Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ode To My Sparklets Bottle

Tomorrow is payday and for the next  24 to 48 hours I will walk with a certain spring in my step. I will walk with the confidence that I have a little coin in the bank, my bills are paid, we can dine at the restaurant of our choice and eat like royalty !!! And there's food in the fridge. I feel good. Until my mind monkeys get the better of me and I go online to check my bank balance and see that I am once again broke. Back to reality.

The next 3+ weeks of the month are a bit more frugally lived; coupon clipping, fuel preservation, Jim & I sharing a soda at McDonalds as opposed to getting our own. It always feels so good utilize a coupon and a fraction of brain power to get a meal on date night that we can stretch into lunch and dinner the next day.

This past week as we once again found ourselves raiding the Sparklett's bottle for enough jingle for a quick trip to the grocery store. It's been a while since I enjoyed a shopping trip quite the way I did this past Friday. Now I'm not kidding when I say that we had about $18 to work with, so we had to be strategic with the choices that would get us through the weekend and into the work-week.

Oh, and did I mention that I'm on a pretty strict eating regime this month? New Years Eve is just around the corner and I need to fit into a dress...preferably a smaller one..so we did not revisit the early-married days of stocking up on Mac-N-Cheese and Top Ramen.

When we were first married and had a little 10month old, Jim would get paid and we would pay the rent, utilities, fill up the tank, buy one pack of diapers and but a case of Top Ramen....and life was good. But, you know,  to this day, I still have an aversion to Top Ramen; can't stand the stuff. I ate so much Top Ramen in the "lean days"  that I just can't stomach it now.

I digress...

Shopping this past Friday became a tag-team effort as we shopped and scoured for the best deal. We'd get excited at the discovery of a item marked "clearance" and would high-five or chest-bump, much to the confusion of the other shoppers in the produce section. But, hey! when I find spring salad mix marked down to an incredible 45 cents, I'm going to celebrate !!! I also get pretty excited when the Dollar Tree has MEN on sale !!!

I digress...

We were on a quest. We were working as a team. We were having fun and loving each little victory. We held our breath as each item was scanned by the clerk. I hate that gut-gnawing feeling you get when you realize that you might have to put something back.

But, we did it! We came in under budget and even had some money to spare! Our shared victory was celebrated by a rental movie with the money left over.

You know, when we were financially comfortable, shopping was a mind-numbing chore. We could place whatever we wanted in the cart without a second thought. But, now, shopping with caution makes us a little more appreciative of what we walk out the door with.

We save up our nickels and dimes for a return trip to Jamaica. We understand that the dream is pushed a little further onto the back burner as the economy continues to run it's course. I was feeling a little nostalgic the other day when I raided that Sparklets bottle. I wrote tribute to that big old penny bank. I look forward to the day when I won't have to rely on it so much. But until then....

Ode To My Sparklets Bottle


My Sparklets Bottle
Standing in the corner tall and proud
You are always there for me
In my time of need

You graciously open wide to accept our offerings of pennies, nickels, dimes
And the occasion fold of paper
You never complain about the lack of quarters
As you fully understand the need for clean clothing

Joyful are the sounds of the coins
Falling into the depths of your light blue belly
Even joyful more are the sounds of your willingness
To give our tokens of love right back to us in a time of need

You gladly receive and give
And as long as you stay perched in your corner
You will always have pennies shining through
As the copper color adds to the decor
Even more than the silver
Plus...I don't feel like rolling those 'lil Abes

Thank you, Little 5 gallon friend of mine
You are true to your purpose and nature
And I thank you


Rich Enough To Know The Difference

Families choose different ways to spend their holidays. Our family has done everything from one extreme to the other; from the traditional family get-together to the desert camping trip. This year, Jim and I needed to find a new way to celebrate the holidays. Something that would appeal to the two of us as well as something that fit into our limited budget and resources.Some investigating on the internet provided me with a great alternative to staying home spending all day cooking for two.

