Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Fire Pit

Hey! How ya been? Boy, how time flies, yo?

I know, I know. I've been a bad blogger. See, here's the thing- I meant to post. I did. I meant to post more back in October. I meant to post more in November. Then I woke up one day and...well...it's almost Christmas.

And here's another thing- I have this issue with order. I had some things I wanted to share and I just can't let go of them. (Cue the Frozen music.) I need to write in some sort of order. I probably need some type of therapy for this.


I'm going way  back to October. All summer long (I think I hear another song there) we worked on clearing our back yard so we could build a fire pit. The yard was full of post-fire construction debris and an insane amount of firewood and brush. We had our work cut out for us, but we conquered the mess and by October it was building time.  

Before we could build anything, we had to welcome the bobcat in to flatten out our space. When we rebuilt the house after the fire, we moved a lot of dirt to pour concrete piers and footers and we cut deep trenches to bury the electrical lines. We were left with a giant mound of dirt on one side of the yard. That mountain had to be moved. I was completely giddy when the yard was level again. It's the little things, ya know? That little tree was left standing on purpose- the kids are going to make a totem pole out of it.    

Then, the back-breaking brick moving began. We used a lot of bricks and broken cement pavers that had been left laying around the yard to fill in the open space in the fire pit, thus reducing the amount of dirt that had to be shoveled in, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. 

Still, we shoveled an obscene amount of dirt. 

The results though- oh, wow. I loved it.

We filled the top layer with gravel, built a small fire, and stepped back to take a good look at our beautiful accomplishment. 

And then, the Big Guy arrived with a butt load of river rock. A butt load is equivalent to three tons. Three tons. I actually thought I might just drop down in the gravel and die. We shoveled and we spread and we raked river rock for hours around our beautiful new fire pit.   

Finally, we were able to cook dinner over our new fire pit and sit back and rest our aching muscles. That was honestly the best hot dog I've ever roasted. The fire was apparently so bright, Fish had to wear shades. 

In the fall of 2012, I stood on the unfinished deck of my unfinished house and looked out over my destroyed back yard with the big mound of dirt and the deep trenches and the construction debris everywhere and I dreamed a little dream. I dreamed of a time when I would be living in my house again and we would walk out into our back yard and sit around our fire pit. I dreamed of a time that my yard would not be occupied by large construction dumpsters. 

The fire pit is a symbol of closure for me. It doesn't mean the deck is finished, or that the gutters are on, or that the insurance case is settled. But it does mean that we are living life again. 

It also means that we can enjoy a fire again. Outside of the house. In a contained fire pit. A fire pit that is too tall for anyone to fall into. A fire pit that is a very safe distance away from my house. 

What? You thought this meant I was over my fire issues? Not a chance.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Birthday Party#70: A Super Girl Party

Little Bean calls me Super Mom, but my super powers were called into question as I planned her Super Girl-themed 10th birthday party. Truth be told, I know nothing about super heroes. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Thank heavens for Pinterest. I started an inspiration board several weeks ahead of this party.

In addition to my limited super hero knowledge, I also have extremely limited time. Between work, college, and kids' doctor appointments, I didn't have a lot of time to work on this party. Fortunately, I have a house full of fabulous kids and I totally take advantage of child labor here. I cut out a background from black wrapping paper and Fish and The Boy's most amazing girlfriend...um...we'll call her Red...cut and glued lots and lots of windows for our cityscape background. I think it might be Metropolis, but I have muddied up so many super hero words and phrases this week- I just don't even know. I'll just go with cityscape.

Super Girl loved it. We found the family room floor to be littered with Kryptonite (crushed green plastic bottles) and that had to be removed before the party could proceed. Of course, Super Girls can't touch Kryptonite so they had to use their super powers and their special removal tools to get the job done. I attached 4 pieces of string to an elastic pony tail holder and the trick was for 4 girls to simultaneously pull open the elastic band by pulling on their string to capture the Kryptonite. Then they had to carry the Kryptonite over to a plastic tub and drop it in. (There was some cheatin' goin' on in this game.)  

I decided to keep our spider web up from Halloween so our Super Girls could shoot at the web. I was harshly informed that Super Girl doesn't shoot webs, Spider Man does. Yikes. Super Mom fail. But, you know, whatevs. The web was still up. Spider Man is a super hero. I was going with it. 

The Big Guy painted red and black point areas on the web and the kids took turns throwing bolas (those golf ball-ended ropes from the ladder toss game) into the web to collect points. 

While they were outside playing the web game, a sneaky villain  slipped in and stole the cake and presents! They located the villain somewhere in the back yard and shot her down with pink silly string. Once captured, the villain spilled the beans and told them where the cake and presents were hiding. 

 Super Girl was happy, her faith in Super Mom restored. 

Wondering about the #70 in the title? 5 kids, 18 parties each...equals 90 parties. This is #70. Amazingly, this is the first time we've had a Super Hero party. We've had tea parties, chocolate parties, beach parties, under the sea parties, medieval knights parties, Monster's Inc parties, A Bug's Life parties, Sesame Street parties, Teletubbies parties, candy parties, monkey parties, alien parties, One Direction parties, Toy Story parties...but no Super Hero parties. I managed to avoid this theme for 70 parties, people! I guess I couldn't avoid it forever. (But I got dang close.) 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Assault by Bug Repellent

Friday is supposed to be a good day. It’s the fun day of the week I look forward to. This particular Friday was one I was really looking forward to. The weather was nice and I anticipated a house full of kids and teenagers for our annual pumpkin carving. I couldn't wait to get off work and prepare for the party.

