Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Mr. Jones Workout

Mr. Jones is a retired Army Sergeant. He loves music, he loves food, he talks tough, and he has a heart of gold. He speaks with a slight southern accent, wears a full gray beard, owns Sarah Palin's autobiography, and has a thousand stories to tell about his adventures in the military. Abe and I met him at Harbor House, where he was merrily passing his work hours subjecting the residents (teens who were there for inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation) to various wholesome tortures (mostly things that would make the politically correct sector bite their nails, and so which I will keep to myself), but among the tamer of these ordeals were his infamous military-style workouts. Last winter, about this time, I was starting to feel a little out of shape. I emailed Mr. Jones to get the scoop on his workout. "Abe says the girls could do 50 push-ups," I wrote. "Could you tell me what you did to make that happen?"

His response:

"Yes the girls could do 50 push-ups & run 2 miles. You will need to get some moderate & fast paced rock music. About 45 minutes worth. I'll fix you up a disc with the tunes we used.

1. 5 minutes to stretch out & limber up.
2. Start with Ozzy Ozborns' Crazy Train & do 50 4 count jumping jacks.
3. Without stopping; run in place for 2 minutes. When 2 minutes is up; drop & do 5 male push-ups.
4. Return to running in place for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes; 5 male push-ups.
5. Roll over & do 25 sit-ups; military type. Knees bent, hands locked behind head.
6. Run in place for 2 minutes. Immediately do 25 deep knee bends..
7. Do 1 more deep knee bend; go to male push-up position & do 5 push-ups.
8. Return to Running for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes do 25 regular count jumping jacks.
9. Now do 25 sit-ups. Remember, there is no breaks during the entire workout.
10.Laying flat do 4 count leg lifts; 25 repetitions.
11.Return to running in place for 2 minutes. Pace all of the running & other exercises with the beat of the music.
12. Quickly get down & do 5 male push-ups.Return to running in place. Every 30 seconds start slowing down your pace. Keep moving around.
I would end the session with 5 Ranger Push Ups. This is a 4 count, over time exercise. The kids hated this exercise with a passion.
Do this for 5 days in a row. No exercise for 2 days."

He did make me a workout CD, which he brought when he and his lovely wife, Bonnie, came over to our place for dinner one evening. I did it for a few months and then, as I always do with exercise, got bored and found something else to do. I've started thinking about it again lately, though, because I've once again reached that part of winter where I'm really needing an extra endorphin boost.

I started it again tonight and plan to keep using it until the roads are safe for running on again. I like this workout because it usually only takes about thirty minutes from start to finish but leaves me feeling like I've exercised. I'm too wussy to do 5 days in a row, but I do plan to shoot for three days a week.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Product Recommendation

Santa brought Liam a Zhu Zhu pet for Christmas. It is fantastic. Everyone should own one.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My brain disorder.

I came home from church today, threw the diaper bag on the floor, curled up in my bed, and sobbed like an overwrought teenager.

Why? Because a lady at church told me I had a tag stuck to my coat.

Yep. That's it. A lady at church told me I had a tag stuck to my coat. And my perfectly reasonable response? Collapsing into a steamy tangle of sheets and hyperventilation.

But let me try to explain. It was one of those perfectly done up women, perfect makeup, perfect hair. I didn't even know the woman, had never seen her before. She made a special graceful trip down the corridor in her perfectly shiny five-inch heels just to pat me on the arm, smile radiantly, and remarked, "You've got a tag under your sleeve. New Christmas coat, huh?"

So of course I went home and cried!

And at this point most of my male readers are all scratching their heads and saying, "Huh?" And most of my female readers are too. (Though I hope there are a few of you out there who understand.)

