informed the woman "Not at Hollister." 

Ah yes, Hollister does know breast.

(Spell check didn't like how I spelled "boobie."  Too bad, spell check.  Boobie, boobie, boobie.)