Monday, December 26, 2011

Your input needed: favorite kid/teen books and reading ideas that have worked for you

If you're anything like me, you're in the post-Christmas blahs.  Or will be shortly.  To help you out of the doldrums & give you & your kids something to discuss & contemplate & mull over, YOU CAN HELP ME OUT!!

As the sidebar on this blog indicates, I'll be presenting at UVU's "For the Love of Reading" conference in February.  I'll be sharing ideas & stories about what we can do as moms to help our kids LOVE READING.

I want to provide a stellar "Books Kids & Parents Adore" list for whomever is brave enough to attend my presentation.  I would LOVE to get your ideas of books you & your kids love.  Only list ABSOLUTE FAVORITES (1 or 2 per category) for whichever age categories are relevant to you & your kiddos.  A short blurb about why the books are great would also be helpful.

Here are the basic age categories:

Early Teen
Teens who think they're adults but really aren't quite yet
Reluctant Teen Readers (esp boys)

Also, if you have any  fantastic ideas that have helped instill a  LOVE of READING in your kids (bribes, incentives, fun ideas, etc.) -- PLEASE SHARE!!

Thanks in advance for your help on this.  I'll think of some fantastic prize (hint: it'll probably be a book that I adore...) for the parent (or parents!!) who stun me with their book lists and/or reading ideas. 

How's that for a carrot?

Friday, December 23, 2011

The trouble with elves

Published on (click HERE for the link)

Shortly after Thanksgiving, I arrived home late and noticed a small plate of pretzels on the kitchen table. I thought nothing of it, figuring that dinner clean-up duties had been assigned to a kid who wasn’t what you would call "detail-oriented".

The next morning, my third-grade daughter headed straight to the table, let out a sigh and said, “I guess they don’t like pretzels!”


“Elves. My friends say that if you put out a plate of crackers at night, your elf will come. We’re out of crackers, so I tried pretzels.”

I was aware of the recent trend where elves take up residence with kids before Christmas, but that was all I knew. And since I couldn’t be bothered with elves at such a busy time of year, I told my daughter how sorry I was that the pretzels didn’t work and promptly let the matter drop.

The elf thing would surely blow over.

However, the third-graders at my daughter’s school talked of nothing but elves, toted them to school, discussed elves’ magical properties and swapped tales of elf trickery.

Needless to say, the elf thing did not blow over. It all proved too much for my poor elf-less daughter, so she gave it another go.

The slightly more elaborate table setting included a large plate piled high with peanut-butter crackers, a small tea kettle filled with water, a teacup, a teaspoon and a hand-written letter. A plea, if you will, begging Santa to bring her a pocket elf since she has wanted one ever since she heard about them and hoping they liked peanut-butter crackers.

I did some thinking. I generally ignore my kids when they plead for whatever the latest trend is, arguing that owning one (or several) is necessary for their very survival. For example, my older kids remind me that when every other kid on the planet owned several dozen Neopets, they had exactly zero.

It’s a downright miracle that my kids have managed to survive such shocking deprivations.

But the elf question was a bit more complicated. This is likely the last year that my daughter would be a true Santa believer, and I hated to risk her losing the magic of believing a mere 10 days before Christmas. Plus, telling her the truth about elves would put her in a rather tricky position with her peers, who clearly believed. So I decided to take elf action.

Ella, elf No. 294, wrote my daughter a letter explaining that Santa would be delivering pocket elves the following night, that elves love peanut-butter crackers so please leave them out, and thanks so much for being patient with Santa and the elves at this very busy time of year.

My daughter was all smiles and giddiness and took Ella’s note with her to school so all of her friends would be apprised of her elf delivery schedule.

All that was left for me to do was acquire a pocket elf. Easy peasy.

Several phone calls and store visits and Internet searches revealed the disappointing fact that pocket elves could only be ordered online. And even overnight delivery —which was financially prohibitive — still wouldn’t deliver a pocket elf on schedule. Not a huge deal, though, because I could easily buy an Elf on the Shelf.

An elf is an elf, I reasoned.

So I carefully positioned my daughter’s new Elf on the Shelf and eagerly awaited her reaction the next morning. When she saw the cracker crumbs and empty tea cup, her face was jubilant. But when she spotted the elf peeking down on her from the corner of the kitchen, her face crumpled in despair.

That’s when I discovered that an elf is most definitely not an elf.

Tears ran down her cheeks, “That’s an Elf on the Shelf! Ella said Santa would bring a pocket elf! You can’t even touch an Elf on the Shelf or it will lose its magic. Why didn’t Santa bring what he said he’d bring?”

For the love.

Apparently, I had attached too little importance to the word “pocket.” I managed to convince my daughter that her elf wouldn’t lose its magic if she picked it up (the book says “might” lose its magic if touched, not “will”). I also explained that Santa may not have received Ella’s memo or that he might have gotten a little mixed up at this very busy time of year.

But he always, always means well.

My daughter seemed to understand.

Drying her tears, she brought PB&C (peanut butter and crackers) to school, where several third-graders cautioned her that its magic was in all probability lost forever.

Happily, PB&C’s magic remained intact, and so did my daughter’s belief.

I wondered for the upteenth time since I became a mom if I had made the right call. Sometimes I think it’s a downright miracle that my kids manage to survive me. Regrettably, I don’t always receive memos (like the one instructing me to order a pocket elf right before Thanksgiving). And sometimes I get a little mixed up, especially at very busy times of the year.

