Friday, July 31, 2015

On this, the last day

I don't have anything particularly newsworthy to bemoan or bemirth about today, so I'll just put down a few random bits on this, the last day of weekday summer before the boy heads back to the realms of full-time employment. 

Before I get too caught up in a whole bunch of not much, I'm currently working through Go Set a Watchman, which (SPOILER ALERT), now you know what my next post is going to be about.  I'm turning into all book reviews all the time now, it seems.

So the girls have become caught up in Jake and the Netherland Pirates, which means that my new nickname is Scurvy Dog.  Alright then.

The boy has been going back and forth with an online company for a new set of glasses.  Certainly, we can pick our frames out in person, but he's been less and less thrilled with the options that have been available the last time or two when he has switched things up.  But then again, when we're sniffing out free frames, we need to be mindful of not always getting our cake, too.  But, and get this, I convinced him to go with a hipster pair of BLUE frames.  And they came today.  And they're really BLUE.  And it just emphasizes how much he needs a haircut.  I could write a weepy saga tale about his emotional investment in finding a slick new set of eyeware, but that's really his story.  Plus, it's less than interesting.

But, like I mentioned, the boy goes back to his full-time gig, which is going to significantly hamper my work time for the next 10 months.  So I'll be switching back to largely a night owl worker, and I have to admit, that just works with my personality.  On the nights when I don't have work to do and I'm faced with an hour or two of unscheduled activity time, I'm a bit on the nutsy side: Should I make something in the kitchen?!  Would I really waste my time reading?!  Maybe I'll find somethinganything (!) to watch because obviously I have too much time on my hands and I don't know how to fill this void!!!  It's unsettling.

Next week is going to feel a lot like wehavetoomuchtimeonourhandsandit'sdrivingusalltothebrink(!!!) unless I morph into cruise director mode.  And so there will be day trips galore, some time spent on Google Maps finding new parks and bakery/coffee shops, and something like trips to three different zoos.  (I challenge that notion of being the Scurvy Dog.)

And finally, pseudo-speaking of cramming everything into a short amount of time, we seem to like trying to make heavy financial decisions or house overhauls in the last waning days of vacation time.  Summer 2015 is ending with figuring out which impossible options are best for refinancing This Olde House and finding my next car.  Here's something that would be significantly helpful in making choices such as these: being able to see the future.  (That would also be quite helpful in deciding how to best save for eking our kids through the weep-worthy cost of their college educations 'cause if you already knew that they would be working through a 2-year program at the local community college versus, say, the private college choices that we both made, that would make a considerable difference in how we thought about saving.  I get now why my dad kept urging me to consider the University of Hawaii; if I'm going to shelling out for the Big Time, then I might as well get a sweet vacation out of it once a year for Friends & Family weekend.)  The only thing that makes these never fun decisions 100% worse is trying to do them while juggling work schedules.  Gag.  Me.  Thoroughly.

I know that I already said "And finally..." but that was a bummer of a way to end this mish-mash of little consequence.  So I'm going to repeat it and try again.  And finally, I made my annual PIE and it is pretty much everything about why I do not enjoy making or eating PIE.  But the boy does enjoy at least the idea of PIE (any kind, really).  And his birthday is coming up, so...there we go.  PIE.  It needs to get outta my fridge so I can replace it with a more worthy effort, namely, BIRTHDAY CAKE.  Cheers to that.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: The Royal We

I keep hearing a lot of chatter in the recent months about The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.  I'm down with a good fairy tale story as well as a bit of British wonderlust.  Heck, I watched that royal wedding at whatever 6 a.m.-ish hour of the day it happened.  And, I just worked through two heavy but significant modern interpretations of World War II atrocities.  Sometimes, you just need to fall a bit mindlessly into some good book candy.

The Royal We was not it for me.

I really wonder how so many are recommending this one.  As a society, are we this in love with saccharine glop and basic mush that wholly lacks depth?  Are we entirely ruined by re-tellings of what many argue are the same handful of plot lines in the entirely political business that is Hollywood?  It must be so, else why would anyone believe that this 456 page book has any value?

