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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Please Don't Spread the Love!  

Two mommy bloggers and one literal child inspired this post:

1. Jen over at Happily-Ever-After-Land for perfectly articulating the multi-faceted makeup of us mommies. (See the 17th paragraph, beginning with "I think you can agree...")
2. Holly at June Cleaver Nirvana for including stick figure drawings on her post yesterday and making me think that I shouldn't be governed by my artistic limitations.
3. My little Red Rover, for being so literal in this read-between-the-lines world we live in.

Story goes like this:

Mom: You did a great job in the concert today.
Red Rover: Ahhhhh! I hated it.
Mom: Hated it? Why?
Red Rover: I was caught in a love trap. (Continued on with description. See artistic rendering below.)

Friday, August 29, 2008

My Very First Blog Award. Speech! Speech!  

And the winner is... ME! I just got my very first blog award--an "I ♥ your blog" award no less. What would an award be without an acceptance speech? (And a new dress? But, we'll take care of that later!)

I would like to thank (hands to my cheeks), ummmmm.... this is so overwhelming. Ummmmm (wiping single tear drop that falls ever so slowly down my left cheek)... first, Georgie at Confessions Of... for nominating me for this award. I wouldn't be here without her Oklahoma lovin'. I'd like to thank my husband for not holding a grudge when I slept through the alarm clock and forgot to pick up the kids from school (see Negligent Napper). Also, I'd like to express much gratitude to my not-so-little Red Rover (just made it into the 100th percentile for height) for making everyone laugh with his literal interpretations in "Must Have Sugar Now" and last but not least, thank you Princess Rachel for putting the adventure in my Adventures of Babysitting series, especially the "Once Upon a Potty" story from Day 7. I wouldn't have a blog without all of you! Oh! One more! The teleprompter clock is telling me I need to move on, but I wouldn't be where I am today without all of you lovely, fellow mommy bloggers who have posted comments on my site and who are no doubt decreasing the amount of cellulite you have may develop.

I'd now like to nominate these other mommies who make me laugh and cry on a daily basis.

1. Marketing Mama
2. Following In My Shoes
3. Fawnahareo's Place
4. Seven Clown Circus
5. Parenting Pink
6. The Pink Potpourri
7. Not So Extraordinary
8. (Late Entry) Pear Soup

If you'd like to participate in this Awards Ceremony of all Awards Ceremonies--and believe me, the post parties are out of this world, then simply follow these steps to share some mommy love by nominating your favorite blogs:

1. Winners: Feel free to put the logo on your blog.
2. Link the person you received your award from.
3. Nominate 7 other blogs.
4. Put links of those blogs on yours.
5. Leave a message nominees' blogs.

(Waving goodbye as I am escorted off the stage by Mr. Hottie Celebrity publish this post!)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Negligent Napper  

I love the name of the blog: cheaper than therapy, because while writing can be creative, exploratory, and fun, it also serves a serious need at times to process life through all of its experiences and the emotions they instill. So, pardon me if I turn all you lovely gossiping mommies into therapists for a few minutes, but I have a confession to make. Anyone have a couch I can lay on before we begin? Here goes:

I took a nap yesterday afternoon. There you have it. I mean, if I am old enough to be an almost empty nester at the ripe old age of 29 38, don’t I deserve an afternoon nap? It is tiring trying to decide what you want to be when now that you are all grown up. I digress, because the nap really wasn’t the problem.

What happened was that I didn’t set the alarm right, it didn’t go off, and I woke up at 4 p.m.—yep! 40 minutes AFTER school let out. This may not have been such a big deal if the school were within walking distance, or if I lived 5 minutes—even 10 minutes—away. It certainly wouldn’t have been as big of a deal if the school would have answered their phone so I could have informed them of the emergency. But… It became a huge deal. I live 30 minutes away from the school in good traffic. It was an amazingly hot day. The school was not answering. My closest friend, who lives close to the school and whose number is the only one I have memorized (just got a new phone and haven’t synched to my contact list yet) wasn’t available. I could picture the headlines:

Woman Sleeps Through Carpool, Children Kidnapped
…or fast forward 2 years
Negligent Napper Gets Nine to Life

Fortunately, T-Daddy doesn’t work too far from the school and transformed into Super T-Daddy, put on his super fast flying cape (otherwise known as his Toyota FJ), and rushed from a very important meeting at work to the school all in time to save the day in a single bound.

The good news: the kiddos are home and safe and the careless cat napper avoided getting the chair. The not-so-good news: T-Daddy justifiably stayed Super, but just Super Mad! Should I blame him?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sparking Their Curiosity One Bubble at a Time  

So... I took the boys to the local children's museum last week and we took a class called "Festival of Bubbles." You could totally repeat this at home. And, your neighborhood moms or friends would love it if you invited their kids to join in.

1. The instructor started off by asking the kids if they knew what a burp was? You can only imagine the laughter that ensued from that question.

2. She then explained that a burp is an air bubble in your tummy. At that point, she had all the kids rub their tummies and make a burping noise. If you thought the laughter was loud before, you should have heard that gleeful eruption.

3. Next, she asked the kids to share other examples of things that had air bubbles. They thought of the obvious: bubbles you blow. As they shared this example, she started mixing in a large container the contents of what would soon become bubbles. You could just buy bubbles, but the kids were very interested in how you make them.

