Tick Tock Kill the Clock


And now you see my problem.

Or do you?

I guess you’d better sit down because I have a small confession to make.

You may have noticed a little ADHD or OCD behavior from me now and then. Not enough to annoy you or to affect my own quality of life.

So maybe I blitz-clean my house once in a while, just from boredom. And my clothes hang in the closet color-coded. And I have to line my throw rugs up with the tile grout, counting the tiles off each side to the wall in order to confirm that the rug is, indeed, exactly centered.

Mildly entertaining I suppose.


I’m driving down the road, taking a son or two to school, and a bus passes by. In it’s back window are the numbers 12456.

An identification number.

No big deal.

But I am actually discombobulated in my head.

Why? They left out the 3! Who does that?

It would cost them next to nothing to just throw the missing number in there and call it good.

Does another bus have just the 3 in it’s window? Was it stolen just to annoy other drivers on the road?

I pointed out this obvious random thought to the boys and discovered that they, too, thought something was rotten in Denmark.

That’s when I decided to tell them just how far my poor compulsive and obsessive brain takes me when I don’t hold it firmly in line. (A nice, straight, tidy line.)

“Do you ever drive by the gas station and notice the prices listed for gas?”

“Sometimes,” replies a son almost old enough to drive.

“Well, I begin with the lowest number displayed and hop between the rest, trying to make a royal flush. It’s okay if they start with a 3, so long as I can find a 4, 5, 6, and 7. If I can’t, I drive by feeling like the planets aren’t quite aligned.”

“Hm,” he replies, already thinking a hundred other thoughts. At once.

“Yeah, we drive by in what, 10 seconds? And my brain is already deciding if today is a good day based on the random numbers at a gas station. Stupid.”

“I do that with my alarm clock at night,” he suddenly reveals.


“Once I stayed awake all night waiting for the time to read 12:34. I couldn’t fall asleep because the red glowing numbers were staring at me across the bedroom.”

“You poor kid.”

“It was exciting at 12:32. I knew it was changing in a minute and I didn’t want to blink or fall asleep and miss it. I waited and waited and I saw the very second it changed to the right numbers. Then I could go to sleep.”

I am so sorry.

This thing should be my own personal curse. I never meant to pass it on to the kids.

I’m getting an analog clock for the boys’ bedroom.

But it has to be one that doesn’t make a “tick tock” sound.

I have to twitch my fingers together or tap them in cadence with that.

We’ll never get to sleep.

Which made me remember something from my childhood.

Sleep-overs at Grandma’s.

My grandmother is a collector par excellence.

Sleepovers meant lying under the stare of a hundred dolls’ eyes from a glass cabinet and silently counting her piles of Beany Bears.

You’d get up the next morning to help her dust the house spotless.

Most of all, though, it meant getting used to her clock collection.

There were clocks on every wall in every room and each of them created a unique noise.

“Tick tock” from the silver cowboy belt buckle clock was small potatoes.

The cuckoo clock sang and exploded into “Der Froehliche Wanderer” (Happy Wanderer) on the hour, complete with little dancing yodelers in lederhosen.

She had a bird clock that, depending on which hour it pointed to, taught you each bird’s particular warble.

It didn’t have a cuckoo.

We were grateful for the small things.

The grandfather clock bonged out the quarter hours and partial hymn verses of the Westminster Chimes, then put them all together in a solemn hourly anthem.

Striking midnight took two hours.

A creepy cat clock swung his tail and shifted his eyes every second.

I think it was flirting with the giant Mickey Mouse phone, but it was hard to tell.

Mickey was smiling.

My family tree came by this honestly, I guess.

That doesn’t make me feel any better about it.

Honorably Mentioned


My last son is attending a snooty school. The parents make sure of it.

Which explains why I haven’t once set foot on the campus. I don’t have any Manolo Blahniks.

At our school, every kid’s a winner.

We don’t have losers.

I was told by the school that my kid was receiving an award from his PE class during an assembly that would last two hours. I could not imagine what would take so long, but being a dutiful mommy, I put my rigorous schedule on hold to attend.

