Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Jell-o Project: Orange Fluff

For Brian's Back to the Future themed birthday dinner party, I decided that Jell-o needed a place at the table. But not molded Jell-o or cut and serve Jell-o. I wanted a Jell-o salad that you could scoop, and that would go well with pizza.

Whether or not it went well with pizza is still up for debate, but Orange Fluff Jell-o Salad was another, too-good-to-be-healthy "salad." And it probably isn't healthy, but I made it anyway.

The recipe made a LOT of orange fluff. I should have known this would be the case when I saw it called for a full pound of Cool Whip. That's a lot of Cool Whip. I brought the salad to the party and it didn't even disappear by half!

So I brought it home for the kids.

The feedback was typical.

Jonah grabbed a bowl and used it to scoop orange fluff, so that the side of the bowl was covered in fluff. It was a mess. "I didn't want to dirty a spoon," he said. I pointed out he could have used the spoon he was currently eating with. "Oh yeah," he said.

Jonah loved it.

Isaac was leery. There is fruit in it, after all. Not just fruit, but nasty black bananas that look lovely on the day you make it, and horribly unappetizing the next. I should have skipped the bananas. He had about two bites and said it tasted fine, but that was all he wanted.

Ethan? Who knows if he's had any. Probably not.

Robert? I don't think so.

I've had several servings and think it is great. Not something I'd want more than occasionally, but certainly not bad. I think calling it a fruit salad is a stretch. Vanilla pudding, orange Jell-0, 16 oz. of Cool Whip, marshmallows and then a little canned fruit.

It's totally dessert.

Which is why I don't know why more people don't eat it for dinner. If this passes as a salad, why would you not eat it.

"Yeah, I had a big salad for dinner tonight," sounds so much better than, "I had a big bowl of pudding and marshmallows for dinner tonight." If you can get away with that kind of subtle trickery, why wouldn't you?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lost Retainer: REWARD!

You know how sometimes kids lose things*? 

Also, you know how those things are sometimes soul-crushingly embarrassing to admit you own, and therefore almost impossible to talk about resulting in a lowered probability of ever, ever finding them?

Finally, there is a solution: The ambiguous LOST flyer. 

No one has to know. Identities are not disclosed. You don't even really need to bring the humiliated teen's name up at all. Just print 400 of these beauties up, plaster them all over town, and preserve the dignity of your ungrateful teen. 

*Posting for a friend.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

4am on Shaw Island

I woke at 4am thinking of Shaw Island.

How wonderful it would be to sequester myself in a little home on this tiny island in the Washington State San Juans and just write, undisturbed, probably with a view of the sea. I would take walks every few hours to break up my writing day, but mostly I would write.

There would be no one to ask me to fix their watch. No one would say, "what are you having for lunch, and can you make me one." There would be no fights over the yellow highlighter to referee.

With only 240 year-round residents (many of which are nuns and monks) the chances of running into another person on this 7-square mile island would be rare. The general store even closes down for the season in October. Distractions would be virtually nonexistent.

I started to make plans in my head for getting to Shaw Island.

Then I realized that 4am in our home might as well be Shaw. Except for the water view, it is quiet and undisturbed. I should be able to write for several hours without so much as a "make me breakfast!" And once I'm in my head, it doesn't really matter where I'm sitting.

So why not get up now, and write on my imaginary Shaw Island?

I snuggled a little father down under the covers.

It's hard to get out of bed at 4am.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Problem with Chocolate Covered Bacon

It sits behind glass, next to the chocolate covered Twinkies and the chocolate covered Pringles, adjacent to the standing army of caramel and candy covered apples. Chocolate covered bacon was never something we'd considered buying when we stopped in the little candy store on our annual trip to the beach.

Not that the boys didn't make a case for it. A passionate, well-crafted case that consisted mostly of, "But, it's bacon. With chocolate on it!"

I would roll my eyes and say, "I don't think so," before turning my attention back to the classic, dependable, unmoved-by-fads-and-trends fudge and salt water taffy. We are not chocolate covered bacon people.

Until this summer.

"I think we should get the chocolate covered bacon," Robert said.

