Creating a bit of fairy magic.

September 17, 2014

One of the items on my To-Do list while my sister Kim was here was to restore the Fairy Garden to its former glory. She and the girls had created the gardens in a couple flower pots by the front door on a trip awhile back, and the pirate ship and castle grounds had seen better days. So much so, in fact, that we had started calling it our fairy ghetto.

We didn’t get to our restoration project until near the end of Kim’s trip and, admittedly, my role was to fund the project, greenlight the use of certain found objects and craft supplies, and mostly to just stay out of the way. (It was tough, lemme tell ya.) Meanwhile, the elves were hard at work…

[Let us stop for a moment and reflect on the fact that my autocorrect changed that to "the elephants were hard at work..." If elephants were working on fairy gardens, that is something I would want to see. Also: not even close to "elves." Okay, carry on.]

We stopped at the craft store early in the morning to see what we could find. Blue beads, a bird house, some shrubbery, moss, a few pieces of furniture and knick-knacks geared towards the popular fairy garden trade. Mostly what we used were found goods: old planters, potting soil we had in the garage, candle holders and ceramics that weren’t being used, etc. One of the girls most favorite parts was when we pooled all of our resources on the table and divvied everything up. There was far less horse-trading and bribery than when Kim and I were young and running negotiations, but it was still fun to watch their little minds at work.

Fairy4Fairy6

Then Auntie Kim stepped in and started prepping the pots. She got creative with a large styrofoam type planter that was going to be a cliff-side in its next life.

Fairy5

Fairy1

Gracie painted her fairy house, Bee painted her new door and the bottom of her pool, and Auntie Kim strung beads for the waterfall and glued beads over the pool to look like water.

Fairy7

Everything was coming together…

Fairy2 Fairy3

And that was the last I saw of the kiddos.

September 16, 2014

Everyone has their favorite things about fall: pumpkin spice everything, fall foods, football (the kind where no one beats their kids or their spouses, natch), cooler temperatures, being able to put away the annoying windshield sun visor, cozy sweaters, new wardrobes, boots… All those things are lovely, sure (well, except for that pumpkin stuff – blech), but my favorite far and away is that once the temps drop, my kids go outside to play and I never, ever see them again. Huzzah! Hooray for the sun being so cool that our sneakers won’t melt to the patio and we won’t get sunburned in 3.14 seconds!

We had such a day last weekend. The cold front came through Thursday night. Friday we all dressed in jeans and cardigans as we went off to school and work, and that night temps dropped even lower. I had on socks and yoga pants! The next morning, I wore a hoodie! In September! It was glorious!

After I picked the girls up from their lock-down lock-in, Bee and Gracie headed straight for the backyard. I didn’t expect to see them until I called them in for dinner. So I was pretty surprised when Gracie came tearing through the house, yelling for me like something was wrong. “BUNNIES! MOM! I FOUND A BABY BUNNY IN OUR YARD!” Now, we have grown-up bunnies all the time. I thought maybe a tinier version was hopping along and Gracie wanted us to see it. I threw on some shoes and went outside to see what was up – and Gracie wasn’t kidding.

Bunny1

A baby bunny small enough to fit in the palm of my hand was hopping around, shivering, scared to move much. Bee had come out to see what the shouting was about, and so I dispatched her to find me some gardening gloves. Of course, Bee couldn’t find any, so I had to risk all sorts of bunny diseases, other than just dying of The Cute. I picked up the bunny and put him in a teeny tiny gardening pot we had nearby.

Guess what? Baby bunnies are squeaky! My goodness! I kept glancing over my shoulder to make sure some 20-foot, rabid mama bunny didn’t hear that thing making so much noise and come running. That was about the time that Gracie was all, “HEY! MOM! THERE ARE MORE OF THEM!” She had lifted up a tuft of grass and, sure enough, there were three more teeny tiny baby bunnies, all shivering in the cold breeze and wondering where the roof to their nice cozy home went. [Aside: Later I asked Gracie how she knew the bunnies were there. "The ground was moving, so I picked up the roof," she answered, nonchalantly. "GRACIE!" I yelled, "What if that hole was filled with snakes?! They would have eaten your face!" She wasn't moved. "But they weren't. They were bunnies." Sigh.]

