Seaweed, Muppets, and Bribes

As I’ve been recovering from the holidays, I’ve gone into a sort of cleaning frenzy. I recently posted on my blog’s facebook page the following:

The Kirby man came today.
His fancy demonstration filters lifted my shame from the couch. “How old is this couch?” He asked as he changed filters for the 6th time.
“Eight years,” I say, sitting on the unfolded laundry in my recliner, tugging carefully at the cross stitch in my hand while reading off spelling words to my oldest who is drilling them like an Olympic in training. The spelling bee is only a few weeks out, after all.
My 4 year old watches the man carefully as he switches filters again.
“What are you doing with that thing?” She asks.
“Just cleaning off the couch,” he says with all the feigned energy of a man who -after working selling door to door all day -has to come to my house and clean, “See all that dirt?”
He says dirt, but I hear “shame.” I always do.
“Don’t go in the cracks,” I say, mostly because I don’t want him to see what I don’t know is there and partly because I don’t want him vacuuming up crayons that are still usable.
“Our car is dirty,” the 4 year old speaks again, “So you should go clean that!” Her tone is misleading, making it sound as if cleaning our car is akin to riding Splash Mountain.
At this point, my 8 year old son felt it would be appropriate to yell from the kitchen, “Mom, you SAID you cleaned in here, but there’s SPIDERWEBS EVERYWHERE.”
Look, I’m no queen of clean.
But I must be queen of something because God not only blessed me with honest children, He also sent a couch cleaner in my apparent hour of need.
Also, the retired K9 won’t stop sniffing my house suspiciously which means one of two things:
#1) The house was so incredibly dirty that having a Kirby go over a few surfaces has made his environment completely unrecognizable or
#2) The Kirby man is toting around more than vacuum attachments.
Either way, my couch has a new lease on life.
And my kids are going to need one here pretty soon.
Wait a sec…
Can you Kirby kids? Can you Kirby them until they smell brand new and stop truth-telling to strangers?
Cuz I’d pay for that, folks and friends.
For now I’ll have to content myself with the complimentary can of Febreeze the Kirby man left us.


There’s been a new development.
Ten days after The Kirby Man cleaned my couch and ignored orders from Alice, he knocked on my door again. During those ten days, Danny and I pulled the kids together for a family counsel about finances and our housing situation.
We told the kids that right now, we need to build up our savings account to reach some goals we have as regards a house.
“So, like, can we earn money for you guys?” Lacy asked because her heart is made of gold.
“You WILL be SAVING us money if you just TURN OFF LIGHTS WHEN YOU LEAVE ROOMS,” I offered, and then promptly checked myself before I turned into the version of me that says things like, “Am I just talking to hear myself TALK?!” because I think I’ve said, “turn off the lights” more times than my own name.
and then I calmly added, “and saving money is the same as earning more, in a way.”
“Yeah,” the kids nodded, eager to start. Trenton immediately got up and starting turning things off because his heart is made of eagerness.
We made some goals with the kids, and together we decided that we’d hold off on eating out or renting movies until we’d built up enough cash in our “fun money” can we keep on the fridge.
This is important to note.

Days later, The Kirby Man returned.
He told us that he’d gone back home (out of state) after selling door-to-door in our area, only to have to come back and repo a vacuum from someone who paid with insufficient funds.
“This vacuum is only a week old, it has all of the attachments. I can’t sell it full price, but I need to get rid of it.”
I was all at once flattered and horrified that he’d remembered us.
Are we THAT messy?

“How much?” asked my money-minded husband. I was grateful he was home when The Kirby Man Returned because if it were up to me, I’d buy everything any traveling anything sold because they all work so hard, right? Of course right.

After crunching numbers and some nail-biting negotiations, we bought the vacuum at an extraordinarily reduced price.

The next morning, Trenton sleepily walked into the kitchen and pointed to the vacuum in the (carpeted) dining area.
“Why is that still here?”
“Well… we bought it.”
“We did?” He raised his 8 year old little eyebrow.
“Yep,” I buttered his toast with a focus never before known, hoping he’d drop the subject.
“But… why?”
“Why are you asking?” Maybe I could beat him at his own game? Question him into retreat?
“Because we’re supposed to be saving money and the first time That Guy came, you said we weren’t going to buy it…”
“Okay, look,” I threw down the butter knife in defeat, “Mommy and Daddy may have messed up. But…it was a good deal.”
“What do you mean?”
I explained to him The Good Deal, selling it better than even The Kirby Man himself, if I do say so MYself.
“Okay,” he nodded, drinking a glass of morning milk, “That is a good deal.”

