Saturday, July 30, 2005

Staring at Myself

My daughter is almost three years old and prefers to keep me within arm's length. I told my husband today that if she were my boyfriend, I would break up. I need more space. I am totally not kidding.

She stands on the bathroom counter while I dry my hair and put on my make-up. Mostly, she peers at herself in the mirror, scrunching up her nose, pursing her lips, baring her teeth, flirting with herself. Today she was posing, a la Paris Hilton.

Then she noticed I was looking at her and she stopped her self-examination and grinned an embarrassed grin at me.

Sometimes, that's how blogging feels to me. I started my first blog as an experiment with a few friends. "We'll share our journals," we said, "And see how the others live."

The first time a stranger commented, I freaked out, a quiet, private little freak-out. Another time, I emailed a commenter to demand, "Who are you? And why are you commenting on my blog?"

Most of the time, though, I write with abandon, pretending I'm alone. I feel a little self-conscious when it's all about me, me, me--but only when I picture the whole Internet watch me as I stare at myself.

And when I catch you looking at me, sure, I feel bashful for a moment. But I'm going to pretend that it's just me here, and fifty of my closest friends who understand and won't laugh at me behind my back.

And now I will commence the navel gazing.

All I have to say today is that I feel deflated and bummed out that my twin 12-year old boys are so often the target of bullies. Why are some kids such cruel brats? At the pool today, my husband noticed several boys mocking my twins during a game of water-basketball. He intervened, but was incensed afterward. A little later during "Adult Swim," I walked to the grassy area to see what was going on--a cluster of kids had gathered out there--and just then, I heard a bony girl with bucked teeth say to my son with a sneer, "I don't even know your name." Then her cross-eyed brother said, "He's stupid." I strode up to that kid (the same boy who last year slapped and pinched my youngest son--but I'm too tired to find that post and link it) and said, "EXCUSE ME? DID I JUST HEAR YOU SAY SOMETHING UNKIND?"

He shrunk back and denied it. Then I said, "Good. Because we would not want to say unkind things here, would we?" That group of kids broke up and I told my son he should move away. And as we walked away, I told that skeleton of a girl my son's name, not that she even realizes what a snot she is.

My boys just don't seem to read social cues with any savvy. It's disheartening, but at the same time, a week ago at Vacation Bible School, they did a great job of interacting with younger kids and adults, too. They were volunteers with excellent attitudes, so I have to hope that they will ultimately be fine, despite the bullies who dot the landscape like dog doo left behind by inconsiderate dog owners. Sometimes you have to scrape your shoe off and watch your step so it doesn't happen again. I hope I can teach my boys that lesson eventually.

In the meantime, we'll continue schooling them at home, away from the stench of people who have nothing better to do than pick on other kids.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Afternoon Fun!

I read the newspaper because I am a grown-up. I eat fishsticks because that's what the kids ate and a few remainded scattered on the cookie sheet. When the phone rang at 12:11 p.m., I was doing just that, reading and eating.

The woman on the telephone asked if I'd be home, if she and her husband could stop by at about 1:00 p.m. I said in a calm, measured voice, "Sure, that would be fine." Then I gave her directions to my house. I hung up the phone and sprang into action, enlisting the aid of my sons who wander around in the summer, looking bored.

Fortunately, the family room carpet was freshly vacuumed, thanks to army-crawling CuteBaby whose new mission in life involvs gnawing on power cords and eating specks of paper and licking the carpet. I only had to clean up the lunch mess, put away a few reminders of our recent trip to Florida, sweep and hide away the basket of clutter that sits in the kitchen taunting me.

By 1:00 p.m., sure, I was a little sweaty, but my house looked presentable. The doorbell rang and there stood Happy Little Family, mom, dad and baby girl. I'll start watching the baby next week, just afternoons, four days a week. I saw Dad stealing glances at my desk, which sits in the family room. A landslide of papers covers the entire left half of the desk. And Bloglines kept beeping as blogs on my list were updated. (You really must check out Bloglines. Oh! The organization! The time-savings! The little beep that brings joy to my day! Someone has updated something! I must log on and check it out!)

Anyway, they left. Naptime arrived. At 2:15, CuteBaby and DaycareKid were sleeping. Babygirl? No. She was resistant, in fact, told me in no uncertain terms, "I do not want to go night-night!" I insisted that she did and she would . . . but she didn't. It was 3:15 p.m. when I gave up.

But I wasn't happy about it. Mommy stays sane around here by taking little breaks here and there. Lunchtime, while the kids nap, is one of those times. So, downstairs I tromped and she trailed behind me. I went straight to the kitchen where I poured myself Diet Coke with Lime (thank you, caffeine, you are my friend). She stood near me and touched my pants gently. "I love your pants! I love your shirt! I love your shoes!" she said in a sweet voice.

How can I be irked, really, when my curly-haired girl spreads the compliments as thick as chocolate icing on a birthday cake?

She never did sleep. She played in the sand and then she turned on the sprinkler and got drenched. She ran upstairs to put on dry clothes and came down wearing a pair of purple stretch pants and a pair of blue Osh-Kosh overalls. No shirt. My 7-year old son played in the sprinkler, too, and left a trail of soggy footprints all the way up to the bathroom--which doesn't seem possible. Shouldn't the carpet have dried his feet off at some point?

