Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Trip to Las Vegas: Service Fees, Spas and Schlongs

My favorite place to start my period is on an airplane.

Wait. Let me start over....

I'm a fan of birthdays: someone you love survived another year, there is the buying and giving of gifts, cake is shoved into your cramhole, and if you are lucky, there is a party... or an entire week of partying.

This year was my sister's 40th and to celebrate, she invited me and my bestay (bestie gay friend) to Las Vegas.

Naturally, we both said, "FUCK YES."

Then came the big question- what I going to wear in Vegas?
After careful consideration, I decided on anything that goes with my rhinestone  'Oh Shit' pin, including my $2.45 Pink Floyd t-shirt from the little boys' sale rack at Macy's. Sometimes it pays to have the chest of a 12 year old child.

This is my bestay and my Oh Shit pin.
Bestay courtesy of college. Oh Shit courtesy of the fabulous Jen e sais quoi.

When I asked my sister where she wanted to stay, her answer came fast, "At the Excalibur. That is where The Thunder from Down Under performs."

Know your priorities, folks.

So together, me in my 'Oh Shit' pin and my sis in her rockin' skinny jeans, we boarded the airplane for Nevada and the rest was history... or herstory in this case.

Chapter 1
The Greatest Gift

Even though I had already purchased and sent my older sis a birthday gift, I continued to lovingly gift her a variety of things throughout our Sin City trip. Upon our arrival at our not-so-luxurious-$27/night accommodations, we were immediately swept aside and promised a "free gift". My OLDER sister and I stood at a service desk, trapped by the geriatric salesman behind the counter. He wanted us to donate a mere two hours of our time to tour a new hotel. For only three hours of our attention, we could listen to more pushy salespeople tell us about a new location in which we should spend our money. For no more than the better part of a day, we could get a "great discount" on tickets to local shows. When he magically inflated the original price of said tickets at the counter, the savings were quite phenomenal. For a mere contract in blood and all of our free time away from our families, we could eat free two-day old bagels and tell everyone we knew about the wonderful new Las Vegas hotel! What a fantastic deal!

I didn't know how we were going to get away. I could see my sister, a time-share owner in Twiddlefuck, Missouri, getting sucked into his pitch. Then it happened and my escape route was paved in gold.

The salesman looked at my older sister and I, pointed at me first and asked, "Are you two mother and daughter?" He glanced back at the shocked look on my face and tried to amend his question with, "Not that you look old...."

I flatly responded with, "You just lost your sale." Then I turned on my boot heel and made a silent vow to get a facial STAT. I also immediately considered cutting bangs to hide my etched forehead. I could feel my sister's glee as she whispered to the gargoyle, "We may be back later."

You couldn't have dragged me back there with a team of mules and a log chain.

When she caught up with me, I said to her, "Happy Birthday!" I continued, "That's the best present I could ever give you. He either thinks that you look 21 and I was loose in high school, or I look motherfucking 65. In any account, you win and I lose."

Her youthful, wrinkle-free face was glowing in a way that was familiar to me. It was reminiscent of the other time some random douchenugget thought I was her mother. That's what I get for choosing to have children with a man who snores and eats bananas loudly.

From that moment on, I decided to tell everyone that I was her mother, because while I may look like ass for 38, I look damn fine for 65.

Here's to my abused old liver and wrinkled face.

We checked into our room and discovered that the "great deal" that we found online wasn't quite so great when the hotel tacked on an additional $18 service fee per day. That was only the beginning of our experience with service fees in Vegas. The motto should really be, "What happens in Vegas is a hangover and a 20% service fee!" But I suppose if people knew that in advance they may not fly to Nevada.

Chapter 2
Vagina Envy

I have never said or heard the word "vagina"  more in my life then when I was in Las Vegas. I blame the gay man. Mostly because he was the one doing all the talking about vaginas. I don't know if it was my period or the billboards of someone's daughters posing sexy in a g-string that created the atmosphere of vagina speak. Some things will always be a mystery.

Vagina Vagina Vagina


The word was spoken in our hotel room more than at a lesbian gynecological convention.


Many women, who have a vagina, wear makeup during the day. At night, most of those women wash off said makeup. Sometimes a washcloth is used for the makeup removal and left near the sink. The washcloth is then soiled with the makeup. At that exact moment, somewhere in Mississippi a woman starts a load of laundry.

Gay man enters the bathroom:

He exclaims, "Why is this washcloth moldy???? Oh my Gawd, is that BLOOD?"

Cue laughter from women, "It's not MOLDY... and it's not BLOOD."

Gay man asks, "Then what IS IT???"

My daughter answers, "It's makeup. Why? What did you think it was?"

Confused gay man says, "I thought it was vaginal."

End scene.

Chapter 3
Blunder from Down Under

The time had come for us to purchase our tickets to The Thunder From Down Under. We found a coupon, which was cancelled out by the service fee. For only $51.65 (weird how geriatric insult man told us the tickets were $100 apiece!) we could see Australian hotties defrock and dance. But we were not to tip them, because that would be insulting.

Of course.

We walked into the darkened viewing area, found our table and ordered drinks. Everyone ordered vodka except me. I ordered seltzer because I was bloated and gassy from dinner of chicken and artichoke hearts. It's part of my charm. Then the men entered from Stage left and began their routine which involved a lot of pointing and reminded me of cops directing traffic.

Just as the giant billboards all over Vegas promised, all of the blokes were fine, indeed. They looked as if they spent three hours a day lifting weights and ate nothing but protein shakes and edible underwear. Carved from stone, they were. "Bodies by Nautilus", for sure. Except one guy. He came out with bags under his eyes, scrawny arms and something of a beer gut. Who knows, maybe he also had the chicken and artichoke hearts at the restaurant next door, but I suspect it was something else. I had seen that look before. I think he had been working hard at his "Body by Alcohol".

I said to my bestay, "What is going on with that guy? He looks like he hasn't slept in four days and snorted a bunch of coke right before the show."

My bestay wrinkled his nose and said, "He looks like he would smell bad."

Still, that didn't stop us from enjoying the show. For an hour we were treated to dudes jumping around the stage in banana hammocks while flexing their muscles and teasing us with gyrating hindquarters. The Aussies brought joy to the lives of many women that night, particularly the four sour-faced, elderly Asian ladies at the table next to us. It was a blessed event to see those women smile. Those rollicking schlongs brought sunshine to their cloudy skies.

