Things You Have Missed

I've been absent for awhile, I know. And whether you actually missed me or not, I am going to pretend that you did and you have been pining for my words of wit and wisdom for the weeks I have been missing. I think a lot of those words got swallowed up in messy letters to Josh at bootcamp, and absorbed in the fiery ball of energy expenditure that has become my "work life", which comes precariously close to eating up that distant thing called my "personal life". Balance eludes me right now, but it's not all bad. I threw myself head first into a Christmas production at the school, and by head first, I mean literally, when our high school senior with cerebral palsy jumped from his ref-stand perch onto my head, knees first. It's just that he was the partridge, and apparently he confused my head with a pear tree, or something, and the guys on the rope were clearly not ready for him to fly. I am still recovering, but I need the name of a good chiropractor in Northern Stevens County. And a massage therapist. And a hot tub. And a psychologist.

I miss Josh. I do. All the time. I miss the balance he brings to my chaos. Without him, I am just unbalanced chaos. I will say that this lack of balance makes me inordinately grateful for my family and friends. The ones who fix pellet stoves, and loan me computers, and show me how to repair my washing machine that quit draining two weeks ago and smelled like one of Santa's Elves pooped in it. I am so thankful for pizza, and more pizza, and then leftover pizza. And kids who only complain a little. I am grateful for a big bag of a custom roast from Stedy's Coffee, which is best when Kizzie makes it for me. I am thankful for comfortable boots - a whole closet full. And a ferocious wiener dog waking me up in the morning. I've got it good, you guys. Real good. You should be jealous. Even though every coat we own, collectively, is on the floor right now, along with one mitten apiece from at least 500 pairs, and more snow boots than this family could possibly wear at one time. The driveway is littered with sleds broken to varying degrees, sitting abandoned at the bottom of The Best Sledding Hill we've ever had. (Hence the brokenness) The snow is falling to cover the neon plastic pieces, and it is truly picturesque. The dishes that haven't been done in days are mostly eggnog and pepsi glasses, mulled wine mugs and candy bowls. And a few empty pizza trays. Signs of good things going on here.

Irish Dance is done til January. School is done til January. Work is done til January. Now it's all The Holidays. Holiday present wrapping, Holiday dish washing, Holiday laundry, Holiday cookies. I am not even going to pretend to try to send out "Christmas Cards" until Valentine's Day. So quit holding your breath, family. We made an elderly neighbor's whole week when we baked his great grandmother's ginger cookies for him. Batch two delivers today. We lost a very special bunny, but a very special shop teacher helped to make it a little easier.

We made the whole Holiday season for an 18 year old partridge who was the star of potentially the Worst Christmas Program ever, wherein he took 2 (TWO) unplanned nosedives onto the well placed gym mats. We shopped relentlessly for two little girls from the tree of sharing and had WAY too much fun. We fed no fewer than 11 high schoolers after early release yesterday. (Something about "waiting for basketball practice" or something.) Last night, after a three hour nap, I took my one remaining child out for a burger at the Whitebird. Then we watched a terrible Christmas Movie and wrestled with the Middlesworth boys until bed time. The fact that Kizzie can still wrestle with/beat up three or four teenage boys in a non-scandalous way is pretty rad. But noisy. and Ridiculous. Nattie played cello with a community choir after a week of practice and looked like an angel (she sounded good too). We made 9 ginger bread houses with 11 kids. And nobody got killed. I have somehow miraculously been able to keep money in the bank, pay the bills, and overspend for Christmas, all at once. Aspen danced like a fairy at two nursing homes, and we weren't late for either show. As much as I feel overwhelmed with things to do, I feel overwhelmed with what I have done, and what I have received from it.

I feel a million years old and a younger than springtime all at once. I am craving Russian Teacakes/Mexican Wedding Cakes, or whatever you call them, Christmas Movies and a couch with a blanket. I am ready for snowy road trips, too much family (no such thing), long standing, much debated traditions, and new ones that will be hotly argued in years to come. I will miss Josh next to me. His well voiced opinions chiming in on the discussions as a well-informed "newcomer". He fits like he's always been there, and it's a shame to miss another year with him. Every day 17000 amazon packages arrive and I feel giddy with secretish excitement, even when I know what's in them.

It's The Holidays. It's the best time of the year. I am in love with my family, my friends, my home, my job, my world, my man. The only thing that would make this better is having him here.

Things That Keep Getting Better

Ok you guys, I have a LOT of things to complain about. For example, the pellet stove quit working again today and I had to disassemble it and clean it out. It's four days post-hysterectomy for me, and my first full day back at work. My mom/maid/entertainment committee just left me, Dagny won't quit making me throw her giant squeaky tennis ball, and I need a shower. My four little incisions hurt, and my whole body aches because I decided to try to do my SPED kid's physical therapy routine with him and it was a little too soon after surgery. I had a headache all weekend trying to hack into my ever-so-absent husband's bank accounts to pay bills because the blessed bank we use changed their entire online banking system THIS WEEKEND and rendered all of his passwords null and void. My kids are crabby as hell. I am gliding dangerously close to the glowing embers of mild pre-holiday feuds in my family and friend circles that threaten to find me even with my head deep in the sand, singing Christmas carols to myself in rebellion to cultural stigmas of time appropriateness. The very mention of feuds and carols will bring a cascading avalanche of worry down around my psyche, causing me to jump at every text tone and email ding. And I didn't lose 37 pounds in surgery. Rude. 

Since it's November, I am forcing my kids to update their Facebook statuses with thankful thoughts every day. Just to be mean, since their lives are clearly quite difficult. 

And as for me, in spite of all of the things I have to complain about, I am so stinking grateful. So grateful for my good, smart, funny friends and dear, weird, quirky, opinionated family. I am so thankful for surgery and, after four days, being THAT much better. I am so thankful for disgusting vegetable juice that makes me feel like a million bucks, and sometimes exhausting work with special ed kids, and macaroni and cheese made from a box by a ten year old for dinner, and apples in the dehydrator and piles of clean laundry on my bedroom floor for the dogs to sleep in, and a space heater by the bathroom to keep the toilet seat warm, and an iPad since my computer broke, and four badly behaved and utterly bizarre dogs. I am so grateful for a devoted husband who is getting yelled at in boot camp like a reprobate and folding shirts with tweezers and scrubbing stairs with toothbrushes. I am so grateful for insurance that feels just like magic, and a doctor who looks just like Santa Clause and enough money to pay the bills, and enough pellets to stay warm, and enough chocolate cake to stay fat (for a minute). I'm thankful that running The Mile with the kids in PE actually sounded tempting today, and that nobody had terrible gas during class. I'm thankful that sweatpants are cute and sexy in my head, so that my self esteem is regenerated every night on the couch. I'm grateful that Aspen slept with me for two nights and never once kicked me in my stitched up abdomen throughout the duration of her nightly run-in-place-sideways marathons. I am so very thankful for my house. Slightly cleaner now, after Mom's visit, and slightly warmer with the cleaned out pellet stove, the apple dryer running and my absolute inability to get my body's thermostat to function properly. I love my quirky, unfinished, violated by dogs, and kids, and lack of organizational skills, house. I am thankful for grumpy, ungrateful kids, who try hard like me, and fail, like me, and get up and go again. Kids who are smart and gorgeous, and teachers who give hugs instead of yellow slips when someone accidentally throws a fit, or a 1x4, in wood shop. I'm grateful for friends around us who are far from ideal and far from awful. They are just like us, right in the middle of humanness. I am thankful. 

To add the icing to the cake, I am attaching the poem my good buddy wrote for me, or more appropriately, for my dearly departed uterus. It is priceless, like she is ( my friend, not my uterus).

by Tam Smith

This uterus was good to us,
She really was, you see, 
She did her job, a job well done, 
And now Liv has set her free. 

She stretched and shrunk, she shed and bled,
Pro lapsing and relapsing, 
She carried on instead.

The liver and kidneys hated her so,
The bladder thought worse of her too,
How could they know, her time had come, 
Her job in this body was through. 

4 babies she carried so well, with such care, 
No troubles, no worries, no fear.
Liv's uterus was good to us, 
And now she's no longer here. 

Let's raise our wine to this organs' past time, 
To say adios, hip hooray and cheers.
For if she weren't so, then how would we know, 
Life with those four little dears.

Couldn't have said it better myself, George. Lum!!!

Most of all, I am thankful for a cryptic, terrible letter from Josh. And I am thankful that I miss him to the moon and back. 

Things That Keep Going

Today, I handed the receptionist at my Doctor's office an insurance card so new that it still had the sticky gum from the mailing card on the back with NO hair in it. I paid my glorious little copay and I listened to the man who looks, sounds and delivers like Santa Claus, tell me how he was going to remove my uterus, the Bain of My Existence, so simply and easily that I could go back to work the next day if I wanted to be a show-off. I fell in love with my gynecologist. Not romantically, of course, that would be terrible considering that Josh was barely removed from his cell phone at boot camp and here I was, crushing on some white bearded man old enough to be my grandfather. Actually, the very minute I left Dr. Brisbois' office, Josh was being herded into a bus with thirty 18 year-old airman recruits, and handing over his beloved iPhone for ever. Or at least two months, which might as well be forever. His parting words had something to do with what I spent $180 on at Target and that he wished he could watch my surgery. I texted him frantically goodbye as I left the hospital and went to celebrate my impending surgery with my sister over soup, salad and breadsticks. And I have hope. That maybe this two year, literal thorn in my side will go away forever within the month. And all I have is a glorious little copay.  

