Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Belated Advent Guide

Christmas is a time for traditions and giving. It is a time for reflection and gratitude. It is a time for moms and dads to make magic for their children! It is a time for those little numbered calendars that count down the days until Santa arrives! Er.... I mean, until Baby Jesus was born.

Yes, I realize it is December 4th and we are already four days into Advent, but maybe some of you are like me. As in, behind. For instance, I am posting about Advent on December 4th, I've yet to write a post about my new kitten... that we got in October, I just found the Mother's Day card for my mom and her birthday present is sitting on my dresser that hasn't been dusted in four weeks.

Regardless of my (dis)organizational skills, Advent is a fun way to make one of those memorable "Christmas Traditions" for your kids.

Growing up, my Great Aunt Ann always sent two advent calendars; one for me and one for my sister, Jessi. Each November, I looked forward to that manila envelope arriving in our country mailbox. The calendars were the simple, no-candy kind... just a beautiful picture full of little paper doors which opened to pretty images of the season. Those numbered doors revealed so much Christmas magic. There were stockings and ornaments, cookies and kittens, gifts and carolers. On the 25th, the picture was always of Baby Jesus. Every morning I looked forward to opening another tiny door to a soft, glowing picture representing the building excitement for Christmas day. Advent embodied so much about my favorite season: beauty, anticipation, thoughtfulness, surprise and reward. I counted on those calendars from my kind, Great Aunt.  I've loved those calendars. Even today, they are one of my favorite Christmas traditions from my childhood.

When I had kids, I wanted to continue the Advent Calendar tradition. I searched for similar calendars but could never find the same ones with the pretty pastel drawings and watercolor paintings. In fact, the only calendars I found had candy, thus our great Advent tradition of "chocolate for breakfast" was born. This was not what I needed for my tiny, gift-crazed Christmas elves. The candy never stayed in place when the calendar was hung. Sometimes the boys would open doors to reveal a disappointing empty plastic well. Other time they would open the door and the chocolate would catapult from the calendar. Then we would end up searching for the little pieces of chocolate and finding it in unfortunate locations, like the dog water bowl or under the stove where the moths and spiders go to die. There was no consistency with these candy calendars and the sugar and treat aspect only added to the overall manic behavior of my kids during the month of December. I longed for a simple. pretty picture of a candle or an angel behind a tiny paper door to be enough, but my kids are four and seven and I thought maybe I'd missed my window.

Enter the Seasonal section of Target and their adorable wooden Advent houses...

I spotted one last year and, like a good, thrifty farmer, I waited for it to go on sale. Unfortunately, they had all been snatched up by other Advent Traditionalists. Sometimes being a cheap bastard doesn't pay off.
Determined to win Christmas this year, I nabbed one as soon as I spotted it on that Christmas filled Target endcap. VICTORY WAS MINE! Then I realized I had to fill it, which was going to require some work and thought on my behalf, thus adding to the Christmas Tradition of Mom as the local Magic Maker! Cookies! Gifts! Music! Decorations! Cards! Pictures! ALL OF THE THINGS!!!!!! WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?

I remembered an email from church that mentioned Advent so scrolled through the 8,000 emails in my inbox (I'm sadly not exaggerating) until I found it. After reading through it, I made my own version. I used some of their ideas and added some of my own to fit my family. I typed it out and cut the paper into strips. Then I loaded each tiny drawer with a customized strip of paper. Because I'm a slow learner, I added two caramel and milk chocolate Hershey's Kisses to each drawer. Then, as a reward for all my hard work, I ate all of the remaining chocolates.

Here's my Advent Calendar:

