Sunday, February 27, 2011

Civil Disagreement

A Reader asks:

What is your take on when your kiddos do something you don't agree with at all, but it's important to them? How do you support their dreams when they are your nightmares?

Millie writes:

My version of “things I don't agree with” may differ from a lot of other people's, but I definitely have a few. I don't care about haircuts (as long as it's clean and out of the kid's eyes) or fashions (as long as they're clean and not too revealing). I care a lot about my kids' taking responsibility for their own actions and owning up to them, and about their absolute truthfulness to us as their parents.

If the kid in question is one who has proven to be mostly trustworthy, and if whatever it is they want to do isn't illegal or hurtful to someone else, and if they are keeping things together pretty well otherwise (grades, prior commitments, etc.) then I will probably go ahead and let them do it. (I have been known to keep a clandestine eye on them if I'm nervous about their safety, however.)

To a certain extent you can circumscribe their movements but there are some things you don't get to decide for your kids no matter what age they are, such as what music moves them or who they like or who they love or what they want to study. You have to do the best you can to teach them to make good decisions, and then trust them to do so.

Other things are absolutely non-negotiable. I won't let them go to someone's house if a parent isn't home, I don't care why. I have a zero-tolerance policy about smoking, underage drinking or drug use. If one of them ever gets in a car with a driver who has been drinking, they'd better hope they die in a fiery crash - because if they do get home alive I will kill them.

Still, with six kids, we've gone through our share of stupid haircuts and colors (actually I love the colors!), friends I didn't like, Significant Others I didn't like, college majors I thought were silly, trips I felt were inadequately supervised, dropping out of college and marriage at a very young age. These are not necessarily the things I'd have chosen for them, but everyone survived. I have to trust that they're doing their best.

For me, the 18th birthday is a big dividing line. Once they're adults I try (with varying degrees of success, I admit) to keep my mouth shut unless they ask me what I think. Then I try really hard to state any objections mildly, once, and turn the conversation back to their thoughts on the matter.

Parents have a choice to make, and we don't get to make it just once; we have to keep making it every second we've got kids at home. Do we shelter them as best we can from everything that might hurt them until they're on their own? Or do we do the best we can to teach them morals, self-control and critical thinking and then let them reap what they sow?

There's no doubt that it's a juggling act; however, the fact that you're even asking the question shows that you're on the right track.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thoughts From the Bottom of the Barrel

Millie writes:

I can't be the first one to notice that a clutch of teenage girls with one teenage boy in their midst sound indistinguishable from a gaggle of startled geese.

The smell of baking banana bread is the perfect antidote to a day during which the high temperature will be twenty-six degrees.

Addendum to the above: The lower the temperature, the more likely one of the family cars will need some sort of major renovation. A loving wife/mom will keep the hot coffee coming.

Note to self: If your husband is allergic to everything mammalian, don't spend a lot of time looking at kitten videos on YouTube. You'll only make it harder on yourself.

Speaking of your husband, he may be perfectly certain that chickens are built to stand the cold; but if their water dispenser freezes into a solid block of ice overnight, it's okay to go ahead and replace the incandescent bulb in the coop with the heat lamp bulb. If, in accordance with his dire predictions, a chicken gets scorched, he will have the chance to say, “I told you so.” What kind of a loving wife would deny her husband that opportunity?

I don't care how much he says he didn't know the girls were coming over; a 16-year-old boy doesn't take a shower on a Saturday without a very good reason.

Why is it that people who read voraciously never have anything in the house to read? We probably have 1500 books in this house and I can't find anything to read. Library? See the “car work” addendum.

We're all making book on which of the two married couples is going to spawn first, but - if I don't quit for now and go wander through the living room again - the youngest might beat both of 'em to the finish line.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Wusses Anonymous

My name is Mollie McGillicuddy, and I'm a wuss-a-holic.

I wasn't born this way and didn't realize the warning signs of my vulnerability until I was on the rocky road to perdition. I think the first signs of it was when my father would drive the family, relentlessly, to Mass on Sundays, come rain, shine, snow or ice storm. In my rational 8 year old way, I reasoned that if God wanted me dead, surely he wouldn't have forbidden my mother birth control back in the fifties. No, God wanted me here, safe and sound, conceived and gestated back in 1952.

And who am I to argue with God?????

So on Sundays, when we all climbed into the station wagon (this was in pre-historic times, long before mini-vans and seat belts), we'd say our prayers and skid our way into the parking lot of St. Jude's Catholic Church. This wasn't Judas Iscariot, betrayer of Jesus, this was St. Jude, Patron Saint of Lost Causes, the saint all of us wusses - those who dreaded the Sunday voyages on sheets of ice that coated the East County of Portland Oregon - prayed to in winter months - that St. Jude. I attended parochial school at St. Jude's, a harbinger of my later commitment to Catholicism as an adult, I might add.

Things didn't improve when I was in high school and was attending public school. My decision to eschew ALL driving was well--rooted by that time. My then boyfriend, Dan, and I went to a drive-in movie and managed to fog up the windows well enough to miss the ice building up on the windshield and streets of East County (yes, grasshopper, Hell does freeze over). When we did inch our way home, it was 2 am and 3 hours after my curfew. What parts of Hell that didn't freeze over came down on us like a rain of cranky, sober parents. I swore then to never venture out of my cave if there was even a hint of anything closely resembling snow, ice, hail or Hell in the forecast.

Fast forward to the 80's when I was a young married woman. My husband was doing his patriotic duty and filling his Naval Reserve commitment the weekend that the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie was released. My own little mutants were hollering up a storm so loudly that I managed to swallow my pride and common sense and take them to the local theater for the movie, when, once again, the gods of disaster had the last word. Our hilly drive home after the movie made a permanent wuss-a-holic of me then, and it has lasted well into my senility.

My husband isn't much better. Being the Lord of All that's Dangerous, he did learn to drive in "inclement weather" and managed to plow his way through the worst of it, at least he did that until some old fart plowed into him in a driveway where my husband had parked to escape him. The old fart, bless his heart, lost control of his sedan driving down Binford Lake Parkway. John saw this and turned into a stranger's driveway to escape the drifting menacing car, which followed John into the driveway, rammed our car which was driven into the stranger's boat that was then driven into his garage that held his vehicle.

Was this stranger angry????? Noooooooooooo. It seems that our car absorbed the brunt of the offending vehicle well enough to keep it away from the family's picture window where the stranger's children had congregated to watch the idiots who chose to drive in bad weather get crushed.

So ok, I get my mammograms every year, got my colonoscopy at age 50 and have otherwise followed all the rules of healthy living. As a result, I simply choose not to drive in bad weather. I also choose to not do illegal drugs, drink to excess, over-do carbohydrates and watch my sugar intake.

Excuuuuuuuuuuse me.

It has come to my attention that other people in other cultures actually do choose to drive when Hell freezes over. AND THEY DO SO COMPETENTLY. Amazingly they do it in Montana, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Siberia and Santaville. I say more power to them, but please, keep your "at risk" behavior to yourselves.

In my perfect world, driving in bad weather is a Mortal Sin. There are so many of us stupid wusses out there, and we all know each other and breed . We regularly send out scouts whenever the temperature plunges to insure that you intrepid souls are reminded that not all of us are immortal. We've kept this a secret, but the wary will recognize us by our threadbare tires and mini-vans of crash dummies. We all wear bermuda shorts and flip flops, the shirt being optional.

My husband and I are an odd coupling. He is sane and responsible, I'm crazy and hysterical. But I've known him long enough to fill him in on our covert society - and he respects us.

So, the next time you are tempted to drive in bad weather, remember that we wusses and our scouts are out there, ramming cars, boats and mailboxes with our SUV minivans with threadbare tires. We have our families with us, are all wearing short pants and drinking umbrella drinks. Our auto insurance has lapsed, and the closest cop, being a rational person, is at Dunkin' Donuts, drinking their excellent coffee.

