Weekly Column: Making Resolutions a Reality

©Stephenie Freeman

Here it is, my last column of 2009. Hard to believe that another busy year is coming to a close. Guess it’s time to take a minute and reflect. Time to look back on all of those New Year’s resolutions I made this past year and see what I accomplished. I better get a glass of wine to help me through this one. Maybe even two.

Resolution #1: Eat less, exercise more. Oh the resolution to end all resolutions. Why any of us continue to have this resolution is beyond me, but I actually accomplished this one this year. Well, sort of. If there’s a loophole to be found when it comes exercise and dieting, I’ll find it. On the days I didn’t have time to exercise I ate less and on the days that I actually exercised I ate as much as I wanted.

Resolution #2: Keep the house clean. I’m not a slob, but no matter how hard I tried I could never get my whole house clean. All I wanted was to walk in to find everything neat and tidy and smelling fresh instead of cluttered and messy and smelling of little boys’ feet. So after years of debating of whether or not this stay-at-home mama could justify the expense, I finally hired some help with the “heavy lifting.” Who says you can’t take the easy way out, even when it comes to resolutions?

One glass of wine down, two more resolutions to go.

Resolution # 3: Complain less. You might find this hard to believe, but I am very good at complaining. I’ll complain that the room is too hot and that my feet are too cold. I’ll complain that I don’t get enough sleep, enough time to myself, or enough help around the house. But all my complaining gets me nowhere except frustrated. In truth I am blessed beyond what I deserved and I was spending way too much time sweating the small stuff. So throughout 2009 I worked hard to see the wine glass as half full. The Golfer thought it was the best resolution I ever made and has his fingers crossed that it will continue into the New Year.

Resolution #4: Spend more time with the boys. This resolution is misleading considering that I spend more time with my children that anyone else on the planet. I am with them 24/7. I am at every practice, every school event, and every playdate. I am there cooking their meals, putting away their laundry, and checking their homework. No one is with them more than I am.

As I come to the bottom of my second glass of wine (which still looks half full) I have to admit that this was the one resolution that I didn’t achieve this year. For all of the time that I am with my boys, I’m not really with them. They don’t have my full, undivided attention. So for 2010, I only have one resolution. I’m going to sit on the carpet and play more board games. I’m going to let them beat me at Wii golf and I’m going to get out the craft box more regardless of the mess that is made or how many glasses of wine it takes.

In order to make my resolution a reality, I’ve decided make a change in 2010. I made the difficult decision to cut back. Go with the whole “less is more” approach. From now on, my column will be appearing only once a month, the first Sunday of each month. I’m sure you understand, Dear Reader. All Mama wants in 2010 is more time with her kids.

May you and yours be blessed in the New Year and may all of your resolutions become a reality.

We've just been so social lately

There once was a time when the Golfer and I were very social. Our social calendars were busy and full. And then we had children and things slowed way down. Now our social calendars are their social calendars.

But every once in a while we get to spend time with our friends. Last night we had a lovely dinner at some friends' house. Their kids and our kids ran wild and ate pizza, but mostly it was an adult evening that included lots of red wine.

Then today we were visited by some dear friends from Oklahoma. They were in town (such an Okie term isn't it?) visiting family and we were fortunate to get to spend a little time with them. Our kids played and ate grilled cheese, but we managed plenty of adult conversation in spite of them.

These goofy yahoos had such a ball together and weren't nearly as onry as they look. (I love the word "onry." It was one of my Grandaddy's favorite words and now I know why.)

{BTW--I hate myself at this angle. Of course, I hate pictures of myself in general, but if someone knows a good angle for picture taking, I'd appreicate it if you'd pass it along.}

This is my dear friend, Foshee. We're not as onry as we look either. It was a beautiful day in Southern California (65 and sunny for all of you back home enduring the snow) and we chatted and watched our kids play at the park and ate at a yummy little cafe. The only problem was that we were missing our four other musketeers that are usually with us (that would be you Kristi, Amy, Niki, and Erin.) Our little group tries to get together at least once a year and we laugh and talk funny and share and laugh and commiserate and laugh and enjoy each other so much. Oh how I miss these sweet friends. They bless me even though they're all 1,300 miles away.

Thursday night, so celebrate NYE (that's New Year's Eve) we're going out with our new friends Tom and Lisa who we so enjoy spending time with and can't wait to do more of it.

This time we're going out without our children. I wonder if we'll be able to be social without them?

Weekly Column: Mama's yearly letter to Santa

©Stephenie Freeman

(originally run on Christmas Eve, 2009)

Dear Santa,

It was great to see you the other day at the mall. The boys enjoyed their short visit. The Cheese mentioned something about being on the nice list again this year which didn’t surprise me one bit. I’m not sure, but I have a feeling The Monkey might still be riding the infamous fence. I wish there was something I could say to help his case, but out of fear of accidentally pushing him onto the Naughty side forever, I think it’ll be in his best interest to just keep my mouth shut.

There sure were a lot of kids in line to see you that night. Must be fun feeling like such a rock star day after day. I love watching you visit with all of the smiling, well-groomed children. And so well-behaved too! Even though the line was long, each boy and girl stood there quietly, trying their best to keep their holiday excitement contained. I just wish their parents were as well-manned and polite as they were.

Did you notice that every parent standing in line that night seemed to be in a bad mood? One man in front of us was particularly grumpy. He complained and grumbled so loudly that after a while even the Cheese looked at me and said, “That guy’s on the Naughty List for sure!” I couldn’t help but agree.

Unfortunately at Christmastime behind every smiling child there is a completely stress-out parent on holiday overload. You know how it is, Santa. The month of December is filled with errands and activities in overabundance, jamming our already busy schedules with even more. And unfortunately, when you are in the midst of creating oodles of holiday delight for all to enjoy, it’s hard to enjoy it much yourself.

I have a theory: The first Mama who added a little nip of whiskey to her Egg Nog didn’t do it because it tasted good; she did it in order to survive.

I’ll admit, I have been feeling a little Scrooge-like this holiday season, Santa. I must officially be grown-up because I seem to have lost all of my child-like Christmas enthusiasm. And I don’t think I’m the only one. When I’m at the mall or the Post Office or simply driving down the street it seems like the world is filled with adults who have lost all of their festive Christmas cheer.

It’s like when Charlie Brown asked in his Christmas special, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” We’ve forgotten that we should be celebrating all of the love and joy and peace that the holiday season brings. Instead all we do is complain with the nasty intensity of The Grinch and Scrooge combined.

Santa, this year Mama wants more Holiday Cheer. Not just for me, but for all of the adults in need. Personally, I’d like one of those jumbo sized popcorn tins that you see at Wal-Mart filled with Holiday Cheer so any time that I start to feel it fading, I can simply open the can and grab another handful. I want to open the lid and be reminded what the holiday season is really all about. And if there’s a little caramel corn in there to munch on, well that’d be okay too.

I know that bringing holiday cheer to the world isn’t an easy job, but if anyone can pull it off, I know that you can, but I’ll be sure to leave a bottle of whiskey next to your glass of Egg Nog…just in case. And as always, please give my best to Mrs. Claus.

Love, Mama

Making room in their rooms for the impending flood.

:: Christmastime at The Del ::

I got busy yesterday cleaning up the boys' rooms. There were cardboard boxes being used as forts and shoeboxes filled with rocks. Something needed to be done.

My real motivation was the anticipation of the impending flood. We have 50 presents under the tree and all of them are for the boys. And Santa hasn't even shown up yet!

So I got in there and did one of those secret trash bags swoops, where all of the Happy Meal toys, broken Transformers, and all of the other "junk" that has made its way into their room magcially disappears.

But I even did more than that. I decided to rearrange, move things around. And do you know what happened? The boys rediscovered their toys. There was lots of "I forgot all about this!"

It was like...Christmas.

Weekly Column: ‘Twas two weeks before Christmas

(orinially run December, 2007)
© Stephenie B. Freeman

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas and all through the land
The parents were trying to meet their kids’ every demand.
The lists had been written, on Santa’s lap they had sat
They knew exactly what they wanted, there was no denying that.
Their stockings won’t be big enough to hold all of their stuff
Looking at everything I’ve bought, it certainly seemed like enough.
But then the Sunday paper comes with all of its flyers
Who knew they could attract so many young buyers.

The reminders how constant, the lists how they grow
How children get this greedy, we parents will never know.
So with the children at home being watched by a sitter
I left to go shopping—no time to be a quitter.