1st: Make a blessings jar. Place on empty jar on the table. Each evening at dinner, have every member of your family write down a blessing and place it in the jar.
2nd: Read your favorite Christmas book. Talk about why it is your favorite.
3rd: Make a list of the people that you want to buy or make gifts for.
4th: Do something kind for your brother. Write a letter to Santa.
5th: Sing Christmas carols!
6th: Read Luke 1.26-38. Give each of the animals a special treat and tell them that you love them.
7th: Bake Christmas goodies!
8th: Write a family prayer about hope, peace, joy and love.
9th: Pick a local organization to donate to.
10th: Discuss the true meaning of giving.
11th: Is it snowing? Play in the snow!
12th: Wrap gifts you made or bought.
13th: Read Luke 1.39-55. Draw a picture of what you read.
14th: Call Aunt Jessi and wish her a happy birthday~ Sing her a song!
15th: Do something nice for a family member or friend. Keep who did it a surprise!
16th: Say a prayer for others.
17th: Go on a Christmas Light Tour!
18th: Read your favorite Christmas story to someone lonely.
19th: Make more Christmas goodies and give them away!
20th: Read Luke 2.1-5. Help Mommy and Daddy prepare for Christmas.
21st: Have each family member share what they want to do for Christmas celebrations.
22nd: Say a prayer for all the homeless people and animals. Make a donation.
23rd: Write a letter to each of your family members to open on Christmas morning.
24th: Read Luke 2.1-20. Hold hands with someone you love.

25th: Sing Happy Birthday to Jesus! Read the blessings from the Christmas jar.

The kids are enjoying this new spin on our Advent Tradition and I feel like it is making Christmas a little more heartfelt and meaningful. The boys actually remind me about the Blessing Jar every night at dinner!

Or maybe I'm just deluding myself so I feel better about spending $25 on a charming, painted wooden house from Target.

Either way, I'm winning at Christmas, and that is obviously what this season is really about.

Peace, Love and Christmas Traditions,

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Serious Case of the Mondays

The morning started off with the easy pace of a weekend. The only foreboding was the chaotic winter wind, whipping its chill through the last of the brown leaves clinging to the dormant trees. It should have been my clue, yet I drank my coffee with the blissful unknowing of a newborn.

Thanksgiving break was in session. I was initially shocked that the kids had six entire days off from school, as they weren't slated to return until the Tuesday following turkey day, but I had made up my mind to make the most of the ten days we were to spend together. Just me, my boys, and the lingering respiratory infection that I couldn't seem to shake. At least the break was this week. Last week, both Brock and I were sick with this crud, making our home a scene from Dawn of the Dead. Other than the homemade chicken noodle soup I rustled up the energy to make, our diets consisted of NyQuil to help us sleep, and coffee to help us shake off the NyQuil. In fact, I was still limping a bit from a serious case of NyQuil hip (I slept so hard one night, that I failed to move an inch in my sleep, resulting in an unusable hip joint).

For breakfast, I laid out the last of the apple cinnamon muffins and a banana for each of my children. Next to the plates, I sat two cups of orange juice and a spray bottle of water. The juice was for the kids. The water was to keep our new kitten from eating off their plates. I was feeling as close to a Pinterest mother as ever. Both kids made their beds and dressed themselves on only my fourth request this morning. It was going to be a great start to our break. As they ate, I began my preparation for the day. I sucked down more coffee as I looked out the kitchen window to see if Brock had been out to feed the ponies. I did not see hay, but I did see something unexpected- an extra pony standing in our yard, next to the pen! It was our neighbor's miniature stallion. He's a bit of an escape artist and had been in our yard many times before, but our neighbor recently passed away and no one was currently living at her house- instead one of her derelict sons was supposedly stopping by to care for the animals.

I said over my shoulder, "Hey Brock, that pony is back. Why don't you just throw him in with our ponies and make sure there is enough hay for everyone."

Brock shrugged and said, "Or we could just leave him out."

I replied, "We are so close to the highway. I couldn't live with myself if he was hit on the road. Just put him in for now. I'll figure the rest out later."


As it turns out, it was easier to put tiny stallion into the pen than it was to get him out. Ten minutes of trying to capture that little shit, with the help of my capable seven year old, I was left with an empty halter and pathetic lungs full of fire. I had witnessed the little stud making Clyde his bitch and apparently he did not want to leave. My desire to breathe was greater than my need to lead him home.

I went into the barn to make the morning grain concoction for my horses. Brock had taken over chores for the past week and the state of the barn made that obvious. The lid to one grain box was open, and the other two were put on so sloppily that they didn't even come close to being 'mouse proof'. The back side of the barn were the grain lives is dark. So dark that I cannot see the bottom of the bin. So dark that I could not see a mouse, sitting at the bottom of a bin. I took and deep breath and plunged my arm into the bottom of the grain canister. Way down. So far down. And I scraped the bottom. There was thankfully no mouse, but Brock had barely left enough grain for the morning feed! He drives by 2-6 feed stores on a daily basis. Argh! To me, this is worse than running out of bread. I made a mental note to gripe at him later.

