Monday, May 30, 2011

Two Uncle Bills

Mollie writes:

It's Memorial Day, a time where we honor members of the military who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country. It probably doesn't take anyone much time to reflect on members of their family and friends who have served and paid the ultimate price.

I have two Uncle Bills who were actively in combat during WWII. Of course, other family members were as well (my Dad was a submariner in the Pacific), but these two uncles made sacrifices or endured torture for years in the name of Independence.

My father's brother, Bill Philbrook, was an enlisted man in the US Army who died at the end of the war. Bill was older than my father, and when my dad enlisted in the Navy when he was seventeen, my Uncle Bill would meet him on Oahu for the occasional rest and recuperation. We have a picture of Bill with our dad, all buff and brave, standing next to our dad, who looked a little wet behind the ears and quite peach fuzzy. It is amazing to me that this strong man was shot by a sniper where my Dad, all innocence and dewey eyed, returned to his submarine after R&R and performed his duties as a radar technician until the war was over. When dad entered the Navy, he didn't even shave - and when he was discharged, he didn't shave much. His older brother died just before peace was declared.

My mother's brother Bill was stationed in the Philippines at the outbreak of the Japanese invasion. Yes, he was a participant in the Bataan Death March, and yes he was a Japanese prisoner of war for years. He experienced the death of friends and torture during this internment, but came home a man of peace. He's still alive, and aging with dignity in Oregon. He raised 6 kids, labored at various lumber yards, paid his taxes and abided by the law. I don't remember once when he carried on about his military service. He's one of the many quiet heros.

My dad survived submarining to come home and also raise 6 kids. He died in 2005, and one of his tormenting memories was serving as a radar technician. He'd call my husband as he finished out his life, agonizing over whether or not God would forgive him the deaths of so many Japanese service people. My husband, a retired Naval Reserve Commander, reminded my dad that he was serving and defending his country in a war he hadn't started - at the tender age of 17.

When my dad died in 2005, he was still questioning war and his part in it.

We forget how savage war is, those of us who served behind the lines, or not at all. Some make the ultimate sacrifice in battle, and some try to make sense of it all years later.

Remember your Uncle Bills today.

For more info

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Mollie writes:

I read Millie's commentary on hugging and was going to put a comment in, but decided to write my own observations.

I grew up in a household where touch was verboten. I can count on one hand the amount of times I can recall being hugged, kissed, embraced or otherwise touched by a loving family member.

This isn't a rant, this is simply an honest accounting of childhood in the fifties. My parents did not make public displays of affection, not with the children, not within their own relationship.

The word "love" was seldom mentioned. We were raised to behave in a socially acceptable fashion - we were to be at all times respectful, presentable, attractive, etc. There was very little room for spontaneity. Those were the fifties and early sixties.

It comes as no surprise that the late sixties and beyond we became a generation of "luv." So many of us had craved affection for so long that when barriers were lowered they were actually blown to smithereens.

One of the first changes I made when we started our family was to breast-feed. My poor mother was shocked and appalled. She'd had six children and all were bottle fed. She thought women who nursed were cows (her words) and that a formula (made with of all things, cows' milk) was better for a baby. She was deep into science (or faux science) and felt that propping a bottle was sufficient stimulus for a baby.

I had to tolerate a lot of verbal abuse for this decision, but I felt that my kids would be better off receiving human mother's milk. This was especially beneficial for my oldest, a preemie. But all the promise of anti-bodies, touch and bonding went unnoticed.

I still think I could have been a more "affectionate" mother. There's nothing sweeter than a hug when a little person needs reassurance. You can tell a child that they are special, but a hug proves it. I sometimes make a mental list of things I could have done better as a parent, and affectionate touch is always at the top of my list.

It comes as no surprise that children who aren't cuddled have a more difficult time forming personal relationships and empathy as they grow up. So hug that child . . . right now!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Millie writes:

We've all heard the stories about babies who fail to thrive because they aren't held enough. In early Victorian times people believed that too much physical contact would overwhelm children with germs and disease, and in orphanages throughout Europe and North America staffers were forbidden to touch the babies beyond caring for their minimum physical needs. Though they were receiving adequate nutrition and medical care, almost all the children died in infancy. In 1920 a pediatrician named Dr. Brenneman made it a rule in his hospital that each baby should be picked up and cuddled several times a day – the mortality rate in his ward fell immediately and dramatically.*

Today it's common knowledge that our babies need to be touched and held, and most parents are only too happy to snuggle their newborns. As they get older and we hear “Aw, Mom” more often, we learn not to be too demonstrative in front of their peers; as they enter the sometimes-prickly adolescent years, we may try to “give them their space” and stop touching them altogether.