4. I loved this next part, because it was so hands on. She brought out several packages and asked the kids if they would like to see other examples. They were on pins and needles, waiting to see what she had inside the packages. She brought out bubble wrap, turned on upbeat music, and had each child come up and dance/stomp on it. Then, she opened packages of Pop Rocks, explained about carbonation and gave each kid some in their hand. She made them be very quiet as they put them in their mouths so they could hear the popping. She also had carbonated drinks she let them taste. Finally, she had them all go over to a big table where she had large, flat containers and she poured the bubble concoction into. She passed out bubble blowers--huge ones in all different shapes. She asked the kids to identify the shapes, turned back on the music, and let the kids blow bubbles in all the shapes for about 7 minutes.

When T-Daddy saw Chatterbox that evening, he said, "What'd you do today?" Chatterbox academically responded, "I learned that a burp is an air bubble!" I guess he just proved the saying: Tell me and I forget. Show me and I learn. Let me do it and I remember.

What Am I Going to Do When Now That I'm All Grown Up?  

Amazing how one day you are crazy busy, up to your eyeballs with squeals, snoggies, and stitches and the next minute, Chatter Box takes his chit and his chat and walks right out the door of your home and your heart and into school. At that moment, you realize that you are only one step away from being an empty nester at the ripe old age of 38. Oopsies! I mean 29.

I do recognize he only went off to kindergarten, but still, it is all day and he is my youngest, so it may as well be college! What’s next? Marriage and a baby carriage? Hold me back, bessy! The question now is: What am I going to do now that I am all grown up? Here’s my options:

• Get educated. I was thinking of going back to school. I could devour graphic design, actually go to class this time around, get a skill, and have fun doing it.
• Volunteer. I LOVE volunteering, but want to shift gears this year. I am thinking of something more meaningful to me, like preventing genocide in Africa or some other human rights thing. How cool would that be? Better if I could actually go to Africa, but honestly, I would love to get involved in a global effort.
• Freelance. People are calling. Maybe I should say yes and start writing for money! SCARY. Didn’t I just quit my job a year ago?
• Clean the house. Did I really just include that as an option?
• Make dinner. See previous comment.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the sound of silence and blog way too much. Growing up doesn’t mean making quick decisions, right?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What's On Your Nightstand?  

What's On Your Nightstand
I am using this post to spread the news about "What's On Your Nightstand"--a virtual book club. On its website (click button to link there), it says:

If you're here, it means that you like books. You may read at the expense of housework and childcare (guilty!), you might not read as much as you want to, or you might have found that perfect balance between real life and the escape between the pages.

On my nightstand sits a whole library of Barbara Kingsolver's book. I just finished reading one of her pieces of fictional literature, The Poisonwood Bible. I feel like a late bloomer. So many people have recommended it to me over the years, but for whatever reason I just now got around to reading it. Apart from the fact that Kingsolver is simply an amazing author, this book is dynamite for too many reasons to count.

On a basic level, I love how she organized the book in chapters named after each child or parent. Her ability to switch tones and personalities within and between chapters is astounding. The use of multiple narrators provides a depth of perspective that, as it were, puts you right in the middle of an American's life in the Congo. And on that note, the thing I liked the most was the subject matter. I have lived in third-world countries and have experienced--either in thought, through action, or through observation--some of what she voices and describes.

Most poignant to me was reading this while on vacation in D.C. The stark contrast between the freedom we enjoy in the US and our over abundance with the Congo's political upheaval and scarce resources shows that there is beauty in all walks of life and you really do have to stand in someone's shoes to understand their perspective.

So now, the question is: What is on my nightstand? All the rest of Kingsolver's books. The day after putting down this one, I ran over to B&N and purchased her entire library and am now starting into The Bean Trees. I am sooooo excited.

First Day of School III: Sick Policy  

I am sooooo unclear on our school's sick policy--as in: When is it OK to take your kids to school and when should you keep them home? Raging fevers, green snoggies, runny stuff coming out of their little booty bums. These are all no brainers. But what about a kid that has red eyes. I mean, he does have allergies. Or, maybe he's just a bit devilish that day. Where's the harm in that? But, it could also be a cold. So, the analysis begins. To take him or to keep him? And the internal debate goes like this:

Self to Self: Is he too sick to go to school?
Self Back to Self: I don't know. His eyes are red and he is sniffling.
Self to Self: But this is the FIRST DAY of his entire school career. He can't miss his first day. The bonding. His first little snack time. Eating school lunch before discovering that it is disgusting. Learning the rules when it is still cool to obey the teacher. All of it. His whole school experience will be tainted if he misses these precious 6 hours.
Self Back to Self: Screw it! They'll call me if he's NOT following whatever-the-crap sick policy they have.


Self to the Wind: Wait! Don't they have a Family Guidebook that I just supposedly read and then signed? Doesn't that spell out the sick policy? Oopsies!
Self Justifying to Wind: Oh! Well! They didn't let me take him into the classroom to have my one chance of a photo op with him. They get what they get!!! Hope they don't throw a fit!

First Day of School II: Education Vs. Photo Ops  

I SAFELY (Did you note the emphasis on the word safely?) got the kids to school this morning. This is no small miracle, considering that I was driving in the A.M. Anyway, I arrive! And suddenly remember the kindergarten policy:

Parents can only drop off their children at the kindergarten play ground and may not go into the classroom with them.

Oh! Gads! What kind of a policy is that? Where's room for a photo op in solitary confinement? More importantly, what in the heck type of crime did I commit to earn me this sentence? I mean, seriously... He'll never sit in his own little school desk with that cute, elf-like miniature chair again for the first time in his entire school career. He'll never sit next to his little desk mate again and NOT know him--or potentially even like him, for that matter. What will I show his future wife when she asks about this moment? And last but importantly not least, he for sure will never be so choked up, filled with love for all that his mom has done for him (especially getting him safely to school that morning). I mean, can you possibly miss such a photo op?

Whatever! Just take away my child and leave me for the birds. Since when did education become more important than capturing our kid's most important moments anyway?