After the Olive Garden, Em and I continued our celebration/distraction from Josh's loss of connectivity by spending all the money we had, which wasn't much. But we made the most of it. The trouble with shopping with Em is that we want the same things. You'd think, because we're radically different sizes, that this wouldn't be too much of an issue, but when there is only 1(one) hooked wool squirrel pillow in the clearance aisle at Target, things get ugly . That was our last trip to Spokane. This week she ousted me for a pair of Sorel sweater boots that just have "LIV" written all over them, but she found first at Value Village. Needless to say, I am developing a root of bitterness which could easily justify abandoning her as my shopping partner. You're on thin ice, Emily. 

I came home to a mostly cold house, and a brand new pellet stove that just didn't feel like generating any heat. I did what any self respecting, recently single, competent and capable woman would do. I turned up the germ blanket and my heating pad and a space heater in my bedroom. And i settled in for the night. I was thankful enough for the cold outside temperatures which removed the necessity of me unloading all of my groceries before morning, that I felt bad complaining about a slight chill in the air. But then, the guilt of letting poor Nattie, the lone offspring that braved the cold house with me, sleep in a cold room, especially with a snarly little cough and an adult sized dose of NyQuil. So I got online and started googling the symptoms of my renegade pellet stove. After several resetting and cleaning attempts, I turned to my angelic friend Matt, who had spent an entire day off of work to fight with his own chimney, a battle that I understand he lost (momentarily). I figured he was fresh in the middle of all of that HVAC troubleshooting stuff, and turns out, he has some experience with the very stove I was arguing with. He made a couple suggestions, and one broken fingernail, a now immobilized back and lots of pellet shoveling and vacuuming later, WE HAVE HEAT!!! Thanks Matt. May the force be with you as you reengage the evil chimney later. I will bake you cookies, if that helps. 

The house is warming up. I can tell because I can actually feel my nose running now, and before it was numb to the cold drops sneaking out wantonly. Dagny has also realized that she no longer has to dig frantically through a throw pillow on the floor (where throw pillows clearly live, hence the name) in order to avoid hypothermia, so she is chewing several of the escaped pellets into sawdust on the couch. Truck even quit telling me with his paw and his giant sad eyes how terribly cold it was in here. I feel like the savior of the world. A very small,hairy and neurotic world. But at least Nattie will be warm in her NyQuil coma. 

So here's to surviving the first real day of Joshlessness, and coming out mostly on top, minus some really rad sweater boots. Tomorrow we will schedule surgery, and the multi layered countdown to my Total Physical Overhaul, seeing Halle for The Holidays, and Josh Coming Home, becomes one day less. 

Things About Boot Camp

Josh left for boot camp today. And not a week long intensive workout routine designed to slim your hips and thighs. Actual boot camp. Basic training for the Air National Guard, which is like the Airforce, but slightly less serious, depending on who you ask. First of all, boot camp isn't for husbands. It's for 18 year olds who have no idea how to be grown ups or shoot a gun. At boot camp, unless you join the navy, you learn both of those, (if you join the navy you don't get to shoot cool guns at basic) partially. Full fledged husbands with kids and wives and jobs and a lot of dogs shouldn't be going off willy-nilly to boot camp to learn how to Properly Fold Shirts. He will be gone 8 weeks, which means 8 weeks of husbandlessness for me, which May or May Not correlate to two months of poor dietary choices and a lot of pouting. Day one of no Josh and the kids all opted to go to their dad's house for the night, which I am taking as a bad omen.

In salute to Josh's 8 week sufferage, I am dedicating myself to the complete antithesis of boot camp, to restore balance to the universe that is Liv & Josh. I got off to a roaring start tonight by turning every light in the house on and leaving them. Then I ate most of a box of Count Chocula for dinner, and only relented when the roof of my mouth was torn off. I put on my least matching sweatpants and dropped a couple Hundo on Target's website, which gives me free shipping for being So Awesome, and also one of their best patrons. I finally turned off the kitchen light so that I couldn't see the dishes that I refuse to do, and I will probably not brush my teeth before bed. Sometimes I can't remember if I am rebelling against boot camp or Josh himself, but I think maybe he will fit in there just fine, which worries me that he might bring home some new household-running ideas. All the more reason to be wantonly irresponsible before he gets back. Maybe I'll even take a shower until the hot water runs out.

Things About Things

It's not that I am depressed. Really. Fall is my favorite season. The colors and smells and sensations of chilly mornings and warm afternoons are some of the best reason to live in a place with 4 seasons. And Everything is going Really Well. Our house is beautiful. The kids are doing good - minus a little behavior hiccup here and there with a renegade 16 year old. Things are fine, as far as I can tell. But I haven't been able to pick my heart up off of the floor and find Joy. Shame on me, for all of the wonderfulness that is caramel apples and pumpkin carving and costumes and copious amounts of unecessary chocolates should be more than enough to make me giddy in the gradual build up to The Holidays, and all of my favorite everything throughout the next two months. But I am not giddy. I am exhausted. I sleep far more than any human should need to. My pain is really pretty bearable this week. I am not stressed out or overwhelmed by anything. Maybe I am underwhelmed. I feel disappointed in myself. In people, generally. In our potential and our lack of clarity to fulfill it. I feel let down by my own thoughtless choices that hurt people I care about, unintentionally, or sometimes, intentionally. I am annoyed with the easy offensibility of other people. By the energy that people can dedicate to being upset about things. I am irritated with grudges and judgements and cliques and gossip and making things into issues that really don't need to be. But then there I go, judging what is or is not important, according to the gospel of Liv. Not weighing the depth of injury to someone else as the potential for dysfunction. I am hurt by other people being hurt. We are all so silly, human beings.

We found out yesterday that Josh leaves for boot camp on Monday. 8 weeks of no Josh. He would probably have you believe that I am excited to have the bed all to myself and will only miss having someone to nag all of the time, but with MacKenzie around, I should be fine. I know that the empty space that he will leave for two months is going to be oppressive. His highly opinionated and rarely silent voice will be missed, as well as his staunch and sometimes arbitrary harping on futile rules about food in the living room and turning off lights. It will be a long two months, even though they are usually my favorite two months. As much as I like to complain about him, I know that I will miss my best friend desperately.  I've already started a filing system in my head for how I will store all of the information that I won't be able to tell him as it happens. A "while you were out" scrapbook of sorts. I'm going to try to look at it like a prolonged fire season, where the benefits outweigh the taxing distance. I can't afford to think about where he'll be or how he'll survive. I won't know, and the worrying will make me crazy. And angry. And it won't make him call me any sooner. I am putting a lot of mental preparation into this, you guys. I'm getting there. But not really.

Things About Wednesday

It's the middle. It's not the beginning. It's not the end. It's just that balancing spot - the center of gravity of the week, where the drudgery of the first part weighs itself against the relief of the coming weekend, and a chance to start all over. It's like most of my life right now. Wednesday.

My kids are halfway through growing up. They have good moments and bad moments. I am swelling with pride one minute and wallowing in despair the next. One child succeeds and lets it go to their head, another child fails and owns it tearfully in beautiful humility. Not one of them has "arrived", and Lord knows, I haven't either.

If I live to be 72, which is the exact age that my Grandma Schiffman passed away, I am halfway there. It's a good, long life. Maybe not quite long enough. But I am at the Wednesday of my life, or thereabouts, and I can tell. Because I am tired. I am a little bit bored with it, and I wish it was last Saturday. But since last Saturday has come and gone and there's no use crying over spilt milk, I am looking forward to Friday night, which I am assuming comes somewhere between my kids all starting their own lives and when I have to start worrying about grandkids and another whole generation of worries that aren't really mine but I want desperately to help fix. Those grandkids must be Sunday morning, because it's kind of an obligation, and sometimes more work than the weekend calls for, but there is something sweet and necessary and precious about it. The cool thing is, I am also a fan of Thursday, because People My Age still think that you can go do wild and crazy things on a Thursday night, like Drink Wine and Gossip, and you only have to crawl through Friday at work before you can just be done for the week. Unless somebody has Volleyball at 8 AM on Saturday. Or a Pancake Breakfast, or a Mandatory Fundraiser. My method of coping with these realities is just straight-up denial. Don't think about it. Or perhaps even block the recollection of pending responsibility. Consequences are much more meaningful when you have to endure them. And I wonder where MacKenzie gets it?

Wednesday is sweet. Sometimes, I feel like I want to savor it, because the weekend will be here before we know it, and then gone. And then it's Monday again. Monday is all of those years when I was pregnant and wearing TERRIBLE maternity clothes and getting my hair permed and forging my way through a bad marriage. I HATE Monday. Luckily, on a lifetime scale, I don't have to do that again. I hope. It's ALL good from here on out. Days I love. Nothing but relief on the other side. Not that my back won't hurt and I might not have enough money to stay at the Ritz on Friday night, but it's all downhill... right?