Come back again when it's been pared down to some purpose in 250 pages. 

There's an unlikely story, and then there's a so-completely-farfetched-that-we're-really-dealing-with-complete-and-utter-fantasy-housed-under-the-guise-of-a-romantic-fling.  It's ludicrous.

The heroine:  Is she beautiful?  It's hard to believe so.  If she's not, then why would this uber bachelor prince have any romantic desire about her?  Before you call me out here for reverting to gender stereotypes and shallow misconceptions, hear me out.  If the entire work is going to be based on beautiful people doing beautiful people things, then the heroine had very well better be beautiful.  She truly reads as nothing more than average other than when she's all tarted up after the seven year romance ultimately has led to the massive heirloom ring. 

The hero:  He's not that likeable.  And furthermore, there are oh so few characters in the book who really are.  Again, if you're going to weave a wistful fairy tale romance, there's some understanding that we're supposed to like these main characters.  (And I'm not talking about the guy who ultimately turns out to be the protagonist.  But riddle me this...he's no more disagreeable throughout than any of the others until he finally reveals his blackest soul in the 11th hour.  Too little too late to separate him from the pack.)

The story line:  Come flippin' on.  Iowa girl skips across the pond for a semester from Cornell to Oxford to study art history not realizing that she was moving onto the very same dorm hallway as the Prince William character.  Not only was she utterly oblivious (oh, but it made her so charming and bumbling!), but no one on the British side happened to mention it either.  Well of course.  Please, random American: Come live across the hallway from one of the most protected British citizens and we're not going to tell you because why would we?  Why indeed. 

The royal family: The authors chose to use all actual royals until Queen Victoria/Prince Albert and then alter the names but otherwise keep the same persons as the actual royal family.  For example, Queen Elizabeth = Queen Eleanor, Prince Richard = Prince Charles, and Prince Nicholas = Prince William.  Somehow Princess Kate turned into the aforementioned oft drunk, Cubs-loving random girl from Iowa.  (Sorry, Princess Kate!)  The royal family characters read of the authors' imposed characteristics based largely off of the rubbish that is often published in trashy rags about the actual people.  Those are the same trashy rags that these same authors try to lambast in the novel.  If you're going to spin a fictional tale, then start with fictional characters rather than your limited interpretation of actual persons. 

The ending:  I understand what the authors are trying to do by ending this book as they did (452 pages...452 pages...452 pages), but they essentially end with a cliffhanger.  'CAUSE THEY COULDN'T FINISH THE STORY IN FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY-TWO PAGES?!?  Oy vey.

In summary:  It's largely a pretty lame story line, heavily (heavily) reliant on cliches from start to finish, and has little imagination.  However.  Some people like that.  Those people also throw down $9 or more to watch sub-par movies with some frequency, I'd hazard a guess.

If you're feeling up to this royal romp, you might want to do so with several of the same drinks that are so heavily flowing throughout this behemoth of a non-story.  It might not help, but it surely wouldn't hurt. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Working on the puzzle (in elephant undies)

It's only taken me TEN years to figure this out (and I can't believe that I never put forth the effort before): It is worth it to my general happiness and ability to tolerate others to have work time to myself on a consistent basis outside of the house.  I dare say that I am less snappy and more happy.  It can be a pain to try to coordinate everyone's schedules so that I don't feel skittish about disappearing for 3 or even 4 hours a day, but every day has been worth it.  Every single day. 

And proof positive that I'm not indispensable at home is how the girls have been dealing with my relatively large amount of absence.  They haven't cared one bit. 

Of course, the boy has been home with them when I've been gone, but regardless of whether it is during the day or when I am teaching in the evenings, they never care.  My kids are healthy, the boy is healthy, and our family is healthier because I am not always home with them.  Whether the boy is holding down the fort or we have a stand-in adult, the kids never care.  We provide for them foremost by way of stability, and the rest just happens.