Away to the mall I flew like a flash
Tore through the toy store wishing I had brought some more cash.
Then what to my wondrous eyes should appear
But the last gift I needed—a talking Buzz Lightyear.
With a small yellow tag, marked down to a cheaper price
Finding something on sale during Christmas definitely felt nice.

More rapid than eagles I flew to the checkout line
It was starting to get late, almost a quarter past nine.
The line barely moved as I continued to wait
Seems that someone needed a price check for a toy on aisle eight.
Looking at the parent in front of me, I couldn’t believe what I saw
A cart piled with toys reaching at least three feet tall!
There were Legos, and board games, and Star Wars galore
More Barbies and Webkins than any girl could ask for.

“Wow,” I said. “Someone at your house has been good.
Your kids are sure lucky. Mine tried the best they could.”

“Oh no,” she replied. “These aren’t for me.
These toys are for kids who won’t get anything under their tree.
I volunteer at a local shelter. It’s a wonderful place.
It’s so rewarding to bring a smile to a child’s young face.”

“We do this every year,” she told me. “My kids and I.
It’s best to teach about giving when it’s for someone less fortunate you buy.”

I thought for a moment about the greedy munchkins living at my house
And suddenly I felt no bigger than a mouse.
The lessons at my house that had been taught
Were about how the better you are, the more you got.
Topics like being generous I had forgotten to mention
Lessons on giving back hadn’t gotten much attention.

At last checking out, with the toys in my sack
I started to wonder how my family could give back.
I walked past a bell ringer on my way out the door
I gave the last of my change, but knew I needed to do more.
I said not a word, just sat in my car feeling sick
Knowing I needed to think up something and think it up quick.

“You could do the same thing,” a voice whispered in my head.
I suddenly felt relieved and had nothing to dread.
There was still time to do it, to teach the power of giving
We would head to the shelter so my kids could see how other people were living.

So the next day we headed out, with our car loaded with toys
Some for girls, but a lot more for little boys.

“We’re taking them to kids,” I told them, “who don’t have very much--
Special things like skateboards and Play Stations and Gameboys and such.
There are children in this world whose blessings are few.
I bet that is something that you never knew.”

“But why,” my son asked, “are we giving this all away?”
I suddenly knew that this lesson would take more than just one day.

Arriving at the shelter we went straight to work
I unloaded the car and then turned with a jerk.
A man working there thanked us, I said I hoped we could do more
And wished them all a Merry Christmas as we headed out the door.
But I heard the little voice in my head say as I drove out of sight,
“Good job, Mama! You’ll sleep better tonight!”

Weekly Column: The Best Lists to Santa...EVER!

©Stephenie Freeman

At our house, list making is a regular occurrence. Look around our house and you’ll find all sorts of list scattered about: Honey-Do lists, grocery lists, chore lists, and of course To-Do lists. Most of the time Mama is doing most—okay all—of the list making, but for the last few weeks the majority of the list making in the house has come from my children.

No list is more important or carefully written than a child’s list to Santa. My kids have agonized over these lists. They’ve been amended on almost a daily basis, keeping poor ol’ Santa from being able to finish her shopping. So to help Santa out, Mama forced the boys to get serious about finishing their final drafts, getting them ready to send off to the Big Guy.

My boys decided not to write letters, choosing instead to simply send lists because as the Cheese explained, “That’s all that Santa really needs anyway.” No need to send some bulky letter filled with a bunch of claims of being good all year long. No need to thank Santa in advance for all of the wonderful presents. Nope, no beating around the bush from my kids. I think Santa will appreciate their ability to keep things as simple and clean-cut as possible.

The Monkey’s list to Santa is one of the most original I’ve ever seen. The catalogs that had been so carefully circled have since been cut to pieces. We let the Monkey cut out all of the toys he wants and glue the roughly cut pictures to pieces of red and green construction paper. His list screams, “I’m four-years-old and I want it all!” I never knew I could love a list so much.

The Cheese, however, wrote his list the old fashioned way. He spent hours sitting at the kitchen table detailing in numerical order exactly what he wants for Christmas. His list went through the writing process, having been revised and edited several times, written in the best second grade handwriting that I’ve ever seen.

“Buddy, how come you don’t work this hard on your homework for school?”

He didn’t even look up from his list, but just snorted and laughed like I was crazy for asking such a silly question.

When I asked to see the list, he carefully explained his list-making reasoning.

“See, Mom? The thing that I want the most is at the top and I wrote it the biggest so Santa can see it really good because Santa wears glasses like me.”

Okay, makes sense so far.

“And then, Mom, I wrote the thing I want the second most and I wrote it a little smaller since I don’t want it as much as the first thing. And it goes like that all the way down. See?”

I did see and I was impressed. His finely crafted list was truly a work of art. Each item was written in a different colored pencil and the side margins were festively decorated. Santa’s name was written in big, bold block letters at the top, and his named was carefully printed and underlined near the bottom. This list was something worthy of a Nobel Prize in List Making.

“Mom, what are you asking Santa for?” he asked me. “Where’s your list?”

“Mama didn’t make a Christmas list this year,” I told my son. “I already have everything I could ever want.”

Except there is something that I would like to have.

Dear Santa, I’d like to have my sons’ Christmas lists returned and framed so I can keep them forever. Thanks. Love, Mama

It made me want to cook something.

I just watched the movie Julie and Julia. I'd label myself a "I'll wait until it comes out on DVD" kind of movie watcher and this was one that I had been anxiously awaiting.

So I sat on the couch with a bag of pita chips and watched it while I let the children drown in video games. I liked it. I didn't love it, but I really liked it. It was about cooking and blogging and writing and trying to get published. How could I not like it?

Of course it made me immediately want to get up and cook something or blog something or both. It made me want to read both of the books that the movie is based off of and most of all, it made me want to go to Paris again.

But instead I sat and pondered. Yes, pondered. You see, the thing that I really took away from the movie was that both of these women were failures. Yes, ultimately they both became huge successes in their own right, but before that for a long, long time they were both big, fat failures.

I love that! I love it when you hear stories of people who didn't give up regardless of their struggles. I love to read stories of people that are hard-headed and strong willed and talented and don't let disappointments and setbacks and well, failures get in their way.

Which made me wonder...why I would ever give up so easily? Julia didn't even though her 1st cookbook (which is now in its 49th printing) was rejected numerous times. Julie didn't give up writing her blog even though it made her very narcissistic and bitchy. And look how the both of them turned out.

I made the decision a few days ago to continue writing my column on a monthly basis versus a weekly basis. My editors convinced me that my readers (which was the first time that I had really thought of having readers, isn't that funny?) well that my readers would actually miss me.

So I'm not quitting (the idea really, really bothered me and kept me up until at least 11 o'clock one night worrying about it.) I'm just...adjusting. I think reassessing is important. I've always said that revising and editing cannot be skipped in writing or in life. (You can quote me on that one if you want to.) I'll continue to blog regularly, but be looking for my Mama Wants More monthly column at the beginning of each month.

Oh, and Bon Appetit!

High picture expectations.

Yesterday it rained all day. Today it was really cold. And in the distance I can see snow on the mountains. Oh my gosh people! It's like a whole other season in Southern California! It's winter!

This kind of weather actually makes it feel a little like Christmastime. I wish I had a picture of it, of the cold and the rain and the seasonal change, but I'll just share this picture instead:

This is our family. This is one of the pictures that we took for our Christmas card. This is one of the many, many pictures that we decided not to use on our Christmas card. So if you get one of our Christmas cards, do not look for this picture. It won't be there.

I actually like this picture. I think it's sweet and un-posed (if there is such a thing.) So why didn't we use it? Well, for lots of reasons really. The Golfer vetoed this pic right away. Didn't like what we were all wearing was the reason he gave. I'm not big on "hey it's a family picture so let's all match!" I like pics to look...natural. Like it's any ordinary old day and we just happen to all be bunched together outside, perfectly smiling. But I had to agree with him. We all looked a little...random. And he has his "woobie" coat on, which is a whole other story.

When it comes to Christmas card pictures, I am very picky. Christmas cards are expensive, not to mention time consumming. Just like the rest of you card senders out there, I expect to send out the very best. No goofy looking card from The Freemans. No, sir.

