Monday, January 28, 2013

A Chilly Chili Weekend

Folly was on me! After harassing Mother Nature for her puny excuse of a "snow storm" last week, she fought back with a vengeance this past weekend!

School was scheduled to end at 2 p.m. on Friday due to Final Exams schedule for the first semester. The schedule was adjusted a bit to let the kids out at 1 though due to the pending storm. Now, in Virginia we are prone to over-reacting to weather forecasts, and living in a very large and very rural county, our school system is even more conservative than the conservative norm.

Let me tell you... It was some masterful planning this time tough! I had prayed/chanted/pleaded that we just make it through the semester before any major schedule-changing freaky weather. Well, the kids departed at 1, and just about the time that the last batch would have crossed the threshold into their cozy houses, the skies opened and it looked like "The Day After Tomorrow" out there!

Teachers were allowed to leave early also, at their own discretion, to avoid bad driving conditions. Being the fool dedicated educator that I am though, I was one of the last to leave the building... and that was only after a not so subtle hinting from the custodians that I needed to GO HOME already!

I sadly must admit that I was foolish to stay at school as long as I did. The roads had grown pretty bad after just two hours of snow. Even getting from the door to my car was a bit treacherous.

I believe the accumulation was just about 3 inches- not that I had any time to go frolic in the winter flakes, much less measure their accumulation. Oh no, it was a Key Club weekend in maximum overdrive! We had our first Annual Chili Sale! Gratitude beyond words cannot begin to explain how indebted I am to the Cooke family who stepped up and took full charge of this event. They shopped and organized and worked and just made it the easiest fundraiser of this magnitude ever coordinated. So easy, that I spent seven hours Saturday with this over-riding guilt that I wasn't "doing enough" because I don't just "show up" for events very well. I am a very hands-on-pick-up-the-slack-jump-in-and-take-charge kinda person... and that kinda person just wasn't needed Saturday.
Seriously, indebted with gratitude beyond measure.
And seriously, a fundraiser of magnitude.
The volume of cans of beans and tomatoes and tomato sauce awaiting the work crew arriving was like a stocked food bank during the holidays! And the mega batches of chili cooking? You could have swam in it... like a rather odd hot tub.
Okay, that's an exaggeration... but I did warm my hands over the batches cooking out in the snowy parking lot on a regular basis.
In a sweetly cruel twist of fate though, the recipe for 250 quarts made 398.5 quarts of chili. So, it could be like the sequel to Bubba Gump around the McHenry household as we hawk some more sales- chili pancakes, chili dogs, chili pizza, chili spaghetti... maybe not the pancakes.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Mommy's New Playground

I am a "Small Town Girl." I grew up in a small town... I moved to a much smaller town. It suits me (ok, maybe not this small of town), but I have a community mindset. I don't like to focus on the world at-large as much as be actively involved in improving the community in which I live. I believe in tangible, direct & immediate impact.

That being said, it is no great secret that my "Fantasy Life" is living in a very small rooftop apartment in a very big city (although my inconsistent fear of heights would probably keep me from ever lounging on the roof). Of the many things that romance me about city life, the one that has been on my mind the most lately is... parks. Places to go for the children to play (in sandboxes filled with dirty hypodermic needles as all us small town folks believe)... and places for Mommies to chat. My later-in-life re-entry to Mommiehood feels like I am trapped in a little Mommy bubble floating along. There are no parks or Little Gyms or Gymborees or zoos or even McDonalds play yards around here. For a short time this week, I considered gymnastics class for Benjamin, but even that would be a 30 minute drive if I could bring myself to do it. There are swim lessons at the Y, but not until he's older than the stage when I have to don skin-tight Lycra to join him in the pool.

So, although I miss all these things and wish there were some pre-organized gatherings of Mommy & child in which to participate, I fully recognize what these social trysts turn into... the Great Comparison. What is that 2 year old doing that mine isn't? How is my 2 year old more intellectually advanced that hers? Which kids are socially awkward? Not mine I hope!