I took the boys to the stable to feed the horses. They went to play with the barn kittens (the litter mates of our precious kitten) while I delivered the grain. When I met them in the tack room afterwards, my youngest was holding a granola bar. I had not packed granola bars. He had lifted it from the barn office. We took the thankfully unopened bar back and I explained to him how taking things that are not yours is stealing. He cried. Not because he felt bad about stealing, but because he had his heart set on that granola bar.

"But it's gluten free!" he wailed.

I took the kids home. My oldest ran through the yard like a hyena and the youngest went inside. I ushered him into the kitchen and opened the pantry. I told him to take whatever he wanted. I was shocked that from the array of delicious canned beans, dried beans, flour, and pasta that he chose the lone fruit cup. It was no granola bar, but it seemed to suffice.

A friend had been on my mind so I picked up my phone and shot her a text. Jen's a writer- so smart and funny. I miss her.

Me: I've been thinking of you a lot lately. Hope you're doing well. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Hugs from CO.

Jen's number: Who this

Me: Johi

Me: Is this Jen?

Probably Jen's old number: O I am good you

So obviously no longer Jen's number: So what's up

I laughed at my phone. Jen loves grammar and long texts. This was clearly not Jen, yet whoever was typing from her old number was having a good time trying to fool me. I contemplated taking some time and energy to mess with this person. I'm more than capable. I thought about having conversations of prison, parole officers, and my girlfriends, Kim and Latisha, who had gotten into a fist fight over me and a bag of Doritos. Then I wondered why it was so quiet.

My oldest was digging through the game cabinet. He had board games and card games spread all around the living room and he was just taking the lid off of one in a red box. I squinted. It was the game that my sister had given to me at my bridal shower. The ONLY game of its kind in my closet. "Dirty Minds" was the title. "A Game of Naughty Clues - For 2-6 open minded adults".


"Stop!" I yelled. "Pick up those games and put them away. We'll play something tonight as a family."

As I was attempting to hide the game not meant for seven year old boys that can read far too well, I heard the kitten puking. The noise was coming from my room. I ran into the room, dropped to my knees and pushed my face to the carpet (never a good idea in my home) so I could retrieve the kitten from beneath my bed. While under there, I also found a brown apple core. I yelled for my four year old.

He walked into the doorway, "Yes?"

Already knowing the answer, I asked, "Did you throw an apple core on the floor of my bedroom?"

He paused for a moment and said, "Well, I couldn't find the trash can."

I said, "You know where the trash is in the kitchen."

He paused again and replied, "Well, I didn't want to miss any of Paw Patrol."

Then my phone rang. I couldn't find it, but when I did, I saw it was a local number and there was a message. I listened to it. It was from my oldest child's school, "Your child wasn't at school today and we didn't receive a call from you excusing him. If we don't receive a call from you, he will be marked as an unexcused absence."

He had school?

I ran to my school calendar and read it. Sure enough, school was indeed in session. Not only today, but tomorrow as well! And my child was at home, getting into X-rated board games and watching a miniature stallion mount his beloved (male) pony.

Just then, I heard my little guy cry because big brother was picking on him and I said brightly, "Oh my gosh! You have school! Brush your teeth and I'll pack your lunch!" I packed that lunch with a lunch packing speed that I didn't know I possessed.

You see, there was plenty of time for him to eat lunch at school because all of this went down before 10:15 a.m.

I rushed him into his elementary building and signed my name in the office. Under "reason for visit" I wrote "Stupidity".

I returned home, where, in the middle of a windstorm, Brock arrived to help me return the minuscule stallion to his pen. It was not as easy as it should have been, but that, my friends, is another story for a different day.

Peace, Love and Miniature Stallions,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hair today, gone tomorrow. It's 'time' for a new 'personality'.

I looked in the mirror last night and wanted to cry. When Brock told me that I looked haggard, he was right. My eyes were wrinkled, my skin was pale and splotchy, my clothes were outdated and my hair was an odd combination of straw, frizzy, greasy and stringy. I had officially reached my limit. I was over looking "low maintenance".The time had come for a little self care.  I called my hair stylist. It's been so long, I wondered if she'd remember my name.

