Three days

At 2:50 pm every day this week, Javier has come flying through the door waving around a yellow card. On it was a column of 1s. Translation = A full school day of excellent behavior.

We need a moment of silence in appreciation of this monumental feat: three whole days of excellent behavior.

I need to say it again: After 3 weeks of horrible behavioral reports, phone calls from the teacher, and a disappointing progress report .... JAVI HAS HAD THREE GREAT DAYS.

We have whooped and clapped and hugged and danced with and for him. We've given high fives, hair tousles, and the choice of his favorite dinner/dessert/organ if he ever needs one. He got special cuddly time and a thirty-minute-long made-up story from his dad last night that kept him up past bedtime. In sum, the child has been at the top of Santa's good list for the past three days.

And I'm so proud. Hesitant, but proud. I don't know what switch flipped in him, but his teacher called me last night to discuss it and we talked for more than an hour (with both of our kids winding around our legs and begging for our attention) about what it could mean. Maybe he's maturing. Maybe his meds are working again (after feeling like they'd given up the ghost). Maybe the new classroom arrangement works better for him. Maybe he's "getting it."

I don't know what it is and I was raised not to look a gift horse in the mouth. So I'm going to go give another high five and dance around some more and give up some more thanks that this boy who works so hard to be "good" finally has a reason to celebrate.

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Rape is ALWAYS rape

I've been tweeting like crazy over the past two days about Roman Polanski and the horrific number of people who are demanding that he not be punished for raping a 13-year-old girl 30 years ago.

Let me say that again: RAPING A 13-YEAR-OLD GIRL. 30 years ago. Why punish him now? Oh, only because he EVADED ARREST BY FLEEING THE COUNTRY. Because he might have had to serve some jail time. FOR RAPING A CHILD.

Okay, caps lock is off. But I'm outraged. I'm flabbergasted. I'm amazed. If you aren't sure why, read this. And then read this. And then read this. Shocked yet? Outraged yet? A child was raped and people are upset for the rapist! Because he "had a hard life," because he had to make his millions in Europe rather than the United States, because the child's mother may have let it happen, because the now-woman says she doesn't want to be in the middle of a media circus.

It all sounds very familiar. I mean, why not just say: she was drunk, she was dressed like a slut, she flirted, she walked home alone, she went to his house, she got in a jacuzzi, she asked for it. Go head, say it. Because apologizing for a child rapist is the exact same thing as saying that the child he raped ASKED FOR IT. Asked to be sodomized and penetrated, despite repeatedly saying NO and trying to convince him to just take her home.

Polanski pled guilty to a lesser charge. It doesn't mean he's not a child rapist. It means he pled to statutory rape. It means he's still a RAPIST, just one who did have to serve time for the actual crime he did. It means he had the money for a good defense. It means he's white and privileged because you know damn well if he were black or Latino, that man would've had the book thrown at him -- both in the courts and in the court of public opinion.

Therefore, when I hear someone say Polanski "had sex" with a child, I see red. When I hear people say, "he had a hard life," I see red. When I hear someone say Polanski didn't "rape rape" a child, I have to work hard not to lose my effing mind.

I also feel hurt. And here's why.

In the U.S., someone is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes. 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. 60 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. Approximately 73 percent of victims know their rapist; yet only 6 percent of rapists ever spend a day in jail.

Every woman has a rape story. Even me. We have to defend our children. We have to show THE WORLD that raping a child -- raping ANYONE -- is never okay and it's ALWAYS rape. The minute someone says NO and someone else continues to force sexual acts on that person, it becomes RAPE. Not "sex with," not "he had a hard life," and definitely not "but he's a genius."

If we don't. If we refuse to protect our children and our women -- then we are no better than the rapists.

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WFMW: Greek your yogurt

I used to be a yogurt lover. Then I got pregnant and suddenly even the thought of yogurt turned my stomach ... until I tried greek yogurt. It's a whole different animal -- rich, thick, creamy. Even the 100% fat free version is decadent and indulgent.

So for a few weeks I paid out the wazoo for greek yogurt ($1.50 per one-serving for greek tub versus $0.25 per one-serving tub for regular). And then a miracle happened into my life and a foodie friend of mine shared her secret: just strain the water of your regular yogurt.

Here's how I do it: Line a strainer with cheesecloth (or paper towels) and set it over a bowl or pot. Dump your regular yogurt (I buy the large in-bulk tubs of generic low-fat french vanilla) in the strainer and let it sit for a few hours (or overnight). When you come back later, you'll have thick and creamy yogurt in the strainer and cups of liquid hanging out in the bowl.

If you want cheap, greek-style yogurt, this is the most affordable (and tasty) way to get it.

This is what works for me. What works for you?

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Trying a new approach

My son has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. We know it. He knows it. His teacher knows it. Yet, it remains a struggle. Every day this week and most of last week, Javi brought home behavioral reports. A few choice problems:
  • "Javier was disruptive in music class today. He continually argued with Dr. Hester and had to be removed."
  • "When we came in from recess today, Javier picked up his chair and held it over his head. When I asked him to put the chair down, he told me he couldn't yet because he was showing another child how strong he is."
  • "Javier hit another classmate today. He says the reason he hit her was she kept putting her hands in his face. This is unacceptable behavior."
  • "Javier refuses to sit quietly in his seat. He talks out of turn, interrupts his classmates, and argues back when he gives the wrong answer. I have moved his desk away from his classmates' but it doesn't seem to be helping."
And then today we get his progress report. My smart third grader, who reads on a seventh grade level and enjoys doing his homework, has an 82 in Math and an 87 in Language Arts. His teacher commented, "Javi needs to work on not talking at inappropriate times (i.e., during instruction, hallways, etc). He learns quickly but needs to concentrate more in math to prevent careless mistakes." He received a U (Unsassifaction as Javi defines it) in listening and focus.