I had not one doubt that my son was entitled to singular recognition. Our kids get awards all the time. Why, a year doesn’t go by without my having to attend numerous award ceremonies wherein my child is called forward and patted on the head for outstanding citizenship, record breaking attendance, athletic prowess, or academic achievements.

Usually, all of them.

Any one of my children would walk away, head bowed beneath the weight of medals, hands full of certificates signed by the office staff, and occasionally the President of the United State of America.

It’s not bragging if it’s true.

But boy is it obnoxious.

I’m getting one of those bumper stickers that reads, “My Zombie Student Ate Your Honor Student’s Brain….Now Who’s Smart?”

I have one of each. So I know.

Arriving at the school a half hour early was not my best plan. Everyone else had arrived earlier. Cars were double parked and parked on top of fire hydrants and in front of red curbs or blue walkways.

Obviously these awards weren’t for hereditary successes.

I parked three counties over and ran gasping into the back of the auditorium. Standing room only. Behind lots of balloon clusters loudly proclaiming “Congratulations!” even though they were clearly meant for a wedding.

I found a sliver of wall to lean against and looked around for my son.

Once we made eye contact, our silent body conversation went on for a while. His raised eyebrows meant, “I see a parent here. This means I’ve won something. Wonder which one?”

My eyes rolled heavenward meant, “Look, kid, this is torture just for you. You’d better appreciate it. Do you see a vacant chair anywhere? This award better be good!”

I got excited thirty minutes into the program when I noticed the police had arrived. Finally, the police department could make their ticket quota in one fell swoop. Perhaps these crazed parents were getting their cars towed at this very minute!

Oh the justice of it all.

Until I realized the truth: they had kids receiving awards here today. There were two cop motorcycles illegally squeezed into a ramp in front of the office outside.

Shoot me now.

An hour and a half into it, my face shouted at my kid across the auditorium, “They are handing out awards for breathing in and out all year…and you didn’t get one! When will they call your name already?”

Why do I keep showing up for these things?

Once the PE teachers arrived on stage, I started to relax. I stood upright and rolled my shoulders, restoring circulation and tentatively feeling for my feet. My shoes were cute, but not a good choice to run and then stand for two hours in.

The awards were handed out.

Had he done the most sit-ups and push-ups? Had he run the fastest mile? Perhaps displayed excellent Sportsmanship or Leadership among his peers?

Thirty students were called up for recognition, my son among them.

It was for “Outstanding 6th Period Physical Education”.

That’s it.

Written up on a Del Taco coupon.

My son had won a free kid’s meal.

For breathing in and out every day in 6th period PE.

I am so proud.

Summer Turkey Chili and Cornbread

Yes. This is it.

A combination of all things good, Summer Turkey Chili is easy, refreshing, healthy and delicious.

I avoid every other chili like the plague that it is. Most chili has a heavy mixture of beans and meat covered in a sauce as close to lava as the cook can make it. If you are haunted by a series of unfortunate events for hours after eating it, the cook has achieved his goal.

Death by flatulence.

Most cooks will take any reputation they can get. Go figure.

The first time I was served this dish, I was torn between being a gracious, thankful guest and looking for a convenient place to dump my bowl. Maybe in the big flower vase in the corner.

The recipe was cooked up between an inventive girlfriend and her sister, and there comes a time when you have to trust your besties, even when the word “chili” is involved.

On the first experimental bite, I realized this chili actually resembles a salsa on steroids, or a taco without the shell. It’s an explosion of flavors that come together like a Farmer’s Market basket of fresh goodies, without even a hint of hotness.

In my opinion, if the cook has to disguise the flavor of the actual food, he’s hiding the fact that he can’t cook. I’ve stopped going to many different restaurants over the years because the food is consistently too peppered, too salty, too spicy or just thickly breaded or sauced.

Take these ingredients and throw them into your crockpot for the day on ‘low’.

1 lb. cooked ground turkey
1 C chicken broth
1 15oz can black beans, rinsed
1 14.5oz can tomato sauce
1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes
10oz bag frozen corn
2 minced garlic cloves
1 Tbsp chili powder
2.5 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper

The original recipe says to simmer things at the stove for a half hour, then add four or five diced Roma tomatoes. As I prefer moving from beginning to end on a zip-line, I simply used the canned tomato products you see in the above list instead. Crockpots rule.

