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    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    A Little Disaster Preparedness is Always a Good Thing

    November is almost gone and so is my little blogging holiday. It's been fun sharing some favorite blog posts from Breathe In Breathe Out's history. I look forward to sharing further adventures in womanhood as they ambush me. This post from last fall isn't an experience I'm anxious to repeat, but as long as I'm navigating my various roles, some human error is bound to occur. That's when things get interesting.

    I could always stand to brush up on my...

    Disaster Preparedness

    We don’t have hurricanes in Colorado. We do have blizzards, but all the preparation they require is a trip to the store for milk and chocolate chip cookie ingredients.

    Nevertheless, I like to be prepared for emergencies.

    That’s why on the first day of school I went to the office and picked up the required paperwork to keep my son’s rescue inhaler at the school. I was wearing my Evangeline is A Responsible Parent hat. EARP for short.

    That’s also why I made arrangements to lie low this weekend while adjusting to a new migraine medication that has a lot of possible side effects. It’s a good thing too, because Saturday was weird. I was dizzy and sleepy and at one point, deep. I tried to explain this to Kory.

    He asked me if I felt hyper-aware of my surroundings.

    “No,” I said, “just deep.”

    He said, “You mean, profound?”

    I said, “No, just deep.”

    Considering my new-found affinity with the Mariana Trench, we agreed that Grandma would drive the boys to school this morning on her way to the YMCA. After all, driving while dizzy and “deep” would not qualify me to wear my EARP hat.

    So Mom and the boys scooted off to school, and I tooled around the house for awhile. Then, right as I was getting in the shower, and I do mean right, the phone rang.

    I grabbed a towel and answered it.

    “Mrs. Denmark, we have your son here in the office. He needs to use his inhaler.”

    Hand to forehead. Towel to floor.

    You see, while I did wear my EARP hat to pick up the paperwork, I didn’t keep it on long enough to fill out said paperwork and get it and the medication back to the school.

    What’s a drugged, naked, vehicle-less woman to do?

    They reassured me that it wasn’t an emergency. Monkey was wheezing but not having an attack. I knew Mom was probably in the pool doing her water exercises and wouldn’t be able to get out quickly. I couldn’t think much beyond that, so I decided to ride my bike—under the influence—to the school and deliver my son’s inhaler.

    Thank God I put clothes on first.

    I did fine until I needed to cross the street. I don’t know why I didn’t do it at the crosswalk as I rode out of our neighborhood. I guess I figured there would be another opportunity further up the road. Or maybe I thought dolphins would appear and ferry me across the street on their backs.

    I kept riding, going past the road I needed to turn on to get to the school. I was now almost to the YMCA where my van was parked. Finally, I just got off my bike and jaywalked across the street and back in the direction I needed to go.

    I’m pretty sure I never got back on my bike after that. I do remember walking up to the school and catching sight of myself in the reflective front door. My bicycle helmet was on backwards.

    I got Monkey his inhaler and—minor miracle—got myself home again.

    But somewhere along the way I lost my EARP hat. I’m probably going to have to get another one anyway. Something like Parent Fail Trust (PFT!) or Do Not Leave Unattended (DNLU), or Doesn’t Understand Medication or Bicycling (DUMB). Or maybe just Woman Trying to Function (WTF).

    Tuesday, November 20, 2012

    The Cat Toy Story (by special request)

    Today is my mom's birthday and since I'm running "best of" posts from Breathe In Breathe Out's history, I decided to share her favorite blog today. Yes, it's incredibly disturbing that this is my mother's favorite post. Oh, well. The woman has a good sense of humor.

    This post is from December 31st, 2008. Hope it gives you a giggle. It still makes me blush. And please remember this was way before 50 Shades of Gray had average women discussing bondage in Costco.

    The Cat Toy Story

    Those of you who’ve read my “Anyone Lost Their Panties” entry, know that I’m a practical girl when it comes to undergarments. It may surprise you to discover that I occasionally spend more on underwear than a measly $6.99 for a three pack of panties. Yes, you got it, only on special occasions.

    Last Christmas, I was shopping at Target when I spotted a snazzy little black number in their pajama section. I liked it, but I was on a mission for Christmas presents, so I put myself back on course and steered away from temptation.

    For Christmas that year, I decided to do something a little different. Our anniversary is January 16th, so I booked a room at a B&B in Estes Park where Kory and I honeymooned. I wrapped up the pertinent information and stuck it under the tree as a gift for Kory.

    A few days after Christmas, I was thinking about our upcoming getaway, and I remembered the black lace nightie at Target. I was out shopping, so I took the opportunity to pick it up, expecting that it would be marked down for the after Christmas sales.

    Let me stop a moment and fill in a little back story. We had a special feline guest in our house this time last year. Mom’s editor was out of town for the holidays and had asked us to cat sit for Easy, a very fun and sweet-tempered kitty. We loved playing with Easy but somehow managed to misplace one of her cat toys, a long stick thing with feathers and a bell attached to the end. I suspect one of the boys absconded with it, thinking it was some sort of modified light saber.

    While I was at Target, picking up my skivvies, I remembered we owed Easy a new toy, so I swung over to the pet section and picked up a toy pretty much like the old one.

    Now I know all of you would have the good sense to throw some other things in your cart—garbage bags, laundry soap, Scooby Doo band-aids—whatever. I can be painfully clueless about these things.

    And so it is that I arrived at the check out lane with a black lace baby doll and a long, feathered, whip-like cat toy . . . on New Year’s Eve. I put my items on the conveyor belt and then the reality of the situation hit me. But what could I do? Explain to the clerk that the items were totally separate and had no correlation whatsoever? Like she woulda believed me.

    “Sure, ma’am. Whatever you say.”

    So, this year my second New Year’s resolution (the first was not to de-bone so much as a chicken breast for not only the year but the rest of my life—but that’s another story) is to be just slightly more aware of the world around me in hopes that I will not end up--flushed crimson at the Target check out--paying for a black lace negligee (on sale!) and a feathered cat toy.

    Thursday, November 15, 2012

    The Princess and the Pee

    Raise your hand if you're running on caffeine fumes. Yep, that's me. We've had school drama, a minor medical drama (everything is OK), Kory's work schedule is insane, and my laptop died the final death. I'm trying to be upbeat about Thanksgiving next week, but honestly, I want to skip town. But as I searched for a favorite blog post to share this week, I had to smile about our family's adventures. I can't believe this post is from way back when Monkey, now 11, was a squirrely 7-year-old. I hope you enjoy...

    The Princess and the Pee

    Have you ever felt vindicated? Yes, I know God says vengeance belongs to Him. And truthfully, I seldom seek revenge. Yes, I might, on occasion leave certain supportive garments on the bathroom doorknob, and maybe that’s a subconscious payback for all the socks my husband leaves on the floor. But, on the whole, I don’t tailgate people who cut me off, or leave poor tips for lousy service. I leave vengeance to Someone better suited for it.

    But this week, I confess to enjoying a sublime moment of vindication not of my own doing.

    Monkey and Chunky started swim lessons on Monday. Monkey loves water. He’s a second generation Monkeyfish. Put that kid in water and he’s as happy, as, well, a clam.

    His class consisted of four or five young swimmers just confident enough to cause trouble. On Tuesday, I noticed the whole class was riled up. At one point the instructor sat them all on the edge of the pool and laid down the law. Bravo, I thought. He’s in control of his class.

    I returned my attention to the book I was reading only to be interrupted moments later. Another mom came over to inform me that my son was “torture splashing” the other kids.

    Really. Torture splashing? Isn’t that a bit of an overstatement? I’ll be the first to admit that Monkey enjoys a splash war as much as the next seven-year-old. But it’s not like the kid is waterboarding his classmates.

    I should have smiled and told the mom that I would watch my son more closely and intervene if necessary. Instead, I went to the side of the pool, crouched down, and chewed out my bewildered child.

    Yeah. Bad Mommy Award for me.

    Monkey got the message and continued his lessons with only minor splashing and acceptable cavorting.

    But, today, my moment to smile came. See, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between the large pool, where Monkey has lessons, and the small pool, where Chunky has lessons.

    More than once, I giggled about the class one level below Chunky’s. Taught by a tough-guy lifeguard, the class consisted of six adorable little girls. Too tiny to be in the water alone, they’d all sit in their frilly Disney Princess swimsuits on the edge of the pool, while Buff Guy showed them the very basics.

    Today, after their lesson, Buff Guy lined them up on the wall and sang “Six Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree.” Every time the “alligator” snapped, one little girl jumped into the waiting beefy arms of the instructor. Yeah, almost too cute to be legal.

    Except one itty bitty princess should have been wearing a swim pull-up. She pranced. She danced. She squealed. She peed.

    Buff Guy immediately enlisted the help of another nearby, very reluctant, lifeguard, who whisked the Peeing Princess off to the restrooms for probably no reason at all considering she was, by then, done.

    I, and the other parents, looked around for the unfortunate mother of the pool-christening toddler. Who should come hurrying over but the mom who’d accused Monkey of violating The Geneva Convention.