First Day of School I: It's NOT All About Me?  

Leo. School. Started. First day. All-day kindergarten.

Sounds like I desperately need some sort of a quick fix, huh? For those of you that know how verbose I am, choppy communicacion can only mean one thing: lost. mommy. her. mind.

Frustration set in when T-Daddy at the ripe old hour of 9:00 LAST NIGHT told me he had to work early today and couldn't drive the kids to school. The anti-morning person that I am SHRIEKED. How many people do you know that can drive while asleep? Oh! He wants me to wake up! This is where that ever-so-common realization sets in that your life is not your own. That subtle reminder that you are a mommy and it's not all about you anymore. WHAT? (Why do I keep questioning this?)

So... I get us to the school--in one piece, mind you. Then my lingering frustration turns to aggravation (almost enough to assault), because the school's parking lot is only big enough to house the teacher's cars. WHAT? I guess since they get paid pittance for their profession they should get first dibs, but where's the love for me? Isn't my youngest leaving the fold, so to speak? Why should I have to walk the 5 minutes from the nearby park (5 minutes is a lot for someone who should still be in bed)? See how I am still struggling with the it's-all-about-me thing--must be the early-hour-without-bed-sheets-still-over-me syndrome.

THE ENDING: I get him off with only a picture in front of our garage door to show his future wife and as I am driving out of the school's parking lot, I start to cry, recognizing that all of my frustration, aggravation, and whatever else emotion I am feeling stems from one scary place: my Little Leo (emphasis on the word LITTLE) is out of my hands... Oh! My! Where's my bed????

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Must Have Sugar Now!  

Boy #1 was dying for a treat from the vending machine. Must have sugar now! Dad acquiesces, hands him a crisp $1 bill, and sends him off down the hall. When #1 doesn't return, dad begins his search and rescue operation. He quickly locates his firstborn standing smack dab in front of the vending machine, holding the dollar bill out, with his head back, chin lifted, and eyes fixed on the ceiling tiles.

"What's wrong, buddy? Asbestos?" Dad questions, teasing.

"Nothing, dad. Just following the rules. It said 'face up'."

Funny Things Kids Say!  

This summer, we went to an art exhibit at the local university. As we were leaving, my kids veered away from us, tempted by the beckoning elevator down the hall. I thought Leo the Ninja Turtle himself had appeared on the scene the way those two were screaming and jumping in excitement, their mouths watering in anticipation. I was in no mood to ride on a slow elevator, so I parked it on a nearby bench while daddy did some male bonding with the boys.

"I want to push the button," anxious 4-year-old yells out upon entering the silver box car.

"OK," daddy replies, "just push the top floor."

"What number goes to the top floor, dad?" son asks, searching the number next to each button.

"It's the highest number, son," dad explains.

"Dad?" questions the son, scratching his head with eyes squinted in an all-out search. "Where is it? I don't see google plex on here!"

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Extreme Makeover... Mommy Style  

This next story is proof of the positive influence one mommy can make in this world.

I was driving home this afternoon and decided to stop by my sister-in-law's sister's house. She is going through a divorce and recently moved a half a mile away from me. I stopped at her house, located in a cul-de-sac full of cars. A beehive of activity goes on around me as I walked up the walk. People were everywhere. Men outside with saws. Women inside with paint brushes. "Becky?" I call out. "Down here," the reply.

I go downstairs to see am emotionally overwhelmed and amazingly happy Becky with swarms of people around her, working madly to beautify her new/old home. Pale pink for her little girl's room. Mustard yellow for her boy's sanctuary--with Wain's Coating no less. Then, she fills me in on the best part. It was all a surprise. Her colleagues from the middle school where she works--led by Tonya the math teacher--organized this endeavor at a staff meeting.

Every employee donated in one way or the other. Nearly 15 people showed up today to help with the makeover. One woman donated a Home Depot gift card. People went in on groceries and filled her refrigerator and freezor with food. Others donated gently used furniture and other much needed items. They unpacked boxes, did laundry, and identified other needs, like curtains, and assigned people to take on those tasks.

This outreach of love and service caused me to reflect on the many outpourings of love I have received in my life. I am glad to KNOW that the world wide web extends far beyond the internet and makes up a vast network of individuals that make such a difference as this in every day life... All because one person has a need and one person--in this case, a mommy--takes time out of her life to organize an effort to meet that need. Makes making a difference not seem so overwhelming.

Friday, August 22, 2008

To be sick or to be a caregiver?  

Would you rather be sick or be a caregiver? I just recently determined my answer.

QUESTION 1: "To Be Sick...?"
I was diagnosed with epilepsy a week after my 14th birthday. It seems to me that this event was the origin of what has become a series of traumatic health experiences in my life. Since that time, I have broken my jaw in three places, fractured my skull, developed and had removed an epidural hematoma on my brain and a polinidol cyst on my tail bone (not at the same time, thank goodness). I also had stitches that burst after delivering Connor that could not be repaired and subsequently got infected, my front teeth broken so badly in a fall that I had to get six veneers to the tune of $10,000 (gotta love that dental insurance), and a tubal pregnancy run amok that ended in emergency surgery and the removal of one fallopian tube. I also had pneumonia, but that was the least of my worries. Finally, I am not even going to attempt to add everyday things like my yearly bout with strep throat, bronchitis, eczema, and whatever the heck is wrong with my stomach. That would for sure make me sound like a hypochondriac.

My point is:

If "they" gave honorary degrees in trauma or illnesses, I would certainly qualify. In fact, I would almost venture to say that I could be a resident expert.