I also have chicken broth I’ve made myself out of real chickens, stashed away in the freezer for things like this. And I keep a jar of minced garlic in the fridge. I like cheats.

The masterpiece is finished when you top your bowl with your favorite ‘tasty bits’.

Mine is garnished with the first cilantro leaves from my garden pots. Cilantro is the little sparkling piccolo in the soupy symphony. You’re chewing along nicely, savoring the harmonies and suddenly cilantro comes along and tickles your tastebuds. Love that stuff.

Other terrific toppers: diced onion, crushed tortilla chips, sour cream, grated cheese, and avocado slices.

This recipe makes a nice amount for a voracious family of four or a fastidious family of six.

Tonight, I made cornbread muffins to go with. I make a basic recipe right off the side of the cornmeal box (as follows) and then once in a while I get crazy (and tired of my opinionated kids) and tweak the cornbread just for me and Hubby. I throw a fistful of grated cheese into the dry ingredients and 2oz of diced mild green chilis from a can into the wet ingredients.

So. Good.

I catch heck from the kids for ‘ruining’ the cornbread. Fine. More for me.

1 C cornmeal
1 C flour
1/4 C sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

1/3 C oil
1 C milk
1 beaten egg

Combine the two and plop into your lightly oil-sprayed muffin tin (which is actually made of silicone because it’s awesome) and bake your dozen muffins at 400* for 15 minutes precisely.

Double the recipe and pour into a buttered 9×12 glass pan at 400* for 21 exact minutes.

The regular recipe is a ‘sweet’ cornbread, I’m told. We smother our squares in butter and honey, just to make sure. I have a secret family recipe for a version of cornbread casserole that adds things like cream cheese to the mix. Cornbread is the ultimate comfort food.

But tonight, it’s a savory muffin next to a tasty chili at the end of a long busy day.

Dig in!

The Oak

When we moved across town, our humble new home came with about an acre of actual wilderness behind it.

During escrow, we had visions of rope swings and tree forts and zip lines among the giant oak trees; gardening or landscape among the dappled green below. Perhaps a reading bench.

After escrow it occurred to us that none of these were going to happen.

Possibly ever.

Poison Oak runs rampant from trunk to trunk and periodically UP a trunk. It lunges across the trails and flourishes between boulders and sparkles an inviting red and green in the sunshine.

No human is going into that space and coming back out in one piece.

We stood there, at the edge of Alice’s Wonderland, and watched cheshire grinning bunnies frolic and coquettish deer stroll along their side of the looking glass.

“Step right over,” chirruped the creek frogs, “come sit in the grass and chat.”

You can hear the frogs laughing, far into the night.

Poison Oak oils are evil.

They travel.

And we are not deceived.

If you wear gloves and pull the weed and then use your gloves to push a wheelbarrow, the wheelbarrow handles will become harbingers of doom.

(Gardening is out.)

If you sweat through your shirt and the plant swipes it, the oils will migrate through the wet shirt and spread cheerfully across your back.

(No jogging through that wilderness, either.)

If your dog runs amok and then comes to you for a big cuddly hug, you are about to squeeze a poison puppy.

(So don’t bring your dog over to chase squirrels.)

If you use the dormant plant as sticks to roast camp marshmallows, guess what? You are about to get ‘the oak’ in a whole new way. Don’t accidentally put it in your campfire, either, unless you want to inhale the oils drifting in the smoke and right down into your lungs.

(For crying out loud. No camping. Or Christmas Yule Log incidents.)

If you pick your nose after touching the bottom of a shoe that stepped on a poison oak leaf that has been dead for ten years, you’re going to have to explain “what happened” maybe a hundred times.


Then you’ll stay in your natural habitat: the kitchen, making salads out of intelligent greens.

Hubby has sprayed the area with three rounds of “Death Spray” and says it’s working a little. He maintains that if you spray enough years in a row, it will go away all by itself, no touching required.

When my oldest son worked with AmeriCorps, his team did a two month stint on Catalina Island.

Aside from dodging buffalo stampedes and freezing at night and eating from cans, they spent weeks removing acres of wild fennel and replacing it with native plants.