    Yes, I smiled, which was maybe not so Christian of me. But I did not go tap her on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me, your child is using biological warfare against my child.”

    Monday, November 5, 2012

    Left Behind (in a bathroom stall)

    Here in the Denmark household we are all focused on a certain big event happening this week.

    Yep, my birthday is Wednesday!

    No matter who wins the election, remember that November 7th is all about me.

    As a birthday present to myself, this month I've decided to run some of my favorite posts from the past five years.

    Just last week someone asked me about the post I'm sharing today, and as I read through it, I couldn't help but relive those special moments in that stall. Hope you enjoy.

    One more thing, in all seriousness, please head to the polls and vote Tuesday. And as a favor to the general public, while you're in that tiny voting booth, keep track of all your personal items. Don't leave anything behind but your vote!

    And now...

    Anyone Lost Their Panties?

    It all started innocently enough. One Sunday morning, I went to the women’s restroom at church. I quickly scooted into the second stall, thankful that, for once, there wasn’t a line. But to my consternation, there on the floor of the stall I saw a pair of tiny, black, lace underwear.

    I pondered.

    Of all the places I might expect to see abandoned panties—the gym locker room, a Victoria’s Secret dressing room, the stage at a Justin Bieber concert—church certainly was not one of them.

    Who did they belong to?

    Why had she taken them off?

    And what sad state of distraction was she in to be wandering around church sans underwear and oblivious to her skivvy-less state?

    Then I got to wondering what God thinks of black lace underwear. I’m not legalistic in the least, but is church really the place for lace lingerie? Don’t get me wrong, if I were wearing such an item of clothing, it wouldn’t be the risqué nature of my undergarments distracting me from the service, but rather the itchiness of the fabric. Maybe that’s why they ended up on the floor of the women’s room.

    I did what I’d come to do and then went to the counter to wash my hands. Another woman entered the restroom. She went into stall number two. Then she came right back out and looked at me, one eyebrow raised.

    “Did you drop something?” she politely asked.

    “No, they were there when I came,” I replied. Still have my granny panties, thank you very much.

    She looked back at the minuscule panties. Her voice tinged with reluctance, she asked, “Should we take them to lost and found?”

    I wrinkled my nose. She frowned. Clearly neither of us wanted to carry our anonymous sister-in-Christ’s g-string to the church office. We agreed it was best to leave them be in case our natural friend became aware of a draft beneath her skirt.

    I don’t know what became of the black lace underwear, but I have a vision in my head of a grizzled janitor poking at the tiny pile with the handle of his broom. Far better that than my other mental image: an associate pastor holding them up in front of the congregation.

    “Panties? Anyone lost their panties?”

    Friday, October 26, 2012

    A Halloween Bug Story, Part 2

    Last week in A Halloween Bug Story, I told you about our adventurous walk and the critters we encountered.

    Well, we’ve had quite a week with Chunky’s doodle bug, which for some reason he didn’t name until Wednesday when he took it to school for show and tell.

    But let’s back up a few nights. Abject wailing brought me running to Chunky’s room one evening early this week. I found him curled into a roly-poly type ball on the floor.

    “I lost him! He curled up and rolled down my arm. Why would he DO that?”

    We searched and searched Chunky’s room, but couldn’t find the bug.

    Bedtime routine collapsed, and I had to return to his room for more comforting after he’d been tucked in. Finally I told him the story about my rabbit, Peanut, who died of heatstroke when I was little. I cried over Peanut for weeks. But then I got a new bunny named Scooter who heeled like a dog and bit me on the shin once.

    After I showed Chunky my bunny scar, he calmed down and went to sleep. Ah, the magic of scars. An hour or so later, Kory headed upstairs to bed and found the doodle bug laboriously climbing down the steps. We think he was making a break for the front door. No such luck, Buggie.

    We woke Chunky up and pointed to the step where his doodle bug trundled through the carpet pile. You would’ve thought it was Christmas. Boy and reluctant bug reunited. Boy with open palm and radiant face. Bug in insect fetal position.

    The next day we transferred doodle bug to the container we use for feeder crickets for the turtles. Don’t worry, I cleaned it out so doodle bug wouldn’t experience the horror of cricket poo and parts.

    Chunky took him to school where somehow the bug earned the name Alex. But Chunky, who forgets his homework, his lunch tote, water bottle, jacket, and most things not attached to his person, forgot Alex at school.

    This is where it gets grim, folks. Today I made an extra trip to the school to drop off Chunky’s snow boots. My son beamed as he walked toward me in the hall, carrying the cricket cage. We exchanged snow boots for cage and I turned to go, holding the cage up to check on the roly poly.

    “He’s still alive!” Chunky called before disappearing around the corner on his way back to class.

    I eyed the cage again. Dried up apple slice, dried up grass, dried up paper towel. Half-curled, dried-up, definitely-dead doodle bug.

    What am I gonna do?! Chunky comes home in an hour! There’s snow on the ground so there’s no way I can find another roly poly in time.

    I’m looking guilty here, people.

    “Natural causes” won’t suffice as an explanation to my eight-year-old.

    Maybe cake and chocolate milk will soften the blow.

    Or I could run downstairs and see if I can get my mother’s rabbit to bite me.

    Either way, I'm in for some drama.


    Friday, October 19, 2012

    A Halloween Bug Story

    I dragged my boys out for a walk this morning. Believe it or not, they didn’t sizzle in direct sunlight. Though to hear Monkey tell it, I led them on an epic cross-country journey fraught with peril, misery and starvation. We’re looking into a diagnosis of “hobbit” for him.

    Not far into our adventure, Chunky discovered a doodle bug. He scraped it up into his hand and instantly fell in love with the tiny creature. When it uncurled and crawled up his arm, he knew his doodle bug loved him back.

    We kept walking, made it to our agreed upon turning point and headed home. When we started out, Monkey had asked how long our walk would be. I said, “About 15 or 20 minutes.” He promptly set an alarm on his iPod. I don’t know what he planned to do when the timer went off. Probably sit right down on the ground and refuse to budge another inch.

    But I was saved this embarrassment. Monkey also found a doodle bug.

    Both boys trailed after me, hands cupped around their little insect friends. They didn’t see the giant beetle ambling across our path until I pointed him out.


    We stopped to investigate. Monkey was all for squishing him, but I argued, “No, he’s cool. Look he’s black and orange. He’s a Halloween beetle.”

    We watched the Halloween beetle, speculating on his coloring. (Chunky thought somebody had painted him.) But in a careless moment, disaster struck. Monkey dropped his roley-poley right in the Halloween beetle’s trajectory.

    We held our breath. Maybe the big bug would leave the smaller one alone.

    Nope! The monster beetle sniffed the doodle bug, then it grabbed Monkey’s new buddy and curled around the helpless thing like a six-legged burrito.

    We tried to save the doodle bug. Monkey stamped his foot close to the beetle to scare him into letting go, but it was no use. When it became clear that the roley-poley wouldn’t survive, Monkey ended the whole tragic scene with one good stomp.

    Now a black and orange smear is the only thing that remains of the incident.

    Chunky’s roley-poley made it home and now has some cushy new digs in a plastic tub. Chunky plans to introduce his bug to a classmate’s inexplicably female doodle bug. He’s convinced we’ll have a doodle bug family before too long. I’m pretty sure he’s thinking along these lines:



    As for the other bug. Let’s hope he’s gone to a better world and won’t return to haunt that particular square of pavement.

    Thursday, October 11, 2012

    The Trouble with Meat

    I’ve just put two racks of ribs on the grill and a shepherd’s pie casserole in the oven. Later I’ll slap some hamburgers and a steak next to those ribs. No, we’re not having company for dinner tonight. I’ve spent the week cooking meat because our big chest freezer in the garage went the way of the dinosaur.

    It happened sometime on Tuesday, I’m guessing. I went out Tuesday evening to grab some ground beef for tacos. When my fingers squished into that plastic wrapped log of pink, it took me a second to process what was wrong.

    Once I registered that the hamburger I held was defrosted, I dropped it back in the caput freezer, shut the lid, and calmly walked away.

    While I waited for Kory to come home and save me from Too Much Meat, I pondered how to break the news to my mom. You see, the freezer is hers. So is the half a cow in it. And the turducken. And the buffalo. And the various bits of lamb.

    When I buy meat, I buy chicken. And even then I’m not happy about it. I’ll never forget the first time I had chicken in peanut butter sauce at a Chinese buffet. I almost cried. At last, a way to fully disguise the taste of poultry!

    If only I could do that to all forms of meat. You see, I’m a vegetarian stuck in a body that should be on Atkins permanently.

    But Mom is a carnivore. I didn’t know how bad the situation was—if any of the meat could be saved. And as I’d be inclined to chuck it all, I knew I’d better wait for Kory.

    When he got home we tackled the mess. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. The stuff on the top was defrosted but cold and the stuff in the bottom was still frozen. We threw out one or two questionable packages, transferred the frozen stuff to other freezers, and stashed the rest in the fridge. That night I cooked six pounds of ground beef and buffalo, mostly to freeze.


