Scenes from a 9-year-old's birthday party.

The Big Cheese is now half way to turning 18.  And what kind of party does any little boy that is half way to 18 want to have?  Why a video game marathon party of course!   

The decorations that he chose were Sonic.  No, not the drive-in.  The video game character.

And of course that particular video game character did not have his own personalized Wilton cake pan, so Mama had to improvise with the cake.  

When I asked the birthday boy what he thought of his cake, I got a very 9-year-old monotoned response, "Good."

He was, however quite surprised with I cut into it.  That part he actually thought was pretty cool, which was the exact reaction Mama was going for.  It didn't hurt that we also served root beer floats, the Cheese's favorite.

8 boys meant two different marathons going on at once--Wii downstairs and Play Station upstairs.  It was very loud for a good hour.  But that's what 9-year-old are good at: being loud.

They did have fun and it was a very low-mantience party.  What little boy's not going to have fun when they can play video games for a solid hour and what Mama's not going to like being able to sit and relax during a party? 

That smile, right there, on the Cheese's face?  Yeah, it was like that the whole time.  

A fun time was had by all.  It even snowed for a few minutes.  Just long enough for the boys to run outside and be loud in the snow, because being loud outside is always a better choice than being loud inside.  That is, until it's time to run in and finish your cake.  Nothing quiets a room of 9-year-old boys faster than root beer floats and birthday cake, which is why I plan on stocking up on both.  

Weekly Column: Fried Golden Perfection.

Last night I made chicken fried steak for dinner.  And it was gooooood.  The Golfer told me so 452 times.  He even said it was better than Grandy's.

Remember Grandy's?  That fast food restaurant that served home cooking?  In college the Golfer would go there and order chicken fried steak (we just call it "chicken fry") and fried okra.  So being the forever good and loving wife, I've tried multiple times throughout our marriage to make it for him only to fail miserably each and every time.

If you've ever tried to fry something, something breaded, then you know how important a cast iron skillet is to the equation.  It makes all the difference in the world.  I know that of which I speak.

When I first started cooking, I tried and tried to make my Gan Gan's fried okra and potatoes.  I would call her on the phone.  She would tell me again exactly what to do.  I would totally follow her advice and it never worked.  It didn't taste like hers.  It was okay, but my Gan's Gan's fried okra and potatoes was better than okay.  It was my most favorite thing.  My most favorite thing that she made for me every time I went over to her house.

After she passed away, I remember being with my mom at my Gan Gan's house.  My mom and my aunt were going through my grandmother's things, separating treasures out equally for me and my cousins.  I remember my mom holding up one of my Gan Gan's cast iron skillets.

"Do you want one of these?" my mom asked me.

I looked at the skillet.  What I saw was a dirty, greasy cooking utensil.  What it actually was was the magic ingredient for her fried okra and potatoes.  But instead of grabbing it and hugging it to my chest I replied, "No.  I don't need it."


What I saw as dirty and greasy was actually seasoned perfection.  It was years of cooking and love and fried deliciousness that I passed up without a second thought.  Instead, I decided to go out and buy my own because "a new, clean skillet will be better."  And it worked.  It was fine.  But just fine.


Then we moved to California.  I remember packing up the skillet and thinking, "Man, this makes this box heavy!" so I decided to give my skillet a box all of it's own.  I'm not sure what happened, but my skillet never made it west.  It didn't make it into storage either.  The only thing I can figure out is that it fell off the truck in New Mexico somewhere.  Hopefully Wile E. Coyote is getting some good use out of it.

Fast forward 4 years later.  I had survived living in California without a cast iron skillet, but then I bought The Pioneer Woman Cooks.  And after looking at page after delicious page worth of fried goodness, I said these words to the Golfer.

"Why don't I make chicken fry for dinner tomorrow?"

He immediately smiled, but then looked at me sceptically.  See, I have done this to him before.  Gotten his mouth all ready for some chicken fry only to disappoint him miserably.

I headed to the grocery store and had the butcher make me some cubed steak.  Then on to Williams-Sonoma for a skillet (because if you're going to do it, do it right.)  Then I headed home.

Periodically the Golfer wandered into the kitchen to check on me.  "How's it goin'?" he asked right as I was flipping my first steak in the skillet.  And that's when he saw it.  Fried...golden...perfection.

And it was good.

Better than Grandy's.

Then this morning, the Golfer called to say hi.  "Just wanted to check-in.  That chicken fry sure was good last night."

12 hours later and he's still talking about it.  I think it's safe to assume that he'll never leave me.

You know what he wants for dinner tonight?  Leftover chicken fry.  Whoever said, "The way to a man's heart is through his belly" wasn't lyin'.

Exciting News!

