36 minute respite

I can’t remember last Sunday.

That’s how busy the past week has been.

From work to holiday prep, I readied myself each morning with a quick mental layout of the day to help keep my sanity.

It worked. For the most part.

At the moment, I’m in a brief respite — no one home except the dog… Christmas songs being crooned from the Alexa … and enjoying the newly-assembled holiday decorations. This? Is bliss. It isn’t going to last much longer. Jeff and Bobby will be home soon, and we’ll settle in to watch some NFL for the remainder of the afternoon. They left to meet up with Jeff’s brother at Taco Bell, which we never visit. The thing is, Bobby recently realized he was the only one of all his siblings to have never eaten at Taco Bell. Personally, I’d have worn that feather in my cap pretty darn proudly (no offense TB), but he was determined to try it out. We made several attempts, but plans always managed to fall through at the last minute. Last week, with family over, there was an exchange during which James (Jeff’s brother) waved a Taco Bell receipt at Bobby, inadvertently rubbing it in that he’d never had it. James truly felt bad, and promised to take him on the maiden voyage at some point. That point, turns out, was this afternoon.

I imagine right about now Bobby’s downing a chicken soft taco, chasing it with a Baja Blast.

But for now — it’s so calm. A stark contrast to the last six days. The perfect snippet of time to breathe and think about how truly thankful I am for the things that made me so busy. Today we sent off two of the kids — one back to Purdue, and the other to her new apartment in Manhattan. Neither wanted the short holiday break to end, but they’ll be back in a few weeks for Christmas. Until then, it’s back to the daily grind–work, school, classes–until we’re all together again. The break in the busyness of last week is giving me perspective on the upcoming holiday. I’m a planner by nature, and that fact saved me from a mental breakdown on many occasions. However, I’m going to try setting aside about 20-30 minutes at the end of each day to assess the ol’ To Do list, and stay on track. We’ve got a short, four-day family vacation after Christmas, and I would love to just relax and enjoy it, rather than feel like I’m constantly getting duck in a row.

How do you prep for the holidays? Are there any tried-and-true methods that keep your head above water and a smile on your face? If it isn’t anything too top-secret, I’d love to hear your tips and tricks!

Oh, and if you check in here once in a while (usually wondering why in the world a writer can’t manage to keep writing on her own blog), don’t be a stranger. I’m going to be trying out this space for some creative projects very soon!

UPDATE: Bobby’s full report on his first Taco Bell meal was summed up as he walked in the door: “It. Was. Awesome.” He also came home with souvenirs — three packets each of Fire! and Mild sauce. And, as he peered over my shoulder to the laptop screen, he affirmed he did, indeed, have a Baja Blast, and “drank it like it was his job.”

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On caring and words from the past

We’re a week into August, and down one kid. Three days ago, we moved one man-child into his college dorm; the other man-child moves to his chosen university in just under a week. The two remaining children at home will begin a new school year a week from today.

All the feelings have found me, and there are moments when my emotions seem held together with  a wisp of a spider’s web. For roughly the past six months, friends and I have commiserated, repeatedly asking “where has the time gone?” as we shake our heads, denying that the young adults standing in front of us are, indeed, the kids who were leaving on the annual 5th grade day trip to the dunes just last year.

Wait. It wasn’t just last year?

Sure seems like it.

Sending them off to their respective colleges, we all hope and pray we’ve done our best. That we’ve raised intelligent, caring children. And that caring part is important. No one seems to care for people much anymore. And by “care for,” I mean take care of.  I know there’s good out there, but so much hate is rising to the surface these days. I, for one, firmly believe we all have our own individual purposes to fill during this life. Yet, despite having our own roles to play, we are ALL expected to have care and compassion for our fellow human beings.

John 13:34-35  A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. 

Seriously. I’m not sure which part of this command is confusing to some people.

I remembered a post written a few years back, after a particularly shocking event. I’m not usually one for posting reprints, but given the two incoming college freshmen in our family — and, quite honestly, the state of things in general right now — I felt it was appropriate.

