Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"The Happiness Project" - A very brief book review

"The Happiness Project" is a delightful romp of a book.  Especially considering that it is a non-fiction, self-help book.  It is in the "stunt genre." Yes, I guess this is a thing.  You do something very different, unique and possibly adventurous for a set amount of time and then write about it.  Other books that I haven't read, but want to, in this genre include, "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" and "Animal, Vegetable Miracle."

I very selfishly choose this for our January book club pick because I wanted to read it.  It is a good fit for the beginning of a new year because there are a boat load of ideas on improving your life.  So there's that.  If you've got all of your poop in a group, you have no need to read further.  I first discovered Gretchen Rubin, as an author, through my favorite podcast, "What Should I Read Next."  Several guests gushed about this book, so it had to go on my to-be-read list. A friend got me hooked on Gretchen's podcast called "Happier," which is now another one of my must-listen-to podcasts.

This book is organized by month.  Each month, after having researched which things would be best  to improve her general happiness, selects an area of focus.  In true type A fashion these task items all fit into the mold of a SMART goal, so she will be able to see if she was able to truly tackle these goals each month.  For example,  in the month of February, she focused on goals that would strengthen her relationship with her husband and did a week of "extreme nice," where she attempted to cut out nagging and habits that she knew bugged him.  Hilarity ensues. 

Gretchen and I are cut from the same cloth - albeit that my piece of cloth is from the raggedy frayed end of the bolt. We are both upholders (more on this in one of her podcasts) and I related to her rational for her monthly projects. I think the overall goal for herself (making small changes to improve happiness) was conveyed in ways that made sense and were applicable.
If you have read this book and you are not a Type A personality, I would love to hear what you thought of it because my suspicion is that this book might have resonated quite as much.

P.S.  I can't remember if this came from her podcast or from her book, but one thing I have done because of Gretchen, is to keep a one-sentence-a-day journal.  I started a few months ago and haven't missed a day yet.  So simple!  Hopefully my future grandchildren will get a kick out of it. :)

Keep a one-sentence-a-day journal.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Abra Cadabra Part 1

Ahh, language.  I lub it.  It's my favorite.   As it turns out, sometimes the subtle differences in the words I choose to get my kids to do my bidding, I mean, excuse me, guide my children to become kind, responsible members of the human race, can be, like Ron Burgandy, .....kind of a big deal.
Over the past 13 years as a parent and 18 years as a teacher I have picked up some tricks of the trade and here is one that I have tried and found very helpful.

As we say in the biz, "use or lose."

Eliminate 'NO' From Your Parenting Vocabulary  -   AKA No Noes

This strategy comes straight from a little book called Parenting With Love and Logic.
There are a lot of helpful tips, and although I'm not a fan of some of their more passive aggressive parenting techniques, the overall philosophy is one that helps kids become confident problem solvers. This happens by:
  • giving them control of their choices at age appropriate moments in their childhood and adolescence
  • allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them (logical consequences)
  • being there to support them and love them through it all

The net result is that we help the voice in their heads become their own and not ours.  To put it in a popular culture context, by the time they graduate from high school or college you want them to switch out the WWTND (What Would The Nag Do) bracelet with the WWID (What Would I Do) bracelet.
So, from this book I learned the power of keeping noes to an absolute minimum. The word 'No' can be such a "stir the pot" word.  As soon as the kids hear it, cue the whining, arguing and entitlement fueled behavior. Phrasing your response to their questions and requests sans a no, turns their fit throwing inclinations on its head. Well, most of the time.
Here's how it works. Instead of telling them 'no' when they ask for something, you tell them yes, BUT, only after they have taken care of whatever chore or activity they need to do.  What stands between the child and she wants will vary by situation.  The language suggested in the book is "You're welcome to...... when....."  Here are some examples:

Scenario A
Douglas: Can Kellen come over?
Me: Kellen is welcome to come over once you have picked up your room and emptied the dishwasher.
Douglas: Frustrated response of some kind because 87.999% of the time he has a strong negative reaction to work of any kind.
Me: That's okay you don't have to do those jobs, but Kellen can't come over.  Your choice.