This is my niece, 30 weeks old, still growing inside her mama's belly.  (Technology is amazing isn't it?)  To say that we are excited to meet her would be a total understatement.  We plan on being the cool aunt and uncle in California that spoil her rotten from afar.  Look...she's grinning!  And see that nose?  That's a Freeman nose.  I know because I see it on the Monkey's face every day.  But what I truly love about this pic is how much she looks like her Daddy!

Well, without the beer bottle of course.

Winter on the West Coast

:: Just another ordinary day in February ::

love notes.

Love Note 2

18 years ago he wrote me a letter.  It was on paper from a yellow legal pad and was three pages long.  He handed it to me as he got out of my car at the airport.  It was Valentine's Day.

We hadn't been in love very long.  27 days to be exact.  27 days since he first said, "I love you."

He was flying to Hawaii for a tournament.  I had gotten up early to drive him to the airport.  It was worth it just to spend 30 minutes with my Valentine.  I was sad not to be spending Valentine's Day with my new love.  Who could have guessed that 18 years later I would still be doing the same thing--watching golf scores instead of dining by candlelight at a fancy, over-priced restaurant.

But I didn't know that then.  All I knew was that my Valentine had written me a love letter, a long love letter carefully hand written.  He didn't realize that there wasn't a better present that he could have given me.

However, he managed to top himself the very next year.  While I was sitting in a class in Dale Hall, I could see the Golfer's face smiling at me through the small rectangular window in the door.  A few seconds later, he stuck a sign in the window written on notebook paper that said, "Will You Be My Valentine?"  My girlfriends in the class oohed and aahed as I blushed, smiled, and tried to hide how crazy in love I was with this man.

It was like I was in love in a movie.

I have a box filled with love notes.  There's an email with the subject titled: "Love You" that I printed out to save.  There are fancy cards and sexy cards and notes written on everyday notepaper.  There's one that says, "Don't forget, I love you" and another that says, "I can't wait to see you."  My favorite is one that says, "Here's some extra $.  Go buy yourself something nice."

If only I found more of those kind of notes lying around the house.

Nowadays, most of the love notes come in the form of text messages.  Quick phrases that get the message across, well, quickly.  They don't quite contain the romance of a 3-page letter, but an effective form of communication nonetheless.

Yes, the love notes have gotten hard to write after 18 years.  We've said it all.  We've expressed our love over and over again.  We've repeated ourselves thousands of times.  But love is one of those situations where repeating yourself isn't considered a bad thing.

I'm sad because that 3-page letter, written on a yellow legal pad, is nowhere to be found.  After 18 years, a marriage, multiple moves, and two kids later, I can't seem to find it.  Yes, shocking I know.  However, the Dale Hall note is framed, but hanging in my closet of all places since framed pictures of the boys have taken over the walls.

But still, after 18 years, I still feel like I'm in love in a movie.  A very long movie where the leading lady (me) is tired and grumpy and could use a love note from her leading man (the Golfer) right about now.

I should go check my text messages.

Weekly Column: Pamphlets for Dummies

© 2008, Stephenie Freeman

It’s never good news when a doctor sends you home with a pamphlet.  It’s even worse when he sends you home with two.

In a recent act of either genius or insanity, I schedule my children for their regular dentist and pediatrician visits both in one day.  I figured if each visit was going to be crazy and stressful, better to compact all of the craziness and stress into one day rather than spreading it out over several. 

First was the dentist.  The boys sat side by side in dueling chairs as teeth were counted, scraped, and cleaned.  About the time I was considering the visit a success—no crying, fits, or meltdowns having occurred—the dentist, a very lovely lady hovering over my three-year-old, asked me a question.

“Does he suck on anything?  His thumb?  Fingers?  Maybe a pacifier?”

I answered her that, yes, he had sucked his index finger ever since he was a baby.  I didn’t answer with embarrassment but instead with motherly endearment, showing her the tiny callus that had formed at the bottom on his finger because of it.

Even though my son had just turned three, it hadn’t dawned on me that his finger sucking was beginning to turn into a bad habit.  I hadn’t been worried about it.  He doesn’t walk around with his finger in his mouth all day.  It isn’t keeping his speech from developing.  On the contrary, my youngest is actually quite the talker, having already mastered the fine art of back talk and important toddler phrases like “No!  I do it!” and “I go to time out.”  No, finger sucking wasn’t one of the things that I was worried about.

I was sent home with my first pamphlet with tips on ways to encourage my child to stop sucking.  It was obvious from the bullet points that it wasn’t going to be easy.  Unlike a pacifier, I couldn’t have the Pacifier Fairy come one night and take his finger away leaving behind a toy in its place.  No, this would require me to dip into my parental reserves of diligence and patience, two areas that have serious been depleted over the last several years of parenting. 

We moved on to the pediatrician’s office.  With one set of prizes and stickers under their belt, they were actually looking forward to what the next doctor’s office would bring. 