    The next night I cooked five. And tonight I’ve got the last of the lot cooking. Well, there are still three packages of bacon. Now bacon is a different matter all together. Even a meat hater like me can’t deny that bacon is important for a person’s mental well-being.

    When I finally told Mom about the casualties I broke it to her gently, emphasizing everything we’d saved. She said, “Well, that freezer is older than your brother!”

    And here’s the sad part. My brother and his wife are carnivores too. They both love to cook. I so wish they lived closer and could come take some cow off our hands. Especially since I just remembered to check on the ribs. They’re burned.

    Meat. It just isn’t worth the trouble.

    Thursday, October 4, 2012

    Banned Books Week

    I was asked to speak on the topic of choosing picture books at Author Fest of the Rockies this year. Of course I jumped at the chance to talk about children’s books, which I love. I came up with a workshop called Choosing Picture Books that Work for Your Child and You. I took the approach that although adults and kids might have different goals in mind when they pick out a book, any form of reading can be beneficial. Yes, this includes Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Garfield.

    My theory is that we don’t need to teach our kids to love stories. We’re born with that. Do you watch TV? You love stories. We do need to show them that reading isn’t scary. It’s relaxing and freeing.

    Of course I think you should expose your kids to literature, read quality fiction and non-fiction, and be discerning about their maturity and what topics they can handle. But I don’t think you need to feel guilty when your kid streaks through the latest Captain Underpants release. If that builds their joy in reading, so be it.

    When I arrived at the wonderfully funky Business of Arts Center in Manitou Springs, I checked in with Black Cat Books, the folks in charge of selling books at the event. I immediately zeroed in on the Banned Books bracelets.


    I love jewelry related to the written word! One tile on the slimmer bracelet caught my eye. That’s right! Captain Underpants. I bought it, displayed it during my presentation, and then showed it to my kids when I got home.

    You probably already know September 30th through October 6th is Banned Book Week. I was just perusing some of the titles and reasons they were challenged this morning. A few I’ve read. Most I haven’t. Some I’d love to read. Some I’d exercise my right not to read.

    But after reading the list, I was a little surprised when I picked up my eleven-year-old from school and he proclaimed, “I read banned books,” and showed me a button he got at school.

    “Cool!” I said.

    “I don’t know why they’re banned. I guess for bad words and stuff.”

    Poor kid. Someday he’ll know better than to bring up such a topic with his mother.

    What followed was my philosophical argument for exploring difficult subjects in literature for the good of all humankind. I ended by saying that I write about things that some people don’t think should be in Christian fiction. (Because romantic revenants and faeries that do chores are so controversial.)

    “They just want happiness and flowers and Amish people,” I grumbled.

    Monkey, seeing his opportunity to sneak a word in while Mom took a breath, hollered from the back seat. “They need action too!”

    I laughed. For him, a good book means a book with plenty of action. Simple as that.

    I got off my soapbox. Took the chip off my shoulder and stored it for later use. And I thought, “Write a good book, Evangeline. With action! Nobody cares about the rest.”

    So, what banned books have you read? I didn’t read all the lists at the banned books site but I know The Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland and Huckleberry Finn have been banned or contested. I’ve read those. And Captain Underpants. Don’t forget Captain Underpants!

    Sunday, September 23, 2012

    Adventures in Accidental Parenting

    Parents, does it always happen this way? One minute you’re having an innocent spaghetti dinner with the family and the next you’re in a full-on birds and bees discussion. And then, as if to prove a point, your box turtles start going at it in the next room.

    It wasn’t the first time one of the boys asked us about the meaning of a dirty word. They’ve sort of become fascinated with curses. They’re not swearing, although before he knew any better, Chunky cursed the eternal future of his math homework. Who could blame him?

    But lately they’ve been asking, “What does the bad S word mean?” “What does the bad B word mean?” For the most part we’ve offered satisfactory explanations, but not so with the F word.

    My husband managed to delay the first F word conversation by answering our 11-year-old with another question. “Do you like it when there's kissing on a show you're watching?”

    Monkey: NO!!!

    Kory: Then you don’t want to know anything more.

    But it came up again tonight, and we weren’t able to redirect. Finally I said, “It has to do with the act of making babies.”

    Monkey: OH! (confused expression) Like if the mom has a baby and throws it away?

    Me: No.

    Monkey: Oh. Is it when the mom drinks alcohol and the baby gets infected?

    Me: No. It’s the making the baby part.

    Monkey: OOOOHHHH!

    We could tell something clicked in his brain. Kory was quick to interject. “If you know what it is, you don’t need to say anything more about it in front of your brother.”

    Monkey: Oh, he already knows. Our friend told us. It’s when moms and dads do this. (He pressed the heels of his hands together.)

    Kory and I simply nodded then had the following telepathic conversation.

    Should we be angry?

    I don’t know.

    I’m kinda relieved. Aren’t you?

    I guess so.


    About that time the turtle cage started rattling. It’s pretty unmistakable when Roger gets a bee under his shell. Molly runs. He chases. The turtle habitat is big, but not that big. He always catches her.

    The boys went to see what all the noise was about. Without being too graphic, you should know that turtles start out in pretty much the same position most animals do. But as things, um, progress the male falls backward, keeping his claws attached to the female's shell, and just hangs there, belly up like a sun-bather. But this time Molly had somehow gotten flipped on her back. She had her arms, legs and head tucked tight in her shell and was playing dead for all it was worth. Roger was desperately attempting to flip her right side up. Eventually he was successful but, well, how do I say this delicately? He got the wrong end. And that didn’t stop him. By this time our explanation of “wrestling” pretty much wouldn’t fly.

    Monkey, with apprehension in his voice: I think Roger is attracted to Molly.

    Chunky: Why doesn’t she get out from under him?

    Me: Women are patient.

    We herded the boys back into the dining room, but the ruckus from the habitat proved a bit distracting.

    I can only imagine it’s very frustrating to be a male box turtle. First of all, your shell is in the way and her shell is in the way. Neither of you is exactly physically accommodating. She is unwilling. And pretty speedy when she wants to get away. And, well, you’re too stupid to know which end is the right one.

    Thankfully, Kory had reset the timer on their heat lamp to go off earlier. (It’s time for horny box turtles to turn their thoughts to hibernation.) When the light switched off, the mood was gone. For Roger anyway. I’m afraid Molly’s switch was never flipped to begin with.

    And, so, because of profanity, an over-eager friend, and a couple of turtles, we’ve had our first official discussion about sex. All I can say is, thank goodness the rabbit is single.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012

    Drama Much?

    So, actor Josh Hutcherson totally ruined my Saturday evening. Well, ok, the evening already had a few counts against it. First, I was (and still am) totally sick. Second, it was supposed to have been a family work day, and although my husband and boys pitched in, my To Do list remained depressingly long.

    Saturday evening the boys watched a recent remake of Journey to the Center of the Earth, which they loved. When the movie was over, Monkey disappeared into the office to play on the computer, but I flipped through the bonus features. It seemed like a better alternative to getting up. And, well, my eyes were still open. This is how my youngest son came to watch a clip called “Being Josh,” in which a thirteen-year-old Josh Hutcherson takes a camera crew through a day in his life.

    Kid arrives at his own trailer with his dog.
    Kid goes to makeup.
    Kid has an awesome time filming an action scene.
    Kid plays with dog.
    Kid does school with cool and fun tutor.
    Kid plays football on movie lot.

    You get the idea. Now I respect Josh Hutcherson (Team Peeta!), and I think he’s a pretty decent actor. But he did not do me any favors by making the life of a child actor look like whoops and giggles!

    After we finished the feature, Chunky turned to me, blue eyes wide in his freckled face.

    “Mom, I’ve decided I want to be an actor.”

    Please, God, I’m sick. I don’t have the energy for this conversation.

    “Ok, honey, but acting is really hard work, and you have to love being on stage in front of people. You don’t even seem to enjoy the school music programs.”

    “That’s because I get stage fright. I only want to be an actor in movies.”

    “It doesn’t usually work that way. You have to start somewhere. You have to like to entertain people. You have to act in school plays and community theater.”

    “No, I want to be in movies, and I’ll tell the director not to let any people be around when we’re filming.”

    At least he has the ego for it.

    Ironically, I suggested children’s theater to Chunky about six months ago, secretly hoping for an outlet to channel Drama Child’s excess emotion. I tried to gently remind Chunky of this as his side of the conversation escalated into hysterics. He wept and wailed, stretched out on the couch with a pillow over his head.


    “Why do I have to have stage fright? Stage fright is ruining my life! I just want to be an actor, but I can’t because I don’t want people to see me.”

    God, did I mention that I feel like cold, crusty oatmeal?

    I launched into the “if you really want it, you have to work hard and overcome obstacles” speech. I told him he could pray and ask God to help him with the stage fright but that God doesn’t usually wave a magic wand. In all likelihood he’d have to work hard and trust God for courage. Why do they never hear the “you may not get what you want” part?