I had gathered some information on an historic Bed & Breakfast Inn located in Julian, California, and invited some friends to accomppany us on a Thanksgiving get-away. Julian, an old mining town is located a short drive from our home in the next county. Julian is in apple country and has several old gold mines from the latter part of the gold rush. The population is small,comprising of families that have been in the same town, many in the same homes, for generations. The mining industry no longer exists, unless you consider the economic boost provided from  tours of the old mines. Julian is a woman-driven economy; primarily focused around the pie companies, diners, and crafting stores, while the men are typically farm hands or find employment miles away, off the mountain.

But much like other tourist towns, you don't always see the real picture of a town's demographics. One really only sees the little stores tucked in corners and renovated century-old homes. But during the holidays, when the spirits of mankind are often most evident, you can see the real heart of a town such as Julian.

While taking in the history of the town on a self-guided tour, we were approached by more than one resident inviting us to aThanksgiving meal at the the town hall. A free meal they explained, for those who were away from home on the holidays, or for those passing through, or for those who had no family to be with, or for those who had no home at all.

While we had some money set aside for holiday dinner, something made me want to go to this meal. Generally, I would pass. But, the energy of the community made me want to feel more connected, and what better way than to join a community feast!

As we entered the town hall, it was evident that there were people from all walks of life; locals, travelers, volunteers, homeless. After we signed the guest register, we were directed to a table that would seat our party of four. We were prepared to go get into the "soup line" to get our free meal, but were asked to remain seated because we were to be served.

All four of us were all capable in body and mind to get our own food, and we were more than happy to stand in a line and get our own. Yet these people wanted to serve us, all of us, with the happy heart of a volunteer.

Clif and Rachel served us with smiles on their faces. There may have been over 100 people at a time to be served, and through the ebb and flow of hungry faces, the volunteers never lost focus of their desire to serve all who walked through the doors.

We met some people, ate some food, shared some laughs and conversation, but more importantly we watched... and we listened. And we learned some valuable lessons that day. As we ate our food and thought, " this is too salty, this is not warmed enough, this is too dry, what! no diet coke?",  I watched the disheveled man across from me at the next table enjoy every bite of not only his meal, but whatever his neighbors were willing to share. Every time one of the volunteers served him, he smiled with sincere thanks and gratitude.

He didn't have a thing to complain about and he had a smile on his face as he ate that free lunch; inside and away from the chilly weather. Surrounded by laughter and activity. He was happy for that moment, knowing that once it was done he was to go back to the cold and what appeared to be his homeless situation.

Looking at him, his face, his eyes, I wondered what his story was. Were his current circumstances that of fate or a personal choice? Did he have family that wondered about him or was he all alone in this world? Fact is, many of us are only a paycheck or two away from living in the streets. We all have family and friends to assist, but what happens when turning to them isn't an option anymore? At what point do you cross that line?

As I watched this man, and others around him, we were joined at our table by 3 other couples. The men bantered about Thanksgiving football games while the ladies removed their coats and sat at our table and began small ctit-chat. My focus diverted to them as I began to pick up on their conversations. The lady directly across from me had a large gold medallion necklace and matching earrings. She reported that she had purchased them in Rome this past summer. The other ladies chimed in about travels abroad. A quick glance at all of them revealed that not one of the six were in need of a free meal. But, then again, neither was I.. So, who was I to pass judgment?

Their conversations continued; travel this, jewelry that. Jim and I continued our conversation with our friends. And then it happened...The women started complaining. "Where was their waitress? They had been sitting way too long, where was their food? They think "their girl" forgot about them."

I was speechlessm and so were my friends. We lowered our heads and just looked over our plates at each other and ate our food. It was an awkward situation, without doubt.

A moment or two passed as the women continued to complain when I chimed in and assured them that Clif or Rachel would be by soon and would be happy to serve them...it's just pretty busy, is all. Smiles all around, although I'm not sure they were genuine.

When Clif passed by, one of the ladies at our table got his attention and reported that, "no only had they been waiting a long time without food, but other people were getting their food before them and they had been here longer!"

Clif offered an apology as well as an offer to get them some dinner. His offering was met with disgusted sighs and murmurs about "whodid they have to talk to in order to get waited on around here."

