Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Things About New Years

Princess Leia. There. I got your attention.

I am hereby, as of this blog post, on 2:17 PM, December 31, 2014, enacting a new annual family tradition. That is the requisite viewing of the 1956  classic "Bundle Of Joy", starring Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher - AKA Princess Leia's, or Carrie Fisher, if you must, biological parents. And you thought I was just using that as an attention ploy.

If you have seen this movie, you love every ridiculous and unaccounted for musical number. If you haven't, then I pity you, and it's well overdue.

First of all, Debbie Reynolds is just, awesome. I don't care who you are, if you don't love Debbie Reynolds you must be dead. Eddie Fisher is tolerable, as the genetic contributor to Carrie Fisher's composition, and a voice to weaken the knees. But you will notice that throughout the movie, his facial expression (or lack thereof) pretty much never changes.




Of all of the ridiculous old musicals that I have seen, and love, this one stands out as the most quotable, most singable and most adorable. And quite possible the most little known. All of that changes today.

This is important today, because, well, New Years. Which happens to be the pivotal moment in this love story. And also when Debbie Reynolds pretends to be a foreign princess.



The good news for you, sitting at home and wondering what in the world to do this New Years Holiday, is that you can watch this delight on Amazon for $14.99. Right now. Like I am. And subjecting three of my own girls along with three foreign exchange students to the full glory of several poor excuses to hear Eddie Fisher sing (but not emote). And Debbie Reynolds. 

GO. WATCH. 

and Oppy New Year. 





Monday, December 29, 2014

Things That I Don't Say

Five. That's the number of blog posts that I have started in the last two weeks. Started and never finished, because after writing a lot of words, I suddenly realize that I have said NOTHING. Nothing worth saying. Nothing worth reading or hearing. Nothing with any WHY behind it.

Maybe it's the winter. Or the holidays, and the strangeness of not being with All Of the Family All Of The Time. Maybe it's a long string of Slight Disappointments and Minor Setbacks that highlight this year as it comes to an end.

Everybody is posting their year in a video. Or a thank you note. Or a cute slide show with All of The Best Moments. A dozen or so Christmas cards full of happy, smiling kids with happy, smiling parents are grinning at me from the clothesline garland where they are hung. It's been a good year for a lot of people. People have grown, changed, moved, learned, earned, lived and loved. And so have we. But how to categorize this year for us, for me, without focusing on the monumental fails that we have been through is still baffling me. The best approach is to look at 2015 and claim it as the Best Year Ever, ahead of time, which I think I might have done for 2014. But things were different then. I was so sure of certain things, things that certainly aren't that sure at all anymore.

I am a sentintimental person. A mushy fool, to some. A hopeless romantic. I believe in love. Last year, I had a plan. I knew where I was headed. I was IN LOVE. And when you are In Love, every new year is an exciting re-launch of adventure. Even if things weren't perfect, and there were kinks to work out. I knew there was Love. I believed it. And then it went away. Gone. POOF. Like the snow, it just disappeared in the spring, without a trace. And now here I am, tottering on the brink of a new year, with the faintest glimmer of belief in Love still sputtering down inside of me, but unsure. No hand to hold on the launch. No lips to kiss at the turn. Just hope. And foggy darkness. And it's hard to say "look at my year!" in spite of all of the good things, because there stands the BAD shadowing it all. It's amazing how loss can swallow winning so completely and make it seem silly and insignificant. It's not very fair. And it's hard to say "bring on the next year!" with quite as much zeal because as much as I want to believe that the parachute of love will open for me, I can't see it anymore, and it's scary. I can't seem to get the oxygen I need to fuel that pitiful little spark of hope, or a breeze to fan the flame. It's like the world is hell bent on depriving that fire of air.

But that's the crazy thing about love. You can't really kill it completely. If it's real, it's there all the time no matter what. It's permanent. It can take some hits, and be beaten down into a smolder that's almost unrecognizable, but once you've tasted it, and you know how it feels to give it to someone who eats it up and gives it back, you can't ever quite get over it. There's the suffocation. The KNOWING of love and the HAVING of love to give and the NO ONE that will accept it. Except the girls. All Of the Girls. And I share it with them badly. Because I am selfish and I want the love that I can bury my toes under on the couch at night. And lay my head on when I go to bed. I don't just want the love that is sticking her tongue out at me when I tell her to behave. Or washing the dishes without asking. Or telling me thanks for dinner, without a prompt. I want the kind of love that is Being Known. The love that is one look and unspoken understanding, and a good day because of one word. I had that going into 2014, and here I am with no eyes to look into and no words for me. And no one but myself to blame. Myself and the Big Scary World of Real. All I can do is try to show my girls this kind of love. To be it for them, because I know it, and if I don't have it right now, at least I have them, and I can Know Them, and Listen. And Hear. Even if I am not Heard.

I have so many things to be thankful for. A house full of girls. No, literally FULL of girls, who are healthy, and for the most part happy, and smart and strong and will do fine. And 2015 will be the Best Year Ever, so far, I believe it for them, and for me, as I watch them step out into the new adventure without the scars threatening their spark. And I can fan that flame. I can pump the oxygen into their spark and help them Know Love and Be Love.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Things About This Christmas

This is a weird Christmas. It's weird for a lot of reasons, and maybe some that I can't even really explain, but mostly it's weird because it's like three days away and I am not entirely sure what I am doing.