Refusing to be mean Mr. MacGregor, I returned Peter Rabbit back to his nest with his tail intact, let him curl up with Flopsy, Mopsy, and that other one, and covered the bunnies up again. We moved a piece of wood to partially cover the side of the roof, then turned a chair upside down over the bunny nest, so that mama bunny could get in, but Fenway could not. The girls, unhappy with my simplistic approach, stayed outside to build a super mega bunny fort supreme!

And that was the last I saw of the girls. They stayed outside in the gorgeous weather, watching out for the bunnies and making sure nothing bothered them. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon, outdoors in the gorgeous weather. Even if those silly bunnies confused the seasons and thought it was spring.

Bunny2

Five for Friday.

September 12, 2014

Here’s what I’ve got rattling around in my head this Friday…

1. Football! I was looking forward to a reset over Week 1, but the Steelers let me down. How can there be any justice in a universe that lets the Ravens win this week? Okay, I know we shouldn’t hold Ray Rice’s teammates culpable for what went down, but I haven’t quite figured out how to let them have a win without also letting the higher-ups in the organization also claim it. That was disappointing.

2. I finished a few books this week. Kelley Armstrong’s Omens, which was recommended to me by my friend Tiffany. It was okay – I’m just a leetle bit over this whole supernatural thing, the entire plot was based on happy coincidences/white-suburbia fantasy fulfillment, and Armstrong likes to tell not show. I also finished The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan, a non-fiction book about young women recruited during World War II to live and work in a newly created “secret city” in Tennessee – where they unknowingly helped enrich uranium to be used in atomic bombs. My sister Kim (of all people – not the world’s biggest history fan) passed along this one. She knows how much I love World War II history, but she captured the book perfectly: it was interesting, but the author really needed to decide whether she wanted to write a historical novel or a straight non-fiction piece. Not that I’m doubting the reporting put forth; it’s just that her voice felt off. I need something highly engaging if you want me to sit through a bunch of fact. Or a chunk of make-believe, for that matter. The third book I finished was Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. I’m torn between re-reading it immediately, and sending it to Kim to read. I loved the stuffing out of it, so it’ll get its own post later.

3. The girls are having a lock-in at their grandma’s church tonight. They’re each bringing a friend and they’re so(!) excited(!). Bee keeps calling a lock-down instead of a lock-in, which gives me the giggles. I’m sure Grandma and the other chaperones are going to wish it was a lock-down by morning!

4. Speaking of lockdowns, how much do you love this cover of Kanye West’s Love Lockdown by the Glass Animals?!

5. Today’s going to seem very dull. Yesterday, my mom was released from rehab (no, she wasn’t ready; yes, she’s home anyway), it was 9/11 and all whatever at ThePlaceThatShallNotBeNamed, and then I met Gary Sinise. So. Yeah, definitely not the same speed as yesterday. The day just isn’t the same when you know it won’t include hott actors.

That’s what I’ve got going on today… Hope your day speeds by and your weekend brings mucho sleep. Ooh, and fun things, because your life might be much more exciting than mine.

Reflection, foreign and domestic.

September 11, 2014

Thirteen years ago, after buildings had fallen, our military headquarters smoldered, and a giant hole in the ground of Pennsylvania lay open, I took a time-out from the crisis atmosphere at work to call my mom. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one; I’m sure a great many Americans called their moms that day, probably a lot earlier than I was able. But I work for a company directly affected by 9/11 and so it was late afternoon by the time I was able to stop for a moment.

It took a while to get through, but when I finally did, despite everything, we sounded perfectly normal. “Hi. Are you okay? Isn’t this crazy?”

Crazy, indeed.

Who would have thought that such anger could exist to wreak such devastation and destruction on buildings filled with innocent civilians?

Who would have thought that thirteen years later, my mom would be so ravaged by Parkinson’s Disease and the onset of its accompanying dementia that I couldn’t reliably call on her to be my touchstone in a world gone mad?