These traumatic times have become a part of my identity. When I introduce myself, I almost want to add "and I have regular bouts of trauma" to the end of "my name is Jyl, I am originally from Mesa Arizona, have a wonderful husband and two beautiful boys, and a degree in English from BYU (I won't tell you how long it took me to earn it or how much I still owe for it after 10 years until I know you better.)."
But it is not socially acceptable to air all your dirty laundry with people (and yes, epilepsy and head surgeries and cosmetically altered teeth are considered dirty laundry in most circles), so I usually wait until I move beyond the superficial to more the substantial parts of relationships to let out these skeletons from behind my closet door.

QUESTION 2: "...Or to Be a Caregiver?"
This summer, while enjoying an exceptionally long period of great health, my youngest son Connor got sick and for the first time, I transitioned from the sick one to the caregiver.

Here's the sequence of events that followed:

Monday (pre-doctor-appointment): Connor goes to doctor. Has fever. Threw up twice the night before. Is drinking, but not eating. Is lethargic, but has no other symptoms.

Monday: (at the doctor's): White blood cell count exceeds the 10,000 mark. Doctor recommends a visit to the local hospital for more testing. Thinks it may be pneumonia.

Monday (post-doctor-appointment): We start, what begins, a week full of testing, pricking, probing, and anxiety over the health of our little Leo. He was admitted to the hospital on Monday afternoon and diagnosed with severe dehydration. Treatment? IV fluids. For the next act: Let the testing begin! Pneumonia? Negative. E Coli? Negative. Sal Manila? Negative. Other unnamed bacterial infections? Negative. Question? Did something cross over into the blood stream? Answer: Absolutely! Question: What was it? Answer: We don't know, but we are doing more than 200 tests and called in an infectious disease specialist to find out. Preliminary treatment to unknown bacterial infection? Strong antibiotic. Reaction? CDIF. Question? What is CDIF? Answer: When an antibiotic kills all of the bacteria except the resistant dudes and they start colonizing. Reaction? The worst tummy pain known to a 5-year-old--or man, in fact. Treatment? Another potent antibiotic--flagile. Result? Immediate positive reaction. Diagnois? CDIF, the secondary problem, is under control. The primary problem? Still unknown, but the boy is hydrated, healthy, happy, and good to go (and is still going strong after a month).

Back to my original question... To be sick or to be a caregiver? It doesn't take me even a second to formulate my answer: To be sick! While the tasks necessary for a caregiver aren't difficult, the emotional roller coaster ride that accompanies such an experience is terrifying, nauseating. On roller coaster rides, I sometimes question--even if briefly: Will the safety bar break? Will technical difficulties arise? Will the person sitting up a few rows throw up and if so, will it hit me in the face? Will one of my important belongings--like my camera--fall out?

Similar questions popped into my head when Connor entered the hospital and spent the first 4 days not progressing at all: Will he get better? Will they find a diagnosis? What if he has cancer? What if it is terminal? How could I live without him? What would this mean for our family? How do I make sense of this?

Then I cry out: Please just let me be the sick one. The familiarity of that routine is so much better than the unknown and potential sadness I could feel from this. I don't think I want to learn this lesson yet. It was one of those rare, but powerful glimpses into the life of my mother who raised not one, but six children.

Are you there, God?  

I had a conversation in late June that went like this:
Chase: Mom, come quick! It's an emergency.
Mom (Saunters outside, used to Chase's many non-emergency shrieks): Yes???
Chase (Pointing up): Look mom! It's God!
Mom (Looks up)
Mom (In total sincerity): Wow!
Mom (Goes back in the house for her camera, pondering): Amazing the purity of a child's perspective. Immediately, he unabashedly and without doubt calls out the artist's name that created this masterpiece.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Shoo Fly! Don't Bother Me.  

Imagine this... you pull up into your driveway after a long flight and ride home from the airport. Your husband walks in the house with loads of luggage while you help the kids, gather up more stuff, talk to the neighbor boy who was kind enough to collect your mail, and finally stagger up the stairs past the mud room and into the kitchen. You are starved for sleep and with that in mind, head straight for the bed. Laundry can wait 'til the morning, right?

Wait! What is that sound? You look over and see a man who resembles your husband, facing the kitchen sink with a vacuum hose in his hand, swiping here and swiping there in an outraged and, might I say, rather obsessive manner. Are you delusional? You consider: A) Is that my husband? and B) Has he gone mad?

"What are you doing?" you ask, concerned.

"They're everywhere," he nervously laughs in an increasingly shrill tone not unlike fingers inching their way up the piano, reaching higher and more piercing octaves. All the while, giving all things that fly the ride of their lives.

You scan the area for intruders. Have aliens finally landed on earth? Is my husband interacting with them? (Swiping continues. Nervous laughing edges toward hysteria.) You draw closer. You make a slight move, and experience your first fruit fly invasion. You scream! (Not a wise move.)

"So..." you say. "This is what happens when dishes are left in the sink for 3 weeks? WITH MILK IN THEM???"

I am happy to report that with much swiping, hours of cleaning, and filling an entire garbage can full of food, our fruity friends have flown their last flight.

MORAL OF THE STORY: When you go on a trip, some things just shouldn't be postponed or put near the bottom of the list--like cleaning. More importantly, when you go on a long trip and your husband doesn't eat much produce and your fridge is full of it, you MUST throw it all away before leaving town!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Return From Vacation Day 1: The WICKED Aftermath  

Mary Poppins--in the protection of her umbrella (AKA: Delta Airlines), with her bottomless carpet bag in hand (AKA: Three pieces of luggage, four back packs, and one purse), not to mention the lipstick perfectly applied on her perfectly patient and loving smile (There is no AKA for or truth in that one!)--flies off into the sunset (toward Salt Lake City) only to land in... FILTH????