This is the point at which I would ramble on about the injustice of his disorder and how I can't hogtie his brain into working the way his instructors want it to. Normally I would be pissed that she took the time to write out what could be described as a definition of ADHD and that if he had any other disorder, he wouldn't be villified for it.

But I'm not going to do that. I'm going to do what my mountain man did when he read the progress report. I'm going to take a deep breath and get back to work on helping my son figure out how to live successfully within the structures of our society. I'm going to brainstorm ways to help him thrive and to take the sting out of what he cannot control.

And it's all because of this. Which Billy and I watched together this morning, and which has reminded us that a) we aren't alone and b) everything we do and every reaction we show shapes Javier's future. Will he be an genius entrepreneur or will he be a societal failure. It's up to us. We build him up and he'll be able to cope with anything. We harp on the disabilities his disorder brings (inattention, impulsivity, forgetfulness, carelessness), and he'll be the one who pays for it.

So today I'm working on being a stronger, more supportive parent. Even when it's a struggle. Even when my intelligent son can add 2 + 3 and get a different answer every time (when he remembers what he's adding). If you have time, you should sit down with that documentary. I am amazed at what it has accomplished in our mixed up little home.

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GTT: Always time for romance

I grew up on romance novels. While the first book I read was Stephen King's Carrie (because my mama loves the Stephen King), one of other women who helped raise me had stacks upon stacks of Harlequins.

After gobbling those up, I moved onto more complicated plotlines. Three of these longer stories stand out to me: Promises & Lies, which was about a woman who struggled under difficult, demanding, and disrespectful men; Too Much Too Soon, which was about three sisters and their love for the same man; Golden Apples, which tackled a beautiful young woman's entrance into corporate America (and then rogue man it held); and a two-part romance set in frontier America where a woman named Mariah is help captive by a Native American warrior but (of course) falls in love. In the second part of the series, Mariah has died and her mixed-race son falls in love with an available, lusty blonde.

What's really interesting here is that in most of my beloved romance trash, the real story was about women -- sisters -- could be your worst enemy. That you couldn't trust them (in one book, the best friend steals the protagonists' job and sleeps with her husband, in many of them the glamorous sister gets pregnant by the virtuous sister's husband or boyfriend.) That speaks volumes considering I grew up with a sister whose main goal was to destroy me and tried to do so through several of my boyfriends.

Anyway, I read these books until their covers fell off. I loved the characters and just knew that I'd grow up to have a child named Honora (based on one of my all-time favorites). Of course, I didn't. But I remember how fiercely I felt that connection to these types of storylines. I soon moved on to the incestuous and dark plots that made VC Andrews famous (and, yes, there was a time when I just knew any girlchild of mine would be named Heaven Leigh).

So when it comes time to create a trashly storyline for myself? I have some experience there. My name would be something complicated and old-fashioned like Rowena, but everyone would call me Row. I'd be the quiet yet intelligent and opinionated woman who encounters the devilshly handsome man that she despises, yet can't stop fantasizing about.

He'd be smitten with me and go out of his way to break through my shell. I'd expect the worst but would be swept of my feet by his unpredictability, his charm, his wit, and his ability to open my eyes to things I'd never otherwise know.

I'd resist him until I couldn't. And my giving in would be hot, sweaty, and dirty. There'd be intensity and emotion and lots of unbridledness (obligatory in any trashy romance). His breath would quicken at the sight of me. I'd ache when I was away from him. Our need for each would be fiery and all consuming.

Isn't it wonderful to think about? No kids or bills or work or family drama. Just that darkly handsome and whip-smart man. Just attraction without bounds. I imagine my husband would like to know this: in my story, this man is dark complexioned, he comes from a place that's earthy and untouched, he knows how to build things, he is educated in ways I am not, he is not afraid to challenge me. He is strangely like the mountain man I will spend my life with.

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It's never too early for a little costume fun

Javi is super excited to finally have his costume (after waiting a whole two days for it to arrive). He immediately stripped down and put it on.

Then began the begging. Please, Mama, please take my picture. So I took one. He then said, Please, take one of me like this. And on and on. So finally, I said, you do what you're going to do and just tell me when to take the picture.

Hello, Javi's heaven. And here's what I got in return. I hope you get as many giggles out of it as I did.

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WFMW: Softer lips

I have been known as a Chapstick addict. In fact, there was a time when I was know to have a chapstick in each pocket.

Yet, my lips were always chapped... until I found this quick little beauty regimen.

Step 1: Exfoliate your lips. Slather your lips with Vaseline. Then use a soft toothbrush to gently rub away any dead skin. Do this once a week or so to keep your lips fresh but not too exfoliated.

Step 2: Wipe off the Vaseline. You'll want to wipe off all "dirty" Vaseline.

Step 3: Slather the Vaseline on again. I do this at night, so it's not as gross as it could be, but it's still pretty weird. Leave the Vaseline on all night. In the morning, you'll have the softest, fullest lips ever. I don't need Chapstick during the day and I'm not constantly licking and chewing on my lips.

I found out yesterday that this method is dermatologically approved. As if there were any doubts. And, some people swear by rubbing Vaseline all over your face, but I can't vouch for that (though Martha does it!).

This works for me. What works for you?

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Domesticity Fail

I had high hopes for tonight.

I prepared in advance for one of my family's favorite meals: Chopped cabbage rolls. I planned the menu, shopped for the ingredients (choosing lean ground beef, the prettiest cabbage, and hitting the farmer's market for fresh tomato sauce), and had everything read to assemble in plenty of time.

Then I remembered I had to cook the rice. Only the ground beef was already browning. So I stuck the rice in the microwave. (Don't do this. God didn't intend rice to be cooked in the microwave.)

