Sunday, June 26, 2011

Six Flags

Today's Happiness:  Five kids at the perfect ages for a day of roller coasters, two parents who still love to play, and enough money to make it all happen.  The pictures say more than I possibly could.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


There was lots to be happy about today.  For one thing, our family of seven was whole again after almost a week of Boy Scout camp and Air Force travel.  In addition, there were quite a few robust yard sales in my neighborhood at which I bought some Tupperware and a banana hammock.  Furthermore, my husband made a delicious dinner which included fresh cucumber salad made with cukes fresh from JoJo's garden.  (This is some 17 Bites overlap we have here.  Mental Note: talk to Robin about cross marketing!)

But the happiest thing about today was when Matt and I systematically analyzed his entire wardrobe, pulling half of it out of circulation.  I can narrow the joy down even further and identify the happiest moment of my entire day; it was the moment he agreed to throwing away these jean shorts.

Here's how it went down:

Nancy:  So let's see... we have lots of shorts here... this pair is nice for golf... oh, these are cute... wait just a minute... what is going on here?

Matt:  Umm... I wear those a lot.

Nancy:  Maybe we should throw these away.

Matt:  But I love them.  They are very soft and comfortable.

Nancy:  I bet they are.  How do you think this hole got here?

Matt:  Umm... I don't know.

Nancy:  I am totally going to put this on the blog.

The unconscious-johnson-rubbing-wear-and-tear aside, there are serious problems with the j'orts.  The back pocket is about to fall off, for one thing.

There is also a mysterious hole that looks to be caused by toxic fart vapors.

Matt tells me these j'orts are from the year 2000.  This means the j'orts preceded two of our children and the debut of the Euro.  Their soft comfortable-ness has helped Matt endure four moves, 8 trips to the emergency room, an assignment to Afghanistan, his wife's cancer, lots of overflowing toilets, a couple of leaking basements, 150 lawn-mows, and quite a few losses by the Chicago Bears.  They accompanied him on at least 20 vacations, to one million children's sporting events, and to over 50 school conferences.  They sat quietly by through eleven winters, waiting for spring to come so they would again be appreciated for their own special qualities.

You are starting to think that he should keep them, aren't you?  Yeah, me too.

They give him comfort.  They have stuck by him when times were tough.  They were there when life's most important moments happened.  Maybe they are not as beautiful as they used to be, but we don't discard someone, I mean something, just because it has lost the blush of youth do we?!  Just because someone, I mean something, has a few superficial blemishes doesn't mean they are not desirable!  The j'orts are very soft and comfortable, for God's sake!  And stop calling them j'orts!  They are summertime jeans, and my husband has a relationship with them!


We are going to keep the jean shorts.  Comfort is important, right?  And today I recognize that seeing Matt happy, in his horrendously hole-y j'orts, makes me happy too.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Joy of Stuff

The best things in life aren't things.


But I think we all agree that the second best things in life are indeed things.  Lots and lots of tangible, consumable things.

Today I recognize the happiness I get from some of the things I own.  The stuff highlighted today is all newly acquired merchandise which makes it more happiness-giving than the merchandise I bought long ago -- like last week or something.  As you will see, I can justify why I needed every one of these things.  The process of getting them and the state of owning them has brought me happiness.  For now.

(Interjection: A serious scholar would take this moment to research actual scientific studies of human socio-psycho behavior, culling from the current body of work theories of fellow intellectuals on the evolutionary purpose of a desire for material acquisition.  I, on the other hand, will be posing broad, rhetorical questions and answering them with facts from my own imagination!)

Why do we always want to get new stuff?!  We (those of us set firmly in the middle class, with enough discretionary income to buy computers and enough leisure time to read blogs) have plenty of stuff already.  We have so much stuff we need to buy more stuff to hold our stuff.  It's gross.  Yet we spend hours each week seeking out and acquiring new stuff.

Some stuff we can legitimately claim to need.  Food, for instance, is an unarguable human need, something that gets consumed regularly and needs to be replaced.  Clothing is a need, for both physical protection and our civilized need for propriety.  But even these two basic needs get distorted by our urge to collect and possess.  I am admittedly not a foodie, but even I have gone to the grocery store and filled a cart when there were already thousands of calories of sustenance in my 'fridge and cupboards at home. And clothing?  Puleeze.  Come to my house and count how many pairs of jeans I own.  I dare you.

So we don't really need any more stuff on a survival level.  We need more stuff to feel content, proud, worthy, safe, and happy.  Of course, these urges are somehow related to prehistoric man's hunting and gathering.  The stockpiling behaviors we exhibit today are likely related to a need to protect against loss from nasty creatures like saber toothed tigers and fearsome forces like flood and fire.  How this human hardwiring translates into a TJMaxx fetish, I do not quite understand.


