Thank you for dropping by!

I truly appreciate that you've decided to share part of your day in my world. I hope your time has been well spent and I've made you smile, laugh or think.





Monday, December 30, 2013

Observations on a "Successful" 2013

Interestingly, this past year, I achieved everything I set out to do.  This year was the year I was going to focus on my business and become more involved in the community.  I did.  It worked out nicely. 

In fact, on paper, this was a fantastic year.

I had signed up for a consulting program to help with my business.  It wasn't quite what I was looking for, but it reinforced that I have some good systems.  I had a staff change mid year that has actually worked out to be a great thing.  I exceeded my goals, which were already a push, by 10%.  Not bad.

I head into 2014 with good work systems and a great staff.

I was extremely involved in a number of service and political organizations, another goal of mine.

Because I believe strongly in community service and having a voice.

Because I know I can get things done.

We managed to get a new principal.  We clothed and fed a few hundred people. I made some amazing connections and feel like I can have an impact on policy making directly.  I helped raise money for some organizations I believed in.  I supported women's rights.

I head into 2014 knowing that this year I made a positive impact in the world.

So why am I not completely and utterly thrilled?  Isn't that what resolutions and goals are about?

Because I'm exhausted.

Because the energy I spent this year didn't really align with my real values.

Not to say that I don't love what I do professionally and want to be the best at it-- I do.  It's just in my field "success" is measured by money.  This year reiterated that I don't actually care about that.  Well, I do, but it's not a huge motivator.  I believe in enough.  I believe in having enough money so I can live a comfortable lifestyle. My client satisfaction score was far more important to me than my year end numbers.  I don't need to achieve some random number set by some corporate employee that I see once a year.  It's why I am an independent franchise owner after all.

I am proud of the community service and the organizations I support, but honestly, even that didn't turn out to be quite the motivating factor I thought it would.  People always seemed to want more- the more I did, the more that was asked and expected. More money.  More time. 

It took away from time with my family-- missed dinners to attend meetings or fundraisers.  It was all for good reasons, but it felt wrong.  I always wanted to be helping my kids with their homework or reading with them at night-- not schmoozing or listening to speaker reiterate what I already knew and supported.

It also took time away from focusing on my health-- an area that I kinda threw the towel in on this year to focus on the other areas-plus weight loss had been this ridiculous goal that I wasn't achieving-- and I ended up sick.  A lot. The only time I can really work out is at 5 am.  Staying out late meant I couldn't wake up to get going early.  All the exercising and eating healthy I had been doing may not have made a dent in the scale, but it certainly had positively impacted my overall health. 

So in 2013 I made some money.  I made some positive change in the world.  It was a good year.

But the biggest thing I got out of 2013, was redefining my values.  My family, the quality of my work (not quantity) and my health- the things that truly matter to me.

My 2014 won't look like my 2013. My focus at my business will be to sustain what we put in place last year and maintain the momentum.  I will do some community service, but not much.  I've turned down 2 board appointments already.  Very politely and graciously.  Because I can't.  I know one pissed a few people off, but oh well.

I know everyone is busy, but it was nuts this past year.  It just felt wrong.  I was living a good life, but not mine. 

This next year will be more tuck ins.  More yoga.  More time cooking.  More time breathing.  More time reading for pleasure.   More family game nights.  More dates with my husband.  More walks at night.  More petting the dog.  More traveling.  More lunches with friends and clients.  More dinner parties.  More wine after dinner on the patio.  More writing.  Maybe even a PhD program...

It will be less Facebook as a stress reliever.  Less late nights at the office or bringing work home.  Less making exceptions for that day off I meant to take off but someone really needs something that day.  Less commitments of my time.  Less following up with people for the third or fourth time because I know I'm not the only one capable of keeping a calendar.  Less time calling friends that never call me and focusing on the ones that do. 

It really was a good year.  I am grateful.  Next year, however, is going to be even better.  I know it.  Because I'm going to be focusing on what's really important to me- better relationships with my family, friends and clients-- and better health, regardless of the scale.

As successful as 2013 looked on paper, the real change took place within.  Even more importantly, it set me up for an even better 2014- maybe not on a paper, but where it matters most.






Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shamed by my Son

I always say I learn a lot from my kids- more than I teach them.  Tonight was a great example.

My son is fairly reserved- not shy- reserved.  He's smart.  Not just "in my eyes" smart, but "test score" smart.  For what that's worth.

He's also pretty darn cute.

And the girls in his class think so, too.  I get the "You're Skip's mom.... hi...." winky looks at the school.  When I chaperoned a trip with another school, the girls immediately befriended me.  Because I was "that boy's" mom. 

Rough life, I know.

Tonight we had a holiday party that we attended as a family.

My friend was there with her daughter.  Her daughter goes to the magnet school we want our son to attend.  He has been hesitant about applying.  I don't know if he'll get in or not, but we really want him to apply.  Our zoned middle school is pretty good, so if he chooses not to, we're still good.  We want it to be his choice.  But we want his choice to be our choice.  You know what I mean.

My friend's daughter is also cute.  Which we thought might help our cause to encourage him to apply.

They seemed to hit it off.  They talked.  They were laughing. 

We left them alone.  We didn't want to be pushy.

Then, of course, after we left, we teased the snot out of him.

Because we are parents and that's what we do.

We were teasing him because she was cute. 

Have you ever been put in your place by an 11 year old?

He was almost offended by it-- not by the teasing-- but because the girl also happened to be really smart and very funny.  THAT was why he was talking to her.  And he wasn't kidding.  She was cute, but he talked to her because he could have a conversation with her.  He simply liked talking to her.

He didn't say he didn't think she wasn't cute.  He didn't say he didn't notice.

But he, in a few words, put me in my place.

Because apparently there is more to a girl than just her looks.

This young lady is pretty awesome, too. 

But we focused on the fact that she is cute.

We suck.

My 11 year old son focused on the fact that she was smart and easy to talk to.

Far more important characteristics.

Oops.

My son has made comments about girls that like him-- cute ones, too-- that he doesn't have time for all their drama. 

Smart girls are worth talking to, in his eyes.

I'm impressed.  With him.  Not with me.  Because apparently, despite my ardent feminist opinion that women are more than a body and a baby machine, I really am stuck in 1954.

But I have to say, I have a strange feeling that I am going to have a pretty kick-butt, smart, funny daughter-in-law some day and not some cutesy bubble head.  Because he knows what's important.

Unlike his parents.  Ee gads.  So much to learn!!

Oh- and he is definitely applying to the school now.

Thanks for keeping it real, son!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Everybody Gets a Trophy

I am not a fan of not keeping score. 

I am a HUGE proponent of letting kids lose.  As I like to say, it's much easier to learn to lose when you're 6 than when you're 26 or 46.

We are not all superstars at everything.

In life, there are winners and there are losers.

So when I went to my daughter's second grade awards ceremony today at her elementary school- a quick 20 minute presentation-- I almost left when they announced that EVERY KID WOULD BE GETTING AN AWARD.

Really?

It's supposed to be for the kids who make the honor roll, get perfect attendance, etc.  The one time they get to shine for showing up and doing the work.

My kids always make out like bandits.

Every kid?  An award?

What's the point of an award if everyone gets one?

Plus, the ceremony started at 2:45 pm  My office is 20 minutes away.  I had a client meeting at 3:30.

Every kid was going to take some time.

Fortunately, my daughter's teacher went second and our last name starts with B, so I knew my daughter would be one of the first ones.  If I couldn't stay for everyone, I would stay for my daughter who was getting a "real" award.

The teachers announced each kid.  The ones who got honor roll and/or perfect attendance got awards.  The other kids got "special" awards for things like being nice, working hard or always trying their best.  I'm sure some of the teachers had to dig pretty deep to come up with some of these unique categories.  There wasn't any "I Haven't Choked You Yet" award, but I think some of the kids would have qualifed.

So as I sat there thinking "this is total bullshit..." I noticed one of the girls in my daughter's class that I work with on Fridays.

She is not doing well at school.  She doesn't know her letters or sounds.  She shared with me that her mom called her stupid.  I thought she was exaggerating.  If you listened to my daughter, you would think I gave her wine every night (ONCE!) and shut her head in the car door (okay, that I actually DID do, but it was an accident and she's fine).  Kids exaggerate all the time.

Then I met this girl's mother.  She introduced me as "that nice lady I told you about" (ahhhh....sweet).  So I said "Wow, your daughter is really doing well.  She's working so hard." The mother replied with - I kid you not- "Really? She's not really smart... are you sure?"

I did not slap her.

I really, really wanted to.  I watched the little girl melt into nothing.

So this afternoon, there she stood with her award.  An academic award. 

Or as I would say a "bullshit" award because academics is not her forte at all.

And the little girl had this amazing smile on her face-- a quiet one.  She looked at her certificate and this smile grew on her face.

An award.

For her.

She more than likely couldn't read it-- no joke. 

But I could see her stand a little taller.

And that smile.... I'm tearing up thinking about it.

She's 7.  She will probably not win a lot of awards in her life. Or maybe she will and this was simply the first one. She's 7.  Who knows?

In about 3 seconds, that little girl completely changed my opinion.

That award was not bullshit at all.

To that little girl it was the world.

And it was proof that she really did matter.

She wasn't a loser.  Because sometimes when you pick a winner, you inadvertently make someone feel like a loser.

My kids are going to have a good life.  They have books to read.  A warm bed.  A healthy lunch.  A college fund.

This little girl now has an award that she can show her mom and sad "See- I'm not stupid.  I'm good at something."  They didn't change her grades or test scores-- they gave her a colored piece of paper with her name on it.

So today, everybody got a trophy.

And I'm fine with that.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Cookbooks I Love & My Favorite Kitchen Stuff

This is not my normal blog--

As you are shopping this year for the holidays, here are a few items that I highly recommend for people that cook.

Small appliances that I use frequently

Breville Smart Oven
Seriously people, trust me.  Just get this.  You will love it.  It toasts.  It roasts.  It bakes.  It reheats.  It's fantastic.  Imagine garlic cheesy bread any time you want.  A cheese quesadilla.  A roasted chicken.  Perfect toast or bagels.

I love this thing.  So does my husband.  And my kids.  Fantastic appliance.

Panini Press
Any brand.  They aren't all expensive.  Because everything tastes better as a panini.  Period.  Personal favorite is peanut butter & nutella.