My house still retains the remnants of the noontime cleaning spree and for that, I congratulate myself. Tonight? I'm channel surfing while I read magazines . . . unless Bloglines keeps calling out to me. Beep! Beep! Beep!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Taking Pictures

Back when we only had the twins, I was careful to take frequent pictures. If I took a photo of one twin, I immediately took a picture of the other twin. I kept all my scrapbooks up to date.

When my youngest son was born, I zoomed in on him and photographed him extensively, to the neglect of my older boys, I admit. Taking pictures of three kids was tricky. And six-year old boys aren't thrilled about being still, especially for a photograph.

Since my daughter was born almost three years ago, my picture-taking has dwindled. She is an uncooperative subject, ducking her head like a celebrity avoiding the paparazzi. Last year, when I attempted to photograph all four children (at the same time!) for a Christmas newsletter photo, this is typical of what happened:

And now, I'm behind in all my scrapbooks. Instead of documenting their lives through photographs, I'm running behind, trying to keep up.

By the way, I have to say that I find people who are videotaping experiences instead of experiencing the experiences kind of make me shake my head. At Disney World, for instance, more than once, I saw someone videotaping something instead of just opening their eyes wide and watching it. What's the point? (That also goes for children's school performances, though in that case, I can see why you'd want to get it on videotape. Simple reason, really. Blackmail.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Winning the Real Race

When I was fourteen, I rode my bicycle from Seattle to San Francisco in five weeks. I used to dream about riding across the country. Can you imagine Iowa on a bicycle, all that flat land? Or the Rocky Mountains? Or crossing the Mississippi River? Dipping your bicycle tire in the Pacific Ocean and then triumphantly dipping it in the Atlantic? Well, I used to imagine that.

Then I went off to college and sold my bicycle and never pedaled more than twenty miles on a bicycle again. And then I got married. And then I had kids.

But Lance Armstrong! What an inspiration! Overcoming cancer, training his wrecked body, pushing himself up hills and winning, winning, winning. Getting married didn't stop Lance Armstrong. He got married, too, you know, in 1998--after he survived testicular cancer. He had the forethought to bank s p e r m, so he and his wife were able to conceive their children (a son, born in 1999 and twin daughters born in 2001). None of this stopped him from his professional bicycle racing career. His wife was by his side when he won his first Tour de France in 1999.

She wasn't by his side this time, though, for his triumphant seventh win in a row. No. Now, he appeared with his children and his girlfriend, singer S h e r y l Crow. He divorced his wife in 2003 and hooked up with Ms. Crow soon thereafter.

So here's the thing. When I see Lance Armstrong on television, crowing about his win, grinning about his achievements, basking in the glow of admiration--all I can think is that he couldn't even keep his marriage together for five years. Five years. His children are now shuttled from home to home, place to place. His children are the ones who pay the price for his inability to keep his marriage together.

And sure. I know. It takes two people to make a marriage work and there is no possible way we can assign fault. Marriages, even celebrity marriages, are private. Who knows what happened behind closed doors? But I can't help myself. When the world showers confetti on someone for grit and sheer determination, I can't get past wondering what the ex-wife thinks about all this. And how the children feel seeing daddy holding hands with someone who is clearly not their mother.

That's the legacy, I suppose, of my own parents' divorce. I'm much more impressed by, say, Cuppa and Anvilcloud's thirty-five years of marriage than I am by one guy winning seven bicycle races in a row. I imagine that the Armstrong children, the almost 6 year old boy and the almost 4 year old twin girls, know what I mean.

White versus Black

I realized with a spark of joy yesterday that my favorite babysitter now possesses a driver's license. And a car. So I called her and at 8:00 p.m., I left my house.

I wanted to see a movie--any movie, really--and so I saw "The Island."

I hope I don't spoil it for anyone, but here is the gist of the movie, the take-away kernel of truth:

Black pants truly are more slimming than white pants. In fact, even if you are Scarlett Johanson, your backside will look like a huge pear if you wear white pants coupled with a white body-skimming shirt.

Monday, July 25, 2005

You Smell Good

My daughter likes to tell this joke with a twinkle in her almost-three-year-old eyes: "You smell good . . . but you're not a cookie!" That's it. That's the whole joke. Then she laughs and laughs.

The Proverbs 31 Woman

This is regarded by many to be the description of the ultimate Christian woman.

I think she sounds like a working mom, not a stay-at-home mom. She seems to have a staff, not unlike this Alpha Mom.

Though I could be wrong. I'm just saying.

Bok Choy!!!

In my house this morning, my 7-year-old son has been stomping around, chasing the preschoolers and riling them up by hollering, "BOK CHOY!" CuteBaby is 8-months-old now and is mobile. He scoots around the floor, delighted to see, touch, and taste every toy. My carpets have never been cleaner, in anticipation of his newfound skills.

I'm thinking of calling my babysitter tonight--the one who now drives herself around in her own car--and seeing a movie. Just the thought makes me tingly all over and makes me want to scream with joy, "BOK CHOY!"

(Yes, I know it's a vegetable, but my son thinks it is a fine proclamation anyway.)

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Without Plot

My dad and stepmom had a long-running argument about the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey." My stepmom loved the movie while my dad held it in disdain, sniffing contemptuously that it had no plot.

Sometimes, I worry that the problem with this blog is that it has no plot. If I'd written it in other decades of my life, the suspense would be killing you. Where will she enroll in college? Will she survive a summer working as a nanny? Who will she marry? Does her dad really die when he's 47? How does the whole infertility thing work out? Does a birthmother choose her? Pregnant? She's pregnant? When--and where--will the baby be born? Does her husband survive his throat cancer? Will the family move across the country or stay in rural Michigan?