But I always, always mean well.

I hope my kids understand.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The year Santa read my blog

Published on (click HERE for the link)
Published for Deseret News (click HERE for the link)
Published on LDSLiving (click HERE for the link)

Noting that her 11-year-old brother was composing his Christmas list, my 9-year-old daughter felt to offer him the following advice, “Here’s my strategy. Make sure that the thing you want the MOST costs LESS than everything else on your list. Then you’ll probably get it.”

My son enthusiastically adopted his sister’s strategy and added several ultra-expensive items to his list.

My kids pretty much have Santa’s number and work every angle possible to persuade him to be a little less thrifty. But when the lists start getting unreasonable and it’s time to throw in a little perspective, I remind my kids about the Christmas Santa came early.

The year 2009 was one of significant financial difficulty for our family. The last few months of the year found us struggling to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, so coming up with extra cash for Christmas was daunting at best.

I explained to the kids that Santa had been hit very hard by the recession, but their comprehension of Santa’s economic difficulties differed widely according to age. My two older sons (ages 8 and 12) offered to split one Lego set between them. My 14-year-old daughter didn’t ask for a single thing, nor did my 4-year-old son, who simply enjoyed the lights and excitement. And my sweet 6-year-old daughter had but one request: a real live puppy.

Although I was glad for the opportunity to focus almost exclusively on the real meaning of Christmas, I struggled with feelings of melancholy throughout the month.

And because I’m a writer, I wrote some sugar-coated blog posts about what was going on.

I left the house early on Christmas Eve morning to run a few last-minute errands. As I pulled into the garage right before 9 a.m., I saw four pairs of legs hopping up and down (the fifth pair, belonging to my 14-year-old, was still in bed).

“Mom! Santa came early! Santa came early!”

The kids, all talking at once, anxiously pulled me into the living room to see the huge pile of gifts that had been deposited on our doorstep shortly before my return home. The accompanying note said:

“Merry Christmas!! Love, Santa (P.S. Sorry that I had to deliver so early — with all the good boys and girls I had to get a head start!)”

I stared in disbelief. Santa hadn’t consulted with me or my husband (as is his usual custom), so we were completely baffled.

The kids had already arranged the gifts into piles according to recipient, and they spent the better part of that day speculating — i.e. shaking the gifts, weighing them, holding them to their ears and the like. I spent the better part of that day reminding the kids that the gifts were to stay firmly wrapped — no “accidentally” torn edges or missing pieces of tape allowed.

And I did some speculating of my own.

There was an extra air of anticipation on Christmas morning, and it didn’t take long to begin opening gifts from Santa.

It didn’t take much longer for me to begin crying.

It’s a given that Santa is all-knowing, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when each gift being opened was perfectly suited for the child opening it. But I was most definitely surprised — it was simply uncanny. And then, as one of my sons opened a tennis racquet and bag of tennis balls, it hit me:

Santa had read my blog!

As I watched each present being opened, I realized that I could link that gift to something I had mentioned in a blog post.

Here’s a sampling of what unfolded (this is far from a comprehensive list — Santa’s generosity was truly astonishing):

I had written about my 14-year-old daughter: is unstoppable in the kitchen and asks for a Jamba Juice every time we drive by the store.

Santa gave her a cookbook and a Jamba Juice gift card.

I had written about my 12-year-old son: loves to read and enjoyed participating in an air soft war at a scout camp.

Santa gave him a book and an air-soft gun.

I had written about my 8-year-old son: loves soccer and has expressed an interest in tennis.

Santa gave him a soccer ball and a tennis racquet.

I had written about my 8-year-old daughter: wants a puppy and her little brother steals her Webkins.

Santa gave her a giant cuddly stuffed puppy and an adorable WebKin pony.

I had written about my 4-year-old son: steals sister’s WebKins and loves trucks.

Santa gave him a dinosaur WebKin and a giant truck.

I was completely overwhelmed and spent the remainder of the day fighting back tears. 

I could only imagine the time and expense Santa must have spent on behalf of each individual member of my family. It felt like someone had given me a gigantic hug, looked me in the eyes and said, “I know your family, and I love your family.” At a time of significant stress and uncertainty, that was exactly what I needed.

The love and concern behind each gift meant even more than the gifts themselves.

Santa has never revealed his identity. But I hope he knows how much magic, joy and wonder he brought into our home that Christmas.

We will never forget.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Turkeys, transmissions and giving thanks

With all the turkey talk he’s heard lately, my barely-six-year old son has been thinking things over. All that thought resulted in a realization he was eager to share with me, “Mom! Guess what? There are two kinds of turkeys -- the kind you eat, and the animal kind!”

And so I had to do more talking of a more delicate kind, the kind that’s difficult to swallow for a sweet 6-year-old idealist.

The fact that my son’s thoughts revolve around the Thanksgiving table spread reflects the painful reality that I, once again, have been caught up in letting guest accommodation and menu planning details eclipse the original purpose of remembering to give thanks.

In an effort to re-prioritize, I’ve been discussing gratitude with my kids. As soon as we shifted from talking about things to talking about people, one person came to everyone’s mind: Jeff, the service manager at Christian Brothers Automotive in Flower Mound, Texas.

