Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Best Laid Plans of Moms and Dogs...

I want to first of all apologize for not getting a new posting out lately. Despite my best intentions of writing a nice Thanksgiving blog that centered around all the great things to be thankful for in our lives, I quickly got side-tracked by the deluge of not-so-great things that seemed to start happening to my life all at once! You know, that unexpected wave of negative energy that sends your finely-tuned plans for each day into a tailspin... 

And speaking of tails and tales, this brings me to a good lesson for the rest of the holiday season. You know, the one that has to do with how your expectations for a particular event might differ from what actually occurs, especially when there are children and/or animals involved! 

Take, for instance, one of those dreary, rainy days we just had. Troy had to leave the house by 7am and I knew that getting all 3 kids breakfasted, washed, dressed and out the door for school was going to be a challenge, but I was determined to make it as stress-free as possible. (Danger! Danger!)

So I made sure everything was done at least 15 minutes ahead of schedule for each part of our routine, and remarkably, all the kids were in their cooperative moods that morning. And oh, wasn’t I proud of myself when five minutes early, I was able to have all their coats on and walking out the door to get in the car. 

Patting myself on the back, I followed them all out with a smile on my face when all of a sudden Evan, who was the first to have gotten in the car, looked at me with a question as he looked down towards his feet; “Mom, what is this on my shoes?” My heart sank as I looked, for sure enough, the anonymous, tail-wagging, dog that has been happily terrorizing our neighborhood had laid his own plans on our lawn again, leaving a fresh morning sample in every nook and cranny of Evan’s only and favorite pair of sneakers rather than a knotted plastic baggie where it belongs!

Quickly ordering everyone to get in the car and not move, I took Evan’s shoes off and ran in the house, put on my rubber gloves and began furiously running hot water at high pressure on the soles, disgusted and cursing this dog and his owner as I realized that water pressure alone was just not cutting it. Frantically, I ran around to find any non-food device that would clean the infinite number of sneaker crevices without screaming and finally get it done. 

So I raced back to the car, with a couple minutes to spare, thinking my ordeal was over. And as we hurried to put his shoes back on again, we both realized that his pants were now also a mess! I ordered him inside to change quickly, all remnants of the calm, stress-free mommy now being flushed away. And as he is doing this, I begin getting Nikki and Luke back in their seats so we could leave. Is it over? Of course not, because as I lift Nikki over the muddy puddle I don't want tracked over the upholstery, I realize that she, too, has been anointed with fresh poop on her shoes! 

Now luckily, like most girls I know, she has many extra pairs, so I frantically take hers off and leave them on the front porch to deal with later, grabbing a new pair to put on. Racing back out, I throw them in the car and confirming that Luke is poop-free at this point, we race off to drop Evan off, pulling up to the curb just as the 2nd late bell rings. 

Wow, "we did it!", I tell them triumphantly, and as I look down at my hands gripping the steering wheel, I notice the “battle stains” stuck to my fingers and trying hard to be a role model mommy and not use every 4-letter word I know! I instead laugh with Luke and Nikki as we chant “stinky” over and over. And when we breathlessly got to their classroom, Luke quickly reminded me with a smile to wash my hands... 

So as you move into celebrating the end of this year and the beginning of a fresh new one, just remember that although your best laid plans may be well-prepared, life and “you-know-what” happens. The key is to not let it change the course of your day, because as your kids will perpetually remind you, there is always laughter to be found somewhere in the “stinky”. So just wash your hands with a smile and move on! 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Forty-something and Fashionable or Can This Closet Be Saved?!

Fashion for women in their forties. Or more specifically, for moms in their forties trying to find their style that bridges the gap between their professional, dressed-up lives of long ago and their current LuLu Lemon lives of grocery shopping, errands, school playground drop-offs and pick-ups, classroom volunteerism, taxi driver to all playdates, enrichment classes and team practices, cheerleader at all sporting events and personal workout sessions when and if it can ever be worked in...