Today’s pediatrician offices are way more fun than the ancient, dark, wood paneled offices filled with nothing but Highlight magazines of my youth.   These offices have waiting rooms that are painted like the ocean or outer space with toys to match.  They are filled with video games on flat screens and Nick Jr. showing on televisions strategically placed around the office.  Nine kids out of ten that have a meltdown in the doctor’s office do not do it because their afraid of getting a shot, but because they don’t want to leave the waiting room.

Once inside, the boys were quickly taken through the rigors of a regular check-up.  It was around the time when I stripped down the three-year-old to nothing but a diaper that talk of a second pamphlet appeared. 

“Have you started using the big boy potty yet?” 

My child nodded his head but without much conviction.  The doctor explained how potty training was a goal that we should be working toward.  Much like the finger sucking, it was better to get control over the situation now rather than later.  He handed me pamphlet, which I quickly shoved into growing collection inside my purse. 

I floundered while trying to explain how we had tried but with limited success.  I would have told him how the use of candy bribes seemed to be working, but I feared additional pamphlets about things like diabetes and childhood obesity.

Over dinner that evening, I explained to my husband that we had to work on stopping the finger sucking and start seriously potty training.  He asked me what the pamphlets said. 

I tried my best not to tear up as I told him, “They said that he can’t be a baby anymore.”

“Did they have any pamphlets for helping mommies cope with the changes?” he asked.

It was about that time that I pulled out one final pamphlet. 

Much like Hallmark cards, there is a doctor pamphlet for all occasions.  I should know.  Most of them are at the bottom of my purse.

list 12: What I don't need.

1.  I don't kids asking me the same thing over and over again.  My bright and intelligent children have yet to figure out that the answer is always the same--no.

2.  I don't need...more things to stress over.  I do a great job of making stress appear out of nowhere all on my own.

3.  I don't need...any more pets.  Because three is more than enough.  (And yes, the Golfer continually reminds me that I was the one that purchased all 3 of those pets.)

4.  I don't food.  Because it is evil.

5.  I don't spend more money.  I need to save.

6.  I don't need...more books to read.  I have plenty.

7.  I don't need...more excuses not to exercise.  I need less.  See #4.

8.  I don't go to Target.  See #5.

9.  I don't need...more things to do.  I'm over-booked as it is.

10.  I don't need...more of anything.  Because I have all that I need.  Except handbags.  And to lose 20  pounds.  But that's all I need.

Except this remote control. The handbags, the 20 pounds, and the remote control, and that's all I need. And this paddle ball game. The handbags, and the 20 pounds, and the remote control and this paddle ball game and that's all I need. And this lamp...  

(Note:  If you've never seen the movie "The Jerk", then that last line won't make any sense to you whatsoever.  Sorry.)

What I learned in kindergarten today.

My Monday mornings are spent in a Kindergarten classroom.  Nothin' like 26 Kindergartners to get your week started off right.

This morning, while I was busy stuffing homework folders with instructions about valentines and the 100th  Day of School Celebration, the Monkey's teacher was busy teaching blends.  (For those of you who have forgotten elementary school, blends: two consonants clustered together without vowels separating them, usually at the beginning of a word.)

Anyway, the teacher starts to ask for students to tell her words that begin with a blend.  I really wasn't paying much attention until I heard her say, "I love the way the Monkey is raising his hand so nicely!  Monkey, what is your blend?"

I waited to hear his answer.

"Flip off!" the Monkey smiled as he answered.

Oh.  My.  And.  No.  He.  Didn't.

I was felt privileged enough to witness this proud moment in my son's educational experience.

Yes indeed, the teacher told him.  The word flip does have a blend.  The word off?  Yeah, not so much.

"I have a blend," I told the teacher as she looked at me, trying her best not to crack up.

"How about the word "embarrassed"?  Does that have a blend?"

So here's what I learned in Kindergarten today: small children are always paying attention.  Especially when you're driving on the freeway.

When you live with the Monkey, you never know what you're gonna get.

I'm worn out. Not that I'm complaining...

The month of January wore me out.
  1. I turned 38.
  2. Traveled to Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl.
  3. Had my spider veins injected (Happy Birthday to me!)
  4. Started a new job.
  5. Celebrated the Monkey turning 6 with sleep over.
  6. Had my brother-in-law in town for a couple of days.
  7. Went to the dentist.
  8. Visited urgent care.
  9. Worked from home. 
  10. Attended Mc Teacher Night.  (That's a school fundraiser where the teachers work behind the counter at McDonald's and no matter how much you try, you're kids simply won't let you out of it.)
  11. Volunteering in Kindergarten.
  12. And volunteered at VBS at Real Life Church.  (Yes, most churches do VBS during the summer, but we're not like most churches.)
At RLC we hosted our first ever Winter Kids' Event (i.e., VBS) called "Whatever!" All 350 kids had a blast.  Our committee had been working on it since last September, so to finally pull it off was a great feeling.