    “How long will it take for God to take away my stage fright?”

    “I don’t know, honey. Want to talk about how long it’s taking God to give mommy a book contract?”

    More histrionics. And Chunky continued his drama fit too. Thankfully, Monkey appeared providing Chunky with a new audience for his great tragedy. Sadly, Monkey was unmoved by the performance.

    We eventually got our little thespian calmed down and ready for bed. Yesterday he bounced up and gave me a big hug.

    “Mommy, I prayed for God to take away my stage fright and He did. I want to be in theater!”

    “That’s great, honey. Maybe now you could pray God will give mommy a contract.”

    Heaven knows the wailing on the couch isn’t working. And I refuse to hear the “you may not get what you want” part.

    Apparently the apple—while descending with a flourish worthy of a Newton re-enactment—does not fall far from the tree.

    *photo by weatherbox

    Friday, August 31, 2012

    Monsters

    People often tell me I’m funny. I like being funny. I love laughing. I love people with a good sense of humor. And most of all, I love having the freedom to admit that I am totally clueless most of the time. I think it’s healthy to laugh at myself.

    But sometimes life just isn’t funny. During hard weeks I struggle to come up with a blog post because I’m afraid I’ll be letting folks down if it doesn’t include a little humor. Sometimes there is humor amidst the difficulty, little flashes of grace lighting the dark closets where we hide with our struggles. But sometimes, even though the grace remains, the light is dim.


    This morning my husband and I huddled with our oldest son in a darkened workroom at the elementary school. I wondered if we'd always be imprisoned. The three of us, trapped by the monster in Monkey’s head, trying to beat it back or sneak around it to escape.

    Monkey suffers from anxiety. And I don’t mean he worries. I mean anxiety attacks incapacitate him. It’s still hard for me to grasp. I get stressed. Really, really stressed. But never have I felt like my own mind was trying to kill me.

    Even now, after the hours I’ve logged sitting outside the bathroom door while the fight or flight response empties my son of everything including rational thought, I still don’t know exactly what he goes through. I don’t know what it’s like to be inside his head when, as he puts it, his anxiety gets him.

    Sometimes dealing with this feels like us, our family, against the world. In reality, we have a team that includes our family doctor and some truly dedicated people at Monkey’s school. Although this morning, none of them were around when the crisis hit.

    I finally found one of the school counselors, and as we walked down the hall to attempt to rescue my son from himself, she said, “This is unusual for a fifth grader.” I wanted to get my snark on and say, “Oh, really? And there aren’t any adults who can’t go to work because of anxiety attacks?”

    We did get him into the classroom. I wanted to announce his accomplishment over the PA, give him an award for bravery. He deserves a hero’s welcome for conquering that monster, knowing the evil thing will be back. But, of course, the whole process has to be as low key as possible to avoid even more stress for him. So I didn’t cheer. Or run up and kiss the other fifth grader who greeted my son with such sweetness and enthusiasm when Monkey finally emerged from the project room.

    And the school hasn’t called, which is a good sign. But I want to go check on him. I wish I could let him stay home every time his anxiety gets him. And that is the hardest part. Cuddling my son and offering reassurance is easy. Finding the tools to help him overcome this and function in the world is hard. It's a long journey.

    So that’s my post for this week. That is my messy life. Believe me, I prefer to share the funny stuff. But I know all parents face monsters of one kind or another with their kids. And sometimes it can help to throw a little light on those beasties. If you're battling something right now, know that I'm cheering for you and your kiddo, especially if that precious child isn't the type who gets ribbons on field day or his or her name on the honor roll. Don't worry about those paltry prizes. You slay dragons every day.


    *photo by firehawk77

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012

    The Life and Loves of Chunky

    Just over a year ago, my youngest son fell hopelessly in love with a girl he met at science camp. The two exchanged phone numbers but Chunky, being 7 at the time, did not manage to hang on to that precious piece of paper. And Catherine, heartless, blonde 8-year-old that she was, never called him. Never.

    For over a year, Chunky has been exhausting his family with scenarios of finding her. He’s imagined out loud, ad nauseam, walking into McDonalds where Catherine happens to be having lunch, or stopping at a red light and looking over to see Catherine in the car next to us. He knows what area of the city she lives in and tried to convince me to drive up and down the streets while he called her name.

    I was actually considering starting a "Find Catherine" Facebook campaign. He was that desperate. And we were that tired of hearing about her.

    But last week we began to see some encouraging signs. We have hope. Finally, after the long Year of Catherine, a change is in the air. My husband and I are holding our breath, exchanging looks, and crossing our fingers.

    On the second day of school, Chunky came home and said, “I made a new friend.”

    Not at all surprised, I responded with my usual, “Good for you, honey.”

    But my interest grew as he continued. “It’s the new girl who sits next to me. She asked if I wanted to be friends, but I was already thinking about asking her. She’s from San Antonio and she has an accent.” He said the last like “She has a space ship!”

    The next day he came home with her phone number.

    Now for the most part, Chunky is just a friendly kid who happens to enjoy playing with girls. But he is becoming aware of his own charm. Awhile ago I heard him tell his brother that he’d have lots of girls calling him in high school. Bewildered and horrified, his brother asked, “Why?” Chunky responded with, “Have you seen this face?”

    Yes, despite the great and throbbing ache of Catherine’s rejection, his confidence remains intact. Yesterday, my oldest was chanting some song lyric about being sexy.

    I told Monkey he didn’t need to be saying that. As I expected, my 10-year-old had no idea what the expression meant. When I explained that “sexy” means you are attractive to the opposite sex, he quickly retracted. “Oh, then I’m not sexy.” He proceeded to dance through the living room, singing, “I’m not sexy.” (I do this too, but only in the complete privacy of my bathroom.)

    Flustered and slightly amused, I started to correct Monkey again, but Chunky’s response drew me up short. In a quiet, assured voice he said, “I am.”

    Who could argue with that?

    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    Heights, Trains, and Water Goblets

    I’ve decided that you really get to know a person when you’re on vacation. Since we don’t go on vacation in our family, we’re all practically strangers. A couple weeks ago we had a mini holiday. Kory took a record TWO days off from work, and on Thursday we drove to the Royal Gorge with the kids.

    I admit to being afraid of heights but my cowardice blossomed when it was time to cross the bridge. We'd already ridden over it once on the trolley, which wasn't so bad. The trouble came when it was time to go back and the trolley didn’t arrive at the designated waiting area.

    And didn’t arrive. And didn’t arrive.

    We decided to walk, stepping out onto the boards and heading for the other side. I walked along confidently for a bit, and then my eyes darted to the side as the boys ran up to the railing to look over the edge. I figured out quickly that looking over the edge was not an option for me. I glanced behind me, debated going back to wait for the trolley. I decided against it and started walking faster. Then I made the mistake of looking down at the boards beneath my feet. There are gaps. They aren’t huge gaps, but a sliver of space is all you need to see the deathly drop below. Indiana Jones clips played in my head. I walked faster.

    I’d established that I couldn’t look to the side, I couldn’t look down, and looking back didn't help, so I kept my focus in front. Oh my gosh, is that bridge long! I walked faster. In fact, I was now doing that ridiculous wiggle walk you often see paired with unwise spandex use. I wanted to run but held on to a smidgeon of my remaining dignity.

    Meanwhile, Kory and the boys were falling farther and farther behind. Not that I looked back. But I occasionally heard a faint “Mom?” coming from behind. I got to the other side, dizzy and out-of-breath, and as I recovered I realized something about myself. When it comes to heights, I will leave my husband and children to the rickety boards and inevitable crocodiles and save myself. I’m not proud, but at least this is useful information to know should we ever find ourselves on another ludicrously high bridge.

    The next highlight of our little trip was a train ride on the scenic Rio Grande railway. We spent Thursday night in the town of Alamosa in the San Luis Valley. I’m a little familiar with the valley because I lived in the area from around age 11 to 13 when I threatened to start my own business fermenting potato alcohol if we didn’t move someplace with a mall.

    Anyway, we were all excited to ride the train. We stood in the open-air observation car as the train clickety-clacked over the valley toward the mountains. There’s not a whole lot to see on that first stretch of the trip, but Kory and the boys pointed out small, skittering animals, cars broken down in the middle of nowhere and strange dwellings that seemed part trailer, part barn, mostly dust.

    But my husband caught me completely off-guard when he sighed and said, “Why can’t I have a junk yard?”

    Astounded, I blathered the first thing that came to my mind. “Because you have a wife!”

    “I know, I know,” he said, “And I like our nice house. But I want a junk yard, too. A place where I could build cool stuff.”

    I had no idea my husband was so keen on scrap metal. The weird thing is, he’s anti lawn art. I mean REALLY anti lawn art. Not that junk is lawn art. But sometimes—a lot of the time—lawn art is junk. I digress.