In spite of my excitement, Friday was not cooperating. Nothing I had touched had gone quite like I expected.  The cake pops that were to be dipped ever so elegantly in candy corn-colored layers had instead become unsightly orbs coated in glops of melted chocolate.  I had decided to just go with the flow and I had adopted a rather whatevs attitude.  Friday just wasn't what I had hoped, but I pressed on.  

I was boiling sugar into caramel on the stove while also trying to direct my young herd through a last-minute power cleaning of our well-lived in home. You know, multi-tasking, which always works out SO well. I picked up a few scattered hair bands from the sofa and flung them in the bathroom drawer on my way through the hall. I shot a sideways glance at the bathroom floor and noticed multiple rolls of toilet paper thrown in the floor (why kids, why??) and immediately my frustration level grew.

In my extreme frustration, I slammed that bathroom drawer. Hard. Very hard.

A bottle of bug repellent lined itself up ever so perfectly in the drawer so as to align its spray nozzle in such a way that my slamming the drawer depressed the spray nozzle and sent a stream of bug repellent directly into both eyes and my nose in a split second of pure horror. I was BLIND.

I’m not sure if I was blinded by the actual chemical or just from the sheer pain, but I was unleashing a torrent of profanities and indistinguishable screams that could probably be heard on the next block. I was near a sink, but I was not thinking clearly and I began to run blindly toward my own bathroom sink slamming face first into every door frame along the way. Every door frame. I plunged my face into the sink and began flushing my eyes with water which had the effect of intensifying the burning sensation three-fold.

I could not even fathom what had happened. I had just shot myself in the face with bug repellent. For the love of all things! How in the hell could that even have happened? I wandered, still half-blind, back to the kitchen to check on my caramel and then back to the sink for more eye washing.

In the meantime, a well-meaning family member reduced the temperature of my boiling caramel to less than a boil. I decided it looked caramelish enough and we began dipping bite-size pieces of apple. I was so very proud of myself. I had cooked my own, made-from-scratch, caramel and the Fish and I had coated the most adorable bite-size apples ever complete with little bat and pumpkin-shaped food picks.

About twenty minutes later,   those cute little apples shed their caramel coatings in an act of pure defiance.  I said very ugly things. Very, ugly.

But, Friday marched on as it does. Kids arrived with pumpkins to carve and I soon forgot my irritated eyes. There were ugly-but-delicious cake pops to be consumed. There were friends to converse with and hot dogs to roast. There were leaves falling from the trees and ooey-gooey roasted marshmallows being eaten around the fire pit in the back yard.

It was perfection, this Friday with all of its challenges and torments. Absolute perfection.  

If I had my stuff together, and had not sprayed myself in the eyeballs with bug repellent, and had not adopted a whatevs attitude, perhaps I would have actually taken photos of the pumpkin carving party. Alas, I didn't have it together. I did poison my own eyeballs. And I did say "whatevs, people. Whatevs." I did not take photos of our annual pumpkin carving party. But, I did take this last-minute pic with mah friend. So there you go.   

Monday, October 20, 2014

Who Knew?

This was delivered in my Super Mail today (slipped under my bedroom door) while I was away at class by Super Girl (also known as Little Bean).

It says:

If you are in the age of 13-20 there are 2 jobs open at the super office.

Attention! Super Tuna's mother has passed away. You are invited to her funeral Nov. 5 at [the] family room. 

So apparently, I have died.

Who knew?

It's a good thing I got the Super News or I would have missed my own funeral.

Monday, October 6, 2014

September In Numbers

I offer you September in Numbers: A Snapshot of a Family Schedule

Color Guard/Marching Band Rehearsal  Drop-offs and Pick-ups: 18

Doctor/Dentist/Therapy/Ophthalmology/Lab Appointments:  20

Back-to-School Orientations and Parent Events: 2

Work Related Drop-Off/Pick Ups for Kid: 20

Volunteer Activity Drop-Off/Pick Ups for Kids: 9

Marching Band Performance/Parade/Football Games: 2

In addition, we tackled a yard clean-up day, a garage sale, and sent two girls to the homecoming dance.  I also went back to school and took six credit hours in college this semester (two classes each week), leaving the Big Guy to manage even more of this mess on his own. (Which he did, like the rock he is.)

The comment I hear most often is that people don’t know how we do it. The truth is, we’re crazy. And we cut a lot of corners. We cook enormous pots of chili on a Thursday and then offer it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for three days.  We call the kids the wrong names and then get mad when they don’t respond. We turn in three pages of homework for our college course when we only needed to turn in one because we can no longer comprehend simple instructions. We occasionally wear our clothes inside out. We get so sleep-deprived and exhausted that we actually hit ourselves in the face with a chair we’re carrying and bust our own lip open.  We are walking comedians.

