If you want something done right…

 

I sure hope the chef isn't offended...

My birthday was last Saturday. (Thanks, it was great!) This year, what I really wanted was what every domestic diva wants, a day off. OFF. Me no do nothing for nobody. But how, you ask, does a home management professional, the most important cog in the 24/7 modern family machine swing that? Trip to Tahiti?

 

Admittedly, it isn’t easy (unless, in your world, Tahiti is actually an option). When I informed my kids that, even though I love them and truly enjoy doing for them, I would not be doing ANYTHING for ANYONE on my birthday they came back with an enthusiastic “OK Mom! That starts after breakfast, right?”  But with planning, it’s possible. You just have to think (and do) ahead!

Monday: Make a birthday wish list. Locate and price top contenders. Inform Husband.

Husband and I have never been big on gifts, especially the secret birthday kind. We are more the type to openly decide what we need and just get it. Though once, he did surprise me with a gorgeous diamond ring (five years after the event that usually spurs men to buy diamond rings, but that’s beside the point). However, we’re realizing that a significant step towards the maturity of our children is experiencing the other side of gifting. The giving, not-getting side. Ergo, the importance my birthday wish list.

Well that and the fact that son number 2 believes wholeheartedly that what I really want for my birthday is a mini movie theater style counter top popcorn maker. OK, I sort of do. Popcorn is the number one snack in our house. It takes a full cup of kernels to pop enough corn for us. And we pop it almost every night. That’s a lot of work on the stove and a movie style pop corn maker would help. However, what I really think we need is an ACTUAL movie theater popcorn maker, the one that is so large it can pop us satisfied in one batch. They aren’t cheep and it’s on my wish list. The “If I was a millionaire” wish list along with a six burner professional cooking range and fifty foot yacht. For this birthday, there are plenty of less expensive items to choose from.

Tuesday: stock cupboards and fridge with prepackaged foods. Make batch of waffles for the freezer, buy more cereal, fruit, maybe some donuts…because taking a day off means NOT COOKING.

Wednesday morning: Google “family friendly fine dining in Anchorage”. Read on-line menu’s to make sure there is something to satisfy every one of my UNBELIEVABLY picky offspring. Make dinner reservations. Load up purse with “emergency” kid supplies: crayons, note pads, lifesavers, mp3 player…

Right now you are probably thinking “screw them! It’s your birthday!” and you would have a very valid point. However, you have probably never been forced to finish your delicately seared Ahi with jasmine rice and wasabi sauce while listening to “I don’t like this.” “Can we go to McDonald?” “Are you done yet?” and, every mothers favorite “he’s touching me!”

And now you are probably thinking “screw them! It’s your birthday!” and again, you would have a very valid point. However you’ve never seen what happens when three little boys max out on boredom in a fancy restaurant… Suffice it to say, you are asked not to return.

Seared Ahi

Wednesday afternoon: Get hair done.

Alright, you caught me. Getting your hair done is kind of fun, even a tab bit relaxing. I could have saved that one for Saturday. However…for an entire hour, I flipped through a magazine while getting my head massaged. It was awesome. I found myself seriously considering a manicure and body wax. I mean, I was already there. Why not?

Thursday: Laundry, to ensure nobody wakes up Saturday and tells me “Mom, I don’t have any pants…”

Clean, EVERYTHING to ensure that everything is where it belongs and no one wakes up Saturday and tells me “Mom, I can’t find my pants.”

(These last two are an inseparable requirement towards my day of peace. I once found two days worth of number 3 son’s cloths in a playhouse I thought no one played in anymore. No, I didn’t ask him why he was getting naked in the playhouse. Seriously, do you want to know? Because I don’t.)

Friday morning: Make my own cake.

Well, cheesecake tastes better after it’s been refrigerated a good 12 hours anyway so…

Friday afternoon: Purchase item #3 on birthday wish list. Wrap and hide from myself.

I asked for a bottle of Prosecco, Italian sparkling wine. Husband is at work all day and I can’t exactly have the kids run to the liquor store, now can I?

Friday evening: Decorate, last minute tidy, run dishwasher, review again with everyone what exactly I am doing the next day.

Say it with me girls…NOTHING!

Happy birthday Mom.

