Things About Teenagers

Sometimes, when you get off a crazy long shift at work, it's fun to drive around in the dark and rain and look for teenage girls that aren't where they were supposed to be. Or where you think they were supposed to be. Even if neither they, nor you, really knew or had established where that location was. Hence the driving. Sometimes, on Halloween, it's fun to drive every block in town (which is luckily only ten blocks here), and accost every group of nearly adult sized humans you run across in the dark and the rain. It's also fun to interrogate these shady groups about the whereabouts of certain teenage girls. And even if they don't know anything about any girls, it's fun to make them feel weird about being accosted in the dark by a mom in a car.

The thing about dark and rainy nights, when all kinds of shenanigans are happening in all kinds of dark alleyways, even if you've worked ten hours, you drive around and locate the girls. And then you invite all of the hooligans over to your house. Because, better there than Someplace That You Don't Know About. And then, when they get bored with the 6 cubit feet of popcorn that you made, and the scary movies, you drive them home so that nobody gets lost in the dark and rainy night or become prey to the various shenanigans.

And maybe, if you're lucky, sometime around midnight, on a dark and rainy halloween, when you know all of your girls, and probably a few others, are giggling safely upstairs, and the dark and the rain and the shenanigans are locked outside, and the traditional Tire Fire on the hill is contained and won't burn down the neighbors houses, and you know this for certain because you went and checked for them, and then went back to tell them for sure, and the dogs have had their fill of dropped M&Ms and popcorn, and you've picked up the house at least 12 times, maybe you can go to bed and get a few hours of sleep before you go to work again in the morning.

This is why Halloween is fun. And teenagers. And traditions.

Things About Halloween

This is the first Halloween in a long time that I don't have a costume planned out well in advance. I think I never really got over playing dress up, and I'll be danged if you're gonna take the one excuse I have every year (other than Christmas time when I can dress like a Who) to be someone other than myself. Or maybe to be Who I Really Am.

I don't know why I don't have a costume this year. I just haven't felt inspired. Or the peer pressure of Being A Grown Up has had it's way with me and I am afraid that people won't get the almost 40 year old dressed like an idiot. Those are really stupid reasons, if they are for real.

Rosie ain't got nuthin on me

Or maybe it's because I get to play dress up IRL (in real life) often enough. Bonus points if you can tell which ones are costumes...

I got super lucky this year and talked Aspen into a one piece pink Flamingo costume that we stumbled upon in town. That was like two weeks ago, and since the other kids are technically "too old" for me to worry about their costumes (you're on your own kids, sorry), all of the last minute jerry-rigging guilt of not having my crap together was eliminated. Maybe I just wrote off Halloween when I found the Flamingo. Or maybe since I knew I had to work I just gave up. Either way, I feel pretty boring. Which means I had better go and pull something together. Oh darn - here comes the jerry-rigging guilt...

That one year when I was the slutty Tin Woman - and Hannah's cleavage.

Halloween is like my 3rd favorite holiday. Tied with Valentines Day only because V-Day is so hit and miss, and oft disappointing. Obviously Christmas is first, then Thanksgiving (because I like food), and then Halloween/V-Day and then Easter. After that, St. Patties Day, Independence day, and Any Holiday That I Get Off of Work Or School. Pretty much I love all of the holidays. I would decorate my house for Secretaries Day if I had room to store all of the seasonal paraphernalia.

Too soon or Too real?

But here I am, avid holiday lover, Chief Fan Of Halloween, with no costume. It's a shame. And should probably be remedied quickly.


The Tennis Player, The Pioneer, The Chinaman(?), The Ewok, and of course, The PAN

Things About Kissing

It's been a very long time since I have been kissed. It's been even longer since I was kissed properly. Like, REALLY kissed. Good and Kissed. Kissed like He Meant It. I think all of this came up while I was watching season 3 of New Girl, and I started to get annoyed with Jess and Nick kissing all of the time. Almost like they meant it. Maybe not like Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler. Or even like Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne. But still, they make kissing look fun. And I was annoyed. Mostly out of jealousy. And the very, very real FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) on this for another Very Long Time. Or maybe forever. And it's not fair. Even eating garlic knots to make believe that the only reason I am not enjoying some Very Good Kissing right now is because I have terrible breath isn't helping. I am lonely for kisses. It's a dreary feeling in a dreary rainy fall that could so easily be a cuddly warm fall with Amazing Kisses.

"...although you need kissing badly. That's what's wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, by someone who knows how!" -RB (remembering credit to Em Creach)

There is something about a kiss. The kind you feel to the bottom of your toes. In my mind there is nothing quite so vulnerable and intimate as a Real Kiss. Good Kissing, Real Kissing, is like extra smooth dark chocolate. Or a Really Good Red Wine. It's warmth spreading all through your body and a chill up your spine. It's a head rush that displaces time and space. Nothing but a kiss has the power to melt your heart, change your mind (see: The Empire Strikes Back) and disgust little boys.

You can't really plan a Good Kiss. They sneak up on you and ambush you when you're least prepared. They make your knees all loose and rubbery. But when you are with the right person, you also can't avoid them. They come at you from all directions in many different forms. The Real Kiss doesn't have to be long and wet and sloppy. Or short and sweet and innocent. It defies category. It defies definition. It's really the Best Thing Ever.

Not that I would know, or at least remember. It's been a good long while for me. But as time goes on I remember with growing fondness, or maybe unreality, that beautiful sensation. And I hope for it again someday before I die. Maybe when I am 80. Lots of Good Kissing in my 80s seems like a worthy aspiration. Obviously this means being with My One, so it's a part-n-parcel deal of heavenly winning. In the meantime, while I wait, I guess I'll just be annoyed at Nick and Jess. And Rhett and Scarlett. And John and Maureen. And all the other Good Kissers out there. I hope you know how lucky you are. Don't take it for granted, and lay one on each other for me.

Things About Voting

I voted. I did. I read the voter's guide. I colored in the little boxes. I signed the envelope. And I mailed it.

