Thursday, March 31, 2011

Things are Looking UP!!!!!

Mollie writes:

I don't know where each of us is on the current economic crisis, but this Mollie is as happy as a clam.

Three significant people in my life have either been hired by employers with really decent wages, or are at least being seriously considered for positions with really decent wages.

This doesn't compensate for my friends who are currently out of work, but IMHO, this is a huge relief. It seems as though employment is picking up, and in the mainstream business community for livable wages!

Not only that, but my friends who managed to keep their business afloat during these times are finding that their business is starting to revive.

It sure makes this cranky old lady a happy camper!

The Iron Maidens

Millie writes:

I have a young friend who's feeling a little chagrined; her daughter was given a toy ironing board as a gift, and since she's never seen my friend iron she's using the board as a bed for her dolls.

Mollie and I have both had husbands and children in the military and then in "white collar" jobs, so we are both card-carrying members of The Iron Maidens. We have strong opinions about how to iron a dress shirt, how to press a crease into wool slacks and how to iron pintucks into a skirt. I can ramble on for hours about mixing my own spray starch, and my steam iron is one of my household treasures.

I was feeling all Martha Stewart-y, ironing away in the basement, one day when Jack and Sassy were about 10 years old. They had a friend over to play and the three of them wandered downstairs. "I know what that is," said the little girl. "Oh, really?" I answered, thinking that maybe I wasn't the only housewife left in the city after all. "Yeah," she said, "my great-grandma had one."

My iron is great, but I think the invention of permanent-press is at least as miraculous as photographs of Mercury!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Awe and Wonder

Millie writes:

I don't usually subscribe to the whole “In my day, kids never . . .” bit. In the first place, kids always did; in the second, it's still my day!

However, today I want to play the “it's different for my generation” card. It's not a face card, to be sure, but I think it's still a counter.

My generation is the only one that feels the way we do about Space.

Humans walked on the moon – WALKED on the MOON – for the first time when we were still young enough to accept miracles as a matter of course but old enough to recognize from the adults' reactions that this was a big damn deal. For our parents, space travel was something improbable that they accomplished; for our kids it's something that has always been there.

For us, it's a meteoric twin sibling. It's like . . . like having Inva Mula as your sister. You may sing a pretty good “Happy Birthday” but even if you practice sixteen hours a day for the rest of your life you'll never hold a candle to that voice – and you don't care. Jealousy is meaningless in the face of something so inherently cool. You're just proud to be associated with it, in however menial a capacity.

Yes, most (but not all!) space stuff is the product of rarefied intelligences dedicating lifetimes to study and work. Some (but not all!) of the people who go into space are smarter than I will ever be, stronger than I will ever be and better educated than I will ever be able to afford to be. Still – they're people. We're people. PEOPLE did that.

Since in addition to my other geekeries I'm a huge science geek, I tried my best to instill this sense of reverent excitement in my kids. No, their science books didn't say “some unimaginable day in the future Man may leave the Earth's atmosphere,” but I don't want them ever to be suave about things like this. How boring, how lacking in enthusiasm is your life, that LIVE FOOTAGE FROM MARS coming INTO YOUR LIVING ROOM isn't something that you'll drop everything to see?

In our day – which, I reiterate, is now – there are marvels and wonders everywhere you turn. I have touched the Rosetta Stone. I've seen the green flash. I've held a human brain and heard Eddie Van Halen play live and planted a seed and haven't even made a dent in the bucket list. I never will, because the things to see and do and try and just stand stock-still in wonderment of – there's a never-ending supply of them.

Hey, Kids. Guess what?

You can see PHOTOGRAPHS of MERCURY now.

People did that!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On a more personal note:

Millie writes:

Happy anniversary, Lance! Without you the last nine years would have been well-nigh unbearable; with you, they've been exhilarating.

I'm looking forward to our traditional Costco Food Court Feast tonight!

Je t'adore.

Laugh, Don't Cry!

"Mommy? I was picking up trash in the bedroom, right where Jacob asked me to... and then he threw a pillow at me from on top of the bunk bed!" My oldest daughter looked at me, indignation plastered across her face, seeking justice.

I laughed. Yes, at her.

Her face began showing signs of crumbling. Before she fell all apart, I gathered her into my arms and tried to show her the humor in the situation. "Laureli," I began, "can't you just picture it? There Jacob is, evilly scheming away.. calculating exactly where you need to be for him to launch his attack successfully... buaahahhahaha..." She raised her head and looked at me, slightly bewildered, though trying not to laugh with me. "Baby.. you need to learn to laugh at yourself! Find the humor in the situation!"

I'm trying to impart a very important lesson to my children: learn to laugh at yourself. I didn't learn that growing up, and still struggle with taking things personally in my adult life. I'm hoping that, by teaching them young, there will be less hurt feelings and greater mirth in their lives.

And that I, too, will learn how to laugh more readily at myself.

"I can't laugh right now..." Laureli pouted. "Well.. if you can't laugh, then at least don't cry about it. It really is okay."

Teachable moments are awesome.

Monday, March 28, 2011

How to Do It on Days You Can't Do It

Millie writes:

We all have 'em – those days where we just can't. Whether it's illness, depression or just boredom, we all have times where we just simply can't change one more diaper, weed one more flower bed, or file one more TPS report.

To paraphrase “Office Space,” it's not that we're lazy – it's that we just don't care.

Unfortunately, for most of us, not showing up for work just because we don't feel like it simply isn't an option most of the time. Diapers fill, weeds flourish, TPS reports don't file themselves. I myself am beginning Week 4 of The Shape-Shifter's Plague. It started out as a garden-variety cold, but every time I think I'm getting better it's because the virus has gone underground and is preparing some fresh hell for me.

Last week it was coughing fits that necessitated adult undergarments. This week it's boils. I have one inside my nose right now that has swollen my upper lip so much that I look like a Who in Jim Carrey's “The Grinch.” I have a fever. I can't sleep because my poor husband has seasonal allergies and spends the nighttime hours making respiratory noises that resemble an adenoidal hippopotamus gargling hot roofing tar.

In short – if I had a choice between writing how-to articles or having the bottom of my tongue tattooed by an epileptic biker suffering a seizure, I'd take the Hell's Angel.

However, in the the grand tradition of pioneers, martyrs and mothers through time immemorial, I am going to do it anyway. I am going to hate whatever I do today, so I may as well do what needs to be done and hope I'm stocking up a few karma points.

Put on your game face
. Even if your daily grind doesn't necessitate leaving the house, do your grooming. In the first place if you don't, you can guarantee that you'll run to the drugstore, where you'll stand in line behind Jensen Ackles

(probably while you're clutching a tube of Preparation H or a breast pump or something equally sexy, to boot). Secondly, as “Cosmo” as it sounds, looking better will make you feel better. At least, glancing in the mirror won't make you feel even worse if you've made some effort to look pulled together. If you're a woman and you wear makeup, slap some on. If you are a man, do whatever it is you do to your facial hair. If you're a person of either gender and you have hair, at least brush it. This is probably not the day for a major 'do, but don't leave it hanging greasy in your face.

Let it go. You know in advance you're going to be pissy today, so make a deal with yourself ahead of time not to engage with people in areas that are ticklish at the best of times. This is NOT THE DAY to start the convo with the teenager about his sex life, or tackle your boss about her breath, or start toilet-training that toddler. Make it easy on yourself and on the people around you (the people whom, ordinarily, you love or like or at least tolerate) by vowing that you will be oblivious to the idiocy all around you.

Eat real food. When you're in the doldrums it's so much easier to grab the crackers and cheese or hit up the candy machine or stop by the Drive-Thru than it is to cook yourself a proper meal, but a long run of bad nutrition can turn your day or so of The Blahs into a vicious cycle. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that we tend to avoid grocery shopping when we're in this mood and if we do go, nothing looks good but microwavable deep-fried cheese and the large bag of Mallomars. Boil yourself some eggs if you can't bring yourself to saute a chicken breast and heat up some rice, but get some nutrients into yourself somehow. Try and remember the Food Pyramid you learned in the third grade. Well, I learned the Food Pyramid, I think now it's the Food Parabola or something equally moronic. Point is, eat some real food.

Prioritize. If you suffer, as I do, from List-Making Syndrome, this is one time it'll stand you in good stead. Write down every single thing you have to do, then prioritize the things. I mean every single thing: Put “brush teeth” down there, right next to “re-roof garage” and “finish TPS reports.” You may find that you don't have as much to do as you had feared, but you may also find that there's a reason you are overwhelmed – you do have too much to do. (Don't do anything with this knowledge today; keep it, like Mary, and ponder it in your heart.) Do a few of the easy/quick things first so you can get some encouraging “Finished!” check-marks under your belt, then tackle the rest of the list. Intersperse the vital things with a few easy tasks to keep your morale up. Don't take a break unless you're pretty sure you'll be able to talk yourself into coming back. Once you do quit, even if you haven't finished it all you've done the most important stuff.