Now this may seem like a simple enough endeavor, but if you're like me, you don't always want to do all of the above in your black yoga pants and sneakers. In fact, call me a Lulu Lemon snob if you will, but I really only like wearing workout wear if I'm actually going to work out. At all other times, I want to be one of those "hip" forty-something Hollywood moms splattered across the pages of People magazine. You know the ones I mean, they're always pushing a stroller with one hand and carrying a baby and  latte in the other, wearing those great designer jeans, tops, glamorous high heels and sunglasses.

Unfortunately, since the only drama I act in is pro bono and stars my 6-year old daughter, it's harder for me to justify buying $300 Dirty Laundry jeans and $75 Gap tops just to spend the day doing my own dirty laundry! Besides, I hate shopping! Remember how overwhelmed I get when I go to Costco? Trying to find new clothes when you don't even know your style is even worse for me... Walking into Abercrombie makes me feel like a grandma longing for her big girdle, my bottom does not need any extra attention drawn to it with any brand sprawled across its expanse, sorry but I am not nor will never again be Forever 21 in age or hemline and department stores make me dizzy; I never know what section of the endless sea of women's clothing I should be in. Am I Marc Jacobs chic, Burberry plaid or Brass Plum denial? Really, they should just have a section called "Where the Hell Do I Fit In?" for all of us lost in 40-something fashion confusion...

Okay, but I'm determined to find my style, so to get myself out of my fashion rut without spending a lot of money, I started shopping at thrift stores for "fun", inexpensive designer items that I get for a steal so I could push my envelope a bit without breaking the bank. But after wearing that beautiful, cream white Banana Republic sweater I got for $8 and sweating and itching all day, I realized there's a reason why someone donated this stuff other than weight gain and that I had been robbed! Who walks around in rabbit hair anyway? And those designer jeans? Sure, I got some great, high-end, low-rider jeans for about $10. But now until I have another $10,000 for that tummy tuck that's been on my list, I still need to unbotton them when I work at my desk for long stretches to make room for the annoying muffin top I've acquired free of charge. What's a "hippy" mom to do?

Okay, still determined, I looked into a closet consultant. These are women that will come to your home to spend the day dishing out tough love and telling you to finally give away that wool sweater you shrunk but never had the heart to throw away because your grandma gave it to you, in the effort of reorganizing your clothes to help you redefine your style. I'll admit I thought this was a great idea until I was quoted her fee. Now why would I pay someone $150 an hour to tell me that something doesn't look good on me anymore when my daughter tells me that most mornings for free? 

But I wasn't going to give up in my quest for "hip mom-hood". So I decided to do my own consultation based on my bedside copy of "Lucky" magazine's "How to Dress guide" for all of us fashion-challenged women who aren't lucky enough to live or shop in New York. Telling myself this would be like a shopping spree, one morning, I took all my main pieces out of my closet and laid them on the bed. Then I tried making all sorts of new combinations that I dutifully took on and off in true fitting room frenzy, adding 20-year old scarves and 10-year old jewelry in creative fervor. Then, just like the book told me to do, I even took digital pictures so I could remember them. Well, after about 45 minutes and the 5th outfit, I was so exhausted, I threw on my Lulu Lemons and took a nap, realizing with dismay when I awoke that I now had to put all my same old clothes away again! Not a very satisfying spree, indeed...

Finally, like so many things, I realized that it wasn't my closet that needed work, it was my attitude towards my closet. So I decided to take yet another life lesson from my daughter, Nikki. Now being a fairly picky dresser herself, she only has about half a dozen pieces that she will wear to school. Yet each morning, after thinking about it as she falls asleep the night before, Nikki wakes up excited to get dressed. Bouncing around and singing in her closet in true Diva form, her knack for putting together colorful ensembles of skirts, leggings, t-shirts and sweaters with just the right shoes or boots for a style all her own is truly inspiring and fun to watch.

