Breakfast of champions.

A thunderstorm is making a beeline to Indianapolis, so early this morning I went out to the garden to batten down the hatches.

That’s when I saw it- our very first, ripe Black Krim tomato.  It was like the heavens parted and a choir of celestial angels began to sing.

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Tomatoes for breakfast, anyone?

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Wasted Worry.

It’s not news that I worry.  A lot.  I have written about my talent for worrying before.

Critics would maintain that I obsess over things, but if you were being kind you could just say that I over-think things too much.

I get a topic in my brain and I can’t let it go until I have figured out some sort of resolution or satisfactory conclusion.  Sadly, I’ll often stay up all night figuring out just what to say during a possible potential argument with that mean girl in junior high/ overcharging car dealership mechanic/ rude HOA president; only to discover the next day that there really was no conflict and my carefully rehearsed speeches were worthless.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this, Gentle Reader.

Here is a list of things I have spent too much time worrying about during my lifetime only to realize, years later, that they’ve never happened.

1.  Quicksand.  Growing up I always worried that quicksand was going to be a bigger issue in my life than it has been.

2.  Being in a love triangle.  (I seriously agonized over this in junior high and then, nope.  Never happened.)

3.  Learning geometry.  I’ve used it zero times since eleventh grade.

4.  Creating the perfect Academy Award/Golden Globe/Emmy acceptance speech.  Despite the hours (and believe me, when I say hours I mean hours) I have spent working to get just the right tone of humility and confidence I have never, not once, had cause to use it.

5.  Stressing out about my toddlers strangling themselves on the window blind cords.  (I do have a feeling this worry will resurface when I have grandchildren.)

6.  Concerned about predatory divorced women (I don’t know why, but in my irrational head they were always divorced) that I’ve never met possibly stealing my husband.

7.  Hitting my head on a diving board (much like Greg Louganis did during the 1988 Summer Olympics) and then drowning.  And I worry about this knowing full well that I do not dive.  At all.

8.  Being terrified, in high school, that my period would start while wearing white pants when I didn’t ever own any white pants.

9.  Scared that a gang fight was going to break out in the lobby of the McDonald’s I worked at during college.  Although, in my defense there was a knife fight once, so it wasn’t too far outside the realm of possibility.

10. Being able to handle all the additional pressure, stress, and complications that arise after winning the lottery.  (We don’t play the lottery!)

Share with me, in the comments, the wasted worries you have had over the years.  I need some reassurance it’s not just me.  (Unless it is just me and then I need some overdue therapy.)

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Flashback Friday: Summer Vacations

This morning I was going through old pictures, trying to find a nice summer time photo from my youth.  I ran across this one and my first thought was, “I LOVED that green, blue, and white stripped shirt!”  My second thought was, “Best vacation ever.”

scrapbook (4)I remember it was our family’s first summer vacation that wasn’t spent visiting relatives.  Instead, my mother packed us all up (a herculean feat, no doubt) and we drove to Wisconsin Dells to ride the Duck Boats.

We took our time and camped along the way, in a borrowed trailer, at various state parks where we’d swim in lakes and play at playgrounds.  We also stopped at any roadside attractions that caught our attention.

The photo above was taken at Storybook Gardens, a place where characters from nursery rhymes and fairy tales walked among the public while we stood in line to get on kiddie rides.  In the bags my sister and I are holding are the charm bracelets we got with the park’s name on them.  I remember thinking I’d grow up and work there as Little Red Riding Hood, because she not only got to wear a cool red cloak (which would match my charm bracelet perfectly), but she also got to walk around with a big dog.

(Storybook Gardens closed a few years ago, claiming that the newer generation no longer knew these stories and nursery rhymes so the park was no longer relevant.  This quite broke my heart on several levels.  My daughters will never have Little Red Riding Hood aspirations now because a bunch of negligent parents can’t read bedtime stories to their offspring.)

I also remember visiting a place called The House on the Rock.  From my childhood perspective, this place was like an underground, creepy Smithsonian.  Everything was dark and damp smelling with odd eclectic displays everywhere.  The little room with all the porcelain dolls was particularly traumatizing to my young psyche.  Their little painted eyes followed me wherever I went.