NEVER: Never get your hair cut when you're in this mood. Don't get married when you're in this mood. Never say “yes” to taking on more volunteer work in this frame of mind – say “I'll get back to you.” If you decide it's about time you told Ol' So-and-So what you really think about her, write it down if you must, but don't send the e-mail or letter for at least 24 hours. Don't quit your job.

ALWAYS: Accept help, I don't care how “independent” you are. If your 4-year-old sees you're struggling and offers to do the dusting, hand her a damp rag and turn her loose. She may not do it as well as you do, but when you see the streaky coffee table all you'll see is the love behind the task. Throw a piece of meat and a can of cream soup in the crock pot in the morning and all day you'll know that at least dinner is taken care of (at least, it is if you remembered to turn the crock pot on). Listen to music that moves you, even if it means sitting in your cubicle wearing ear buds and bouncing around like an electrified jello. Have sex, if you have a partner who's interested in things like that. (Think of it as someone “giving” to you, not as one more item on your To-Do List!)

Okay, I'm off to work. Frankly, I often wonder how women who aren't driven by a combination of guilt and the Puritan Work Ethic ever get anything accomplished at all!

Fear and Loathing on Kidney Island

(with apologies to Hunter S. Thompson)

Mollie writes:

You can tell it's spring on Kidney Island. The daffodils are blooming, the flowering plum trees are all pinked out, and, on the South End, a gentle mist is rising from Honeymoon Bay in Holmes Harbor.

Sounds peaceful, non? Not at all. Remember that daffodils and flowering plums are non-native plants in our neck of nature, and that peaceful mist rising from the harbor might be, well, just anything.

Here on the island, we have a tribe of born-again eco-warriors. Made up of developers, contractors, real estate agents and large businesses, there's a move going on the island to spend $40,000.000 to "rescue" Holmes Harbor. This 'grass' roots coalition is planning for huge population growth and wants to be sure that when the masses arrive to buy their quarter-acre in Eden, that the development fees are pre-paid by the current residents.

Not being terribly stupid, these people have seized control of the mantra "Save Holmes Harbor" and introduced a plan that will, IMHO, do more to condemn our environment than to save it. We are a small community established on marshland. But that doesn't stop our intrepid eco-warriors from progress. Developing this area with housing starts piled upon housing starts, industry, and all sorts of infrastructure is just the ticket for our ecosystem . . . NOT!

Not that these eco-warriors have done any sort of Comprehensive Environmental Impact Study. To the refrain "we all know that Holmes Harbor is the most polluted water in Puget Sound" their charge to build more residences in the Harbor area is a flight of bizarre thinking that defies science.

But, who needs science when rhetoric is faster and cheaper?

Those of us who are the minions of unwashed eco-rapists don't know what we're talking about. Who needs DNA testing on fecal coliform to determine if the source is human, avian, reptilian, mammalian or any other life form. These birds, fish, sea otters, and household pets have no business living here, pooping in our water. Their fecal remains, deposited here for millions (billions and billions,Dr. Sagan?) of years are undesirable.

The estimate of $40 million is conservative. And divvied up amongst 419 parcels (ranging from .5 acres to 10+ acres), results in individual land assessments almost into the six figures. And remember that many of the residents here are retired folks on fixed incomes. You can see why "Saving Holmes Harbor" is laughable.

And remember that this is for a quasi-sewage system that does not even address solid waste. What about the solid waste, and the rest of our eco-system.

We aren't a bunch of NIMBYS (not in my back yarders). We are a bunch of rational folks who understand the limitations of island living (high voltage power transmission, garbage pick up, recycling, transportation, etc) and we are all pretty sure our neck of nature can't support the population growth wanted so desperately by our eco-warriors.

Those of us who are actually concerned with the environment (read scientists and engineers) are mocked by these eco-warriors as irresponsible polluters. But some of us just don't see where building a metropolis on swamp land on an island is environmentally sound.

If it weren't so sad, it would be hilarious that suddenly developers have discovered environmentalism.

But that's life on Kidney Island.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Shiver Me Timbers!

Mollie writes:

Maggie, Millie and May all have busy lives. For heaven's sake (literally!) Maggie is raising and home schooling four kids, including a little person who is still hooked up to Mommy for food. Millie has been raising six kids (and doing marvelously, I might add), and May is just starting out on the marriage track, complete with a house, two cats, a dog, full time work, and in the future, little folks of her own.

This diva's work is at a standstill. I no longer work outside the home, my kids are raised, grandkids are still a twinkle in my eyes - and we now have a smaller home. You'd think I could just dash off stuff for this blog left and write with all this time on my hands.

It ain't so.

What if someone gave you the gift of being able to eat anything you want and never gain weight? What if you won the $300,000,000. lottery? What if you could read any darn book you wanted, for as long as you wanted, in your jammies at 11:30 am?

I am rapidly turning into the lazy princess of my nightmares. I get up at 7:30 am and the next thing you know, I'm brewing myself a cafe mocha, watching CNN news and debating whether or not I'm going to plant bulbs, weed, write, read, go work on the sailboat with my husband, or maybe just spend the day doing nuttin'.

Or I could get my nails done. It's a possibility.

Well, I am already chubby and I haven't won the lottery yet, but that third scenario is definitely here. For the last six years, we've been living on Kidney Island and I've been reading, cooking, gardening, sewing, watching television and just generally having a lot of time for myself. When Millie and I started this blog, I figured I could write an entry a day, no problemo. But at some point my brain was divested of any relevant wisdom (meaning no kids, no comment) and I'm left with great memories, great adult kids, great husband, and a garden to die for.

Millie and Maggie and May STEAL time from their schedules to write. Moi, I just dither the day away. It's almost pathetic, except that the garden is flourishing (except for that clematis armandii that died during the last snow/wind storm). I've made every souffle I've ever wanted to make, I've made all my curtains and ruffles, dagnabbit, and if there's another non-fiction book on the European Theater during WWII, I'll buy it and read it ASAP.

So, I should write more often, I think, except that sometimes I feel like my years as a mom are irrelevant. When the boys were small - of course we had issues. We had prematurity, seizures, MS, you name it. But we got through it.

If I write anything relevant these days, it won't be about the active process of parenting. I'm coming to accept this. But I'm planning on writing more about what a woman does when the last diaper is washed, the last graduation celebrated, the last kid walks down the aisle, and the first kid produces grandkids.

From time to time, I'll sound smug, desperate, euphoric, frustrated, angry, amazed, stunned, amazed and incredibly irrelevant. But that's the good news. If parenting goes well, that's the daily status quo for any actively mothering person. I'll probably write more about sewage and less about projectile pooping, but that's relevant for my stage of life.

Here's to hoping that you all will get to this period of your lives. And if I dither, wither, or quiver, it's because I'm at that point in my life.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Mom Appreciation Day

Millie writes:

You may or may not know this, but in addition to raising 6 kids, running a house and blogging I'm a freelance writer. Mostly I write how-to articles for various well-known websites. (I was explaining this to someone today and he squealed delightedly, “Oh, I get it – you're BOB NEWHART!” Lance was totally bewildered but I understood it completely – if you do, too, then you're probably at least as old as I feel.)

Today I accepted an assignment with the title “Mother Appreciation Ideas.” Next week sometime I will come up with 500 polished and professional words on this topic, but when I first read the title I had only one: Encouragement. She wants some encouragement!

Whether she's a 24/7 stay-at-home-mom who sews her own diapers and cans her own corn or an Executive Mom who makes a point of being home every night for the bedtime story, a Mom gets very little timely feedback on how she's doing. It can be argued that if her kids aren't running naked in the street (as Bill Cosby said, “chasing cars and biting tires”), she's doing okay, much of the time we're playing it by ear. SAHM is lucky even to get a “great dinner, Hon!” once a month. Executive Mom will get employee reviews and bonus checks at work – or employee reviews and probationary status, if all isn't going well – but she won't really know how she's doing at home until the kid is grown.

By then, of course, it's too late to change her approach.

If you want to show some appreciation for the Mom in your life, there are two ways to do so. One is by letting her know that you see her. A single comment such as, “Maggie, your kids are so smart, and so well-behaved in public – you're doing a fantastic job with them” gives her the positive feedback that lets her know she's on the right track. Joy's preschool teacher listened to her read and said, “It's obvious you've worked with her a lot.” A little thing, but . . . well, that kid is 24 years old now, but you can see that I'm STILL running off that compliment.

By the way, this is especially important if you're the Dad to her Mom. The two of you know these kids – and all the flat-out work that goes into raising them – better than anyone else in the world. If you think she's a great Mom, tell her. If the kids are always clean, if they're smart, if they're funny, if she manages a schedule that would make an air-traffic controller weep – let her know you see her prowess and you're awed by it! Conversely, if Dad reads a mean bedtime story, keeps the laundry caught up, or teaches 15-year-olds to drive without ever raising his voice – thank him. Tell him what a good job he's doing. You know the 15-year-olds aren't gonna do it.