I won't divulge details, you'll have to see for yourself, but I will say that "Body by Alcohol" smelled fine when I kissed him on the cheek. Clearly, I have no boundaries. We all remember the Naked Cowboy debacle.

Then I shelled out a $20 service fee so that my sister could get her picture taken with the steamy Australian hunks. It was worth it just to see her smile.

See how happy she looks!

Chapter 4
Clothing Optional

Most people go to Vegas to gamble, drink and have sex with random people. My sister and I went to catch up on sleep, eat without children present and refresh ourselves. Like true party animals, we ended up spending a good deal of time in the basement of the hotel. No, it wasn't the location of the top secret parties, it was the location of the gym and the spa. Yes, we are those annoying people who actually like to work out. The service fee was only $10 a day and the facility was quite nice. In a rating of all our Vegas service fees, the spa fee was hands down the most worthwhile.

The beautiful thing about using a work-out room in Vegas is that you basically have the entire space to yourself. While everyone is upstairs dragging off cigarettes, ordering Bloody Marys, puking into trashcans and feeding slot machines at 10 a.m., my sister and I were sweating out years of toxins on the treadmills and lifting weights- UNINTERRUPTED BY CHILDREN AND PETS. It was beautiful. And no, I did not miss Red Dog's tongue on my face as I did downward facing dog on the community yoga mat.

After a good workout, we hit the steam room, hot tub and dry sauna to sweat out the remainder of our years of disappointment and rage. Because my sister forgot her bathing suit, I opted to be nude as well. It was one of my many birthday gifts to her. I also had a louder voice for yelling, "Shield your eyes! Naked old women approaching!"

But then again, I do look pretty amazing for 65.

We also treated ourselves to some spa services (I got that much needed facial). It was so revitalizing that I walked out of there looking 62. Now I am going to convince Brock that we need a dry sauna and a steam shower. Regular facials may be called for as well. And more nakedness, obviously.

Chapter 5
Dancing Queens

If you've never been dancing at a Gay Club, you're missing out. If you never been dancing with me and my bestay, you probably have never really experienced fun.

Some people take dancing very seriously. We are not those people.

What I do take seriously is being in my own space on the dance floor (read: please, no grinding up in here). The very best place to have your space (read: ass) protected is at a gay club. Okay, so maybe that doesn't exactly work for men....

Now I have a very graphic visual in my head.

The standout moment from our evening of club music and dance was a toss up between our new choreographed "two days of sunrise" move and the moment that my bestay set his drink down next to the two adorable, plump Latina lesbians, shook his finger at them and said, "No roofies."

Oh, and the feather boa on the birthday girl.

And the lack of service fees.

Chapter 6
Back to Reality

Alas, the time had come for us to return home. As my sister and I walked to grab a taxi at 4:30 a.m., we viewed many people stumbling back to their rooms. We both eyed each other in other in appreciation for our mutual low-key take on Vegas. We felt revived, refreshed and ready to start the next decade of our lives (in her case- her 40's, in mine- my 70's).

Then we flew home to our realities: kids, men, snoring and cleaning. I entered my home, only to be hit in the face with a horrendous smell that made my eyes water. After lighting 48 scented candles and some intense searching, I discovered the culprit: a rotten potato. My sis was welcomed back to snowy Iowa on the actual day of her birth. She was greeted by multiple loads of laundry, a trashed out house and an un-scooped sidewalk. Nary a service fee, spa or Body by Nautilus in sight!


There will always be my 40th.... or 66th.... whatever.

Totally at peace with 40, man.

The End.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Silent Night, Holey Socks

I've been sitting in my house for the last two hours in silence. It's dinner time, I've nothing prepared and I am alone. I finally answered emails that had been long ignored. I caught up on some blog reading. I found a recipe for Thanksgiving. I put my worn-out-sock-clad feet up on the ottoman. I leaned back into the cushion of my chair and let the warmth of our fireplace surround me. I breathed deep into my diaphragm at least four times. A single tear of joy fell on my right cheek.

It's been blissful.

I covet the quiet. You see, something horrible has happened. No one naps here anymore. Those two hours that I was granted every day to sit and write have been stolen from me. Some of my insides have died a little. Some of the beauty has faded. My life is not my own!

Not only is there no napping, but everyone who lives here has a lot to say. Isn't it precious when your babies learn to talk? Yes, then no. I am being suffocated by noise. The children chatter excitedly about everything and I LISTEN, because I want them to know that what they say is important.  I talk on the phone to friends and family; they tell me their woes and I LISTEN, because I want them to be happy. Brock comes home from work and tells me about his day and I PRETEND TO LISTEN, because I want him to know that he is important but I am too tired from listening to everyone else that I can no longer really LISTEN, so we watch TV and drink wine on the couch. Even the fricken fracken animals talk all the time and not only do I hear them, but all of my neighbors hear them too, because they are a bunch of noisy assholes.

Meow Growl Nicker Popsicles! Oranges! Lemonade! Toast! Meow No! Bark Tractors! MEOW Why? whinny *Belch* Dinner? DOGFIGHT Poopy pants! HAHAHA I SAID POOPY PANTS! I'm hungry! PLAY WITH ME! Mom! Bark!TRUCKS TRACTORS Bark! DINOSAURS CHOO CHOOS! DO YOU WANT TO HEAR ME COUNT TO 100 AGAIN? Mom! MOM! MOM! MOMOMOMOMMOMOM commercials at volume 11 aaaaaand snoring.

Every. Damned. Day.
All. Night. Long.

It's about to unhinge me. And it is definitely cutting into my writing time and desire. Those who cannot think, do not write. Those who cannot write, shrivel up and die. This poor little blog. My poor little brain. *sigh*

I am a person who needs some amount of pure quiet on a regular basis. I know this and respect this about myself, yet no one in my family seems to recognize or respect that little factoid.

That is why I am moving to Canada.

I'm just kidding. Brock just put in this fireplace and I'm not moving my arse from of this chair. Plus, I know that I would eventually grow to miss the noise. Maybe. Well, not so much the noise, but the units that are making it.

So today, two days before the craziness of Thanksgiving and all the joyous sound, boisterous laughter and overzealous eating that it brings, I am thankful for two complete hours of silence. It is a gift.*

*A gift that I forced Brock to give me by making him take both of the kids to karate, then the grocery store for those items that I "forgot" earlier today.

Speaking of gifts, I need some new socks this Christmas. And napping. I would like Santa to bring me so much more napping.

Oh! There is the alert barking! The clan has arrived. Let me prepare myself with these earplugs that I stole from Brock's toolbox.

