Saturday, December 20, 2014

2014 Wagner Christmas Letter

Writing a Christmas letter has become an annual tradition. I usually send them to friends and family with a card and picture. In honor of the courageous #nomakeupselfie movement, I chose this one.




In all seriousness, hashtags make me want to stab something. This no makeup photo was simply because:
a. we were on vacation
and
b. we were on vacation
and
c. I'm not sure I care anymore.

Because I can't possibly send each one of you* hand signed and addressed Christmas cards, this wonderful photo that I'm certain you all want for your refrigerator and my annual Christmas letter, I've decided to post it here.

*Some people did make the cut; such as close friends and family members, anyone who attended my birth and anyone who sends me a Christmas card... or a wallet full of cash.

Hey, don't be sad. Maybe next year you can try a little harder.


Dearest friends and family,

As the end of the year draws near, I always find myself simultaneously scurrying around like an insane person- creating “Christmas Magic” for my precious children- and trying to steal some blessed quiet moments for reflection and gratitude. In all honestly, most days I find myself scurrying more than reflecting. Yet, as I sit here well before 5 pm, sipping a beer on a Saturday, I feel gratitude in my heart. Probably because Brock took the boys to run errands and I have an unusually quiet house. But I also have a beautiful, healthy family, the most amazing friends on the planet, and lots of critters to entertain and distract me. All in all, life is grand.



We have a first grader in da house! It’s Thing 1, fyi. He’s a busy, energetic seven year old with a passion for life. Brock and I are envious of the tirelessness of this guy. He loves new experiences, meeting new people, and always is looking for adventure. He also loves touching our stuff. I have never yelled “STOP TOUCHING MY STUFF” more than I do now. Seriously, this guy gets into EVERYTHING. He uses this stuff that does not belong to him to make incredibly elaborate booby traps and other contraptions that I, as a female, do not understand. He also loves school, plays baseball, reads brilliantly, rides horses courageously, and is (mostly) sweet to his little brother. He received a new, ornery pony named Clyde from Papa S and Grandma C for his birthday and the two have bonded. Clyde is a fancy, cresty-necked, palomino Welsh with four gaits: walk, trot, canter and buck forward. That fourth gait is a real doozie.



Thing 2 is now four and enjoys the laid-back lifestyle. He’s totally chill and likes his down-time at home- which I completely understand. He also loves preschool and his “preschool buddies”. A playdate with one of these buddies is the highlight of his week; right behind that is getting a balloon from the local grocery store or eating Popsicles. He is currently obsessed with making art, watching episodes of Paw Patrol, and taking long, luxurious baths- complete with lavender bath salts. He, like his brother, also greatly improved his horseback riding skills over the summer. He rides a black and white pony named Duke, who is about 28 years young. Thing 2 and Duke are about the cutest duo you’ve ever seen. So much precious happiness in one team. If they don’t make you smile, you should check to see if you have a soul.



Brock has been busy working his remodeling business. Among his many projects, he put in a lot of hours this year up the little town of Glen Haven, helping restore the Glen Haven General Store after the massively destructive September flood. It was an honor for him to be able to assist in the restoration of a town that we have both grown to love, as we spend many weekends in the summer there at our dear friends’ cabins. He also (almost) finished a project for his beloved wife- a quaint, screened reading room that I named “The Zen Den” after I rejected his proposed name of “The Rage Cage”. It’s very charming and a most relaxing place. The wine I drink out there has a particularly lovely flavor. He continues to be the good cop/fun parent, which obviously make him the favorite with the wee ones. He is trying to become “a reader” and has almost finished the book he started last year. He enjoyed the return of his handsome bay steed, Prince Charming, and actually got to ride him on occasion. Brock’s a good, kind man and I am lucky to have him by my side.




I have been busy playing the roles of camp counselor, riding instructor, homework facilitator, cook, maid, and drill sergeant with my boys. In my epic amounts of leisure time, I write stuff for money… or for free.  I currently freelance for two publications of APHA’s (American Paint Horse Association): Chrome and Paint Horse Journal. I also continue to share my irreverent observations (occasionally) on my blog and on a few other various places on the web. I was published last year in the humor anthology, I Just Want to Pee Alone and was a speaker in the 2014 Denver Listen to Your Mother- you can find both of those online. After considering a pseudonym for writing and/or everyday purposes, I have decided upon “Huh?”, as that is what my family members say to me most when I speak to them. While I feel most accomplished in the art of online distractions and procrastination, I have also been working on honing my photography skills, writing/illustrating a children’s book and positive self-talk (think Stuart Smalley). Yet the biggest impact on my life was when I celebrated the return of my beautiful buckskin Gus… then I proceeded to spend every dime I made writing on attempting to heal his laminitis. I mostly failed, but he’s worth it, even though he squelched my DSW habit.



After many prayers for peace and calm, we decided to get the boys a baby kitten. Because that makes sense. His name is Captain Fluffernutter and his hobbies are sleeping provocatively like a Playboy Bunny, mewing loudly at 2 am, annoying our other pets and climbing the Christmas tree. He’s also ridiculously adorable and we all love him irrationally.












We would like dedicate this line of our letter to you all; to thank all of you for being a part of our lives and for making this world a better place. We all wish you a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous and joyous New Year.

Much love from our home to yours, 
The Cornfed Girl and clan





Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Belated Advent Guide

Christmas is a time for traditions and giving. It is a time for reflection and gratitude. It is a time for moms and dads to make magic for their children! It is a time for those little numbered calendars that count down the days until Santa arrives! Er.... I mean, until Baby Jesus was born.

Yes, I realize it is December 4th and we are already four days into Advent, but maybe some of you are like me. As in, behind. For instance, I am posting about Advent on December 4th, I've yet to write a post about my new kitten... that we got in October, I just found the Mother's Day card for my mom and her birthday present is sitting on my dresser that hasn't been dusted in four weeks.

Regardless of my (dis)organizational skills, Advent is a fun way to make one of those memorable "Christmas Traditions" for your kids.