The other thing that shows Mom how much you appreciate what she does is to dig in and do a little work. Wash the dishes. Pick up the toys. Go get the bread, milk, eggs and yogurt on the grocery list. Take the cranky baby for a drive so Mom can get a nap. A helping hand is Motherhood's highest denomination of currency.

Of course, handprint plaques and potted marigolds and crayoned hearts that say “I lov yuo, Mom” are pretty darned good, too.

Dos Epiphanies

I was going to title this "Apocalypse Now", but with all the End of the World talk going around, I figured I'd go for something different. You see, I may have just broken one of the seals. Or signaled the Four Horsemen to get down and boogie.

Something monumental happened to me.

I'm still whirling.

In all seriousness, though, I've had a couple of epiphanies over the last two days. The first one spurred on the next.

Hello. My name is Maggie, and I am a Yeller. (Hello Maggie!) I have four children, ages six, four, two and eight months. To say things get loud and chaotic around here is... well, it's an understatement. I don't always handle the noise, bickering and near constant interruptions to my thought process (seriously, I've been pulled away from this article a couple dozen times already) with as much grace and cool calm as I would like. Instead, I behave like my four year old, having a meltdown.
I am not proud of this. I have been trying to work on this bad habit of mine without much success. It was far too easy to emotionally vomit on my children, to get that release of pent up frustration. I'd been unsuccessful in those attempts...

...until now.

Sure, it's only been a day and three hours (yes, I'm
counting..), but I see improvement already. You'd like to know my secret?

My first epiphany was my Yell Check Chart:
(pixilated, sorry! And don't worry about the bruises on her face, she tends to be very... active.. in how she shows her displeasure at not being held--she smacks her forehead down VERY hard, no matter what surface is under her... even if that surface is a toy that can leave a bit of a black eye..)

I plan on getting this chart laminated so that I can erase it at the end of each week, after recording the details in a file on my computer. Each time I raise my voice in anger or frustration (not when I'm hollering for someone to come in for dinner, or to come here from the other side of the house--it's all about the spirit behind it, don'tcha know?), I have to fill in a box. When telling my friend about this, she thought it was a GREAT idea, and took it one step further--she was going to do this as well, though she wanted to record what she was doing, and what her children were doing when she got frustrated and yelled. I think that's a good idea, and will do that as well.

I started this yesterday, and I am happy to say I didn't yell even one time. Holding myself accountable by having a visual record was enough to help me hold my tongue. I don't want to have to fill in those boxes! It really helped me check my attitude and be deliberate about how I interact with my children.

Which led me to this morning. Oh, my friends, my two year old woke up early and cranky. I could have given in to the urge to yell in exasperation and anger more than a few times, let me tell you! I held my tongue and stayed calm with her, though.. and that's when my second epiphany hit me: our children need us to stay in control of ourselves, especially when they are not in control of themselves. It is easy to want to behave exactly like them--but we can't do that!

I know, many parents are gonna shake their heads, "She's just now figuring this out?!" In fact, I believe Millie has spoken about this before, too. I guess it just now clicked! Not only are we to be a good example on how to deal with our emotions in a calm manner, we can also fuel their out-of-control behavior when we ourselves are not in control.

I'm happy to report it is not, in fact, the end of the world.

At least, not in my house. My house is finally under some semblance of order!

(By the way--it took me five hours to get this article written up--I spent a great deal of time interacting with the children in a calm, loving manner. So if this is disjointed in its flow, please forgive me!)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kidney Island's "Sewer to Nowhere"

TMI for folks who are tired of hearing Mollie whine about poop!

Mollie writes:

I am not really sure how this all came about. I really didn't give a hoot about poop until I had kids, and now, thirty years later, I'm still awash in it.

For the casual reader, I'm a 58 year old diva whose children are grown. I always knew there was a life after active, hands-on motherhood, but I never realized it was the same-old same-old.

We start by cleaning up waste our babies and toddlers produce and move on to cleaning up after their pets. And just about the time the kids are on their own, and the parakeets, hedgehogs, love birds, finches, dogs and other living reminders of our kids' childhood have passed on to that big off-leash park in the sky, along comes retirement.

I'd promised myself that I'd immerse myself in sewing, crocheting, gardening, reading and napping. Well, that just hasn't happened yet. And it's been 6 years! We moved to an island in Puget Sound to get away from the rat race, and found out that we would only trade one set of fears for another.

Dealing with human waste is at the top of the block right now on the South End of Kidney Island. EVERYBODY has an opinion. and each opinion is unique, with its own DNA. In a nutshell, we all have "to go" somewhere, and where our waste "goes" is a hot topic these days.

Locally, we have a small human population (don't ask me about the deer, bunnies and those g*********g sea otters) and no sewer system. As a result, each of us, either alone, or in partnership with neighbors, have our own septic systems. Gracing our back yard is a state-of- the-art septic system complete with tanks for solid waste, liquid waste, and a series of pumps that sends our liquid waste into our drainfield, located in our front yard. Our solids are stored in a tank that gets pumped periodically into a poop-mobile, and transferred to a sewage treatment plant on the island. You'd think that that would be enough.

All of us are concerned about water contamination. And since some people have solid waste tanks that may be aging and ultimately subject to leaking, concern is reasonable. But some folks' solution to the problem defies rational thought.

Some of us want to install a sorta-sewage system on our area of the island. I call it 'sorta' because this plan calls for treatment ONLY of liquid waste. Solid waste would be handled as before, in our personal tanks, pumped into the "poop-mobile" and hauled off for treatment elsewhere. Our liquid waste would be pumped into a 'treatment center" where the liquids would be "purified" with some chemical (sodium chloride?) and then sprayed on to the local vegetation.

So nothing would be different other than the addition of chemicals to the liquids and the distribution of it into the eco-system. There would be NO changes with solid waste treatment - and this is where some of the bad-guys (human fecal coliform) are present.

But wait, there's more! Conservative estimates for this "non-sewage" treatment plant have come in at 40,000.000.00. AND there are only 400+ tax lots in the service area. Simple math results into property assessments at approximately $95,000.00 minimum.

Where I come from, that's a lot of bucks. And if you are like some of my neighbors, that assessment would send them into bankruptcy. But a majority our fearless commissioners have a plan for that, federal grants for "low income" folks.

Federal grants for this projects have been applied for and turned down in the past And with the recent budget crisis (both in Washington State AND Washington DC), some of us evil money crunchers suspect that Gregoire and Obama won't be giving us any money any time soon for a "sewer system" that doesn't do hard waste.

Nobody wants a "Sewer to Nowhere." But that's what we'll be getting for our individual $95,000.00 buckaroos (and change).

Never let it be said that retirement will be boring. Never let it be said that you stop worrying about "stuff" once your kids are gone.

We've managed to recycle it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Nature's Most Perfect Fruit

Millie writes:

Let's talk about comfort food.

I was 21 years old when I first discovered the merits of the fried-egg sandwich. I was working my way through school at the time; I had a job as Night Watchman at a millworking plant near our tiny hometown, and when my shift was over at 6 a.m. my dad would come and pick me up. He'd drive me home, shove some food into me and then drive me into a slightly larger burg to catch the 7:15 bus in to the city for school.

As you can imagine, that year is pretty much a blur. What I do remember with perfect clarity is the morning when we were running a little late; my dad melted a little butter in the cast-iron skillet and cracked in an egg when the butter was bubbling. He slapped some mustard on two pieces of white bread, laid a thin slice of cheese on the bottom piece and nestled the hot fried egg on the cheese. Then he “smooshed” the other piece of bread over the egg and handed the whole thing to me.

It just doesn't get better than that.

I don't have a perfectly-seasoned cast-iron skillet - we go in for the newfangled non-stick frying pans - and we usually only use real butter on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Still, I've found that when it comes to fried-egg sandwiches, it doesn't matter – whatever you've got on hand is just fine.

It turns out that cracking an egg into a well-greased stoneware cereal bowl, then covering the bowl with a paper towel and microwaving the egg for one minute on high, will “fry” an egg just the right size to fit on a leftover hamburger bun. If you want to get fancy you can melt cheese onto the egg in the nuke too, but I prefer the just-slightly-tacky consistency a hot egg imparts to sandwich cheese. If you're out of yellow mustard, stone-ground works just as well; and I am ashamed to admit it, but some of my kids don't like mustard and apparently the sandwich is just as palatable without. You could even leave off the cheese (though I don't recommend so drastic a step).

You must not omit the smooshing, though. It's the slightly soggy, slightly greasy bread that adds just the right je ne sais quoi to this epicurean feast. One of my brothers goes so far as to undercook the egg and then “pop” the yolk between the pieces of bread when he smooshes it – a daring approach but not for the faint of heart.

Eggs go in and out of fashion as far as whether they're approved by “diet experts.” For that matter, so do cheese and butter and bread. Let them argue about whether or not this combination is good for my family's heart.

I know it's good for their souls!