As they continued to complain, I returned my attention to the man I had been watching. He was putting on his layers of clothing to return to the chilly outdoors. As he smiled and thanked the volunteers, I realized that he was far richer than the people at our table. He understood what it meant to be served, and he was grateful. The people at our table were expecting to be waited on; emotionally bankrupt to what was really going on in that dining hall.

There is a difference between being served by someone as opposed to being waited on by someone.One who serves enriches their lives as well as those they serve. One who waits on you does so out of self-motivation, generally for a paycheck or tips, not genuinely concerned about the end result for the individual at their table. Those expecting to be waited on generally don't concern themselves with who that person is providing them with what they desire.

This definitely provided me with an opportunity for an attitude check; a life lesson. I always want to make sure that I take the time to notice who is serving me, and how can I be of service to them. Perhaps a smile. Perhaps not only noticing their name, but saying it ~ "Thank you, Clif."   Perhaps sharing a laugh or a funny story.

I don't want to be waited on. I don't want to "expect" to be waited on.

I want to be served... and I want to serve.  I want to be as rich as that homeless man was this past Thanksgiving. He knew the difference between being served and being waited on.

I always want to be rich enough to know the difference, too ...

Who Needs Traditions? We're The Thomsons And We Blaze Our Own Trail...

Thanksgiving has just left us in it's wake with turkey, pie, and tradition. Having four boys means one of two things during the holidays ~ you either do your best to provide them with the ultimate in a traditional experience ( in the kitchen...all day..cooking all by yourself ...with rollers in your hair )


you decide to mix things up, do things a little different than everybody else does.

More often than not, Jim and I chose the latter of the two, doing things a little different. Traditional Easter Baskets were replaced with fishing poles,  kites, and  Bart Simpson dolls. Halloween was spent trying to convince the kids to let you wrap them in aluminum foil so they could go trick-or-treating as "left-overs",  pizza and a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show. And for a while, Christmas and Thanksgiving revolved around trips to the desert with a trailer-full of motorcycles and camping equipment.

Our first holiday in the desert would change us forever; mostly me, as I vowed I would NEVER, EVER, EVER  go camping in a tent! NEVER again !!!

A coworker had convinced Jim that Thanksgiving in the desert would be a Thanksgiving to remember. There were stories of how other families would bring their camping trailers, parking them in a circle wagon-train style. They would have massive potlucks with plenty of food, drink, and laughter. The women would socialize while the men and the kids rode their motorcycles. It sounded nice. Wholesome.

But, the Thomson's never do things the "nice" way. We do things our own way, which generally ends bad.

Let's start with the important fact that although we had motorcycles for the whole family, we were seriously lacking in the proper "gear" for this ill-fated trip. We did NOT have a travel trailer ( mistake #1 ), but we DID have a Sears Credit Card ! So, we ran off to Sears to buy the best, bestest, badest, most expensive tent we could find. Money was no object! We ended up paying A LOT for a beautiful, Sir Edmond Hillary 2-room, 10-person tent. This is a tent that would survive the harshest conditions on K2.

Now, obviously, that tent did not come equipped with a bathroom. So, Jim constructed a camping toilet, MacGyver-style. With the aide of a five gallon paint bucket, a crate, some bailing wire, bubblegum,  and a toilet seat, it actually looked pretty good! I was impressed with his, ahem, handyman skills as I didn't have to squat behind a bush. So, that's good, right?  Right ???

With the important issues handled, Jim  loaded up his old '61 GMC pickem up truck and a borrowed trailer with all of the supplies while I loaded up the kids and our 120 pound doberman, BabyDog, into our brand new mini-van (mistake#2). 120-pound dobermans have no business riding in Mini-Vans.  Mini-vans have no business traversing railroad tracks in the desert with carsick dogs in them! However, much to my relief, BabyDog ended up dry-heaving  in the truck with Jim as we drove up and down, round and round to get to the Anza Borrego Desert.

Now, although invited, we Thomsons don't like to impose ( much ) so, when we arrived on location where everyone would be camping that week, we kept driving for a few additional miles and chose a location of our own. Far, far away from any other life forms; including the encampment where his co-worker was.