And then I realized why you don't brown ground beef in a teflon-coated skillet. (In case you don't know, you can't separate beef that is sticking to itself and then what little bit of fat was in that 95/5 basically deep fried everything.)

So an anxiety-ridden 10 minutes later, I mixed the rice and beef. I spooned it over the cabbage. Then I mixed the homemade sauce and a tablespoon of sugar with a bag of my own tomatoes. Only I drained out the excess liquid. Meaning that when I poured the liquid over the rice and beef, it didn't go very far. But I decided the cabbage would do just fine under some tightly wrapped foil and in a hot ass oven.

Only it didn't.

I mean, we ate it. But the cabbage was a little crunchy. And the whole meal was dry. And Javi cried when we told him he had to eat it anyway. (That happens more often than I'd like to admit.)

Then I decided to mix up some spinach dip since I was done and everyone else was still trying to chew through the cabbage.

Only I brought home ricotta cheese instead of sour cream. Why do they put the ricotta right beside sour cream anyway? Also, if I had been trying to find fat free ricotta, I'd've come home empty handed. So of course when I see a fat free label, I just take it for granted that I've got sour cream in my hands. Because they are stupidly side by side.

But I'm standing my the sink and I've already squeezed the liquid out of a cold as hell box of chopped spinach. And I've opened the packet of Ranch powder.

So I do it. I mix in the ricotta. And, as you might have guessed, it tasted like nothing worth eating. So I added in some minced garlic and the tail end of a soon-to-expire container of sour cream that's been hanging out in the side door of the fridge.

And it's ... better. But no one seems excited to taste test. I put a lid on it and put it in the fridge. Because I've had enough already and it's only 6:30 pm. There's another 2 hours before I'm whine-free and that kid is still crying at the table.

This evening was a total domestic fail. I'll let you know when I build up the nerve to try again.

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A fun family dinner

Most nights between 5:30 pm and 6:30 pm, you'll likely find the Millers sitting at the dinner table enjoying a meal cooked right there in the kitchen.

Someone will likely be asking if he has to eat all the vegetables on his plate (or if he can have some Ranch dressing to mask their taste), someone will likely be refusing to anything on her plate at all (unless you threaten to eat it for her), and someone will be trying everything in her bag of tricks to get everyone else to discuss their days. A fourth someone will be too busy eating and reprimanding someone else for talking with his mouth full.

But last week we received a little prize that has made our family dinners a little less predictable, and much more fun. I entered a giveaway hosted by Penny (a fellow blogger who has a child with ADHD) and won Classic Dinner Games from Families with Purpose.*

I had high hopes for the game. I wanted it to help my son stay focused on finishing his dinner and less likely to forget where he was and what he was supposed to be doing (reference that whole talking with his mouth full). I also wanted it to stimulate some interesting dinner talk about what everyone experienced that day, how they were feeling, and what interesting things were happening in their worlds.

Hope #1 is a no-go. The game is fantastic and stimulating, but that's turned out to be a bad thing for a certain 8 year old. The first night we tried to play it, dinner lasted forever and someone wound up on "silent" because he couldn't remember to eat inbetween turns. However, Hope #2 was fulfilled in really thoughtful and interesting ways. Not only did playing the game lead everyone to open up, the game itself gave us prompts that forced us to get to know each other better (can you believe that a small family who spends most of their time together didn't know everything there is to know about each other?).

For instance, one card asks the children at the table to pose a series of questions to the adults that include, What is my favorite color? What is my favorite food from the school cafeteria? What is my favorite subject in school? In return, the adults ask the children, What city was I born in? What is my favorite color?

While we must wait until after Javi finishes his dinner to play, we all look forward to the game and have really enjoyed playing together. I highly recommend this "tool" for any family that wants a fun, new way to suss out the playful, talkative side of their family members -- even the ones you worry will never, ever stop talking. I'm constantly surprised by how much more there is to know about my little chatterbox, and I'm thankful this game is highlighting those hidden surprises.

*You can also follow Penny or Families with Purpose on Twitter!

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My baby bumblebee

Last week, I decided to get a headstart on the holidays by searching for cute, used costumes for the kids.

[I have wasted spent more than my fair share of hours on a homemade costume. Okay, it was just once, but it involved three sets of hands, lots of blood, an exasperated husband (because I forced him to make a chestplate from felt), and Javi's weight in fabric glue.]

Javi decided he wanted to be a werewolf.* I decided that (since I'm Team Jacob) Billy should be a daddy werewolf so they would be a matched set. Naturally, that led to looking at pages and pages of werewolf costumes (they even make one for men on the ... larger side).

It became a family activity. We all sat together on our comfy red couch and looked at cheesey werewolf costumes on the Internet. Until Bella (rudely) reminded us that she's two years old and werewolves are scary.

Every three images she'd scream. And yell "dat ebil, mama!" And then cry because we were looking at the pictures without her. So three more images would pass before she screamed again. We rode that rollercoaster for a while and then closed up shop to put the kids to bed.

I didn't really think about it again until the next morning. I went in to get Bella up and her first words to me were: "No where-da-woold, Mama. He ebil. Daddy a bumbabeed." And there was such conviction in her voice and in her eyes, that I simply said, Okay baybell. Daddy is a bumblebee.** And she said (in her mogwai voice), "Yeah. I da bumbabeed, too."

And so she is. My sweet Bay picked out her own costume for the first time in her short, amazing little life.

Now I just have to convince her that, no, she can't wear the wings without putting on the whole costume, and, no, she can't wear the costume every day.

* Javi has now decided to be a skeleton (and I have found and ordered an affordable option). He will glow in the dark ... and possibly explode with happiness as he does so.

