Monday, April 30, 2012

I've Moved!

I have a new website!  You can now find me at This is where I will be posting all my new content.  You can subscribe to the new threads there, but be aware that they are divided into 3 separate blogs now, so you can choose to only listen to me ramble about certain things, or you can subscribe to all three.  Hope you like the new look, thanks for reading!

Click Here!  This will take you directly to the new site.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Too Big for My Britches

Do I need a website?  No, of course not.  I should explain. I am finally, after many years finishing up the very last credit that I need in order to complete my outstanding degree. It's a pitiful story really, one of a pregnant woman (code for concentrationally challenged and perhaps a touch spacey) miscounting and taking a 2 credit class that should have been 3 and viola, everyone but me walks. Anyhoo, 7 years later I have scraped together the dollars required to make it happen, and after a very kiss-bottomy letter to the board appealing to them to let me back in, I am rolling. I will, in a few short weeks, finally be able to claim that MA in business. The one that I already claimed in my bio, you may have noticed, but I was kind of lying.  To defend my honor, I can say that I was enrolled in the class when I wrote the bio, so it feels like we could perhaps refer to it as a stretch?  

Blah, blah. I took the class that looked like it would require the least amount of reading and writing.  I wish I could tell you that I was eager to get back to the books, but let be honest, I have always hated writing when it's homework. Actually I've always hated writing at all.  There aren't enough rules and right answers. I like tidy boxes for information as much as I like them for my crap. I prefer some good old fashioned algebra. Well, I'm sad to report that there has already been a fair bit of reading and writing, but the good news is, this class is called "Design Principles for Business Applications".  Now you know exactly what I'm doing because it's so clear by the title.  In a nutshell, I'm designing a website!  Yay! 

So it's not perfect yet, and I don't know how to do a bunch of the stuff I want it to do, but here it is and I hope you like it.  I know it's excessive for a little blog that only a handful of you like to read, but it sure has been fun.  Let me know what you think and what you think it needs and I'll get on google and try to figure out how to do it. Or I'll ask my sister-in-law who's site is up and awesome and figured it all out already. She should get a grade and a couple credits. 

Happy Spring everyone!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring Cleaning--It's All In Your Head!

I LOVE spring cleaning.  You probably hate spring cleaning, so you assume we don't have that in common. But not so fast.  Here's what I mean.  It's like running. When people find out that I run, they always say to me "I hate running".  The implication is that I enjoy it so we're different.  I actually think running is kind of horrible. It's really boring, and I hate listening to my labored breathing. Also it's uncomfortable, and I hate being uncomfortable.  Ask my husband, he'll confirm my distaste for discomfort. I don't enjoy the part where I'm actually running at all.  The fact is, though, when I round that last corner and I'm headed for home and I've just finished my run, it's exhilarating! It feels awesome to have done that.  I feel strong and in charge.  It makes me want to treat my body like a temple--eat lean protein and drink a green smoothie. The harder my run the more I feel that way, it's directly proportionate. It makes me feel optimistic and hopeful and generally happy inside. Plus I feel rad. The result is so amazing that I have vision for the workout, which in turn, actually makes it fun in a twisted sort of way, see? It might make me say "I love running" even though I kind of hate running. It makes sense, doesn't it? So, if feeling on top of it and in charge is such a great feeling for me, and if organization and order are the things I love more than all other things, you can see how the thought of spring cleaning makes my heart feel light, even if I dread getting started. But I do have a "how to love spring cleaning" trick and here's what it is. I approach it in two distinct stages.

The first stage of spring cleaning happens entirely in my head.  It's a planning stage.  I let myself live here for awhile because I know that if I don't actually have to do any work yet, it won't be as overwhelming to start engaging with the disaster that the house has become.  I start intentionally opening my eyes as I go about my life and make mental notes of all of the chaos that I would ideally like to address.  I don't even make a list yet, I just start looking and noticing. Look at my mail sorter, wow, there is actually some garbage in there, and is that a cassette tape?  Really? Oh, huh, look at those baskets in the laundry of "crap I don't know what to do with", those are really packed to the brim, aren't they? Interesting, I had no idea that there was an empty shoe box in the broom closet next to that $25 bottle of stinky vitamins I wasn't sure if I could return. 

