Category Archives: Humor

Many Happy Returns: Some Post Tax Day Humor and Ways to Teach Your Kids About Money

Whew- so glad to be done with the taxes! Yep, that’s where I’ve been over the past few days—glued to Turbo Tax and barely coming up for air. I HATE DOING TAXES because I always wait until the last minute.  I used to do them all by myself, but I think Andy was tired of driving to the post office at 11 p.m. on April 15 in a panic (but hey, the postal employees always made it so festive and welcoming and would be standing out there waving signs and holding baskets and you could just drive up and throw in your envelope…) and so a couple years ago we started splitting the tax prep responsibility, so he does half and then hands the file over to me, usually in February or March.  But I’ve always got a million other pressing things to do that keep me from opening that file, and so there I sat on Tax Day, finishing up “under the gun”.  I’m so sick of hearing, “Did you make any progress?” I could scream. (Please God make me do 10 minutes a day of taxes starting Feb. 1 next year!)

But it’s been an interesting tax prep this year.  First off, let me share a laugh with you (and I think everyone needs a laugh after Tax Day, right?) I was sitting here going through “It’s Deductible”, an online service for putting a value on charitable donations, and I was searching for all the stuff we’d donated to Goodwill over the past year…you’re supposed to be able to type in your items, one by one, and it gives you the “value as calculated by ebay” for the “most frequently donated items”.  At first it was a breeze—Girls jeans? It had the value. Women’s sun dress?  Ditto.   Belts?  Yep.  And many other items.  Only it didn’t have flip flops.  (The only thing that came close was “leather sandals”, and we all know flip flops, no matter how blinged up or designer they may be, are not always made of leather.) And, “It’s Deductible” didn’t have tights.  (Hey, ours were in good condition!) And it didn’t have a listing for sheet music.  (Or “piano book”, “fake book” or anything close.)  But it did show a listing for…DANCING HULA GIRL? No, that wasn’t an item I was trying to value, but it kept popping up as a choice every time I typed in the word “Girls”, with a “high value” listed at $7, from the “Automotive” category…huh? Is it some kind of air freshener? I vaguely remembered that it’s one of those bobble heads that sits on a dashboard…or I guess this kind has a “bobble waist”…but who knew there was such a demand to write them off as a charitable donation?!  But a quick online search for “images of dancing dashboard hula girl” came up with a ton of pictures of the wobbly car accessory, with many variations: fat, skinny, with ukelele and without; hula monkeys, turtles, bears, pigs and hippos; skeleton hula dancer; smiley face hula dancer; something that looked like a “Precious Moments” hula dancer; alien hula dancer; and many male versions, including Hula Homer Simpson and one that looked eerily like a certain President… (hmm, I’m thinking any one of those might be the perfect accessory for the aravan, so maybe someday I really will be asking It’s Deductible for the value of my “dashboard hula dancer”!)

Second, it was also a more interesting tax prep this year because we had to deal with, for the first time, a W-2 form from OUR CHILD’s summer job.  Unfortunately for Allison, she didn’t have to declare any of it because it wasn’t much (the threshold for needing to file is $5,800).  But fortunately for her, it got her asking about taxes for the first time and gave me the opportunity to explain why we do this and what some of the tax forms involve.  Sure wish that was still taught in school so that all kids would know what to do (when I was in high school, we did a mock 1040 form as a “Consumer Economics” assignment, so it was very easy and not-scary-at-all the first time I had to fill out a real tax form.  It was a no-brainer, really, at that stage in life.  I felt very prepared, unlike the 20-something intern I once saw crying at one of my past workplaces, because she didn’t like having to do such “grown-up” things like taxes…). 

Once our taxes were finished yesterday (hooray for e-filing!), I did a little web surfing and discovered lots of online resources for teaching kids about, not only taxes, but also how to fill out a W-4, how to write a check and balance a checking account, and how to figure sales tax.  A site called even has a worksheet for figuring how to pay taxes—on money earned doing chores!  (And by the way, if you want to access that worksheet, you can do it for free with their “limited membership”—don’t let that “full membership only” sentence fool you.) Any of these resources would be great for kids just starting in the work world or even those who are starting to make more purchases on their own.

For younger kids, I think another good “money teacher” is to give them one of those blank check ledgers that come in a box of checks (I usually always have an extra one or two left in the box when the checks are gone). It’s a good way for kids to keep up with the cash they may be stashing in a box, purse or “piggy bank”, and record how they spend it, not to mention practice math skills.  I recently gave one to Emmie and she reminded me that she did get a little practice in this at Enterprise City, a very cool, 6,000 square-foot mock city sponsored by our school district and housed in our neighborhood elementary school, where 6th grade kids from all over the district (and other districts) get to spend at least one day living, working, and earning “paychecks”, and getting “breaks” to spend their checks at Enterprise City shops (where the kids are the shopkeepers), like the T-shirt shop, the gift shop, the cafe’ and the newspaper.  (At the end of the day, the kids who aren’t in the negative and who have balanced their checkbooks correctly are recognized, as well as the businesses who turn a profit.  Those kids that have overspent? Well, they have to give back that Chinese yo-yo or mood ring they purchased… see Enterprise City in action and read more about it here).

