P is for Packages and Notes from the Master. 

A week ago I started up the Stiletto Momma Care Package Factory again. It had been shut down for almost a year, but now with the Older One deployed to Germany and desperate pleas of “Send cookies,” collecting in my inbox,  I’m back in business. 

I baked and shopped and assembled and reassembled (USPS really won’t ship it if it doesn’t fit.) and taped and filled out customs forms and finally shipped it off across the ocean. All 12 pounds of it arrived nine days later to hearty applause and gratitude-filled text messages. Not only had I sent cookies, I sent peanut butter, jelly (Every soldier needs a PB&J fix.), tuna, oatmeal, protein bars, fiber bars, Jolly Ranchers, lip balm, ear plugs (He has 40 roomies, and apparently a few of them snore.), and a letter from his little sister. 

I didn’t know she was going to write him a letter. In fact, she didn’t even let me read it. She just handed me a piece of paper that she had rolled up tightly like a scroll and tied with a piece of green ribbon. 

“Will you send this to my brother,” she asked. I said yes, and instructed her to add it to the top of the box. I didn’t think anything else about it, until the Older One texted yesterday to let me know he got the box. 

That was when he thanked me, not for the cookies or the PB&J supplies, but for his sister’s letter. It made him laugh, he said, and he loved it. 

He responsed to my curiosity (in the form of a text that read, “Huh?”) with a picture of the un-scrolled letter…


I burst into laughter right there in the middle of my cube farm. In that moment, I really didn’t care if I disturbed any of the other worker bees around me. Once the laughter died down, I realized my heart was swelling and I was close to tears, not from the laughing, but from the love my daughter has for my son. 

At home, I told her he had gotten the package and that he loved her letter.

“I wanted to write it funny,” she said, “’cause I thought he might want to laugh at something.”

I gave her a big hug and told her how smart she is.

“Plus,” she said when she pulled away, “I do think he’d make a good Jedi.”

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O is for Original Girl

OI love that you say you don’t want to be me when you grow up.

You insist on a simple pony tail with no headband or bow adornment. In your opinion, painting fingernails is a waste of perfectly good video game time. You own just two dresses and one pair of “fancy” shoes, and those are worn under protest.

I love that you complained about dance class and gymnastics.

You prefer field hockey and football. You run like a girl…gloriously fast and strong. You are fearless on the field, and when you tackle a boy during a soccer game, his mom silently cheers and covertly offers me a high-five on the sideline.

I love that you cannot define “traditional”.

You wore a Wonder Woman costume to a princess dress-up party, and the rest of your cosplay wardrobe includes Spider-Man, Darth Vader and a Ninja Turtle. Your career aspirations are police officer, inventor and soldier.

I love that your Barbies are collecting dust.

Your Power Ranger action figures have seen plenty of battle, and your favorite make-believe scenario features a light saber and a conflict between good and evil. At Build-a-Bear, you stroll past the frilly princess bears and have so much trouble choosing between Chewbaka and the Stormtrooper that you convince me get them both. (There’s a BOGO, after all, you say.)

I love that you show no interest in reading Little House on the Prairie.

Your bookshelf holds the entire Captain Underpants series, and you are currently reading your way through Diary of Wimpy Kid.

I love that you turn down every invitation for Frozen sing-alongs.

Elle King’s America’s Sweetheart on the car radio is cause to crank the volume, so you can join me in loudly singing its rock-anthem chorus: “I’m not America’s Sweetheart, but you love me anyway!”

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I love that you are brave and strong and live by your own definition of beautiful.

I love that you know your opportunities are limitless and that stereotypes only get in the way.

I love that you are no one but yourself…my one and only original girl.

N is for Neighbors with Fancy Cocktails

NI wonder if I stood on the sidewalk in front of my house with a pitcher of fancy cocktails, if I would be able to get to know my neighbors.

As of today, I have lived in my new Ohio home for 264 days and have yet to have a significant conversation with the people who live in the houses next door. In fact, if I were to pass them in my friendly neighborhood Kroger, I doubt I would be able to recognize any of them as having a street address close to mine.