Have a Lovely Thanksgiving! May the naps and moments of silence be with you.
Peace, Love and Unicorns,

Monday, November 25, 2013

Old Navy Giveaway!

It all started with cargo pants.
I picked up a pair for each of my dudes for a family photo shoot. In fact, I bought more than pants for that shoot; as Tyra would say, I bought "H to T" Old Navy gear for my Things.

Photo from sugar photography. She's the best. Hire her.


Thing 1 was so in love with his tan cargo pants that he was attempting to wear them every day. I had one thing to say about that: Mama don't do that much laundry.

Being the fashion conscious kind and giving mother that I am, I generously loaded up both kids into my filthy pick up truck and drove to Old Navy in search of the same comfy pants in a different color. When we pulled up to the store, I noticed a sign in the window. It read "30% off the Entire Store!" which is basically a message saying "You are saving so much money, it's a crime NOT to buy all of the things."

I herded my children through the doors, where we were pleasantly greeted by the Super Happy Old Navy mannequins. I love those mannequins. I feel like we have a special connection- like maybe we are related. And my three year old always pets the shiny plastic dog. He's a real animal lover, that one.

This is me with my favorite mannequin from this
past summer. We're like... OMG! Twins!

 Knowing the children's clothing is toward the back of our local Old Navy, my options were to walk through either the men's or the ladies' section. Doi. I went through the ladies' section. I've always been a sucker for the scenic route. I was prepared to find a few cute things that I liked, as I always do at Old Navy. I was not, however, prepared for the intense feelings of affection from the depths of my soul.

What I found in Old Navy was a section of clothing that was beckoning to me. Because I like to label things, I immediately named the collection "Cozy Cabin Chic". I'm not certain what Old Navy calls it, but I'm pretty sure it is "Lounge Wear". Whatever. The stuff was adorable and completely my style. Chunky cardigan sweaters, plaid flannel shirts, thick sweatpants, comfy thermal tees and beautiful scarves. Things that you can wear for cleaning out a closet, baking cookies, walking the dog, napping and meeting your girlfriends out later for a bottle of wine.Yep. That's how I roll. The best part was that I found not one, but TWO perfect red scarves. I had been looking for the perfect red scarf for the last few years because I'm nothing if not committed to the search, particularly when it comes to men, martinis or material items that match my favorite lipstick.

Nothing compliments hot tea and a fire better than this
Navajo print sweater and beautiful oh-so-soft red scarf.
Photo and fireplace courtesy of Brock.
Tea courtesy of Celestial Seasonings.

Red Dog thinks this is the perfect shirt for a little game of ball.
Photo and fence courtesy of Brock. He's a real hunny.

This sweater is officially the coziest one in my closet. I'm in love with it.
And this scarf? FABULOUS.
It's one of those giant squares that can double as a picnic blanket,
a parachute or a blanket for your tiny, imaginary boyfriend.
That is why Freda from the Grand Junction Old Navy is
giving away
two of these red scarves to TWO LUCKY READERS!

Photo courtesy of Thing 2. He works for Popsicles.

After scooping up an armload of Cozy Cabin wear for myself, I also found a boatload of new items for my six year old. Not only was able to score my oldest child blue cargo pants, but he also found two new sweaters, gloves, sweatpants and a pair of boots. The kid has style. What can I say? He gets it from me. In fact, both of my kids get their style from me. Literally. Because I buy them all their clothing.

Thing 1 in Old Navy.
Photo by Sugar Photography.

Thing 2 in Old Navy.
Photo from Sugar Photography.

Because of the killer savings, I left the store with a remarkably small dent in my wallet but a great deal of wearable fashion for myself and my kids. Brock can fend for himself.

JUST KIDDING. Of course I buy him all of his clothing too, but he only wears work clothes in front of me... probably because he never stops working. Ever.

On Black Friday, Old Navy will have 50% off the ENTIRE STORE. All of the clothing that you see in the pictures above, plus so much more, will be HALF PRICE. Get in there!

There are still some flannel pj's in there that want to be mine.

If you would like to enter the giveaway for the red print scarf you can win up to FOUR entries:
1) COMMENT here or on facebook
2) LIKE Grand Junction Old Navy on facebook
3) LIKE Confessions of Corn Fed Girl on facebook
4) SHARE on your choice of social media (blog. twitter, facebook or pinterest) and tell me about it!

Good Luck! The winners will be chosen on Saturday November 30th!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 22, 2013

TMI Fridays: Bad Parenting Moments

Are you reading the work of Bethany Thies? I met her through our mutual affiliation with the best selling anthology I Just Want to Pee Alone. Bethany won my admiration and affection with her essay titled "In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Penis". She is also the creator of Bad Parenting Moments and Room for Cream. Go there now. I'll wait.

This is Bethany.
Such a beautiful mind inside that pretty head.

See? Bethany is BRILLIANT, you guys. She's humble. And she's gorgeous, talented and she writes poetry. Real poetry, not shitty limericks. Not only does Bethany write with unbridled honesty from the depths of her soul, but she writes fearlessly with cadence, rhythm and panache.  Even her blog posts are insightful, flowing and poetic. How does she do this? My blog posts are messy and often feel like the scrambled, unfinished thoughts of a slightly insane person who has been unknowingly inhaling tiny amounts of poisonous gas and cat dander on a daily basis. If I was a jealous person, I would be insanely envious of her. Instead, I just want to be her favorite vacation buddy. Together we could have a girl's weekend on a beach somewhere tropical and warm. We would pass the time eating, sharing our innermost secrets over margaritas and trying on each other's favorite lipstick in between naps on the beach. Maybe if I use her hairbrush some of her talent would rub off on me...

Where was I? Oh yeah...

Bethany is an artist. Keep your eye on this one, folks. She's one to watch.

Did I mention that she accomplishes all of this writing success while parenting FOUR children? Dude, if you can do anything that requires brainpower and creativity while parenting four kids, you have my respect. It took me two months to get Bethany these interview questions; don't even ask me about the other stuff that I'm failing at in my life. In unrelated news, did you know that my 3 year old NEVER stops talking during waking hours? EVER? I'm serious. THE CHILD NEVER STOPS TALKING. I'm losing my mind.

Where was I? Oh yeah... the interview. Meet Bethany Thies:

>When did you first know that you wanted to write?
 I'm pretty sure I came out of the birth canal holding a pen and that is how my mother ended up with a perforated uterus.