Tonight, he boy took the Elder to a pre-season Cross Country meet (for which the Elder has been wanting to pack her snacks and supplies since yesterday, which is to say she's been a wee bit excited and is a girl who likes to be prepared), which left the Younger and I to just doodle around the house for a few hours before bedtime.  Friends...this kid.  She certainly has her moments as we all do, but oh, the snuggles.  She's an agreeable little one who loves her some tricycle action and a sneak attack hug.

We made brownies.  She doodled with markers while wearing nothing but her elephant undies.  She took charge of a new puzzle, carefully consulting the picture in order to figure out where pieces went.  In other words, we had grand times.  And I know that I wouldn't have been in the same frame of mind if I had not taken my me-time/work-time this afternoon.

Good things come from knowing what you need to thrive and taking care of yourself in order to make that happen.  I've been smack dab on the slow end of this learning curve, but I get it now.  Doing what makes me happy is worth it even if it's never "worth" a dime.  I've been so bent out of sorts trying to solve the impossible conundrum of making all of the pieces fit in the puzzle all the while not realizing that one or eight of the pieces have been flat out missing.

But I think I found one of those elusive pieces these past few weeks.  And that's enough of an incentive to keep at it and search out another.  At times I will find myself caught up in trying to find the "complete picture" so I can consult it and find exactly where the next piece fits in to the incomplete mess that is laid out before me.  But in watching the Younger give her all with  a bunch of mixed up pieces scattered before her, she doesn't always see the need to check in.  Sure, she does sometimes, but most of the time, I'm sure it's a gut feeling and a glimpse of a color or pattern that gives her a clue how everything might just well fit together.  What a delightful way to solve a problem: trust yourself, try a different perspective now and again, figure it out as you go, and know...just know...that there's a complete picture that will all come together if you're just patient and persistent enough.   

And if you happen to work at it in nothing but some elephant undies, that's not half bad either. 


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Here's to friends

A year ago, we had four weddings on our radar, and yesterday, we joined in the festivities for the last newlywed shindig.  I love me some weddings.  I love the anticipation, the ceremony, and the almost instantaneous release of tension once the official proclamation is made.  It's pretty amazing how a bunch of a couple of hundred people can all go from hushed reverence and tears to let's boogie all night long. 

For someone who unashamedly skipped her ten-year high school reunion, yesterday felt like just that with a great night of reminiscing and laughs with the hometown crew.  My buddy and prom date from Senior year married an absolute sweetheart, and you could hear the excitement in his voice when the pastor asked "Will you promise...?" and he responded "I will!" loud and clear.  Those are good times to witness.  Who wouldn't want to be part of witnessing those promises made and received?  I DO. 

The wedding was a solid length, not too short, not too long.  The storms more or less stayed away while people were trying to move in and out of buildings.  We were just a wild and crazy couple on the lam since the girls were staying with my parents.  And, my high school BF showed up, which was absolutely great.  We have quite the different life trajectories, which we both knew would happen after graduating, so getting some time to catch up is always great.

And catch up we did.  The reception was held at a banquet facility that is actually divided into two rooms: the eating space and the go-nuts-air-guitar space.  For as standard or traditional as many if not most weddings are, receptions are often a mixed bag with all sorts of creative options available anymore.  The boy and I dug the divided aspect of the hall last night.  How great it was to be a part of the reception but still be able to hold a conversation without also trying to pseudo-dance or yell at each other over thumping music.  So, my little posse took advantage of that.

We laughed hilariously, talked about any number of topics, and compared locker mates from 15 years ago (which, by the way, I pretty much hands down won that contest) for five solid hours.  We figuratively opened the place and then shut 'er down.

We also performed exactly no air guitar, danced not at all, and only got caught up in Journey one time 'cause there's nothing like yelling out some "Faithfully" in the dregs of the night.

(I actually didn't belt it out here since I was sober.  But then again, a pregnant lady was getting down with her angsty self during that song, and we can only hope that she was sober as well.)