** I told Billy I'm going to find him a yellow and black striped shirt and bumble bee antenna, and make a black stinger to put on the back of his black pants. He told me he couldn't think of a less manly costume. I beg to differ.

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Why women are unhappy

I wasn't surprised to see that women are unhappier today than they were 30 years ago. Yes, we have more freedom to choose what we want from life... but no, making that choice isn't any easier.

Marcus Buckingham reports that women's overall happiness has dropped relative to the 70s and relative to men's happiness, no matter how many kids they have, how much money they make, whether they are married, and what race they are. It seems wrong considering the 70s' battlecry for women's lib, the 80s' motto of "look how far you've come," and the 90s' standard "you go, girl."

But the stats don't feel wrong.

I know I have a cushy life. I have a job that allows me to work pantsless from the couch making pretty good money. My husband also brings home a nice paycheck. My children are smart, happy, and healthy. We have an affordable mortgage in an area with an okay school. We have a good group of friends, and our families live close enough to help out when we need them.

So why am I so often unhappy? Why do I question my motivations and dream about giving it all up in favor of a small paid-for-outright home on a patch of land in the country far from the rigors and demands of an ambitious life?

One of my favorite bloggers, Michelle Dortch, pointed out two very obvious reasons for most women's unhappiness: the "second shift" and comparison. I am very lucky that my second shift isn't that hard. Yes, I do the fill-in-the-gaps work, but Billy is extremely hands on both with the kids and the house work. I also try not to compare what I have (or don't have) to what everyone else seems to have. I've never felt compelled to stay at home or work outside of the home simply to do what someone else thinks is right.

However, I am stretched too thin. There's working full time, being responsible for everything my handsome husband chooses not to do (no choice for me), volunteering, being a good friend and family member. It's exhausting.

And I have to wonder. Did my 1960s counterpart spread herself thin like this, or did she focus on what was most important and let the rest fall by the wayside? I don't want to focus on baking cakes or making my husband's life stress free, but I also don't feel fulfilled staying up all night to finish up an article by deadline and then turning around and having to do the grocery shopping because there's nothing to eat and I'm the only one who knows how to prepare food fit for consumption (or who chooses to try).

The World Health Organization found that women start out their lives happier than men, but are much unhappier at the end of their lives. I can see this. We're filled up with promises of all we can achieve and how nothing can stop us. And so we try -- vigorously -- only to find that maybe we want something smaller. Something quieter. Something less ambitious. And what then?

Of course, I am my mother's daughter, so I have to wonder if a lifetime of struggling to fill in those gaps, of worrying about your children, of not having a choice about what you'll do or not do when it comes to family, of trying to have it all just wears us down. So at the end of our only run on Earth, we're tired and deflated and left wondering: Why didn't I do it differently?

I think men do what feels right and to hell with what anyone thinks. Women, on the other hand, try to squeeze out every drop of something -- including life -- and yet often wind up with an empty cup.

I'm making a promise today. I'm going to live my life so that, at the end of it, I am a happier person. I don't yet know how I'll do it, but I know what's making me unhappy today. And I'm vowing to change it. Will you?

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QOTD: After school with Javi

This is a typical afternoon.

J: Mama, can which way are these gloves supposed to go? (Red winter gloves that fit perfectly well.)

Me: Why?

J: I just want to know.

Me: Looks like it. Why are you wearing gloves in 80 degree weather?

J: I like them.

Me: I'm telling you right now that you'd better not cut the fingertips off of them.

J: I'm not going to!!!! I mean, I want to. Can't I? Please? Please!

Me: The answer is no.

J: (shoulder jerks out of the room while sucking his teeth and whining)

Me: (on the phone) Yeah, sure, we'll be here, come on over.

J: Who's coming over?! Is it Grandma?

Me: No.

J: Is it Ms. Shannon?

Me: No.

J: Is it Amy or Ms. Angela?

Me: No.

J: Is it Ashley?!

Me: Yep.


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GTT: Next to my skin

I was up until 3:30 am working on deadline last night, so this week's Girl Talk Thursday topic provides a nice, fluffy topic that requires minimal brainwork.

My underpants.

That's right. What's underneath my clothes and next to my skin. For those who see me every day or nearly every day, this won't come as a shock: I hate wearing a bra.

This was a-ok about three years ago when my modest C cups stayed where they belong. But a pregnancy, a fierce attempt at breast feeding, and a mumbledy-grumbledy-number weight gain later and I just may be obscene. The boobs still aren't large - they just don't really stay put and my headlights seem to always be on.

Luckily I don't have to leave the house much. When I do, I keep things in place with sweet and comfortable cotton bras. No underwire, thankyouverymuch, and nothing too structured. There's nothing worse than a bra digging into my (love)sides.

Underpants are my favorite item of clothing. If it were up to me, I'd wear nothing but them all day long (as I work from the couch). However, there's an 8 year old boy who suddenly became obsessed with boobs a few years back and a 35 year old man who is proud of him for it, so that doesn't happen. I prefer to wear mid-rise briefs.

I know, I know. They aren't as sexy as bikinis (which don't work for big girls) or boy shorts (which stay in all the wrong places) or thongs (just no). But they are so dang comfortable and that's what counts, right?

What's next to your skin?

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WFMW: Backyard Composting

I started on a composting journey back in the spring despite firmly believing that I am way too clueless and scatter-brained to a) learn how to do it and b) keep it up.

So I enlisted a little composting buddy who goes by the name of Javi (and who makes it his business to keep me on my toes). We decided to try low-maintenance composting in the yard (these sites were a tremendous help) by following these steps:

1. Find a counter-top bin. I wanted to get a pretty stone, lidded bowl from the local Pottery Festival, but I was worried about investing too much money into something I wouldn't keep up. So for starters, I got a plastic locking-lid container from Walmart. For the low price of $3.50, I got a counter-top bin that keeps smells in -- though it isn't as pretty as I'd like.