> What was the birth story for Bad Parenting Moments?
After the birth of my third child, I was having a really intensely difficult time adjusting to the new level of chaos. With a 4 year old, 2 year old and newborn at home, I was drowning. I needed a home to explore the rarely to never picture perfect parenting journey I was on. Initially, this started as a very small, private support group called Bad Parenting Moment of the Day. It was a group of women who could do the online version of screaming into a pillow. It grew and grew and grew and...well, now we have Bad Parenting Moments, the public version of that still sacred group. I am still very much a part of that "secret" support group and I consider those women (and some dudes too...don't want to leave them out), some of my closest friends and allies. It's amazing what can happen when parents chip away at those perceived walls of perfection we try to hold up and start getting honest. When we truly listen and embrace each other's parenting paths, no matter how different; amazing, beautiful things happen.

> What is your ultimate goal/dream with your writing?
It's so cliche. I mean, I can hear the cliche pouring out of my fingers as I type this. I have many books living in my head and heart. I need to write them. I hope one day I'll have the opportunity to be a novelist. But, daily? Daily, my ultimate goal is just to connect. Connection and the shared experience is why I keep writing.

> What outfit in your closet makes you feel like you could take on the world?
I'm a firm believer that there is nothing a push-up bra, some Spanx, red lipstick and some 5 inch patent leather peep toes can't fix. 

But seriously, my Snuggie makes me feel like I could take on the world, while still wearing a blanket. The best of both worlds.

> Who inspires you creatively?
Oh, this is a good one. You crafty, little minx. Let's see...authenticity is my biggest motivator and there are some writers that are so beautifully honest that I never miss a post. Naptime Writing, Suburban Snapshots, Nicole Leigh Shaw, Hollow Tree Ventures, Full Metal Mommy and so many more. When a writer is honest, you can feel it on the page. I'm so fortunate to be surrounded by really creative, supportive women.

And, my biggest female inspiration is Dorothy Parker. She took on the "Boys Club" with humor, grace and ease. She was flawed and had a really difficult personal life, but, she was a genius and a true humorist.

> Describe your creative process.
 It closely resembles a trash receptacle being emptied into a Public Works trash truck headed to the dump. 
 I know, I have such a way with words.

> What foods do you find repulsive?
 If you'd take a close look at my ass, you'd notice that I've never met a food I didn't like.

> What life event had the most profound impact on you?
 The birth of my children. New life is the most...to say the least.

> Marry, Fuck or Kill: Miley Cyrus, David Caruso, and John Tesh.
 Oh good GOD.
 Marry: David Caruso. This one was a no-brainer.
 Fuck: Ugh, do I have to? Ok, John Tesh. But, I'd have to put a gag on him. No speaky for YOU, John and if he  played one of his piano CDs, I'd have to put a bag over my own head.
 Kill: Sorry, Miley. Girl, you gots to go. She's like a race horse with a broken knee. It's a public service, really. 

> Would you rather hang out with me:
> In a rustic cabin in the mountains, where we hike during the day and grill fish and drink beer around a campfire at night
> In swanky downtown club where we are dressed all fancy and eat tapas and drink martinis while listening to live music and fending off the advances of men with my "Repulsive mouth" (Brock's words)?

 Cabin and beer. Preferably a non-haunted cabin. 

> How often to you move the furniture to clean under it?
 That's hilarious.

> What is the most disgusting thing you found in your car?
 A sippy cup of rancid milk with a banana shoved in it. I apologize to anyone who just vomited in their own mouth.

>Describe your perfect day.
I know I should say I want to spend a lovely day with my family but, that's not the case. What I'd really love to do, is spend the day alone... completely alone by myself, alone in my aloneness. I would write, read, and eat food that I did not prepare. If I had time, I would get breast reconstruction surgery. It would be painless and I would heal in 7 minutes flat. At the end of the day, I would sit around a kitchen table eating cheesecake with my best girlfriends a la the Golden Girls. Then we would have a Beastie Boys, margarita dance party and call it a night.

>Favorite essay in I just want to pee alone?
Honestly, I don't have a favorite. There is something so unique and wonderful about each essay that appeals to all 37 of my unique personalities. Shameless plug in 5, 4, 3, 2... If you have not purchased a copy yet, what are you waiting for? Its like crack for your funny bone. Obligatory PSA for the kids at home: Crack is whack, yo.
BETHANY THIES is a writer and the proud mother to four, young Vikings. She is the author of Bad Parenting Moments and the chronically unread poetry blog Room for Cream. She can often be found searching for socks, keys, discount non-perishables and a bathroom lock her children cannot pick. Bethany's work has been published in two bestselling humor anthologies, on several parenting sites and in old fashioned black and white in her local, independent newspaper. You can also listen to her pontificate on Vermont radio every month. Her children are unimpressed.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Giving Thanks to our Teachers

My oldest child went to Kindergarten this fall. In preparation, I spent the summer helping him with reading. He showed some early interest in learning to read, which was quickly replaced by a variety of distractions ranging from playing with tractors to making fart noises with his mouth. The knowledge of what was truly happening was no secret to me. I'm a writer, an artist and a pathological smartass. What I am not, is a teacher.

Not wanting to make his learning experience unpleasant, I backed off the reading wagon. My husband and I both read to our boys daily, so they were getting plenty of exposure to books. We had engaged in multiple discussions about letting our kids "be kids". We decided as a team that we didn't want to "push" them too hard at too young an age. We also were secretly thrilled when they engaged with each other instead of making us entertain them... so there's that. I let the reading progress marinate and we turned our attention to other things- like playing in the dirt and drawing pictures of tractors... and of course, making farting noises.

The day that school started I held my breath. As I watched my precious baby boy proudly climb into the school bus, I prayed for the things mothers hope for their kids. I prayed that my sons fit in socially and made friends. I prayed that they learning would come easy, without struggle. I prayed that they were focused and listened to their teachers. Most importantly, I prayed that they both enjoyed school and developed not only a love of learning, but the self motivation and desire to always want to do their best.

When my oldest child and I looked at his first homework assignment, it was reading. We pulled the books out of his green and black HotWheels backpack and sat together on the couch. As he wiggled and squirmed next to me, the way that Kindergarten boys do, I listened to him work at sounding out the words. I helped him when he stumbled. Because of his attitude, it was a task I enjoyed. He was excited. He was learning quickly. He comprehended the story. He was smiling. I felt that breath, the one that I had been holding since that first day, exit my lungs. I felt pride. I felt relied. But most of all, I felt grateful to his teachers that have been in his life and helped instill that passion for learning. Those underpaid, overextended teachers who treat my children with the patience and compassion that I am not always capable of. Those teachers who give attention and show kindness to not only my children, but the 20 others (or more) that are also in the classroom. Those teachers who give relentlessly of themselves and provide such a critical influence in the lives of children.