(Originally published in May 2015)

An open letter to my older sons, in light of recent current events:

Dear Boys–

Some of you may have heard about the Stanford rape case in the news lately. If not, here’s the overview: In January 2015, a 20-year old Stanford athlete (swimmer) met up with a young woman at a party, and at some point of the evening he decided to sexually assault her. Yes, there was alcohol involved, on both parts. She was drunk enough to pass out, and he took her outside, behind a garbage dumpster and raped her. During the act, two other students approached on bicycles, and noticed something wasn’t quite right with the situation. They confronted the young man — Brock Turner is his name — at which point he tried to run away. They tackled him and held him until the police arrived.

Last week, he was convicted of the crime, which ordinarily would warrant something like a 15-year prison sentence. Astonishingly, the judge sentenced him to just six months in prison, with the likelihood that he’ll actually serve just three of those six months.

After the sentence was handed down, Brock Turner’s father penned a letter, basically belittling the crime, referring to it as “20 minutes of action,” and how that didn’t warrant ruining Brock’s future.

Needless to say, people are shocked. Dismayed. Disappointed. Outraged.

I am among those people.

Who knows where this case will lead next,… whether or not the sentence can be changed, what sort of changes will occur in the legal system because of it. But I do know that parents everywhere are bringing this story to their children, in hopes of driving home the point that sexual assault — rape — is not something to belittle. As much as Brock Turner’s father pleaded for his son’s future which was now ruined by this paltry prison sentence, he never once mentioned or even acknowledged the young woman’s future. Her future is ruined. Her future will never be the same, significantly marred by Brock’s actions as she lay unconscious. (I have both the victim’s letter and the one written by Dan Turner for you to read, so you can read their words for yourself.)

All that said, I believe you all would conduct yourselves appropriately in social situations. Just to be clear, however, here is the step-by-step procedure I expect each of you to follow, should you ever find yourself in a situation that even remotely resembles this one.

SCENE: You are at a party and you notice a young woman, alone, who may or may not be drunk. Whether you know her personally or not, here’s what you are to do:

1.) Ask her if she is OK, if she has friends with her and where they are.

2.) Help her find her friends.

3.) If she is alone, or doesn’t know where her friends are, YOU are now her friend. Your primary responsibility at this point is making sure she either gets home safely, or stays safe until morning.

4.) If she passes out, you find a safe place for her to remain. Give her a pillow, a blanket and a trash can.

5.) You make sure she is safe and no one messes with her.

I want you all to note that none of these steps include taking advantage of this girl in any way, shape or form.

This isn’t new, undiscovered ground for me, as I can clearly remember partying in college. Surprised? Don’t be. My friends and I were social, and yes… there were times when someone needed to be taken care of because she’d had too much to drink. I even remember taking care of one of my male friends at his own fraternity house, because he started too fast out of the gate one Saturday night, and was a slurring, stumbling mess by 10pm. Granted, the chances of him being sexually assaulted in this situation were zero percent. However, we didn’t abandon him, saying, “He’s in his own house,… he’ll be fine. Probably.” Nope. We got him to his room, put him in his bed (made sure he stayed on his side so he wouldn’t choke if he vomited), and put a trash can next to him. We stayed and made sure he fell asleep/passed out before leaving, then we shut his door and continued our evening. At no point did we think it would be funny to degrade or humiliate him. Being drunk happens, but it isn’t an open invitation to strip someone of his or her dignity, or worse.

You are all intelligent, respectable young men with endless possibilities for future plans. Mistakenly thinking that you could/should take advantage of a girl simply because she’s unable to protest, will ruin lives forever. Plans that either of you had will probably never be realized.

These expectations I’ve listed apply to any situation — it applies to girls you know, and even those you do not. I don’t care if you encounter a complete stranger who’s falling down drunk… it doesn’t matter if you know her. She is a human being, and as such, we take care of one another. I expect all of you to adhere to that standard. We all need to watch out for each other, because there are people out there who feel entitled to have whatever they want, whenever they want it. Period. These are the most dangerous people, because when they are denied what they want, they can become violent and fight for what they feel they “deserve.” I’m no expert on what people deserve in this world, but I know for damn sure that in January 2015, an unconscious young woman didn’t deserve to be raped behind a garbage dumpster.

Always be gentlemen. Always.

Love, Mom

Out in the open

For a while now, I’ve been laying low. It wasn’t so much hiding something, as it was a preventative measure.