When I moved to Louisville almost 17 years ago, I had met and had a conversation with every person on the block by lunchtime. By dinnertime, I had a plate of fresh-baked brownies, a basket of muffins and an invitation to share a home-cooked meal. A few years later, we somewhat reluctantly moved across town and were greeted on moving day with a footrace through the yard as new neighbors rushed to welcome us and offer to carry in the furniture.

I did not anticipate that relocating a mere 114 miles north would take us to a completely different culture. We have, however, crossed the invisible line between the “friendly South” and the “hostile North”, and I am definitely on the wrong side.

We have made plenty of attempts to learn more about these people who call themselves neighbors. We smiled and waved to those who strolled past the house in those early days  only to be rewarded with cautious glances and hurried footsteps. The Young One and I spent hours in the driveway shooting basketball, hoping the sounds of the bouncing ball and laughter would bring out other children and their mommas. We’re still waiting.

Sangrita

It’s as tasty as it looks.

We’ve invited the neighbors to housewarming parties, college football rivalry parties and a Super Bowl party. The only people who showed were other transplants like ourselves who are equally perplexed by this strange world of un-neighborly neighbors. As soon as we get together, the first question asked is, “Guess how many of the neighbors have said, ‘Hi’?”

“None!” we all shout at the same time and clink glasses.

Aside from finding other neighborhood children for my child to play with, I’m not really sure why I want to forge some kind of relationship with the people next door. I suppose I’d like to be sure they aren’t doing illegal things over there. Plus, I think it would be nice to know I have someone close by who actually cares…

Cares enough to ask how I’m settling in…

Cares enough to ask after the MIL’s health…

Cares enough to know my dog’s gotten off her leash…

Cares enough to buy the obligatory box of Thin Mints from the Young One…

Cares enough to ask how the Older One is doing and how I’m doing while he’s so far away…

Last weekend, my Transplant Support Group did our usual toast with a delicious round of Sangritas, a delightful combination of sangria and margaritas whipped up by yours truly. That’s when I started wondering about bribing my neighbors with fancy cocktails.

I think I’ll go make a sign and set up a table next weekend…”Free Fancy Cocktails! Free Friendship! No Strings Attached!”

K is for Kid Conspiracy

KCrossing the Young One’s room lately has been like walking through a mine field of dirty socks, crumpled t-shirts and discarded yoga pants. Her soccer jersey is in a pile by the closet door, and a towel hangs from the edge of a mirror.

The socks freak me out. I find them everywhere…on a dresser, under blankets, on a lamp shade, in toy boxes, tumbling off bookshelves, hanging from a towel hook in the bathroom.

I need to understand why this is happening and how to make it stop.

“What is going on with your socks…with all your clothes for that matter?” I asked, scooping up a stray fuzzy slipper sock from the corner of her nightstand. “Why are you not putting your dirty clothes in your hamper?”

“Well,” she said with all innocence and big eyes. “That’s what he said to do. It’s fun. Watch.”

sock

Sorry, Fuzzy Face.

She bent down, pulled a sock to the tip of her toe and gave a kick. I watched it arch across the room and land with a soft plop on the head of an American Girl doll.

“Who…is…he,” I said calmly, even though I was furiously thinking, “Once I find this kid, I’m going to beat him with a dirty soccer sock.”

“My brother,” she smiled.

“Your…who?” I stammered in my shock at her revelation.

“Myyyy…brrrooootherrrr,” she enunciated slowly, clearly thinking my hearing was fading.

“He did what!”

“Momma! Pay attention!” she snapped and then flung another sock through the air. This one landed on her pillow.

At that moment, that oldest child of mine was pretty lucky to be safely residing in Germany.

However, now that I think about it, his part in the state of total disarray in his sister’s bedroom makes perfect sense. His was never a particularly tidy room when he was growing up. I remember laundry days where his contribution to the dirty clothes was conspicuously slim.