The how we do it is simple really. We just do it. We make a lot of lists and schedules. We rely heavily on the iPhone calendar app. We tag-team, reminding each other who needs to be where when and helping each other get out the door with every thing (and every kid) that we need.   

What’s more important is the why

We do it so we can stand up and salute the flag on the football field at the Friday night homecoming game as the marching band plays the Star Spangled Banner and our daughter takes the field in full show makeup spinning her flag like a boss.

We do it so we can look on with pride as our oldest daughter walks into work in full uniform, becoming ever more independent.

We do it so we can celebrate the joy of our middle school-aged daughter getting a reduced prescription for her glasses, knowing all those years of eye patching and an eye surgery were well worth it and turned out okay.

We do it so we can watch in awe as our two oldest daughters are transformed from snarky pajama-bottom-wearing, pony-tailed teens into stunningly beautiful young ladies for the homecoming dance.

Well, there might be just a little bit of snark still there. 

We do it so we can watch our son spread his wings and fly as he moves into his very own apartment.

There are things that simply cannot be measured in numbers.  Now (yawn) if you’ll excuse us, we are going to collapse and sleep.  The schedule has whooped our butts.           

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Case of the Mid-Term Crazies

I was in week six of an eight week semester in college when our house succumbed to fire three years ago. Like the Little Engine That Could, I kept moving on the track determined to succeed. I took extensions on the two courses I was in because I was just sure that when the fog cleared and I'd had some sleep, the memories of what I'd learned in those courses would return. I enrolled in the next semester because I was sure I could handle it. Nothing was stopping me. I thought I could do all things.

I was wrong. Very, very wrong. By November I was crying all the time. I couldn't remember anything I had learned in those two courses. I refer to them as "those two courses" because to this day, I don't remember what they were. I was several weeks behind on the courses I was currently enrolled in. I was constantly begging for "just a little more time" to complete an assignment. I was also learning a new job and spending every free moment shopping for replacement clothes and household items, meeting with insurance adjusters, fire restoration crews, and trying to make our temporary rental house a home. I was exhausted and I was a mess.

The tears finally got the best of me. I realized I wasn't having an isolated tantrum, I was having a breakdown. I knew that I needed to stop and take care of myself so I could take care of my family. I dropped out of college, with two Fs. It felt fabulous at the time. I was free of all of that workload. The weight was off my shoulders and I could set about healing and helping my family heal. I was free to run about in the fall air and spend time with the kids. It was awesome.

...for about a year.

By the next fall I was getting anxious and moody. I wanted my house put back together. I wanted to move back home. I wanted my life back. I wanted to go back to school. I missed the reading. I missed the lectures. I missed the class discussions. I missed knowing that I was learning and growing, moving forward.

Fast forward...

Three years later, I finally got to go back. The house is pretty much complete. The family is as healed as we'll ever be. The insurance case...well, it's still ongoing, but it is what it is. It was time. I signed the student loans in blood and agreed to be bound to Stafford loan payments until death do us part. I dusted off my backpack and bought new books. I. Could. Not. Wait.

That was five short weeks ago, which brings us to today.

I spent 17 hours yesterday slumped over my laptop. I'm still wearing the same clothes, and hooboy! They are some purty clothes. I'm wearing my husband's olive green t-shirt, old gray sweatpants, bright green fuzzy socks, and purple reading glasses. I've completed the look with wild, unstyled hair, no makeup, and dark circles under both eyes. I've consumed a steady diet of peanuts, chocolate-covered raisins and iced tea. I cannot recall simple words, but I can recite to you the top expenditures of my 130-page city budget and relate them to the class text.

I am a certifiable mess. And I wanted this.  

I want to go outside and walk in the September air. I want to watch the leaves turn. I want to have dinner with my family and sit on the living room floor with my kids. I want to sleep. And I will...

In three weeks when the semester ends.

And then, I will have six more credits checked off my degree audit and I will feel like I rule the world and I will want to do it all again.

Because I'm batshit crazy like that.      

Monday, August 25, 2014

Remember That One Time?

The Boy: Remember how you told me I was going to Monterey that one time?

Me: No. How?

The Boy: With the glass bottle? Remember?

Me: (blank stare)

The Boy: We were at the corner restaurant having dinner, and I took my little sister to the bathroom or something, and when I came back to the table the waitress brought me a message in a bottle. It said "pack your bags, you're flying to Monterey for the youth leadership conference!"

Me: I did that?

The Boy: Yeah! You don't remember?

Me: Huh. Dang. You've got a really cool mom!

I think I need a new memory stick installed. I've run out of space or something.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Sweet 12th Birthday

Here it is, our 69th birthday party. Rough Stuff loves candy. She magically acquires a steady stream of suckers. So it was no surprise when I asked her what her party theme would be this year and she replied "candy!"

We started by making fake candy. Lots, and lots of fake candy. We used foam pool noodles, paper plates, toilet paper tubes, pretty much anything remotely candy shaped and disposable. We covered our collection in tissue paper and then with cellophane. A roll of cellophane cost us $9.99. This may have been one of the most cash-friendly parties we've ever planned.

I painstakingly covered bouncy balls with cellophane to put in the party favor bags and then the Big Guy insisted that middle school-aged children would try to eat them so they became additional decor. I might be harboring some resentment. Those suckers, er, um...gumballs, took a long time to wrap.