Here’s why.

In August, I set out on a 22-hour road trip with a van full of kids. My husband was planning on joining us a week later for a family reunion. Our transmission died a mere six hours into the trip, leaving us stranded in 100+ degree heat next to a corn field just outside of Amarillo, TX.

Since our transmission had been rebuilt by our local highly-respected and trusted service station, we were surprised. And because it had only been four months since the repair, we were upset. To make matters infinitely worse, we discovered just before the close of business at the end of that long and frustrating day that transmissions were the single line item not covered under our service station’s warranty.

In retrospect, we should have read all the fine print and asked more questions before authorizing the repair. But as it stood, we found ourselves in quite a pickle. The only solutions we could think of -- paying for another transmission, purchasing or renting another vehicle or flying to our destination -- far exceeded our vacation budget and seemed impossible.

With the help of a hotel employee, I managed to figure out a way for the kids to have fun that night despite the stress. But after the kids were asleep, I cried. I had no idea what we were going to do come morning.

Jeff, the manager of our local service station, came to our rescue in several unexpected ways. The first step he took was to have our van towed to a franchise location of their shop in Amarillo, where mechanics worked on it for several hours.

After multiple phone calls over the course of the day, Jeff wasn’t convinced that the shop in Amarillo had thoroughly solved the mechanical issues, so he urged us to drive back so he could have his own transmission mechanic take a look.

It was the last thing on this planet I wanted to do, but we loaded back into the van and drove the six long hours back that night.

Jeff was waiting for us at the service station. The first thing he said was, “I called everyone in my prayer group last night and asked them to pray that you and your van full of kids would get back safely.”

When the van was finally properly diagnosed, repaired and ready to be picked up, I was worried about the final bill. But when I walked into the shop, all that Jeff handed me were the keys. He had absorbed every single expense. There had been nothing -- either written or implied -- that required him to lift a finger for us. But he did it anyway.

I stumbled over my words, trying to articulate how much I appreciated what he had done for us. Jeff looked me in the eyes and simply said, “It was the right thing to do.”

I’m profoundly grateful that my kids experienced Jeff’s generosity first-hand. In honor of Jeff and so many other kind-hearted people in this world, our family is currently making plans to pay it forward in our own small way during this holiday season.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The scratched eye that helped me see clearly

Published on (click HERE for the link)

A birthday letter to my 16-year-old daughter thanking her (in a manner of speaking) for being super smart, super bossy, and getting scratched in the eye. In other words, thanking her for being absolutely fabulous.

Dear Daughter,

It’s always been easier for me to nag you about things I think you should change than it is for me to recognize and acknowledge everything that is wonderful and amazing about you. So in honor of your 16th birthday, I want you to understand how truly fabulous I think you are.

First off, you are super smart. Which is great, but I have spent many a night on my knees, praying that you will be able to combine that intelligence with wisdom and channel it in a positive direction. Because I often see you being smart (but not necessarily wise) and outwitting siblings or winning debates regardless of whether you’re technically “right,” it’s not always easy for me to detect positive progress.

But recently, your high school biology teacher chose you to receive an award for excellence. She wrote the following to explain why she chose you:

"(Your daughter) is a joy to have in class. She is always willing to help anyone I ask her to with their work and does so with a positive attitude. More importantly, she is self-confident and stands out by making good choices and decisions regardless of what other kids around her are doing."

Reading those words helped me take a step back, see you from someone else’s perspective and begin to understand who you are becoming. I can’t imagine a better use of intelligence and wisdom than what you displayed in your biology class.

Secondly, you can be bossy. When you were 8 years old, your grandpa watched you playing with your brother and said, “I grew up with a bossy sister and I sure feel sorry for him!” I did too, to be honest, and have tried over the years to help you curb that tendency. Sometimes, when I hear you barking orders at your siblings —who generally comply because you’re cool and they like you — I wonder if there has been any progress at all since you were 8 years old.

But then your Sunday school teacher stopped me in the hall at church to tell me how much she appreciates having you in her class. I listened with interest as she explained that you are a great leader because you always stay on task and encourage the other kids — who generally comply because you’re cool and they like you — to stay on task as well.

Again, hearing what your teacher had to say helped me take a step back, see you from someone else’s perspective and understand who you are becoming. I can’t imagine a better use of leadership skills — sometimes known as bossiness — than what you show in your Sunday school class.

Lastly, you possess a will of iron that often refuses to bend. I have definitely lost the most sleep over this through the years, and wonder if and when you’ll decide that it’s OK to admit weakness or vulnerability — that it’s OK to ask for help when you need it.

During a recent family vacation, something terribly painful lodged itself in your eye. It was late at night, so we decided to see if it was still there in the morning before taking you in. Crying (which for you is so very rare), you curled up in bed beside me and I moved to turn out the light so you could sleep. But you stopped me and said, “Mom, I hate to ask, but could you read me something from the scriptures?”

Your pain was intense — the doctor later explained it was excruciating because a tiny piece of glass scratched your cornea each time you blinked — yet you still had the fortitude to ask me to read so that you could keep your goal of reading daily. I can’t say that I would have done the same under similar circumstances.

By the time I was done reading, you were asleep and I was the one crying.

I cried because I couldn’t imagine a better use of wisdom and willpower — sometimes known as unbending will — than asking for help to reach a goal that simply couldn’t be reached alone.

