Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Cantata

Yesterday, my humble LDS* Ward* choir performed our Christmas program. It is an incredibly beautiful, touching cantata by Nathan Howe titled "Come and Behold Him". I sing soprano and my two teenage sons sing bass. 

Let me mention here that they both started coming to choir under protest. My oldest (the golfer/wrestler) was convinced by a couple of his mentors (his fishing mentor, David Allen, and his Boy Scout mentor, Tarren Monsen) to come along. Also one of his best friends sings bass, so that helped. My second son (the self-proclaimed "geek") was called* to play piano for the choir, trading off with another pianist. He did not play the piano for the cantata, and had to be cajoled into singing, but he did end up participating, and they both were wonderful. Luckily, our sopranos stand immediately in front of the basses, so I got to hear them.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

God Bless Us, Every One

It occurs to me that others will think I am remiss if I don't say anything about the horrific shooting that happened this week in Connecticut. I do kind of feel guilty about continuing to write on my blogs as though it didn't happen, but I also don't like to profit (so to speak) from others' tragedies. I suppose I ought to chronicle a little here, though, as blogs are modern-day journals.

I can't effectively express the depth of my sorrow at all those sweet children and educators being brutally murdered. My heart aches, physically and emotionally, imagining what those families and community are feeling. I will add my prayers to the thousands more being offered for them. I don't know any of them and I have been on the verge of tears all weekend. I know God is watching over that community as they mourn, and I'm so grateful to know that our Savior welcomed those babies home to joy and love and eternal glory. 

This beautiful painting circulated on Facebook, and I liked it, so I'll share it here in a slightly more permanent place:
It's Christmas time-- I hope you take a moment to reflect on the love Jesus has for you and for the blessing of agency. Even when it is abused by wicked or deranged people, it is the greatest gift we have. As you hug your children tighter this season imagine a loving Heavenly Father, longing to put His arms around you, and let Him into your heart. 

In the immortal words of Charles Dickens' Tiny Tim: "God bless us, every one."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Best Birthday Present EVER!

I turned the big 4-0 last October, and came away feeling... about the same. Still me. The best gift I got-- in fact the best gift I've gotten in years, was from my husband. He gave me a beautiful dark gray floral printed super-soft heated throw blanket. The last few winters, I've taken to putting a heating pad in the bed while I wash my face and brush my teeth, so that I wouldn't have to freeze when I climbed into my cool sheets. Even when we had flannel sheets on the bed, I sometimes did this. 
Mine is actually dark gray with a floral white pattern.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Good Riddance, Phone Bill!

A couple of months ago, I was complaining to my family about how CenturyLink, (formerly Qwest, formerly known as something else that I can't remember) had raised my bill-- not by just a little, either. It had gone up from $65 for internet and phone to $85!!  

Of course, this happens, and for years we always called and whined and insisted they give us a better price and they usually got us on a better deal, but I'm tired of that game, so I was saying that I wanted to switch ISPs (since in our area, CL's download speeds are notoriously horrible) and get rid of the phone. I was debating whether to buy another cell phone to have stay home or to just be rid of the phone... I hadn't decided what to do at that point.

They were so excited to tell me about how their phone bill is now only about $3 in taxes a month, since they bought an Ooma! As soon as they had gone home, I went online and researched it for myself, and the tax amount for my area is $4.45. That's it. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The COOLEST Angry Birds Ever

I'm not much of a gamer, but I do play a few iPod games. Bookworm, Scrabble, and, yes, Angry Birds. My newest acquisition had me squealing like a Leia-cosplaying fangirl at a Star Wars Convention. Angry Birds Star Wars edition is an adorable mashup that you should really get downloaded to your iPod, phone or tablet while it's under a dollar, and even when it goes up to the average $4.99-ish cost it will still be worth the money. The opening video is hilarious, the animation adorable (as expected) and all in perfect Sci-Fi/Gaming harmony. 
I haven't played Angry Birds in a long time. I bought "Angry Birds Space" and didn't really like it as much as the others, and when I'm super busy with reading books and watching movies and holidays and full-time work and blogging and oh yeah, being a mom, I don't really have much time for playing games, but when my son told me this Star Wars edition had been released, I had to give it a look. I'm so glad I did. I anticipate many happy hours (taken in minutes here and there-- waiting for piano students, on short work breaks, ticking away the minutes while something bakes...) playing it in the future.  Light sabers, blasters, and new abilities. Fun stuff!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pin Win! Laundry Soap

I am currently about halfway through our second batch of this homemade laundry soap, which I found on Pinterest. I'm going to copy and paste the recipe here for you, but to give credit where it is due, you should check out the blog where it originated

It's basic, homemade laundry soap, and it does cost a little up front to make it, but it lasts forever! I have a big family of 6 (all of whom are now over 10 years old) and it lasts us months and months. I wasn't sure how good it was at first-- it's hard to really measure something like this, but my laundry comes out clean and smells good, so I'm going with WIN!! 