Not because there was a candidate that I Really Believed In, other than who should NOT be our coroner. Not because I believe my vote can change the world. Really, the most it did was cancel out the vote of that crazy lady down the road. (Not my sister, guys, sheesh.) But I voted because, most of all, I CAN. Some places, you can't vote. You don't get the chance. It's easy to forget that voting isn't a right every where in the world. Just like Halloween isn't celebrated, or maybe even Christmas, God Forbid. There are places out there with no light. No joy. No Christmas. And no voting.

And whether the whole system is rigged and we really have a say or not, it is our responsibility to do our part. Keep up our end of the bargain. To not take for granted the opportunity that we have. Whether there are hanging chads or ballot recounts. We did our part.

To be honest, there wasn't a single name on the ballot that I would really defend with any energy. This is partly due to my own apathy and ignorance, although this year I did do a little research. I guess 37 seemed too old to be calling my Friends and Relations and ask them questions about stuff only to get really biased and extremely opposing views. I'd really like to see a ballot where I can vote for world peace, Christmas for everybody, and a global ban on lima beans. (sorry Ricker.) Now there's some politics I can get behind. Really if we had those things, none of the rest would matter. If there was self-control, love for others, and not to sound like a hippie, but "Social Consciousness" in the individual then we'd never have to vote on legislation about guns. Or marriages. Or any of that crap. Because we would all be good self-managers. Just like Aspen in the 3rd grade. (except she lost her self-manager bracelet. Ironic.)

There was a time in my life when I didn't vote. Mostly because I didn't believe it worked and I don't like any of the liars that lie arrogantly in front of the whole world. And because I was cynical. Ok, that was redundant. I still don't have confidence in the system or the politicians. But I have the conviction that it is my responsibility to seize the opportunity that I am presented with. Because changing the world has to start with one step. Tomorrow I will probably host a walk-a-thon for world peace and self-management through Northport. Afterward we will look for Aspen's bracelet. Don't worry, we'll be done in 20 minutes. Including sign making.

In short, I am here to remind you to vote, because I did. And if I can, then anybody can. And because we CAN, we MUST. That's how it works.

Things About Giving

It hasn't been the best day. Or week. Or month. Or six months for that matter. But sometimes, all it takes is one good evening to fix it all.

A few days ago, a friend suggested that I ask for help getting to a writers retreat. If you know me at all, you know that me asking for help is almost as ridiculous as me running a marathon in high heels. Unless you are my brother in law or the husband of my best friend. Then you're screwed, because you'll probably get to install appliances and stop sewage floods and pack my substantial household repeatedly for a half a dozen moves. But generally speaking, I am not one to beg.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in my most recent failed marriage (to speak categorically), is that money is NOT bottomless, and things don't always just work themselves out. For all of the money fights that we had, somewhere along the line I learned the benefit of planning ahead and Making Good Choices, financially speaking. Gone are the days of dashing off willy-nilly to regionally located concerts, or binge shopping for blankets or jeans or shoes and assuming they will work themselves off somehow. I have learned, to some degree, priorities. Or at least that I should have some, and allocate my limited funds accordingly.

Unfortunately, this awakening came shortly before the opportunity to go to a Really Neat and Fairly Affordable little writer's retreat on the Oregon Coast. I hemmed and hawed and thought about cleaning out my bank account to make it happen. Or just wait for the magic windfall check to show up in the mail (which HAS happened, you cynics!), or some other unrealistic approach to getting what I want. This time, I stopped. And I knew that I couldn't throw down two car payments. Or one mortgage payment, or 4.5 tons of pellets, to go to a writers retreat. So when Christy suggested fundraising, and Em suggested I set up a GoFundMe account, I was kind of embarrassed and slightly apprehensive and mostly hoping that no one would notice, but I wrote about it in THIS BLOG POST.

Nothing could have prepared me for the outcome.

It wasn't just that people gave money. Although they did. And with overwhelming generosity. But it was THE PEOPLE WHO gave. The ones who shouldn't. The ones who really can't. The ones I hardly know. My own daughter in college (shame on you, Halle - it's very irresponsible). On a night when I have been fighting with the stupid phone company and the internet company and the insurance people and pretty much everyone in the world, out of the most unexpected and amazing places, $603 surfaces. Each dollar screaming in my face: "HA! DO IT NOW. YOU HAVE NO EXCUSES!" 603 reasons to succeed. To try harder. To do more. To be better. Not just at writing. But at being a person. Because even if AT&T and Century Link and My Ex Husband(s) hate me, I AM LOVED. I AM SUPPORTED. I AM IMPORTANT. And that isn't something that I spend a lot of time considering.

And then, on top of it all, somebody shows up on my porch with leftover garlic knots. It's like God just wanted to kick me while I am laying here in a sniveling pile of sweatpants and say : "take your self pity and shove it! Oh, and have some garlic knots too."

I am humbled. I am beyond grateful. I can't ever, ever thank you guys enough. But I will try. I will do my best. I will work harder. And be better. And you will all get signed copies of my first publication. Unless I write something about you under a pseudonym to avoid relational conflict, in which case you will get a signed copy of my second publication.

In the meantime, I am going to take my garlic knots and wine-from-a-box, and blubber a little bit about how great I've got it. You guys are the best.

Thank you.

Liv's GoFundMe page

Things About Dogsitting

Top Ten Reasons That Dogsitting is Better Than Having Kids:

10) Dogs are cuter. They can't help it. Even with runny noses, weird coughs and strange skin conditions, dogs are cuter.

9) You don't have unrealistic expectations that dogs will clean up behind themselves or help around the house with chores like dishes, laundry, etc, therefore, you live with much less disappointment and frustration.

8) Dogs are excited for EVERY bedtime and EVERY meal. No complaining. No arguing. Just pure, unadulterated excitement.

7) They don't interrupt your show. Or your book, or your sleeping in - ok, maybe this happens sometimes, but rarely.

6) They don't make the toilet overflow. If anything, dogs keep that water level DOWN.