We found a beautifully serene, secluded location along a dry creek bed and set up camp; the tent, the easy up, camp chairs, the "toilet", the campfire, camp stove. All the motorcycles were unloaded and I had to admit that things things were shaping up to a nice little camp site. The two older boys had their two-man tent set up about 20 yards away. I was pleased as I took inventory of our little world. Everything just fell into place and all was peaceful; it felt right.  Maybe this camping in the desert thing wasn't such a bad idea, after all !!!

Not five minutes after the last tent stake was pounded into that hard desert soil, Jacob rounded the tent with a shovel. His eyes were as big as silver dollars and he had a look of complete wonderment on his face. When he got about three feet from me, he tilted that shovel to reveal the biggest, hairiest, ugliest tarantula I had ever seen! That tarantula was so big, it's legs were hanging off the end of the shovel; it was HUGE !!!

I nearly wet myself, ( I said nearly ) and I screeched, "Where in the world did you find THAT?" I don't know who was more frightened, me or that poor tarantula! My shrieking propelled that poor thing backwards and he nearly fell off the back edge of the shovel.

"Right behind the tent, in the creek bed; there's hundreds of them," Jacob said!
Oh, lordy! This warranted a field trip. Down the creek bed embankment we trudged, shovel in hand. And what did we find?

 Directly under our tent were hundreds of holes in the creek bed wall. And in those holes were tarantulas! TARANTULAS BY THE DOZENS...EVERYWHERE !!! Arachna-hell-no! I turned and ran back to camp. For a fat chick, I can move pretty fast when I want!

Let the protests begin!

" We are moving," I announced! I was NOT camping on top of a sacred tarantula mating-ground!
I was NOT going to crawl into my toasty new sleeping bag at the end of the day to wonder if there was a big hairy spider waiting for me ! WE'RE MOVING !

But, Jim refused. The boys refused. Hell, even the dog refused! After all, we had just spent two hours on this camp and we were staying. PERIOD !!!

I was now suffering from PTSD; Post-Tarantula-Stress-Disorder. After my mini meltdown, I discover that I gotta pee. Now then, to find the "facilities". Where do I discover the location where Jim has "dug a hole" to set up the lavatory?

Behind a bush, or behind the truck would be too obvious.

Hows about right in the open, twenty paces South of camp. I mean, when you think about it, who needs a bush, right? "There's no need to set up behind a bush (silly woman) we're camping" said Jim! "We're all alone........... in the middle of the desert...so quit yer belly-aching and just go pee...!!! (mistake # ..oh, who cares what # it is...there's gonna be a lot of them)

So, I pull up my big girl panties and trudge off to the "ladies room". I wasn't six drops into my dribble when I hear Jim's coworker, Bob,  calling my name as he comes strolling into our camp and right up to me as I sat on that milk crate, with my Levi's around my knees! It's not like I could reach for a towel or anything! All modesty is sacrificed as I just sat there making pleasant conversation until he realized that was no ordinary milk crate I was perched atop of.

It was awkward to say the least; that moment when I couldn't hold pee drop number seven, eight, and nine a moment longer. It became painfully obvious to Bob just exactly what I was doing, (or attempting not to do).
We shared a special moment, Bob and I.
So, yeah, ummmmm...moving on

After I got over the em-bare-ass-ing moment of urinating in front of a man other than my husband, things  calmed for a bit. I poured another cup of coffee and I once again reasoned with myself that things really  weren't too bad out there in the middle of nowhere. After all, this experience is for the kids. So buck up, sister and don't sweat the small stuff !!!

The next day, Jim and the boys rode their motorcycles while I read a book near the fire. Dinner was a success, and the night sky was beautiful with a million stars as we enjoyed our time at the campfire as a family. Day one was a small, yet significant victory. Later that night, we snuggled into our sleeping bags, exhausted, and without any unwanted eight-legged guests. All in my world was right.


...until around midnight, when we were awoken by the distant sound of something.  "What is that noise?" Jim and I asked out loud. Whatever it was, it was getting closer, and closer, and closer.