All in all, good friends are great to have in your life, whether a lot or even less and less.  You can never have too many of them or too much time with them.

So cheers to the newlyweds.  You're a fabulous couple, and we all wish you many, many years of good times together.

And here's to friends.  Thanks for the laughs.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Hudson's Bands of Hope

Heaven help us, but my child is going to have to learn to allow clothing to touch her precious skin.  She's generally an enjoyable little person when wandering the aisles of the local Target, as we did this morning, checking off items on a list.  And though we tried on a half dozen pairs of tennis shoes of various styles and colors (very important), I'm here to boldly declare that a) I still have little idea what size shoe the Elder wears and b) I'm pretty sure that her feet are different sizes (mine are...probably not that uncommon). 

But despite the generally festive mood that accompanies shoe shopping and purchasing of #2 pencils and plastic folders, my heart has been feeling heavy lately.  A dear college friend and her husband inexplicably lost their unborn son at 37 weeks of gestation.  This is not my story, so it wasn't something that I was going to include here.  But I decided that I will because of an organization that I want to focus on for a brief moment.

An organization called Hudson's Bands of Hope reached out to my friend by doing what they do best: providing support and hope for grieving parents.  The most current information that they have posted states that they have reached 14 hospitals, 34 states, and 4 countries.  That's great, but surely the outreach can be more extensive.

When my friend received her bracelet in the mail, it was postmarked from my town.  And other information seems to indicate that it is in fact a local ministry that has a worldwide impact.  While the name of the organization sounds vaguely familiar to me, I can't place when I have heard about it.

What I do know is that this is a heartfelt and selfless ministry.  I know that there are other organizations around the state and country that work to provide a sense of healing and community to those who have been affected by the loss of a baby or child.  I know that it has already been impactful in my friend's life.    

And, I know that as soon as I finish typing these last few sentences, I will be contacting Hudson's Bands of Hope to find out if there is any way that I can help.  This is the second time this year alone when someone who is near and dear to me has left the hospital without their blurry-eyed babe, and that's twice too many times.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cave people

This past week found us caving in Kentucky in a very small portion of the world's longest known cave system.  (It's really pretty incredible.)  When we soak in some majesty such as this and we get all sorts of "Scientists have determined that..." facts in the process, I'm always bumswaggled.  How, pray tell, can scientists figure this stuff out?  They're pretty smart peeps, I guess. 

(Shout out to scientists everywhere.  Collectively, you're pretty cool.)

Prior to the trip, we got a few "You're taking children through the caves?  Are they going to be okay?" comments.  Well, pshaw.  Of course we were taking children through the caves.  I remember going when I was a wee lass, and they're pretty much set up for families.  It's not like we were chucking them a hard hat, lantern, and pick ax and telling them to go find a new cave tunnel.  There are tens of tour options, and wouldn't you know it but our kids can hack a little bit of walking on well trodden paths.  IN FACT, the Eldest really liked Fat Man's Misery.  (And the Younger was carried a lot because she's in that mood of late, and who are we to argue vehemently when our last tot wants to snuggle hug?)  Even better, caving is somewhat weather proof as you're (obviously) underground and cool year-round.

Which is great, 'cause it rained.  Pretty much all week.

You know that when you're on a trip, you're going to have some unexpected twists happen.  Our first one occurred pretty quickly when we realized that we didn't pack the Elder's sweatshirt.  Somewhere between packing a couple of days in advance and then unpacking the sweatshirt for some insignificant reason, it was never returned to the suitcase.  As a parent, you just want to shrink to the back of the tour group when you all have to slosh through a downpour before spending two hours in a dark, 54-degree cave and your kid only has a long-sleeved t-shirt on.  And the rangers kept harping on "No one get hypothermia!  It takes us a long time to get you out of the cave and to the nearest hospital!"  So the boy ended up giving up his long-sleeved t-shirt for the Elder, which meant that he was not only nice and wet from the hike to the entrance of the cave, but then he only had a t-shirt for the entire tour.  But he's a sport.