Wait! What??? Isn't this fairy tale (AKA: Three-week babysitting stint/family vacation) supposed to have a happy ending? Well, I guess Gregory Maguire's bold addition to The Wizard of Oz with Wicked has caused its fair share of chaos in fairy tale land, because this one certainly has run amok. Mary Poppins is back to plain old mom, complete with carpooling duty and play dates. The kids are more worried about taking my tuppence for treats instead of for feeding the birds. Troy--do I say it?--didn't do ONE OUNCE OF CLEANING in the two weeks while we were gone. And, the house, in utter revolt, went into a state of decay.

I guess this isn't too abnormal. The "Practically" part of Mary Poppins' "Perfect in Every Way" definition alone left room for some imperfection. Also... what do we really know about nanny 911 herself? I mean, really... Did we all think that such a perfect specimen would be eternally homeless and husband-less (or partner-less to be a little more PC) for such a higher calling as babysitting? What did we think would be awaiting her after her stint helping the Banks' children learn to clean their room at the snap of a finger, love their work-a-holic father, and climb chimney smoke stairs? Another family with maids and butlers and bratty, messy kids waiting for spoonfuls of sugar? Did we ever stop to think she had a home? And, if so, what did we think was happening to it while she was being Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? I'll tell you what... it was going into decay or getting avoided by her husband. I mean, did we all think Dick Van Dyke was just her friend? Come on!!!

I for one am glad I didn't have to see the real ending or the sequel to Mary Poppins, highlighting the 2 inches of mold that apparently grows on zucchini while au pairs extraordinaire are tending to more important matters, like laughing so hard they hit the ceiling.

So, while it may take three teams of house keepers (where are my maids?) to get this house back to normal, at least I can resume life as a mom again sans child care duties.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy snapshots from the trip and imagine a much cleaner place.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Adventures in Vacationing Day 19--A Day at the Mall!  

Well... my umbrella and carpet bag arrived as expected. I flew off into the sunset and landed--along with my husband and children--in our nation's capitol. [That is shorthand for: We stayed two more days in Pennsylvania, visiting with Brother #3, Ryan, and his wife, Emily, before my amazing sister-in-law packed up my entire family and her three children in her van and drove us all the way to Virginia to visit Brother #4 (Jon) and his wife and daughter, Erika and Ella.] Life as Mary Poppins ended and I was officially off duty and was now on vacation. All I wanted to do was sleep... zzzzzzzzz!

We have been here three days now and it is 12:53 a.m. on Sunday night--my last night in Virginia. I return to Utah tomorrow just in the nick of time to get Chase ready for his first day of school the following morning and Troy out the door on a business trip to Boise. Nothing like life in the fast lane. Connor is so excited to see his friends Davis and Nico he can hardly stand it. He has been dictating copy for their postcards from the backseat of the car all day. He is so excited for them to see a picture of George Washington's dentures. Won't they be thrilled? :)

While we are tired from nearly 3 weeks of traveling, we have loved the secong leg of our trip--so different from Pennsylania, amazingly different and beautiful all the same. Here are some of my favorite memories:

* Visiting the Holocaust Museum and wondering how I will change given the experiences I have had and what I will DO to make a difference.
* Spending the day at Mt. Vernon, especially watching a movie on the Revolutionary War and seeing Chase's reaction when it snowed in the movie theatre (Gotta love those special effects!).
* Adding another book to my top ten list: "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver. What an interesting topic to read about at night while reflecting on our nation's values and history during the day.
* Looking at the Capitol from the Lincoln Memorial--What a View!!!
* Discovering that the White House isn't as easy to see from the car as it used to be. How 9/11 has changed things!
* Explaining such a concept to Chase as freedom and being glad I didn't have to broach the subject of genocide with him at such a young age. Wondering when would be the right time to do so!
* Above all--just as with my Pennsylvania experience, getting to spend more time with family (Erika's a terrific cook!).

So, I stay up to avoid the inevitable and yet welcome the flight home all the same. Non-stop isn't too shabby, especially from an airport 15 minutes away and on FF miles.

Signing off from the east coast...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Adventures in Babysitting Dy 10: Bring Me My Umbrella and Carpet Bag, Please!  

My stint as Mary Poppins is over. Ryan and Emily arrived home safely from Kiev. Hand me my umbrella and carpet bag, so I can fly off into the sunset. Wait! I still have two kids and lots of responsibilities. A few spoonfuls of sugar, please, :).

(BTW: Review the slide show for a visual tour of our trip.)

Adventures in Babysitting Day 9: Oh! My! Hail!  

It was the day before Ryan and Emily came home. It was the day after we arrived home long past midnight from Longwood Gardens (had to stay for the fountain show). It was 9 hours after the kids woke up precisely at 6 a.m. like they had done every day since I arrived here (regardless of the fact that they got to bed so late.) It was 3:45 p.m.--time for our daily outing.

We jumped in the car to head to McDonald's for the millionth time in 10 days. Free play land? Sign me up. The drive takes 15 minutes. Five minutes into it, I noticed I was alone in my thoughts. In fact, I noticed I could hear my thoughts. What? I have thoughts? Then, I noticed every child in the car was asleep. Stop the car and wake them up at our destination? Are you kidding me? I haven't enjoyed the sound of silence this much EVER! So, I decided to keep driving so as not to disturb their sleep or my solitude.

I learned a few things on my journey:

1. Blue skies wth white fluffy clouds can immediately turn black.
2. Sheets of rain can create white-out conditions.
3. Hail is scary and wakes up the kids (bye bye, silence).
4. Storms can stop as fast as they start.
5. I am grateful for the rain and the greener parts of the world.
6. I am grateful to have gotten to McDonald's in one piece.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Adventures in Babysitting Day 8--Deliverance!  