I cried because I understood how lucky I am to have a daughter who is becoming someone with incredible willpower, intelligence and wisdom, and who is on the road to being an inspiring leader.

And I cried because I realized how much I have already learned and how much more I can still learn from you.

You are beautiful, fabulous, wonderful and amazing. I love you.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Review: "You're Next" by Gregg Hurwitz

Book review: 'You're Next' serves up heart-stopping thrills and first-rate chills

Published: Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT
"YOU'RE NEXT," by Gregg Hurwitz, St. Martin's Press, $24.99, 407 pages (f)

Raised in foster care under difficult circumstances, Mike Wingate has defied all odds to build a successful life for himself. Mike is married to the woman of his dreams and has a beautiful 8-year-old daughter. The construction company he owns is on the brink of completing a popular "green" housing development, the proceeds from which promise to land Mike and his family on solid financial footing.
But a past that has remained dormant since his father abandoned him at a playground at the age of 4 suddenly resurfaces. Shady characters begin threatening Mike, leaving him confused and searching frantically for answers. Mike soon discovers that their sinister threat, "You're next," is both immediate and life-threatening for him and his family.

As the horrific truth continues to unfold in Gregg Hurwitz's novel "You're Next," Mike finds it necessary to utilize all the survival techniques he relied on during his teenage years — including enlisting the help of his best friend who is a convicted felon — to save all that he holds dear.

"You're Next" contains graphic violence including descriptions of torture and a moderate amount of swear words. A few brief sexual encounters are described without gratuitous details.

Once the mystery behind the threats becomes evident, the storyline might feel somewhat implausible. If this thought should surface, it will likely be fleeting. By this point in the book, the mystery and suspense and pure terror of what Mike is experiencing is riveting enough that the credibiliy of the plot will be of minor conseqence.

Hurwitz proves himself a master of suspense, dread and extreme terror. "You're Next" is also beautifully written, heartbreaking and emotionally riveting.

It is physically and emotionally exhausting to race through the pages of "You're Next," hoping against all hope and logic that Mike will defy impossible odds to save and protect the happiness he has worked so diligently to secure for his family.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Contest to re-name my column and blog is under way!

Ok, so I have to rename my column and blog.  I won't go into details, but it has to do with trademark issues that I was blissfully unaware of up until a few weeks ago.

Ignorance really can be bliss.

Other than the fact that I now have to carefully check into registered trademarks and copyrights before officially deciding on a name, I'm at a complete loss.

Should the title include my name?

Should it have a reference to moms?

Should I try to make it funny?


I shouldn't stress about it, but I am.

I'm taking any and all suggestions, serious or otherwise.

I can't wait to hear all of your collective creative genius ideas!!

As of Friday morning, here are the ideas I've received (via Facebook & the column):

Close to Home
Legal Trademom Issue (perfect reference to the legal headache :)
Sensical Susie
Momsters Inc.
You Dropped a Mom on Me
Mom and Jerry
Mom Sequitur
The Mommy Brain
Welcome to My World

Keep the great ideas coming . . .

Toilet clogs sale of home

Published on (click HERE for the link)

After months of unemployment, my husband had finally landed an out-of-state job. I was thrilled that he was gainfully employed, but staying behind with five kids while we tried to sell our home in a down market was taxing at best.

Three months into this adventure, I received a phone call one day at 2 p.m. to inform me that prospective buyers would be coming to look at our house between 5:00 and 6:00 that same evening. Three hours wasn’t much time to prepare a house for a showing, but my kids could help when they got home from school.

No problem.

Putting a positive spin on the situation, I enthusiastically announced to the kids that this was their lucky day. Not only did they get to clean their rooms and bathrooms instead of doing homework or practicing piano, but I would also be taking them out to dinner that night.

The response was less than enthusiastic.

While I cleaned, scrubbed, dusted, vacuumed and moved breakable items to their "showing" positions, the kids seemed oddly quiet. So I went upstairs to check.

Small problem.

Their rooms still in complete disarray, all my kids were in my room quietly watching TV. With a positive smile, I found it necessary to crack the whip.

Time had almost completely run out when I discovered that the boys had never vacuumed their room.

"What's this all over your floor? Pencil shavings? Pistachio shells?"

"Mom, you're overreacting! It’s not like they won’t want to buy our house because of pistachio shells!"

Call me a neat freak, but I made them vacuum. And the last thing I did before we left to go eat was spray all the bathrooms with air freshener. There’s nothing worse than bathrooms that don’t smell fresh.

In the event that our lookers were running late, I carefully timed our arrival back home to be 10 full minutes past 6:00. The kids dispersed, and I was finally able to relax.

Five minutes later, I answered a loud knock at the door and found the prospective buyers and their Realtor standing on my front porch.

Somewhat larger problem.

"Did you just get home?" the Realtor asked, smiling.

It took a great deal of effort to smile as I said, "Yep, but I'll gather the troops and we'll be out of here as soon as we can!”

Unfortunately, gathering the troops proved difficult. I ran into three pretty big problems.

After some searching, I ascertained that three of my children were attending to certain business on three different toilets. “Hurry up!” only goes so far when trying to rush such business.

Needless to say, three of my bathrooms smelled less than fresh when we finally exited the house.