The kids have this Christmas with their dad. It's his turn, and although I am relinquishing them to him, I am doing it grudgingly. Even though on my Christmases with them I whisk them away to the coast and their dad doesn't get to see them at all, I still kind of expect to have them for at least PART of the holiday when they are rightfully his. Because, after all, I am the MOM. But this year, with raised eyebrows and pointed statements, he did insist on his right to keep them the whole time. So I am relatively kidless, which is strange. Christmas without kids is something that I have never experienced. Ever. When I got married, my baby sister was 5, so there have ALWAYS been kids. And now my sister has kids that I can borrow, or show up and crash their Christmas, which I am sure I will do, but as much as I complain about my kids, Christmas without them just plain blows. In fact, most things without them pretty much suck.

Sometimes I am so busy just surviving life with four+ kids that I forget that it is LIFE. And without them it is not. Not that the quiet times when they go away for a few hours isn't a divine intervention into my unraveling sanity, but when they're really gone, it's just... weird.

I realize - no, wait. I have had it pointed out to me, by one of my very astute and possibly bitter children, that I complain about them a lot. "write horrible things about us" was the exact phrase she used. And it made me sad, because really, I never meant to. The "horrible" things are also quite often the funny things to me, and the best way to keep it from being a festering wound that ends unattractively for all of us, I tend to vent in my blog. But I have to remember to vent about the good things. Like Aspen spontaneously scrubbing out the dog water dish when she discovered green algae floating in it. Or Natalee decorating the dogs for the holidays. Or Halle driving to pick up Natalee's friend in what is quite possibly the first errand that one of my children has run for me. HALLELUJAH! Here are the perks of semi-grown children! Driver's licenses! Other good things are when MacKenzie overcomes her will of iron and her pride (both gifts that I bequeathed to her) and tells me she's sorry. And then works on things. And when When quits blaming Aspen for messing things up and voluntarily cleans up Dagny's most recent "accident". These are the good things. Singing the wrong lyrics to pop songs together and playing out soap opera scenarios with the vintage Christmas Candle Angels. Drinking cream soda out of my wine glasses and actually being into old musicals and black and white movies. All these things are good. They are wins. They mean that not only are my children alive so far, they are even COOL. My kids know who Bono is and can categorize Frank Sinatra's musical catalog according to his singing age. They will gladly watch football, hockey, Jimmy Stewart and Peter Paul and Mary. They are quick witted and hilarious. They are independent and curious. They are brave and intelligent. All of them. Even When and my other daughter Amanda. Almost all of them will eat almost anything with minimal complaining, and will try new things. They do their own laundry, and 75% of them even put it away, which is more than I can say.

But back to Christmas. And how weird it is. Because Christmas is Family. And Family is Kids. And Kids are gone. So it's weird. And my sister and her family have Christmas stuff with their other side, and I will probably end up with my adopted kids at the Middlesworths, and it will probably be fine. And fun. But still, weird.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Things That Are Good Ideas

It seemed like a good idea to get up and get dressed, to put on my makeup even, and make some coffee and go to work. Because I was supposed to work. But the teacher that I was supposed to substitute for was as surprised to see me as I was him. So I came home and repeated the whole process in reverse order.

It seemed like a good idea to Nattie to keep Dagny's  food dish on the headboard of my bed, where only Dagny can reach it, so the other dogs quit eating it, until 2 AM when I awakened from a nightmare about a Tyrannosaurus Rex standing on my face to eat rank dead carrion, only to find Dagny standing on my face eating rank crunchy dog food.

It seemed like a good idea to suggest to the whole family to make care packages to send to each other instead of individual presents, you know, to save money and stress and all of that, until it turned into a potential one-upsman-ship glorified version of The Surprise Game™* that may or may not cause the death of my younger brother.

It seemed like a good idea to make gingerbread houses ONCE AGAIN, this year, with 12 kids and five adults and four dogs, and to let my sister be the one to earn the glorious burn scars from the sugar, until I woke up this morning and realized the Swedish Fish and the Vodka were all gone.

It seemed like a good idea to go on a family cruise to the North Pole to see Santa, until Natalee dropped her iPod in the grass somewhere and made Papa Stecker and Grandma jog across three-quarters of Coeur De Alene and caused Santa's elves to scold us meanly to have "fast feet" all the way to the boat we almost missed. Turns out it was worth it anyway, even though all of the kids except When were on the nice list, and if anyone had a heart attack they wouldn't admit it. And Natalee was mad at the world for trying to steal her iPod.