Oxo Mandoline Slicer
My husband may disagree on this, but this one rocks.  It replaced my love of my old Pampered Chef one (their new one has too many safety features).  With that said, use the finger guard.  My husband's knuckle will never be the same again.  This is smooth and easy to use.  I like all the options for cutting widths.  It has the blades you'll actually use.  It goes well with the salad book I recommend.

Pampered Chef Salad & Berry Spinner
Best salad spinner in the world.  Did I mention that I eat a LOT of salads??

Cookbooks on my shelf

Moosewood Cookbook
Vegetarian cooking never tasted so good.  Fantastic.  The lemon pound cake is phenomenal as is the hummus recipe.  And 1,000 other things.  Weird hippie food that isn't so weird or hippie any longer.

Don't Panic, Dinner's in the Freezer
Amazingly delicious make ahead meals that you can make in bulk.  I've cooked with friends a few times and we've split the costs.  We once made 12 meals each for $50 a person ($4.16 a meal!).  The brownie recipe is to die for you.  The soups are the best.  Great stuff.  It's food your family will actually eat.

Williams-Sonoma Salad a Day
Who needs a salad cookbook, you ask?  You do.  I eat a LOT of salad.  This book took my salad making to a new level.  There are all kinds of salads, too, not just leaf salads.  Tuna salad that is actually good.  Imagine 365 different dressings.  My one word of caution- DON'T STRAY FROM THE RECIPES.  A lot of thought clearly went into this book- texture, taste combos, seasonal items... if it says use 1/4 tsp of cayenne put it in.  Even if you hate cayenne.  I usually make salads for my book club.  Half the club has now purchased this book.  It's THAT good.  It's also not for beginner's.  Fancy ingredients.  Fancy techniques.  But if you cook, it's well worth it.

The Everything Cookbook
If you can't cook, this book is for you.  It has all the basics you'll ever need- how to roast a turkey, make macaroni and cheese, easy cornbread-- and it's easy to understand.  I use this all the time for the simple stuff- meatloaf, for example.  I'm also using this with my kids this year to help them learn to cook.  I told my husband if he ever gets an idea to make something, check here first.  Kids going off to college or their first apartment NEED this book.

Enjoy!
Merry Everything!

Mama Bean

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Everyone Has a Story

I love to hear people's stories. 

Everyone has one.

On "CBS Sunday Morning" (best show ever) they used to do a feature where a correspondent started the journey by throwing a dart at a map, going to the city and then picking a name randomly from the phonebook.  He would meet with the person and hear their story.  Everyone had a story.  The featured "guest" would then throw the dart at a map to pick the next location.

Sometimes the stories were inspiring.  A local hero unknown to the masses.  Sometimes they were sad.  A father who hadn't seen his children in years.

I always found it fascinating.

Because we all do have a story.  I share mine on my blog.  People seem to like to read them.  My dad's dad and my mom's mom were both great story tellers.  My husband's grandmother who passed last week was, too. 

Call it a narrative.  Call it a personal history.  I call it interesting.

One of my favorite questions is asking couples to tell me how they met.  They always smile.  They always go back to that exact moment.  They laugh.  It's as if I get to be there, witnessing that moment when their lives collided.  It takes them back to a happy moment.

I also ask people how they ended up in their careers.  Did they choose their profession or did their profession choose them?  Do they love it or is there something else they'd rather be doing?  If there is-- why don't they go for it?

Travel stories are great, too.  There's always an adventure.  I don't travel as much as I used to and I get to live vicariously through them.

It's also why I probably enjoy Facebook-- I get to see stories unfold.  I've watched friends fall in love.  And then out.  I also watched a divorce slowly unfold.  Friends who always wanted children go through pregnancy and then that first year.  Stories of parents and grandparents passing.  Children growing and graduating.  Grandchildren.  It's 1,000 narratives a day.

The stories connect us.  They make us human.

People complain about what a cold, unfeeling world we live in.  I disagree.  I find that most-- not all- want to share their story. 

This year, when you're at parties or family events, try asking some open ended questions.  Ask people how they know their host.  How did they meet?  What their favorite parts of the holidays are.  What their favorite Christmas gift was and why?  What was the best New Year's they've ever had? Their first kiss? Do they buy lottery tickets- and if yes, what would they do with the winnings?

You might be surprised at all the great experiences people have had.  Regular, ordinary people.  You don't need to be a Kardashian to have an interesting life. 

I think it's fun.  You might be surprised at how people open up.

It truly makes the world feel just a bit smaller and a bit warmer.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mary

My husband's grandmother passed away last night.

I would say peacefully into the night, but that wasn't her style.  She fought death every step of the way.  Because that's who she was- a tiny, spirited woman who was full of life.

This Saturday she would have been 95.  Instead of cake, we will be celebrating her life at her funeral.

I have always enjoyed older people, so it's no surprise that we had a very nice friendship- not just the required family stuff, but I considered her a friend.

Ever since I was a kid, I enjoyed hearing my grandparents' stories about the good ol' days.  And the bad ones, too.  I learned history through our family stories.  My great uncles who fought in WWII in every branch of service.  My grandfather's jobs in the mines.  My grandmothers' stories of cleaning houses, working at Woolworth's and of course, all the family dirt.  That was the good stuff. I wrote letters to my grandmothers starting after high school, all through college and into my post-college life.  They were openly jealous of all the neat things I got to do that they couldn't do "in their day."  Their letters are the most valuable items I own.  Period. 

Mary and I obviously didn't correspond because we were near each other and she was always there.  I almost wish we had so I'd have those letters to cherish.

Shane first introduced me to her after we had been dating a few months.  He knew we would like each other.  He said she could be blunt, so be prepared.  She was absolutely, positively baffled by the fact that I went to Cornell.  His cousin went there-- he was really smart-- was I that smart, too?  The Cornell in New York?  Yes, the Cornell in New York.  And my sports coupe threw her for a bit of a loop.  To be honest, it was a better fit for her and I was a better fit for her Camry.  Let's just say she liked to drive fast.  Very fast.  And I drive like a grandma.  That's YOUR car?  Yes, it is.

We were from different times.

I think it took her awhile to figure me out.  I always joke that Shane's family was terrified the first Thanksgiving that I was supposed to cook.  He knew I could cook.  His parents knew, too.  The rest of the family didn't know what to make of this outsider- this stockbroker from New York. 

That's when they realized I really was a small town girl from the mid-west. 

The turkey was fine.  Mary was impressed.

She watched my son when he was 6 weeks old.  I had a client meeting for about 90 minutes near her house and she loved babies.  When I came back to pick him up, she met me panicked at the door.  Apparently he had been crying and the only way he would calm down was to put him on his belly.  She knew that "you girls today don't do that" so she had sat on the bed and watched him sleep.  I laughed and told her I had no idea what I was doing, she had had 5 kids so I trusted her.  She laughed and said she had never known what she was doing either.  So we both sat there, on the bed, and watched him sleep, making sure he didn't die.  It was pretty funny.  She had also used Desitin from the 1950s because she couldn't find ours in our overstuffed diaper bag.  She liked to keep things until they were empty.  She was frugal.  I don't know what the shelf life is on Desitin, but my son has survived the past 11 years, so I guess it was okay.

After I had my son, I scaled back my practice.  I usually took Fridays off.  I would shop at the Whole Foods near her house.  I  swung by fairly regularly for some coffee.  Not because she was my husband's grandmother, but because I genuinely enjoyed her company.  We'd talk about everything and anything. 

During one of our chats, she got me a cup of coffee.  The baby cried, so I fed him, changed him and then went to drink my coffee and it was cold.  She laughed and said "Honey, you'll never have a hot cup of coffee again."  Truer words were never spoken.  I laugh when I try to have a cup at home and it inevitably gets cold. 

She would share these great stories of old Las Vegas.  Of the family- all the good and bad.  We also talked a lot about contemporary topics and she was quite opinionated.  We also agreed about 90% of the time.  She was very proud that I worked and still managed to be a good mom (or at least try). 

She called me one day- she had a question on something-- and she noticed I was out of breath.  She asked if I was okay.  I actually started cracking up.  I confessed that what I was actually doing was chasing my 18 month old son around the backyard.  He had taken his diaper off and was covered in poop and I couldn't catch him.  I can still hear her laughing.  She'd had that happen more than once as well. 

She was a devout outdoorswoman.  She loved to camp and fish.  She would tell fish stories and just get giddy.  I made a photo montage for her 90th birthday.  During the fish sequence, she started talking over the video and telling the story of this one really big fish that had been in the sequence.  It was as if she had just caught it.

She loved her flowers and gardening- we shared that interest.  I would bring both my kids over and she would walk her backyard with them and let them smell the flowers.  Or she would find a lizard with them.  Or point out a bug.

And speaking of flowers, my allergies were really bad one spring.  We had stopped by to say hi-- we tried to when we were in the neighborhood.  I told her how awful I felt.  She agreed that it seemed really bad this spring.  She had a huge olive tree in her front yard.  As we were leaving, she started shaking it to show us the pollen.  We got in the now pollen covered car in our pollen covered clothes and I looked at my husband and said "I thought she liked me.  I think she is trying to kill me."  And we just laughed.  And then I took some benadryl.

She always asked me how I made something when I would cook dinner.  She loved my stuffing.  In fact, I started crying in the grocery store when I was buying the pine nuts that she loved.  She would pick through the stuffing and eat the pine nuts like she was a squirrel.

She never tried to tell me how to live my life-- which was unusual because from what I could gather from everyone else, she always had suggestions.  She did give me a diet book once.  To her credit, I've put on a lot of weight.  She didn't mean it to be mean but rather because she cared.  I thought it was quite a nice gesture.

Most of the family feared the Wrath of Mary.  She would openly rip you a new one if she thought you were screwing up.  I very seriously think my husband quit smoking because I threatened to tell his grandma.  You may laugh, but he begged me not to tell.

She adored my kids.  The first time she held my son was at the hospital.  We were alone in the room and she looked into his eyes and cried.  I asked her what was wrong- she looked up and said "He's so beautiful.  He's not all white and pasty like our babies."  My husband's people are mostly tow heads or redheads.  It still cracks me up.

She and my daughter had a special connection.  Mary had a habit of squealing when she saw the kids and squeezing them very tightly.  You could see them cringe- - even as adults-- tightening up as she approached preparing for the hug.  My daughter,  on the other hand, would run right to her and melt into her arms.  Mary was always well coordinated and my daughter loved all her baubles and brooches.  My daughter loved the delighted shrieks of joy from Mary- the more dramatic, the better.  They also shared a love of art-  Mary was a wonderful painter.