Scenario B
Audrey: Mom, can I make a cake?
Me: You're welcome to make a cake after you have finished your homework and practiced piano.
Audrey:  (Eye roll) You never let me do anything fun when I want to.
Me:  You are correct. My job is to make your life a living hell.  From the trajectory of your eye roll, I'd say I might be getting my "Pain in the Ass" patch to put on my mom vest quite soon.

These might not be the best examples, but I've made the situation much simpler for me because I am not saying they can't do what they want, I've just put them in control of when or whether they will do it or not.  I think the whole idea is to lob the ball of control into their court.

Scenario C
 This is something that actually happened in my house earlier today.  Photographic evidence provided.
Audrey:  My gallon of glue came!!  (Leaping around the house in sheer joy) I can't wait to make slime!
Me:  You're welcome to make slime when you vacuum out the colored sugar sprinkles from the cabinets.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Slime and colored sugar sprinkles. Everywhere. All the time. There is a slight risk that if you come to my house you will be glued and sprinkled.

Here's a bonus scenario, which is also a hard hitting opinion piece on loud, obnoxious kid places with bad food and no alcohol.

Scenario D
Douglas: Mom, can we go to Chuck E Cheese?
Me: I will definitely take you directly to Chuck E Cheese as soon as you can hang up your wet towels and put your dirty clothes down the chute for three days in a row without reminders.  Not thrown on the floor in front of the chute...actually put them down the chute.  (This will thereby guarantee that I will never have to step foot in a CEC ever again, BTW.)
Douglas: You've never told me to do those things before!
Me: If you mean that you've never listened to me tell you those things before, you are correct.

I wish I was writing a post about how sarcasm is the most effective form of parenting because then I would be sitting here typing from my Manhattan brownstone which was paid for from the proceeds of my book, "Parenting with Passive Aggression and Sarcasm - Please watch TV while I clean up after you."
Unfortunately, sarcasm as a parenting strategy doesn't work very well most of the time, due, large in part, to the fact that it basically provides them with material to use right back at you.  However, for me, it can sure be a good release valve for that pent up parenting frustration, even if it is short lived.  A stress ball that you squeeze, toss to your kid and then he throws at your nose.

Okay, to summarize, instead of using the word 'No,' say, 'You're welcome to...." 
Game changer.  Let me know how this works for you.

P.S. It helps to just repeat what you've said when they argue about it.  The tried and true "broken record" approach.  This can be hard because they might require many repetitions and the urge to engage with them is strong.  It is extremely annoying for them, but in defense of the parents, so is arguing and not doing what their supposed to.  Carry on, soldiers.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Snow Call

I feel very grateful that I grew up in Minnesota.  It’s my homeland.

There was a time – 11.5 years to be precise –, however, where I was wandering in a wilderness far, far from my homeland.  I went ahead and got married to someone attending grad school in Austin, TX.  I moved there sight unseen. It’s a long story. I also happened to move there in the middle of June during a record breaking hot summer.  I literally thought I was going to melt.  I remember the outgoing message on our answering machine mentioned that I wasn’t answering the phone because I had most likely turned into a human puddle on the black top of our apartment’s parking lot.
I’m not going to lie. I was pretty cranky.  I remember rewarding myself with a Jamba Juice smoothie if I had to go out into the heat to do errands and, by golly, that Carribean Passion smoothie was one of the only things that could snap me out of my heat induced bitchiness.  Good thing for my marriage that we were still very much in our honeymoon phase and my husband seemed to overlook my weather induced mood swings.

That year my version of summer ended early in August when I began new teacher orientation for the school district where I had gotten my first position teaching third grade. I had always associated the beginning of the school year with the dawning of sweatshirt, football-game-going weather.  Summer weather in Texas didn’t end until mid October. This was not a pleasant surprise to me.  “Happy fall, y’all,” they’d say.  Sheesh.

Having grown up in Minnesota, where, like any decent and acceptable geographic location, there are four distinct seasons, it was quite odd to be void of the climatey trappings of the seasons changing.  Oh, I was sooo indignant.  I would look at the fall décor on sale at Garden Ridge and scream..  “YOU wish it was fall!  Don’t even put up that fall colored leaf wreath on your front door, you big season stealer.  Posers!”