I bought new running shoes this week.  My old running shoes felt hard and flat.  I was running with difficulty, getting tired quickly and feeling sore afterwards.  So I went to the mall and bought these bad boys:

For the first day they brought me happiness.  It was like running on tiny little trampolines.  I bounded down the street with ease.  After that I was back to feeling tired and sore.  The little elves in my brain ran this story on the front page of the Nancy News:  Difficulty Running not Caused by Shoes - Age and Body Mass Likely Culprits.

I also bought a new dresser.  Like a huntress, I stalked this prey for weeks.  I thoroughly analyzed my clothing situation.  I culled the undesirables to reduce the volume of clothing that needed storing.  I tried to be happy with what I already had.  (What I already had was two $69 dollar dressers made of cardboard and plastic, the drawers of which were labeled with "Hello, my name is..." stickers, as in "Hello, my name is Underwear.")  I measured my bedroom.  I went to Value City Furniture three times to analyze their offerings.  I settled on something reasonable with maybe a little too much detail for my simple tastes.  Poised for attack at the service counter, I sniffed a note of hesitation on the breeze.  My ancient hunter's instincts told me to wait, delay the gratification of the kill and prolong the chase for one hour.  I was unexplainably lured to a small, locally owned furniture store where I found my prey - perfectly sized, of higher quality and lower price than the first find, and offering free delivery.  I pounced.  Here she is, fresh from the hunt:

As an investment in happiness, this was a good choice.  I dress myself at least once a day, and the experience is more pleasurable because I own this dresser.  I suppose I am gambling that the happiness of owning and using the dresser will last longer than it takes me to pay the dresser off.  We'll see.

Finally, I can report that I bought a portable DVD player.  If you are a loyal RecHap reader you will recall that last week I was torqued by the fact that I had somehow displaced (read: threw away or donated) the portable DVD player we used to use on trips before we got the Big Van and had a built in DVD player.  And now, with the Big Van sold to the fancy-schmancy summer camp, I need a new portable DVD player.  With last week's frustrations behind me, I solved the problem, buying the replacement at Target.
This item will not bring me direct happiness.  I don't think I will ever hold it on my lap and watch a movie on its seven inch screen.  But my children will enjoy it.  It will bring them direct happiness, and because they are an extension of me, I will be happy indirectly, I will experience joy because they have joy.  Or maybe I will be happy because they are quiet in the back seat while I drive ten hours north to Wisconsin.  That's more likely.  Either way, I own it and I'm happy about it.

So, in review, the shoes, the dresser, and the movie player made me happy.  In fact, writing about them makes me happy.  Furthermore, right now I feel happy because I am momentarily happy from writing about things that brought me happiness.  You can see how the things and the non-things get tangled up in my brain.  I'll leave it for more serious scholars to sort them out.  For today, I'll just enjoy myself.

Shop on.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice

Yesterday was the summer solstice, the one day of the year with the greatest distance between dawn and dusk.  Mankind has always had a fascination with this moment in Earth's annual cycle.  I understand why.  It is magical.  It's as if we are all at the top of an Earth-sized roller coaster, hesitating for a breath, about to start our long ride down into winter's darkness.  So it was fitting that I spend the evening outside, immersing myself in the elements.

My big boys had a swim meet.  This one was in Highland, a little farming community in southern Illinois about 45 minutes away.  There had been a storm in the afternoon, so the grass and trees were freshly cleaned and sparkly as we drove down the highway.  We saw a coyote (alive) on the side of the road which made us wonder where he lives and drew our attention deeper in to the greenery flanking the highway.  The clouds were diverse and beautiful -- huge, white, puffy ones overlapping ominous, grey ones.

Highland's facility had a pretty little pool sunken below street level in a small town park.  We observers (JoJo, Oscar, and I) sat on a grassy hill outside the pool's fence.  Adjacent to the pool, at higher elevation, was a one acre wooded glen worthy of Robin Hood himself.  It was only grass and trees, the trees intentionally planted by humans but not perfectly maintained, creating a magical forest where Jo and Oscar could imagine and act out any Brothers Grimm fairy tale.  I told them the story of Hansel and Gretel to get them started.  Jo watched not a minute of the swim meet, she was so engrossed in the natural beauty around us.  At one point she pulled me away to come see a discovery; on a sunny hillside about 100 yards away was a family of groundhogs, rooting for their dinner.

The meet itself was fun to watch.  The activity was constant, one heat after another, in constant succession. I tuned in when one of my favorites was swimming and then tuned out again, focusing instead on the many other things going on: Oscar running to and from the snack bar with quarters or candy, JoJo building a pixie house in the woods, the other spectators' family dynamics.  One fellow spectator had two puppies with her.  Puppies.  I'm not even going to waste energy typing about puppies. You know the happiness of a puppy.  This lady had two.

Midway through the meet it started to rain.  The sky was half cheerful blue, half threatening purple.  We could see the rain falling in the sunlight, like the little town of Highland was taking a shower.  The kids kept swimming, some parents scurried for cover, but somehow the rain just made the moment better,  like running through the sprinkler on a hot day.

These sun showers happened off and on for an hour without disturbing the meet.  But when the thunder started we postponed.  And when lightning struck we cancelled.