She had a group of girlfriends that lunched together into her 90s.  Family and friends were always important to her.  She nurtured relationships.  She always treated me like a good friend.

She never stopped learning.  She was always reading something.  She was up to date on everything. 

Watching her die was one of the hardest things I've ever had to see.  She fought it every single step of the way.  She couldn't remember me at Easter.  She tried.  She knew she knew me and she tried to fake it valiantly. 

The last afternoon we sat around her bedside and told stories.  We were all laughing at the practical jokes and the fun family stories. The hospice nurse pointed out that she was trying to make facial expressions.  I'm sure it was to add her two cents because that was probably NOT exactly what happened and she wanted to clear the air....

My husband commented that losing someone like his grandmother wasn't just losing a person, it was losing a treasure.  She had so much to share- so much history.

I feel very fortunate that we were there to hear so much of it.  It's hard to explain but because of Mary my children feel part of a larger whole.  They are part of Las Vegas history.  This is THEIR hometown- not just some retirement community or a place to live because California is too expensive.  This is our family's home.  On Mother's Day two years ago we ate at the Springs Preserve.  Mary used to swim in the springs.  She stood on the balcony and pointed out where she would play as a kid.  Where the family ranch was.  Where her childhood friends lived.  My children listened to every word.

I surprised myself with how much I've cried in the past 24 hours.  She was my husband's grandmother.  Not mine.  She was nearly 95.  It was time.  Etc.  Etc.

The night she died, before she passed, I was tucking in my children.  I told them to send happy thoughts to heaven so they would be there waiting for Mary when she got there.  We were sure she wouldn't make it through the night.  She died about an hour later.

The next morning I told my son.  He was his stalwart self and teared up a little (he cried more later).  My daughter told me, with big tears in her eyes, that she had wished a house for Mary.  It had a big yard with flowers.  Her paintbrushes.  Lotsa dogs.  And my daughter went on and on including all the things her great grandmother loved.  I lost it.  It was beautiful.  She truly knew her.  And I'm sure Mary was happily surprised by her lovely imagined home when she arrived.

She died surrounded by her family.  They are exhausted.  They were all amazing.  I could only hope to "pass through" as my daughter called it, surrounded by my loved ones.

Mary, I will miss you.  I love you very much.  Thank you for making me part of your family and being such a strong presence in our lives.



Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Trying to Create a Dinner Party Renaissance

Dinner party.

The term brings up images of "Mad Men" - sport coats, cocktails and well set tables.

I love dinner parties sans all the above... well, I do enjoy a good cocktail.

About 8 years ago I had tried to get into the habit of "having people over for dinner"-- I would invite an mix of people that I knew and serve something really simple.  It would look far more impressive because most people don't cook apparently.  And the nights would be fun.  More than a few times my "mix" of people inspired great conversations.  And a couple times, well, the descriptor was more uncomfortable.

What I always took away from these parties-- or more get together than party- was that people enjoyed them.  It was more relaxed than going to a restaurant.  No rush, no pressure.  The focus was the conversation-- you could hear each other speak. 

As hosts, it was easy to put together and we had a system to clean up quickly.  Well the system is my husband does it while I serve dessert, but it IS a system.  I always joke that I make dinner every night so it's really not a big deal to throw on a few more servings.  Because, no joke, it's true.

At the end of the night people usually left smiling and saying how we needed to do it again.

After I had my daughter, we stopped having them regularly then it seemed like they stopped entirely.

So last Saturday we had some friends over.  People that we enjoy.  Of different ages, different walks of life-- good stuff!!  The common theme was that they were all amazing activists.  Or as I like to say - people who get shit done while everyone else bitches about it.

The kids helped set up.  They met everyone.  They were excited to see the people-- they had met everyone at some point and were trying to put together the guest list from what they remembered. 

My cooking was a little off- I decided to grill and didn't plan it well, but I think it all turned out okay.  The wine and dessert that everyone brought were fantastic.

We drank a little wine in the kitchen while we finished the final touches, the conversation flowed.  We laughed, we joked.  We discussed serious issues. The young ones-- in their 20s-- I don't think were sure what to expect-- it was cute.  I'm not hip (they are) and I love that these amazing young people would choose to spend an evening with me and the hubby.

We sat down, ate, conversed, laughed and laughed some more.  My kids popped in with their commentaries from time to time.

It wasn't rushed.  It was pressured.  It was just some friends sitting around having a meal.  Because again, I'd be doing it anyhow.  Might as well invite some friends over.

We all have inside jokes now that include the phrases the perfect Hanukkah gifts, El Toro and Salsa de Manzana.  Inside jokes that we will all laugh at at stuffy black tie functions for years to come.

We all learned a little bit more about each other.  Everyone already knew each other, so it was nice to get the one step closer to really knowing each other.

One of my favorite things when we have friends over-- and was definitely the case last Saturday- is when my kids hang out at the top of the stairs listening.  Not because I want them to hear us talking, but because I want them to see that we have friends and interests apart from them.  We are not just Mom and Dad but rather Shane and Lori.  I want them to see that friendships-- old and new-- are important.  I want them to know that you can always learn something, no matter your age. I want them to know that life is meant to be enjoyed not endured-- because we sometimes can get bogged down in the day to day aspects of life that we forget to really relax and have fun.  I want them to see that people still talk and connect.  It's not all texting and Facebooking.

It was nice. 

So the next time your friends say "Hey, let's get together" don't schedule a dinner out that is going to be part of a rushed day- plan a simple dinner (I recommend roasting something-- far easier), have them bring a bottle of wine, a nice dessert and just come hang out. Don't plan it weeks into the future, either because it will never work.  Don't pick "sometime" pick next week.  And don't make it a stressful Martha Stewart Perfect Party.  Make it a Mama Bean Meal- place cards and centerpieces and courses aren't why people come- they come for the connection.

We'll be doing it more often.  Because it was fun.  Because slowing down and talking is important.  Because my friends are incredibly important to me-- I learn so much from them and I have so much respect for them.  Because I like an excuse to cook.  Because I like an excuse to have some wine... okay, any day that ends in "y" works... but you know what I mean. 

Someday when I'm old (which will always be a few days after tomorrow since I've decided to not get old), I will look back and remember my friends and the fun we've had.  I won't remember the computer crashing, the lost library book, the run in my tights.. because they don't matter.  The laughter around the table did.

My old roommate posted the best compliment I've ever received.  He wrote on a comment on one of my wedding pictures "Why is that whenever I think of you, I always remember laughing?"

Call some friends.  Invite them over.  Don't wait.  Don't overthink it. 

A meatloaf shared amongst friends is so much more than a meatloaf.

Eat.  Drink.  Laugh.









Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Return of Crabby Crabmeister

As it always go, I write some blog on a nicer, kinder, healthier Mama Bean and then BAM- less than 24 hours later all these great, insightful commentaries are replaced with reality.

My husband and son were going fishing and hunting on Saturday.  We were actually going to do a weekend camping trip, but that had a very last minute change to "You know, why don't the boy and I just go for the day?" which turned into my daughter and I having a Girls Day. 

Since my husband had to get up at 2 am to leave, I thought I would give him a headstart on sleep on Friday night.  So he went up at 9 and I stayed downstairs watching TV.

I watched "Grimm", caught up on some "Jimmy Kimmel" episodes that I recorded (and if you're not watching Jimmy Kimmel, I feel bad for you.  So very funny.  And his interviews with celebrities are the best I've ever seen- no one ever looks nervous, stressed or annoyed-- anyhow, I highly recommend it) and then for some reason, unbeknownst to me, I thought "Oh- this is the last season for 'How I Met Your Mother'-- I should catch up!"

Catch up.

I watched the first season.  And I didn't particularly care for it all that much, although some parts of it are really hilarious.  The non-sequitur stuff really cracked me up.

But it's in its 9th and final season.  He finally meets the mother and quite honestly, I was a little curious.  Nine years of build up.  Not that I watched any of it in the interim, mind you.

So I watched 4 episodes back to back.

It was now 1:30 am.  My husband came down, kissed me good bye and was curious as to why I was still up watching a show I had never watched.

My son came down.  I said bye and went to bed.

The dogs are not aware that on days that start with S, I will not be awakening early to feed them.  My husband actually feeds them during the week. We usually sucker our son into doing it on weekends.

Our lab Oliver can tell time.  It was 6 am. 

He is like the Very Hungry Caterpillar. If I don't feed him, he will eat things that dogs are not supposed to eat-- socks, underwear, pillows...

He also howls and talks like a combo of Scooby-Doo and Astro.

So I got up.  Fed them.  Peed (never pass up an opportunity to pee, thank you Jack Nicholson).  Went back to bed.

Oh Glorious Sleep.  How Divine Thou Art.

I snuggled in. Empty bladder good to go for at least another 3 hours.... ahhhh...

My daughter is not an early riser.  I was thinking she would sleep until at least 9, stumble out to watch a little TV.

She also is nearly 8 and is completely capable of preparing a bowl of cereal.  We have SEVEN brands to choose from.  She prides herself on this skill during the week.

Therfore, I was a bit taken aback at 7:45 when Miss Thing excitedly jumped on my bed ready to start our Girls Day.

"Honey, Mommy just needs to sleep... I stayed up a little later than usual..." 

"But I'm hungry."

"Go get some cereal... please, sweetie let me sleep."

"But I don't want cereal.  I'm over cereal."

WTF?

"We have 7 types to choose from.  Please let me sleep."

"But I want to have our Girls Day... it's not my fault you stayed up..." whine... whine.. whine..

I do not like whining.

I am actually quite pleasant in the mornings but not after be awakened and then whined to.

"ZOEY!  I AM EXHAUSTED LET ME SLEEP!"

I would like to point out that I was quite nice up until this point.  The whining put me over the top.

"But I'm hungry."

The anger built and I said "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  YOU NEVER GET UP THIS EARLY ON SATURDAY.  DO YOU WANT ME TO BE CRABBY CRABMEISTER ALL DAY LONG?"

"But I'm hungry."

"GET DRESSED FOR GYMNASTICS AND I WILL TAKE YOU OUT TO BREAKFAST THEN."

"I don't want to go to gymnastics."

Oh. Dear.  Really? This is the argument you want to have right now?  I fully disclosed that I was a) tired and b) in the Crab Zone.

