I Wanna Be In The Room Where It Happens

The Princess, who is now ten years old, has been asking for an African American “Ken” doll for a couple of weeks now. When I asked why she needed another Ken doll at all, she said that it was so she can “pretend that he’s Aaron Burr.”

Yes, I know that Aaron Burr was a white man, but she thinks he’s black because Leslie Odom, Jr. plays him on Broadway.


I don’t know whether to feel super proud of her for further diversifying her Barbie collection or to have some kind of white lady guilt for not already having a African American Ken doll.

Anyway, African American Ken dolls do not just materialize for no reason. Maybe she will find one in her Easter basket, or as a reward for having blood drawn, which she needs to do this month.

Yesterday she told me that while she’s waiting for the doll, she’s just going to “pretend Leslie Odom, Jr. is sick,” and the Ken doll she has “is his understudy”.

I think my induction into the Theater Mom Hall of Fame might be imminent

Amazing Husband

When I woke up on Saturday, I knew I’d be good for nothing. Migraine. Couldn’t get out from under the weight of my head. So the day went by in a blur, kids bringing my ice water, dog licking my face, kids asking if I wanted anything. Whenever I’d wake up, it was just to roll over to the other side.

Meanwhile, Manfrengensen was a super man. Took care of the kids, made them breakfast for dinner. Took the Princess to her field hockey game (where she scored her first goal and I MISSED IT), even took time away from his ND-football-watching-schedule to drop Edison off at the movies with friends.

Then today, he took The Princess with him to Clooney’s soccer game, so I could catch up on all my weekend chores in peace. As I walked around the house, I realized what an amazing guy he is. Not only did he totally take care of the kids yesterday, but he also brought in wood and set up the fireplace for winter.

But the best part was when I opened up the freezer and found a brand new quart of my favorite ice cream.


Love that guy. He rocks my world.

Dropping off the bags in 2014

So, you may have been wondering where the hell I’ve been. Not that I flatter myself by believing that I am much more than a constellation of ones and zeroes in a universe of code, but I do feel like I have this place, and so I should tend to it now and then.

It’s 2014, and I have not written much in the last six months. I’ve been on hiatus, closed for business, out to sea in a lot of ways. But now we are almost a month deep into the new year, and I feel like I’ve got to come back, or risk never coming back at all.

1016511_10151829265723814_593771423_nThe thing is, we lost my father in September. He was an amazing guy, the kind of person who lit up a room, brought the party, made you feel like all was right with the world. He was just the best kind of father, and King of the Grandfathers. The kind of grandpa who dotes on his grandkids, slips them candy and money on the sly. I’ve written about him many times here, including the time that he totally saved my butt, which was just one of the many many times he did. He was in the hospital for a couple of weeks, complications from a procedure performed on his heart, that ended in a blood-splattered night of dashed hopes and tears. In the wake of the loss, I’ve kind of been empty and had a hard time putting thoughts into words. Also I feel like I need to address the issue of losing my dad before I can write anything else. Does that make any kind of sense?

I sat by his side, taking my daily shifts in the hospital, and we had the most wonderful conversations. I think he knew his time was short, or at least he feared that it was. I don’t know if other people let him feel those feelings, but I did. I let him know it was okay to be scared. And I feel so lucky because he basically told me everything I had ever needed to hear him say. That he loved me. That I’m smart, strong, a good mother. That my husband is the best kind of guy.

He didn’t believe in God or heaven, but he said on more that one occasion that he thought he would achieve immortality in the hearts and memories of the people who loved and remembered him. Whether or not he had that right, I know he will never leave me.

2013 was a good year in a lot of ways. Both the boys had lead roles in their school plays. Edison made the all-state chorus, and his scores at the audition earned him the rank of  number-one baritone in the state. We had a great summer vacation in California. We got a dog. But all that has been under the cloud of the worst thing that happened last year, not necessarily robbing me of joy in the good, but tarnishing it nonetheless.

My dad always told me, whenever I felt sorry about losing my mother, that I had to concentrate on what I have, to make what’s here now my focus. In the end, that’s some of the best advice he ever gave me.