Growing up, my Great Aunt Ann always sent two advent calendars; one for me and one for my sister, Jessi. Each November, I looked forward to that manila envelope arriving in our country mailbox. The calendars were the simple, no-candy kind... just a beautiful picture full of little paper doors which opened to pretty images of the season. Those numbered doors revealed so much Christmas magic. There were stockings and ornaments, cookies and kittens, gifts and carolers. On the 25th, the picture was always of Baby Jesus. Every morning I looked forward to opening another tiny door to a soft, glowing picture representing the building excitement for Christmas day. Advent embodied so much about my favorite season: beauty, anticipation, thoughtfulness, surprise and reward. I counted on those calendars from my kind, Great Aunt.  I've loved those calendars. Even today, they are one of my favorite Christmas traditions from my childhood.

When I had kids, I wanted to continue the Advent Calendar tradition. I searched for similar calendars but could never find the same ones with the pretty pastel drawings and watercolor paintings. In fact, the only calendars I found had candy, thus our great Advent tradition of "chocolate for breakfast" was born. This was not what I needed for my tiny, gift-crazed Christmas elves. The candy never stayed in place when the calendar was hung. Sometimes the boys would open doors to reveal a disappointing empty plastic well. Other time they would open the door and the chocolate would catapult from the calendar. Then we would end up searching for the little pieces of chocolate and finding it in unfortunate locations, like the dog water bowl or under the stove where the moths and spiders go to die. There was no consistency with these candy calendars and the sugar and treat aspect only added to the overall manic behavior of my kids during the month of December. I longed for a simple. pretty picture of a candle or an angel behind a tiny paper door to be enough, but my kids are four and seven and I thought maybe I'd missed my window.

Enter the Seasonal section of Target and their adorable wooden Advent houses...



I spotted one last year and, like a good, thrifty farmer, I waited for it to go on sale. Unfortunately, they had all been snatched up by other Advent Traditionalists. Sometimes being a cheap bastard doesn't pay off.
 
Determined to win Christmas this year, I nabbed one as soon as I spotted it on that Christmas filled Target endcap. VICTORY WAS MINE! Then I realized I had to fill it, which was going to require some work and thought on my behalf, thus adding to the Christmas Tradition of Mom as the local Magic Maker! Cookies! Gifts! Music! Decorations! Cards! Pictures! ALL OF THE THINGS!!!!!! WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?

I remembered an email from church that mentioned Advent so scrolled through the 8,000 emails in my inbox (I'm sadly not exaggerating) until I found it. After reading through it, I made my own version. I used some of their ideas and added some of my own to fit my family. I typed it out and cut the paper into strips. Then I loaded each tiny drawer with a customized strip of paper. Because I'm a slow learner, I added two caramel and milk chocolate Hershey's Kisses to each drawer. Then, as a reward for all my hard work, I ate all of the remaining chocolates.

Here's my Advent Calendar:

1st: Make a blessings jar. Place on empty jar on the table. Each evening at dinner, have every member of your family write down a blessing and place it in the jar.
2nd: Read your favorite Christmas book. Talk about why it is your favorite.
3rd: Make a list of the people that you want to buy or make gifts for.
4th: Do something kind for your brother. Write a letter to Santa.
5th: Sing Christmas carols!
6th: Read Luke 1.26-38. Give each of the animals a special treat and tell them that you love them.
7th: Bake Christmas goodies!
8th: Write a family prayer about hope, peace, joy and love.
9th: Pick a local organization to donate to.
10th: Discuss the true meaning of giving.
11th: Is it snowing? Play in the snow!
12th: Wrap gifts you made or bought.
13th: Read Luke 1.39-55. Draw a picture of what you read.
14th: Call Aunt Jessi and wish her a happy birthday~ Sing her a song!
15th: Do something nice for a family member or friend. Keep who did it a surprise!
16th: Say a prayer for others.
17th: Go on a Christmas Light Tour!
18th: Read your favorite Christmas story to someone lonely.
19th: Make more Christmas goodies and give them away!
20th: Read Luke 2.1-5. Help Mommy and Daddy prepare for Christmas.
21st: Have each family member share what they want to do for Christmas celebrations.
22nd: Say a prayer for all the homeless people and animals. Make a donation.
23rd: Write a letter to each of your family members to open on Christmas morning.
24th: Read Luke 2.1-20. Hold hands with someone you love.

25th: Sing Happy Birthday to Jesus! Read the blessings from the Christmas jar.

The kids are enjoying this new spin on our Advent Tradition and I feel like it is making Christmas a little more heartfelt and meaningful. The boys actually remind me about the Blessing Jar every night at dinner!

Or maybe I'm just deluding myself so I feel better about spending $25 on a charming, painted wooden house from Target.

Either way, I'm winning at Christmas, and that is obviously what this season is really about.

Peace, Love and Christmas Traditions,
Johi


Monday, November 24, 2014

A Serious Case of the Mondays



The morning started off with the easy pace of a weekend. The only foreboding was the chaotic winter wind, whipping its chill through the last of the brown leaves clinging to the dormant trees. It should have been my clue, yet I drank my coffee with the blissful unknowing of a newborn.

Thanksgiving break was in session. I was initially shocked that the kids had six entire days off from school, as they weren't slated to return until the Tuesday following turkey day, but I had made up my mind to make the most of the ten days we were to spend together. Just me, my boys, and the lingering respiratory infection that I couldn't seem to shake. At least the break was this week. Last week, both Brock and I were sick with this crud, making our home a scene from Dawn of the Dead. Other than the homemade chicken noodle soup I rustled up the energy to make, our diets consisted of NyQuil to help us sleep, and coffee to help us shake off the NyQuil. In fact, I was still limping a bit from a serious case of NyQuil hip (I slept so hard one night, that I failed to move an inch in my sleep, resulting in an unusable hip joint).

For breakfast, I laid out the last of the apple cinnamon muffins and a banana for each of my children. Next to the plates, I sat two cups of orange juice and a spray bottle of water. The juice was for the kids. The water was to keep our new kitten from eating off their plates. I was feeling as close to a Pinterest mother as ever. Both kids made their beds and dressed themselves on only my fourth request this morning. It was going to be a great start to our break. As they ate, I began my preparation for the day. I sucked down more coffee as I looked out the kitchen window to see if Brock had been out to feed the ponies. I did not see hay, but I did see something unexpected- an extra pony standing in our yard, next to the pen! It was our neighbor's miniature stallion. He's a bit of an escape artist and had been in our yard many times before, but our neighbor recently passed away and no one was currently living at her house- instead one of her derelict sons was supposedly stopping by to care for the animals.