I really struggled with only using one or two tablespoons per load, but it does seem to be sufficient. Who knew? 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Two Amazing Roll Recipes

I had a friend ask me for my roll recipe, since my son was bragging to her at church about how amazing our (second) Thanksgiving feast was. And it really was. I have some truly amazing recipes for turkey, pie and squash, plus a knack for seriously awesome mashed potatoes, and my friends Stovetop and... um... Packet Gravy come to play, too, and it's just so delicious... I make almost everything else from scratch (and I could do gravy scratch, as well, but I like it to be done when the turkey comes out of the oven, not just beginning. But I digress). As I was saying, I make almost everything from scratch, including rolls, which, when I'm really lucky, go in the oven when the turkey comes out. The turkey rests for 15 minutes, while the rolls bake and Voila! everything hits the table at the same time. It's magic. When it works out...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The BIG Word Game

My family has a few goofy things that we do regularly, such as writing messages and notes on the bathroom mirror in dry-erase marker (17 y.o. son writes scary Slenderman quotes, while 10 y.o. daughter draws cats... Kriss quotes "Rocky" and 13 y.o. son writes reminders to himself to wash his laundry, etc.), and dancing in the family room. I sincerely hope that other families have as much fun as we do. :)

One ongoing game we play is something that began last summer and has lingered on. I call it the "BIG Word Game". Basically, I challenged my kids to try to use uncommonly large words (usually polysyllabic, but sometimes just obscure words) and then I assign randomly calculated points for the words they use. No one tallies the points and there are no prizes, but it's still fun. It's similar to another family favorite: "You're My New Favorite Kid" in that it's only fun for a moment, but everyone plays along. (Oh relax, I'm just kidding. My kids will never know who my favorite is.)

The reigning champion (besides me, and I've been told that, as Judge, I'm not allowed to collect points. Poppycock.) is my 10-year old daughter. She is an avid reader (yep. She's the apple to my tree) and as such, she learns a lot of big words. She started out using words such as "frequently" and "approximately" and has expanded to words like "currently"and "repulsive". She loves impressing me with her increasing vocabulary. And I love hearing it. 

So there you have it. Participate and you may earn some points, too! I'll leave you here with wishes for a life abundant with merriment, joviality and linguistic revelry.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

English is Language-Tastic!

The English language is a funny thing. It's similar to the United States in that it's a mish-mash of other cultures, languages and colloquialisms. I did not realize, however, English is Germanic based until recently. In high school, I had been told by teachers I believed that English is a romance language, Latin-based like French and Italian. LIES! Realizing that my love of English is based on falsehoods is disappointing, but my love doth not wane. Nay, in fact. I still adore this crazy, tossed-in-a-blender language and all its various accents, slang terms and regional oddities. 

I have a few books on the subject that I seriously love. One is called "Words Fail Me" by Patricia T. O'Conner. She is funny, smart and this book is a must-read for anyone who needs to write anything- whether for work or college or for fun. It's entertaining and makes a great that-just-makes-sense education. What more could we ask from non-fiction?
For my birthday this year, my dad gave me "Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language", also by O'Conner for my birthday. It was on my Amazon Wish List along with other similar titles. I haven't dived into it very far yet. I've got a serious fiction fixation going on right now which can only be satisfied by devouring various thrillers, YA novels and murder mysteries while (during those brainless tasks at work and home) also listening to the last few books of the "Wheel of Time" series audio-book style. 
I will be reading it in its entirety soon. I did start it and I was delighted to learn that although the British feel they are speaking "true" English and that we Americans have strayed, there are many pronunciations that we use that are actually closer to the old ways than the British. For example, the dropped rs? A relatively new development, language-wise. She says, "Educated people in Britain began dropping their r's in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries." So... ha! Snobby Brits who criticize our pronunciations! While tidbits like this might bore some of you to tears, I gobble it up. I love English and I love delving into its history, myths and oddities even more. 

  One of my most favorite possessions are the set of ancient dictionaries pictured below. The teeny tiny publishing date says they are from 1899 (though there are the dates 1897 and 1898 thrown in there for flavor). I acquired these of late when the bosses at the city library were cleaning out an old closet and they told us (I worked there... remember?) they would be putting everything out on a table for the public to take, but we got first pick, since we happened to be there first. Yay! 
Such a fortuitous happenstance for someone insane enough to want four giant volumes such as these. Now I just need a home office with a built-in shelf or alcove just right for these to be stored and displayed properly near my writing desk. Where I will sit to write...

I have to wonder if other languages simply adopt words like English does. Words such as alma mater (French), status quo (Latin), royal (French), ostracize and tragedy (Greek) coyote and armada (Spanish). (Want more adopted words? Click the link for a rather comprehensive list of so-called "loanwords".) I don't know. Maybe they do. Regardless,  English is a pretty awesome, albeit difficult to master, language.

 Which brings me to my next blog entry. Stay tuned 'till next time when we will find out who is winning The Big Word Game

Monday, November 19, 2012

My Mickey Mouse Collection

Happy Thanksgiving!!
My brother Danny is a Disneyland fanatic like me; he used to live in Orange County, CA and even though he lives in Utah again, he still maintains an annual pass to "The Happiest Place on Earth". 