So now, still in bed, I start in about how she wanted to do gymnastics.  Yes, gymnastics is a little uncomfortable but she is sooo close to doing stuff and then it will get fun.  And we already paid for it.  So she can get her little butt in her gym clothes, brush her hair and then we'll go to breakfast. 

"I don't want to go to gymnastics.  I'm hungry."

Next, tears were shed.  I will spare you the conversation.  I don't actually remember it, but I'm sure she will recount it to her therapist word for word.

She got dressed.  After 379 requests, she brushed her hair.

There was no time to go out to breakfast.  Because it took her 2 hours to accomplish these 2 simple tasks.

So we get to gymnastics.

My daughter is not a talented gymnast.  She has no experience with it.  I am utterly useless as I cannot do a cartwheel.

But... she wasn't even trying.  Not even a little.  The instructor is great.  All the other girls are improving.  My daughter is putting zilch into it.

So I say sternly "Come here.  You are not even trying."

I look like a Dance Mom.  But honestly, if I was watching the class, I would think she had ADHD.  Which she does not.  She listens quite well at school.  She is a very good student. 

But you would not be able to tell that she was a bright student  if you saw her in her gymnastics class.

And did I mention the instructor is great? It's a small class teaching basics- techniques for forward rolls, handstands, cartwheels-- nothing insane.  It's work, but all the other kids appear to be listening.

And this is not the first time this has happened.  For whatever reason, any class outside of school- dance, music, soccer-  she pays no attention whatsoever.  I don't care if she's a superstar, but she needs to at least try and listen. 

I explained myself to the parents who were watching me and thinking I was pushing her "Um.. she actually wanted to do this class... she does this all the time.. honest... I am not a bad mother..." 

But you would not be able to tell that I am a good mom if you saw me in her gymnastics class.

And then the day continued to spiral downward.  We were going to go to the farmer's market but when we got there, it was also the Harvest Festival and it was packed.  As in walk-2-miles-to-park packed.  And of course she had worn flip flops.  We were not going to be able to make the journey.

So I asked:

"Where do you want to go?"

And it became a game of I Want to Do Anything Except What You Suggest Mind Reader Mom.

And I got even crabbier.  If that were possible.  Imagine your worst PMS.  Now double that.

So I said:

"What about pie?"

I love pie.  She loves pie.  Screw the healthy habits. I  was tired.  I was crabby. 

"Pie?"

"Yes.  Do you want to get pie?  I haven't had a piece of pie in forever."

"I love pie."

"I do, too."

So we went and got pie for lunch.  And it was delicious.  And we giggled as we ate pie.  And everyone thought we looked so happy.  Where were the parents from gymnastics class now?  See, look, I AM a nice, fun mom.  I just needed some pie.

And we decided that the next time the boys went out of town, she and I would get pie.  Just pie.  It will be our thing.  Not the healthiest of things, but hey, a little pie now and again with my girl... sounds okay to me.

And then we went home.  And I said I really, really, needed a nap or else she was stuck with me being Crabby Crabmeister the rest of the day.

So she snuggled in next to me, grabbed my Kindle, put on the headphones and watched a movie while I slept.

And all was well.  Crabby Crabmeister was gone.

The real secret to my happiness is apparently sleep and pie.

Don't judge.



Friday, November 8, 2013

Yoga and Mama Bean

Today I went to yoga.

Now you might be thinking "Mama Bean, you are not lean, petite nor flexible.  How did that work?"

Honestly, quite nicely.

But this was not the first class for me.

I started doing yoga when I was 10.

No joke.

PBS had a yoga show on and I think I was done watching "3-2-1 Contact" or something.  So I started doing yoga.  I loved it.

My mother freaked out.  It was 1980 and yoga was a hippie, commie, cult thing. 

But I continued to do it and loved every minute of it.  Boat pose was my favorite.  I could stay in Plow Pose forever.

I had horrible asthma and with controlled, relaxed breathing, I could stop many asthma attacks before they became serious.  My doctor thought it was great. 


Told you I was a freak.

I stuck with it for awhile and in college, once I had a single room, I often started the day with a salutation to the sun.  One of my friends in college jokingly used to call me Zen Master because I never seemed stressed out.  I never thought anything about it. 

I went about once a week through most of my 20s.  Then I became a little sad because it got super trendy.  And suddenly, as we Americans do with everything, we made it a competitive sport.

Yogarobics?

WTF?

Yoga is about breath.  It's about energy.

And suddenly all these classes became something completely different.  I hurt after class rather than feeling energized.  The teachers were like commanders and not soothing.

So I quit going.  And in the interim I was getting pretty fat so it wasn't as much fun.

I found an awesome yoga instructor about 5 years ago at the Y.  Sunday afternoon. Perfect.  I ended the weekend feeling relaxed and centered.

Then she quit.  And Commando Yogi took over. Blech.

I had a few DVDs.  But I have 2 kids and 2 dogs.  I think I wrote a blog about the one and only time I tried to do a yoga DVD at home.  It ended with my husband interrupting-- after the kids had joined me for the first half and the dogs were underfoot-- yelling, at the top of his lungs "Your dog just shit on the floor."  Namaste. 

If you know me in the real world, my health has been crap this past year and after completing a business coaching program, I'm focusing on a lifestyle change for the next year. Not a diet.  Not an exercise plan.

I have a great life.  I have a great career.  I am married to a great guy.  My kids are amazing.  I have the best friends in the world.  I have a beautiful home.  I don't appreciate or enjoy any of it. 

I'm always running from here or there or doing this or that.  Who has time to appreciate anything?

I think it comes from one too many motivational sessions on having it all and living a full life.

You know what?  I just want to enjoy the life I have.

Because it's quite fantastic.

So I'm trying to sleep more.  That's a whole other blog on the battle that I'm having with my bed.  I forgot how to sleep.  Seriously.  For the past 2 weeks I've been forcing myself to sleep 9 hours. 

And yoga.  I have been meaning to go to yoga 2-3 times a week.

Except my life or traffic or whatever seems to get in the way.

Not today.

Today I went.  I was 5 minutes late.  I was not going to let that stop me.  So yes, I was the douchebag that walked into a yoga class late.

And I set my mat about 5 inches too close to the guy next to me.  Told you- douchebag.

And the instructor was good.  Not super Zen but for the first time in a long time, it was a real yoga class- not a fitness stretch class.  She focused on breath.  I think she was initially concerned when Oompa Loompa me came in, but when she saw me modify poses to fit my less than flexible physique, she smiled.  My idea of touching my toes is more like me leaning over and waving my hands at my feet. 

But after the class, I felt that buzz that comes from a good yoga class.  Where the breeze feels a little cooler on your skin.  When your breath is steady for hours after.  The awareness.

Oh-- and I apologized to the guy whose space I invaded and he was totally fine.


Did I look like a gazelle?

No.  More hippo in heat.  But I went.  I focused on my breath.  I did as many poses as I could.  I stumbled.

Because quite honestly, I'm simply trying to find my balance.

I don't want to look back on the good old days and think "Why didn't I appreciate it then?"  and slowing down is the only way I know how.  I'm putting on my oxygen mask first.  At the pace I've been going, I wouldn't be worth anything to anyone in about 2 years. 

For the next year you're going to hear the word "No" more than usual from me.  I'm focusing on my health and my family.

Because quite honestly, I'm simply trying to find my balance.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Yes, I Really AM that Nice-- Most of the Time

I haven't posted in awhile because I am a believer of Thumper.

If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

With all the nastiness about politics and a few very bizarre interactions that I've had with people in the past few weeks, I decided to not post.  About anything.

I think one of my recent Facebook posts read "I really like pumpkin."  Because I could think of nothing less inflammatory than my love of pumpkin.

I had a friend comment that Americans are consumed with politeness and I shouldn't feel compelled to hold back.

Here's the thing-- I really AM that nice.

I am.

With that said, I will take down a bully in a heartbeat and I don't back down easily.

But I was never mean.  I very rarely say nasty things out loud.

Do I complain about people? Absolutely.

Do I get mad?  Of course.

But I am inherently nice.  It's just who I am.

I am fascinated by people who aren't.  People who feel the need to be loud and argue.  People who are obsessed with proving how smart they are by making others feel stupid.

It's not me.  I'm nice.

I will tell you that you have spinach in your teeth.

I will come pick you up when you've had too much to drink.

I will help you pack when you move.

I will watch your kids.

I will give a hug when you need it.

I will never ask for anything in return.

I enjoy helping people.  It makes me happy.

I've had people make comments about my marriage- I can't possibly be THAT happy.  It's all a show...

Nope.  We have our moments.  We had a rough patch or two.  But yes, I do really adore my husband.

And my kids-- surely I must lose it with them and they aren't that great-- again, just a show.

Nope.  My kids are pretty darn great.  They behave.  They get good grades.  I rarely lose it with them because we have this whole mutual-respect thing going in our family.  I don't know if it will work for your family, but our family is happy. 

I even feel bad that it sometimes makes others feel less than.

My happiness makes me feel guilty.  That's how flipping nice I am.

Now, am I perfect?

Oh dear.  No.

I hate being overweight.  I wish I could balance my personal life a little better with my career.  I wonder if I should have made other choices.  I've made some fantastically huge mistakes in my life.

Not perfect. 

Just nice.

If you're down, I'll offer to help.

And I really, very sincerely don't expect a single thing in return.

I guess I don't expect anything because my friends have always been there for me when I needed them.  And it's probably because I am nice.

I'm not going to stab you in the back-- if I don't like you, I'll just ignore you if I can.  I won't even go to the effort of being mean.  I don't like everyone.  I'm not going to fake it.  Life is short.  You should be with people who do like you.

The world is full of mean people.

I don't ever want to be one of them.

I just had a mean girl experience very recently.  My husband even noticed it.  In fact, it bothered him more than me.  It was weird.  It was awkward.  I have no idea why this group of women felt the need to be so rude. Or exclusive. 

But they were.

And my guess is, it's because they think I'm somehow fake.  And it hurt.

I'm not fake.  I promise. 

I've had the same friends since I was 5.  They can attest that yes, I am that nice.

Perfect, no.  Nice, yes.

It's who I am.

And if it makes you uncomfortable, it's your issue, not mine.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Molly

When I was a little girl I had a doll named Molly.  She was one of those 1970s hard dolls with the scratchy hair and the eyes that closed when she laid down. Nothing great.

But I loved her.