2. Add some "greens" and "browns." Javi and I are pros at spotting what can and can't go into our compost. Greens are allowed and included: fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, egg whites, plain pasta, and more. Browns are also needed, such as wood chips, coffee filters, newspaper, and cardboard (like toilet paper and paper towel rolls). Once your counter-top bin is full, it's time to head out to the yard.

Remember -- there are many things you can't compost. No meats, bones, dairy, or fats/oils (like what's left of your salad with Ranch dressing all over it), peanut butter, diseased plants, weeds with the seeds still on (they'll regrow), or animal waste. These things can introduce bacteria and other dangerous things to your compost and make it unuseable. There are people who compost poop, but I'm not one of them and I definitely wasn't going to allow Javi to be one of them.

3. Dig a big hole. Some folks invest in containers for their compost, but we have a large swath of land right behind our back fence that can't be seen from the front and that is far enough from the house to alleviate any concerns about rodents. That's where we dug our big hole. It was about 18 inches deep and 2 feet wide. When I bin filled up, we'd dump it in this hole. Then we'd mix in some of the earth that we dug out in the beginning. Mixing our greens and browns with the soil helped speed up decomposition.

4. Water the hole. Composts need three things: sun, water, and air. Ours got sun by virtue of being outside. Before we dumped our bin, we'd add water and slosh everything up so that it would keep the pile somewhat damp. And after we dumped the bin, we'd use a pitchfork and a shovel to give everything a good toss. Because of this, items we added on Dump-Day 1 were decomposed by Dump-Day 37.

5. Stop when the hole is full. Once the contents of my first hole were level with the ground, we stopped adding to it -- but we continued to turn it every few days. We also made sure to scatter dirt and leaves over the top of it each time to keep the rodents from catching the scent of delicious decaying matter. ;)

6. Trouble-shoot problems. Billy swore up and down that composting is really just "burying your trash in the ground," but it's not. You're adding nitrogen-rich items (the greens) and carbon-rich items (the browns) together to encourage them to break down into organic matter. But it can be stinky. That's a sign that you have too many greens and not enough browns to balance them out. If your compost starts to smell, try adding water-soaked wood chips (we got ours from a friend who had a tree stump ground down) and turning the pile really well.

Also, if your compost is moving more slowly than you'd like, you may need some worms. I was stressed about not having enough worms and good bugs in the beginning, but they came eventually. Be patient. If you aren't patient, add some earthworms from a bait-and-tackle shop. They may not stick around, but if you've got enough good stuff in there, they'll make themselves at home.

7. Start all over again. When your hole is full, dig another one and keep going. Once my first hole was completely composted, I moved it out of the hole and used the now-empty hole for new contents. That means I only have two holes in the yard rather than hundreds. I can't wait to use all my new organic matter in our backyard garden next spring!

Composting this way has worked really well for us -- and created a little bonding time for me and Javi. What works for you?

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RIP Patrick. You'll always be Darry to me.

Patrick Swayze died today. While we're somewhat accustomed to celebrity deaths after an endless barrage over the past few months, this one hits me in a quiet, vulnerable place.

Patrick was the first man in my life who showed what it meant to live up to your responsibilities, to take care of your own, and to sacrifice your own desires for the greater good. It was 1986. My mother had just "rescued" my sister and I from a horrible vacation spent visiting my father and his family in San Francisco.

My father was strung out and spent barely any time around my sisters and I, leaving us to our Grandmother -- a woman with her own demons who wasn't prepared for three needy girls with abandonment issues. Things exploded one night and my aunt called my mother demanding that she find a way to send us back. That we -- more specifically, that I -- wasn't welcome there anymore.

My father did nothing to stand up for me. To understand the mistakes I'd made and the reasons I made them. He gave me the same disgusted looks as my aunt and then disappeared into the night to tend to his own concerns. My grandmother escorted us to the airport the next day.

My father's continual abandonment, his ability to simply not care about whether I was hurt or if there was some underlying reason for my decisions, stung me to my core. I'd always known that he didn't want to be around, that he had a life that didn't include us. But I think that was the visit when I realized it wasn't that we didn't fit into his life, it was that he didn't want us to. He was perfectly happy to wash his hands of me and he walked away without looking back.

I hadn't been home for very long when my mother brought The Outsiders home for us to watch. Every Friday she'd order pizza and rent a movie so that we could all relax in our small apartment in the projects without any of the normal workday stress. I was eating my pizza in the frustration-inducing way I always did then: Pile the toppings on one side, eat the bread and crust, then eat the cheese and toppings. She was yelling at me to stop playing with my food when the movie started.

And that's when I phased her out and focused on the screen. The lives that unfolded resembled mine in a way I'd never seen before. Here were these poor kids with their unfortunate names just like mine. (They were Pony Boy and Soda Pop. I was Quinones.) Here was the struggle between being good and being rich. Here were these endearing, heartbreaking characters and they could've been my brothers or my neighbors.

They were just like me. And I knew that if they knew me, they'd never wash their hands of me. They'd shelter and protect me. Rumble til the death for me. I'd be one of them forever.

No character more embodied that protectionism, that acceptance, that love, than Darry. Patrick Swayze made him strong and sensitive. He brought a depth and believability to the character that made me daydream about what my life would be like if I had him waiting for me at home. His other characters were touching -- and Johnny Castle defined my idea of romance and lust -- but it was Darry who shaped my vision of the perfect father.

I didn't have a very good father. In fact, I would argue that I had no father at all -- and even my father says he prefers to be considered an older brother. But I had Swayze's creation of Darry and that's the stick by which I measured any man who came close to fathering my children.