Backstory: After seven years in the corporate world, my job was eliminated in December. I actually found out just before Thanksgiving, and my last day was 10 days before Christmas. The timing was the absolute worst, because how do you navigate the holidays with that kind of weight on your shoulders? My husband and I decided to keep this information from our children, so none of them would worry. He eventually shared the news with the two oldest (26, 24); I let it slip one evening while talking to the next two in line (18). After that, I just figured it was probably OK to tell the next one in line (16). The only one we remained quiet around was our youngest. At eight years old, we figured it may not work in his favor to know. Gradually, through overheard conversations with people who kindly inquired about my job search, I got the impression he was picking up on it. About a week ago, he happened to see my husband looking at jobs online on my behalf, and was all, “Why is Dad looking at jobs?” My husband and I looked at each other and I honestly started laughing. It suddenly felt so silly to be keeping it a secret, so we gave him the basics: that mom lost her job… which led him to interrupt with, “Mom, you got FIRED?!” Um, no, sweet boy. I most definitely did NOT get fired; my job was eliminated.

Finally, it felt like I could breathe a little easier. Sure, I’m still out of work, but at least now the entire family had a point of reference for any time I’m out of sorts, moody, frustrated or flat-out discouraged. They get it — and they have been great about it.

I’m a firm believer in all things happening for a reason. That said, while I’m actively looking for full-time employment, there’s a part of me that wonders if *this* is meant to be time for a career change. Logistically, it’s the perfect time. However, given that I’d like this change to include shopping around book manuscripts to agents, acquiring said agent and eventually having a book published… the financial aspect of this career change is less than lucrative. At least not initially. I think many people assume when an author is presented with a publishing contract, that it comes with a wheelbarrow full of money. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

But because this goal has been on my heart since I started making up stories in my head (circa 1976), I feel pulled to put as much energy into launching a writing career, as I am in finding an immediate-paying job. (Note, I didn’t use the term “real job,” because writing IS a real job. It just doesn’t wear heels or business casual.)

So, here goes.

For the past decade, I’ve blogged about family and everyday life –specifically finding humor, or at least a pretty good lesson, in the chaos of a large family. We’ve gone from five kids, a dog and a cat under one roof, to six kids, a dog and a cat. Then one kid moved out. Then we lost the cat, and not too long after, the dog. Then we got another dog, we moved to a new-to-us house, and another kid moved out. We’re currently sitting at four kids still at home, two of whom graduate high school in 12 weeks. Come August, we’ll have a high school junior and a 4th grader… plus the dog. Life moves fast. I’ve written countless blog posts, essays and articles based on happenings in our home. Now, it feels like it’s time to utilize my writing outlet for just that: writing.

While I’m sure the family will still generate plenty of hilarious, blog-worthy material, it’ll perhaps be a topic, rather than an entire foundation. I hope to integrate more of my “work writing” (both creative and informative styles) into this blog, and I surely hope you’ll come along for the ride. I always appreciate and value others’ feedback on what I’ve written. Unless you’re going to say something along the lines of “you suck,” which is not so appreciated and valued.

For those of you who have chosen to follow my blog and related Facebook page, I greatly appreciate it — I hope you’ll still do so. And share with friends. Lots and lots of friends. Because much like my job situation, my writing needs to be out in the open as well.

Seeing is believing

This.

This is my view right now, on a sub-zero Tuesday morning. First cup of coffee down, and one eye on the school cancellation list. Chunks of ice having a lazy float down the river. We’re halfway through January, and while I don’t want to tarnish anyone else’s bright & shiny new year, I have to say this has been two weeks of grief, eye-rolling and the thought “What next?” popping into my head far too often. I’ve spent most days trying to keep my head above swirling water that wants to drag me under. I’ve re-read highlighted Bible passages several times, willing myself to faithfully believe things will get better. But sometimes, it’s seeing a sunrise like this that puts it all into place. Sometimes seeing really is believing.

sunrise-011618

Just Thinking

Driving home from work the other day, I deviated from my usual route to pick up man-child Jack from football practice. (His twin and co-driver, Charlie, is currently in an immobilizer after shoulder surgery last week. He’d already driven himself and Sam home from school, so he was done driving for the day.) I’ll admit, it’s been a small slice of heaven since the boys acquired their own car last spring. My daily Uber-ing was cut in half, having to only pull a pick-up from the elementary school. As delightful as it’s been to let them shuttle themselves, there are times I miss our car time together. We had a lot of good conversations over the years, as I schlepped them to school, practices, games, friends’ houses, etc. Of course, there were also a fair amount of disagreements, flat-out arguments, nit-picking, and other vocal unrest that would leave me shouting, “Not. One. More. Word. From. Anyone. Until. We. Get. Home.” I’ve mostly blocked those instances, opting to recall high-spirits and hilarity that often filled my car. So, having to swing by the high school on my way home made me smile more than eye-roll and sigh.

