The Yellow Park

My child loves the park like nobody's business. She calls them by color and has favorite equipment at each one. The park we're having her birthday at is the "white park," the one near our house is the "brown park," the one near her school is the "red park," and the one where I snapped these photos is the "yellow park." You can see why:

My favorite part of Bella at the park is how I don't see her face for at least an hour because she's so busy running and climbing and swinging. She can scale a wall in the blink of an eye and is determined to learn the monkey bars. This is solid proof that homegirl is her father's child. Let's just hope she doesn't break something in a fall from them (like he did at her age).

**This post is part of Wordful Wednesday and Wordless Wednesday.

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QOTD: Bossy babies

I spent an hour designing and distributing the invitation for Bella's third birthday party, coming up in two Saturdays.
That hour happened to be between 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m. this morning, which means I then watched two episodes of Roseanne before I could fall asleep. Fast forward to 7:30 a.m. when my youngest monster poked her face right into mine.

Me: Uhh, hmm, mornin' baby.
Bella: I waked up. It mornin' so I waked up.
Me: Uh huh. Mama's still sleepy.
Bella: I not sweepy. I waked up. I want chocyut miyilk and ceruhl wid miyilk in a bowl. And I wanna fwy my kite and pway in the campah. Okay, mama?
Me: Uhhemm. How 'bout Elliot Moose?
Bella: Ehweeot Moose is on da yoose?
Me: Uh huh.
Bella: That's not fwyin' kites or pwayin' or eatin'.
Me: Umhmm. Let's turn it on.
Bella: You not bein' the best mom ever. You bein' sweepy mama. You need waked up yike me. You bein' wazy.
Me: Okay meanie. No birthday party for you.
Bella: Oh, mama. You bad mama. You not best mom ever. You is havin' my kite birthday party! I'm gonna go tell my daddy right now!
Me: That's it. No more Elliot Moose for you. Go on back to your room and play.
Bella: I yuv Ehweeot Moose! Him's on the yoose! I watch him right now. RIGHT NOW, Mama. I still tellin' my daddy, dough.

And so began my day.

Lessons learned: Be prepared to wake up at the crack dawn with a starving and bossy child. Offering a beloved but creepy children's show won't work, but threatening to take it away will. It's impossible to sleep through a tiny monster singing, "Ehweeot Moose! Him's on the yoose. Ehweeot Moose! Him's on the yoose. Ehweeot Moose! Him's on the yoose. Ehweeot Moose is on the yoose. Ehweeot Ehweeot Ehweeot Ehweeot Ehweeot Ehweeot..,." You get the picture.

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Change of scenery

Earlier today, Janine asked "what's your mommy motto?"

I had to use mine today. My head is full of the drama with my sister. She is clueless because I decided that I've made a choice for myself and my family. I don't need to seek her out and let her know what she did wrong or how I feel about it. The subject will come up when she's not invited to our family functions or when we don't respond to calls. It may sound passive aggressive, but I just can't stomach the fight, the screaming (she's an emotional bully who will scream in your face and shut you down if you disagree with her), or the toxicity she'll leave in her wake.

With a head this full of hurt and anger, I knew I had to call on my favorite motto: A change of scenery cures most ills. I dressed us in play clothes, grabbed a handful of dice, and led us out to our camper. The mountain man opened it yesterday to get it aired out in time for camping this weekend, so it has been inviting us all day. We tromped out there and set up shop at the table. 

While rolling dice and finding matches or aiming for the highest total, I had a calm conversation with my son where I asked probing questions and pushed a little bit further each time. Why didn't you tell us sooner? Did you know it was wrong? How did it make you feel to keep such a big secret from us? Do you understand why you should tell us these things?

As we unraveled the knot of this secret, his tears flowed freely. He said, I don't want to be a liar. I want to tell you all the things in my life. I want to be a good person. I assure him that he is a wonderful person. That he has an amazing heart. That he is a child who was taken advantage of by a grown up. I confide to him that I look at him and think I am so blessed that you are my son. I tell him to remember this feeling, this open ache of a secret exposed, the next time an adult -- any adult -- asks him to lie to or hide things from his parents.

I tell him that the next time someone asks him to betray his instincts and go against his morals, he must think about the person he knows he is -- his courageous and gentle soul, his powerful spirit and enduring optimism, his love for us and himself -- and say, I will not be the small and untrustworthy person you are. With soft eyes, he laid against me and cried. I rubbed his back and let the anger drain out of me.