She was brave.  She was strong.  She was funny.  She was pretty.  She was spunky.  She was everything I wanted to be.  As an introvert with a speech impediment, she was my hero.

I was devastated when something happened to her-- I don't remember if I got her wet when I shouldn't have or not, but her eyes were corroded.  It was so bad that my parents actually considered sending her to a doll hospital.  I don't think she was the quality that was reparable.  I was around 4.  The details are vague, but the feelings were very memorable.

Her tragic demise and my depression may have resulted in the arrival of my Baby Chrissy doll (the one with the hair that 'grew') but I always remembered what a great friend she was.

Flash ahead about 40 years...  I was lying next to my daughter reading one night.

She is brave.  She is strong.  She is funny.  She is pretty.  She is spunky.

She is everything  I want to be.

Then it hit me -- she is my Molly come to life.

I told her all about Molly and how she was just like how I pretended Molly would be.  And now I finally got to meet her again!

She thought that was very cool. 

The next Christmas the American Girl catalog arrived.  My daughter was 6 going on 7.  She also has an issue with taking care of her things.  Most of her dolls were naked or chewed up by the dogs.  She never seemed into dolls.

I had an issue with the price and post traumatic stress syndrome.  Story below.  

(I was in New York visiting my best friend with my then 4 year old son.  We had some time before the Radio City Musical Hall Christmas Spectacular so I thought it would be fun to get his baby sister a baby doll from him-- perfect first Christmas gift from her big brother.  It was 2 weeks before Christmas.  It was JAMMED full of tourists and shrieking, spoiled, squealing little girls.  The dads and other menfolk were in the entrance holding purses and bags with dull looks on their faces.  Within 5 minutes I was one of them.  I completely froze in the little baby section-- horrified at the excess and the shrieking.  Completely froze.  My son looked up at me and said "Mom, I've got to get you out of here..." he grabbed my hand and navigated me through the packed-- and I mean PACKED store.  I had a nice, quiet son.  I had no idea what the insanity was that I had just seen.  I still get chills thinking about it.)

To say it turned me off from American Girl dolls is an understatement.

I had heard they were great quality.  Even as an adult the catalog certainly looked fun...

My daughter and I poured through the catalog together.  And then she saw Molly.

The spunky girl from the 1940s.  Dark curly hair. 

"Oh Mom!!  There's a Molly doll!  Does that look like yours?"

She sorta did.  There was something about her.

But looking around my daughter's room with the toys shoved into bins, marker everywhere, papers all over... no way was I getting her one.

Plus, it seemed like it was cheaper to have an actual child.  The dolls' clothes were more expensive than anything I bought my real, live daughter.

Another year passed.

The new catalog came.

I told her if she kept her  room clean, we would get her one for her birthday in December.  It would be THE gift.  She knew it was a big deal.

We looked through all the options-- she loved the movie about Saige-- she is an artist.  Then she thought about getting one that looks like her.

Then she saw Molly. Molly was being archived.  Her last year.

We had to get her.

I told her I was pretty comfortable that Molly would still be around by her birthday.

Every day she made me check online.  Every day.  She was panicked. 

She could not let Molly be archived.

It sounded awful.

Then on Tuesday she actually cried.  She did not want them to send Molly to a warehouse. 

She very genuinely wanted a Molly doll.  Just like I had my Molly doll.

We had to save her.

So I did it.

Not because she cried, because she genuinely wanted to save a life.

How could we possibly let Molly be archived?!?!

Great marketing.

Sigh.

Today her room was IMMACULATE.  She said she wanted to be ready for Molly. She has a shelf cleared off for Molly's things.  She drew a picture for her door welcoming her.  She's been practicing on the Target version she got for her birthday last year. 

And on Tuesday my real life Molly gets her Molly. 

She saved her from the archives.

Because she is brave.  She is strong.  She is funny.  She is pretty.  She is spunky. 

She is my hero.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Teaching Your Children Enough

Tonight before bed, my son gave me a hug and said "Thanks, Mom.  That was a great weekend.  You're the best."

I almost cried.

It was his birthday on Sunday.  We, at the last minute, invited 5 of his best buddies to go play laser tag and spend the night.  We watched a movie on the side of the house. 

Simple.

All he wanted for his birthday was a $24 video game.  My husband got him a sleeping bag for when they go camping in the winter.

Again, simple.

We had pizza.  He asked that I make my chocolate cake with fudge icing.

We spent Sunday with some friends-- they had us over for a cookout.

It was a great weekend.

So what makes this inspiring for a blog?

Because it would have been extremely easy to have overindulged him.  To do some over the top party.  To buy him something extravagant that he didn't even want to show him that we loved him.

But he didn't need it.  He hung out with us.  With his friends.  Those intangible things you can't put a price on.  He even let his sister have 2 friends (fellow little sisters of his friends) hang out.

Cool.

So the inspiring part has been that he didn't ask for more.

Because he could have.

Because we are in a position to do it.

Which puts me in a weird position. 

When I grew up "We can't afford it" wasn't exactly a foreign phrase.  We weren't poor and my parents provided me with a lot of opportunity, but we were not wealthy.   Times could be tight.   I did not wear designer clothes.  I was very aware that I wasn't going to get everything I wanted whenever I wanted.

For my children, however, the excuses are fewer.  What do you say when you can afford it?  How much is enough?

We live in a world where people's homes are overflowing with their stuff.  How do you teach children that stuff doesn't matter?  How do you teach them to care for the stuff they have without making it about the stuff?

Fine line. 

It's a good challenge to have.  I know this.  But it's still difficult.  I also know it could all change tomorrow- then what?

I went to college with more than a few people who never saw a paycheck until their 20s.  This fascinated me. I had a checking account at 16.  They took trips.  Had cars.  And had no idea where money came from.

They weren't bad people-- it was just different. 

There was a fine line between entitled and confident.

I want my children to be confident and have high expectations. I do not want them to be spoiled or entitled.

But this is a new world for me.  I want to give them everything they could ever need.  I also want them to appreciate it without overvaluing it.

This weekend was a perfect example.  We set a limit not on the number of friends, but on the quality of friends.  He came up with 5.  Five boys that I know and like.  He did that himself.

No fancy cake- he liked mine best.

On his actual birthday, he was fine spending it with our friends- he genuinely likes them.

And he wanted lasagna for dinner.  Not dinner out.  My lasagna.

Done.

Simple.

And when it was over, he was grateful.

Best weekend ever.

He used to go to a private preschool.  The parties were over the top.  Ponies, magicians, face painters- crazy.  I felt so uncomfortable.  People trying to out do each other.  I even had someone call a party we had-- with 10 kids-- "retro." I had a few condescending comments about what I could "afford." 

It's not about what I can afford- it's about what is appropriate.  It's about the expectations that I'm setting with my children.

It's about enough.

Not too much.  Not too little.  Enough.

My son is still smiling from his party.

It was enough.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Things that Make Me Happy

This blog is dedicated to one of my best friends- Kim Coats.  We met at the DMV- true story.  We've had our friendship tested more than a few times.  We tolerate each others politics.  When she decided to move to Rwanda to work with a non-profit organization I think I was one of the few people who said "That is great- go for it.  You should totally do it."  She writes this great blog about her life in Africa (see the link)-- she is now working/establishing the Rwandan Cycling Team.  She and her partner's (now her husband) work inspired a documentary called "Rising From the Ashes" which details the life the riders have since the genocides- their hopes, their dreams, their futures.  I knew her before she had a passport.  Traveling the world can change you.  It has changed her.  So Kim, this one is for you-- I hope you crack up laughing.

I have become old.

I know this not from my greying hair.  Not from my near sightedness.  I know this from my behavior.

Even if I was in fantastic shape, I would still know I was old.

How?

Because I have become absolutely, positively obsessed with stupid little things.

The dumbest, least important things ever.

Things that in the scope of life are just simply stupid.

Like what, you ask?

Well, last week, I got down to my last 5 pages in my spiral notepad.  I went to my supply room to get one and we were out.

Okay, no biggie.

I'll order more.

They don't make them any longer.

I know what you are thinking--- Mama Bean, they make spiral notepads.

Not these they don't.

I use a 6" x 9" top spiral bound yellow notepad with college ruled paper.

I have for nearly 20 years.  I use it for my task list every day.  I prioritize my task list.  I put my notes from phone calls on it.

For 20 years.

Yes, I could get a steno pad-- same dimensions, but they are Gregg Ruled.  I had never heard this term before.

Gregg Ruled means there is a line down the middle of the page.

Who uses that any longer?  Seriously?  Didn't shorthand go away about 25 years ago with the dictaphones?

And when I say they stopped making them, they stopped making them.  My assistant even emailed Mead paper company.

Not on Amazon.com.  Not on either office supply store website.

Gone.

My beautiful, beautiful system wrecked.

I was panicked.

My family, sensing my instability, went with me to search for them.  Office Depot had none.  To be honest, my husband thought I had been exaggerating.  Nothing.

I was disheartened.  He suggested Office Max.  I said I had checked online.. just forget it.  It was over.  But then, I had a change of heart, the Rocky theme in the background and thought what's one more store...

THEY HAD SOME IN STOCK!!

There were 10 on a bottom shelf.  I bought EVERY SINGLE ONE.

I am good to go for about 2 1/2 years.  Then, I have no idea what I will do.

Knowing me, I may start a letter writing campaign to bring them back.

That, my friends, is completely and totally nuts.

The joy I felt when I saw them on that bottom shelf-- it seriously was the same as when I got my first car.

Absolutely pathetic.

And speaking of office supplies-- I am also obsessed with the Papermate disposable mechanical pencils.  Not any pencil.  The .7 mm yellow ones.  Not Bic.  Not Pentel.  Papermate.  And just this one.

Papermate Sharpwriter  <--- best mechanical pencil

I know they are good because people steal them from my office all the time.  Okay, maybe not steal, more inadvertently pick them up, but still.  They disappear.  And I love them. Only them.

Because I am nuts.

And this pen:

Blue Medium Point Pilot Retractable Gel Pen

Not black. Blue.
Not fine point.  Medium.
Not a cap. Retractable.
Not ballpoint. Gel.

I know they are great because people ASK to take them.  What am I supposed to say?  No, you can't have that.  It's the most precious possession I have?  You trust me with your money, but no, you can't have my 75 cent pen?  I can't say that.  But I look a little crazy when they ask.

Because my life will have no meaning without this pen.  And that pencil.  And my beloved notepad.