So now it is a new year, and though the holidays were difficult, I do feel like the baggage is just a few ounces lighter. So much to look  forward to this year: Edison is going to high school, and Clooney’s going to middle school. Every day is a gift, and there’s a lot of laughter and love around here. So now I’ve said it, and hope that, at least in a blogging sense, I can move on.

My dad used to end every phone call by saying, “Okay, if you need me, you know where I’ll be.”

Yeah, I  know.

Pinheads Revisited – Random Acts of Kindness Day 2

Pinheads Revisited – Random Acts of Kindness Day 2.

The Year In Pictures

It’s that time of year again, and this year, I really hope to keep up with ThinkIt’s Year-End Blog Wrap-Up. The prompt for December 1st is the Year in Pictures. I had a hard time reducing it to one moment, so I collected these, in no particular order:

This year, I discovered Pinterest, and have spent a good deal of time trying out ideas from the site and blogging about them.

This year, I discovered Pinterest, and have spent a good deal of time trying out ideas from the site and blogging about them.

Met this guy at PetSmart.

Met this guy at PetSmart.

Met this guy in the back yard.

Met this guy in the back yard.

Over the summer, I spent a week as a counselor at a wizard-themed camp. It was really fun, like working in an acting troupe for a week.

Over the summer, I spent a week as a counselor at a wizard-themed camp. It was really fun, like working in an acting troupe for a week.

We also discovered Breaking Bad this year and got all caught up on all five seasons so far.

We also discovered Breaking Bad this year and got all caught up on all five seasons so far.

Some of the best moments of the year were spent looking at this.

Some of the best moments of the year were spent looking at this.




Is it me, or has this been the "Year of Bacon"?

Is it me, or has this been the “Year of Bacon”?

Family vacation

Family vacation

I’m surely leaving out many memories of the year, but hopefully they will come back to me as we continue this process over the next few weeks.

Despite all appearances to the contrary, I’m not trying to kill my husband.

A couple of weeks ago, we were on vacation at the Jersey shore, and we decided to go play some tennis. I don’t know why, but the latches for the gates to the courts were up really high, like almost six feet from the ground. The latch was heavy too. We had the kids with us, and they were running between our courts and the adjacent playground with a frequency that kind of messed with my game, but in the end it didn’t matter, Manfrengensen beat me in his usual fashion, 6-0, 6-1.

The latch was so high that The Princess couldn’t reach it at all, and Clooney even had a hard time, stretching to capacity to lift the thing, which must have weighed at least five pounds. When we had finished our match, we gathered up all of our things and left the court. Manfrengensen’s hands were full, and I didn’t realize that he was walking so close behind me, but when I let go of the latch, it came down right on his head. And his world exploded in stars.

Of course I felt awful, even more so as I watched the egg-sized welt rise on his pate. It looked angrier than he did. He takes pain pretty well, though, and he soldiered on through the day, complaining minimally about his cranium as the sun made its pass over our heads.

After dinner, we walked for ice cream, and then just as we were heading back, he mentioned that he felt light headed, so I said, “Oh no, maybe we shouldn’t let you go to sleep,” figuring that, though the possibility at that point was remote, if he had a concussion, he shouldn’t be allowed to go to sleep.

“What are you saying that for??” he asked. He reasoned that he was about to go to bed, and by mentioning the possibility, now he was freaked out and wouldn’t be able to sleep.

So, I tried to allay his fears. He’d been okay all day. In all likelihood he didn’t have a concussion, so it was probably safe to go to sleep. But then, as he got in bed, he pulled out the book he was reading, The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, and read, as incredibly as this sounds, about a character who gets shot in the face with a potato gun. Of course, he ends up with a concussion, and his friends and family express concerns that he will never wake up if he goes to sleep.

What are the chances of that kind of coincidence??

So, Manfrengensen kept catching himself nodding off, fighting it for as long as he could. He said that he had never been so relieved to wake up at 2 a.m. because he realized that he hadn’t slipped into a coma.