"What? We don't need that stuff. Fudge and taffy are good enough for us." I countered.

"I want to make memories," he said.

And there it was. Memories. I knew what that word meant, and I now knew what chocolate covered bacon meant too.

Four months earlier, after careful consideration, Robert decided it was time to look for a different job and took a buy-out package from Intel. It was essentially a four-month paid job search, if you wanted to look at it that way. Robert did look at it that way, and immediately started honing his resume and building a LinkedIn profile and looking for local companies in need of a process engineer. And while there have been interviews and connections and great contacts and positive feedback, what there hasn't been is a job offer.

So the search has expanded to places other than here.

I love here. The kids love here. And I'm pretty sure Robert loves here too. How can I ever say goodbye to the strawberries in June and the blueberries in July? The waterfalls in the gorge and the wildflowers in the mountains? How could I say goodbye to the rain that puts me to sleep at night and wakes me in the morning; that grows the trees tall and the grass green? How can I say goodbye to the friends, our neighbors, the playground steps from our back gate and the community that cares for and watches out for each other?

I don't want to leave. But I might have to.

So when Robert said he wanted to "make memories," I knew exactly what he was saying.

This could be the last time we wake up in the morning and say, "it's a good day for the beach! Let's go." It could be the last time we load up the car with shovels and skim boards, towels and sunscreen. It could be the last time we take that 90-minute drive past the farm stands and the old wooden train trestle bridge, the cool logging themed restaurant with the world's largest center beam log, and the former site of the world's largest Sitka spruce. It could be the last time we have the most delicious clam chowder at Doogers and feel extra special getting Tillamook ice cream at The Candyman.

We need to get the chocolate covered bacon now, because we might not be back here again.

We bought the chocolate covered bacon.

But I didn't eat any of it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


I'm a writer whose former employer won't let her quit.

I've got a laptop and an office with a door that closes. I've even got writing jobs. And best of all, I've got a plot outline for what will surely be a best selling middle grade book, and I'd love to work on it in between all my other writing jobs. But I can't. 

Why not? Because that former job just keeps dragging me back, demanding my time and energy. They refuse to find a replacement even though there are four qualified candidates just hanging around doing nothing. They only want me. They will not leave me alone.

But I want to write. I can make money doing this. I have made money doing this. I can make more. Yet, apparently, desire is not enough. Either, unfortunately, is the need for income. Because we currently have none. 

I will soldier on despite the difficulties. Despite the fact that, if I'm being honest with myself, I haven't entirely left my former job. I never will. And truth be told, I never want to. It is my favorite job; one which—despite what some had warned—fullfills me in every way.

I will always be Mom.

Still, my attempts at delegation have failed and so I'm left with a work day that looks a little bit like this:

6:00 am - I wake. If I get out of bed now, I might get two uninterrupted hours of writing time. Think of what I could do in two hours!

6:45 am - I get out of bed and head downstairs in my bathrobe. I will reward myself with a shower when I've accomplished my work.

8:15 am - The office door opens. "We're out of milk. What am I supposed to eat for breakfast." I suggest toast. Apparently we are out of bread too.

8:17 am - I put on sweats (this still doesn't count as getting dressed and I am still bound to the "write first, shower later" deal) and head to the grocery store.

8:54 am - I return with the milk, bread, some donuts, deodorant (I remembered I've been down to the plastic for two days) and frozen corndogs so when there's nothing to eat for lunch, I'll be prepared. I get back to writing.

9:21 am - Child number three opens the door, walks in and plops himself down in a chair. "I'm bored. What can I do?" I tell him the dishwasher needs to be emptied and the playroom needs to be cleaned. He could do laundry. I have five more suggestions but child number three has slid out of the chair and is on the floor moaning and doesn't seem interested in what I have to say.

10:01 am - I'm back to writing after arranging a play date with child number three's friend and throwing a load of laundry in the washing machine. 

10:45 am - Husband's friend shows up for their RC plane flying slash networking appointment. I'm still not showered. I shut the door to my office so he doesn't see me. I feel trapped. I consider writing a snarky piece on the fine line between unemployment and a very long vacation.