I have lost my mind.

I knew I had started getting like this over the past few years, but if you had seen me IN MOURNING for my note pad-- it was downright sad.

What's that phrase again... First World Problems.

So I tried to convince myself that the awful Gregg Ruled pads would be fine.

But clearly, I kept searching so I never really gave up.  Over the next year, I will buy every single one that I ever see.  I will.  I will hoard them like kerosene during the apocalypse.

I have become that crazy person.

I am getting old. I like what I like because I like it and nothing else will do.

Sigh.

It's truly, truly pathetic.

So while my friend is worried about bombs coming from the Congo into Rwanda, I get to worry about my pens.

I feel like I should send her some.... so she can look at them and go "Seriously?"

But I bet she would say "You know... these are fantastic...."

No.  She wouldn't.  She would laugh.  At me.  Not with me.

But people, this isn't funny.  These are office supplies.

This is serious stuff.

Please say a prayer for my sanity.

Thank you.

Kim's Very Cool Blog

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Falling Down

This spring, my Daisy troop voted to use their cookie money to go ice skating.  Disney on Ice has just been to town, so I wasn't shocked.

We also live in the desert, so I assumed that most had never been skating.

One girl had.

The picture of 14 little girls with visions of ice princesses in their heads stepping out onto the ice to realize that ice is, in fact, slippery, terrified me.  I am not a great skater.  Fourteen little girls hanging on to me, crying, falling... not good.

So I asked if perhaps they would like lessons?  Of course, I happen to have a fabulous friend who is a professional ice skater.  He and his gorgeous and amazing wife said they would be happy to.

Really?  Crazy people....

But Kat, the wife, was AMAZING with the girls.  AMAZING.

The girls got on the ice and as I expected, many started crying and panicking.  Kat was not phased.  The mommies were freaking out.  I was taking deep breaths.

The first thing she taught them was how to stand up.   14 little girls stood up.

The second thing she taught them was how to fall down and get back up.

Hmmm...

Because once you're not scared to fall down any longer, it takes away all the fear of falling.  You know you can stand up-- so why not just go for it?

I thought it was absolutely profound.

Twelve of the girls were skating like pros.  In less than 20 minutes.

Be impressed. 

My daughter was not one of them.  To her credit, she's been very cautious since she broke her leg.  She also enjoyed the extra attention.  Because that's how she is.

With that said, it made me start to think a little bit about how I parent.  I've always let my kids suffer consequences.  If they forget their lunch- oh well.  Homework not done?  Too bad.  My son asked me to write a note once explaining that he hadn't done his homework.  This is what I wrote:

Skip did not do his homework.  
He asked me to write you a note.  
I am writing you a note.  
Do what you wish.

Nice mom, aren't I?

It's panicked other moms.  "You aren't really going to let them go to school without their lunch?"  Yes, I am.  Each kid has done it once.  Trust me, it works.

But I've never intentionally forced them out of their comfort zones or pushed them down.

My husband and I decided that they needed to be more active, so we signed them up for a basketball skills class.  Not a league or anything-- they had never had any real experience with basketball except playing at home.

Oh- and another thing-- when did 10 become too late to start a sport?  Holy crap-- if a kid isn't in a professional touring league by 8, their athletic life is apparently over.  I thought getting a good base in school was more important and sports were for fun as a kid.  I thought junior high or high school was when it should get serious.  Crap.  What happened to play?  But that's a blog for another day...

Back to basketball--

My son did fine.  He actually likes it.  It's why we have a basketball hoop.  He needs to learn a few skills, but he loved it.  We had to push him to do it-- he doesn't like to do things that he's not good at-- typical gifted kid.

My daughter was over the top to do it.  She knows I love basketball.  She has dreamed of being on a team with me as her coach.  She picked out the best outfit-- she looked adorable.

And boy did she ever suck.

Big time.

It was so bad, it was hilarious.

My daughter runs like Phoebe from "Friends."  No joke.  She flails.  She smiles.  She has fun.

She could not understand how to dribble a basketball.  I don't even know how to explain it.  It never crossed my mind that a person wouldn't be able to dribble.  She did this slapping thing- had a blast doing it-- like I had never seen before.

I was speechless.  I tried to help her, but I was at a loss.

The instructor was great.  He helped her out and kept the class going. 

She was sweating.  She was trying so hard.  About half way through, it became work.  She kept trying.

She got marginally better.  Marginally.

When we walked out I asked her if she liked it.  She said yes but then added "Wow- I'm really bad.  I was obviously the only person who had never played before."  It was the first time she seemed even remotely negative.  I asked her if she wanted to keep going and she "Definitely yes."  Not just "Sure, Mom, if you want me to."

She wanted to nail it.  She said "I'd like to be able to get the ball in the basket at least once."

She picked herself up.

Because in the end that's what distinguishes success from failure- the ability to get back up.

In the past few weeks I've heard stories from people about "tragedies" in their lives-- flat tires, chipped teeth, bad flights. 

Tragedies? 

I think not.

I don't want my kids to be in their 40s and think that a flat tire is a disaster.  It's a flat tire.  Call road service.  It's an inconvenience.


Failure is much easier to deal with when you're 7 and it's a basketball.  It's much harder when you're 50 and lose your job.

I always tell my kids that I'm a mean mom and some day they'll thank me.

Watching my daughter struggle with a basketball and her big smile made me realize that getting back up not only teaches you a lesson, it also can be fun.  She was proud of herself for every time the ball didn't shoot across the court-- and it did.  A lot. 

Success always feels better after you fail.  You know it's not only luck- you own it.  You did it. 

And her bright smile reminded me that that is a very important trait to have. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

And They All Live Happily Ever After

In case you didn't hear, we got our new principal.

When I wrote my fairy tale post a few weeks ago I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out.  We had stormed the castle, but you never know.  There was always the fear that we could be punished for making so much noise by getting someone even worse.

I felt obligated to share with everyone how it appears to be going after the first week.

OH MY FREAKING GOODNESS IT'S AMAZING!

No joke.

I got lost in the office today because it felt different.  It didn't look any different- it just felt different.  I nearly walked into the restroom instead of the conference room.

Teachers are smiling.  As if they are lunatics.  Full faced smiles.  I wonder if their faces hurt after all the smiling I've seen.

They are skipping.

I kid you not.  I explained to two of my faves this morning that last year, when the 8:50 am bell before school would ring, the teachers would exit the building like a gang... all the grade levels coming out in a row... heads held low... lanyards around their necks... not a smile to be seen.. herding the poor children into the building for a day of worksheets.

This week-- SKIPPING.  They all have this little perk in their step.  There are sparkles in their eyes.

It's crazy.

There are hugs.

There is laughter.

Oh-- and there are crayons.

The crayons are back.

Sea Camp is back on the calendar.  During whale watching season.  AWESOME.

There is going to be a Battle of the Books.

The parent group is going to be committee focused- not just a few people running everything because it's easier for the principal to control them.  The meetings are even going to be after work hours so hopefully more parents can attend-- not just the 5-10 of us who always came.

All this and it's only week 1.

Now my concern is with the departure of some of the terrific families, we'll see the test scores drop.  And the crayons and all that fun might get blamed.

But I don't think that's going to happen.  The teachers are rejuvenated.  They are going to be able to adapt to the children in their classes and tailor what's best for their student population-- you know, what's the word.. yes, they are being allowed to teach.  Like it's a profession.  Because it is.

One week.

What a difference one person can make.

I don't know the principal well, but I've worked with people like him.  He's letting his team do what they are trained to do.  He has faith in them-- that they know what they are doing and they will choose to do the right thing. 

That's the difference between a manager and a leader.

I chatted with him briefly at the Meet-n-Greet-  actually I think I may have threatened to kiss him , but I hugged him instead-- and I'm not a hugger, by the way.  He started to say "I know in the past you used to have a formal presentation..." and I stopped him there and said "Any time someone says 'We used to do it that way' just assume you can throw it out. " And sadly, aside from 1-2 things, that's true.

Sad, isn't it?

There's  a part of me that's angry that I didn't speak up sooner-- didn't make more noise.  But to be honest, it didn't get bad until the past few years.  And I'm not at the school all the time so how was I to know? 

But it has reiterated to me that it IS important to take a stand for what you believe in.  One person can make a huge difference in people's lives.  Our new principal has completely changed our school- the tone, the spirit.  Teachers who once dreaded coming to work are skipping.  My children are already engaged and excited-- not complaining about a summer past.  One of the mothers who made calls and canvassed said her daughter is loving reading and is excited about going to school.

One week.

One person.

Don't ever think you are just a drop in the bucket.  If you've ever spilled a drop of coffee on a pair of white pants, trust me, one drop can make a big splash.

Our new principal has made a gigantic, positive splash.  And the assistant principal as well- she seems equally as fantastic.

And I hope that's how the story ends.

No, actually, how I hope the story really ends is that every school has a faculty like we do- with schools serving as a central community fixture educating our children, incorporating parents, and focusing on developing the whole child.

We don't need children who can answer questions, we need children who can ask questions.

That will make me live happily ever after.





Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Twerking

I learned a new word this week-- twerk. 

I hope it's allowed in Words With Friends-- otherwise, it's just some useless trivia rattling in my brain.

Because honestly, I don't care.

I don't care the Miley Cyrus twerked.  And apparently did it badly.

It's MTVs Video Music Awards-- which is an ironic event unto itself because MTV does not even show videos any longer from what I can see.

They are, however, very engaged is showing Baby Mama shows and Rappers Being Awful to Everyone.

And Miley Cyrus is getting raked over the coals?

First of all, if you were over 21 and watched it live, I feel  very, very sorry for you.  Let it go.  Martha Quinn is not coming back.

Next, if you're worried about your children, here's an idea-- turn off the TV.

I watched the video because I believe I was legally obligated to do so.

I wasn't remotely offended.  I was disturbed.  It was weird.  The beige bikini looked awful. Her hair freaked me out.  She danced like crap.

AND I HATE THAT SONG WHICH IS SO INCREDIBLY OVERPLAYED IT MAKES ME VOMIT IN MY MOUTH EVERY TIME I HEAR IT.

Since I knew I clearly was losing my hipness (okay, I laughed out loud at that as I have never been hip... hippy yes, but not hip) I thought I should tune into MTV and see what other important issues- like twerking- that I was missing.  There was a show "Teen Mom 3" on.

Now that was offensive.