Poison Control

Mollie writes:

Go to: and you'll find a poll on the home page asking if you've ever had to call a poison control center. What I have to ask is that "Who hasn't" and "Why did only 23% admit to, yes, they've called poison control."

Life is filled with bizarre little mysteries. Not only did I call poison control, but I had to call them at least twice. When my 18 month old got a nasty little diaper rash, I bought a tub of Desitin and spread it on his little bum like I was frosting a cake. It must have been the lovely smell (kinda like rotting fish), but the little guy decided, when my back was turned, to sample a baby handful.

I could tell he'd eaten it because he had this goofy white smile that smelled like a beached whale. Of course I called poison control.

The telephone person reassured me that the stuff was ok, and that Pete would be ok. I watched him like a hawk since I tend to NOT believe experts, but, whaddya know, she was right.

The next call into Poison Control was when Roger was 4 years old. He'd gotten four packs of gum in his Christmas Stocking from Somebody, and when Somebody's back was turned, he decided to chew and swallow as much as he could in one sitting.

Somebody noticed right away and called Poison Control. In addition to learning that one NEVER gives a kid even ONE pack of gum, Somebody learned that Roger would be ok, once he'd passed the gum.

We watched him and, whaddya know, he passed the gum. Sigh.

And that's just the kids! One dog ate the mosquito pellets we put in the pond, we called, and whaddya know, the pellets were non-toxic to dogs (it didn't do much of a number on those skeeters, either). Aaaaaaaaaand then there was the time our two toy poodles, Jake and Elwood, broke into my night stand - where I kept my medicine. We didn't call poison control, we rushed the dogs to the Emergency Pet Hospital where their stomachs were pumped. No drugs were found (wish I could say that about the real Blues Brothers) and Somebody got a lecture on keeping drugs out of the reach of pets as well as children.

So, I admit, I've called poison control. I didn't put them on speed dial, but I did have their number on my fridge. You never know when the kid will stick dead fish in his mouth . . .

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Amen Millie!

Mollie writes:

After 33 years of marriage, two children, bills, taxes, disease, wars, husbands on active duty and a grown child currently deployed to the Middle East, I can echo that it ain't all easy. We decide to have children, and in a moment of sexual frenzy, presto chango, another human life (or two) enters the world.

It's never easy. Just ask my sister Mariah. She was born in 1949, and round about the mid-seventies she decided, since she was happily married to an equally ready adult, that she wanted to start a family.

Things didn't go especially well. In her first trimester, it was discovered that she'd been exposed to toxoplasmosis. Forget that she didn't have a cat, but strangely, she did have a garden and made the unforgivable error of actually gardening whilst gestating.

She read up on toxoplasmosis and, because she really, really wanted to be a parent, not just a baby boomer with the mandated boomlet, she girded her loins and saw the pregnancy through.

Six weeks early, she gave birth to twins, Pete and Re-pete, and entered the realm of parenting in a parallel universe - that is, the universe of a mother of severely handicapped children.

It wasn't JUST that her kids had been exposed to toxoplasmosis, and it wasn't JUST that her boys had inherited the previously unknown gene (in our families, anyway) of Russell-Silver Syndrome. But there were actually difficulties during delivery. So, at age 26, Mariah was the mother of two children who had issues with severe cerebral palsy, blindness, growth, failure to thrive, abnormal facial shape, you name it.

So began a life long commitment to parenting. In another article, I'll write about the frustrations of being a "special" parent and how society, in general, treats these families. But I do want to take a moment and express that when I started parenting in the 80's, I was told that my contribution to my children's lives was of no particular value, that I was cheating myself, that my brain would atrophy, that my husband would find me boring, ad naseum.

Oddly, that didn't happen. I didn't cheat myself, my brain is just fine, and my husband, thank God, has never found me boring - annoying, bossy, opinionated, cranky, clumsy, sclerosed, etc. YES, but NEVER boring. And since my boys didn't turn into axe-wielding whackos, I figure that I had some positive input into their lives.

Go figure.

Becoming a parent is the best of living. It's also the hardest, most painful, impoverishing, humbling, frustrating and socially demanding thing you do. But once you create another human being, it's never about just you alone.

Life isn't an ABC sitcom. It isn't a Harlequin Romance. And it isn't all about "Moi." It is about drama and it's about "US."

So if you are thinking that you don't especially like raising children, consider not conceiving them in the first place.

They didn't ask to be born. We ask for them!

For more info on Russell-Silver Syndrome go to:

For more info on toxoplasmosis go to:

Parenting: Once You're a Parent, It's Not a Choice.

Millie writes:

Lately, I've seen an increase in the number of media articles about women who have made the decision to step out of their children's day-to-day lives. These are not women who are dealing with long-term debilitating illness or incarceration. These are not women who have made the excruciating decision to send their children away from their families to get them out of a war zone.

These are women who found parenthood to be more work than they'd expected. In a word, they got bored.

Consider Rebekah Spicuglia, who got pregnant at 17 with her son Oscar. When she got the opportunity to attend a college at the other end of the state, she left Oscar with her by-then-ex husband – and the “freedom” so exhilarated her that she never looked back. In her words, it's still “so hard to talk about. But secretly, inside, it was the most exciting thing. If he was living with his father, I would be free to do what I wanted to do."

Or consider the headline at the top of the Yahoo! news page earlier this week: “Parents who hate parenting: The latest trend?” The article is a collection of “expert” opinions about why raising children is hazardous to your physical, emotional and financial health. Time magazine is quoted as saying, “Having kids is an economic and emotional drain. It should make those who have kids feel worse.” The author opines that women who wait until they're older and more established to have children “know exactly what they're giving up when Junior arrives. And they miss it.”

My advice to these people? Grow up.

Once you have given birth, you forfeit the right to have life be all about you. It is now mostly about your child. No matter how wonderful you are, you have to take a back seat for the next two decades.

This is why your parents/teachers/religious leaders spent so many hours trying to drill it into your head that, yes, sex is fun; but no, you shouldn't have it unless you're ready to deal with the consequences. You were thinking (if you thought at all) that you covered every consequence that affected the all-important You, right? The most important side-effect of sex isn't “will he respect me in the morning” or “do you believe in Friends With Benefits” or even why it burns when you pee. The most important side-effect of sex isn't really about you at all.

Sometimes, when you have sex, you make a new human being.

You can't do that provisionally.

Having a child is not like adopting a pet with the idea that you can take it back to the shelter when it stops being fun. If you take on this responsibility, you take it on for life. Yes, it can be messy and dangerous and heart-rending. A lot of it is tedious and menial and boring. You may have to skip a vacation or miss your favorite TV show. You probably won't be able to take every opportunity that comes your way.


If you want to live your life on your own terms – if you want to be free to travel on the spur of the moment, pursue your art or your passion to the exclusion of all else, or spend all your money on yourself – don't have children. It's not mandatory. What is mandatory is that you take responsibility for the human beings you bring into the world and raise them to the best of your ability until they are old enough to take care of themselves.

Even if that means – and it probably will – that you have to postpone that graduate program or world cruise or Tupperware party.

I find parenthood to have a much higher fun-to-drudgery ratio than any of the other “jobs” I've held. Some people don't. I find that there are numerous opportunities for creativity, learning and making deeper connections. Again, some people don't. I find it to be an endless cycle of mind-numbing tasks, repetition and plain hard work. I think everyone would agree with me on this one.

Don't fool yourself that your child will be “just fine” without you. Other people can do your job but no one else can fill your role. You have a child, and you need to raise him.

You may wish you'd made different choices.

You may not think it's fun.

You may not find it “fulfilling.”

Get over it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Break

Millie writes:

Spring Break. The phrase conjures up "Animal House"-like pictures of beach parties, bikinis and young adults whooping and hollering. The reality, at least at our house, is very different (except for the whooping and hollering).

Oh sure, even in Oregon Spring has sprung. That is to say, the neighbor's camellias are plopping, soggy and brown, into our driveway; the frozen mud outside the chicken coop has turned to liquid mud; and the moss in the front lawn is beginning to bloom. Our hard-hearted meteorologist has predicted rain for every single day of Spring Break Week – just like last year, and the year before that.

Which means I've got a houseful of young adults with no school, no plans and no money. They're California Dreamin' in the worst way.

What's a Millie to do?

Well, first of all, this morning I'm letting them sleep in. Right now it's 1:30 PST and I haven't heard a peep yet, out of college kid or high-schooler either. When they do get up they're gonna be groggy, grouchy and hungry, hoping against hope for a luau complete with barbecued pig.

My plan is to leave them mostly to their own devices. The one thing a school kid needs more than anything else is some unstructured time – this is when you teach yourself that complicated beading pattern, or how to flex the muscles in your abdomen one at a time, or how to play “Thunder Struck” on spoons. I do like to have one or two backup ideas, though, just in case I need to add some sparkle to the day.

Today – if they get up before dinner time – I'm going to suggest they make a music video and post it on YouTube. Seriously, if it can make Rebecca Black famous, why not? Between digital cameras and desktop editing programs, each one of them has practically a recording studio in their bedroom – and one of them really does have a recording studio in his bedroom, so why not use it?