Then, when Christmas time rolled around it was even more awkward to see snowflakes and elves and anything that needs a polar vortex to not seem completely out of place.  Putting a snowman decoration in your yard in Texas is like seeing Kim Kardashian at a library.  It’s unnatural.

I tried to just flat out will cooler weather to come.  I put on my Hanna Andersson Christmas plaid jumper (yes, it is was ugly as it sounds) and my nylons (what?) crowned with my brown, leather mary jane flats and successfully made no impact on the weather whatsoever.  I did happen to accomplish sweating my sweet MN ass off, however. 

Meanwhile, some of my friends from Minnesota would have to be on the receiving end of some of my complaints about the lack of cool weather.  I’m not sure exactly how it started, but somehow, as a form of self torture, I demanded of my friend, Kristi, that she call me on the first day that it snowed in MN. I guess it was a way for me to maintain some semblance of my seasonal circadian rhythms. Cut to us 17 years later.  I am back in Minnesota and have been for almost 6 years, but the tradition still continues.
Here is the message she left on my voicemail this year a couple of weeks ago:


There have been some years, when I was missing home or having a bad day, when I would see her name pop up on my caller id sometime mid –Novemberish and start crying before I even picked up the phone.

You should know that Kristi and I aren’t the kind of friends that talk to each other all the time, but this tradition of the snow call, gives our relationship an air of sophistication or legitimacy, like an old leather bound book.  When we did get a chance to talk or connect there was this familiarity and depth that we had because I’ve known her since I was 13.  Our relationship has a firm foundation of youthful shenanigans, family connection, verbal sparring and scab juice(inside joke).  I knew she was a keeper when I saw her for the first time in her super fly, fried onion scented leather jacket, which got it’s unique odor from her job at Burger King.  She had a leather jacket and a job? I was in. One of my first interactions with her was at a home school co-op. (Yes, we were home schooled at the same time for a brief period in the late 80’s) Number one, she had made up a song with the lyric, “Home school co-op, makes me throw up.” Funny, right?  Number two, she had landed the part of “Pig #3” in a skit of the Prodigal Son.  Forever etched into my memory is the image of her in the leather jacket, waving goodbye to the son with one hand and giving herself a pig nose with the other.

This year when she called, I was flooded with memories of her and our friendship and absolutely fell in love with the idea that we had created this very tangible and very consistent ritual.  We also managed to tie it to a seasonal change that reminds me of the cyclical nature of our lives.  Good job, us.
Death, taxes and the first snow in MN – the ties that bind.

I love the seasons.  I love traditions. I love my friends.  I’m going to make sure I take time to savor, repeat and begin all of these things- this season and always.
Special thanks to Kristi and that white cold stuff that sometimes messes up our ability to safely travel, but somehow brings us together.

Kristi & I circa 1993

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Kelly Bars

If you want to maintain your girlish figure then don't read any further.  You probably added about 350 calories to your waistline by just looking at the picture.
This is a staple dessert in our family.  If asked to bring something to share at a gathering, I usually bring this 9" x 13" rectangle of goodness.
Enjoy and don't come blaming me if you become a Weight Watchers dropout.

Kelly Bars


1 yellow cake mix
2 eggs
½ cup melted butter
1 can sweet condensed milk
1 cup chocolate chips
2 TBLS butter


 Set the oven on 350°
 Combine the first three ingredients together.
 Spread 2/3 of the mixture evenly, on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan.
 Melt the last three ingredients together in a 2 cup, pyrex measuring cup.
 Pour chocolate mixture over the 2/3 cake mixture.
 Pat small chunks of the 1/3 remaining cake mixture into thin irregular shapes and place in a marbled pattern on top of the chocolate mixture.
 Bake for 20 –25 minutes

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Inside Actor's Studio - This Week's Guest, My Son

Surprisingly, with no formal training as a thespian, my son was invited to be interviewed on "Inside the Actor's Studio."  Even though he hasn't actually been in any Hollywood films, or been on the stage, the producers were so moved by the footage I sent them, showing the level of commitment he brings to the character he's been committing to lately - Rage McDrama.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Q:What is your favorite word?


Q:What is your least favorite word?


Q:What turns you off?

A: Following directions

Q:What sound or noise do you love?

A: The sound of an electronic devices being powered up.

Q:What sound or noise do you hate?

A: Whatever compliance sounds like.  I hate that noise.