Yeah, well, this blog occurs during a plotless part of my life. And here's a terrible confession--on dismal, cloudy days when I'm feeling trapped and suffocated by the laundry, I think of horrible occurrences that might shake up my life. Even as I permit these wretched thoughts to amble through my mind, I scold myself. How dare I do anything but give thanks for the blessings in my life--my home, my husband, my children, my health, my friends, my extended family?

The thing about a crisis is that in short order, your meandering, messy, mundane life immediately narrows into a sharp focus, like sunlight through a magnifying glass narrows into one red-hot point of light. You don't have a yard full of sunshine anymore, but a single searing inch of scorched grass. (Or a slug, if my kids have anything to do with it.)

Laundry doesn't matter.
The dust under the beds doesn't matter.
Cooking? No way.

All that matters is The Crisis.

It's completely sick, of course, to long for a crisis. And I don't, not really. But when I read that "good" blogs have a plot, I realized I am sans plot. Plotless. Empty, devoid of plot. Plot negative.

Wouldn't that be a great blog title? "Without Plot."

Well, sure, I do have a plot of sorts, but it's not the type of plot you'll find in any book sold in the grocery store. It's the dull "lead a responsible life and raise responsible children" kind of plot.

I wonder if some people keep making bad decisions because they long for a plot, for the excitement of a page-turner? The truth seems to me that life is less like a novel and more like a slide show, the kind that your dad used to show you in the darkened living room after he got home from Europe. One castle looked like the next and the Alps? Boring when all you really want to do is call your friend and check the rumor mills for juicy gossip. But your dad kept clicking the slides, giving a droning explanation of each one, "and there, if you look at the left, you can see the blah, blah, blah, blah, and on the right, see that speck? That's blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."

See? Now, if I had a plot, I'd just tell you breathlessly about the latest trauma or drama. But I have no plot. Tomorrow we'll wake up after the sun rises. Shower. Welcome DaycareKid and CuteBaby--he's crawling now, his mom says. Play, keep kids from shoving each other, start laundry, make lunch, settle little ones down for naps, check email and blogs, answer the inevitable "what's for dinner?" question, fold laundry, offer snacks, play some more, walk around the block, wait for moms to pick up their kids, cook dinner, eat dinner, clean up, give baths, read . . . and another day will end. I'm a girl with no plot.

Tomorrow will be sort of like today. And today was kind of like yesterday. It doesn't make for exciting blog fodder, but it makes for a pretty good life. If you can stand the monotony.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

What I Did. And Didn't.

While the rest of the country is having a heat wave, our weather is perfect. Sunny, warm, blue skies, gentle breezes. I planted orange and yellow flowers in my flowerpots outside and then we went to the pool. We tried to go in the van, but the battery is drained--again--and so after being completely buckled in, we all unbuckled and switched to the car. The battery in the van (our old 1991 Chevy Astro)was dead when we returned home from our trip last week, so before he left yesterday, my husband jump-started it and drove it around awhile to make sure it was working. Which it is not now.

The kids are incapable of simply staring out the car windows when we go anywhere and just leaving each other alone. They have circular conversations about video games or the restaurants they'll own one day. They plan what the menu will be and who will cook for whom and if they'll give discounts to relatives. Even my daughter has taken to pleading, "BE QUIET! STOP TALKING!" when we go somewhere in the car. They also cannot stop poking, touching, wrestling, grabbing, shoving and tormenting each other.

When I wasn't busy doing summertime stuff today (and laundry), I was busy creating a reciprocal blogroll which you can see in my sidebar over there to the right. I think I linked to everyone who links to me--so if your name is missing, let me know. I'm all about reciprocity and I love the fact that I just used that word ("reciprocity") in a sentence.

For those who were wondering, yes, I did make milkshakes--finally--last night. I am a woman of my word. Unless I forget.

My only regret for the day is that I failed to make my youngest son a Serengeti Trek t-shirt by ironing on the iron-on transfer. And I failed to get caught up on laundry, dust the house, clean the toilets, weed the garden, sweep up the patio, pick up clutter on the floor, empty the kitchen counter, scrub the George Foreman grill, iron those pants hanging on my exercise bike, put away my daughter's clothes, start an exercise program, write a best-selling novel, teach my youngest son to tie his shoes, "clean sweep" the storage room, clean the litter box, vacuum the floors, mop, organize the kitchen cabinets, make a plan for lunch tomorrow, pay bills, wash windows, sort through school-at-home materials, solve the crisis in the Middle East, and figure out what to do with my hair.

Other than that, it was a day well-lived.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Power's Out! And My Pants are Aflame!

Last night I revised my roster for Vacation Bible School, wrote a letter for distribution to parents and compiled a list of volunteers for the church bulletin. I tucked those papers into my leather bag, ready to take with me this morning at 8:30 a.m.

When I woke up this morning, the room seemed strangely dim. After brushing the cobwebs out of my hair and rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I cracked open the bathroom window to find rain, rain, rain everywhere. Rain? We rely upon this week in July to be traditionally rain-free! Never in my four years of running VBS have we had rain. Did I mention that the game session is run outdoors?


When I arrived at church, I pulled the papers from my bag that needed photocopying. The letter--the one I needed 65 copies of to distribute to parents as they signed in their kids--yes, that letter, was missing. I searched, double-searched, and searched again. No letter. I called my husband and he assured me he found the letter on my desk. I'd have to go back and pick it up.