We all had teachers that stand out in our educational experience. Every one of us has been affected by an educator. In my past, I have teachers that pushed me, inspired me and encouraged me when no one else did. These people, who dedicate their life to education, offer something individual and unique to each student. Something that standardized test scores cannot measure. That is why organizations like the Milken Educator Awards are so relevant for recognizing standouts in the educational community. Teachers deserved to be honored for their daily triumphs: inspiring a disenchanted child to learn, sharing their contagious passion for a subject, or giving a struggling child personalized attention and encouragement. The Milken Awards provide stand out educators with $25,000, and money is a beautiful way to say thank you. In fact f anyone wants to thank me for that time I made you snort coffee through your nose, I take checks, cash or vouchers to DSW.

In this season of thanks, I offer sincere gratitude to the teachers of my past and my children's future. They are teaching our kids not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but also instructing them in socialization, attentiveness and appropriate behavior. There is no quantitative measurement for the inspiration that they provide on a daily basis. They are the writers of our future. While many of us paint and draw, teachers are truly the greatest artists of all, patiently sculpting our society one person at a time.

I raise not only my glass, but my entire box of wine to our teachers! Here's to you!
Please feel free to share your stories in the comments below about a teacher that inspired you or someone you love.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Come to think of it, I never really liked that sweater

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of my cruel, bitchy friends. Everyone knows I'm heartless so that's no newsflash.

Revelation can be a cruel and beautiful thing. There is a moment in every relationship that declares "it's over". The unraveling can be slow and often go unnoticed, like a sweater with a loose thread. One day you slip into your beloved cable-knit turtleneck and notice that you are wearing a dickie. That initial haze of being twitterpated has come to a bitter end and the ugly truth is revealed; you are lost in a relationship with no sight of the person you initially met... and you are holding onto mere remnants of the past. The ending of a relationship is usually marked by a new found knowledge of self; in turn a boundary is crossed and a standard is raised. Then, in a 10 second flash of greased lightening, that dickie gets thrown in the GoodWill bag and sent back out into the world, with hopes that someone else finds it useful.

Two of my girlfriends had joined me for martinis at a girls' night out. We had all suffered many break ups throughout the years and we were swapping our war stories of stale relationships and divorce. Every story shared a similarity: that moment of knowing that pushed us over the edge.

Chelsea said, "I knew it was over with my ex-husband when I watched him eat a Whooper."

We all laughed.

She shuddered, "I could hear him eating it. There was slurping involved. It was offensive down to my core. I have a problem with certain sounds... shit, I can't even handle saying the word moist'." She continued, "When I saw the grease run down his face, I knew at that moment that I would never have sex with him again."

We all nodded in agreement. We had seen her ex husband and wondered how she mustered up enough gumption to get two kids out of the deal. It's not like we expected perfect health or fitness as we sat there inhaling our calorie laden martinis, but a little maintenance and self-awareness will go a long way. If you need to eat a Whooper, have at it. Just be aware that you are a human, not a pack of hyenas on a zebra carcass.

Amy had a similar story, "I was dating this guy who made what he called his 'Special Cheeseburger'. It was literally dripping with goopy goppy topping. He basically needed a bib to eat it. In fact, he put on his 'special sweatshirt' before he ate it, which come to think of it, was his bib." We could see a look of disgust cross her face as she remembered the scene. "Grease was running all down his face and all over his bib shirt. Suddenly, I wasn't hungry... for any of him. I called it quits."

I put my hand on Amy's pristine white sleeve to comfort her from the foul memory. There was no way someone as well-dressed as herself could be in a relationship with a man who owned a sweatshirt designated for sloppy cheeseburger eating.

I sighed. I knew it was time to share my grisly grease tale. "It was my college boyfriend, "I said. "He had the three C's that led straight to my heart. He was Charming, Clean-Cut and Cute. I thought that he was the one. I was sure that we would eventually get married and have a family." I shook my head, "Then he started hanging out with a group of rather scuzzy dudes.  I wasn't particularly fond of any of them. He grew out his hair like Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire, except his was stringy; probably because he was constantly touching it to tuck it behind his ear."

"Not sexy," Chelsea offered.

"Not at all," I agreed.

"I should have seen the complete change," I said, "but I was too caught up remembering the way he was before, the way we were before. Honestly, we had both changed, just not in the same direction." I looked into the distance as I remembered, "It was a crisp fall day when he showed up at my house to visit. I remember, because almost all of my breakups happen in the fall. It seems to be a good time to clean out the dying feelings. When he walked into my kitchen, I immediately noticed a change. It was his hair. His hair was downright dirty. I asked him, 'When was the last time you washed your hair?' and he replied, 'Yesterday'. I told him, 'There is no way in hell you washed that oil slick yesterday,' and he responded, ' Well, I ran out of shampoo two weeks ago so I have just been using conditioner to wash my hair.'"

The table was silent as my friends stared at me, aghast.

"I know," I said, as I dropped my head into my palms.

"I sat there and argued with him about conditioner for... way too fucking long," I said. "He must have spent 20 minutes trying to convince me that conditioner had 'cleansing properties' and I held onto my view, which was that he was just added layers of clean grease to a foundation of old, dirty grease."

"So what happened?" asked Amy.

"We agreed to disagree on conditioner, and that is when I knew it was over," I explained. "I didn't want that head full of grime leaning against the back of my GoodWill red velvet couch that I bought for $20. It would leave a grease stain... and I loved that couch."

We clinked our glasses in celebration of those 10 second moments of knowing. If we hadn't made those decisions, all of us could have been trudging through the murky, swampy, oily waters of unfulfilled relationships for the rest of our lives. Those 10 seconds of knowing our personal abhorrence to grease had led us all to our to our current states of paradise- complete with clean shirts, clean faces, clean couches and not a dickie in sight.