So I thought I'd give my style one more shot. I've moved some of my old, dressier clothes and shoes that continued to patiently wait yet never seemed to get their turn in my outfit rotation over from what had sadly become my "never-a-day" to my newly-inspired "everyday wear" section. And now, instead of going to my closet each day with the dreaded boredom of looking at the same ten things I've worn for five years, I draw from my daughter's fashion enthusiasm as I get dressed. And having finally decided that for now, I'll stay away from shopping at stores that require too much self-analysis, I simply bought some long t-shirts to wear under my shrunken, itchy sweaters and over my unbuttoned, low-rise jeans. Hey, what do you know, maybe I've bridged my "hip" mom gap after all!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"I'm No Martha Stewart!"

Now that I've survived the manic, sugar-induced energy and frantic, last minute costume changes of Halloween, it's been such a blessing to enjoy these last beautiful and warm Fall days that we've had this week. Hopefully, it will be enough to fortify all of us against what we know is coming soon, when this same manic energy of our children can barely be contained within four walls and we desperately search for game and craft ideas on the Internet or our own memories that will distract them from tearing the couches or each other apart! 

And speaking of memories and craft ideas, a couple of moms and I were talking on the playground the other day about one of my favorite topics: what do you do with all the “stuff” (you know what I really want to say here, don’t you?!) that comes home everyday with your kids, adding to the already growing piles of “stuff” that interested them one day last week, created with Legos, meticulously drawn and colored, borrowed from a friend, borrowed from the library, worn yesterday, brought home in their socks from the soccer field, collected from the trees or sidewalks, or basically just dropped anywhere and at whatever point they stopped playing with it. 

And in my house, to add insult to injury, I have further stacks made from boxes of tiles, boxes of hardwood flooring, plain old cardboard boxes not yet broken down, tools, a window that hasn’t been installed yet, a tile saw and my husband’s shoes, wherever he happened to take them off! (And if any of you have a good solution for getting shoes in one place, call me!)

Now I know it’s not just me, since I‘ve been to the home of one of these moms, and I‘ve seen the entire spare bedroom she has dedicated, like a Danish Master Builder shrine, to her son‘s Lego creations. Because, after all, once they have spent so much time creating them, they can‘t bear to take them apart! And so they line every part of this room, ready to delight any houseguest who hasn‘t yet been to LegoLand! And it is this same mom with good intentions who saves every plastic food container, with its lid, for that rainy craft day when her kids can slit a hole in the top to make a piggy bank! So the clutter doesn’t fall very far from the “stuff” tree here, does it?! 

The other mom then proudly stated that she found a great way to get rid of all those packing peanuts that invade our house throughout the year. Ever eco-conscious, we stress over what to do with them. I usually can’t wait to put together a gift package so I can mail my supply to someone else so they can worry about getting rid of them! But in the spirit of Halloween, reuse and recycle, she made spider arms and stuffed them full of her supply for her costume. “And so what are you going to do with the costume when you‘re done?” I asked with a smile, knowing, of course, that she simply transformed her “stuff” from one physical state to another! “Oh, this costume is a keeper!” she smiled back in reply. And we laughed as I reminded her that I’m sure her sons will agree when they clean out mom’s attic one day, wondering why she ever kept the moth-ridden spider costume with packing peanuts still intact that still need an eco-friendly purge! 

Now I’ve written about this topic before, but as my kids get older, it seems to be getting worse and I have yet to come up with a good solution to organize and purge all my “stuff”! It’s gotten so bad that although I used to enjoy it, I now get stressed out when my generous neighbor gives me her stack of women’s fashion magazines because I know that if I don’t read them fast enough they become one more project pile I can’t seem to get to! 

So the other day, we were driving home, and Nikki, having seen a commercial about her show, asked me who Martha Stewart was and what she did. “Oh, she is this woman who can make neat crafts out of scraps, cook yummy recipes and decorate her house with cool things and without hesitation, Nikki replied, “Maybe she should come over to our house!” And that, my friends, about sums up the state of my “stuff”! 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It Seems Like Just Yesterday!