We needed the change of scenery to get to the heart of this thing and work through all the small and winding fears attached to it. Unfamiliar smells and a break from our routine gave us both the chance to listen and hear and think outside the parameters of our day-to-day lives and lessons. We stepped outside of life for an hour and returned feeling heard and understood and safe. I can't recommend it highly enough.

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Blood Ties

I am severing ties today. The rope binding me to my own sister has worn so thin, I don't need the aid of blades or brute strength. My lungs, empty for a moment as the air was knocked violently out of them, have ballooned with new breath and expanded my chest just far enough to snap that last tenuous hold between her and me.

Here's what I will never understand: How does a woman betray her sister and her child, all for a man? Why is impressing and pleasing a deadbeat loser so much more gratifying and important than walking in lock-step with the people who were yours at birth? How can a woman tell such horrendous lies while looking directly into the eyes of her sister, one who's been there and gotten into the trenches and fought for her time and again? How can this woman hurl the words "He's lying!" at a nine year old child who doesn't understand why she instructed him to keep secrets in the first place?

I was raised to believe that blood is thicker than water. I was trained to give and give and give, no matter what toxin was thrown back at me. I have been told to take the high road, that my own sister is so twisted and selfish and sick that it's wrong to hold her actions against her. I have been manipulated and pushed and urged to pretend it's all okay because her life is punishment enough.

But blood is only thicker than water when it flows both ways. And I cannot continue allowing a woman who has no respect for herself, for the son she gave me, or for the family he and I have created, and who continues to wreak havoc amongst us. I could have forgiven her -- I am capable of such things -- but she turned her venom onto him. She looked me in my eyes and called him the liar because she was trapped and she has never been forced to say the words, "I was wrong."

I spent long, rageful years being her punching bag and her scapegoat. I carry deep, painful wounds from her torture, but I told myself nine years ago that to heal those wounds, we had to set down the burden of our history and move forward as adults in a fresh, new relationship. Only we can't. At least, I can't keep doing it. I can't keep trying and stretching and pushing the blood both ways.

When I was twelve and she was thirteen, she attacked me from behind. Her fist impaled my back and when I hit the ground, my brain swirled frantically, trying to figure out if the breath would come back, if I was going to die there. That's when her bare foot connected with the side of my head and she stomped as hard as she could while I tried to writhe away from her. Something distracted her, pulled her attention away from me, and she was gone.

That's what being her sister is for me. That punch, that intent to maim and intimidate and kill. That's the relationship I've spent decades trying to save. What she did to me that day was no different, no better or worse, than what she did to me for years before or after. But I will not allow her to do it -- even emotionally -- to my son. I am not a helpless, powerless girl now. I must protect what's mine, what's sacred, and what's vulnerable. I must hold his heart in my hand and say to him, "You are worth more."

That blood tie was so thin, a tear drop was enough to shatter it. There will be no remorse.

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For the love of juice

My darling girl channeled her inner Kari Ann Peniche and pouted like a spoiled z-list celebrity this morning when I refused to pour her an overly large cup of orange juice. She was so upset with me, she refused to touch the offending cup of only a little juice, choosing to give it nasty looks instead.

Then she pushed it away from her in disgust.

That's when she realized she had an audience.

And her beauty-queen persona took over.
Yes, this is the girl who said to me today, "Mom, you fuhgod you camwah. How you gonna take my pictuh?" How indeed.

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A reminder

My kid has ADHD. He is mostly inattentive (forgetful, easily distracted, loses focus during tasks, can't follow instructions and so on) and impulsive but he also has a touch of hyperactivity (talks a mile a minute, can't sit still, has facial ticks and more).

Though Javi takes medication to help control his behavior and curb his impulses, he is definitely not a "zombie" or "soldier" as a result. And boy can the child still get in trouble. I have to remember that it's all relative, though. For instance, where Javi talks out of turn and can't resist talking to a child who'll talk to him, there are others in his class who hit and curse and defy authority. Javi's problematic behavior is nothing in comparison.

Unfortunately, his teachers don't (can't?) ignore him and he often winds up with some type of punishment. It's not always fair (because he has a neurological disorder that precludes perfect behavior) but we don't rail against the school (because they do cut him a lot of slack and I know he needs to understand consequences). Our system works well and everything rolls along smoothly...

Until I read something like this (click to read):
It just makes my heart ache (right beside the rush of pride that my boy wrote so eloquently all on his own). My child is so smart and sensitive and utterly aware of what makes him different from his peers. Yes, he's hot chocolate and a third-grade girl expert. He's also the first-grade scapegoat and a second-grade nuisance. I pray that he doesn't spend so much time apologizing for what he can't control that he loses sight of what's good about his little self. I worry that he'll get so tired of prostrating and begging his teachers (and parents?) for compassion that we'll lose him in the same way his biological parents were lost.