 It actually ends up being a lifeline of hope through the last of winter.  There are no expectations on me yet--I don't have to do anything--but I am starting the process and because I know now that this stuff is going to be addressed at some point, I can relax about it for now. I also like to think about some projects that I am excited about, so that some of the much needed cleaning and purging will be about making way for new life.  I would way rather purge the toys in the basement if I am planning to finally put in those shelves down there and hang some stuff on the walls.  It's going to be so much easier to clean out the clutter in the girls room if we're planning to paint and rearrange the furniture when we're done. Even thinking about shopping for spring clothes makes addressing my closet seem less horrible.  I mean who wants to hang a pretty new spring jacket next to dusty wool slacks? So I just think and plan and dream. Those things aren't miserable, they're fun!

I actually find that eventually stage 2 happens on it's own. I'm not even joking. Instead of avoiding the thought of spring cleaning because it's sounds so overwhelming--and I'm depressed enough because it's March and the weather report is snow and rain for the rest of eternity--I just call noticing Spring Cleaning, and voila! I feel like I'm making great progress even though I'm not doing anything at all. It's a two step process and I'm halfway done. Progress always feels great and plus now I'm in charge, not my chaos. Feeling great is like a positive spiral.  Eventually, I'm dying for the sun to come out because I have a head full of things to get to and I'm sick of thinking about them.  I'm actually chomping at the bit to get started doing them!  

In the past, when I'm bogged down in the winter blues and I have chosen to avoid engaging with the house, I wake up and suddenly it's spring. It's time to address  the dirt and the clutter and it's overwhelming and I don't even know where to start.  Trying to warm up the engine at the starting line is a huge job, and it's not that great for the engine either.  So this is my nugget for the day.  Motivation and action are different jobs, and spending some time warming up is universally a good idea. So look around, it's fine! Dream a little, have some ideas, shake your head at the mess.  That wasn't so bad, was it? Congratulations, you're already well on your way!

Friday, March 23, 2012


I have a friend who is the opposite of me.  I mean in terms of her non-negotiables.  I care deeply about mess and clutter. I will go to the ends of the earth to find solutions for mess and clutter while turning a blind eye to grime around the shower head.  And frankly, unless it's a major cleaning day,  I only care that the "company path" gets dusted (my basement collects dust like crazy--poor kids!).  I really just need it to be pretty, and organized.  She, however, cannot abide in a house that feels gross.  I have personally witnessed her get out the mop--not the broom--after our kids have had lunch when we are at her house.  She thinks I'm crazy and has on more than one occasion laughed at me for things like this:

But I swear I've seen her take a potty break during coffee and then emerge from the bathroom with yellow rubber gloves on and the 409. She would be horrified to se this in her house:

That is the space underneath the very same pantry closet. Or how about  this (Heather make sure you've had breakfast):

And these are things I found today while cleaning house that I am not even planning to do anything about.  I'm actually not kidding.  If I get to them, I will, but you should have seen the examples I could have come up with this morning before I got out the cleaning supplies. I'm actually sad that I already vacuumed out my coat closet. It hadn't been done since last spring, I think. Eew. It's what made me think of this post. Well that, and my husband posting something funny on Facebook this morning about moms blogging instead of raising their kids. Okay, the shower grime I probably will do, but only because you guys have seen it now and I feel ashamed. 

This same friend is famous for her permanent collections of things like tax return documents, playmobiles, phone batteries, coins and general randomness on her beautiful, granite, handcrafted kitchen island (it's actually where these things go I think.  It is there home), but I personally would lick soup off of her floor without a second thought. I swear I've never seen a smudge on her windows and that's saying a lot because her house is literally made of glass.  She actually bought a glass dining table when she has three young children--on purpose! I was flabbergasted. I thought certainly she hadn't thought it through, but I was grossly mistaken.  She said that if it's glass she will know exactly when it gets dirty (precisely the same argument I use for not having a glass table).