So let me try to explain a little bit better. I have a special psychological disorder, as yet unrecognized in the DSM. It's called Sabbath-Induced Social Phobia. I start noticing the symptoms Saturday night. It starts with a little finger of dread stroking at the back of my mind. I start to realize that in just a few hours I will have to go to That Place again--that Church Place where there are People Who Might Judge Me. The finger moves to my brain, which immediately releases a flood of chemicals that make me feel overwhelmingly exhausted. I am too tired, I think, to possibly be able to attend church tomorrow. I start to think of ways to get out of my church responsibilities, consider calling people and asking them to substitute. This puts me in a dark spot, however, because calling people and asking them to substitute would involve calling people and asking them for something. Church people, no less. The scariest people on earth.

So obviously calling people is out of the question, which leaves me in a panicked state on Saturday night with two choices: go to church and face the Possibly Judgmental Church People, or flake out of my responsibilities and surely be judged harshly for my irresponsibility. I put off the final decision for as long as possible, often deferring until Sunday morning, telling myself I might be able to magically conjure up the courage to ask someone to substitute for me by then. This never happens, of course, so we all end up at church, usually about fifteen minutes late, and usually with Soren throwing some sort of tantrum as we make our way down the mostly empty hallway towards the chapel.

And that's when the disorder completely seizes my brain and robs me of all reason.

We sit down on the back row and I become keenly aware of the fact that Soren, despite coaching and teaching and prompting and encouragement and sometimes even threatening, still refuses to sit still and fold his arms during prayers. I notice that my children look somewhat disheveled, that I forgot to smooth down Liam's wild crib head, that Soren's vest has some loose threads hanging off it. I become aware of the pieces of lint stuck to Abe's suit. I remember that I wore the same dress last week. I notice that all the other women have perfectly styled hair and fashionable outfits, observe their neatly groomed and reverent children. As I am marveling at the fact that one woman could produce four perfect hairstyles in a single morning, Soren hits his brother, and people turn to look as Liam begins wailing loudly. We do our best to control our children but Liam starts to arch his back and holler while Soren insists on telling me in his loudest voice that he does NOT want to think about Jesus. And truth be told, I don't really want to think about Jesus either (though that's a WHOLE other bag of chips), which is another thing that makes me completely insufficient in that room packed with perfectly attractive devout believers who are capable of keeping their children under control.

So by the time Sacrament Meeting ends, I can barely stand to look anybody in the eye. I have become fully convinced that I am ugly, a horrible mother, irritating, inappropriate, awkward, and completely unlikable. That no one at church likes me, that they are all wishing they could take Soren and train him the way he should be trained, and that, worst of all, they think I smell weird.

I've been working in the nursery for the past year, which is both good and bad for my psychological freakiness. Good because I love little people and enjoy interacting with them. Also good because I know they don't care if I stink. Bad because I only interact with three other adults the entire rest of church, which means that I don't have a chance to interact with the other people and remember that they are neither as superior nor as judgmental as my brain has made them seem. Also bad because Soren is a wretched little brat during nursery. He clings to my legs while I'm leading music, he throws massive fits when I don't let him have his way, he clobbers other kids with toys, he refuses to share. I deal with this the best I can, but all of my own insecurities about my parenting are immediately projected onto the other nursery leaders (lovely, kind women), who must surely be convinced that I'm doing everything wrong. I tell myself that they understand, that they're not judging, that even if they are judging it's okay, no big deal, but the more visceral part of myself wants to throw my body at their feet and beg for mercy, sobbing and telling them that I promise I'm trying my very hardest, that I work really hard at guiding and teaching and disciplining my child, that he's difficult, and maybe someone else could do better, but I really am trying, so to please, please, please, please, please not judge me. Please.

So anyway, it was in this frame of mind that I wandered out into the church corridors, three-year-old in tow, toddler following behind in his uncle's arms, searching for my husband. I had just put on my brand new coat, a beautiful coat that my mom gave me for Christmas, and was feeling some consolation in the fact that, even if I sucked in every other way, at least I was wearing a pretty coat. It was like a shield, protecting me against the judgments of the Church People. It was the only thing keeping me safe while I roamed through halls literally crawling with them.

It was the only thing keeping me safe until The Beautiful Woman came.

But with her single remark, she was able to shatter my shield and leave me completely vulnerable. And it was more than I could take.

So I went home and cried.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ketchup on his hands.

