Rotation of Thanksgiving guest list brings joy

NOVEMBER 23, 2017 (previously printed in The Kansas City Star)

Tom Turkey defrosting with Buds

Happy belated Thanksgiving. Are you still wearing your favorite elastic waist-banded garment? It’s amazing I used to only own one stretchy pair of poultry pants, saved for the last two months of every year, because now the majority of my closet is filled with various shades and fabrics of turkey trousers.

Normal Thanksgiving dinners growing up consisted of thawing the biggest turkey in the shop for days, waking up at an ungodly hour to turn on the oven and ensure the stuffing hadn’t fallen out of the bird overnight.

For years, it was an intimate affair with our immediate family and one set of grandparents. Never were my parents plucky enough to have the in-laws breaking bread on the same day and at the same location.

Everyone brought a side dish or five, praying that hers would be a success. However, you wouldn’t know if your dish received the four-star rating until the next year, when, and if, you were invited for Thanksgiving and asked to bring it again.

Back then, many of the same family members would join my small family of four, but all it took was one slight change of the guest list to start our annual Thanksgiving “guest swap” rolling. That’s when the holiday became a competitive sport with no holds barred.

The Thanksgiving that changed our polite formal dinner was when I was 9 or 10 years old. The past dining room table had always been covered with a table cloth, our family’s best china, the real silver, and the crystal glasses that only my mother could transport in and out of the kitchen and hand wash.

We didn’t mind, though, because no one wanted to see her break down and cry; plus, our normal chore of drying the dishes was held off that one day of the year.

As a fourth-grader, I remember when my mother, who is the queen of thinking outside the box, was trying to place enough chairs around our table. Her brother’s wife, her large family, and a priest were to caravan from Nebraska.

None of us were Catholic, but we knew deep down we should step up our formal dinner. I mean, how often do you get to have your first supper with clergy?

If we were entertaining a priest just once, my mother was classy enough to know cramped seating would be a sin. It was time to remove the net and cover the ping-pong table with butcher paper. Fancy living was about to commence.

Everyone had a fabulous time at that Thanksgiving, leaving a big impression on us all. Why should such a creative and giving family be thankful for our typical small family guest list? Since our population wasn’t increasing anytime soon, my parents pulled out the old address book and searched for friends who were alone on that holiday.

If they had impressive culinary skills, they were a shoo-in. “Let’s invite people we work with! I know short Margy makes a mean Jell-O mold.”

One year while I was in college, my parents wanted to shake up the list even more. They invited my brother and me into a room nonchalantly to mention they were crossing themselves off the list. We thumped both sides of our heads to dislodge the object, which had blocked our hearing.

Why on earth would our parents, who treasured family Thanksgivings, say they were deserting us? … The Maui Classic.

Yes, college basketball finally destroyed our family. OK, it could have happened, but instead my brother and I pretended we weren’t devastated by the news.

Over a few hoppy beverages on the back porch, we engineered a solid plan that would make the parents jealous. It’s funny thinking back that they would have wanted to choose our silly dinner over Hawaii, but we were young and pretty full of ourselves.

That Thanksgiving, we woke up to a quiet house, and before the crack of dawn I prepped a smallish bird with all the fixings for two. This was the beginning of our family-themed holidays. My brother and I enjoyed a fine dinner complete with crazy costumes, props, and framed photos of our parents placed in front of their empty seats.

If only we had thought to open the old address book, we could have thrown quite a bash while the folks were gone.


Toddlers Steal Anything Not Nailed Down

My Darling Toddler Stealing? NEVER!

Have you ever experienced your toddler stealing? If not, you are lucky or your child has short arms, which if that’s the case, bless you!

Oh, Jules…I would just DIE if any of my kids ever stole…SOPHIE!!! WHERE DID YOU GET THIS POLLY POCKET!

From birth you begin teaching your children right from wrong with hopes they will listen to a smidge of your advice; however, there are various developmental stages where kids just can’t grasp the difference between what’s theirs and carpe latoy (seize the toy).



Let’s face it…kiddos are clueless about money or what belongs to whom. Explaining how they should pay for something sets an educational foundation for them, but if your toddler is sitting in the “fire truck” cart at the grocery store, within easy reach of the bright shiny tube of M&M’s, you’d better check his mitts before you exit—unless you want to return with your screaming child.


Most children by this age should know they aren’t to take something without paying for it. If they do steal, there could be a lack of self-control issue or other underlying problems which need to be addressed—especially if behaviors are repeated.

Preteens and Adolescents

Older youths know it’s wrong to steal, but peer pressure can play a role in their actions, or they may be thrill seekers testing limits. This age of experimenting with independence from parents and rebelling often can be confused by teens as fun behavior. Other adolescents may not have money, so they steal to keep up with their peers in fashion, music, events and recreational habits, including drinking, smoking and drugs. Other teens just crave attention because of stressors at home or school.

What’s a Parent to Do?

It’s the parents’ responsibility to teach young children that stealing is wrong. The child must be deeply impressed with the lesson that she hurts someone if she doesn’t pay for an item, ask if she can borrow it or have it.