I don't think many people think of Darry Curtis when they think of Patrick Swayze, but I always have and I always will. I will treasure that Swayze breathed his own spirit into the character long before I ever read the book (which became one of my favorites). I will forever treasure that because of this man, my children have the most amazing father who will never walk away from them.

Rest in peace, Patrick. You will always be Darry to me.

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The Myth of the Over-Medicated Child

I've seen it in several places 'round the Web in the past few days: Today's parents are compensating for poor behavior and lack of discipline by doping their kids with harsh chemicals and not-well-studied medications in order to turn them into docile zombies.

In case you can't tell, these lines of reasoning piss me the eff off. Mainly because I medicate my child and I do it with a relatively new drug that hasn't been tested over decades. Also because people have rolled their eyes and clicked their tongues and exchanged knowing glances when I attempt to control my child's behavior when he isn't properly medicated.

I would like you to show me these hordes of children who are zombie-shuffling through their days in a haze of behavior stilting "chemicals." Please. Show them to me. Now.

Because I've yet to see even one. And I know for certain that my child is vivacious, chatty, funny, and compassionate about 35 minutes after he swallows his 30 mg does every morning. Before that does kicks in he displays all of those qualities with the nasty addition of moody, impulsive, scattered, and over sensitive.

I firmly believe that if we lived in a bubble where no outside influences ever darkened our door, where we could grow our own crops and dictate the way they come from farm to table, where we could meet and exceed our children's educational needs, and where we could channel extra energy into heavy chores (like on the aforementioned farm), we would be able to get by without the help of medication.

But that's not the world we live in. We live in the world of 25 students to a classroom, two parents who work full time (even though one gets to do it from home), limited space and knowledge with which to cultivate crops, and not many back-breaking chores to diffuse a hyped up child. That's just the way it is.

And it absolutely kills me for someone to harp on about and refuse to apologize for the belief that parents don't spend every waking moment trying to do what's right for their kid. Speaking for the parents I know, we've tried positive reinforcement, we've tried behavior charts, we've tried dietary restrictions and changes, we've tried counselling, and we spent a lot of time sitting in classrooms working with the people who spend hours upon hours with our children.

We wring our hands. We read book after book. We try new methods and strategies. We cry at the pediatrician's office. We look to each other for a sympathetic ear and to hear someone else say I've been there and I made it through.

So the next time you dismiss a child with an attention or hyperactivity disorder as suffering from "the latest fad" or you threaten your child that if he doesn't shape up you'll force him to take "zombie pills" or you roll your eyes at a parent who is ready to burn down the pharmacy because they ran out of a certain medication but didn't think to tell you in time ...

Just don't. Check yourself and your judgements. They are neither wanted nor justified.

And one day it could be your child. I guarantee it won't seem so made up to you then.

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9/11, eight years later

I feel like -- especially after the election season last year -- the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 are always top of mind.

I see a movie set in New York City and look for the empty space where the towers should be. I see pre-9/11 movies and my breath catches in my throat when the towers appear where I no longer expect them to be.

Eight years. So much has changed, and yet so much is the same.

On that day eight years ago, I was tired from having stayed up late with a guy I was dating. He was originally from Brooklyn. I liked to tease him about having a half-Brooklyn, half-Southern accent. He was studying to be a massage therapist and had plans to study accupuncture after that. We stayed up late talking. I was late for work and heard about the attacks in my car radio as I wound my way to the government office where I worked.

My immediate thought was to call him. But he didn't answer. I tried to call him all day. Still no answer. Finally, around 7 pm, when I was glued to the tv and watching the tragedy unfold and wishing I could tuck Javi with someone safe and get in my car to go help, to go do something to help, I called him one last time. He answered.

The call was short. I immediately launched into if he'd heard from his family. Did he have any updates. Did he know anyone who was there. He silenced me. My brother is missing. I can't talk to you because I'm waiting for my family to call. I asked him to call me when he knew something.

I never heard from him again.

I knew how to find him online so I quietly kept tabs on him. I was chastened by his reaction to my frenetic and insensitive barrage of questions, so I did not try to call him again. I learned from his online reports that his brother was never found. Two weeks later, he posted that he was moving back to NYC to be close to family, to help with his brother's family, to heal.

Since then, I've often thought of that relationship as a metaphor for the world in days, months, and years after September 11. We all changed -- drastically. Many of us walked away from the paths we were on, and many of us became more determined to blaze new ones. Some of us hunkered down with family to ride out the emotional riptides the terror attacks brought while others of decided that time was short and now's the time to act.

Eight years later and we're still learning those lessons. We were all shaken down to our foundations and many of us are still trying to recover. There's a blessing here. We remembered how to love, how to open our arms up to those who need us, how to live inside a space where trauma exists.

I know we'll never forget what happened to our country and our people. My hope is that we continue learning how to be better as a result of it.

My thoughts and prayers are with those mourning the family and friends they lost eight years ago. May you find solace in knowing that so many of us grieve with you.

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Sticky #5

The kids are cracking me up so hard today, I had to do a sticky.

* I am a person who believes children of different ages/stages should bathe seperately. However, the day we returned from our camping vacation, everything was behind schedule and we knew both kids needed to be in bed at bedtime to ensure good next days. So I told Javi to get undressed and climb in the tub with Bella.

Big mistake. She was obsessed with his ... parts. I got them both scrubbed down quickly and broke out the shower head to rinse them and get them out of the tub. Except I forgot to unplug the tub, so I asked Javi to do it. I saw it happening in slow motion but couldn't get in there to stop it. Bella stuck her finger straight up into his butt! He jumped about 7 feet and she kept the most inquisitive facial expression until we were dying laughing and she realized something funny just happened.

She's been obsessed with her own parts for a while now. Needless to say, we'll be keeping naked bodies away from her. Poor Javi!