I guess this is the stuff that Mid Life Crises are made out of. Men are weird, because a Ferrari and a Much Younger, Hot Girlfriend doesn't sound nearly as fun as putting all of my kids up for adoption and becoming a professional tiger petter in Siberia. Siberian Tigers are beautiful. I would much rather start a Dachshund farm and eat nothing but beets than get involved with another meaningless love affair and a car that hurts to get in and out of. My midlife crisis will be manifest in the investment of copious amounts of Josh's income invested in every item of Denver Bronco's paraphernalia that Victoria's Secret produces from their child slaves in Bangladesh. Oh that sounds horrible. Ok, scratch that. My mid life crisis will be the culmination of the angst of 36 years of dodging and deflection and survival in the form of a book. I just have to figure out what my book will be about. I could really write several books. One would make you cry, one would make you laugh, one would make you ticked off and the other would send you to a loony bin, where I (hopefully) will be hanging out, with awesome drugs and padded walls and somebody telling me which pajamas to wear.

Speaking of pajamas, and mid life crises, Josh has made so many comments about my lack of "cute" jammies lately (probably due to the sheer amount of time I spend in frumpy sweatpants and his own unfulfilled penchant for frilly shorts and garter belts) that I finally got online and ordered some "cute" pajamas to wear while he is working around the house, and I am languishing on the couch. He says it will motivate him. They have nothing to do with a garter belt. But they are shorts. They are frilly. They are pink, and they are covered with wiener dogs which unquestionably qualifies them as "cute". Take that, Josh Weston. Ask and ye shall receive. And I needed jammies a few sizes bigger these days any way. *snotty look. (What???? It's Wednesday!!)

Today, Wednesday, a thousand things went wrong. I cried a little. I dumped on my sister a LOT. I yelled and I hugged and I hurt for my kids. It wasn't the best Wednesday ever. But I have my kids, even if they aren't RIGHT HERE. And they are amazing. I have my family, and they are amazing too. And I have my husband, and even if he complains about my un-cute sweatpants, he's still amazing. Even if I forget sometimes. Usually on Wednesdays. And I have my friends. The ones that can just know. And just understand. And just look forward to Thursday, and then Friday, and then SATURDAY!!!! with me. And Wednesday is a good day. Even when it's not.

Things About Girls

This morning started off AWESOME. I slept in until 9:17. American time. It was epic, and not in the junior high sense of the word. TRULY epic. Josh had snuck off to work at 6:00 or some other God-awful time that I refuse to acknowledge as existing, because people work on Saturdays, apparently. I would have thrown a fit (something I have done a lot of lately, and quite well), except it was nice to have the Whole Bed to myself and not feel guilty for not getting up at a Reasonable Hour. So 9:17 it was, when the tyrant of my body known as a bladder forced me up. And the tyrant of my soul known as Motherhood compelled me to make breakfast for the 37 girls that were sleeping in various inappropriate places around the house. Somebody, who recently had a sleepover for twelve 8-11 year olds, didn't think through the ramifications of letting Everybody have a friend to spend the night. So the female adolescent population in our house doubled overnight. Literally. It really wasn't bad, since Kizzie and her friend were making dinner for us. So after I cooked the chicken and made the alfredo sauce from scratch and found the pan for them to cook the tortellini in, and gave them detailed instructions on How To Slice Bread, Spread Butter, and Sprinkle Garlic Powder, they mixed it together and put cheese on top. It was nice to have a night off. And Kizzie only threw a little fit when I asked her to clean up "their" cooking mess and wash 1/5th of the dishes (I actually thought I asked about all of the dishes, but...).

After getting to bed a little later than I had planned, thanks to an impromptu and overdue downloading session with a buddy and a few drinks, I slept like a baby. Because I had been allowed the privilege of sleeping in, I scurried around like Mother Of The Year and made breakfast for the crew. And then it all fell apart.

The toilet flooded. And by flooded, I don't mean it reached the top of the bowl and a little spilled out. I mean an inch of standing toilet water across the bathroom floor. Lucky for me, I had just picked up the bathmat so that was one less thing to wash. After dealing with the Clog of Unknown Origin, I searched the house for 45 minutes, looking for the mop. I think after the last go round with Josh and some drywall dust, it went into permanent hiding. I finally resorted to using a Swiffer with the useless dry covers, and a very large bottle of Clorox spray. I wasn't too upset until I got toilet water on my new Minnetonkas, because I forgot that you should never walk into a bathroom unless you are wearing rubber boots. It's ok though, because when I was spraying copious amounts of Clorox, I also covered my wet Minnetonkas, so they are now disinfected, and probably ruined. I mean really, when you have 6.5 women and Josh in a house, you can't expect a toilet to not revolt. Not that Josh poops, but...

My mild but well handled frustration at the toilet and Minnetonka situation was exponentiated when I rushed to the laundry room with a dripping pile of towels, only to find a load in the washer of questionable age, and THREE PILES of dog poop. After relocating Dagny to the outside, forever, I cleaned up the poop. I dealt with the laundry crisis in the only reasonable way: denial and ignorance, and finished mopping with seven or eight Swiffer things, found my now cold coffee, and sat down. Half of the girls were gone to volleyball. The rest were hiding, in fear of facing the same fate as Dagny. I chose to ignore the cold puddle of dog pee under the kitchen table, since we ran out of pellets, it will be frozen pretty soon, and I can just chip it up.

Now my house is saturated with the sweet smells of Bacon grease (because I didn't use the Aunt Lynn method, lacking a wire rack or broiling pan), Clorox spray, and stale laundry. My plan for the day is to load up every Scentsy I own, possibly including Santa and The Easter Egg, watch part of a volleyball game, go to town and get my hair done, a pedicure and probably a whole new wardrobe, all after putting my hard boiled eggs away. Because making hardboiled eggs in the middle of German Pancakes and Bacon and Cleaning up poop just seemed logical.

And I Did This. 

Things To Confess

Here's some things:

I know that my blog posts have MANY grammatical errors. Most are on purpose. The other ones are plausibly deniable as accidents since I do so many on purpose. I have a strategy. I know grammar. Especially subject-verb agreements. If I screw those up, it wasn't on purpose. But I demand grace. Punctuation wise, I figure I can do whatever I want. Poetic license, y'all.

I drink a lot of wine. Some nights a bottle even. Some nights, slightly more. Some nights, it's not enough. If I only drink a little, it only makes me keenly aware of how little I have had and How Entirely Much My Body Hurts. I have decided to err on the side of excess. It's working so far. I ran out of Prozac like a week ago and nobody is dead, that I have noticed, anyway. That means it's working.

I work in special education now. I always thought that special education was referencing the specifically designed teaching plans for kids with disabilities of all sorts. Turns out special ed is actually talking about what the people working with these kids are learning. Like how to shoot someone with a carrot out of your nose. Or how to flunk a test on purpose and nobody will make you read anything beyond a 4th grade chapter book, ever. Or how hand washing is a very good reason to run away and sit with your back pressed against a door for a Very Long Time, making your helper feel like an idiot that can't talk a kid into a little bit of personal hygiene. And coloring skills. MAD coloring skills.

I miss Halle. I sometimes cry when I think about her dragon pictures. And how they aren't here. And how nobody asks ridiculous questions except Aspen, who is young enough to justify it. And nobody eats All Of The Chili. I have been putting together a care package that can't possibly hold all of the things I want to send her, but then I get questions about What It Is That She Could Need So Badly That I Would Pay The Ridiculous Postage and I answer : ME. She needs me. She needs us. She needs stupid little pieces of her family, overdried apples and dorky hats she left. Her exorbitantly expensive Zorro costume and Aspen's instruction following test, which she failed. She needs candy corn and punkins and a lot of other stuff that wouldn't fit even if it would somehow miraculously arrive without shattering. I keep thinking I should just wait until we "go visit". But the visit keeps getting farther out of reach. Especially now that I sold my soul to the devil called A Full Time Job. I miss her.

I finally went to the doctor. I told him I finally had insurance and we should test everything, so we did. We found out that I need more Vitamin D, I have no STDs,  and that my back is not, in fact, technically broken. And then I found out that my insurance doesn't kick in until November 1st. I haven't figured out how to break the bad news to Josh, so I figured a public forum, where he can't yell at me and stare with those Big Incredulous Eyes, and make speculations about the Grave Amount Of The Bill, would be the safest. I am hoping, since the people at the clinic are nice, that they will let me make a lot of Very Small payments on the battery of useless tests that I had done. Including x-rays, which, last time I checked, weren't cheap. And before you remind me about the Affordable Care Act, or the charities that help people in our spot, I've already checked. We're too rich for charity, and even if/when I enroll in an ACA, it won't go into effect until January 1st, which is close to the time I would also be eligible for Tri-Care through the military, but by then, my new grown-up job insurance will be going strong. And I will be making Very Small Payments to NE WA Medical Group. Forever. But at least my back isn't broken, it just feels that way.