But, I digress—there was a third reason this year’s tax prep was more interesting: TWO extra days! ‘ARE YOU KIDDING ME?’ I thought, when I found out the good news last Friday night. ‘SUH-WEET!’ It was 11 p.m. and I realized I didn’t have to stay up until 3 a.m. that night finishing most of it, like I originally thought!  What a gift! The tax gods must have heard my bleary-eyed cry of “how am I going to do this?”!  Yeah, I know the change of date had to do with April 15th being on a Sunday, and Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C. on Monday—but I’d like to think it was done as a fitting way to end National Procrastination Week. 

Yeah, I know that illustrious week happens each year in early March, but true procrastinators know we don’t celebrate it until mid-April.  

The Circle of Pride and Embarrassment

While I generally have an “I don’t worry about what people think about me” attitude, it’s funny that when you have kids, you do care about how they “show” in public, in part because you feel like their actions are a reflection of your parenting skills. You wince when they’re young and throw tantrums in Target, pick their nose while walking down the aisle during a wedding ceremony or point a finger at a stranger in a parade and yell out something brutally honest (“That man is HUGE!!”).  And you rejoice when they remember to say “Thank you” to Grandma, sing a song perfectly at a recital or run to greet you in front of school with a big hug.  I hope I never forget the time when Emmie and I were sitting in a bookstore coffee shop– I was looking through a stack of cookbooks and she was engrossed in one of her Rick Riordan novels, when all of a sudden she looked at me and my books and said, “I am so glad I have a Mom that cooks, and plans out all of our meals, because a lot of people don’t do that very much anymore.” Yes, I about fell off my chair at that sign of appreciation, and yes, the elderly couple walking past our table right at that moment almost dropped their lattes in astonishment, then offered some words of praise to both Emmie and me.  It was a proud moment and I think it made that elderly couple happy, too…

Of course as your kids get older, you hope for more and more proud public moments and less red-faced ones, and generally that has happened for us…but because of Emmie’s size, I realized the other day that we’re in a unique situation. 

See, because she’s very petite for her 13 years, she looks a lot younger.  Which would be great if she was auditioning for a TV show.  But in everyday situations, when people don’t know her age, it can look like we’re raising a veritable wild child.  The other day, a young mother was in the grocery checkout line behind Emmie and me, with a little girl sitting in the childseat of her cart.  And there was Emmie, in an Aerosmith shirt and “fashionably ripped” jeans, a bit of smudged mascara under her eyes, grabbing a tabloid and chatting to me about Chaz Bono, obviously knowing who he/she is and asking questions that anyone around could hear, and me answering her, then answering her questions about the next tabloid subject– I could see the mom noticing her and the checkout dude chuckling, and that’s when it suddenly struck me that they both probably thought she was 9 or 10 (or younger), and maybe they even thought I was one of those (gasp!) “loose” parents, letting my kid grow up too fast…and for the first time in a long time I felt a twinge of red-faced embarrassment…’Some parent I must look like,’ I thought.   

“Let’s put the magazine back,” I told her, trying to save face.  “Most of that stuff isn’t true anyway.”  I secretly wished Emmie would start humming “Jesus Loves Me” or turn and give the young mom a big grin so at least she could see that she had braces on…

Little did I know I would soon be giving Emmie something to wince about.  As we left the store, we passed a group of high schoolers studying at a table in the grocery store’s Starbucks, and I recognized several that I hadn’t seen in ages, kids who’d gone to elementary school with Allison, and I smiled and spoke to a couple of them as we passed.  When we got home,  Emmie went straight to Allison.  “Mom said hi to some of your friends at the store!!!” she gushed.  “She thinks she’s so cool!! It was soooo embarrassing!!!” 