I hope you have been enjoying the wonderful Autumn weather we have been having lately! The leaves are once again becoming more beautiful and the kids had a blast on that blustery day of winds that blew them all around the school yard. It was fun to watch them run around screaming with glee as they tried to catch them and then throw them at each other. This time of year always makes me feel more nurturing, wanting to stuff my kids full of hot chocolate and warm cookies, especially after a rain-drenched soccer practice at 5pm! I have to admit, I’m glad the season is almost over and now have much more respect and understanding for those mega-soccer parents whose primary goal has to be to stay dry and warm as their kids play year-round in the freezing rain! Now that is true commitment! And speaking of true commitment, and/or getting committed, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite topics, our house remodel! I have been reminded a couple of times lately of how long this insanity has really been going on. In fact, I even argued with my neighbor, who has been watching our progress, or at times lack thereof, from across the street, that it's only been a couple of years since we started! Why, it was just yesterday, wasn't it? But then, just yesterday, I had to find the receipt for our "new" washing machine and as I searched through the five pregnant folders stuffed with Home Depot, City of Seattle, Honey Bucket and numerous other contractor and supply receipts, I realized after I got to my last one that I was now in the year labeled 2006! Yes, Rob, you were right, it has been four years... But those of us that have been through any kind of major family remodel understand that like labor, the pain that accompanies the birth of a new child, or new house, is often forgotten in the ensuing years of the parental/homeowner "coma of survival" that becomes our coping strategy to get us through. And that once you commit to the conception, you're basically in it for the rest of your life... And now as I feed my family brinner and leftovers from working, stainless steel appliances, pick up said brinner and leftover remnants and smashed cereal pieces from my tiled floor and happily wipe the spilled milk from my new granite countertops until they glow, I've forgotten almost all the pain and exhaustion that has brought me here to my current utopia. So by popular demand, meaning a friend who asked me to revisit some of my more memorable remodeling moments, I found this old letter I had written in the Fall of 2007, when my kids, and apparently my washer, were much younger. Here goes!: While it’s only Fall outside, this past week has been a bit wintery in our house as yes, can you believe it, we finally got to the stage of drywall in what seems to be our never-ending remodel! Now if you’ve ever experienced the pleasure of living in and through a remodel, then you know that my wintery feeling has nothing to do with a roaring fire and pretty snowflakes, but more like that fine white powder that has managed to make its way into every shoe, toothbrush, frying pan and clothing item in my house, just to name a very few! And if you’ve noticed this same powder on my kids at school in the morning, please just brush them off as I believe we finally just gave up! Now I’m not complaining, because I know what I was getting into (although now I think I may have had some cocktails the day I agreed to this!) but I guess I missed the HGTV episode that talked about the 10 men in my house every day for a week, dropping nails, sawed-off drywall pieces and big globs of goopy “Beadex” onto my floors, in my frying pans (I’m assuming it’s good for our digestion!) and eventually on the bottom of everyone’s shoes or feet to then come to a final resting place in our sheets! Nor did I know that I would have to empty the entire contents of my kitchen (I’m talking refrigerator, microwave, stove, you name it) into a tiny corner of the house, where I was then required to cook dinner, help with homework and in general, lead a “normal” life with three shall we call them, exuberant children, who I have to say have been amazingly resilient throughout this crazy process.  Who cares that Evan writes that we have no walls and electricity in his school writing journal, my 4-year-old daughter still sleeps in a crib, and Luke thinks that living in a house decorated with wooden studs and insulation is how everyone lives, we’ll pay for therapy after we pay this off! And then on Saturday with all the kids home, just when I though it was almost over, my entire house, except for the small section of space mentioned above, gets covered in plastic sheeting for what we thought was the final indoor “snow day” in our lives, the paint sprayer broke and they have to come back tonight to finish. So yes, my house is still covered in plastic sheeting, there is still a fine white powder that I swear I can taste covering almost every surface and our lives are still not back to normal, and you know I say that with a grain of salt!
But, as we are now picking out finishes like tiles and flooring, I know our dream is slowly coming true, and that all of this will be worth it soon(?!) And that one day, we'll look back nostalgically with warped memories at our crazy life that was consumed by both kids and a remodel that never seemed to stop going. And we'll wonder where all the time has gone, since it seems like it was just yesterday...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

We're All Just One Cluck Away...