I failed to take a single photo of our fake-candy decorated home because I was exhausted and that's how I roll. You'll just have to settle for this bad photo of the table. 

My lovely daughter, Fish assembled this cute little lollipop tree. 

My beautiful girl, Tuna created these adorable lollipop cookies.

And I, rolled ham and cheese and pimento cheese pinwheels.

That's teamwork. I'm tellin' ya...if you're hosting a birthday party, you really need to have a couple of teenagers on hand. I have a few I can loan out. Just holler. 

I  created this candy-themed bingo game and then my two lovely bingo callers, Tuna and Fish, donned fake mustaches and took this game to a level I had never dreamed possible. They put on a 20-minute comedy show that had everyone laughing. The game was crafted in a simple table in a Word document and laminated for good measure- the bingo markers were Reese's Pieces. The prizes were all candy-themed but non-edible- Laffy Taffy-flavored lip gloss, candy-themed puzzles, etc.

Before the kids left the table, we gave everyone a miniature Hershey's bar and the kids raced to see who could unwrap and eat their candy bar first- using only their mouths with both hands clasped behind their backs. I'm quite sure I enjoyed watching that game more than any of them enjoyed playing it.  

We also played a relay game in which players took turns sucking a Skittle onto a straw and then running across the room to drop it in a bucket before it fell off the straw. Amazingly, no one hyperventilated or had an asthma attack. There were plenty of laughs and a few defective Skittles that couldn't be sucked to the straws. (That's their story and they're sticking to it.)   

We made party favors with...what else? Candy! (And a toothbrush for good measure.) Rough Stuff learned to make a candy shape on her Rainbow Loom and we tied one to each toothbrush. I absolutely love that all of the kids are old enough to help plan and create things for the birthday parties. With 69 of them under our belt, they've had some experience, yo.

No birthday party is complete without cake. This was definitely one of my favorite cakes. What kid wouldn't love a cake with giant lollipops plopped on top? A kid whose mother accidentally loaded it with relighting candles. True story. 

It was an accident, I swear. I found these adorable little lollipop-shaped candles and they were $3.99 for 4 candles. I was not spending 12 bucks for candles, so I bought one package and filled in the rest with color coordinated striped candles at 99 cents a package. Yup. Go me. I did not read the package. I swear I did not. I am terrified of fire. I would never intentionally buy a candle you cannot blow out. The actual suckers were melting by the time we had extinguished the cake.  

But that Rough Stuff? Well...she's a forgiving girl. (I might have placated her with candy.) 


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It Happens (To Us)

Heads up: there is a graphic photo at the end of this post

The past seven days have been absolutely ridiculous. I mean, even for our herd. We're talking high level ridiculousness. It started when Rough Stuff gave us a scare with a very appendicitis-like belly pain that landed us in the ER until 3 am. The friendly, if overzealous, doctors gave her a dose of Fentanyl for pain and some Zofran for nausea and sent us on our way. She tied her head and glasses to the ceiling of the mini-van with a headband via the clothing hook (don't ask me, I was baffled), bit her sister 3 times, and asked for a donut a total of 3,075 times between the hospital and home. It was highly entertaining and incredibly exhausting. I will remember to ask for lower levels of pain medication should she ever need it again.

I opted for several hours of sleep and decided I would start work around noon, but that was not to be. I woke at noon and found a chilling message on my phone. My dad had been admitted to the hospital and was moving to the ICU. I packed my bags for the five-hour drive to the hospital. I spent one night in the ICU and then went to a friend's house to get some sleep. I woke to a series of cell phone messages.

It seems that Rough Stuff's pain had returned and she was not eating which surely must signal some level of crisis because she does not turn away food. Reference the donut incident above. The Big Guy had taken her back to the hospital and she was getting a full work up to rule out appendicitis and pancreatitis.

-Heads up: this is a totally anticlimactic tale- 

On the way to the hospital, the truck broke down and just coasted into the parking garage. Grand total on that unexpected repair: $1,200. Ouch. I was afraid Rough Stuff would be admitted because she'd been in the ER for hours and they'd run so many, many tests. I wanted to come home and be in that hospital, with her, instead of the one I was in. But...the storm clouds cut loose and the severe storm warnings rolled and it didn't make sense to drive in that kind of mess so I stayed. She was discharged late that night with absolutely no clue as to what was causing the pain or appetite loss. See? No dramatic ending.
Heads up: that graphic photo is coming. It may or may not contain bones.

So, I stayed at the hospital another night with my dad. That night was the worst hospital experience I've ever had. There was 1 tech assigned to 20 patients so you can imagine the level of care that entailed. I learned to change bed sheets that night, but I'm not sure I ever mastered hospital corners. One lovely tech gave me instruction on how to change the trash bags and set the trash out as I stood by speechless. When she explained later how to wash a bedpan, I found my voice and what I had to say was not very pleasant. I may refer to myself as Limitless Lisa, but that is an outright lie.Well, it's more of a hope really. Like a battle cry. Anyway, I have my limits.