5) Dogs, even visiting ones, are much better at expressing unconditional love and adoration than any kid I have met. Total self esteem booster.

4) Dogs don't have unrealistic expectations on you to drive them to various events, cook gourmet meals for them to complain about or buy them expensive things.

3) If you tell them to get off the couch, they don't get all butt hurt and not speak to you for three days. Ok, some dogs do this, but they bounce back much quicker than kids who expect couch space.

2) Dogs are blissfully unaware of your shortcomings as a human. They will not point out how fat you are, how terrible your apparel choices are, or how embarrassing you might be to them.

1) If you do a good job (which essentially means keeping the dogs alive) the owners bring you boxes of wine and giant bottles of Fireball. No kid has EVER provided such a kickback.

Authors note: I currently have 3.5 teenage girls available for rescue and/or adoption. They are adept at throwing fits, clogging toilets and being mean.

I am keeping the non-resident 18 year old child who occasionally makes a selfless choice which remind me that someday, all of this might be worth it.

Things About Writing

I know I have a lot to learn. I know I am far from a great writer. In fact, I can make a list of the things that I need to work on:

1) Focus and organization. I mean, my blog is all over the place. One day it's about rebellious teenagers and the next day it's about macaroni and cheese. What the heck? Can't I pick a subject and stick with it? I know some readers have expressed surprise that my blog "didn't go the direction they had anticipated". Which is really interesting, since it never goes the way I anticipate. But it would be hard to do so since I have never really anticipated it going any real direction. This is one of my weaknesses. If I was more focused and organized, I could have a foodie blog. Or a beer blog. Or a mommy blog, since I think a lot of people would like to lump me into the "mommy blogger" category. I am reluctant to commit to this, due to the fact that I am more or less a terrible mommy (see this blog) and I would rather be lumped into some category like "cool blogger" or "totally rad blogger". But I am a mommy, and I am a blogger, so apparently....

2) Writing less about alcohol. Or mentioning it less. Or drinking it less. I am not sure which of those would really work out IRL. (that's cool talk for in real life, in case you weren't sure.)

3) Following conventional writing rules. I have been told that my writing is missing dashes. A lot of dashes. And then sometimes, when I'm all "you-have-no-idea-how-frustrating-it-is-to-type-dashes" as such,  then I think you understand why. Sometimes the dashes just go without saying.

4) Going along with #1 and having more technical adherence to my writing style, as in, Mrs. Black's rubric for the five paragraph essay type stuff... I know that from paragraph A to paragraph P I tend to circumnavigate my creative theme, if I even have a theme.

5) Being less long winded. I have heard that my blogs are sometimes long and the reader might get bored and trail off. You'd think that my unpredictable writing direction would keep you interested. Jeeze.

6) Not having kids overflow the toilet every time I try to sit down to write. This really affects the focus and organization I don't have. Not to mention necessitating the frequent mention and/or use of alcohol.

(No, but really. That just happened. I just mopped up gallons of dirty toilet water with towels that just came out of the wash from the last catastrophic toilet event. Thankfully we hadn't gone to the trouble to fold them or put them away. Because then I would have cried. Clearly we need to discuss what does and DOES NOT go down the toilet. I think they're trying to flush the puppy sized spiders or dirty underwear or something. Or at least my washcloths that have all gone missing. Now my coffee is cold and I can't remember what I was saying. And I am pretty sure there is still toilet water on my feet. Which I am choosing to ignore. At least this time I had already ripped the carpet out of my bedroom so the flood just soaked into disgusting bare subfloor.) That was an extremely long parenthetical phrase.

Anyway, all of these grevious weaknesses lead me to one thing: I need help. In fact, I might need Way More Help very soon, and not just with my plumbing - I have an interview with a "newspaper" next week (ominous music in the background [Michael Jackson's Thriller is on]). But all of that question mark riddled suspense aside, I have an opportunity to go to a writer's retreat with a Way More Succesful than me mommy blogger who is intensely hilarious, and more importantly, she's bringing Smart Friends. Who know stuff about writing. The only catch is that the retreat costs some money, which should probably go to taking care of my power bill, etc. A friend of mine suggested that I ask for sponsorships. Which I feel like a schmuck doing. But maybe if someone rich and powerful, or several poor, powerless people, out there likes something I write,  but would like to see me write better, or maybe even someday get published, here is your opportunity to support me anonymously. (Don't worry, I won't tell.)

The retreat itself will cost $350. That covers my food, lodging, instruction and one solo session with a writing professor for Real Help. Gas to get there would be $266 more, since it's a five hundred mile drive (one way). It runs Thurs- Sun May14-17, 2015, but I have to pay now (I have an invoice waiting for me at PayPal). Here is the link so you can see how awesome this would be for me:

The Magic In The Mess

If something moves you, maybe pity, or desperation, or just the incentive to get me to go away for a few days and leave you in peace, you can send contributions to my account at GoFundMe,  just put in the comments or somewhere that it's for the writer's retreat, and not a new pair of Uggs or something, so I'll know. (I will take donations for the Uggs too. ) I will also accept cash, checks, Canadian Money, Monopoly Money, gas cards, bags of recyclable plastic bottles and postage stamps (these go for a lot on the black market).

I hope this posts contains enough grammatical errors to make you realize how badly I need this retreat. And not just for the wine and zumba, although they will help. I signed up for a top bunk suite, which means I will share a room with somebody at least as cool as me, but I have to remember how to get up on to a top bunk. I will start practicing now.

Thank you in advance for your support. I promise I will let you down less frequently in the future.