I said over my shoulder, "Hey Brock, that pony is back. Why don't you just throw him in with our ponies and make sure there is enough hay for everyone."

Brock shrugged and said, "Or we could just leave him out."

I replied, "We are so close to the highway. I couldn't live with myself if he was hit on the road. Just put him in for now. I'll figure the rest out later."

"Fine."

As it turns out, it was easier to put tiny stallion into the pen than it was to get him out. Ten minutes of trying to capture that little shit, with the help of my capable seven year old, I was left with an empty halter and pathetic lungs full of fire. I had witnessed the little stud making Clyde his bitch and apparently he did not want to leave. My desire to breathe was greater than my need to lead him home.

I went into the barn to make the morning grain concoction for my horses. Brock had taken over chores for the past week and the state of the barn made that obvious. The lid to one grain box was open, and the other two were put on so sloppily that they didn't even come close to being 'mouse proof'. The back side of the barn were the grain lives is dark. So dark that I cannot see the bottom of the bin. So dark that I could not see a mouse, sitting at the bottom of a bin. I took and deep breath and plunged my arm into the bottom of the grain canister. Way down. So far down. And I scraped the bottom. There was thankfully no mouse, but Brock had barely left enough grain for the morning feed! He drives by 2-6 feed stores on a daily basis. Argh! To me, this is worse than running out of bread. I made a mental note to gripe at him later.

I took the boys to the stable to feed the horses. They went to play with the barn kittens (the litter mates of our precious kitten) while I delivered the grain. When I met them in the tack room afterwards, my youngest was holding a granola bar. I had not packed granola bars. He had lifted it from the barn office. We took the thankfully unopened bar back and I explained to him how taking things that are not yours is stealing. He cried. Not because he felt bad about stealing, but because he had his heart set on that granola bar.

"But it's gluten free!" he wailed.

I took the kids home. My oldest ran through the yard like a hyena and the youngest went inside. I ushered him into the kitchen and opened the pantry. I told him to take whatever he wanted. I was shocked that from the array of delicious canned beans, dried beans, flour, and pasta that he chose the lone fruit cup. It was no granola bar, but it seemed to suffice.

A friend had been on my mind so I picked up my phone and shot her a text. Jen's a writer- so smart and funny. I miss her.

Me: I've been thinking of you a lot lately. Hope you're doing well. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Hugs from CO.

Jen's number: Who this

Me: Johi

Me: Is this Jen?

Probably Jen's old number: O I am good you

So obviously no longer Jen's number: So what's up

I laughed at my phone. Jen loves grammar and long texts. This was clearly not Jen, yet whoever was typing from her old number was having a good time trying to fool me. I contemplated taking some time and energy to mess with this person. I'm more than capable. I thought about having conversations of prison, parole officers, and my girlfriends, Kim and Latisha, who had gotten into a fist fight over me and a bag of Doritos. Then I wondered why it was so quiet.

My oldest was digging through the game cabinet. He had board games and card games spread all around the living room and he was just taking the lid off of one in a red box. I squinted. It was the game that my sister had given to me at my bridal shower. The ONLY game of its kind in my closet. "Dirty Minds" was the title. "A Game of Naughty Clues - For 2-6 open minded adults".



Awesome.

"Stop!" I yelled. "Pick up those games and put them away. We'll play something tonight as a family."

As I was attempting to hide the game not meant for seven year old boys that can read far too well, I heard the kitten puking. The noise was coming from my room. I ran into the room, dropped to my knees and pushed my face to the carpet (never a good idea in my home) so I could retrieve the kitten from beneath my bed. While under there, I also found a brown apple core. I yelled for my four year old.

He walked into the doorway, "Yes?"

Already knowing the answer, I asked, "Did you throw an apple core on the floor of my bedroom?"

He paused for a moment and said, "Well, I couldn't find the trash can."

I said, "You know where the trash is in the kitchen."

He paused again and replied, "Well, I didn't want to miss any of Paw Patrol."

Then my phone rang. I couldn't find it, but when I did, I saw it was a local number and there was a message. I listened to it. It was from my oldest child's school, "Your child wasn't at school today and we didn't receive a call from you excusing him. If we don't receive a call from you, he will be marked as an unexcused absence."

Wait
What?
He had school?
Today?

I ran to my school calendar and read it. Sure enough, school was indeed in session. Not only today, but tomorrow as well! And my child was at home, getting into X-rated board games and watching a miniature stallion mount his beloved (male) pony.

Just then, I heard my little guy cry because big brother was picking on him and I said brightly, "Oh my gosh! You have school! Brush your teeth and I'll pack your lunch!" I packed that lunch with a lunch packing speed that I didn't know I possessed.

You see, there was plenty of time for him to eat lunch at school because all of this went down before 10:15 a.m.

I rushed him into his elementary building and signed my name in the office. Under "reason for visit" I wrote "Stupidity".

I returned home, where, in the middle of a windstorm, Brock arrived to help me return the minuscule stallion to his pen. It was not as easy as it should have been, but that, my friends, is another story for a different day.



Peace, Love and Miniature Stallions,
Johi








Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hair today, gone tomorrow. It's 'time' for a new 'personality'.

I looked in the mirror last night and wanted to cry. When Brock told me that I looked haggard, he was right. My eyes were wrinkled, my skin was pale and splotchy, my clothes were outdated and my hair was an odd combination of straw, frizzy, greasy and stringy. I had officially reached my limit. I was over looking "low maintenance".The time had come for a little self care.  I called my hair stylist. It's been so long, I wondered if she'd remember my name.

She said, "Johi! I haven't seen you in forever!"

"I know," I said, "it's obvious when people look at my head."

She asked what I wanted done and instructed me to bring her pictures.

I said, "No problem."

Except when I did research (by Googling "Blond hairstyles 2014"), I realized all the hair I loved was thick and wavy. Mine is neither.

Problem.

Back to the drawing board. A girl has to work with what God gave her. Or marry for money. Dammit anyway.

They say hombre is 'in'. I say hombre is a free pass to all the lazy girls who don't like to upkeep their hair. Naturally, my hair is currently hombre- only it is unintentional. It's chemically treated, dried out blond on the bottom and four inches of grown out dishwater blond/grey on the top. While I know it sounds beautiful, it's surprisingly not working for me.

