One Two Three Not It

When you attend the same family Bible Camp every July for almost 30 years, you can count on being asked to help out.

And this time, they have the wrong volunteer for the job.

They asked me to do the evening coffee – which I don’t drink and can’t make and it’s served in 50 cup urns that require hefting.

I generally try to avoid hefting (double hernia surgery and all).

When our Camp Committee asked me to give it a go I waited two months to reply, hoping someone else had stepped into the gap.

“You’re our only hope, Obi Wan,” they replied.


So I got the scoop (rim shot) from my coffee guru girlfriend, bought supplies, and hauled it all up the mountain.

They hadn’t counted on my tea fetish.

Here’s the thing.

Don’t volunteer for stuff unless you’re willing to be a hot mess with it.

Do or Do Not. There’s no fun in “Sort Of”.

That night, in a dark and pouring rainstorm, a few brave souls discovered that an American had set up the real deal tea bits.

“Oooooh”s and “Aaaaah”s warmed the cockles of my heart.

(Of course you have heart cockles, Google it.)

On the other hand, coffee addicts were making the same face and whimpers over their own tiny cup of comfort.

“Maybe I sleep on a bunked,” said the whimpers, “and maybe I’ve lost track of my kids for the tenth time today and maybe everything I own is covered in mud, but for these five minutes – I almost feel human.”

The next day, the Committee is seeking a couple more volunteers to help out at Carnival Night. Who will man a booth, play a game, hand out prizes for the 7-12 year olds?

This is the part where you attempt to fade into the background by staring at the ceiling and acting distracted by your fingernails.


They need a volunteer for the face painting booth.

My artistic talents are limited to drawing a smiley face on a bandaid.

Unless the booth involves spackle, rollers, and fat blue tape, I am the wrong volunteer for this job.

Have you seen me paint a wall?

There is always collateral damage.

I can’t be expected to paint a face without masking off the rest of the child’s body.

At least the wall holds still.

Speaking of which, I was also asked (begged, let’s get down to it) to put something together for the 3rd grade class for performance night. You know, when each class climbs up on the stage and sings a little song or recites a little verse about what they learned all week.

I walk with a group of moms who not only have ‘been there done that’ for a million years, but have been trying to pass on the T-shirts. Nobody but nobody wants this job.

How many versions of “This Little Light of Mine” can you take?

I raised my eyebrows, leaned into Mrs. Committee Persons’ personal space and whispered, “Fine. But we’re doing this my way for once. I’m sick of being bored. I’m lighting things on fire.”

She didn’t bat an eye.

“Fine,” she replied, “just turn in your receipts at the end of the week.”

I walked away muttering to myself, “There’s gonna be fireworks and lasers and a fog machine! I’m gonna have acrobats and a live rhinoceros! We’re gonna reenact the Exodus and release thousands of little frogs into the audience!”

That’s how you get a standing ovation, baby.

Well, maybe a running ovation.

Also, hopefully, they never ask you to volunteer again.

Win, win.

When It Rains It Pours

Like a well oiled machine, I dashed out to the car, headed to my eye exam. I had a grocery list in my purse, dinner prepped in the fridge, a kid across town to pick up, and Bible class refreshments to whip together, all in the next couple of hours.

The one kid left in the house was vacuuming because company is coming for the weekend.

I glanced over to my patio, wondering if I should add tomatoes to my list (answer: always yes) and that’s when I saw it.

Water was bubbling up along the edges of the concrete like a simmering cauldron.

It crept along the front of the house and almost to the door.

Water pooled and spread and filled the side yard, discovered the sloping path along the south end of our home, and cascaded merrily down hill into the back lawn where it soaked through and then moved into the wilderness beyond.

The wilderness was happy.

When I turned around, one hand groping blindly for my cell phone, already screaming for the lone child in the house to “get out here on the double!”, I noticed another fun detail:

Water was running out from under the basement doors.