12:00 pm - Back to writing after hanging the wet laundry outside to dry and starting another load, vacuuming the boys bedroom and picking up the bathroom. If I work hard and finish, I can figure out what to make for dinner and go grocery shopping. And of course, shower!

12:30 pm - Yay shower!

12:38 pm - Husband comes home from RC plane flying with just enough time to shower and make it to his massage appointment. (Snark intended)

1:16 pm - Five boys set up World Pokemon Trading Negotiations 2015 out side of my office. They are excited. They are loud. They love Pokemon and they don't care who knows it.

1:20 pm - Child number three comes into the office. "I'm hungry," he says. What can I eat? I remind him about the frozen corn dogs. He already had one. What else is there, he wants to know. I suggest carrots or celery. I suggest grapes or a glass of water. I have more suggestions, but he's slid out of the chair and onto the floor in a weepy heap. 

1:52 pm - The Pokemon delegation suggests that playing Super Smash Bros might be a good follow up activity to the card trading. I negotiate for a clean playroom and we have a deal.

1:54 pm - Child number three tattles that everyone is playing without cleaning. I respectfully decline to engage, beg child number three to just let me write and tell him to remind the delegation that we had a deal.

1:55 pm - Screaming, door slamming, thunderous upstairs stomping.

2:01 pm - Child number two comes into the office to complain. I give an ultimatum: clean the playroom or go somewhere else to play. Child number two refuses to take the deal. I suggest he go somewhere else with his friends. Child number two refuses to budge. I suggest he tell his friends they need to go home. Child number two holds firm on the disobedient stance.

2:04 pm - Child number two cries when I send his friends home. 

2:35 pm - Child number two is still crying, refuses to leave my office. I get two more sentences typed

2:55 pm - I don hearing protection and text a picture of the crying child to grammy.

2:56 pm - "That's the meanest thing anyone has ever done to me," Child number two says. Or at least I think that's what he says. It's hard to hear with these ear muffs on.

3:02 pm - Child number three comes in to see what all the fuss is about. Two is kicked by three and now both of them are crying. I type four more words.

3:19 pm - Three blows his nose into the throw pillow I made from $20-a-yard, dry-clean-only fabric. It's my fault for thinking I could have nice things. I manage another sentence.

3:49 pm - The standoff comes to an end. I still can't hear because of the things on my ears, but Two and Three wander off to do something. (Maybe they're cleaning the playroom.)

4:15 pm - I pound out a good start to a blog post in which I use humor to hide my pain. 

4:17 pm - Two and Three come in and argue with each other right in front of me. I ignore them. They leave after 2 minutes.

4:30 pm - The kids want to eat again. They say "Mom" a lot. I try not to make eye contact and type two more sentences. 

4:45 pm - I realize I have no idea what is for dinner. I bring in a load of laundry, and reflect on another day I didn't get any part of my future bestseller written. Maybe I'll wake up earlier tomorrow.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Miracle of the Reader's Digest Behind the Toilet

On the shelf behind my toilet sits the November 2013 issue of the Reader's Digest. It's magic.

I used to be a Reader's Digest subscriber. Every month the newest issue would arrive, spend a day or two downstairs, then go upstairs to the shelf behind the toilet. The Reader's Digest, with its one or two line "Quoteable Quotes," the mid-length quiz, "It Pays to Increase Your Word Power," and the longer "Drama In Real Life," makes the ideal bathroom reading material. There is just the right amount of content for every situation, if you know what I mean.

Back in 2013 I stopped my subscription to The Reader's Digest. While I enjoyed every part of it, I just didn't have time to consume it all before the next issue came. I found myself tossing them into recycling only partially read and feeling quite wasteful about it.

But we still needed bathroom reading material, so the November 2013 issue stayed put on the shelf behind the toilet. And it's a good thing I kept it, because as I've already mentioned, it's magic. After nearly two years, no matter what page I turn to in that 180 page magazine, I find something I've never seen before.

See? Magic!

"Did you read this article by Billy Crystal?" I ask Robert from my echo chamber one evening.

"There's an article by Billy Crystal in there?" He garbles over the hum of his Sonicare, mouth full of toothpaste. At least I think that's what he says.