This afternoon my mom is being released from rehab, three weeks after her stroke. She’s not physically ready to be released, and yet. Everyone is distraught, trying to find a solution to a largely unsolvable problem. No one wants to send her back home, back to an unhappy situation where she’ll be left unattended for large portions of the day. My mom refuses to go anywhere but home, to the place she’s spent 36 years of her life. She doesn’t care that she will be left alone with just the TV and a white board prepared by her home health care helper, reminding her what day it is, what she’s watching, what’s on schedule for the rest of the day. She doesn’t care that she might not be able to make it to the bathroom. She doesn’t care that she might not see her brothers and sisters (or daughters) as often, because they feel unwelcome. She wants to be home. And everyone in the family – my aunts and uncles, my sisters, myself – we all want her to want something better. Even if we don’t know what that is.

Crazy, isn’t it? I mean, not so much, but it is all the same.

Thirteen years later, a crisis of an entirely different nature, but it still feels like my buildings are falling down, my family headquarters is smoldering, and gaping holes are left. Coping feels just as difficult, the situation as unfathomable.

And yet. There are moments, for which I am so thankful, when I accept that things are the way they are. When I can connect with friends and see an entirely different side. Mum’s still here. She still has good days. Her stroke wasn’t worse. She has family who loves her. I have friends and family who love me. Thirteen years later and we’re still safe. Still fighting. Still living.

Living. Sometimes laughing. Putting one foot, one day, one more story in front of the other. Crazy, isn’t it?

Sunrise

Thanks, Bill, for making me laugh this morning, and for sending this beautiful red, white and blue sunrise.

Busted.

September 10, 2014

Gracie walked in the door from her dad’s house, tossed a quick hello over her shoulder, and immediately zipped over to put her backpack away. That was my first clue. My oldest child is pretty good about following rules – certainly she isn’t as absent-minded as her sister – but she always stops to give me a hug and race through eleventy stories before I ask her five times to please for the love of god to go put her backpack away.

Something was amiss.

I sauntered over and caught her furiously trying to smuggle something out of the front pocket of her shorts into the small pocket of her backpack before I noticed. Rushing? Gives it away every time. Silly ten-year-old! “Whatcha hiding?” I asked, letting my good humor show in my voice so my little culprit would ‘fess up. “Nothing,” she answered. It didn’t even come close to believable.

“Whatcha really hiding?” I asked again, this time with a little less laughter in my voice. Ten is gonna be ten, but don’t lie about it. Sheesh.

She knew she was caught, too. Everything about her body language screamed “busted!” as she slowly pulled her hand out of the backpack and opened it, revealing a tube of lipstick. Bright pink lipstick. I sighed. “Gracie,” I started, “You know you’re not allowed to wear makeup. And you know taking things from your dad’s house and trying to smuggle them to school so you can hide it from us is wrong.”

I must have hit just the right note of moderate censure. Really, it was more disbelief than anything else. I mean, I know Gracie is ten and I expect as we navigate the tween years, more and more silly decisions will pop up. Ten is going to raise it’s silly, hormonal head more and more often, especially the closer she gets to eleven.

Gracie knew just how busted she was. She hung her head and just stood there, deflated, and listened to me chastise her decisions. Every now and then, a slightly broken “Yes, ma’am,” crept out.

“It was not a smart decision, Gracie. You see Ms. Greer every day, and you know she’d not only tell me you had on bright pink lipstick, she’d make you wash that junk off!” That made Gracie stop and crinkle her face – clearly that hadn’t occurred to her. Score another point for having best friends teach at your daughters’ school.

I held out my hand and Gracie handed over the contraband. I took a pic and posted to Facebook, tongue in cheek, letting everyone know the trials and tribulations I was facing, and to let the Ex know that I had confiscated said lipstick and to let me know if he wanted it back. Since it looks like it’s a holdover from Wet’n’Wild’s 1990s line, I wasn’t surprised when he responded that it wasn’t Stepmom’s, and to tell Gracie-girl that he said I could throw it away.