Jyl Chapter 9 Verse 7

And on the eighth day, the child was delivered. Her bowels were loosed and were overflowing even so much that they could not be stopped.During this time, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And the queen sent out a decree, announcing that the stoppage of the pooage had officially ended. But veriy I say, the child was healed. And on the eve, she slept. And, peace abounded in the entire kingdom for a time. Amen!

(If this adventure makes no sense to you, refer to Adventures in Babysitting Day 7: Once Upon a Potty.)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Adventures in Babysitting Day 7--Once Upon a Potty!  

Once Upon a Time, there was a 3-year-old princess with the most beautiful blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes. When she was happy, everyone was happy. When she was miserable, the kingdom literally shut down. She had the most contagious grin. When she smiled, her mouth opened, spreading heavenward causing her nose to crinkle and her forehead to lift along the way. This princess’s name was Rachel.

One day, King Ryan and Queen Emily went on a trip to visit family in the Ukraine and to see the castle in Russia. Princess Rachel was happy to spend time with her two brothers—prince Jacob and prince Caleb—and her guests from the west country—nice Aunt Jyl and fun cousins, Chase and Connor. What she wouldn’t realize until later, is that another not-so-unfamiliar guest was lurking about, ready to ruin the ball, so to speak.

Tummy Monster was the vilest, meanest bug around—and the most unwelcome of all guests. He could wreak havoc on even the fairest princess’s tummy, causing doubling-over pains in an instant. The result? A domino effect of potty avoidance, a stoppage of pooage for days, a psychological fear of the “throne,” and in short, just a royal headache.

One lovely afternoon, Aunt Jyl took Princess Rachel, the princes, and their cousins on an adventure. Everyone had a lovely time. Five minutes before it was time to go back to the carriage, Aunt Jyl made the mistake of using the “P” word? Oh! My! Princesses don’t always have great judgment, remember. Ariel traded her voice at the risk of losing her soul. Snow White took a bite of an apple that wasn’t in a tamper-resistant package. Sleeping Beauty touched the spindle, mesmerized by a green glowing ball (What?). And, to keep with the tradition of fellow princesses, Princess Rachel threw a royal fit, right in public. Fairy Godmother! Help us all!!!!

It wasn’t just a fit, it was a procession—from the lobby, to the “throne,” to the steps, where the princes and cousins were waiting with the peasants due to the fact that the royal fit continued past the time the clock struck midnight. If only a shoe had been removed in the process instead of a little princess’s entire royal garb, which was all in vain anyway.

But, as with all fairy tales, this one has a happy ending. Princess Rachel lived to see another day (by the hair of her chinny chin chin!); Tummy Monster rode off into the sunset (for one night anyway); King Ryan and Queen Emily are fast approaching the Kindgom; and Aunt Jyl saw an Amish man rollerblading down Main Street in his full traditional attire, free of his horse and buggy, and undoubtedly singing George Michael’s “Freedom” while enjoying the biggest burst of air conditioning in his life!

The End

Adventures in Babysitting Day 6--Green Means Go, No Stop, AHHHH!  

So, we went to the Science Factory today--a terrific hands-on museum for promoting science and engineering. To get there, you have to park across a busy street, walk up to the stop light, cross the busy street, walk back down to the museum, and then enter. It takes all of 5 minutes--ideally!

For those of you who do not know our oldest son, Chase, you have to understand one thing about him for this story to make sense. Chase thrives on structure. He reads speed limit signs as we drive down the street. He also reads construction signs, just in case we aren't aware that there is "shoulder work ahead." He understands that wood and plastic aren't conductors of energy, because someone in school once told him "those were the rules." These signs and rules RULE, literally.

So, when we get to the crosswalk, we wait for the light to turn red--of course--before crossing. Everyone is in pairs, holding hands. Not thinking, I am in front with the 3-year-old. The almost 9-year-old quickly follows, holding my 5-year-old's hand. And, Chase and his cousin--only 6 weeks younger than him--take up the rear. We start crossing the street. It isn't a wide street, so it doesn't take long. But, when we get to the other side, I notice Chase--across the street still, waving his hands in the air, screaming something--oh! wait! that is a full fledged wail, and doing the antsy dance. Do you have to go to the bathroom, Chase? Are you playing monster? Is this a joke? What on earth? Then, I see the real terror in his eyes!

Apparently, I didn't push the button--you know, the one that changes that silly hand into a countdown, giving the official go-ahead that you have 10 seconds to get your bum--or your booty bum as Connor calls it--across the street. My mistake? I walked across the street when the hand still signaled for us to stop even though the light was red and all cars on that busier than busy street were clearly stopped. I am the adult, right?

But... Chase, not knowing how I wasn't getting hit by the barrage of cars that should have been continuing down the road at lightening speed, decided we were all pushing the rules too far and decided to take matters into his own hands and stay behind and mind the mindless motion on the lightpost. How could we NOT mind the hand? So imagine this... Antsy dancing boy screaming in fear for his family members to not ide. Antsy dancing mom screaming in fear for her son. A long line of cars on a very busy road all stopped completely stunned by this spectacle. Drivers trying to solve the problem. Right-lane driver motions for him to walk. Left-lane driver decides he has had enough of the show and peels out. I am screaming--but can't be heard--for Chase to stand still. He wavers, but keeps his eyes fixed on the hand--FORTUNATELY!

Thanks to a very tall African American man who came to our rescue, Chase was delivered to us in safety. Even though he didn't push the button either, Chase was so afraid to let go of his hand--totally uncertain as to what to do at this point--that he let the considerate man walk him to safety--to where he promptly told me that I didn't follow the rules.