A month or two ago, Abraham ran downstairs for perhaps five minutes while watching the children. When he left, they were peacefully eating lunch. When he returned, this is what he found.

Soren had pushed Liam's high chair over to the refrigerator, used it to prop the refrigerator door open, and proceeded to smear condiments all over the kitchen, himself, and his brother with all the speed and fury of a hurricane.

When Abe returned, Soren blamed it all on Liam. He was, after all, the one in the refrigerator, covered with condiments.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

We had an exceptionally nice Thanksgiving this year.

Because Mom's kitchen was under construction (they've been remodeling) and my house is too small to comfortably accommodate a large herd of hungry people, the obvious alternative was to have Thanksgiving dinner at my sister's house this year.

It was lovely!

The food was, of course, fabulous. And there was lots of pie, which never made an occasion worse. The real joy of the occasion, however, was the company. Everybody stayed at the Smith's for hours after the meal was finished, playing games, visiting, and generally enjoying being together.

Some highlights:

There were some intense water noodle/light saber fights going on across the house. Here, Tessa battles against Little Marty.

The Skousens did their usual lounging/cell phone mumbling thing.

Abraham introduced the kiddos to the Skousen family-invented version of the game "Rotten Egg," in which one player (here, it's Calysta) dresses up like a store customer and selects an egg from the bunch (l-r, Soren, Briar, and Marty). The egg then undergoes rigorous "testing" from the store patron and the store owner (played by Abraham). Bad eggs are thrown into the dumpster; good eggs go into the customer's basket. It was a hoot.

The boys did their usual skirmishing over their most prized possession--Mommy. (And here I thought we'd moved away from the objectification of women.) They also played with their cousins and Liam went on a wild rolling-around-on-the-ground spree.

My Mom relived her glory days as Miss America.

Abraham and Hillary played in a snowdrift without footwear.
(They were raised in the backwoods and couldn't afford shoes but when their Pa was able to shoot a bear and tan the leather to take to the shoemaker in the neighboring town. This only happened once a year or so and with eleven children in need of shoes, the kids just learned to do without.)

Hillary and Collette washed dishes. Other people did too, I think, but I was busy being wallowed on and pulled at, so I didn't assist.

Arielle and Grandpa snuck off to the basement to clean Arielle's gun. I like the juxtaposition of Arielle's fashion accessories (scarf, earrings) with the firearm.

There was also sledding and Pictionary. And possibly a movie.

It was a lovely occasion in which we were able to celebrate the things for which we are most grateful: the gift of family, the joy of health, an abundance of food, safety and freedom in which to enjoy these gifts.

That evening at Family Song/Prayer, I had everyone say something they were thankful for. When it was Soren's turn he was ready. Without hesitation, he said: "I'm thankful for snow and....Scrisscruss (Christmas)!"

And with that we moved into the Christmas season. It was a good beginning.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Prayer, by Abraham

As Abe was walking out the door just a few minutes ago to pick up a few essentials at the grocery store, he shared with me the following spontaneous rhyming prayer:

If I should die before I return
I pray that my soul will not burn.
In the deepest, darkest recesses of hell,
I do not think I'd fare very well.

Then he kissed me and left.

I'd be quite sad if my poet-in-residence didn't return.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Quiet Contemplation

So I was running around last night, quickly accomplishing as many housekeeping tasks as I could in the one hour window I have between getting Soren tucked in for the night and collapsing into bed myself, when Abe asked me, "When did you get so work-addicted? Have you always been this way?"

I defended myself by grumbling something about how it would be a lot nicer around this place if certain other unnamed individuals were a little more work-addicted themselves.

"There will always be housework, honey," Abe reminded me. "What about time for quiet contemplation?"

Quiet whosiewhata?

I do have a tendency to be task-oriented. I like to be a be able to look back over a day and rattle off a list of things I accomplished. I think it's because measurable productivity helps me feel that my existence has been justified. However, at the end of my life, I don't think I'm going to look back and say, "Well, it looks like I've completed 20,800 loads of laundry, cooked 65,500 meals, picked up 11,902,997,999 toys, played with my children for 10,450 hours, and always paid my bills on time. Life well spent!"

