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?