The end.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Halloween Chronicles

Halloween was never a big deal to me when I was a kid. Sure, it was fun to dress up and go into town for the night. My sister and I, in our crappy costumes, would knock on the doors of strangers with our buckets out in preparation for candy. Our nervous mom always waited close by.... watching her two blonde daughters approaching stranger danger and taking candy, the exact thing that she warned us never to do. I was an 80's model trick-or-treater, where the threat of razor blades, poison, and kidnappers was at an all time high. Everyone knew this, yet some people in my tiny hometown were stubborn in their insistence to give out homemade popcorn balls. Others even demanded that you come inside their homes to get the goodies. Halloween was also the beginning of my fear of clowns. I'm pretty sure a clown invited me into his house for a homemade popcorn ball full of razor blades, but I can't be certain.

Halloween was a time of cold night air, crunchy, decaying leaves, and homemade costumes. In fact, my sister and I were always dressed in zero-money-spent last minute costumes. I was either a hobo or an old man every year. There were no fairy wings and princess dresses for this kid- that would have been wasteful. In all honesty, it never really mattered what you were wearing as a costume. Your heavy chore jacket and gloves that were required for walking outside at night in the chilly Iowa weather covered up most of it. Thank goodness I was wearing giant ugly snow boots and a plastic mask that impaired my vision and steamed up my face. Those princess slippers looked flimsy and unpractical, I'm sure it would have been horrible to wear them and the pretty pink fluffy skirt that matched....

My sledding clothing and my Halloween costumes
were basically the same.

Then there were the haunted houses. My little hometown was full of decrepit buildings that lent themselves perfectly to becoming chambers of terror. With a big community effort, my small town boasted a scary house every year. This fact thrilled my friends and taunted me. I hated being frightened, but I loved hanging out with my friends. For me, haunted houses were a place of peer pressure gone wrong. Twice I was convinced by my friends that it would be "FUN". The first one scared me so senseless that I was sobbing uncontrollably. In fact, the person holding the chainsaw stopped pretending to attack us and removed his mask to show me that he wasn't really a murderer who was going to chop me up into bloody bits. The second one I went through in a group of friends. I closed my eyes tight the entire time and clung to my girlfriend's shirt. After that, my standard response to any pressure to be scared was, "No means no. Back off." That included the time that my friend's eight year old daughter tried to get me to walk into the yard bird pen with her and the moment that my other friend's middle school kid tried to convince me to watch Saw II. Both of those events happened about six years ago. Kids can be real jerks.

But hey, at least I got candy at Halloween! Come to think of it, I didn't even eat my Halloween candy. I ate the Snickers bars then the rest of it sat hardening in a bowl until that girl from my class came over right before Christmas and inhaled it all in a weekend.

So I had shitty costumes, candy that I had to throw out, weird strangers and houses that terrorized me to the point of losing friends and sleep. Come to think of it, I don't really think I liked Halloween at all when I was a kid.

But I like it now. 

One person changed my mind. It was Brock. You see, I married a man who LOVES Halloween. He loves costumes, carving jack-o-lanterns and decorating our yearly giant scarecrow. He loves pumpkin patches and corn mazes. He comes home from Target with bags of tombstones, spiders, and bats. He owns an entire Halloween village; a miniature town of scary houses, spooky ghouls, dead trees and creepy goblins. My husband's uncontrolled enthusiasm for Halloween rivals my children's manic passion for Santa. And it seems to be contagious.

I think I caught the Halloween Virus.

It all started with facial hair and pirates. Our first Halloween party we dressed as criminals of the high sea The next year we were a convict and a cop. Brock can rock creepy facial hair like none other.

The next year was a witch and another pirate. 
Then we were cowboys. 
Then we were an eighties witch and a pirate.
There was a definite pirate them with Brock... 

After some convincing, the next year we were Sonny and Cher. 
Then we were old school vampires and .... a pirate. 
Our costume bin was proving to be limited.

Each year, I heard my spouse describe the elaborate costumes that he wanted to wear. Then I visualized receipts with triple digit numbers at the bottom. Each year, I said "no" to spending that kind of money on a costume. Insanity! Costumes were to be made from pre-owned items! Everyone knows that! We should all just be hobos! Yet each year, as I watched him dress as a pirate again, I felt sorry for him. I started to collect treasures over a period of time- interesting items that I would find on sale- and stuff them into a box in the attic. Each year, as I watched my husband's boyish excitement over a holiday that most people think is for children, my Halloween hating heart grew a size. Eventually, it softened like the mid section of a woman who has given birth- specifically, my mid section.

This year, as we transformed ourselves into someone else, I fully embraced my inner "munster" and proudly walked the streets of our city with my Frankenstein, who worked for hours one night making his giant head. I even saw one evil clown and two haunted houses, but I still managed to have fun.

Oh, and my children liked it too.

And then I ate all the candy.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The No Machine

All day, every day, the children asked me to do things for them. All day, every day, I did things for them. And then it started.... the request to watch Heffalump Halloween

This request is not unfamiliar to me. In fact, we have daily conversations about Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie. Have you seen it? It is super cute... the first 27 times.

Thing 2 asked me, in his adorable, tiny voice, "Mommy, can I watch Heffalump Halloween?"
I looked at his cherubic face with those big blue eyes, smiled and replied, "No."

Three entire seconds passed, then he asked again, "Mommy, can I watch Heffalump Halloween?"
I looked at my angel, and again replied, "No."

Then he tried a third time, "Mommy, can I watch Heffalump Halloween?"
This time I replied, "I am The No Machine. Any question you ask me will be answered with no."

Thing 1 giggled. Thing 2 blinked those big eyes. Then, with an ornery look on my face, I tempted them both by saying, "Try me."
Thing 2, ever the persistent one, started up immediately, "Mommy, can I watch Heffalump Halloween?"
The No Machine said, "NO."

I looked at Thing 1. "Go ahead. Ask me a question."
He looked at me and asked the other question I hear 45 times per day, "Can I have a popsicle?"
The No Machine said, "NO."

I raised my eyebrows and looked back at Thing 2. He asked, "Can I watch Heffalump Halloween?"

Thing 1, loving that he had figured out the game, asked, "Mommy, can I make a race car?"

I looked at the clock. It was 5:30, which meant it was almost time for Brock to get home. I turned back to my children and suggested, "You should wait for The Yes Machine to come home. You can ask him all sorts of questions and he will always answer yes."

Then all three of us laughed, because the truth is often funny.

Then Thing 1 asked, "Mommy, will you read this to me?"
I was still playing this new and fabulous game. I replied,  "No. Thing 2 will read it to you!"

Thing 2, who is three years old, replied, "I can't read!"
I asked him,  "Then what can you do?"

He said, "I can watch Heffalump Halloween."

And that is what happens when people like me reproduce.

