Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gratitude. And Gravy.

Do we still get to have Thanksgiving this Thursday?

It seems one of my Top Three Favorite Meals-Slash-Holidays (Mother’s Day and My Birthday rank numbers two and one, respectively) (because I don’t have to cook) has been squeezed out by Halloween and Christmas.

Now, I understand the obsession every October with bite-sized Snickers, two-bar Kit Kats, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins. In fact, I understand the obsession so well I already have a four-pound jump-start on my holiday weight gain.

And I love the Christmas season with all of my heart, in particular the Reese’s Peanut Butter Trees. And any holiday party that involves fondue, fudge, and peppermintinis. And any Christmas song that doesn’t mention Grandpa and a reindeer.

But in between making Halloween costumes and loading up Santa’s sleigh in a way that is both fiscally responsible and pleasing to all recipients, it has been a tradition since 1621 to draw our loved ones near and take time to reflect upon our blessings great and small with gratitude. And gravy.

I will go first.

For me, family tops the list. After more than 12 years of being the primary cereal-pourer, all four kids now know how to make their own breakfast; and while my husband still doesn’t know how to boil pasta, he does know the words to “Ice, Ice Baby.” For all of that, I am most grateful.

Extended family too. Especially my brother-in-law, whose Thanksgiving dinner would send Paula Deen into orbit; the kind of meal you train for, slowly expanding your stomach days before in anticipation, doing jumping jacks during the Macy’s Parade in a preemptive strike against the damage sure to ensue from his homemade stuffing and bourbon-laced pecan pie.

Yeah, this time of year Chris is pretty much my favorite (way to go, sis!), followed closely by their 21-month-old son, my only nephew, who makes me smile every time he waddles his pudgy little thighs my direction to give me a big, slobbery kiss. He also reminds me to be grateful that the toddler phase of my life is over, and I am allowed to have nice things on my coffee table again.

And I am beyond grateful for my friends who are loads of fun and quick to assure me that I do not look old. No matter what that college kid at the Wheel said about welcoming me to Beta Moms’ Weekend.

Additional props go to the makers of TiVo, under-eye concealer, slice-and-bake cookies, Spanx, and the water bra.

Really the only thing that could fill me with any more gratitude would be if Reese’s would please start producing the peanut butter turkey I have been begging them to make for years now.

And, of course, if major retailers would just back off of us for the week and let us have Thanksgiving.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend, and to my readers outside of America, my heartfelt condolences on missing out on gravy this weekend, it rocks!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

There's Nothing to See Here

“Julie?” Dave said when I answered my cell phone while out to lunch with a friend, “is Luke having Andy over today?”


“Um, yeah,” I stammered, “didn’t I tell you that?” (I knew I had not). In my excitement to escape the house, I had completely forgotten to tell everyone Andy was coming over to play.

Luckily Andy and Luke got busy right away building Legos, playing Rock Band, and shooting hoops in the rain all afternoon.

Other than one little incident with the boys involving a wet shirt, a hairdryer, and the words, “WHOA! Were those SPARKS???” (at which point I abandoned my work in the kitchen and ran up to my bathroom just in time to deliver the “If It’s Not Yours Don’t Touch It” speech to Luke, who, to be fair, was only trying to get his buddy’s rain-soaked shirt dry before his dad came to pick him up), things went quite smoothly.

Until Andy’s dad arrived.

“Oh, good,” he smiled when I answered the door, “I’m glad you’re home!”

I laughed, unsure of what he meant. Everyone else had been home all day.

Sensing my confusion, he explained. “I came to the door with Andy, and your daughter [she is 10] answered the door. I asked if you were home, and she said no. I asked if Dave was here, she said he was in the shower. So I just looked at Andy, wished him good luck, and left him here.”

Andy’s dad is very forgiving.

“I’m so sorry, I forgot to tell them you were coming before I left,” I told him. The boys ran off to find Andy’s shoes while I continued my confession, detailing the hair dryer incident.

“So, did sparks really fly?” he asked.

“I don’t know, but I got there before any damage could be done,” I said reassuringly. I left out the part about my bathroom smelling like smoke.

Just then the boys returned with Andy’s shoes. And a steak knife.

“Mom?” Luke said, holding the knife up to me with his eight-year-old grin, “Can we cut a hole in a shoebox for my homework?”

Luke had been itching to start his creative book report project all weekend and was now holding a knife up to a man who may or may not ever bring his child over to play again.

“Honey, let me have the knife,” I said through a tight grin, “and you get the shoebox ready.”

I turned back to Andy’s dad and thanked him again for bringing Andy over while Andy put his shoes on when I heard a familiar name.