 

P.S. The boys got me the popcorn maker. They love it.

 

Jethro’s Zen

Curious results from a recently published study got me thinking…  that’s never a good thing…

In the name of science, researchers at the University of Heidelberg shoved a bunch of gullible saps into an MRI tube and mentally harassed them while jotting down what parts of their brains lit up. Their “research” included activities like verbally deriding volunteers for failing an impassable test then giving them a ball and heckling how badly they played with it.

(Ah, so that wasn’t high school! That was a four-year study on adolescent brains! Phew. Wait, how did I get on that list?)

While the poor (but I hope, well paid) test subjects tried to keep a stiff upper lip, scientists compiled data upon data and looked for something smart to say about it all. Their findings suggest (my choice of words because to say any study “concludes” anything hints at major hubris, fatheadedness… Come on. Historically, “experts” have “concluded” that the earth was flat, milk was bad for you, and the melodious voices of Milli Vanilli were not only awesome, but their own. Sometimes, skepticism is healthy).

Anyway… this particular study ‘suggests’ that people living in an urban environment suffer more from, and are less able to handle, stress than people hanging out in a more bovine friendly region. Rural folk, it seems (to this particular group of “know-it-alls”) have a decided edge when bombarded with pressure, trauma and strain (at least of the mental variety though I suspect a “brain images during flogging” data compilation will not be forthcoming).

Furthermore, the data indicates that if you live in a city as an adult but were a child in the sticks, you may have no need (and little inclination) to worry. Simply being reared in a country setting dramatically improves the likelihood that you would sweat less than your citified counterparts if you were all, say, contestants on Jeopardy. (Which is not to say that an Uncle Jed would actually score higher than a Donald Trump just that he would probably care less if he didn’t.)

So what do you think? (About the results, not how they got them. I’m sure we’re evenly divided into those who wonder who on earth would sign up to be a lab rat and those who instead drool over volunteer pay).

Where did you grow up? Where are you raising your kids? Think it matters? And if you do think so, why?

For this week’s disclaimer: I am obliged to inform everyone that I am a military brat and as a consequence, spent considerable amounts of my formidable years in both rural and urban setting. The only “study” I might feel strongly towards is the one proving that moving a lot as a child shapes the brains into a breeding ground for schizophrenia.

Because I’m not schizophrenic, (but don’t tell her that).

(Report by Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg at the U of H and published in Nature if you’re interested in details. To Mr. Meyer-Lindenberg, Kidding! this is all in fun. Please do not prank call my house. It sounds like you’d be very good at it.)

BFE Travelling Tips

This blog is not about fishing. This blog will never be about fishing. There must be thousands of blogs out about fishing. The web cannot possibly support another one. Besides, by the time summer is over this blogger will have been up to her eyeballs in salt water, slime, guts, fish heads, scales, dawn boat launches, marathon processing sessions…anything and all things fish. And in disgustingly enormous quantities. If she spent even five minutes blogging about it, she just might implode. However, as much as she doesn’t want to and as hard as she’s going to try to avoid it, she may, occasionally and entirely due to the setting of this story, have to use the F word. Just a warning.

(That’s F as in ‘fish’. Pull your head out of the gutter.)

Recently, my wonderful male dominated family took me on a fun filled weekend to the Copper River. Yes, that Copper River and yes, the fish were in and yes, the normally deserted river bank was packed to the gills (no pun intended) with people fishing. The point is, I did not partake and this blog will focus solely (nope, no pun there either) on the non fishing events of our happy little trip to the Copper River Valley. AKA: our weekend in BFE.

(We’re home now and I am an arm’s length away from an ice-cold Sauvignon blanc, running water and internet. I’m ready to talk. I might even keep the sarcasm to a minimum. )

Anyway, if you leave my house and drive for three hours, take a right then drive two or three more hours (depending on road conditions and your ability to calculate fuel usage and gas station availability) the road will end and you will be at the lovely Copper River.