Peace, Love and Heffalump Halloween,

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Add a Little Joyous Noise to Your Life

As a mother, I often revel in the tiny moments of silence that I am granted. I am surrounded by noise every day. From the barking of dogs to the roaring engines of assholes lovely neighbors speeding by my house, my environment is filled with sound. Inside my house, the walls and my eardrums are constantly being penetrated by the bleeping of battery operated toys and the accompanying vrooming and rambunctious play noises being generated by my children. Then there are the demands, the whining, the fighting, or even the happy play at volume 11. While I love my life, the noise level is a lot for me to absorb every day. So when I find quiet, I revel in it. So much so, that I often forget that I actually enjoy some noise; specifically music.

Every once in a while, I listen to the radio while driving my old pick-up truck. While basking in the glow of my orange check-engine light, I find a song and it makes me move, sing, and feel joy. Afterward, I revel in the feeling of discovering a new dimension to my weary self. My heart feels lighter, my mind feels more clear, and I regain the ability to laugh and smile.

Today, it was this song. This song that made me break into my version of "road harmony". This song that brought me a little much needed renewed joy. This song that reminded me of my odd teenage obsession with folk, bluegrass and classic-rock music. In 1993, when everyone I knew was listening to Boyz to Men, AC/DC and Micheal Fucking Bolton, I was listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Alison Krauss and James Taylor. I guess some of us have always marched to our own beat- or grooved in our own unique and slightly spastic way behind the wheel of an old, muddy pick-up truck.

I hope you are able to carve out a little space in your day and fill it with your own brand of joyous noise.

Peace, Love and Music,

Friday, September 27, 2013

TMI Fridays: Hollow Tree Ventures

Today, in the TMI Friday spotlight, is Robyn Welling of Hollow Tree Ventures. Robyn is funny as shit, and everyone knows that shit is funny. She is a writer, a wife, a mother of "three [that] burst from my loins, [and] two more [that] burst from my second marriage" and all that other stuff that women get to be. She writes about a variety of topics on her blog and around the Internet with wit, intelligence and humor. I always enjoy reading Robyn's words.

Like every good love story, Robyn and I met on an Internet chat room. Sort of. Is Facebook a chat room? We were two of 36 who co-authored the anthology I Just Want to Pee Alone. Robyn's story, "Babies: Easy as 1, 2, 3!" made me laugh out loud. Then we met in person, where I discovered that Robyn is also very striking and gloriously tall. 

I think that Robyn is the bee's knees. Plus, she sent me the following picture and said, "I attached a photo of a drawing my daughter made, which you should in no way feel needs to be included in the interview - I just saw it in my photos folder next to my headshot and thought, 'If anyone will appreciate a child's drawing that looks like a cowboy crapping out a horse, it's Johi.'"

You're correct, Robyn. I very much appreciate the drawing and of course I'm including it.

Art. It's a beautiful thing.

Johi: How did your writing career begin?
Robyn: Holy crap, I have a writing career?!? Oh yeah, I guess I do, a fact that surprises me pretty much every day. It all started with the decision to start a blog - no, scratch that, it started with the decision to Google "what is a blog?" and then start one. I had no plan or clue whatsoever. I still don't.

Johi: What are your short-range and long-range goals with writing?
Robyn: I'm not much of a planner (clearly), but my short- and long-range goals are the same - to be able to support myself on an income from publishing stuff that's fun to write. I don't think I'm organized enough to be any more particular than that, so if something even remotely close to that happens, I'll be happy. My preference, of course, would for that to happen in a time frame closer to "short-range," and for the writing to happen in some remote log cabin (with WiFi!).

Johi: If you could pick one person to rub suntan lotion on your back, who would it be and why?
Boring but true: I'd pick my husband, because he's the sexiest man I've ever met. And also because he'd chain me to a post in the basement if I named anyone else.

Johi: What movie/person/thing scared the shit out of you as a child?
Robyn: Only *everything* scared me - Freddy Krueger, all his creepy maniacal ax-wielding friends, Pet Cemetery, the children's book Angus Lost, the very real possibility that we were going to be A-bombed by the Russians at any moment, fire drills, the very real possibility that my cat was going to suck my breath out while I was sleeping... I might have watched too many movies when I was a kid.

Johi: Where do you hide the good food in your house and how do you eat it without being caught?
Robyn: TOP SECRET: I'll tell you this because I love you, but if my kids ever find out I'll know who told them! The secret cookies, gum, candy and other goodies are in the back of the dining room pantry, on the highest shelf I can reach - there's also an emergency stash of Fruity Mike-N-Ike's on the bookshelf in the living room. I have been known to go to extremes, up to and including hiding in the shower (link: http://www.hollowtreeventures.com/2012/10/you-should-be-ashamed.html), to keep all that sugary deliciousness to myself. You know, out of concern for my kids' dental health, of course.

Johi: If you could only pick one of the following experiences, which would you choose and why: Having a Groundhog Day experience, always smelling like urine or having your sex tape go public?
Robyn: I get it, this is a trick question, right?!? Because the obvious answer is "All of the above," but then when you think about it, there's no real way for people watching the sex tape to know you smell like urine. Well, wait, I guess there is one way they could figure it out, but I'm not keen on releasing that kind of sex tape.

Johi: When you were a tween, what poster(s) did you have on your bedroom wall?
Robyn: I'm glad you asked, because this affords me the kind of opportunity I always enjoy: the opportunity to give my mom a guilt trip. I wasn't allowed to put posters on my walls at all until I was about 14, and even then I was restricted to adorable animal pictures from adorable animal calendars. Nope, no New Kids On The Block for me! When I was in therapy, I listed that as chief among the many reasons I'm as maladjusted as I am today.

Johi: Marry, Fuck or Kill: David Caruso, Jon Lovitz and Big Bird.
Robyn: Why do I always want to kill all three people named in these questions? Should I talk to some kind of professional about that? 

Johi: Me too. On both counts.
Robyn: Okay, I'm going to say marry Big Bird because he seems like a nurturing type of guy who enjoys a good nap. Then the other two can be a toss-up for fuck/kill, since my husband will kill the fuck guy so they'll both end up dead one way or another anyway.

Johi: What is on your nightstand?
Robyn: My toddler's used tissues, my toddler's discarded ponytail holders, a dusty wedding photo, a garage sale vase, and the tiara I wore on our wedding day (because where else do you store a tiara)? If you're wondering why I don't have a table lamp on my nightstand, it's because we keep it on the floor. Naturally.