So, yesterday, we were visiting my parents at the shore, and my sister was down from New England to visit. She had a little accident on Friday night, twisted her ankle and had to go to the hospital. Kind of a bummer, since we only see her a few times a year, and here she was going to be holed up at the house while we enjoyed a day on the beach.

Because I had worked at my kids’ camp last week, I was exhausted, and looked forward to sleeping in on Saturday morning. Manfrengensen usually gets up early and goes for a run or a bike ride, picks up some breakfast, and then takes care of the kids until I wake up. He’s one in a million, really.

Yesterday, I felt his hand on my arm, rousing me from sleep. I figured, as I came up to consciousness, that I had REALLY slept in, that he was coming to tell me it was like eleven o’clock or something. “Egghead,” he said gently, and then repeated my name. I opened my eyes, and his face was an arm’s length from mine. He was holding his chin.

“I have to go to the hospital,” he said calmly. “I need stitches.” He then went on to explain that he had tumbled over the handlebars of his bike, and needed stitches in his chin.

Of course, I jumped out of bed, insisting on driving him. “I can drive myself,” he said, but I wouldn’t hear of it. I brushed my teeth, threw on some clothes, got him an ice pack and we got to the car. It was then that I saw the other side of his face, which was swollen and angry-looking. It looked like he may have broken the orbital bone near his eye. His hands were all banged up, as were his knees.

He talked while I drove, explaining how he had been riding two towns over from ours, and had been forced onto the shoulder by a passing car, but then his tires hit an uneven part of the pavement where there was a lip and gravel, and he lost control of the bike. He flipped over, landing on his left side. Thankfully, he was wearing a helmet, or I would have been awakened not by his gentle touch but by the call of the hospital.

As he spoke, I could feel my breath leaving me. My skin felt like it was on pins and needles. My vision began to go dark, so I pulled the car over. He got out, came around to the driver’s side and helped me into the passenger seat more kindly than I deserved, before I all but blacked out. He then drove himself to the Emergency Room with one hand on the wheel and the other with the ice pack against his face. Needless to say, I’m not too great in a crisis situation.

By the time we got to the hospital, I had pulled myself together. He got out at the ER, and I went to park the car. When I found him, ten minutes later, he was sitting in the waiting room, and having bled through his paper towel, was just sitting there with blood dripping from his chin like he had a crimson beard.

We got him all checked out, x-rays, CAT scan, five stitches, and thank God, he’s fine. Today his eye is black, but there were no fractures. We got a glimpse of how fragile life can be yesterday. Just feeling incredibly lucky today that we came out on the better side of what could have been.

My muse is an insomniac.

She pokes me while I am sleeping, shakes me conscious, and then refuses to leave until I get out of bed. I suppose I am thankful that she comes around at all.

There are many things I have wanted to tell you, and because I have not known where, or how to begin, I guess, I have said nothing. It was a rough year. The job was a bit tougher than I had thought it would be. It mostly involved a “Writers’ Workshop” course of language arts, which meant that I taught two classes (one 7th grade and one 8th) of 90 minutes each, and then I also had one class of 8th grade Religion. The Writers’ Workshop was pretty time-consuming, because the kids had to turn in portfolios at the end of each term, which had to include four pieces of writing, spanning at least three genres (fiction, non-fiction, persuasive, and then one option), and those pieces had to be edited and discussed throughout the term. Basically, it was a lot of work for all of us. I had some kids who liked to write, and would turn in pieces of 15-plus pages; first drafts, second drafts, third drafts, and beyond. I had one or two who would turn in as many as five drafts of a particular piece, and if they needed my help with it, I read each one.

My colleagues advised me to spend five minutes reading each piece, but I found that when I went to discuss pieces I had spent that little time on with the writers, I couldn’t remember exactly how to guide them. I had to make little notes in the margins. I mean, when you read eight or ten of those pieces in a day, they can start to kind of blend together, you know?

But, it was worth it. It was fun to watch a piece of their work grow from a mess to something readable. A few of them could really write quite well, but I would say it was like panning for gold. Some of it was painful to read. I read enough stories about dogs this year to last me, I can tell you. But, like I said, I really did enjoy it, when it went well, which it often did.