    Perhaps the most startling realization came in the dining car on the train. We hadn’t intended to eat on board, but our original plans fell through and we found ourselves on a restored New York dining car. Monkey, being 10 and male, has never been to a fancy restaurant. I bit my lip as he made his way down the narrow aisle between elegant but cramped tables. Monkey, being 10 and male, has had so many growth spurts in the last year that he literally can’t keep track of his own appendages. We settled in at a vacant table. Kory and I cringed at the overpriced, underwhelming menu, and Chunky complained of a stomach ache. But Monkey grinned and pointed to the intricately folded napkins and elaborate place settings. When the waitress filled our water goblets he picked his up, stuck his pinky out and said, “You’re supposed to drink it like this, right Mom?”

    I muttered an incoherent response. Have I mentioned that Monkey is 10 and male? I’m not sure what possessed him to behave like such a gentleman at the table. I can assure you it’s not a regular occurrence despite my constant nagging. Maybe we need to eat gourmet dinners in moving vehicles more often.

    So there you have it. I am a gutless coward. My husband is a closet redneck. And my ten-year-old is capable of table manners! Who knew?

    So what did you discover this summer?



    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    A Solution for Back to School Shopping

    A week or so ago I was asked to blog about a Facebook post I made about crashing a block party. I want you to know I tried really hard to think of a way to talk about our annual visit to The Cool Street that sounded funny not sad. But any which way you look at it, the truth is just pathetic. Every summer, our friends invite us to their block party because on our street nobody talks to us. I don’t think this has anything to do with my husband building coffins in the garage, but I can’t be sure.

    So we head a few streets over with a dish to share and kinda lay low, easing into conversations and pretending we belong. But inevitably someone wrinkles their forehead and says, “Now which house do you live in again?” Yes, it’s a bit awkward, but not so awkward that we’d consider not attending.

    And there you have it. See, not very funny.

    But while we were there, the topic of the kids returning to school surfaced. Collective groans sounded over back to school shopping. You all know I hate buying school supplies. I’ve blogged about this before. While I think teachers truly are saints most of the time, they must experience brief moments of demon-possession when making their school supplies lists. In fact, if one approached a teacher, list in hand, and demanded to know how it was possible to buy a ten pack of washable markers when washable markers only come eight packs, I’m sure the teacher would be genuinely shocked and confused by his or her own unreasonable request.

    Nevertheless, school supply shopping usually brings me to tears. So this year, my friend Andrea and I came up with a solution. We plan to have our husbands drive us to Wal-Mart late one night. We’ll sit in the car and drink a margarita and then go in to shop for school supplies. No more stress. No more tears. Just relaxed, mellow, late-night shopping in less-crowded aisles. And when we come out of the store with one eight pack of washable markers and one ten pack of regular markers, and college-ruled notebooks instead of wide-ruled notebooks, and two red folders and three green folders and one blue folder instead of three blue folders, two green folders, and one red folder, our sober husbands will be waiting to drive their carefree wives home. And the teachers won't even notice that our children don't have everything on the list because after all it was Memnoc the Horrible who made the list. Not them.

    Everybody wins, right? And best of all Crayola won’t sue me for slander because I started a hate campaign about their marker packaging and quantities.

    But, seriously, is back to school shopping as stressful for you as it is for me? Do you have any coping mechanisms? Do you reward yourself with chocolate or a frappucino when it’s done? Have you ever been tempted to shop drunk?

    Tuesday, July 24, 2012

    Tadpoles

    Oh my goodness! Is summer over yet? I’m so ready to say good-bye to summer 2012.

    It’s been a rough week. My husband was in a rollover accident coming home from work last Wednesday. He is fine, amazingly, but the car was totaled. Kory stayed home from work on Thursday, went to the doctor at my insistence, and made the necessary insurance phone calls. I went about my normal day, but I kept thinking, “I could be in the hospital with him right now.” I couldn’t bear to think of the worst-case scenario.

    Then came the tragic events in Aurora on Friday, July 20th. It’s mind-blowing to think that my husband survived a rollover and twelve people didn’t survive a night at the movies. This is not the sort of thing you can make sense of. Everything we tell ourselves—that God had a plan, that death is part of life—none of it reconciles the gut-wrenching wrongness of a psychopath murdering innocent people.

    The outrage and grief stirred in our hearts is the only natural thing about such a tragedy. The heated debates about gun laws and access to mental health care are examples of our need to express the splitting deep within our souls. We have a collective need to cry, “This is wrong! This is not how it should be!” We point to different reasons for the tragedy and offer scenarios of how it could have been avoided. But all of the words and the arguments can’t fill in for what we can’t express.

    The truth is that death is at odds with the eternal nature of our souls. Death was never in the design. Yes, I truly believe human beings were created to live forever. Death entered our world with sin, but before that, we were immortal. Of course C.S. Lewis put it best. “Humans are amphibians - half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.”

    This juxtaposition of our condition is one reason I’m drawn to paranormal stories. I think the genre allows for that schism we all feel. It’s a relief for me to read and write books with both human and supernatural characters. My mind fits more easily into a story containing elements outside of the normal “human” experience.
    I sometimes wonder if there are components of speculative fiction that are more real to our souls than anything found in realistic fiction. But no matter what we write, read, say or experience, we are not much more than tadpoles navigating our world in awkward bodies while peering through the water’s surface at an existence we can barely imagine.

    This summer I deliberately put my work in progress on hold with the intention of establishing a healthy summer routine for my boys. I mostly failed. I am handicapped in the area of organization. We’ve been going to the pool, reading sporadically, and practicing math facts on a sort of penance model. And I’ve been drifting. Every writer is familiar with that evil voice that whispers, “Who do you think you are, pretending to be a writer? You don’t have anything worth saying.” At one point, I realized I couldn’t even remember the name of one of the main characters in my current project.

    Then I went to bed one night last week and I couldn’t sleep. I suppose it was either Wednesday or Thursday because it was after Kory’s accident. To my surprise the characters from my WIP started speaking. The antidote to that pesky voice of doubt is a character who pops into your head every time you close your eyes. In my case, he’s a boy with high cheekbones, brown eyes, and copper wire woven into his dreadlocks. His name is Blaise, and he’s trapped in a city full of beautiful porcelain people and wind-up creatures called Tocks. He tugs on my imagination, begging me to leave behind one level of existence in order to explore another. And so I guess I’ll return to the life of a writer, wriggling and flopping along in between story world and reality. Not fully at home in either. A tadpole. A human. A spirit. Something in between. Something other.

    Where are you this summer? When do you feel split? What experience causes you to slide between the two planes of existence? Is it uncomfortable? Terrifying? An awakening of sorts? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    For info on how to help the Aurora victims, click here

    Thursday, July 12, 2012

    Me versus Sangria

    I thought I’d let you all know that I’ve won the Mother of the Year award again. Sorry to all you hopeful, worthy ladies out there, but the deed is done.

    Tuesday night was Girls’ Night at my friend Kari’s house. I volunteered to bring Sangria even though I’d never made it before and only had a vague idea of what it was.

    Tuesday morning I found a recipe online that said Sangria--or fruity wine punch--is supposed to sit overnight so the fruit has time to infuse. I didn’t have all night, obviously, but I figured if I made it early enough in the day, the fruit would at least have some time to do its job.

    For some reason, it took me several hours to reach this conclusion. The morning was gone and my Sangria wasn’t made.

    So I headed to the liquor store and grabbed a bottle of white wine and some blackberry brandy. Then I dashed over to King Soopers and loaded up on citrus fruits, strawberries and pineapple.

    At home, I set to work uncorking the bottle—usually Kory’s job. I casually twisted the corkscrew in and nothing happened, so I started paying attention to what I was doing. The screw just wasn’t going any deeper. I did what any independent woman would do in such a situation. I texted my husband at work.

    If you read my blog at all, you know Kory is used to getting texts from me that display my incompetence in no uncertain terms.

    2:54 PM
    Me: I can’t get the wine bottle open. I NEED to make the Sangria NOW so it has time to sit. I keep turning and turning the opener and the screw won’t go any deeper in the cork. What am I doing wrong?!

    Kory: Sounds like you stripped the cork. Take a pic and send.


    Kory: Push down hard while turning. Don’t hold down the handles while turning.

    Oooh!

    Me: How much further? (I’m sweating at this point.)

    Monkey (stole my phone): Yawn. Cookies from Monkey. (Perhaps this make sense if you have ADHD. I don’t know.)

    Me (got my phone back): I can’t get it out!!!


    Kory: Rock it back and forth.

    At this point I realized that it was 3:00 in the afternoon and I was sweating and panicking over opening a wine bottle while both my 8-year-old and my 10-year-old tried to help.

    It dawned on me that this was not a personal high point. I thought about going to our neighbors' house to see if Big Strong Matt was home and could open my bottle for me. Then I thought about how that would look and decided against it.

    I gave up on that bottle and headed back to the liquor store, fully comprehending that I’d been there only 15 minutes ago and would now walk in, looking desperate and ruffled, to grab another bottle of wine. So I did the only thing I could think to do. I pushed the door open and announced that I’d stripped the cork in the first bottle, and I had to make my Sangria NOW. It was a Sangria emergency.