“Mom?” Luke said again as I turned around to see him holding both a torch lighter and a book of matches, “Can I light a candle in the kitchen?”

Andy’s dad broke the silence. “Are you sure you were actually watching them today?” he said with a nervous laugh and a smile that (I hope) meant he was just kidding around.

Watching them pull out of the driveway I immediately started formulating my foolproof plan for an exit strategy should Child Protective Services come a-calling. So if future blogs come from a woman named Elsie in hiding in Newmarket, Ontario with her husband, Felix, you’ll know what happened.

(No need to get the guest room ready right now, Erin, they haven’t shown up yet…)

Monday, November 16, 2009

My Coming Out Party

Every Monday for the past 15 months I have offered a story to help you add a little laughter to your week with a great deal of anonymity.

But things are changing, starting today.

My name is Julie, I live in Lawrence, Kansas (fyi, the best Midewestern College Town EVER!), and – as of today – I have somewhat of a day job as a weekly columnist for our local paper, the Lawrence Journal-World.

Starting today, I will write under the column name "River City Jules" here in Lawrence.

(Click on the happy face with jazz hands to find my debut column for November 16th)

*** J ***

But Weekly Jules is far from over...

My weekly tales will still be here, but because the LJW is actually paying me (more than 11 cents per story, unlike Google AdSense), I am giving them my Mondays and moving Weekly Jules to Wednesdays.

Can’t wait until Monday?

I will update a link on the right sidebar every Monday, and you can read a new story hot off the press on the LJW website. Those who get the paper at home can even see a snazzy picture of me, if the photographer uses the one I liked.

(And then come back on Wednesday too for the regular Weekly Jules story!)

I have more fun planned for us here in blogworld too, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, please know that this is a dream job for me that could not have happened without people like you who love to laugh and who remind me every week that joy is fullest when it is shared.

Plus, you are the smartest, best-looking, most charming group of people ever to read a blog. Don’t you think?

So thank you for sharing in some fun, I look forward to the next leg of the blogging journey!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Are You There, God? It's Me, Jules.

Before there were Amos and Otis and their college athletic scholarships; and before there was my sister (“The Hot One”) and her athletic prowess that earned her a spot on the Junior Varsity soccer team the first year she ever hit a soccer ball; but sometime after my father, the college football player, came to be, there was Jules.

Flat-footed, near-sighted, and unable to leave the house during ragweed season little Jules.

But what I lacked in gross motor skills I made up for in spelling skills, an early love of soap operas, and a knack for winning cakes at the annual grade school carnival. And so my mother insisted they keep me.

By eighth grade, however, I decided to expand my horizons beyond my inhaler and Judy Blume collection, and try out for my school’s volleyball team.

I remember running warm-up laps around the gym, feeling plenty warm halfway around the first lap but being told there was no quit in warm-up, or something like that. I remember the sting of the ball on my forearms and wondering if there were any positions that wouldn’t involve direct contact with the ball. But more than anything, I remember that I made the B squad for our Catholic school’s CYO team.

I was thrilled.

I was an idiot.

I was out of my league.

But, like the saints and martyrs we were taught to emulate at Queen of All that is Good and Holy School, I persevered. The torturous season lasted six weeks (three jammed fingers, one pair of broken glasses, and two menstrual cycles).

Fortunately, I do not remember most of the games. In fact, I had blocked out nearly every play that ever involved me.

Until last week, when my darling middle child, Amelia unwittingly dragged me into reliving one of my most horrific moments of Junior High, as her own CYO volleyball team hosted a Parents vs. Fifth-Graders scrimmage in celebration of their last practice.

(Before I continue I must add that I voluntarily hosted an ice cream party to celebrate the last week, but I must have pissed off karma at some point in a way chocolate delight and Redi-whip could not reconcile.)

Standing opposite the server, a beautiful 10-year-old girl who can already overhand serve like an Olympian, I found myself fighting the urge to curl up fetal as I immediately reverted back to the Great Disaster of ’85…

As usual, Coach had me start the game on the bench. After the other two girls had rotated in, Coach reluctantly called for me to take my place in the center of the back row. We were up 5-2 at the time.

St. Someone School’s player returned our serve with a spike to the empty spot in our side of the court, giving them the ball, which they served directly into the net.

We moved up, 6-3, rotated and served but lost the point, though it was not my fault.

And so it came to pass that I stood opposite the server, a girl who would go on to play college volleyball, but would first find herself with ample opportunity to refine her overhand serve.

Up 6-4, I put myself in the ready position (wringing my hands and praying) as she prepared to serve.


The ball came straight to me. I stared at it all the way to my upper arms, where it ricocheted into the crowd of horrified parents.