If the water is outside, how is it…inside?

I slopped back to the front door, met the child running out, and peeled off my soggy shoes.

Five seconds later, I had Hubby on the phone.

“Water!” I shrieked (I’m very helpful in emergencies, ask anyone) “There’s water everywhere! How do I make it stop?”

“What?” he replied, sitting at his dry desk with dry shoes on and frowning helpfully, “What do you mean?”

“There’s water flooding our front yard. I can’t tell where it’s coming from. It’s…it’s coming from everywhere! Where is the thingy you turn off to make it stop?”

“Okay, Jolie, you need to calm down. I can’t understand you. Look around and tell me where the problem is.”

“The problem is, that water is flooding everywhere and I need to turn off a water thingy. Where is it? What does it look like? How do you do it? If you would just tell us where to look…”

First he had us find a valve that was already a foot deep in water. It was in an open cylinder maybe 8” in diameter and filled with muck.

“Feel for the knob and turn it gently clockwise until it won’t turn anymore. Be careful,” Hubby said, “it’s a little rusty. Don’t cut your hand and don’t force it too hard.”

He was on speaker phone.

I looked at the kid and the kid looked at me, and we both knew who was going to wade over there and attempt the ludicrous.

Five minutes later, the deed was done.

Our little Bellagio fountains continued to bubble. They needed a soundtrack.

“Well?” asked Hubby, “Anything?”

“No,” I said, watching the kid wipe his muddy hands on his pants.

The next place he sent us was to a underground box near the street.

“Lift up the lid, take a wrench, and turn the handle off. Be careful. It’s an old, fragile handle. We don’t want it to break off the pipe.”

Here’s what you need to know: anything underground or basically not moved every day has a crop of black widow spiders that live in it. Anything connected with a regular water source will attract snails and slugs.

When we lifted the lid with a screwdriver (don’t judge) we immediately jumped back screaming.

There was also a little frog sitting perfectly on the handle in question.

What?” he seemed to say, blinking in the sudden light.

The kid and I knew exactly who was going to put a hand into the black hole of horror.

He removed the frog and turned the handle a “quarter clockwise”.

This is Plumber Talk for “not parallel with the pipe”.

We looked towards Niagara Falls. The frog was going over it in a barrel.

“Help!” I despaired into the phone, “We’re watering the universe…”

That’s when he asked what color the underground box was.

“Color? Green. Plastic. Why?”

Apparently there was another box, a concrete one clearly stamped with the word “WATER” on it’s lid near the one we opened, but it was under our pine tree and completely covered in pine needles. Buried treasure.

We pried this lid off, doing the shrieking spider dance again, and the inside was full of dirt. A cute little glass meter was humming along in there and I wondered briefly, “if I just smash it with a hammer, will the water stop? Will my bill stop?

This handle was a bear, once we found it. None of our tools could make it budge. Finally, I took a big wrench, said some magic words (don’t ask the kid) and showed the handle just who was in charge.


The spiders.


Water to the whole house trickled to a stop.

We sat there, covered in mud and spider guts.

I kicked a slug off my foot.

“Thanks, babe,” I said into the phone, “I guess we needed a moat.”


Recently I spent a weekend with a super group of girlfriends. We chatted, as women do, about a million different things and lounged about, as women dream of doing, and enjoyed each others’ company.

One of the ladies happens to be a Kiwi.

She brought her own flavorful mix to our group and I wish I could tell you that I had long meaningful conversations with her.

Instead, I encouraged her to do all of the talking and I did a great deal of listening.

Blame phonics.

Phonics was the tool of choice when I learned to read in kindergarten, and I distinctly recall hearing the sounds of syllables rolling around between my ears and forming verbally down in my throat as I slowly drew my finger along each word.

English forms the bedrock of my interpretation of words. It’s the bread and butter.

On the flip side, Spanish, Italian, and other languages are music.

I don’t have to understand it to love hearing it.