Still, we toured, we hiked, and we cabined.  Twist #2 happened when it soon became obvious that our cabin was also housing a horde of mice (or at least one very persistent one).  While I'm not one to over-analyze a mouse's psyche, I do think that Mr. Mouse missed the mark when he moved an entire Ziplock of trail mix from where he found it to buried in the boy's suitcase.  That right there was an exercise in insignificant diligence.  And if he had chosen to bury his cache in my clothes instead, I would be busy shopping right this very moment to replace all of the clothes that I would have had to burn. 

(That being said, we were pretty thrilled with our cabin, overall.  If you're looking to visit the caves and want a family-friendly option, check them out.  Though the lady who gave us the key was on point when she kept reiterating "You're going to be camping...This is pretty much camping...Now, you understand that you're basically camping...")

(I'll take cabin camping over tent camping when the heavens open up for days on end, any time.)

The first night of our stay, we watched a whole herd of white-tailed deer just a few steps away from our cabin's back door.  We crouched by a curious turtle after our second cave tour.  And then on our way out of the park, we ogled some wild turkeys who were doing their turkey business at the side of the road.  Admittedly, I enjoyed those snatches of wild life more so than the scads of cave crickets lurking a few inches above my head in a short, narrow tunnel.  Those things gave me the heebie jeebies with their ghostly white, spindly legs and antennae, and the well intentioned teenaged girl holding things up in front of me a) to take a picture of water dripping and b) to show my children that there was water dripping did not fully grasp my anxiety at that moment.

Despite some hitchy moments on the trip and far too much road construction and detours, the trip is in the books, and we have new experiences to draw on as we remember things like "Pack matches if you expect to use a camp stove" and "A mall is not a fun place to wander around if you're a child."

The next goal, now, is to remind myself that I'm not on vacation anymore and therefore can't justify 4,000 calories a day.  Which is kind of a bummer.   

Thursday, July 2, 2015

B&Bs versus hotels

This past weekend, I was chatting with my sister-in-law, and she mentioned that she had never stayed at a bed & breakfast before, which is our hands-down favorite choice for accommodations.  Right now, I'm eating lunch (at 10:57 a.m.) by myself, so that seems to me that it's the perfect time to wax poetic on why we prefer ye olde B&B over a hotel stay any day.  But I'm also going to throw this curve ball in here: we're starting to really appreciate the Airbnb option (or VRBO, which we've had similar success with).

Okay.  Hotels - you're always my last resort option.  You're fairly impersonal, you don't give many options (typically) in your room set-up, your breakfasts (if included) are nearly always calorie and sodium laden, and you're not kind of expensive for what you offer.  I see how you're working on picking up the pace and trying to come across as all bed-and-breakfasty, but you're clearly still a chain deal.  Props to many of you, however, on upping the ante with more luxe "complimentary" grooming products (the rosemary/mint shampoo and conditioner from a stay almost two years ago still resonates with me).  Be that as it may, you're just not my style.  I kinda don't ever want to see you again, and it's definitely not me.  It's you.