I decided to use a few cute pics of the boys. The Golfer and I didn't make the cut this year, but that's nothing new. Someday I hope to take a family picture that isn't random, a picture where we all like how we look, but I've learned to keep my expectations very, very low when it comes to picture taking. It just isn't worth the heartbreak. Although this one is pretty darn cute--brothers who look like they're having fun together and actually like each other caught on film.

But this one didn't make it on the card either. High picture expections, people. High expectations.

Weekly Column: The Holiday Police

©Stephenie Freeman

I’m officially electing myself the Chief of the Holiday Police. Those of you who have a jack-o-lantern rotting on your porch and Christmas lights hanging on your house—look out. I’m coming after you.

I’m not trying to be a Grinch, but holidays should be celebrated one at a time the way God intended. Anyone who eats their Thanksgiving turkey, starring at a fully decorated Christmas tree, while still wearing their Halloween costume is in clear violation of the rules and should be severely punished.

There used to be a time when Thanksgiving was the official beginning of the holiday season. Christmas didn’t officially start until you saw Santa at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For whatever reason, Christmas continues to get pushed further and further up. It’s getting so bad that eventually people will start putting up their Christmas trees on the first day of school.

Recently I woke up to the song “White Christmas” on my alarm clock. Half asleep, still dreaming, I felt like I was in the middle of a bad holiday movie. I half expected to walk into my living room to see Bing Crosby tap dancing with Danny Kay.

I quickly realized that it wasn’t Christmas morning and I wasn’t in the middle of a Christmas classic. Not even close. The radio station that I regularly wake up to decided to start playing Christmas music two whole weeks before Thanksgiving. I love Christmas music and look forward to it every year. I just don’t want to hear it before I’ve had plenty of time to fully digest my second helping of pumpkin pie.

There used to be rules about such things. Jack-o-lanterns were thrown away before the turkey was put in the oven. Christmas lights weren’t turned on until the turkey was picked clean. Christmas trees were dragged out to the curb before the New Year. And so on and so forth. The rules aren’t difficult to understand, so why are so many of us having trouble following them?

I have a theory: the holiday excitement forced upon us is just too strong. The stores sure don’t make it very easy. Every year the Christmas decorations start appearing earlier and earlier and we simply cannot help ourselves. We see the new LCD lights on display and the energy saving wattage fuels our excitement. Suddenly the tree is up and the lights are on before we’ve even made our Thanksgiving grocery shopping list.

It’s not just the stores that blend the holidays together. Children are some of the worst holiday blending lawbreakers. For kids Christmas excitement is year-round. It begins to escalate starting in October when the costumes start to appear which triggers some sort of reminder that a visit from Santa is just around the corner. If my kids had their way, we’d put up our tree as soon as we got home from trick-or-treating.

As I sat waiting in the carpool lane at school the other day, I couldn’t help but stare at a house across the street. Pumpkins sat bunched together rotting on the porch, a flag covered with cornucopia carrying pilgrims flew near the garage, and a festive Christmas wreath was hanging on the front door. I suddenly wasn’t quite sure what month it was or what holiday these people were actually celebrating.

So as the Chief of the Holiday Police, I plan on enforcing the rules that restrict all of the holiday blending that seems to be taking over the planet, even if it’s only in my own home. As you are reading this, the Golfer is up on the roof hanging the twinkle lights, the pumpkins are decomposing in the landfill, and the turkey leftovers have already been reheated and enjoyed. Just the way God intended.

No worries. I'm not going anywhere.

For those of you who have emailed and commented, thank you. When I wrote that post a couple of days ago about losing my writing mo-jo, I wasn't fishing for compliments and encouragement, but boy they sure are nice! What would life be without friends and supporters like you? I don't want to know.

I have, however, come to a decision about my writing. I have decided to stop writing my weekly column at the end of the year. Having a weekly deadline has just become too much. It's like having a term paper due every week (and you know how much fun term papers are.) How Erma Bombeck did it for all of those years I'll never understand, but I guess that's why she was Erma and I'm not.

But don't worry. I will still be writing. This blog isn't going anywhere. There are way too many family members and friends who use this to keep up with our lives. My hope is that through casually writing on this blog, maybe I'll rediscover my love of writing now that I have taken away the pressure to perform. We shall see.

Again, thank you dear friends for caring enough to say things like, "No! Don't stop!" I have said from the very beginning that all I've ever wanted to do is write something that all mothers would relate to and perhaps get a laugh out of. So keep coming back. Keep checking in to see what I'm writing about. Hopefully I'll be doing it more and more and more.

Thanksgiving: California Style

::warm enough to play in the water::

::wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a little football::


I'm going to take a minute to complain...about myself.

Noticed I haven't been blogging very much? Well, for the twenty people out there who read my blog occasionally, perhaps you've noticed.

I really have no motivation to write right now. I know it probably has something to do with being busy with the holiday season and all, but I'm afraid it's perhaps a little bit more.

When the boys were little I felt like I had a lot to write about. They did cute things that made for cute columns. They did crazy things that made for funny columns. Now, they mostly are just annoying, which really doesn't make for much of a very good column at all.

That's right. I'm going to blame my writer's block on my children.

I think it also has something to do with feedback. I'm not trying to blame my readers too, but writing is a solo sport. I'll get a random email from a reader every once in a while, but after a while it's like, "Why exactly am I doing this again?"

My sweet friend, Kim, sent me some feedback that she had gotten from some of her friends who read my column. I keep the email with all of the compliments in my inbox and read them to remind myself that I really don't suck all that bad.

I wish I could say that I do it because I love it. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I do still love to write. When I get a good idea and the house is quite and I don't have a thousand other things I should be doing, I love it. But what I hate is that my writing has become one of "those" things; just one more things that's on my "To-Do" list.

So here I sit. In the middle of the road. Not sure if I want to continue moving forward or if maybe I should just sit here and let my battery recharge for awhile. You wanna know something? I have written a column, without missing a week, since February 4, 2007.

Maybe I just need a break. Maybe it's like taking a vacation away from your kids--you like them so much better when you return.

Don't worry. I have no intention of quitting my blog. I just need to rediscover my motivation. Maybe Santa will bring me some for Christmas?

Weekly Column: Turn out the lights, the season's over...

©Stephenie Freeman

Another flag football season has come to a close. Thank goodness. The junior flag football league that the Cheese plays for is a “learning league.” Basically, this is code for “We don’t keep score.” No one officially keeps score, but everyone is fully aware of who wins and who loses which is why we know that our team had a losing season.

There were a lot of tears this season, lots of running to the sidelines so Mama could fix his boo-boo with a kiss and reassure him that football really was fun. After one particularly physical play the Cheese ran over to the sideline with cleat marks up and down his arm. I checked for broken bones and then against my better Mama judgment told him to get back out there, after all, there’s no crying in football. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

I think the season was harder on the parents than it was on the kids. We watched as our team lost yardage on every, single play. We asked for birth certificates for some 8-year olds on an opposing team who looked a little too large for their age. We cheered like crazy people when our boys finally got a first down. And we brought plenty of chocolate-covered donuts and juice boxes to heal the wounds after each game.

For most of the season my scrawny, underweight child played defense and inevitably was put up against the biggest, bulkiest kid on the opposing team. I never asked the coach why the smallest kid on the team was playing defense; instead spent the whole season quietly biting my tongue. I’m still having trouble tasting certain salty foods.

Our little Rudy Ruettiger played with lots of heart. He wasn’t afraid to fight back, a skill that he has perfected by having a younger brother. When the Cheese got pushed down he’d get up and push right back, usually to the shock and amazement of his larger opponent. Our kid might be small, but he doesn’t take crap from anybody, which I have a feeling will come in very handy in junior high.

The Cheese only touched the ball once this season. I knew it was coming when I saw the coach whispering in the Cheese’s ear right before he moved him into the running back position.

“Oh, no.” I told the Golfer. “Your son’s about to run the ball.”

What our son lacks in size, he more than makes up for in speed. He’s a fast little sucker, so we knew that if he was ever given the chance to run the ball, there was a possibility that he might be able to make something happen.

Something happened all right. Before the Cheese could even get around the line of scrimmage, his flag was pulled.

But what was this? He was still running! And you know what? He still had a set of flags on!

That’s right. Our son was wearing two sets of flags, sort of his own little insurance policy I guess. Most people would call that cheating, but in our “learning league” it was just plain funny. Later I downloaded the pictures of the Cheese’s big run. It looks like he was wearing a bright yellow hula skirt.