*The Surprise Game™ was invented by bored young homeschooled siblings in the upstairs of an old farmhouse, where they would take turns trading crappy toy surprises they dug out of the bottom of their toy boxes/junk drawers for hours. Favorites were bouncy balls with puppy tooth gouges, army guys with torn off bazookas, and silly putty 80% encroached with dog hair.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Things That Are Dramatic

You say drama like its a bad thing. You tell me I'm too much drama - and you're damn straight I am. I'm a single mom with four daughters on a shoestring budget. Too many hats and jobs to count, volunteering, dedicating, overloading. Emotions are always high at my house. Even if I was an amoeba there would be drama. If I let the girls walk all over me and didn't get back in their face for the disrespect and insolence they throw at me. If I didn't send my 17 year old to live with her dad there would STILL be drama. The toilet would overflow. The flu would come. The fleas won't stop. And I will tell you about it. Because I am too much drama. 

You know what else is drama? The bald eagle that just dive bombed my windshield. The monster buck that stepped in front of my car out of the mist on Boulder pass. The raging inferno of a forest fire. The mighty Columbia River. All drama. Too much drama. Extremes of hot and cold, gentle and cruel, bad and good. 

Life is drama. Without drama, life is passionless. Blah. Sane? Perhaps. Boring? Absolutely. Without drama there is no passionate love song. No gut-wrenching tear-jerker. Without drama, who cares if some Dude died on a cross, or rose again. Who cares if He was ever born? Who cares about anything? Drama makes the world go 'round. 

The silly mystery of Christmas presents wrapped up in shiny paper is drama. Drawn out traditions and advents and pilgrimages are drama. Hanging on to family memories and paying hundreds of dollars to see loved ones for few days is straight up drama. 

Every bit of my life plays out like the worst soap opera you might imagine. You can't dream this stuff up - but it happens. Every day. Between real people. Silly fights and hopeless romances. Highs and lows. Ins and outs, feuds and alliances. Life ebbs and flows around us and changes and only the most detached are not touched by the pain and the joy and the DRAMA that is LIFE.

Could we stand for less weeping and gnashing of teeth? There's no question. Do I need to talk about every dramatic thing that happens to me? No. But I do, because that's how I deal. If I can't make fun of the drama in my life then it might eat me alive. I can't avoid it - it won't go away. And it's not only because I have terrible taste in husbands and some sort of aversion to gainful employment, it's because I believe in living life - chasing it down and wrestling every bit out of it. Life is short, and full of drama. Good drama, and bad drama, and excitement and grey times. I don't want a day to go by that I haven't seen for every hour that it is worth. I want to wring the life out of each minute, because someday they will all run out, and you never know if the most fun is hiding in the last drop. 

So I will take the drama, and the judgement that comes with it. I will go on living my life and enjoying it, enduring it, hoping it, believing it until the clock runs out. We only get one shot, and I want to make mine worth every second of the drama that it brings. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Things That Are (Not) Sacred

We've had this talk before. The one where I remind the children that the fancy, expensive shampoo is mine, and that they are to use the bulk stuff I buy specifically for them. If they want fancy, expensive shampoo then it is up to them to buy their own. We have had the same talk about razors. About bath towels. About makeup. Over and Over and Over again. Which is why it was no surprise to me that when I took a shower yesterday, after cleaning three Persian cat's worth of hair out of the drain, that I was fighting to squeeze the very.last.drops of my fancy, expensive shampoo out of a bottle that had been half full only two days ago. I have few remaining vanities. I get that I am old. And I don't have a  whole lot going for me anymore. But my hair. Which of course is ONLY successful based on the procurement of fancy, expensive shampoo. And when it is gone, along with the money, which was swallowed alive in a comedy of errors we will call Accidental Miscalculation, I am relegated to using the cheap, bulk shampoo, which happens to be Dove right now. I HATE the smell of Dove shampoo. Shampoo is all about the smell, as much as Megan Trainor is about the Bass, shampoo is about the smell. I can't stand Dove. The kids don't mind it, so I get it FOR THEM. But even then, I only get it when I am wandering Walmart (God Forbid) in a feverish state, and I can't smell from the head cold that will certainly kill me before the day is out, so I get the Biggest, Cheapest Bottle of whatever isn't Suave. But next time I am getting Suave. Because since it is readily apparent that I cannot have fancy, expensive shampoo of my own to use, and I refuse to use Dove, and even if I can't smell the flavors, Suave has to be better than what we've got now.

Don't even let me start on the razors.

And the makeup.

and All of The Things.

All of these frustrations are really just opportunities for me to grow, and learn, and become a better person. By not killing any of my children. And discovering new talents.

Yesterday we had our third monthly toilet flooding. This one was the best so far. With swirling poop water standing two inches deep all the way to the back corner of my bedroom, where I was carefully squirreling away the Christmas Presents. By the time I responded to an expletive laced text from Nattie who unwittingly started the flood while I was over at the neighbors, the damage was irreversible. I didn't cry. Well, not til later. Curiously, we had just rolled up our sleeves and embarked on a sugar cookie decorating adventure over at the neighbor's, when I got the text. Two months ago it was pumpkin carving. Apparently even attempts at Holiday Traditions are not sacred to the fates. I think I might ban the use of the toilet for a 24 hour period around such undertakings. Gingerbread houses are on Tuesday. DECORATORS BE WARNED! Maybe I will dig an outhouse before then. Or, as suggested by the many witnesses of this repeat catastrophe, put a drain in the hallway. So I guess I will be hanging out on ehow.com for awhile this morning, educating myself on the nuances of floor drain installation. See! Learning and growing!