Things About Sweatpants: A really bad research paper done in one hour

How Soon Is Too Soon For Sweatpants?
by: Livia Stecker

Popular culture is overrun with references to the socially acceptable hour to begin consuming alcohol. Jimmy Buffet lends Country Legend Alan Jackson some aid in the quickly established mantra of alcoholics across the world in his ode to early drinking: It's Five O'clock Somewhere. Whether five in the evening, or the broadly established noon hour should be considered the norm for drinking commencement, it strikes me as particularly neglectful on behalf of society that we have yet to examine the equally critical issue of what time of day is appropriate for donning sweat pants. To examine this oft-ignored social question, we must first break it down into the three separate issues it creates. First: is the dilemma arising because the sweatpants in question are actually still on from the night before? Second: Are the sweatpants in question stylish/sexy and or passable for public activities? And third, but most critical, what events precipitate the necessity for early accouterment of aforementioned sweatpants?

When examining the first question raised by mid-day sweatpants wearing, we have to consider the demographic breakdown of our audience. Assuming that we are discussing neither morbidly obese redneck men, or young athletic professional men, or any men at all, other than Marky Mark or Colin 
graphic 1.0hhhhhh
Farrell (see graphic 1.0), it is safe to say that we are targeting women of all ages with a variety of issues to deal with on a given day. This brings rise to the discussion of whether or not the sweatpants that we are considering have been on since last night, or sometime in the previous week. If this is the case, we have to refer to the fourth paragraph of this essay to establish crises criterion with which to establish a baseline of long-term sweatpants wearing acceptability. Say for instance, your dog died last week. Obviously you haven't recovered from the trauma enough to have been able to change your clothes at any point. But this will be examined further in a later paragraph. Assuming no Major Catastrophe has befallen you, if the sweatpants in question have been worn since the previous evening or earlier, the move to change and/or upgrade to denim is based entirely upon the time of day that one enters into this decision making process. For example, if the question of changing clothes comes up sometime before noon or one o'clock PM, it's safe to say you may have a few successful denim wearing hours in the day. If this thought is not broached until after one in the afternoon, then dressing up is a foolhardy exercise in extra laundry inefficiency. The social justification for early-to-late sweatpants transition is far reaching and easily understood by everyone that matters, which is to say, all of the cool kids. (Echosmith, 2014)

Secondly, most of this debate is quelled with the answer to one simple inquiry: What Kind Of Sweatpants? Thanks to Jessica Simpson, circa 2004, when she was almost cool for a minute, if you had cable (In Review, 2004) (this is before the catastrophic Chicken of the Sea comment...), any sweatpants made by Victoria's Secret double successfully as sexy day wear. Just ask Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Meg Ryan, and all of your other high-fashion icons - slap a PINK! on it, and you're good to go. Hard Tail knits, Juicy Couture's remix of high-end velour track suits, and more recently (as in 5 years ago), Vanessa Hudgens sporting the Gypsy 05 sweats, are also emerging fixtures in the crossover world of lounge to party. Flo Rida and T-Pain give a nod to the "baggy sweat pants" in the '07 hit, Low (FloRida, 2007), giving instant justification to millions of stay at home booty shakers. That these events transpired more than five years ago is no reason to question the viability of acceptable daytime sweats everywhere, given the right label. More recent evolutions of the yoga pant to include demon-like 5 pocket styles and narrow bootcuts like a dressy pair of slacks, are a welcome edition to the  repertoire of almost-pajamas that qualify as day wear. Emergent brands like Athleta and LuLuLemon are fabulous examples of this trend. Yoga pants and the theme they present really belong to a separate classification which should be examined in a later essay.

The third and arguably most poignant question which keeps the answer to this puzzle shrouded in cloudy mystery, is that of motivation. Why are the sweatpants to be worn? What is the compelling factor in the acquirement of sweatpants early in the day? As we mentioned before, an emotional trauma such as the death of a dog, the loss of a job, the toilet overflowing, or the mechanical failure of a washing machine are all reasonable justifications for long term sweatpants wearing. But finding the appropriate rationale for day to day early sweatpants wearing can be somewhat more tricky, especially if one is expected to work or perform on a semiprofessional level at any point before traditional bed times and/or workouts. There are a few exclusionary situations that qualify for rapid sweatpant admission without question. These include but are not limited to: being on one's menstrual period, PreMS, or PostMS, recent unplanned weight gain and/or having a child any time within the last ten years. Other unforeseen factors, such as relationship ebbs and flows, misbehaving children, and general bad moods can easily be translated into solid justification with little to no argument, depending on the value one's spouse/parent/living partner puts on his/her own life. 

In conclusion, it is my personal experience that there are very few, if any, hours in the day that are exclusive of acceptable sweatpants wearing. Social settings, emotional events and demographic information notwithstanding, there is a reasonable argument for the propriety of sweatpants in most situations. How long a pair of sweatpants is worn acceptably is based entirely upon the surrounding circumstances and appropriateness of intimate support and/or antagonism from those closest to the wearer. The style, brand and appearance of sweatpants, with the advent of fashion forward lounge wear, becomes less of an issue than the Hanes Her Way quandary of the late 90s (I'm Sorry, 1995), when sweatpants in a nightclub would have been social suicide. And at the bottom of it all, the directing motivation for the wearing of sweatpants at questionable hours of the day is really the deciding factor in whether it is "OK" or if denim should actually be considered. Sweatpants have come a long way from the draw string gym pants of the 1950s (Steve McQueen, 19RAD )that some brilliant housewife thought to steal from her jock husband. The evolution socially, fashionably, and functionally of sweatpants cannot be understated for the frustrated woman who can only get her jeans zipped on six days of an average month. There is a time, and a place, for sweatpants, and the for daughters of this millennium, that time is all the time, and that place is everywhere. 

Things About Mothering

I have been in this game for more than 18 years. In any other profession, I would be on the downhill slide towards retirement, and considered by most to be a relative expert in my field. But this is mothering, folks, and just when you think you've got it all figured out, those darn kids slip you a curve ball and you're caught with your pants down. Or off completely.

Last week I was starting to get a little bit too comfortable with my "success" as a mother. My oldest daughter who is now at college texts me for advice, which means I still hold some sway in her opinion, and my other three were mostly speaking to me. All of this winning was just a few blissfully unaware hours before I lost control of the G6 seventeen-year-old rocking the current exchange students, and infectious disease began running rampant in my house along with a  river of poop. Real poop. Believe it or not, none of these three are connected. Just separate ongoing episodes of terror. All unrelated, but all intent on reducing me to a quivering mass of useless parenthood.