Now then.  Bed and breakfasts - you're the love of my traveling life.  Sure, there are plenty that are fussy and stuffed with kitsch.  I ignore those of you who are like that.  You're rather like the random aunt who lives half way across the country and never visits but occasionally calls and makes you answer "Oh, hi Aunt...Gertie!" as you try to remember her name.  You like that aunt, sure, but generally speaking, you barely remember to send her a Christmas card.  So you, B&Bs, are sometimes a mixed-bag, but there's some glory in that for me.  When the first whisper of an overnight stay comes up in conversation, you can bet your delicious breakfast options that I'm jumping on the inter-web to see what kinds of options we have to choose from.  A lot of times, you're cheaper than or very similarly priced to any hotel options, and your breakfasts are so, soooo, much better 95% of the time (that's scientifically fact-ish).  In fact, I could keep coming back to your breakfasts because we've never been led astray by the promises that you make to us.  They're often h-u-g-e, eggy, bacony, and pastry-y, but in a handmade way rather than a unwrap-an-Otis-Spunkmeyer-blueberry-muffin way (sideways glare at you, hotels).  And when I'm traveling, my money is always on the calorie/sodium laden handmade goods every time.  Because that's worth it in my diet upon occasion.  (Otis Spunkmeyer...never worth it.)  I love your bathrooms, B&Bs.  They're often quaint and homey.  I dig your love of the king-sized bed and big fluffy comforters.  I adore the feel of staying as a guest in a house of someone that you don't really have to socialize with.  I dig how you often use china and good silver for breakfast.  I thrill to the hardwood floors and garden views that you provide so often.  And I love love love how you're often nestled in residential locations rather than situated in the middle of stark parking lots with freeways or a McDonald's nearby.  You are the perfect night-away-without-children option.  If we're traveling with the girls, however, this is about the only time that we encounter any problems with you as it can be hard to find a suitable option with space for everyone.  Despite that sometimes set-back, bed & breakfasts, you are a quality choice, pretty much every time. 

And a quick shout out to the burgeoning airbnb/VRBO option: you're pretty nifty, sometimes.  Unfortunately, you're often kind of a weird choice.  But sometimes (especially if I'm scouting places to stay in cool locales versus where I actually live), you bring up choices like old carriage houses or urban lofts, row houses or converted warehouses.  And you have one major factor going for you, rental-by-owner option - you're the easiest and often cheapest family-friendly option.  Kudos to you for that flexibility. 

Just writing this makes me want to go travel somewhere again.  Money well spent.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

9 random thoughts because 10 is too many

You know, sometimes you're feeling like you're teetering closer to the edge again where you get stuck in this circle of "Life is a bum deal" and "Woe is me" and "Aw nuts, I'm never going to be able to do what I want to do with sacrificing absolutely everything for it...and I just can't do that."  So you impulse buy a jazzy little coffee mug with a reminder that life is good each and every day cause you feel like you could really benefit from that reminder (each and every day, in fact).  You make time for yourself to just write because there's not much else showing positive fruits, and at some point you just need something more physical to hold onto.  And then you find out you won a sizable gift card to the nicest joint in town that just so happens to make a phenom bread pudding dessert, and you're reminded that "This is enough for one day.  This is enough."  And you carry on. 

Feel free to think of today as that day.

Here's what I do know today.

1.  I can think better when I'm not at home with three other warm bodies sharing my immediate space.  I can close the door, sure, but that doesn't keep little hands or little paws from sliiiiiddddiiiiinnnngggg down it in an exaggerated way.  And it also doesn't keep the boy from hollering in my general direction any handful of times with questions that sure, I have the answer to but really, aren't of the utmost importance.  I have quite the difficult time disconnecting from the lives of those other people that I live with.  It's exactly as they say: "I love you, but I don't want to have anything to do with you or even be in the same city block as you right now."

2.  Sometimes you need a comfortable chair planted squarely in front of a big picture window to get anything accomplished.  That's because big picture windows don't talk to you, and there's enough movement to keep it interesting.

3.  When the weather forecast has days upon days (upon days) of rain and thunderstorms projected, it starts to become disheartening.  You feel like it's a joyous day when it's dry enough to mow the lawn.  It becomes something of a military attack, sneaking up on the enemy when it finally lets its guard down.

4.  When the boy wants ice cream badly enough to sneak it in the house after the girls are put away in their beds, you get some too.

5.  Three-year olds like to push your buttons, every single one of them, at bedtime.  At least 50% of the (current or former) three-year olds in my household do (did). 

6.  Dropping $50 on a camp stove is surely a solid investment.

7.  The boy overthinks purchasing a camp stove.

8.  Stores in this (forsaken?) town don't restock sandals once it hits June.  My favorite (and only) pair of sandals bit the dust a few days ago, and now I'm annoyed with my very limited options. 

9.  This feels like a breakfast-for-dinner kind of night.  We need those once in a while. 

And now, on to more writing elsewhere.  Excellent idea.