Yep. Good and busted. I was lucky I was in the mood to laugh over antics and realize that things could be much worse. Still, it made me miss the days when I would find ice cream in their backpacks instead of lipsticks. My babies are growing up…and it just might kill me!

Running right round.

September 9, 2014

It’s going to be 98° this afternoon. And that’s without the annoying “feels like” temperature. Ninety-eight frickin’ degrees. Know what I’m supposed to do today? Run. I’m supposed to run in all the sunshine. All that heat. All that hydration.

I started training again for that silly little half marathon at the beginning of September, right after my sister left, right when I said I was going to. After a four-week break, it felt great to hit the open sidewalk, letting the the concrete flow dribble past me. I knew it was going to be tough, getting back into the swing of things, and I knew that it would be difficult because it’s summer here in Tejas until the middle of always. (Or November. Meh.) So I wasn’t surprised when the heat whacked me upside the head.

I did surprisingly well, though. Every time I’ve taken an extended break, I can do about a mile the first week back. Whether I’ve been gone for a year or a few weeks, a mile is just what my muscles seem to remember. It’s what they can kick out on a moment’s notice. With a bit more elastic definition of “running” and what exactly I would track on my timekeeper (i.e., by letting myself have a few walking breaks), I was able to stretch out that first run to a mile and a half. Not bad. The next run I got up to two miles. The next time, I stayed at two miles, but I was able to gut it out and run the entire distance – no walking breaks necessary. By this weekend, I was able to kick it up to 2.5 miles, run nearly in one go, with only a short water break at mile 2.25.

It helped that runs 3 and 4 (the 2 and 2.5 miler) happened earlier in the morning. My muscles are fresher, I have more energy, and a better frame of mind if I run in the morning instead of after work. The temps are much cooler, too. 77 and mostly cloudy instead of 100 and crispy-fried sunshine? Yes, please! No wonder I could run farther and for longer chunks without rest. What a difference to the stresses I was putting my body through!

I was so happy with where I was at on Sunday that I dared to make a plan. An out loud plan. (Those are dangerous.) I would try to maintain my 2.5 this week, kick it up to 3 miles next week, and then maintain for the rest of September while I worked on making that 3 miles better and stronger. Once October hit, I’d start training for the half-marathon for real. No more pre-training as I built back my mileage.

Which is why I’m unsurprised that today is going to be 98 frickin’ degrees. That always happens when I use out-loud words with my plans. But it’s okay. I’ll do the best I can tonight. Then I’ll wallow in the cold front that’s coming through and flat-out delight in the high of 77 degrees on Friday. That’s right, baby – 77 degrees! I’ll be flying along!

There will be many tweaks to the plans along the way. There will be bigger setbacks than upticks in the temperatures. But we’ll work around ‘em. It’s what silly little half-marathoners do.

Five for Friday.

September 5, 2014

Five things I have on my mind today:

1. I don’t care how old the cover is, or how long it’s been since Chris Cornell fronted a band or released a single, I am still madly in love with his rendition of Billie Jean. I would listen to that man sing the phone book. Seriously. (His cover of Seven Nation Army isn’t bad, either, but doesn’t quite hit this drool-worthy level.) Want to cheer up your Friday morning? Go take a listen over here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0uWF-37DAM

2. Football is back! I kinda sorta was instructed to start a football pool at ThePlaceThatISwearDoesn’tExist, and we had a good number of takers. Getting all the last minute picks in yesterday and organizing all the logistics made it feel a bit like Christmas, not gonna lie. And not that I wanted the Seahawks to do well last night – the Pats were the last team to repeat, and if we can’t get another flippin’ ring, I’d like to at least hold on to that distinction – at least my picks remain perfect. Don’t worry, they won’t stay that way for long – I chose Raiders over Jets. Yeah.

3. I finished M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts earlier this week. What a weird reading experience. I started off hating the book because the narration bugged. It was like the book was narrated by the kid from Room – I hate books narrated in a stilted fashion by wee young children. The gimmick has had its day and now I am SO over it. But then the voice grew up a bit as we learned more about the main character, Melanie, and then I started feeling a little intrigued, and I heard there was a wicked ending and…there was. By the time I finished it, I was so impressed with the character development Melanie went through, the drawing of the villain, and the plot-perfect ending that I was rather impressed. Enough to give the book 4 of 5 stars, even. I should warn you – it’s a zombie story. But really, it’s a love story. And not the kind you’re thinking about, either.