Yet my geographic absence of these Mommy Mine Fields (without driving an hour to "the city") doesn't stop that inherent need to compare children. The new playground of self-induced Mommy comparison? Social Media! The ill of every self-doubt, whether judging your popularity by the number of friends/followers or seeking approval through the volume of likes/comments on posted pictures & videos (specifically those of your kid's latest achievements or adorably coordinated new- probably monogrammed- outfit). The new virtual playground of Mommy-loathing, of both the projected and self-inflicted varieties. (Mommy Blogs can be just a little guilty of inducing this too, but get away with a little more because the anonymity of not really knowing the person lessens the comparison-guilt complex.)

The new element introduced in this forum though is the removal of an age cap for such mommy-comparisons. Eventually, the playgrounds & parks age comes to an end, but mommy bragging rights on-line extends all though the home rums on the t-ball fields, to elementary school Principal Lists & Honor Rolls, to high school Homecoming pictures, to college acceptance & scholarship announcements.

I have found myself from time to time removing Mommy friends from my Facebok newsfeed just to avoid their child savant postings. Because unfortunately, I am highly prone to the evil that is Mommy & Child comparison.  I find it easy to overlook all the accomplishments of my own child because he cannot master that one skill that a "friend" has probably practiced with focus before endlessly recording performances until creating just the right masterpiece for mass approval. It is easy to overlook that though... and wonder, Oh my god! What am I doing wrong?

Yes, I know. We are not supposed to compare our children. Each child is a unique individual with his own talents and contribution to make to the world's culture... yada, yada, yada. I can't help but to snicker to myself just a little whenever parents proclaim to not compare their child to others. Of all the contributions, our children are the greatest impression we will make on the world we leave behind. OF COURSE, we want to know how well we did. Even if you don't get stressed out about the "markers" set for that basis of camparison- you care, we all care. Define success however you wish but there is no definition by which to measure success without a base of comparison for achievement.

Unfortunately, I am finding that social media is making that spotlight of comparison shine even brighter... and we only burn ourselves with the light.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Will you be my Valentine?