I was washing my face in my bathroom that night when my oldest daughter stomped in. "I need to use your toilet. Someone clogged the toilet in the hall bathroom and it's soooooo disgusting!"

I froze, water dripping down my arms.

"Was the lid up or down?"

"I don’t know. Up, I think."

Largest and most horrific problem of all — so large, in fact, that I crawled into bed and went to sleep.

Not surprisingly, that showing did not result in an offer on our house. The reasons for this could have ranged anywhere from the smallish family room to the corner lot to the outdated light fixtures. But I like to say it was the clogged toilet.

Because in the end – after a good night’s sleep has helped us find perspective – some of our most stressful of days and largest of problems turn out to be the ones we laugh at the most.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I used to be a great mom

Published on (click HERE for the link)

I used to be such a great mom. I stand in awe of my former self.
My young kids were always in bed by 7:30 p.m. because I knew how important it is for developing brains to get a sufficient amount of sleep. They only watched G-rated movies, also on account of developing brains. And they definitely, definitely listened exclusively to brain- boosting music. Mostly classical and kids, but occasionally ’80s when nostalgia set in.

Wow was I good.

Things have changed since then — quite radically, I’m afraid. My former self would be dismayed with the shenanigans that go on at my house these days.

I find myself reading bedtime stories at 9:30 p.m. on school nights to my young kids. When my husband is unavailable, I sometimes have to be at an event with an older kid until then. Such bedtimes would have been unthinkable to my former self.

Out of the dozens of movies shown on the car’s DVD system during our most recent 22-hour road trip, not one of them was rated G (just to clarify, none of them were rated R either). Squeaky wheels simply get more grease at times. My former self would have been indignant, insisting that I give each child equal consideration and think of developing brains for gosh sakes.

I actually thought it was pretty sweet that I got to listen to “Napoleon Dynamite” twice on that trip.

I knew my younger children’s tastes in music were being shaped by their teenage siblings, but what I didn’t realize is how far the pendulum had swung. One day, I was in the car with only one kid in tow when I heard a loud voice, totally on key and in tempo, belting out:
“Hey soul sister
Ain’t that mister mister
On the radio, stereo
The way you move ain’t fair you know
Hey soul sister
I don’t wanna miss
A single thing you do

I looked around to make sure that I didn’t have any surprise stowaways. Nope. Just the one. My youngest, age 4.

A few days later, I heard the same voice singing these stirring words:
“I wanna be a billionaire
So freakin’ bad
Buy all of the things I never had …”

Perhaps things had gone too far.

“Hey,” I said the next day when all five kids were in the car, “let’s help your younger brother learn a kid song!”

Blank stares.

“Come on, don’t you remember all those songs we used to sing all the time?”

The next several seconds were silent as we (including me, to be completely honest) tried to think of such a song. We finally hit upon “Wheels on the Bus,” managing to remember more than one verse. My son eventually caught on and sang the last few chords, “… all through the town!”

My 4-year-old officially knew one kid song. Not much to brag about, but it's something.

Four days later, he ran through the house, singing at the top of his lungs:
“Baby, are you down, down, down, down, down
Do-ow-ow-ow-n, Do-ow-ow-ow-n
Even if the sky is falling down
Do-ow-ow-ow-n, Do-ow-ow-ow-n”

I’m as concerned as I ever was about my kids’ developing brains. Every year, though, I understand just a little more that the parameters, requirements and demands of being a good mom are constantly shifting and changing — right along with my kids. This would have been virtually impossible for me to truly understand back in the days when all my kids were snugly tucked into bed by 7:30 p.m.

I guess “Wheels on the Bus” didn't take.

And I’m so OK with that.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Step it up!

Published on (click HERE for the link)

I’m always encouraging my kids to try new things. So once I had more or less figured out the cycling and Pilates classes at my gym, I decided it was time for me to follow my own advice and try something different. The following description of a step aerobics class caught my eye:

Step/Interval: Step it up! By varying intensity levels with intervals, you'll use the large muscles in the legs to burn fat and calories. Using hand weights for added resistance, you'll also build and strengthen your upper body! Great all around workout!

I looked carefully for any small print about needing previous stepping experience but found none. Burning fat and calories sounded promising, the class fit my schedule and I had learned how to fly under the radar in gym classes in case things proved too difficult. So I decided to give it a go.

I mean, how bad could it be?

Seconds after Pat Benatar belted out her first, “Hit me with your best shot,” I found out how bad it could be. Things were already proving too difficult, and I realized that it is categorically impossible to fly under the radar in step/interval classes on account of the thousands of lights and hundreds of mirrors.

I came very close to leaving right after the first song, but I thought about how great it would be to tell my kids the story of their mom trying a new class, so I stayed.

And thus commenced the single most humiliating hour of my life.

You see, I ran into a few complications.

The first was understanding the instructor.

With startling volume and precision, she started barking orders like, “Around the World,” “Corner to Corner,” “Grapevine,” “Helicopter” and “Mambo Cha-Cha-Cha.” Other than surmising that she was calling dance step names, I was at a complete loss.

The second was actually performing the steps.

I was surrounded by ladies who appeared to have mastered stepping right along with drinking out of sippy cups. Following them could have been within reach if not for the insanely fast tempo. Before I had observed and was able to execute one simple turn, the steppers had jumped, kicked and twirled a minimum of a half dozen times before returning to starting position. Where I still happened to be.