At the team party last night, the kids received their trophies and the parents cheered. We cheered that the season was over. We cheered that our kids seemed oblivious to the fact that they hadn’t won a single game. We cheered out of pride because it isn’t whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

Well...I've been busy!

Where have I been? Well, I'll tell you. I was gone for 10 days. 10 days!! That's like, totally unheard of in the World According to Mama. I was on a business trip with the Golfer for about 5 days and then we went home to Oklahoma (yes, I still call it "home" even though I am a Californian now.) I'll write more about the second leg of the trip later. For now, let's just focus on the "business trip."

Yes, here we are eating a fabulous dinner and drinking wine with my sweet brother- and sister-in-law. You've gotta love a business trip that involves drinking lots and lots of red wine by the fire. That's right, after we left this table we moved outside to the fire pit where they set us up with blankets and large jars filled with marshmellows, chocolate and graham crackers. I'm getting a little excited just thinking about it. And to quote my brother-in-law, "I'll have another Bud Light."

And when I wasn't busy eating and drinking, I was out shopping with these lovely ladies, fellow Golfer wives, Kim, Tina and Ashley. We hit Nordstrom's Half-Yearly sale, proudly coming home with bags filled with stuff that was, like, practically free! (If not free, then pretty darn near close.)

And when we weren't shopping, we were at the spa...a lot...enjoying manicures and pedicures and massages and things that mamas like us never, ever get to enjoy. And we took naps and read books and sat in hot tubs and prayed to God that we would never, ever have to leave this magnificent place.

And, oh yeah, we watched some really good golf too when we weren't, ya know, doing other things. Because after all, it was the reason that we were all there in the first place.

Weekly Column: A Vacation Epiphany

©Stephenie Freeman

The Golfer and I are currently on vacation. Granted it’s a working vacation for the Golfer, but when it’s your only opportunity to get away without your children you take whatever you can get.

The best part of any vacation, as far as I’m concerned, is the hot tub. It just so happens that this vacation we are blessed with our own private hot tub right outside of our room. To sit and relax uninterrupted is a rare treat, and in the three days that we’ve been here we’ve gotten into the hot tub a total of 4,236 times.

One of the many times that I was in the hot tub, relaxing with my head resting on the curved cement edge, I saw several black ants. I was so incredibly relaxed that seeing these ants didn’t startle me and they certainly weren’t about to ruin my hot tubing experience. Instead I just sat and watched the little guys like they were my special hot tub half-time show.

Did you know that ants will carry other dead ants back home? I sat there long after the bubbles had stopped, watching this ant try to carry his buddy back to the colony. The poor guy was having a heck of a time navigating all of the bumpy crevices of the cement, having to stop and readjust his dead friend more than once. To make matters worse, there were all of these other ants zipping by, as if there was a party at the colony that they were in a hurry to get to. But the ant carrying his friends continued his slow death march, at times coming a little too close to joining me in the hot tub more than once.

This poor ant was having such a hard time that I found myself thinking, “Just leave him. Carrying around all of that dead weight is too hard on you. You’re going to end up dead too if you aren’t careful.” As hard as this poor ant was trying, he seemed to only be making his life more difficult. Even though he was trying to do the right thing, he was taking the long way around and missing out on the party.

I’m pretty sure that it was from being overexposed to bubbles and heat for too long, but in that moment I experienced a Vacation Epiphany. A Vacation Epiphany is something that you have when you are away from home long enough for your life to start to make sense again. All of the chaos and carpooling and LEGOS are no longer clouding your vision and things become clear once again.

Just like that ant, I have been carrying around a lot of my own dead weight. I carry around the same dead weight that most mothers do: the dead weight of worry, the dead weight of frustration, and the dead weight of exhaustion. All of these things weigh me down and keep me from enjoying the good things in life. Like that poor ant, I was at risk of drowning if I wasn’t careful.

Vacations are a good place to get rid of all of your dead weight; to leave it all behind in the hotel room returning home with a renewed sense of purpose. Unfortunately, the minute you walk in your front door the chaos of your real life hits you in the face like a blast of cold air and it’s almost as if you were never on a vacation in the first place.

But not this time. No, this time I’ve learned my lesson. I am unloading the dead weight of worry, frustration, and exhaustion and dumping it in the hot tub to drown.

I’m just hoping my little ant friend doesn’t decide to pick it up and carry it back to the colony.

Weekly Column: Circling Christmas Catalogs

©Stephenie Freeman

The toy catalogs have started arriving in the mail. Time to get out the ballpoint pen and start circling.

I know from experience that you must use a ballpoint pen when catalog circling. A pencil can rip the delicate pages and felt tip pens tend to bleed through to the other side which can lead to toy purchasing misunderstandings if you aren’t careful.

Yes, there is a fine art to catalog circling that my boys were unaware of until recently. The Cheese looked at me like I had just shared with him the secrets of the universe, which in a way I kind of had.

Besides, I had to do something. If I heard him say, “Mom, look! This is what I want” one more time I was going to stick my whole head into the gigantic bag of Halloween candy hiding in the back of the pantry just to drown out the noise.

And ever since letting them in on the catalog circling secret my boys have sat quietly for hours at a time, combing through each page with quiet intensity, pen in hand. I can only hope that my children will study their calculus and history books in high school with as much interest and concentration as they are the Toys ‘R’ Us Big Book.

Unfortunately, calculus books don’t have LEGO Cave Crushers and history books don’t contain pictures of Spider-Man action figures, so I doubt they’ll have any interest in them whatsoever.

So far we’ve received at least four different toy catalogs in the mail and have put most of our ballpoint pens to good use. Another one just arrived in the mail today. The Monkey responded, “Oh, man. Not another one!” Guess they’re in toy catalog overload. God help us when the Christmas toy television commercials start.

The only catalogs that I ever remember looking at were from Sears and JCPenny’s. They were thick and heavy and seemed to be filled with more underwear models than toys.

Speaking of which, the Golfer, who remembers close to nothing about his childhood, can remember wanting some NFL bedding that he saw in the JCPenny’s catalog. Or was it Sears? Either way, after staring at the lovely underwear models (these were the days before Victoria’s Secret), in his excitement he circled every pillow case, fitted sheet, and sham that he could find.

One day the Cheese looked up at me thoughtfully and asked, “Mom, can Santa make anything?”

Without thinking I replied, “Anything? Of course he can. Did you find something in those catalogs that you want from Santa?”

“No. That’s why I asked. I want him to make me something that’s not in a catalog. I want him to make me something that doesn’t exist.”

What he was requesting made perfect sense. Santa has a toy shop filled with elves that are there to do nothing but make toys. It was completely understandable to think that Santa could make something, like a LEGO Spider-Man video game, that didn’t exist. He had all of the tools, man power, and magic to make it happen.

“You know all of those catalogs you’ve been getting? Well, those come from Santa. Those are all of the toys that come from his workshop,” I told him. “And, well, Santa’s been hit hard by the recession and has to cut back on his magic this year, so he doesn’t have enough left over for making toys that don’t exist. Okay?”

“Nope. I think Santa can do it,” he replied as he grabbed another toy catalog off of the coffee table and walked away to steal yet another ballpoint pen out of my purse.

Weekly Column: A Day in the Life

©Stephenie Freeman

Did catch the episode on Oprah last week where "Cutie Pie Nate", Oprah's interior decorator extraordinaire, played daddy for a day? Nate was summoned to help out a stay-at-home mom who was in need of a break. Nate stepped in, took over, and sent this mommy off for a day of shopping and lunching with friends. She made him a list of everything that she was planning on doing that day, grabbed her purse, and was out the door within minutes leaving her kids with a virtual stranger.

I can't say that I blame her.

When I first saw the previews for the episode, I thought that it sounded like a nice idea. I was looking forward to the show, having DVR'd it so I could watch it in peace with a glass of wine, which is exactly what I did.

Yes, I watched with anticipation, waiting for Nate to fall flat on his face. I wanted his day to be a disaster. I wanted Nate to complain about how hard everything was; for him to beg for mercy. I wanted visual vindication that my job is absolutely one of the hardest in the world.

Instead, after running a handful of errands and emptying the dishwasher, Nate looks at the camera and simply says, "This isn't so bad."

I laughed out loud. Spoken like a true dad, even if he was only pretending for the day. Three hours into the day and all he can think to say is, "I don't know what this woman was complaining about. I think this job's pretty easy."

