Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges

In a shocking turn of personality, I spent my summer as The Fun Facilitator to my children. I was a one woman entertainment committee. I finally earned my parenting gold star. Between the horseback riding, swimming, hiking, fishing, art, camping, and baseball, my house was basically a fucking summer camp.

And I enjoyed it. Truly, I did.

Keeping my work writing (horse magazines) and fun writing (this blog) to a minimum allowed me a summer of fully engaged adventure with my boys. We made memories. We read the first two books in the Little House series. We ate popsicles. We all learned new things. Naturally, I took lots of pictures. And I did so much physical work and activity that my legs are full of bruises and I inadvertently lost about 10 pounds. And I am tired.

Now school is back in session and fall is on the horizon; promising hours of non-mom activities, shorter days, increased hunger, and more can't miss television. All of which will slow me down and suck me back into those wonderful and horrible couch cushions.

In addition to that, over the weekend I received a special package in the mail. It was a book! I love books! I remember reading books of my choosing for pleasure! I love reading! The lure of slowing down and reading was beckoning me, so on Sunday I hid from my family in the barn with the intention of reading this book. But the people found me. As did the biting flies. So I admitted defeat, cleaned the stalls, and opened a beer.



I don't like to give up on my dreams, so tried to read again today. I hunkered on the couch with my new friend, a copy of Jen Mann's newest publication, People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges. I read that mofo cover to cover while allowing my children a few hours of what I like to call "unstructured play", because that sounds better that "I'm busy doing important stuff, so go entertain yourselves." The children chose to play "classroom." I read the book. It was a success!



If you have read her blog, you know that Jen writes with a combination of wit, intelligence, confrontation, self-deprecating humor, and assholishness. In essence, she is everything I look for in a friend.

Within the first few pages, Jen had me laughing out loud. From her oblivious choice of a lewd screen name to her conscious choice of farmer's attire for her first date with "The Hubs", Jen was constantly making fun of herself while maintaining a strong sense of certainty. Her stories of marriage were my favorite. She says exactly what most married women think (yet are too afraid to verbalize), with little to no apology. She clearly loves her spouse, even though he drives her absofreakinglutely batshit crazy. I feel you, Jen.

Jen writes of parenting with refreshing frankness. She masterfully exhibits the harrowing struggles of all parents- from breast-feeding and early socialization to school and educational involvement- all with a clever tongue and more of her signature snark and humor. Yet she artfully veils an actual sense of dignity and morality. Again, I was guffawing so loudly and suddenly that I interrupted my children's "unstructured play." Thanks a lot, Jen.

It is always an added bonus to read something that brings insight and gratitude into your own life. As the book closed with Jen's tales of suburban moms and their pretentiousness, she made me grateful for my amazing friends... and for the fact that I live in the country. The biggest drama in my life is when Black Dog chases my neighbor's car down our dead end road. I'll take it.

If you are looking for a laugh-out-loud funny, often surprising, slyly thoughtful read, pick up a copy of Jen Mann's People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges. You won't be disappointed. School's back in session. You deserve a little couch time and spontaneous laughter in your life and that is exactly what Jen Mann delivers!



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Adventures in Cheyenne, Wyoming

Everyone in Fort Collins can thank me for the precipitation yesterday. I hung some laundry on the clothes line then drove out of town, clearly causing it to rain. It's all part of my Life Plan, the one I call "Making Good Choices."

I took the boys to Cheyenne, Wyoming to spend the morning with my parents. They had made a trip from Iowa to attend Cheyenne Frontier Days. The town of Cheyenne is at its prime during the annual Frontier Days. With a parade, daily rodeos, and nightly concerts, it was hopping with cowboy activity. It was also crawling with transients, but that is another story that I probably won't tell.



My parents are what some might call Western Enthusiasts. They not only live on a horse ranch where they raise Quarter Horses and operate a horse camp, they also are avid collectors of anything vintage western. Some would say it's their passion; others might call it their illness. Whatever it is, I compare it to my inherent love of all things shoes. So naturally, ma and pa had selected touring a cowboy museum as part of their time with me and the boys. We stepped into the Nelson Museum of the West and were met with a burst of air conditioning and a friendly lady behind the desk. Well, Dad, the boys, and I stepped into the museum. Mom was outside taking a phone call.

The lady at the desk walked to the counter to greet us and my dad said, "Three adults and two brats."