Decisions, decisions.
What was I going to do with my mop?
Maybe I would just get a wig.








After deciding that I couldn't live with one of those eerie, long necked wig-stand ladies watching me while I sleep, I resorted to my normal method of problem solving. I called a girlfriend (the one who has fabulous hair at all times and can style the bejeebus out of any hair- even mine). My girlfriends can fix anything,

I asked her, "Would you help me find a new hairstyle?"

She said, "Of course."

I said, "It needs to be bright and look cute when I comb it and let it air dry. That's what I do now and it works. Well... maybe it doesn't work... but that's how I style it most days."

She laughed at me. We both know how I tend to look like I've been perpetually trapped in an attic.

I said, "Look. Not everyone has your fabulous hair or your mad styling skills."

She agreed. She's humble like that.

I added, "Plus, I don't want to have to style it. I would say that I don't have the time, but we all know that's a lie. I could get out of bed 15 minutes earlier. The truth is, I simply don't have the personality to style my hair every day."

She guffawed and said, "Just like I don't have the personality to clean the kitchen and cook dinner tonight,"

"Exactly," I said. "You always get me."

That's the moment that I realized that the words 'time' and 'personality' were basically interchangeable. You could also use 'desire' or 'will'. Let me illustrate:

Sally doesn't have the time to give her husband a blow job.
Sally doesn't have the personality to give her husband a blow job.

Missy can't find the time to clean the abandoned woodshed.
Missy can't find the personality to clean the abandoned woodshed.

Sam's time for taking out the trash has diminished.
Sam's personality for taking out the trash has diminished.

Sam Jr. just didn't have the time to do his homework.
Sam Jr. just didn't have the personality to do his homework.

Lisa wants a new time for her hair appointment.
Lisa wants a new personality for her hair appointment.

What Harold lacks in time, he makes up for in performance.
What Harold lacks in personality, he makes up for in performance.

Kenny's time is limited.
Kenny's personality is limited.

Jill just doesn't posses the time to have children.
Jill just doesn't posses the personality to have children.

Johi would like to write more, but currently she doesn't seem to have the time.
Johi would like to write more, but currently she doesn't seem to have the personality.

That was my deep thought of the day. Enjoy.

Peace, love and unicorns,
Johi


If you find the time, feel free to send me pictures of cute hairstyles for women with fine, thin, stringy hair. Think Paltrow and Hough, not J-Lo and Vergara. Only time (or my menstrual cycle) will tell what I decide!




Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Clearing the Cobwebs and Killing Spiders

"Mom! There's a GIANT black spider in your bathroom!"

My oldest son was standing in front of me, wrapped in a towel. Water still dripped from his head. He was distressed.

"Mmmm. Okay." I responded with disinterest.

I was not afraid of spiders. Mostly. They didn't really bother me. All that much. I lived in the country. Spiders came with the territory. I've lived with spiders since I was a kid. I usually just left them be, even if they had decided to take up residence in all of the windows and doorways on the exterior of my house. I left them alone even when they lived inside the house with me.Were they really hurting anything?

"But Mom! It was REALLY BIG!" he insisted.

"Okay buddy. I'll take care of it later," I said.

It was the first chance I had to sit down all day. I certainly wasn't getting up for a spider. I was going to sit on my couch and flip through my new magazine. There were Halloween crafts in the new issue. The kids love that crap. I would find a craft and we could all do it together! Look! A spider craft! How cute! Plus, I was sitting. Finally. It had been a long day. Again. It was time for some self care. I secretly couldn't wait to flip on the television and completely check out for the day.

"Go get into your pj's, it's bedtime." I said to my son.

I hoped he would drop the urgency of the spider hunt. After a book, a cuddle, and a nighttime prayer, he did. Distraction is an art. Luckily, I majored it art. It's almost its own language; one that I spoke proficiently. I was a master of distraction.

Two days later, two minutes behind schedule, I stole a glance in my bathroom mirror before bolting out of the door. I shuddered at my bedraggled reflection. At the very least, a hairbrush was required. STAT. I grabbed for my brush and instead, found my hand tangled in a mess of sticky cobweb. When I started to peel the web from my skin, I noticed the giant black spider that sat approximately one inch from my fingers. It seemed to be sizing up the tasty meal entangled in its web. GAH! My heart raced a bit.

"I am not afraid of you!" I muttered.

I quickly snagged the brush bucket (yes, my brushes were in a bucket. I was raised on a farm, okay?) and dumped the spider into the toilet. I flushed and waved goodbye with a smirk on my face. When I turned around, I saw a second giant black spider scurry under the sink vanity. UGH. Yet I had no more time to lend to spider slaughter that morning. I was already late. As usual. Lateness is an art. Luckily, I majored in art. It's almost its own language; one that I spoke proficiently. I was a master of lateness.

I ran my slightly web-strewn brush through my hair and went about my day. I looked like I fell from the dumpster end of a garbage truck. Meh. I would take better care of my appearance another time- as in, in another life. Why did it matter how I looked? I didn't even have a job. I reminded myself of that daily. Self-criticism is an art. Luckily, I majored in art. It's almost its own language; one that I spoke proficiently. I was a master of self criticism.

Two days later, after consuming too much of my favorite dark roasted diuretic, I rushed to my bathroom for bladder relief. I stood and turned to flush. That is when I saw it. The giant black spider that was perched inside the toilet bowl. The very toilet bowl over which I had just exposed all of my delicate lady bits. I was rattled. I did not expect a spider to be THERE. It's one thing to confront a spider while fully clothed and wearing sturdy shoes, it's quite another experience when you are basically naked and barefoot.

I shuddered and flushed. I watched it twirl down the drain and wondered if it was the same spider that I flushed two days ago. Could it have re-emerged? Again? Or was it the one I ignored that went under the sink? Or was it a new one all together? Shit. This spider business was all getting to be too much.

I wasn't afraid of spiders, but the thought of them creeping up on me when I am unprotected was... unsettling. Thinking about what they might do on my face when I'm sleeping was enough to grip me with chilly fingers of fear. And it made me angry to know that I could be vulnerable to hurt in my own home... particularly when I was not even awake.