The important thing to know is that those last two or three hours of driving pass by a whole lot of nothing. The Copper River area is phenomenally beautiful, don’t get me wrong but it’s a little remote and shy of things to do (unless you enjoy shopping for extremely expensive booze and fuel). I like to get away from it all as much as the next guy but there’s a fine line between that and painfully, tediously, thumb-twiddlingly ‘out there’. 24 hours of BFE and I had a hankering for, gosh maybe cell service? So, Friday morning, while Husband and son 2 busied themselves with that thing people busy themselves with at that river, son 1, son 3 and I went looking for something to do.

And we found it. Turns out remote, out there, Copper River Valley is a State Trooper Mecca.

I’m not advocating anarchy here but, you would not believe how low the speed limit on the Edgerton Highway is! That has to be one of the longest straightest roads to nowhere I have ever seen. It practically begs for triple digit racing. Not that that’s how fast I was going. We were barely an hour away and still a few bars shy of a decent phone conversation when flashing lights encouraged me to stop.

What’s a girl to do? Cry, apologize, vow to use cruise control for the rest of her ride and take her punishment. Then, the next chance she gets, text her lead footed friend N who was at that very moment cruising the highway to join her.

But the day improved. N arrived to entertain me (unscathed) and I forgot about the expensive piece of paper in my purse. Husband even caught some fish. I was beginning to think the weekend would be fun after all. Then, N and I got one of those wild ideas you get when the individual lobes of your brain stop communicating with each other.

“Let’s go to Kennecott!”

I know I made it sound like Copper river was the end of the earth, but the truth is, if you drive over the river 60 miles down a narrow gravel road then park, cross a foot bridge over the other river and ride a bus 20 more minutes up a dirt path to the old Kennecott mine…well, then you are at the end of the earth.

And the day, with Husband happily engaged in that activity that people engage in at that river, that’s exactly what we did.

Kennecott is a beautiful old copper mine turned national park that if you get the chance to visit you should, just don’t go unprepared. What seems like a 4 or 5 hour day can rapidly blossom into 6 or 10 or even over night. Take water, food, spare tire, and cash. Forget your phone and credit cards (and yes, there are places in Alaska that take credit cards). Outsiders are even forbidden to drive into Kennecott, on anything (maybe horses, I didn’t ask about horses). The ‘bus’ that takes you to the mine is a passenger van that charges $10 per person round trip for the privilege. Steep fare, but traveling with 4 kids and leaving husband only loosely aware of what we were up to, it seemed like the way to go. The return trip left at 3:00, we were told, giving us an hour to see the mine (done!) and enough time to get back to camp before husband panicked and alerted the National Guard.

Or so we thought. Turns out when a Kennecott bus driver says “I’ll be back at 3:00” he’s actually saying “I don’t know about you, but around about that time I’ll be sitting in this air-conditioned van miles away why you hang at the mine batting mosquitoes off your neck…”

Here’s how our day broke down.

1:00 – catch bus

1:20-2:40 – see the sights

2:40 – join two men and their camera gear already waiting at the bus stop.

2:50 – three more passengers arrive.

3:00-3:25 – grow weary, itchy and concerned. But it’s Kennecott. A sign in one window reads “open 9-7, generally speaking”

3:30 van arrives! Elbow up to the door determined to secure a seat. The driver (a new one) turns off ignition and stomping away grumbles that no one’s going anywhere until 4:00.

3:30-4:00 – enough people arrive to cause everyone serious concern about the smallness of the bus.

4:00-4:10 listen to driver argue with ‘HQ’ over radio about who gets priority loading.

4:15 – overheated and irritated and with one very unhappy visitor opting to walk back, cram way more people into the van than it was designed for. Leave.

4:45 -6:30 cross the foot bridge stuff into the car and drive 60 miles of gravel road back, wiped out. N fell asleep so soundly on the way that for a solid 2 minutes I wondered if she was dead.

Well that was interesting. Back at camp husband, looking equally drained, showed us the fish it took him all day in the hot sun to catch. Sometimes good times are exhausting. Unanimous decision right then? Leave first thing the next day.

And we do and things are going great until…those dang flashing lights again…

This time it was N who got pulled over. Now that’s a sign of a true friend. Lightening your pal’s grief by showing her, hey, everybody’s getting ticketed these days. But what the heck? It’s not like we are a wild bunch. N coaches softball and is a Girl Scout troop leader! I… blog.