But first, to sign in all eighty children. As I sat greeting parents the most unexpected thing happened. The power went out.

Someone reported that they'd seen a crashed car, a broken utility pole, and downed power lines trapping the driver of the car inside. We figured it would take all day for the power to be restored. A call to the utility company confirmed a large area of power outages.

My fabulous teenage song leader began leading the children in the songs they've sung all week. Someone began to hunt for batteries to power a portable CD player. I realized we'd need a portable DVD player for the theater area. I called home to ask my husband to ready ours for pick-up, then ran home and picked up the paper I'd forgotten and the DVD player. Of course, I couldn't photocopy the letter without electricity.

And as it turned out, the DVD was stuck in the regular DVD player. Without power, we couldn't get it out.

I called a couple of churches, located a DVD we could borrow and prepared to go pick it up. And then, the unexpected happened. The power came back on.

And the rain stopped.

And eighty-two children enjoyed their final day of Vacation Bible School. Afterwards, to celebrate, I drove my kids to McDonald's before going home. Big mistake. The intersection where the car had crashed into the power pole was still blocked. Four utility trucks worked to replace the pole while several police cars blocked the road and officers directed traffic. McDonald's couldn't give us pop with fizz or a milkshake.

And YoungestBoy really wanted to dip his fries into a milkshake. I shrugged off his disappointment with a glib promise to make milkshakes at home. Later.

Late in the afternoon, while I was helping my husband pack for his business trip, YoungestBoy appeared in the room. With stern determination he said, "Mom, do you want to know the new name I have for you?"

Puzzled, I turned to him. "What?" I said.

"Liar, liar, pants on fire!" he said. I did not laugh, but I wanted to. "You said you were going to make milkshakes and YOU . . . DID . . . NOT!" he proclaimed.

I said, "Is this day over?"

He said, "No."

And I said, "Well, there you go." And there he went.

My husband chuckled and then I laughed, too. Liar, liar, pants on fire! The might sound disrespectful to some, but when delivered with the righteous indignation a rosy-cheeked seven-year old can muster up, it amuses me. He amuses me. He saunters through life with such good cheer and confidence that it makes my heart glad.

Even if I am Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire.

In other, less entertaining news, we dropped off my husband at the bus stop (to take an airport shuttle) and went directly to the pool. At seventy-five degrees with a light breeze, the late afternoon was perfection. Babygirl had the pool to herself and danced and twirled and floated around. I wanted it to last forever--the sun on my arms, her crooked smile, the chlorine-blue water--and yet my head hurt and I was looking forward to her bedtime, too.

And now, the moment is gone--poof--and she's asleep and the house is quiet except for the hum of the computer fan. Tonight I'll pretend that I can sleep in, but the truth is that Babygirl will be awake around 7:00 a.m., ready for action, or at least ready for Cheerios. And so it goes.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

I don't know. Some things I never really wanted to see. Like this. The nails I saw on the train were not well-groomed . . . but even well-groomed long toenails kind of make me shiver and not in a good way.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Moon and Reality Television

The moon followed me home tonight, one of those full moons like a flashlight full of new batteries shining in your face. I came home with tears brimming in my eyes and a need to blow my nose because I saw one of those amazing, inspirational movies. Tonight it was "Cinderella Man." I laughed, I cried, and I thought how great Renee Zellweger looks on film compared to how squinty-eyed she looks on late night talk shows. When I ducked out of the theater, I said to myself, "Great movie."

And, as so often happens, after seeing a movie or reading a book, I am inspired to write, but alas, it's past 11:00 p.m. already and tomorrow morning is our fourth day of Vacation Bible School. The "Watering Hole" Station Leader asked me if I would be directing the VBS next year and I paused, but she didn't really wait for an answer. She just told me that she'd be willing to work with me--no one else--and that if I'd do it, she'd do it and meanwhile, she'd be keeping an eye out for quarter-cup measuring cups because they'd come in handy for almost every day of snack-making.

The weird thing is that this year of running VBS seemed so easy that I will probably do it again next year. I have the most amazing volunteers who agree to work with me year after year, and kids who return each year and I am so good with running a program behind the scenes--why pretend otherwise--that I may as well do it. (I know, Cuppa thinks I need to take a "dirt" year (one in which I say "no" to everything). Maybe she's right, but running VBS is almost as simple as breathing for me.

Or maybe I have actually gone insane.

As I was saying, tomorrow I have another day of Vacation Bible School. My husband has been staying home with Babygirl and DaycareKid. They aren't quite old enough to participate. Each day, he loads the dishwasher while I'm gone. He's going away on church business (despite his sabbatical, he still needs to attend this annual meeting) on Friday night. He'll be gone for about a week. That's one reason I went to the movie tonight--when he's gone, I'll be shackled to my home, just like Martha Stewart is shackled to hers, only my estate is somewhat less luxurious than hers, plus her ankle monitor can be removed and my four children cannot.

By the way, does anyone else get emails purporting to be from television networks who are recruiting families to appear on reality shows? I would never appear on a reality show. Unless a lot of money were paid to me. Or a new wardrobe given to me. Or the possibility of a tummy tuck were offered.

I'm just saying.