Ultimately, her non-negotiables are all about knowing it's clean.  She knows who she is and she's setting herself up for success.  You can find glass cleaner and a roll of paper towels any time you need them right within reach. Her mop is handy, her electric sweeper is always plugged in and ready to go. The cleaning supplies are already next to the toilet and the sink--fully stocked with clean rags.  She will likely trip over all kinds of wayward items on her way to the bathroom, and if you look inside her closets it's the most hilarious collection of goods. She used to keep vitamins and the ziplock sandwich bags on the top shelf of one of her kitchen cabinets, and I remember in the hall closet there were some guest bath towels, extra blankets and cartons of Costco soup. But I'll be darned if there were any dust bunnies in the corners of said closet and those towels may not be stacked and folded according to color and size, but I bet they got washed with dryer sheets and spritzed with lavender linen spray that very afternoon.

My point is simple.  "Know who you are and be that" is really about understanding your non-negotiables and letting go of stuff. And it's really different for everyone. I've spent a bit of time talking about this through my own eyes, but we all have different vision. I thought Heather's eyesight was an interesting change of pace.  I'm sure many of you can relate to this! She is someone who does things really different from me, she makes entirely different choices, but she knows what she has to have in order to be at peace, and what she can let go of just a little. We just can't live forever determining that everything is a non-negotiable.  The goal for me is to be able to sit down periodically and enjoy some peace, some fellowship, (some tv). Or to be at home with my family and feel like it's under control. That I'm running the place not the other way around. To be truly honest about what drives me mad and find realistic solutions that keep the Inspector Dreyfus twitch at bay, but allow me time and energy to invest in the things that I really care about.

Like this:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Will to Live

I haven't posted in awhile because, well "if you can't say somthin' nice...".  I'm having some trouble with the late winter blues. I'm dreaming of putting flowers in my pots, taking the kids on crisp, spring walks, sitting with my hubby sipping evening cocktails on our patio while the kids kick the ball around in the back yard.  I'm even looking forward to hollering at the kids for taking all of the dishes outside to play Little House and leaving them full of muddy water on the porch. Listening to the neighborhood kids laughing in the yard until way past bedtime. I can't wait to pack away coats and hats and not have to dig them back out again. To have a few months of relief from finding socks for everyone every day.  

I love spring and summer more than anything.  I start looking forward to it the day after Christmas, which unfortunately is only a few days into winter. Some good wine and Top Chef can keep depression at bay for a little while, and in February I fool myself into thinking I'm almost there so there's a resurgence of momentary optimism, but by March...I 'm just all done. I just lose my will to live. Then this morning I went downstairs and found that while I was gone with the girls all afternoon and evening yesterday this is what was happening to my house:

It's very discouraging and it doesn't help very much. I figured I should go and try to find my reason for living. The good news is that I found this:

and this:

I also found this:

And then it wasn't long before I saw this part of his neck:

I hate winter, but there is something alive, undeniably vital, about the raging need for smooches that came over me.  Every season passes eventually and in the meantime I guess I have some pretty great things to keep me busy. I think I'll hang in there for a little while longer.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Grandmas Chicken Dumplings

My babies have been sick all week.  Yesterday found me at the doctor's office with a crew of kids in various stages of yuckiness while fighting a pretty nasty chest cold of my own. I sat there in the waiting room with arms around babies everywhere kissing and cooing and fussing--trying to get everyone just what they need to feel better as quickly as possible.  Meanwhile I kind of want my mommy too.  Comfort and love and warmth.  I came home and all I could think about was my mother-in-law's chicken and dumplings. I just kind of had to have them.  I don't know how to tell you how these dumpling haunt me, but they are so delicious that I have never quite recovered from our first encounter.

My mother-in-law is a woman with a story. Her roots run deep into Oklahoma and Texas--her parents met somewhere in California while living at a pickin' camp after they had made the trip out west to find a new life. Real Steinbeck kind of stuff.  She raised her own 5 kids on nothing but pennies out in the mountains of Colville, Washington. She loves the idea of living off of the land, she's a world-champion canner and I swear she can make the best home-cooked food out of nothing but flour and water. It's like it's in her spit, it's part of her heritage.