Then, not 20 minutes later, light again, for Tim. Really? How many troopers does it take to patrol the Edgerton highway? Instead of a citation though, he got a the run down. What are you doing in Copper River? Did you catch fish? How many? Where are they? Fishing license? Copper River permit? We’re usually pretty together but we were in a rush to get out of dodge that morning. Neither of us could remember where the permit went. So we park our F350 and 8000 pound trailer and three cranky kids on the tiny shoulder of the Edgerton and search…come on, do we look like criminals?

You know what I think should be a solid get out of jail free card? Telling the officer, you can assure him you will never break laws on his road again because you know, without a doubt, you are never, ever driving his road again.

I think he was offended.

 

 

Adventures in boys.

My guide and I, shielded by the refrigerator door, observed the subjects in their native habitat. While their behavior was familiar, once again we struggled to comprehend their intent.

“Bet you can’t blow a whole can of soda out your nose.”

What? Could these boys be trying to kill each other?

Ah, the human male. No matter how big they never cease to be, at heart, little boys. Wild, unpredictable and testosterone fueled little boys. They make life for the rest of us very interesting. They also tend to make it messy, dangerous and terrifying, but they never make it dull.

You gotta love em, and I do, but I understand them? This is, after all, a group who dedicates longs hours of practice towards landing a football on a target 50 yards away, plinking a golf ball into a teeny hole half way down the green, and lobbing a basketball flawlessly through a hoop 10 feet in the air, yet, amazingly, they are unable to channel an entire stream of urine into the 12 inch toilet bowl they are standing next to. Understanding them may not even be possible.

But, apparently learning from them is. For example:

Because of boys I now know that the safest place to store my matches (lighters… propane torch…) is at my neighbor’s house.

Because of boys I now know that the “TIE” in TIEfighter (a make believe vehicle by the way) stands for “Twin Ion Engine”, not “Transport for the Imperial Enemy.” (duh)

Because of boys I now know that guinea pigs do not like swings (slides…trampolines…)

Because of boys I now know at least 101 games involving spit. (They tried teaching me booger games too, but you have to draw a line somewhere).

Because of boys I now know that passing gas is more than just a digestive issue. It’s a game: “pull my finger…” It’s a musical instrument: “I can fart Yankee Doodle.” It’s a threat: “if you tell mom, I’ll fart on you.” If you manage to catch your opponent, it’s even a torture device: “smell that? Baked beans and broccoli man!” Replicating a fart using an alternate body part, say ones armpit, cheek, or thigh, instead of the standard rear end? Well that is a mark of athletic prowess!

And what’s with the love affair with explosives?? Two weeks ago I watched the father of my children throw a broken lighter into a fire. His sage advice to our young, impressionable offspring?

“You might want to stand back.”

I don’t know what was more disturbing, his actions or the fact that I am, apparently, anesthetized to them.

It’s because of boys that when I hear a siren my first thought is “what did they do?” not “are they OK?”

To be fair, I’m sure there are girls out there who do some or even all of these things. It’s just that with boys…it’s not clear that they do anything else.

What do you do? My plan was to get them involved in a good book. You know, occupy the hands and mind, maybe keep the noise and bleeding down too. That’s when my sister told me about “Captain Underpants.”

Captain Underpants?

I scampered to Amazon. The good reviews were great! Everybody’s kid loved these books. Boys across the nation dropped their bats and balls (pick axes and sledgehammers) to read!

The bad reviews, on the other hand, were awful. Some parents were mortified that anyone would write such an outrageous book. They were up in arms and their complaints ran bursting with words like, “disgusting, disrespectful, devious…”

Oh yeah. Captain Underpants should do the trick.

I have to go now. I think I smell smoke.

 

(The author would like to apologize to her husband and three boys whom she loves dearly and really only pulls her hair out over every once in a while. She also asks to be excused for errors in this post. She had to blog on her cell phone in BFE where her wonderful band of boys had dragged her for a fun filled weekend… but that’s another post.)

 

“Make yourself an ark…”

The pounding on the camper door woke me, but it did not get me out of bed. What the guy yelled next, however, was particularly motivating.

“Wake up! Your sh*t’s about to float away!”

