Monday, September 29, 2008

I'm Hungry

Mom taught us that when you make a meal you can put just about anything found in the fridge in it, as long as you start by frying up hamburger meat and celery. To this base she would add things like peas, ketchup, stewed tomatoes, raisins, Italian dressing, tortilla shells, and any other condiment imaginable. Despite this seemingly horrible method of child abuse, we were grateful for her cooking for one reason, it meant that GrandMa was not cooking.

Grandma's cooking was and still is comparable to an episode of fear factor. Her specialty was soup into which what ever rotting vegetable on the counter top was thrown in. Grandma did not refrigerate her produce for reasons unknown, and when the stench became overwhelming enough or the juices began to drip on the floor, she would have us take them outback, along with all the eggshells she had been saving the past week, and throw them into the garden as compost.

Along with this came a menagerie of outdated and odd table manners we were forced to submit to, such as eating our peas on a knife. Dinnertime was always accompanied with an account on how her father had and required his children to have impeccable table manners and how we should just be grateful...not for anything in particular but just in general.

Later in my teenage years when grandma no longer lived with us we came to a sort of truce if you will. Mom was busy working and may have been somewhat put out with the mental strain of thinking up these bizarre concoctions she called meals, and we kids ( now teens ) yearned for more popular food alternatives, such as mac and cheese, pop tarts, and ramen. At some point in my life I became so ravenously hungry that "good cook" was vital in a potential mate . So I married a man ... barefoot and in the kitchen you can find him cooking up the most savory fare, recipes passed on from generation to generation and yes we and our children are very happy and pleasantly plump. Heaven bless those who can cook.

My Fantasy Book Club

If I had total autonomy over the next book club I host, here is what I would plan:

I would serve Cheetos and rootbeer as refreshments. I'd have action figures and matchbox cars available. And we'd finish with a huge game of freeze tag or capture the flag. Why, you ask? Because my book club meeting would include only 8 to 12 year-old BOYS!

No, I don't have a deathwish for all my breakables (like I have any to begin with). It's just that the books I've enjoyed the most lately have come from my 9 year-old son's bookshelf. Here are my three favorite 'tween boy book series.

Peter and the Star Catchers
by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
This is a 3 book series written as a prequel to the Peter Pan story. The authors cleverly explain the origins of the magical elements of Peter's life, how the Darling parents meet and James M. Barrie makes a cameo appearance. The books are fast moving and action packed. They introduce new enemies beyond the bi-polar, comical Cap'n Hook, but skip the un-PC references to "Injuns" replacing them with a tropical-island tribe.

by Brandon Mull
The author has published 3 of what will eventually be a 5 book series. This is your typical real-world meets fantasy-world story where the good and evil creatures keep a tenuous balance. The stories are overflowing with magical adventure including a cow of Paul Bunyan proportions, getting digested by a stone demon, a mortal-immortal love story, and a wonderful over-riding theme of being safe from evil as long as you don't invite it in.

The Lightning Thief
by Rick Riordan
This is Greek Mythology set in the modern world but in a thoughtful, clever way. Not like the cheesy "Medusa goes to the Mall" kind of books. Four books have been published with one more in the works. These books follow the adventures of Percy Jackson who is half-god half-mortal in the heroic tradition of Hercules, Theseus and Achilles. These book have not only action and adventure, but humor and wit.

Okay, so this isn't the stuff of college literature, but it does take me back to my own 'tween years of devouring Madeline L'Engle and the Chronicles of Narnia. It's great fun to talk with my son about the books, what our favorite moments and characters are, and what we think is going to happen next. It also makes me grateful I have a son and not a daughter of this age so I don't have to discuss love-sick vampires and irresolute girls with their sexual curiousity on overdrive.

shoot, I just lost all my friends.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Finding Middle Ground

You would think that two people raised in the same country, similar family set-ups, the same values and religion, would not have to adjust or compromise too much when they got married. You're both on pretty much the same page and just need to make sure to turn the pages at the same time, right?

Um, wrong.

I was surprised at all the things I thought "all families did this way" which, apparently, they don't. So after 13 years of adjusting and compromising, my husband and I have created a functioning (most of the time) family that is neither a recreation of his family or mine, but a freakish, mutation of the two with a thing or two that is all our own. Here is a list of the issues we came to the marriage differing on and what we've morphed them into.

His Family:
My husband's family is big with believing in Santa. His parents played it up alot and all his siblings believed for a long time. They have a specific traditional Christmas Eve dinner by candlelight then open all their gifts before they go to sleep. Christmas morning is dedicated to reading the Christmas story from the Bible in unison.

Her Family:
Neither me nor my siblings ever remembers a time when we believed in Santa. Our tradition was that we chose names and in secret, filled each others stockings. We opened all our gifts Christmas morning and the Bible story, got stuck in there somewhere along the way.