    I grabbed another bottle of white wine and headed to the register where Friendly Neighborhood Liquor Store Owner wrinkled his nose and said, “You use for Sangria? Too sweet.”

    I gave him a look that said, “And that’s a problem how?”

    Back at home I set to work on the second bottle. Kory got the following text at 3:23 PM.

    Me: 2nd bottle already giving me trouble. Gonna cry. Does the screw have to go all the way in?

    Kory: You have a better chance if it does.

    Me: Was I supposed to take the green paper off first? Should I take the screw out and peel off the paper then try again?

    Kory: Do anything that might help.

    Me: But will unscrewing it strip it again?

    Kory: Not if you’re careful.


    Me (hysterical): Is it too late already?

    But it wasn’t. I put the screw in the cork and cranked down a few more times and Viola! I got it.

    Kory got this picture.


    Me: Success

    Kory: LMAO. Success has its benefits.

    Me: I’ve won the Mother of the Year award again, haven’t I?

    Kory: *diplomatic silence*

    Girls’ Night was a blast and the Sangria was delicious. I am a little worried about future biographies of my life written by my children and possibly Friendly Neighborhood Liquor Store Owner. He’d probably title it Crazy Lady Use White Wine in Sangria or Suburban Mom Don’t Know Crap.

    Monday, July 9, 2012

    Love and Mess

    The other day my friend Beth Vogt tagged me in her Facebook status which linked to a blog post by Jessica R. Patch. Naturally I checked out Jessica’s post titled “Nothing Says I Love You like Dog Poo.”

    Her husband’s brave sacrifice in the face…er...rump of poo made me think of some particularly gross tasks my husband took on for me. I remembered the time Monkey threw up all over our bed after Kory’d gone to work. I tried to clean it up, but being pregnant, my efforts took the situation from bad to worse. I tried to make it to the toilet before I threw up, but I ended up splattering the master bathroom. When Kory came home that evening he had two puke messes to clean up. I’ll never forget him standing on our bed, running the carpet cleaner over our mattress.

    But that’s certainly not the only time my husband got stuck with a nasty job. Several years ago we had a family reunion that overlapped with the wedding of two good friends. The day of the wedding, we hosted our extended family for breakfast. My dog thought she was a guest too and snagged some sausage patties, wolfing them down before anyone could stop her. My family headed out to their activities for the day and we left for the wedding. We stopped by the house during a break between the ceremony and reception and discovered that the sausage had violently exited my dog. So Kory, still in his groomsman tux, got down on his hands and knees and scrubbed the floor. He said cleaning up dog diarrhea in a tux was a surreal experience he never wanted to repeat.

    Kory came to the rescue again the very evening after I’d read Jessica’s post. As we were getting ready for bed, my sink filled up with water which meant the clog in the drain, which I call Sink Thing, had grown to full-pipe capacity. Now, I’ve made an effort to dislodge Sink Thing in the past, if you can call donning full protective gear and poking at it with a rubber gloved-finger an effort. I’ve also poured Clorox on Sink Thing and shouted at it a time or two.

    But Sink Thing remains a fixture in our bathroom. Then one day as I threw my work-out pants over the side of our rarely used bathtub, I discovered that Sink Thing had a friend. A strange little dried-up brown object sat near the tub drain. Naturally I recoiled from the mysterious pellet. Instead of removing it, like a normal person would do, I took to calling it Tub Turd.

    We might as well go ahead and pause for everyone to say, “Eww!” Yes, I am a terrible housekeeper.

    We continued with Sink Thing and Tub Turd until one day I needed to use my bathtub to launder my pile of handwash only clothes. I braved Tub Turd’s lair and discovered that Tub Turd was really a harmless fuzz ball. I still wore gloves to remove it.

    But Sink Thing is another story. I know what Sink Thing is—a gross, sludgy combination of my hair and soap. Why does clean, sudsy soap turn to black goo in the drain? Or stain your grout that slimy pink color? Isn’t that the opposite of what soap should do?

    Anyway, back to our evening routine. I pointed out the flooding caused by Sink Thing, and Kory presented me with a long, thin, bendable wire with what looked like a tiny dog brush attached to the end.

    I took it from him and frowned. He pointed to my sink, but I already knew what I was supposed to do. Gingerly I plunged my hand into the full sink and inserted the dogbrush end of the tool into the drain.

    “You’re going to have to go deeper than that,” Kory told me.

    I shot him my best sad puppy dog expression and shoved it another inch or so in and wiggled it around. I nearly gagged when bits of Sink Thing started oozing up into the standing water. About this time, Kory got impatient and came over and crammed the snakey tool all the way down the drain and started hauling up sludge from the u-bend. I stepped aside, suppressing a triumphant grin, and grabbed some paper towels to hand to Kory as he dismembered Sink Thing.

    With Sink Thing vanquished and my water draining properly, I gave my husband my best you’re-my-hero smile. I wonder if all those girls who think love is a vampire watching you sleep would be shocked to learn that love is really a thirty-something guy snaking a drain for his wife. Or cleaning up vomit, while she watches from the doorway, one hand on her preggo belly and one covering her mouth. Or cleaning up her dog’s poo wearing a tux because she mysteriously disappeared.

    Yep. The grosser the mess the truer the love!

    Monday, July 2, 2012

    Accordion Awesomeness

    I don’t know how you spend your Saturday nights, but Kory and I like to stay hip by hitting the town, eating at trendy spots, and hanging out at the cool clubs. We’re just awesome like that.

    Yeah, ok. That’s about as far as I can go with that absurdity. Truth is, we spend most Saturday nights at home doing ultra-exciting stuff like watching TV and begging our children to go to bed.

    But this last Saturday night was different. Kory’s parents invited us to the picnic for their senior townhome community.

    I know. Try to hold back that raging jealousy monster.

    We weren’t just there for the brownies. The scheduled entertainment for the picnic was a husband and wife accordion duo, the same couple who gave my husband accordion lessons when he was a kid.

    *cough* Nerd!

    Kory’s parents brought pictures from his accordion band days and shared them with the other seniors and the musicians. In an amazing display of wifely solidarity, I kept my snickering to a level undetectable by hearing aids. Actually, as a former bell choir member, I don’t have a stool to sit on in the cool department.

    But the accordion players were truly fantastic. They’d had a show in Branson, medaled in international competitions, and were professional entertainers. Our boys really got into their “music from around the world” bit. Chunky kept whispering, “When will they play Scotland?” When they heard his request they played a version of “Scotland the Brave” that would’ve earned a nod from my Scottish aunt.

    You couldn’t help but smile as the husband and wife players flirted over their bulky instruments in a practiced routine that was, nonetheless, charming. When the concert was over, Chunky leaned over to Kory and said, “Daddy, you need to get an accordion.” I suggested that Kory could make some real money playing the accordion in bars, particularly if he wore lederhosen. Oddly enough, my introverted husband didn’t jump at this opportunity for extra cash.

    As we drove home I told Kory that I felt cheated. Here I am the wife of an engineer when I could’ve been the other half of a dynamic accordion duo. We could’ve been up there, in matching clothes, grinning and winking and one-upping each other as we each played what has got to be the weirdest instrument ever created. Well, second to the bagpipes, of course. And those gourd thingies.

    Our whole family was on a fast course to geekdom. Thankfully, when we arrived home our very cool neighbors were hosting a very cool backyard party, playing very cool classic rock and drinking very cool sangria. We crashed the party, regained our slightly cool status, and were saved from a possible future as the Denmark Family Accordion Band.

    So, time to share. Did you play an instrument as a kid? Do you still play? Are you a closet pan flutist?

    Have you ever seen Boba Fett and Princess Leia in an accordion duel?

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

    Waldo Canyon Fire

    Unless you live in the Land of Oz, you’ve probably heard about the Waldo Canyon Fire near and in Colorado Springs. We live on the northeast side of town and are safe, but we have friends who are still under evacuation and some who’ve lost their homes to the blaze. I think our whole town is in shock, nevertheless it’s amazing to see the community and all the organizations pulling together to fight this fire.

    This photo was taken from our house on Saturday shortly after the fire broke out.


    Over the next few days, the fire grew, edging closer to Colorado Springs and threatening smaller towns along Highway 24, which runs west from the Springs up to Woodland Park. Then on Tuesday, the situation exploded. The fire grew to three times its size, burning homes on the west side, and creating what authorities referred to as a perfect firestorm.

    This is the view out of my car window as the kids and I drove home from the movies on Tuesday afternoon. This was the beginning of that horrific firestorm.


    Soon after we got home, the smoke was thick and choking around our house. We watched as the news showed footage of people evacuating, gridlocked in traffic as they tried to flee the fire. Then, as the night continued, the news cameras focused on burning homes. Those are sights I’ll never forget. Out our bedroom window we could see flames on the night-darkened hillside. In fact, the view on most nights since the fire started has looked something like this.


    This is an extended exposure photo of Blodget Peak taken by Dave Soldano.

