Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pool Side Lessons

Learning really does happen all the time, summer included. Recently, we've had more pool side life lessons than I can count, none of them involving curriculum, but all of them things I'm hoping my kids take note of, as they will probably make life a whole lot easier.

Lesson 1:  Neglect: If you love something, or even if you just want to have it around a while, you might want to actually take care of it. When you neglect things, they are generally much more work to fix than if you had just maintained them in the first place.
We had some trouble with our pool filter at the end of last summer and not to name names, but a certain man that I am married to neglected to add chemicals or run it at all while I was out of town for 5 days. It was about 100 degrees and the pool had a solar cover on it, so we came home to a big, warm swamp. Honestly, it was beyond overwhelming, and since the weather started to cool off, we just left it covered and forgot about it all winter.
Fast forward to this spring... it was hideous. The weather was getting hot and we had 12,000 gallons of stinking, nasty water to clean up. We couldn't just drain it and start over for a couple of reasons- namely, my well will not easily give up 12,000 gallons of water, and even if we did have that much water, the liner is not meant to dry out once it's been installed, and where on earth could I dump all that salt water anyway?
We vowed not to neglect it in such an extreme way again, but in the mean time, we had to clean it up. Let me tell you, it was SO MUCH WORK, which leads me to my next lesson.

Lesson 2: Persistence and Hard Work - it often pays off, at least in this case it did, but I'm not kidding when I say it was hard. I am not exactly an expert at manual labor, and dismantling and scrubbing filters 4 times a day or more was really physically exhausting. Since the kids are big swimmers and love playing in the pool, I made them help too. There were tears, complaints and fits of bad behavior, and that was just me. There were times I wanted to give up, to just smash the pool with a bulldozer and move someplace else where a pool boy handled all of the work. But, we kept at it. We had to vacuum out hundreds of gallons of gross stuff off the bottom, and since the water had salt in it, the kids had to haul it in buckets away from all of our trees. By this point, I was over the fact that this was hard, and had to squelch the bickering and complaints, lest I lose my mind.
After weeks of work, and it just in time for the temperatures to reach triple digits, we hopped in our sparkling blue water. I was so happy, I thought I could cry. If it were possible to hug water, I would have. We all agree, it was worth it.

Lesson 3: Perspective on Cost: A couple of years ago, we acquired this 24 foot diameter hard side Dough Boy pool with wrap around deck from an estate sale for a ridiculously low price. And by ridiculously low, I mean $50. It was in really good shape and a similar new model was selling for around $4500 at the pool store. Of course, by the time we added a new liner, yards of sand to go under it and several water trucks driving way out to our place in the sticks to fill it, it cost a whole lot more. We were lucky enough to have a friend with a tractor who leveled the ground for us and more friends who help us set it up. The $50 bargain pool ended up being more like $1000 to set up, and that didn't even include the new filter and the salt water generator and the ongoing chemical costs. Factoring in all the work involved makes it even higher, but when you live in a place as hot as we do, sometimes it's worth it to eat beans and rice as long as you can swim.

As I mentioned, we learned countless other lessons from the pool. It's been like one big metaphor. But, since I want to go out and enjoy it right now, the last lesson I'll share is this:

Lesson 4: Summer doesn't last forever. So, get out there, soak up some sun and have fun while you can.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Just Doing It

Lately, I keep hearing the old Nike commercials, "Just do it" running through my head. Remember those? When that slogan was flying around and on t-shirts everywhere, I frankly did not get it. "Just do what? And why?" is what I usually thought.

Now, I get it, and I am totally feeling it on a daily basis. It's not like I'm running marathons or performing any amazing athletic feats, but I have been seeing a real difference when I just decide what has to be done, stop thinking about it, and start getting busy doing something about it.

It's not just about exercise, although I have been more active. It's about life and the fact that time is going to pass whether you are sitting around on your butt or actually doing things you love.

I've been reading a ton since I practically quit my job and have so much more time and energy, and a recurring theme that successful people mention is action. Thinking about goals and making lists is nice, but taking action is what gets things done.

So, I want to write. I'm just doing it. I'm clicking away on a daily basis and for a few weeks anyway, I've been sending something out into the paid writing world weekly. As you can imagine, I have not struck it rich in my couple of weeks at it, but I'm getting some responses, and I'm feeling very productive. I'm feeling like maybe I'm a writer.