Q:What is your favorite curse word?

A: I don't need curse words to convey what I'm thinking and feeling.  I'm THAT good at emoting.

Q:What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

A: Cage Fighting

Q:If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

A: The couch is over there and here's the remote and a vat of candy.

P.S. He also gives me great joy.  It's true.  As angry as he can get sometimes, he is loving to the same degree. So he's got that goin' for him, which is nice.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Downward Facing Mom - Part 2

I know it has been reeeeeeeeaally long since I've posted, but now that my kids are home with me all the live long day, I am once again reminded of the challenges they bring to my workout time.  These are not the same challenges that Jillian Michaels brings to me. Just to clarify.  They are much different and more of a psychological, not physical, nature.

Children and Yoga

I see this time as a way to reconnect with my center, calm my soul and stretch out my tight, tight hamstrings. :)  My children either see it as the first shot of WWIII and they are going to fight for jurisdiction of a 99 cent toy like it is an eastern european country or they see it as a brand new jungle gym that has just been constructed for their pleasure.
I recall a specific yoga session probably three years ago when we were in our last house with the concrete floors and 12 foot tall ceilings.  I mention this because the acoustics created by the architecture of the house will come into play as the story unfolds.
Picture me in seated position, trying to gather positive energy, closing my eyes, taking deep breaths.  Next, imagine the volume level produced by my children fighting over whose ribbon wand is who's.  Oh the futility of trying to elivate conflict by getting them each the same exact toy.  Little did I know that one of the ribbons had, over the course of time, developed a knot, which had made them two totally different wands and therefore led to the present skirmish.   I had first tried to put an end to their arguing by calming suggesting alternatives for them.  From warrior 1 position, glancing over to their play area, "Why don't you guys put those down for now and play with the farm set?"  30 seconds later they were still trying to vie for the unknotted ribbon wand and I was in plank position. "How 'bout we'll figure it out when I'm done and you guys play with the baby dolls for a few minutes?" 45 seconds later they were still fighting, the volume level had increased, as had my blood pressure - to its boiling point, actually.  I untangled myself from my twisted seated hip stretch, stormed over the to them, snatched the offending toys away and yelled "I AM TRYING TO RELAX AND DO MY YOGA!! COULD YOU PLEASE BE QUIET, STOP ARGUING ABOUT THIS STUPID RIBBON WAND AND LET ME FINISH!! In a semi-quieter voice because I realized how completely un-zenlike I was being, "Please, please, please," I pleaded, "just play quietly for 10 more minutes and," in a bit more like a sergeant than a yoga instructor I barked,  "I will be a much better mom."
I'm sure my kids are still wondering when that "much better mom" part is going to kick in.  But in my defense, I'm still wondering when it will occur to them to let me have my 20 minutes a day of uninterrupted exercise time.

Lastly, the other facet of yoga that brings amusement to my 5 year old son are positions that lead me to resemble a piece of playground equipment in his eyes.  Chaturanga to downward facing dog are two of his favorites.  He tries to climb underneath me or jump over me in my bridge like poses before I drop, I mean slowly and with great strength, lower myself down to the ground.  Somedays I think it's kind of cute and other days I loathe it and want to be left the hell alone.  My son, ever living on the edge, takes his chances.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Peace, Love & Whining

It has been said that all you need is love.  Love makes the world go round.  Love hurts. Love is blind. Etc, etc.  Well, I am here to tell you that love is deaf.  Love is deaf because if I was unable to hear my children, and on this particular morning my 5 year old son, whine his little ass off, I could experience some more loving feelings for them.

You know, wake up and have the first thought in my head be, "It's Valentine's Day!  Wouldn't it be fun to make the kids some special heart shaped pancakes?" instead of, "It is 6 frickin' 45 in the morning.  Why are my kids up running around like hooligans?

Here begins Act II entitled "The Guilt Kicks In."  As I slowly gain more consciousness I feel badly about not having more nurturing instincts, but you must know the back story - the reasons why the last 24 hours have left me operating at 60% capacity.