If you live in a college town, the school itself can be a great resource for Summer Break ideas even if you don't have a student there. Most colleges have art shows, athletic events, speakers and movies cheap or even free. Some of them even have community hours for their swimming pools and other facilities. City or county Recreation Departments will also have special diversions planned for your area; check out their websites or the entertainment section of your local paper.

More of my ideas for this week:

Hold an “Art-In,” where we set up all the easels and get creative drawing, painting, beading and sketching. We could even take a sketching “field trip” if the weather will cooperate for an hour.

Hit up the library and/or a used-book store, then come home and have a Read-a-Thon

Collaborate to make the Ultimate Dance Music Mix CD

Have the kids arrange a BYO picnic with their buddies and meet up for lunch at a local (covered) playground

Take the whole gang geocaching to see if we can add to our “Found List”

(If all else fails, maybe I can get them to clean their rooms.)

More Confessions from Kidney Island

TMI for the younger set.

Mollie writes:

I used to be a nice person. Raised in a pious Catholic home, I never used four-letter words, let alone s**t, and had euphemisms for other bodily functions. I didn't barf, I threw up, or I vomited, or I regurgitated.

Passing through the portal of mommyhood, I learned that there were no better words than the coarse words for expression everyday functions. I never used the s**t word in front of the kids, but you can bet that when my husband and I had pillow talk at the end of the day, the word figured in my laments.

Once we finally achieved retirement, I thought that the worst was behind us. But then we bought a sailboat, and the s**t word was reintroduced into my vocabulary. I'm not talking about the latrines, the heads, or human bodily functions, however, I'm talking about sea otters.

Put aside those cute little whiskered faces. Those big brown eyes. That silky pelt, those cute little chubby bodies. Let me introduce you to the nemesis of Kidney Island, the sea otter, known in science circles as Enhydra lutris and in our household as those g**************g sea otters.

We noticed the infestation of sea otters last year as we moored our boat at a marina on Fidalgo Island. 'Dem cute little critters were sunbathing on the pier and I thought "Awwwwwwww, wildlife."

But winter hit, and 'dem cute little critters began using our boat as a latrine. We'd locked up the entrance to the boat's interior, so fortunately we never got otters inside the boat. But that's where our luck ended.

Those chubby little cuties were pooping all over our decks. They were pooping everywhere; fore and aft, port and starboard. And sea otters don't poop easily scooped nuggets, They spew feces all over the place, much like a neonate.

So in the winter, we put on our HazMat suites and regularly clean the boat. We hose it, we scrub it and we disinfect it. We've put up nets, ultrasonic alarms (inaudible to the human ear, yet painful for the poor otter) and other forces of otter repellant.

But the pooping goes on.

Of course, when we bought a sailboat, we bargained for wildlife. NOTHING is more inspiring than watching an orca spyglass in Puget Sound. Nothing beats bald eagles, great blue herons, fresh salmon and mussels.

But if I never see a cute little sea otter again, well . . . . .

Sunday, March 20, 2011

On second thought . . .

Mollie writes:

I'm so lucky to have Millie as a co-blogger - I read her take on the FDIL and she's right. Mimi's reeling from the snub now, but in a few years, she'll be glad she kept her powder dry.

Which begs the question: When do we offer comfort and solace and when do we offer advice?

Mimi is a good friend with her share of dignity. We don't agree on each and every issue: she thinks I'm an idiot and I occasionally disagree with that summation. But we are both avid gardeners, readers, cooks, and frankly, seem to have a common train of thought. So in spite of our differences, we get along quite well.

So, I'm hoping that when we go shopping for her MIL dress in April, that she'll forgive me if I encourage her to consider ALL colors of the spectrum when selecting a dress. Black could be a consideration, but isn't a necessity.

That said, I'm not thinking that there's much Mimi can do to rescue the situation. A dog that bites once needs to be watched. This blow was below the belt. And blaming the future groom does not bode well for an adult union.

So, Mimi, go to the wedding, wear a beautiful dress of your choice, and make the best of it. That's my advice. But remember, I'm here for comfort, consolation, and a big bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Millie's Two Cents' Worth

Millie writes:

I had the same response that Mollie had when I heard this story for the first time: my jaw hit the floor. Man, what an awful beginning for the mother-in-law/ daughter-in-law relationship . . . it's hard to imagine ever recovering from a public slap in the face like this one.

I take that back - if, upon being asked about it by Mimi, her Future Daughter-In-Law (FDIL) had said something along the lines of, "I'm so sorry. It was a stupid oversight, none of us caught it in time and the invitations have already gone out. I feel just awful," they might have eventually been able to laugh about it together (in 20 years or so).

Since FDIL basically said, "Yeah, whatever. It was your stupid son's fault anyway. Get over it already," it seems unlikely that FDIL and Mimi are going to get to start out as friends.

Unfortunately, in a situation like this I don't think there's much of anything you can do that won't make things worse. The fact is, any public action Mimi takes will only draw this "oversight" to all the guests' attention; probably no one but Mimi's own friends have really realized that her name is missing from the invitation. Everyone else is extremely unlikely to stand up during the processional and shout, "Hey! Why is there a Mother of the Groom walking down the aisle? There was nothing about this in the invitation!"

For Mimi, this is one of those rare opportunities Life sometimes throws you - the chance to look like The Better Person by not doing anything at all. If Mimi dresses beautifully, is gracious and welcoming at the wedding and reception, and is seen often smiling lovingly on the happy couple she will be seen by one and all to be a civilized, well-behaved paragon. If FDIL is a screechy, nasty Bridezilla, anyone contrasting the two women will clearly see which one's been house-trained.

Sometimes there is a bit of jealousy, between a mother and a daughter-in-law. Some mothers expect to keep their places as #1 in their sons' hearts, and some wives feel that they must compete with "the way his mother did things." Though Mimi would certainly be justified in raising a stink about being dissed in such a thoroughly public fashion, it would place her son in a tug-of-war squarely between the two women. In this case I think Mimi should turn the other cheek, zip her lip and smile, smile, smile. While she's at it, she can pray fervently for a steaming barrel of fresh-laid karma to catch up with FDIL on the honeymoon.

Which is not to say that I, like Mollie, don't love to consider alternatives.

1. Her wedding gift to the couple could be a framed, enlarged photograph of Mimi holding Son as a very small boy - for each room of the house.

2. Her wedding gift to the couple could be an official, calligraphic copy of Son's family tree - with Mimi's name circled in yellow highlighter.

3. Mimi could wrap her face for the wedding a'la The Invisible Man.

4. Mimi could pass out Mimi masks, to be worn by every female sitting on the Groom's Side of the church.

5. Mimi and her husband could book the adjacent cabin on the honeymoon cruise ship. Surprise!

6. When grandchildren begin to arrive, Mimi could give them whistles, "laser" pistols, drum sets and other noisy gifts on every conceivable occasion.

7. Mimi could sneak into the kids' apartment when they're not home and remove every other stitch of the seams holding the skirt of the wedding dress to the bodice off the wedding dress. Then she could pay the ring bearer 20 bucks to jump on the bride's train as she's leaving the altar.

8. Mimi could slip an ipecac mickey into the bride's special champagne-toasting flute.

9. Mimi could stand next to the bride in the reception line and get FDIL's name wrong whenever she introduces her.

10. Mimi could wear the same dress as the bride.


PS - I'd like to publicly thank Bender for marrying a sweet, thoughtful, smart and funny girl so I didn't have to worry about anything like this!

Dear Millie And Mollie . . .

Mollie writes:

This is a true story. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

My name is Mimi and I have a problem -

My precious only child is getting married in June. He's marrying a person who isn't always on my "To Love" list, but my son loves her and is planning a future with her so I'm learning to accommodate some of her shortcomings.

We received the invitation to their wedding yesterday and it reads:

"Mr and Mrs John Braun
Request the honor of your presence
at the marriage of their Daughter,
Eva Marie Braun
Mr. Robert Smith
the son of
Mr. George Smith
at St. Judas Iscariot Church
666 S Styx Lane
Great Falls, Montana

at Midnight
June 13, 2011

Reception to follow

I have been married to my husband, George, for 40 years. We are not divorced. I am not dead, and I have been a dutiful mother for over 30 years. We still pay for the son's medical insurance, and we paid for their upcoming honeymoon, a cruise in the South Pacific.

Yet she left me off the invitation none the less. She tells me it was an accident, but I'm not so sure. This is a knife in my back and through my heart as well.

How do you think I should handle this?


Mollie responds:

Cherished Mimi:

Wear black to the wedding.
Drink copiously from a flask in your backpack.
Ask repeatedly why the bride is wearing white.
Have a scarlet "MIL" tattooed on your forehead.

That should do it!

Any thoughts, Millie, Maggie and May?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Closet Crisis

Millie writes:

Have you noticed lately that the word “Mom” has become synonymous with the word “frump?”