    Today we’ve heard good news and bad. 346 homes were burned Tuesday night. Tonight there was a meeting for families on 35 different streets in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood. They were informed if their home was one to go up in flames. Continued prayer is appreciated for those families and all those affected by the fire. But we did have a better day as far as the fire-fighting efforts go. They are at 10% containment at this time and have lifted a few of the mandatory evacuations.

    As I said before, I’m just astounded at the cooperation of those fighting this fire. Here’s a pic taken by Rick Colombo of a few of the firefighters.


    Talk about heroes!

    There are more than 2,000 people fighting this fire. Now, my friends and family know that I don’t care for personal contact, which doesn’t stop my boys from playing a game called “Hug Mommy till She Cries.” I have a big personal space bubble. But I would hug each and every one of those 2,000 firefighters if I could. Of course, it would probably take me around 5 years to recover from that much human contact. My husband might get lonely in that time, so it’s a good thing I can’t hug all those folks.

    But there is something I can do. Organizations like the Red Cross and Care and Share are releasing lists of needed items for the evacuees and the fire-fighters. This morning they mentioned the firefighters needed socks. When I was at Costco today, I saw cart after cart with multiple packages of socks, obviously intended for the firefighters. It sort of made me want to cry.

    I know it sounds trite, but it really is humbling to be able to provide items that will go directly to the evacuees and the firefighters. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. To buy a package of protein bars and know that a couple exhausted guys will cram them down before heading out to battle flames—Wow!

    Now if I only I could STOP eating like a firefighter. My body hasn’t gotten the message that watching the news while draped over a swamp cooler does not qualify as a crisis. I’m all about the comfort food and the ice cream right now.

    And my favorite exercise, walking the dog, is out of the question due to the smoke in the air and my asthma. When this is all over I’ll be a few pounds heavier, but so very grateful for what God had blessed me with.

    If you’d like to help with efforts in Colorado, here are a few links where you can donate.

    Red Cross

    Salvation Army

    Help Colorado Now

    And here’s a link to a photo essay from DenverPost.com. It’s indescribable.

    Monday, June 18, 2012

    The Summer I Lived with a Mime and a Grizzly Bear

    Raise your hand if you’ve cleaned slushy out of your car seats in the past two weeks.

    Yeah. It’s definitely summer now.

    My house is a wreck. I’m out of band-aids. My pantry is empty. I find myself near tears at least once every day.

    And, yes, my blog has been neglected.

    So here’s what we’ve been up to in the past few weeks.

    We had a garage sale and got new-to-us couches. Somehow these two events have resulted in the complete rearrangement of my house. There are toys all over my normally off-limits front room and couches and nightstands in my garage. We plan to move Monkey into his own room this summer so the upstairs of our house is in flux. I’ve decided as long as my bed is where it belongs when I finally fall into it, the rest can just take care of itself.

    Chunky, who was wearing all black and obsessed with vampires two weeks ago, has now moved on to mimes. Yes, mimes. He is always demanding that I watch him “stuck in a box” or “walking down stairs.” Unfortunately, he seems inspired to perform while we’re in the car, so every red light has me twisted around in my seat applauding “running while stuck in a booster seat.”

    Mimes? Really? Is this better or worse than vampires? You tell me.

    Monkey has spent the last few weeks being ten-going-on-thirteen. He is really, really cranky. He sleeps till 10:00 AM then spends the rest of the day trying to meet a caloric quota that would have me wearing a tent by the end of the week. I think he’s also grown an inch since school got out. I tiptoe around the office where he's holed-up and frantically wave food offerings whenever he pokes his head out. It’s a lot like living with a grizzly bear.

    So there you have it. If I wrote a book about this summer it would be called The Summer I Lived with a Mime and a Grizzly Bear. I just hope the final chapter doesn’t involve the grizzly bear eating the mime. Maybe the mime will turn out to be a vampire mime and thus an even match for the grizzly bear.

    Speaking of writing books, I finally finished this round of edits on The Immortal Heathcliff. I would feel good about this if I wasn’t nauseated by the mere mention of The Book that Tried to Kill Me. I’m excited to get back to work on my dystopian/steampunk novel, provided I’m not devoured by a grizzly bear.

    For the writers out there, what does your writing life look like in the summer time?

    For the older moms out there, are there any foods that keep a growing boy full longer than five minutes?

    For the psychologists out there: 8-year-old vampire mime. Should I be concerned?

    Friday, June 1, 2012

    Vampires on Bicycles

    Ah, summer.

    The other day my 8-year-old rode down the middle of the street on his bicycle wearing all black and spouting his own version of vampire lore. Did you know wearing black is lucky for a vampire?

    It’s a good thing I’m past caring what the neighbors think.

    Our first week of summer has been stressful. I have great plans for getting my kids on a schedule and improving some bad eating habits that have slipped in. Relax, none of those habits have anything to do with blood! But first I need to finish a rewrite. I’d hoped to have it done before school got out, but with one thing or another…

    So this blog will be short and sweet. Well, sweet if you think vampire-obsessed 8-year-old’s are sweet. Since I'm also considered a moving violation when I’m plotting and walking at the same time, I find Chunky’s world-building charming. I’m sure some parents would be concerned, but having lived through his leprechaun stage and countless “I’m a puppy dog” scenarios, I know to let the “story” play out.

    Speaking of stories, just today I saw that there’s a graphic novel version of Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow. I loved reading it in college so I think I might have to pick it up.

    I just started Divergent and it promises to be good. On my summer reading list with the boys are The Invention of Hugo Cabret and The Lightning Thief.

    I’d love to hear what you’re reading this summer. What’s on your TBR pile? If you have kids, what are they reading?

    Oh, and in case you need something to look forward to, check out the trailer for Les Miserables. It gave me goosebumps!

    Monday, May 21, 2012

    Tooth Fairy Drop-Out


    Our Tooth Fairy is second rate. I wonder if I could explain to my kids that their fairy dropped out of high school, flunked her entrance exam to Tooth Compensation School twice, and is holding on to her job by a thread of dental floss?

    Some of you might remember last year’s Epic Tooth Fairy Fail and the resulting tears from my youngest. Well, I had a chance to redeem myself this weekend.

    On Saturday Chunky lost a tooth while getting a haircut. The girls at Great Clips thought this was adorable and made a fuss over him. Being Chunky, he enjoyed the attention tremendously.

    We wrapped the tooth in a tissue and stuck it in my purse to take home. Where it stayed. Sunday morning he told me he didn’t get anything from the Tooth Fairy because he’d forgotten to put the tooth in the special little pillow with a pocket. I breathed a sigh of relief, thankful he’d come to this conclusion all by himself.


    All day yesterday I reminded myself we had Tooth Fairy duty that night. You’d think I would’ve picked up some cash while I ran errands, but no. Bedtime came and Chunky asked for a piece of paper to write the Tooth Fairy a note.

    He composed his letter and tucked it into the pillow pocket with his tooth and a pen for the Tooth Fairy to use to write him back.

    We got the boys in bed and headed down to watch Doctor Who, because that is what I’m doing with my life these days. Naturally, I forgot about Tooth Fairy duty until Kory appeared in the bathroom door while I brushed my teeth sometime around 11:30 PM. He held up Chunky’s note and said, “I think this is your department.”

    Sure enough, Chunky had written a sweet little letter all about losing his tooth while getting a haircut. He asked the Tooth Fairy to write him a note on the back of the paper.

    After a moment of panic, I had an idea. A family friend had given each boy a two dollar bill when they were little. Because the boys didn’t really understand the concept of money at the time, I stowed the bills in my jewelry armoire. Perfect!

    I dug out one of the two dollar bills, found a sparkly pink pen, and set to work writing a letter in swirly handwriting that in no way resembles my own. The Tooth Fairy told Chunky how special and rare it was to lose a tooth while getting a haircut and that such an event warranted a special and rare two dollar bill. I tucked the note and the money in his pillow and went to bed.


    Tooth Fairy Win!

    Right?

    This morning when I woke up I put off getting into the shower because I wanted to be there when Chunky found his stash. When he slept a little later than usual, I went in, scratched his back, and let Willie the Heeler “snuggle” him awake.

    Finally, he came out of his room and trotted over to the pillow hanging on the banister. (We convinced him to hang the pillow there so it’d be easy for the Tooth Fairy to do her job, hopefully resulting in fewer flub-ups.)

    My heart squeezed as he read the Tooth Fairy’s letter and broke into a gappy grin.

    Yes! Tooth Fairy Win!

    I left him admiring his two dollar bill and headed for the shower.

    A few minutes later, I stepped out of the shower to hear a knock on the bathroom door.

    “Yes?”

    “Mommy?” Chunky said. “Why does my two dollar bill have my brother’s name on it?”

    %&$#@&!

    "Well, you see, honey, your Tooth Fairy is ‘special’ . . . "

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012

    Daleks at the Dollar Store

    You know you’re obsessed with Doctor Who when you encounter Dalek appendages at the Dollar Store and text your husband a picture.