Excitement was high as hundreds of people ran to their cars.  We all drove out of that little town single-file down the main road.  I could barely keep my eyes on the road for all the beauty in the sky.  I don't have the words to describe it... you know the feeling when you look in your baby's eyes?  Or when you watch your toddler sleeping?  When you are so happy you are almost sad?  The sky looked like that.  And because of the solstice and its nearly endless daylight, the sky's beauty just went on and on and on.  The lightning looked like bright, white veins.  The clouds were every color of blue, red, pink, purple, and yellow.  The trees got darker green every second.  There was a rainbow, of course.  The combination of rain and sun demanded it.  But the sheer beauty of the evening demanded it too.  The sky was so magical it had to have a rainbow.

Then a pink unicorn galloped in the grass next to our car and winked at me.  And a leprechaun skipped across the road and threw a million dollars in my sunroof.  And a fairy godmother turned my Explorer into a carriage and granted me three wishes.

The summer solstice is magic for sure.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Fairy Tale for Matt

Long, long ago, in the faraway kingdom of Arlingtonia, there lived a pretty peasant girl, aged fourteen years, called Nannette.  Nannette was yellow-haired and fair of face.  Although her parents loved and adored her, they were each under a dreadful magical spell.  Her handsome father, the kingdom's learned scribe, was controlled by a hateful and wicked witch and lived in a cottage of stone with fancy furniture no one was allowed to touch.  Her beautiful mother, guardian of the kingdom's mentally ill, was held captive by a loathsome and diabolical sorcerer and dwelled in a cottage of timbers which often caught fire from the sorcerer's breath of fire.  Nannette, therefore, sought shelter in each of her parents' cottages alternately, as was prudent, trying always to avoid the stone-cold glare of her step-mother and the choking smoke spewed from her step-father's foul mouth.

Nannette, at this time, was caught between youth and maturity.  She was still a girl in her playful, childish ways yet also a woman, bursting with allure and busting with fertility.  Her corset could barely contain her burgeoning bosom.  Therefore, many young men in the kingdom sought her favor.  For a time, she enjoyed the attentions of Chad the Small of Chestnut Lane.  But Chad the Small was indeed quite short and resented Nannette's more generous stature.  He was a dark-hearted lad and would joust with angry words just as boys of finer character would joust with swords.

One evening in very late autumn, as the winter solstice grew near, when days were cold and short in the northern-most reaches of Arlingtonia, Nannette visited with her dear friend Beck of Waterman.  Beck was also a fair-haired lass of fourteen.  The girls laughed and frolicked joyfully when they were together, often swooning to the most gifted troubadours of the day, Kashagoogoo and Thomas Dolby.  Beck knew a lad from a nearby lane with whom she often sat at chapel.  Although the friendship between Beck and the lad was chaste, Beck thought the lad might take a fancy to buxom, young Nannette.  Beck called to the lad who rode his two-wheeled chariot over posthaste.

The lad, whose name was Mathias, fell at once for Nannette.  His blue eyes shone brightly as he took in the curves of her simple peasant dress.  As for Nannette, she was captivated by Mathias's flowing, golden locks and his soft, sultry voice.  At once they began to spend all their idle time in each other's company, taking long walks in the kingdom each evening, usually searching for a warm place in which they could lie together.  Nannette's heart was filled with the promise of a future full of romantic love and bodily comforts.  Alas, her dreams were not to be fulfilled so easily.

Beck of Waterman was a false friend.  Her true self was not the loyal sister Nannette thought her to be.  She was but a vile vixen, a sinister strumpet who wanted naught but to claim Mathias as her own, thusly thwarting Nannette's hopes for happiness!  Using her wonton wiles, Beck twice lured the simple Mathias away from Nannette.  Having twice lost her heart to such a fickle, foolhardy boy, Nannette swore she would never set eyes on Beck or Mathias again.  Their presence in the kingdom of Arlingtonia would become to her like that of the presence of a pair of rats in the woodshed:  unsavory yet unimportant.

As time went on, Nannette found small islands of happiness in the kingdom.  She sought solace in the school house where she proved to be a bright, promising scholar.  She found joy in the kingdom's gypsy dance troupe.  She worked for a small wage in the king's own kitchen, cooking and serving such delicious fare as the Whopper and Whopper Jr.  She continued to grow in beauty and voluptuosity.  For a time she enjoyed the attentions of a suitor named Trevor the Mischief-Maker whose chariot was emblazoned with the words "Make Merry without Vestments!"  But she knew in her heart that Trevor was but a distraction.  His love was not of the sort upon which a lass could rely to save her from the drudgery of her peasant life.  She continued thusly for two years, attending to her scholarly duties, scurrying from her father's cottage to her mother's cottage, avoiding the evil step-parents that lurked within.