"I know! How have I not seen it before now? It's hilarious." I glance at the cover again to make sure the Reader's Digest Fairy hasn't gifted us with a different issue. Nope, still November 2013.

A few days later, I find an interview with Malcolm Gladwell. Of course! I think to myself. This was when his last book came out. I seem to remember reading it before and I scan the questions and answers. They are fresh and interesting, as if I'm seeing them for the first time. Huh, I think.

The next week I take the "It Pays to Enrich Your Word Power" quiz and score 13 out of 15. I wonder how many times I've taken the quiz and scored the same. Will I ever learn the definition of venal or bumptious? Is this something I should be concerned about?

Concerned? I think. That I have a magic Reader's Digest filled with endless reading material? 

I put the November 2013 Reader's Digest back on the shelf behind the toilet and try to recall that word I didn't know the definition for.

Until next time, magic Reader's Digest!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Things You Should Never Say To a Person Who Is Trying to Be Nice (And Things You Should)

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was diagnosed with hyperemisis gravidarum. In other words, I threw up day and night for months, unable to keep anything down for more than a few seconds. Eventually I got a picc line and was put on a 23 hour IV nutrition solution called TPN. Even though I wasn't eating, I still threw up around the clock.

Everything made me vomit but especially seeing food, the fridge being opened, the smell when something was being microwaved, and dreams about food.

During this time, many people tried to help. Some of them tried to help by suggesting anti-nausea remedies (Seabands, ginger tea, smelling a lemon, hypnosis). Some suggested reasons HG may be happening to me (it was all in my head, it was Robert's fault, I'd let it get out of control, our new house had too much new carpet which was probably releasing chemicals into the air and making me sick). And one doctor subtly, but clearly suggested a solution (abortion).

Despite my explanations about food exacerbating the problem, people still brought me food. One person brought in houseplants so they could clean the air. Someone else kept me supplied with lemons to smell. And, when I was finally well enough to sit through church, one guy asked me, "Are you able to keep food down now?" every single week, even several months after my baby had been born.

It never would have occurred to me reprimand these people for making an effort to be kind. In fact, when I felt well enough, I wrote every single one a thank-you note. Did some of their attempts miss the mark? Sure. But it wasn't their failures I was paying attention to. That was secondary to their effort to do something. From my own experience, I know that doing something is not always easy.

So why do we have the myriad lists floating around the internet with titles like "stupidest things to say to someone with cancer," "things never to say to a person with anxiety," or "things you should never say to a pregnant woman," or a black coworker, or a daughter, or someone who hates her birthday, or a creative person or even (and I promise I'm not making this up) "things never to say to someone?"

Sure, these lists tell me what not to do if I want to be sensitive in a particular situation, but they also provide painful reminders of how many times I've said the wrong thing, even with my heart in the right place. Beyond that, they focus only on the negative behaviors and seem to mock the very people who are trying. They make me want to never say anything or get involved with a struggling friend again.

It takes so little effort to become offended. It's much more difficult to consistently see the good in others. More challenging still to do so when someone has said something unintentionally unkind.

How do you know if people are trying to be nice or are really trying to hurt you? Remember, people are usually dumb before they are malicious. Just assume that you are dealing with a good person who is temporarily afflicted with a little Dumb, and be kind. Instead of focusing on how they're offending you, why not give them the benefit of the doubt. Why not show a little grace.

Yes. Let's bring back grace.

Imagine a world where every time we said something dumb, or felt stupid, and wanted to hide under a rock and never come out, someone was there to recognize our good intentions? What if worked to build and love each other? What if we weren't mocked when our efforts to reach out to others fell short, but were lovingly cared for and enlightened?

If you find yourself struggling with what to say to someone who has just been insensitive towards you, but who is a little clueless, try some of these phrases:

1. Thank you.
2. You are so nice to think of me.
3. I appreciate you taking time for me.
4. You are so thoughtful.
5. Thanks for sticking by me.

No more silent seething and passive aggressive list-making when people aren't being nice to you. They are being nice . . . just not very well. Don't punish them for it.