Our Family:
I just can't do Santa with my kids. My husband thinks I'm a huge party pooper, but I can't bring myself to lie to my children. I seriously can't. We open our gifts Christmas morning (unless we're with his family) and focus on the Bible story Christmas Eve.

His Family:
My husband's family is quiet, polite, and helpful. They all work hard, only say nice things to each other, and only fart in private. His parents were pretty strict growing up and didn't hesitate to "cut a switch off the ol' willow tree".

Her Family:
An aunt described us as "wild and undisciplined" and a good family friend predicted that many of us would end up in jail. We were loud, mean, and farted at will. Although chaos seemed to reign in the house, my parents were always calm, never raised their voices, and I can only think of two incidents when someone got spanked (not me).

Our Family:
If I had a willow tree, it would be bare by now. While our children tend to be wild, we try (mostly unsuccessfully) to keep a lid on it. My mother was always cool as a cucumber. I regularly freak out.

His Family:
My husband's family is not just an on-time family, they are early. They plan things in advance and execute in an organized, orderly manner.

Her Family:
We were always late - to school, church, the airport, whatever. Our attempts at planning, coordinating, and orderly execution would typically end in joyful chaos.

Our Family:
My children have been tardy to school exactly 2 times in the 5 five years I've had school kids. We get to church early and have never even come close to missing a plane. Still, we generate a lot of chaos in everything we do.

His Family:
My husband and his siblings all went to good ol' US public schools. They rode the bus and bought school lunch.

Her Family:
All my sibs and I spent at least a few years of private school and/or were driven out of district to school. My mom always made our lunches and I only rode a bus for two of my thriteen years in school.

side note: All of my sibs and my husband's sibs graduated from the same university.

Our Family:
Our kids currently attend private school and before that went to charter schools. They've never ridden a bus to school and only occasionally buy school lunch.

His Family:
Only cars made in the US of A

Her Family:
Only cars made outside the US of A

Our Family:
We have a Camry and an Odyssey. Nuff said.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Nipple Nightmare

It's supposed to be the most natural instinct. The amazing human body creates new life and brings it into the world. That amazing body is also equipped to feed that new life and women from Eve on down have been doing it and propagating the species for over 6000 years. Apparently if I had been Eve, humans would never have made it past the second generation. The only reason my babies have survived is through the miracle of technology that has brought us formula, the bottle, and an indispensible invention called "the nipple shield".

I know, it sounds like the top half of "the chastity belt" and looks like a rice paddy hat, but it really is the only way my abundant-in-size/deficient-in-milk, um, feedbags, can do their god-given task. It's a cross between wearing Madonna cones and siphoning gas out of your car.

I don't know why other mothers and babies all over the world, through all the ages can fit together like keys in a lock and I'm the only one trying to shove a watermelon into a keyhole and wondering why it isn't working. I envy the mothers who can pull the all-night feedings half asleep by basically lifting the flap. I, on the other hand, have to go through a 10-step process that leaves me and baby frustrated, crying, and ready to throw in the breast pad.

But I trudge on with my trusty nipple shield of faith knowing that someday, somehow all this effort will be worth it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Got Corruption?

I don't know about everybody else but it seems that everyone in our local government is under fire for some sort of corruption, here's the low down here in AK

Senator Ted Stevens : About to begin trial in D.C. for accepting bribes from oil company executives which include such things as home remodeling and properties among other things totaling about 250k. The man must be at least 150 years old and comes from a time when such behavior was easier to keep on the down low.

Sarah Palin: Under Investigation for firing the public safety commissioner because he would not fire her x brother in law during her sisters divorce. Okay ... the man tazed /tazered his stepson and was caught drinking while on the job.. in his patrol car! How did this man not get fired a long time ago ? Sarah claims commissioner Monogan took unauthorized trips to D.C. to promote his own spending agenda. Sarah Palin: Deflating ego's one jerk at a time, any way she can.

Mayor Mark Begich: Recently fined for failing to disclose all of his income including campaign contributions from less that savory political characters also under investigation. When the crap hit the fan Mark quickly donated the funds to charity.

The moral of the story is: If you are running for office, unless you are as pure as a newborn baby, chances are, someone will find your third grade teacher and discover you once cheated on a spelling test, after which you will be hunted down and harpooned like a humpback whale. Keep it clean people.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Can't Find the "Fun" in Fundraising

If I tried to support myself by selling Amway, I would die of starvation - and I don't feel like that's a bad thing.

It's that time of year again, when my kids' school does their big fundraiser. Where the students and parents are encouraged to hit up their friends, neighbors, and family for money in exchange for overpriced crap in the name of education. All I can say is, I'm glad my family lives far away, my neighbors already hate us for being the noisiest house on the block, and I don't have any local friends - because I am terrible at sales!