If you've ever had the opportunity to work from home, you know that it definitely has its benefits... For instance, I can be around for my kids and husband each morning to make four different breakfasts and lunches, judge if my daughter's outfit is appropriate for school on any given day, and gather and deliver to school all completed homework and musical instruments forgotten in the rush of heading out the door so that, God forbid, none of my children are judged as irresponsible. What would that say about me?!

Another benefit of working from home is that instead of having my laundry pile up all week, I can do 1 or 2 loads everyday, making myself a latte' on my home machine before I head back upstairs to my office and and the comforting sounds of our urban neighborhood.

But recently, my quiet sessions of research and emails are now interrupted more often by the clucking of my neighbors' hens! Now I know that chickens are the new "rage" around the country, and a lot of people are keeping them in coops in their postage-stamp backyards because it is more humane, economical, great for the environment or reminds them of growing up on the family farm in Bellingham. But I'm a city girl! I like the sound of the coffee machine firing up at 5am, police and fire sirens, planes flying, dogs barking and the occasional backfiring of a car's engine. The clucking of chickens just doesn't seem to fit in with my urban consciousness! 

Granted, I'm all for cage- and antibiotic-free living and actually try and raise my own family the same way as much as I can... And I agree that it would be nice if like the olden days, you could run down to the market where farmers sold chickens and eggs on the sidewalks for a few pennies each instead of $5 a dozen to ensure that they have lived an overall stress-free life before appearing on our breakfast or "brinner" table (for those of you that don't already know, that's breakfast for dinner on those days that you realize with horror at 5pm that you forgot to take the relaxed mommy of those eggs out of the freezer!) But with all my organic opinions aside, the other aspect of being a neighbor to neighbors that have chickens is that sometimes uncaged means running around the neighborhood! 

Case in point, the other night, "Zen" one of the hens that belongs to our neighbor, was in our back alley. Now it was dark and despite my city-girl crankiness about urban clucking and my darker desire to just leave him out there to fend for himself, I did feel bad. I then realized with growing concern that a car was speeding her way. So I ran towards the headlights and flagged down the young, hip and oblivious girlfriend of my other neighbor in her BMW who looked at me like I was one cluck-away from crazy myself as I asked her to please slow down because there was a chicken crossing the alley!

Then, after the alley was clear of any other city danger, I began to chase Zen around for about 15 minutes, realizing with not much of my own amusement but to the great amusement of my 6-year old daughter, that every time I'd try and herd her one way, she would go another. Feeling now like Daisy on a Hee Haw episode, I finally got close enough, and proceeded to carefully pick her up. Having had no experience in chicken-handling, Zen quickly grew tired of me clumsily clutching her as high in the air as I could and after about a minute of this, she proceeded to get very stressed, despite her namesake, and flapped her wings right in my face before I could ungracefully plop her down in her cage-free cage, the smell of feathers wafting into my nostrils like a musty barnyard or my pre-pubescent boys bedroom at night! 

But in spite my potentially unpopular grumblings and unwanted herding experiences, at this point, I guess I have to admit that I am slowly getting used to the now-growing number of friends and neighbors who have jumped into the proverbial chicken coop. This hit home the other day when I was enjoying the last of the warm October sunshine lounging in my front yard listening to my comforting city sounds as I read my book (another advantage of working from home). 