Lucky for me, he is generous to his sisters and always brings us back an antenna ball or two when he goes out there. Between his gifts and the handful I bought when I was there in 2008, I have acquired 29!! How cool is that. I don't have a display cabinet or shelf for them, but I am mulling over how to make one that would be nice enough to show them off-- even just in my bedroom. I am not terribly crafty nor handy, but I think I could make something with some wood, paint and tiny dowels... I want something classy, not hokey or cluttery. That's the trick with any collection, I suppose.

Over the years, they have had some adventures. The sunshine one got destroyed so badly it simply had to be replaced (thanks to Danny's generous friend) because I left it on and went through a car wash. Ahem... (I could write a whole blog of all the stupid things I do, but this was a particularly frustrating one.) It's one of my favorites-- just look at those cute sunglasses!!

The Easter egg with Donald's feet sticking out experienced some distress and lost a foot. Luckily, they sold them again another year and Danny got me another. 

The snowman one is no longer white, thanks to Utah's inversion-laden air in the winter. I'm considering taking a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and gently trying to clean it. Haven't yet, though... 

The pink cupcake with Minnie's ears and bow got pulled off my van and put on a co-worker's car at the public library last February. There are a group of tweens who hang out there regularly and they thought they were being funny. I did not agree. Luckily, it was an easy recovery. 

And recently, I had the scarecrow Mickey on my van for fall and he lost an arm. I don't know where or how, but I've decided that between these myriad injuries and the risk of a student stealing one (I work at an elementary school now), I don't have one on my van anymore. Too bad. 

But I digress. My point (and I do have one) is that one of the two Danny brought back last month for us sisters is my new very favorite. It's unique and funny and geeky and adorable. I give you:
Robot Mickey!! So cute! I love the retro colors and the little spiraly connector thing and the bolts on the side and the detail on the eyes and ears and the little mouth- adorable. 
The darling gingerbread Mickey below is the other one he gave me last week. Sweet!!

FYI- in the interest of full disclosure, all the smaller photos on today's post are from the internet. The larger three I took in my kitchen. One day, when I figure out the way to display them best, I will photograph them all. Because I know you are just dying to see them.

While I'm at it, I'll show you a slideshow of our last vacation and baby pictures of my cats! Bwahahahaaaa!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Speaking of Soup Part 2

Tonight's soup was a huge success, so I thought I would share the recipe with you! Aren't you lucky? Yes. Yes you are.

I started out with a soup recipe from Allrecipes and modified it A LOT. Because my family likes flavor and the recipe seemed like it might be bland. So instead of giving you their version, I'll just give you mine. I humbly and happily present:

Scrumptious Veggie Soup

Farewell Hostess. We Loved You Well.

Another iconic American company has gone under during an increasingly difficult economic half-decade. 

The workers of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union went on strike last week over a new contract that would cut workers' wages and benefits. The strike in turn forced the company to give them a deadline (last night) to get back to work or the whole company would have to close. These union members forced the company's hand and now instead of striking their way back to previous wages and benefits, they are out of jobs. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Speaking of Soup

I find a lot of great recipes online and I feel so very blessed that people are generous and share their great concoctions with others for free. I use allrecipes most often, because I like to search and then sort by rating. I've found some real winners that way. But I also use other sites and friends and family members' tried and true favorites a lot. I almost always adjust and adapt recipes to match my cooking style, my family's tastes and what ingredients I have on hand. I've been cooking for this family for about 20 years, and I've gotten pretty good at it. Mostly. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Four Cussing Levels

Recently I bought a new family computer. My poor old Mac Mini died beyond resuscitation and due to a depressing commitment to avoid debt unless absolutely necessary, I was forced to purchase a PC for the first time in 10 years. Within the first week of owning the PC, I became frustrated and spewed forth a mouthful of levels 2 and (I confess) 3 cusses. I decided it was time to share my impressive language organizing skills with the world. I can only hope the world is ready.

Pinterest Fail & Recovery

My first ever Pinterest fail:
I thought the idea of cookie cups holding ice cream and caramel and chocolate syrup sounded divine!  
Seriously. I can almost taste the yummy goodness. Sweet, light, crispy cookies, molded to hold a scoop of vanilla ice cream... delicious! Right? Right... 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Common Cold Killer

I assume people know things I know, because I don't consider myself the best-informed person in my social circle, but now and then I'm the first of my friends/family to use a product that turns out to be brilliant

Only this isn't one of those times. In this case, my brother Danny told me about this product. So I can't claim finder's bragging rights. Oh well. I can still share the awesomeness with you!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why I Hate Neighborhood Trunk-or-Treats

In my neighborhood every year the church puts on a "Trunk-or-Treat" on the weekend prior to Halloween. Everyone in the neighborhood is invited to come to the church parking lot in costumes with their cars decorated. The kids go from car to car trick-or-treating, collecting candy and showing off their costumes. Afterward, everyone is welcome to enjoy donuts and hot chocolate before going home (because a bucket of candy isn't enough sweets).

I don't have a problem with the concept. I think it's a fun, cheap alternative to a carnival or even a neighborhood party. The kids enjoy it and it's good to involve the whole community in an activity. 

BUT... it isn't held on Halloween night. Which brings me to my two complaints.