The next night I drove home because my little Rough Stuff had turned 12 and we had a birthday party to prepare for. I'll post pics soon. It was lovely. I spent most of it in a fog. Turns out I'm not so good at switching my days and nights around. I'm blaming it on age.

Anyhoo, crappy week. High level of ridiculousness. Yada, yada.

And then this happened...

Owl pellet, up close and way too personal

An owl yakked on my deck. I mean, why not? It was so symbolic really. This whole week just kind of vomited on us. Every undigested thing just sort of spewed into existence. I am so seriously disgusted by this mess. 

So, it's time to just wash this whole mess away. All of it. It's a new week. It's time for fresh challenges. And a clean deck. 

Grossed out? I warned you. My kids think owl upchuck is beyond awesome. Perspective I tell ya.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sneak Attack

My beloved daughter, Tuna is plagued by a bully. This bully, Gravity, has been picking on her since she first started walking. Gravity just can't let her be, always planning a sneak attack and dropping her to the ground without mercy or compassion. I try not to laugh. I mean, no one wants to encourage a bully...but sometimes I'm just overcome with laughter in spite of myself.

Sunday was one such time. We were shopping in the local party store and we had stopped to drool over all of the candy-themed trinkets we could use at Rough Stuff's upcoming birthday party. Tuna, Fish, and I were just standing at the end of an aisle looking up and down the display, when apropos of nothing, Tuna made a surprised face and just crashed to the ground. One minute she was standing beside us, and the next she was tumbling toward the carpet.

She collapsed suddenly to her knees and lurched forward sending her face perilously close to the rough carpet. Fortunately, her upper half is er...well developed...and acts as a system of dual airbags to cushion her many Gravity attacks. With mock airbags employed, she rocked back and missed hitting much more than her chin on the floor but the carpet did do a number on the airbag system and her knees.

I was as shocked as she was that Gravity had stalked her into this store and assaulted her without warning. I wanted with every fiber of my being to get hold of this Gravity and give it a good what-for, but for all my good intentions, I was completely immobilized by my own sudden need to pee. I stood completely still, legs crossed, tears forming in my eyes, overcome by hysterical laughter. Fish just looked on, completely dumbfounded. She had no idea what had happened.

Tuna got up, put on a smile, and gracefully recovered. I suspect she wanted to run after Gravity and give her a good smackdown as well, but her shoe was untied. Maybe next time.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Remembering Pa

The smell of burlap and old wood drifts into my memories every 4th of July. I've been afraid of fireworks for as long as I can remember but still, the 4th of July is a day of fond memories for me. I've wrestled with this irony for some time now and I think I've finally settled on what it is that draws me back to warm chunks of nostalgia every year. I've finally put my finger on it. It was Pa.

My grandfather, who only went by Pa in our home, was not fond of holidays. He mocked us on Christmas, barely leaving his room and he teased us about Easter and baskets of candy. He did seem to enjoy Halloween, as long as everyone who ventured upon his front porch was shorter than a yardstick. He was known to retrieve his shotgun to run off late-knocking teenagers. I don't remember him being a part of any of our holiday celebrations, with the exception of the 4th of July.

Early in the afternoon on the 4th, he would venture out to the old shed and carry back the burlap gunny sacks. The scent of that dusty burlap is seared forever in my memory. He would gather the ice cream makers, a sledgehammer, and a few old wash tubs. We were making ice cream! This was an every year tradition and I got to help.

He would pull milk cartons of frozen water from the big deep freeze, put them in the gunny sacks, and bust them up with the sledgehammer. Sometimes he let me help, but I was usually doing it wrong. Now, to fully appreciate this ice, you have to understand something about my Pa. The man never spent a dime he didn't have to. He had dimes- that wasn't the issue. But he was not about to give them away. We were not about to go down to the corner filling station and buy ice. You don't pay for frozen water! That would be silly. You make it yourself. There were always milk carton-shaped blocks of ice in the freezer and when you needed ice chips, you got out the sledgehammer.

While we created ice chunks in the backyard, my Grandma Nonnie made up the ice cream mix. We had two flavors every year when I was young- chocolate and vanilla. I would get to walk to the grocery store with Nonnie and pick out the Junket ice cream mixes every year. There wasn't really much picking out to it- we had chocolate, and vanilla- but it was always a fun thing to do. Nonnie would make up the two mixtures and then the fun really began.

There were two ice cream makers. One was electric. I can still hear the motor churning through the ice. The other was an old hand-crank outfit. Pa would add the ice cream barrels and layer in the ice chips and rock salt and then the chore was delegated to my sister and I. We would sit on top of the ice cream maker, crank between our knees and start churning for what seemed in my young mind, hours and hours. When one got tired, the other took over, but my sister, Kimmie always had to finish the job when the mixture got to solid for me to crank.

Nonnie always let me have a little bowl as she scooped the soft-set ice cream into old tupperware containers to firm up in the freezer. When I was a teenager, we took to making a strawberry recipe in an electric mixer as we continued the tradition, but the fake vanilla taste of that Junket package ice cream holds a place in my heart. I would lick the lid clean, until I ran onto a chunk of rock salt and ran sputtering to wash my mouth out with a sip of Coke.