As a respite, the grateful island locals invited the team to snorkel, scuba dive, and generally enjoy their little bit of tourist paradise.

One of the team members who shall remain anonymous got a raging case of ‘the oak’. He was miserable. But not too miserable to miss a snorkeling opportunity.

What he did was fill a full body wetsuit with ‘the oak’ and then return it without saying a word.

Somewhere, on a cruise ship far away, there’s a tourist wondering how on earth he got a case of ‘the oak’ in the middle of the ocean.

And here at home, we admire our trees from the living room window as Hubby annihilates weeds, wandering through the scrub in a Hazmat suit.

Mr Tax-Man on my Shoulder

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”.

Actually I’m thinking only one: death.

Taxes are optional if you want to live on the edge, and totally moot if you’re dead.

Every year at tax time, I am reminded that I personally live on that edge, thanks to Hubby’s particularly punctual paycheck.

I had full time jobs before, during, and after we wed, the kind involving money with Mr Franklin’s face on it.

After the kids came, I lost my paycheck but started putting extra letters after my name to compensate.

Like, DDS. And MD. And also, OB/GYN. Go ahead, ask me anything.

I am that bona fide rare species called “housewife” or “homemaker”; “domestic engineer” if you will. The job pays zero overtime, lunch breaks are unreliable, there is no union, and tips are nil.

No wonder we’re going extinct.

My hours – if tallied and valued at fair market rates minimum wage – would likely put us in the millionaire tax bracket.

You can’t tax Monopoly money, mister.

I have been a SAHM longer than he’s been pinching pennies, and he knows it.

So does the judiciary branch of our government because every time I am called to Jury Duty, I have to list every single child ‘under my daily care, i.e.: locked out in the backyard’ who desperately needs me to not be a juror….unless they themselves are suing for injuries involving a Big Wheel, a trampoline, and a Rhode Island Red hen.

Hubby, on the other hand, is the tax-man’s dream.

When we file our taxes “jointly” it means that Hubby has filled out all the forms and I’ve signed on the dotted line.

My line says: “What he said.”

Next to it is a box that states my occupation.

He threatens every year to write “freeloader” in it.

I am a “kept woman” as in: “he put her in a pumpkin shell and there he kept her, very well”.

Hubby made all those cute little numbers in the tidy little boxes.

My contribution was along the lines of “monetary redistribution”.

I’m in upper management, which is none of the IRS’s business… I receive the incoming funds and delegate them to worthy causes such as ‘new couch pillows’ and ‘potted palm for the dining room’.

I could never get behind items such as ‘give the kids an allowance’ although they lobbied regularly and hard for it.

Why should the kids get a steady income when I don’t have one?

Social Security hasn’t heard from me in years. I would worry more but I’ve heard that by the time I’m old enough to need it, the system will be bust anyway.

Besides, according to Facebook, I’m quite secure socially, thank you.

I feel the tax-man specter lurking behind the azaleas at my front door.

He’s waiting to pounce the very minute I decide to reunite with Mr Franklin.

All of my excuses for staying home are over six feet tall now, and keeping my taxes optional is about to get tricky.

What shall I write in my little untaxable “occupation” box this time?

How about “Distractible Director of Internal Affairs”?

Spring Break is Breaking Me

Dear Superintendent of Schools,

You’re mad. Decidedly. Crazier than a hoot owl and older than the Sphinx.

I would like to know why you thought it was a good idea to give my high schoolers a week-long Spring Break while my middle schoolers have a two-week break.

I take that back. My high schooler had a week plus one day.



I seriously think you only did it to prove you can. Sort of a “Ha ha! In case you were just trying to live through the weekend and send anyone (ANYone) back out of the house, we’re closed.”

At least one of those weeks had both kids home at the same time, for which I’m grateful. School breaks are like having the flu. If our family has to have it, then by all means, let’s have it all at once and get it over with.

Did you forget that the sports and part time jobs and church activities don’t take ‘breaks’?

Even the colleges are doing it. There was a year or two when I had a child at every school level. We were all ships passing in the night and I myself was a train wreck.

Between ‘late start days’ and ‘early out days’ and long weekends involving holidays about dead people who have no children in our school district, I have to ask: “Why do you hate me?”