Helping Kids Study for Tests: Just Do What You’re Told and No One Gets Hurt

I did something last night I’ve never done before– I helped two teenagers study for semester final exams, at the same time.  See, this is the first time for Emmie to have an exam week like this, and we discovered yesterday that today, she and her sister both have finals in similar subjects– for Emmie, Texas History, and for Allison, U.S. History. So last night, I asked them if they needed anyone to quiz them on definitions or dates or anything. “We can sit in a circle and I can fire off questions to each of you, and when it’s not your turn, you can figure out if you know the answer, too, or just listen.” Surprisingly, they were enthusiastic about this, and so we sat in the living room, dogs and all. To my left, I’d fire off questions about early Texas Indian culture to Emmie (“Were the Tiguas sedentary or nomadic? How did they get food?”) and to the right, questions about everything from the American Revolution up to the 1940s to Allison (“What is isolationism? How did Duke Ellington affect American culture?”).  I felt like Alex Trebek. But only because I was the moderator.  Not because I knew all the answers like Alex (did you know he speaks six languages?). When Allison didn’t know the answers (she hadn’t printed all of them on the test review sheet), I wasn’t much help. Not only did I not remember “for sure” the outcome of the Scopes Monkey Trial, I couldn’t remember a.) if Susan B Anthony only worked for the right of women to vote, or was a champion of other women’s rights; b.) what was contained in the Pure Food and Drug Act and c.) what caused the Spanish-American war.  It was close to 10 p.m., and she was getting frustrated with me, and with having “tech issues” in trying to look up some of the answers online, on her phone.  “Geez, Mom, weren’t you taught any of this????” Um, I only remember having a really boring U.S. history teacher in 9th grade and that’s about it, I told her. We had to memorize a ton of facts and couldn’t wait to empty it out of our stressed heads when the semester was over.  And anything that was left, well, it’s been 35 years…

“Why do they have us learn all this if we’re just going to forget it!!?!” said Allison. Good point, I said. 

Meanwhile, Emmie was knee-deep in hunters and gatherers.  “Mom, it’s my turn!!”

Okay, okay.  “What was the name of the Indians who lived in the Coastal Plains and how did they adapt to their environment?” I asked, squinting at the review sheet. After a few more, I commented that it was sad that the Apaches, Comanches, Tonkawas and Kiowas had to make their living partly by raiding camps. Emmie looked like she was going to blow a gasket (in addition to being tired, she also had a headache).  “Mom, they’re Indians!!” she exclaimed.  “What do you expect?! Just keep asking the questions on the review sheet!!!” Of course I had to point out to her that she was stereotyping, and that she’d previously described other Indian tribes who got along just fine without being criminals, and that not all Indians were scalpers and bandits.  I think she understood my point and we moved on…

Even though helping my kids study for tests usually subjects me to ridicule and disdain, I still partake in it once in awhile because I always re-learn something I’ve forgotten or learn something I didn’t know (The pilgrims were sick, dying and depressed when they first sighted our shores? Lindbergh once lived on an island? Who knew…and of course, learning Texas history is always a new adventure for us northerners…). 

But probably the best part about helping kids study for tests, in addition to spending some quality time together and providing them with feedback, is that when you ask a lot of questions (whether you really don’t know something or not ) and your kids are suddenly in the position of teaching someone instead of someone else always teaching them, it’s one of the best ways that they can solidify facts in their brain.  Well, that is, when they get the facts straight.

“YOU MEAN YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT BIG STICK DIPLOMACY IS?” marveled Allison at one point last night after one of my questions.  She eloquently went on to explain to me how Teddy Roosevelt carried a big stick and would shake it or bang it when dealing with ambassadors from other countries, to make the point that America was tough, as opposed to President Taft, who just wanted to throw money at other countries to keep the peace– a.k.a. “Dollar Diplomacy”.   

You don’t say?! Interesting! Well said!

I went to sleep feeling good that I had helped my kids learn by getting them to help me learn, to engage in a conversation with me about history rather than just having them regurgitate facts.   But today I looked up info about Teddy Roosevelt, and, um, he never actually carried a big stick.  It was part of his favorite phrase, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” and it was a metaphor about his get-tough foreign policies…but he didn’t actually carry one…or bang one…

Guess I better stick to letting PBS and good books help me re-learn history from now on…and an occasional episode of Jeopardy…

A Thanksgiving Full of Turkeys

Whenever I used to be on the verge of making a decision that Andy didn’t think was a good idea, to try to remind me of a past bad “I told you so” decision, he would say two words– “Bill Hicks”.  That was in reference to a time when I played a comedy album (on cassette) of that late profane comedian for my parents, who were visiting from out of town.  “I wouldn’t do that,” he warned.  “It’s pretty blue.” I insisted on playing it anyway, telling him I’d play side one only, that the stuff he was thinking about was on side two. “I think you’re wrong,” he warned again. He was right. It was more than blue, and my face was more than red to be listening to it in my parents’ presence.  But now I finally have two simple words that I can say to him to remind him of when I was right: “propane tank”.

See, we hosted 18 people for Thanksgiving a few days ago, the first time I think we’ve ever played host on that holiday, and Andy and I decided a few days ago to have a “turkey-off”, a little friendly informal competition to see who could cook the best-tasting bird.  He wanted to smoke a turkey indirectly on a gas grill; I wanted to bake one in the oven.  The oven would be more of a sure thing, I felt, since I’d done that before on Christmas awhile ago, and it was fine.  I planned to just follow the directions on the bag like I did before.  Keep it simple, I thought, since that was kind of the theme of our Thanksgiving this year– we were providing the meat and everyone else was bringing side dishes.  Besides, why would I want to try something new with 18 guests coming? Besides, with three family birthday celebrations all happening this month as well, keeping things simple was a necessity.