I’m not going to lie and say it wasn’t a struggle though. First of all, it was a major adjustment for my family. The Princess went from being home full time, to being in school half-days for about a month before I got the job, at which point she was immersed in the full-day-plus-extended-day program. I know kids do this every day, but it was hard for her, and hard for all of us as she struggled to deal with the change in the way a typical four-year-old deals with any frustration.

Edison started at a new school this year. I had planned to be very involved in that, but with the job, there was no time at all. I missed all of his award ceremonies, school functions, teacher conferences, etc. Even when they were sick, Manfrengensen was most often the one who stayed home with them.

I felt stretched pretty thin, and as I am sure you have noticed, I did a lot less reading this year for pleasure (and no writing to speak of either).

We were all kind of on this grind of get up, go there, get home, order food and go to bed. Clooney did his homework at aftercare, and things were so crazy that Manfrengensen and I rarely got the time to look it over. Luckily, Clooney sailed through first grade, but he can also rush through things, so there were mistakes that we missed.

At work, it was a rough transition for some of the students as well. I had replaced a popular teacher, who had split for another job two weeks before the school year began. The 8th grade was a difficult class to begin with, I was told, and the fact that they resented my replacing Mrs. Castsalongshadow didn’t help either. The Writers’ Workshop program runs for two years, so that the students have the same LA teacher in both 7th and 8th grades. It’s kind of a neat thing, because of the continuity factor. The teacher gets the opportunity to guide a student’s writing over eight semesters rather than four, so there is a potential for profound growth in the student’s abilities. I figured the 8th grade would come around, and they did, but in the end, it took much longer than I had thought it would.

On top of all that, I had political problems. I don’t want to go into details, but you should know that I am not good at playing any kind of games. I have a very low tolerance for bologna, and a big mouth to boot, which is a bad combination. I’m in my mid-forties now, and I can tell you that those qualities have rarely served me well in the employment arena.

I would like to tell you that it was a good year, that it was worth it, and all that. In many ways, it was. I know I am a good teacher who got them ready for high school and beyond, but, it was stressful on so many levels. Even so, I began to look forward to next year, to starting the year out right. Next year, I would know the curriculum and wouldn’t feel like I was always playing catch-up in terms of what I was supposed to be teaching.

And then, on May 24th, I got laid off. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me, though I do not want to rehash that day or go into details. I was not the only one who lost her job that week, at my school or anywhere. I know this is a time when many people experience what I went through, and even though this was not something I made happen, it left me feeling somewhat humiliated.

But, I am trying to focus on the positive. I have turned my attention back to my home and my family. I have stemmed the entropy of our household, and have been reorganizing and purging on a room-by-room basis. I am focusing on what is important and trying to listen closely to my kids. This has been such a year of “hurry up, I have got so much to do”, and now I am trying to just slow down and let it all unfold.

It’s going to be a great summer, and in the Fall, I will go to all the PTA meetings and school functions and teacher conferences, and I will be there for them.

And I will read. And I will write. And I will listen to the muse.

Martha Stewart, I am not

Last night, despite the fact that I had a ton of homework, I decided to make cupcakes for Clooney to take to school for his birthday. And I wanted to make them look kind of nice, so I busted out the two-year-old frosting tips from their factory-sealed packaging and gave it a go. A little awkward at first, but better than usual. And then I put a few confetti sprinkles on there for good measure.

I put them into this big plastic container I had bought (again about two years ago) in anticipation of an opportunity such as this one. The contraption is called “The Cupcake Caddy,” and it has a handle and little circles (12 regular-size, or you can flip the plate over for 24 minis) to hold the cakes. I had made the mini-cakes, and they looked so precious beneath their protective plastic dome.

I was feeling pretty good about myself, even though I ended up doing homework until 10:30.