* This weekend, Bella turned into a "mama." She hasn't been very interested in babying her dolls, but something clicked and now she wants to cuddle them, rest them against her shoulder so she can pat their backs, feed them from her cup, and rock them to sleep. Usually to do that, she puts a blanket over their faces and yells at me to be quiet. (I promise I have not modelled that behavior.) She also likes to be babyied (babied?) - she wants me to hold her and say, "Look at my big baby!" and she'll say, "I a good baby" and I have to say, "You're my best baby." It has to happen that way. Later I'll hear her patting her own baby and assure it, "You is a best good baby!"

* For the past year, Bella has been a big fan of Dora, Backyardigans, and Thomas. However, this weekend, there was a camper full of children watching SpongeBob on repeat. We went to an arcade and a sweet teen boy gave her all his tickets. We used them to buy the only age-appropriate toy available -- a stuffed SpongeBob. So now SpongeBob is her baby and she tries to watch the show. It doesn't hold her attention, but she likes it being on. She tells me, "I wub GahGop Guhfast. I wub it so much. It a good best baby." Couldn't you just eat her up?

- Access to that aforementioned camper was due to our spending Labor Day weekend camping at Myrtle Beach. Javi loves being on the coast, but this year he found a new obsession: shark teeth. He spent all of his time on the beach searching for shark teeth. I began agreeing with him that the shell shards he was scooping up were, indeed, broken out shark molars. I mean, of course shark teeth are a dime a dozen. To comemmorate his new love, we bought him a shark necklace from one of the cheapo beach stores. It cost us $0.68 and I almost bought a baby turtle to go along with it. I heart baby turtles. Too bad I'm on the list.

* The place where we camped has a golf-cart culture. Not only does every campsite have a golf cart parked outside it, the campers cruise at night time giving each other high fives and passing out neon glow necklaces and beads. Javi and Bella were mesmerized by this culture. On night 2,I sent Javi and Billy out for a joy ride. When they got back, Javi tripped overhimself to tell me that he "drove" the cart.

Billy said he allowed Javi to steer. He said Javi was all over the road, but that his chest was puffed out so far, Billy wasn't sure Javi's chest wouldn't crack in two. Also, Javi's chin was cocked almost straight up. Such a proud little man! Billy swore him to secrecy, but you know you can't expect an 8 year old to keep that kind of achievement to himself.

* We're back in the swing of things: school, work, volunteering, etc. Tonight I was helping Javi with his math homework (which Billy normally does because my math skills are so bad). He is learning to add coins, so all 10 problems were centered around him figuring out how much change a person should get for a purchase and then translating that amount into coins. Boring, right? I would agree, except that I saw Javi's answers.

To the bitter end my child tried to force every amount to fit into dimes. For $0.36, he put 3 dimes, one nickel, one penny; $0.91 was nine dimes and one penny; $1.90 was 19 dimes. What a silly kid! I made him come up with a different coin combination for each answer. So instead of 19 dimes, he said 18 dimes and 2 nickels. Let's hope he eventually learns that God gave us many more coins to further Capitalism than just dimes!

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Wordless Wednesday

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WFMW: Recycle those books

Lots of people -- myself included -- love books. The smell of the ink, the weight of the pages, the anticipation of the story tucked inside.

However, if you're like me, you don't have unlimited space for all those new books. And you really only read most of them once ... and then they languish on a shelf (or in a box) collecting dust.

Instead, we donate all of our already-read books to our local public library. While you won't make a dent in a large-city library, small-town libraries need the support your donations will give them. We donate adult books, as well as those the kids are finished with.

And, if more folks donated their books, people like me who love checking books out at the library would have more selections to choose from. See? It's a win-win.

That's what works for me. What works for you?

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Daily dose of cute

I hope your mandatory day-off is filled with creativity and wonder!

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The back-to-school speech

I'm not quite sure why people are up in arms over President Obama's planned back-to-school speech.

When he was campaigning in advance of the primaries, I was shocked by the vitriol aimed at him for being smart, compassionate, articulate, and open minded.

Yet, aren't these the qualities we should be instilling and encouraging in our children? Are people so anxious to hate and codemn him that everything he does must be a huge deal?

I suppose this is when someone would chime in with the inevitable: But your people loathed W and made a point of calling him out on his shit. However, since even Republicans (who now call themselves Conservatives because of how Bush and his cronies trashed things) don't argue for Bush anymore, I'll save that discussion for a different post.

I keep hearing about socialism and Maoism and PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN ... but from what, exactly? What has the man done that fills people with fear?

Is it because his pro-choice? Because so am I.

Is it because he has friends who think the United States has continuously and systematically steamrolled other people? Because so do I.

Is it because he thinks everyone should have healthcare? Because so do I.

Is it because he's of mixed heritage? Because so am I.

But I love my country. And I love what it stands for and the possibilities it offers. I love that we are filled to the brim with amazing opportunities and brilliant people. So does Barack Obama.

I am not scary and you don't have to hide your children from me. You don't have to hide them from Obama, either. Let your children get involved in government. Foster their enthusiasm for the political process. Discuss with them the importance of education.

Hiding under a rock or supporting fearmongering does no one -- least of all the nation's children -- any favors.

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I am here

I am here:

Hopefully I am relaxing and enjoying my vacation. Hopefully my children are playing with other children and not trying to climb up in my back pocket. Hopefully I squeeze in a little time to finish up some work on my deadlines for next week. Hopefully I find time to lay in the sand and let my mind go blank...

I hope you're enjoying the long weekend and remembering that hardworkers fought for this opportunity to catch a damn break already. So go catch yours.

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GTT: List of Five

Do you have a List of Five? (Not the top five books on your shelf or the top five places you’ve done it. These are the five individuals you’re totally allowed to boink outside of wedlock or any sort of committed relationship.) I do now:

1. Tina Fey

Because she's not just funny -- she's smart and layered funny. I love that sometimes you have to listen to a joke over and over again to capture all the facets of funny. Slapstick can suck it.