NPR released the First Listen: Magpie and the Dandelion on their website, yesterday, maybe, or the day before. Normally, when it is time for the inagural audition of a new Avett Album, I have time to sit, quietly, with wine, and deliberate on the wonder, or the disappointment (rarely, but occasionally) and listen. Not so much with this one. Here I am, two days late, with my wine, complete with an assortment of fruit flies. Dogs in my lap with drywall mud in their hair. Josh and the shopvac working merrily on the last of the living room walls (GOD BLESS HIM), and I am listening. You guys, I'll be honest: I liked I & Love & You. It was no Emotionalism. It certainly wasn't a Mignonette. It wasn't even a Gleam II, in my book. But it was good. The Carpenter was up a few ticks on my best of list. But still not Swept Me Away, Avetty goodness. But Magpie and the Dandelion, as if the name wasn't enough to win your heart forever, is good. It's old fashioned, raw Avett passion and exposure. Confession. Relatable Humanness. It is beautiful. I won't lie, I am as judgemental as the next judeo-christian backslider that can't get away from their guilt driven conscious and uneasiness about life in general, so I had a bit of a hiccup in the Seth scandal, whether he and his "January Wedding" bride split because of his TV star girlfriend or not. And truth be told, I have always been team Scott in all of my Avetteering. But I heard the first few lines of "Bring Your Love To Me", and I was done. Seth was exonerated of all potential wrongdoing. And then Scooter started into "Apart From Me" wherein Joe Kwon takes my heart out and chews it into tiny pieces, and it was all over. It's like Bush's "Glycerine", except Gavin Rossdale is a hick in this one, and the words make sense.  And the boys were back. Up on that pedestal of This Is The Stuff That Family, Community, And Life, Is Made Of. And then they sing "Souls Like the Wheels", which has been at the top of my charts since I visited Lake Tahoe with my mom in 2009. It's a good album. If you like raw, open humanness. Hurt and failure and Fixing It. I like it. Give me a hundred more listens and it might be in my top 5 albums. It's the old Avetts again. It's Seth crooning, and Scott pleading. And beautiful. And fun. Josh says it's negative. That's like saying that fall is negative. Everything is dying. But it's coming back. And it's beautiful. And it's sweet. And it's my favorite...

One more thing: I got sent home from school today for making a poor wardrobe choice. Not like Janet Jackson, more like all of the 9th graders at Northport High School, but not really. I wore a fire sweatshirt, from the Whiskey Complex, that, admittedly, has a logo that closely resembles the Jack Daniels label. A conscientious adult would have thought through the ramifications of this emblem, working in a special ed room, or any school, but true to form, I didn't. In fact, I was so desperate to just manage WALKING this morning when I woke up in Three Thousand Worlds of Pain, that I didn't care. They were kinda lucky I wasn't in Corona Beer Pajama Bottoms (half of the juniors were). Not that I own any... yet. But a parent complained that I was wearing an "alcohol shirt"; justifiably so, and I trudged home, in an aura of deja vu that threw me right back the years at Marble when I walked home from church, or dance practice, or prep school class, or drama class, or family meetings, or potlucks, or WHATEVER, because I was wearing something INAPPROPRIATE. It's like my theme. I am an adult. You'd think I would know better. But I think I spent so many years living in One Extreme, that I am not sure where the balance is anymore. AND I am a bit of a rebel anyway. AND I was told there was no dress code. AND it was cozy. AND the pain seemed more important. At the time. I might have shed a tear of injured pride on the way, but they'll never know. Unless they read this.

It's been a rough week, y'all. Compared to the week that my favorite Trent and Tam have had, mine has been a dream. I can't complain. But I do. And I will. And I am sorry.

These are my confessions. A few of them. I will have more later.

Things We Haven't Earned

Dear World:

My friends need help. They're people like me and you, so they don't DESERVE help, because they're stubborn and radically independent and proud and maybe self-involved,  but like me and you, they need it. Just a little bit of help. Just a leg up, or a kick in the rear, or an apple pie, piping hot, delivered to their doorstep (or you can deliver those here to my house, I will see that the sentiment is conveyed). They've fallen into some rough times, like all of us do, and for all of their hard work and determination and independence, they got knocked down again. They're young, and strong and healthy. They believe in providing for their own. They believe their own includes the family and friends that God has put in their way to trip over and laugh at and just enjoy life with. Three years ago they paid through the nose to help our family when we needed it. They didn't care. If it meant rice and beans for a year, they would have paid. And now it's their turn.

There isn't any fall back plan because the fall back plan fell back before they did. There isn't any insurance because the Affordable Health Care act didn't get Affordable until it was too late, and even then it wouldn't have been a lot of help. Explain to me how a family with 5 adorable kids and self employment taxes can also afford medical insurance and all of the other "necessary" things in this day and age. I have been working on this problem over for years, as a single mother and as a married one. If you work hard, you can't afford insurance. If you don't work hard, or at all, you might get free insurance, and food, and whatever, but you can't live with your self. Or some of us can't. They couldn't. They work hard. Harder probably than most of you can imagine. Maybe that's because they have five kids, including a set of twins, and working hard is the only way to avoid another episode of My Little Pony or Go Fish.

Either way, they are now faced with a mountain - or maybe a continent - of medical bills, and a long, long road to recovery that is unimaginable for most of us. For me it is. Weeks of "DO NOT LIFT THAT!" for a man who has never NOT done something to take care of his own in his whole life. He has worked through broken bones and double pneumonia and a pregnant-with-twins wife who had raging hormones that are comparable even to my own, and he never slowed down. Whether this is a diversionary tactic, workaholism or a true providers spirit, I am not sure, but he has taken care of his family of 7 with an average age of 15.666667 (this explains A LOT), thoroughly and well. He is no slacker. Neither is she. I saw the quarts of homemade salsa to prove it.

In spite of all of their domestic heroism, there is nothing so special about this family that makes them deserve help. There is nothing special about most of us that makes us worthy of the support of an entire community. Some of us might be bigger contibutors. I donate a lot of crap to Goodwill. But I can't think of anyone that I know that truly DESERVES a community to step in and pay a bill because of any misfortune. Every one of us screws up. They did. I have.  You have. Nobody I know hasn't made a royal joke out of "real life" at some point. But everyone of us is absolutely dependent on each other for moments like this. Moments when it is so far out of our hands that we don't have the right to refuse help. When our pride and our ability and our worthiness are all smashed to the same ground level of rubble. And this is their moment. They need help. Five bucks is five bucks less that they have to pay to bills that are laughably huge. No they haven't earned it. No they don't deserve it. But do any of us, when the hammer comes down, which it inevitably will, at some point for all of us? I have received more help than I can ever repay. From my family and friends and even strangers. I have been repeatedly humbled by the care that I have been provided without warrant. I don't mind when it's my turn to give, because I have received a hell of a lot. And lord knows, I don't deserve it.

Please consider supporting this family of 7 ridiculously awesome, yet undeserving people (with an average age of 15.66667) as they are faced with medical bills and living expenses that are beyond laughable. Please extend the grace and mercy that you can only hope to receive when you take a wrong step and end up on your head in the pit of eternal despair, and you know you don't deserve help, but you know you can't live without it. We've all been there, or will be, and we've all been on the other side, if we have eyes to see, and humility to share.

An account for donations to the Smith family will be set up at Key Bank this Friday. Or you can send money to them through PayPal at . Or you can contact me if you don't like those options. Or you can mail stuff to THE SMITH AWESOMENESS, c/o Liv Weston & awesome incorporated, PO BOX 723, Northport, WA 99157. Please make all checks payable to Trent and/or Tamara Smith. Or you can deliver firewood, groceries, board games and Coors Light to their house. Contact me for details.

Please share this with your family, friends and strangers. The Smiths might not deserve it, but you never know when you won't either.

Things That God Does

It's been three years this week since I drove from Bend to Spokane in a record number of hours, to walk into Sacred Heart Hospital and see a girl that I hardly recognized as my sister, her face a shade of green that I hardly recognized as human. I am an EMT you guys, I have seen hurt people and dead people and very, very, sick people, and I haven't ever lost composure. But seeing my sister, the one who has always been as much like me as she could manage (because I am AWESOME) look so radically different, and destroyed, was more than I could take. I almost threw up. I nearly passed out. I had to put my head down between my knees and wait for my eyes to recover from a cloud of black that shut out a sight that I just couldn't process. It only took a minute, and I don't think Em saw, but if she did, she doesn't remember, and then I was fine. ish. For two weeks the majority of our family bounced around the halls of that hospital and did whatever we could to piece those Creachers back together. Even if that was just buying lattes and watching Sponge Bob. Mushed into that Stecker, Allers, Creach, Etc, Conglomeration of Helping was a pseudo sister of ours (Em and I), who is married to a pseudo brother of ours, who have been as much sibling to us as our real siblings, even if we don't look anything alike. 

Yesterday was three years to the day that we stood in the ICU of Sacred Heart and held baby Maddie - the one that got away. The ultimate loss of that horrible, horrible accident. It was her birthday, and the day she left us. I watched my sister grieve in a way I can still only imagine, but in a way that broke my heart. You learn how much you love some one when you see them suffer. When you realize that you honestly would do anything to take their pain on yourself, because it would be easier than watching helplessly. You understand what family is. And why it is so very important. And what makes life worth living. I stood there with Tam and my parents, and some siblings. And some nieces and nephews, and there wasn't a soul in the room that wasn't hurting. With Em and For Em and for our own inability to just Make It Better. 