When out of nowhere,  a entire gang of dune-buggies came sailing  up out of the dry creek bed  right into the middle of our camp; driving between the tent and the campfire !

Yes, it seems we missed that really obvious on-ramp/off-ramp in the desert sand where everyone and their uncle enters and exits the dry creek bed which runs for miles and miles and is a favorite trail for the four-wheeled enthusiasts! Those buggies ripped up and down that creek bed all night long, cutting through camp for hours. Just try sleeping through that, it's impossible. And nerve wracking! What a long, long first night without sleep.

And,  just before dawn, they disappeared just as quickly as they had arrived. Ugh!

That next morning was Thanksgiving and we arose, exhausted, with a new found hope for another good day. Breakfast and hot chocolate by the fire in the morning. Motorcycle rides all day long, and despite some mechanical mishaps (yes, son, if you never shift out of first gear, the motor will blow up), we made some memories. Expensive memories, but good memories at that.

As the day wound down, Jim and I began to prepare our Thanksgiving dinner. The menu for our feast included the not-so-traditional spaghetti and steak with a side order of sand. Spaghetti on a camp stove is a feat in-of-itself, but we managed, and everything was delicious. We stuffed ourselves and there were mounds of left overs.

As the dog was a full-fledged member of the family, she was entitled have a feast of her own. We enjoyed watching her enjoy her steak and every last bit of pasta. Her tummy was bulging, and she was content as she took her place by the fire as we roasted our marshmallows for S'Mores.

Ahhhhh...good times. Good memories.

With another day under our belts, we crawled back into our sleeping bags, sans tarantuli,  hoping for a little more sleep. Hoping the buggies would take the holiday off. And as midnight rolled around, we were amazed that there were no buggies to be seen or heard. Ahhhh.  With smiles on our faces, we begin to drift off to sleep, our children all snuggled up, the dog at our feet. We are happy that we have provided our boys with a memorable Thanksgiving like none other. We even chuckled quietly as we heard the little pitter-patter of the raindrops hitting the top of the tent.

 Boy, were we dummies.

Desert Virgins.

Yeah, that's right! I said it ! We were Desert Virgins !!!

Those buggy desert veterans weren't out because they knew something we didn't! There was a storm brewing. And a storm in the desert is mother nature at her PMS'ing worst!

Those little raindrops got fatter, and came down faster and harder. Then came the wind. And here's where being a Thomson really kicks in...you just start to expect the decline of events in massive proportions when you're a Thomson.

The wind blew, and blew hard ! So hard, that the tent started to collapse. The stitching was ripping from the tent stakes, the air was full of sand and silt ! We had dirt in our eyes, in our mouths, in our ears. When we turned on the lanterns, you could barely see your hand in front of your face! We peaked out of our tent to  see that the boy's tent had completely flattened!

This is a nightmare! What do we do? Where do we go?

We do nothing... We go nowhere...

Jim figures all we can do is ride it out; which we Thomsons were doing as best we could.

But not BabyDog. That poor girl was a nervous wreck and it wasn't long before all that spaghetti and steak came right back up and that dog was yacking all over the tent! And what response did the two youngest children have to that?  The kids want to yack! They start dry heaving as they sit in their sleeping bags! They're holding it down the best they can, but every time the dog yacks, they make unsolicited yacking sounds, which nearly makes me yack! It was a literal yack-fest in a collapsing tent where the wind is now whipping up the corners of the tent and flinging doggie yack hither an yon. Yeah, looking back, I realize that feeding the spaghetti to the dog was probably not the smartest thing...

As the tent continues to rip, Jim decides he needs to take action and leaves to tie the tent to the truck before we all fly off to Oz. Remember the Little House on the Prairie episode where Pa Ingalls goes to the barn in the blizzard? And Ma Ingalls was afraid he'd get lost and die in that blizzard? That was how I felt when Jim left that tent out into the blinding sand storm. Ma Ingalls was lucky; she wasn't covered in dog yack.

Jim  tied the tent to the truck, but to no avail. The wind got worse, and the tent got worse. The yack got worse!  The kids are crying. I'm crying. We're all on the verge of yacking. WE SURRENDER !!!