But…that was hard for me to do when the newspaper, every day, was showing new and tasty ways to prepare Thanksgiving food.  At every checkout line, Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart and Paula Deen were yelling at me from the magazine covers…and then Andy started buying his supplies, and they were showing up on the kitchen counter. A bag of wood chips. A new digital meat thermometer… and celery, onions, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  “I’m doing what’s called the Simon and Garfunkel method,” he proudly proclaimed.  And all I was planning to do was follow directions from the bag of a Wal-Mart turkey? What’s that, the Hank Williams, Jr. method?

I started asking friends how they were planning to fix their turkey, and got a few more ideas.  When my friend Shannon mentioned how she used the Alton Brown method, and that even her husband, who is a chef, was impressed, I decided to look it up.  Alton is a Food Network star and I quickly found it at  It involved brining, or soaking the bird overnight in a salt and vegetable broth solution, then cooking it at a very high heat for 30 minutes to crisp up the skin and lock in the juices, and turning down the oven to 350 for the rest of the cook time.  Interesting. I mentioned the method to Andy. “I’m brining mine, too,” he said, and explained that’s why he’d been washing out our coolers. Well, that decided it for me.  If  he could “brine”, then I could, too.

He let me choose the cooler I wanted to use and I started buying my supplies.  We discussed our plans further.  “What are you going to do if the grill’s propane tank runs out while you’re cooking?” I asked him.  “Shouldn’t you have a spare ready just in case?” (As longtime Uncool Mom readers may remember, I’m usually the grillmeister at our house and indirect gas grilling is my cooking method of choice…) I told him that better yet, if he didn’t want to buy another tank, he could cook it a day ahead of time to make sure stores would be open if he needed to run out to get ours refilled (or traded in for another).  From past experience, I’ve had propane tanks run out “mid-steak” several times…but in the true “I’ll take risks” way of life that cause men’s insurance rates to be higher than women’s, he chose to go forward with only the propane tank on hand, and cook it a few hours before he planned to serve it.

Thanksgiving Day dawned later than usual for me– I’d been up til 3 a.m. the night before, setting tables, cleaning house, and preparing the brining solution (I’d spent much of Wednesday helping Allison celebrate her 17th birthday) and when I saw 8:20 a.m. on the alarm clock, I thought my bird had really been cooked, if you know what I mean. My turkey was supposed to already be in the oven– and I still needed to get dressed and walk the dogs, not to mention rinse the turkey, pat it dry, stuff the cavity, make a “foil snake” for the bottom of the roasting pan, and “cover every digit of the hands with butter and massage the skin”… I ran downstairs in my pajamas and simply let the dogs out in the backyard, not caring if the neighbors saw me.  A nice apple wood smoke smell filled the air as well as the music of John Hyatt and Bruce Springsteen– Andy had moved a speaker out on the patio so he could hum along and cook at the same time…and he was by the grill, cleaning up. “Everything’s going fine,” he said.  “It’s been cooking for about a half hour and the grill temperature’s perfect.”

Well, la dee freakin’ da.  I rolled up my long flannel pajama sleeves, hauled the round cooler out of the fridge and started pouring off the brining solution into the sink. Of course I spilled some (I swear that cooler has a crack somewhere), and had to wipe up the mess with old towels.  As I was patting down the bird with paper towels after rinsing it, Andy came into the kitchen about 8:45 looking panicked and announced that the propane had just run out.  “What do I do?” he asked. I could have said “I told you so” but all I could think of was that my bird wasn’t even in the oven yet and we might be feeding our guests popcorn and toast a la “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”… I figured there had to be some place open on Thanksgiving that sold propane.  “Don’t some gas stations sell it?” I asked.  He called Wal Mart to see if they were open and they were, but the closest location is not that close to our house.  He unhooked the tank from the grill, jumped in the car with it and headed out.  His bird remained on the grill, waiting…meanwhile, Emmie had woken up and needed attention.  She felt awful and had plopped down on a sofa in the living room, and wanted me to take her temperature and bring her some medicine.  I went into nurse mode while my bird waited, too…

Luckily Emmie had no fever (just a bad cold) and after giving her a couple extra-strength Tylenol and bringing her some orange juice, I told her to watch the parade on TV and stay out of the kitchen…Miraculously my bird went in the oven around 9:10 a.m.  If Alton Brown’s calculations were correct, it would still be done by the time guests started arriving at 12:45; but if the online reader comments were correct, it would take a lot longer…

At 9:15, as I was cleaning up the kitchen, the phone rang. It was Andy, calling from Wal Mart. “They can’t find the keys to open up the %$#@! outdoor propane cage!!” he said.  Now I really wanted to say I told you so, but now was not the time.  I told him to wait a few minutes longer to see if they could find them and then go to another Wal Mart if they couldn’t. But surely they would find them…don’t all the propane-loving ranchers and cowboys of the world shop at Wal Mart? I thought about his bird, still waiting on the grill…