I hearby proclaim by the power of all that is crafty to the Pinterest gods that I am going to make Valentine's for Benjamin's pre-school class! No Wal-Mart bargain boxes of V-cards for me! Below are the five-ish ideas I am favoring. The two goals are reasonably priced and easy enough to craft that I won't procrastinate getting around to doing it!
Love Bug Valentines by dandee- These are boyliscious! I like that they are candy-free. Benjamin's class buddies are at that age where bugs are equally "Ewww!" and fascinating! The posting includes the free PDF printable for the adorable Mason jar cards. I am guessing that I could get scrap book paper and a tube of bugs for this from Michaels pretty cheapo!
Have a Ball Valentines also by dandee (Is she super-crafty mom or what? I will avoid the guilt-ridden snarky comment that she must not have a job.) These propose an even easier level of craftiness and higher level of kiddie excitement. Pretty sure I still have some treat bags on hand from the last bake sale- card should be easy to print and ball easy to find. Also, just in case there is too much of the "Ewww" factor with the bugs, who doesn't want a ball? (I want a ball!) And the kiddos in his class should be just old enough for the sheltering OCD parents not to freak about this being a "choking hazard."
You Blow Me Away by Pinafores & Pinwheels is a good fall-back. I don't think bugs or balls will be hard to find per se, but bubbles are an easy trinket to come by. This specific project includes a Blow-Pop also but I would nix that- because 2/3 is too young to be chewing gum... and because, let's face it, I loathe gum chewing, in general. My main hesitation with this is I foresee bubbles being put on a shelf until another time, whereas bugs or balls can be played with anytime/anywhere.
Bubbling with Excitement by Simply Modern Mom offers another "Bubble" alternative for Valentine cards. The post includes the free download to the printable cards (4 per page unlike the other printables, which only have 1). This would pretty cheap & easy in mass with the wedding bubbles at Wal-Mart... Thinking I like this theme overall to use for favors for any "bubbling with excitement" celebration. Going to have to mentally bookmark this idea for Key Club kick-off, Relay Day, etc.
Fishbowl Valentines- The inserts for the "fish bowls" are a printable PDF for sale on Etsy. Actually the seller has a whole series of these printable inserts for different occasions for $5. I don't want to rob crafting enterprising but if I go this route, I will have to play around to see what I can create. These have cute sayings like: "Glad We're in the Same School," "I Saw You and I was Hooked," and "You're the Only Fish in the Sea for Me!" Mayyybeee I even have a Cricut image for the fishbowl insert? I tend to rank this Valentine option pretty high because Jason is a Swedish fishaholic and Benjamin is on the hunt for them whenever he rides in Dad's truck.
Butterfly Valentine are suggested by Skip to my Lou "if you need something quick and easy." Her post includes the printable stencil which would be easy to zip right off the printer on some pink copy paper. I'm not a fan of the googly eyes though. Other than being potentially unsafe, I find them rather distracting. Perhapsss I could get ambitious and do these for allll my kids... hmmm... If I don't have small heart punches, I'm sure I could find a couple small ones cheap-cheap at Michaels. However, I know I can spit out a bunch real quick with the Cricut because I did so with the Valentines I made last year!
Blow Me a Kiss Valentines found At Second Street are a ridiculously fun idea! It is with great frustration that I am making myself bank this idea for another year or two until the kiddos can master these lip whistles better. But how fun! fun! fun! Can't wait!
Crayon Heart Valentines by Whipperberry is another Valentine idea I am going to bank for a couple of years until Benjamin's playmates can appreciate the awesomeness that are these upcycled crayon bits. It'll also give me some time to save up the crayon booty to make them! Oh, how I wish I had thought of this project when Benjamin was in the stage of breaking crayons every time he used them and I just threw them away.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Civil War, Snow, Mafia ('cause I roll like that!)

This is the time of year that I must express my humility in expressing homage to those honorable men that greatly influenced American history- those such as Jackson & Lee who fought for the good ole' South during the Civil War, and Martin Luther King Jr. who for for the Civil Right for all Americans during a time when it was simply not safe to express such forward-thinking views on equality- especially before thousands on the Washington lawn and more perched before their television screens at home witnessing the phenmenon. Without these great men in history we would not have...

A FOUR DAY WEEKEND! Woot! Woot! Yes'um down South in Virginie, the yougins get off from school Friday for Lee/Jackson Day, and then of course, Monday for MLK.

I know it seems resplendent to bask in a four day weekend after having only been back in school nine teaching days since Christmas break, but it really helps to break up the accumulating stress of standardized state testing, exams, research papers, and the many more deadlines the end of a semester bring. Also, kids and teachers alike seem to drag their feet when returning from two weeks off, so the four day respite is just enough of a recharge to propel us towards the deadline that is the semester's end.

Making this an even greater respite from the everyday rush was... SNOW! I know it sounds silly but one of the reasons I have always wanted to be better about blogging was to have a record of weather extremes year-to-year. Perhaps, if you live in Virginia this makes sense to you. Last week was flip-flop weather with pressing-70 degree weather, then this weekend- snow. This is typical VA. The inconsistency of weather around here makes it all blur though and you find yourself questioning whether that big snow was last year, or did it snow at all? Or which hurricane kept us home 2 days- and why? So, for future posterity's sake, I present to you, the Great Snow of 2013!

There was just enough white stuff on the ground to excite Benjamin but not enough to excite other folks very much. I was just thankful it was over the extended weekend and unable to tamper with the school schedule. I want this semester's schedule to stay on "track." (Track? Get it? See pic above, ha!)

It was a peaceful and productive weekend. I got a lot of cleaning done- especially if cleaning out the recorded shows on the dvr count. I watched way too much "Wife Swap" and learned way too much about the Casey Anthony trial. (Thank you Lifetime for both of those.) Oh, and I was introduced and intrigued by "The Amish Mafia."