I watched her visually scan our group and a perplexed look appeared on her face when she only counted two adults.

To save her the concern for my father's ability to do simple math, I said, "Mom is outside."

Then I smiled in a helpful way.

The woman frowned for a split second, tilted her head and asked, "How old is your mother?"

I saw my dad smirking. It's no secret where I got my love of mocking people. Then I did a quick rundown of our apparent scenario and realized that this woman was assuming two things that were not correct. One- she thought that I was married to my father and the "brats" were our spawn. And two- she believed that we left some apparently elderly woman alone out on the streets of Cheyenne to fend off the massive homeless population and heave open the heavy wooden doors. In both situations, I am a loser.

There was a long moment of silence where the only thing I could hear were the sarcastic remarks that my dad was thinking.

I corrected her, "No. THIS is my FATHER." Then I pointed at Chief Tall Hat, just to make it clear that I was referring to the big guy buying the tickets.

Just then, my youthful mother burst through the giant wooden doors with the ease of a veteran door opener. She didn't even break a sweat... or her hip. Because I'm not an asshole that leaves an old lady alone on the street. "Hurry up and get across that intersection, GRANDMA! I should hear your cane a-clacking!"

Immediately I suffered a shock of PTSD and I was right back in that moment in Vegas, where I was accused of being my OLDER sister's MOTHER. Then I felt that familiar twinge of mild rage toward the general public. I briefly considered shaming the woman, but judging by the high color in her cheeks, she felt plenty uncomfortable.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the museum. But then again, don't most old people love museums?  My particular favorite was the part where the giant bear tried to eat my children.


Walking through museums sure can work up an appetite, particularly when you are hungry before you walk into the museum. So we sidled on over The Capitol Grill, were I accidentally ordered enough salad for the Duggar Family and my dad taught my children proper restaurant etiquette, which apparently includes entering into a coloring contest and mocking your seven-year old opponent, then throwing french fries. The food was delicious and they maybe had the best french fries on the planet (for eating, not throwing).


After that we walked across the street and stopped into Cheyenne's legendary western store, The Wrangler. It was bustling; packed full of people and merchandise- the kind of store that you could lose yourself, or your child, in. Mom and I found Dad a belt and I discovered that the only jeans I like are over $88. Shocker.

The final stop in downtown Cheyenne was to visit The Big Boy Train, number 4004. The boys were dwarfed by this steam engine, which is over 132 feet long. Only 25 were built for a short period in the 1940's and only eight remain on display. I would say that we stopped for the boys, but in all honesty, I love trains, too.



We headed back to Little America. Because the boys were well-mannered, I had to make good on my promise; so I reluctantly donned my swimming suit and took my very excited boys to the pool. I thought to myself, This is fine. We're in Wyoming, which is not exactly the landmark for physical fitness. When I entered the pool area, I noticed that all around me where tanned, toned, gorgeous people in their twenties. I cannot explain it, the only thing I can fathom is that a bus of models from Miami must have broken down on the interstate. I spent about 20 minutes getting water kicked in my face and responding to "WATCH THIS!" and "LOOK AT ME!" 146 times- all of which included a random little girl who joined us. I tried not to shout for glee when the storm rolled in with big, fat raindrops and lightening.

"Oh darn it! We have to get out of the pool now!"



After showering, I wondered over to the gift shop, where I found a $198 Tasha Polizzi sweater that made me salivate and a wonderful photo-on-canvas of two flea bitten grey horses drinking from a stream. My dad bought me the picture, because he's truly a generous, big-hearted guy. Don't tell him that I said that.

I drove my little cowboys home and they both fell asleep immediately. Looking into the backseat and seeing their little heads resting on their shoulders filled me with joy. They are such good, sweet boys. And they are particularly precious when they're sleeping. Because... silence.

When we arrived back at our homestead, I pulled the wet laundry from the line just in time for the clouds to break up, leaving us with a beautiful evening. The boys begged to ride (after they begged for food), so ride we did. I was too lazy to heft my giant saddle onto Gus, so I went bareback.


It was a pretty good day.

Maybe, after all, my choices are just fine.


Peace, Love and Summatime,
Johi

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pioneering a Summer of Quality Time

Engage. Enjoy. Teach. Love. Build.