Then, after all that — the cupcakes…well, let’s just say that the Cupcake Caddy — not so good. It looked like the cupcakes had thrown their own party on the way to school, and a fight must have broken out or something. By the time we got there, (and mind you, it’s not a far trip; there are no hills or potholes along the way) most of them had put their petite icing heads together. I had to smooth over all my fancy work with a plastic knife Clooney’s teacher had on hand.

They tasted the same though, and that was a good thing.

Somebody’s got to say it…

It might as well be me.

I was looking for a welcome mat the other day, and maybe a nice duvet cover, and I stopped by PotteryBarnKids for some reason, which happened to be having a sale on a limited edition PotteryBarnKids Barbie doll. Here is the doll:

Now, is it me, or are those some of the bitchiest looking Barbie dolls ever?

And check out this photo they had on the site of a little girl playing with one of them:

It’s downright heartbreaking. I mean that doll looks like it is bored to death! Who wants to play with that? I wouldn’t want those things near my daughter. The last thing I need is a disaffected five-year-old.

I’m not anti-Barbie, by the way. She’s got her permanently arched foot well-wedged inside our door. In fact, I think there may currently be more Barbie clothes than people ones in my house. (There are surely more Barbie shoes.) I’m just saying these particular Barbies have the oddest expressions. And what’s with all that eye shadow?

One other thing I want to show you that’s actually pretty cool. My friend makes these awesome cookies, and she baked special ones for Clooney’s birthday that look just like the axe he got:

And you know what? It’s pretty frickin’ yummy too.

Happy New Year, by the way. Thanks for stopping by. I know I haven’t been keeping you up to date regularly. I am still coming to terms with the whole new working schedule and all. But I promise to make more of an effort in the coming year.

Be good, now.

Good to Be Home

Just got back from a fabulous week at the beach.  Good family time, with near-perfect weather.

One of my mental snapshots is a moment when I was getting dressed for the beach, and T3 pointed to my exposed bikini area and said, “Mom, you’re growing hair. Are you going to become a man?” 

It was a surprisingly relaxing vacation though.  The kids got into a groove on the beach, playing with other kids and boogie boarding.  Ee would play a bit, then get her ice cream before sacking out totally under the umbrella for like three hours.  It was awesome.

At night, after the kids were in bed, Manfrengensen and I got into Mad Men, every night ON DEMAND, which was really compelling. We watched the whole season in a week. Reminded us a lot of The Sopranos in its tone and sense of morality.  We both found the character of Peter totally sleazy and disturbing. Kind of wished Don had gone Tony Soprano on that guy and kicked his ass.  All in all, very well-written with interesting characters and attention to authentic period props and sets. Can’t wait to see the new season starting June 27th.

In addition to the quality TV-time, Manfrengensen also read a couple of books, and I got about a third of the way into Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

The boys started camp today, and they both loved it. I had thought that just having Ee all day would be so easy, but it turned out that we had QUITE A DAY together…I think she wanted to stick close to home, but I had to go grocery shopping. She was not at all happy with me, even though I took her out for lunch. That was the best part of the day, the only time she was smiling at me.  Just sitting next to her in the booth as she ate her grilled cheese was so much fun.  She was happy, and every once in a while, she would lean over and press her forehead against mine, smiling and looking deeply into my eyes.  Then when we left, she was back to asserting her independence, which is good, but you know, it takes patience to deal with sometimes.

She spent the rest of the day pulling out things (with a preference for things with multiple parts) and leaving them on the floor. Then when I asked her to help clean it up, she would say, “No, you.” Pretty much anything I asked her to do, get her clothes, find her cup when she wanted more milk, whatever, the response I got was, “No, you.” And in between that, she would stall with this kind of escalating sing-songy two-syllable “Why?” as in  Ee can you please put your shoes on? “Why-y?” Because we have to go out. “Why-y?” Because we need groceries. “Why-y?” Because we need them for dinner tonight. “Why-y?” And the line would continue until…until she broke me.

The day flew by, and then the boys were home again.  She was thrilled to see them, and the three of them went right upstairs to play with cars, dolls, and other toys they’d been missing.  It was great!  Whatever they did, they all got along and didn’t need me to mediate at all.  It’s great when everyone plays nice.