My bird came through the 30-minute, 500-degree phase with flying colors– a gorge
ous golden-brown color to be exact.  I turned down the heat, put the “protective foil shield” on the breast meat and inserted my new meat thermometer into “the deepest part” of that breast meat (I’d bought an even fancier thermometer than Andy– one with a cord that reaches outside the oven and magnets a digital reader to the outside of the oven, so the door never has to be opened– SWEET!). By 9:45 Andy was still not home, and I couldn’t reach him by phone. What if he’d had to drive to another store? And what if they didn’t have propane? He walked in the door about 10 minutes later, new propane tank in hand. “They never did find the keys,” he said, so he indeed had to drive to another Wal Mart. “Do you think the turkey meat is bad now?” he asked.  I told him to keep going, that time-wise it probably hadn’t been long enough to reach the danger zone…

Amazingly, both our birds cooked at the same rate all morning, hitting the same internal temperatures at about the same time and at the right pace.  They were both done before the guests arrived and we got to show them off before carving.  The verdict from all was that they were both good, in different ways.  Mine was juicier, his was smokier, of course, but still pretty juicy.  All in all, it was a perfect Thanksgiving– well…except for the fact that one of my family heirloom stoneware platters got broken and Luke nipped one of our guests on the leg…but luckily I found a replacement for the platter on ebay later that night for only $15, and Luke did not break the skin…and, no one got sick later because that smoked turkey had sat on an “off” grill for an hour, just as Uncool Mom (or should I say “the Bridge Over Troubled Water”) had suspected…

The Last Official Day of Being a Kid

Announced the other day by Emmie, the day before her 13th birthday: “Today is my last official day of being a kid…that’s kind of sad.” I could have said something sage about how “13 is just a number” or “everyone should honor their ‘inner child’ no matter how old they get”, but I didn’t…I didn’t want to minimize the wiseness of her observation, because it’s true in a way.  Plus, the whole concept of a “last official day of being a kid” intrigued me… I thought back to what I might have been doing on mine…was I dreading another awkward day of 7th grade? (Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I pulled up a ’74 calendar.  The day before my 13th birthday was a weekday, a Friday.)  Was I lugging my snare drum case down the long flight of stairs to the jr. high band hall, trying not to hit anyone along the way? Was I looking forward to being the first among my friends to serve that new food called a “taco” at my upcoming slumber party? Did I fall asleep that night listening to Tony Orlando and Dawn on the radio? 

The “last official day of being a kid” ought to be marked with more fanfare than that, maybe by doing lots of “kid things”.  Like eating a popsicle, coloring with crayons and playing with Play Doh. Or singing Sesame Street songs or Eddie Coker tunes as loud as possible. Or watching old videos of “Bananas in Pajamas”, “Arthur”, or “Teletubbies”…Too bad it was raining on Emmie’s “last official day”, or else I would have encouraged her to at least go jump on our backyard trampoline…

It’s definitely a transition time for the mom of that about-to-be-13-year-old as well, especially when it’s the youngest child. Shouldn’t Mom mark it or commemorate it in some way, too? Maybe grab your child’s hand as you walk from the car into the grocery store– unless they’ve long ago told you to stop. Maybe play a certain board game one last time with your child, a game you’re about to give to Goodwill, like Scrabble Jr. or Chutes ‘n Ladders. Or maybe, go on a bike ride together…

Just when I thought Emmie’s “last day of being a kid” would come and go pretty uneventful for both her and me, something unexpected happened just before she was to head to bed.  A wail was heard from the bathroom, where she’d been taking a shower.  And it wasn’t “Dad!” or “Mom!” or the more hip “Hey, Pat!” she’s been taking a liking to lately, but a full blown “MOMMY!!” She ran out of the bathroom, bypassed her hero, Dad, and ran straight upstairs to find me. She was soaking wet, wrapped in a towel, shaking and squealing.  “I cut myself!!!” she cried, “and it won’t stop bleeding!” While I was thrilled she’d come to uncool me for help, I was also thankful, when I saw the blood, that I didn’t live in a country where I might have been forced to choose EMT as my profession. She’d sliced off a one-inch by one-half-inch piece of skin near her ankle while shaving, and the bleeding, raw layer of skin that was now looking back at me had me near-fainting. I felt a shiver run from my head to my feet.  But I remained totally calm, acting like some true first aid pro, having her elevate her leg and foot, grabbing a wad of Kleenex and pressing it hard against the wound, having her keep up the pressure while I rifled through a cabinet looking for First Aid cream and bandages. We used up a lot of Kleenex before I found the right stuff.