The day goes on and things start to catch up with him a little. Nate starts looking a little tired and even admits that he feels like a train ran over him. By dinner time he's lost all of his enthusiasm and instead of cooking a healthy dinner chooses take-out instead.

Not so fun anymore is it Nate?

I’ll admit that I was happy to see Nate admit defeat and finally sing the praises of stay-at-home moms everywhere. I couldn’t help but think about how at the end of the day Nate went home to total peace and quiet to sleep soundly, without a child waking him up in the middle of the night. He probably even got to sleep in the next day. He didn't have to wake up and do the whole damn thing all over again.

Newsflash Nate: Mothers don’t get worn out because of one busy day. We get worn out because we are constantly repeating that busy day over and over and over again in mind numbing fashion. Here’s what a typical day looks like at my house. Take last Tuesday for example:

Hit the snooze button three times.
Took a shower. Actually put on makeup.
Made breakfast.
Packed Cheese's lunch.
Dressed the boys.
Brushed their teeth.
Bushed my own teeth.
Fed the dogs.
Dropped off the kids at school.
Headed to the Cheese's classroom to volunteer.
Returned emails, played around on Facebook, and worked on volunteers for the Fall Festival.
Picked up the Monkey from preschool.
Made lunch.
Started a load of laundry.
Made the beds.
Took out the trash.
Scooped poop in the yard.
Washed my hands before getting the Monkey a snack.
Burned the microwave popcorn.
Wished I hadn’t already taken out the trash.
Picked up the Cheese from school.
Etcetera, etcetera.

At this point in the day it was only three o’clock in the afternoon and I still had miles to go. May I also point out that I refrained from listing the 457 times that I had to tell a child to hurry up, stop bothering his brother, drink his milk, or put on his shoes. I also did not include how many times I got in and out of my car, picked up a toy, put something away, cleaned up a mess, or flushed a dirty toilet.

Hey, Nate. You want some wine? I do.

"Halloween's over. Is Christmas tomorrow?"

I'm really in too much of a sugar-induced coma to be writing this right now. Yes, that's right. I've already been raiding the kids' candy. But honestly, they really don't need those Milk Duds anyway. Bad for the teeth.

We were afraid for a minute there that Halloween wouldn't be happening at our house. The Cheese was running a fever, had a sore throat, and a headache. I took him into the doctor on Friday, just to be on the safe side, and of course the doctor just shrugged his shoulders and said that he wasn't sure what was wrong, but probably just a mild case of the flu.

I know that he's a licensed medical professional and all, but I wasn't buying it. I know the flu--seen it up close and personal--and this wasn't the flu. He acted fine, a little crabby, but he's 7 so that's fairly normal behavior. So I just smiled, paid my $15, and headed out grumbling something about the whole visit being a waste of time.

So by Saturday things were better. No fever, less crabbiness. So we got busy carving pumpkins. I told the Golfer that was his job--totally his responsibility. And it was too until I started trying to direct what he was doing and I was told, "Just take pictures. That's all. Just take pictures." Apparently, I can be bossy when it comes to things like carving pumpkins. Who knew.

{look at the Monkey's face. priceless.}

To continue the festivities I decided to make some cupcakes because really, it isn't a holiday without cupcakes. Is it?

The best thing about Halloween this year was our house guest, David. David came all the way from Wales to spend Halloween with the Freemans. He told me that they didn't do Halloween in Europe the way that we do here. When we told him that we'd probably have a couple hundred trick-or-treaters come by, he about fell out of his chair. He got such a kick out of the whole thing, and I got such a kick out of him. (Not to mention that I could sit and listen to him talk for hours and that he is absolutely one of the nicest people on the planet.) I've decided that "Brilliant!" is going to be my new catch phrase/word of choice.

As usual, the boys brought in quite a haul. We have very generous neighbors to say the least. I have to admit that I'm happy that Halloween is over because that means that it's officially the Holiday Season.

We head to Oklahoma for a quick visit next week. We'll be going to our first OU football game in 3 YEARS!!! There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I will cry when I walk into the stadium, and cry again after the National Anthem when everyone says, "and the home of the....SOONERS!!" I'll have to fill my pockets with Kleenex just to make it through the game.


Weekly Column: Maybe I'm doing something right after all.

©Stephenie Freeman

Last week a letter came home from the Cheese Eater's school. It was addressed "To the Parents of...”. As a parent, you can’t help but wonder if something’s up when an "official" letter like that comes home. We figured it was too early in the school year for anything to be wrong. Besides, we had asked the Cheese Eater every single day for the last two months how his day was, always receiving the repetitive answer of "good" so we assumed that it was.

The letter read:

Dear Parents, Your child has been selected to receive a special award at our school assembly. I would like to invite you to join your child in receiving this honor.

Well, you can just imagine how pumped I was to open a letter like this. I immediately called the Golfer at work and read him the letter.

"That's great!” he said. “So what's it for?"

"Um, well, I'm not sure. The letter doesn't say."

I looked over at the Cheese, who was busy enjoying his after-school snack and catching up with Scooby-Doo.

"Buddy? I got a letter saying that you’ve won an award. Do you know what it’s for?"

"What reward?"

"Not a reward. An award.”

"What award?"

I’ve had these sorts of “Who’s on First” conversations with the Cheese before, so I decided to stop before it got any worse and turned back to the phone.

"He doesn't have a clue. Guess we'll find out at the assembly."

So there we sat. With cameras poised and ready, parents lined the school's auditorium. The Monkey quietly sat, munching on a granola bar. He pointed to the Cheese as he told the man sitting closest to him, "That's my brother."

Yes, we were all very proud.

There were to be a total of four different awards given. The first awards were given for Effort. Six children, one from each kindergarten class, we given the award for "always trying their best." The Cheese Eater's name wasn't called.

The next award was given in the area of Scholarship. As the principal explained, this award was given for a lot of reasons. "Maybe you're a good reader, or writing, or good in math," she explained. Six names were called, but the Cheese wasn't one of them.

At this point our award winner started to tear up and put his face in his hands. He has watched two of his classmates go up and receive their award, and suddenly he was afraid that there had been a mistake. He looked over at me, looking for reassurance. I smiled, gave him my best thumbs up, and nodded trying my best to let him know that it would all be okay, that his award was coming, even though I was starting to wonder myself.

Turns out, third time’s a charm. The next award was given for Outstanding Citizenship. The principal explained that being an outstanding citizen meant that you do things to make the community around you a better place. You are considerate of others, you are polite, you use your manners, etc.

When his name was called, I tried my best not to tear up while looking through my camera lens. I was so proud that my young son had been recognized as being a kind and considerate person. To know that when he is out in the world alone he is doing his part to make it a better place, well there simply isn't a greater compliment as a parent.

And every time I look at it tapped up on our refrigerator, I'm reminded that maybe—just maybe—I'm doing something right after all.

(note: originally published 2007, family.com)

Still my baby.

{he might be 4, but he's still my baby}

Awards, experiments, and games

Don't you hate it when people brag about their kids? They just go on and on and you're like, "Okay, we get it!" but the obnoxious parent just won't stop.

That parent is about to be me.

Last week we received a note in the Cheese's Tuesday Folder. "You child will be receiving an award," it said. So yesterday we headed to the school for the assembly. The Cheese was given an award for Outstanding Work and Study Habits. I couldn't have been more proud (of course, I would have been proud no matter what the award had been for.) But this was an award that wasn't just about him being good at something. It was about being awarded for making good choices and being a good roll model. I'd like to take all of the credit, but I think most (if not all) of the credit goes to the wonderful teachers that he's had.

Speaking of making good choices, this past weekend the Cheese said that he wanted to do some science experiments. The Sooners had already lost and the Bruins were on their way to losing, so a little time away from watching football sounded like a good idea. After a little research on the computer with Dad, he printed off instructions for "Dancing Raisins" that included a clear glass, raisins, and a can of Sprite. I'm not sure what he learned exactly, but he was delighted when the raisins did indeed dance.

So while they were busy experimenting, the Monkey and I were busy playing games. He always asks me to play and I'll be honest--90% of the time I tell him to go ask his brother to play or come up with some other excuse why I can't play. But this weekend I actually got down on the floor and played because I was tired of feeling like such a slacker mom.