Two things you should know that are not in the Girl Scout handbook: 1) never, ever, no matter how sweltering the weather, sleep naked when camping and 2) hearing that your sh*t is about to float away is an extremely effective hangover cure.Photo by Mowgli

 

But you should probably also know how we got to the point that morning of strangers predicting doom outside our camper door…

 

Friday, the day we arrived was phenomenal. The sun baked, the river bank wasn’t crowded and our favorite spot was open. We bounced towards it happily noting how wonderfully the same things were.

The same, well, except for that 15 foot log laying in the middle of the road. Pretty sure that wasn’t there last year.

Not that it much concerned me. My Pollyanna brain is hard wired for drawing benign conclusions. It was moved by an act of man, not God, I decided. The log was drug there by campers for firewood. Any minute now a group of chain saw wielding men would appear and buck it up. Flooding of biblical proportions was the last thing from my mind. Come on! This river never got that high.

However, Husband (who will henceforth be referred to as Mowgli, one with nature because he was raised by wolves) slipped an ominous glance at the water. As we drove around the log, he silently calculated the rivers height and the topography of the bank including its lowest point and the angle of slope around the spot where we intended to park. A few hours later, as I cooled my body from the shocking heat with a very dirty martini, he pointed towards the water and said,

“I think the river is rising.”

Alarmist. Look at the sun!

“Relax.” I said. “Are you going to eat that olive?”

 

Saturday, glorious Saturday I sat once more with a cold sweating drink watching half naked kids splash in the water while blissfully searing my pasty white winter skin when…

“It’s definitely rising,” He announced. I glanced at the river. What a spectacular day!

“No it’s not. How about a beer?”

By dinner I started to wonder if maybe he was right. A little.

“OK, but it is nothing. We haven’t had rain in weeks. This is just a tiny bit of snowmelt.” I said. “Another drink?”

By 10:00 pm Mowgli had grown even more concerned so we stacked all our gear alongside the camper. Just in case. I enjoy any excuse to tidy camp and the prep work seemed to ease Mowgli’s mind. Five feet past the fire pit and down the bank I even drew a line in the sand so we could ‘track the rivers progress’. Not that I believed it would be going anywhere anytime soon.

When we bedded down, I promised to periodically check on the mark. Mowgli and I have three cubs so it’s rare that I enjoy an uninterrupted night of slumber. I’d be up anyway, wouldn’t hurt to look. By 1:00 am the water hadn’t moved more than a few harmless inches. I went to sleep. Hard.

In retrospect, that was probably stupid, drawing the line as well as zonking out. I’m pretty sure as I dozed off, the river chuckled.

Greenhorn. Think you can stop me?

At some point it rained but I was near comatose and did not get up. When I peaked again it was 6:30. The water was hungrily lapping at the far edge of the fire pit. I squinted my eyes and measured the new distance from camper to river. Then I worked some fast math. No worries! We had hours to go before the water reached us. Back to sleep.

FYI, I’m not the most reliable person when it comes to fast math. And I’m about useless computing anything before 8 am. I say this, you know, in case you find yourself wanting to rely on me for that.

9:00 am, banging… door flying open… water four feet away. Get up people! This is not a drill!

30 minutes later we were done loading. The river slapped against the camper wheels. Mowgli hitched the trailer. I stomped around in calf high water cranking up jacks. 5 minutes later, moments before the water sucked our tires into the silt, we pulled out.

Cheers! We made it! A record hustle too! We were so amazingly efficient we even managed to boil a pot of coffee! Not only was everything neatly stowed, nothing was left behind and there were no casualties.

Or so we thought. Right about then I realized I couldn’t find my phone. We stopped, I ran back to the flood. Mowgli dialed my number – repeatedly.

Total silence. It was too late. Somewhere between fishing firewood out of the river and locking stabilizer jacks into place, my phone wriggled free of me and callously dove head first into the rapids. A sigh, a tear. Alas.

But seriously, and in the immortal words of Ron White, “I told you that story so I could tell you this one…”

I finally got a smart phone!

 

Suffering the whims of the mechanical gods

Moments after posting that last blog, I went out to rototill the garden…

Right, the rototiller. I forgot, she’s my responsibility too. Partly for the same reasons the washer and dryer are mine; I’m the only one who uses her. Also, I’m the only one she will function for.