Side note: My fiddling sister-in-law is so inspired by this woman's roots that she's written several songs about it and you can check them out here--she's pretty amazing. My husband has also written songs about it, but this work is harder to find--he's a little shy.  You'll have to be around the family fire to hear those.

So I have attempted these chicken and dumpling many times, but they never turn out quite right.  Mine are like chicken soup, with dumplings. It's good, but it isn't hers. My own mother, God love her, taught me to make food out of cans.  One of our standard meals was canned salmon with peas and apple sauce. Oh and a piece of buttered bread. I thought you made dumplings by opening a can of Pillsbury biscuits and tearing them into the soup. Anyway I keep calling my mother-in-law and just like all of the grandmas you know, she just keeps telling me things like "the key is more fat in the dough", and "you just put some milk, or cream in the broth".  She doesn't know how she does it, she just does it.  Well last night I think I finally got it! I have compiled all of her vague notes and after many attempts think it may have come together. Just as I suspected, the key was to take out all of the fancy stuff and spit in it.  Maybe I've been in the family long enough that it's starting to work for me too. So these dumplings are pure comfort food.  They are the slippery, doughy kind--none of the dry biscuit dumpling for me--and the broth is more like gravy than soup.  And the recipe is like a conversation, it isn't written down, and it shouldn't be.  Like I said, the secret is in the spit.  It's an art, not a science. I'm going to give it to you the way she gave it to me, but hopefully with a few more details. And no pictures. Not everyone can be the Pioneer Woman, and my camera blows.  Plus the light in my house...well there basically isn't any light in my house.

Grandma Mannan's Chicken and Dumplings

  1. Boil your chicken down and take it out of the water (seriously, that's all she gave me--you have to make your own decisions about quantities).
  2. Add a whole carton of chicken broth.  People put carrots and celery and onion in theirs, but not grandma. This was my initial error.  None of that fancy stuff.
  3. Add at least one can of evaporated milk sometimes 2. (apparently you can use cream here as well or milk)
  4. Make the dumpling dough (see below), roll it out, cut it into strips and drop it into the gravy-broth with the meat from the chicken.
  5. Throw in lots of pepper and add salt to taste
  6. Simmer for about an hour until thick and the dumplings are cooked through

Here is the part where you need some specifics and I think I finally got them! The dumplings.

  1. 3 Cups Flour
  2. 2 tsp Baking Powder
  3. 1/2 tsp salt, plus a touch more:)
  4. 1/2  C oil (maybe more--you have to "eye-ball" it until the dough looks crumbly like cutting in butter into pie crust dough)
  5. 1/2 to 3/4 Cup milk.  Pour slowly until you have the dough consistency
These things are gooey and delicious!  If you are looking for comfort food, this is it baby.  It's simple, to the point and gets the job done.  I ate three bowls.  So now I've written it down for myself and lucky you get to have it too.  I hope you try it, and when you do remember that you are not only eating comfort food, but you are taking a bite out of my husband's history. You are tasting a bit of Oklahoma, a bit of California, a touch of the mountains of Eastern Washington, and the bountiful love of a wonderful woman feeding her babies with all she has.  Nothin' but flour and water.

(My sick babies, aren't they sweet?)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tricky Stuff