It wasn't long before I became aware of being surrounded by Zen and her two sister hens congregating under our beloved Japanese Maple tree, walking around in circles and making that other sound they make that is more like purring for a chicken, I guess. So what's a true now-converted city girl to do? I simply said "hello" and went back to my book, chuckling at what any sane, hip, BMW-driving girl would consider an absurd reaction to what has now become a natural part of our Seattle life. I don't know, maybe we are all just one cluck away...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is It Ever Enough?

Despite the beautiful and unseasonably warm weather we've been having lately, a daily glance at the calendar is making me giddily and/or painfully aware, depending on the moment, that the holidays are right around the corner.

So as I was looking back at some of my older letters, (this was how we communicated before Facebook, emails and blog posts, in case you were wondering!) I came across a letter I had written when the kids were younger and the house remodel had just begun (yes, that was almost 4 years ago and yes, we are almost done, but that's another post!) on a subject that seems to be ageless and maybe even more relevant today as we all continue to try and tighten our budgets in order to get the most out of our financial resources. 

So I thought I'd go ahead and post it for those of you that either a) have or have had young children, b) have no closet or storage space for all the "stuff" that goes along with young children, c) have remodeled, are remodeling or dare to think of remodeling (!) 
c) love the holidays, d) hate shopping, d) love shopping or e) worry whether you and/or your kids have enough stuff! So here is my letter from circa 2005:

This year, we decided to cut back on the number of gifts we give to the kids for many different reasons including the reality that between having an older urban home with no closets and the clutter of our remodel (yes, I step over 2x4s to do the day’s laundry) storage space for more “stuff” is at a premium. 

In fact, we’ve slowly crept into our neighbors unused basement in addition to a rented storage shed and still don’t have enough room! So in another one of those “I can’t believe I live like this” confessions, I have to sadly admit that at this point our backyard resembles something more out of Sanford and Son than Home and Garden! 

The other reason is the fact that with the accumulation of old and new (kids and toys!) over the past 5 years, they don’t even seem to know or play with half the things they have already. And while we and all the grandparents buy gifts with the best intentions, pulling every single canned good out of the cupboards, beating each other over the head with a balloon and unwinding the roll of toilet paper all over the bathroom will always win over the $50 Parents magazine activity station for fun factor ratings!! 

And somehow it is inevitable that any toy we attempt to place out of circulation either temporarily or permanently is precisely the same toy that they remember out of the blue the next day and decide that they can’t live without. If you don't believe in thought telepathy, there is nothing like your child asking you about something at precisely the moment after you thought of something that you decided you shouldn't mention or that you hoped they forgot; it is a bit supernatural when it happens!

Yet inevitably, I will still walk around the mall, Target or Costco, overwhelmed almost to a state of senselessness by all the assorted boxes, bright colors and seemingly fashionable, new clothing. And I as I walk around watching shoppers load up their carts with items I don't have, I slowly get lured into thinking, “Do my children have enough?“, “Am I giving them all the things the other kids have that they need to learn and grow?” and “Wow, look at all this cool, new stuff we need!”  

And so I continue in this now agitated state, determined to focus on the 10 necessary items I came to buy, fighting with all my might the urge to throw something else in the cart that would add to my kids' intelligence quotients, their wardrobe, my wardrobe, our waistlines, and finally to the unbelievable amount of cardboard we seem to recycle each week. 

But it’s a tough battle, and while I try and teach my children to count their blessings when the “green-eyed monster” calls, I have to continually remind myself of the same lesson. Case in point, having gone to Costco the other day for canned goods and coffee, I came home with a 3-foot long sausage, a 5 gallon tub of animal crackers, 3 really soft and cozy blankets for our rec room, 2 Lego sets that were supposed to be for Christmas but somehow ended up being given to the boys because they've been really "good" lately, and a black rain jacket I was convinced I needed since I only had 7 jackets, none of which were just right for the specifically misty kind of rain we were having...

And so it goes, solid marketing and consumerism at its best. Good or bad, it's what helps make our country tick, so who am I to resist? As long as we recycle all those boxes, we're all just doing our share...