I scratched my head, decided I should have pushed the button, and then immediately wondered why a hand signal has WAY MORE CLOUT than my rules. Maybe I should hold up my hand at home more often when I want him to STOP! Hmmmmmm!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Adventures in Babysitting Day 5--A Few of My Favorite Things!  

I'm now on day 8 writing about day 5. Where has the time gone? Here are a few of my favorite experiences here:

• Seeing fire flies flitter around each evening.
• Watching isolated thunder storms pass with their sheets of rain, earth-shaking thunder, and striking lightening.
• Eating fruit, vegetables, and especially corn on the cob from local roadside stands.
• Watching the Amish work, ride their bikes, and yes, even go jogging in their traditional dress.
• See horses and buggies parked in their special parking stalls at the grocery stores.
• Looking out from the front porch and watching the sun set over farm country.
• Observing boys being boys--playing the dirt, telling "boy" jokes, laughing about eyeballs and toilets, and most of all, becoming fast friends in addition to cousins.
• Getting a glimpse into the life of someone who has a little girl--um, "princess"--for a child.
• Singing "Part of Your World" from "The Little Mermaid" at least three times a day.
• Making up actions to "Part of Your World" from "The Little Mermaid" and performing them, dance steps and all, in the handicapped stall of the local park's bathroom for said "princess."
• Talking with the Indian lady at the local Baskin & Robbins/Dunkin Donuts. Thank you for the free chocolate donuts for my 5 kids :).
• Calling the GPS "Little Lady." GPS: "Turn left in 300 yards." Me: "I don't really have an eye for telling when 300 yards is, but thanks for the heads up Little Lady. And most importantly, thanks for staying in touch with the satellite, which is so much more preferable than when--en route--you lose your connection."
• Caleb asking me to snuggle with him.
• Jacob doing push ups at the park.
• Rachel crinkling her nose when she smiles.
• Chase telling jokes--and laughing the hardest at them!
• Connor deciding he is Connor again and asking me to tickle his back.
• All of the boys deciding it isn't cool to wear shirts to bed anymore.

We are having such a great time here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Adventures in Babysitting Day 4--Dirt Cheap!  

A thin layer of dust covers the main floor of Ryan and Emily's house. I sweep the kitchen three times a day to get rid of rocks that pour out as kids remove their shoes after walking through the door. "Forget the carpet and keep your shoes on," I think. Holey socks shift from white to brownish red. Boys that are used to wearing their socks all day, to bed, and attempt to keep them on the next day stand no chance now--the socks are toast! My albino children have suddenly developed a tan. My kids are wearing their cousin's clothes, because theirs are all in the laundry. And bathtime? Let's just say it has become an urgent matter. The culprit? DIRT!

Kitty corner to the backyard stands a tall, tall dirt pile on the lot where the Amish builders are completing a new house. The dirt is messy, gritty, and seems to stick to everything, probably because of the heat and humidity. Do I care? Not in the least! Bring it on. I'll take the mess, the laundry, and the sweeping anyday. Why? All I can say is built-in babysitter. The kids love to play out there. Who knew that such a basic element as dirt could keep them happy for hours upon hours three days in a row.

But, sunshine can only last for so long. The clouds were bursting with moisture yesterday afternoon and it was only a matter of time before they exploded. Sure enough! It started raining last night until early this morning and the dirt pile has turned into more of a muddy substance and you wouldn't believe the shift in atmosphere. Fighting. Restlessness. The kids are not vocalizing what I hear them screaming, "Give me back my dirt pile."

So, the real babysitter is back and has to be quick on her feet to organize an activity to replace the Mary Poppins of all sitters--dirt!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Adventures in Babysitting Day 3--Powerless in Amish Country!  

I have to admit to not knowing very much about the Amish! I love them as human beings. I love them because this beautiful Pennsylvania farmland countryside is associated with them. I love them for the colors they weave into the fabric of this part of the United States--their horses and buggies, their roadside fruit/flower/veggie stands, their attire, their hard work ethic, their devout ways, etc. But... I wonder how far their influence extends? I am referring to their practice of not using electricity (power) in the home.

I have noticed since I have been here that the GPS system has lost power at least five times. My cell phone has lost service on at least two occasions that I can think of. And, while the toilets didn't break down due to a power loss--and probably not the GPS system or phone for that matter--I can't help but thinking that it is all related. My point? I feel "power"less in Pennsylvania. And my question: Is it a coincedence I happen to be in Amish Country?

As for the kids... the points system is still working its magic. Movie Night is also a positive thing. I am even letting them stay up late tonight to finish "Robots." They are so quiet and are all getting along. I'd be stupid to break the good vibe! Good thing the TV works :) What is more important? Reaching my final destination or having the kids be happy? Perhaps "power" is all a matter of perspective!

Adventures in Babysitting Day 2--Making Order Out of Chaos  

I was clearly in over my head on Day 1. As I fell into bed at the end of that day, I decided I had to take the adventure out of my Adventures in Babysitting by taking a systems approach to the next 9 days. So, I created an Excel spreadsheet for each child in his or her favorite color to create a sense of order in what felt like extreme chaos. In other words, I created a bribery system for getting the kids to do everyday things like eat, take their dishes to the sink, go to bed on time, say "yes" to aunt Jyl, etc. I have never tried this at home, but have to admit that the improvements have been immediate and amazing and have reduced my headache by a million percent.