Have you met Lebanon Levi? It is no secret that I like my reality tv brain candy, but this some good stuff! There's a lot of criticism in the media that the show's premise is staged. I think it's debatable. I have not seen anything on the show that smells fake per se, but I accept the convention of production that is involved to liken the personalized justice and reward system or rural Lancaster to a "Mafia" image. I don't get caught up in the authenticity of any reality show because how "natural" is it to have a camera over your shoulder recording your every move and word in any situation?

I also got a lot or grading done over the weekend break on that never-stopping hamster wheel of teaching. The semester is winding down, exams are this week, and I am growing excited about the adventures of the semester that lays ahead.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Price of Friendship with Women

Men have it easy. The birth of a new friendship can be had with some commonly shared trait as simple as the possession of a fishing pole or love for the same ball- baseball, basketball, football- no matter.

For women, not so easy.
Or so it has been in my experience.

Frankly put, women pimp out their friendships. There is always a cost; it's just a matter of waiting until the friend "makes the sell."

A few years I joined a "Stamp Club." The experience could be likened to "Fight Club," since when I mentioned to another member that I had joined she questioned how I even found out about it. Super Secret Stamping Society was sure to be an outlet of creative fun. I did learn a lot about stamping & card making, and I did have fun during the event... but the cost of getting together for about an one Monday per month? $30. To be a member of "Stamp Club," you had to by a minimum of $30 of stamping supplies from the distributor's catalogue each month. Members of Stamp Club took turns being the "hostess" each month and earned free goodies. However, the growing accumulation of stamping supplies resting in the entry table drawer (pre-craft room) because I didn't have time to actually do anything with them, could not justify my continued endeavor.

Then, there was the local Woman's Club. The Key Clubbers had volunteered with events the group hosted for a couple of years and I really wanted "in." I felt almost like the awkward girl during Sorority Rush Week that could not get a bid until I, more or less, invited myself to their recruiting event. I emphasized to the girls that I didn't need a venue for community service, I had that covered, but that I was joining for sociability of membership. Well... that didn't go so well either, and I will avoid detailing any further estrogen-laden drama about that here & now. The group did some nice work in the community and there were some socializing opportunities, but the price for that just grew too steep also. To be such a "fundraiser" I hate selling, and membership meant paying dues & selling more&more&more fundraising tickets & buying something new for the collective donation (or communal meal) each month. After two years, among other reasons, I just couldn't justify the cost of those "friendships" either.

Then... there is the most obvious crime of female friendship. It reads like a rap sheet of criminal charges for solicitation: Pampered Chef, Longaberger, Thirty One, Premier Jewelry, Mary Kay, Tastefully Simple... with new ones joining the fray all the time- like the "Cash for Gold" parties that I find very odd (a pawn shop right in your living room?) and Origami Owl (which I unfortunately am rather fond of). The prude in me, despite my occasional taste in reading, is far too prudish to attend one of those "naughty" parties, but I have a make-up basket filled with Mary Kay that would look too modest on Snookie, baskets too expensive for me to actually use, and far too many kitchen accessories for someone who disdains cooking as much as I do... Honestly I can't joke on the jewelry or Thirty-One bags, I love that stuff! The point of all this being that inevitably, some friend will have some party, and I will feel left to puzzle out the equation of how much I had to spend to be a "good friend." Then there's chain created by these parties that offer bonus goodies to current and future hostesses, so the invite to one becomes two becomes three- that is if you can avoid succumbing to the peer pressure to be an event hostess yourself!

That being said, I still like those parties... usually. But now, it seems they are growing more sparse. That could be a good thing. But no, rather than closing the retail relationship between friends... and co-workers, and neighbors, and acquaintances that you don't talk to much any other time... the sales technique has been streamlined to "catalogue parties"- pass around a book and wait for the financial return of those who feel obligated to thumbs-up your friendship by opening-up the checkbook. Easier for the "supplier," and quick "money" (i.e., free stuff) for the "dealer"- Yes, I am likening a company found on the goal of rewarding the virtues of a "Proverbs 31 Woman" with a crack dealer.