When a toddler takes something from a store, parents are advised to take the child and item back to the store. Make sure the child apologizes to the cashier or manager and then either return the item or pay for it if it has been consumed. This makes a huge impact on the child and further punishment is not usually warranted. The Nemours Foundation says, “By the first and second grades, kids should know stealing is wrong. But they may need a better understanding of the consequences.” What do you tell parents if grade-schoolers or preteens are stealing? Dr. Jason Wichman, a pediatrician at Pediatric Care Specialists in Overland Park, says, “If it’s once or twice, I usually have the child apologize and then write a letter admitting they were wrong. If it’s an ongoing problem, there probably is something else more significant going on. I talk to Mom or Dad and see how school and home life are going and get a psychologist involved. You have to find out if the stealing is a cry for help, abuse or something else occurring.”

Repeated Behavior

(Nemours Foundation) One third of juveniles who’ve been caught shoplifting have difficulty quitting. It’s important to help youth understand they may face serious consequences if they continue to steal. Here are additional resources for parents, if stealing becomes a serious problem:



Decluttering kids school mess

When most people hear the question, “Paper or plastic?” it usually doesn’t make their skin crawl; unless of course, you are like me and you left your cloth bags in the back of your car for the millionth time. That does get a tad old.

What I am referring to has nothing to do with shopping, bagboys, or keeping your meat separated by plastic. I’m talking about the inordinate amount of paper and toys which collect in my house during one calendar year.decluttering

I have two young grade school-aged children, and apparently their teachers like them to keep busy drawing, and writing all the live long day.

Every day.

I think perhaps their teachers are sneaking into my home in the middle of the night and having my kids do art projects in their sleep because of the towering stacks of paper we collect at school year’s end.

Of course I’m not asking for the teachers to prop my girls up with a juice box and a bag of chips in front of the precariously sitting TV upon the portable audiovisual cart. No, I’m happy they are teaching my children motor skills, handwriting, math and spelling words.

Schoolboy being stressed by his homework, isolated on white back

But oh, for the days of those slate boards with the minimalist wooden frame! Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ma had it right. No recycling bin vs. scrapbook decisions for her. Just making a cellar full of apple butter and staying clear of the locusts. Good times!

Summer is my time for getting our house organized. Twelve months of an angry woman hoarding my children’s crap is my cut-off. I have to get rid of it or else I will end up on one of those reality shows, and if I’m going to have some quality airtime, it sure as heck isn’t going to have the word CRAZY or HOARDING in the title. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

Make a List

1) Sort school paperwork into three boxes labeled
a) sweet mementos for mom
b) touching items kids will treasure
c) tormenting evidence for future public events

I thinned down this pile already throughout the year! OY!  ~

I thinned down this pile already throughout the year! OY! ~

2) Find the bottom of my desk and remove any food particles or spores which may have appeared during the year. This also includes a good sucking of lint and hangnails from my computer keyboard.

3) Pitch any clothing that has holes or stains that have been attempted to be removed more than 2.4 times. Remaining clothing and shoes that no longer fit, must be shoved into paper sacks in back of van immediately. Put keys in ignition, place gear into reverse and back out of drive to the donation center so you will not leave those suckers in the back of your closet or car for the next 6 months.

4) Sadly, there is always a natural disaster around the corner and the only positive thing that ever comes from those is I can tell my children truthfully there are other kids who have no toys. This brings out the empathy in my girls and they start cleaning out their bins of plastic junk they aren’t playing with, which makes me one happy and philanthropic mama.

5) Then there’s the project of burning our music CD’s which I started when I married my husband. We were married in our thirties, merging two full houses; however, neither of us had children. We assumed we had all the time in the world, but were stupidly unaware our lives would change dramatically after we spawned. Which we did right away. Why not, right?!

Needed panoramic lens to capture full collection. ~

Needed panoramic lens to capture full collection. ~

Unfortunately, with summer camps, going to the pool, ball games, vacations, sleeping in, running around like crazy-free kids and just playing in the sun, it will take the entire summer to get through all five of these projects.

(previously posted in July of 2013)

Do you have any projects that you can’t get done over the summer? Or do you just say forget about it? I need some tips to get through all this junk!



Being an “old-ish” mom, somewhere between fitting in Gap clothing and wearing Depends, I have found motherhood has its ups and downs.  Like when trying to remember what it was like when I did things as a child…pretty near impossible!

My oldest daughter asks, “Mom, when did you first ride a bike without training wheels?”

“I’m sure I rode a bike. But to tell you the truth, I haven’t the foggiest!” I say squinting my eyes and searching the ceiling for answers.

Or…the latest, “Mom, how much money did the Tooth Fairy bring you when you lost your first tooth?”

Now I have a mouth full of Big Girl Teeth, so I know I must have lost some baby ones during my younger days; but if you can’t remember them falling out, how can you be expected to retain the cash value for those babies?