(I'm kidding, people! Me? Reality t.v.? Uh, no. Though I did once appear on a television show produced by Jim and Tammy Faye "You're on the Brink of a Miracle" Bakker when I was an intern. I was just in the audience, though, sitting directly behind the man who would become my husband and his then-girlfriend, a blond Texan who'd been a cheerleader and who is now a flight attendant.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Speaking of Toenails

So, does everyone where you live have French-manicured toes? Am I living in a cave? Are my flaming red toenails a fashion faux pas?

Check out these cute: toenails

Monday, July 18, 2005


Children who attended Vacation Bible School today: 83
Volunteers at Vacation Bible School: 25
Dirty glasses in the kitchen: 17
Baskets of clean, wrinkled laundry: 2
Loads of dirty laundry: 7?
Glasses of Diet Coke consumed at anniversary dinner: 4
Years married to my husband: 18
Cats owned since wedding on July 18, 1987: 6
Cars owned during marriage: 6
Homes lived in since wedding: 8
States lived in since wedding: 4
Vacation Bible Schools I've been in charge of: 7
Jobs we've had during marriage: 13
Vacations involving airline travel and no kids: 1
Trips that included kids, hotels and traveling: 4
Hospital stays: Husband--twice (throat cancer);
TwinBoyA--once, corrective surgery when he was 3
Adoptions: 2
Births: 2
My shoe size on my wedding day: 8
Current shoe size: 9.5
Hours until I have to be back at church for Day Two, Vacation Bible School: 8.5

Saturday, July 16, 2005

I Can't Think of a Title

One of my favorite sights in Texas was the disco ball hanging from a tree in the rural yard at my sister-in-law's house. A mirrored disco ball!

One of the funniest things I heard came on the day I was trying to convince my 12-year old twins to ride "Pirates of the Caribbean." This was after I coerced them into going on "Tower of Terror" and "Rock'n Roller Coaster." I said, "It's not even scary!" and TwinBoyB leaned closer to me and said in a serious voice, "Mom. We are scared of butterflies."

One of the coolest things I saw in Texas was a do-it-yourself carwash, which featured a stall for washing your dog. Brilliant idea.

Tonight, I was at the church using an overhead projector to make an elephant. I took the outline outside and spraypainted it behind the church, in the grass. I noted that the air was already chilly since the sun had set. What a difference a week makes--last Saturday, I was sweating in the Florida humidity and heat. I could never get used to the idea that the darkness of night doesn't bring cool air.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Whine, whine, whine

I dragged myself through this day, from my wake-up call at 6:00 a.m. (Babygirl, ready for a shower, Cheerios, and a video) through the delivery of three weeks' worth of mail and an afternoon at the church, preparing a neglected room for twenty-five preschoolers next week. And it seems like I accomplished very little, yet I am so tired.

It's that time of year, that time when I ask myself, "How did I get this job?" I am braiding together the three strands that comprise a church's Vacation Bible School--the volunteers, the participating children and the materials. I have details swirling around in my brain--"must remember yarn for nametags"; "need to find that animal print fabric"; "call those two volunteers to see if they are in or out"; "finish banner for entryway"; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I am juggling a billion slippery details.

Not a big deal, except my brain feels like a giant colander and the details like grains of rice, slipping right through the holes.

We already have more children signed up than we have slots. I'm going to have to stand up in front of the congregation and plead for more volunteers. I hate doing that. I hate making phone calls. I hate my hair.

Did I mention how tired I feel? Send methamphetamines.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Daisy-Petal Plucking

My daughter should be upstairs, watching a short video before she goes to bed at her scheduled bedtime in twenty minutes.

Instead, she's in the backyard, wrestling five-feet tall daisies to the ground so she can pluck their petals. She's wearing fuzzy footy pajamas and her yellow rainboots. When I went out to take her picture, she pointed to the sky and said, "Look! A tiny moon!"

She is addicted to flower-petal plucking. I need to make her stop and go to bed. But I can't. God made two-year olds this cute so you don't keep them in a closet, gagged, until they turn four.

My Amtrak Journey Through the South or Why I Will Never Ride a Train Longer than Two Hours Again

I guess it's the post-"vacation" slump that has me in its sweaty grip. Next week, I am directing our church Vacation Bible School, and yet, since Babygirl and I returned from Florida, I have yet to even pick up a paper pertaining to Vacation Bible School, let alone glance at it or take action. I don't want to do anything.

But I trimmed the ivy which threatened to overtake our driveway and filled the yard-waste bucket to the brim. I went to the video game store and then to Target in pursuit of a game that YoungestBoy desires. I scrubbed my refrigerator until it was clean, then bought food to fill it. I washed and dried two loads of laundry.

All that just to avoid the Vacation Bible School thing. Once next week ends, my summer is free and clear, if you don't count taking care of my own four kids, plus another three (I'm adding another baby, just because I'm insane).

But, instead of looking forward, let's look back.

When we arrived in Texas, Babygirl immediately burst into tears and informed us she wanted to go home. When this song came on the radio, we proclaimed it her theme song and turned it louder. She eventually settled in, probably due to the fact that we stayed alone in my sister-in-law's house for a week. We spent the week playing at the park (in hundred degree heat), swimming at the community pool, and eating out. Babygirl mostly just wanted to be outdoors and I mostly wanted to be indoors, so guess who won? Well, she did and we both had crazy curly hair to show for it.