We know where you live and we aren't afraid of you.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Even MORE snow!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mollie's back yard (top) and front yard (bottom) . . .

Normally you'd see Holmes Harbor in the back yard, but today, all you see is the view occluded by falling snow . . .

And to think that I was gonna weed today - - -

How to Make Snow Ice Cream

Millie writes:

This is one of those seemingly throw-away things you do that your kids will remember their whole lives:

Snow Ice Cream

Put out a big clean bowl when the snow starts and collect a mass of snow about the size of a gallon milk jug. (You can scoop it up, too, but be absolutely sure it's clean and hasn't been walked on/ exposed to car exhaust/ peed on by squirrels.) Bring it inside.

Add, stirring gently:

1 cup white sugar
1 ½ tablespoons vanilla

Add more sugar and vanilla to taste, then slowly stir in as much of:

2 cups milk

as it takes to give you the ice-creamy consistency you want. Divvy it amongst the kids (not forgetting yourself) and eat immediately!

Your kids will never again look at snowdrifts in the same way!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Big Move

May writes:

About a month ago, Phil and I made one of the biggest steps forward in our lives together; we bought our first house. This is something that we had been working toward for two years, and last fall we started looking in earnest. Surprisingly enough, it was only a couple of weeks before we found our Home.

It wasn’t exactly what we had been looking for. We had both been dreaming of a huge two-story house with an attic, a basement, a huge back deck and bay windows, and had been such two-story snobs that we had gone through the listings and eliminated all single-story houses without even looking at them (or so we thought). But as soon as we walked through the door, we knew that something about this house was special. It had almost none of our picky little desired features, but what it did have was an attached two-car garage, a fireplace, a huge fenced back yard and a kitchen that was to die for. It was almost nothing that we’d been looking for, but somehow it was everything we’d wanted. Not only that, but the house was obviously well-loved. The roof was brand new, as were most of the appliances, and there was not a scratch, spot or stain to be found. But most important of all was the fact that, as soon as we’d finished our tour, we both knew beyond a doubt that this was Our House. It wasn’t anything huge or fancy; but it was safe, and cozy, and accessible, and a perfect place to start a family.

We put an offer in right away, and things progressed more smoothly than I could ever have dared to dream. Our initial offer was rejected, but only because we had asked the sellers to cover all closing costs, and we were able to reach an acceptable compromise very quickly. There was a bit of a fiasco with Phil’s parents’ housewarming gift (the washer and drier they had bought for us were sold out from under their noses and then promptly discontinued), but as luck would have it, the owners decided to sell us their washer and drier for $200 and included all other appliances in the price of the house. We closed in mid-January, and on February 12th, we moved in.

The move itself went relatively quickly, as we managed to have upwards of 10 helpers on the day. Phil and I had also been moving boxes slowly over the course of a few weeks, taking as many as we could every time we went out to the house (we changed the locks, painted an accent wall in the bedroom, hauled my brothers out to help us build some furniture). The night before the move, he and I drove out to the house to bring the cats (who did not think this was a good idea) and let them get acclimated to the new environment before moving day. Both of them slunk around like their back legs were asleep for the first hour or so, then they sort of split off in different directions of insanity. General Zod, Phil’s tuxedo cat, took to hiding so well that we tore the house apart looking for him that first night. Shrapnel, my Maine coon/ragdoll mix, sat shuddering and inert until we picked him up and moved him, then as the evening progressed decided that the best idea would be to hide behind the toilet in the hall bathroom. He stayed there all through the next day, screaming and hissing at everyone who dared enter the bathroom, and once the family and friends were there Zod joined him, white-eyed and hiding under the sink.

Phil and I got up at about 5 that morning and cleaned all the bedding out of the way, showered really quickly (we realized that morning that we’d neglected to bring a shower curtain, which made things a little more of an adventure than we’d planned), and grabbed a quick fast-food breakfast. His parents came over around 7, and almost immediately Phil and his dad went off to pick up the truck, and his mom took me on a tour of our garden (despite my excitement to finally have one of my own, I could barely tell the flowers from the weeds, let alone tell what kinds they were). A couple hours later, my mom and sister arrived and we were able to get to unpacking in earnest. Two of our friends showed up about an hour after that, and by noon we had not only unpacked all of the boxes in the dining room, but had also finished painting everything and had gotten the kitchen assembled and snacks set out for everyone. The boys arrived with the truck a couple hours later, and the house became a frenzy of activity as everyone frantically unloaded the truck so that it could be returned to the rental company before 3 (they made it, but just barely!). After that, things slowed down a little and by about 5:00, all of the furniture was set up, all of the electronics up and running, all the clothes folded and put away, and pizza and coffee were being steadily demolished in the kitchen.

Now, a week and a half later, things are going at a much more leisurely pace. We’ve been slowly finishing up with the apartment (there was much more left unpacked than we’d thought, and the living and dining rooms and hallway still need cleaned), but that should be done by the time this weekend is over. We’re close enough to being done with unpacking that the sense of urgency has left us, which means that there are fewer boxes, but they’ve been sitting there for a week getting unpacked one thing at a time. The cats seem to have adjusted, although Zod is not keen on the garbage men; I think he’s convinced that they’re stealing from us, and he sits in the window and growls until they’re gone. I’m slowly settling in to my new office; it helps that everyone there, including most the clients, is INCREDIBLY friendly. And Phil and I are on cloud nine. I don’t know exactly what it is that makes this big a difference, but I can’t remember the last time we were both sleeping so well, and both so eager to go home at the end of the day. And last weekend, I went out and bought a pear tree!

There will be much more to come on the process of actually setting up a household, but not now. I have to go fold some laundry!

What to Do When the Power Goes Out

Millie writes:

Though we live in a city instead of on a semi-remote island like Mollie and Doctor John, we too have to deal with difficult weather occasionally. Right now we're on storm watch – the same storm that dumped all that snow on poor Mollie's garden is headed our way.

There's something about snow and ice in an urban environment that grinds the whole city to a standstill. People forget everything they ever knew about driving or even walking in slippery conditions, the news people go into overdrive and the schools shut down completely. (One memorable day a couple of years ago the Superintendent shut all the schools because there was the possibility of snow in the forecast. The kids liked that; the School Board did not.)

Anyway, today the school buses are on snow routes and everyone's scanning the skies. Lance and I just went out to pay bills and stock up on groceries, so as far as we're concerned, let 'er rip – once the kids are safely home, that is. Usually the worst that happens here is that the power goes out for a few hours, but there are several things on our disaster-preparedness checklist.

Light Up
Find all the flashlights and candles and put them in one easily-accessible spot. (This is a good job for a small child.) Check the flashlights to be sure they work, and buy some fresh batteries if you need extras. Find matches or a lighter, too – don't put them with the candles until your kids are past the “firebug” age, though. Don't be tempted to use a propane lantern in the house – they're odorless but do emit carbon monoxide. For double the light, mass candles on top of a mirror. Hey, while you're at it – charge your cell phones in case the landline goes out too!

Frozen Foods
Haul your largest ice chest into the kitchen, and put the perishables you are most likely to use into the ice chest (with lots of ice, natch). This will prevent you from needing to open the doors on the freezer or the refrigerator and will keep the rest of the food from spoiling as quickly. If you have room in your freezer, keep a few cleaned-and-capped juice jugs full of frozen water for the ice chest; they will keep the food cold without melting all over things like egg cartons.

“Storm Central”
It seems to work best to keep everyone in the same room as much as possible, so build a family-sized “nest” in the room that stays warmest. Haul in blankets, pillows and bean bag chairs as well as games, books, decks of cards and art supplies. Bring your ice chest and other food and drink in there too (don't forget the paper towels, it'll get messy) and you shouldn't have to leave Storm Central except to go to the bathroom.