I tacked this letter up (with the appropriate Spider-Man tool) where I can see it every day. I want it to serve as a reminder that he knows what he's supposed to do and that he really strives to be the child we want him to be ... but his brain works differently than ours do and he needs more than discipline. He needs understanding and empathy and a damn break sometimes.

Let this be my reminder, as his mother, to make sure he gets it.

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My children love books. I indulge this passion in them because I am a firm believer that reading is more than a hobby; it's a life skill and a gateway to creativity and a magical journey into whatever fantasy is waiting in those pages. Growing up, I was the kid who sneaked books to school and hid in my room reading while others were out playing.
So you might be surprised to learn that I really hate reading aloud. I know it's important to read with your children to stimulate their little brains and model a love of books... but I get breathless and yawny and bored. With Javier, I suffered through until he was old enough to read on his own. Then I laid beside him in his bed while he read aloud to both of us. We recently read The Lightning Thief this way (one chapter each night) and all the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books before that.

But with Bella I've taken a different approach. I retire to her room with a stack of books and her big brother. We all lounge around on the floor and listen to Javi read through that stack. This routine improves his reading and enunciation skills while also stimulating Bella's imagination and giving us a special night-time ritual.
One day he'll be too old to read with us at night, but I hope that day is far away. When it does arrive, she'll be reading on her own and I'll curl up with my sweet girl while we read whatever books are popular for her age at the time. I'll watch her face as something surprising or scary happens and smile softly when she sounds out a difficult word.

Reading aloud to your children is a wonderful gift; however, it's not the only gift you can offer. You might be surprised by how much your older children benefit from being the ones turning the written word into an auditory experience.

(This night, we read Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Gallop, Goodnight, Moon, and And Here's To You.)

**This post is part of the 30-Minute Blog Challenge, Works for Me Wednesday, and Wordful Wednesday.**

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What really matters

Taxes don't really matter, even when I'm paying more than someone else yet benefiting less. (My own sister qualifies for food stamps and Medicaid while we struggle to put food on the table and afford monthly prescriptions.)

Private versus public doesn't really matter, even when people are running around yelling about the sky falling and the end of the world. (My mother raised three children alone on $7/hour for 18 years so that she would never earn more than allowed to be covered by government insurance because no private insurer would cover my sister due to her pre-existing condition(s), including Cystic Fibrosis and lung transplants).

Pro-choice versus anti-choice doesn't matter, even when people yell "baby killer!" on the House floor and people are bombed and killed for allowing women their reproductive rights. (I escorted a 12-year-old girl through a nasty picket line as "God-fearing" people hurled insults and curses at her despite her bravery after being repeatedly raped by both her brother and father. Another day I held hands with a woman the same age as me whose belly led the way as she turned to Planned Parenthood for prenatal services because she couldn't afford to go to an ob-gyn.)

It doesn't really matter. Here's what matters: People treated with dignity and respect. Looking into someone's eyes and clasping their hands and knowing that they, too, are just like you. Despite cultural or political or ethical differences. Despite money or color or gender. We are all worthy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- even when some must pay more simply so that others can live at all.

This is what matters to me today and every day:
May they grow up strong and healthy. May they learn (and teach others) these lessons.

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QOTD: Hot chocolate

Javi burst through the door after school today with some news:

Javi: I had another great day, Mama!
Me: Awesome job. That's four days in a row.
Javi: I know, I'm doing really good. But, now five girls like me!
Me: Five? Wow. How do you know they like you?
Javi: They told me and they chase me and they call me "hot chocolate."
Me: (between laughs) Hot chocolate? Why in the world are they calling you hot chocolate?
Javi: I don't know. I guess because I'm hot and sweet and I do have these brown eyes.
Me: Well alright, then, hot chocolate. Looks like we have a new nickname for you.
Javi: Mama! Do not call me hot chocolate. You can even call me Stinkerbelle before you call me hot chocolate.
Me: Calm down, chocolate stinkerbelle.
Javi: Oh, no, Mama. You can't call me that. Now it sounds like poop!
Me: Hm. Are you sure you know why they call you hot chocolate? Maybe it's their version of Stinkerbelle. You are wearing brown today.
Javi: No, I'm sure it's because I'm hot. Like, 100 percent sure. Especially with my brown eyes.

100 percent, people.

I will never again question the hotness.