1- I don't want my children getting large-ish bags of sugary loot two nights in one week. So I'm put in the position of either not attending the neighborhood party OR not letting my kids trick-or-treat on Halloween. Rock? Meet hard place. Not to mention that I wouldn't want my children to go around on Halloween to beg for more candy from the very same people who just gave them candy at the Trunk-or-Treat. Greedy much?

2- I can't really afford to buy enough candy to provide enough for both the Trunk-or-Treat and for Halloween night trick-or-treaters. Plus, the opposite of what I said above: should I really prepare to give out double candy to the kids in the neighborhood?

Here's what I propose instead:
If you are going to hold a Trunk-or-Treat, make it on Halloween night. If you must do an activity on a night not Halloween, turn it into a carnival or a pot-luck harvest party or a costume parade/party, not a candy-fest.

And that's my two cents.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I'm Not Dead Yet!

Just letting my handful of followers and my broader audience of looky-loos know I'm still around. I've been too busy to notice anything Soup-worthy of late. I'm sure there are some seriously awesome things going on in the world, but I work in a windowless school library and I have four children who keep me incredibly busy and make me laugh. You should see the three teenage boys doing the "Gangnam Style" flashmob dance. Here's the actual video. If you can get past the complete oddness of it, it's almost enjoyable!
Oh and have you seen THIS??

His name is Toby Turner, but his Youtube handle is Tobuscus. He has a lot of very silly videos. I really like "The Dramatic Song", but this next one is the one that gets trapped in my head, repeating all day long in my windowless library... 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Get Your Geek On

We're all a little geeky, really, especially as literary and film and TV genres keep bending and blending, and superheros keep taking over local cinemas, more non-geeks are leaning a little bit, um, sideways lately. You know. Geekways.

I've been told I'm only a partial geek. Sometimes my 15-year old son, (who considers himself a truer geek than I), and I discuss superhero things and comic-book things (though my comic knowledge is, admittedly, very limited; in fact- I have trouble remembering that Batman and Superman are DC and every other cool superhero in creation is Marvel... so kind of him to keep reminding me with eyes rolling) and Lord of the Rings and books and movies and computers (well, he discusses computers. I try not to let my eyes glaze over when my brain just stops functioning) and video games (he tells me the ending sometimes, since I'm never going to play games such as "Infamous" on the PS3). We even joke sometimes that we will henceforth measure the children in hobbits, as my children tend to run a little small in stature, but they're still taller than hobbits.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Acne Regimen

Years ago, I discovered this easy, affordable solution to my adult acne, and I've never looked back. My skin is very clear and I'm completely happy with the results. Recently, thought, I've made a couple of slight changes, so I'm updating this as of April 2014. 

I hope this post finds those who need it most!

Emotional Art: Shakespeare

The other day in the library, I was instantly distracted and brought to a screeching (well, maybe not screeching... it is a library) halt by a book left lying on a table. I hadn't seen it as it went through the steps of purchase, unpack, catalogue, and processing before it went out to a display shelf of new titles. When I saw the cover, though, I knew, instantly, that I would love what I found inside. It was a magical combination of both love at first sight and judging a book by its cover. :)

The book is a re-printing of William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", illustrated by Kevin Stanton (check out his blog and website), and while the text is lovely (it really is), what struck me first was the exquisite paper art illustrations on the cover and throughout the book. They are layered three-tone pieces- the cover is Romeo looking at Juliet lying on a bier, surrounded by roses. The colors are a deep purple, creamy cream and eye-catching red. The picture absolutely does NOT do it justice. In the picture it looks lovely, but in real life it is breathtaking. All but the photo with my hand in it are from his website.
Scattered inside the book are more layered paper art pieces, including the garden and balcony-- easily my favorite one- the detail is amazing!! This is a photo I took of the page-- hence my hand holding the layers down for the camera. (Is taking and posting this photo illegal since it's someone else's art? If you know, tell me... I'll remove it if it is. If I can find the artist on Twitter I'll ask him...)
The stars, the blossoms, the paving stones, the wall-- the balcony and arched widows? Gorgeous!!

He also illustrated Macbeth. Our library doesn't have it (yet??), but I imagine it's just as beautiful. This is the cover.
And check out this blood-soaked knife. I LOVE IT!! I would hang THAT on my wall! Seriously... on a literature-themed wall, of course. Not where my Mickey Mouse sketches or photos of my kids hang...
The artwork is evocative and sinuous- I can feel the ghosts approaching. I would love to get my hands on this book-- Macbeth has long been my favorite Shakespeare work. 

In addition to the layered inserts, there are many detailed illustrations in the same style, printed on the pages of the books, such as this next example: 
Just beautiful. Again, the photos cannot hope to compare to the real-life versions. If you have some extra book-buying money this year, these would be money well spent. 

Along with all the stunning visual awesomeness, there are many other little treats in these books. In "Romeo and Juliet", (and I'm sure "Macbeth" has the same), there is an excellent introduction by Mario DiGangi, an article about Shakespeare and England at the time he lived by David Scott Kastan, followed by another article by Kastan explaining the words and language used by Shakespeare. There are footnotes and translations for every single page of the play-- fantastic for young readers just getting their Shakespearean feet wet, but also helpful for us oldies who have read and loved Shakespeare to go a little deeper, and maybe refresh in our minds the layers hidden in the text.