Please ignore the sweet Thank You cards that some of my “friends” have sent you. These ladies are delighted to have their little buggers home and cry every autumn as the school busses return to their routes. Also, they have been inhaling way too much fat Sharpie marker fumes as they make “Welcome Summer Vacation” posters for their wall.

But I digress…

Remember when you experimented….way back when…with a year-round school calendar?

LOVEd it.

We had just enough school to get tired of it, then just enough vacation to recover but not get bored, and then off to school we went again. We could plan family vacations during months that no one else would be there. No traffic, cheaper rates, hotel pools all to ourselves.

Apparently some questionably lucid parents sent it right back out the door.

Now we have to make plans around the whole rest of the world, which means, “No, we’re not going anywhere; we pay good money for a perfectly fine house which you are taking for granted. Go find an activity to do.”

And then I lock the door.

Because if they are allowed inside, the place is trashed within an hour, followed by, “Mom, there’s nothing to do!” followed by, “Mom, there’s nothing to eat!”

I hand the little guy a big pair of scissors and tell him to run around until something “fun” happens.

Frankly, I cannot make brick without straw. Spring Break has thrown my routines, my grocery budget, and my sanity right out the dirty window.

My children will be on the school doorsteps, bright and early, this Monday morning.

You can ignore the sleeping bags behind them.

That was just one of our “fun activities” over the weekend.


A Zoo Keeping Mom

Tramplin’ the Trampoline

There are perfectly legit reasons why I have a bad memory.

Some events should just be chalked up to rotten parenting and blacked out.

We got our family a massive 16’ diameter trampoline one Christmas. We set it up in the center of the yard, with a direct view from the kitchen window. There were no obstacles around it; not a safety containment net or a foam protector over the springs.

I was a strict mom with plenty of “rules” which more than made up for it.

1. Ask mom before jumping so she can supervise from the kitchen. This way, when the boy is in mid-air and she goes to check the spaghetti, she won’t notice that he landed. On his back. On the hard-packed weedy ground full of gopher holes. With the wind knocked out of him. He will lie there and not be able to call for help while mom assumes he’s on the way in from playing. Not.

2. No more than two jumpers at a time. I’m standing right there ringside while my son and his cousin are jumping. The eight-year-olds go up together smiling. They come down together crying. I saw their heads bump but as they got no more than two feet up, it appeared minor. “Where does it hurt?” I ask my son. He points to a bump on the top of his head where blood has begun to trickle. “Where does it hurt?” I ask the cousin. He opens his mouth. There between his two front teeth are my son’s hairs. He bit him. I make the appropriate warm fuzzy mom noises for everybody. And my son got two staples in his head.

3. No flips. The only choice here is to go up and down. The Freedom Flight was their alternative flirt with death. You sit a person in the middle and propel him upwards with a mighty jump next to them. Knees and bums and shoulders take a bouncing, but once in a while you get someone large (ahem, Hubby) to perform the launch and you get someone smaller (ahem, kid) rising six feet up then doing a belly flop that doesn’t involve water. Your wild laughter is balanced nicely with the grim certainty that said kid has a broken neck.

4. No dashing under the trampoline while others are jumping on top of it. Obvious? Maybe. Tempting? Without a doubt. Because they did it. They slid across the top of it in socks and ran around giving static shocks to each other that once short-circuited our phone. They slid each other across it and got rug burns. They crawled all over and caught legs and feet and clothes in the springs playing “Marco Polo”. Towards the end (which is when I just started looking the other way) they dropped onto it from our tree or off of it into the pool.

5. One fateful afternoon, as the trampoline entered it’s final year, I decided “if you can’t beat em, join em” and climbed up there to jump. Three bounces in…let’s just say my youthful mind was in the clouds, and the rest of me reached for the security of terra firma. Gravity was much stronger than I remembered and my body no longer wished to defy it.

All you have to do is watch an episode of “AFV” to understand. Most of their horrifying video clips involve trampolines. We had giant springs randomly cut loose and a small hole in the center of the jumper grew steadily wider as the beast aged in the sun.

I was very happy to finally send it away.

And we are never, ever, ever getting back together.