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Greening up

We're having a typical March. The weather is sunny and warm one day, gray and chilly the next. The day lilies are blooming beside dead, brown grass and bare, spindly bushes. We walk outside in tee shirts and thin pants only to turn right around and put on a jacket or find something inside to do (though Bella is stubborn enough to suffer through if it means she gets to spend some time in the great outdoors).
That's March, but it will soon be April and then May. So our intermittent drab, dreary days will evaporate under the weight of central North Carolina's wet heat and blazing sun. Those will be days when we avoid being outside for long period of times and can't adequately breathe with all the humidity.

And at the beginning and end of those days, you'll find me in our first ever backyard garden. The mountain man spent a few hours out back this weekend hammering and cussing as he built an 8x8 raised gardening bed into which I will sew tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, watermelon, corn, and herbs. I'm a little more excited about it than I readily admit.
With the little garden will come ... chickens*! We're in the market for three chicks for a little backyard coop. I had grand plans for a cute A-frame that we'd paint yellow to match the house and plant wisteria around and perhaps hang a little sign that reads, "The Tennessee Townhouse,"** but my husband dashed my dreams. Instead, he's going the real mountain route and sawing a whole in our storage building for the nesting boxes and then building the coop off the back of the building. It's going to look so classy (actually, it'll probably be classier than all MM's discarded crap piled up)!
The coolest part of this is we can work in the garden, feed and clean the chickens, and turn the compost all while watching the kids play. There will be no tantrums or whining from the under-5' crowd because they're bored and "do we have to go to the garden, again?" as I suffered with the community garden last year. We've given away this playset, but something fun will take its place, making our backyard fun for everyone.

I really can't wait. I'll be twiddling my (greenish) thumbs in anticipation and not at all googling the hell out of chicken coop designs.

* Yes, I know chickens are birds and that I will probably hate them, too. But the mountain man really wants some chickens and likes to tell people how his Papaw had a chicken coop larger than their house growing up. Of course he did.

** MM did not find this name at all funny, but it's hilarious, right? I told his mom and she guffawed heartily. Considering she's old-school Tennessee and he's only half Tennessee (his father's people are from a different mountain in Georgia), her opinion is the one that really counts. I may still make a little sign to hang out there. Just because.

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Green excitement

Did you know I'm a composter? Okay, to clarify, I compost starting in March and usually ending some time in late November. I then take the cold winter months off because a) who wants to trudge around in the cold carrying buckets of slop and an unwieldy shovel? and b) compost doesn't really get warm enough to properly decompose in the harsh of winter, so why bother?

But it's composting season now. I went out to examine my pile(s) earlier and was so proud of them. I started composting last spring without any idea of whether it would work ... or if I would tough it out. Because surely composting is difficult, right? The correct answer is not really. You save kitchen scraps (greens) and paper products (browns) and then bury them in the hole in the ground. Scatter dirt on top to mask the food smell and turn it every few days. In no time your food and paper waste becomes organic matter that's perfect for gardening.

And even if you abandon it, as I did back in November, you'll still be amazed by the richness of the soil. This is our yard (notice how the grass is splotchy and weak):
And this is where I kept the compost (notice the lush weeds):
That's what I'm talkin' about! I am a firm believer that you don't need fancy composters or tubs to make good use of your waste (and keep it from sitting in a landfill). A patch of ground away from the house, a shovel and some elbow grease are enough to make you a professional composter.

So don't think I'm a sell out when I tell you that my darling mountain man bought me this (much cheaper at Lowe's, mind you) as an early mother's day gift:
We have no room for it on the deck just yet because somebody is from Tennessee and sees nothing wrong with filling the deck with boat seats, but I've demanded he make room for it in seven days or less. And then my composting-the-easy-way will begin (and I will look back fondly on trudging around with the bucket and shovel).

To keep my street cred, I do plan to go out back and dig up my own worms. And maybe pet my compost from last year. Because that's totally street cred worthy, right?

**This post is part of the 30-minute blog challenge, Works For Me Wednesday, and Wordful Wednesday.

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Let there be birds

If you saw this and thought "get ready for killer squirrels," then you'll love this:

Here's how they work: One scurries out on the branch holding the feeder and reaches down to claw at it. He shakes all the seed out onto the ground. Then his squirrel buddies (who are the size of tom cats) come rushing out of the bushes to gobble it all down. I opened the door to take this quick photo and they didn't even look up.