Following the play are a section of longer notes about various items within the play, an article by Kastan "Editing Romeo and Juliet", and a trio of articles by DiGangi about the various productions of "Romeo and Juliet" over the years-- from the earliest stage to the modern cinematic productions, including works "Inspired by Romeo and Juliet" including, of course, "West Side Story"

The cultural implications in showing these books to youth and children are fantastic! I could give my kids a lesson in art- word and visual art all in one amazing book, as well as immersing them for a moment in both history and theater. *Rubbing hands together* Where to begin...

The book is hefty, 390 pages in all, hardbound and thick, but, oh, it's beautiful. I want to own the pair of them... but where would I keep them? These are more than just books- they're works of art! I don't know how one would display such beauty in a home... especially a teenage-boy-filled home such as mine. But I would like to try. These are emotive, energetic pieces of art and I just love them.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tooele Jr. High Dress Code Debacle

Last spring a local Tooele Jr. High student and her father made national news after he wrote an angry blog post in reaction to her getting in trouble for wearing a skirt that was deemed in violation of her school's dress code. I've been reading some articles online about this today, and this is what I think. Feel free to comment, but if you get nasty I will block you. Just sayin'.

Point 1- They knew the rules. She wore the skirt, knowing the rule. Or maybe not-- maybe she thought it was long enough. I could see that. In the photo, it looks long enough.
Point 2- She very likely had it pulled up higher, look at that elastic waistband. Come on, she's a teenage girl. BUT, since we don't know that she did, I suppose we should reserve judgement on this point. Unlike the vitriol spewed at the Principal and administration. Huffington Post and other online commenters and the dad implying that the Principal or other school officials are perverts and that they sexualized this girl are WAY out of line and, frankly, libelistic.
Point 3- Many commenters (and the dad) also indicate that this girl was "singled out" and punished, while dozens of more scantily-clad girls wandered the halls freely. This could have been the case, but may not be completely true. Most Jr. High schools with dress codes spend an inordinate amount of time enforcing them. Granted, not everyone gets called in and punished, but many do. You just don't always hear about it on national news sites.
Point 4- And probably the most important point: We will never know both sides of this story. Did the girl get sent home because she refused to tug the skirt down to an appropriate length? Was the girl as obstinant as her father seems to be, escalating the problem? Was the girl sweet and cooperative, simply a victim of the cruel overseers at her backwards, backwoods, conservative school? Hm...
Point 5- Living in a "conservative Mormon community" actually has little to do with this situation. Over- and/or under-enforcement of the dress code is probably the point.
Point 6- I really hope the girl did not knowingly break this rule. I also hope that she didn't just learn that rebellion and mocking authority is the answer when you get in trouble. If school administraters were over the line in this situation, then the family should file a complaint, or join the school board and try to get the rule adjusted or changed or stricken, whatever their conscience tells them.
Point 7- I live in Tooele Co. School District. Every year for each of my children I have to fill out and sign packets of paperwork. I hate it. One of the papers involved, including multiple variations of it that are given to the kids and included on the websites, is about their schools' dress codes. ALL students and parents receive these things. Everyone knows the standard. It's impossible to enforce 100%, but it IS enforced. So dress accordingly.
Point 8- Why didn't the dad just bring her a change of clothes? I... don't understand. Even if I disagree with a rule, thinking it's stupid, I still expect my child to obey it, until we can get it changed. Civilized society, anyone?
Point 9- Get ready, girl, most workplaces also have a dress code. And many are stricter than school...

A lot was said about the principal not being there when the dad came to get the girl. Do we actually expect to have the principal involved on every dress code violation? And did the dad ask for an appointment or meeting with the principal, upon getting to the school and deciding his daughter's punishment was ludicrous? Was he denied a meeting? Common sense, anyone?

Let's assume that the story is as the dad tells it. Innocent girl gets singled out and punished for wearing cute, modest skirt only a bare centimeter from the standard. She cruelly gets sent home for wearing it. If this is the true story, the whole story, the problem still isn't the dress code. The problem is the policy of enforcement of the dress code. The girl didn't realize her skirt was too short, perhaps. The girl and her father claim that the rules are inconsistently enforced ("selective enforcement"). If this is true, then THAT is what TJHS needs to address with teachers and admins and staff.

One other thing: I know clothes are expensive, and modest lengths are hard to come by, especially as kids grow like weeds. However, I doubt this is the only thing that girl has to wear.

I would whole-heartedly support uniforms for kids, but in Tooele School District, there are some families that really struggle financially, and I think it would cause an undue burden on them. I would also support a clearer standard for skirts. Maybe to their fingertips? I think in HS, our standard was two inches longer than where our fingers ended... I don't know for sure, though. Maybe they should just say the skirts have to cover the knees while sitting... hmm...

There is no one right answer, just as there is not only one side to this story. What bothered me the most about all of this was all the accusations that the principal and/or teachers involved were perverts. That kind of thing is just wrong. Be careful what you say online, people. Think before you type... then go back and read it before you hit "post". Edit. Then think some more.