Auxiliary Heating
Propane heaters aren't safe for inside use but some kerosene heaters are okay as long as you leave a window cracked open so that CO doesn't build up – using a CO detector is a good idea, too. If you have a generator you may be able to run your electric heater. A wood-burning fireplace or a pellet stove is great, and you can make S'mores. Otherwise sit close together and share blankets!

If you have advance notice, do a lot of baking and boiling before the storm hits. Fried or roasted chicken can be stored in the ice chest and eaten cold, and so can roast beef, ham or pork. Make cookies, fruit pies and cupcakes. Make hard-boiled eggs and muffins. Fill a clean milk jug or two with drinking water in case that goes out, too (put another jug in the bathroom – if the water goes out you'll need it to flush the toilet). If you can get to a store, stock up on bottled water and juices, fruit (canned and fresh) and margarine in a tub.

This is where you'll get a chance to shine, because the more creative you are the better the experience will be. Kids get scared if their parents seem scared, so if you treat the whole thing as a huge adventure they may enjoy themselves just like they're on vacation. Say you're going to play Pioneers (or Explorers or whatever) and live without electricity! How exciting! Tell stories, read aloud (a library stop before snow flies is another good preparedness idea) and play board games. If it's not actually dangerous, go outside and experience the weather first-hand – stomp in puddles or make snowmen. Make snow ice cream or snow candy (pour molasses on the snow and eat it when it freezes; it's actually kind of disgusting but it's so interesting kids won't care how it tastes). Start journals. Teach them to knit. Write skits and perform them. As a last resort, make sure the cupboard is well-stocked with AA's and let the kids play video games until their eyes fall out.

Outside Pets
If you have pets that can't come inside, make sure to get them ready for extra-cold weather. Provide wind-proof shelter, if possible, and check frequently to make sure that their water hasn't frozen. They may also need more food to stay warm. We make sure to put a heating lamp in the chicken coop and keep it on throughout the cold snap.

Make a Record
Take pictures! This is one of those things you'll talk about for years afterward (“Remember the time it was so cold we all had to sleep in sleeping bags in the dining room?”) but never seem to think to document at the time. Take a picture of the marathon Monopoly game and the seven-foot snow demon. Record the kids singing a duet while your husband accompanies them on spoons. Look around yourself and notice that you're getting some concentrated family time without having to take a sick day or compete with the crowds at Disneyland.

Come to think of it – I can't wait! Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Mollie writes:

Well, I whined too soon. This schmuck is sitting inside watching the snow pour down. Did I mention that we live on an island on Planet Whoops?

Whidbey Island is a planet unto its own. We get snow at 36 degrees, and it piles up in a nice wet glop. After it snows, THEN the temperature plummets and we get "sn'ice" - an Islander's version of snow and ice. Build up a little weight on the power lines and we get a power outage. Since we are principally a residential area and lightly populated at that, we are a low priority for repairs.

So, John's at the grocery store, stocking up on stock-upables. I'm making sure that the laundry is finito, and that all appliances are organized for the switch over to generator. My personal DVD players are charged, my flashlights have fresh batteries, and the propane tank is full.

There must be something I'm forgetting . . .

Monday, February 21, 2011

Yep - It's Spring Alright!

Mollie writes:

This Mollie is going to be hard to live with this spring, if all things pan out. I just took the mid-February stroll through my yard and I can tell, that at least in the Pacific NW, spring has sprung.

It's not just my daffodils, that are standing proud - all of 'em tipped with blooms. It's not my tulips, my hemerocallis, all luscious and green, spurting up through the frosted earth. It's not my crocus, my Hollywood Plum trees, just screaming to bud, or even my clematis, all freshly green AND budded.

Nope, it's the chick weed that's spreading all over my yard.

I don't have much of a weed problem, yet. But first comes the chickweed, followed by thistle, field horsetail, and the dreaded nettle. Nope, in the weed family, the harbinger of spring is chickweed.

I'd like to be offended that we call it chickweed (why not call it dudeweed?). But really, it's all fresh and dewey, with little white flowers mocking me. It's an annual, but comes back every year with a vengeance, so much so that it has to be a chickweed, with PMS, thank you very much. Only a female would be so intent on spreading so happily throughout the garden.

It's shallow rooted, however, like a lot of insincere chicks, so it's easy to pull. And that's what I plan on doing the next month. I'll put on my fatigues, my ivory pistols, my four-star helmut and make like General George S. Patton, rushing to the aid of the Allies at the Battle of the Bulge.

I'll have dirt under my fingernails and embedded in my cuticles. My shoes will be grass-stained, my knees caked in mud. But I'll be one happy Garden Avenger in March, and that's what good gardening is all about.

So break out your capes and leotards, the Garden Avengers are loose!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Light Rail Right Outta Portland

Mollie writes:

I never knew what an unwashed heathen I was until the issue of mass transit, light rail and other elegances of politics raised its head in the seventies. I had been innocently shuttling all over the Portland metropolitan area on Rosie (remember when the bus system was Rose City Transit and everyone called the bus Rosie?).

I had innocently managed my life with pragmatic thinking. "Take the bus - it's cheaper" I told myself; and with these ideas and with the money I saved, I could go to Hawaii on one of those discount tours designed for the lower income middle class. In my mind, I wasn't special, I was just another working drone who saved her money, saw society as a network of similar working drones, and enjoyed my little vanities.

I also experienced smugness because mass transit and light rail was a positive step into the future. By using less fossil fuel to transport myself all over the area, I was ensuring a cleaner environment for all. I imagined my self as St. Chelle, Patron Saint of Clean Air.

I really wasn't into pretense, I liked being 'raw.' At one point in my working career, I was working with a group of people where pretense and influence was important. I rapidly wrote off the social aspects of the job, went in every day and did my duty, and then went home and laughed with my husband at the "silliness du jour."

My husband, an engineer with multiple degrees and legal engineering registration (and, heaven forbid, a Naval reservist!) and I were treated as second class citizens by this group. I didn't wear designer clothes, I took the bus to work, often brought a sack lunch, and pretty much conducted myself as a yokel. I liked being a yokel and actually took pride in it.

When the subject of mass transit and light rail came up, I was informed that those of us who lived in the suburban east side would be so blessed to have light rail. What a wonderful way to move the lower class to the big city to fill our lower echelon support roles! It's important to note that the people who were telling me this lived on the west side and drove their own cars everywhere. I was the only person in my professional community who actually USED mass transit, but I was lectured daily on the advantages of it by those who eschewed it.

In the mid-seventies, before I was married, I was a Portland resident, lived downtown and actually voted for Neil Goldschmidt because of his progressive stance on mass transit. But I kept my progressive opinions to myself once we moved to Gresham and I worked in NW Portland. It was much more fun to fan the flames of contempt than join the social club. When I announced that I would be a parent-at-home once I produced prodigy #1, I was promptly told by the resident feminist that my brain would go to seed.

Sometimes I really miss that place. It was fun!

So I quit my job, had my baby, and my mind didn't turn to mush. But light rail was completed in the early eighties, and I felt that I had done something important by being one of the people who voted for Goldschmidt and supported light rail in both word AND deed. Hence, I continued my smug persona.

Fast forward to 2004 when the bomb hit that Neil Goldschmidt admitted to raping many times, over a period of years, a child. Multiple sources offer that she was 14 when the abuse began, but it's reasonable to believe that this child was 13 when the abuse began. Goldschmidt never admitted her age, or the length of his criminal activity, but if you read the testimony of many who knew of the crime (especially the victim!), it started on her mother's birthday when she was 13 and continued past her 18th birthday, when it was no longer criminal activity (1).