I also want more music in my life, and I want to play it. I'm trying to just do it. We have guitars and keyboards here, there are a bazillion free lessons on YouTube, so there's really no excuse. If I want to play, I just need to do it. I am well aware that I am not a musical prodigy. In fact, I have a rather painful memory of my college roommates referring to me as "tone deaf." But you know what? I like playing with instruments, and who cares if I will never be a pro? I want to play because I like to play, and I can do that for myself. I no longer live with those roommates, so they don't have to suffer my practice, and my family is generally more accepting of beginning musicians (more so if they are in the other room.) Besides, they are beginners and practice a lot too.

Then there's art. I love creating things, but for a while, it just fell to the back burner. I am a pretty crafty homeschooling mom and have always been into the hands on projects with my kids, but now, I'm also wanting to make sure I make art because I want to, not just squeezing it in as a lesson for my kids. Actually, I think just doing it and creating because it is fun is probably the best lesson I could give them. 

I'm also wanting to be stronger and healthier, physically that is. I feel blessed that I've never had a weight problem, especially considering the horrible processed food products I grew up eating, but skinny isn't the same as strong. I reformed my eating habits long ago when I was growing babies, and while I've always walked my dogs and liked hiking, I never really "exercised." Sweating has been something that I have avoided if at all possible. Well, as you can guess, wishing for muscles doesn't make them happen. Visualizing probably helps, but unless it's accompanied by some action, there isn't likely to be any magical muscle transformation.So, I'm doing it. I started with yoga and then pilates, and an occasional dance class, and it feels great. Well, not while I'm doing it- all that core work in pilates makes my eyes loll about in my head and causes me pain in muscles I never knew existed, but later...later I feel great- more energy, better mood and all.

I want to cook. I want to see the world. I want to speak Spanish. I want so many things. And if I am the one that wants these things, I am the one that needs to go for them. For the first time in my life, instead of just thinking about the things I want to do, I am just doing them.

Just doing it actually feels great. It's all baby steps, no book contracts, art shows, concerts, or marathons just yet, but it's at least steps in the right direction.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Early Morning Camp Week

Five days in a row, I have managed to wake my children up, and had them ready and out the door by 7:20 in the morning! I suppose other people do this kind of thing all the time, but I'm feeling rather proud of this week. This is an amazing feat for us, and one that really makes me appreciate our laid back homeschooling and lounge act all the more.

My kids have been going to an amazing science day camp, which is a terrific experience and all, but it just starts really, really early, and goes all day long. Since we live in the boonies, everything is at least a 30 minute commute for us too, hence the ridiculously early departure. I suppose many people in cities have half hour commutes that are a lot more frustrating than ours, so we really shouldn't complain (but I still do.) While we're passing cows and occasionally getting stuck behind a slow RV, millions of people are stuck in a sea of actual traffic. Still, all that time in the car is not any of of our favorite things.

The good thing is that the kids are learning a ton, both academically and in the social world of middle school age kids, which is a place like none other. I do love seeing their excitement and hearing all of the adventures they are having. They're learning how to navigate tricky situations that aren't that serious, but are new and different for them, and they get to play with Ipads and make Lego robots and movies all day. They're meeting new friends, and working with adults who are passionate about science and technology, and who even seem to like their jobs as well as actually liking kids. They're having a great time, but they are also exhausted.

It makes me wonder how people can keep going on schedules like this year round. While we rarely sign up for classes before lunch, and try hard to protect good chunks of free time, lots of families seem to have kids scheduled for 10 to 12 hours a day between school and other activities. Then there is homework, and they even have the weekends booked with sports and church. It's no wonder so many kids get "bored" with any amount of unstructured time. They've forgotten what to do with themselves when no one directing them, and that is a sad situation.

In any case, I'm not what you would call a morning sunshine type of person, so that has a tad bit to do with our aversion to early activities. Even though I often wake up early, I just really prefer not to talk to many people until after 8 am. Prior to that, I am in my own little bubble of peace with coffee and a book or my laptop. Later, when I am up and fully caffeinated, I would much rather lounge around reading stories, playing games, exploring the creek or making crafts with my kids than rushing out the door in the morning. The kids seem to like having relaxed mornings when we use the time together to do the things we really like, and the days just seem to go better when we start at a leisurely pace and avoid the mad hurrying.