Our new Kirby addition is rather friendly and versatile. I’m afraid to use half of the attachments and MAY have already vacuumed up a ball of embroidery thread.
But I’ve vacuumed a lot, and I’ve used the dusting attachment and dusted a lot. I’ve used a fancy buzzing, spinning attachment to clean my futon and suddenly it’s in a second childhood.
It doesn’t look a day over 5 though it IS 8.

Danny keeps pretending that he’s helping me out by vacuuming after he gets off work, but don’t be ye fooled.
He’s PLAYING, that’s what.

Before the vacuum came into our lives, I’d started a sort of spring cleaning. The vacuum has really helped, much the same way a new pair of tennis shoes really helps when you need some motivation to start or keep on exercising.
Will The Kirby make me magically a wonderful housekeeper? No more than my juicer will make me suddenly a pillar of health.
But I will say this: right now, my house is fairly clean, by my standards.
As last Friday rolled around, I knew I’d lose what cleanliness I’d gained because weekends are absolute SLAUGHTER on houses when kids live in them, so I made a deal with my kids.

The week before, in an effort to dial down the amount of fighting in the car, I’d bought a used “Kids Classic” version of “Treasure Island” and read it to my kids as we rambled down the interstate. I could not have anticipated how into that book they got. Even Danny became interested. Trenton decried every pirate and cheered out loud for Jim Hawkins.
Lacy rather took to Long John Silver over Jim which has caused her mother a little bit of grief and anxiety.
We finished the book on Sunday afternoon, and on Friday afternoon I promised the kids that -because I had the money -I’d rent The Muppets “Treasure Island” if they beat me in a room cleaning race.
And if I beat them?
“Foot rubs,” they drolled out in response. They know what happens if I beat them in a cleaning race. They are my little spa slaves for as long as I can keep their attention.
So, like, ten whole entire minutes.

And so it was that I cleaned my room with ferocity and they cleaned their room.
I recently gave them each a little white board with 4 chores written in permanent marker on them:
Make Bed
Brush Teeth
Tidy Clothes and Toys
Do an Act of Service for a Sibling

If they check all four items off in one day, they earn back a toy from the “take away” bag. The Take Away bag was born a few weeks before Christmas on an unseasonably warm day. The kids basked in the warmth outside and I cleaned their room with all the fervor of a mother on her last nerve.
Most of their toys went in The Take Away bag.
It took them two whole weeks to care.
*head slap*

At any rate, this chore system is working really well now, especially with Trenton who is VERY motivated by achievement. Often he’ll check everything off his chores and forget to grab a toy out of the bag because he’s just so happy with himself. But the best thing to come from the chore boards is how the kids have been nicer to each other.
Last Friday, there was still fighting as they cleaned their room together -but not nearly as much as there has been.

As I cleaned my room, I found all kinds of magical things like a box of popsicle sticks, a doll’s head, and some missing shoes.
But the greatest find of all was two “pirate party kits” my mother had given to me a few years before. I’d put them with my scrapbook stuff, and they’d gone the way of The Forgotten. I pulled them out and basked in serendipity.
Within minutes, I had the kids gathered to my side and we “oohed” and “ahhhhhed” over the pirate kits and had our second family counsel in two weeks’ time.
Minus Dad, we decided that WHEN the kids’ room was clean, we’d all gather therein for a PIRATE PARTY and DINNER and MOVIE.
“IF you win,” I said, sounding very much like Disney’s version of Cinderella’s benevolent step-mother.

Of course they won.
Partly because I let them.
And partly because my room really was dirtier.
And partly because I got distracted with The Kirby’s ability to clean my ceiling fan.

They even had enough time left over to goof off a bit while Mother finished cleaning her room.
“Can I bake cupcakes?” Lacy asked.
Bake she did, with no help from me, and the boxed mix she used which would have made 24 cupcakes made 9 instead.
“Oh, you’re NOT supposed to fill them all the way up?” She asked, innocently.