She was grateful when I finally made the bleeding stop and she could go to bed feeling better.  I was proud of myself for remembering what to do, and for doing a good job in spite of my aversion to blood.  And yes, I also realized that having “Mommy” bandage up a shaving wound may have been a pretty fitting way to commemorate the transition from 12 to 13.

Another Dream Retreat for Parents?

Just the other day, when Emmie was balking at cleaning her bedroom, I reminded her how lucky she is that she has her own room, a space she can call her own.  We talked about how not all kids have their own rooms, and how parents definitely don’t (unless maybe if they have a home office with LOCKING doors…I wish, I wish…). The average parent usually has to share everything, with either their spouse or the rest of the family– their bed, their bedroom, living spaces…even a “master bathroom” can have kids marching in and out at all hours of the night.  And when they get to work, well, the average parent who works outside the home still doesn’t have their own room/office.  And of those that do, only a small number have one with a door.  That shuts and locks.  And has no window on it.

She thought that was cool that she had something an adult didn’t.

But we all know it’s psychologically good for everyone to have their own, private space at least once in awhile.  So how do parents get that?  I’ve blogged before about this, about how former Carol Burnett Show star Lyle Waggoner should get his Star Waggons company to make a portable luxury parent retreat…well, it looks like Rainier Yurts of Seattle has beat them to it.  While not exactly portable, it is luxurious.  Check out their backyard escape in the latest Neiman Marcus Christmas Book, one of NM’s “Fantasy Gifts” for 2011, at  Designed by Louisiana-based Rebecca Vizard to resemble the inside of a genie’s bottle, the “Dream Folly” features plush down pillows, antique tapestries and a crystal chandelier.   Sigh.  For $75,000, it can be yours. 

But I still don’t think this is the perfect parent escape. I mean, if you’re going to spend that kind of cash, I think I’d trade some of the pillows for a hot tub. And get soundproofed walls in case your kids or spouse are whining outside the door.  Better yet, that kind of cash could buy you a luxury hotel room, once a month for about twelve years. With room service.  And a limo to get you there and back each time.  And child care if needed.  Now that’s a fantasy gift!

Button, Button, Who Wears “The Button”?

Recently we officially became a “two-button” family– i.e. both of the kids are now in extracurricular activities which generate photo buttons of their faces, for parents/grandparents to wear when attending those activities.  The Mom version is usually blinged out with colorful ribbons, beads and plastic charms surrounding it and/or hanging off the bottom; the Dad version is usually “just the photo”, to be more manly of course, so they’re more likely to wear it.  But, sadly, my husband Andy is currently a no-button man living in a two-button world.

I understand his reasons completely, mainly not wanting to buy into every “parent pride” merchandising opportunity that comes along, like yard signs (got ’em), expensive ads in printed programs (“You go girl!! We love you SOOOOOO much!!”) and personalized car decals (got those, too, although Allison is still too embarrassed by our vehicles to allow us to put them on the back windows).  He also thinks wearing photo buttons is a bit excessive and over-the-top.  If you know me, you know I think things in North Texas are generally always too over the top and reluctantly go along with a lot of it.  But the buttons? I embrace them whole heartedly, for lots of reasons. For starters, the kids really want us to wear them. Just this week I heard Emmie ask excitedly, “Mom, are you going to wear your button to the volleyball game?”  For many years, they’ve looked forward to being in these activities and feel good when it’s finally their turn to have “button wearers” out there supporting them.  Second, they’re cheap. If you’re going to buy any of this parent pride stuff, the buttons are the least expensive, and sometimes booster clubs provide them free of charge. Third, they’re a way for people to know that your kid is out there, and to look for him/her.  At a large school (our high school has over 2,000 kids), it’s easy for a kid to get lost in the crowd of team photos and posters that promote only the seniors or upperclassmen. I’ve walked by many friends at the games who see my button and say, “Allison is on the drill team? That’s great!” and then they’ll look for her on the field, and maybe even stop to say a kind word to her as well if they recognize her in line at the concession stand or pass her while walking out after the game.

Still, Andy refuses to wear his specially-made buttons.  Should I organize an intervention, have a group of button-wearing parents surround him and demand to know, “WHY DON’T YOU WEAR THE BUTTON?  YOU MUST WEAR THE BUTTON!” just like in the Seinfeld episode where Jerry refuses to wear the AIDS ribbon?  Should I put adhesive on the back of the buttons and secretly stick them on his back at one of the games, when he’s not paying attention?  Should I talk the pre-game tailgate picnic servers into giving extra helpings to only those who wear the button? Seriously, getting to have another free spicy burrito just might do the trick for Andy… although he’d probably take off the button before he entered the stadium…  

Guess I should be glad he at least wears “the shirt” to football games– a red polo-style with the words “Drill Team Dad” embroidered unobtrusively on the front left side– and sits next to me in my sparkly “Drill Team Mom” T-shirt and my blinged out photo button pinned under one shoulder.  It’s a pretty big step for him to do that, when you think about it…now if only I could come up with something for him to wear at Emmie’s volleyball games…

Just Chequing Things Out…

I’m out of checks (or as you Brits spell it, cheques). Yes, I ignored the “TIME TO REORDER” warning sheet at the top of the very last bunch and here I am, nary a check in sight. I keep writing “Order Checks!!!” on my To Do lists and it’s not getting done—but I better do it now because I’m tired of going to the bank for cash, and hubby has started having to write a few from his own account—and I know he might have heart trouble if he sees just how many checks have to be written from the joint account each week.