In addition to being completely unable to correctly diagnose, treat or make disappear the weird rash on Aspen's forehead, I lost MacKenzie to an outbreak of Total Insolence and Blatant Disobedience this weekend, garnished by the unabated overflow of a toilet that nobody admits to pooping in. I am pretty sure the guilty depositor is also the mysterious nobody who leaves their feminine hygiene garbage lying around the bathroom to welcome me awake in the morning. I think this is what they mean when they say boys are easier than girls to raise. Well, this and the screaming, crying, cursing fights and monologues that happen daily here.

In the wake of all of this catastrophe, when Halle texted me last night for more social advice, which apparently I am an expert in, being so successful in my own social life, I ignored her. In my defense, it was the middle of the night, which for college students is about 3 AM but for me has been surfacing around 10:30. To make amends for my neglectfulness, as well as the recent uncovering that I have deprived my children of the unknown Joys Of Cuddling for the last 18 years, I am putting together a care package for Halle consisting of Candy Corn and Hi-Chew. Which is clearly the way to a college freshman's heart.

My solution to the adamant rebellion of MacKenzie is to first enlist the help of her father, which results in her convincing him that I am being irrational by requiring her to provide information about her whereabouts and proof of adult supervision, so then my secondary recourse is to just quit speaking to her and shoot eye daggers at frequent intervals. Because that's totally gonna fix it. In case you haven't noticed, punishing a teenager is much more difficult than one would think. If I take away sports, she doesn't graduate, and I am faced with another school year of rebellion. If I take away her phone, she uses someone else's. If I take away her job, there's a good chance she will never move out. Really every conceivable consequence is actually more punishment for me in the long run. And she knows it. That's the worst part.

My only hope is that Natalee and Aspen and Uyen (who is known and loved by all as Wynn, these days) catch the crossfire of the eye daggers and learn from the many and grevious mistakes of their older reprobate sister.

All of this has convicted me of my own insufficiencies as a parent and as an adult, a point never contended by me, but a sad fact for the casualties of my efforts.

In conclusion, Aspen's forehead rash is running amok, Halle is probably facing social demise, and MacKenzie is going to turn up with face tattoos and her own liquor cabinet soon, as a tribute to my Mad Mothering Skillz. It's all in a day's work, my friends. Or two decades. Whichever.

Things About Planning

 My mom and my younger (but much more mature) sister are all about spreadsheets. They really are master planners, whether it's homeschooling a half dozen kids or The Most Epic Trip To Disneyworld Ever, as far as planning goes, they've got it dialed in. Me, I'm more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-whatever-pants I may or may not be wearing (you can see there where I got tired of dashes) type of a planner, which is to say, not much of a planner at all. But today, y'all, I have to say, I think I've outdone even myself in the planning/not planning department. And as a tribute for the rip-roaring success I have found, I'm gonna lay it all out for you in twelve easy steps. Ready? 

1) Unrealistic Optimism. I have found this character trait to be the primary necessity when planning any family-style event. First you have to picture your ideal. You know, that 8 hour road trip when everyone is singing perfect harmonius rounds of Michael Row The Boat and all of The Alleluias sound angelic. Then add to it. It in this case, 17 people carving pumpkins merrily around a bonfire in the waning gray of a sweet smelling autumn evening while the auburn leaves float gently down around our laughing shoulders. 

2) Involve as many people as possible. Always plan on family, extended family, the rebellious teenager from down the street, two adopted kids and the special ed student who found out you live within bicycling distance of his weekend abode. Not to mention dogs. 

3) Don't sweat the small stuff. Like whether the propane tank for your barbeque is filled, or how many fallen leaves might suffocate your serene bonfire, or if a bonfire with 11 elementary aged children, combined with a minimum of 37 pumpkin carving knives, is even a good idea. These details have a way of sorting themselves out. 

4) Alcohol

5) Stage at least three major emergencies. This aura of panic lends itself to an atmosphere of relief when dealing with minor injuries such as roasting stick gouge wounds, carving knife lacerations and small burns to ten or twelve fingers. My standby favorites emergencies for this include (but not limited to): neighborhood dog (or cat) attacks, empty propane tanks and an overflowing toiletful of poop. 

(Note: this one is only useful if one of the invited extended family members has the presence of mind to turn off the poop covered toilet valve that you're too disgusted to touch.) 

6) Alcohol

7) Get inexpensive food to feed the kids. This provides a great opportunity for parental guilt when you're doling out Foster Farms "blended meat" hot dogs and all of the kids make a scene about the gourmet beer boiled brats that they would much prefer. Over the years this strategy has given me the side perk of developing a taste for raw Foster Farms hot dogs, and ultimately saves my grocery budget. 

8) Leave the kids unattended as much as possible. Kids will be kids, right? And I'm sure the "oldest" ones are looking out for the youngers, even if the age difference is a mere 7 months. And who can't learn a valuable lesson from roasting stick gouges and carving knife lacerations? 

9) Alcohol 

10) Paper plates and plastic cups. These make EXCELLENT festive decorations alongside the six dozen glasses, 37 regular plates and 97 bowls that people had to scrounge for to save the environment and the stack of disposable tableware present. I'm proud of our social awareness. 

Note: dish washing party at my house tomorrow

11) Lots of food. I'm getting better about outsourcing and potlucking. Gone are the days of solo hosting. Plan on feeding at least twice as many people as you intended, plus several dogs, a small hole in the front yard that mysteriously swallows whole packages of hot dogs, and the fire itself, which has a voracious appetite. 

12) Alcohol. And love. Always remember that these are the memories that stick. Ankle deep in somebody else's poop, blowing into a faceful of leaf smoke, and lighting your hand on fire inside of a acetone soaked pumpkin (don't ask...).