I absolutely loath begging people for money, which is basically what fundraising is because in all honesty, who pays $11 for a roll of wrapping paper, $15 for a tub of cookie dough, or $20 for a set of coasters printed with whimiscal cats? I hate putting people in the awkward position of really wanting to say no but having coming up with a polite way to do so. So what I end up doing is paying for all the junk myself and giving it away as Christmas presents. Better to be a tacky gift-giver than an annoying panhandler.

I remember one of Ambie's teenage daughters was given the task of pre-selling rubber wristbands in her school colors. She asked if I would buy one and when I said "no thanks" she flopped on my couch and every 10 minutes or so, would ask me again. "Raaaaaayyyy", I'd hear in a low hissing voice I imagine Satan would have, "buy a bracelet from me. Raaaaaayyy." I ended up buying two just to get her off the couch. With my money safely in her pocket she then commenced telling me how she's the number one seller in her class. Effective. I just can't do that.

My problem is I now have 3 school kids and the amount of selling we have to do has gone up and I just don't need that many cat coasters. What to do? Risk the few acquaintances I do have to push sales? Pay to ship useless stuff my family doesn't need but who are willing to support us? Fork over more of my own money (like paying 5 digit tuition isn't enough)? Or shall I just drop the fundraising ball altogether and hope it doesn't reflect in my childrens' transcripts?

No wonder I never made it as a Girl Scout.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Who's Nose is ThAT ?

We were blessed with a beautiful new baby girl this past week who looks nothing like anyone else in the family. All the rest had hair whereas this little peanut has none, but more surprisingly the nose this child was born with could not have come from me or Alex. We are looking into the family history for anyone French or Jewish. All kidding aside she is beautiful and we are so blessed.. seriously.
there is no

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Low-Energy Child

I have a son who has left a trail of teachers rethinking their career choices in his wake. He has the energy of an atom-bomb, the volume of a rock concert, the curiosity of a dozen cats, and the impulsiveness of a college student with his first credit card. I've come out of many a parent-teacher conference feeling apologetic, sympathetic, frustrated, and sometimes homicidal all at the same time. It's been a rockin' roller coaster ride, to say the least.

I have a daughter who is a school teacher's dream. She's quiet and compliant, but not reticent or shy. She raises her hand often but never speaks out of turn. She does her work neatly, carefully, and follows all the rules. At her parent-teacher conferences, I hear nothing but glowing praise and compliments for my daughter, me and my husband, our parenting, our intelligence, and on and on.

and this is my cry for help because I am at my wits end struggling with...

my daughter!

I recently instated a "chore chart" in our house. It's a pretty standard thing with chores such as washing the dishes, washing the car, cooking the rice, cleaning the bathroom, taking out the trash, etc. Instead of rotating the chores weekly or even monthly, we're going quarterly to minimize the confusion, let the kids develope some expertise, and so no one accuses anyone else of doing a sloppy job making it harder for the next person.

When it's chore time, my son eagerly jumps to his tasks and gets them done. Sometimes he needs to be reminded to do things thoroughly and sometimes he makes another mess in the process, but he takes the corrections good naturedly and does everything he's asked in a timely manner.

My daughter on the other hand, no matter what she was previously doing, when asked to do her chores she dramatically falls to the floor declaring that she's tired. What follows is an hour or two of whining, crying, and rolling around on the floor. She eventually does get her tasks done but only if I watch her closely and repeat directions over and over (and invariably louder and louder). It's serious drama and it's driving me CRAZY!

I've tried one passive-aggressive way to motivate her to get things done in a decent amount of time. I've designated 4:30p - 5:00p as family trampoline time, but only those who have their homework and chores done can jump. The kids love it when I jump with them and we play a lot of games or put the sprinkler underneath. Well, my daughter didn't make the deadline and got left out once - and the crying, pouting and declaring that we were all mean was worse than ever. And she still didn't get her chores and homework done.

Anyone have any good ideas about how to motivate a reluctant, low-energy child? Otherwise I'm investing in a defibrillator.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The End is Nigh...maybe

Forget the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The end of the world may actually be ushered in by four nerds in labcoats. On Wednesday, scientists will fire up the world's largest and most powerful atom smasher which some believe may create tiny black holes that will engulf the entire planet. I hope that was listed among the "occupational hazards" in the contracts of the 3,000 people employed at the site. Something along the lines of, "You may be exposed to loud noises, frequent references to Star Trek, and gravitational forces strong enough to reduce you and the entire planet to the size of a subatomic particle."