This is a big mistake.

Your 17-year-old may look like an adult, and he may be too big to sit on your lap, but he still needs your touch – you just have to adapt your cuddles to suit his new station in life. He might be terminally embarrassed if you call him Snookie and bounce him on your knee (not to mention how hard it would be on your knee), but a casual one-armed hug could make a huge difference in his day.

Not only do we all need affection from our loved ones to prosper, a teenager who isn't getting any physical affection from his family will go looking for it somewhere else. Yes, the hormones are in overdrive during those tumultuous years, but the hunger to be touched isn't exclusively sexual even then. Keeping older kids at arm's length can make it harder for them to be discriminating about when, and whom, they date – they may be so desperate to be touched by someone that they'll take the first person who comes along.

If you have older children, be alert for the subtle (and not-so-subtle) clues that they want to connect. Your child may come and leannnn on you while you're reading or sitting at the computer, or he may run up to you and yell “POKE!,” suiting the action to the word. (They learn this on Facebook. I have permanent bruises.) He may say, “I'm heading to bed,” and then hang around in a marked manner until you make a bit of a fuss over him (because he'd rather die than say, “come and tuck me in”).

Go ahead. Poke 'em back. Grab 'em and hug 'em when nobody's looking. Kiss them on the cheek and tell 'em you love 'em. They will never outgrow the need for your approval and affection.

They might squirm.

But they'll be back.


Friday, May 20, 2011


Millie writes:

I'm a pretty good housekeeper. Not as good as some people who shall remain nameless but who co-writes this blog with me (rumor has it that if you're staying in her guest room and you get up in the middle of the night to pee, by the time you get back not only will your sheets be laundered and your bed made up anew, there will be a vase of fresh lilacs and a plate of hot chocolate-chip cookies on your nightstand), but we get by. I admit that my standards have slipped a bit since the first kids hit their teenage years – not because they're sloppier, but because they took on more of the chores and I have never figured out how to convince a sixteen-year-old that “sweep the floor” doesn't mean “wander around holding a broom bristle-end-up,” it means “remove the debris from the surface beneath your feet.”

They say that a workman is only as good as his tools, and this is nowhere more true than it is in housework. It's very tempting to save money on your cleaning stuff, especially big-ticket items like vacuum cleaners. Inexpensive is great, but cheap is not. Whether you're a stay-at-home-mom or do housework on your Second Shift, respect your occupation enough to use good-quality tools.

Which brings us to today. This is the time of year I start having to water the garden and the plants in our large front and back yards. Last year in a spasm of misguided economy we bought a long “contractor” hose at a yard sale and the thing is kinkier than Marilyn Chambers.

I came stomping into the house this morning, soaking wet and steaming mad. I screamed at my poor husband (in that tone of voice we use that lets our husbands know they'd better take us seriously even though they have no idea what we're talking about), “I HATE THAT %&#@ING HOSE!!!!” It's bad enough that I have to drag the 50-pound monstrosity all over the place, but without exception as soon as I get the business end of the hose a half-acre away from the faucet, the entire 150 feet of red rubber failure will macrame itself into a friendship bracelet and I will have to crawl back and un-tangle it an inch at a time.

Today matters were exacerbated by the fact that, after watering everything, I washed the van. The van is “my" car, and it's a perfect example of saving money by Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do. The van is a (mostly) maroon Plymouth Voyager adapted to seat 8. We call it “The Mothership,” which is geeky in so many directions I can't even count them all. Lance is as good a mechanic as he is an engineer, so this car will probably run forever. Unfortunately, he doesn't concern himself with aesthetic issues; as long as it runs he doesn't care what it looks like. The result is that when you hear us coming, you start looking around for a big dust storms. The doors stick, the tailgate's broken, the emblems are missing or hanging drunkenly from one peg, and the A/C whines (though not as loud as I do). Our driveway is lined with nest-containing trees. It was bad enough that I was going out to touch bird poop on purpose, without having to deal with the Devil Hose!