The third complication involved the full-length mirrors adhered to both the front and back walls.

Picture yourself watching dancers moving together in perfect sync on a stage. If one of them steps out of sync, it jolts you out of your revere, compelling you — almost against your will — to watch that dancer exclusively from that point on. With a sympathetic tongue click or two, you feel embarrassed for the poor thing and wonder why she ever got on stage in the first place.

Now picture yourself as that poor thing, only this particular dance lasts for 60 excruciating minutes.

My only respite was when we did intervals on the mat. I have never been so thrilled to do sit-ups and push-ups and lunges in all my life. But the intervals would inevitably end too soon, leaving ample time for more humiliation.

Despite my plans to skedaddle out of there the minute class ended, I was caught in a bottleneck at the door. Looking straight ahead, I avoided all eye contact, especially with the stepper be-bopping her way in my direction.

"You did a good job today! You really did," she said to me, huge smile on her face.

I’m no step aerobics expert, but I suspect she was sugar-coating the truth. Dozens of steppers in that room had performed beautifully that day, and I was most certainly not one of them. Her well-intentioned comment proved helpful in that it confirmed what I already feared: my disastrous stepping debut had been witnessed and noted by every single smiling stepper in that classroom.

Mercifully, Pat Benatar and the Bee Gees had drowned out the sounds of sympathetic tongue clicking.

I still encourage my kids to try new things. But if they try something and decide it might not be the best fit, I’m willing to listen.

Having been there myself, I completely understand.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: A Bitter Truth

Third Bess Crawford mystery, 'A Bitter Truth,' offers strong characters, intriguing plot

Published for Deseret News (click HERE for the link)

"A BITTER TRUTH," by Charles Todd, HarperCollins Publishers, $24.99, 340 pages (f)

Nurse Bess Crawford returns home to London for a well-deserved Christmas leave from the front lines of World War I only to find a lovely young woman, shivering and scared, seeking shelter in her doorway. Bess invites her inside and discovers an ugly bruise across her face as well as signs of a concussion.

By deciding to help her new friend in distress, Bess enters a world of family tragedies and long-held secrets. When a family friend is found murdered, Bess is plunged into a murder investigation in which she becomes one of the prime suspects.

Her untiring efforts to aid her friend and discover the killer’s identity before she becomes the next victim lead Bess to find both an ally and the truth in the most unlikely places.

Charles Todd, a mother-and-son writing team, combines believable characters, gut-wrenching suspense and a sobering commentary on the ravages of war in the third Bess Crawford mystery, “A Bitter Truth.”

The book transports readers to war-torn England and France in 1917, where soldiers suffer and often die despite the best efforts of doctors and nurses. Those who survive bring home emotional baggage, with the consequences of their actions while at war following them home.

“A Bitter Truth” describes injuries and death from war, discusses an illegitimate affair that results in the birth of a child and contains a few mild swear words. Charles Todd employs discretion with these adult themes, avoiding gratuitous language and detailed descriptions.

Readers familiar with the Bess Crawford series will find “A Bitter Truth” at least as engaging, if not more so, than her previous two mysteries. The characters in the book are believable and interesting in that they show a complex range of changing and conflicting emotions. Bess proves smart, sincere and as good a sleuth as she is a nurse.

In all of its complexity, the book can be confusing at times. Some passages beg re-reading as a means of clarification, especially in the final chapters as the story reaches its conclusion.

Overall, readers will enjoy the complex characters, significant amount of intrigue and the surprising conclusion offered in “A Bitter Truth.”

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The trivialities that lead to a parent's undoing

Published for KSL.con (click HERE for the link)

I watched my dad open the box on his dresser, looking for the fingernail clippers I had asked to borrow. He had hesitated — much longer than such a simple request warranted — and had agreed only under the condition that the clippers never leave his sight.

This strange behavior should have induced me to hightail it out of the room, but instead, I stayed to observe my dad's temporary undoing. Discovering that the clippers were not in the box, Dad began to twitch, rant, fume, gesture and utter strange noises.

Dad had officially fallen off his rocker.

Over a pair of nail clippers? Ridiculous. I was 12, and I promised my future children right then and there that I would never fly off the handle over such trivialities.

In hindsight, that particular promise may have been a bit rash.

It began subtly, the disappearance of stuff. Scissors. Tape. Pens and pencils. At first, I attributed it to the onset of senility. But when the misplaced items were recovered in places such as kids’ bedrooms, my suspicions shifted and I forced myself to face the truth that my kids were less than perfect.

So I took action.

Lovingly, I explained to the kids why items needed to be returned to their rightful places after use. The next week, an entire box of markers disappeared.

Sternly, I laid out the consequences should particular things not be found in their proper places. Soon afterwards, my daughter came in the house wielding a spoon and knife she had found partially buried under a tree in the backyard.

Menacingly, I attached larger penalties to specific infractions. A few weeks later, upon opening the hatch of my Suburban in the Target parking lot, I found one of our cordless phones on the rear bumper. How it hadn't fallen off in transit I'll never know.

Regrettably, "leaving phones on car bumpers" hadn’t been on the list of infractions.

I started to put items in impossible-to-access places. Kids accessed them. I hid things, only to have them found by resourceful search parties.