Teen girls who clearly do not speak English properly (he don't, she don't---- eeesh) and their loser boyfriends fight on TV.  They make having a baby look like so much fun!  All the kids should do it!

I am offended that adults put those children up to it and profit from it.  These kids clearly do not have any level of maturity even though they are parents.  And MTV is making a lot of money from it.

People should be complaining and raising a stink about that.  Not some washed up teen star having muscle spasms in her underwear (from the videos, I think that's what twerking is... I'm from Ohio... sometimes it takes me a little longer to pick up on these cool trends).

Oh- and what about the Wonderful World of Disney that creates these really, really bad teen actors/singers then disowns them once they become the trainwrecks that they are destined to become?

Can we talk about that? Have any Disney teenie boppers survived?

Grown-ups profiting from the kids.  How much more can we possibly autotune their voices and convince them that they can sing when they can't?

It's sad.

I'm not worried that Miley Cyrus is a bad role model for my daughter.  I know how the remote works.  I love that at 7 my daughter has commented that Taylor Swift only sings about break-ups with boys and she should date some nicer guys.  Seriously.  It cracked me up.

What I'm more worried about is that as adults, we've clearly been a bad role model for Miley Cyrus.  Who do you think made money off her all those years?  A bunch of "grown-ups."  And now she's a grown-up. Just like them.  Anything for a buck.

So no, Miley Cyrus did not shake the fabric of my morality by fornicating with foam phalanges.

I grew up with Madonna-- that was nothing.  That was just weird.  And bad. 

But I think we owe those kids who we use and exploit an apology.

And then we need to stop buying it.  Because we all know how the story ends- rehab, bankruptcy, a True Hollywood Story and a final accident.

 Shame on us.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Rules for When You Work for a Small Business

Congratulations! You just got a job working in a small business!

And by small business, I don't mean under $10 billion in assets, as we refer to it in the investment community, I mean a mom and pop place. Maybe it's the local dry cleaners, a plumbing supply store, a restaurant, an attorney or accountant's office-- a true small business where there's just a handful of employees. You didn't just get a job, you joined a family. And that's a good thing.

Small businesses are truly the backbone of the US. We are part of the community. We aren't going to close up shop and move overseas to save money because we work in the business, too. As a small business owner, however, I've noticed that one issue that I have had repeatedly with employees over the years is that they don't understand the differences between working for a large corporation and a small business. They are significant. There are pros and cons to each.

Before you accept that job as the receptionist at the local dentist, you might want to evaluate if it's a good fit.

#1- You Matter 
Small businesses can't afford to have back-ups to most jobs. If you're sick, you're missed. If you're lazy, it impacts everyone else. You truly matter. You aren't an employee ID number. You are an integral part to the business whether it be answering the phones or selling the product, your presence is far more important that it ever will be at a large corporation. You ARE the accounting department.

With that said, when times are tough, the business owner will more than likely do everything possible to make sure that you keep your job-- including taking on debt. Large corporations aren't going to do that. They like to do what I call "horizontal job enhancement"-- assign extra duties to others without increases in pay. Chances are in a small business, they are already running as lean as possible.

With that said, you absolutely cannot dial it in. You're going to have to work. We all have bad days, but when it's all up to you, you're going to have to pull it together and get the job done or you will be asked to leave.  Because I don't have 6 months to put you through a development program-- I could be out of business in 6 months if you don't pull it together. 

#2-Don't Complain About Your Pay 
Chances are the person who started this business did it on a shoestring. There are times that many of us don't take a draw or pay ourselves because we have to pay our employees first. We ate Ramen. Every dollar that goes into your pocket, came from ours. Truly. That is my child's college fund in your bank account so to speak. If it's going well now, it's because we worked hard. Very hard. If you are unhappy with your pay, leave. Or better yet, go start your own business.

 #3- Don't Tell Me How Things Should Be Done Unless You Actually Know 
A new, flashy sign would be great. It also costs $10,000. That may not be the top priority. Small business owners are usually looking for the best way to do things, without a doubt. But when these things cost money, the well is my wallet not a corporate coffer of billions. If it's a process thing, ask before you change something.

In my practice, for example, we make reminder calls the Wednesday the week before the meeting. We pre-schedule our appointments about 3 months in advance and people can forget or something comes up. I've had MANY assistants slack on this or try to convince me the day before is better. Then, when half my appointments cancel, I check and see when the calls were made. It is ALWAYS when this isn't done. And here's why-- most of my clients work. When they get home from work, they get their messages. I am more than likely already closed. I do my meeting prep work on Friday and Monday for my meetings the next week. If they call on Thursday or Friday, it saves everyone a lot of work from prepping for the meeting. It also frees up the time slot on my calendar if someone else needs to schedule. If they no-show or call the morning of because something came up at work, now I've wasted your time pulling reports, my time preparing and we have a dead spot on the calendar that someone else could have filled.

In other words, there's usually a reason for doing something- ask first. But don't be afraid to ask.

#4- If you are Assigned a Task, Do It 
This seems obvious, but it's been an issue in the past. Because it's a small business, people are often more polite. The business owner doesn't have time to watch you do something or to follow up three or four times. You were hired to do a job. Do it.

In a small business, the owner is often a "technician"-- they aren't just a figurehead in an office-- they are out in the streets drumming up business or doing the professional task (accounting, law, etc).  They don't have time be the manager and watch your every move. 

Also, there are no tasks too small.  I just had someone tell me "I'm not fulfilled by filing."  Seriously?  No one is.  I'm not fulfilled by refilling the coffee pot either, but if it's empty I do it.   I also used to vacuum. Get over it.

#5- Care
This seems silly, I know, but you need to care.  The owner started this business because they saw a need-- it was something he or she believed in.  If you don't believe in it, you should leave.  Our businesses are our children.  Don't talk smack about our children-- we can, you can't.

#6- And Speaking of Children...
There's a very good chance my children might be your boss some day.  It may not be especially fair, either.  All those hours that I spent away from my children were spent in my business.  They earned the right to inherit it.  If you WANT to run the business let the owner know.  I've seen a lot of a good people get pushed aside so Junior can run the company.  Know that that's a possibility going in.  There's a good shot Junior doesn't want it, but if he or she does, they often get first dibs.

#7-Don't Take Advantage
The owner is going to get to know you.  They are going to care about your well-being.  Don't take advantage of it.  Of course, they are going to let you go to the dentist.  I even had an employee have a near break down when she asked to leave early on a Friday and I said okay-- she added in a panicked voice- after I had said yes-- "It's to get my hair done!"  I started laughing and told her that was fine.  So once a month, she left early on Friday to get her hair done.  But she never scheduled anything else during work hours.  Doctors, dentists, hairdressers-- they are all hard to schedule.  A small business gives you more flexibility, so don't abuse it.  If your kid is sick and you need time off, a small business owner understands.

#8- Long Term Employees are Like Family
You may not know that Bob the salesman helped the owner through rehab or worked without pay those first few months.  If someone has been there a long time, assume there is a reason.  If they are slacking, find out why before you say anything.  Because, quite honestly, they wouldn't still be there (see #1).  And more importantly, some day you may be Bob and the same courtesy will be afforded to you.

Also, keep in mind that like families, you are going to get on each others' nerves.  There is no place to escape when there are only a few employees.  You're going to have to learn to work through it.  Those will also be the people that have your back, too.

#9- Don't Steal
Sounds silly again, I know.  Those pencils? I  bought them.  It's not some giant corporation that has millions assigned to office supplies.  Most small business owners don't care if you use the fax machine, the copier or need something.  Just ask first.  It's not yours.  Would you like the owner to show up at your house and start eating from the refrigerator?  Probably not.

#10- Go Easy on the Office Equipment
This is a pet peeve of mine.  I went through three shredders in one year.  I've had mine for 5 years.  I know they jam, but here's a thought-- don't put 15 pages in with staples.  I may have even pointed that out....or written it down. 

The feeder in my scanner is perpetually broken because people have yanked papers out mid-scan.  It's not commercial grade.  It costs money to fix or replace.  The stapler... the coffee maker... "Oh, by the way, that's broken..."  I just hear "Cha-ching."  Yes, things break, but over the years, I've learned that for some reason people don't treat the work equipment the same as if it were theirs.  In a small business, treat it like you own it-- or better.

So that's my list of things to know before taking that new, great job.  I've had employees stay for a long time and others that don't make it through the year.  A small business can provide you with many opportunities.  Some may even let you create your own career path.  I personally feel that the benefits far outweigh the items listed above.  For some people, however, they like having a lot of people around and the ability to blend into the woodwork.  You can't do that in a small business.

What you can do is stand out.  You can have a direct impact on something.  You can feel appreciated.  You are important no matter how small your job.

You will never be consider "just" an employee or overhead.  And in today's world, that's a good thing.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Once Upon a Time There was a Mother...

Once upon a time in the land of Mayfield in a kingdom call The Springs there lived a family.  There was a father who was handsome and kind, a mother who was smart and witty and a son and daughter who were as smart as they were beautiful.  The parents adored their children and always wanted them to have the best of every opportunity.

When their eldest, the son, was of age he was required to head to the Castle to receive his training to be a productive member of the kingdom.  Although the mother was sad that her son had to leave her, it was just for the day and the instructor, Lady Sharon was fun.  Her cottage was full of magic.  There was a mini cottage inside so the children could pretend to be grown.  There were turtles so they could learn to care for animals.  There were books and colors and crayons to teach them to think and create. So the mother was happy and so was the son.  He learned much.

There was a Queen who ran the Castle. She seemed nice.  She was very, very organized.  She was always nice to the mother.  She liked the son, too.  He was very good at coloring in magic bubbles that somehow magically showed how smart he was.  This was a skill that he was considered gifted at doing.  The mother wasn't sure what coloring magic bubbles had to do with running their bean factory, but she trusted the Queen and really liked Lady Sharon.

The next year her son trained under Lady Giana.  Lady Giana had a pretty train in her cottage where the children could read books and play pretend.  There were crayons and books every where.

And the following year there was Lady Melissa who was equally as talented and fun.  Each child studied in ways that fit their very different personalities.  She even taught them yoga for when they were having a hard time focusing.

There were clubs and activities after the normal Castle times and her son loved them all.

Her son also continued to show that he was one of the best at picking the best magic bubble.  A skill that was revered at the Castle and especially by the Queen.

The mother was pleased.  Although she still wasn't sure why coloring and selecting magic bubbles was important.  But since she was wasn't part of the Castle and simply ran a bean factory, she trusted them.  She loved her children more than anything in the world but she had grown up in the Castle system and trusted it. 