Add to that a recent trip home, the loud thumps and laughter echoing from the second floor and a serious case of hero worship, and I have a true kid conspiracy on my hands.

Now that she was busted, I was able to adequately carry out a threat punishment that fit her crime.  For every night, I find dirty clothes in random locations no where near her hamper, she will be fined one dollar.  She may not get an allowance, but she does get birthday/Christmas/Tooth Fairy money. She saves it like a miser, so the thought of losing it just to watch footwear fly is daunting.

Now, how to deal with the Older One? He’s thousands of miles away bravely serving his country, so the punishment for this betrayal of household cleanliness can’t be too harsh.

I could call his commanding officer and explain the situation. No, that’s probably crossing a line.

I could call his girlfriend! No, she was probably in on the conspiracy too.

Hmmm…

I know!  I have recently become aware of an opportunity to procure several boxes of Girl Scout cookies that went unsold during his sister’s Brownie troop cookie booth sale last month. I’m going to hold the Thin Mints and Samoas hostage!

I’ll have an apology in no time.

E is for Expectations Instead of Allowance

EThe Young One’s favorite hobby lately is staging mini-protests when an adult in the house reminds her to do her chores.

She rolls her eyes, slumps her shoulders and mumbles, “I have to do everything, and I don’t even get paid.” Sometimes this is accompanied by any combination of a scowl, a foot stomp and/or a long-suffering sigh.

I applaud her entrepreneurial spirit, her sense of what is fair and her core belief in capitalism. “If I work,” her slouch says, “I should get paid, and if I work more, I should get paid more.”

She would be 100% correct in that thinking if she was toiling in Corporate America, but she’s not.  She has the privilege of working at Chez Momma where we deal in expectations instead of allowance. The work schedule and task list is set by me, and I dole out the earnings for meeting those expectations in the form of rewards such as food, clothing and beds.

Everyone who works at Chez Momma has a skill set and appropriately assigned chores. The Hubs handles the taxes, the finances and the lawn. The MIL covers the laundry. I manage cooking, procurement, chauffeuring and general household administration. That leaves the Young One with a job-share for dish detail plus trash and dog-poop-pickup. (We outsource cleaning. No one has the available hours required for this task. We bring in extra manpower so the dust doesn’t get too thick.)

Chores

“I’m overworked and underpaid!”

Hers are not glamorous chores, I admit, but they need to be done (by someone other than me). I’ve tried to mentor her to look beyond these chores to something she really wants to do.

“Your goal,” I’ve counseled, “should be to excel at waste management, so one day you can be promoted to line cook.”

She just glares at me and grumbles about an empty piggy bank and a meager collection of Shopkins.

I’m standing strong, though. The expectations remain the same. Everybody works! Nobody gets an allowance! It’s a business model I believe in.

However, I won’t be surprised if I come home from my day job one night and find her standing in the front yard with a sign reading, “No pay. No poop pick-up.”

Stiletto Momma’s ABCs

Every once in a while I need to challenge myself. I’d say that’s pretty good advice to anyone.

Stuck in a rut? Do something new.

Bored with the same-old-same-old? Kick it up a notch.

Can’t seem to get motivated? Take a different path, and see where it goes.

Get called out by your oldest child for being absent from your own blog? Gulp, make a few excuses, and sign up for the nearest blogging challenge.

Yes, that last one is me. On a recent visit home, the Older One mentioned that he hadn’t seen a new piece of original writing from his favorite blogger in a while.

A to Z Challenge 2016I acknowledged that I hadn’t contributed my fair share of original content lately, and then I did what any self-respecting momma would do…. I promised to make up for my lapse and never let it happen again.

I then devoted the next ten minutes to scouring my favorite blogs for inspiration. It didn’t take me long to realize my timing was pretty good. Post after post told me about each writer’s participation in a blogging event taking place for the entire month of April. The “A to Z Challenge” challenges bloggers to post each day (except Sundays) in April with a theme based on a letter of the alphabet.

This seemed to be the perfect challenge since my son’s prompting was what sent me on the quest that led to the discovery of the challenge in the first place.  His favorite book as a child, after all, was Dr. Seuss’s ABC.