Yesterday, our pseudo brother Trent fell off of a ladder 14 feet in the air. He landed on his head. And in spite of the questionability of how much he uses that noggin - he was hurt badly. He was moved from the ER in Colville to the ICU in Spokane. And on the third anniversary of Maddie's tiny visit to the world, and my brave sister's many hurts, we walked into the same ICU, a few doors away from that room that is burned into my memory for all of time. And there was our brother, and our sister, and Em and Phil, but this time Em was strong and standing and recognizable. And Trent, tall, tough, big, goofy Trent, was broken and bruised and looked like hell - and I told him so. Trent is going to be OK, after a long time of healing. A compound clavicle fracture and broken ribs and a bruised brain, but no permanent loss or damage so far. And we were so grateful. Em said, as we sat in the dark and listened to Trent snore (which is typical and "healthy" for him), how different it seemed, and how good, almost, to be there, in that ICU, with no loss to grieve. Nothing taken from him, from us, that would never come back. His collarbone will heal, his ribs will heal. His brain will heal - he asked if this was gonna make him stupid forever, and Tam told him that she was hoping he'd be better than before. Miracles CAN happen. He was there. His sense of humor. He was recognizable, even with a swollen head and torn up shoulder... it was Trent. Tam asked if he remembered what she told him earlier when she was giving him water from a swab. He said yes, that she had said that he had perfectly shaped lips. She reminded him that she had actually told him that he "sucked", but it was good to know that Trent is still Trent. It will be a long and hard road for him. Mostly because he is stubborn and independent and won't sit still long enough to heal a bloody nose, let alone broken bones and brain injuries. But we're all here. His family and pseudo family. To yell at him and reprimand him and distract him. And we didn't lose. 

Yeah. It SUCKS. It would be a bad thing for any family, but the Smiths - this was the Last Thing They Needed right now. Trent was already caught between a rock and a very hard place before the accident, and working his buns off to fix it. And then, in an instant, he CAN'T. It's out of his hands. It's kind of like a death sentence for an independent guy like Trent who does everything himself. He just CAN'T. Almost everybody I know has been here before. Where we just can't take One More Blow. We are at the end. And then it comes. That last hit. And the moment you realize that it's TOTALLY OUT OF YOUR HANDS. And the only thing that you can do is say, OK. Let go. Start Over. Regroup. Learn. Be humble. Be grateful. And live life One Step At A Time, because there is no other way. I've been there more times than I care to relate, because I am stubborn and I forget that I am not in control of the Entire Universe. Some of us have to be reminded more than others. Like me. And maybe Trent. 

Tam is remarkably at peace. I think she knows that it's beyond her. The impossibility of this situation is in Hands bigger than hers, or Trent's, because that's the only way. All of the fighting, struggling, working - it's like Don Quixote and his Windmill Giants. You just need to know that YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. Give up. Move on. Be humble. Be grateful... and learn. 

We went out to dinner last night while the nurses were doing their shift change, and in addition to the restaurant being Absolutely Ridiculous, it was Ridiculously Expensive, but in a sneaky way. The hostess at the door assured us that ALL of their ingredients were directly from Italy, and, in her words: "I am not exaggerating like people that work at restaurants are supposed to." Well, hostess lady, I am fairly certain that our Pancetta and Pineapple pizza had Dole pineapple chunks on it, instead of exotic Italian pineapple rings. I am also certain that our "house red", four dollar bottle of Columbia Valley Merlot that cost $32 wasn't from Italy, unless there's a Kennewick in Italy that I haven't heard of... Anyway, it was pretty awesome, in a bad way, and Tam was disappointed that the story of a family member in ICU did nothing for the Chinese waitress to expedite our dining experience, let alone cut us any slack in the bill. This was especially hurtful after PF Changs had written off an entire dinner when Em was in there on crutches after her accident. Tam was dismayed that the clearly not-Italian server couldn't see that her heart was on crutches. It's good to know that we still have fully functional sense of humors around here.

It's one more thing that makes me entirely grateful for my family - real and pseudo, and friends, and that we are back here, where we can help by packing underwear and dropping of corn dogs and tater tots and buying lattes for people just so we feel like we are doing SOMETHING. I love this place, and these people, and sometimes, I hate the processes that we need to remind us of How Good We've Got It, but I know that we'll always be up for the challenge, and the truth of who we are to each other always wins. I love these people. 

But seriously, God, maybe next time lets do June or January, and not Sacred Heart ICU. Because we still remember. I promise. 

Things That Are AMAZING

I have insurance, you guys. For reals. All of a sudden, insurance. The tricky part is, I just started a new job. And I just felt a catch in my throat when I thought about missing time at work, especially after I have worked hard to get a smooth flow, to get "my kids" comfortable with me, in a rhythm... So more waiting. But hopeful waiting. There is light at the end of this tunnel, y'all. I am EXCITED.

I am NOT excited, however, that Josh just got an email telling him he is going to boot camp November 11th. November 11th means he misses Thanksgiving. And Christmas. Someone forgot to tell the Air National Guard how Terrible Important The Holidays are to me. I told Josh I don't know if I could stay married to someone who puts his military obligations before our Family Holidays. But he is a good drywaller. And he gives good back rubs. But another dreary, alone, sad Holiday Season? There isn't a good insurance plan that covers that one!

In addition to all of that amazement, I would also like to fill you in on a little update of my new, working lifestyle. Spending the last couple weeks in some of The Worst Pain Of My Life, which I blame on Josh for no reason in particular other than I can't find anyone else to blame, I have come to realize that even though I wake up in Quite A Lot of Pain, if I don't get something done in the God Awful Early Morning Before School, it will apparently not get done at all within that 24 hour time frame. This translates into me getting up earlier. And earlier. And even earlier. Especially when Terrible Children decide to turn ten and it rests on my pain-wracked shoulders to Make It Happen. This is the second morning in a row that I have been making cupcakes before 7 AM. Did you even know that ovens WORKED before 7 am? I had no idea. Two mornings because of course, it being the school year, and of course, me working at the school now, the only excuse that I had to not provide birthday cupcakes to her entire class was that I was too lazy and wanted to sleep a reasonable number of hours. Clearly not acceptable. So I am now on batch number two, and a massive bowl of manicotti stuffing, which she wanted last night for dinner but I somehow convinced her to have left overs - ok, I just forced her, basically, even though last night was her "real" birthday. So, to avoid the same avoidance of Doing Anything tonight, I made the manicotti this morning.

Two things about making manicotti: don't let husbands or kids make it, they will mess it up. Also: always cut the olives, in the can. If you don't do this already, you should. My friend Trish taught me the trick and then I taught her little sister and took all of the credit myself. It worked out pretty well. All of the angst that you develop when trying to slice a thousand round and rolling olives is equivalent to the amount of angst you will expel when stabbing a knife into a can repeatedly, with or without curse words and graphic visualization. It's theraputic, in a way, and it gets the olives chopped up. Without fail, one or two escapes the frantic blade, which leaves a couple whole olives for gleaning from the recipe. You might not get this, but olives and manicotti stuffing are delicious, even before 7 am. If you think I am crazy, ask my sister. There is nothing quite as delightful as eating the gooey, unmelted cheesy glory off of your fingers after mixing a bowl of manicotti with your bare hands. I tried to use a spoon today, because hand mixing seemed somehow inappropriate before 7 AM (I know, as if ANYTHING is appropriate before7), but it just wasn't working out. Tradition prevails, and I had manicotti stuffing and olives for breakfast. With a tiny bit of cherry chip cupcake batter.

Aspen wanted chocolate and cherry chip cupcakes. Or at least I think she did. I didn't really ask her, because that's what I wanted. What I really wanted was that Giant Chocolate Cake from Costco, but A) no one was going to Spokane in time, and B)Josh would have freaked if I spent $20 on Aspen's second birthday dessert this week. So I made cupcakes. I made jumbo cupcakes because I forgot to get regular cupcake papers. So I borrowed a jumbo cupcake pan from a buddy. Then when I went to make batch #2, I only had 5 jumbo papers, so I said screw it. Aspen and her friends are having decorate-it-yourself cupcakes (thanks for that idea, Kat) WITHOUT any papers. Because before 7 AM, that's just what happens. Now that I have successfully removed the need for Josh to make cupcakes OR manicotti, both of which he was volunteering for (a terrifying thought about a man who puts ketchup and hotdogs in EVERY recipe), and I can have him focus on the important things, like wrapping presents. I probably shouldn't be trusted with a pair of scissors, or any blade outside of an olive can, before 7 AM. It's just the harsh reality of Liv and mornings. Especially considering I had Just Enough cream left for my coffee, and it may or may not have been Almost Rotten, but I decided to mask and potential rottenness with cinnamon and call it good. It was pre 7 am, and I wasn't about to try to tackle anything coffeeless.

Today: Get cream so that I don't kill someone in the morning. Get frosting so that I don't make the kids decorate their cupcakes with powdered sugar and Nutella since I can't bear the thought of making frosting after work, when I am scheduled to die. Get tomato sauce so that I don't have to resort to using stewed tomatoes on manicotti again and ruin it. GET DRESSED FOR WORK!!

Things That Happen

Today I decided to take a 5 mile walk. And by decided I mean that I accidentally locked my keys in my car and had to walk 2.5 miles home to get the spare.

It was a nice walk, all sunshiny and brisk, and lucky for me I had decided to wear comfy shoes to work this morning, which I was incidentally an hour late for. I even curled my hair for the walk. Apparently the sunshine must have appreciated it because it took all my curls and left me with something resembling a cross between Rastafarian dred locks and a string mop. I hope that was a good look for work, because I rocked it.