We visited with various relatives. The first Saturday, my husband dropped us off at about 1:00 p.m. at the house and went to locate a church we planned to attend in the morning. We expected his mother and stepdad and brother and sister-in-law to arrive at about 3:00 p.m. Only twenty minutes later, I heard a doorbell ring. I hurried through the shiny tiled entryway and peered through the glass door to see three people clad in stereotypical Harley-Davidson parapheralia. In fact, they were members of the Bandidos club, but not the specific one mentioned here. For a second, I stared at them, bewildered. Then I remember that this must be Oldest Brother. A-ha! I invited them in.

Then I had to make small-talk until my husband returned, which sounds like torture to me, but ended up being fine and dandy. Oldest Brother's Wife was delightful and after the day ended, I asked my husband who the second woman was. She was the daughter of Brother #2, who died last year. She's also the one who was featured on a tabloid television show getting breast implants with her mother. They are talked about going to South Dakota for the Sturgis motorcycle rally.

Variety is the spice of life, isn't it? My husband's mother and stepdad arrived and eventually, my husband returned and we had a nice afternoon visiting and eating and drinking sweet tea.

Stuff I saw in Texas I don't see around here:
1) Sno-cone stands;
2) Roadside places to buy crawfish, dead or alive;
3) Lizards.

We visited a bunch of other relatives, ate a lot of good food (Pappas seafood and Mexican food, yum) and then, it was time to leave. The Amtrak train was scheduled to leave from downtown Houston at 6:15 a.m. on a Sunday. Only, it was running a little late. At first, this seemed like good news--we wouldn't have to set our alarm clocks for 4:00 a.m. Then, it became bad news. The train didn't leave until 2:00 p.m. That's right, folks, a full eight hours late. Eight hours! Right before we boarded, we went to the Houston Aquarium and scarfed down lunch while the fish in tanks watched us eat their distant relatives.

The fact that the train station's air conditioning didn't work was a bad omen that I refused to look in the eye. I dismissed the facts that our seats looked shabby and the crumbs and bits of trash littered the train floor and the air smelled. Amtrak is fun! Amtrak is affordable! Amtrak for thirty-seven hours. One night. Fun, fun, fun! (Okay, tolerable! Tolerable! Tolerable!)

At least that's what I continued to tell myself until that three hours stretch right outside of Tallahassee when the train sat on the tracks, not moving, for three hours. Even Babygirl noticed and said, "The train taking a break?" I tried to believe this, even when a fellow passenger continued to pass the most foul gas and my fellow passengers commented, "Someone needs Castor Oil," and "Did someone eat cabbage?" and then laugh like a bunch of junior high school students. I didn't feel like laughing.

My husband was a few seats ahead of me with YoungestBoy. The man across the aisle from him, a mountain of a guy wearing Levis (waist 45, length 30) and a smeary tat*oo of "MATHILDA" lettered across his flabby bicep chatted with my husband throughout the journey. Mathilda Man had long greasy hair down to his shoulder blade. But that long gray hair couldn't hide his bald spot--I could see that even while he wore his baseball cap.

The boys regularly jaunted to the lounge car to look out the big windows and watch the movie. They played their GameBoys, listened to music, snacked. They seemed to be tolerating the long train ride fairly well.

Babygirl just wanted to go potty.

Have you been on a train? The bathrooms are made to accomodate someone the size of Mary-Kate Olsen, after she loses a few pounds. And all Babygirl wanted was to wobble down the aisles, rappel down the treacherous staircase and squeeze into the impossibly tiny bathroom stalls. Getting both of us in and closing the door required me to saw off my right arm and right leg. No matter. Babygirl found the entire procedure entertaining and fun. I grew more grumpy and soon enough would say to her, "Go ask your daddy." We went to the bathroom several times each hour. She never wanted to: 1) look out the windows; 2) sleep; 3) read books; 4) sit still.

But that first night, when the sun slipped from the sky, sliding right past the swamps and the scrubby trees, all seemed well. Babygirl snuggled up with an assortment of pillows, watched "Spongebob" on a portable DVD player and slept. Easy enough. I eventually dozed off myself, waking groggily in New Orleans, peering through the window at the eerie cemeteries as we click-clacked our way through the dark city.

I'm not sure where we were when The Loud Family boarded the train, but when I roused from sleep and squinted at my watch, I saw it was 3:00 a.m. This family--mom, teenage kids, grandma, maybe some others--spoke loudly as if they were at a major league baseball game, shouting over hotdogs and the roar of the crowd. I glanced down at sleeping Babygirl and just then, Loud Mom leaned over me and said, "You need to move her or she's going to get a crick in her neck."

I just raised my hand in the universal, "stop" signal. Had no one explained to Loud Mom that it's impolite to speak out loud in the middle of the night on an Amtrak train traveling at a snail's pace? Loud Mom continued speaking loudly to Loud Son and Loud Daughter and Loud Grandma. At one point, someone in the Loud Family said in a stage-whisper, "Y'all should be quiet." And Loud Mom poo-pooed the idea, out loud of course. Then she went on and on about grapes. "If no one else wants them, I'm going to eat these grapes. Grapes, anyone?" I was ready to lodge one in her windpipe. Alas, doing so might have made a ruckus and a ruckus might have disturbed Babygirl's sleep, so I did not murder Loud Mom, as she deserved. The next day, when Loud Family snoozed, I so wanted to shout into their blanket-covered faces. But, I did not.

What was supposed to be one night on the train--the closest I ever get to camping--turned into two nights. By the second night, I began to fantasize about flying directly home from Florida. Our original plan was to take the Amtrak to and from Florida. I started hallucinating about airplanes and Seattle. I just knew that I could not, would not, ride a train again.