But, this week, we made it there before 8 AM every day, and we weren't even late once... another amazing feat for us. There was a little more bickering than usual due to the tired factor, but it wasn't as bad as I feared. It's odd to have such a quiet house, and I am trying to relish the small bits of freedom and solitude. I'm rarely home entirely alone, well, except for the animals. Even with the interruptions of furry friends, it's still pretty silent. At least I'm getting a decent amount of reading and writing done.

I am also feeling a bit disconnected though. We have done these week long camps before, and it always feels a little strange to have no responsibility for my kids all day for multiple days in a row. This year, lunch is even provided, so all I have to do is make sure they have a granola bar and water bottle. I don't even have to deal with feeding them. For a hands on mama, this is just bizarre. It's like part time parenting, and by the time we spend much time together, everyone is already tired and spent for the day. Is this what it would be like to have kids in school?

While I'm thrilled that my kids got to experience this camp, and I know they had a blast, we are all glad that it is just one week a year, and not a way of life. The kids are already asking what days we get to stay home and even gently suggesting we say no to a few things next week. They're wise little things- I think we can all use a little recovery period.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Vegas for Kids? Ummm, not so much.

I hadn't been to Vegas since my 21st birthday. Of course I was looking at things through very different eyes then, but what I remembered was lights, sparkle and glitter, plus some exotic animals and large quantities of horrible buffet food. So, when I across an advertisement touting Vegas as a family friendly destination, I thought it would be a fun change of pace from the tent camping and nature filled travel adventures we have been having. I tossed the idea out to my kids, and they loved it. Bling, sparkle, zing. A city that never sleeps. It sounded great.

So, we headed to Vegas. Navigating insanely busy freeways in a car that was so packed I couldn't see out the back windows was a bit stressful. Girl Child for the first time panicked about her lane changing approval duties, which doesn't work so well when your lane is ending and your going 75 miles an hour. While she mumbled "uuummm, uummm, ummm" I hollered something calm and reassuring like "We need to change lanes or we're gonna die!"

Well, we didn't die. We made it Vegas. Let me just say that it was a LOT different than I remember. Some things were the same- the lights, the crowds, the all night entertainment. But other things were different, shockingly different than I remember. In your face with more than you ever wanted to see kind of different.

As we pulled onto the strip, we were not only bombarded by people everywhere and noise, but by sign trucks- the ones that are basically a lit up billboard on wheels. I've seen these for soda and cars before, but these were selling women, or renting them at least. Each truck was plastered with about 5 larger than life and practically bare, thong wearing womens' backsides. They had a number you could call to get HOT GIRLS 2 U IN 20 MINS! There was one on every single block too.

It got worse when we parked and got out. On every corner there were at least 4 people trying to hand out fliers for the "hot girls." They all appeared to be fairly recent arrivals to the US, and I couldn't help but wonder if this was the American dream they had imagined. Standing on a street corner in a bright orange T-shirt advertising women for rent. Yes, I'm a little older now, and I'm a mother so that naturally changes my perceptions of the world, but I'm pretty sure I would have remembered the blatant selling of women and all those bare butts on signs.

These are the kind of times when I lament that my children are so inquisitive because now they were asking questions, and I had some explaining to do. I basically said that it was like a dating service and that people paid for other people to go out with them.

Girl Child said "So, they must kind of be losers if they have to pay for a date, right?" Yes, that's right. 
Boy Child could not fathom why we had to look at all those butts. When he saw one billboard with a backside that had a playing card and another had a dollar bill in the tiny fabric covering them, he was baffled and noted "That's not very sanitary."

At least the folks handing out the leaflets would generally avoid trying to hand them to me when they saw I had kids in tow. They did however try to hand them to lots of other folks who didn't look like they would be customers- elderly couples, single women, pretty much everyone who did not have a kid with them. One poor fellow didn't see my kids and tried to hand me a flier, I shot him a flaming glare and added a sharp and loud lecture about his mistake that sent him scurrying off. I don't think he could understand the words, but the meaning was clear.

We even noticed a woman who looked to be in her late 60's handing out the date for hire fliers. Seriously? Girl Child couldn't believe that a Grandma was doing that job. We wondered if she was probably the real "hot girl" you got a date with after you pre-payed. Boy Child said "It's like those fast food burgers that look all big and tasty on the commercial, and then you buy it and it's flat and gross." I nearly spit my coffee out on the street laughing at that one. I suppose if my sweet, innocent kids did have to be exposed to these unpleasantries, at least they realize the evil and deceptive ways of marketing.