Taking an alternate route led me past the hospital where the twins were born, a little over 18 years ago. Eighteen years?! As many wise mothers had warned me, those years did, in fact, pass quickly. Lightning-fast, really. I glanced up and saw the window of our hospital room, located just over the entrance. When the kids were younger, and we’d drive by, I’d always point it out and say, “Look! There’s our room!” I’m sure it lost its charm on them as they grew older, but it’s always a sentimental reminder for me. It also makes me recall the exact second I heard first-born Jack belt out his freedom cry, and the split-second of sheer panic I had, thinking, “I am so not ready for these babies.” I remember being back in the room after my C-Section, lying flat on my back, and having a nurse place two, blanket-wrapped newborns on my chest. And then, the next morning when a nurse brought me Jack, while Charlie stayed in the nursery until he could regulate his temperature. He was freshly bathed, smelling of baby soap, and his dark hair was slicked into an adorable comb-over. He looked like a tiny little gentleman, all spruced up to go visit his Mama. Thinking of them as babies, led me to remembering them as toddlers, then pre-schoolers, then school-aged, middle school… and somewhere along the line, they got man-voices, grew facial hair, and shot up to 6-ft. tall. When they were 3 or 4 and I could pick up each one and perch him on a hip — there was a time when I bent over to put them down,… and it was the last time I’d do that. For each of the kids, there was a last time I’d pick them up and hold them in my arms. Of course it never occurred to me at the time, but now? Oh, man… what I’d give to have them be that young again. Young enough to hold and cuddle one more time. Small enough to have them nuzzled under my chin, kissing their duck-fuzz baby hair as they drift off to sleep. If I think about it long enough, I come to understand when people say that their arms “ache” to hold someone.

And it isn’t just for Jack and Charlie; it goes for all our kids. While we are so incredibly proud of each one, for what they’re doing and where they are in life — there’s always going to be a little part of me that wishes back the days when they were holdable. (Yes, it’s a word. At least now anyway.)

When I reached the school and waited for practice to finish, I had more time to think. It isn’t a luxury I have very often, so I turned off the car, enjoyed the late afternoon sun and let each memory lead to the next. Thinking “in the now” almost 100 percent of the time is crazy and chaotic. What needs done today? Where do we need to be? What do I need to do for tomorrow? Next week? Next month? And while my brain is buzzing with all these “thinks,” all the memories get pushed aside, boxed up and, eventually, stacked neatly somewhere in mental storage. Then, all it takes is a few minutes of peace, or the visual prompt of a hospital room window, to tip over those boxes, spilling memories all over the place. And unlike dealing with spills in real life, I’m happy to go slow about the clean-up… and sit… just thinking.

 

Quiet Day Reboot

A morning when I can sit and write, dog curled up on my left and coffee cup on my right, is usually something I only daydream about. Yet here I am, having this morning today.

Amazing.

The day won’t be all relaxation and leisure — there are always things to do and places to be. But for now? I’ll take this bliss. When I opened my writing file, the title of the following piece caught my eye. I kind of remembered the content, but not specifically, so I opened it. Written a year and a half ago, the piece focused on our often chaotic everyday life, and how I recognized “slowing down” as something to pursue.

Looking back now, I’m satisfied with my efforts to simplify things in my life. Granted, there are still times when I’m in maximum overdrive mode, but for the most part, things have calmed down. The one thing that had fallen off my radar was the concept of scheduling down time, so even if a day is spiraling out of control, I know there will be a set time to stop for a while. Stop moving. Stop stressing. Stop worrying. Stop planning for tomorrow and days ahead… Just. Stop.