“I believe I was given diamonds and rubies,” I retorted.  “A girl’s best friend, you know.”

“MAH-OM!!  You are joking, right?!”  Can’t put anything past this one!

“Honey, the Tooth Fairy is the one who makes these decisions and whatever the going rate is will be what you get.  It’s just exciting you have entered a new phase of tooth-dom!”

“What?” she gives me the look which I know will be repeated way too many times in her adolescence.

“Forget it,” I smile baring all my big girl teeth.  “Congratulations on losing your tooth.  Tomorrow we’ll see what this tooth fairy thing is all about!”

That night Munchkin #1 put her first bloody, hollow tooth into her precious Tooth Fairy pillow and placed it under her regular pink sleeping pillow.  Her younger sister was almost excited for the impending event; but since it wasn’t about her, why should she waste her energy?

The next thing we know it is morning and over the monitor we hear the squawking, “THE TOOTH FAIRY CAME!!!”  Have I ever mentioned how fast that kid can run?  Two-point five seconds later, she is practically beaning me in the head with 2 golden coins.

“Look, Mom!  I got a Sacagawea!” she started in her best high-pitched girl scream.

“First of all…you are in Kindergarten. How do you know who Sacagawea is?” I asked reaching for my glasses.

“And another one with some guy on it – but Sacagawea!!” she said flopping on the bed like she had just won the Powerball.

“That other guy is a U.S. President, not that I can focus on him yet to tell you who he is, but he was famous too.  These are gold coins the Tooth Fairy left you!”
“Gold? How much is it worth?” she eagerly inquired.

Inspecting the coins carefully I whispered, “It’s a gold dollar! Each one is worth ONE dollar.”

“ Kathy got FIVE dollars and she said her cousin got TWENTY dollars from the Tooth Fairy!!” she quipped.

“I hate to be the one to tell you, but you saw that tooth of yours…it was totally hollow.  I bet those other kids had diamonds or rubies in the middle of theirs.”



According to Kids I Have No Job


Do you dread going to work? Every Sunday night, do you curse the alarm clock, reminding you have 128 hours until you can clock out for the next weekend?

You aren’t alone. According to an October 2013 Forbes article, 13 percent of workers have a strong passion for their job and employer. A whopping 63 percent are unhappy and “putting little energy into their work.” And the remaining 24 percent of American employees are what the Gallup folks call hatin’ on their jobs.

With almost 90 percent of the country not enjoying their jobs, I didn’t feel so bad six years ago abandoning my career as a pediatric nurse. I desired to focus on raising my children, so I folded up my scrub pants and started folding footy pajamas.

It wasn’t until I dove into being a full-time stay-at-home mom that I discovered the “Mom Job” was harder than figuring out chemotherapy doses for kids. But I knew this was the right decision for me and relished the time I had to educate our kids the way my husband and I felt necessary.

So the other day, six years later, I overheard my eldest daughter telling my youngest, “What are you talking about?! Mom doesn’t have a job!”

That sucker punch knocked all the air right out of me. I knew my girl was only a third-grader, but I had been preaching equal rights for all women, teaching them about Gloria Steinem at an early age and how girls can do anything just as well as any boy.

Where did that information go? How loudly did I need to sing Helen Reddy’s song, “I am Woman” (hear me roar), to make a lasting impression? But what was I to think? My children thought I was lazy and unemployed.

I gently broached the subject, assuming that since they were young, maybe they hadn’t retained our previous conversations.

“Honey, did you say that I don’t have a job?” I asked, hiding any judgment.

With a no-nonsense look, she plainly stated, “Well, you don’t.”

Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale…

“Do you mean outside of my writing job?” I asked.

Then she took the dagger in my heart and twisted it back and forth. “That’s not a real job. You don’t go to an office.”

Not only did this child — who was quickly becoming my least favorite — say that my countless hours of writing don’t count, but I was also quite certain she didn’t consider “running our home” a job either.

I remained calm, but I’m sure my word pace quickened. “I do have an office, with office supplies and computers and filing cabinets. Just because I don’t have to put on pants to go to work, doesn’t mean I’m not working!”

“But that’s it,” she said. “You get to be on the computer all day. It’s not fair!”

Ah, the missing link! A mere misunderstanding. She sees being on the computer as being fun. Math and spelling games. Mindcraft and Candy Crush. Taking away the computer is the worst parenting crime ever, by most children’s standards.

I didn’t realize she wasn’t paying attention to what I was working on. Plus, I had a cuddly, sleeping kitten on my lap while working. Why wouldn’t she be jealous that I get to stay home with all that fun, while she has to go to school?

After ensuring that both my daughters understood what I did all day, including cleaning, making healthy food for their bellies, and washing clothing so they don’t reek like a bag of stale Fritos, I finally saw their perception of me change.

And don’t think I didn’t make them listen to the DVR recording of Patricia Arquette’s rousing speech on the Oscars. Thanks, Patricia, for reinforcing my teachings.

Way to roar!

What did you think of Patricia’s Oscar speech? Or her getting an Oscar at all?