That evening, as The Party commenced, the kids pulled the party kits out and began assembling small treasure chests and eye patches while I stayed in the kitchen with strict instructions.
“Don’t peek -dinner is a surprise.”
Alice bounced back and forth between the kitchen and kids’ room, and each time she appeared I growled and called her “Swashbuckler” and she squealed and insisted, “she was NICE and SWEET.”

I whipped up one of the kids’ favorite dinners: salmon cakes and canned spinach. The fact that they love this meal is a sort of mystery that I’m grateful for because I’ve always -even as a kid -loved canned spinach and have, since that time, harbored a real terror at the prospect of someday living with people who hated it.

I cued up a Sea Chanty Pandora station, declared myself, “Mother Goose” (because it COULD be that the name originated from a fierce mother-figure pirate woman lady) and made the kids tell me their pirate names:
“Long John Lace!”
“Silver Sparrow!” (Trent)
“Pirate Magoo!” (Alice)
“Long John Silver” (Danny -“that’s not original, Danny…” “Alicia, I don’t care.”)
and then served them up

“Salmon cakes made with salmon caught fresh off the coast of Wal-Mart! and Seaweed harvest ALSO off the coast of Wal-Mart!”
Danny was there, but he was on the phone, so the kids and I ate in their room on a little card table by the light of an oil lamp.
The kids had used tin foil to make hand-hooks, and they all came off because AS IT TURNS OUT, hooks really look cool but aren’t very practical for small folks with two functional hands.
The room was quiet and cramped, but the kids were so pleased with themselves and their hard work. They told us we should party in their room ALL OF THE TIME.
Once dinner was eaten and whisked away, we turned on the electric light and played a game that felt VERY pirate-ish.
We were regular mischief makers, no doubt.

After the game was cleaned up, we pushed the card table against the wall and rented “Treasure Island” with The Muppets. The kids laughed themselves silly and haven’t stopped quoting it.

And suddenly, I’m faced with another weekend without the energy to throw an impromptu bribery pirate party.
(It just occurred to me that bribing is a VERY pirate thing to do.)

So who knows what today will hold? Nothing The Kirby can’t handle, probably.


You haven’t heard from me through the holidays because the holidays killed me. For two months, I felt buried in a pile of, “What’s going on?”
My calendar was LIT UP with appointments and concerts and all manner of comings and goings. I was rushed and tired and sick.
I haven’t had a holiday season like that in six years. I remember how bad it was six years ago, and how I came out of that holiday season with blood on my lip and courage beating in my chest.
I raised my banner, “NEVER AGAIN” with determination, and we kept to it. The years that followed were beautiful, and we really were able to enjoy the holidays -the sights, smells, tastes!
So what happened this year?
I’m not sure I know yet. I’m still head-scratching and trying to recover. The fact that I’m exhaling and reveling in a house without holiday decor is disturbing to me… because I usually feel sad taking them down.

Most of all: I feel a sense of homesickness for the holidays, as if I missed them. To be honest, I really believe I did miss them.
I physically was there and lived through them, but I MISSED THEM because I wasn’t really there.

I exited the holidays feeling sapped and the attitude of “not enough” ruled the day.
Not enough time.
Not enough money.
Not enough space.
Not enough sleep.
Not enough health.

As I began to renew my relationship with God which had been strained at best during the holidays, I felt Him reaching back and telling me to focus on contentment, especially with my house. The message was so strong that I knew better than to mess around. Contentment goes in all directions, but today I’m going to talk about the cash and house end of things.

The house I live in isn’t mine, right? I’ve always said that. I’m renting, I’ve always rented. As I renter, my homes have always been treated as a temporary arrangement.
“If it was mine, I would…,” I say, “But it isn’t, so why bother?”
Well, God told me to stop that.

It doesn’t change the fact that the house isn’t mine, not on paper. But the time for me to start treating my four walls like they really do belong to our family is NOW.

So I’ve strapped on a new attitude, and the house is already feeling much more included.
I haven’t taken to tearing into my house, not at all. I’ve only taken to talking to God about, “what now?”