Then one day in spring, as she bustled about her daily duties, scrubbing floors and whatnot, she received a call from the out-of-favor Mathias.  He claimed to have been under a spell during the time he spent with the twisted trollop, Beck of Waterman, but had recently broken free of her cursed clutches.  Now, in full control of his own heart, he could see that the brief time spent with Nannette had been the most joyful of his eighteen years.  He begged for the chance to see her and remind her of the magical union they had enjoyed two years before.  Nannette, curious but wary, agreed.

They met at the kingdom's finest ale house, Eros, named prophetically for the god of love.  As Nannette  fed on a delectable, international meal of grilled cheese from America and potatoes from France, Mathias wooed her anew with his charming wit and kindhearted manner.  He solemnly swore to avoid any tart, hussy, or wench who might try to lure him into a future enchantment.  His blue eyes looked into her soul  and softened her heart.  In those blue pools of love she saw the future -- a future free from evil step-parents and the king's kitchen, a future filled with love, adventure, and many blue-eyed children.  Mathias worked his own magic that day.  He reclaimed Nannette's heart.

Soon, Mathias and Nannette began their romantic journey out of Arlingtonia.  For many many years they  traveled the world-- through the kingdoms of DeKalb, Enid, Tokyo, Dover, and Milwaukee, finally settling in the aptly-named beautiful village of Belleville.  Their progeny are many.  They have been mostly happy.  Their magic continues to this day.

Nannette's loving parents have also found happiness.  The wicked witch who controlled Nannette's father was melted when villagers doused her in the local well.  The fire-breathing sorcerer who held Nannette's mother captive was run out of town by a band of ruffians, never to be seen or heard from again.  The hateful harlot Beck of Waterman became morbidly obese and now lives in a shack on the fringes of Arlingtonia.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Thursday's Problems/Friday's Solutions

WARNING: the mighty, undeniable forces of PMS and a full moon are working against me today.  Read with caution.

I awoke this morning ready for a fight.  I am edgy.  I am crabby.  I am irritable.  I have little tolerance for the world and its people.

Specifically, I am pissed that I donated or threw away the old portable DVD player that we used to use because it was obsolete when we owned the Big Van with built-in DVD player but now that the van is in use by a fancy-schmancy Minnesotan summer camp I need a portable DVD player again.

Also I am mad that eye and ear drops come in identical bottles and when I needed eye drops to relieve minor redness and itching I instead used a remedy for swimmer's ear.  The stinging I experienced when I put drops in the first eye wasn't enough to clue me into the mix-up.  I did both eyes.  Then I spent ten minutes at the sink trying to do some sort of make-shift eye wash operation.

Furthermore, I am frustrated that after two hours of driving around town and going in about a hundred stores I still do not have everything I need from my shopping list.

It bothers me to no end that dogs cannot use flush toilets and that heavy rains disintegrate piles of shit just enough to make them hard to locate and pick up but not enough to totally wash them away.

I am irked by the inconvenient truth that this house has too few decent closets.

I am irritated in advance about what my dad will say when he reads this rant because I know that I created this situation, Mister, and that I should want what I get.

I am indignant about the the way gravity, time, and UV rays have stripped me of my youthful beauty.

I take offense with the pricing practices that make fattening, unhealthy foods cheap and healthful food expensive.

I feel righteously indignant that some teenagers chalked enormous erupting dicks and hairy balls all over our neighborhood.

Ahhhh.  I feel a little better having let that out.  Thanks for listening.


After just 24 hours I feel much more at peace with the world.  By embracing my anger -- letting it ooze out of me and then squeezing-from-the-bottom to get even more intolerance out of my soul -- I allowed the PMS/lunar insanity to flow over me like water over a rock.

Now, having a clear head and more balanced hormones, I present you with my plan of action:

1. Buy a new portable DVD player on sale at Target for $59.
2. Put eye and ear drops in separate baggies with humongous labels on them.
3. Go back out tomorrow and get the rest of the crap on my list.
4. Make kids pick up dog shit more frequently.
5. Get rid of stuff that doesn't fit into existing closets.
6. Ignore blog comments.
7. Stop reading fashion magazines.  Also, stop looking in the mirror.
8. Eat less.
9. After ensuring that it was not my children who drew the genitals on the sidewalks, move on.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I Like Me

Great news, Marlo Thomas:  I like myself.  Thanks to your literary classic Free to be You and Me (and the daily rigor of the RecHap blog) I can report that I am feeling uncommonly satisfied with my life.  You told me I could be anything I wanted to be -- doctor, firefighter, caterpillar -- and I chose this.  There were other influences than you, of course.  Carol Brady seems to have had a big say in the life choices I have made.  Also Edith Bunker and Chrissy from Three's Company.  But it was your sage advice that let me know it was all right to cry, helped me avoid being eaten by lions, and reminded me that parents are people too.  This is helpful because now I am a parent, I spend a little too much time crying, and really it's just handy to not get eaten by a lion.

I find myself especially happy that I am me instead of lots of other people.  My life may not be perfect, but it sucks a lot less than many other people's lives.