Johi: What is your favorite essay in I Just Want to Pee Alone and why?
Robyn: Ohhhhh no, I'm not falling for that one! I have no idea how I got lucky enough to be included in two (TWO???) best-selling humor anthologies in one year (I Just Want To Pee Alone and You Have Lipstick On Your Teeth), (link: http://www.hollowtreeventures.com/p/buy-my-book-book-is-available-and.html) but I'm not about to jinx it or piss anybody off by naming a favorite! Like my children, I reassure them all that I love them equally - then I'll silently mouth the name of my favorite to you when none of them are looking.

Johi: Then I won't tell anyone about the time you told me that mine was your favorite. Your secret is safe with me.

If you live in the Michigan/Indiana area, join Robyn on October 16, 2013 for the National I Just Want to Pee Alone Ladies' Night Out! RSVP HERE for your chance to win a door prize! 

Robyn Welling is a freelance writer and humorist at Hollow Tree Ventures, where she isn't afraid to embarrass herself—and frequently does. She also writes for awesome sites like In The Powder Room, NickMom, CraftFail, and The Huffington Post. She loves sarcasm, wine, beer, other bottled items, long walks on the beach, and her husband. Oh, and her kids are okay, too. Her goals include becoming independently wealthy, followed by world domination and getting her children to clean their rooms. Until then, she'll just fold laundry and write about the shortcuts she takes on her journey to becoming a somewhat passable wife, mother, and human being. If history is any guide, she'll miss the mark entirely. You can find her avoiding responsibility on FacebookTwitter, andPinterest.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I Am Not Your Maid

I needed to clean my pantry, but the floor and baseboards were so thick with grime that I felt tired just thinking about it. I needed to reorganize the book shelf, but the ceiling fans were covered in dust and the windows were smeared with tiny fingerprints, fly poo and dog noseprints, and it made me feel like I needed a nap. The refrigerator was beckoning me with sticky shelves and rotting food, but all the bathrooms simultaneously smelled of urine and were probably growing mold and all I could do was look at Facebook. I simply did not have the time or energy to deal with all of the filth. Then there was the clutter. Oh clutter, how I hate you.

The amount of papers and mail in my tiny home is astonishing. It piles up on counter tops, the kitchen table, the desk, my jewelry box and the buffet. It taunts my waking hours and haunts my dreams. The stacks of papers around my house remind me of my failures:

  • I'm indecisive. 
  • I have hoarder tendencies. 
  • I often have a hard time determining what is truly important. 
  • I was going to marry Kirk Cameron.

While I need a clean house for my mental sanity and any chance at creativity, I suck at cleaning my house. I hate clutter, yet it surrounds me on a daily basis. I hate to clean, yet the need for it is incessant. I am chronically defeated by junk mail, old birthday cards and Legos. My dirty, messy house is giving me a facial tick, a resentful attitude and a chronic Pi symbol that is carved into my forehead.

Paperwork is the bane of my existence, only to be rivaled by toys and music by David Hasselhoff.

Seeing piles of paper is paralyzing for me. I never know what to do with paperwork. It completely overwhelms me. Bills need to be paid and filed, receipts need to be gathered and stuffed into a manila folder, junk mail needs to be weeded, newspapers and magazines are begging to be read... and then there is the paperwork and the art projects from school. SO MUCH PAPERWORK AND ART PROJECTS FROM SCHOOL. As an artist who has felt under appreciated for the vast amount of my life, I never want to be the person that pitches artwork that my kid labored over.

You see, I am basically useless when it comes to dealing with paperwork, and my husband is basically useless when it comes to housework of any kind, and I am so overwhelmed by clutter and paperwork, that I cannot bring myself to clean the house, and he does not know how to clean a house. It's a vicious circle in which the two of us together equal pathetic. And our house is grotesque.

My husband is great at tearing apart then rebuilding pretty much anything. He rocks at fixing my truck and repairing the dishwasher. He built our kitchen; the entire thing. Yet the man cannot clean a counter to save his life. I swear that he simply does not SEE the messes. So he and the boys make enormous messes and it is my duty to follow behind them and clean up. Yeah- NO.

That is I went on a pre-caffeinated rampage about the condition of my house (which was SPOTLESS only two weeks prior). I completely lost my shit.

And it wasn't the papers. It wasn't even the unwiped spills on the counter, table and floor combined with the garbage that didn't make it to the trash. Nor was it the toys that were never put away, the socks on the floor or the SHIT EVERYWHERE. It was the expectation that cleaning up after everyone was MY JOB.

Like the gentle wings of a butterfly, I handled it delicately. I also addressed the issue in way that everyone would understand exactly what I was saying, the first time I said it. And no, I didn't say, "Every time you make me clean up after you, an adorable baby kitten dies." But I wanted to.

Instead I yelled, "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELVES!" at the top of my lungs and stomped around the corner.

My husband yelled back, "RELAX! WOULD YOU?"

To which I calmly replied, "I would love to but NO ONE WILL LET ME!"

Then I added, for maximum effect, "I AM NOT YOUR MAID!!!!"

Then I proved it.

I hired Merry Maids to clean my house. Other than the moment that I set "Nashville" to record on my DVR, it is the best decision I have made in a long time. I'm justifying the cost because: A.) It is cheaper than therapy. 2.) It's better than a divorce. P2.) Because we drive old trucks, we have no monthly car payment. Who needs air conditioning and automatic locks when your house is clean? and 45.) It's healthier, both physically and mentally for me and my entire family.

My house was so filthy that after 2 hours in my bedroom alone, the original gals had to "call in reinforcements". It took four people 5 1/2 hours to get through my 1,400 square foot cottage. They found approximately 345 spiders, 789 Lego pieces and 678 random screws that Brock pulls out of his pockets at night. The grime- consisting mostly of dog hair, dirt, grease, half chewed food, dead skin cells and my pride and sanity- was so thick that I was simultaneously relieved and mortified that someone other than me was cleaning it. Afterwards, having a clean house was so energizing that I did three more loads of laundry, cleaned the pantry, color coded my scarves and organized the boys' room.

Ahhh! It's clean... for at least 30 minutes.

Today the maids are scheduled to clean again. In preparation, I decluttered my house. I sorted through the stacks of papers and Legos and Thomas the Train pieces. I picked up socks from the floor and wiped honey from breakfast spilled on the counter. I made the grocery list and packed lunches and wiped asses and folded sheets.

All the while, I found myself muttering under my breath, "I am not your maid."