I love the crescendos, the ‘a capriccio’ gestures that accompany the rhythm. I can hear their ‘coloratura’ and see the passion in their eyes…even if the monologue involves, from what I can glean, selling the most magnificent cantaloupe in the open market.


If you take my beloved English and put just a little twist into it, I’m a goner.

It’s embarrassing and I can’t seem to help myself; I will start mimicking your accent.

I sat and listened to my New Zealander go on about her children and her job and her love of Joshua trees, and felt my throat constricting. My tongue felt thick and and my heart rate went up just a teensy bit because in my mind, she was taking the language to a whole new level.

It’s not just the use of small, geographically correct words that she sprinkled through her narrative, words like ‘I reckon’ and ‘no worries’ or ‘heaps’, but the flow of her vowels and the ebb of her consonants.

‘Aye’ (literally, ‘eh’, pronounced “A”) is sort of both.

I opened my mouth and used “cah” and “petrol” in the first sentence.

I snapped it shut again and thankfully, she didn’t laugh.

I’m not mocking her speech; my brain is attempting to sing her song.

Because I understand (well, most of the time) the message, I focus on it’s presentation.

Accents are the fancy wrapping paper on the gift of language.

It’s just enough of a tease to my ears that I subconsciously think the inevitable, “Hey, I can do that.”


On many levels, this is just disturbing. I have to stop.

We have a girlfriend from Germany visiting this week. She’s lovely. She’s travelled a great many more places than I have and she carries nothing with her but a backpack and a camera.

I can’t decide if her lack of German accent is from traveling long enough to smooth it out or higher education; regardless, her English is fluid.

It’s the first time I’ve held conversation with someone and not found myself starting to slur my words like a drunk or do caffeinated verbal gymnastics.

We were in Texas once, and my mouth turned into wide open Southern drawls the minute we sat down to chat.

I knew I was doing it again when Hubby gave me the slightly worried look a dog has when it hears a super-high tone but can’t decide if howling is called for.

He’s heard me do a London accent. It wasn’t pretty.

Suit yourself, Mr Higgins, but don’t take me around the natives if you can’t handle the verbal voyage.

When in Rome, and all that.

When Your Second-Grader Gets Suspended

All of my years of volunteering and parenting, all of my years deep breathing in the hall closet while my kids watched Sesame Street, had prepared me for this one moment in time.

The following phone call was left out of my child’s CUM file.

(That’s short for ‘cumulative records’, the master file that follows your child’s school career from kindergarten through graduation and holds their rap sheet.)

But it explains everything.


“Hello?” I said, putting down laundry and happy for the distraction.

“Hello Mrs X, this is Mr A, the school principal.”

“Oh! Hi! Are you calling about the project we’re working on?” Big smile.

“Um, no, not this time. I need to discuss your youngest son with you, if you have a minute.”

“Of course.” I sat down.

“It seems that there’s some trouble. I took a phone call from a parent today who is very upset.”


“She said that her son came home from school today and told her that while he and your son were playing in the sand box during lunch, your son told him he had a knife in his pocket.”

“What?” I said, “My son doesn’t even own one.”

“Well,” continued the principal, “I called your son into the office and asked him about it. He admitted right away that he had told the other boy that, and then reached into his pocket and handed me…nail clippers. He said he was only pretending while they played.”

“Oh. That sounds right.”

“I explained to the mother that your child did not have a pocket-knife, he had little nail clippers. She pointed out that claiming to have a switchblade on campus is unacceptable.”

“If my son had said he was packing a light-saber, would that have been an issue?”

He quickly finished his speech, “The consequences for bringing a weapon to school are a parent/principal conference and an automatic three day suspension.”

“Excuse me?” I said. Perhaps with a little edge to it.

“Mrs X, I was very clear in my discussion with this concerned parent, but she insists that your son be punished for claiming to have a dangerous and threatening item at school.”

Then there was a very pregnant pause.