The spreadsheet goes like this: Column 1) Task with number of points, Column 2) date for day 1, Column 3) date for day 2, and so forth for the entire 10 days. At the bottom of each day is a grand total box, so the kids can see how many points they earned for the day. The grand bribe/prize: a matinee and Baskin & Robbins (or Basket and Roberts as my little sister used to call it) ice cream when the kids reach 500 points each. They wanted to earn 100 points a day, so I created tasks with a point value of 5 or 10 each to get them there. I figured we would hit the week mark when they accumlated 500 points, which would be about the time we would need a massive break. A movie and ice cream seemed like the best option. And, they are thrilled!

It is amazing how kids that couldn't fall asleep to save their lives can suddenly keep it zipped and never squeak a peep all to get their points. It is also amazing how one redheadded kid who shall remain nameless and who couldn't walk away from a fight if the world was falling down around him can all of a sudden "walk away from it" just to earn those extra 10 points. And Rachel is so impressed with her pink color coded chart, that you really don't need more than that to get her to go with the system. Call her princess, show her the pretty pink color, and she is good to go all day.

Within an organized system, unplanned events always pop up--a tired or hungry child who, even with prime bribery, won't listen or stop fighting. Shove the food in his mouth or read her a good night story and things look up.

But... what about those things that don't get points--those non-bribable things that turn my careful organization into disorganization? The 3-year-old bladder that just couldn't wait. OOPS! The tall, tall dirt pile with rocks that cut when a child falls down it not once, but three times. The two toilets that break at once :0!

Fotunately, with a little order and fun outings and plain old play time with the neighborhood kids, the chaotic things add an amazing variety of spice to this vacation. Here here to order!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Adventures in Babysitting Day 1--The Cries Heard Around the World  

After 12 hours of traveling and a delay in getting from the Philadelphia Airport to Lancaster County, the kids and I arrived at Ryan and Emily's home in Leola--right in the middle of beautiful Amish Country. A day and a half later, they left for the Ukraine and I started my adventures in babysitting. Even though the name is already taken, I can't think of a better title for the daily log I have decided to write while I watch my two boys and Ryan and Emily's three children. Yep! I am on my own for 10 days--completely outnumbered by five kids under the age of 8.

The adventures started for real when I couldn't find the McDonald's play land today. Armed with a GPS system, I made it 15 minutes to a fun library in Ephrata. I am sure there must have been some fast-food restaurant with a play land near there, but I couldn't find it. Technology!!! I was able to get back home where I fortunately ran into one of Emily's kind neighbors who stopped to ask me if I was lost. About that time, Chase got a bloody nose. If you aren't familiar with the long list of bloody noses Chase has had, there is really one thing you need to know... They are horrible--lots of blood, last a long time, and get EVERYWHERE!!!

I managed to somewhat keep it together the entire time Pam was kindly writing down directions for me. The blood seemed to let up a bit and about 20 minutes later, we arrived at McDonald's play land. Time for a brief respite while the kids played, right? WRONG!

We walked in, I shipped them all off to the play land while I ordered, but asked Chase to go in the bathroom to clean up his war-tattered face (there was dried blood everywhere--nose, chin, neck, shirt, you name it). In the middle of ordering (no small task mind you), I hear the cry that sounded around the world. If you haven't heard this cry from Chase, the only way to describe it is to have you imagine a cow mooing the loudest MOO in the world--better yet, imagine a hurt or sick cow. It is the only comparable thing I can think of.

So... I have four kids in the play area, a long line behind me, am in the middle of ordering, and I look around the corner to see what in the crap Chase is crying about, and there he is back in the war zone--blood oozing everywhere. I tell him to lay down on a bench, throw him some napkins, and try and finish my order. I am completely brain dead at this point, can't remember what I have ordered and where I am at. The lady looks at me helplessly. I order a babysitter. She doesn't laugh. So, I finish ordering and wait to pay and look back around the table and there, to my amazement (do they give awards at McDonald's for the world's best service?) is the manager with a grandma customer, attending to my son. Plastic gloves on with the world's largest supply of napkins and moist towlettes, they are cleaning my son's face, rubbing his forehead, and telling him it will be OK. "Don't you have the most beautiful eyes, they say?" His tear-stained eyes are full to the brim with gratitude for the love and attention these two women are giving him--attention he hasn't seen from his mom in 2 days apparently :).

The other kids play and Chase basks in the one-on-one from the kindest women in the world (I am definitely writing a letter to corporate Mickey D's.). Finally, he gets his wish and goes to play in the play land. Nope! No other accident happens with him. Instead, Rachel--perhaps one of the cutest 3-year-olds in the world--goes to the bathroom. I was watching as she made her way down the path. Connor wanted to "help" his cousin. I turned my head for one minute only to find out 3 minutes later that he had taken her into the boys bathroom. How did I find this out? When I heard a shriek... (we are quite the loud bunch it turns out). Rachel was in a stall in the boy's bathroom. Apparently, she loves to take her clothes off when she goes to the bathroom. Right as she finished, she saw a spider, started screaming her head off. Her fright was so contagious that Connor ran out (he's totally afraid of spiders), leaving her along--naked--with the spider. Her and Chase are tied for first place for the loudest cries at this point.

So... I am sprinting for the bathroom, not quite sure if I should run in or not. I get Jacob to go in and everyone in the restaurant is looking at me, asking themselves why anyone would be alone with five kids. I got the same look when I took them all to the grocery store with me an hour later. A guy said, "How are you fitting all of that in one car--referring more to the kids than the small amount of groceries I had?" I wanted to tell him how amazed he would be to see the creativity of parents doing this everyday in Utah. I promptly called my mom to ask her how she did it with 6. WOW! Is all I can say. I feel like a wimp in comparison.

Stay tuned for more tales in Jyl's Adventures in Babysitting--10 Days in Lancaster County With 5 Kids and 1 Loony Parent :).