For instance, I am thankful that I am not Lindsay Lohan.  Or that guy named Weiner who tweeted pictures of his weiner.  I am thankful I am not one of the unfortunate souls who have disfiguring diseases so ghastly they are used as illustrations on the elephantiasis entry of Wikipedia.  Look it up.  You'll be thankful too.

Furthermore, I am thankful I am not the person who lives here:


I appreciate about myself that I am not married to this man:


And I feel good that my children have never done this:


That's all for today.  Today I recognize that life could be worse.  Very easily, I could be worse.  And for today that is enough.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Today I got to spend some one-on-one time with this little guy:
We played catch in the front yard for a while.  He has a strong, straight arm and can catch even my wildest throws.  We walked to Gramma's for a visit.  He loves to press the button on the traffic light and wait for the little white man to appear.  We got ice cream at the ice cream store.   As the only passenger in my car around dinner time, he got to pick the fast food restaurant and chose drive-thru over dine-in.  I watched his baseball game.  He got to pick the movie before bedtime.  And right now he's brushing his teeth.  Very soon he will give me a bedtime hug willingly but a kiss only reluctantly.

There was a time, long ago, when we had only 4 kids and thought we would keep it that way.  Matt even had a vasectomy scheduled.  But a series of events unfolded, beginning with pitchers of margaritas at a Mexican restaurant in Wauwatosa, WI and ending with me in a bathroom stall at the health clinic, a baby and a toddler sitting on the floor, a pink pee-pee stick in my hand.  We were officially Expecting.

It was not a convenient time to add another child to our family.  We were living on less than $60,000 a year, dipping monthly into the red, banking on the hope that Matt would eventually be promoted to captain on the MD-80 at Midwest Express.  Considering our family size, we were within $5,000 of qualifying for free lunch at the elementary school.

I was sure Matt would be upset when I told him.   I was upset!  But, thankfully, he smiled and hugged me when I told him.  We immediately embraced the existence of the new baby and considered ourselves Parents of Five.  This is a photo of the weekend we first knew I was pregnant.  I remember feeling like we had a secret we were keeping safe from the world:

But after a few days I developed a urinary tract infection.  And I started spotting.  The nurse at the clinic was quick to offer medicine for the UTI and a somber prognosis for the pregnancy.  It was unlikely that it would hold.

The spotting continued for days.  A week passed.  We still held out hope that this tiny little son or daughter would stay alive.  I went to St. Mary's in Milwaukee for an ultrasound.  The screen showed a defined mass but no heartbeat.  Our happy little surprise, the seventh member of our family, had died.

I allowed myself one short cry.  I sobbed.  It was cathartic to weep from deep in my soul for the loss of a life -- a potential life really -- just the idea of what that life might have been.  Then I drove home and was smothered by children: Louie, who was only 6, Henry, still 4, Donny, just turned 3, and Baby Jo only 8 months old and barely weaned.  It was close to Halloween, the night of trick-or-treating in our neighborhood.  This is the actual evening I came home from that hospital ultrasound.  I think my face is still swollen from crying so hard:

That was October.  Throughout November I couldn't shake the feeling of having lost something.  Although it was never a tangible, visible, cuddle-able baby -- although our family was still and had never been more than a family of 6 -- I had imagined the 7th Holm so powerfully that I didn't want to live without it.  I needed to get that baby back.

So although the official marital policy was "let's see what happens", I will admit here and now to using my womanly wiles to intentionally manipulate the connubial climate during just the right weekend in December...

And now we have this:
The 7th Holm.  The baby of the family.  Matt's final spawn.  The thumb to the four fingers.  The exclamation point at the end of our familial sentence.  Oscar.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Breaking Out of the Golden Cage

Matt left for a trip today and JoJo is at camp.  We had no scheduled sporting events and no pre-arranged play dates.  Life in the Golden Cage* was starting to look a little boring on this Monday morning.  So in an effort to mix it up I convinced the four boys that we should take a day trip to Ikea.

Ikea is 300 miles north of our house.

I realize this was a little bit crazy.  To embark on a four and a half hour drive with my four sons just so I can shop at one store and drive home again is pretty far out of the norm.  But freedom don't come free, people, and there is nothing that beats a long drive on the open road for making me feel like I am untethered.  So the boys and I loaded the car with DS games, iPads, YuGiOh cards, the entire genetic future of the Holm Family name, and some snacks and we hit the road.

Somewhere around Funks Grove I realized my mistake.

There was a minor scuffle between brothers which required correction.

Nancy:"Maybe if you need your brother's attention you should tap him gently instead of slapping him in the face?"

Donny starts to rap:"Tap-gent-e-ly. Tap-tap-tap-gent-e-ly.  Tappy-tappy-tappy-tappy-tap-gent-e-ly..."

This continued until Henry demanded silence.  

Another half hour went by with pleasant discussion.  I realized what a treat it is to have these four boys in my immediate control.  They are contained in the car and forced to communicate with me.  They can try to escape into a video game but ultimately we are intimately connected via close physical proximity for the duration of the drive.  We joked and reminisced.  