She said, "Johi! I haven't seen you in forever!"

"I know," I said, "it's obvious when people look at my head."

She asked what I wanted done and instructed me to bring her pictures.

I said, "No problem."

Except when I did research (by Googling "Blond hairstyles 2014"), I realized all the hair I loved was thick and wavy. Mine is neither.


Back to the drawing board. A girl has to work with what God gave her. Or marry for money. Dammit anyway.

They say hombre is 'in'. I say hombre is a free pass to all the lazy girls who don't like to upkeep their hair. Naturally, my hair is currently hombre- only it is unintentional. It's chemically treated, dried out blond on the bottom and four inches of grown out dishwater blond/grey on the top. While I know it sounds beautiful, it's surprisingly not working for me.

Decisions, decisions.
What was I going to do with my mop?
Maybe I would just get a wig.

After deciding that I couldn't live with one of those eerie, long necked wig-stand ladies watching me while I sleep, I resorted to my normal method of problem solving. I called a girlfriend (the one who has fabulous hair at all times and can style the bejeebus out of any hair- even mine). My girlfriends can fix anything,

I asked her, "Would you help me find a new hairstyle?"

She said, "Of course."

I said, "It needs to be bright and look cute when I comb it and let it air dry. That's what I do now and it works. Well... maybe it doesn't work... but that's how I style it most days."

She laughed at me. We both know how I tend to look like I've been perpetually trapped in an attic.

I said, "Look. Not everyone has your fabulous hair or your mad styling skills."

She agreed. She's humble like that.

I added, "Plus, I don't want to have to style it. I would say that I don't have the time, but we all know that's a lie. I could get out of bed 15 minutes earlier. The truth is, I simply don't have the personality to style my hair every day."

She guffawed and said, "Just like I don't have the personality to clean the kitchen and cook dinner tonight,"

"Exactly," I said. "You always get me."

That's the moment that I realized that the words 'time' and 'personality' were basically interchangeable. You could also use 'desire' or 'will'. Let me illustrate:

Sally doesn't have the time to give her husband a blow job.
Sally doesn't have the personality to give her husband a blow job.

Missy can't find the time to clean the abandoned woodshed.
Missy can't find the personality to clean the abandoned woodshed.

Sam's time for taking out the trash has diminished.
Sam's personality for taking out the trash has diminished.

Sam Jr. just didn't have the time to do his homework.
Sam Jr. just didn't have the personality to do his homework.

Lisa wants a new time for her hair appointment.
Lisa wants a new personality for her hair appointment.

What Harold lacks in time, he makes up for in performance.
What Harold lacks in personality, he makes up for in performance.

Kenny's time is limited.
Kenny's personality is limited.

Jill just doesn't posses the time to have children.
Jill just doesn't posses the personality to have children.

Johi would like to write more, but currently she doesn't seem to have the time.
Johi would like to write more, but currently she doesn't seem to have the personality.

That was my deep thought of the day. Enjoy.

Peace, love and unicorns,

If you find the time, feel free to send me pictures of cute hairstyles for women with fine, thin, stringy hair. Think Paltrow and Hough, not J-Lo and Vergara. Only time (or my menstrual cycle) will tell what I decide!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Clearing the Cobwebs and Killing Spiders

"Mom! There's a GIANT black spider in your bathroom!"

My oldest son was standing in front of me, wrapped in a towel. Water still dripped from his head. He was distressed.

"Mmmm. Okay." I responded with disinterest.

I was not afraid of spiders. Mostly. They didn't really bother me. All that much. I lived in the country. Spiders came with the territory. I've lived with spiders since I was a kid. I usually just left them be, even if they had decided to take up residence in all of the windows and doorways on the exterior of my house. I left them alone even when they lived inside the house with me.Were they really hurting anything?

"But Mom! It was REALLY BIG!" he insisted.

"Okay buddy. I'll take care of it later," I said.