(This place is still open and larger than ever.  I am half tempted to visit it again with my children to see if it really is as freaky as the nine year old inside of me claims it is.  But the idea rather scares the pants of me.)

I remember this was the first summer I had my glasses and I spent the entire trip getting used to them sliding down my nose when I sweat.  (And I was sweating buckets in that doll room, I tell you.)  This was also the summer I refused to wear any socks with my tennis shoes, so my ankles were perpetually dirty and blistered.  And this was the summer when I read and reread the book Annie; based, of course, on the original movie that came out that year.  It was the first (but not the last) time I yelled, “Hey!  The movie is nothing like the book!”

What’s the first summer vacation trip you remember, Gentle Reader?  Reminisce with me in the comments.

 

 

 

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I’m a Professional Mom.

It’s early on a Monday morning, Gentle Reader.  (That line immediately makes me start singing Easy like Sunday Morning silently to myself.  I wonder what it would be like if my head wasn’t jam packed with a million-gajillion songs?)

As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, it’s early on a Monday morning (shut UP Lionel Richie!) and the sun is coming up through the tall trees outside my kitchen windows.

The chickens, seeing the lights turn on inside the house, are doing their level best to scream at me with their little chicken beaks.  Bring us snacks! they screech.  We hate this pellet stuff!  We want green stuff and oatmeal and Dorritos!  (Yes.  My ladies have had Dorritos.  Just once.  It’s a long story and frankly I’m not sure I like your tone.)

With iron-like determination I ignore those pesky (yet oddly alluring) chickens to enjoy the few minutes of peace I have before the children wake up and my day officially begins.

Being a stay-at-home mom (especially one that homeschools) my work day does in fact officially begin when the first child becomes conscious.  I hear that slow tread of a barely coherent kid stumbling down the stairs and internally I punch my work card and start the day.

When I hide out in the bathroom with the Ipad to get away from all the Harry Potter questions my youngest throws at me?  I consider that my ‘mandatory union break.’

When I’m cleaning up a child who has vomited at 2 a.m. (because my children rarely throw up when the sun is out) I think of it as ‘overtime.’

And when I somehow manage to go to the grocery store by myself, I call it a ‘vacation.’  Because heaven knows that those family trips with all the packing and planning and non-stop togetherness are in no way, shape, or form a vacation of any kind.  For me, it is simply ‘working while on location.’  Which does make me feel a little bit fancy.

Yet, despite the bad pay (non-existent really) and the incredibly long hours and somewhat unsanitary conditions, I love my work.  I  really do.  When I was younger, I used to refer to my mothering work as a job,  but no longer.  Now, I call it my career.

It is that small change in vocabulary has made all the difference.  When I stopped thinking of what I do as a job and began thinking about it as a career, some amazing things began to happen.

First, right away I began to think of who I am with pride.  When someone asks me what I do, I never apologetically reply, “Oh I’m just a stay-at-home mom.”  Instead, I look them straight in the eye and state, “Oh, I’m a Professional Mom.  Right now my main office is located at my residence, but occasionally I’ll work from the mini-van.”

By calling what I do a career, I have become more confident of myself, as have my children.  When my oldest child questions my decision or ability to make something happen, I now turn to him and state assertively, “Son, I’m a professional.  Trust me.”  And he usually does.

The next thing that began happening when I started using the phrase ‘career’ is that I began noticing all the skills I had developed.  When someone has a job they labor and work, but when someone has a career, they have skill sets and specialized training.

Knowing how to convince an eleven year old girl and a twelve year old boy to agree to something on the television?  That’s some fine negotiating ability right there.  Knowing how to get four separate food items on the dinner table simultaneously?  That is some incredible time management skills.  Being able to make the hard decisions about what activities to put the kids in and which ones to avoid, all without going over-budget?  That’s expertise with ‘upper management’ written all over it.

Being able to recognize my abilities and skills, my expertise, is the difference between being a drudge and being a professional.  And believe me, I am a professional.

I am a highly skilled, immensely capable career woman who just happens to be in a non-flow monetary arrangement with a very lax dress code.