Right now he's really into this Scooby Doo Haunted Mansion game; kinda appropriate for the Halloween season. We played and played and I tried my best to make sure that he always won (because he's 4 and I wasn't up for the tears of losing) and I tried to not fall asleep on the floor. I hate to admit it, but the game was actually kinda fun. Does that mean I want to play 10 times a day? No. But fun nonetheless.

There. I'm done bragging about my kids. Done patting myself on the back. That wasn't so bad.

Was it?

Weekly Column: Life is muy bueno!

©Stephenie Freeman

My life is filled with memories and most of them involve Mexican food. It is easy to make memories when they full of baskets of chips and dripping with cheese queso.

There was this one time when my mom and I were waiting in the drive-thru at Taco Bueno on 38th Street. It was a warm evening and the windows of her brown Audi were rolled down. We couldn’t help but listen as the man driving a truck in front of us tried to order.

Every time the man started to order, the German Sheppard riding in the back of his truck started barking. The man would stop and so would the dog, but the minute the man started to order again, so would the dog.

From what we could tell, it was clear that the dog wanted his own taco, and as much as he was barking possibly a mexi-dips and chips and a bean burrito too. My mom and I were crying we were laughing so hard, like it was the funniest thing we had ever seen. Perhaps for us right there in that moment it was.

Along with Taco Bueno, I loved going to Salas’s as a kid. Who didn’t? There was nothing tastier than their chips and queso. Knowing it was one of my favorite places, my dad took me there one night to meet his new girlfriend.

As I sat in between them at dinner, I wanted to make it clear that my mother had taught me well. So when the waitress asked me what I wanted to drink, I replied in my snottiest nine-year-old voice, “Milk, please.”

The girlfriend, who later became my step mother, just smiled at me sweetly and tried not to laugh. For twenty-plus years now we’ve joked about my bratty milk order at Salas’s.

Which reminds me of the time that my Uncle Bud made fun of me for ordering milk with Mexican food. “Milk with Mexican food? Yuck!” he teased and then continued to tease me about for years and years. I’m not sure why, but apparently there is something about ordering milk with Mexican food that makes people uncomfortable.

The Golfer and I returned to the Taco Bueno on 38th Street twenty years after the drive-thru dog incident. Out of all of the places that we could have chosen to eat after getting engaged, we decided that cheap Mexican food was the best choice because, well, it usually is. We talked about our future over soft chicken tacos and Diet Cokes. No more milk with Mexican food for me. The teasing had cured me of that. Besides, I was a big girl now.

It should come as no surprise that the night before I gave birth to our first child we decided to eat Mexican food for dinner, this time at Ted’s in Oklahoma City. I nervously ate my taco salad and enjoyed my chips and queso, knowing that the next time that we ate Mexican food together we would be needing a table for three.

Now as a family of four, we have started something called Taco/Movie Night. It’s my boys’ favorite part of the week. We eat homemade tacos on T.V. trays and watch old movies. Mexican food has now become a family tradition.

I’m not really sure why I have so many memories attached to Mexican food. Maybe I eat it much more often than I realize. Maybe the memories are really about the teasing and laughter and loved ones that accompanied the chips and queso. Maybe all of these memories aren’t really about the food at all. But I doubt it.

A perfectly pleasing day at a pumpkin patch with preschoolers.

:: preschooler ::

:: picking ::

:: petting ::

:: partaking ::

:: perfection ::

I highly recommend it.

I really wasn't kidding about being a bargain shopper. See these receipts? They say things like:

"Today's Total Savings: $59.05"
"Verified Total Savings: $98.57"
And the best yet, "Today's Total Savings: $139.59"

I know you're probably saying right now, "Yeah, but I bet you had to spend a lot to save a lot." Not at all. A fellow football mom, Heather, turned me on to a way of stretching your grocery store dollar as far as it can go. Yes, these are the receipts from the grocery store since I started playing The Grocery Game. It truly is a game people and if you play it correctly, you can save a whole lot of money.

And what a fun game it is. When I went to Ralph's on Sunday, out of the 66 items that I purchased, I only paid full price for 3 of those items. When I checked out and the check-out lady told me my savings (98 bucks!) an older woman behind me said, "Wow! Good for you!"

That's right. Good for me.

You have to change the way that you think about grocery shopping. No more only what you need for right now. The Grocery Game is all about stockpiling. Some may call this hoarding, but The Grocery Game calls is stockpiling. Supposedly it takes about 12 weeks to get your stockpile completed. Once that's done, all you have to shop for are the perishables and weekly needs. No more spending $200 every time you go to the grocery store.

Since I've started playing, I've been saving around 50% every time I've gone to the store. I won't go into how it all works--you can go to the website and watch the tutorial for that. Basically it's all about using the right coupons at the right times in combination with the in-store sales to make the most of your savings. I'm telling you that it is worth the time and the small fee (you're charge $10 for the first store list and $5 for every store after that every 8 weeks.) I've already saved enough to pay for the service for months and months to come.

Why do I care enough to share this all with you? Because #1--I love to brag about a bargain, and #2--I hate wasting money on things like groceries. Waste money on the important things, like trips to Target and expensive jeans.

As my mom used to always say, "Try it. You might like it."

Breaking News: It's Raining!

{a view from my "office" window}

It's hard to tell from the picture, but those are serious rain drops on the window. This is a big deal when you can't remember the last time that you actually saw rain in real life. Ahhhhh, it's like being washed anew!

But what's really funny about this is how people here in SoCal react to the rain. Yesterday I overhead a lady on her phone in the grocery store.

"Yeah, Madge. I totally forgot to tell Gladys about the HUGE storm that's coming our way. I mean it's just supposed to be awful. Yeah, uh-huh. I'm at the store getting some stuff now. I'm not gonna wanna get out for the next couple of days I have a feelin'."

I was cracking up. She was acting like my grandmother used to before an ice storm would blow in. She'd head out to stock up on toilet paper (see previous weekly column) and other staples because who knew when she'd be able to get out again (usually it was only a day or two.)

This lady was acting like the Wicked Witch of the West--afraid a little rain might do her in. First of all, we will be lucky to get a full inch of rain by the time that this HUGE storm is over. And second of all, this HUGE storm is only bringing with it a little rain. No thunderstorms, lightening, or anything else really exciting. Besides, when it rains heavily here it doesn't really rain, it just sort of...spits.

Perhaps a girl raised around tornadoes doesn't get how people can react so dramatically a little rain. Of course, I'm not worried about a bunch of mud sliding down into my family room either like the poor people in the burn areas.

Oh, but it is so very, very nice to see the rain. It's chilly, cloudy, and wet. I'm thinking about starting a fire in the fireplace (because in SoCal you've gotta take advantage when you can) and getting ready to fire up the Keurig for a little coffee.

I can't believe it. It's actually Fall.

Weekly Column: Stephenie the Sale Shopper Shops on Sundays for Super Sales

©Stephenie Freeman

Every Sunday my grandparents came over to visit, my grandmother toting with her a loaf of her freshly baked sourdough bread. I remember being a teenager, trying to sleep in on the weekend, and hearing the two of them come through the door. My granddaddy would always ask how the Cat Crop was doing (we only had two cats) and my grandmother would be talking about buying cheap toilet paper.

Buying things like paper towels and toilet paper on sale was a very big deal to my grandparents. It seemed to always make its way into any conversation. As a kid, I never understood their fascination with paper goods. The older I’ve become the more I’ve come to understand that their true interest was about finding a good deal.

My grandparents had lived through the Great Depression, through the hard times of the Dust Bowl, and many lean years on the farm in Southwestern Oklahoma. Saving money and stockpiling was simply a way of surviving and having a table full of food was security. My grandmother constantly lived like it was the 1930’s. Her pantry and refrigerator contained more groceries than her local grocery store, and of course she always had plenty of toilet paper to keep the entire neighborhood wiping for years to come.

My grandmother was also the first recycler that I ever met. She saved every butter dish, every Twist Tie, every bread bag that came into her house. She would use the bread bag to store her small umbrellas, tying them up neatly with one of her many Twist Ties. Twenty years ago, there was no such thing a curbside recycling, and she did her part to keep even the smallest of things out of the landfill. Besides, you just never know when those little plastic squares that your earrings came on might come in handy.

The older I am getting, the more I am turning into my grandmother. My refrigerator is so full I can never find a place to put the pickles. I find myself always searching for a sale, purchasing two of something just to save a dollar, and buying more groceries than my kitchen has room for. It’s like I’ve inherited some kind of grocery hoarding gene that is going to land me on “Oprah” one day.