“Mom jeans” means jeans that are high-waisted, straight-legged, flat-butted and ugly. A “Soccer Mom” is someone wearing Mom jeans and a ragged college sweatshirt, her hair scraped back into a messy ponytail, her eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses and her behind firmly planted in the minivan driver's seat. A “Mom Haircut” is one that's short, severe and maintenance-free.

What's happened to us?

So many women, executives and housewives alike, seem to lose all fashion consciousness once they give birth. Maybe we lose the ability to dress ourselves during those first few eerie twilit months with a newborn, when day and night merge into one and we're lucky if we can remember to get dressed at all:

Perhaps spending all those months in hideous maternity clothes saps us of our self-confidence:

Or maybe the problem is simply economics – you can't afford to keep up with the trends yourself if your kid is wearing new Gymborees each season:

Whatever the reason, there's something about becoming a parent that changes a woman from someone who used to look pretty, polished and put-together into someone whose best friends should tell her kindly, “Honey, please don't put that on.”

Ladies, I know that once you have a kid there's less time than ever before to spend on elaborate grooming rituals. I know that pregnancy and childbirth wreak changes on our bodies that some of us don't like to think about. I know that we need to wear something that will let us go from meetings to hopscotch to a last-minute run to the grocery store, without binding us or making our feet hurt. I know that money's scarce and you hate to spend any of it on yourself – but Sweeties, there's no excuse for this.

You don't need to vacuum in high heels and pearls like a good 1950's sit-com housewife to be a Stylin' Mama, and neither do you need to look at all times like a PTA Mom. It's as easy to dress in style as it is to dress like a frump if you just put some thought into what you're throwing on your back.

Ditch the jeans for a casual skirt – they're as comfy as those holy sweatpants, but so much cuter. (If you suffer from “chub rub” in the thigh area, wear your skirts with a pair of bike shorts, or one of those pant slips.) Pulling on a soft, flowing pair of yoga pants (not skin-tight!) and a v-neck tunic sweater over a tank or tee doesn't take any more time than donning a pair of holey Lees and a Laughing Bunny t-shirt, but it will make a huge difference in the way you feel.

There are lots of reasons to reclaim your wardrobe:

If you're a working mom, wearing a 10-year-old suit with cat hair accessorizing the sleeves and shoes with run-down heels will get you assigned to the “Mommy Track” in a hurry.

If you're a stay-at-home mom, the “track pants, no makeup, baggy t-shirt, fuzzy slippers” look will prevent anyone from taking you seriously as an adult.

Most people make snap judgments about other people based on their appearances. If you want doctors, teachers, bosses or store clerks to take you seriously, you need to look like someone who knows what she's doing. If the first impression you give is “too busy – slash – exhausted to make an effort,” you won't receive the attention you deserve. Sad and unfair, but true.

Your kids are watching you. Look in the mirror. Is what you see how you want them to remember you when they're grown?

Your mate is watching you. You may only see each other at breakfast and after dinner. You want him to treat you as a person rather than a mother, right? Dress the part.

No matter what else you do, being a mom is part of your job right now. Like any trial lawyer, neurosurgeon or Starbucks barista, dressing the part shows your respect for your job.

The main reason to dress with style is you. Looking pretty will make you feel pretty. Looking pulled-together will give you more confidence to organize your life. You are a Mom, yes; but you're also a woman with dreams and ambitions of your own. Don't put that part of your life entirely on hold while you're raising your children.

So go on – burn the sweats. Put on those pretty slacks that are so flattering and top it with a belted tunic instead of your U of O t-shirt. Get your hair cut to a shape that's flattering to your face and easy to care for, or dye it some fun color (use semi-permanent dye if you don't want to commit). Wear mascara. Wear a little jewelry. Smile.

Spring will be here soon. We may as well bloom.

WORF WORF!!!!!!!!!!

You are a cute little dude, just perfect for the humans who pledge to love you and keep you safe.

Yip grrrrrr barkey bark!


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Concerted Effort

Millie writes:

We went to the spring concert last night. I've been sick as a dog for over a week, and the concert was my first foray out of the house. In a departure from his usual crisp, high-energy, short program, last night's concert featured a local Community Wind Band which (according to their website) “is comprised of adult and high school musicians who enjoy playing intermediate to advanced wind band music.”

Frankly, this caused a bit of grumbling in the auditorium. It can be fun to watch one's own children on stage, but as any stage parent can tell you, any concert or recital of this nature also necessitates sitting through hours of squeaky missed notes, off-key singing and music chosen for its “ethnic diversity” rather than its merits. We were prepared for sitting through the performances of our children's peers, but importing a bunch of people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the school? I heard several complaints about that.

The wind band wasn't polished by any means, but all in all they weren't too bad. They were, in fact, just what they advertise – a motley collection of people aged about 18 – 75 who get together to play their instruments under the direction of a middle-school band teacher. Enthusiasts. Hobbyists. Amateurs.

After the intermission, our high-school music director came to the microphone to give a short spiel – something he often does while the band is setting up. He was rather more introspective than usual last night. He said that the kids in all of his classes were talking about Japan, what they've seen on TV about the survivors of the earthquakes and tsunamis, what they've heard about the nuclear reactors. He told us what he'd told them: amidst all the fear and worry, take a moment to realize how lucky you are to have the luxury to just sit, for a while. Sit, and listen to music.

The school band played then – a motley collection of people aged about 15 – 18, who get together to play their instruments under the direction of a high-school band teacher. There were a few squeaky missed notes, a couple of “oops!” moments, but all in all they weren't too bad.

Then the “adult” band, who had been waiting out of sight, walked onstage and seated themselves amongst the kids. Together, they played Brian Balmages' Moscow, 1941.

Together, they were incredible.

It may have been the antihistamine. It may have been the fact that for some reason I associate this piece of music with the Churchill quote, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Whatever the reason, I had one of those moments of sudden clarity that you sometimes get – I realized I was witnessing a living, breathing metaphor.

Share your music. Teach your skills. Learn from one another. Help each other. Take a moment to sit quietly and listen to some music.

And be grateful.

Who's Your Hero?

Mollie writes:

One of the joys of writing a blog is that you can put your feelings into words and then post it for the universe to see. It tends to make a writer want to purify herself a bit before hitting the keyboard.

First, let me say that Millie, Maggie and May have their own opinions about the Japanese earthquake and the resulting response. I just know my own opinion, and I'm saddened by how the media is currently representing our concerns with the tragedy.

We have a bazillion talking heads on the news these days, lecturing us on the hazards of nuclear fallout. The lead story in the news isn't the earthquake itself or the tsunami itself, but the threat of nuclear waste in the air. Buildings may collapse or wash away, but all CNN (and other news outlets) are filling the air with fear and loathing at a time when millions of people are actively dealing with immediate devastation. The nuclear power plants possible meltdown isn't the only news, but by my guess, it's the lead (that's with a long "e" and not with an "eh") story everywhere.

There's a reason some folks think that Americans are self-absorbed. We have troops fighting in the Middle East (my oldest is deployed), Egypt and Libya are in serious political turmoil and children go missing every day. But we tend to focus on the sensational and the outrageous. What IS Charlie Sheen doing these days and will Lindsey Lohan go to jail?????

Last night we had Piers Morgan and Anderson Cooper (go figure, a talent judge and a 'journalist') interviewing MIT professors for their take on the possibility of a meltdown in Japan's reactors. How do they know what questions to ask? Why do they keep arguing with people who have earned the right to an educated opinion? Is there radiation in the air, and is it coming on a wind plume to your front door? Never mind that the death toll in Japan is rising, that rescuers need blankets and flashlights, and that entire villages were wiped out. News reports are driven by ratings and advertising, not science.

I'm tired of seeing reporters in tight black t-shirts reporting on this tragedy while 180 technical experts are robed in HazMat suits trying to clean up the mess. I'm tired of Hollywood exploiting a true tragedy (remember the earthquake and tsunami?) while ramping up the hysteria about a "possible man-made disaster."

Aren't the natural ones enough?

For centuries, quiet heros have been descending into coal mines with pink lungs and emerging with Black Lung. But it took trapped Chilean miners to get our attention on the hazards of coal mining. And, please, don't get me started on endangered salmon . . . while some of us are worrying about keeping the lights on and the hospitals running, some of us are fretting over the taste of wild salmon versus farmed salmon.

We need to set our egos aside and remember what's important. We will find out soon enough if we will experience nuclear devastation. I'm thinking "NO". Remember back in the 50's (those of us boomers who survived hallucinogenic drugs, STD's and other "man made" disasters)? Soviets, Americans and other world powers were detonating atomic bombs on a regular basis into our atmosphere even as we built hydroelectric dams that are now being shut down because our salmon doesn't taste as good.

It's time to stop fussing over the Sheens, Lohans, Ryders, and Simpsons. I really don't need to hear what Ed Asner thinks about politics, or Barbra Streisand thinks about Ronald Reagan. What I do care about is how are the Japanese doing and where do we go from here.