Donny:"Remember the time you were pretending to be a werewolf and you turned around and bit me in the butt?"

Henry:"I don't think it happened like that..."

Donny starts to rap again:"Bit-me-in-the-butt.  Bit-bit-bit-me-in-the-butt.  Bitty-bitty-bitty-bitty-bit-me-in-the-butt."

Henry:"STOP IT!!!"

I am, of course, laughing my ass off at the rapping.  Whatever Henry says, Donny riffs on it.

Henry:"Latitude lines run horizontally."

Donny:"Hor-i-zon-tal-ee.  Hor-i-hor-i-hor-i-zon-tal-ee!"


But Donny is in full swing now...

Donny:"Hor-i-zon-tal-ee.  Tap-gent-e-ly.  Bit-me-bit-me-bit-me.  Bit-me-in-the-butt.  Mix-it-up.  Mix-it-up.  Mix-it-mix-it-mix-it-up."

But like the Hawthorne Effect at work in a research project, Donny's rap has devolved into something inauthentic.  He is doing it just to make Henry mad and to make me laugh.  Regrettably, I had to rein him in.

A few more hours passed in pleasant conversation.  When we drove through Grundy County I was able to share a historical fact about my own childhood: in the suburbs of Chicago in the 1970s and 80s, "grundy" was the preferred word for "wedgie".  This was widely appreciated throughout the car. 

But then someone farted.  After the usual interrogation, Donny confessed.

Henry:"You need to control your god damn bowels!"

Donny:"They can't be controlled!  They are like a wild wildebeest!  My wildebeest is roaring!"

Nancy:"You are seriously out of control."

Donny:"Like my bowels!"

I would be remiss if I failed to mention how sweetly Oscar and Louie played throughout the drive.  They were as quiet as mice... mice that are obsessively focused on video games and shouting out video game successes and conundrums to whoever will listen.

Louie:"I got a strawberry!"

Oscar:"How do I catch an orange?"

Louie:"I have the kingsley beast!"

Oscar:"How do I get a piece of the magic heart?"

Louie:"I have two elements!"

However sweet and mouse-like, Oscar was involved in a conflict somewhere north of Dwight.  It started when he touched Henry's iPad.

Henry:"Don't touch my iPad."

Oscar:"I can do whatever I want."

Henry:"Not without getting punched in the face!"

There followed a long discussion about doing "whatever one wants".  For instance, what if you wanted to hold your breath for 5 days?  Could you do that?  Not without dying!  And what if you wanted to fly through the air for 20 minutes without any special flying devices?  Huh?!  What about that?!!

You get the drift of the conversation.

This was around this time I started romanticizing the Golden Cage and its many rooms, each with its own walls and doors, some with locks.

As for the actual Ikea experience, it was fine.  I spent $30 on creatively designed, flat-packed merchandise and $35 on a meatball feast for five.  

I had to remind the fellas a few times that their natural volume and activity levels need to be halved when in a public place.  

Also, Henry almost put a flip-flop through the ceiling of the elevator.  Almost.  

Oscar bought a stuffed ball from the kids' department and attempted Jordan-esque moves throughout the breakable housewares department.  We paused to ask ourselves why Ikea stuffed animals have so many very long tags on them.

Thanks to his one year of high school Spanish, Louie figured it out.  "They have to tell you in 31 languages that the fabric is 100% polyester and the filling is polyester fibers."

Donny's Ikea must-have was a hand towel.  He's reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the main character asserts that a towel is the most valuable item in the whole universe.  This one was only 49 cents which struck Donny as really really awesome.

Then it was back in the car.

They were well-fed and maybe a little burned out, so we had about an hour of peace.  I got to listen to radio music in that long-drive sort of way in which you hear the words like you've never heard them before.  For instance, I now can report with confidence that the 80s classic "Little Red Corvette" is really an extended musical-metaphor and Madonna's "Like a Virgin" is, obviously, a simile.

We zipped along the highway, reading all the same signs we had read two hours prior, but in reverse order.  Donny misread one to our delight: "Why is that town called Joilet?!  It sounds like 'toilet'!"

But somewhere just south of Morris, Donny's Swedish fish stuck to one of his molars and pulled it loose.

Donny:"Oh, God!  My tooth is so loose!"

Nancy:"Pull it out!  The tooth fairy will bring you five bucks!"

In just a few seconds the tooth was out, but there was a lot of blood.  So much blood that he was sort of drooling like a vampire.  He sucked down some water and spit it out the window, splattering bloody spit all over Henry's window in the back seat.  The water-suck-window-spit technique wasn't enough to quell the flow of dental bleeding.

Oh, whatever could we do to stop the bleeding?!!

Readers.  Do you remember the hand towel?!!

Seriously.  I could not make this shit up.  Donny used his new Ikea hand towel to squelch the seepage from his enormous molar gap.

With the immediate blood loss crisis under control, Donny started to clean up his area.  He threw the Swedish fish, which had caused the mess in the first place, out the window.  It flew by Henry's rear window.