The upside to my squirrel-filled front yard is that there are no squirrels in my backyard. The pretty pink bird feeder is the sole property of the tiny brown birds that inhabit our neighborhood. Yesterday I saw a flash of orange and realized we'd attracted a female cardinal -- which kinda made my day. Still no pictures of birds, though. Those effers are just too fast!

If I get a cardinal on the back deck I will officially call myself a bird watcher. (Oh, and the hummingbird feeder is come soon.)

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My little Adonis

I am of the opinion that my son is handsome. He has large, expressive chocolate brown eyes and long, gorgeous lashes. He is smart, funny, and thoughtful. When he laughs, his whole face beams and those eyes go soft. He'll hold his stomach and shake his head as the giggles pour forth.

My big boy just turned nine at the end of December. We've been ribbing him for a good year about a little girl named Jasmine who he talks about all the time but "she's just a silly girl, mama." This same third-grade boy just spent three days away from home on a school field trip. When he left on Monday, he was the same boy who refused to consider that girls could be pretty and likable, that perhaps he'd like to be near one, or that sometimes a girl trumps a boy.

But then he came home and there were stories of girls begging to hold his hand, of girls loudly professing their interest in him as a boyfriend, and of girls competing with each other for his attention. He told me with disbelief that one little girl asked all the girls in her dorm who liked him and every girl raised her hand. Every girl admitted that he, the boy who is all hard angles and flat planes, is the most handsome boy in third grade. Every girl, mama!

When I asked him why he thought the girls were so interested in him, he said, "'cause I've got this six pack and my arm muscles are the biggest." Seriously. That's what he told me. And as he noted each attribute, he showed it to me. My nine-year-old little boy who cuddles with me in the morning and is afraid of bugs and is trying so hard to hit the 80-pound mark so he can get out of his booster seat in the car. That kid is now dubbed "the girl expert" by his pack of wild third-grade friends.

The girl expert. Who was chased by three girls today when his grade went out to fly kites. Who tripped over his kite string and broke it because he hasn't yet learned how to act cool under the adoring gaze of the opposite sex. Who refused to give a little girl his phone number because he didn't know what they'd talk about on the phone.

My first born. My sweet, sensitive, and impulsive son ... is becoming a man. I joked tonight that I let him go away for two nights and puberty found him. Part of me knows I should be parent-ish about this, but a much larger part of me is just enjoying this awkward transitory phase of his life. He's like a newly born foal just realizing he has legs. I'm watching him stumble around and laugh at himself. He preens in the mirror, smoothing his hair and practicing his smile, and then laughs when I catch him doing it. One day, sooner than I'd like, he'll take himself -- and the world -- too seriously.

I'm letting myself enjoy his new-found confidence because, let's be honest, I've spent vast amounts of time worried about him. I worry that children will make fun of his facial ticks and that he'll give up on the struggle to control himself in class so as not to (again) be the "bad child" of his grade. I lose sleep imagining him on the receiving end of a bully's brutal aim because his brain is wired a bit differently than most and his parents "gave him away." Some days I don't know that he'll make it to adulthood without the scars and bitter disappointments that drove his biological parents down dark and dangerous paths.

And then there are the normal parenting worries: Will his peers accept him? Will he become a social rockstar or pariah? Will he be the teenager who looks forward to morning or the one who hopes to never wake up? When he's a grown up, will I have prepared him for the crushing pressures and realities of "real life"? I'm on my knees most nights praying that he'll learn to be humble and modest yet proud and determined. My mind plays a constant mantra: Let him always feel loved and wanted, by himself, by us, by the world. Every day. Every night.

I should be upset that a group of nine-year-old girls told him he's hot. I should worry that he's the focus of inappropriate attention at such a tender age. I should toss and turn over the possibility that he's rushing too fast into the murky world of girlfriends and sex and its consequences. But I'm not and I won't. Instead, I let him flex his muscles for me and giggled with him when he shrugged his shoulders and held up hands and said, "I guess I was just born this cute."

And, yes, he so totally was. For today, I'll bask in that.

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Eating on the cheap

This week Girl Talk Thursday is all about the cheap dinners. I sorta specialize in those.

Actually, my favorite $10 dinner is a family pack from Taco Bell with three fresco bean burritos and seven soft tacos. I eat two bean burritos (lots of fire sauce), BDub (aka my mountain man) eats a bean burrito (mild sauce for wussies) and three soft tacos. Javi eats three soft tacos and Bella eats the lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and tortilla from the remaining soft taco. Can you tell we get it often?