However, the mother also started to notice that many of the people from her village of Mayfield in the kingdom of the Springs had chosen to send their children to other Castles.  In order to keep the Castle full, children from other villages were sent to their Castle.  Many of the children from these other villages didn't have parents that knew or appreciated how special they were so they hadn't spent very much time with them before sending them to the Castle.  Many of the children seemed angry.  Some were hungry.  But even with the children from other villages, some of the cottages were empty.  They had been overflowing with children.  Where had they gone?  And the Ladies and Lords of the Castle were leaving for other Castles as well.  In droves.

The mother was concerned.  But her daughter was now about to study under Lady Sharon.  She was excited for the wonderful world that her daughter was to experience.

But Lady Sharon seemed different.  She had been told that her mini cottage wasn't very useful for coloring in magic bubbles or picking the best magic bubble.  Lady Sharon also couldn't cook any longer.  The children from the other village were rude and disrupted class so Lady Sharon couldn't do many of the fun things; she had to teach these children how to listen and be polite.  Her daughter, still happy and confident, was learning, though. Her daughter was also exceptional at identifying and coloring the magic bubbles and this was deemed a good thing. 

The son's teacher was very good, too.  Lady Erin was smart and precise and the Queen liked her a great deal.

The clubs were gone.  The Queen said it was because the new children needed extra help so she had to cancel the activities for the other children so the new children could practice their bubbles.

The mother was not pleased. 

At the same time, Lady Erin was faced with a big problem.  She lived in a village just outside of the kingdom of the Springs in the kingdom of the Son of Hender.  The cost of wheat was very expensive and the steed that she rode all the way through the two kingdoms was very hungry.  She asked to work in a Castle closer to her home cottage.  The new Castle was very excited to have her because she was a very good teacher.  It also saved her on the cost of wheat because the Lords and Ladies did not receive much in payment from the kingdom.

The Queen, however, was angry.  She did not care that the Lady had to spend all her pay on her feed.  To punish the Lady, she made her count all the bubbles before she would release her to the new Castle.  The Lady was hurt.  She thought the Queen had liked her.

The mother was concerned.  Perhaps the Queen had bumped her head?  Why would she be so angry with Lady Erin?

The mother asked lots of questions.  She received some answers.  She was told there was not enough money for the Castle.  The kingdom was in hard times so they didn't have enough resources.  The mother offered to help.  She offered to leave her bean factory to help with the children from time to time.

She was told no. The Lords and Ladies could do the job on their own.

But other parents were allowed to help.

Not this mother.  She had asked too many questions. 

Then Lady Jeannie who taught the children who were very gifted at coloring and picking bubbles became very sad.  This made the mother very worried.  Lady Jeannie was the best part of the Castle for her son. She encouraged him to do things other than color bubbles.  Lady Jeannie took them on quests in the mountains to count the stars and to the ocean to swim with the great beasts.  The mother liked this; she still was not sure why bubbles were so important.  At her bean factory she never used bubbles.  Ever.  She did use many of the skills that Lady Jeannie taught in her cottage.  The years before, the other Ladies and Lords had taught these things, but now they were told that to keep their cottages, they had to only focus on bubbles.

Then the Queen who was angered that Lady Jeannie kept teaching non-bubble skills, banished Lady Jeannie to a cottage on the edge of the Castle grounds.  She would not let Lady Jeannie use the many tools she had brought from her home cottage.

And her daughter who now had Lady Giana was not allowed to draw or color any more.  Her daughter lived to draw and color.  Those were not important skills to pick bubbles, however.  She asked Lady Giana where the crayons she had sent with her daughter to the Castle had gone.  Her daughter had said the Queen removed them but she thought her daughter had made it up.  The kind Lady said it was, sadly, true.

Her son's instructor, Lady Denise was wonderful.  The mother was torn-- the Lords and Ladies were exceptional, but the Castle wasn't offering all the wonderful activities the other Castles did.  And the Lords and Ladies kept leaving.

So the mother made the decision to move her children to another Castle.  The old Castle had begun to look sad.  And every year more of the Lords and Ladies were abandoning their cottages and moving to other Castles.  Some in kingdoms as far, far away as Saudi Arabia.  And more children from the land of Mayfield were going to other Castles.

But then the organizers for the Association of Lords and Ladies of the Castle held a rally.  They were angry with the changes the Queen had made.  They wanted the Lords and Ladies to overthrow the Castle. 

The mother listened.  She heard the many other families share their stories about the Queen.  They wept.  Former Lords and Ladies of the Castle, some whom she had never met, also shared their stories.  They wept as well.  The mother was very moved.

The mother felt bad.  She was only worried that her son had no clubs and her daughter had no crayons.  She had money from her bean factory that she could use to join other clubs and buy her own crayons.  What about the children whose parents didn't have their own factory?  Who would care for them?   Plus, her children didn't want to leave their Castle to go to another Castle.  It can be very hard to change Castles and make new friends. 

The mother talked to the organizer.  She wanted to help.

The organizer said he would be in touch.

And the mother waited. 

The new Castle season was almost starting.  She wanted a new Queen or King to run the Castle.  While she did not hate the Queen she thought the Queen with her excellent organizational skills should be at a Castle that was in disarray. 

She called the organizer.  He did not remember her.  He really wanted to overthrow the Queen.  The mother explained that she thought the Queen was only doing what the kingdom had told her to do.
He scheduled a meeting.  He did not show up.

The mother was mad as her bean factory was a very busy place and she did not have time for people who did not respect her time.

So the mother got together the parents of the other children-- even the ones who were going to other Castles.  And some of the Lords and Ladies came, too. They came even though they were frightened by the Queen;she had told them that she would ruin their careers in the kingdom.

But the Lords and Ladies that came didn't care.  They cared more about the Castle and the children. They were brave and true.

Some of the parents were scared, too.

But the mother wasn't.

She knew that the Queen didn't understand what the consequences of her actions were.  And if she did, she felt sorry for her.  She had once been a good Queen.

So the mother called the people who set the rules for the Kingdom.  The worked in the Palace.  They told her they knew about the Queen and were working on it.

The mother pleaded that the situation was dire and that immediate change needed to happen.  They had been working on it for seven years.  It was time.  She did not hate the Queen or blame the Queen-- she just wanted her children to have a happy Castle experience like she had had.

Part of the unhappiness of the Castle, she realized, were the silly rules the kingdom had to follow to get money for the Castles. Even the people in the Palace couldn't control it.  People who had never worked in Castles made these rules.  They were like the mother and ran bean factories.  The mother appreciated that running bean factories was nothing like running the Castle.  Children were not beans.  The people in the Palace understood the mother's concern.  They asked the mother to be patient.  They hoped it would be fine soon. The mother said now.  They said be patient.  She said she respected the people in the Palace but her son only had one more year at the Castle and she wanted it to be good.  The people in the Palace were kind and knew this mother was not crazy.  They knew she would not give up, too.  The mother trusted the people in the Palace would do the right thing.

But... just in case.. because the mother was no fool... she called the Council of Elders.  Each Castle was assigned an Elder to represent them to the Palace.  Her Elder Patrice was kind and thoughtful and listened to her.  She understood her passion for her children.  She was a mother, too.  She also was happy that the mother did not want the Queen's head on a platter as others had requested.  The mother said she knew the Queen was not truly evil, but it was too late to do anything to fix the Castle if the Queen stayed.

The mother also had a secret informant at the Palace.  The informant told her that the Palace was mad at the Association.  They didn't want the Association to think they could control the Castles.  The mother said she didn't care.  She wasn't in the Association.  She just wanted a new Queen for the Castle so her children could stay near their home and with their friends.

The mother also went through her Rolo-Parchment and sent word to all the people she knew throughout the kingdom.  People who knew she would not give up.  They called the Palace and said "I know this mother.  She will not stop."

All the villagers and Lords and Ladies told her that her fight was futile. The Queen would stay, she always stayed.  There was no way she could convince the Palace that the Queen needed to move.  Others had tried and failed.  Why did she think she was any different?

In fact, no one told her that what she was doing was going to work.  NO ONE. Not even her handsome, kind husband who worked in another Castle.  He did not stop her, however.  He told her he was proud of her and secretly prepared for her eventual disappointment.

But she did not stop.  She would not stop. 

She kept meeting with the mothers and Lords and Ladies in her cottage.  More would come throughout the land at every meeting.

She did not sleep.  She was worried that all the Lords and Ladies who were risking their livelihoods would be punished.  She did not want that to happen.  She went to bed with the weight of the world on her shoulders.

The mother had set up, with the help of the many other mothers and Lords and Ladies, a group of people who were going to present their concerns to the Council of Elders at the monthly meeting in the kingdom.  Then everyone would know about the things the Queen had done.

The mother did not want to do this.  She did not want the Queen, who had served the kingdom dutifully for years by focusing on bubbles, to have to suffer through this.  She did not think it was fair that the Palace would let this happen but she kept trusting the Palace to do the right thing.  She was told she was crazy.  She was told that the Palace never did the right thing; they did the easiest thing.  The Palace, however,  had a new Superintendent.  She knew there was a new era at the Palace.  She had faith.

Then one day when the mother had a very, very bad day- one of the saddest days she had ever had-- she heard the bells ringing.

The villagers were calling to tell her the Castle had a new King.  And everyone who knew the King said he was kind and fair.

The Queen, who had also been riding her steed from the kingdom of the Son of Hender would be working in a Castle near her home cottage.  It was best for her.

The Lords and Ladies who had been scared of the Queen wept.  They sent messages of thanks to the mother.  The parents called and said they were happy that new times were coming to the Castle.

The mother was happy that everyone was happy.  She was sure that her Elder and informant and the good people of the Palace had all been sincere and taken action very quickly so that no one would be hurt.  She was happy that the people to whom she entrusted her children, her most valued treasure, knew what was the right thing to do. 

But the best part was that night, when tucking in her smart and beautiful son, he looked up at her and said "You did it, Mom.  Thank you."  His clubs and activities would be back. Her daughter would have her crayons.

For in the end, that was the reason she had done it.  Not out of anger.  Not out of vengeance.

Out of love.  For her children.

Because the moral of the story is when you do the right thing for the right reason, you can fight the giant.

And hopefully, they all lived happily ever after.  Even the Queen.

The End.

Now about the importance of those magic bubbles....