In the meantime, between load of poop-infested laundry today, I will be salvaging the few Christmas presents that I was able to get together this year, and write apologetic notes for the poop streaks that may or may not be included in the packaging. Because I care. Happy Holidays. (don't worry DC, your care package escaped unscathed...)

This morning is one of the coldest ones we have had lately, which meant it was absolutely the perfect time for the pellet stove to throw a hissy fit and quit working. Motivated by numb hands, I quickly tore the beast apart and jerry-rigged a solution, so now the stove is reluctantly cranking it out. I wonder how in the world single moms survived before the advent of google, and do-it-yourself videos about ignitor replacement, and without really helpful brother-in-laws. I was able to convince the pellet stove it could get by just fine with what looks like the scarred remnants of a amputated finger for an ignitor remaining. Clearly this is an issue that will need to be addressed more thoroughly in the near future. Probably when the temperatures are at least sub-zero. I am looking forward to that little do-it-myself lesson.

The good news in all of this is that the head cold that seemed determined to take me out has finally subsided, and I can move ahead with fixing All Of the Broken Things without feeling like I just want to crawl under a rock and die. Being mentally functional is somewhat important today as I have PILES of writing that Must Be Done in addition to the poop laundry and masking of Christmas Gift Poop.

So if you need me, I will be over here, on my computer with the rubber gloves on, googling ignitor replacement and drain installation while I am folding towels and writing about the Grand Army of the Republic and locally crafted beer. And I am really sorry if my hair smells like Dove.

 MERRY CHRISTMAS!!


Friday, December 12, 2014

Things About Snow

It's December 12th. Less than 2 weeks until Christmas. We had snow. We had The Holiday Spirit, in spades. And then something happened. I am not sure what exactly - I can't tell you which rotten, grinchy thing that happened to steal it all away, but the snow melted, and now the dirty, muddy, drizzly December and I are at odds.

Maybe it's the overdrawn bank account, just in time for Christmas. Maybe it's the terrible, awful head cold that makes me feel like my head is in a mailbox and all of the kids are beating on the outside. Maybe it's that I am at what feels like an insurmountable impass with MacKenzie, once again, and I don't know how to fix it. Maybe it's hearing from old friends and missing good times. Maybe it's falling asleep alone trying to pretend that the heated mattress pad and the pile of clean laundry on the bed next to me make a good substitute for "the one". Maybe it's the ever growing piles of bills with red numbers and letters from people that I didn't even know that I owed money to.

But all of these things just make me wonder if somehow fate didn't get the memo that it's The Holidays. I can patch it all together and make it work, but can't we save all of this failing for January, when it's a good time to start over anyway? And when is it gonna snow again, and feel fresh and clean? Because that's what I need. A clean start. A new snow. January. A new name. A new beginning.

And gosh darnit, I'll be dad-gummed if I am gonna let it ruin The Holidays. Me and Aspen are gonna sit down with a  giant mug of Gyspy Cold Care tea and watch the Muppet Christmas Carol and enjoy every minute of it. All the dogs have their jingle bells on, the stockings are  hung by the chimney with care, and nobody is gonna stop ol' St Nick.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Monday, December 8, 2014

Things About My Name

Today I finished the process of having my name legally changed back to Stecker. If feels full circle and final to me. Like this is where I started, and where I will end. But not in a bad way. I like being a Stecker. It carries with it connotations of weird cerebral coolness. And eccentric pack-ratish tendencies that usually result in having a lot of cool stuff for really cheap.

The process in getting back to Stecker wasn't too hard. But man, today was like an exercise in learning tolerance for the Whole Human Race. And that part was hard. I had to sit through the last part of traffic court, which was the contested cases, where a couple of very illiterate and mostly unintelligent people decided to go up against whichever law enforcement officer wrote them up for whatever infraction they were adamant that they didn't commit. It was actually pretty darn funny.

One guy was insistent that even though every witness of the accident that he caused saw him cross the center line, none of them could prove that they weren't lying, and therefore the person causing the wreck remained a mystery. He called his father, his brother and his buddy from down the road to testify on his behalf, because they all heard the officer on scene say that he "probably wouldn't" get a ticket. The high point for me was when the dad, in a raspy-smoke-thickened voice, asked if he should go "over yonder" to the witness stand, and then proceeded to tell the judge about all that he "seen" when he got there. The grammar nazi inside of me was gasping for air. The entire time. Then the brother said the exact same thing, except slipped up and conceded the officer's "probably" to the court. Then the buddy got up and chanted a similar mantra around a thick plug of chew and several rotten teeth, with grammar that put the entire defendant family to shame. It was impressive, and needless to say, they lost and were forced to pay the entire $124 ticket.