Which isn't to say that these activities aren't worthy....keeping the house clean, cooking meals, paying bills, and playing with the little ones are part of creating a home in which healthy, happy people can grow together, spend time together, and love one another. I want my home to be a place where people want to be, a safe haven. And cleanliness and food are an important part of that whole thing.

But it's also important to make sure that The Accomplishment of Tasks isn't overshadowing the purpose behind the tasks.

The purpose being something that I will address tomorrow. When my brain isn't so sleepy.

A Goal

Thirty posts in thirty days.

Starting date: December 21st.

End date: January 20th.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

An Apostrophic Declaration

Ah, the apostrophe. It's such a useful little blip, always there when you need to take a verbal shortcut or indicate possession. Alas, it is also a much-abused, much-misused piece of punctuation. After observing for years, in horror and sometimes disbelief, the widespread mistreatment this little punctuation mark has endured, I have finally decided that the time has come for me to speak out on its behalf. Think me nerdy if you will, but the truth must be spoken regarding the apostrophe.

First, an exploration of why the apostrophe is so widely misused. I believe it is due to one of three reasons:

1) Most people misapply the apostrophe merely because they feel that they should know how to use it and are therefore embarrassed to ask when they're not sure. They think to themselves, "This is simplest, most elementary of grammatical rules....blast my shameful ignorance!" and, after pulling at their hair and dashing their heads repeatedly against the palms of their hands, they scribble out a note ("Dearest Emeline, Please remember to feed the cat's") and quickly walk away, hoping against all hope that they had used the apostrophe correctly. And poor, dear Emeline finds the note later and wonders, "Feed the cat's what? What does the cat have that needs feeding? Why didn't Charles finish this note? Whatever could be wrong?" and then she swoons a little and perhaps faints, knocking her head against the table. And then the cat, hungry from not being fed, wanders into the kitchen and, seeing Emeline lying unconscious on the floor and taking her for dead, proceeds to gnaw off her right hand, the very hand that Emeline used for bowing her cello. Now, you must know that Emeline is a very gifted musician, and she has been using her talents to surreptitiously earn the money the family needs in order to keep up appearances by employing a full staff of servants. And now, with her bowing hand completely missing, the Vallswoop family is going to have to admit that its very old money is, at last, coming to an end, that the flow has turned into a trickle, that there will have to be BMWs for Christmas instead of Rolls-Royces, that vacations will be taken to Mexico and not Morocco, and that soon the family will have to admit that they are nothing more than middle-class.

Er. Ahem. Where were we? Ah, yes. Reasons people can't seem to use apostrophes correctly.

2) Others follow the same rule for apostrophes as they do for commas: if there hasn't been one for a while in your writing, there is probably something wrong, so you should probably throw one in-- just in case. This fear-governed grammatical technique generally yields sentences like this:

This fear-governed, grammatical technique, generally yield's sentences like this.

3) Others fail to employ the apostrophe properly because they simply don't care whether it is put to its proper use or not. And to those people I say: I hope someday a cat gnaws off your right hand.

But to those of you who care, I want you to know that if you or someone you know struggles with the apostrophe, either because of shame or because of fear, there is help. You can start right now, by reading this blog post.

Now, before I get on to the meat of this post, I want you to know that I'm not clinging to an arbitrary rule for the sake of correctness. I'm emphasizing the importance of correctly using the apostrophe because the apostrophic rules create clarity, and clarity leads to good communication, and everyone who's ever been married or run a business knows how important it is to communicate well.

And so, onward:

The apostrophe exists primarily to do two things:

1) Make a noun possessive. ("My mom's kitchen is being remodeled." "My niece's bedroom looks pink.")
2) Indicate the omission of a letter or letters. This occurs frequently-- but not always-- in the creation of a contraction. ("You're a nice doggie." "I love rock 'n' roll.")