ABCThe book was in heavy rotation back when he was little enough to want to curl up in a rocking chair with his momma and listen to the simple stories favored by toddlers. I read it so often I barely had to look at the pages to tell him which crazy Seuss character started with each letter.

A decade and a half later, when his sister came along, I unearthed the tattered volume from a box of keepsakes and found I could still recite the text without opening the cover. The only reason we flipped the pages was so she could look at the pictures.

So, while Dr. Seuss may have declared,

“Big ‘A’ little ‘a’. What begins with ‘A’?
Aunt Annie’s Alligator! A…A…A.!”

I say, A is for Another Awesome Challenge and the first installment of Stiletto Momma’s ABCs!

Now, what should I write about tomorrow?

Big ‘B’ little ‘b’…What begins with ‘B’…?

The Time Lottery

I won the lottery!

No, not the billion dollar Powerball (though not for lack of trying), but it could quite possibly feel very similar to finding that mythical matching ticket.  I feel light. I have a bounce to my step, and I’m smiling a Mona Lisa-style grin that has other people wondering at my secret. 

Luckily for you, I’ve decided to share because I am so excited, I can’t keep it in any longer…

I have won a minimum of 52 hours a year…FOR. LIFE!

As of this weekend, I have more time than I thought I had when the week started, and if all goes well, this will be the start of a trend that will last as long as I do. 

I have discovered that my friendly neighborhood Kroger offers ClickList!

  
Yes! 

Finally, someone has created a grocery shopping alternative for the busy (and not-so-busy) mommas (and probably some daddies) who have a strong dislike for (aka hate with a burning passion) having to spend precious hours pushing a heavy cart through crowded aisles week after endless week when they’d rather be at home trolling the Internet for shoe sales. 

I just add items to my cart on the big K’s website or app, select a pick up time, click submit and go back to Zappos.com. Meanwhile, a Kroger worker bee fills a real cart with the items in my virtual cart.  I go to the Young One’s soccer game, cheer like a good momma should, and stop at Kroger on the way home like I do any other weekend. 

GroceriesInstead of going into the craziness of the store though, I now drive around to a designated spot, hand over my credit card (yeah, that part doesn’t go away), and supervise another worker bee who loads my wholesome goodness into the back of my car. 

Then I head home…at least an hour earlier than I did before. Yes, I still have to lug it all into the house and put it away, but afterward, I have extra time to read with the Young One, kill some zombies with the Hubs, talk with the Older One or spend some quality time with the blog. 

*sigh*

*smile*

I am a happy momma…a happy momma with more of the most valuable thing there is–time. 

**Today’s post was brought to you by Five Minute Friday and the very appropriate word “time”. 

Sunshine for ’16

The sun broke through the clouds today.

Since Christmas Eve Eve (aka December 23, in case you’re wondering if that was a typo), my little spot on the weather map has been decorated with a constant theme of clouds, fog and rain drops. But today, the first day of a brand new year, I woke up to sun streaming through the slats of my bedroom window blinds.

Coincidence?

Probably…but still…that bright sunshine has me wondering what’s in the forecast for 2016, and of course that leads to thoughts of resolutions and how I might influence the number of sunny days ahead.

I have two resolutions swirling to the front of the list this year. The first is following through on a commitment I made to the Young One last year. Early in the year, we talked about working on a pretty big project together. It’s something we both want to do, and something I think we could both be very good at, but it’s not just any project. It’s a write-it-in-all-caps kinda project–as in a B-I-G project.

It is so BIG, that I never quite had enough courage time to get to it in 2015. Whenever the Young One would ask when we were going to start it, I was always ready with some other task that needed to be completed first.

“When are we gonna do that thing we talked about, Momma,” she started asking sometime around Ground Hog Day.

My response was always a variation of the same theme…

“After we get the house ready to sell.”

“After your birthday party.”

“After your brother’s graduation.”

“After we move.”