An hour from Orlando, at about 5:00 a.m., a train conductor woke me to inform me that we would make the final leg of our journey by bus. I never did ask why. We gathered our belongings and the children and marched wearily outside into the sticky pre-dawn morning and boarded a bus. Then we sat and waited. Our bus driver left his seat and disappeared, leaving us all sitting in the semi-darkness, bleary-eyed and a little stinky.

After quite a while, a large woman made her way to the front of the bus and began pushing buttons until a door opened. She ordered the bus driver to get her suitcase. "I need my medicine. You said it would be forty minutes, but it's going to be longer than that. So get my medicine."

The bus driver said, "No. I'm going going to go through all that luggage to find your bag. Sit down."

She said, "Then let's go. I want to go or I want my medicine."

He said, "I'm not getting your bag. You should have kept your medicine out if you needed it. Now sit down."

She retorted, "Then let's go! We either go now or call 9-1-1 when I don't get my medicine on time."

At that point, I kind of wanted to see what would happen if she didn't get her medicine on time. The bus driver shooed her back to her seat and we left, but he muttered out loud, saying, "Lord, give me patience," in a Jamaican accent.

An hour later, we arrived at the Amtrak train station where our shuttle driver met us. By the time we checked into our hotel room, it was 8:00 a.m. We planned to stay in this cheaper room only one night, then transfer to the "Beach Club Resort" for the rest of our stay. Of course, we also planned to arrive at 8:45 p.m. the night before.

When it was all said and done, our train was ten hours late. Ten hours. And so we paid $166.00 for the privilege of showering at the hotel before we checked out and began our Disney adventure. We had to check out by 11:00, but couldn't check into our regular hotel until 3:00 p.m. But we had to get to the regular hotel to pick up our park tickets. We rode a bus there, picked up the tickets, ate some lunch and went to Epcot for our first afternoon.

I admit that my attitude was a little bent out of shape. A lack of sleep coupled with the frustration of not being able to sleep in the room we paid for, plus the idea that my carefully scheduled week at Disney was now in disarray can do that to a girl.

But despite our rocky start, we saw as much of Disney as we could. We had fun, mostly. We stood in only a few lines, none of them long, we saw spectacular sights, we ate vast amounts of good food, we swam in remarkable sandy-floored pool, we experienced a climate unlike anything the kids had ever imagined and made a lot of memories. The weather was good, meaning that it didn't thundershower on us until our last day. The skies were blue and the sun hot, but at least we didn't have to wear the rain ponchos I brought along.

And I didn't ride a train back home. Amtrak canceled the route due to Hurricane Dennis, but I'd already scheduled myself on a plane before that cancellation. For our trouble, Amtrak is giving us a refund of the portion of our tickets not used. They are also giving us vouchers to apologize for the ten hour late trip.

And just as soon as I get complete amnesia and forget the horror of traveling the rails, I'll ride Amtrak again. But never in the South. Only from here to Portland, Oregon, or maybe up to Vancouver, B.C. Never again overnight. Never, ever, ever and even though I said that once before (three nights on a train that time and I was eight weeks pregnant, too, though I didn't know it), I mean it this time.

Well. Babygirl's awake and clamoring for a bath (she's the cleanest toddler on earth), so off I go. Tomorrow, the boys will all be home and my life will resume here in the land of shoulder-high Shasta daisies and seventy degree blue skies and weeds growing like . . . weeds.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Vacation News and Pictures, too

The sun shines here in the Pacific Northwest and the temperature hovers around seventy degrees. Babygirl naps upstairs while I savor the silence of my own slightly shabby house. I've already called my husband in Texas once today to gloat that I hadn't stepped outside and begun to sweat, as I did the entire two and a half weeks I was gone to the edge of hell warmer regions of the United States.

I have a few pictures, just to prove what a happy vacation we had. Take a look at this, for instance: That was YoungestBoy's first encounter with Mickey while we were dying from heatstroke enjoying our day at Disney MGM. He began a collection of Disney character autographs, beginning with Mickey.

Meanwhile, the twins were fanning themselves and complaining about the temperatures and begging me to slow down. I, however, had a plan and my plan did not include lollygagging under shade trees. My plan was foiled by the heat and uncooperative children, though I did usher them through the main must-see attractions, including the "Tower of Terror" and "Rock'n Roller Coaster," as seen here: (Click on that picture and you can see their faces better.) The twins hated the "Tower of Terror" and "Rock'n Roller Coaster," and refused to go on other attractions that sounded scary. YoungestBoy, however, gleefully rode every attraction--though "It's a Bug's Life" terrified him. (Go figure that a 3D movie featuring cartoon bugs would scare him.)

Our strategy in the theme parks included rising early and then following the suggested touring plans in "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2005." My husband strolled Babygirl around when we went into an attraction not appropriate for her while I stayed with the boys, for the most part. This worked faily well, though one day we were separated and I couldn't hear him calling me repeatedly on my cell phone, leading him to extreme frustration. But try it. Go to a theme park and see if you can hear your cell phone ringing in your pocket.

We loved our hotel ("The Beach Club") and the pool there. We had a great time in the parks. But I would never go again in July, as it was eight billion degrees ninety-five (the heat index, I heard, was 106 degrees one day), and unfit for human survival. We managed to avoid sunburns and got hardly any bug bites. We didn't have enough time, really, to see everything, nor enough stamina (due to the heat).