Slowly but surely, I am creating my own stockpile of groceries and saving a ton of money in the process. Our garage proudly holds our grocery reserves. On the shelves sit stacks of Cheerios, beef ravioli, granola bars, and bottled water waiting patiently for the next natural disaster. And toilet paper. I have stacks and stacks of toilet paper. And batteries. And light bulbs. And red wine. Because, well, you just never know.

I knew I had hit a new phase of my life when I started talking to the Golfer about buying a deep freeze. I excitedly told him how much we could store and save and stockpile. He just stared at me with amazement and, I like to think, a little bit of pride. Yes, you know you’re getting older when buying half a cow and freezing soup for the winter excites you.

I am proud to be a sale shopper and find myself, much like my grandparents, telling anyone who will listen how much I saved. I now understand why they spent their days hunting down one good deal after another. It’s like this weird high that only you and the other coupons cutters and bargain hunters can understand.

Besides, I’d rather flush cheap toilet paper down the toilet than my hard earned money any day.

Little pumpkin.

painting pumpkins, october 2009

Taco Movie Night

I've always been a big fan of starting family traditions. Some have worked, lots haven't. Most of the time we start traditions and once I figure out how much work it is, the tradition slowly fades into oblivion.

Then there is the tradition that we have remained faithful to, on a weekly basis no less. It is Taco Movie Night. This tradition started out as simply Movie Night. Most of the time we ordered a pizza to eat while we watched our family movie. Then one Friday night, tired of pizza, I decided to make tacos instead. They were a hit. No, they were a huge it. Now Mama's homemade tacos are one of their most favorite things.

Of course, everything tastes good when you get to eat it off of a T.V. tray. There are only two rules on Taco Movie Night: eat over your tray and Mom and Dad get the final say on the movie choice. I figure, the fewer the rules, the better the chance that they are actually followed.

Usually the movies have to be voted on. Lately, we've been making our way through our collection of Disney movies. The boys are aware of it, but this is all about my secret preparation for our big trip in January. I even forced the boys to watch "Cinderella" with me one night (obviously the Golfer was out of town.) And you know what? They actually liked it.

It was the talking mice that did it. Who doesn't like talking mice?

The boys could care less about the "love scenes" and could not understand why the Evil Step Mother was being so mean to Cinderella. They became very interested in their tacos when the Prince and Cinderella were dancing at the ball. But during the scene when all of the animals were making Cinderella's dress for the ball, the Monkey announced, "I want to be a red bird with funny hair for Halloween." (There was a cute red bird helping to put the trimmings on the dress. Why he chose that animal over all of the others is beyond me. Thank goodness I've convinced him to be Batman instead.)

I'm guessing I have until they hit junior high to continue this tradition. One day in the future they'll figure out that there are lots of fun things to do on Friday nights, and sitting in front of the T.V. with your parents isn't one of them. Instead, Taco Movie Night will turn into Date Night with a cute girl from their biology class down at the mall. I'll be left with my Friday night memories of who was arguing over the Blue's Clues tray and how I agreed to watch "101 Dalmatians" for the millionth time.

Yes, I'll have nothing left but a few cold tacos and my memories to keep me warm. I can only hope that no one will ever make tacos as good as their Mama can.

Weekly Column: Mama has ways of making you talk

©Stephenie Freeman

Usually the Monkey is a very talkative little fellow. He’s the kind of kid that talks just to hear the sound of his own voice. His favorite thing is asking the same, exact question four times in a row. Yes, my little guy is a great talker. A good listener? Not so much.

The Monkey’s verbal skills are strong, but ask him a simple question like, "How was school today?" and he is at a total loss for words. If I want to learn anything about what my child does for the three hours that he is at preschool, I have to be like a "C.S.I." detective or Magnum P.I. and try to solve the mystery of my son's school day with the small samples of evidence that I find lying around.

A green, construction paper snake, cut out and glued to a stop sign? He must be learning about the letter "S".

A little sand on the inside of his school shoes? He must have played in the sandbox during recess.

Orange and black paint under his finger nails? He must have done some kind of Halloween finger painting.

Just a little mama detective work usually gives me more information about my child's school day than his words ever will. Even when I get creative with my questions, believing that the more specific I am with the questions the better answers I will be, he barely speaks.

"What was your favorite thing that you did at school today, Monkey?"

When I asked him that yesterday, he just stared at me, expressionless, just like he did when he was a newborn. Just two seconds before he was chatting up a storm, asking me over and over and over again when we were going to the pumpkin patch. Now he had unexpectedly gone mute. I tried again.

"Tell me something that made you smile today."


My line of questioning was obviously boring him. Not wanting to go down that same wordless road again I quickly ask, "Like something you did that made you really happy. Tell me about that."


As long as there has been school, the favorite part of any kid's school day has been recess. But when you are in preschool, it is probably the truth.

"Recess is fun. How was snack time today?"

"I sat next to Kelly. She's my girlfriend now."

I smiled. Just last week he was asking me to marry him and now this.

"She’s your girlfriend, huh? What did you and Kelly talk about during snack time?"

He doesn't answer. Instead, he just gives me one of those “Mother, you’re bothering me” sighs and rolls his eyes. My 4-year-old has turned into a teenager before my very eyes.

"Why is she your girlfriend?" I repress my smile, anxiously anticipating his answer.

"Because she is."

Exasperated by my line of questioning, he left me sitting alone at the kitchen table as he stomped upstairs to play in his room. Suddenly and without warning, I had a teenager walking around my house; a 4-year-old teenager that still wears Underoos, sleeps with his stuffed puppy named Woof Woof, and wants to be Batman for Halloween.

I was right back where I started. I still didn’t know much about what he was learning in preschool, but at least I did learn a little about my son’s developing social life, which left me with a whole new set of questions: Who is this Kelly person? How did they fall in love? Will she make a good daughter-in-law? Yes, this Mama has lots of questions. And somebody better start talking.

Bread Baking and other Fall Break Adventures

This week is the start of Fall Break for my boys. They get a whole week off school, which means I need a whole week's worth of activities to keep us occupied. We finally got into our regular school routine and bam! it's summer all over again.

Today we are headed to the Pumpkin Patch to spend a whole lot of damn money on produce that will sit on my front porch for the next 2 months until they rot or we start to hang the Christmas lights--which ever comes first. (Because we all know that there is NOTHING tackier than Christmas lights on a house and pumpkins still in the yard.)

{Cheese (i.e., little punkin' head) circa fall, 2002}

Then on Tuesday we are off to Dinseyland for 2 days to say hello to The Mouse. In all of my years of visiting Disneyland (I've been going almost every summer since I could walk and yes, I'm fully aware of how spoiled I am) I have never actually spent the night at a Disneyland hotel. The boys have been asking and asking to go and stay, so when I saw a good deal at the hotel, I decided to jump on the opportunity.

This leaves another 4 days worth of time to fill. The temperature has finally dropped and even though the grass is still very green and there isn't a single leaf on the ground, it's finally starting to feel like fall. It makes me want to make things like homemade stew and fresh baked bread. It makes me want to stockpile things and prepare to hibernate for the long winter.

So one of the things that I am planning to do this week is make Holly's Apple Friendship Bread. This bread just smells like fall. You'll hate yourself because you'll eat it until you make yourself sick. My friend Holly made this for me when I first met her. It's called Friendship Bread because the recipe makes 2 loaves, one of which you are supposed to give to a friend. But believe me, this bread is so good, you might just want to keep them both for yourself.

Holly's Apple Friendship Bread (Makes two loaves)

3 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canola oil
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups coarsely chopped and peeled apples

1. Prepare two, 8 inch or 9 inch loaf pans with cooking spray. Sprinkle a mixture of cinnamon and sugar in the bottoms and sides of the pans. (This might seem like a step that you could skip, but it adds an extra bit of yumminess that you do not want to skip!)

2. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt in a medium sized bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and apples.

3. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and mix well. The batter will be very stiff--stiff enough to make you think that you need to add more wet ingredients, but don't! Keep stirring by hand.

4. Divide batter between the two pans. Sprinkle a little more cinnamon sugar mixture on the top. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. (Make sure the center isn't too doughy before pulling it out of the oven.)