The ball raced toward me at a speed never before seen. (This was before the age of sports psychology, private trainers, and steroids, mind you.) I couldn’t imagine that ball was going to stay in bounds, so I let it fly by, thanking God for getting me out of that situation with grace and dignity.

Unfortunately the ball was in by three feet.



The ball whizzed by my head. Surely this one is out, I remember thinking as it, again, landed three feet in bounds.

6-7, St. Someone. And the pummeling continued.


Off my thumbs.


Bulldozed the six of ten fingers going for the set.


I one-handed it into the net.

Serve after painful serve flew directly to me. I gave it my all, which consisted of creating and then silently chanting a mantra to boost my self-esteem and hoping Coach would pull me out. It did not, however, consist of returning one single serve within the boundaries of the volleyball court.

Twenty-one points by one server. In a row. A new CYO record had been set, technically by both of us, though she was the only one honored for it.

And so 24 years later (ouch), as I faced off against my 10-year-old opponent at the parent-child scrimmage last week, I began the mantra that eventually got me through the Great Disaster of ’85:

“It’s okay, Jules, just remember. You would kick her butt in a spelling bee.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

My Little Queen of Hearts

(WARNING: This one is a bit PG-13, and I question my own judgment for posting it)

I am a tremendous fan of the homemade Halloween costume.

Nothing tugs at my heartstrings more than a hand-painted cardboard-box Sponge Bob atop a set of child’s legs standing at my door pleading with me to hand over one of my fun-sized Snickers bars.

And the 6-year-old home-grown hobo will always win the last Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup buried in the bottom of my emergency back-up bowl of candy with which I am usually reluctant to part.

So when my oldest daughter decided she wanted to create her own costume for the Junior High Halloween Dance, I was elated, though I don’t know why.

I remembered constructing some of my own costumes as a kid – a ladybug that ended up looking more like a polka-dotted hunchback, an M&M package constructed out of a garbage bag that simply resembled a garbage bag – and yet, for some reason, had complete faith that my child, my spawn, my own precious offspring would be capable of creating a beautiful (or, at least, recognizable) version of the Queen of Hearts, complete with a hand-designed Queen of Hearts t-shirt, a red tutu, and striped leggings.

Not only did I have faith, I left her home alone with a new white T-shirt and an arsenal of pink puff paint pens while I made a quick trip to the grocery store.

As I cruised through the produce aisle debating what to serve with the carrots and zucchini I had just thrown in my cart, my cell phone rang.

“MOM!” my dear daughter cried, “I MESSED UP MY SHIRT!”

I walked past a basket of French bread in the bakery and proceeded to the donut case so I could focus.

Zeroing in on a row of Long John’s, I tried to calm down my firstborn. “Honey,” I said, “it’s okay. I can help you fix whatever it is you messed up.”

Sob, heave. “No you can’t!” she wailed. “It’s really bad!”

I took a quick glance around the store and decided to move along so as not to draw attention to the drama unfolding.

“Sweetie,” I tried to reassure her, “I promise I can help you. Did you smear the hearts? We can even it out. I’m a pro with the puff paint.”

“You can’t fix it!” She continued to sob, “I really messed it up!”

“Did you mess up the ‘Queen’ part?”

More crying. “Yes, but it’s REALLY BAD!”

“Honey, we can fix – “

“BAD, Mom, it’s REALLY bad!”

“Babe, the shirts are $2.98 at Target,” I tried to reason. “I’ll treat you to a new one if I can’t fix it.”

Some silence. This was promising. “Okay,” she squeaked out.



We hung up, and I found myself in front of the bratwurst, which was beginning to sound like a good choice. Especially considering I was potentially looking at a trip to Target and would likely need something quick and easy for dinner.

But I never got that far in my thought process. For as soon as I started weighing out the merits of turkey sausage, my phone buzzed again.

Three texts, all photos, all from my daughter.

The first was an ultra-close-up of a bit of smeared pink paint on white cotton.

No big deal, I laughed to myself, I’ve seen bigger messes on permanent tattoos.

The next shot was pulled back slightly, where one of the hearts was close to the smudge mark near the first “e” in “Queen.”

Hmmm, a little more challenging, but we’ll just throw a little red puff paint on it and no one will know any different.

But the final shot confirmed all of my daughter’s fears. Not only had she smeared some paint, but she had free-hand designed a shirt not fit for a girl to wear anywhere within eyeshot of a blossoming teenage boy --- much less to a dark cafeteria full of them.

Yep, messed up.


And that is how I ended up at Target two days before the Halloween party, buying up all the white t-shirts they had in stock and a new tube of puff paint. I'll save this one for her bachelorette party someday. Until then, I'm going to oversee all DIY projects myself.