Friday, July 6, 2012

My Ongoing Quest for a Clean House and Well-Raised Children Continues

In an effort to include my children in the chores-and-housework process, rather than stomp my feet and throw things at them in anger over the house still being trashed and all the myriad electronic devices at my house being in use in spite of the trashed state of things, we had a family meeting last night. After some some silliness, (well, really lots of silliness- thank you teenage sons), some emotional outbursts (thank you 10-y.o. daughter...) and some actual conversation, we came up with what I hope will work for the next 7 weeks until school starts and we have to reassess the whole situation again. If it will be of any inspirational help to you in reorganizing kids' chores, here is what we decided:

Each child has been assigned a "zone"- one or two areas that they are responsible to make sure stay tidy and clean. Everyone shares the kitchen, and keeps their previous kitchen and dish assignments. The Zone Boss has the right, after a single, 5-minute proclamation (i.e. "I will be cleaning the front room in 5 minutes, please come get your stuff) to place any items left out by their siblings (anything, including laundry or favorite iPods or video games, etc.) into The Box, as it's known.

The Box is a large plastic container, in which I was placing abandoned items, which have to be ransomed out by the owners. This is an idea I found on Pinterest. Here is the blog belonging to the lady with the original idea. She is, by the way, hilarious. The ransom assignmentss are written on slips of paper in an envelope in the box, and include such things as:
  • Sweep the back porch
  • wash one window
  • give mom a hug and tell her you're sorry for leaving your things out
  • sing "Whistle While You Work" while you walk 3 laps around the yard
  • Free Pass- lucky you!
  • Write a haiku about a clean house
You get the idea. Some are silly, some are extra jobs, and a very few are freebies. Up until now, I was the only one allowed to place items in the box. So... it's about to get very interesting at my house.

I told them I very sincerely don't want to take away their electronic entertainment, their right to have friends over, their movie nights or any other privileges, but that if I come home and find the house trashed and everyone in front of a screen, that is probably what will happen.

Also, the kids are expected to do just a few other things before "playing", including reading 30-60 minutes, practicing piano, collecting eggs or feeding the cat, etc. and they still retain their Saturday chores, which no one likes, but they have to be done (bathroom stuff and vacuuming). If they actually do everything I'm asking them to, it will still only be a couple of hours, and considering they are laying around and/or playing for up to 16 hours each day, that's not too much to ask, is it?

Wish me luck... we'll see how well this new order works.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Adventures in Homemaking: Apricot Jam

My funny daughter posing with the apricots pre-puree
It was a beautiful Monday morning. I went to a neighbor's house to pick apricots, stopped at another neighbor's house to pick up two boxes of apricots that were slightly over-ripe, and settled into the kitchen to make jam. 8 hours later, my back hurt, my feet hurt, and I'd been to the store twice for sugar and pectin. Sheeeeeesh. But the jam tastes yummy. And I got a TON of it.
I tried to follow a pair of recipes I found on the web, but neither of them mentioned when to add the called-for lemon juice. So I made the first two without it, then went back and and re-cooked it, adding the lemon juice afterwards and reprocessing the jars. I hope they come out okay...

The remaining batches didn't get that mistake. However, the low-sugar pectin I used for them confuddled me. (That's a word, right?) It took a while to figure out the balance of the ingredients and the cooking adjustments... but I think I got it.

In the meantime, I made a slightly cluttered kitchen into an apricot-colored and -scented disaster, had a large container full of pits, and an even larger box of not-quite-ripe apricots left waiting to ripen. I also had two large freezer bags full of non-jammed 'cots. I had run out of steam and it was time to stop cooking.

The interesting thing is recognizing that, though I've never made cooked jam before, I used to be quite comfortable in the kitchen, taking naturally to new recipes and having a lot less problems than I had that day. I guess I'm not a part-time homemaker, and I haven't done much cooking in the last year. It's fascinating, really, how fast even our talents fade when they aren't exercised. I'll be practicing more in the future, I think. I hate to lose something I enjoy so much. I miss cooking and baking for my family. It's time to get back to it. :)

In the meantime, I have jars and jars of apricot jam to get me through the winter. As long as I have english muffins to enjoy it with.
And buckets of apricots!
Meanwhile, daughter is dipping bananas in chocolate for later.
Puree in the pot. I was very overheated by the end... 

Almost there...
A bit smoother and thicker than I intended... but delicious!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tooele Ghost Hunters at the Library

On Saturday, June 16, our library hosted a presentation by some local ghost hunters, "Untitled Paranormal Investigators" or UPI. This group consists of a couple of young folks and an older fellow who go around Utah (and maybe other areas?) and do free paranormal investigations. They are a non-profit organization and they don't charge anyone for their services, which seems to lend some integrity and validity to their work. They are all very passionate about what they do, and their excitement is contagious.

Derek VonHatten and Kristina Niles came out to present to us, bringing a couple of cases of their equipment and a pair of DVDs- one with evidence they have collected and one promoting preservation of historic places, particularly the Mercur Cemetery in Tooele County, Utah. The DVDs were okay, the EPVs and video were fine, but my critical side can't help but comment that they need some professional digital video assistance. I would bet there must be a film student out there who wouldn't mind volunteering to help them improve their documentation and narration. The transitions were choppy and often after a few clips, I had forgotten where they said they were-- it would have been nice to have a subtle visual tag naming the location of the shot. It was fine, though, and tolerable for what it was.