I was not a fearful person... unless I was afraid of something. I was not an angry person... until something pissed me off. Angry fear is an art. Luckily, I majored in art. It's almost it's own language; one that I spoke proficiently. I was a master at angry fear.

That was it! These spiders were overwhelming me. It was time to take care of the spiders and all their webs. I knew what I needed to do. The spiders and their messy killing traps were no longer allowed in my life. I put a pillowcase on a broom and swept the walls and ceilings in every room. I used the vacuum hose and sucked up those bastards that had been lurking under the beds. I scrubbed behind doors,  swept under furniture, and wiped the corners. I power washed the outside of the house. Then I power washed the inside of the barn. I literally put on my big girl boots and stomped the shit out of every creepy, unwelcome- albeit familiar- invader.

Every day, I slayed spiders. Every day, I knocked down webs. But they are persistent little bastards. And they continue to return, rebuild, and to prey on whatever stumbles into their familiar trap. It's a process that feels never-ending, but I know that winter is nigh and their life span is short. A new season is around the corner. Change happens, whether we are prepared or not, so we might as well prepare.  I'll turn over every rock in my garden and look behind every shutter on my house to make sure nothing is hiding out, laying eggs, and waiting to re-emerge when I am least expecting it. I'm doing the work now, so that in the next season I am free to chase butterflies.

Wish me luck.



Author note: This post isn't actually about spiders.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges

In a shocking turn of personality, I spent my summer as The Fun Facilitator to my children. I was a one woman entertainment committee. I finally earned my parenting gold star. Between the horseback riding, swimming, hiking, fishing, art, camping, and baseball, my house was basically a fucking summer camp.

And I enjoyed it. Truly, I did.

Keeping my work writing (horse magazines) and fun writing (this blog) to a minimum allowed me a summer of fully engaged adventure with my boys. We made memories. We read the first two books in the Little House series. We ate popsicles. We all learned new things. Naturally, I took lots of pictures. And I did so much physical work and activity that my legs are full of bruises and I inadvertently lost about 10 pounds. And I am tired.

Now school is back in session and fall is on the horizon; promising hours of non-mom activities, shorter days, increased hunger, and more can't miss television. All of which will slow me down and suck me back into those wonderful and horrible couch cushions.

In addition to that, over the weekend I received a special package in the mail. It was a book! I love books! I remember reading books of my choosing for pleasure! I love reading! The lure of slowing down and reading was beckoning me, so on Sunday I hid from my family in the barn with the intention of reading this book. But the people found me. As did the biting flies. So I admitted defeat, cleaned the stalls, and opened a beer.



I don't like to give up on my dreams, so tried to read again today. I hunkered on the couch with my new friend, a copy of Jen Mann's newest publication, People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges. I read that mofo cover to cover while allowing my children a few hours of what I like to call "unstructured play", because that sounds better that "I'm busy doing important stuff, so go entertain yourselves." The children chose to play "classroom." I read the book. It was a success!



If you have read her blog, you know that Jen writes with a combination of wit, intelligence, confrontation, self-deprecating humor, and assholishness. In essence, she is everything I look for in a friend.

Within the first few pages, Jen had me laughing out loud. From her oblivious choice of a lewd screen name to her conscious choice of farmer's attire for her first date with "The Hubs", Jen was constantly making fun of herself while maintaining a strong sense of certainty. Her stories of marriage were my favorite. She says exactly what most married women think (yet are too afraid to verbalize), with little to no apology. She clearly loves her spouse, even though he drives her absofreakinglutely batshit crazy. I feel you, Jen.

Jen writes of parenting with refreshing frankness. She masterfully exhibits the harrowing struggles of all parents- from breast-feeding and early socialization to school and educational involvement- all with a clever tongue and more of her signature snark and humor. Yet she artfully veils an actual sense of dignity and morality. Again, I was guffawing so loudly and suddenly that I interrupted my children's "unstructured play." Thanks a lot, Jen.

It is always an added bonus to read something that brings insight and gratitude into your own life. As the book closed with Jen's tales of suburban moms and their pretentiousness, she made me grateful for my amazing friends... and for the fact that I live in the country. The biggest drama in my life is when Black Dog chases my neighbor's car down our dead end road. I'll take it.

If you are looking for a laugh-out-loud funny, often surprising, slyly thoughtful read, pick up a copy of Jen Mann's People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges. You won't be disappointed. School's back in session. You deserve a little couch time and spontaneous laughter in your life and that is exactly what Jen Mann delivers!



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Adventures in Cheyenne, Wyoming

Everyone in Fort Collins can thank me for the precipitation yesterday. I hung some laundry on the clothes line then drove out of town, clearly causing it to rain. It's all part of my Life Plan, the one I call "Making Good Choices."

I took the boys to Cheyenne, Wyoming to spend the morning with my parents. They had made a trip from Iowa to attend Cheyenne Frontier Days. The town of Cheyenne is at its prime during the annual Frontier Days. With a parade, daily rodeos, and nightly concerts, it was hopping with cowboy activity. It was also crawling with transients, but that is another story that I probably won't tell.



My parents are what some might call Western Enthusiasts. They not only live on a horse ranch where they raise Quarter Horses and operate a horse camp, they also are avid collectors of anything vintage western. Some would say it's their passion; others might call it their illness. Whatever it is, I compare it to my inherent love of all things shoes. So naturally, ma and pa had selected touring a cowboy museum as part of their time with me and the boys. We stepped into the Nelson Museum of the West and were met with a burst of air conditioning and a friendly lady behind the desk. Well, Dad, the boys, and I stepped into the museum. Mom was outside taking a phone call.

The lady at the desk walked to the counter to greet us and my dad said, "Three adults and two brats."

I watched her visually scan our group and a perplexed look appeared on her face when she only counted two adults.

To save her the concern for my father's ability to do simple math, I said, "Mom is outside."

Then I smiled in a helpful way.

The woman frowned for a split second, tilted her head and asked, "How old is your mother?"

I saw my dad smirking. It's no secret where I got my love of mocking people. Then I did a quick rundown of our apparent scenario and realized that this woman was assuming two things that were not correct. One- she thought that I was married to my father and the "brats" were our spawn. And two- she believed that we left some apparently elderly woman alone out on the streets of Cheyenne to fend off the massive homeless population and heave open the heavy wooden doors. In both situations, I am a loser.