Once the ice cream was made, the grill came out. My next job was to help Pa shuck the corn. We always had fresh corn and if I was lucky, I got to find a worm in one of the ears I shucked! I had to hurry though, because Pa was a lot faster at it and he would find all of the corn worms before I did. This makes me giggle today. I would be somewhat mortified if I found a worm in my corn now. I have also come to realize that something has changed- we no longer find worms in the corn husks and I'm sure that is because the pesticide levels have increased, but that is another story.

Pa would light the grill while I went inside and watched through the back door. (I've always  been afraid of fire!) We would have burgers and hot dogs with corn on the cob, and then I would dance around the house for hours anxiously awaiting fireworks and homemade ice cream.

Fireworks consisted of several novelty fireworks- tanks, camelias, smoke bombs, glow worms, and such- nothing that went 'pop' and nothing too big. My hometown had some sort of ban on fireworks and the police were fairly serious about issuing tickets and fines, but that didn't stop Pa. He would venture out into the street, far enough behind the house to make it difficult to detect which house the illegal fun belonged to, light the firework, and then hustle back up to the door to watch. After a few we would go inside and wait for a police cruiser to drive by, then he was back at it again.

At the end of the night, he would retrieve from his stash, a cherry bomb. These were not legal anywhere, I'm sure. They would blow a hole in the dirt and remove a two-foot ring of grass from the earth. He would tell me the same story every year about going fishing and throwing one of these in the lake "to blow the fish right out of the water so you can just scoop 'em up." He would promise to take me fishing some time, but he never got around to it.

The 4th of July was never a favorite holiday for me, but it was the one holiday that I spent most of the day with my Pa. I think the memories that flood my senses every year- the corn worms, the smell of old burlap, the sight of a glow worm burning on the concrete porch- those memories remind me of time spent with Pa.

Our 4th of July traditions are different. We haven't made homemade ice cream in years now and we usually don't pull out the grill on this day. Instead, we'll pack a picnic dinner with Mason jar desserts and go watch a professional fireworks display. But all day, I'll smell burlap and think of ice cream and smile.  


Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Letter to the Pyros

Dear Fireworks Lovers Everywhere,

We need to have a little talk. A come-to-Jesus meetin' if you will. See, I have a little problem with your choice method of celebration. As Independence Day draws near, and you all begin celebrating our independence as a nation by blowing things up, I am overcome with a familiar feeling; FEAR. Yep, fear. I am all out flippin' terrified of the 4th of July. There. I said it.

Actually...it is no surprise to anyone who knows me well. I have an irrational fear of fire. Well, duh, you say. No. No, no. I had an irrational fear of fire before the crock pot burned my house down. I've always had it. Let me give you a little background to help you understand.

When I was a wee one, I liked fireworks as long as they didn't make any noise and they weren't anywhere close to me. That pretty much limited the 4th of July celebration to sparklers (way over there, stuck in the ground please), glow snakes, smoke bombs, and those pretty spinning flower things that would chase my grandpa down the street when he lit them. Anything else made me very uneasy.

When I was a teenager, I witnessed my first bottle rocket war and that experience was pretty much like watching an actual war battle with tanks and explosives in my mind. I was mortified. I had hives. I cried. It was horrendous. I am possibly scarred for life from that incident.

Then I got married and met my husband's family and Oh. Dear. Lord. I tolerated their celebrations for a few years, but then we had children and I all but had a nervous breakdown trying to protect the fruit of my loins from the macabre fire-filled chaos they enjoyed. The Big Guy soon consented to making the 4th of July a private, just-us-and-the-kids celebration. It was that, or admit me to a mental health facility on the 5th of July.  

Over the years, I've come to realize that there is no end to the stupidity displayed in amateur patriotic celebrations. No end, people. Couple that realization with the pain of rebuilding our home and lives after a fire and my fear has multiplied a bajillionth.

I HATE FIREWORKS. The big ones in professional shows are pretty and all, but really...I would be just fine if I never ever saw another firework. If they all disappeared from this blessed earth, it would hurt my feelers not at all. Alas, they don't let me make the laws so you're all safe, you fire-loving maniacs, you.

With that said, I might be able to survive this holiday with my sanity still intact if y'all could just observe some basic safety precautions.

I like my home and I want to keep it, so keep your fireworks to yourselves, please. I also value my skin. It is pasty white and somewhat transparent, but it is mine and I'm attached to it. I would greatly appreciate it if you could just keep all sparky searing-hot things away from it. Oh, and my eyes? Yeah...I need those too. So, if you could just refrain from launching flaming missiles my way, that would be fabulous. And please stop setting them off in the street when I'm driving through because my car runs on gasoline, which is flammable, thank you very much. It would also be incredibly respectful of you to limit your 4th of July celebration to some reasonable period of time that is actually near the 4th of July, and for the love of all things sacred, stop setting them off by midnight.

I'm glad we could have this little talk. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll just be in my little happy place, securely tucked away from flying fire, celebrating our nation's independence with food, the way I choose to celebrate everything.

Happy fire-wielding blowing-things-up-day to you!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Birthday Party #68

The Fish is turning 14 and she could think of only one direction for her party to take- that's right, ONE DIRECTION! Like, HARRY STYLES! O. M. G!

Yup. We've got a Directioner in the house.