The 3 Year Itch (or so it would seem)

My first book came around by way of desperation. We had just moved to California and I found myself in a total funk. No money to spend on things, no friends to do things with--I was held up inside my little townhouse in a bad neighborhood with two small children and a husband that was always at work.

I needed an outlet. I needed something that would keep my hands busy and away from the Ben and Jerry's.

I had started writing seriously before we ever moved. My first writing effort went into a young adult novel that I have yet to ever do anything with. (Ironically, I took an online writing course through UCLA when the Cheese was just a baby.)

By the time that the Monkey came around, I had started a blog and was trying my best to officially become a columnist. I had wanted to be a columnist ever since high school. Don't ask me why, but I decided early on that I wanted to be a syndicated columnist and what makes that funny is that I had no idea what the word "syndicated" even meant.

Everything hit at once. I started and published the book, was picked up by a paper to run a weekly column in the Sunday paper, and received an email from Disney asking me to be a blogger on one of their many websites. Prayers had been answered. It seemed that I could finally call myself a writer/blogger/columnist--all of the above--because when you get paid, you can call yourself a professional.

Now here I am, 3 years later. My column's still running. My voice as a writer getting stronger with each new week. The Disney gig ended almost as soon as it started, but it was great while it lasted. My book sits proudly on the shelf, nothing making me happier than knowing that it makes people--especially mothers--laugh. The best was when it was for sale recently at our elementary school's book fair--so proud to see it displayed next to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and classics like Superfudge. (Which is all due to Lisa bringing up the idea at a PTA meeting and Monique for making it all happen. I'm blessed to have made such sweet new friends.)

And now I've gotten the itch again. The itch to write another book. The kind of itch that the more you think about it, the more you want to scratch it. Since I've done it once, the whole publishing thing, I keep thinking, "It'll be a piece of cake this time!" but writing a book is just like giving birth--a lot of time, effort, and misery goes into it before you ever see the final product.

So, will I? Will I stay up to 4 o'clock in the morning like I did the first time revising and editing? Will I invest the energy and time that it takes to get it done?

Sure. Why not.

Weekly Column: What Not to Wear

©Stephenie Freeman

When I went to bed last night, I knew that today was going to be busy. I had lots to do and had everything scheduled back to back, leaving little room for error. There was no time to waste, so of course that’s exactly what I did.

The day didn’t start well. I couldn’t even make it out of my own closet. I wasted a good thirty minutes, thirty minutes that I didn’t have to waste, on staring at my clothes. Not trying on, not sifting through, just…staring.

Yes, you know that it’s going to be a bad day when you decide to spend the day in your granny panties since your underwear looks better than anything else hanging in your closet.

On a typical morning I walk into my closet and throw something on within a matter of minutes, and every day I look like I walked into my closet and threw something on within a matter of minutes.

Oh, but not today. I was bound and determined to find something cute to put on. I hemmed and hawed over what I should wear. I haven’t hemmed and hawed over anything for years, but I felt that perhaps a little hemming and hawing might do both me and my wardrobe some good. Sadly, the longer I looked at my clothes, the more miserable I became.

Nothing’s grumpier than a mama who suddenly realizes that she is the perfect candidate for the reality show “What Not to Wear.”

You see, usually when I wake up in the mornings, I turn off the alarm and turn on my mama auto pilot. I am a robotic mama machine. I move through the morning toasting Eggos, dressing boys, and making lunches never actually having to think about what I am doing. My morning routine is mindless and I find comfort in the fact that it doesn’t require any actual thought.

When I’m in robotic mama mode, I certainly don’t waste any time or brain cells on what to wear. I grab my flip flops, my workout shorts, and my T-shirt that says, “I love cupcakes!” and I am off to conquer the world. The last time I checked, world conquering didn’t require anything fashionable. Besides, who doesn’t love cupcakes?

Then today, for reasons only God understands, I decided to break the routine and re-discover, re-introduce myself to the “real” clothes hiding deep in my closet. Clearly it did not go well. After all of that staring and all of that time wasting, I ended up in a pair of baggie boyfriend jeans and a T-shirt that read, “Housework is Evil” because, of course, it is.

To top it off, my hemming and hawing, my sudden, unwarranted need to feel fashionable made me run incredibly late, throwing off the delicate balance of our entire morning. I barely got the boys to school on time, and as I was dropping them off realized that in my vain attempt to look nice, I hadn’t spent one measly minute on my children’s appearance. Both of them had a horrible case of bed head, the Monkey was wearing his favorite Star Wars T-shirt that he had fished out of the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper, and neither of them was wearing socks.

And what’s really sad is with all of that extra effort, all of that extra time spent being re-introducing to my closet, they looked a whole lot better than I did.

Weekly Column: How will you celebrate?

©Stephenie Freeman

Next year will be my tenth wedding anniversary. I guess I shouldn’t say “my” anniversary since it takes two people to actually have an anniversary, but I often refer it as “my” wedding since I did all of the planning. The Golfer, like most grooms, didn’t do much in the way of planning our big day. All he did was show up and look cute which was enough.

And much like ten years ago, I now find myself once again doing all of the planning. To mark this special occasion, we have decided to reward ourselves with a trip somewhere fun and fabulous. It’s been ten years and we still like each other. That’s something definitely worth celebrating.

I think I have spent as much time planning our anniversary vacation as I did our wedding. Just like our wedding, I want this trip to be perfect, memorable, and special with no expense being spared. Unlike our wedding, this time it’s on our dime, not my father’s.

(He’s reading this and smiling right about now.)

It was a tough call at first—to take the children or not to take the children. There were lots of great travel ideas discussed that involved leaving the children at home with the dogs to fend for themselves. In the end, we decided we better include them. Our anniversary is about the two of us, but celebrating our marriage also meant celebrating the family that we’ve created.

After a little research, we decided to take a cruise, specifically a Disney Cruise. You might think I chose this for the children, but in all honesty, I chose this for me. The kids just lucked out.

We are Disney people; always have been. I was blessed to have grandparents who took me to Disneyland almost every summer growing up. My grandfather, a stoic and serious man, was never happier than when he was sitting in the little boast on the ride “It’s a Small World.”

I was with the Golfer the first time he ever visited Disneyland. We were in our early twenties at the time, but the way his face lit up the first time he saw Mickey, Goofy, and Pluto, you’d swear he was still a 5-year-old little boy.

We see the movies, visit the theme parks, and buy the merchandise— our love affair with the Mouse runs deep. There seems to be an indescribable force that draws me to anything Disney. I guess they don’t call it “Disney Magic” for nothing.

The first time I saw each of my boys in a pair of Mickey ears, I cried. I cried the first time I watched my 1-year-old kiss Goofy on the nose. There is no doubt that I will cry as we sail away on our Disney Cruise. A large box of Kleenex is on the top of my “to-pack” list.

I realize that behind all of the magic lies a huge corporate conglomerate. I know that Mickey is all about making money. Goodness knows I have given him plenty of mine. But for whatever reason, for me the magic seems to overshadow the money. Mickey tugs on my heart strings just as much as my purse strings.

So the planning continues. I want to ensure that we don’t miss one moment of the magic. We’re waiting to surprise the boys with the news of our special trip on Christmas morning. There’s no question that my children will jump up and down and scream and yell with excitement. They’ll be copying off of me.

My weekend.

The Golfer calls from out-of-town.

"What did I do this weekend? Oh, a whole lot of nothing really."

  • made homemade waffles and turkey bacon
  • fed the dogs
  • started the laundry
  • watched Game Day on ESPN
  • watched football
  • did a little magazine reading catch-up
  • watched more football
  • helped build a few Legos
  • folded laundry
  • scooped poop
  • cheered for the Sooners
  • worked on family photo albums
  • folded more laundry
  • cheered that USC got beat
  • watered the plants
  • did a little secret Disney research
  • watched more football
  • cheered for the Bruins
  • slept
  • read the Sunday paper
  • more Disney research on eBay
  • balanced the checkbook
  • enjoyed a few Halloween Oreos
  • posted a blog
  • watched "Drop Dead Diva"
  • watched "Flipping Out"
  • watched "Real Housewives of Atlanta"
  • let the kids make their own dinner--Cheerios and yogurt
  • had an in depth discussion with the Cheese about numbering his bodily functions
  • watched the Emmy's
  • bathed
  • slept

"Didn't do much really. How was your weekend?"

(You know when women say they are sooooo busy, they just can't tell you with what? This is what they mean.)