But THEN.... This other guy with a dirty gray ponytail got up and asked for a continuance of his ticket, which happened to be the third continuance, and therefore denied by the judge. According to the ticketing officer, this rocket scientist had passed on the shoulder  to the right of a car, and told the cop that he "don't like following slow cars, and I probably do lots of things people think are wrong." Yes. Those words. He proceeded to ask the judge is she could prove that there was a shoulder on this particular piece of  "real estate" and how she could make a judgement call without knowing for sure, and that he really felt sick and needed a continuance. Again. Another loss, he took it with his chin up and muttering disdainful things about the judge and cops and conspiracies about road shoulders, etc, and went off to pay his $124.

It makes me feel foolish for paying my speeding ticket without a fight. I mean, at least I could sound smart. The judge would probably let me off out of pure relief.

Then I went to Walmart. Because God hates me. I still haven't recovered.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, I decided to swing by Goodwill to make sure I wasn't missing and Christmas Candles on Military Monday that Em would beat me to later. After eavesdropping on a revelational conversation about the vicious nature of hippopotamuses between two meth-heads at the counter who were buying a resin hippopotamus statue, I left in a state of intellectual numbness that I haven't quite recovered from.

I went from there to do a few interviews for my next couple of articles, and until after I sat down and looked at a pile of amazing pictures from the early 20th century and newspaper clippings about the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, I wasn't able to shake the hopelessness I felt for our species. But here was this little old lady named Edie, pointing out her battle-axe of a grandmother in pictures where she paraded with other patriots and political activists of the time. She told me the story of being apart from her biological father and grandmother until she was 19, and then meeting the woman who was the past president of the Ladies of The GAR, a somewhat celebrated school teacher in the northwest, and an all around mover and shaker. She explained how her bitterness toward her absent father had stolen the chance she would have had to be a part of this great lady's life. She spoke of forgiveness and the wonder of family and opportunities and always being soft.

And when I left, she slipped a puzzle piece into my hand, and reminded me that we all have a place in God's puzzle of life... and that even when we are "so low that we can sit on a dime and swing our legs", that we are loved, and we have a place. And suddenly, being human didn't seem so bad anymore, thanks to Edie.

And I remembered that I am, once again, a Stecker. Fitting into my spot. And while I am thankful for all of the days that I have spent as something else, and everything that I have learned along the way, it's good to just be me again, the way I started. My own puzzle piece.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Things About Giving (Back)

So, here we are, 17 "shopping" days to go, and while I am sure that there are some of you that are far more responsible than I am, and have all of your Christmas Gifts already wrapped and under the tree, those of us who have been accidentally holding out for the just right thing might be stuck between a rock and a Walmart. God Forbid.

Shopping online is easy, fast, and you can find WAY cooler stuff that Wally world offers. I know that we already missed (on purpose) Cyber Monday, but most places online still have a few days left before it's too late to ship by Christmas. With all of those options, and assuming that you, like me, have no where local to shop, other than Walmart (God Forbid), here is something to consider: I have found that all of the cool things that I pine for online can usually be found at a site that gives back to the global community. Sometimes these are small businesses, sometimes they are charitable organizations. But if you're gonna spend online, why not make it count twice, right? So here are some of my favorite online places to shop, and some of the coolest stuff you can find... and incidentally, I know if I post these links, the ads on my blog will correspond. And that is awesome. 

1) SEVENLY . This place is the bomb. Each week they feature a new 7 day "campaign", where $7 for each item sold goes to a specific charity or organization. I have done some research into the company itself as well as the charities it supports, and you guys, it's legit. It is staffed by volunteers, so shipping is historically sporadic, but during the holiday season they have ramped up and introduced a 1-2-3 shipping policy, where Day 1 you order, Day 2 they process, Day 3 item ships. Which means you've got a few more days to get your order in before Christmas. They have a slew of awesome t-shirts themed around the movements they support, including Autism Speaks, Mercy Ships, and Show Hope, this week's campaign, supporting US adoptions for orphans in Asia. As if all of that wasn't enough, you can also buy really really awesome products from companies like Krochet Kids, who provide work to impoverished families in Uganda and Peru, to produce one of a kind crocheted goods. I have this hat. It is RAD. 


 They also sell Giving Keys, which make really cool gifts-that-keep-on-giving, and Pendleton throw pillow covers. Need I say more? Sevenly is an amazing way to get your holiday shopping done AND give back.

2) Bravelets.com - this website is pretty awesome too. For almost any cause you can imagine, you can order a very cool looking bracelet and $10 of the cost goes to the cause of your choice. You can even set up your own cause... one that is near and dear to me is the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, so I ordered the braided leather bracelet, knowing $10 went straight to WFF. And I love bracelets. Especially cool ones that mean something. Who can't stand a little reminder to "be brave"? I know I can.


3) TOMS.com - talk about writing the book on charitable spending, Toms might be one of the best examples of how to do it. Not only is all of their stuff RAD, as in, I want it all, but for every single THING you buy, they give one to a child in need - all over the world. I mean, how cool is that? And oh, by the way, they have coffee now. WHAT???? BRB, got some shopping to do. 