This was my cue.

Reading between the lines, I saw him caught between a rock and a hard spot.

Now, this most excellent principal knows my entire family and he has my respect in return. He knows, before even talking to my son, that the kid wouldn’t have a clue about bringing a knife to school, and that he couldn’t harm a fly if he had to.

I know that he knows that suspending my kid is ludicrous.


I also know that he knows what that crazy hyper-involved hyper-ventilating helicopter mom will do if I decide to challenge this situation with the righteous wrath of a…crazy hyper-involved hyper-ventilating helicopter mom.

Had she checked her own son’s pockets for imaginary weapons?

Our most excellent principal could see this going south in a very bad way if I were to get all eye-twitchy over it.

“Well,” I finally said, “Mr A, just go ahead and make her happy. Maybe it’s silly what my kid did, but it won’t hurt him to know that even little fibs are a bad idea.”

His relief was palpable over the phone line.

“Oh, Mrs X,” he said, “I have to fill out a suspension form, but I’m going to write very clearly that your son was innocent and exactly why.”

“He can skip school for the next three days, he’ll enjoy the holiday.”

“It has to stay in his permanent school records, I’m afraid.”

I laughed.

“Well, Mr A, then so be it. The kid goes where no sibling has ever gone before him, and that’s a fact. I don’t think his checkered past will affect his chances of becoming a neurosurgeon.”

“Thank you Mrs X.”

“Have a good week. See you on Monday.”


I go to more than one place on a regular basis for the singular purpose of making myself more visible. I will get my nails done or my face steamed or my hairs cut.

I sometimes buy the brightest scarf on the rack.

This allows common pedestrians strolling down the street to notice me without involuntary startles or rapidly avoiding eye contact.

It’s okay now. I’m me, I’m here, and I don’t mind sharing a friendly smile across the elevator.

So when a beautician, a young newly-married blonde thing, announced her first pregnancy to me accompanied by hormonal fireworks in her eyes, I took a deep breath and paused there.

“Some people are so insensitive!” she explained, “They see my belly and go on and on about how big I am and how much weight I’m gaining. I guess I’ll just work really hard to get back to normal after the baby comes.”

How do I tell her?

No one else will bother.

But there’s something about having a new baby that no one tells you and it really helps to be prepared with the knowledge that for the first year after your baby comes you are no longer visible.

You walk into a room holding a baby and no one looks at you.

They hold conversations with you while staring, cooing and poking at your bundle until you give the bundle up and then you will be talking to their left ear.

You are just the baby display. The handles that prop up the cuteness. You could be wearing a burka and no one would notice.

I was wearing a burka. Nobody commented.

I started using this to my advantage.

If I wanted the last cupcake on the table, I just waved the baby in the general area. While everyone converged on the infant, I swiped half the buffet.

And hid it in the folds of my burka.

Well, it was more like a muumuu; a giant all purpose burp cloth that I just tossed in the wash every night. It was like wearing a nun habit, but way too late for the vows.

You do know real clothes are pointless, yes? You’re getting assaulted from within as well as without, because if you’re nursing and any baby within ten miles starts to cry…your body attempts to feed it.

I missed a girlfriend’s wedding once, because on the way there, I drenched my best dress in milk and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

And jewelry? Painfully true. When they are finally sitting up in your arms, baby’s favorite little game is “rip mom’s earrings right out of her ears”.

“Girlfriend,” I began calmly, “I would enjoy the attention while it lasts. Once the baby is out, no one will notice you again. Eat all the food you want and concentrate on a healthy happy mom and baby.”

She looked undecided.

“No, really,” I went on, “I somehow have maybe two photographs of myself over the span of fifteen years but heaps of pictures documenting every month of each child’s life. I’m sure I was there, just nobody can prove it.”

I could see her inner debate, insisting her pregnancy glow would bloom into mother-hood glow.

Moms don’t glow.