My point is this: Don't double your workload by using tools that don't work. Not only will you spend twice the time necessary, the inconvenience will make it harder to force yourself to do the chore the next time. Don't use the window cleaner that makes greasy streaks. Get rid of the broom that sheds bristles on your just-swept floor. Buy a hose that unrolls in a straight line.

Dance or paint or nap with the time you save.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go burn that damned feather duster.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Mollie writes:

We live in a strange world. Have the Four Ms mentioned it??? John and I spent the first 30 years of our lives together eating Mac & Cheese, clipping coupons, raising kids and just generally hunkering down. It seems like just about the same time the kids moved into their adult lives, we achieved financial security (meaning if we really wanted a sparkling slam-dazzle, we'd buy a used one).

This cruise we went on was the dream of a lifetime. We'd saved our money, and once the kids were truly launched (meaning both boys are homeowners and taxpayers), we started fulfilling OUR dreams. A two week cruise through the Eastern Mediterranean was high on our list. I wanted to do it while I was ambulatory (darn that MS) and John wanted to do it since he just loves me and travel, not necessarily in that order!

So we found a great deal on the cruise of our dreams, courtesy of our excellent travel agent. We booked our passage, packed our drugs and passports and headed off into the Land of the Ancients.

We started in Rome and ended up in Athens. We spent three days in Rome including Good Friday at the Vatican. We tramped all over the Colosseum (barely missing the Pope), ate pasta, drank wine and fussed over my lost luggage.

By the time it was found, it was sixty-some hours later, and I'd had to shop in Rome for new clothes. I'll get reimbursed for them, but I learned the hard way that there are no WalMarts in Italy. There also seems to be no exact sizing in Italy other than two sizes: anorexia and morbidly obese. So with a minimum of morbidly obese clothing, we set off on our cruise our the fourth day into the trip.

I have never seen more ruins in my life. From continent to island to continent and then back to island, the Eastern Mediterranean is an homage to the past. We saw Southern Italy, Sicily, Cyprus, Turkey, Israel, Greece and various points along the way. We saw ruins of Islam, Christianity and Jewry.

We flitted from one century to another, seeing ruins from BC times, early Christianity and Islam. We saw Cathedrals, humble chapels, synagogs, temples, mosques - and related religious sites. We visited Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem, the birthplace of Jesus, the wailing wall, an Islamic mosque - everything.

I covered my head, covered my shoulders, bared my soul and went the Way of the Cross. I saw all districts of the Old City in Jerusalem, a ruin of the home in Nazareth rumored to be Jesus's boyhood home, different churches (Church of the Holy Sepulcher was fantastic). and just drank up the spiritual beauty of the Middle East.

Which begs the question - Why, if this is such a Holy Land, can't people manage to get along? Why does one belief need to exist to the extent that all others are demolished? Why, in God's name (literally) can't people live together and worship individually?

The Middle East is the seat of Western Civilization (go figure). Greek, Romans, Turks, et al, find their origins here. Why can't we all try to get along when everyone wants to get even?

End of rant - but more to come.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Talk About It!

Millie writes:

Well, Prom has come and gone. The kids involved had a fantastic time and the Moms involved shed a silent tear or two, wondering when those gorgeous, shiny-new, smiling adults had replaced our grubby, grinning toddlers.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned it on here, but one of my Super Powers is a little thing I like to call Mama Bear Override. When I raise up the Attribute (a cold, deadly fury aimed at anything threatening a cub) and assume this Aspect . . . well, let's just say that you don't want to be on the receiving end of it. There is no pity.

You all know how hard Jack worked to make this date perfect for Lovey, so you can imagine my feelings when I got the following text message from him 90 minutes before Stage 1: Dinner was scheduled: “Well, looks like the picnic's off. :(“

I was out of town cavorting with Joy, so after a few abortive attempts to get the story out of him via text I messaged, “Jack. Get me Lovey's Mom's phone number.”

Each of the kids has witnessed Mama Bear Override, so it is completely understandable that he answered hesitantly, “I would like there to be survivors.”