2. Dwawyne "The Rock" Johnson.

Do you see that photo? Oh. My. Lawd. That's all I can say.

3. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Confession. I first swooned over Joseph when I saw "3rd Rock From The Sun" in '96. He was ... hm ... 15 maybe? I wasn't that much older. I mean, what's 5 years?

4. Sawyer aka Josh Holloway

Gah! Is any explanation necessary? I prefer him hot, grimy, topless, and with the glasses he found in Season 1. Ungh.

5. Common

He's just ... gorgeous. And so damn smart and talented. His "I Used To Love H.E.R." made me think more critically about what I listen to and what I support by way of purchasing power. It also broke my heart when he had to drop the Sense part of his name.

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Insert nerdy little giggle

Font Nerds

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Moments in life

I hope I never forget Bella's weird little toddler voice. Also, maybe this is a sign that one day she'll retire us.

I also hope Javi always keeps his silly little sense of humor. I say "crickets" all the time. This is the first time he's tried his hand at it.

In case I don't say it enough, I love these kids!

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Pros and con(vention)s

I am not a blogging convention goer. When I started blogging back in 2001, there was no BlogHer or Blissdom or Type A Mom. Then there was a brief stint where I didn't blog (or journal as we used to call it) because Billy didn't want me to.

When I came back to blogging in 2006 (after taking 2005 off), it was all about BlogHer and who was going to be there and what they'd be wearing and who knew whom. None of the folks in my previous blogging circle were going and so I didn't either.

Then there was the big job that required me to travel a lot (and write about travel a lot) and then there was a pregnancy that resulted in a baby.

Flash forward to now and I'm finally able to attend a blogging conference should I choose to. And I considered BlogHer this year, but there was way too much tweeting about losing weight and looking good and who was going to what party. And that's not my thing. If I need to look good to be your friend, then it's not worth it to me. (Yes, I know not everyone was looks-oriented, but too many people were focused on the wrong stuff.)

But there's a conference in Atlanta that I just recently found out about and that I'd love to attend. My other issue with the hot topic conferences is that the faces are so prodominately white and mainstream. But Blogalicious isn't. It's full of women of color and women from diverse backgrounds and sounds so interesting. I could even win a free conference pass to make going less burdensome on our family budget.

I'm not sure that I'll be in Atlanta in October, but wouldn't it be so cool if I were? It'd sort of be like my blogging dream come true. We'll see what happens.

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WFMW: Organizing money

We spend a lot of time shopping for bargains and secondhand treasures on sites like Craigslist. This means we wind up handing over cold hard cash a couple times each month.

While no one wants a check, you rarely find people who are comfortable counting out stacks of bills in front of you. And when I'm selling something, I always feel awkward counting and recounting to make sure the payment is correct.

Well, I have to thank Barry the Mechanic for this awesome tip. We sold him our '93 Jeep Grand Cherokee this weekend for the low price of $1000. He didn't hand us a bank envelope with lots of 20s and 50s. Instead, he asked the bank for all 20s. He then sorted them into 10 stacks of 5 each so that each stack amounted to $100.

The genius move: Barry then folded each $100 stack in half. After all 10 stacks were folded, he stacked them one on the other.

You may not see the genius in this, but I've been raving about it all weekend. I didn't have to add anything or separate 20s from 50s from 100s. Instead, I picked up each little packet, made sure there were 5 20s and moved on. It took less than a minute to count up the payment and I was 100 percent confident that the amount was correct.

This is my new favorite method for organizing cash. Try it, you'll be bowled over, too.

This is an organizing tip that works for me. What works for you?

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Shoot outs... ah, the memories

The fabulous Jenn reminded me of one of my favorite stories to tell when people start talking about late nights and fast food.

Way back during the summer after eleventh grade (that makes it 1994 for those who want to make me feel old), I had a brief fling with a friend's older brother. Only, he had an on-again-off-again girlfriend and I had an always-on boyfriend. And the fling was really just lots of lingering looks and a few stolen kisses. But that's not the point.

He had a car and I needed a ride. So I called him around 2 am one night and asked him to drive me and another friend about 45 minutes away. He said he would if he could stay and, of course, I said he could. So he picked us up around 2:30 am. Our first stop was the 24 hour Hardees (because why wouldn't we go to Hardees in the middle of the night?).

Everything was going well until we left the building to get back to the car. A short 10-yard walk turned into my worst nightmare. I felt something whiz past my shoulder and then heard a huge popping sound. About that time, my guy yelled "Get down!" and my friend and I collapsed like twin piles of bricks. Right in the middle of the nasty parking lot.

From three parking spots down, a large man was firing his gun past us at another man at the other end of the lot. That man was shooting back.

We were in the middle of a damn shoot out. Right in the Hardees parking lot. How was I going to explain it to my mama? What if I died? (Yes, I had those thoughts in that order.)

After three or four shots both ways, the men got into their respective vehicles and pealed away. My friend and I tripped over ourselves trying to get up and back into the car. But my guy? That crazy fool was standing with his hands on his hips waiting on the cops. Because he wanted to give his statement. To the police.

Obviously he hadn't seen gang or mob movies. You don't squeal. You didn't see anything. You put your head down and you keep moving. Besides, what would you say? The asphalt was black. There were old cigarette butts and wrappers and dried up gum. The men were ... men, we think. And they drove ... cars, maybe?

My disbelief and the pointless five minutes spent trying to convince him to leave sealed the deal for me. That was not the guy for me. If you want to be a goody two shoes, do it for old ladies crossing the road, not thugs who shoot at each other in fast food parking lots.

What's your crazy fast food story?

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