There was a long moment of silence where the only thing I could hear were the sarcastic remarks that my dad was thinking.

I corrected her, "No. THIS is my FATHER." Then I pointed at Chief Tall Hat, just to make it clear that I was referring to the big guy buying the tickets.

Just then, my youthful mother burst through the giant wooden doors with the ease of a veteran door opener. She didn't even break a sweat... or her hip. Because I'm not an asshole that leaves an old lady alone on the street. "Hurry up and get across that intersection, GRANDMA! I should hear your cane a-clacking!"

Immediately I suffered a shock of PTSD and I was right back in that moment in Vegas, where I was accused of being my OLDER sister's MOTHER. Then I felt that familiar twinge of mild rage toward the general public. I briefly considered shaming the woman, but judging by the high color in her cheeks, she felt plenty uncomfortable.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the museum. But then again, don't most old people love museums?  My particular favorite was the part where the giant bear tried to eat my children.


Walking through museums sure can work up an appetite, particularly when you are hungry before you walk into the museum. So we sidled on over The Capitol Grill, were I accidentally ordered enough salad for the Duggar Family and my dad taught my children proper restaurant etiquette, which apparently includes entering into a coloring contest and mocking your seven-year old opponent, then throwing french fries. The food was delicious and they maybe had the best french fries on the planet (for eating, not throwing).


After that we walked across the street and stopped into Cheyenne's legendary western store, The Wrangler. It was bustling; packed full of people and merchandise- the kind of store that you could lose yourself, or your child, in. Mom and I found Dad a belt and I discovered that the only jeans I like are over $88. Shocker.

The final stop in downtown Cheyenne was to visit The Big Boy Train, number 4004. The boys were dwarfed by this steam engine, which is over 132 feet long. Only 25 were built for a short period in the 1940's and only eight remain on display. I would say that we stopped for the boys, but in all honesty, I love trains, too.



We headed back to Little America. Because the boys were well-mannered, I had to make good on my promise; so I reluctantly donned my swimming suit and took my very excited boys to the pool. I thought to myself, This is fine. We're in Wyoming, which is not exactly the landmark for physical fitness. When I entered the pool area, I noticed that all around me where tanned, toned, gorgeous people in their twenties. I cannot explain it, the only thing I can fathom is that a bus of models from Miami must have broken down on the interstate. I spent about 20 minutes getting water kicked in my face and responding to "WATCH THIS!" and "LOOK AT ME!" 146 times- all of which included a random little girl who joined us. I tried not to shout for glee when the storm rolled in with big, fat raindrops and lightening.

"Oh darn it! We have to get out of the pool now!"



After showering, I wondered over to the gift shop, where I found a $198 Tasha Polizzi sweater that made me salivate and a wonderful photo-on-canvas of two flea bitten grey horses drinking from a stream. My dad bought me the picture, because he's truly a generous, big-hearted guy. Don't tell him that I said that.

I drove my little cowboys home and they both fell asleep immediately. Looking into the backseat and seeing their little heads resting on their shoulders filled me with joy. They are such good, sweet boys. And they are particularly precious when they're sleeping. Because... silence.

When we arrived back at our homestead, I pulled the wet laundry from the line just in time for the clouds to break up, leaving us with a beautiful evening. The boys begged to ride (after they begged for food), so ride we did. I was too lazy to heft my giant saddle onto Gus, so I went bareback.


It was a pretty good day.

Maybe, after all, my choices are just fine.


Peace, Love and Summatime,
Johi

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pioneering a Summer of Quality Time

Engage. Enjoy. Teach. Love. Build.

Those are the goals that I set for myself this summer. The time has come to step away from the computer- away from technology- and get back to the good stuff in life. Quality time outdoors with my kids (and Brock, when he is available) is my overall goal for the three warm months of June, July and August, and by golly, I mostly* reach my goals.

*I never did grow to 5'9"

Aside from a handful of projects, I have given myself a pass from most computer-related work until September 1. My boys are only 4 and 7 once and I intend to take full advantage of every day with them this summer. I am grateful for these ages, when they actually like me and still want to hang out with me.

In May, I adopted an almost childlike attitude of "I can't WAIT until summer break!" and thus far, it truly has been magical. Already one month into break, and our days have been filled with almost nonstop fun and learning. Sure, we have had some bumps and tears (and a nasty pony bite- thank goodness that was me), but the majority of our time has been wonderful. Not once have I heard, "I'm bored!" and I really doubt I will because I have shed my boring, winter self and morphed into a tanned, denim clad, mostly unwashed, great facilitator of AWESOME. I will not lie, the kids' ages make activities so much easier (and more enjoyable) than they have been in years past.

I am having more fun being a mom now than I ever have before.


Because... tiny cowboys on ponies.  I mean, seriously, this shit is ridiculously cute.

It also helps that I have my horses back and no longer feel as if I have a giant void in my chest where my heart once lived. So there's THAT.

Also, the fridge stocked with Omission beer is nice. I like the Pale Ale (blue label).



In all seriousness, one of the main goals for this summer was to build up Thing 1's confidence, which had been hacked away during the school year. I painfully watched him struggle in school with his peers as he navigated the choppy waters of playground conduct and social structure. So many days he came home from Kindergarten with stories of kids excluding him, taunting him, and even punching him. It was heart wrenching to watch my beautiful, sensitive, sweet boy feel tentative about socializing, even with kids that he called friends. While he was succeeding beautifully in the classroom, my bright-eyed child's light was fading a bit. We had many too-advanced conversations about not allowing others to victimize you, standing up for yourself and treating people as you want to be treated. I tried my best to listen and give him sound advice, but it is always hardest to coach someone when you are only getting one side of the story, and you happen to be the mother of that side. In short, I was ready to get him home and under my Mother Hen wing for a little rebooting and recharging and a lot of love and snuggles.

We had tried Karate for confidence, personal awareness and responsibility. While he seemed to enjoy Karate when he was there, he didn't really seem passionate about it. Half the time, he didn't even want to go. In all honesty, neither Brock or I have any connection to Karate, so we were ill-equipped to stir that fire. But there was something that I am passionate about that builds and develops all of those qualities: HORSES HORSES HORSES!