Every man for himself !!! Mayday !!! Mayday !!!Abandon Tent, Abandon Tent !!!

We all run from the tent and pile into my new mini-van, which is now being completely sandblasted. The poor yacking dog gets beat to crap while she's in the tent that is now tied to the truck and resembles a para-sail more than a tent as it flies in the 70+ mph winds. Every so often, the wind would stop just long enough for the tent to slam down into the ground, and BabyDog would find her way out of what was left of the tent, run in confused circles, and dive back in for another bout of beatings. I mean, she may be family, but I know there's more spaghetti she hasn't yacked up yet, and the van is the only sacred place left. She's on her own, soooo don't judge me !!!

Hours. We sat  in the van for hours until the sun rose and the wind died down. The morning's light displayed the windstorm's devastation; it was what Jim called a "Redneck Christmas" as we had all of our neighbor's "stuff". Everything was destroyed and we had EVERYTHING from the other campers to the west of us in our campsite. Easy ups, chairs, trash, everything !!! I sat in my sand-laden van vowing that I would NEVER camp in a tent again. If Jim expects me to go camping again, I'd better be in something that protects me from insects and wildlife, has a toilet, and will not blow away !!!

Defeated, we packed everything up and drove the 4 hours home . The next day, Jim asked me if I was going to hose out that new tent....

Yeah, right !!!!  We bought our first motor home the following Spring.

My boys will be having traditional Thanksgiving dinner with their families this year. Sometimes they let me know that they feel like they missed out on something by not having the traditional Norman Rockwell  holiday celebrations year after year. Boy, am I glad the Thanksgiving of 1996 was not the usual tradition !!! I wouldn't have survived.

Now that they have families of their own, they are starting to forge their own holiday traditions. Have fun, boys. It may not always work out the way you planned, but you are Thomsons, and things will never be dull.

Happy Thanksgiving boys.... I love you <3

Monday, November 29, 2010

Grapes? Are you nuts?

Several, and I mean several,  years ago, my dearest friend asked me when I was going to write down some of the crazy things I had experienced in life; mostly revolving around the chaos of raising four boys. She always felt that my life was a book in the making.

I always toyed with the idea of a title for a book should I ever decide to write my memoirs. I knew it would be something along the lines of  "Life Being Like A Bowl Of Cherries"  or something about the grass being greener somewhere.

Thinking of a title was a became more challenging when I realized that Erma Bombeck already discovered that the Grass Is Always Greener Over The Septic Tank. 

And then that Mary lady had to be all clever with her flub-up involving chairs and bowls...

One particular day, while my boys were flushing each other down the toilet, or shaving off half of each other's eyebrows ( before school picture day ), or setting something on fire, I felt the world pressing in on me....squishing me ...like a grape.

I felt that I had about as much chance of survival of this thing called motherhood as a grape in a box of rocks... There you have it!!! I knew that someday I would use that phrase for my stories, and here I am, starting this blog about my life as a grape in a box of rocks...

Unfortunately, despite my friend's prompting all those years ago, I never even wrote myself little cliff notes or tickler reminders about when we would experience a life-altering moment in the Thomson household.
I was always too busy, or always too tired, or always too full of defeatism (a topic I'm sure I'll write about in this blog a time or two). At the exact time when I was dealing with some of the crazy things life, (my children, my husband) and I put myself through, I just didn't didn't have the belief that anyone would want to hear about, let alone read about  my crazy ramblings.

But a few years ago, I began writing  about some of the moments fresh in my mind. Those stories that I will share with friends on occasion, and they laughed which is amazing to me! I write, and I smile, and muse at how-in-the-world I did  make it through it all !

Life, indeed, would crush in on me every so often...Crush me like that grape...

A grape is like a lump of coal...

Add pressure and a little bit of time and the product doesn't turn out so bad; a fine wine or a diamond.

I think with that outlook on life, I'm gonna be OK

***I hope you enjoy my stories...provide me with some ideas or memories of a story I might have blocked from my Post-Tramatic-Mommy-Disordered-Brain. Some stories, comments, caption contests and I think we'll have a pretty good time...