Being the yokel that I am, I was disgusted. I'm perfectly able to see subtle hues of gray, but also know black and white when I see it. When The Oregonian first addressed the revelation, they termed it an affair (how the people of power and influlence see child abuse, I suppose). This was no gray issue of social faux pas, in my mind, it was serial child rape, pure and simple. Consenting adults have affairs and cheat on their spouses (they are uber-stupid in my mind). The rest is rape.

But remember, I was a yokel. But I was no longer proud of it.

When social judgement was passed, we yokels were told by the powers that be that we should over-look Goldschmidt's crimes and sins and just thank our lucky stars that we came out of this with a cheap ride. Had we not been given the keys to the kingdom by Archangel Neil himself?

I don't remember Goldschmidt doing much other that getting paid to do this. And he took his pay not only with salary, but all the perks that accompanied it.

He got this opportunity from us yokels.

Goldschmidt didn't create light rail, We the People did. The affluent and powerful didn't ride mass transit back when, we yokels did. Goldschmidt didn't engineer light rail, We the People with muscle, education and talent did. That included the yokels with graduate degrees in engineering, Siemens, and the unwashed heathens who elected Goldschmidt in the first place.

So the next time the Goldschmidt saga rears its ugly head, remember that we owe Goldschmidt NOTHING for light rail, or anything else. He is nothing more than a serial pedophile who greased his own tracks to perversion with the butter of light rail.

We the People can take pride in Max.

And the Goldschmidt supporters can take that light rail, and shove it right outta town!


Go to Margie Boule's excellent article:

If you want further information, read the document at:

The investigation was done on Bernie Giusto, but contains so much information about the Goldschmidt rapes it gives the reader insight about who knew what and when they knew it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Adults Do

Millie writes:

As I told you yesterday, there's a brand-spanking new Full Adult in our house now – bringing the total to four currently in residence. To commemorate Red's new status, here are the:

Top 10 Truths About Adulthood

1. Adults don't just do their work without being reminded; adults see what needs to be done and do it, regardless of whose “chore” it is.

2. Adults do what needs to be done, even when they really really don't want to do it.

3. Some adults forget what it feels like to be a kid. Some adults remember what it feels like to be a kid. A few adults still feel like kids. Strive to be a member of the latter group; good adults don't lose their senses of wonder and adventure.

4. Adults can drive unsupervised, and live on their own, and travel alone. (Do each of these things from time to time.)

5. Adults feel responsibility even for things and people that have not been assigned to them, and they act on those feelings of responsibility.

6. Adults say “no” even when it's easier to say “yes.”

7. Adults say “yes” even when it's easier to say “no.”

8. Adults plan ahead.

9. Adults can eat ice cream for dinner, stay up all night and turn the music up all the way. As long as they accept the consequences, adults get to do pretty much whatever they want.

10. Regardless of what Conventional Wisdom tells you, adulthood is way more fun than childhood . . . if you do it right!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Mollie writes:

My husband and Red have a lot in common, including their birthdays. Happy Birthday, Red!!!
Happy Birthday, Sweetie Buns!


Millie writes:

Red's birth was like something out of a Gothic novel; he arrived after not one but TWO treacherous journeys through an ice storm, he was born in a caul and he didn't cry, preferring to gaze calmly at the goings-on through his hypnotic newborn eyes. William Wordsworth wrote about birth:

Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come

and it was easy to see the stardust that clung to Red. Even the strictly pragmatic midwife who delivered him pronounced in eldritch tones, “He that is born in a caul will never die by drowning.”

His childhood also had elements of the supernatural. He was my smallest baby but quickly grew to be the tallest of the children (so far; I think Jack is going to give him a run for his money). He was a very sober little boy; he didn't laugh until he was four months old. (What got him then was me singing the old Steve Allen song “Schmock Schmock”). When he was a preschooler he would often answer questions that I had not asked out loud.

Though he's smart in general, Red's particular genius is music. He has perfect pitch, and he can play any musical instrument that's set before him – he once sat down in a music store's display window, doodled around for a minute and then played AC/DC's “Thunderstruck” - on a sitar.

Red is a walking contradiction. He is fiercely particular and completely disorganized. He's a flamboyant public performer who is excruciatingly shy. He's a college student, a barista, a rock guitarist and a composer. His imitation of “The Muppet Show's” Beaker would convulse a saint.

Today he turns 21.

Happy birthday, Red! Welcome to adulthood! When you were a toddler you used to throw your arms wide and announce, “I yuv you large!” Well, I love YOU large. You are everything a man should be, and your life is going to be magical.

I'm glad to be a part of it!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Light Rail - 2011

Mollie writes:

I've been a proponent of mass transit since I was sixteen. I eschewed getting my driver's license on my sixteenth birthday. I paid to ride in a carpool when I needed a lift, rode the bus to my different jobs as a young single adult and managed to get by just fine. Part of this was my inherent cheapness and part of this was my commonsense.

My father bought a car for me when I turned 18, hoping that I'd change my mind. It was a 1957 Dodge Coronet. It was a 2 door wonder, and it looked like the Bat-mobile on steroids. I promptly gave it to my oldest sister - I knew I couldn't afford the insurance and maintenance.

And Tri-Met was working out for me perfectly well. The bus rambled all over the Portland metropolitan area - east to west, north to south. There wasn't a place I couldn't get to for .35$ and a transfer. I could read on the bus, see the sights and meet new people. And with the money I saved, I could afford a vacation or two where I sampled mass transit on Oahu and other Hawaiian islands. Life was sweet without a car.

I met my future husband in the mid-70's. Attitudes were changing about transportation - we'd had oil embargoes, gas had risen to over a buck a gallon and gas rationing was a curse on all of us - except for me, who continued to bus all over the place. I had opted to live in downtown Portland, where I worked, and not spend a cent on transportation since we had "fareless square" an area in downtown Portland where the bus was free. And I could afford that nice apartment: I wasn't spending money on car-payments, insurance, gas, maintenance and other complexities of car ownership.

During this time, Neil Goldschmidt was Mayor of the City of Portland. I thought he was just the smartest person - thanks to the generosity of fellow tax-payers, I was able to get just about anywhere I wanted to and not contribute to the gigantic carbon footprint one more gas guzzling vehicle would bring on the City of Portland. I honestly felt smug.

What I really didn't focus on was that all of us worked for mass-transit, even those of us who opposed it. After advocating for light-rail, Goldschmidt managed to have the Tri-Met Board of Directors to approve light rail in 1978. Goldschmidt continued as mayor until 1979, when Jimmy Carter elevated him to Secretary of Transportation.

Even with Goldschmidt's disappearance from the local scene, work on light rail continued. Construction began in 1982, and the first run of the MAX (the name chosen for the light rail system) took place in 1986. Goldschmidt was in Washington DC during that time, while all the heavy lifters back here shouldered the burden. When Carter left office in the early 80's Goldschmidt took a job as a VP at Nike.

I married my sweetie in 1977, and promptly got my driver's license since we moved to a home in Gresham where there was no walking access to Tri-Met. But I continued to carpool whenever it was available, or rode to work with John to BPA, taking a bus from NE Portland to NW Portland where I worked. Everything seemed to work out just fine. By the time I was a mom of two, the MAX was completed, and John and I took Peter and Roger for their first ride on the MAX. It was an event.

What I am building up to here isn't a folksy history of public transportation in the City of Portland in the latter quarter of the 20th century. What I am building up to is how those of us who were idealistic were seduced by a pedophile who accurately read the trend to mass transit and used it to enable himself to sexually exploit a child for 4 years.

I'll write more tomorrow about how it angers me that we were all so easily duped, and continue, to this day, to be duped by the political machine that is Portland.

More to come -


Millie writes:

Sassy did not want a stepmother.

She was a very small child when her mom and Dad split up, and they had both shielded her from the worst of everything that was wrong in that house. She was the pet of the whole family and her mom's fervently-longed-for daughter, and she had absolutely no interest in giving up her place as baby of the family and moving in with a bunch of strangers with a lot of RULES.