We did find some positive things while in Vegas. We got an amazing deal on a room at Excalibur, and the kids loved the whole castle and knights theme. We loved all the amazing architecture, although some properties were better than others about carrying their themes inside and out. Luxor was amazing with ancient Egyptian motif. Treasure Island was neat on the outside, but thoroughly confused us with the scantily clas cowgirls inside. Where were the pirates? One thing they all had in common was that they were incredibly difficult to find your way out of. Everyplace we went to see some exhibit, signs directed us round and round through the casino. It was like a maze that was really hard to escape.

The people on the street provided even more entertainment. For tip, you could get your picture with Elvis, Superman and all sorts of other characters. Some were amazing in their likeness. Others, well...not so much. There was a seedy, creepy kind of feeling trying to make your way through the crowds. I definitely kept my kids close at hand. There were plenty of young and intoxicated people, but also lots of people with kids. I wasn't the only silly one who thought Vegas could be for families. The Belagio was a sharp contrast to the streets, with calm, beautiful and very pricey stores and amazing glass and flower art displays.

After being overwhelmed by the strip, we headed to the pool where some really nice lady bought us lunch and drinks. I don't know if we looked really haggard from traveling for so long, or if she was just really nice. We decided on nice, and enjoyed the gifts.

The roads out of Vegas were as difficult to maneuver as the casinos. It felt eerily like the whole place was specifically designed to keep you from leaving. We persevered and after driving in circles with children yelling about having to use the bathroom again, we finally made it out. My exhausted co-pilots fell asleep on me somewhere in the lonely desert. That was probably good because the shock waves followed us through Nevada for a while. I pulled in to what appeared to be an all night gas station in the middle of nowhere to look at my map, thinking the sign said "Brother." When I realized it said "Brothel" I decided to keep diving by instinct and look at my directions later, glad I didn't have to explain that one to my kids too.

I was oh so happy when we crossed the state lines back into California, and while we did find some interesting things in Vegas, I don't think I"ll be back there anytime soon.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


 I recently signed up for 30 days worth of writing prompts with a Self Reliance theme. I'm actually enjoying all the deep thinking and self analysis that goes along with this challenge, and while I am not quite organized enough to have polished versions ready to publish on a daily basis, I am going to try to share a few of my repsonses here as I get to them.

The first is on being real. Here goes:

Imitation is Suicide. Insist on yourself; never imitate. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I guess that we all have a tendency to emulate others. We see something cool and we want to try, have, or be it. That's why so many teenagers spend hours so their hair and make up look just right. Even after all the effort, they still aren't happy. It always feels fake when you are trying to be someone else. Not that there is anything wrong with role models, or trying to be our own best, but that's all we can ever truly be- ourselves.

I know I have tried to be more like others. Sometimes I am inspired to do a better job, but it always comes back to the fact that I can never be what someone else is. As a mom, I always wanted to be one of those calm and patient mothers, the ones who always have homemade organic cookies baking, and all natural crafts laid out in their beautifully furnished and uncluttered homes- they don't yell or cuss and when they do have a mess, they smile and patiently take care of it through their magical mama-ness. Whatever. I am sick of trying to be that mom.

I'm not that mom. I have the cookies and crafts going, but the house is a mess. There's flour and glitter and even dog hair in the corners. At least it's not in the cookies though, right? Even when it's at its' cleanest, this old house is not exactly not beautiful. Calm is not the best word to describe me either. I have a fiery Latina temper, and I try to keep it in check, but when I'm pushed-'s ugly.

I am patient about kids exploring and playing and being kids. I am not patient with whining or attitudes though. I yell more than I'd like to, and I sometimes cuss too. Good grief, I even drink margaritas- in a mason jar no less. And I hate cleaning. The Martha Stewart moms would be appalled, I'm sure.

Whenever I set my sights on being that perfect mom in her perfect house with her perfect kids, I am going to fail though, and end up feeling lousy about the whole thing. I could work on the yelling, and maybe get some real margarita glasses. A maid would be nice too, but other than that, I give up. I accept that I am a pretty fun mom and my kids love our home and being with me. Their friends seem to like it too.

Who wants an imitation anyway? I mean, real crab or imitation? Real cheese or imitation? Duh- real is better. And why would I want an imitation me, when I can have the real one? Even if I am both crabby and cheesy at times, I am happy to be the real me.