That's it. Just one of those two things. So if you're ever thinking about putting an apostrophe into a word, ask yourself two simple questions: Is this apostrophe indicating possession? Is it showing that I've left out a letter? And if you can't answer "yes" to at least one of these questions, please--I beg of you!--leave the apostrophe out. Now, that said, I must acknowledge that there are infrequent occasions that might require the apostrophe to be used for a third, less common purpose, which is to

3) Assist in making a word plural. However, it does this if and only if severe confusion would ensue were it not present. I want to make it very clear that the apostrophe very rarely, almost never, only once in the greatest of whiles makes a word plural. There are a few exceptions to the don't-use-apostrophes-when-making-stuff-plural rule, which are generally brought on by the need for clarity or visual appeal. A few examples:

-"Remember to dot your i's and cross your t's!"
-"Here are a few do's and don'ts."
-"I have earned several PhD's in vastly different fields."

So I guess that means we should add a third question when evaluating whether or not the use of an apostrophe would be appropriate: If I don't insert an apostrophe, will my readers be confused? If the answer is no, if the word would be just fine without an apostrophe and it's not indicating possession or letter omission, leave it out.

Simple, right? Apparently not.

Everywhere I look, I see violations of these very simple rules.

First, people seem to struggle with the concept that apostrophes don't usually make plurals.

For example, a the Phillips 66 gas station down the street there is a sign stuck to the door that reads: "Puppy's for sale." Now, this sign would be just fine if the people were selling a single puppy: it could be read "Puppy is for sale." Sure, fine, whatever. Your puppy is for sale. But this particular sign has a picture tacked on it with MULTIPLE PUPPIES, which would imply that there are puppies for sale, not that Puppy is for sale.

Another one that I see all the time on barber shops and beauty salons:

"Walkin's welcome." (Walkin is welcome? Who is Walkin? Do you mean Christopher Walken? Why did you feel the need to welcome him, in particular?)
"Walk in's welcome." (Walk in is welcome? Is Walk in the name of that Chinese exchange student living with the Rogers family? Are you welcoming him to America?)

If what you're trying to say is that people in need of a haircut are welcome to stop in without an appointment, try creating a sign that simply says, "Walk-ins Welcome," because seriously, if you are going to pay a professional to make you a permanent sign, you might as well spend five minutes doing a Google search to ensure that the spelling and grammar are all correct. Or ask your freaky nerd neighbor to spend one minute reading it to ensure everything checks out. That's all you need to do.

A common error I see otherwise grammatically correct people make is to use the apostrophe to pluralize a last name. So let me just note here that if you are writing a letter to the Vallswoop family, it needs to be addressed to "The Vallswoops," NOT "The Vallswoop's," which would inevitably lead to confusion ("The Vallswoop's what? Why didn't they finish addressing this letter? Whatever could be wrong?") and possibly another fainting spell, etc.

Another one: It's the 1990s, not the 1990's. And when you're abbreviating it, you would write "the '90s" (the apostrophe is in front to indicate the the 19 has been omitted), NOT "the 90's." Or if you want to say that something happened back in 1985, you would write '85, NOT 85'.

Also, it's CDs, not CD's, though I will forgive you for this one, because it is kind of iffy.

So that's the pluralizing issue. The second issue that I see a lot of is an inability to deal with certain contractions, primarily "it's" and "you're."

And "it's" I completely understand. It's kind of strange. So this is one you'll just have to memorize. Just remember that "it's" ALWAYS means "it' is" or "it has." When "it" owns something, that something is simply "its." I know it would kind of make sense for it to be "it's," but it's not. So stop using it that way.

"You're," on the other hand, seems pretty straightforward to me. "Your" indicates possession; "You're" means "You are." That's it. And you're not really doing much for your case when you write something like, "I'm smart and your dumb."

So that's about it. And just so you don't think I'm alone in my freakiness regarding this topic, I thought I'd share the following quote from my 15th Edition Chicago Manual of Style, which, in its introduction to apostrophes, states that "feelings on these matters sometimes run high."

For more information on this important topic, please visit the Apostrophe Abuse website.


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