However, some would say that Taco Bell isn't a (gasp) healthy option. For those overachievers, I offer these $10 (or less) meals:

Soup. I am soup's best friend. We go way back and I'm extremely loyal to it. I'll turn just about anything into soup and keep a "soup bag" in the freezer of bits and pieces of meat and vegetables. When that bag gets full, I toss it in a pot with some low fat, low sodium chicken broth. Sometimes I add leftover rice, barley, or noodles to give it a new twist. Sometimes I use V8 instead of broth. It's all good and you really can't screw up soup.

Brinner. Tonight I served leftover tenderloin with scrambled (organic, free range) eggs, grits, braised greens, and biscuits. I don't eat eggs, so the braised greens were for me. Those eggs cost me more than regular ones, so this meal was a little more expensive than it could be. The greens were what I didn't use in soup earlier this week.

Leftovers. We don't waste food. A pot of soup lasts two days at least. Last night's dinner becomes the starter for the next night. Many ingredients are great mixed into eggs, broiled on top of a pita round, or thrown in a salad. If I can't use the leftovers within two days, they go in the soup bag for later.

Simple meals. Often it feels like meals needs to fill your plate and consist of multiple dishes, but a great meal can be really simple. During the summer, I'll make a salad and serve it with a side of fruit and cottage cheese, or we'll have peanut butter toast with fruit and yogurt. It's a toddler meal, but it can be so refreshing after days of adult meals. We made full meals out of fresh tomato sandwiches and corn on the cob many a night last summer. Yum!

Burgers and fries. When we need a fun meal, I'll cook up some Boca burgers and serve them on a bed of lettuce (because any buns we buy invariably go bad) and pickles. We are in love with the regular freezer seasoned fries, so that's a cheap treat. Throw them in the oven and they're ready in 15 minutes. Bella won't eat hamburger meat, but she loves Boca burgers.

There's also Annie's mac & cheese (but only Javi and MM eat it), frozen pizzas (again, the girls no likey), ravioli or angel hair pasta with meat sauce, and $5 Little Ceasar's pizzas -- but don't we all eat those?

What do you turn to when you need a cheap meal?

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For the Birds

Here's something not many people know about me: I hate birds. Like, hate them. I know they're supposed to be all charming and whimsical and modern... but birds poop in nasty places and eat crap off the ground and attack people. They carry mites and lice. They are disgusting little creatures.

With that in mind, I sat down with my daughter and made a bird feeder. She loves the little rats. Like, loves them so much she shrieks with excitement when they land on the tree next to our living room window and she tries to chase them when they wind up in her line of sight when we go on walks. Sitting at the dinner table, she'll yell, "I sound yike a buhd! Chweep, chweep!" How could I not take random pink things and piece them together for a cute bird feeder for the back deck so she can watch the birds play and eat while sitting at the table?

Materials: Pink flower shaped melamine plate from Walmart ($1), wire hanger, pink ribbon ($3), pliers, and man strength.

Instructions: Stretch out the hanger so it's a big circle (don't unwind the hook - that's how you'll hang it). Flatten the bottom of the hanger and set plate on it. Bring in your man strength to wrap the hanger tightly around the plate. Twist a few times. Tie the ribbon across the other side of the plate to make it more stable. Fill with bird seed and hang.

Extra: The mountain man said I should wrap ribbon around the sides of hanger to make it prettier. Then he made me promise not to tell anyone he suggested that. Um, yeah, whatever. I think it's a great idea but I haven't implemented it because in my mind this project is marked DONE.

I have no pictures of the process because I was too busy explaining 18 different ways what I wanted MM to do (because the wire hurt my fingers), even though it was super simple once he finally got it. But here is my sweet girl filling her new toy:
The birds have flocked to it, though they fly away whenever I try to take a picture. Bella will sit very quietly munching her grapes or goldfish until a few birds appear. Then she squeals, "Dem buhds is back!" and the birds scatter again. Apparently our house is not very sound proof. I'll keep that in mind.

This post is part of the 30-Minute Blog Challenge, Get Your Craft On, Works for Me Wednesday, Wordful Wednesday.

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Have I mentioned Spring yet?

I should issue an open apology to Mother Nature, but I don't trust her quite yet. It snowed three times in three months, so it being 70 degrees outside right now means nothing.

We thought winter was finally over last week. Javi, Bella and I grabbed some soil and seeds and planted our behinds in the front yard to help nature along by planting some marigolds in an old egg carton. Bella loved scooping the soil out of the bag and dumping it in the holes. Javi loved micromanaging her. (That's sort of how it works around here.)

They took turns poking holes in the dirt and dropping a couple seeds in each one. Then Javi allowed Bella to scoop some earth back over the seed and liberally water our little styrofoam flower bed while he planted his own seeds in a separate pot.