I remember when we were young and broke and living in Michigan. Jacob was going to school full time by day and then working two jobs by night while I was pregnant and most days walking--yes, sometimes uphill in the snow-- to substitute teach at the local public high schools. Jake would try to do homework when he got home (often from delivering Pizza until 11:00), but he also had to attempt to be available to his lonely, hormonal wife who hadn't seen him or anyone else familiar all day.  When I think about it now, I can't believe we survived. Well, I guess we almost didn't, but that's another story for another day.  Anyway, blah blah background.  So Jake "drove truck" for a lumber yard and most of the time he was delivering lumber to building sites that were muddy and snowy and on unpaved roads and, you know, tough conditions.  He had to become skilled at what is apparently called a Boom Truck.  I am ashamed to say, I have no idea what a boom truck looks like or even really what it does, but I gather that it was important. One day Jake came home from work and he was leaning against the counter and he had this cute little pleased look on his face.  I could tell he had something to say and was searching for the right words.  He finally just chuckled and said "babe...I do tricky stuff at work." It has become family lore. It was perfect.  I still laugh when I think of it.  He felt silly telling me, because in the broad scheme of things, who would notice or care, but he had apparently become very good at it, and the guys in the field respected him and tipped their hats to him and he just wanted me to know that.  To be a part of seeing what he did and what his work amounted to.

Isn't that what we all want, really?  To be recognized for our contribution? I went online the other day and Googled my blog.  I did!  I wondered if it would come up.  What I found was twofold.  1) My blog does not come up. And 2) their are simply 1,000,000 results that say "I'm NOT just a housewife".  So many women just like me trying to justify what they do and what they're worth. Trying to distance themselves from an idea that they feel has become synonymous with an outdated, wasted life. This mommy war between the working mom and the stay-at-home mom is kind of epic. It gets pretty dirty sometimes.  But at it's root, is a nation of women who pour themselves into what they do and want to be noticed, validated and appreciated.

The working moms feel judged and accused of selfishly pursuing themselves while denying their children and destroying the traditional family, while the homemakers feel minimized and patronized for wasting their lives on a mindless job and not making a contribution to the "real world".  Raise your hand if you've felt this and wanted to (or did!) get on your soap box and defend your choice and list (my god the list) all of the things you do in a day.  I sure have. I can chew you up and spit you out if I feel that you are overlooking me and dismissing me because I don't work outside the home.  It's amazing how fast those claws can come out.  

But it got me thinking. What are the chances that an entire person with all of her uniqueness --her experience, her education, her singular gifts and abilities--is not making an incredible impact? Wherever she goes. I have the sum of my whole self to give to what I'm doing.  Of course it's making a difference.  Of course other people who are not investing in the same way are not reaping the same benefits.  Just as I am not reaping the benefits of their investment.  Nothing is wasted,  it all adds up to who I am and it's part of the input. The more I have to give the greater the impact. Whoever you are wherever you go you're all in, and you bring with you the total of your skills and creativity, personality and life experience.  I guarantee its making an impact. A positive one! Everything comes at the expense of something, its just the way life is.  We're limited by humanness and space and time. So no, we don't have everything that our sister has, but what we invest adds up to 100% regardless of where we invest it. Some people say that a career woman is making a greater contribution to her family and the world and some argue the exact same thing for a homemaker. Some say the real champions are the ones who are doing both.  And whether it's at home or out in the workforce, some think the harder you work the greater the reward and some choose to invest more in relationships and get less work done.  But I argue that we all add up to 100% no more, no less.  

In business they call it opportunity cost (see my education being useful?).  We make choices about where we invest based on the return we expect on that investment and we care about different things to different degrees. We have different belief systems that fuel our passions and our choices. But we notice the things we sacrifice in order to make our choice and we're threatened by the woman next to us who's made different choices. We worry that we have not diversified our investment enough or maybe it's too diverse. I promise she's doing the same thing. She is also running a list in her head of all the things she does that validate her life and make her sacrifices count.  I choose this because the investment and the sacrifice is worth the reward.  Isn't that what we do?  No one has it all!  

I wish I could remember every day all of the things we get to enjoy because of the contribution my life is, and then give it freely. With love and confidence.  Instead, what I usually do is look everywhere for validation and then when I don't find it I feel compelled to demand it by pointing out how important my contribution is. And sometimes I even like to point out why it's a better contribution than someone else.  It's very attractive.  People usually respond to that by falling all over themselves to tell me how wonderful I am:)   But the story looks different for everyone. Our lives are a wonderful, original, unique journey that no one else is on in exactly the same way. It's not better or worse, it's marvelously different! And today I am excited to report that I do tricky stuff at work.  And I'm guessing you do too.