Things That I CAN Do

I came home from my second day of work yesterday feeling like The People From Hollywood would probably be calling any second about the movie rights for my Inspirational Life Story and All of The Children I Have Touched, kind of like Mr. Holland's Opus or Lean On Me. I never got the phone call, which was a little surprising, and then my body remembered what I had done wrong that day.

One of the students I work with occasionally needs a reset, somehow, like a time out, or a call from his mom, or something that gets him out of the groove he's in. One thing that works to start him over is a walk. So, when we ran into a wall that was evidently made of 16 foot thick brick, glazed with painfully sharp shards of glass, and with a fairly strong electrical current running through it, I decided to go for a walk with him. It was chilly outside. And the best way to keep from catching hypothermia rapidly was by moving quickly. Then I got all ambitious, and I JOGGED, you guys. For like 50 yards. I really hope nobody other than my sidekick was watching, because I saw a girl about my size running across a parking lot the other day, and I think I snickered a little. It's just not graceful. Especially when you are trying to hold your swollen uterus off of your sciatic nerve with both hands. But I did it. And I felt really good. For about four more hours. But I had a breakthrough of epic proportions with my student, and then I had a stroke of absolute brilliance (for me), and invented a game that incorporated his curriculum, which would have otherwise been left by the wayside of the survival road. It worked. I had several moments of absolute clarity while I was working, that I am fairly certain were not drug or alcohol induced, unless the technology teacher's "tea" that he shared with me was spiked. I wouldn't be too surprised. These lightbulb moments happened when something clicked between me and my new kids, explaining an interesting conclusion paragraph or how to find a creative title for a closed off 9th grader, or helping to define social perceptiveness in an applicable way to a struggling senior with disabilities. Is this why teachers teach? I've always wondered...I left work feeling like I was doing something that I might not love every single day, but something that I can do - and maybe even do well.

So I came home, and then took Aspen to Irish Dance. And on the way, Aspen asked me what the very first color movie I ever saw was.... I explained to her that color television had been around since before Grandma Stecker was born, which really wasn't that long ago, but I had never lived in a black and white only world. She was slightly shocked, but impressed that color TV was THAT OLD. I realize that spanking children for being accidentally hurtful and offensive isn't good parenting form, and I was working on some of my new teaching/tolerating techniques, so I just fumed internally all the way to Kettle Falls. And then the pain started to creep in. Like it was Aspen's reminder of my elderly decrepitness that trigged my body to reject every step, especially the jogging ones, that I had taken that day. I popped a pill and continued merrily on my delusional way, all the way through dance and home, before the pain set in in earnest.

Turns out, I don't jog for a very good reason: IT HURTS LIKE ALL HECK. I took more pills, tried an ice pack, a heating pad and a goodly amount of alcohol (still working on those wine bottles). Finally I took sleeping pills and passed out, right in the middle of Newsies. If that doesn't tell you the severity of the situation, nothing will. I woke up in pain, and I pushed through the ordeal of cleaning Aspen's bedroom with her, even after the hurtfulness she hurled at me yesterday. I got that done. I bullied Kizzie into loading the dehydrator with apples - I usually have to ask her, let her throw a fit, then start doing the project myself, making as Big A Deal as possible about the pain I am in, until the guilt overtakes her and she relieves me. Somewhere around 2:30 I called it a day, loaded up on drugs and resigned myself to a couch and a heating pad for the duration of this rainy Saturday. It's not a terrible waste of a day. We did get to watch Woodland Theater's production of My Fair Lady on DVD, which never fails to delight, and eat a lot of leftovers throughout the day. I am still waiting for hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps, but someone keeps missing his cues... But I can make it. And I can work in special ed. And clean rooms. And get stuff done. But not jog. I can't do that.  


Things That I Make

So I have a confession: I love almost any recipe that calls for cream-of-something-soup. I am a sucker for tatertot casserole with green beans and hamburger and cream of mushroom gravy-like goodness. And the chicken enchiladas that my mother in law taught me to make that don't really resemble enchiladas in any capacity other than they have cheese and tortillas in them are one of our family favorites. In fact, they are Aspen's absolute favorite. She can't ever remember what they are called, but she loves them more than anything. And will ask for thirds, even when they are laced with extra roasted green chilis and are spicy enough to chap your lips, as Nattie pointed out. They were good. But I cheated this time, and in a rare switch-up, I assumed LESS guilt cheating than not cheating would have earned me. Someone had used up my entire "stockpile" of cream-of-something-soups, and in order to make enchiladas, I either had to resort to the traditional red sauce recipe that my Mexican friend who is whiter than any pasty sorority chick I have ever heard of gave me, run to the store for the sodium, chemical laden guilt trip of cream-of-something-soup, or improvise. I opted for plan C, and found a recipe for a substitute on Buns In My Oven. The title of this blog was slightly unsettling to me, but I found the recipe useful and most importantly: IT WORKED. The enchiladas didn't even taste like rip-off non-mexican enchiladas. Between the frozen-but-freshly-roasted green chilis and the homemade cream of chicken soup, they were not only yummy, but remarkably less unhealthy than usual (please note I do not make the leap to HEALTHY in this statement).

Donna's Chicken Enchiladas

1 lb boiled shredded chicken, canned chicken, or just whatever chicken doesn't have bones and is already cooked. 
1 can cream-of-something soup or make THIS substitute
1 cup sour cream
1 can diced green chilis (or if you're cool like me and visited the Price's chili farm, four or five roasted, diced chilis)
18 corn tortillas

Combine shredded chicken, soup, sour cream and chilis in a big bowl. Stir well. 

Grease the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Preheat oven to 350º

Put down a layer of six overlapping tortillas in pan, spread one half of the chicken mixture on top, cover with cheese, then another layer of tortillas, the other half of the chicken goop, more cheese, then more tortillas and more cheese. Cover with tinfoil and bake for about an hour or until it's all melty and bubbly and delicious. Serve with salsa and MORE sour cream, because there's never enough. 

This makes one pan. I almost always have to make two, and the amount are sort of best guess, because I am kind of a dumper rather than a measurer.


Yield: Equivalent to one can of soup


1 tablespoon flour
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper, to taste


Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat. When melted, whisk in the flour and continue whisking until smooth and bubbly. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the chicken broth and milk. Return to the heat and bring to a gentle boil, whisking constantly, until the soup thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Things That Got Done

I did it. I survived my first day of real work. I even had fun. I was on time. I curled my hair. It didn't look like it, but I did. I learned lots of new stuff about the French revolution and skills required for being a shelf stocker. I played a lot of Go Fish. I went shopping for real food with fake money. And then I came home and I canned 6 quarts of applesauce, made chicken enchiladas for dinner with some friends, and fresh apple crisp, and I kept right on going until This Very Minute. Josh is still going, finishing up the half-cleaned kitchen after he spent the whole day working on the house. I did a load of dishes and put most of the food away, and then I quit.

Truck is busily hairing every surface that I vacuumed as soon as I got home from work, and Dagny is recovering emotionally from the abandonment she endured when her new ball-throwing friend Brian left her to go home with his family. I have something on my toe that hurts, which some people have told me may be a corn, but that makes me feel old, so I am just calling it a broken toe joint.

Josh drywalled the west half of the living room today, and cut out the doorway under the stairs for my new pantry, and stuff. It looks much bigger and brighter in here. I am getting more and more excited to see the end result of this remodel - excitement which I must place carefully to avoid making Josh feel like I am pressuring him discontentedly or I am ungrateful for the good, fast work he is doing. I don't want him to think that he should be working any faster - Lord knows I have only finished emptying about 1/5th of the wine bottles I need for my new chandelier. You just can't rush quality work. Like that book I am always still working on.

I am tired. In a good, productive, I did something with my day, way. I made applesauce AND money. Maybe not much, but some, of each. I am really happy to go to bed tonight with a sore back and a sore broken toe joint and a chili-pepper burn underneath one fingernail. I will dream about all of the things I will do tomorrow, and the next day. Including taking Aspen for a make-up Irish dance lesson, and probably supervising Josh in some interior design work this weekend, and maybe adopting a kitten. But you guys, I got a job. And there isn't a centimeter of wood paneling showing in my living room anymore. BAM!