I sent up a little prayer then for both my children and the hope they were sewing: Please let these seeds take root and flourish. Please show them how satisfying and fulfulling it is to create life from your own two hands. Please don't disappoint their soft and loving hearts.

We watered our seeds every day. And then suddenly there was a poke of green here and a hesitant little sprout there. And then today, there was shock and awe. A thank you and amen.  This is one of the tiny little reasons parenthood is so cool. I helped two children make this:
Now we just have to keep our babies alive. I'll be sending up more little prayers today. And perhaps Mother Nature will get her apology soon.

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Birthdays and more...

My last child will be a ripe 3 years old in less than a month. I wouldn't believe it except that not five minutes ago I caught her in a corner slathering her face with Vaseline. That's "I'm gonna be three!" behavior if ever there was any. (And don't tell me your three year old never slathers her body with goopy crap while knowing full well it's wrong hence the hiding in the corner.)
I'm in the middle of birthday planning. Here's what I know: Kite theme, yellow/green/blue/red striped pillowcase dress with a red kite-shaped pocket and embroidered tail, yellow and lime green plates and cups, a red and blue bandana banner, cupcakes with pale blue frosting and white clouds with a kite-shaped candy nestled on top. We're going to the local dam, which produces a steady billow of wind, to fly kites and run free on what should be a beautiful spring day. In case you can't tell, I'm pretty excited about it (and who cares that Bella keeps saying, "I'm havin' a pwincess pahty!" She'll love it when she gets there.

The only thing I'm not 100 percent about is what to get her. She only says that she wants a pink piggy bank (no, really, that's what she wants -- and I hear it about 15 times an hour), but I bought an Elefun for $5 on Christmas clearance. The mountain man wants to get her a bike and a fish (a fish on a bike?). I want to get her one of those puzzles that are cubes instead of pieces so they make six puzzles instead of one. My heart says she'll be getting all four, though a certain nine year old is gonna be hot considering he only got a video game (which, to be fair, was pricey ... and his birthday is two days before Christmas).

I have many, many decisions left to make, but at least they're fun decisions. Oh, and I don't sew so I have to figure out how to make the dress (and shape a pocket and embroider). Here's the cool part though. CSN stores contacted me this week to offer a product from one of their websites to review. They all kinds of fun stuff, from special needs toys to kids bedding to cookware. After looking through their offerings, I spotted this:

#1. It's the type of puzzle I want for her (because she whips straight through regular puzzles). #2. It's Melissa & Doug (enough said). Ten points to the person who just guessed that my daughter is definitely getting a puzzle for her birthday.

But here's the cool part -- they're sending me two puzzles. One to keep and review ... and one to share with my friends (hint: that's you). I'm not too worried about the review part because (hello) it's Melissa & Doug and they do no wrong (and I'm not fishing for a job if you're reading Melissa and/or Doug, but I wouldn't turn one down either). So be on the lookout for your chance to get a fun puzzle, too.

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They grow up so fast

Not so long ago, my big boy was a round little cuddle bug with big brown eyes and lashes that go on forever. He found joy in spending quiet time with his mama and exploring his creative side.

And now? Now he's this:

Same little boy. Same chocolatey brown eyes and gorgeous lashes. Same creative spirit. Emerging sense of confidence and swagger and cool. They grow up so fast.

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Open Letter to Mother Nature

You got me! You, in your infinite wisdom, must've laughed when I sat outside in 60 degree weather just two days ago and planted seeds with my children.

With every strained-patience "that's it" and "let's wait one minute" I uttered to them as they tried to dump every last seed into one square inch of space and pour the entire bucket of water onto a single patch of earth, you must've cackled with impending joy at my misery.

Because you knew, didn't you? You knew that you'd be suffocating us under yet another four inches of freaking snow. I live in the South, lady. It's supposed to be unseasonably warm and I should be complaining right now about how it never even got cold this winter and how I wasted money we don't have on snow boots and heavy coats.

That's how it's supposed to be and you're mucking it up for everyone. My surly nine year old is currently snowballing the house in an effort to drive my whiny two year old absolutely bonkers. My whiny two year old is banging on the windows yelling about how my surly nine year old is going to get eaten by wolves. And this is all your fault, you nasty wench.

I must now trudge out into your icy cold punishment and pretend that it's fun to freeze my backside off just so that my kids can roll around in snow for point-five seconds before crying that's too cold. Then I'll spend 10 minutes choreographing their move back inside so that wet clothes and feet don't ruin the carpet.