Tuna baked 1D cookies and we slapped some buttercream frosting on and finished them up with some sparkly black gel.

Of course, there was cake. It's been a long minute since I've decorated a cake and I've never ever worked with fondant before, but this cake got a passing grade from the birthday girl.  

I molded some chocolate and white candy hearts for fun. One lovely birthday guest declared that the chocolate ones "had a LOT of cocoa." Bless her heart. That was not cocoa- I burned the chocolate. (I know, I know- how exactly do you burn chocolate?! Look folks, I'm exhausted. I don't really know what happened. It looked fine when it came out of the microwave. Yes, I microwaved it. Stop judging me!)

I did find these really cool printables over at Anders Ruff. Tuna helped sticker a few pounds of Hershey's kisses for the party favors. (If you don't have a teenage girl around to help with party preparation, I highly recommend recruiting one.) 

As we were watching the One Direction movie, This is Us for the better part of the party, we used the printable for movie candy boxes and covered Fish's fave- Reese's Pieces. 

The party wouldn't be complete without a photo booth.

And...because we're gluttons for punishment we love our girl, we invited three teenage girls to sleep over, on Friday the 13th, with a full moon above. It sounded like a herd of bison were settling in above our bedroom in the late hours of the night. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Finish Line, aka The Last Day of School

We've crawled to the finish line. That is to say, we've survived another school year. We've made it. Barely.

For reals. We are crawling across the line. We are worn and weary, beaten and bruised. We are done. Stick a fork in us done.

We've put up a courageous fight, but we are ragged. We've lost a homework folder. We've forgotten reading logs. We are out of clean laundry. We're showing up at the wrong time for events and picking our kids up late from practices. Our house should probably be condemned. Foul language and whining is at an all time high.

Tonight, we've fallen to a new low. The menu said we were having tortellini and garlic toast. We said "forget that mess. We're having donuts."



For dinner.

Don't judge us. It's called breakfast for dinner. It's like waffles. Sort of. But the syrup is in the form of sprinkles. And creme filling.

(Actually, the conversation was something along the lines of "who is picking the girls up from practice?" and "we didn't buy the tortellini yet" and "oh filth...the guinea pigs are out of food...need to pick up pig food.")

Our kids think we're awesome. (It could be the sugar talking.)

It couldn't be helped really, this disastrous low. It's been weeks in the making. It started somewhere around standard testing and then it ramped up a notch with spirit week (with a different outfit required for each day- DRESS up! BATTER up! All sorts of ups. It was mind-boggling.) Then there was teacher appreciation week, which we forgot a flower for. (We love you Mrs. B.) Then came grad parties, bachelorette parties, and weddings. Field trips, field days, guard practices. Orthopedic appointments, clinic appointments, and a pre-surgery appointment. A talent show creeped in with the relentless singing, the dresses to be made, the rehearsal...

We just kept crawling toward the finish line looking more haggard each day.

Then, with just one half-day left, we fell out. The Big Guy collapsed on a chair and I flopped back on the bed and we looked at each other and said with a sigh "dinner." And then the Big Guy, the stay-at-home dad extraordinaire, the rock of this family, said "donuts?" And so it was.

Tomorrow, we will drag our sugar-logged butts out of bed and push and drag each other over the finish line.

Goodbye 2013-2014 school year. It's been real.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Super Sidekick

Little Bean: This is THE X-MOTION SUPER-RACING CAR. I added the and car. When you roll it, it goes and finds a problem. Then we go find the car and it tells us the problem. Then me and Tuna set off to fix the problem.

Me: Huh.

Little Bean: Today it's going to help us find sticks to pick up.

Me: Oh. So does that mean you're going to help Tuna move the firewood?

Little Bean: No! She's going to help ME. She's my Super Sidekick.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Throwback Thursday- Kitchen

Insurance inventory spreadsheets still dominate much of our time and conversation each week and the lack of siding on our house is a constant reminder that we are still in fire recovery- two and a half years later.

Sometimes, when it feels like we will never be completely recovered, it helps to take a look back at where we've been and then take a good look at where we are now.

In honor of Throwback Thursday, let's take a look at the kitchen.

This was our kitchen, post-fire, fall of 2011.

The darkness at the top of this photo is not shadowing- it is soot. This scene left me speechless and in tears.

This was our kitchen, post-fire, mid-demolition, in the spring of 2012.

The kitchen floor was red, but you can't see that under the layers of ash and debris. This scene left me saying "no more ugly counter tops!" (Also, "we're not moving home any time soon, are we?")

It was a long, long road, but...

This is our kitchen today.

This scene makes me say "ahhh."

We may never get this mess completely behind us, but the kitchen is open and that's the heart of the home.

It's all good.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Day Fit For A Momma

Photos with my lovely children- it's the one thing I ask for every Mother's Day. This year, the plan was to take a little lunch out to an urban setting and watch my kids romp and run while I snapped photo after photo to my heart's content. I planned to have little Mason jars full of lemon cake and lemon curd topped with fresh buttercream frosting, looking all hip against a backdrop of concrete and artful graffiti, perfect children posed just so.

Nobody cares about my plans. Mother Nature whipped up an 80 degree wind storm that was not at all conducive to picnicking or photo-taking. Whatevs.