Ah, but I am no longer that young mother who once followed a man to his home, accosted him in his driveway and threatened to tear his arms off and beat him to death with them if he ever again passed a stopped car on the left in a school zone. (I'd do this one again, actually – he had just dropped off his own kid and then almost ran over my nephew, illegally zooming around us in the oncoming lane of the drop-off zone. Idiot. That was one re-educated man by the time I got through with him.)

No, this Mama Bear has been to her share of parenting rodeos and has the belt buckles - and the scars - to prove it. On the eve of Prom Night 2011 I was not thinking (a'la The Hulk), “Must. Kill. Whatever resulted in frowny emoticon.” I was thinking, “This sounds like a job for both mothers.”

See, I've learned the hard way that if you race into any situation armed only with your kid's version of events – you are going to eat a lot of crow.

This doesn't mean your kid's a liar (though it also doesn't mean he's not). It means that his is not the only perspective you have to consider before you go in swinging. He may not know what's behind the current kerfuffle, or he may have missed a pivotal moment that was crucial to understanding what was really going on. (That last one happens a lot during the teens.)

In this case, it turned out that Lovey (demonstrating empathy far beyond her years) had assumed that she would be needed at home to help with family visiting from out of state, and had tried to make things easier on her mom without consulting her first. Jack, with typical teenage male-ness, missed that Lovey was trying to please everyone and thought she was just canceling on him.

I already know Lovey's mom Brandi slightly because Lovey and Sassy have been buddies for years. It didn't take us long to put together what had happened, and we shared a rueful chuckle while we confirmed the kids' evening schedule at the Executive Level. As a bonus, Brandi got to realize anew what a thoughtful little sweetie-pie Lovey is, and I got to hear about what a gentleman Jack is when he's at Brandi's house. Win-win.

Of course, when I called Jack to report, I didn't tell him that Brandi and I had giggled together like we were seventeen ourselves. I simply said curtly, “Jack. Your original schedule? It's back on.” I was rewarded with an admiring, “Go, MOM.”

No use giving away all my secrets; not until he's a parent himself.

I hope Brandi and I won't have to arrange that for him.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Mollie writes:

I read Millie's recent post about keeping kids motivated (a conflict in terms if I've ever heard one) and decided that the four of us need a Theme Song. I'll completely credit Frankie Lane et al. The change in the lyrics are mine, but the mood, music and inspiration are all theirs.

Rollin, rollin rollin
Though your feet are swollen
Keep those kiddies rollin,
Through pain, and poop and vomit
Try to keep up on it
Wishin' someone was on your side.
All the things you're missin
Good movies, books and sleepin
Are waiting at the end of your ride!

Move 'em out, head 'em up
Head 'em up, move 'em on
Move'em out, head 'em up

"Cut it out!" "Pick it up"
"Pick it up" "Cut it out"
"Cut it out" "Pick it up"

Movin, movin, movin
Though they're disapprovin
Keep them kiddies movin
Don't try to understand 'em
Just feed and educate 'em
Soon they'll be living on their own!
Your heart's calculatin
Somewhere there's a great vacation
Waiting at the end of your ride!

Move 'em out, head 'em up
Head 'em up, move 'em on
Move'em out, head 'em up

"Cut it out!" "Pick it up"
"Pick it up" "Cut it out"
"Cut it out" "Pick it up"

"Pick. it. up!"

Addendum: I finally figured out who deserves the credits for writing the "Rawhide" theme. Wikipedia rules!

Theme song

The theme song's lyrics were written by Ned Washington in 1958. It was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin and sung by pop singer Frankie Laine. The theme song became very popular, and was covered several times and featured in movies such as The Blues Brothers and Shrek.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cruising the Mediterranean and Other Dreams

Mollie writes:

Well, my better half and I just spent the last few weeks in Yurp, visiting Rome, Athens, Turkey, Greece, Israel and multiple points in between. This trip was a once in a lifetime splurge, traveling first to Rome for three days, spending Good Friday in Vatican City, then cruising the Mediterranean, winding up in Athens.

Travel is certainly a broadening experience. Cruising has got to be the best way to see anything. I knew, but didn't appreciate, the convenience involved. Over the years, we've traveled a bit, but usually in our fifth wheel (small and expensive) sailing our own boat (small and expensive) or just flying to a destination and staying in hotels. Luggage issues were always a hassle, as well as the time lost just riding some vehicle.