Miss Tiller was free. She’s plain, quirky and older than I am. She toils for me every spring but only after I giver her some serious pampering. She’s my personal old, cranky, jilted at the altar Biddie, but she does the job. Did I mention she was free?

Anyway, 20 minutes ago I set out for the start of our social season with high hopes. Last fall I’d given Miss T a new lease on life. New gasket, few new bolts, fresh oil, and tweeks in all the right departments. This spring I was certain, Miss T would love me.

Miss T must read my blog. Evidently I should have blogged about how much I ADORE taking care of Miss T.

Miss  T wont start. Miss T has no spark, and while that is a similar problem to a fouled plug, it’s resolution is far more laborious and costly.

Sigh.

Grease Monkey

My husband thinks I’m a mechanic. It’s cute. Most days. The rest of the time it’s really annoying.

I used to be a mechanic, a good one too. So was my husband but, unlike me, he still covets the title. For me, living with someone who can and will readily fix the broke is like living a perpetual independence day. I’m on sabbatical. Well, almost. Years ago, in a moment of insanity, I agreed to something I would NOT agree to today; accepting responsibility for the life of a few mechanisms in our home. That pact is the hiccup in my grease free peace. What was I thinking??

Thank God I was smart enough to pick items that rarely break. Plus when they do break, fixes are quick and simple. Husband gets all the tough stuff. He manages everything automotive, the house electrical, the computers… and any equipment weighing more than 200 lbs. All my charges are smaller than a bread box. Oh, except for the washer and dryer, they are mine. No sexism, I know how they work and husband doesn’t. It’s that simple. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: if you don’t abuse them, a washer and dryer set will run maintenance free forever. Anyway, as irksome as it is, that’s our deal. So far, it’s served me well. So far.

Then came Didi Suzuki, the cute ATV we got for our kids. Didi (Mandarin for little brother) is two feet high, three feet long, blue and adorable. It’s also decidedly larger than a bread box but at the same time weighing in well under the 200 pounds line. It’s entry into our life was the proverbial wrench in the gears of our marital accord. Whose mechanical jurisdiction did Didi fall under? At least that’s what I was wondering. Husbands thoughts at the time ran more like “that thing is totally Jolie’s problem.”

But when you get a new toy you don’t necessarily think about future repairs. No, you generally think “weeeeee!!!”  And “weeeee!” we do, like Didi is a rugged 500 not a little 2 stroke 80. Meaning: we beat it up. Didi, for his part, puts on a good show until things go too far (as they often do). Then he lays down the law. Didi fouls his singular spark plug and refuses to start. If you don’t know what a sparkplug is or why fouling one is a bad thing, lucky you. I wish I didn’t.

So, fast forward to the weekend, camping, relaxing, watching the kids play on Didi when…

Husband, “It won’t start.”

Of course it won’t start. The plug is fouled. It is probably covered in thick black spark arresting soot. Husband will figure it out. Gosh my chair is really comfortable…

Husband runs the starter a few times. Nothing. He checks the gas, then… the oil?? What do either of those have to do with a fouled plug? Husband is not stupid. What is he doing? He runs the starter a little more. The battery begins to wear. It’s not going to let him push it much longer.

Husband, “What do you think is wrong?”

The plug is fouled! How does he not know this? But if I say nothing because if I do it’s akin to getting involved and that is NOT happening. I’m not  getting dirty or moving from my relaxing spot.

Didi’s seat comes off. Husband is beginning to remove side panels. I can’t understand why and this project is going to get worse if he continues to take Didi apart.

Me, “It’s the plug. Just take it out and clean it.” I can’t stop myself.

Husband “Oh.” The search for tools begins.  Then several minutes later Husband struggles to find an access point to Didi’s plug. Didn’t we just do this last weekend? What is he doing?

I’m suddenly overwhelmed by the urge to act. I get up form my cushy chair and walk over. In an instant my hands are dirty. Husband steps back. A few minutes later Didi is running again and the kids are happy. I’m digging dirt out of my nails when I see Husband smile. Then it dawns on me.

He tricked me.

Baited, snagged and reeled in. He totally tricked me.

My Husband thinks I’m a mechanic. Jerk.

Eventually, everything is funny