And so, since I’m one of the “lucky” ones whose bank lets them order any kind of color and style and design they’d like, I thought this time I would finally chose something “different”.  I mean, writing checks is boring and never-ending, right? (Note to those of you who don’t have kids– parents can’t “pay online” for most of their kids’ school and activity expenses, so it really is never-ending check writing!)  So why not liven things up, not only for the person who writes the checks, but for the person who receives them and processes them? But every time I re-order and look into changing, the selection of designs is sadly limited and mostly cheesy, and so lately I’ve stuck to the basics.  I wonder if things have gotten any better since check number 0700… 

This time I looked online as well as in the Sunday newspaper’s coupon sections.  There are a LOT of check companies out there, and currently they include such offerings as:  Thomas Kinkade (the “Painter of Light”, who I think is a bit over-rated and way over-marketed); Precious Moments (um, a LOT over-rated and way over-marketed); 9/11 Firefighters (truly heroes, but it seems disrespectful to write “Fireplug Dog Grooming” across their faces); Fairies (um, do 5-year-olds now have checking accounts?); Harleys, dirt bikes and Chevy trucks (uh, no); and “Salsa Checks”, depicting 19 (I counted) different hot peppers scattered over 4 different check designs (Aye, Caramba!).  There were “Carousel Horses”, “Flip Flops”, checks with all sorts of cute puppy faces, and something called “Girly Camo”.  There were “Lil’ Angels”, cats, and a really disturbing one that combined the two called “Cat Masterpieces” (paintings of cats with wings…yep, a veritable checkbook freakshow…).  I got excited when I saw one called “Coffee Break”—‘Oh, that should be perfect for me,’ I’m thinking, imagining something designed in a retro brown and aqua palette and maybe showing a small coffee mug graphic.  No, it was a set of checks that actually look like someone has placed their coffee cup on top and spilled coffee on the checks. Okay, am I missing something here? Who wants to give a check that looks like it’s been spilled on, in four different ways? If it’s supposed to be a joke, like maybe so the check receiver will think it’s still wet and flap it in the air to dry, only to realize they’ve been punked—why stop at coffee?  Make a vomit check, a blood check, a squashed bug check…  geesh, in a household with kids and dogs, I’ve got enough messes to worry about that I don’t need to pay extra for something to look stained!   One online check company also had a music category, but when I clicked on it, there were only a few choices, including KISS, Ozzy Osbourne, and Pantera.  Huh? I mean, I like hard rock sometimes, but on a check? Nothing screams professionalism like Paying to the Order of Gene Simmons’ tongue, right?  It’s as if the check designers weren’t aware of any other musicians…or maybe, that they only design to a certain demographic…

Wait a minute. Does that mean they think only a certain kind of person goes for something different than the plain old gray, green or tan institutionalized checks, that are about as exciting as a bowl of plain oatmeal ? I beg to differ with you, check-making companies.  I want something different, and I don’t think I fall into your demographic!! How about some real masterpieces? Like a set of Van Gogh, Mondrian, Picasso or Rembrandt checks.  How about some nice patterned checks that don’t include hearts or butterflies, like fleur-de-lis, toile or paisley?  What if a real designer designed them? I can see it now…the zig zags of Missoni, the Paul Frank monkey…   There is a choice offered by some check companies where you can design your own using your own photos…hmmmm, now that could get interesting….but customizing like that takes more time to order and get processed…and a lot of those checks with full background images look like your writing would get lost, or you’d always have to use a certain color of ink in order for it to show up (like metallic or glow in the dark!).

I think I’m just going to go with something “botanical” and call it a day. Like something with a few small images on one side of herbs, wildflowers, or trees. Now, if only those trees could be yarn bombedJ

Musings on “Meet the Teacher”

Around here, late August not only means The First Day of School but also very soon after, “Meet the Teacher” night.  Growing up, I remember we had “Open House” in the middle of the semester, so we could show off our work to our parents and introduce our teachers (if they hadn’t already met them by then) but I don’t ever recall anything like this:  About a week or even a few days after school starts, parents of elementary and secondary students get to “walk their child’s schedule”, without the child present, visiting each classroom via a “special bell schedule” and sitting in class while hearing a brief presentation from the teacher.  Each presentation takes only about 10-12 minutes, and you have five minutes between them, so you may or may not get to personally meet the teacher on Meet the Teacher night (and if you take the time to do this, you might be late to your next “class”.)