Henry:"What the hell was that?!"

Donny:"A fish."

Henry:"Why did you throw it out the window?!"

Donny:"It was bloody.  Wait... here's another one on the floor.  It's bloody and it has dog hair on it.  Do you want it?"

Readers, I swear he was serious when he offered it to Henry.  To his credit, Henry declined.  And to his credit, Donny cleaned the bloody spit off the car at our next pit stop.
It was all down-hill (rather, down-state) from there.  Louie and Oscar played YuGiOh in the back seat.  Louie even allowed me to photograph him in the act of playing.  Henry and I agreed that he will attempt to be more respectful of adults during his eighth grade year.  Donny agreed to pulling out those last few baby teeth. 
And as I pulled into the driveway after nine hours in the car with these characters, I knew I had done a good thing.  Sometimes you have to mix-it-mix-it-mix-it-up in order to see the happiness that is in front of you every-every-every-day.


*The Golden Cage is a concept I learned last week from Conrad.  He lives in a Golden Cage in Mexico: a beautiful house in a place that offers nothing to do and which he can rarely leave.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Today's entry is easy... today I recognize the happiness I get from my dog.  Not both dogs.  Not the one who breaches the electric fence and barks at birds and harasses the mailman and eats donuts off the table.  Just the other one.

Normally he is a hairy beast.  Tufts of hair fly off his back as he walks by.  Petting him results in a literal hand-full of hair.  I use the Swiffer twice a day in an attempt to avoid being buried by it.  I vacuum him regularly with the shop vac.  Today, in an act of desperation, I took him to Petsmart to be shaved.

"Do you want us to blend in the tail fringe?" asked the groomer, as if this were a matter of beauty rather than a sanitation issue.

"Uh... no.  Just shave it all off."  I replied.

Don't tell Tuck, but he looks ridiculous.  He looks naked, pale, and chubby.  His tail looks positively rodent-ile.  But I can't keep my hands off of him!  He feels like a sleek palomino gelding instead of a 60s shag carpet.  I cuddled him today like never before.  I snuggled him until he tired of the attention.  I can actually pet my pet.  It's a miracle.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


It's only midday and I already have something to be happy about.

There is an event in Belleville today - deep into Belleville proper, where payday loan stores and minimarts abound - called Rummagepalooza.  The name drew me in.  I'll admit to being lured by the 'palooza suffix.  But, sadly, it didn't measure up to its name.  In retrospect, maybe it should have been called some-people-selling-stuff-in-a-parking-lot.

But wait!  I found something excellent at the Rummagepalooza!

It is a handmade piece of furniture.  The artisan, Mr. Rutherford, is part of our greater Signal Hill community.  His kids graduated from our local school within the last few years.  He has a regular job, I suppose, and this 'palooza business is just a side gig.

His hobby is turning reclaimed wood into furniture.  The wood used for today's offerings was first a privacy fence in Troy, Illinois.  (Obviously, it was first a tree and then a privacy fence.)  Mr. Rutherford reclaimed it (by "reclaimed" I think he means "garbage picked") and turned it into this pretty and practical sideboard.

The experience of finding, buying, and using this piece makes me happy.

First, it is the exact piece of furniture I needed for this bathroom.  It replaces a cheesy, laminated cubby thing from Target.  It fits the space perfectly and offers precisely the right amount of storage.

Second, it was only $100 and fit comfortably into my Explorer without displacing any of the children I had riding with me.

Third, it was up-cycled by a local craftsman.  These are both good things for the Earth -- fewer raw materials used, less gas used for transportation, blah blah blah.

Finally, it has a good vibe.  You see, after I babbled to Mr. Rutherford about the beauty of repurposed, reclaimed materials, the importance of home decor, and the fact that I only had $5 left in my wallet, he said, "Well, it's really just my favorite thing to do."  And I was dismissed.

To spend our time doing what we love to do while avoiding further damage to the Earth and making a few bucks along the way... I think that is one reliable recipe for happiness.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Day 1

Well, shit.  It turns out there is plenty to be happy about in my regular life.  After just this one day of trying to actively recognize happiness as it exists in my daily routine, I can present to you this list of things that qualify as "happinesses":

1. I was able to enjoy the St. Louis Sauna by going to the pool.  My kids are old enough to swim safely while I read a book or take a nap.  I did both.  I even jumped into the pool a few times.  I stayed under long enough to let the cold water soak all the way through my hair, onto my scalp.  I treaded water, trying to fully experience the water as it rippled over every part of my skin.  Then I pushed hard off the bottom of the pool and thrust myself up into the hot summer sun.  Some teenagers standing nearby stopped talking and looked at me weird.

2. I was not the fattest woman at the pool.  Far from it.  I can still wear a two piece and walk from lounger to snack bar without bystanders shrieking and diving into the pool in an effort to get away.  And I have a good tan.