4. I’m currently reading Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, and I have to say, I was a little intimidated. It’s a sci-fi book about a group of Jesuits. See?! I picked it up for a September read-along, and while I’m only 130 pages in, I’m already intrigued. It doesn’t have what I would describe as a “gripping” writing style, and the flippity time-hopping is kinda frustrating, but I like that you know some things before they back-fill the characters, and I’m completely drawn in by the mystery. That and the question of faith – in oneself and one’s life and the quests one chooses to fill it with more than in a spiritual sense. As I was flailing through my run last night and thought how it’s going to be impossible for me to get up to 13 miles by March, I wondered if maybe this book hasn’t fallen into my hands for a reason. Yes, so I’ll have a little faith in my training program – I’m that narcissistic!

5. C’mon, fall! I know – I’m joining a mighty big chorus. Everyone everywhere seems to be rushing fall along. “Hey, it’s September – be Fall already!” I was mildly amused with everyone until football came on and I caught the fever. I want cooler temps! (It was 100° last night while I was running.) I want fall foods! I want to not hear the a/c click on every 5 minutes! To hurry it along (and I know this will totally work), I wore a nice, deep, autumn red shirt under a dark brown button-up shirt (okay, short-sleeved shirt), and pulled my brown corduroy flats out of storage. Yes, my magic clothes are going to control the seasons. You’re all jealous of my superpowers, aren’t you?

and one bonus Thing:

6. My girls have the awesomest Stepmom in the whole world. Seriously. Today the girls begin a year of Fridays car-riders – their After-School program only runs Monday-Thursday, and rather than have the girls keep attending our daycare that we’ve become less and less happy with, Stepmom volunteered to keep the car on Fridays, use her lunch hour to pick up the girls from school, and let them run amok at their house while she works from home. It saves me a little bit of money and saves us all a lot of heartache dealing with a daycare that doesn’t monitor the kids the way we’d like. The girls were seeing some really ridiculous behavior and the teachers were less than on top of things. All the points go to Stepmom for providing a solution! We’re pretty lucky and I am so grateful to her!

There you go! Now we just have to get through the work day and enjoy a nice lazy weekend ahead of us. Godspeed, folks.

The one with the reverse ransom.

September 3, 2014

Guest blog by my sister Kim.

So. NORMALLY, I get home from visiting my fantastic, hilarious, maniacal older sister and realize I’ve left behind my favorite necklace or a single, beloved sock. This year? I come home and find a bloody tooth on my bureau. At least it was in a Ziploc bag?

Tooth

P.S.: This tooth fairy doesn’t send funds long distance. Nope. She’s more the ransom note type of fairy than the glitter and dollar bills sort. Mwah ha ha.

Pretty, pretty cabinets.

September 2, 2014

The country celebrated Labor Day this past weekend, celebrating big sales, barbequed meals, and the unofficial end of summer. It signaled the end to our summer, too, but not because of the sales or the meals or any of that – it was I finally had to let my sister go back home.

Yes, Kim’s gone (no matter how often Fenway circles the house looking for her), but before she left, you know she got up to some home renovation hijinks! When she gets caught up with start of the school/work year and adjusting to her re-entry, I know she’ll have a lot to say about this year’s home reno project – because she’s the one who did all the work. No, really. All of it. We (and I use the term very loosely, less I incite the wrath of said sister) decided this year’s project was to redo all of the cabinets in the house. Kim had found this “cabinet restoration” product, which, as it happens, a dear friend of mine had used and proclaimed just as wondrous and miraculous as advertised. So I did get to help pick the color, paid for the product, and greenlighted a test case in the girls’ bathroom. Kim figured that if that went well, she could use the rest of that kit to do the vanity in my bathroom, and then we could do the kitchen. So that’s what we did. (And by we, again – all Kim.)