Get a grip. "Endangered" salmon (and other cosmetic disasters) are passe. Let's worry about the future.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vacations are HARD WORK!

I am about to be going on my first ever "mini vacation" without most of the kids. As I am still nursing the baby, she'll be coming with me for a weekend away. I'll be leaving the three older kids at home with their father. He's a capable man, though the longest he's ever been responsible for the kids has been an hour or two at a time.

You can perhaps see why I'm a bit nervous.

In order to try to make it run smoothly in my absence, I'm going to try to get a few things prepared. Most of these apply to all vacation planning, though some are specific to my situation.

Straighten Up
No one likes to come home to a dirty house. Get all the dishes done (and put away!), sweep everything up and get that vacuum running! Get all the laundry caught up and put away. Put fresh linens on the beds so the coming home and going to bed won't be such a hassle.

Throw it Away
Gather trash from all the waste baskets around the house. Clear out the leftovers in the fridge, along with any veggies that won't keep.

Pet Care
We only have a very low maintenance snake, so making sure he's okay while we're gone is easy. Depending on how long you'll be away, arrange for their care. Either place them with family or a kennel. If you have a trusted neighbor, ask them to stop by and feed your pets while you're gone.

Unplug all non-essential electronics. If it is during the winter, keep the heater down as low as you can without endangering your water pipes. Speaking of which, be sure to open up all the cabinets under the sinks to aid in that effort.

Hold the Mail
Are you going to be gone for longer than a day or two? Arrange for your mail to be held, along with your newspapers. Nothing says "Hey, we're gone, come rob us!" quite like a pile of newspapers on the stoop.

If you're leaving your children behind (as is my case), pick out outfits that are easy to get to. Packing clothes, it is good to keep a check list handy, so when it is time to come home, you don't forget anything!

Emergency Aid
I'm pretty sure my husband has no idea where we keep the band aids. Before you leave, point these things out. If you don't get a chance to do that, leave a detailed list of where such and such is. "Bandaids and Neosporin are in the bottom drawer of the purple plastic set of drawers on the counter in the bathroom." BE SPECIFIC. I can't get away with "it's in the thingie by the dohickymajig in the bathroom.."

Stock up
If you're going, but your kids are staying with the other parent... stock up on snacks and easy to make meals. Make it fun and interesting! If your partner loves to cook, make sure they have the means to cook what sounds good to them.

I will, of course, be available to answer questions by phone while I'm away. I'm going to try to have everything put away where it belongs so I can tell him specifically where the things are that he's looking for.

I'll try to relax and enjoy my time away, though I suspect it to be easier said than done.

Good Form!

Maggie writes:

My dear husband is out of town this week, leaving me to hold down the fort with four small children. This would be hard enough, even if the baby didn't catch the stomach bug the day before he left. You see, we met their youngest cousin over the weekend, and unbeknownst to us, she was going through a bout of The Tummy Bug. Her parents are brand new to this whole parenting gig, so I suppose they just didn't know they should have informed me of their baby's condition.

This left me wondering what else new parents don't know in regards to their little darlings being around other little darlings. Ladies, please feel free to add to this list!

When in Doubt, Spell it Out
"We think the reason the kids all have runny noses, is because it is spring and they have seasonal allergies.." "Hey, we're pretty sure that she's just sensitive to the formula switch, but just in case it's something else, she's been puking.." Simple sentences like that give the other parents an "out" for saying "Oh, well, let's keep Junior away from your sweet sicko's toys!" Other mothers are going to appreciate you informing them so that they can make the best decision for their little ones. Some moms aren't phased by tummy bugs and will shrug it off. Others will go to the extreme of an about face and a "See ya when everyone feels better!" bit. Give them that option!

Not Sure? Stay Home!
I can't tell you just how much it drives me crazy to drop my kid off at the church nursery, and look in to see half the kids with snotty noses or buggery eyes. Seriously! Gathering with other believers is important, but sharing your child's cold with the rest of the children just isn't okay. There are other options (such as staying home and listening to sermons online or on the telly), and they should be exercised. Having four young children, it is very important to me that I try to keep them ALL healthy, because once one gets sick, it is bound to make its rounds through the whole house. Not fun.

Oops! Call Immediately!
Anytime within the first 48 hours, it is good form to call the other mothers if your child comes down with any sort of bug. "She was feeling fine when we visited, but now she's puking everywhere. Just giving you a heads up, hope your child doesn't get sick!" Or if you disregarded the second point, and bring a child you think "just has allergies" but it turns out to be strep throat or some such, call and apologize, letting them know to be on the look out. We're parents, we know the possibility of picking up germs is just part of the game. An apology (acknowledging that you messed up!!) really does go a long ways to mend irritated bridges, ya know? It happens, but when it could have been prevented... that is irksome.

Step IN or Step OUT!
Perhaps your children are the most docile and obedient children out there. They will still have "off days" where they are less than obedient and more likely to snatch a toy than share. Before getting into a group situation (whether that be going somewhere or all the kids converging in YOUR domicile), remind them of the rules and how you expect them to behave. It is amazing how many MANY times you will have to repeat these rules over the course of your Mommyhood. When you see little John or Jane beginning to wig out or lose their grip on Accepted Behavior, step in! Pull them aside and gently (but firmly) remind them again. Encourage them to try to solve their problems politely, but if they can't, come to an adult. If it continues to be a problem, have them sit right next to you, out of the fray. Once they compose themselves, they can go back and play... but if it STILL a problem, leave. Or if the kids are at your house, send your kid to a room where no other children are... or thoroughly embarrass yourself by asking your company to leave. Your kids have got to know that how they behave affects those around them, and if they can't play nice, they're not going to be able to have company over, or be company themselves. Whatever you do, do NOT just blithely sit by and do nothing, leaving the other mothers silently fuming that John or Jane are being little b-r-a-t-s!

Clean Up, Clean Up...
...everybody, everywhere! Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share!
Parents of small children are sure to be familiar with that song. When children get together, messes are bound to happen. And that's okay! Messes are part of the fun! That being said, when it is time to get ready to go, have your children help clean up. Leaving the hostess's house destroyed is NOT good form. Get down there yourself and make sure to help out as well. If your hostess insists not to worry about it, don't impose your will on her, though insist that the kids pick up a few things before they leave.

When in Rome...
Be respectful of the customs in other people's homes. When you arrive, do you notice shoes lined up by the door and the hostess is bare foot? Take your shoes off and help your kids take theirs off as well. If they have a piano, but don't like for the kids to play on it, then shoo the kids away. Follow your host's lead.

Playdates and family get togethers can be stressful. Or they can run smoothly and be a joyous occasion. Be considerate, responsible parents. Have good form!

Am I Losing My Mind?????

Mollie writes:

It's Wednesday, and I've lost an hour somewhere. I officially lost an hour on Saturday, but managed a two-fer this am.

I sprang forward, like a good little masochist, on Sunday morning. But I didn't wake up this am until 9:16 am. Gosh honestly, the clock said 9:16! But when I went to the kitchen to fix my coffee and croissant, the clock clearly stated 8:16. So I toddled back to t he bedroom, and there it was, 9:17.

I drank my coffee, shared my croissant with Boatsie-The-Wonder-Dog, and groped my way back to the bedroom. And there it was, plain as the age-spots on my face, 8:32 am.

Well, the Kidney Island vortex has raised its ugly head again. Clocks spin forward, spin back, and sometimes stop altogether, as in the case of the guy who's supposed to come over and give us a "quote" on refinishing the hardwood floors. NEVER let be said that wood floors are low-maintenance. This will cost dearly and my inner spinner will go kapluey.

Life is never dull when you live in an alternate universe. I'm getting my hair and nails done today. If you'd told me ten years ago that I'd be living the life of a high-maintenance bimbo on an island in Puget Sound, I wouldda laughed you into the clouds. But here I am, on Kidney Island, celebrating the fact that I've passed no more Whidbey stones in two weeks.

Aging has its perks. Just ask my husband. He's in the back yard, teaching the Wonder Dog the art of soccer.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mutual Sick Days

Well, both Phil and I were down for the count today. We've both been fighting some sort of ick for quite a while now, and by this morning it was bad enough that neither of us felt up to going into work. This was a little unusual for us; in the 3years that we've lived together, this is only the second time we've been home sick together, and we're still figuring out how that works, exactly.

First and foremost, a good rule of thumb seems to be that one of you should not be spending too much time and energy taking care of the other if you're both sick. We've both spent the day trying to make the other lie down while we make soup and tea and put in a movie and fluff the pillows and do the laundry, but the fact of the matter is, we should BOTH be taking it easy. This isn't to say that you shouldn't take care of each other, but trade off on tasks; one of you gets up to make tea, the other one can go hunt down more DayQuil. It can be difficult, and may make you feel guilty that you're not doing more, but if nobody rests, nobody gets better.