But seriously. These are the nights we remember. Not the perfect awards ceremonies and the flawless executions of holiday rhetoric. It's the (literal) crap that we face in the midst of the joy, or vise-verse, that makes family family, and life good, and me thankful. 

Things That Are Contagious

Here's the thing: pretty much if you spend enough time thinking about, talking about, researching and worrying about a given illness, you can manifest the symptoms if you want to. Which is why most of my children are convinced that they have Ebola right now. Obviously they don't, but the things they do have are enough to make me quarantine the whole house and become a manic OCD cleaner sometime tomorrow after I wake up and have coffee.

A few days ago Aspen casually remarked how she had some sort of a bug bite or something on her forehead that was itchy and very annoying. Being the good mother that I am, I told her to take a benadryl and go to bed without even looking at it. The next day she said it was even more annoying and it hurt, and I told her to take a tylenol and go to bed again, because I am a REALLY good mom. Today when she said it both hurt and itched and the annoying factor was on overdrive, I finally decided I had the time and courage to look at it, and I really wish I hadn't. At this point I am fairly certain that she has leprosy. Or maybe Shingles. Which would make sense since I had a friend here the other day who had shingles and even though they were never even in the same room together, somehow, it mutated into an airborne virus and squirreled it's way around the rest of us and onto Aspen. But if it's leprosy, that would make sense too, since my parents are visiting and we reserve those times for the presentation of All of The Worst Possible Illnesses To Be Shared Among Family. 

Being an extra good mother, I started googling this very scary looking rash type sore on my child's forehead, and since my good buddy has had a massive infestation of spiders that could double as lap dogs, it seemed reasonable to start with spider bites. This resulted in the discovery of the recent death of a 10 year old boy in Montana from a spider bite. On his leg. That killed him. Dead. Whatever we are dealing with here is apparently lethal. I couldn't quite process this whole idea so I skipped to some lighter reading about Poison Oak and other common childhood illnesses that include coughing, snuffling, and Really Gross Scary Rash Type Things. By the time I was done and had eliminated all of the possibilities except A) leprosy, B) Spider Bites and C) Ebola, all I could think to do was to watch the Walking Dead and wish for a zombie apocalypse. Because then I would know what to do. I have taken the Facebook quiz like 8 times, just to be sure, and my survival is not in question. But rashes? Coughs? GIANT HAIRY SPIDERS WITH DEEP VOICES AND EYE CONTACT? I can't deal, y'all. 

Because I couldn't send the airborne-sightborne-thoughtborne viral rash to bed without some treatment, I had to collect myself enough to take inventory of the interventions that I could perform as a poorly equipped wildland EMT with 37 boxes of fix-it gear piled in my dining room. We started with a shower, when it could not be determined when she had last bathed, if ever at all. After that I whipped out a $75 tube of Zanfel and treated the potential crap out of the potential poison oak. Then we assaulted it with hydrogen peroxide while Aspen spoke tersely of stinging fizz and gritted her teeth. Because I was still paranoid, we hit it with some alcohol swabs (which induced more teeth grinding and scrunched faces) and triple antibiotic ointment, washed bedding, quarantined a suspect pillow pet (these have been known to carry numerous childhood killers) and covered the offending rash to avoid contact with anyone or anything. Aspen went to bed with a forehead bandage the size of a Hershey Bar and of course her sisters are now petrified of catching Ebola from her. Because that's what bandaids mean here. 

Even after all of that I sit here, every molecule of my body itching and reacting to the deadly, undiagnosed virus seeping into the whole house from upstairs. Because we catch things by osmosis in this family. It's how we roll. Like my throbbing feet that only hurt because my buddy has all these bone spurs and bunions and is about to have foot surgery. So I am sharing in her pain with her. Now that I know foot pain is a thing. I can acknowledge it and become part of the pain with her. I hope that means I get to share in the post op pain killers too...

Although with Aspen's forehead there is no doubt in my mind that it came from her dad's house. Because that's where anything we can't explain, justify, escape, or just don't like, comes from. I will go to bed dreaming of Dagny sized spiders and flesh eating bacteria. Again, I will take Zombies ANY day. Already this week we've missed a day of school for coughing and a half day for a dentist visit, which I still haven't heard the results of, since the only thing she remembered him saying was that the culprit tooth was a baby tooth and she should wiggle it more. Another thing to blame on dad, since he took her to the dentist and hasn't reported back yet. I would assume the dentist told him more than to wiggle her remaining baby teeth. But who knows. Maybe all the teeth gritting activities of the evening helped loosen the offensive baby teeth. Maybe the Ebola-Leprosy rash is related to the teeth. Maybe it's just a little spot of poison oak and I should just quit freaking out for a minute. But where's the fun in that? Or the justification to find safety in the remaining Netflix episodes of Walking Dead, and drink medicine out of a stubby brown bottle labeled Session Lager? 

If anybody is bored tomorrow, after we get back from the ER we'll be sanitizing the house with rubbing alcohol and a blowtorch. Feel free to stop by. 

Things About (Bad) Driving

Dear Friendly Car Insurance Company:

Recently, you sent me a thing-a-ma-jiggy to install in my car that would track my driving habits and potentially qualify me for a reduced insurance rate on my car.

Before you render judgment based on the feedback you receive from this gizmo, I feel that I should be allowed a chance to explain what you are probably seeing on my report.

First of all, you will notice a nine-hour period of driving on a recent Friday that contains numerous hard stops and sudden accelerations. I would like to point out that my oldest daughter is learning to drive, and given the size of my engine and excellent working condition of my brakes, that day when I let her drive all the way to Bend really shouldn't be counted against me. The times when the vehicle exceeded 90 miles an hour were her well meant passing trials, during which I may or may not have been unconscious in paralyzing fear. I feel the wear and tear to my tires and the amount of rubber we left at the launch of every stop we made is more than enough to pay for her driving education, and my insurance rates shouldn't reflect this learning experience.

Also, regarding the recent Tuesday morning when I am sure you noticed a particularly sudden stop, it was only because I had missed the turn to the closest Dutch Bros, and even you would have to admit that locking them up was a better option than an illegal u-turn at a busy intersection.