Riding on a cruise ship is expensive, but, frankly, no more expensive than fifth-wheeling, driving, flying, etc. But, it's a lot more convenient. We boarded our cruiser on a Saturday in Rome and disembarked two weeks later in Athens. By the time we'd pay for transportation, meals, tours, food, etc on the same trip, cruising actually saved us money.

And nobody loses their luggage on a cruise liner, although my luggage was lost this time at Sea-Tac airport. Happily, my bag and I were reunited in Rome before we left for the cruise. But once we were on the ship, all was managed in one effort for 14 days. The ship cruised at night while we slept and docked during the day for tours, etc. All food and non-alcoholic drinks were free and available around the clock. Try doing that in a fifth-wheel.

We never could have afforded this when our kids were small. We were lucky to afford a tent and a pick-up. But as a salty old lady, it occurs to me that traveling with small children on a cruiser might be easier and cheaper in the long run if family funds permit it at all.

We're home now, and I've got a world of laundry to do. I've got weeds to pull, a diet to start, friends to see and stories to tell. I'll write more later about individual stops. Turkey IS beautiful and the most under-appreciated tourist destination and Israel is fantastic - seeing Jerusalem's Old City was staggering. But I'm glad to be home!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

“Help Me Do It Myself”

Millie writes:

So the Senior Prom is this Saturday, and even though Jack is a junior his girlfriend du jour is a senior and he wants to do it up right.

His problem? An allowance of $5 a week and no job.

What's a fella to do?

Of course, we could drop a bundle on his behalf for tux, limo, flowers and restaurant food. However, it's always kinda been our policy that if you're old enough to date, you're old enough to pay for it yourself; also, technically, it's not “his” Senior Prom.

Well, it's great to have a policy, but it doesn't help much when one's maternal heart is saying, “Ohhhhh! He wants it to be romantic! I want to raise my sons to be romantic . . . can't we help him out just a little bit?”

This tendency of mine to talk a good game and then cave in the ninth inning is what has prevented me from being a good Tiger Mom this last quarter-century. However, Jack's the sixth of six, and by this time I have learned to do what toddler Rocky used to ask for so plaintively: “help me do it myself!” This approach lets everyone involved save face.
Ana, if you read this: Please don't tell her what he's planning. I'm not sure how much of it he'll be able to pull together in time!

Talk it out.
Since buying the tickets pretty much cleaned Jack out financially, we brainstormed together to find alternative approaches to the rest of the prom that he could pay for using creativity and elbow grease. Our city is known for its roses, so Jack's planning a picnic in an international rose test garden – under the same gazebo where Lance and I got married. He's also planning to stick a few of his Select Choir buddies behind some trees so they can step out and help him serenade his sweetie at the proper moment . . . awwwwwwww!

Do some footwork. All the gentlemen who live in my house own at least one tuxedo, so even if Jack didn't have his own he has access to several different styles. (If you have a social teenage son, I strongly recommend buying him his own tux. You can find them in thrift stores or online, and you'll recoup your investment by avoiding even one rental fee. The prices are ridiculous.) Yesterday – yesterday – he decided that he really wants a bow tie in a color to match her dress. Obviously the place to get one is at a formal-wear store, but that's not gonna happen on $5 a week – so guess who's gonna be combing the Goodwills and discount stores today, looking for a yellow bow tie?

“Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.” The boyfriends don't have to have all the skills, as long as their moms do. I was somewhat flattered when, even though I offered to pay for the corsage, Jack asked if we could make it instead (that being something I do know how to do). I took him to the crafts store yesterday so he could select the wristband (I have everything else we need except the flowers) and he also picked out a few small, romantic charms to dangle amidst the blossoms . . . awwwwwwww!

Do a little grunt work. Lance and I are big on romantic picnics too, and I have a few fantastic picnic baskets. You can bet the fanciest one is going to be packed with china, crystal, (electric) candles and a spiffy groundcloth before being stuffed to bursting point with sparkling cider, elegant food made for dining alfresco and a really elegant dessert.

Back away.
Remember that, in the end, it's not your project. He may not do things the way you would, but your job is to assist the director, not to direct. It's quite possible that your child will come away with the impression that he has brought the whole thing off himself.

If that happens, congratulations. Mission accomplished!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Maggie is a year better!

Millie writes:

Happy birthday, Maggie! May you have a year full of peace, laughter and personal satisfaction.