They sweat, lactate, hyperventilate and fade into the tapestry.

“Here’s the clincher,” I ended, because really I guess you need to see it (or not) to believe it, “the cuter your baby, the more invisible you’ll be. I dressed my babies in nothing but diapers and onsies. Their cuteness levels were so high, even disguised in overalls, that people never looked higher than my kneecaps. True story.”

I wiggled my freshly painted toenails.

From the kneecaps down, I look pretty good.

The Amazing Race

I’m on the way to Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Between home and there, we have to cross Nevada and Utah.
The plan is to drive to Richfield, Utah on day one and the rest of the way on day two.
There are three other families driving this route at the same time, spread out along the way so as not to advertise each other’s driving techniques.
Some of us *ahem* drive a wee bit zippier than others.
I don’t name names in this blog, but one rhymes with “chubby”.
Our wimpy car could’ve gone even zippier, except Hubby had everything and the kitchen sink packed into the back of it. The man likes his options.
We are all connected by a running group text, in case of emergencies.
Such as, someone in our car needs a slushy pronto and has anyone seen a Dairy Queen up ahead?

The first car headed east had a solid two hour lead.
Halfway through Nevada, their air conditioning broke.
It was over 100 degrees and climbing.
Their plan was to get to a dealership somewhere in Utah, where the next two cars coming along would catch up and offer assistance.
They ran their car heater in case it would help the engine, and landed, dripping wet and in borderline heat stroke, in St George Utah.

We pulled into the dealership parking lot just as they were informed that the air conditioning wasn’t going to be fixed. Not today anyway.

As the third car joined us, and folks generally milled around in the volcanic heat, I noticed Hubby looking at the front of our own car.
Like a man who just found a hair in his soup.
Like a man who just discovered his kids’ secret booger collection.
Both of our front tires had gone bald. The tread gone, the cables showing.
No explanation other than: we need two new tires immediately.
“Jolie? What do you have for me?”
Within five minutes, I had discovered via Smarty Phone that the nearest Costco was at the next exit up the freeway, their tire department (“Mike”) had tires in stock for us, and could install them in the next half hour.


Which is how the other cars took the lead in this Amazing Race while we ended up browsing a Utah Costco. A fascinating experience in what a Costco can do when called upon by Brigham Young to provide for multiple wives, each of whom require a phenomenal kitchen at exceptional prices.

The following is actual footage from my cell phone text with the car that had gone ahead of us.
It began by asking if anyone needed anything from Costco while I was there.
I was eyeing up the wine selection while thinking of our hotel room still tantalizingly out of reach.
I didn’t get any takers.

So this Costco is totally geared up for big family homes.
Domestics alone – kitchen gadgets! – is killing me.
I want it all and have no room in the car for a single spatula.
I blame Hubby. If he hadn’t’ve packed the kitchen sink I could be buying a new one right now. Besides, I don’t fit in.
Surrounded by good Mormon mamas and I’m dressed like a wicked city woman.
Well. I got the skirt right.

Cover those shoulders Jolie! People will be scandalized.
Are you taking photos?

Hey! This isn’t Walmart.

Hahaha! That’s what they thought until you arrived.

You’re a very bad friend. Why do I talk to you?!

I don’t know.

So I took some pictures for her.
The first one is to prove that yes, I could have bought a kitchen sink.

In this case the dishwasher is an upgrade.

In this case the dishwasher is an upgrade.

The other one is proof that, in addition to a huge selection of furniture that was being jumped on by a multitude of identical children supervised by pregnant women wearing skirts and tennis shoes, this Costco offers thirteen different vacuums.

Just of vacuums.

I fled St George Utah before my overwhelming nesting instincts kicked into gear.
I could feel my hair growing past my waist and a sympathy pregnancy coming on.
We caught up to our peeps in Richfield and they had the courtesy to not “U Turn” us.

The Amazing Race continued the next day, our Utah Roadblock now in the distant past.