I refused to replace the Scotch tape. We actually went without it until I decided I was a little embarrassed to send kids to birthday parties toting gifts accessorized with packing tape. It was a pride thing.

I even offered duplicates. My teenage daughter received both a hair dryer and flat iron for Christmas, leaving me puzzled when mine went missing again so quickly. Turns out I hadn't figured quality into the equation. If the replacements aren't of equal or greater value to the original items, they are of no practical use to the recipients.

My patience finally disappeared along with my makeup. Seconds before reaching the end of my rope, I had an idea.

I decided that my daughter needed the gift of make-up for her birthday. Not just any make-up, but make-up that was better than mine. As luck would have it, this wouldn’t be hard on the budget since I spend next to nothing on cosmetics.

I congratulated myself for such a genius idea and watched my daughter transform in front of the bathroom mirror, testing various makeup shades and application techniques.

A week later, my favorite eye shadow was not in its drawer. Or any other drawer. Or purse. Or anywhere else I looked.

Twitching, I stepped into the hallway, walking in a trance towards my oldest daughter's room. I began to rant, fume, gesture and even utter strange noises.

I had officially come undone.

Even in this altered state, I remained lucid enough to notice my children's wide eyes peeking out from their bedroom doors. I was suddenly 12 years old again, watching my own dad's unhinging. Feeling utterly sheepish, I had two startling realizations.

One, I finally understood my dad's nail clipper episode.

Two, I knew exactly what my children were thinking.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Helping your children understand 9/11

Published on (click HERE for the link)

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was walking in the door from grocery shopping when my sister-in-law called, said, “Turn on your TV,” and hung up.

Seconds later, I watched live footage of United Airlines Flight 175 crash into the south tower of the World Trade Center. Since United Airlines Flight 11 had hit the north tower just 16 minutes before, cameras were already rolling.

Horrified, I knew that the world would never quite be the same.

I watched hour after hour of news coverage. I cried. I hugged my kids. I called my husband and parents and grandparents to tell them I loved them. When I learned that my brother had taken a flight out of Boston (the origin of Flight 11) that same morning, I cried some more.

In an effort to assuage my feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability, I joined thousands of others and donated time and money to organizations that were formed to aid victims and rebuild lives. I spent even more time and mental energy learning about the victims and the reasons and motivations behind the attacks.

I observed as political divisiveness all but disappeared, making room for solidarity and patriotism. As a nation, we prayed together despite religious differences. Countless examples of unselfishness, resiliency and hope moved me to tears.

I vowed to never forget.

A few days before Sept. 11 last year, my seven-year-old daughter walked in the door from second grade and said to me, “Mom, did you know that some bad guys flew airplanes into two really tall buildings in New York City and killed lots of people? And that the bad guys even died when they crashed into the buildings?”

My heart sank as I saw the fear and confusion in her eyes. I realized that as far as my kids knew, I had all but forgotten.

On Sept. 11, 2001, three of my children were under the age of six and two had yet to be born. Sept. 11 is nothing but a page out of history to them — unless I help make it otherwise. I had done my children a huge disservice by not preparing them for what would undoubtedly be discussed or at least mentioned by teachers, other kids and adults.

I vowed to do better.

Since this year marks the 10th anniversary of the attacks, news coverage and discussions will be abundant.

Following some of Dr. Harold Koplewicz’s suggestions in his article “A Decade Later: Talking to Kids About 9/11” (, I plan on having individual, age-appropriate discussions with my kids. I won’t shy away from the basic facts, but I will decide what kind of details, footage and news coverage to share with each child.

I’ll explain that many ordinary Americans reacted to the attacks with extraordinary unselfishness. Some of these inspiring accounts can be found in this lesson prepared by Constitution Rights Foundation Chicago titled, “Good Citizens in a Time of Emergency” (

I want my kids to understand that it's possible for millions of diverse individuals to set aside their differences and work toward a common good. And that demonstrating unselfishness, resiliency and hope can improve and change countless lives, including our own.

I'll try to explain all these things, but I’m sure that these talks with my kids won’t all go perfectly. I’ll be far from ideal as a discussion moderator, some of my kids won’t seem to care very much, and at least one of them will probably become exceedingly worked up about the terrorist acts themselves.

But it’s worth my best efforts, because remembering 9/11 is simply too important to forget.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Picture perfect

Posted on (click HERE for the link)

Two things by way of preface:  (1) I owe my daughter big time for letting me post her pic with this story, and (2) I have since changed to outdoor pictures with a professional photographer.

Expecting nothing but junk, I was surprised to find a picture of my daughter in the far back corner of my junk drawer. I put it in the middle of the kitchen island and waited in giddy anticipation for her to come home from middle school. And because my daughter’s best friend happened to be with her, the ensuing drama far exceeded my expectations.

As soon as they spotted the picture, both girls lunged for it. My daughter was a split-second behind her friend and proceeded to chase her through the house in what proved to be a futile retrieval attempt.

Knowing that her friend was intent on widely distributing the picture at school the next day, my daughter stomped back into the kitchen and demanded, “Why did you ever let me wear those clothes for a picture? I look awful. Seriously, Mom, what were you thinking?”

“Interesting you should ask, Sweetheart. Do you remember that day?”

The poor girl suffered from selective memory loss, so I helped out by reminding her.

Once a year, I drag my kids to the picture studio. Since the pictures are framed and displayed on the same wall, I figure that coordinating clothing should be the minimum requirement for pictures.