May you also get two days in a row free from dinner-duty!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day 2011

Millie writes:

If you have a mom, are a mom, or perform momly duties, I salute you.

Whether your celebration starts with Froot Loops in bed and a macaroni necklace or Crepes Grand Marnier and diamond earrings, we hope the day includes some quality time with your loved ones.

This year Lance and I will be spending tomorrow playing with 5 of our 6; we chatted with our soldier and his bride last night on the phone. There will be laughter, games and great food. I suspect that my days of being the only mom in the family on this holiday are numbered, and I plan to enjoy it to the full!

Happy Mother's Day from me, Mollie, Maggie and May!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Greasing the Gears

Millie writes:

After popping the sweet rolls in the oven today (reading about Maggie's pretzel adventure has launched me into a baking binge), I took a rare “by myself” trip to our local library. I had something to drop off and something to pick up . . . as usual, I got more at the library than I bargained for.

As I was wandering through the stacks I had to pause – a little boy about 4 years old, his arms loaded with books, was beaming all over his face as he charged off to the checkout desk without looking where he was going. His mom and I exchanged understanding smiles; he didn't mean to knock into me and probably didn't even know he had, he was so excited about his new treasures! A couple of minutes later, my own new treasures tucked under my arm, I paused again. A white-haired gentleman in his early 60s, wearing faded jeans and a white tank top, was coming in as I was going out. He held the door wide for me with a gracious smile. I thanked him warmly – after all, I was raised right, too!

How can anyone object to this? How does it take away anyone's “power,” to be treated kindly and to respond in kind? Sure, men open doors for women; women also open doors for men, if the men's arms are full, and for other women, if they're nearby.

Too many people seem to think that simple politeness is tantamount to an expression of disdain. Opening a door, slowing down your car so that someone can cross a street, or serving someone else first aren't statements that you think another person is helpless; gestures like these are the grease that keeps society moving smoothly.

That nice man who held the door for me – it certainly made me feel good, and my smile and “Thank you!” made him smile, too. I didn't exchange a word with the 3-year-old's mom, but we shared an, “Ah, kids!” moment nevertheless – and she got a tiny bit of affirmation that she's still a person, which can be all too rare during those tiny-kids-at-home years.

So I got three books, social validation and a blog idea from that 15-minute library run. Not bad for a Wednesday afternoon.

(Oh, and according to Lance - I WIN at sweet rolls.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Baking with the Baby

Last night I was hit with the urge to try baking soft pretzels. I've baked a few loaves of bread in my life, so I have the general idea of what to do with dough. I found a recipe online, read a few reviews and tweaked the recipe just a bit here and there. Here is the recipe, along with instructions on how to bake with a baby.

4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon Canola oil
1/2 cup baking soda
4 cups hot water
1/4 cup kosher salt, for topping


First of all, it is May in Texas and it is abnormally chilly out. I believe the high was supposed to be in the 50s, but I only saw it hit 47 degrees that morning. Refusing to bring out the trusty space heaters, I resort to turning on my oven's self clean mode. It gets toasty enough, but now it is time to get it to cool off a bit. Turn your "space heater oven" off for the time being. As it is about time for the children to get ready for bed, it's time to kick this thing into high gear. While your oldest watches with keen interest, dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in warm water in a small bowl. Make your way into the bathroom to prepare toothbrushes for brushing, letting the yeast water stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Don't forget to remind all three of your older children to use the facilities before ushering them into their cloth night training pants.

By this time we've already called their daddy, who is out of town on business this week. We've said our prayers, blew kisses into the phone and have told him we love him. I'm distracted by the need to get the dough put together, so they all run around like headless chickens.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt. Make half hearted attempts to encourage the children to make their way to their bedroom. Make a well in the center; add the oil and yeast mixture. Wash your hands, as you've just changed the fourth poopy diaper of the day. Take your wedding band off and stick it on the counter where you won't miss it. Mix and form into a dough. If the mixture is dry, add one or two tablespoons of water. Knead the dough until smooth, about 7 to 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Allow your children to oo and aah over the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Take this time to tuck two children into bed. The oldest and youngest both stay up later. Play with your baby, letting your oldest play Pocket Frogs on your iPad. Post on Facebook about how you're proud that you actual,y followed through with doing something you wanted to do! Nurse your baby and realize with a start "Oh... there's a REASON I don't bake this late in the evening. My baby is tired and will only want me.. and her daddy isn't here to hold her!" Determine then to allow your oldest to stay up later than usual, on the condition that she entertains her sister.