His answers are low and slow, probably because I need low and slow right now. I picked up counted cross stitch again and stitched a pretty little heart to put on the wall. In a few weeks, I’ll switch it out for a pretty little clover, and a few weeks after THAT, I’ll switch it out for a pretty little Easter Egg, and so that little spot in the house is more OURS because it carries my touch, flawed as it is.

I read Little Women for the first time since High School, and the level of contentment that book carries is overwhelming. I was inspired everyday as I turned the pages over and read of their creativity and happiness and sadness and family connection.
What’s more? The more I read in a GOOD BOOK filled with solid words and ideas, the less satisfaction I found with junk TV to fill my time. That fact alone improved the air in my house, I think.

Instead of abusing my car because it’s legally old enough to drink, I’ve decided I can just learn to love it for it’s quirks and broken parts. Instead of rebelling because I can’t lock it with a button or distract my kids with a movie so they’ll quit touching each other, breathing on each other and fighting, I can take better care of it so the small space the kids are confined to is at least somewhat welcoming.
I’m trying this new thing I learned from The March Family called, “playing together.”
This means connecting and doing mad libs, reading books together while we ramble down the highway to the nearest bulk warehouse.
Danny and I usually love the drives because in days gone by, the kids would nod off and we could visit about grown up stuff like what we’d do with a million dollars or tempt each other to stop off at the casino to try our empty pockets at the penny slots.
But the kids don’t nod off now, and we’re transitioning into the place of parenthood where you can’t jest about penny slots without someone shorter than you asking questions about your moral character -and TRUST ME -after riding in a 21 year old Jeep for an hour with three short people, I am too tired to defend my morality with appropriate zeal.
So we work on playing with the kids and embracing the opportunity to be so physically close together without the option of escape.
It’s harder and better than it sounds.

During my Quest for Contentment, I was given a couple of hours with my Granny who unveiled to me her years as a single mother in a two-story house that was not only old enough to drink… but actually housed Mormon pioneers who shared a few home brews until the Word of Wisdom leaked down and their supplier (read: one of their wives) quit brewing.
Granny lived there. The old, creaky house kept her and more kids than you can count on one hand. She talked about character and things they went without.
She said these sacred words to me, “Going through it was really hard. It was SO hard. I looked around at other couples, the trips they took and the cars they drove… and I wondered WHY. Why couldn’t I have those things instead of worrying about how I was going to get the next meal on the table? But looking back, I’m so glad. I’m so grateful. Those days taught me so many things, and the kids and I really came together. We built a lot of character. Money can’t buy that. Now I can see that God gave me not what I wanted, but what I NEEDED because He loves me, and He is compassionate. That has sustained me through lots of hard times… knowing that God always gives me what I need, even if I don’t know what it is yet.”

God always gives me what I need.

I walked away from our time spent together feeling inspired and pushed farther along in my quest.

As I’ve worked the 12-step program, I’ve come pretty honestly face to face with myself in a moral mirror that has the potential to be peace-giving but often feels SO UNCOMFORTABLE.
I see my vanity and pride, my ego and my selfishness. God wants me to be as a child, but I find I’m more childish than child-like.
The blessing behind it all is that I’m realizing The Problem in most situations is myself and that’s awesome because MYSELF is the only person I have any control over.
So it’s bittersweet, I guess.
But after time spent with my grandma and time spent with The March Family and time spent looking in the mirror of truth, I was hit with a very sincere TERROR of money.

I realized that when it comes right down to it, I would be a lousy rich person.
Not snobby, exactly.
But knowing me as I do now, I know that I’d turn to money instead of God and I would never, never be content.


I would chose not to access humility, I know I would, because with money I could do all sorts of things motivated by ego.
I’m not talking about tropical vacations. I’m talking about donating so much money to charities that they would herald me as The Queen.
I would work really hard to look really good morally all the while holding hostage my motivation:

That realization was comforting, and I have to say that I now earnestly live in fright of monetary fortune. I don’t trust myself to stay true to myself with it.
Maybe later, when I’m as sage as my Granny.

But for now, I’ll raise a glass of milk to my car and drink deep the dregs of contentment.
Something tells me this quest will be life-long.

{As part of seeking contentment, I took a leaf out of our dining table. I’m trying a downsizing experiment that I’m hoping will open up a little space in our living area and also discourage people from leaving their junk lying about. So far, it’s working. But so far, the only junk-leaver has been Me… }