I decided to reprint the essay here, because reminding ourselves to just stop is often a constant battle, even though things have gotten easier. Our current status is three high-schoolers and one in elementary. BUT, two high schoolers have their own transportation now, so I’ve been relieved of shuttling duties for the most part. I do feel like an Uber driver some days, but they’re fewer and farther between. Regardless, scheduling a quiet day (or even a quiet hour) would be welcomed. And let’s face it… a few minutes’ respite is always a good thing.

 

A Good Thing

While I’m not a full-throttle Martha Stewart devotee, I do love me some Living magazine throughout the year. I generally take her ideas, tips, recipes, etc. with a grain of rosemary-infused sea salt, integrating those that fall in line with my abilities, pantry inventory and required effort. (Although she almost lost me as a follower the day I received an email titled, “Life-Changing Laundry Tips.” Seriously. Want to give me a life-changing laundry tip? Tell me someone’s coming over to my house to do all the laundry.)

One of the magazine features that never fails to catch my eye is Martha’s calendar, in which the gentle reader gets a glimpse of what I’m sure is a scaled-down version of M’s monthly To Do list. In my most recent issue, the calendar spanned December and January. I’ll admit — I did enjoy a little wistful daydream as I read of her pre-holiday prep, which included decorating her tree and taking a horseback ride the same day. Imagine! We were lucky to have gotten our tree completely decorated in one day, with rearranging the living room to accommodate said tree, weeding out the strands of lights that decided to crap out on us this year, and tasking the kids with selecting only a few of their personal ornaments to hang among the wide array of family ornaments that needed branch real estate.

And then I saw it.

There is was, on January 10 — nestled between “make lemon curd” (and a horseback ride!) on the 9th, and “prune topiaries in greenhouse” on the 11th:

“Quiet day: plan garden for spring.”

Of all the daily agendas I’ve read over the years, I don’t remember seeing anything like this. Let me be clear — it wasn’t the garden planning that stopped me in my tracks.

Quiet. Day.

Leave it to Martha to reach into her hand-knitted bag-o-tricks and pull out a show-stopper like that, which, as she would say, is a “good thing.”

My own inclination toward slowing the pace in 2016 was instantly reinforced. I mean, if Martha’s going to stitch in a quiet day every once in a while, why shouldn’t I? The truth is, I’ve been really needing one. Or two. Or twenty. Here’s a sampling of what could be considered a “busy” day for me so far this school year:

5:20a   Wake and go for a 30 minute run

6:00     Home, coffee, shower

6:20     Wake middle-schooler

6:25     Wake middle-schooler

6:45     Threaten middle-schooler

6:50     Drive middle-schooler to school

7:20     Home, wake 1st grader

7:40     Walk 1st grader to bus

7:45     Home, wake high-schoolers

7:50     Wake high-schoolers

8:00     Threaten high-schoolers

8:15     Drive high-schoolers to school

8:45     Arrive at work

1:45p   Leave work

2:15     Pick up middle-schooler

3:00     Home, fetch 1st grader from bus, work at home remainder of afternoon

4:15     Pick up high-schoolers, transport to off-site sport practice

5:00     Home, begin dinner, begin laundry

6:30     Pick up high-schoolers from practice

7:00     Home, dinner

7:30     Help 1st grader with homework, clean up kitchen, continue laundry

8:00     Start 1st grader pre-bed routine

8:30     1st grader to bed, tell middle- and high-schoolers to shower

9:00     Remind middle- and high-schoolers to shower, continue laundry

9:15     Threaten middle- and high-schoolers

10:00   Lights out for kids, continue laundry

11:00   Tell myself to get to bed

11:15   Remind myself to get to bed, finish laundry

11:30   Threaten myself

11:45+ Bed

 

This is just an average sampling. Some days are less busy, some are even more chaotic. My husband is a firefighter, and works a 24-on/48-off schedule, so the days he’s on duty, I’m the Alpha Parent. (Those are the truly chaotic days!) On his off days, he totally picks up on critical items like cooking dinner, which is awesome. So, you can see how the idea of scheduling a Quiet Day is more than just a little appealing to me — and after 2015, it’s a requirement. Looking back over the past 12 months, a high-level glance would show a roller coaster that lurched to incredible highs and devastating lows. In between the peaks and valleys, the ride was rickety, bumping along at breakneck speed. Sure, there were enjoyable parts, but the feeling of constant busy-ness kept me from ever really relaxing enough to fully recharge and restore myself.