Here’s the test case, the girl’s bathroom.

Before:

KidsBathBefore

And after:

KidsBathAfter

Didn’t it turn out great?! We wanted a mid-tone brown; something dark, but not so dark that it looked black. We went with their “espresso” color, which has the happy coincidence of being named after delicious, delicious caffeine. Mmmm, espresso.

So then Kim moved on to my bathroom:

MomBathBefore MomBathAfter

You can barely see the blonde wood in the “before” pic, but trust me – it looks a million times more sophisticated and spa-like after the transformation.

And then the BIG project – the kitchen.

Before:

KitchenBefore1 KitchenBefore2

And after:

KitchenAfter1 KitchenAfter2

It’s fabulous and I loves it. When we bought the house, the Ex and I were afraid of choosing a dark wood because we thought it would darken the house way too much and make the kitchen seem too small. Except with the open concept kitchen and the fact that the back of the house is more than half windows, there’s plenty of light. The dark wood makes the open kitchen seem cozier.

So for $100 and a lot of patience (and Kim’s time), I have a completely different feel in my kitchen and bathrooms. Kim will let you know what she thought of the product, and tips and tricks for if you decide to tackle a cabinet restoration on your own, but I, for one, am very glad we did it.

Now let’s just hope the new floor installation doesn’t nick any of that hard work!

Hooray for After-School! (…I think.)

August 29, 2014

We may not live in the best school district, but I’ll fight anyone who says differently: our elementary school is one of the best. We have the best teachers (statewide awards of excellence say so), an understanding and accommodating principal, fantastic outreach programs, an emphasis on volunteerism and community involvement, and a good balance of school vs. parents when it comes to who’s responsible for teaching our kids different topics.

One of the other things I desperately love about our school is its After-School program. The school provides free after-school care for a set number of students for grades 3-5. The program manager at our school coordinates with the half-dozen interns from a local college who provide the actual care. The students are divided into three groups, and they rotate between homework/tutoring stations, physical activities like soccer, dodgeball, and other insane games we could never imagine, and crafts, computers, or some other activity.

Because the waiting list is long and the program is funded by a city-funded grant with specific guidelines, there are strict rules. Your child must behave (obviously), cannot miss more than three days (unless s/he was absent from school), and must be picked up by 5:45 p.m. It’s a great program with few faults – the biggest one being that After-School doesn’t meet on Fridays and you’re on your own for daycare. Bee has been counting down the years until she could attend just like her sister and this year she finally qualified.

Yesterday a friend of mine (whose son has been besties with Gracie all the way through school) asked if I was going to the mandatory meeting for After School. The one taking place right after school. That no one had mentioned. Seriously – no notes were sent home, no robo-call from the school, nothing. The school might be a little bad about last minute notices, but they are very liberal with the use of robo-calls. But I hadn’t heard a thing.

Turns out there was a booth for the After-School program at Meet the Teacher night. I have never once visited the booth and it has never been a problem before, but obviously something had changed. Turns out that the student liaison who had been managing the interns had graduated last year and no one else stepped up to manage their side of things, so the YMCA had taken over managing the program. And dropped the very first ball. Sigh.

I called the school to verify (and complain), and the school had to call the Y because they had no idea either. The meeting was indeed yesterday afternoon. I sent out texts to my friends who were hoping to send their kids so they wouldn’t miss the MANDATORY (yet secret) meeting and encouraged them to call the school and complain, too. Luckily they were able to cajole their bosses into letting them leave early with no notice, and my Ex volunteered to cover our end, so all’s well that end’s well, I guess.

Bee came tearing through the house, bouncing off the walls and the furniture last night. “Mom! Guess what?! I GOT INTO HIGH SCHOOL! …Um….I mean, After-School!” We laughed and she laughed and she continued telling me all about it, a mile a minute. Her bestie is also attending this year, and Gracie’s closest girlfriend from school is also going this year, so it looks like we averted a crisis.

But I don’t know, man. I hate borrowing trouble – especially when my cart is already so full – but this might not bode well for the new management.


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