Also, remember that a sick day is not the same as a weekend or a vacation day. Don't worry about looking cute for each other, and don't feel obligated to spend the whole day in each other's company. It's perfectly possible that your spouse would rather be left alone to cough and vomit in privacy, or just wants to sleep all day. Don't take it personally, and don't push too hard.

However, it's also possible that a sick day together can have its upsides. If you're both feeling up to it, cuddle in bed or on the couch (or make a nest out of pillows and blankets on the living room floor) and watch bad movies or read. Take naps together. Play games together. Just sit and talk for hours at a time.

Just make sure you both make the most of your sick days . . . even though they can be made fun, they'll get old after three or four in a row!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Detective Mcgillicuddy!

Mollie writes:

At any one time, you can walk into any bathroom and see a person's life story. When I had my first apartment, my bathroom was BARE - except I had a set of really nice towels that if you touched 'em, I'd hunt you down. I was so proud of my 500 square foot domain with a teeny bathroom of my own. Remember, I had five brothers and sisters and a bath of one's own beat a room of one's own hands down.

If I had the good fortune to actually buy towels (most of mine were family hand-me-downs), I hung them on the towel rack and protected 'em. I do that to this day.

At some point, my towels were all mine, and I moved up in the world. In came a shower curtain and then, the march began. In came the cosmetics, bubble bath, facial masques and other accoutrements of glamor. I was a chick on her way.

When we married, John and I first shared a bathroom and immediately realized that true love stops at the bathroom door. She says: Touch my towels, baby, and you die! He says: Lock me out of the Latrine and YOU die. It was just that simple. So we bought a 3 bedroom 2 1/2 bath split entry in Gresham Oregon, and the waters of our aggravation calmed.

When babies came home, out went the designer towels (ok, they went into the linen closet) and in came the duckies and bunnies. Potty chairs that sang ruled the throne room. Into the tub went the rubber duckies, yellow submarines, snorkels, washies and plastic buckets. And the "towels du jour" - Big Bird hung on my sturdy wooden racks.

At some point, Big Bird was replaced by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, dinosaurs, Big Wheels and Transformers. You couldn't take a leak without genuflecting first at the Super Hero hanging in the bath. Intimidating, yes. Glamourous, nope.

At some point, we moved to "the big house" and once again, my towel fetish reared its ugly head - with a vengeance. We had 500 count towels - John hates them and thinks that if you don't leave chafe marks you really aren't dry. We had earth tones, jewel tones, and, if the Meier and Frank "Friday Surprise" meant anything, you had luxurious Egyptian Cotton towels.

We lived in towel heaven. The boys had their own bathrooms and decorated them with acne cures and after shave (no razors, however since they didn't shave. . .). John's shower room had 100% sandpaper towels, and my soaking tub . . . well, anything I wanted.

Our linen closet was actually loaded with towels and sheets??? !!! We were a middle-class family livin' the dream.

Our lives went on, and the next thing you know, the boys are packing up our old towels and moving into little shrines of their own.. We moved to "the little house with big pretensions" and in came the designer towels.

Except the linen closet turned into a medicine cabinet - at least in the master bath it did. Open our linen cabinet these days and all you see are ace bandages, ointment, hemorrhoid balm, kidney stone strainers, analgesics, laxatives, fiber pills, cuticle trimmers, toe nail clippers, Vick's Vapor Rub, bath salts, room deodorizers, controlled substances, sharpie containers, sailing magazines and SPF 30 sun block.

We are, if anything, ready for old age.

The bathroom IS clean, it always has been, but that has been the only constant in our lives. The rest has always been up for grabs.

So, Detective Mcgillicuddy and her erstwhile assistant, Commander Smarty-pants, cleaned the bathroom this weekend. Hairs were removed from all surfaces, women in HazMat suits cleaned the "sitting area." The tub twinkles in pristine purity AND we re-grouted the tile!!!

But anyone walking into the bathroom knows that a couple of old geezers live here. Just open the linen closet.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Stage Mom

Millie writes:

Hi, my name is Millie and I'm a stage mom.

I admit it. I've been encouraging my little dears to perform since 3-year-old Joy donned her first tutu. It's not because I want to live (or re-live) my personal glories through them, it's because they're so darned talented.

I was raised in a musical family, and I took a few turns at speech and theater in school. While I was merely pleasantly adequate at these endeavors, they did give me an appreciation for people who can perform with panache. It turns out that each of our kids is gifted in some area of the performing arts, and it's always given Lance and me a peculiar pleasure to encourage them to explore these areas as far as they care to take them.

Performing – whether it's dancing, acting, singing, playing an instrument or giving a speech – is as necessary as breathing to some people. For others, it's the act of making art – whether it's a poem, a painting or a song – that's important. 2/3 of our kids took high-intensity dance classes during their junior-high years, and the other two engaged in sports. This physical activity helped them all through that “awkward age” when it was so difficult to keep track of where their knees and elbows were at any given time, and the performances – whether recitals or games – taught them about taking themselves seriously.

Our musicians are self-taught, with a sprinkling of Community Center lessons for a summer or two. A couple of them have perfect pitch and a couple of them are naturals on their instruments, but they have learned on their own that it's the practice they put in that makes the difference between talented and good.

Have we insisted that they take up an instrument or an activity? No. However, if they express an interest, we're right there cheering them on – and we do insist they finish what they start. We will furnish a beginner with a good instrument – a “play” instrument insults both the music and the musician – but the rest is up to them.

Oh, but I must admit . . . if one of our kids has a part in a play, I will help them learn their lines. If one of them has a solo in an upcoming performance, I will beg them over and over to sing it for me. I'll talking composition with a budding painter, practice comedic timing with an after-dinner speaker and dissect the finer points of Buddy Rich's technique with a drummer. I will make that kindergarten practice reading “Fwosty the Snowman” aloud over and over until she's got it down perfectly, because – once she's stood up there in front of people, done her very best and received the applause that is her due – there is no thrill to equal it.

For her.

Or for me.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

And Another Link!

Isn't the internet wonderful?

Here's a link to another organization that steps up when times are hard:

Tsunami Relief Effort

Mollie writes:

Not one of us can save the world, but with group effort, we can make a difference. The Japanese are enduring the earthquake disaster with dignity and perseverance. Even the smallest donation will help feed a person, mend a home, re-establish electrical power or supply a hospital. To be part of the rebirth, consider making a donation to Red Cross.

Text REDCROSS to 90999 or click on this link to go to the Red Cross Website.


Millie writes:

There's a sort of emotional "cushion" when a disaster of this scale happens on the other side of the globe. Mentally you know it's awful and you feel a great deal of empathy for everyone involved, but you're spared the most gut-wrenching anguish because it doesn't touch you personally.

I don't have that luxury this time.

My first husband's second duty station was Misawa Air Base, in northern Japan. We lived there for almost five years. That headline photograph we've been seeing so often, the one with the bridge spanning ships laying on their sides on top of the debris that was once a town? That photograph was taken in Hachinohe, the nearest "big city" to Misawa. I've been there many times. We bought Joy's first teddy bear at the Nagasakiya Department Store there. There used to be an art store in "Hatch" that had a funny little signboard hanging outside: it was an oversize artist's palette decorated with tubes of paint on which the colors had been written in English. Two of the tubes said "Led" and "Brue."

So - there you have it. I have witnessed that these are real people, people like you and me and our next-door neighbors. They have senses of humor. They love their spouses and their children and their pets, hate weeding and being packed into the subway. Wednesday morning they thought they had problems: that big committee presentation, the gas bill, homework. Now they're looking for food, clothing, shelter and their missing loved ones.

Probably two of the most universal concepts we parents try to instill in our young are the concepts of "share" and "play nicely." Please help - however you can.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Holmes Harbor Tsunami Watch

Mollie writes:

We've had our share of snow and wind in the last two weeks, but today is something new. We've lived on Whidbey Island for 6 years now, and are finding that, indeed, we live in a different world.

We are only expecting a 1 foot 'change' in our local waters, but looking out my back window, I see the "highest" tide I've seen for a while. We aren't expecting much in the way of flooding, but just the idea that we are actually here in this geologic event is a little thrilling.

The worst we expect isn't damage to our home, we are out of the tsunami range even in the worst of circumstances - our house is so high off the waters. But our sailboat is moored in Anacrortes and we are concerned not with the height of a wave but with the moments right before the tsunami when the water recedes. If it recedes enough before the wave hits, our sailboat might "run aground" and damage the rudder.

This is a precious minimum. We watch out our window, and in the driving rain and the bursting gusts (yesterday we had 60-mph gusts) we realize we are so blessed. We are safe, everything is tied down, and La Nina, not the tsunami, is our biggest worry.

We are a small world, and we are all interconnected. We have tsunamis to worry about, a word derived from our Japanese culture. We fret over the snows, rains and winds of of La Nina, a word derived from our hispanic brothers and sisters.

An 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Japan has impact on our side of the Pacific rim. I pray for our friends in Japan. I can sit in my living room and watch the "tide" come in and take peace and joy that we are safe.

None of us really lives on an island. We are interconnected.