But you can call me a stay-at-home mom.

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Flashback Friday: Reunited and it feels so good.

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(This is one of my earliest family reunions caught on film.  I am the adorable bald baby in the front row.  At some point during this reunion I am put on the back of a pony and apparently lose my mind.  Not in a good way.  I don’t remember any of this, but I’ve been told the story enough so that I feel like I do.)

Over the Fourth of July weekend, my family and I traveled to Iowa for a family reunion.

I am a giant fan of family reunions and this one in Iowa is a particular family favorite.  My kids look forward to the 8 hour drive (because they’re weird and I buy lots of snacks) and they love the fireworks, the good food, and most of all, the people.

I also love all those same things (even the 8 hour drive because weirdness and a love of snacks is hereditary) but most of all I love hearing the old stories being retold by my cousins, aunts, and uncles.

Storytelling is a serious business in my family and we devote all afternoon to it, sitting around the kitchen table, eating leftovers from the day before, homemade cherry pie, and chocolate covered Oreo balls.  Most of the stories begin by pulling out a single photograph to share with the other.

We tell the stories of long ago, before any of us were born.  There is the story of how my grandma and grandpa eloped, sneaking down to Missouri to get married without anyone knowing.  Afterwards, Grandma Hester felt so embarrassed and nervous that she returned back home where nobody knew she had even gotten married until my grandfather showed up a week later, tired of waiting for her, and spilled the beans.

There’s my absolute favorite story of how Dad, through careful stealth and planning, scared the pants off my Uncle John one night up in their bedrooms.  In retaliation, Uncle John quickly beat the stuffing out of my Dad.  My father always maintained that this was a fair trade.  A few years ago, my cousin videotaped my Dad telling this story at a family reunion and my copy of it is one of my most prized possessions.

My cousins and I tell more recent stories, the ones involving ourselves and our offspring.  Stories of sickness and triumphs, stories of dating and marriage, stories of jobs and promotions, and then incredibly frightening stories of college admissions.  (Despite the fact that my oldest son is practically a baby, my cousins warn this day will be here before I know it.  I pray they’re lying.)

At dinner time the talking doesn’t stop, we simply exchange one kitchen table for another.  This one is laden with lasagna and rhubarb pie.  As I butter my second, my third roll, my husband whispers in my ear that he’s going to be sick.  But that doesn’t stop him from grabbing a bowl when the ice cream is brought out.

Even though for 363 days out of the year my cousins and I live far apart in different states, having these two days to share stories with each other knits our hearts together in a way that makes distance unimportant.

Family bonds are real and sacred things, this I have learned.  And they are strengthened even more by the stories we share together.

My greatest hope is that some Fourth of July holiday in the distant future you will find my children and their cousins gathered together around a table as they eat chicken and noodles from my grandma’s recipe and stuff themselves with Oreo balls.

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And then I hope they pull out a copy of this photograph and say, “Remember when this was taken?”

 

Posted in family, flashback Fridays, outings and trips | 3 Comments

An Inquiry into Love and Death

Last night I was forced to stay up far past my bedtime.  It was a book’s fault, of course.  The book was so good that I kept telling myself, “Just one more chapter” until there really was just one more chapter.  Sadly, by the time I finished it was well past midnight.  (How past midnight?  I’ll never tell.)

Once again I am the innocent, sleepless victim of some very good fiction.

The book was An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James (which immediately sounds appropriately atmospheric and slightly creepy already, doesn’t it?)  It is mostly a ghost story set in England during the 1920′s, but blending nicely with the whole haunted element is a decently executed murder mystery and a nice little romance.  See?  Something for everyone.

This novel hit all the right notes with me.

First, all the historical details felt true and accurate.  The author just didn’t describe the clothes or households of the time period, but used her characters to embody the opinions and feelings of the era as well.  The blossoming women’s movement in education, the troubled veterans of WWI returning home broken inside, the tiny beginnings of the modern industrial age are all present in this book.

The murder mystery felt nicely executed to me.  It was simple with a few misdirections and a good deal of mounting tension.  Nothing overly sophisticated or too convoluted.  The suspense of the mystery intertwined nicely with the ghost story, each of them spiraling around the other, building up to a nice climax towards the end.