She particularly did not want a stepmother.

Sassy and I had a very rocky start. She wasn't used to chores and rules, and I insisted upon them. Her mom asserted that she didn't have to do what I told her to do; her Daddy asserted that she did. Poor Sassy was caught in the middle.

Well, that was then.

It was our mutual adoration of Lance that provided the first bridge. She learned to be more trusting, I learned to be less hard-nosed. She discovered that I also love to write; I discovered that she has a wicked little sarcastic streak, as well. Then too, we were three girls sharing a house with five boys – we banded together to combat toilet seats being left up, roughhousing and uncivilized behavior in general. Through holidays, vacations, Harry Potter, driving to school and surgeries, we learned to like each other . . .

. . . and then to love each other.

Sassy is a wonder. She is genius-smart, but she has so many other good qualities that her fierce intelligence hardly even stands out. She is funny and ambitious and creative and kind (well, minus that sarcastic streak!) and ebullient. She is also beautiful. I'm not talking mother-pride cute, either – Sassy is gorgeous, and rendered even more so because she is totally unconscious of the fact. I couldn't love her more if she'd grown under my heart instead of in it.

Today she is seventeen.

Happy birthday, Sass! Sorry to be demonstrative in public, but as you know a journalist must speak the truth. You are a fantastic Tochter, and I am proud and happy to be your Stiefmutter.

I love you!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Let's Do Lunch

Millie writes:

Lunch is one of my favorite parenting tools.

A few years ago I discovered that, once a kid graduates from high school, you hardly ever see them anymore even if they're still living with you. We feel fortunate that, so far, all of our college-student kids have decided to attend a local school and live at home – but between classes and work, it felt as though the relationships were shifting from “family” to “landlords and tenants.”

Still, kids are supposed to become more independent during this time, and it's harder to do when they're living in their childhood bedrooms instead of away in a dorm somewhere. The line between “dependent” and “boarder” can get a little fuzzy on both sides; but I don't care how old they get, I still want my “kid fix!”

Thus was the idea of “Tea with Mom” born.

It started with Red. We're both artistic sorts, so when we realized that we never had any uninterrupted time anymore to talk about our works-in-progress we decided to form our own mini “Artist's Way” group and go out for coffee once a week. It turned out to be much more than that; this time became an oasis in both our lives, a time we could concentrate solely on each other and talk about what was going on in our lives.

It worked so well with Red that I asked Rocky (the other college student in the house at the time) if he wanted to try it. Rocky works hard to preserve his Fonzie persona, so I wasn't sure if he'd want to do anything as uncool as to go have coffee in public with his old stepmom, but he jumped at the chance. In fact, it was Rocky that upgraded “coffee” to “lunch.” We take turns picking up the check.

Now I look forward to these two dates all week. I've gotten to know both men far better than I ever would have otherwise, and they get to be with me as “two adults together” instead of “parent and child.” An unexpected bonus is that these young men-about-town have introduced me to fantastic restaurants I would never have known about otherwise.

Hey, you know what's cool about having little boys? If you're lucky and you work hard, they turn into smart, funny, gentle, articulate men.

I'd write more – but I have a lunch date!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Parenting Payday #347

Millie writes:

One of the most difficult things about being a parent is that you don't know whether or not you're doing right until it's too late to go back and do it again.

We may start out with fabulous dreams: our kid will be President, he will be an astronaut, she will make Shakespeare come alive, he will cure the common cold.

Deep down, we're really hoping that our precious babies will accomplish even more important tasks: We hope they will learn to think. We hope they will be kind. We hope they will find True Love, and be able to return it. We hope that they will develop the resources to overcome obstacles and to get what they want out of life.

We hope that they will be happy.

Today, family and friends are joining together to help May and Roger into their new house – the one they bought together.

Congratulations, my dears. You worked hard for this, and we could not be prouder of you.


We done GOOD.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sacred Everyday

Millie writes:

On school mornings I get up before the kids, turn on the lights and open the window blinds so the house is welcoming and ready for the day. Yesterday morning I opened them onto an eerily Parisian landscape: Monochromatic shades of charcoal gray, fog swirled with luminous streetlight glow and light posts looming at odd angles like the the masts of shipwrecks. If I'd been on vacation I would have been filling my camera's memory with the sight; as it was, I just said, “Huh! Cool.”

How much everyday wonder is slipping by because familiarity has blinded us to its beauty?

I realized the other day that I don't have any pictures of my babies crying. There are birthday cakes and first steps, but no pictures of their pink cheeks and delighted drooly grins when they woke up from their naps. I have photos of Halloween costumes but not of bedtime stories, video of dance recitals but not of someone tying his shoe for the first time.

It is precisely these moments that now I'd give nearly anything to see again.

I can remember the look on Joy's face when she opened her 16th birthday gift even without the picture, but how wonderful it would be to see again Red's look of shock the first time we put cottage cheese in his mouth. There is photographic evidence of the pride in Jack's eyes when he finally figured out the pedals on his bike, but none of the pride I felt when mine was the only touch hospitalized Sassy could bear after her surgery.

So much of parenthood passes in a haze of monotonous sameness that it feels as though this is the way it must always be. We're so anxious to hit the high points with our children – to make sure that graduations and holidays are celebrated in style – that we let those sacred, every day moments pass without comment, almost with relief.

Ah, but . . . the small, sweet weight of a baby's head tucked under your chin; the tiny hand slipped confidingly into yours before you cross a street; the secrets confided to you in a cracking, husky-voiced teenage whisper . . . notice these things, I beg you, along with the Christmas mornings and the choir programs.

Take at mental snapshot, at least. Those are the moments that count.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

. . . And In Health

Millie writes:

Everybody at my house is sick.

Oh, not very sick – they've just got colds. Which means they feel rotten, with enough energy left over to tell me how rotten they feel.

I've always been of the opinion that a kid (or a husband) who's sick should just be allowed to go ahead and wallow in it. It's bad enough to feel puny without having to pretend you don't. Everyone needs a little TLC when they're under the weather, and I'm pleased to be able to provide it.

When they were little and feeling sick – no matter what the reason – it usually involved puke in one form or another. Keeping the Bucket Brigade under control was vital. Make no mistake, one of the first things we taught them was that no matter how sick you are you can control yourself until you make it to the bathroom. Control like this takes a while to learn, though, so in those early days there would always be a clean empty margarine tub or plastic wastebasket close by. You also need another wastebasket for used Kleenex and other detritus.

It can be easier to make up a bed on the couch for someone who's recuperating – easier on you, that is, especially if there are stairs in the equation. I cover the couch in sheets or blankets (cover the back and arms, too, if there's puke involved even peripherally), then add pillows and more blankets to make a “nest.” Let the little dear watch cartoons and movies (not too many, it will strain the eyes and give them headaches) while you get your work done.

If they're feeling well enough to sit up before they're well enough to get up, make them a lap desk out of a large cardboard box. Cut off the flaps on the open side, then cut two matching semi-circles out of the long sides. Flip the box over and slip the semi-circles over the sickie's lap.

With so many kids I found it convenient to make up “Sick Bags,” which are lunch-sized bags filled with toys they can only play with when they're sick. I've collected several interesting things for these bags such as magnets, magnifying glasses and ball-in-the-hole puzzle games. I may even pick up a recent comic book or stop by the library for a particularly pitiful patient.

Though eating on the couch is usually verboten, a sickie needs liquids liquids liquids and so they can have a lidded travel mug, a water bottle or a cup with a built-in straw. They also need small healthful meals to tempt their failing appetites (unless we're on Puke Watch or the BRAT diet).