Around Labor Day, she stopped asking about it. I didn’t stop thinking about it, however, and I’m happy to say that today is officially after “after”. As of 10:17 a.m. on January 1, 2016, Project Mighty Mo is officially underway. Every BIG project deserves a code name, right?  I may be ready to do it, but I’m not ready to share details, so for the time-being, I’ll be talking in code.

With that resolution launched and sufficiently shrouded in secrecy, I’m prepping for the start of my second one. I’m putting it off until Monday, though, which while it may seem like procrastination, really isn’t. It’s just dependent on the start of the workweek.

While Project Mighty Mo will most likely bring about a good dose of happiness, I am realistic enough to know my shoe shopping habit needs more than what a code-named (aka unfunded) project can sustain.  So with the need to make some money firmly in place, Resolution #2 is the pursuit of professional happiness. That thing that gets me up in the morning and gives me a twinge of sorrow when I leave the office Friday afternoon has been in noticeably small supply lately.

I like where I work, just not necessarily what i do on a daily basis. It’s nothing illegal or immoral, but it’s not professionally fulfilling either. Nothing says, “I don’t wanna go to work,” like the prospect of another day spent wishing I had something exciting to do.

I’m hoping the two mentors I was paired with in December can help me add a little bit of clarity to my response to the ever-intriguing question, “What do you see yourself doing in five years?” Honestly, I’ll feel successful at project “Happy Momma” if I can figure out what I can see myself doing in five months.

If the streams of sunlight are any indication, 2016 is off to a nice start. Hopefully that and a few code-named resolutions are enough to make it the best year yet.

 

 

 

Table Rules

A few years ago, I set a new family rule. (As chief operating officer of Chez Moi, I have the authority to do that.) After spending yet another afternoon in the kitchen preparing a hearty Sunday dinner, then another hour after the last of the mashed potatoes had been consumed washing all the pots and pans, I decided it was time for a change.

table-600x600I was pretty much over watching the rest of the family hang out in front of the television or otherwise enjoying themselves while I continued to work and be separate from everyone else. So, I made a declaration.

“New rule,” I announced as the Hubs and the Older One waited for me to clear the table. “The person who cooks the meal, does not have to clear the table or clean up afterward.”

I knew there was potential for this to backfire on me. The Hubs could have said he would take over cooking detail, meaning we would be doomed to meal after meal of hamburger helper. They could have both decided the dishes didn’t need to be washed after every meal and left me to wade through mountains of dirty cutlery until I gave in and just did it myself.

Fortunately, things turned out in my favor. I remained the chef, and they cleaned the aftermath in the kitchen remarkably well.

Now, a decade later, we operate like a well-oiled machine. I still do the cooking, and when he visits, the Older One pitches in on the task. (He’s become quite a competent sous chef.) The Young One, who never knew a day when the rule wasn’t in effect, clears the table. The Hubs washes, and the MIL dries.

I just sit back and take it all in because, after all, my favorite part of the family meal is the family.

***Today’s post was brought to you by Five Minute Friday and the word “table”.

The Best Thanksgiving Ever

As I am about to set the table for this year’s big feast, I am once again reminded of the one Thanksgiving that sticks out in my memory as significant. The Hubs and I dust off the story every year, and the telling of it is usually preceded by one of us asking the other, “Do you remember our worst Thanksgiving ever?”

I even recounted every detail in a blog post last year entitled…yep, “The Worst Thanksgiving Ever!” After I hit publish, I told him what I’d done, and we relived each minute of that day again. And then, like every year since, we laugh and go back to “the best part”, and laugh again.

So now, as I’m getting ready to re-publish the story, I’m wondering if it was really the worst Thanksgiving ever, why do we revisit it every year? Why do we tell the story over and over again if it was so horrible? Why do we laugh the whole way through the retelling? Why do we clink our glasses together in celebration if it doesn’t rank up there as one of the best memories of our marriage?

I think it’s time for a title change…

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The Worst Best Thanksgiving Ever

Every Thanksgiving as we sit around the table enjoying the turkey and all the trimmings, the Hubs and I reflect on the day. One of us will inevitably say, “Well, at least it wasn’t the worst Thanksgiving ever.” Then we’ll chuckle and smile and share the story all over again.