4) OK, so this one isn't a charitable organization, per se, but it is a very small business, and they sell SO MUCH COOL STUFF, including Krochet Kids knits, and other fair trade, locally sourced stuff. I found Pulp & Circumstance when I had a few hours to kill in the cute little town of Newberg Oregon. I could have spent hours in there. And then I found their website. I have been hanging out on there A LOT. Although I haven't ordered yet, this is the first thing in my cart:



I know that there a lot more amazing places to shop online, with a little bit of looking, and maybe the extra bucks you spend count for extra Holiday Goodness because you know they are well spent. I could keep posting all night, but honestly I got distracted by all of my cool links and need to go back to my browsing. 



Friday, December 5, 2014

Things About Scrooge

There is an epidemic in our town. In our state maybe. Probably all over. It is even pervading my own house. It is not the mutant flu strain that has slipped by the defenses of the All Important Flu shot. It is not the head lice, the fleas, the bacterial staph infection, the pnuemonia or the vomiting stomach virus that is sweeping our ranks, although all of those are just gross.

This epidemic is lethal. The death rate is higher than E68 or even Ebola. It is more contagious than ringworm, which, as we all know, is spread by mere imagination.

This plague is killing at alarming rates. It is cascading from house to house like a tsunami, and it must be stopped.

It is the Scrooge virus.

It is December 5th. To date, I have heard no fewer than 12 people complain about Christmas Music, and being sick of it already. And Christmas lights, and how annoying they are. We don't even have a tree up and my very own children are put out by the stress of Holiday Traditions.

WHAT. THE. HECK.

Once a year, we get to be like little children, without shame. We get to believe. We get to sparkle. Once a year. It's less than a month, people. How sad are we that we can't stand to hear "Marshmallow World" after only 5 days. What is wrong with us that "Here Comes Santa Claus" doesn't make each and every one of us giddy. Shame on us for growing up. Shame on us for Not Believing.

I have tried to explain to people why I love the movie Elf. In spite of the love/hate dichotomy that Will Ferrel presents in social circles, Elf tells the story of belief. Of simple faith and hope and JOY. To ALL OF THE WORLD. Elf celebrates childlike joy. Nothing could be more biblical, more under protected, more valuable to this world.

It struck me today, at work, in the middle of a 7 hour Christmas Music Attack on The Humbug, that our holiday music has evolved. If you listen to anything pre-1970, with the exception, perhaps, of Elvis crooning about his Blue Christmas, holiday music was full of Santa Claus and Reindeer and toys and Children Behaving and Snow and Snowmen and ALL OF THE CHRISTMAS THINGS! And then WHAM! We grew up. Christmas became about our jilted lovers and broken hearts and what, even revenge? Not that there isn't a special place in my heart for Last Christmas, and pretty much Mariah Carey's entire holiday album - but I feel like we got a little lost. And maybe, it's time to go back. Or at least to remember what was so flipping awesome about a reindeer with a glowing nose and a snowman that ran through town. Because Lord knows, the Rat Pack can't have been wrong about everything.





And I will continue to be the ridiculous parent, ala National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, trying desperately, to make it the Best Christmas Ever. For my kids, and everyone's kids. Freezing your eyes shut looking for a tree, and electrocuting the neighbor cat with our Bohemian Gingerbread House Lights. Because GOSH DARNIT, I BELIEVE.

So take that, Scrooguloccocous. You ain't got nothing on me. And even if my kids bring you home with them from school like head lice, because Santa isn't cool, you'll get the same treatment that the ringworm and the staph infections got. SMACK. DOWN. Because we believe in Christmas. We believe in magic. We believe in the magic of family. And love. and Joy and Forgiveness. And I, for one, won't stop Singing Loud For All To Hear or wearing RIDICULOUS reindeer antlers to work, etc, etc, etc. So get back, all you humbugs. It's The Holidays.



Thursday, December 4, 2014

Things About International Relations

Somebody decided it would be a good idea to volunteer to host an exchange student.

So, here we are, almost 5 months in, and turns out, for once, Somebody was right. It WAS a good idea. Not because the timing was perfect and life is smooth sailing. Not because we lacked drama and intrigue. But because we got When.

Fortune saw fit to smile upon us and send us a quiet little Vietnamese girl named Uyen. Pronounced, and also spelled by my very culturally sensitive sister, "When".

She is little. Older than Natalee, but also smaller. Aspen likes to compare her size to the girl that she calls YooEn. Which is, obviously, the phonetical pronunciation for her name.


She is also, in no small convenient coincidence, funny as all heck. She talks very little. Which, in this house, could be the reason that I love her the most. But when she does finally open her mouth, it's as if she saved her world class sense of humor for a weekly one liner.

When has establish FIRMLY that Wednesday is actually When's-day, and a weekly celebration of, well, her.

She has also adopted my nephews and nieces. Which is something, if you've ever met them. Not that they're not adoptable. But they're not for the faint of heart. And her heart is anything but faint. She even loves the dogs. All of them. Truck is particularly enamored of her, he sleeps in her bed most days and talks to her with great emotion every night for awhile. We haven't figured out whether he thinks she's the newest, biggest sucker and might play with him, or what, but he tries really hard to boss her around. It's fine with me, because this time in the evening is traditionally reserved for the spilling and breakage of wine glasses by his tail, scars on my legs from his toenails and lots of awkward situations when he tries to position himself as a lap dog on top of, say, Aspen, or Dagny or someone. When can take it for awhile.