Both Derek and Kristina seem like very nice people, respectful, professional and they treat the subject matter with dignity.

Everyone in our crowded audience appeared both entertained and interested-- it was a great presentation-- humor dropped in among the more serious topics, they didn't try to address religion or the WHY of this stuff, just showing you what they have. Derek says he's the skeptic, in that he's less malleable to the spirit world (my words) and doesn't have the connection the older dude does-- hasn't ever felt anything touch his arm or any such activity, which was interesting.

So the question might be whether any of their evidence was truly scary? Somewhat. The whispered EVPs are what frighten me. Some of the others were hard to hear or see, and as such, not particularly scary, but it was definitely interesting.

Their video blurb about the restoration they have done and continue to do at Mercur Cemetary was good, it's a worthy cause, though their reasoning is different than mine. It sounded as if they do it almost exclusively for future paranormal investigators (well, that's what they said- I imagine there's more to it than just that) and I would encourage preservation primarily based on the historical, educational and genealogical value. :)

I missed the presentation segment about the equipment-- most of it. It was probably interesting. I did see them demonstrate a green multi-point laser thingy that was pretty cool.

Unfortunately, Derek and Kristina didn't get to tell us their favorite investigation stories-- we kind of ran over with the first Q & A segment, but I would have liked to hear that. They promised to come back in the fall- probably October, and do a second presentation, so we will look forward to that!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Spoonful of Sugar. A Little Rant About the Kids Chores

This is much prettier than what my kids get. Crafty I'm not.
In my never-ending quest to be the "perfect" mom, I keep trying new motivational challenges to inspire my children to actually do the chores they have been assigned. I've tried lists. I've tried lists with points. I've tried websites. I've tried charts with checkboxes. I've tried charts with checkboxes in sheet protectors to use with dry erase markers. I've tried simplifying and fancifying. I've tried the magnet board with jobs they just move over when they're done (similar to the photo, only much, much simpler. Just a magnet board and words-- my kids are way too old for pictures to be effective). I've tried attaching chores to money. I've tried discussions and letting them share their input. I've tried end-of-the-week prizes. I've tried everything.

What works? None of those things. Our household has never really been one of rigid schedules and drill-sergeant control. I've also never been much of a "helicopter" parent- hovering and supervising my kids to death. I haven't taught them to really "manage" their time (they get so much of that at school that I figure home can be less scheduled). But I still have kids with decent to amazing grades (all their own work). And I still have well-behaved kids. And they do mostly get their chores done. The main requirement at our house is that chores are done before video games or TV is turned on, so the boys do theirs. My daughter is another story-- her chores only get done if someone actually walks along with her, pointing things out. She lives on another planet. I used to live there, too, so I totally understand. It's a day-dreamy, imaginative place, and I do feel bad drawing her out of it to do boring chores, but I worry that I'm raising a slob who won't be good at keeping house. Like... well, like me.

By golly, I'm a good mom after all. Thanks, random sign.
So what to do? I tend to just nag and nag until we're all tired, or I just ignore it and later I get upset that the electronic toys are all in use, but the house is still what I consider a mess. I can't seem to find a balance. Part of the problem is that I'm not here much anymore. Now that I work full time (and I know I talk about that a lot, as if it's a problem. Because it IS...) I'm not here to check and make sure the jobs are done before the iPod comes out or the TV goes on. They're on the honor system. And I don't want to start taking stuff away to force them into compliance. 

I need a so-called "natural" consequence. I'm considering not saying a word about chores for a full week. Maybe I won't do any, either. If my husband could stand it. We could see just how bad the house gets if no one is reminded or coerced or otherwise convinced to do chores, laundry, dishes, etc. Of course, that would be VERY hard to recover from. And would require more effort from me than just the daily nagging. Hmm...

Maybe what I need to do is come home from work fully expecting to have to gather the children around for a quick house-tidy-pickup and kitchen-job review each night. It wouldn't have to be miserable... just consistent.

Which is probably my entire problem. I'm inconsistent. Sometimes I'm so tired I just don't care about the house and other times it makes me crazy. Hormones fluctuate, moods shift, fatigue ebbs and flows and everything else is affected.

I don't want robot children, though. Nor do I want rebels. I have to find balance...

Time for another Family Home Evening conversation about sharing the housework responsibilities, I suppose. Maybe I could just ask them to list what work needs to be done and then they could decide who will do what... hmm... 
I thought this was just beautiful.
If only my children could wiggle their noses or wave their wands and march all their belongings back to their proper places. Of course, then their noses would be "too tired" or their wands would be misplaced and the house would still look a bit cluttered, a bit dusty and a lot lived in.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Geek Pride Day

Today is not only my High School BF's birthday. Nor is it only the kids' last day of school. It's also Geek Pride Day!! Which just happens to correlate with Towel Day, which celebrates the genius of Douglas Adams!!
I'm a self-proclaimed wanna-be Geek Girl. I only wish I had known about today sooner. I wonder if I would get into trouble for carrying a towel at the library today... probably. It's not approved in the City dress code. I could tuck a washcloth in my pocket-- close enough, right? My son even happened to wear THIS SHIRT today, though I don't think he realized it was such a special day. He must be a geek psychic. Makes me wish I had this shirt, which I keep almost buying. It's even casual Friday-- I could have worn THAT!! Oh well... next year?
For those who might be confused, read the linked pages. If you're still lost, please, I beg you, go to your local library and borrow "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", the book or the audiobook. Now! Hurry! Get going!! It's great reading/listening and you won't regret it. Plus, then you'll be well prepared when the Vogons get here.