When my daughter was 11 years old, I had opted for pastel golf shirts of varying colors. And since my daughter was huge on making her own decisions, the two golf shirts hanging in her closet would actually give her a choice.


Until she got wind of the wardrobe plans. It was so horribly unfair, she asserted, that I always told her what to do and never ever let her make her own decisions. Plus the shirts were simply horrible.

I felt I had the right to tell her what to wear once a year for a picture. She took exception.

My other kids were already buckled in the car and we were ridiculously late for our appointment, so I finally laid down the law. I watched her pull on a golf shirt, angrily run a comb through her hair and fight back tears.

I had won.

But the victory felt empty, more like defeat.

“Pick your battles,” I often remind myself. Coordinated wall photos were so worth fighting for. Plus I couldn’t back down, thereby showing my daughter that I’d give in if she threw a big enough fit.

Yet something told me to rethink my position. So I did, reluctantly.

I looked into my daughter’s beautiful eyes, swallowed some tears along with a chunk of home d├ęcor pride, and said, “You know what, sweetie? It doesn’t matter. You can wear whatever you want. I’ll be in the car with the other kids, so please hurry.”

A few minutes later, my daughter climbed into the car wearing boy jeans and a black long-sleeved running shirt. She wore a huge smile in the pictures, the black standing out in marked contrast amongst all that pastel.

Once her memory had sufficiently been jogged, my daughter was at a complete loss for words. She smiled sheepishly at me and apologized for being a brat.

She got it, irony and all.

Of course that didn’t stop her from begging her friend to cough up the picture in exchange for a snack. Fortunately for my daughter, her friend was hungry enough to take the bribe. The awful picture would never see the inside of their middle school.

To me, though, the picture is anything but awful. It reminds me that digging in my heels as a mom doesn’t always produce optimal results. In this case, stepping aside produced a picture that is perfect in every important way.

I wouldn’t trade that black T-shirt picture for a picture of my daughter wearing a pastel golf shirt. Not in a million years, not even for a million bucks.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thermos flushing

Published for Motherhood Matters on (click HERE for the link)

Every day at lunch in elementary school, I watched in wonderment as kids clicked open their beautifully embossed "Bionic Woman," "Incredible Hulk" or "Dukes of Hazard" lunchboxes and removed such delicacies as store-bought white bread sandwiches, chip bags and cream-filled pastries.

I would have given my left pinkie for a lunch like that.

Keenly aware of what my own lunch contained, I would strategically delay opening it until everyone appeared sufficiently distracted. I would then place my old, outdated lunchbox in my lap, take a lightning-quick bite of my sandwich and return it to my lap while chewing.

Lightning-quick was usually too slow.

Some curious kid would stare at my sandwich and ask, "What IS that?"

With as much swagger as I could muster, I would maturely reply, “A sandwich, duh.”

Yet it was a legitimate question. My mom baked 100 percent whole red wheat bread and rarely gave the yeast enough time to do its job. So my bread was a good 20 shades darker, two inches shorter and an inch thicker (because if you didn't cut it thick enough it would fall apart) than store-bought white bread, making it virtually unrecognizable to your typical elementary school kid.

I learned to cope with sandwich difficulties, but the fallout from my Thermos proved too much.

Since the family budget didn’t allow for cafeteria lunches, my mom felt duty-bound to provide hot meals on occasion. This was gallant in theory but painful in practice. No matter how far under the table I would hold my Thermos of lukewarm goulash or casserole while opening it, the odor would immediately permeate the air.

Kids would wrinkle their noses and ask, “What is that SMELL?”

Swagger is rather difficult to muster under such circumstances.

After years of recurring Thermos-opening angst, I decided that enough was enough. At the beginning of lunch one day, I casually walked into the restroom and flushed the entire contents of my Thermos down the toilet.

It was exhilarating.

Thenceforth, I Thermos flushed on a regular basis. It was going swimmingly until the day I emerged from the bathroom stall, empty Thermos in hand, and came face to face with my little sister.

I froze, carefully watching her reaction. Blackmailing possibilities were endless, to be sure. But my sister was too clever to be so short-sighted. She thought through the issue and understood its life-changing significance.

She, too, could Thermos flush, forever freeing herself from Thermos-opening angst. This was infinitely better than blackmailing her sister for the rest of eternity.

But my sister also realized that this freedom was assured only if Mom never, ever found out. If she knew about the flushing, Mom might do something unthinkable like station herself at both of our lunch tables to watch us eat every last bite of goulash.

So my sister and I became co-conspirators, flushing dozens — possibly hundreds — of lukewarm meals down the toilet during our remaining years of elementary school.

Fast forward several decades.

Technically, my kids have to make their own lunches. In reality, I frequently stand beside them and drop healthy food into their lunches since they often “forget” to do it themselves.

As my kids walk out the door and I remind them I love them and to please eat everything in their lunches, I know darn well that some apples or carrots or nuts or raisins will get thrown away.

But here’s what I’m banking on.

My kids will always feel somewhat guilty about their Thermos flushing.

My sister and I did.

My kids will understand at some point that no matter what their mom put in their lunches, she did it out of love.

My sister and I did.

Years later, my kids will blurt out a confession, apologize, and thank their mom for all the lunches over the years.

My sister and I did.