In the driving hours clocked after 2 AM, I would like to submit for your consideration that while many people drive at this time inebriated, or at least suffering from sleep deprivation, my own road hours were clocked in an attempt to avoid driving with a car full of awake children. This is a specialized tactic in travel safety, reducing in-vehicle distractions and avoiding the well known swerve-while-swatting-blindly into the backseat to separate fighting kids that is a continuous daytime driving hazard.

Please also remember that while traveling 12,000 miles in a month and a half might seem excessive on an average scale, I live in a very remote location, requiring a lengthy commute to groceries, irish dance lessons, doctors visits, family weddings, various sporting events, counseling sessions and of course beer runs. I would like it noted to my record that I have maintained religiously, the three thousand mile oil change regimen at a variety of northwest Oil Can Henry locations, since I don't have to get out of my car and they give me a free newspaper and pretend to like me (shout out to Carlos in Walla Walla!)

In regards to the Saturday before last, my sister drove my car, and I don't feel that I should be held responsible for her poor driving choices, lack of seatbelt wearing, or the cookies she spun in the walmart parking lot.

Finally, I know that on Friday of last week you will see another series of fast takeoffs and urgent stops, as well as that one time when I drove for about 6 miles with my emergency brake on. In this situation I had visited British Columbia and was confused by all of the road signs which are posted in Canadian.

I appreciate the time and consideration that I am sure you will give my appeal, and the adjustments you make to my policy accordingly. I know that you appreciate fastidious clients like myself who are also good communicators.



Things About My Life Right Now

I am going to work in three hours. It's 9:17 PM. You do the math. But somebody offered me good money to go to work at midnight, and far be it from me to shun the almighty dollar. I should be sleeping right now. But I have been trying to put the kids in bed and they think I am nuts for insisting that Everyone Go To Bed Early two nights in a row.

But that's how it is with teenagers. They all have opinions. They think they know stuff. Like when is a good time to go to bed. And they all want to hang out and watch TV shows with me. When clearly it is MY time to be by myself with my TV shows. When did they stop being 8 years old with early bedtimes and no viable opinions? And when did I start buying cars and iPhones and grown-up things for MY KIDS? Something is terribly wrong with this picture. How can a person who can't grow up possibly raise grown up children? It just doesn't work. Already I am playing out in my head the scenarios where I take my kids out to dinner, like my parents take me out, and they insist on paying. But here I am thinking - wow - now that their 18 I don't have to pay any more, right? Wrong. You never stop being a parent. Not ever. No matter how old and/or irresponsible your children get. My parents could speak to that one.

As one would expect, in a household of girls, and mostly teenagers, a day rarely goes by that isn't fraught with emotional turmoil and several crises of massive proportions, like a misplaced aqua flat, or someone having someone else's favorite shirt in their drawer, or somebody listening to headphones Way Too Loud. And always, of course, Doing It On Purpose.

A few weeks ago, on a particularly emotionally charged day, which may or may not have been a day when I Sincerely Wanted To Put My Children Up For Adoption, my sister went somewhere fun without me, maybe a thrift store or a yard sale, I am not sure, and she found a couple of adorable vintage tablecloths. Knowing that I was having a bad day, and knowing that she possessed one of the Only Known Cures for a bad day (i.e a vintage table cloth), she delivered it to my house post haste.

The thing about a vintage table cloth is that when you put it on a table, no matter how battered or ugly or even dirty the table is, suddenly All Is Right in the world around that table. There is happiness and joy and order. People smile. Because how can you not smile around a vintage table cloth? Maybe it's because it represents a better time, when priorities had to do with things bigger than missing shoes and noisy earbuds. Maybe it's because it ties us back to growing up and all of the people we love and the values that we adhere to. Maybe it's because all of the merry color overpowers the gloom of selfish fits and petty arguments. Or maybe it's just that it functions like a bandaid to cover the ugliness of day to day junk.

I could use a bandaid today. To cover a whole lot of fail. As a mom, as a person - a bright little tablecloth might have helped. Except it's lost. Somehow it got put away somewhere Very Safe, where no one will probably ever find it again. No bandaids for me. Just have to go on with all of my ugly showing. I guess that's why they make wine. So at least I won't notice so much. And dogs, who love you unconditionally, even when you are a jerk. Teenagers tend to tell you when you're being a jerk. And apparently I am being a jerk a lot of the time, because they tell me so. But not the dogs. Or the wine. They both treat me with unconditional devotion and care. Until I find the tablecloth, I guess that will have to do.

Things About Sundays

Here it is, Sunday afternoon once again. Somehow it works out to be my day off more often than not, which shouldn't be surprising since there is no school (hence no work) and the restaurant is closed for dinner (again, hence no work). But it always takes me by surprise that I have absolutely nowhere that I need to be. More surprising is the complete lack of children altogether from my house. It makes for an eerily quiet afternoon.

Last night after work, and a long Ambulance drive out to the boondocks for a nothing call, I went to bed with noble aspirations of Getting All Of The Things done today. But I woke up with even stronger aspirations of Staying In Bed All Day. Luckily, the latter hopes were dashed by a giant black hairy horse-like beast howling on my front porch. How he got onto my front porch and why he was howling still remain mysteries to me, but I let him in and decided to worry about it all later. We are having a 7+ day sleepover party with two of our best dog friends, Charlie and Stella. It's going really well, other than the grouchy words exchanged periodically between Truck, who thinks his only mission in life is to sleep on the stairway landing and say grouchy things to other dogs, and Charlie, who is much younger, bigger and more confused about his only mission in life, but feels certain it has something to do with sitting on top of my vintage record player to watch out the window for his people.