As The Holidays overtake us with unbelievable speed this year, little "When" has been riding the 10-hour-road-trip-with-5-kids-and-four-dogs-20-lbs-of-apples-and-a-partridge-in-a-pear-tree roller coaster like a champ. In fact, this has been going on pretty much since she set foot on Washington pavement. She emerged from the mountains of emotional confetti that were my brother's summer wedding, which reasonably doubled as a rare-ish WHOLE DARN FAMILY AND FRIENDS reunion and was as much of an ultimate crash course in Stecker family ridiculousity as one, or When, if you will, could ask for.

Introducing her to our family Holiday traditions has been not only a delight, but also a kick in the pants. Rallying through a number of terrible Hallmark Movies, she has decided that the only prerequisite for a true "Christmas Movie" is the inclusion of snow. Therefore, we have been able to justify such rousing successes as Snowpiercer, a post-apocalyptic action thriller with a little more blood than snow. And also I can enjoy all the seasons of Once Upon a Time (which When is the resident expert on) and even much of Arrow, since almost all of those episodes have snow. Or at least frosty breath. In case you didn't notice.


When has definitely revolutionized the holidays for me (I will quit using quotations around her name now). I am excited to see what happens with the Christmas Tree and Gingerbread Houses, which, by the way, she says our house looks like. I guess that happens when you turn Natalee and Aiden loose on a mixed assortment of outdoor holiday lights. We're calling it a "Bohemian Gingerbread House", because the wanton trail of mismatched lights strung haphazardly across random walls of the house is nothing less than gypsy festivity. Not a day goes by that I don't thank the Lord that I am a rigid imperfectionist. And not a day goes by that I am not thankful for my When.

I hope Vietnam isn't permanently damaged from the Steckerization she may carry home with her. :)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Things That Embarrass Me, or Whatever

You know those really terrible Hallmark Holiday Movies? The ones that you are COMPELLED to watch every holiday season, but all have the exact same plot, with the dead spouse, the unexpected blossoming romance, and the salvation of the holiday season for some little kid with a Canadian accent who lives in Arizona? Well, none of that has anything to do with things that embarrass me, except that I will/do watch them, and also the inevitable plot twist when there is a fateful miscommunication, or the snarky, competitive skank next door tells a lie, and the unexpected lovers quit speaking, totally unreasonably, because they won't have one little conversation to fix it all. My shoulders are like that right now. That one little conversation. And it's embarrassing.

Three years ago I hurt my right shoulder under questionable and somewhat disputed circumstances. I missed several weeks of work and lost use of my right arm, but being one of the uninsured seasonal working masses at the time, couldn't get an MRI, etc. So, more or less, I self diagnosed, ala internet, self treated, ala slow workouts and ultimately, mostly healed. Then this year, my left shoulder developed similar symptoms. Suddenly, with no documentable circumstances whatsoever, questionable, disputed or otherwise, other than MAYBE a car accident I was in back in February, where I reached back to save a small dog from Certain Death. Anyway, long story short, being mentally compromised by the basic ridiculousness of my life, I went to the shoulder doctor, and mistakenly explained to him the left shoulder injury as the return of the old right shoulder injury, since the pain was IDENTICAL. Turns out, when I got home, I realized that the old injury was my right shoulder, so I went back to the doctor and tried to explain that I am an idiot, which he obviously agreed with, and ordered an MRI to make sure I wasn't just totally making crap up. Before the MRI, but after the appointment, I took a silly little spill on some pretty rad ice outside of the Krispy Kreme Donut shop as I was moving a 40lb EMT jump kit (on my right shoulder) out of the way of 1300 fresh donuts. I was mostly concerned with an awesome looking bruise on my knee until I realized, three days later, that I couldn't sleep at night or lift my right arm without excructiating pain. Now I have to go BACK to the doctor who already thinks I am insane, tell him "just kidding!" actually my RIGHT shoulder hurts the worst now, and get an MRI on that one too. And I am too embarrassed to do it. Embarrassed, tired of driving to Spokane, doctors agreeing that I am crazy, and All of Those Things. So now I am rendered virtually armless. In fact, trying to erase wet-erase marker from a dry-erase board today at school moved me almost to tears. I can't even hold a wine glass very well. Or drive. Can I get a new doctor and tell him I hurt both shoulders saving a baby from a burning house? Or can someone else call my doctor and verify my semi-sanity, and also that I am not just attention seeking? Or am I?

And there is the Hallmark Crisis. I can't face him. I would rather lie awake at night in pain than try to explain it all. Because it sounds so ridiculous: right, left, right, Krispy Kremes, jump kits... So I won't have the one little conversation that could solve All of The Problems: i.e. MRI's on both shoulders, and then surgery. (Now accepting applications for spoon-feeding care givers when I have both shoulders operated on simultaneously) As it is, I am living moment to moment figuring out which arm to use for any given movement that will result in the least amount of pain.