Lastly, there are those painfully abundant friends whose kids are selling something for some fundraiser, some club, some sports team- pancake breakfasts, and spaghetti dinners, and cookie dough, and fruit, and candy, and gift wrap, and pizza kits, and popcorn, and, and, and... don't even get me started on the COOKIES Oh, you know what cookies I'm talking about! And the truth is, these things do not annoy me. I sincerely try to support all these events and more because I know that I ask so much of those that support my Key Clubbers and our Relay teams. But, overall, the truth is... it's just one more time when "friends" are putting their hands out, it's not for a warm hug.

So, what's my point? I don't know really. It's just something I have pondered about for a while. The business minds behind these woman-focused businesses are rather brilliant. A founding principle of all sales, whether or not sellers wish to admit it, is to find your customer's weakness and determine the level to which you can exploit it for profit. What weaknesses do these at-home parties target? Women's genetic addiction to shopping? No... guilt and the need to feel liked, those aren't major issues for women at all, are they?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Holly Daze

I will avoid the trite and repetitive post about how the long days of Christmas Break stretched ahead of me... until it was the final days of break, and then the days all tumbled upon one another... until the holidays had passed and I was left with a list of undone tasks.

Even though that is what happened.


And I didn't make a list.

But I should have.

Mike and Diane came down for Thanksgiving, which was really nice because we get to do very little with extended family because of busy schedules and long miles. As is tradition, Justin & Cameron ran the Turkey Trot Thanksgiving morning, while I made some (Pinterest-inspired) finger foods for the day.

Benjamin joined the fun at the Y collecting pockets full of acorns while he waited for the boys to return to the finishing line. When he came home to see a big bowl of nuts on the table, he was adamant to add his collection to the bulk.

Jason cooked a big meal and then Thanksgiving night Diane, Justin and I went to Wal-Mart. That place was INSANE... never again, never again... I whimper as I huddle in a corner flinching at the memory. We went out Black Friday shopping the next day too. We went later in the day and kept a pretty casual attitude about it though, so that wasn't stressful at all. The crew went bowling while they were here and we had a Fred's breakfast before they head back out of town.

We missed the Christmas Parade because Benjamin was sick. I cannot pretend to be too sad about missing a night time parade of over 100 entries, mostly, walking... sorry, Grinch that I am.

The month raced by and then it was time for Break. The Key Club, of course, stayed busy and did a lot over the holidays. The holiday season kicked off with the school-wide food collection, bringing in over 1,500 canned and boxed gods to help feed families in our community over the holidays. Then, the kids volunteered 2 days at both the local toy distribution programs- one with the police department and the other with Social Services. There was, of course, bingo at the Nursing Home, and the kids went to a different nursing home to Christmas Carol too. We created a donation basket to help with a holiday raffle. Then there was the Christmas Party and Cookie Exchange, and surely other events I am forgetting, because there is so much. Always, so much.

Cameron passing time during a slow flow in the evening with the police volunteers for the event.
I had hoped to fit in three Hampton Roads holiday events- Lights at Norfolk Botanical Gardens, ice skating at MacArthur, and Christmastowne at Busch Gardens. Time whittled down though and I had to choose just one, so we went to Christmastowne. It is only the second time we have ever gone, but the crowds were just as busy as the first time two years ago.

Overflow parking; a long tram ride to gate. Over 90 minutes in line waiting to see the penguins. About an hour in line waiting to see Santa before a cranky & soggy kid made us abandon that line. Grabbed dinner and Benjamin fell asleep before we could do the train ride or Sesame Street show. And although so much time was spent just... waiting... it was still worth the whole adventure because "pen goons" were Benjamin's new fascination before going and that was just fueled all the more after seeing them, which he distinctly remembers and gets excited to talk about.