    It took me awhile to get into Doctor Who. I desperately wanted to like it because, you know, all the cool kids talk about Doctor Who. But at first I couldn’t get over the cheesy effects and the fact that mop buckets with plungers and paint rollers were supposed to be terrifying.

    But we made it through the 2005 series, and then David Tennant stepped into the Doctor’s role and it was all over for me. I love a man with a Scottish accent! So much so in fact that his departure left me bereft. My only solace was to stand outside my boys’ room while they listened to their How to Train Your Dragon audio books, which Tennant narrates.

    We just finished the first series with Matt Smith as the eleventh regeneration of the doctor. I’m almost used to him. I still hate his bow tie. (I know, “Bow ties are cool.”) And why are his pants so short?! Can someone explain this to me?

    I don’t know why, but sometime during the first series we watched, I started counting Gareths in the credits. The most Gareths I’ve ever spotted is three. Other favorite first names to watch speeding by are Morag and Endaff. Again, I don’t know why I do this, but Kory knows better than to fast forward the Doctor Who credits. He patiently waits while I stare at the screen, hollering, “One Gareth! Two Gareths!” not unlike the Count on Sesame Street.

    So, since I am hopelessly weird and perhaps need balance in my life, I thought we’d play a little game called How Obsessed with Doctor Who are You? I know some of my readers must be worse off than I am. You already know the extent of my obsession, (I count Gareths and listen to annoyingly juvenile dragon books read by MY Doctor), but I’ll give a couple more examples to get things started.

    I’m so obsessed with Doctor Who that I crocheted an Ood mask and I wear it on special occasions.

    I’m so obsessed with Doctor Who that I demand my husband wear pinstripe pajamas.

    I’m so obsessed with Doctor Who that I dress up as the TARDIS on weekends.


    I’m so obsessed with Doctor Who I’m eating myself into the shape of the TARDIS while watching Doctor Who marathons.

    Ok, your turn. Any TARDIS painted fingernails out there? Who is your favorite Doctor? If it’s not David Tennant just know that henceforth you’re dead to me. And if you don’t watch Doctor Who and you think I need a new hobby, what would you suggest, keeping in mind that I’m an Indoor Person?

    Monday, May 7, 2012

    Of Moths and Wild Boys

    Moths have invaded Colorado Springs. Most people find them annoying and a little creepy, but here in the Denmark household, they’re something special.

    The moths remind me of the summer after Kory and I met. We must’ve had a dry winter in 1997 because the moths took over that spring. I have memory flashes of insect aerial displays at intersections, warm evenings with moth-dotted walls, and fluttery things swarming porch lights. So, as weird as it is, I find our current moth infestation nostalgic and even a little romantic.

    Two little Nerf warriors in my house view the invasion with frenzied joy. Most evenings our bedtime routine is hijacked by Moth Wars. The boys pause somewhere in between changing for bed to take up arms and hunt the pests.

    Despite the fact that it is extremely hard to hit a moth with a Nerf dart, if I were a tiny, winged creature, I’d be terrified of the shirtless giants and their loud, yellow weapons. But nobody ever said moths were intelligent, and so the battles rage.

    My house is strewn with darts. I trip over a Nerf gun every night when I go to turn off their lava lamp. Then I’m startled by the flight of the silent enemy as I return to our bedroom.

    But I don’t mind.

    The next time the Miller moths invade they’ll bring with them memories of new love and wild little boys who refuse to go to bed. But who will they find? An overworked dad? Likely. A tired mom? Most definitely. Two teenage boys with plans, frustrations, too much homework, and too little sleep? Probably. I just hope that somewhere in those messy rooms, there’s still a Nerf gun or two ready for some action.

    Tuesday, May 1, 2012

    Wish You Were Here


    It’s Debut Day for my good friend and mentor Beth Vogt. Her first novel, Wish You Were Here, hits shelves today. I got to read this novel as it was being written. I got to kibitz on fun little details, brainstorm character arcs, and laugh and laugh some more at the antics of beleaguered heroine Allison Denman.

    Over and over as I read this manuscript, I told Beth, “I can just see this.” From the very first page, a movie—starring Katherine Heigl no less—played in my head. Beth’s voice recalls favorite rom-coms like While You Were Sleeping and My Best Friend’s Wedding. Her writing is immediate and visceral and her dialog is spot on. Even the title seems tailor-made for the big screen. But don’t mistake the Sandra Bullock worthy storyline for a shallow chick flick. The more you read, the more you uncover Allison’s painful past and the secrets behind her need to control her own life.

    Before I go any further, here’s a teaser to get you on the same page:

    Allison Denman is supposed to get married in five days, but everything is all wrong. The huge wedding. The frothy dress. And the groom.

    Still, kissing the groom’s brother, Daniel, in an unguarded moment is decidedly not the right thing to do. How could she have made such a mistake? It seems Allison’s life is nothing but mistakes at this point. Daniel’s adventures—chronicled through a collection of postcards—have always appealed to Allison’s well-hidden desire for something more. But how can betraying her fiancé’s trust lead to a true happily ever after?

    Can Allison find her way out of this mess? Recognizing she doesn’t have all the answers won’t be easy because she’s used to being in control. To find her way again, she will have to believe that God has a plan for her—one outside her carefully defined comfort zone—and find the strength to let Him lead.


    Let me put on my writer’s hat for just a moment and say that I was amazed at how Beth revealed Daniel’s character through his postcard notes to Allison. Talk about making every word do double the work. In Twitter-length sentences at the beginning of each chapter, Beth made Daniel live, breath, and holler, “Come have fun with me!”

    Who could refuse?

    I guarantee you will laugh along the way as Allison tries to figure out what to do with her life while pursued by a determined ex-fiancé, the inconveniently handsome and heroic Daniel, and the wedding dress that refused to die!

    You can find Wish You Were Here at your local Christian bookstore or online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Christian Book Distributors

    Monday, April 23, 2012

    Paying for a Weekend Away

    Captain ADHD aka Monkey aka yes-my-kids-have-real-names had a meltdown this morning. Somehow 7:50 AM snuck up on him. He’d finished breakfast and was watching Fairly Odd Parents when I told him we needed to think about getting dressed. Yes, that is how I phrased it. We have a system.


    7:50: “It’s time to think about getting dressed.”

    7:55: “You’ll need to get dressed soon.”

    8:00: “Go brush your teeth and get dressed.”

    8:05: “We’re running out of time. Go get dressed.”

    You may think this is nagging or that not making him go immediately is a poor parenting tactic. But this is how we handle pretty much everything in Monkey’s life. The reason? ADHD. Monkey needs to know what’s coming and be reminded of it several times in order to process the change in his activity. In many cases it’s not about obedience. It’s about easing through the most difficult parts of his day—transition times.

    But this morning, the reminders didn’t help. He lost it. He told me, “I didn’t have enough time. How can it be 8:00 already? I didn’t get enough time.”

    Guilt washed over me as I cuddled him, trying to lay out the day and our week in reassuring, positive tones.

    This breakdown was my fault. I’d been gone all day every day from Thursday to Sunday. I attended a fabulous writer’s conference here in town then on Sunday after a half day at the conference, I drove up to Denver to join Mom at the Englewood Library’s annual Meet the Faces author event.

    Kory was awesome while I was gone. I am blessed beyond the stars to have a husband who supports my writing. But it’s hard on my family.

    This weekend an important homework project was overlooked. The laundry staged a coup. Chunky had no clean underwear last night, and Monkey didn’t have shorts to wear today. And this morning my son suffered because our routine was off. He didn’t get enough time. With me.

    I drowned in the weight of the moment.

    Moms out there, I know you’ve felt the same way. I know you’ve asked, “How can I take time for myself when my family pays the price? How can I be that selfish?”

    Hear me on this.

    Being a mom is wonderful and important, but you are more than a mom. You are a woman with talents, abilities, and interests, and it is not wrong to develop those. It’s not selfish to pursue the God-given desires of your heart.

    Selfish is spending your family’s food money on alcohol.

    Selfish is neglecting your kids because you’re too strung out to care.

    Selfish is running down another mom because she works outside the home. Or doesn’t. Sends her kids to a certain kind of school. Or doesn’t. Goes to the gym. Or doesn’t.

    Yes, we might’ve been ahead instead of behind on the homework project if I’d been home this weekend.

    Yes, Chunky would’ve had clean undies, and Monkey would’ve had the shorts he wanted to wear if I’d been home this weekend.

    And, yes, Monkey probably wouldn’t have had a meltdown this morning if I’d been home this weekend.

    I wouldn’t have sat with him on his bed as he panicked about all the unknowns of his week. I wouldn’t have told him that when we go through something un-fun, like a test, we can remind ourselves of the good things coming—a family outing this weekend. When one more day of school feels like eternity, we still know that summer is around the corner. When we’re miserable we tell ourselves, “It’s not always going to be this way.”

    My little boy needs to learn that lesson. He’ll need to hear it over and over again. Because I was gone this weekend, he heard it this morning. That’s one down. 99? 1,000? Who knows how many to go?

    photo by flickr contributor Earls37a
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