The Monkey had the verse, 1 Corinthians 10:31, memorized after the first day.

All week long we had the kids bring canned goods to donate to our local food pantry.  

Here are the parents at our closing ceremonies learning the memory verse.  That's my great friend, Karin, on the left and the Golfer on the right.

Then on Friday night, as a culminating event to the week, our church hosted a Family Winter Fest, complete with "snow".  The rest of the country has too much snow right now, we didn't quiet have enough.  But there was some serious sledding going on.

Along with the snow and sledding we watched a movie in our church's outdoor amphitheater.  Reason #642 why we live in SoCal: You can watch movies outside in January.

There was even a pizza truck there serving up dinner.  

It was a great week, but it wasn't over yet.

Because on Saturday we had Mother/Son bowling at school.  We teamed up with our buddies for bowling and more (sigh) pizza.

The ever-dapper Monkey chose to wear his bow tie (and Peace Store T-shirt) to bowling.  Best dressed kid (or adult!) in the place.

It was actually a great month.  The boys got to do so many great things: VBS and McDonald's.  Pizza and sledding.  Bowling and pizza.  But this month I've paid the price for all of that fun.  I'm tired.  It was fun, but I'm tired.  Worn out.  Exhausted.  And I've eaten enough junk food to last me for the next 3 least.  (If my trainer's reading this, I'm going to pay for that comment later.)

So I'm using today--a no school day--to relax.  Except I need to catch up on the laundry.  And the boys' rooms are a mess.  And I should really take some time to take care of hair removal.  And there's a stack of books that I'm dying to read and a Netflix movie waiting to be watched.

Somehow I'm going to force myself to sit and do nothing because I have a feeling that February isn't going to be any better.
  1. Super Bowl party.
  2. Work.
  3. Valentine's date with the Golfer (still don't know what I'm getting him.)
  4. Plan the Big Cheese's 9th birthday.
  5. Organize Read Across America at school.
  6. Etc.
  7. Etc.
  8. Etc.
Anybody looking for any last minute Valentine's Day gifts to give me?

How about a vacation?

praise folder.

Good Job

When I was doing my student teaching (eons ago...) my mentor started something for me.  It was called a Praise Folder.

"Because, there are going to be days when you're teaching that you're going to need to look through this folder.  Trust me."

She decorated it.  Put my name on it.  Even laminated it for me.

Then she gave me a card.  My first thing to put into my Praise Folder.

Because that's what a Praise Folder is.  It's a place for you to put all those kind notes, cards, and pictures; things that remind you what a good job you've done.  I still have my teaching Praise Folder filled with encouraging notes from my principals, fellow teachers, parents, and my favorite drawings from my students.

When I started writing, I started another Praise Folder.  If someone sent me a kind email, it was printed off and placed into the folder.  Anything special, anything that reminded me that I was doing a good job, even when I didn't think I was, went into the folder.

Today I realized that I needed to start a new folder.  A few notes and kind emails have come my way since starting my new job.  So another Praise Folder it is.  This one isn't decorated all cute and doesn't have my name written in rainbow colors, but it works just the same.

You know what I don't have a Praise Folder for?  For being a mother.

And why is that?

You know why?  I'll tell you.  It's because mother's are rarely praised for everything they do every day of every week.  Sure, you'll get that occasional "you do a great job, babe" accompanied with a nice pat on the back from your husband, but rarely is it ever written sweetly with purpose in a card.  And yes, my kids will draw cute pictures and give them to me.  But usually those are renditions of certain scenes from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and really don't have anything to do with whether or not I'm doing a good job as a mother.  If we mothers are lucky enough to receive praise, it's rarely in a way that can be placed in a folder for safe keeping.

People, this needs to change.  Mothers need praise more than anyone else on the planet.  We don't get paid for our job.  There is no boss to tell us that we are doing a good job because we are the boss.  So where then, is all of this praise supposed to come from?  Oprah?

So today, let me be the first to tell you that I think that you are doing a great job!  You are Mother Extraordinaire and you are raising lovely children!  There is no one else like you!  Make your own Praise Folder and start writing your own praise notes to yourself if you have to.

"You did a great job today not loosing your cool when the dog threw up blue crayon all over the carpet."

"No body make Dino Nuggets the way you do!  Their wives will have trouble living up to the high cooking standards that you've set!"

"Good for you for not yelling today! (side note: remember to have that bulging vein in your neck looked at the next time you go to have your spider veins injected.)

Yes, write down your own praises--the good things you did today and the bad things you managed to avoid--and put them in your Praise Folder.

You never know when you're gonna need it.