The arrival of Thing 1's pony, Clyde, brought the horse interest to the forefront of his mind. He seems to share my passion and the joy on his face when he is with that pony is unmatched. Every day, Thing 1 slips into his cowboy boots and heads out to the barn, where he halters both ponies and leads them out to the pen for the day. He has overcome many pony handling challenges (i.e. they are as stubborn and strong as donkeys) by implementing Posture, Position and Energy. His eager attitude, persistence and patience have made him successful. He is listening as I teach him proper horse handling and care, and even repeats things I have said about it to his little brother. He grooms Clyde, saddles him and mounts without assistance. And he LOVES to ride. The first time he cantered that pony, his smile was a big and bright as a full moon. It has been amazing to witness. His light is shining bright again. This mama's heart is full.




Thing 2 is having a wonderful summer as well. I've watched Thing 2 gain focus, determination and listening skills as he and his 27 year old pony, Duke, develop a wonderful partnership. Of course, he insists on keeping up with his big brother, which includes cleaning stalls, carrying his own pony saddle and a lot of very bumpy, fast trotting. So much trotting. So bumpy.

When the kids and I aren't in the barn or on the trail, we can be found doing one of the following: bike riding, playing baseball, making art, fishing, hiking with the dogs, gardening or reading through the Little House on the Prairie series in the almost completed Zen Den. Hot damn. Life is good.







Right now (aside from the screaming of Thing 2 from the backyard- I'm sure he'll be fine) I don't want summer to end. We are living in love and relishing the warm summer days. This is how life was meant to be lived and I intend to take full advantage of it.

Remind me of this post on August 22nd, when I have heard "I'm bored" 1,000 times, need to work again and am overly ready for the kids to go back to school.

Peace, Love and Summer Break,
Johi








Saturday, June 14, 2014

I found out what the Fox says.

Yesterday afternoon, Brock, the kids, and I drove up the mountains to head to our friend's cabins in Glen Haven. Mountains, fresh air, sunshine... it seemed like the right thing to do after I had experienced approximately four solid weeks of debilitating insomnia. In fact, I had been up since 3:30 a.m. that morning and was feeling about as sweet and cuddly as a rabid porcupine. As I loaded the cooler with the makings for ham sandwiches, I tried to focus on making it a nice evening and I thought to myself, I should grab my good camera. I love taking pictures in the mou... the Things disrupted my thoughts as they ran, screaming and hollering, through the room.

I yelled after them, "HEY! Go to the bathroom NOW because there is no water at the cabins, therefore no toilets!"

I got a, "I DON'T HAVE TO GO!" and a, "ME NEITHER!"

So I stuffed potato chips into a sack, grabbed everyone a sweatshirt in preparation for the cool Colorado night, and walked out the door... without my camera.

We intended to simply open up and clean two of the cabins, but we were in for a little something more memorable. We pulled the truck down the familiar dirt lane and crossed the bridge. There, at the Y-intersection on the left, was a beautiful red fox. She was sitting. Watching. She was calm, cool, and totally in control. After a minute, she stood up and slowly trotted up the lane we had just driven down.





As a family of animal lovers, we were all excited at this sighting. Somehow the moment seemed special, almost as if it were carved out for us to experience together, as a family. My mood started to lift.

We drove up the hill to the cabin, parked and headed into a cabin. Before we could even get into the swing of cleaning, Thing 1 proclaimed, "I have to go to the bathroom!"

I said, "We're in nature. Go pee on a tree!"

He replied, "No. I have GO."

Of course. Mr. Hankey was urgently knocking at his backdoor.

I looked up from the window sill I was scrubbing and said, "Well, you'll need to find a private spot, dig a pit, do your business, and then cover your deposit."

He blankly stared at me.

 Brock said, "Come on. I'll show you what to do."

He grabbed some toilet paper, a portable potty seat, and started on a expedition to find the perfect deuce dropping station. At this point, Thing 2 was also tagging along out of curiosity, so it was like a tiny poo parade.

The screen door had just slammed shut when I heard, "Well, look at that! There's another fox by the campfire ring!"

I quickly, but quietly ran outside. I didn't want to scare her!

I spotted her, a fluffy fox trotting up the mountain. I couldn't tell if it was the same one we had seen earlier or not. Then I saw a quick movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a kit! Then another one! And three more! They were yipping adorably and wrestling and playing chase at high speed! Mama positioned herself between my family and hers. In a way that only mothers can do, she calmly but firmly kept an eye on her kits and the blond human crew watching them. There was no scaring this fox. She was a mother of five. She'd already lived through more terror than most.



We all stood there staring with dumb smiles plastered on our faces. See my sleep-deprived one below. Dummy dumb dumb dumb. Apparently one eye gets squinty when I'm tired.

 


Ten or more minutes passed and I noticed Thing 1 making some awkward shapes with his body.

"Oh buddy! You really need to go, don't you?" I asked.

He nodded and Brock started to lead the poo crew once more. Then he said, "LOOK! A black fox!"

Sure enough, there was a sixth member of the litter and it was solid black! For a moment, I wondered if Smelly Cat stowed away in my truck and joined his tribe.

Smelly Cat: part black fox, part Ninja, part Pepe LePew, and part Toothless the Dragon.

Once more, we stood and stared like a group of gawking tourists. It was incredible! They were so beautiful... and hyper! And all I could say was, "Thank goodness Thing 1 had to go!" and, "WHY DIDN'T I BRING MY CAMERA???" and, "OMG, I actually know what the FOX SAYS!"





At least I had my camera on my cell phone. 

And for your information, the fox does say, "YIP YIP YIP YIPYIPYIP YIP."

Peace, Love and Fox Kits,
Johi


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fun in the Sun: Outdoor Activities for your Kids this Spring (Summer)

Since I have been super busy cleaning horse poop, planting my own garden, repeating myself, mowing the yard, pulling a filthy amount of weeds from my flower beds and experiencing debilitating insomnia, I am offering up this lovely post full of wonderful ideas to get you started on the magical journey of summer vacation. It is written by ghost writer, Emma Crosby. Enjoy!