Those are the goals that I set for myself this summer. The time has come to step away from the computer- away from technology- and get back to the good stuff in life. Quality time outdoors with my kids (and Brock, when he is available) is my overall goal for the three warm months of June, July and August, and by golly, I mostly* reach my goals.

*I never did grow to 5'9"

Aside from a handful of projects, I have given myself a pass from most computer-related work until September 1. My boys are only 4 and 7 once and I intend to take full advantage of every day with them this summer. I am grateful for these ages, when they actually like me and still want to hang out with me.

In May, I adopted an almost childlike attitude of "I can't WAIT until summer break!" and thus far, it truly has been magical. Already one month into break, and our days have been filled with almost nonstop fun and learning. Sure, we have had some bumps and tears (and a nasty pony bite- thank goodness that was me), but the majority of our time has been wonderful. Not once have I heard, "I'm bored!" and I really doubt I will because I have shed my boring, winter self and morphed into a tanned, denim clad, mostly unwashed, great facilitator of AWESOME. I will not lie, the kids' ages make activities so much easier (and more enjoyable) than they have been in years past.

I am having more fun being a mom now than I ever have before.


Because... tiny cowboys on ponies.  I mean, seriously, this shit is ridiculously cute.

It also helps that I have my horses back and no longer feel as if I have a giant void in my chest where my heart once lived. So there's THAT.

Also, the fridge stocked with Omission beer is nice. I like the Pale Ale (blue label).



In all seriousness, one of the main goals for this summer was to build up Thing 1's confidence, which had been hacked away during the school year. I painfully watched him struggle in school with his peers as he navigated the choppy waters of playground conduct and social structure. So many days he came home from Kindergarten with stories of kids excluding him, taunting him, and even punching him. It was heart wrenching to watch my beautiful, sensitive, sweet boy feel tentative about socializing, even with kids that he called friends. While he was succeeding beautifully in the classroom, my bright-eyed child's light was fading a bit. We had many too-advanced conversations about not allowing others to victimize you, standing up for yourself and treating people as you want to be treated. I tried my best to listen and give him sound advice, but it is always hardest to coach someone when you are only getting one side of the story, and you happen to be the mother of that side. In short, I was ready to get him home and under my Mother Hen wing for a little rebooting and recharging and a lot of love and snuggles.

We had tried Karate for confidence, personal awareness and responsibility. While he seemed to enjoy Karate when he was there, he didn't really seem passionate about it. Half the time, he didn't even want to go. In all honesty, neither Brock or I have any connection to Karate, so we were ill-equipped to stir that fire. But there was something that I am passionate about that builds and develops all of those qualities: HORSES HORSES HORSES!



The arrival of Thing 1's pony, Clyde, brought the horse interest to the forefront of his mind. He seems to share my passion and the joy on his face when he is with that pony is unmatched. Every day, Thing 1 slips into his cowboy boots and heads out to the barn, where he halters both ponies and leads them out to the pen for the day. He has overcome many pony handling challenges (i.e. they are as stubborn and strong as donkeys) by implementing Posture, Position and Energy. His eager attitude, persistence and patience have made him successful. He is listening as I teach him proper horse handling and care, and even repeats things I have said about it to his little brother. He grooms Clyde, saddles him and mounts without assistance. And he LOVES to ride. The first time he cantered that pony, his smile was a big and bright as a full moon. It has been amazing to witness. His light is shining bright again. This mama's heart is full.




Thing 2 is having a wonderful summer as well. I've watched Thing 2 gain focus, determination and listening skills as he and his 27 year old pony, Duke, develop a wonderful partnership. Of course, he insists on keeping up with his big brother, which includes cleaning stalls, carrying his own pony saddle and a lot of very bumpy, fast trotting. So much trotting. So bumpy.

When the kids and I aren't in the barn or on the trail, we can be found doing one of the following: bike riding, playing baseball, making art, fishing, hiking with the dogs, gardening or reading through the Little House on the Prairie series in the almost completed Zen Den. Hot damn. Life is good.







Right now (aside from the screaming of Thing 2 from the backyard- I'm sure he'll be fine) I don't want summer to end. We are living in love and relishing the warm summer days. This is how life was meant to be lived and I intend to take full advantage of it.

Remind me of this post on August 22nd, when I have heard "I'm bored" 1,000 times, need to work again and am overly ready for the kids to go back to school.

Peace, Love and Summer Break,
Johi