The love story was handled with a nice light touch.  The author never forgot the real focus of her novel, so the romance doesn’t overwhelm the ghost story.   This restraint, coupled with some strong sexual tension (and let’s be frank, a brief, but solid love scene), felt very turn of the century British to me, and made me love the book even more.

Finally, let’s talk about the ghost.  He was one creepy son-of-a-gun (see how I use such literary terms?) with an equally freaky name:  Walking John.  Which sounds exactly like something a serial killer ghost should called.

The author wrote about the main character’s terror quite well.  I will never, EVER, be able to peak outside a window at nighttime no matter what noise I hear.  And when you get to the part when the dead and decomposed Walking John is crawling all over the house, trying to find a way inside?  Well.  You just call me and we’ll commiserate together at length.

All in all, I give An Inquiry into Love and Death four and a half stars for its excellent writing, its memorable characters, its spine tingling scariness, and its glorious sexual tension.

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The Cure for America.

I think most things that are wrong with America, right now, could be fixed by visiting a Fourth of July parade in a small Midwestern town.  Preferably one of those small towns (in Iowa, of course) that still hangs flower baskets from the street lamps on Main Street in the summer and puts up cheesy, old fashioned Christmas decorations in December.

It needs to be a parade where at least half of the adult audience works with their hands, either by farming or fixing things, so that when they clap for the third basketball team that marches by, you can see the dirt or grease still under their fingernails.

None of the floats in the parade can be professional.  This is important.  The fanciest ones will be flatbeds gussied up with balloons and crepe paper.  The simplest ones will be pick up trucks plastered with paper plates that look like baseballs, while the kids on the team sit in the bed and throw out candy with astonishing accuracy.

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Having the high school marching band is a must.  As are the cheerleaders running up and down the parade route (which is only three streets long) doing stunts for the crowd.

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If you’re really lucky then the public library has their own float, promoting the summer reading program and some loud voice from the crowd (probably a quarterback or former quarterback or maybe even a middle aged blogger who loves reading) yells out above the noise, “Yeah BOOKS!” while everyone cheers.

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There are lots of tractors in the parade (this is Iowa.)  Most are green John Deere models, but there are a few older red and orange ones.  And every emergency vehicle in the town is in the parade as well.  Let’s hope no one needs the fire department this morning.

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In between the drill and dance teams and junior cheerleaders, there are horses groomed and polished to the hilt.  Behind the horses walk the horse pooper-scoopers, which is no doubt the worst job in the parade.  Despite their valiant efforts the smallest little girls in their glittered pigtails and pompoms sometimes hold their noses as they wave to the crowd and march and kick in unison.

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The kids on the sidelines quickly learn that the fastest way to get a bagful of candy is to smile and wave to everyone that comes down the street.  Small tussles and fights break out in the beginning as every kid tries to collect the most dumdum suckers and tootsie rolls, but soon enough things calm down and a rhythm is established.  The kids who are too shy to wave or have perpetual bad luck are given candy from the other kids.  It’s like a small scale elementary school version of benevolent capitalism.

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Towards the end, the veterans and returned soldiers march stiffly together to close the parade and the crowd cheers wildly.  There are standing ovations and catcalls of thanks and gratitude.  Small town people know and respect sacrifice and hard work when they see it.

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When the last piece of candy is collected and the blankets and lawn chairs are folded up, you walk slowly back to your car with a renewed spirit and some re-evaluated priorities.  Your cheeks hurt from smiling, your arm is tired from waving, but your heart is full of optimism.

Imagine if the whole country had that same renewed spirit and optimism.  Imagine if the whole country had a chance to smile and clap for their neighbors and family members.  Imagine if the whole country thought that cheering for the kids on a few sports teams or for the head children’s librarian was more important that keeping up with any Kardashian.  Imagine if the whole country got a chance to appreciate the men and women, the soldiers, medics, firefighters, and the humble farmer, who put their lives on the line everyday to help others.

Imagine.

Like I said, the right small town parade could cure America of what ails her.

Posted in outings and trips | 4 Comments