So, we decided to have a Mother's Day game day instead.

It wasn't a bad plan at first deal.

Then Little Bean started to get all serious. 

Fish was in some sort of shock.

Tuna got all puckered up about something.

Rough Stuff was completely overwhelmed.

And then things rapidly deteriorated into some sort of far-noise making festival. Seriously- a five-minute, five-child fart noise serenade.

At this point, I realized I was not going to get Mother's Day photos. I realized that my children may never outgrow potty humor. And, I realized that I didn't really care, because at the end of the day...

I have five of the most fabulous kiddos any mother could ever hope for. I received the kindest cards, the most wonderful letters, and some of the most creatively crafted jewelry I could ever hope for. They spent the day with me and it was a perfect day in every way, fart concert included.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Chore Board and How We Use It

Life has all but run me over recently as our family has moved from challenge to challenge, illness to illness- you know...all the normal stuff of family life. When things get more hectic than normal, much to the dismay of the Big Guy, I start organizing things. It is what I do. I try to reign in the chaos and package it up into manageable, tidy little pieces. It is how my brain works. I'm a visual thinker. (The Big Guy is more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants person.)

Aside from my own personal lists and visuals, we have several that we use as a family to keep our week on track. We have a schedule board that we use to keep track of where everyone needs to be for the week, and we have a menu board that tells us what we're going to eat for dinner every day. This week, I took it one step further (can you hear the herd protesting?) and created...


The design is pretty basic- a combination of my favorite features of various board designs on Pinterest. We needed something portable, and that was easy to change and adjust because our concept of chores is a bit different. For the individual chores, I painted craft sticks and applied peel-and-stick magnets to the back. I used a Sharpie paint pen to add the chores. For the board, I used an inexpensive metal cookie sheet and applied Contact chalkboard vinyl. I wanted something more permanent so I added my 'chalk' labels with the Sharpie paint pen.  

We already had a method in place. We just needed a little organization. Here is how we do chores- 

First of all, I really dislike the word chores and in hindsight I wish I had not used that word on the board. Those kinds of things become brilliantly clear five seconds after you write something in permanent ink. We don't assign chores in the traditional sense in our home and we don't pay the kids for doing them. No one pays me for doing my chores. I get paid to work. I do not get paid to do my laundry or cook them dinner. In our home, chores are the things everyone must do, to the best of their ability, to keep the house from falling into complete filthy chaos. 

If you live here, you eat here, you sleep here, you lounge and shower and change clothes here- then you need to help clean here as well. So, more than chores, I guess you could say these are the expectations. Everyone is expected to do their part, to pull their own weight so to speak.  

Every day, typically at 4:30 pm, the kids must start chores. This gives everyone time to get off the bus, grab a snack, and have a bit of down time before starting the evening routine.The Big Guy or I will look around the house and decide what must be done to regain order. Then we determine who is available and able to do what. This gives us some daily flexibility to work around various after school activities, homework schedules, illnesses, broken bones, etc.  

From there, the chores are assigned to each child. We rotate through the same basic tasks and each chore has a laminated chore card that details exactly what is expected. Chores are things like cleaning the kitchen, rinsing and loading the dishwasher, organizing the pantry, or gathering the recycling. 

Our old method was to assign the chores, then spend the next 20 minutes repeating who should be doing what because no one listened or they conveniently forgot what they were assigned. That happens after you wander away to the bathroom to read your text messages or slip away to play with a guinea pig, you know? You come back and can't remember what on earth you were supposed to be doing. I get it. I do. 

The new method  creates a simple visual reminder of who is doing what. We just pick what needs to be done and move the magnets to each child's name and voila! No more questions. Perfection. 

Let the whining begin!

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Birthday Wish For Tuna

Seventeen years ago I brought into this world my first daughter. Just eight ounces shy of ten pounds, she drifted into this world head first, but face up- dragging her bony skull along my tailbone for several excruciating hours. She was determined and headstrong from the starting line, refusing to just take the easy path. It is a quality I love about her and one that will serve her well.

She began pulling up to furniture when she was six months old, stepping along quite well by seven months, and by eight months she was a skilled but tiny walker. She had places to go, things to do, and no fear at all. She was forever climbing and falling and I was forever trying to catch her before she bit the dust.

And so the years went. Life threw up one hurdle after another and she just kept climbing and running, and occasionally falling.

Her short seventeen years have been punctuated with three major surgeries, a handful of broken bones, a house fire, and several losses. Life has been a little bit rough on her, but she just keeps going with the same headstrong tenacity that she entered this world with. Sometimes she falls down, but she gets back up stronger and more determined than ever.

She is hysterically funny, comically clumsy, fiercely protective of her siblings, and so nurturing it will melt your heart. She is smart, witty, intuitive, and unbelievably resilient.

I still run behind her, trying to keep her from falling, hoping to save her from pain, knowing all the while that soon, I must let her run free. She is at that tender, bittersweet age now- no longer a child, not quite an adult.

As she blew out her birthday candle, I made a wish for her- that she will stay strong and determined, keep her sense of humor, and never just take the easy path.

Happy birthday, Tuna. 
Stay fearless.