It was the first chance I had to sit down all day. I certainly wasn't getting up for a spider. I was going to sit on my couch and flip through my new magazine. There were Halloween crafts in the new issue. The kids love that crap. I would find a craft and we could all do it together! Look! A spider craft! How cute! Plus, I was sitting. Finally. It had been a long day. Again. It was time for some self care. I secretly couldn't wait to flip on the television and completely check out for the day.

"Go get into your pj's, it's bedtime." I said to my son.

I hoped he would drop the urgency of the spider hunt. After a book, a cuddle, and a nighttime prayer, he did. Distraction is an art. Luckily, I majored it art. It's almost its own language; one that I spoke proficiently. I was a master of distraction.

Two days later, two minutes behind schedule, I stole a glance in my bathroom mirror before bolting out of the door. I shuddered at my bedraggled reflection. At the very least, a hairbrush was required. STAT. I grabbed for my brush and instead, found my hand tangled in a mess of sticky cobweb. When I started to peel the web from my skin, I noticed the giant black spider that sat approximately one inch from my fingers. It seemed to be sizing up the tasty meal entangled in its web. GAH! My heart raced a bit.

"I am not afraid of you!" I muttered.

I quickly snagged the brush bucket (yes, my brushes were in a bucket. I was raised on a farm, okay?) and dumped the spider into the toilet. I flushed and waved goodbye with a smirk on my face. When I turned around, I saw a second giant black spider scurry under the sink vanity. UGH. Yet I had no more time to lend to spider slaughter that morning. I was already late. As usual. Lateness is an art. Luckily, I majored in art. It's almost its own language; one that I spoke proficiently. I was a master of lateness.

I ran my slightly web-strewn brush through my hair and went about my day. I looked like I fell from the dumpster end of a garbage truck. Meh. I would take better care of my appearance another time- as in, in another life. Why did it matter how I looked? I didn't even have a job. I reminded myself of that daily. Self-criticism is an art. Luckily, I majored in art. It's almost its own language; one that I spoke proficiently. I was a master of self criticism.

Two days later, after consuming too much of my favorite dark roasted diuretic, I rushed to my bathroom for bladder relief. I stood and turned to flush. That is when I saw it. The giant black spider that was perched inside the toilet bowl. The very toilet bowl over which I had just exposed all of my delicate lady bits. I was rattled. I did not expect a spider to be THERE. It's one thing to confront a spider while fully clothed and wearing sturdy shoes, it's quite another experience when you are basically naked and barefoot.

I shuddered and flushed. I watched it twirl down the drain and wondered if it was the same spider that I flushed two days ago. Could it have re-emerged? Again? Or was it the one I ignored that went under the sink? Or was it a new one all together? Shit. This spider business was all getting to be too much.

I wasn't afraid of spiders, but the thought of them creeping up on me when I am unprotected was... unsettling. Thinking about what they might do on my face when I'm sleeping was enough to grip me with chilly fingers of fear. And it made me angry to know that I could be vulnerable to hurt in my own home... particularly when I was not even awake.

I was not a fearful person... unless I was afraid of something. I was not an angry person... until something pissed me off. Angry fear is an art. Luckily, I majored in art. It's almost it's own language; one that I spoke proficiently. I was a master at angry fear.

That was it! These spiders were overwhelming me. It was time to take care of the spiders and all their webs. I knew what I needed to do. The spiders and their messy killing traps were no longer allowed in my life. I put a pillowcase on a broom and swept the walls and ceilings in every room. I used the vacuum hose and sucked up those bastards that had been lurking under the beds. I scrubbed behind doors,  swept under furniture, and wiped the corners. I power washed the outside of the house. Then I power washed the inside of the barn. I literally put on my big girl boots and stomped the shit out of every creepy, unwelcome- albeit familiar- invader.

Every day, I slayed spiders. Every day, I knocked down webs. But they are persistent little bastards. And they continue to return, rebuild, and to prey on whatever stumbles into their familiar trap. It's a process that feels never-ending, but I know that winter is nigh and their life span is short. A new season is around the corner. Change happens, whether we are prepared or not, so we might as well prepare.  I'll turn over every rock in my garden and look behind every shutter on my house to make sure nothing is hiding out, laying eggs, and waiting to re-emerge when I am least expecting it. I'm doing the work now, so that in the next season I am free to chase butterflies.

Wish me luck.

Author note: This post isn't actually about spiders.