Yesterday morning began with my daughter whining about why it is unfair that I think it is unrealistic to, less than 24 hours away from Valentine's Day because she's waited until the last minute to make her Valentine Box, create a box using 27 milk cartons that she hasn't collected yet, gluing them together and decorating them to make customized mail boxes for each of her classmates.  I know, I'm awful for squelching her creativity.  So sue me.  After several minutes of what would rank as a 2 minus on the Warren Scale of Whining Intensity (I will reveal this scale on my next post - hopefully not in 4 months time) I was able to get her excited about creating an iPhone Valentine box and quell the whining.

Also, I was teaching 3rd graders all day yesterday Immediately following the school day I had a parent teacher conference for my son and then went directly to a kid's mentoring program my children and I attend/ volunteer for on Wednesday nights.  It was our Valentine Party night and with our highest kid attendance, two adults being absent and not getting home until 8:00, plus the accumulation of all the day's activities, I felt like I had just been at an upspeak convention for the entire day. Exhausting!!  But, wait!  That's not all!  I have an hour and half of making my daughter's Valentine Box, before I can partake in a much needed glass of Pinot Noir.

Cut to the next morning....

Apparently 6.5 hours of sleep wasn't enough recovery time for me to refuel for the beginning of this day. Which leads me back to my son and his PhD level whining skills. Before you read what transpired this morning, here is a brief outline for my son's technique. A technique, I'm convinced would achieve peace in the Middle East.  Just put those Middle Eastern leaders in a room with my son and his whining and tell them they can't leave the room until they've figured out how to get along.  Bing!  Crisis solved. You're welcome.

He goes for a three pronged attack - The 3 R's of whining.  These approaches are laced throughout with an increase in volume that grows at set rate of 2 dB per complaint.

Repeat the original complaint (OC) at least 5 times as parental unit attempts to explain why things are not the way he wants them to be. 
Build on the OC with other related complaints - either by topic or time at which the OC occurred. 
Start randomly inserting other complaints that have nothing to do with the source of the OC.

This Morning:

D: Can I play my video game? 
Me: There's just not enough time because the bus will be here pretty soon. 
D: But I didn't get to play my video game at aaallll yesterday! (Begin heavy whining accent until for the rest of the exchange) 
Me: But you did get to go to a very fun Valentine party and being around nice people is more important than video games. 
D: I didn't even get to play with anything, not even toys yesterday! 
Me: Remember how dad let you have extra play time in the shower last night?
D: Well that was just a little bit and I didn't even have my toys.  
Me:  Stop whining. 
D: I'm supposed to bring my balloon for the 100 days of school to school today! 
Me: We have not had time to do it.  We will do it tonight.
D: If I don't bring it, my teacher won't be able to put it in my scrapbook! 
Me: I will explain to your teacher that you will bring it tomorrow. 
D: But I need it today!  Can't we just do it! 
Me: The bus is coming in 2 minutes we don't have time. 
D: All we have to do is write the things I can do since I've been in school 100 days. 
Me: And color it and cut it out.  We don't have time. 
D: You can do it. (Whine, whine) 
Me: No, I can't.  The bus is coming.
D: But I need to bring it! 
Me: What am I going to say?

I won't go on.  I can barely type this conversation without going crazy reliving it. :)
He kept on until the bus game, squeezing out some tears and I just sent him with a letter to his teacher explaining why the balloon will go with him to school tomorrow.  Problem solved for now.

As he walked down the driveway I, through clenched teeth and a forced smile, sputtered, "Happy Valentine's Day."


After he was on his less than merry way to school, I checked his last newsletter from school because I seemed to remember that he didn't need to bring in his balloon until tomorrow, anyways.  I was right.  So, at least we argued for no reason.  There's that.

Something endearing that he did this morning, (because of course I love him to the moon and back despite his ability to suck the will to live out of me) was dress up for Valentine's day.  He normally goes for the most comfortable clothing possible.  If I haven't done laundry for a few days, his pants drawer is entirely populated with jeans because he uses his sweat and track pants first.  He also never selects collared shirts.  He also spends a good percentage of his days commando, which is the subject of another post all together. So there he is, in his khaki dress pants and his red plaid dress shirt.  I did have to remind him to put on his underwear.  As he laughs impishly, Oh ho ho, I forgot!"  Mm hmm.

Additionally, my daughter's iPhone Valentine Box was pretty bitchin.'

Not through clenched teeth this time... Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!