Things That Work

Today was a long day. It's my last day of "freedom" before I am expected to show up at work every morning at 8 AM, AMERICAN time, every day. 5 days a week. Forever. As soon as I got the call from the school, I thought to myself: This day shall be spent on the couch with no bra. This day will be a celebration of the departure of my leisure days. This day shall be unproductive. But I lied to myself. I caught up on all of the stuff I had promised to do for the fire department three weeks ago and had been putting off, since I could always just "do it tomorrow".  I made more applesauce. And then more applesauce. I framed concert posters that have been crying to me sadly from their cardboard tubes since the summer of 2010. I caught almost the entire population of fruit flies in our house in the glass of wine that I kept misplacing. I made tomato sauce and canned it. I painted things and folded things and cooked things and took care of business that had long been neglected for another day. My days are now numbered. They are no longer mine. They are obliged to someone else forever.

look. It's my favorite. Fire map in the background,  and this is the first show Josh went to with me. But I broke the corner of the glass! NOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Kizzie's Birthday show in Spokane - and the Reno show that I drove a thousand hours with all 4 kids for. AWWWW

Josh is ecstatic. I think mostly because I will be less bored, more exhausted, and hopefully not have the energy to pick fights with him anymore, which he is convinced has become my full time occupation lately. His full time occupation has been remodeling our house, which, while utterly cool, is also utterly stressful, and not just to the dogs who are all TERRIFIED of power tools. I have been somewhat helplessly watching Josh manhandle 12 foot long sheets of drywall into spaces that are slightly less than 12 feet and try to turn them. I could have offered to help, but being generally weak, clumsy and also entertained by watching, I decided I was better keeping my distance. I have tried to help him figure out the maze-like electrical wiring in the house, by standing in the bathroom and shouting when the lights go off because he flipped a switch on the back porch, or tripped the breaker marked "upstairs". It's an adventure, this weird house. He's always discovering new and awesome things. Like an uninsulated roof, and a random post behind an even more random wall. He made some joke about how silly he'd feel if the upstairs fell down after he cut the random post out, and I can't help but feel relieved that my bedroom is on the other end of the house. He knocked himself out cold yesterday when he jumped up into the attic and banged his head on a post that was hiding deviously behind a chunk of insulation from a wall. I heard a moan and asked if he was OK, but he didn't answer so I figured he was up where he couldn't hear me, and I kept on chopping peppers. Later he told me that he thinks he was out for a couple minutes, but since I didn't bother to check on him, we don't really know. 
please note Truck's watchful eye in the mirror. 
Now the day is coming to an end. I have given up picking the fruit flies out of my wine and am embracing them as protein, riddled with healthy vitamins from the fruits and vegetables in my kitchen which they have been devouring. I canned a quart and a half of tomato sauce because that's how much there was. Not two quarts. Never the right amount. And I put the copious amounts of applesauce on the back porch in the remarkable cold to deal with tomorrow afternoon. After work. I am sure there is the equivalent of about 4.75 quarts of applesauce to can, just to be conveniently wrong. I have removed myself from kitchen to couch and now I sit here with three traumatized dogs. Penny is still too fat to get up, so she is snoring off the trauma on three cushions on the floor. Truck is watching Josh's reflection cuss out drywall sheets in one of the mirrors on the living room wall. Aspen is "cleaning her room" which, while I am sure is no more effective than her "washing the dishes" was at chore time, is at least out of sight and earshot. How a child can live in the same house as everybody else and know so frighteningly little about where things go, or how to do things, is amazing to me. Amazing. Kizzie is trying on homecoming dresses that Josh won't let her wear, while Josh is fantasizing about the colossal infraction that she will commit to forgo the Homecoming dance altogether. No one really knows what Natalee does in the evenings. She says homework, but I have a feeling that she is knitting sweaters for her pet rabbit or his soon-to-be offspring, or something as industrious and completely disconnected from real life as possible. I promised Josh we could work together late into the evening in jammie pants,  with our eclectic mix of Avett Brothers, Frank Sinatra and Florida Georgia Line, with a little Warrant thrown in, blaring in the backdrop, drowning out the pouty cries of grossly wronged teenage girls. He hasn't embraced the jammie pants yet, apparently they don't do well with tool belts. It seems my role in this labor of love might consist of offering moral support from the couch, keeping the dogs out from underfoot, and luring the fruit flies away from his workspace. It feels important. 

 I know that I need to go take a shower and pick out my "first day of school outfit", which I already whined about not having brand new. I was shut down quickly with a very specific look and a couple of well placed words about my wardrobe, and decided I would make do. Taking a shower is officially the first step of "getting ready" for my new job, and I am just not quite ready yet. A few more fruit flies... 

Things That Break

It's been a rough week, y'all. I've broken two of my favorite wine glasses that I got for SUPER cheap at the Pendleton store. My back has been out and getting worse, and I can't stop sneezing. Aren't allergies supposed to be a spring thing? But to ice the proverbial cake, an unnamed teenage daughter of mine snuck off after a soccer game with a mutually nameless boy for an unaccountable hour. And then she offered a series of stories which were all too easily deflated to explain her mysterious absence. How do you deal with this, Successful Parents of Teenagers Who Survived? She is obviously grounded, which doesn't mean a whole lot since we are not revoking volleyball participation, and that is the bulk of her social life... The boy she was with is a pretty nice boy - and I am not terribly worried that they did Horrible and Lascivious things, but the lies! It's the lies that break me. Make me sad. Make me worried. Make me want to do drastic things like lock her forever in a tower until her hair is long enough for some awkward prince to climb up and rescue her. I would endure a thousand shattered wine glasses and a lifetime of sneezes if I knew that she told me the truth.

Broken trust is worse than anything else that breaks, because it's not replaceable, and it takes eons to heal. Longer than the worst broken bone. It takes work to mend it. Hard work. Concentration and deliberate choices and painful sacrifice. Most people don't find it worth fixing. It's easier to throw away a relationship than to try to rebuild broken trust. I have been in some of those throw away relationships. I have been the breaker of trust and I have  had my trust broken by others. I have refused to do the rebuilding work, and I have been refused. How do you teach your children the necessity of restoring the breach that they create? I know example is the thing. Living that life of restoration and commitment to the hardest parts of making relationships work. Letting them see me building trust and allowing trust to be built for me. This is a hard, hard thing for me, and probably one of the biggest hinderances to my marriage. Maybe why violated trust with my daughter is so heartbreaking. Except I think broken trust always hurts. I don't know that it gets worse the more it happens to you... In some ways I think I have built a thick callous against it, except the callous disables me from trusting the people I should. It's hard to break my trust when I have never given it to you in the first place, you know? Josh certainly does. He patiently shakes his head at me and my trust issues, and tries his best to prove me wrong. The callous wears thinner with lack of constant abrasion. But lying teenagers don't help. Josh labors under the misconception that I trust other people more than him. People that have Questionable Morals and I don't even know very well. Mostly guy friends that I seem to admire. He doesn't get that I DON'T really trust them. I wouldn't even dip my toe in the pool of trust with them, let alone try to dive in and live with them and rest my life in their hands. I might like them. Or think they're cool. But I sure as heck don't TRUST them much. Trust has different levels I guess. I might trust them enough to invite them to my house. Trust they won't rob me. Or kill me. He wonders why I don't question them, or accuse them of heinous ulterior motives (something he gets from me a lot). But I don't have to question them. I don't have to live with them or know anything beyond face value. If they lie to me, I don't care, because I have not entrusted my soul to them. Poor Josh has the great honor of cradling my exposed - or semi exposed, and roughed over with scar tissue - soul in his strong hands. It's as fragile as my Pendleton wine glasses. But not as cheap. And much harder to replace. Or I would like to think so.

This is what I want my kids to get. Trust is one of the most precious things that another human being will give you. If you damage it, it takes time and hard work to fix it. But it's worth it. Exposing yourself to another person, or people, in your family, your closest friends, your lover - it's what makes life worth it. Relationships that are built on the never-perfect but much valued mutual trust of two or more people are the things that make life rich and meaningful. I have learned - am learning - this: That trust is the key element to any great friendship. And any love affair, family tie or best buddy is nothing without friendship. Ok, maybe not nothing. Maybe you get some good recipes or make out sessions or a few laughs. But really - friendship is important. And there's no friendship without a little bit of trust.

I have been waxing much too philosophical for a Wednesday morning. Probably it was an excuse to stay wrapped in my germ blanket a little longer because my house is COLD. Cold enough that the fingers I broke two years ago are aching. Old hurts like to remind you of them when it gets cold. This is true on many levels, but there I go getting all metaphorical again.

I just got a phone call that I start work tomorrow. Real, grown up, full time-ish work at the school. I am excited. I am excited because I chose to be. And because I get to work with some of my best friends. And because I will be five steps away from sneaky teenage daughters At All Times. And because for the first time in my life, I will have a sort of retirement fund thingy. I am not even sure exactly what that is. But I am ready for it. Or I will be, once I get a new wardrobe and a couple of replacement wine glasses.

Things I Am Cooking

Call me obsessed. It's like I only leave the kitchen to sleep feverishly on the couch. After I kicked some serious peach and plum booty on Friday, I am back in the kitchen in a race against bees and the little deer who sneaks up on our porch to eat the apples that have been picked so far to use them up. No joke, at 1:45 AM, when I couldn't sleep because of jaw-clenching pain, and because Josh had just chased some punks out of the new announcers booth at the football field across our yard, I heard the suspicious snuffing and crunching and looked out the window over my bed to see our pet deer - one of many, really, but we'll call this one Mildred, eating the apples. Understand that only a fraction of the apples have been picked from the tree thus far, since I directed the kids to "pick all of the apples" and I wasn't at home to explain that the ladder there was actually for climbing up and picking the ones they can't reach from the ground. Mildred is fairly certain that the apples conveniently located in boxes on our front porch were selected for her midnight buffet - as is the local bee population who has eaten it's way into several apples and seems to be drunk on the loveliness. I redeemed many of the apples into my giant stock pot, which is now scorching on the bottom, and my crock pot, which holds half as much but doesn't seem to be burning. Oh the politics of food preservation!!!!