Thanksgiving

This is NOT the perfect turkey I expected to find on my first Thanksgiving without family. (Photo source: Flickr, Sharon Mollerus, cc-by-2.0)

The Hubs was stationed with the Second Armor Division at Fort Hood, TX, that year. We had celebrated our first wedding anniversary in September, and the Older One was just three months old. This was our first Thanksgiving without family…at least without immediate blood relations.  The Army was our family now, so when the Hubs’ captain extended the invitation to join his wife and their two small children for a Thanksgiving lunch, we accepted.

We were just getting ready to leave our little apartment for the meal, when the phone rang.  I listened as the Hubs said a few “Yes, Sirs” into the phone. After hanging up, he told me our plans had changed. We would not be having a Thanksgiving lunch after all.

The captain’s wife had taken the turkey out of the freezer the night before, he said, and was baffled that the bird was still frozen when she got up that morning to start preparing it for our feast. The new plan called for football at the captain’s house while the turkey roasted, and instead of an early lunch, we’d eat mid-afternoon.

Mid-afternoon came and went. By 2:00, the bird was still frosty and hadn’t yet seen the inside of the oven.

The captain and the Hubs’ made a quick trip into post to visit with the enlisted soldiers during their holiday meal while the wife and I made small talk and snacked on half a box of stale crackers and overly sweet wine coolers. My baby napped, and I mentally calculated if I’d brought enough formula and diapers to get us through dinner…that is if we ever had dinner.

Around 4:00, the turkey finally made it into the oven. The Hubs and the captain returned, and we all waited.

Finally, at 7:00, the captain made the first slice into our Thanksgiving turkey only to find that the meat inside was raw. By then, the side dishes were growing cold, and we were all too frustrated to wait on the bird. The captain carved up a few of the cooked pieces and served the cranky kids while his wife finished off the raw pieces in the microwave.

The Hubs and I juggled our sleepy baby between us while we gnawed the rubbery poultry, and as soon as was socially acceptable, we made our escape.

We had survived the worst Thanksgiving ever and lived to tell the tale…over and over and over again for more than 20 years.  And over and over again we laugh at the mistake that set off that worst of the worst—a frozen turkey that someone didn’t know enough to take out of the freezer well in advance of the big day.

That someone was a young wife and mother, not much older than I was at the time. I imagine she was excited about the prospect of hosting her first Thanksgiving and about offering her hospitality to a young couple alone for the holiday.

She probably went to the commissary the day before full of anticipation about the recipes she would share with me. She probably spent more time than necessary selecting the perfect produce and agonized over how big that infamous bird should be. I imagine she was horrified the next morning to find it still as solid as it was the night before.

I’m pretty sure the reason we were not notified of the schedule change until it was too late for us to change our plans is because our hostess was busy praying to the culinary gods for some kind of Thanksgiving miracle to save the perfect day she had planned.

In her shoes, I would have been mortified to confess my cooking inadequacies to my guests. I would have repeatedly excused myself from the tense conversation with the lieutenant’s wife to check on the turkey, knowing I really just wanted to hide in the kitchen and cry.

I sincerely hope that captain’s wife looks back on that Thanksgiving and laughs like the Hubs and I do.  We may call it “Our Worst Thanksgiving Ever”, but if the worst thing that happens on Thanksgiving is a frozen turkey, I’d say we had it pretty good.

We had nowhere else to go, and no one to spend the holiday with until virtual strangers opened their home to us. That may actually be the best thing that has ever happened to us on Thanksgiving. We may not have had a perfectly prepared meal all those years ago, but we had a place to go for the holiday, and for that I am thankful.

Hopefully, that Thanksgiving didn’t prevent the captain’s wife from trying again the next year. I hope right now, she is preparing for this year’s feast with her grown children and maybe even some colleagues her husband met at the office.

I also hope she has remembered to take the turkey out of the freezer!