 Stella is a small hairy mop-like object who likes Dagny Very Much, and the feeling seems to be mutual. Their favorite pastime is fighting like two tiny Big Horn Rams, rared up on their back feet and punching and biting with tiny paws and teeth. Dagny is at a serious disadvantage in this activity, as A) her legs are much shorter and her punching distance reduced, and B) every mouthful of Stella she manages to grab is always primarily hair. She holds her own though, and this goes on for hours. Usually until Truck says something mean to both of them and they decide to take a nap on the back of the couch together. The other favorite thing for both of the visiting dogs to do involves foraging for unknown and as yet, unlocated treasures in the flower bed outside and then bringing half of said flower bed into the house to show off. Other than Penny, who is too fat to jump over the flower bed edging, the other dogs are totally unimpressed. As though they have already found ALL of the treasures to be had in that flower bed, so who really cares. Stella is so proud of her dirt acquisitions, that as soon as I swept up two cups of dried mud and at least one Pekingese worth of dog hair in the living room, she had to run through it three times to keep some souvenirs. Truck gave her a dirty look and continued to shed actively on the couch. Dagny successfully taught Stella that unwashable Pendleton Wool blankets are the best ones for getting mud off of ones paws, as well as sticking unwanted fur to. They have had a good time redecorating my Acadia National Park Blanket, which is foolishly made of black wool. I am pretty sure I am ready to give up this fight until next spring, when all of the dogs will be banished to the outside. (famous and false last words)

In addition to this endless entertainment, I am absolutely transfixed by a mountain of clean laundry facing me on the other couch. I am sure you think that I exaggerate when I say mountain, but seriously. Ten loads of laundry barely fit on the full sized couch, piled at least 4 feet from the seat. It is a veritable mountain. One that requires folding. And sorting. This particular mountain however, is cause for celebration, since 48 hours ago, every single stitch of clothing was piled on the floor in "Aspen's room" which is the space of the house where all family members throw anything they don't want, don't claim or don't know what to do with, and then protest loudly about the youngest child's messiness. Some well meaning friends of sisters came in and "cleaned" "Aspen's room" which resulted in ten load of laundry consisting of every costume piece, long missing bath towel, matched pair of socks and rejected hand me down that has ever existed here. I am waiting until the kids get home tonight to fold and sort the mountain, which is the best excuse I can find to avoid doing it right now.

Sunday might be my favorite day, if I had TV to watch football on. And friends to drink beer with. But this weekend they all abandoned me. As if I were nothing to them. So for all I know the Broncos could be losing a tremendous battle with the NY Jets and I am not there to strengthen their morale. Instead, I am avoiding eye contact with a mountain of laundry and a very muddy black horse-like creature who is pretty sure he wants to sit in my lap. My only escape is in the kitchen, cleaning out a refrigerator that tells the sad tale of a mother never home at dinner. It is time for the weekly ritual of throwing away fruit fly infested apple crisp, moldy corn bread, vegetable soup that NO ONE will eat, and all of the remaining scraps of top ramen and macaroni and cheese that seem to be the only edible thing in the house if I am not cooking. I need to sponsor some starving children somewhere to compensate for all of this waste. It really irks me. Apparently I need to leave detailed notes telling the children to EAT THE CORN BREAD that was once moist and delicious. I guess it doesn't go well with top ramen and olives right out of the can. The one piece of chocolate raspberry truffle cake that accidentally came home with the groceries the other night will need to be dealt with as well. To avoid future temptation. I guess since it's Sunday it's up to me to do it.

Things About Fantasies

Disney really has nothing to do with the disillusionment I face in this very real and often sinister world. In fact, Disney has yet to produce a love story that makes me swoon, much less a prince that I would even consider pining for. For that matter, until Sleeping Beauty came along with the dashing Prince Philip, there wasn't a personality to be found among the heroes of the animated fairy tales. No, I cannot, in good faith, condemn the Walt Disney studios for designing the dream  world that would come crashing down around my nineteen-year-old ears. 

That responsibility falls entirely on the silver screen image of every debonaire, crooning, tap dancing, damsel-rescuing hero of the black and white films that I cut my teeth on. Gene Kelly led me to believe that there are men who can move like angels. Jimmy Stewart made me yearn for a puppy-doggish awkwardly adorable romantic that would give up his fondest dreams to protect me. And Frank Sinatra. The biggest devil of them all. Lulling me into the adamant belief that the words he crooned so sweetly, so easily into my ear were every one, heartfelt. Of course he would do anything for me. Of course I make his heart sing. Of course he'd never stray... That man MUST exist. And how sure I've been that I would find him, ambling down a sunny sidewalk in a cockeyed fedora, with that adorable glint in his eye and every intention of showering me with all of the Big Screen, John Wayne-Maureen O'Hara passion that I could handle. Complete with swept away kisses and starry eyed whisper-sung promises of forever. 

Instead I find myself morphing slowly into Buelah Bondi (with much worse cooking) in the version where George Bailey never existed. 

Lies, all of them. There are no Joe Bradys, no Mark MacPhersons, no Quirt Evans wandering the world in search of me. In fact - when it comes right down to it, they were all scoundrels in the first place. Delicious, enticing scoundrels; Requiring nearly as much rescuing as they offered - gamblers and outlaws and wolves. But such lovable ones. 

Really I'd be better off with Disney's original faceless Prince Charming. Safer. More predictable - happily ever aftering... And richer. 

But oh, the pinstripes and the promises that led me on the quest for my three piece clad antihero. My own Donald Lockwood to captivate - And Nathan Detroit to tame. Shame on me for not seeing them for the cads they always were, however handsome.

 No Disney, I do not owe my cynicism to the lofty ideals you bestowed upon recent generations. My pitfalls stem from a different era. One when a lovable bad guy or a troubled good guy really were the best you could do unless you wanted a Ward Cleaver, but that's just comedy. I learned that real love comes with a dark and mysterious side. Always the hint of a threat... Always a roll of the dice. 

And here I am. Like another cast off of the oft-married rat packers and silver screen showboats. But somehow, every time they start singing, Or glide across a set, Or draw a gun, mount a horse, prop their spit shined shoes up on a massive oak desk and light a cigar, I go all week in the knees again like an unteachable fool. I still believe in scoundrels. 

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