Preheat oven to 415 degrees F. In a large bowl, dissolve baking soda in hot water. Let your oldest stir, because she really wants to help and you're still learning to let her explore her limits while not going crazy over doing things "right".

When risen, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 (roughly) equal pieces. Listen to your baby start to fuss. Hurry. Offer up prayers that she'll calm down. Roll each piece into a rope and twist into a pretzel shape. Or get creative and twist them into various shapes. When you're about half way through the batch, take a break to nurse your overtired baby, plopping down on the kitchen floor. She's still tired, but you've gotta get it done. Distract her with Sweet Potato Puffs. Heave a sigh of relief as the silence descends, broken only by your oldest child's giggles at feeding her sister. Once all of the dough is all shaped, dip each pretzel into the baking soda solution and place on a greased baking sheet. Discover you only have enough room for half the pretzels, pop that sucker into the oven and get another cookie sheet from the drawer beneath the stove. Notice there are a few rust spots. Sigh. You take care to avoid them and use the sheet anyhow. If you have the kosher salt (which I did not) here is where you'd sprinkle them.

Bake in preheated oven for 8 minutes, until browned. Take the first batch out, run a stick of butter over them and sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mix you made the other day to jazz up the cheerios your children begged to have for breakfast. Pop the second batch in. Eat one of the pretzels while it is still nearly too hot to handle. Reward your oldest for her help with the baby by letting her have one, too.

Take pictures and post to Facebook.

(Try desperately to upload them to the blog. Fail. Sorry.)

Proceed to knock the baby out (which you tried to do in the first eight minute window, but it didn't happen), tuck her into her playpen, watch your stories on Netflix and consume three more pretzels while they are still warm.

Vow to do it all over again, this time with the kosher salt and when the baby is already knocked out. Enjoy!

If you'd like to see the original recipe, go here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tomorrow's Men

Millie writes:

Since Sassy and I are practically drowning in testosterone over here, it's not surprising that I spend a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to motivate young males.

(I should tell you right now that I still haven't discovered the secret, so don't hold your breath.)

Without exception, our boys were lackluster students in middle and high school. This isn't because they aren't smart – they're all above average in intelligence. What it boils down to is this: They didn't (or in the case of the current high-school boy, don't) do well because they really didn't care about school.

I've read all the literature, believe me. From kindergarten up they've all had the full support system: a quiet spot for homework and reading, help and tutoring if needed, organizational help, the whole nine yards. We've tried the carrot-and-stick approach, the no-extracurriculars-until-your-grades-improve approach, the you-control-your-own-life approach and the I'm-controlling-every-move-you-make approach.

Here I am, hacking through yet another Junior Year with the sixth kid (and fourth boy), and I'm just as lost as I was with the oldest one. Yes, he could pass all his classes with A's and B's – if I spend hours every day emailing his teachers, going over his papers, and sitting on top of him to make sure he does his homework. I do a little of this, albeit grudgingly; I think it is completely inappropriate for a parent to have to be in this loop at all by the time a kid is a Junior. This “cleaning out the backpack to find the permission slip” stuff was outmoded by the second grade.

The girls had/have their challenges too, don't get me wrong. They both got pretty good grades and (more importantly, in my opinion) they actually learned in class. Sassy has a tendency to take on too much and then get slammed into an overwhelmed, deer-in-the-headlights mode as the term ends, but all in all she's doing a great job of deciding where she wants to go and figuring out how to get herself there.

Which, when I stop and think about it, is where the boys fall flat even in the college years. None of them seem to be able to see beyond the immediate moment. The high school kid doesn't believe that it's important to get into college – doesn't he see his big brothers just fooling around there, after all? - and the college kid figures he can coast just like he did in high school. Unless a person (boy or girl) has a goal in mind, he is pretty much just marking time in school. My being motivated doesn't help him in the least – for one thing I already passed high school chemistry, and for another you can't make somebody care.

At least, I can't.

Has anybody out there successfully turned around a completely disinterested student? If so, pass some advice my way – help a sister out.

I'm motivated, I tell ya.