Well, I have more to say but it's time to fluff pillows, make tea and feel foreheads. It's a lot of work but I'm not worried; I'll have plenty of time to rest next week. That's when I'll get the cold – and be left to my own devices!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gun Control a la Mollie

Mollie writes:

It has never been a quiet controversy. The right to keep and bear arms is a right guaranteed to every American citizen since the second amendment was ratified in December of 1791. But over the years, politics, social environments, gun technology and political correctness have morphed gun control into a mini-war for folks who otherwise would agree on everything else.

I've never been a fan of guns. I don't like the big noises they make, the rebound I experience when I shoot one, and the ever pressing stress owning a gun brings to a parent. When John and I married, I couldn't care less if he had guns and as a result, he started collecting them.

When we brought Peter home from the hospital after his birth in 1982, we agreed that we'd keep the actual guns under lock and key in one spot, the 'action' locked away in another spot, and bullets and other ammo in a third secure spot. John started 'loaded his own' ammo at some point in order to save money, we kept the supplies for loading locked up, and life moved on smoothly.

John is an avid gunman, and he owns quite a few. I could care less if he sold all his guns tomorrow. How do two polar opposites make things work?

Aside from keeping the guns and ammo under lock and key, we also chose not to give our kids toy guns. We didn't get them toy holsters and revolvers, air rifles, BB guns, etc. We maintained a very serious attitude about gun ownership and encouraged our kids not to play war games (that worked until they were in high-school and electronic games, anyway!). We did get the boys those big water pistols that soaked everyone with water on a hot day, but that was the extent of our frivolity.

So it's no surprise that our boys grew up respecting guns. Our oldest is now in the military and must carry a weapon at times. The youngest doesn't have a gun and has shown no interest in obtaining one. But they both respect each other and their father's love of all things that go "boom."

In the end, it isn't the gun that poses a problem in the home. It's the parents' attitudes about gun maintenance that is lethal. When the boys were toddlers, we locked up the cleaning supplies, the medications, and, yes, the guns and related paraphernalia. And the boys were never left to their own devices. When the boys were small, they were NEVER unsupervised, and when they were older, they were much more respectful of anything that represented gunpowder.

When Peter was 7 or 8, he went to a friend's house where guns were left "lying around." He came home and spoke with us about it. He was a pragmatic little guy and knew that you just don't leave a weapon, loaded or unloaded, accessible in anyway to a minor. It was one of our many 'golden rules.' As a result of his telling us, we agreed that he couldn't go back to his friend's house, although the friend could still come to ours. It didn't go over with the child's folks, but then, who cared?

They say guns don't kill people, people kill people. For the parent who chooses to own guns, I say mazel tov! As long as they are locked away and handled responsibly when in use, I say teach the kids about gun safety, personal responsibility and openness. And if you decide NOT to own weapons, I say mazel tov as well as you are choosing to not complicate your lives with one more in-house danger. In the case of these kiddies, I also recommend teaching gun safety as stringently as you teach kids about illegal drugs, strangers and other every day hazards since it's a big world and not everybody's folks are prudent.

So, instill your attitudes in your kids and when they are adults, they will be able to comfortably choose for themselves if guns will be a part of their household. And when you are lecturing them on personal responsibility, be sure that you are leading by example.

A Giggle a Day

Millie writes:

Q. What's brown and sticky?
A. A stick.

This is my favorite joke. I know, I know . . . I'm a professional writer, I've traveled, I'm a grownup, for heaven's sake – but my sense of humor is a match for that of any 10-year-old boy. I'm proud of this.

Laughter is good for your health. It boosts your immune response, lowers your blood sugar, and dulls pain.* Even more importantly, it's good for your soul – and what's good for your soul is good for your family.

A family that laughs together has stronger ties. A shared joke is a shared history, and it is precisely this “us united against the world” feeling that makes a family strong. A close family will have private jokes, favorite stories and lots of “you had to be there” moments, and these links to a happy past are what will bind you together during the rough times.

Best part is, it's easy and it's free. Go to the library and check out an assortment of DVDs for movie night – my kids love Buster Keaton and Robin Williams. Look up age-appropriate jokes online and post a new one on the kitchen whiteboard every day. Stick a joke in a backpack or lunchbox. Tease your kids – contrary to what the PC Police would have you believe, teasing that's not cruel is fun for everybody involved (and will help keep both your child and you from taking yourselves too seriously).

A home that's filled with laughter is a home indeed.

Two snowmen are standing in a meadow. One snowman turns to the other and says, "Do you smell carrots?"

*Give Your Body a Boost – With Laughter

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Writing Blogs Whilst The Sun Shines

Mollie writes:

I've been on a new drug for multiple sclerosis, gilenya. This has been a gift from GOD (God is in caps for a reason!) and I'm very grateful for it. It's taken orally, which is super duper since the drugs I've taken before were only available as injectables.

These drugs were interferons. I started with Beta Seron, moved on to Avonex, and then hustled down the pipeline to Rebif. In the interim, I also quit the interferons to take part in a double blind study at the Oregon Health Sciences University for a peptide based drug, also injectable.

Beta Seron and Rebif are sub-cutaneous injections, so all you really need is a tummy and a behind with some nice fatty tissue. No problem for this chick. But they were absorbed quickly, so you did your injections every 48 hours. The Avonex was into deep muscle, but was only done weekly since the absorption rate was slower for muscle than fat. I could go 7 days between self injection and this was good. The peptides at OHSU were given deep muscle at the facility, into my arm, but only required one shot a month.

I liked that one!

But I hated the shots. I hated the big red welts that remained for weeks after the shots (and doing a shot every 48 hours leaves a lot of big red welts). In addition, you'd have a 'shot reaction' within a few hours. This, in my case was a lovely package of 'flu-like-symptoms' meaning total body aches and elevated temperature. This would last for more than an hour, so when I did my shot, I'd do my shot, take 800 mg of ibuprofen AND GO TO BED!

And you had to time the Rebif shots. You can't do a shot closer than 48 hours apart or apparently the sun will fall from the sky. So you can imagine that I HATED myself every 48 hours for giving myself the shots. I had to rustle up courage every 48 hours. It sucked.

Then there is the clinical depression increase associated with interferon usage. I don't know a soul who is happy that she has MS in the first place, and the actual exacerbations were depressing enough. So my provider wrote me script for Prozac and it actually helped some - which was a good thing since the suicide rate for the interferon users was considerably higher than the control group.

So for the past 15 years or so, I've planned my life around shot night. This would occasionally screw up parent/teacher conferences and other child related activities. In addition, I worked outside the home for four years after starting interferon. You can't believe how fatigued I got, having MS, doing interferon shots, and, frankly, dancing the motherhood dance.

And it isn't just the shot reactions that would get to me. Once, my liver just gave up and my liver enzymes shot through the roof. Initially, I was doing Avonex for MS, a steroid for management of the swelling that gets out of hand during the exacerbations that I have, and Zanoflex, a muscle relaxant that would soothe the back cramping I'd get after sitting at a computer all day. So we gave my liver a rest, and I resumed interferon therapy, but with fewer medications that taxed my liver.

And, since interferon is a immunosuppressant (spelling?) it left me more vulnerable to infections, etc. It came as no surprise that I developed shingles at the ripe young age of 56. Most folks get it after age 60, when, at last, you are given a free vaccination by your local HMO.

(I say that anyone who had Chicken Pox as a child should have the shot after age 50. But I digress . . .)

We MS'ers do this #$!) because the interferon users experienced a 16% reduction in MS flare-ups. It doesn't seem like a whole lot, unless you're the poor chump who still has exacerbations that she never recovers from 100%. Then it seems like a tolerable trade. Even with the shot reactions, viral infections, liver failures, shingles, etc.

So when I heard that there was a new drug coming down the pipeline that wasn't based on interferon and shots, I was, as they say, pumped. Imagine taking a pill every morning that reduced the exacerbation rate up to 50% rather than a measly 16%. My mother didn't raise no dummies, so as soon as it was approved by the FDA (September 2010), I pushed to change my drug regimen.