But you go ahead laugh, you old bitch. Laugh it the eff up. Because the next time there's a drought and everyone's crying about how your earth is cracked and dry and your lakes are evaporating, I'm gonna bust a damn gut. Now if you'll excuse me, there's a snowy hell with my name on it.

**This post is part of What's Up? Wednesday.

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A lovely morning


The feisty Lori gifted me with this lovely award. She's a great gal who's raising five smart, funny, and responsible kids. I don't know how she does it!

The rules for accepting the award are: Post the on your blog along with the name of the person who granted you the award, and his/her blog link. Pass it on to 15 other blogs that you have newly discovered. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

I have recently joined a few blogging networks, so I've definitely discovered many great, new reads. I've also really enjoyed connecting with those new to my blog. Therefore, I had no problem meeting that 15-blog goal. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

1. Jami at Ain't She Crazy (and she's currently doing a giveaway for some really cute little girl stuff that ends soon, so go enter!)
2. Penny at A Mom's View of ADHD
3. Josh at Daddy Does My Hair
4. The Indigo Bunting (beautiful and fun design work)
5. The talented girls at How Does She (all the craft-spiration you need)
6. Disney at Ruffles And Stuff
7. Shell at (Not Quite) Susie (homegirl got a tweet from Nate freaking Berkus!)
8. Cheri at ScrapDreams
9. Jules at Big Girl Bombshell
10. CaneWife at Three Pugs & A Baby
11. Kim at The Kim Challenge (health and food -- great combo)
12. Rachel at The Coker Family
13. Mommy Drinks Because You Cry
14. Home Ec 101 (new to me, old school to everyone else)
15. Traci at Stir Fry Awesomeness

And there are more, but I tried to be diverse (though I noticed quite a few craft blogs. You can tell that I have craft envy). Go forth and meet. They are worth the click!

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There are few things I loathed more when I was growing up than my mom's attempt at child-deprecating humor, especially when it revolved around putting us to work. We'd say, "you need to buy a dishwasher." She'd respond, "Why? I already have three" while wagging her eyebrows at us and smirking. We'd ask her why she didn't clean the house instead of making us do it and she'd say, "Ha! That's why I had kids."

Seriously. Loathed it. Body-shaking,-teeth-gritting lock-yourself-in-the-bathroom-to-feign-tummy-issues, scream-at-each-other-to-avoid-it loathed it. Which is why it gives me such tremendous pleasure to now do it to my children. The mountain man and I have our chores ... and Javi and Bella (or the Miller Maids, as I love to call them) have theirs.
I cook, load the dishwasher, clean the kitchen and dining area, sweep, mop, clean the downstairs bathroom (as well as the upstairs toilet), and change sheets. Billy does the (effing) laundry (as in, wash, fold, and put away), yard work, and takes out the recycling. Javi sets and cleans off the table, unloads the dishwasher, cleans the upstairs bathroom, cleans his room, vacuums (as dad points out spots he's missed), and takes out the trash. Bella dusts, cleans her room, and keeps her toys picked up downstairs.
The system works. No kid does more than he (or she) should, and the adults don't wind up slaves to the little people's dirty natures. Also, by having chores (and we started Javi around age 2, as well) from an early age, the kids do a better job of keeping things clean both at home and away. It's not fool-proof, and they are still dirty little kids, but it could definitely be worse.
My favorite part of chores? Not paying for them. We do not pay an allowance for chores. If Javi wants to earn extra money, he has to either meet a need not covered by chores or take on someone else's duties. I paid him $2 to clean Bella's room and load the dishwasher. That makes for a rate of $1 per extra work. Miller Maids are much more budget-friendly than any housekeeper.
Oh, and watching the big one do his chores makes the little want to help him. She is so excited for the day to finally arrive when she gets to do the vacuuming all by herself. If that isn't a ringing endorsement of chores, I don't know what is.

**This post is part of the 30-minute challenge, Works for Me Wednesday, and Wordful Wednesday.

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Right way, wrong way

The mountain man and I are in a heated debate, and I know who's right. However, he wants some outside input.

Apparently, I saw some words incorrectly. Those words are: bowl, blue, Tuesday, and caramel. You'd be surprised how often these words come up in our everyday conversation... and how we can't resist bickering over them.

So you be the judge. Am I saying the words correctly?

Now that you know how I say them, here's my phonetic interpretation of how he says them:

1. bole
2. bloo
3. Chewsdee
4. carmuhl

In other words: Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. Am I right or am I right?

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