3. Around 5 o'clock, when I would usually have had to go home, figure out some sort of dinner plan, and tidy up the house, Matt agreed to come to the pool and join us in our carefree recreation, allowing me to continue the leisurely reading and napping and avoid the cooking and cleaning.  I had enough cash in my wallet to order pizza which was delivered poolside by my special friend Dominos Delivery Girl.

4. Now I am home in my pajamas.  My home has air conditioning.  Two of my five kids are out of the house with friends doing things that are age appropriate and properly supervised.  The rest of us will watch movies and play Scrabble.  I will likely win, but if not, I will experience the vicarious pleasure of watching my children feel good about themselves.  Then I will tip the board and send them straight to bed.


P.S. Donny says I have to make it clear that I exaggerated some of his behavior in yesterday's post.  Thankfully, he understands the need to enhance the truth sometimes... for a laugh.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Donny's Underwear

Donny had swim team this morning.  He's new to swim team and it's busting his ass.  Every day is another arduous physical challenge.  His muscles ache.  He's sore everywhere.  And it makes him hungry.  This hunger dominates his entire existence.   His mood is altered like that of a bear freshly awoken from his winter's sleep.  When Donny is hungry he is incapable of performing even the smallest basic task.  He gets stuck in a Catch-22 of hunger, too hungry to do the simple things required to become unhungry.

We returned from swim team this morning at 10:30.  Having passed up breakfast, he was now both muscularly and gastronomically drained.  He rolled out of the car and down the basement steps where he was somehow able to strip his wet suit off his weary legs.  His plan, I suppose, was to crawl the few inches to his clean laundry basket, use his last bits of strength to locate some underpants, and put them on.  But, alas, no clean laundry in his hamper.

The whining began.

"Mahhhhm!" He called weakly, naked and on his knees on the basement floor.  "Get me some underpaaaaaants!"

I knew he was tired.  I knew he was naked.  I knew the clean underpants were two floors up, somewhere in his closet, probably right in his dresser where they belong.  But you see, I like to build independence in my children.  I like to encourage them to do things now that will help them grow into capable, self-respecting adults.  Someday he will be someone's husband and he really can't be kneeling naked on the basement floor whining pitifully for his wife to bring him some clean drawers.  So I refused.

"You can get them."  I sang in a lilting and cheerful tone, my voice a melody of encouragement and support.  (I often use faux cheerfulness to discourage faux helplessness.  I think the kids have caught on.)

"Somebody!!  Help!  I need underpants!"  He saw right through my false cheer to the cold, hard nugget of indifference in my heart and decided to appeal directly to the masses - anyone within earshot who might be generous enough or bored enough or enough in need of favor-banking to retrieve for him some clean boxers.

"I am freezing and tired and starving and naked down here!!!!  Why won't anybody help me?!!!"

You know how this ends, of course.  Not a single person offered to help him out of this pickle.  Not one of his 4 siblings or any of the various neighbor kids who were in the house at the time.  He had to reach deep inside himself and find the will and the power to haul his cold, tired, sore, wet, naked ass up two flights of stairs to the comfort of his own room, where he would find clean, soft, comforting undies waiting for him.  They were there, of course, right where they should be.  All he had to do was stop shouting, stop waiting for other people to save him.  Thusly clothed, he could then easily stroll into the kitchen and help himself to a snack.  Once fed, he could go on to do anything he wanted... Take a nap!  Read a book!  Call a friend!  The world is waiting, Donny!  Just get yourself out of that cold, dark basement and get your underpants!

Hilarious, right?  Not so much.

You see, I find myself in a similar situation.  I am in some sort of funk, an embarrassingly cliche midlife crisis.  While I have everything I need right where I need it, I continue to roll around on the floor of the basement of my soul whining, "Help me!  Why won't somebody help me?!"  What I need to do is haul my cold, naked soul up to the place wherein lies the happiness.  Once there, all I have to do is recognize it for what it is!    Health, prosperity, family, love... it's all right here in front of me.  All I have to do is see it.   Thusly happy, I can go forward.  The world is waiting!

Get it?  Good analogy, right?

Anyway.  This blog is my attempt to do something, to move and grow and push myself to look around me at what I have and feel thankful for it rather than wallow in this nasty midlife whatever-it-is.  My goal is to write once a day.  Each day I will take one tiny moment from my life and show how it makes me happy.  My hope is that the effort of looking for my daily morsel of happiness and the act of putting it into words will draw me out of this funk.  Also I might get famous and get a juicy book/movie contract out of the deal.  If I do, I promise to feel happy about it!

Back to Donny... he did indeed get dressed.  He flopped around a little more, whined a lot.  Possibly he fell asleep for a half hour.   Then he dragged himself into the kitchen and made a trio of frozen blueberry waffles which he drenched with Aunt Jamima and snarfed down without the use of utensils.

As he basked in the sticky sweet aftermath, looking satisfied, calm, and happy, I asked him if he felt better.

"Well," he mused, "I feel like I could get my own underpants now."

That's all I want, Readers.