At an elementary school, it’s easy. The parents generally get to stay in one classroom the whole time (unless you have more than one child attending the school).  In jr. high and high school, it’s a full two hours of walking the halls and trying to find the classrooms.  But no matter what level of school, all the parents sit in desks. Yep, that’s right, we put our (sometimes) fat adult bodies into those made-for-kids desks (“Ow! My back!”), complete with dried gum stuck beneath the seats, all lined in rows, facing the teacher.

Sometimes, the experience can only be described as “weird”.  Like the time the teacher talked to all of us parents in the same singsong manner she used with her young students (made me wonder if we were going to get a juice box and take a nap).  Or the time the teacher pointed her finger at us and gave us all a lecture like she was talking to her misbehaving students (I badly wanted to throw a spitball at her, but I held back). 

But sometimes it’s sorta fun, like one big “Fast Times” flashback moment. When the bell rings, you get to pass through the halls and wave to all your homies (er, I mean other parents) who you haven’t seen all summer, just like it used to be in your first week of school.  And, ya gotta think those Dads who are going through mid-life crisis are totally digging imagining that they’re young again as they sit in those classrooms, especially if the teacher addressing them happens to be young, female, and pretty…

At Allison’s school’s “Meet the Teacher” night last Monday (our 16th “MTT” to date), I had fun imagining, for a brief moment, that I was in high school again…only notice I said brief, since the guy sitting at the desk in front of me had a graying bald spot on the back of his head. And there was no “U.S.S.R.” on the world map.  And the teacher was talking about the new cell phone policy…. I took notes on what the teacher was saying, only I wondered what would happen if I wrote a “love note” and passed it to Andy instead…

Guess I’ll never know.  The bell rang and he had to leave to go play in a church softball game.  I was stuck navigating the halls alone, and was late to the next two “classes”, which I went far out of my way, in circles, to find.  Oh, well, at least it was good exercise. But I hope it doesn’t prompt any of those recurring dreams so many of us have once in awhile, of being back in school and forgetting our locker combination, or coming to school and not realizing we are wearing only our underwear…

Sunday Scrapbook: If My Life Were An Ikea Store

I love Ikea. For those of you who don’t have an Ikea nearby, it’s basically a Swedish-based home furnishings and decor store (with a few cinnamon rolls thrown in) that gives you the ability to have very modern design at very affordable prices (we’re talking lower than a K-Mart blue light special). It’s a leader in environmentally-friendly business practices and has been named one of the top 100 companies to work for by Fortune.  Our huge area store feels like it’s having a grand opening all the time even though it’s been open for six years– still filled with customers, still long lines to check out. But in spite of all its sleek, inexpensive stuff, don’t the Swedish titles for everything sometimes bug you? I mean, at Ikea, it’s not a laundry hamper, it’s “Peva”. A measuring cup is “Fläckig”; bathroom mirrors, “Tranby”.  Which is all fine and good, but after awhile, especially if you’re tired and cranky from having kids in tow when they’re too old to go to Småland (that’s Ikea-speak for the in-store play area), it can all come across as a little snooty, a little bit much.  It’s like “let’s make our products seem fancier than they are by putting strange titles on everything, and remind everyone a billion times over, WE’RE SWEDISH, DAMMIT, AND WE’RE COOL– TOO COOL TO CALL A TOILET BRUSH  A TOILET BRUSH WHEN WE CAN PUT “GASGRUND” OR “LILLHOLMEN” ON THE TAG! (And who knows what those words really mean? They could all be playing one big joke on us doofus Americans– “Lillholmen” might just mean …well, you fill in the blank…) I guess it’s all just marketing genius, though, as Ikea is the largest and most successful furniture store in the world.

But still, sometimes I want to tell them to take their SLOM and shove it up their HEMNES.  Like one recent morning when I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, and Andy got up early and drank all the brewed coffee before he left the house and I had to reach for our $3 bag of  BRYGGKAFFE MELLANROST and brew my own. ‘Hah!’ I thought. ‘I’ll brygg your kaffe all right, and then I’ll go see if my teenager has cleaned up her Krapandstuf (bedroom)…’

Wait…what if everything in my life was Ikea? Might look something like this:

                                                          (my dogs)

                                                                  (my desk)

                                                           (my 206,000 mile minivan)

                                           (my husband, the salsa lover)

                                                 (my darling daughters)

For more fun with Ikea, check out the “Swedish Furniture Name Generator” at
.  It instantly converts any word to Ikea-speak– and even generates a furniture drawing and item number to go with it!  Also, for an interesting look at the real why and how of Ikea names (almost as fun as learning about the hidden Mickeys at Disneyland), check out the section titled “Product Names” at