Fun in the Sun: Outdoor Activities for your Kids this Spring

So Spring has finally sprung! The days are getting longer, the temperatures are creeping up, flowers are blooming, birds are singing and air is filled with the sweet sounds of 'Mommmmm I'm bored!' After a long winter of being cooped up indoors you can hardly blame our kids for wanting to run free in the great outdoors but lots of enticing activities for the warmer weather such as zoos and theme parks come with a far-from-sunny price tag. There are lots of weird and wonderful ways to occupy the kids in your own garden this Spring that are fun, educational and cheap too. Here are just a few to inspire your family.

Plant a vegetable patch
Spring is a fruitful time of year so make the most of it with your green fingered little ones and encourage them to grow their own crops. Studies show that kids who are involved in the growing process of produce are generally more likely to have an interest in healthy eating and consequently have better diets and general health. Giving them the responsibility of planning, digging and maintaining their own vegetable patch will make their sense of accomplishment even bigger when they finally see the fruits of their labor and present you with their harvest. Herbs, salads and root vegetables such as carrots and onions are all great starter plants but it may also be worth including a few 'fast flowering' crops such as tomatoes so that they see results quickly before losing interest in their project. Fun and educational, this is a popular Spring past time that will save you money and provide the entire family with fresh, organic food.

Bird watching
Here in Colorado we are blessed to have a number of migrating birds in our skies during Spring. Hawks, warblers, hummingbirds and buntings are just a few of the birds that you might be able to spy from your garden so invest in a pair of binoculars and get the kids interested in bird watching. If you want to make this a really educational activity then have them read up on said birds beforehand so that they can try and identify anything that they see and add a little healthy competition by allocating points for the child who can correctly spot and identify the most birds. For rainy days you could also help them to create their own bird feeders using everything from hollowed out fruits and pine cones to plastic bottles.

Camping out
While you may view camping out in your back yard as a cold, uncomfortable and unnecessary way to spend an evening, the kids will see it as an exciting adventure. It really is crazy just how much fun sleeping 50 yards away from your own house is to them so now the temperatures are creeping up indulge them and try and get into the camping spirit. Songs before bedtime, dinner cooked over a camp fire and the threat of 'going indoors' to quell any bad behavior will ensure that everyone has a great night. And if the heavens open you are only a few steps away from your cozy beds.'

Getting crafty in the garden
Nature is beautiful and so the garden is a wonderful place for your little ones to get creative and bring the outdoors indoors with their own works of art. From sketching garden critters to creating collages from leaves and grass, the possibilities are endless. One of my kids favorite crafts is flower coloring. This involves picking flowers in the garden (pale or white flowers such as daisies work best) and adding them to jars or vases that have a small amount of food coloring in, ensuring that the stems are cut at the bottom. As the flowers drink up the water their white petals will take on the color of the dye and become flecked with bright colors. Not only will this amaze the kids but it teaches them about plants and brightens up the house too.

Build mud pies
Some things never get old and making mud pies in the garden is certainly on that list. However old your child is you can bet that they'll love digging, mushing, sploshing, spooning and stirring their mud pies. A designated area of dirt, a wooden spoon and a few pots and pans is all they'll need for hours of fun. And far from being a pointless and filthy activity, handling mud and water encourages sensory development and encourages your kids to use their imagination. With leaves and twigs as entrees, you can even let them bring their favorite toys into the garden for dinner.   
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Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Secret is Grandma and Papa...

Have you read The Secret?

I read it about six years ago. It was enlightening.

It's all about the power of your thoughts. You see, enlightened people know that your thoughts manifest themselves into your reality. Basically, if you think negative thoughts, your life experience will blow hairy donkey balls. But if you think POSITIVE thoughts, rainbows will shoot out of your ass and you will get a shiny new pony!

CONGRATULATIONS! You're now enlightened! Now go do the laundry and don't forget to scrub that pee smell out of the bathroom.

In all seriousness, this shiz really does work and I am here to prove it.

For example, I personally know a lot of sucky, negative people and their lives are super gloomy and blechy.

No. Thank you.

I also know a lot of super positive people and they seem really happy! And I find them slightly fucking annoying.

Wait, I lost my direction for a moment....

Oh yeah! I've been trying to do this positive thinking jazz and visualization stuff and guess what??? While rainbows are yet to shoot out of my ass (there's still time for that, Brock had the stomach flu only five days ago), we did get a SHINY NEW PONY! Thing 1 owes Grandma and Papa a LONG thank you note for this guy. And I owe them for my existence on this planet. THANKS MOM AND DAD! You're my favorite Mom and Dad, EVER! But seriously, they're getting one helluva thank you letter because what kid gets a PONY for his 7th birthday?*

*Answer: A lucky little turd.

Drumroll.....

Everyone, meet Clyde- the most adorable palomino pony in the history of ever!



Thing 2, Duke and I surprised Thing 1 at the bus stop with Clyde yesterday. Do you see the PURE JOY on my kids' faces?




What is wrong with my kids? They are both scowling.

In other great news, Duke and Clyde seemed to take to one another like peas and carrots. Clyde seems pretty flowy. It also probably helps that Duke is 146 years old and no longer gives a shit.



In addition to all the fabulosity, we thankfully found Blizzard (my sweet, blind pony) a home. He is now living on a large ranch in the mountains (seriously, it's basically paradise) with the actual, real-life Snow White (minus the dwarfs). We will get to visit him often and he will be well cared for and loved. But I hope she gets her shit together and gets some dwarfs before I visit.

AND, as if we needed MORE awesomeness, we found a bit of sweet pasture for our horses! The best part is that it is literally on the other side of my driveway. They love it so much that they lounge around in it like Hugh Hefner at a pool party. Or drunk hookers in Vegas. Or Courtney Love at a tattoo parlor. You pick. In fact, I saw Gus (the buckskin) laying down while eating grass earlier today. That is taking chillaxin' to a whole new level. In my horses' defense, they can't help their laziness. They are full brothers in blood who are descendants of the famous racehorse Seabiscuit, who was known for his love of sleeping and eating. No shit.




To top it off, I visualized myself drinking a beer and writing tonight and I'll be damned if it didn't manifest into my reality!



The Secret is real, people. IT'S REAL.

Now, if you'll excuse me I need to go draw a picture of myself cashing a check for ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

Peace, Love and OMG PONIES!!!!
Johi