All in all, I'd say it was a successful trip (I can't bring myself to call it a "vacation," because that word would imply some rest and relaxation, which this was not about). And, as Dorothy would say, "there's no place like home." I'm glad to be here.

(Oh, by the way, if you hear that we are coming to your area, you should be very afraid. Wherever we go, extreme weather conditions occur. For instance, in Texas, they just had their driest June ever. In Florida, they just had one of the earliest severe hurricanes ever. And our church congregation should be doubly afraid because whenever my husband leaves town, someone dies. This time, a seemingly healthy, though elderly woman was discovered sitting in her chair, waiting for her hair appointment. Deceased. My husband offered to fly home for the funeral, but thankfully, those left in charge were able to handle everything. As I said, beware whenever you see us come or watch us go.)

Oh, and one last picture. Here is Babygirl, standing a safe distance from Piglet:

Monday, July 11, 2005


I'm not actually supposed to be home today. We were scheduled to arrive in Seattle Thursday, but sometime in the dark hours of the second night on the train from hell Amtrak, I began to fantasize about flying home, directly home, do-not-pass-go, from Orlando, rather than returning via train to Houston for an additional three days before flying home.

That dream came true . . . and as it turned out that my husband and three boys didn't have to ride the train back either, thanks to Hurricane Dennis. The train was canceled and they flew out of Orlando today, too, a few hours after Babygirl and me. But they'll be in Texas for a few more days. So now, I am hiding out here at home, not telling a soul I've returned, though perhaps the neighbors will realize it when they see the front yard foot-high dandelions have been mown down.

This morning in Orlando, at about 3:00 a.m., Babygirl woke and whispered to me off and on for two hours, at which point, she slept again while I wearily began my day with a shower at 5:15 a.m. We left the room at almost 6:00 a.m. I scooped Babygirl from the bed and carried her downstairs, still in her pajamas. My husband helped me rolll my large bag downstairs to the check-in counter, where the three stooges Continental employees informed me that they could only check my bag through to Houston, not Seattle. They suggested I pick up the bag in Houston and recheck it, or take it along on the shuttle and check it at the curb.

In a moment of complete idiocy, I let them ticket the bag to Houston, thinking I'd pick it up at baggage claim and then recheck it to Seattle. While in the air, I realized the folly of this plan--my layover was less than one hour. An extremely helpful Continental employee in Orlando, Judy S., went above and beyond the call of duty and fixed the mistake the remote check-in location guys made and hand-ticketed my bag to Seattle and then paged me to let me know what she'd done. God bless Judy S.

We caught the shuttle to the airport at 6:25 a.m. for our 9:50 a.m. flight. When we arrived in Houston, we had about an hour, so I set about looking for food for Babygirl. A man directed us down a hallway to a Wendy's, so off we went, Babygirl and I, me tottering along on blistered feet, her snug in her stroller, urging me, "Faster! Faster!" I settled her bag containing chicken nuggets and fries in her lap and hurried back down the hallway with thirty minutes before take-off.

As I rushed along, I hit a bump, a little ramp, and Babygirl's food tumbled from her lap and skittered across the airport floor. Instantly, I grabbed her now-empty food bag and collected the chicken nuggets. To my credit, I did not attempt to salvage the french fries, but I plopped that bag of nuggets back in her lap, invoking the Five Second Rule (food on the floor less than five seconds is perfectly fine to eat). I held my head high, did not look around so as to avoid the horrified looks of fellow passengers.

I fed my child food that had spilled on the public walkway at an airport. I'm just waiting for the Child Protective Services people to show up.

Both flights went extremely well. Babygirl paged through the Continental catalog she found in the pocket in front of her seat. She spent a great deal of time carefully turning the pages and studying the superfluous items for sale, no bargains in those pages! We survived a total of six hours in the air, in large part thanks to Spongebob Squarepants on our portable DVD player.

Now, Babygirl sleeps in her own crib, though she tried to weasel her way into my bed.

I've unpacked, washed and dried a load of laundry, mowed the lawn (I use that word, "lawn", loosely), and yawned a lot. No one knows I'm home, so I have a couple of days to recover from the exhaustion that is traveling with children, before picking up my life where I left off.

I need a vacation.

I'm Home!

One shuttle bus, two flights, and a car ride later, I'm home.

Glory be to God in the highest.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Boy, Do I Have Stories to Tell

Ever go on vacation and run into a hurricane? Well, me neither, but there's a first time for eveything. Even before our Amtrak train cancelled the return trip from Orland to Houston, leaving tomorrow, I'd decided that I would sooner gnaw off my own arm with my own teeth than ride the train again with a two-year-old. So, I have a flight scheduled to leave on Monday, all the way home to Seattle, where the temperature is a mild sixty-five or seventy degrees, as God intended summer should be.

Did I mention the heat index was 106 degrees yesterday here at the Happiest Place on Earth?

Well. Let's just say I hate saunas.

All that said, we have a lot of happy memories and some not so happy, like when I sat at in the midst of the Rainforest Cafe' with my three boys and cried. They didn't even notice for about twenty minutes. The next day, however, their behavior was impeccable. Nothing like a little emotional blackmail to whip kids into shape, especially when kicking them really hard in the shins is frowned upon.

So, I'll be home soon. This is costing me sixty-nine cents a minute or I might ramble on and on. See you soon.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Catching the Loose End

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Why Mothers Compete

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Traipsing Down Memory Lane

Commercial free...

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Friday, July 01, 2005

Peeing in His Shoes

Time for another summer "new to you" post...

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