The truth is, most of us are part geek. Here's a fun poster some talented person made to illustrate this point:
IF you find this hard to read, here's the original, it's easier to read and doesn't hog all my blog space.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Winning the Hair Wars

Did you fight the hair and the hair won?
My 9 year old daughter understands. She has thick, straight hair. Until recently, our morning routine went something like this:
Me: Have you brushed your hair?
Her: YES, can't you tell or do you think I look ugly?! 
(my daughter is not a morning person.)
Me: You could never be ugly. Your hair looks like maybe you missed some spots. Let me try--
Her: I don't care, don't touch it!
Me: Sorry, Sweetie, it's gotta be done.
I take the brush and start at the bottom, trying to work out the snarls with as little pulling as possible.
Me: Try to breathe, just calm down. I know it hurts, but--

Seriously. You would think I was cutting off her toes one by one. I often wonder that the neighbors haven't called the police. Then I remember most of them have little girls, too.

Her father kept saying, "Maybe it's time to just cut it short again" and she would stomp out of the room yelling, "NO! You can't make me look like a boy!" 

I never anticipated that straight hair would have the same problems of tangles and snarls that my thick, curly hair has. No such luck. In fact, I think hers was worse than mine, and mine seldom gets brushed!

Recently, miraculously, the blood-chilling howls that accompanied our hair-brushing routine have become a thing of the past, due to the magic of Infusium 23. I discovered this gem back when I was in high school, and my step-mom brought it with her upon marrying my dad. It was a miracle then, and remains so today. Why I didn't already have some in the house for my daughter is a mystery. When I thought of it, my second thought was, "DUH!"

This is the leave-in treatment. I've never splurged for the shampoo/conditioner set, because this is good enough. It's better than good enough. It's nothing short of hair magic. For my daughter, I first tried putting some into a little squirt bottle, with a tiny bit of water, to just spritz the problem areas. 
No luck. This, according to the agonized, dramatized, Banshee-envy-worthy wails, did not solve the wicked tangle problem. So we now follow these steps: 
  1. Shower, shampooing and conditioning as normal
  2. Towel dry hair, squeezing as much water out as possible
  3. Squirt Infusium 23 directly on hair, recognizing that it will run and coat the hair, you don't need to soak it, but if you can see tangles, give them some extra attention
  4. Flip the hair upside down and squirt the underside as well; the same technique applies
  5. Wrap the hair in a thin, soft towel (we use a beach towel that otherwise sits on a shelf ignored) and let it sit for about 5-10 minutes or as long as the hair-bearer can stand
  6. Unwrap and brush out. Let the magic begin.
Now, we are actually enjoying getting her hair washed and ready. This routine also works well right before bed and then braiding the hair. Morning brushing is a breeze!

Now, her hair looks like this:
Today, the part of my daughter will be played by this lovely model.
I do still keep the little spritz bottle for brushing out dry hair at night (or whenever). It works for those trouble-spots. 

Now our mornings go more like this:
Me: Did you brush your hair?
Her: Yes, can't you tell? Or do you think it looks stupid?
Me: Your hair is gorgeous, should we do ponytails?
Her: Fine. Whatever.
(She is still not a morning person)

Good luck and happy brushing!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

There's An App for That

There's a great little app for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad called "myfitnesspal". It's also available online here. With this app, you can set goals for weight loss, daily calorie consumption, etc. Then, each day you use the diary to enter what you've eaten (and drunk) and all your physical activity, to see where you end up. There is also a social aspect-- you can have "friends" whose progress you follow, and who can see yours as well. 
A year ago, I started using it to track my calories and exercise, after being invited by my sister. After using it a while, however, I started feeling rebellious. I remember thinking "you can't tell me what to do!" So I stopped using it. I didn't like the feeling of accountability (even only to myself) and being able to see just how bad my diet is... and it is bad. This morning I had a Fiber One bar and a handful of salt & vinegar Pringles for breakfast. And orange juice. That counts for something, right?

However... recently, I've lost about a size and a half, just from not eating as much or as frequently (my full time job has really taken over my life) and I realized that even feeling skinnier, I have absolutely no endurance. If I had to climb a mountain or run a mile, I would make it about 10 steps and fall down dead. 

So I've reinstalled myfitnesspal and I'm trying again. I went for a walk today, thinking I would take a quick 20-minute walk and warm up to doing so a few times a week. I made it 10 minutes. Sigh... Mostly the problem was that my feet and ankles felt extremely itchy and funny in my socks and walking shoes. I think I need better equipment... but it's a start. 

I don't weigh myself-- I never have, but I do notice when my pants are too loose or snug. I'm hoping to get down another size and a half and fit back into my pre-fourth-child jeans. Fingers crossed...