I had already planned some changes for the new year — not so much solid resolutions, but rather a general change of lifestyle. I need to slow down, place my focus where it should be — on my family, close friends,… even myself. I’ve grown tired of reaching each weekend feeling like the preceding week had chewed me up and spit me out. I was spending weekends feeling like I was treading water, and before I knew it, the week began and I was pounded with waves again. Yet despite doing this week after week, I still felt like taking time to relax and recharge was selfish. How could I possibly justify sitting down to write, read a book, or cruise HGTV with unfinished projects, clutter and laundry waiting in the wings?! I know a lot of other moms feel the same way. How did we get to this point? How many times have we forfeited what we “want” to do, for what we feel we “should” do? Cue the Mommy Guilt.

If all it takes is actually inking in a Quiet Day into our schedules, then let’s get on that train. Pick up those calendars, planners and smart phones. Pick a day, any day. Write it down. Make it official. We owe it to ourselves to set aside one day a week, or month, and regroup. Recharge. Rejuvenate.

My first Quiet Day is scheduled for Sunday, January 17, 2016.

Whose mans are these?

If you have teenagers, or peruse social media enough, you may have heard the phrase, “Whose mans is this?” I first heard it several months ago, from my 15-yr old. when we arrived home to see Stella (our Vizsla) standing like a sentry at a front window. Her physique — standing up with paws on the window ledge — can sometimes look eerily humanish.

Whose mans is this?!” Sam said, as we laughed at Stella. Hearing him utter this phrase made me laugh even harder. Sam’s verbal delivery is everything.

I figured it was pretty much self-explanatory, something along the lines of, “Who IS this person?” and/or “What is this person even doing?” Even so, I double-checked my resources (me and Urban Dictionary are like this *crosses fingers.*) which supported my assumed definition. Since that day, I’ve thrown the phrase around a few times, when appropriate. I like to think subtle references to current slang gives my street cred a li’l boost — at least in my sons’ eyes. (They tolerate me so kindly.)

This particular phrase has been rolling around my head lately, because I’ve noticed in the month or so since school let out, I’m seeing the four still-at-home-kids in new and different light. Glimpses of more maturity and responsibility,… and I swear Bobby’s had a five-inch growth spurt. (Eight-year-olds can often grow like weeds, am I right?!)

Whose mans are these?!

Perhaps the catalyst for this shift my perception came the last day of school. I was in the car, heading out somewhere with Bobby, while the two almost-18 ManChildren were leaving as well. They both stopped to say goodbye, and give their little brother hugs and high-fives. Charlie appeared at the passenger side window, and motioned for me to lower the window. When I did, he leaned in with his trademark smirk.

How does it feel to have two SENIORS now?

There was a certain amount of glee/excitement in his voice at his and Jack’s newly-acquired status, while his words pierced my heart. Seniors. SENIORS.

Ten weeks (actually seven weeks at this point) and the twin-babies will begin their senior year of high school. We’re officially on the clock. This should come as no surprise, as we’ve already had two kids graduate from both high school and college (one of whom has even relocated to NYC). It’s been several years though, so time has blurred the emotions, much like a mother will “forget” the pain of labor after delivering a baby. It hadn’t resurfaced until Charlie said those words.

WHOSE MANS ARE THESE?!

The three older boys arrived home last night after a friend’s graduation party, and it was a genuine pleasure to see them. Don’t get me wrong — I’m always glad to see the kids — but they’ve become so fun/funny and entertaining as they’ve grown older, that I enjoy our time together on a completely different level now. Rather than immediately retreating to their bedrooms, they stayed downstairs in the kitchen with me and Bobby. We talked and laughed… a lot.

Later, after saying good night to each of them, my emotions ran bittersweet. While I’m sad to realize their time at home is dwindling, I’m overjoyed to send smart, funny and kind young adults out into the world, much like we did with Tyler and Kate. And I know that who they are now has been shaped by both family and friends. I hope and pray for equally smart, funny and kind friends to merge paths with them in the future, enhancing who they’ll become — to mutually broaden each other’s horizons, and introduce them to a world bigger than their high school campus.

Whose mans are these?

These are my mans.