The end of the world isn't the only cost of the operation. The "Large Hadron Collider", the cavernous machine that will be doing the atom smashing, includes a large circular tunnel over sixteen miles around and cost over 2 billion dollars to construct. It basically takes a stream of protons and accelerates them around the tunnel in one direction, then accelerates another stream in the opposite direction hoping that some of the protons will collide - then they see what "pieces" go flying out. It's kind of like trying to find out how a car works by driving two of them headlong into each other at high speeds, then studying the wreckage.

It's no wonder I found my quantum physiscs class in college a little - weird. It wasn't just about learning the differences between quarks, leptons, bosons, muons, and pions. But these subatomic particles also have "flavors" which are designated as up, down, strange, charm, top, and bottom. Is drug use high amongst particle physicists?

In any case, since the world may come to an end tomorrow, you might want to think about what you want to do today. Will you tell your family you love them? Resolve your differences with an enemy? Climb the mountain or take the bungee jump of your dreams? Finally get the guts to tell your neighbor that her lawn ornaments are tacky and your children really did cause the death of her missing cat? Whatever you do, do it fast because there are less than 24 hours before the release of the protons of doom. See you on the other side...

Friday, September 5, 2008

...and then there were ten

When God told Adam and Eve to "multiply and replenish the earth", Alex and Ambie took it seriously. I think they have mixed in the term "exponentially" to the "multiply". So congratulations, my dear friend, on the birth of your seventh daughter (ten children in all)! I'm sure she'll fit right in in no time.

You know what this means, Ambie? You will never be free of those panting, glassy-eyed teenage boys trying to break down the door and scale the walls of your house. They're like a pack of hungry zombies except what they're looking for is not "brains" (it starts with a "B", though).

there is no
the end

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

An Exile's Election

Have you ever ordered something from a catalog, or a TV offer, or even ebay? Unless you've walked in my and Ambie's shoes you've probably never noticed the horrible little words at the bottom of the page following an asterisk. "available only in the 48 contiguous states" or "not applicable in Alaska or Hawaii" How does that make us feel? Kind of like going to a birthday party when you're five years old and the mom is handing out cupcakes until she gets to you and she says, "sorry, this doesn't apply to you." We're invited to the party, but we can't have the treats.

While away from my home in Alaska, I needed to get a pair of replacement contacts. Since I got them from Costco, I figured it would be easy to order even away from home. I told the young lady at the counter I needed my prescription from Alaska so she pulled out the list of all Costcos and started looking down the column of international stores. No kidding.

"Um, Alaska is one of the 50 states", I said.

"Oh really?" She flipped the list over to the domestic side and when she found it (the second one on the alphabetical list) she said, "Whaddaya know!"

I've lived in both Alaska and Hawaii and so has Ambie. We know what it's like to be "an exile among friends". We feel like we were added just to make it a nice round 50, but we have to stay in the basement when the guests arrive. Never mind that we supply everyone else with oil, natural gas, gold, pineapples, sugar, and really cool places to vacation. Trying to point these things out just makes our case more pathetic, though.

You never hear people from California say, "Hi, I'm from California, you know, where 38% of the nation's oranges come from, where Gary Coleman is from, and where they discovered gold in the 1800s". You only hear stuff like that from states' residents who feel it necessary to "put their home state on the map". You'll hear people from Nebraska proudly say that it is the birthplace of former President Gerald Ford, Malcolm X, and Marge Helgenberger from CSI.

So here we have an election where, no matter who wins, we have a person in charge who represents the "forgotten states". And either one will make history - we never do anything "normally" out here on the fringes.

You know you're from a small state when the news is filled with the notoriety of fellow and/or former residents where ever they are. You'll see articles in the paper about "Hawaii's own" so-and-so "who made it to round 3 in 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'" or "landed the lead role in Florida County Community Theater's version of 'Christmas in the Land of Oz'". So you can imagine the Obama-fest that has been raging here on the islands since his ascendency on the national stage. I drive past his alma mater twice a day (in Hawaii, it's all about where you graduated from highschool). So although he has never said, "da kine" in a speech, worn an aloha shirt on the campaign trail, lauded the virtues of poi, or given a "shaka" out to his supporters, it's all love all the time around here.

Now, Ambie reports that within hours of the Republican VP announcement, there were McCain/Palin T-shirts for sale at the State Fair and everyone was wearing one by the end of the day. Alaska has been a hot topic on the political/environmental front for a while but no one actually from Alaska has ever risen to the forefront because of it until now. (okay, there was Ted Stevens, but he's hardly a household name.) There's finally someone of national note that uses the term "hockey mom" as opposed to "soccer mom". In Alaska, soccer is just a game you play when there's no ice (that's about 45 days) to keep in shape for hockey.

So forget that he's a black, male Democrat and she's a white, woman Republican, because they have a lot in common. They're both relative newcomers to the national stage, they're both running with an old white guy with experience, they'll both be a "first" if elected, and most importantly, they both know what it's like to live under an oppressive and exclusionary catalog ordering regime.