Canning anything is complicated in my kitchen since I only have two burners, and the former occupants installed a really cool grill into one whole half of the Jenn-Aire cooktop I have. I have used the grill once, to make some smoked chicken breast jerky for dinner. Otherwise it has sat there, collecting things. Like pots that the kids seem to have no idea how to put away. So I have one burner with some bizzarre platform, as if it was height-challenged and had self-esteem issues, so the former cook helped it out. That, coupled with a microwave that was installed directly above and about 6 inches too low, makes just enough room to fit a canner, or my big stock pot, on the front burner, with no lid. the back burner is almost useless, except I can fit the small pot to boil my canning lids back there. getting the small pan out around the big one is tricky, especially if the kids have stored all of the pots on the space offending grill. I have tried to talk Josh into getting a replacement two burner Jenn-Aire insert, but he is insistent that we are replacing the whole stove "very soon" and so I must make do. Which is also why the bathroom is still country blue and buttercup blossom. My friend mentioned the other day that I have control over that and could fix it, but that was about an hour before she met Josh and he explained that the room is "about" to be remodeled and there is no sense wasting money on paint. When he's right, he's right. Unfortunately "very soon" and "about" are somewhat subjective and the country blue is really eating away at my soul.

Anyway, it's now a race between my crock pot and the big stock pot to see who can output applesauce most efficiently. If I am judging, the stock pot is losing on the mere grounds of how much stirring it takes to avoid making smoked applesauce (something I have produced before - goes well with chicken breast jerky). Especially since I need those stirring muscles to give my stupid little vintage sieve another chance to redeem itself on four thousand pounds of apples. I was hoping the applesauce would be done in time to free up the burner to finish the bread and butter pickles I started, but it's not looking promising, and I am not sure when I would heat the canning water in that line up.

Josh is working on remodeling the stairs, which apparently needed to be done, but which makes Emmy attach herself to my ankle, usually leaving a trickle of pee everywhere we go. She hates power tools. I have tripped over her at least 8 times now, and if you have ever fallen down stairs the day after you have given birth to a baby then you can imagine the kind of pain that catching myself from a fall causes in my lower abdomen area.

I tried, unsuccesfully, to figure out how to live stream some NFL games here on my computer, but short of subscribing to Madden 25, which I think is a game or something, and costs a hundred dollars American, there is no way. There are a couple of radio stations out of Seattle that you can listen online to, but neither would play on this side of the state, or on a Mac. COME ON, PEOPLE! You are from Seatlle!! WTH. So I am stuck with my Frank Sinatra Spotify station on, wondering how all of those NFLers are doing out there. My sister in law is involved in some emotional eating, which must mean the Vikings are not doing well. She is an ardent fan, for whatever reason, to the extent that she wouldn't play Aaron Rogers on her Fantasy Football team, but has kept him benched, since he is a Packer and they are from the devil. This had rendered her absolutely scoreless, since she also traded the rest of her team for players with last names of three sylablles or more. I am keeping my head above water in our family league, but I would be dominating if I could figure out how to trade. My baby sister is at the head of the league with our ultra-competitive, death-before-losing middle brother (yes, middle child thing), but her wins were purely accidental, or maybe even karmic punishment to the rest of us for letting her call her team "Suessical". Freedom of expression be dashed, in this family, right Sanna? I would be more panicked about missing the games today except the Bronco's don't play til tomorrow, at which point I will throw a fit if Josh doesn't take me to the Whitebird. I am hoping for Andrea's sliders to show up as a menu special one of these football days, but it's almost like she doesn't care.

My applesauce is burning. And I have to go show the kids how to use a ladder. After I clean up after Emmy, and hold a tape measure for Josh.


Things That I Have Accomplished

I did it you guys. I got out of bed. I took a shower. I put on jeans even, in a dare to the day to try to stop me. I put on some makeup to cover That One Zit right on the tip of my nose, that makes me thankful for a flu bug that keeps me from being seen by anyone. I made my own coffee. I even cleaned up the kitchen which was apparently Aspen's chore last night. I fed the dogs the left over macaroni and hot dogs that nobody deemed worthy of putting in the refrigerator, and I started a load of laundry with the dog-potty bath mat that nobody thought of washing yesterday. I am making things happen!!! I feel good! Ok - that's a stretch. I am shaky and spinny and still cramping like I am heading into labor with twins - but my head doesn't feel like it's trapped in a hot, sticky bundle of gross tasting cotton candy today. And my arms don't feel like they weigh two thousand pounds apiece. And my back is still out, but that's old news, so who cares. I have peaches to freeze and plum jam to make and mail to go pick up when I feel like the least number of people will be hanging out at the post office to notice my nose.

I slept a cumulative total of 37 hours yesterday. I think some of the hours leaked in from today and the day before yesterday, but it was a lot of sleeping for one day, none-the-less. I passed out around 6:30 pm last night after a lovely dose of something that took my pain AND my fever away momentarily, and only woke up long enough to yell at Josh for drinking the frozen Cherry Soda that I stole from a 6 pack that one of the girls left here (sorry Sabrina) and had been waiting for all afternoon. He said he was cleaning up and trying to be efficient but if that was true I can't help but wonder about the macaroni and cheese... I also came to for a moment to accuse him of lying about something, but I can't even remember what now, and I think I went right back to sleep. Probably the cherry soda again. Being sick is weird. Josh thinks that my immune system is whack right now. I think it's more sinister than that. I think that my immune system is ganging up with my uterus and ovaries in a cosmic plot to make me give up entirely and quit doing Things for ever. Some days I am on the brink of giving in, but then the fruit flies from the peaches I haven't frozen drive me nuts, and Penny throws up macaroni and cheese on the kitchen floor, and Dagny poops on the auxillary bath mat. Necessity dictates action. My body loses.

Lately, being sick in addition to being broken, I have been mulling over this desire, or maybe need I have to do more, or different, than what is required or expected of me. Sure I can do laundry and make dinner, but I know I am capable of more, and even with three kids (Halle has left a gaping hole of responsibility in my life), four dogs, a house in the throes of remodel and it being canning season, I know I should be doing more. Making money. Contributing. Becoming famous somehow, doing something exotic. We had a discussion about this last weekend, My Darling Husband and my sister and her Darling Husband and I. She has the same Notion of Greatness that I do, and somehow we got our wires crossed in the department that says homemaking and mothering children is ENOUGH of an accomplishment. I blame the homeschooling icons of overachievement like Jane Addams and Molly Pitcher and Florence Nightengale. They were all of the traditional roles of a woman PLUS some. Even Ma Ingalls did a heck of a lot more than change diapers and make dinner. It's only in recent decades (baby boomers, anyone?) that the picture of a woman in a tweed dress with an apron and a feather duster and two perfectly packaged children became the epitome of female success. Show me your 197 quarts of peaches, lady. Your newly sewn curtains and the school wardrobes you made your kids out of the old ones. What do you mean you haven't published three successful novels and changed your own oil? I think there is something wrong with me. So does Josh. I think that is why he is SO excited at the prospect of me having a "full time job". If my mind is occupied with anything else, I will quit bemoaning the fact that I am "doing nothing" with my life. Even if the "full time job" is only 6.5 hours a day, and will do very little to occupy my mind - it is something. And I get paid for it. It's not the Exotic Thing that I am always looking for - riding ATVs around the forest or doing archaeological surveys in the middle of nowhere. It's not a big money to see cool places and play the sub-hero (is that the correct mini version of a superhero?) like wildland fires. It's not training wild tigers and zebras or lending medical aid to clinics in Ugandan slums. But it's people. And it's special people. People who can teach me much more than they could ever hope to learn from me. People who need the time and patience and attention of One Human Being to get them through a simple day of school. It sounds frustrating, and restrictive, and almost boring, but good. And necessary. It sounds perfect. I hated riding ATVs around the woods and doing surveys because I was alone. There was no one there to learn from or share with. I survived retail because I like the people and I like the Things, but after awhile the Things get really old and the whole idea of retail becomes tasteless to me. This job would be good. If I get it. And Josh would quit wringing his hands and pacing the house every time he catches me on the Living Social website. BTW, did you see the adorable Sock Monkey headphones? SO CUTE.

I have a lot to do today. I am hoping the coffee settles some of the shakes down (because that makes sense, right?) so that I don't cut my fingers off dicing peaches for the freezer. And I wish someone would explain to Dagny in words that she can understand that ONLY HUMANS POOP IN THE BATHROOM. I guess the little awe-shucks paddlings I am giving her aren't working. It's even worse now that she has figured out where Aspen keeps her Calico Critters and I am finding fuzzy little chewed off paws and tails in her piles of poo. This is an expensive hobby, Dagny. I now owe Aspen a baby squirrel and a horse - I didn't even know Calico Critters made horses. I wish she would do normal dog things like Truck does - for example: chewing up a purple jalapeño all over the living room rug and then deciding it's too hot to eat and leaving the seeds strewn everywhere. Dagny decided to help him finish it, and now she is rubbing her nose all over the carpet in an attempt to stop the burning. I would be mad, but the peppers are full of healthy antioxidants to counteract the macaroni and cheese I fed them.

Unfortunately for Productivity, that elusive waif, it's much too cold yet this morning to leave my germ blanket at do anything. Until it warms up enough that the fruit flies are no longer dormant, and/or the sourdough bread on my counter thaws enough to make toast, I am stuck here with my coffee and my list of things yet to accomplish. Sorry Jane Addams - I will have to catch up later.

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