What frustrates/embarrasses me the most is that otherwise, I feel pretty great. I want to go running. I want to lift weights. And I can, at certain angles/modifications. But just the gravity of my arm on my shoulder joint is jaw-clenching pain. And localized pain is just annoying and STUPID. I know most of you know exactly what I am talking about. You know who you are. The knees and the backs and the ankles out there. It's a waste of time and energy. And we just need it to be better. I don't want slings or surgeries or any more spontaneous dislocations. I need to just have the stupid Hallmark Revelational talk and find my holiday resolution. But that pride thing...

So here's to cheesy holiday movies like the one you are probably watching RIGHT NOW (Mom), and  bodies that just don't bounce back like a 12 year old body would. And addled brains and fuzzy memories and just not being able to Fix Things. But also: Here's to having the one little talk. Here's to swallowing pride, acknowledging our brokenness, overcoming our sometime stupidity and being able to laugh at ourselves just like we laugh at Hallmark Movies, or at least find a new doctor.

PS: if someone wants to send this blog to my doctor, in a Hallmarkesque Santa Clausey fix-it gesture, I wouldn't mind.


Things About My Day. And Math. (Swearing Inferences Contained Within, FYI)

Today I was the 5th grade teacher. That was a first. The thing about teaching is that you have to actually teach things. Like math. If you don't already know, math and I get along about as well as long haired cats and ice water. And the thing about 5th grade, is that the math is...complicated. Especially when you haven't done math for the better part of a decade and the last math you did do consisted of lucky-guessing my way through a multiple choice challenge test of the Last Algebra Course I ever had to take in college. Because I was failing it. (PS - If you have no idea, the answer is most likely C.)

So anyway, today I was the fifth grade teacher. If your child (and, incidentally, one of mine) grows up with ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA how to find the volume of a cube, you can blame me. And also, if they are TERRIBLY CONFUSED for All of Time about mixed numbers and improper fractions, I will also accept responsibility. Because math.

I learned a lot today in the 5th grade. Like how wet-erase markers work on dry-erase boards. But how they don't come off. And how taping holes in a plastic cube and submerging it in a bucket of water is probably not the most efficient way to calculate volume. (That one was not my idea, BTW.) I also learned the the people who write curriculum, particularly 5th grade science and math, are total A-Holes. (I apologize for the swearing inference here, to all sensitive parties, but sometimes, sweating inferences are entirely called for.) Like, CAPITAL A. I learned that adjectives are way more fun, and much more flexible than measuring centimeters or multiplying decimals, because slinky and moldy can apply to almost any noun, and doctors could be deaf and holes might be invisible.

Fifth grade was a great mental workout for me. But I think it exhausted my brain for the day week, since I came home and shook up a box of Trader Joe's Tomato Soup after I took the cap off. Because math. Turns out TJ's tomato soup is pretty awesome, even as a facial masque, and makes a pretty decent dinner with grilled cheese and a coke & whiskey. Served in a snowman mug, because, well, The Holidays.

The good news for Northport is that the 5th grade class is actually a pretty decent group of mostly nice kids. Except for the one that cried during fractions. Because math. All I wanted to do was cry with her, and apparently that's not acceptable for teachers, even substitutes. I will admit that we spend part of our time allotted to math on finishing our adjective pages, because they were WAY more fun, and because math. But we managed to get it all done, regardless of what the a-holes who wrote the curriculum in cerebro-code say. We successfully discovered the cube with the greatest volume, which wasn't the one we thought - in spite of multiplying decimals. (PS - sneaking math into science is pretty much the meanest thing I think any curriculum a-holes have thought of.)

Now I am home, and with the help of my snowman mug I will launch into the first of several articles that I need to have written in 20.5 days. But there's NO MATH, no wet-erase markers, dry erase boards or cubic centimeters. Just adjectives.



Monday, December 1, 2014

Things About December 1

Today could be my favorite day of the year.

Today could be when I  take four kids to go hunt down the perfect Christmas tree, drag out 8 Rubbermaid totes of holiday joy and blare Frank Sinatra Christmas music loud enough for Canada to hear. 

Today could be the first batch of Grandma Lee's Gingersnaps

Or hanging miles of Christmas lights on a roof with questionable accessibility. 

Today should be the day I iron out the advent calendar, and fill the pockets with daily ritualistic traditions. 

But for right now, I'm in my own bed, with the heated mattress pad turned all the way up, and a very fuzzy wiener dog next to me, all except one of my kids soundly asleep. It's trying to snow outside, which is OK by me for December first, as long as Halle is well on her way out of the snow's reach on her (much dreaded by me) trip to Bend. 

Today could be pretty much perfect, if I decide before I crawl out of my warm cocoon to make it so. 

Yesterday I was scolding MacKenzie for complaining in the car. Complaining about being sick of Christmas music. Stinky dogs, obnoxious sisters. As if complaining helps. And she reminded me that I'm a complainer too. A bad one. Every day. It's about the 40th time this week that someone has reminded me that my children are what I model for them. Which is saddening and overwhelming. But fixable. 

So today will be perfect. In spite of all of the imperfections and worries and aches. 

Today will be my favorite day of the year, because I choose it.