I finally got an appointment with a neurologist at the Virginia Mason Clinic who is actively treating MS patients with gilenya, the new oral drug. After reviewing my MRI's, my medical history, having me examined for cardiologic, ophthalmic, dermatologic and other potential complicating factors (it took an entire day of people poking, sticking, and touching me), I was cleared for gilenya.


I got my first dosage of gilenya on December 29, 2010. I had to spend six hours at the clinic after the first dosage since some of us experience a slowing of heart rate upon administration. Fortunately, my ticker was up to the challenge and kept up its end of the deal. So since then, I've taken 1 gilenya orally every morning and voila . . . nothing - meaning no shot reactions, no aches, pains, insomnia, heartburn (from the ibuprofen). AND no new MS issues now for 6 weeks!

But the followup is time-consuming in itself. I'm now being followed by a dermatologist, an ophthalmologist (for the potential for macular edema) etc. Since I was due for a refraction anyway, I asked for a dilated exam and things look great, even my optic nerve, which tends to alter when you have MS.

I suspect the years of interferon usage was good for me (my only attack of optic neuritis was when I was diagnosed with MS in the first place and wasn't on interferon). But boy, do I like the new drugs they are coming up with.

My point here is that drugs are ok - but even under the obsessive supervision of cardiologists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists, internists and psychologists (OH MY) can be plenty dangerous. Which is why I told my kids that if I found out they were messing with illegal drugs, I'd hunt them down and HURT them. But seeing their mom deal with legal drugs all these years must have had some impact on them, since they held no tolerance with messing with 'em since they saw all the crap I went through with the legal ones.

I guess there's a silver lining there, somewhere . . . .

Meanwhile, my pupils are returning to their normal size after my eye exam this morning. I can almost read my computer screen without squinting and this is good. But make no mistake, having MS is a burden that is a bunch of crap. And, really, there's not one silver lining since I would have managed to instill The Fear of Mom in my kids in other ways.

End of rant!

Spring Beauties

Millie writes:

I looked out the kitchen window this morning and noticed that the bare black branches of the neighbor's wild rose bushes are beginning to show tiny, tightly-furled knobs of greenery.

My daffodils are up about 5 inches - and they're budding.

It's early February, and every year about this time I stand in the garden and argue with the plants. “Go back, you fools! It's too early!” I scream at them. “It's a trap!!!” (Curiously, we hardly ever see anything of our neighbors in the winter.)

It is a trap, since we still have a lot of cold rain, a few freezes and possibly even more snow before spring begins in earnest; but it's a breath of fresh air, as well. If there weren't a few signs in early February that, someday, winter will end – well, a lot of us probably wouldn't make it until late February.

The kids and I used to take walks every year looking for “spring beauties.” We took lots of “Noticing Walks” - walks during which we'd look for something in particular, like chimneys or birds or blue houses or mailboxes shaped like something besides mailboxes – but I think Spring Beauty walks were my favorites. We could always find beauty once we looked for it: yellow crocus blooming through the snow, birds building nests, sharply-textured new leaves and even (one banner year) a mama duck with 8 fuzzy baby ducklings swimming behind her.

It's good to slow down occasionally and watch the seasons pass. Yes, the stupid daffodils will probably get frostbite again this year – tulips have a lot more sense – and an ice storm is liable to turn those cat's-paw rose leaflets black. Still, I could use a little Spring to tide me through the rest of this winter.

I wonder if I could entice a high-school junior into taking a walk with me?
Image by Jiihaa

Monday, February 7, 2011

One Way or Another

Millie writes:

Another thing every mom needs in her arsenal is something that gets her high.

I was raised in Humboldt County (aka The Stoner Capital of the World) so I know from high. There were more drugs available in my junior high cafeteria than there are in our local Walgreens. It was still legal for kids to buy cigarettes in California and it was easy to find someone to buy you liquor if you wanted it. The net result was a squeaky-clean Millie – not because I was a particularly upstanding example of American teenagerhood, but because in Humboldt County getting blasted was no big deal – I knew what it looked like. It didn't look like fun.

My secret vice was music.

Not the music they played on Lawrence Welk or Hee-Haw, either. My parents were Kingston Trio Fundamentalists, so I was in high school before I got my first taste of an unsyncopated back-beat and found out what rock can do to a girl.

Good rock music bypasses my ears and goes straight to my psyche, and I need to have a careful mix on hand ready to fire up at any moment. Rock gets me up when I can't, makes me forget my troubles for a while, lets me laugh and act crazy without rendering me unfit to drive. There is no Valium that can make me feel the way I felt when I first heard AC/DC's “The Jack.

There are more of us out here than you think, us Moms Who Rock. Other babies listen to lullabies, ours are rocked to sleep with “Welcome to the Jungle.” After we drop the kids off at school, the windows in the minivan are reverberating to Def Leppard. Other mothers teared up at “Toy Story 3” - we cried at the end of “School of Rock.”

I'd share my current playlist, but it's beside the point – you need to find the music that works for YOU. You'll know it when you find your head, shoulders and hips moving without your volition; you'll know it when you don't care how loud your teenagers turn it up; you'll know it when it makes you smile and feel like dancing even though nothing else is going right.

Rock 'n' roll may be bad for the hearing . . .

but it's great for the soul.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Menagerie

Millie writes:

I spent my Saturday morning beautifying a chicken. That's right – while other people were having lunch out with their husbands (maybe even someplace with silverware), or sleeping in, or attending a nice civilized ballet recital, I was giving a chicken a shampoo and blow-out.

When they hand you that fuzzy little bundle in the delivery room, they never mention the fact that soon you'll be able to add “Zookeeper” to your resume.

Through the years I've taken care of – in addition to human cubs – cats, dogs, rats, gerbils, mice, frogs, hamsters, parakeets, ducks, rabbits, horses, homing pigeons, pigeons with no sense of direction, innumerable insects and chrysalii, ferrets and fish. However, Lance is allergic to just about anything three-dimensional, which rules out most standard household pets.

Except for the tropical fish – and the chickens.

I'm a cat person, myself. Without a cat around the house I feel only about 75% complete. Naturally cats are the things in all the world to which Lance is most allergic, so I can't even look at online pictures of cats any more. Have you read The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman? Without a cat around the house, I am like a character from that book who has been sundered from her daemon. A perpetual catless state was one of the biggest adjustments I had to make to marry him.

Of course kids love animals too, and they crave pets. When they were small and wanted a furry or scaly little something, I made them research the animal in question. What did it eat? How much exercise did it need? Did you have to walk it/ shoe it/ get it vaccinated/ clean up its poop? They were always “responsible” for pet care, but make no mistake – the buck stopped with me.

Lance lived in a very rural area growing up and did some time in 4H as a boy – a fact which you would find as hilarious as I do, if you knew him. He raised rabbits and an Audubon catalog of various fowl. I didn't suspect his agrarian side until one day when we stopped at a feed store to look at their tomato plants and my logical engineer husband got all googly-eyed over the chicks in the back of the store.

Really? Chickens??

I didn't want chickens. They smell bad, they peck you, they're noisy and you can't cuddle them. I knew where the buck stopped, remember, and I drew the line at picking up the poop of anything I couldn't cuddle. But you know how it goes . . . the kids look at you with their Bambi eyes and plead, and the husband casually remarks how nice a coop would look over by the grape arbor, and eventually they wear you down.

I have to admit I've enjoyed having chickens, especially since Sassy and Jack turned out to be Chicken Whisperers and really do all of the work. We live in the city so we can't keep many and we can't have roosters, so the only noise they make is a rather nice companionable clucking. We're on our second batch of birds, and they actually make pretty great pets. There is the delightful bonus of fresh eggs every day, and since the kids have hand-tamed them they don't peck. Jack tends to walk around the yard looking like a land-locked pirate, with a hen perched regally on his shoulder. Of course, they aren't like cats – they're not really capable of giving or receiving affection.

Or so I thought – before I met the Duchess.

The second batch of chickens were a birthday surprise for Sassy (they were her “Tweet Sixteen” present), and we got her some lovely little Leghorn chicks. The next day Lance and I stopped by a different feed store to pick up a feeder or something and – they had baby Silkies.

A Silkie is to a regular chicken what a Vegas showgirl is to a secretary; they have the same basic equipment, but they jazz it up a bit. Silkies are bantams, which means they're about half the size of a standard chicken. They have extra toes, big snowshoe feet, hairy feathers and large fluffy pompoms on their heads. They look like hippies or clowns or walking pillow fights.

Due to a delivery snafu these Silkies had gotten stranded in the post office over a holiday weekend, and they weren't doing too well. It took all of Lance's Jedi Mind Tricks to talk the lovely women into selling us a couple of them – we got a white one for Sassy, and a black one for . . .


I don't know why. She was a CHICKEN, for goodness' sake, but she was teeny and fluffy and looked just about as much like a kitten as a chicken can look. It was love at first sight, even though she and Alice (the white one) were both awfully weak and shaky. I named her “Duchess” because of her regal, deliberate walk. She almost didn't make it because she couldn't figure out how to drink, so I hand-fed her drops of water – and she imprinted on me. Sassy or Jack will bring her in from the coop and present her to me with a flourish, and she will climb up into my hair and snuggle her head under my chin and purr (contented Silkies make a low rumbling sound like a cat's purr). I guess, sometimes, chickens do cuddle.

Which brings us to this morning. I took pity on the poor birds because it was 2 p.m. and Sassy hadn't gotten up to let them out of the coop, so I went out to put them into the run and of course they all escaped and began wandering all over the yard. I noticed that Duchess, who has been molting, had a bloody neck wound from the other birds pecking at her – so (after Lance helped me round up all the escapees) I brought her in, gave her a bath in the sink and dried her fluff with the hair dryer before putting Neosporin on her neck. Then (I must admit) I sat and had a good, long cuddle with her while she told me all about her day.

I guess it's my destiny to take care of the small things, because the small things keep finding me somehow.

As I have said before . . . the cluck stops here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Stiff Upper Lip

Millie writes:

Brady Bunch references aside, most of the time being the wife of an unemployed white-collar worker and the mother of six over-committed kids doesn't do anything but suck.

It's all very well to talk about “self care” and “bubble baths” and “discipline that is loving but firm, quite firm.” Frankly, counteracting the chaos that is my everyday life with “a cup of Starbucks and a nice long stroll through a bookstore” would be like combating a zombie horde with a fly swatter. It just won't cut it.

You need two things to get through the days in a life like mine:

1. A keen sense of the absurd; and
2. The ability to lie convincingly.

Ten years ago I left a disastrous first marriage and struck out with my Soul Mate to build the life and the family of our dreams.

This year I'm going to be 50, Soul Mate has been out of work for 7 of the 10 years, and we've spent the decade dealing with runaways, surgeries, deaths in the family, betrayal from friends, chronic medical problems, eviction, weird religious cults and heartbreak.

You know.

Just like you've spent your last ten years.

I couldn't have survived this long without being able to discern the inherent absurdity of our situation and laugh at it – albeit sometimes hysterically. It may be gallows humor but it's humor nonetheless.

And I'm proud of the fact that our kids think everything in life is peachy-keen: that the divorce was a mutual decision by good friends who just were not meant to be life mates, that Husband is considering lots of job offers, that those 30 phone calls a day from 800 numbers are just surveys.

The Husband has room to think and network, and the kids have a solid foundation from which to launch their own lives, because I am a sneaky, manipulative, half-crazed maniac with a good poker face. What I can't slipcover I deny, defy or sugar-coat.

Come and see the circus. Watch as I make a Thanksgiving dinner out of a giveaway turkey and whatever I can find in the pantry. Get out of bed with me to clean after the Husband is asleep so he won't know I can't keep up with the housework and write, too. See the Husband demolishing his Engineer's Hands to somehow keep my POS van running 30 years past the time it should have been crushed into a cube, so that we will be able to ferry kids and groceries for as long as we can still afford the gas. Listen in as I only cry in the shower so that no one else will know how scared I really am.

Just like yours, my life is a combat zone – me against the rest of the world. We're fighting for my family, who don't even hear the bullets zipping overhead.

Because - yes - I am that good.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I wasn't born stupid, this is just a gift that I've cultivated since I was a tadpole. Millie and I have been writing this blog since April, and, it's official, it only took me nine months to figure out how to illustrate what I'm writing with a photo.

Now that's gestation!

If you look at the picture above, you'll see my dog's heiny sticking out from underneath the bed. That is because my husband was on his way to the shower and had just asked me "Want me to bathe the dog?" - and of course I did; the dog had been digging in the compost heap an hour earlier.

Boatsie, our mutt, speaks English fluently. He heard the four-letter "B" word (that's Bath, for those of you who thought it was Bich) and tried to escape his doom. Being a dog, he doesn't think exponentially, he figures that if he's hidden his head, nobody can see him. Nothing exists from the eyes down if HE can't see it, ya know?

This picture always makes me laugh. I remember the times my kids would bonk their heads, standing up under a table when they were toddlers. No, I'm not a sadist, it's just that imagining their train of thought as they learned that we live in a three-dimensional world, and that part of their 'being' occupies physical space above their eyes.

When does a little person make the connection that there's substance above their eyes?

Peek-a-boo is one of the most important games you can play with your infant, especially if you incorporate it with a mirror. You can peek-a-boo the baby first by covering your eyes and saying "peek-a-boo" and then switch roles and cover the baby's eyes with their blankie. When you lift the blankie off her head, squeal "peek-a-boo" and the next thing you know, you've got baby laughter everywhere.

(Note to parents: only use a security object to cover the baby's head with. You don't want to be paying for therapy into perpetuity).

Then show the baby how to cover his eyes with his little paddy-whackers, remove his paddy-whackers and say "peek-a-boo" again. In no time, your little genius will be playing "peek-a-boo" with complete strangers at WalMart. It's just that simple.

Playing "peek-a-boo" with your infant is a wonderful way to teach your child that just because they can't see something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. A whole lotta learning goes on with this simple game.

My point here, other than it took me nine months to gestate from ignorant blogger to stupid blogger, is that children can learn from an early age that the world isn't always as it seems to them on any one given day. Substance (and brains, for heaven's sake) forms above the brow and below the lid. Closing your eyes doesn't mean that the world disappears, it just means that you've shut your eyes.

More to come . . .

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

10 Signs Your Kid is Growing Up

Millie writes:

It's not always easy to know when you're doing your job right in this Parenting biz. Development tends to occur slowly, and when you're right there in the trenches every day it can be difficult to notice growth as it happens. Therefore, purely in the interests of Science, here are ten signs to watch for that your kid is growing up.

1. The first time they use the toilet without being prompted

2. The first time there's not a 5-foot “splash radius” around the high chair

3. The first time they dress themselves

4. When they stop hugging you at school because “somebody might see,” and then when they start hugging you at school again because “they don't care who sees”

5. When a school official calls you to tell you about the fight your child stopped by standing up for the smaller kid – bonus points if this is the first you've heard about the incident

6. When they start showering every day without being asked (Note: In our house this happened in 9th grade for the girls, and sophomore year for the boys)

7. The first time they go in to school early, on their own initiative, to talk to a teacher about a grade

8. The first time they introduce you (without prompting) to someone else in public

9. The first time they go to work and the first time you see them at work

10. When they buy their first house

These are a few of the milestones I look for. What maturity milestones do you use?