Thursday, December 14, 2017

Butter is a metaphor for me!

Hello again! This week I got the insane idea to make homemade chicken pot pie’s. Let me preface all of this by saying that I do not make pies. Twice I made peach pies with the peaches from the tree in the yard and they were terrible, I used pre-made store-bought crust. I can cook and bake practically anything on the planet but I have never wanted to make a pie. It’s not that I really dislike pie because pie is delicious but pie is not my first choice of dessert and for that reason I don’t feel any desire to bake a pie. That being said, I recently purchased the pampered chef miniature pie pan that makes for tiny pies- because... hello? Cute! I envision tiny kid size pies and far be it from me to impose my desire to NOT make pies on my poor innocent children. For someone who never makes pies I sure have a lot of pie making supplies. That’s what comes from years of being a pampered chef consultant earning new products for free. I have at least two- perhaps three- stoneware pie pans, and things like pastry blenders, piecrust shields, and mats to roll out my piecrust. I always told myself that someday when my kids got bigger I might actually want to master making pies. More for the old-fashioned/homesteading/canning aspect of things (which most of you know I’m crazy for) then for the actual idea of desiring pie. I love Keylime pie, I love cheesecake, I love French silk pie and lemon meringue pie... but folks let me tell you I love me a chicken pot pie! Marie callander is amazing.

My mom would always tell me there’s too much sodium in those frozen potpies, but man it’s the ultimate comfort food to me. So I thought what better way to use up that chicken breast I bought on clearance and scratch together ingredients I have at home then to make chicken pot pies? And really to make a homemade chicken pot pie needs a homemade crust, and in order to make a pie with things I have on hand it needs to be homemade crust. Plus I’ve had a lot of dietary issues in the last year with the removal of my gallbladder and discovering that I have a very hard time digesting grains that are not organic or chemical free, so using my own organic ingredients and chemical free flour makes a lot more sense than buying a piecrust. Plus in my mind there’s a difference between the type of piecrust that you should use for a sweet pie and the type of piecrust that you should use for a chicken pot pie. I want a flaky buttery crust for my chicken pot pie. So of course I have a piecrust recipe that is my moms, I’ve made it once or twice with her when I lived at her house, but I haven’t made my own piecrust ever in the history of me, nor have I made a pie with my own piecrust since living in my own house for the past 17 years. Mom‘s recipe is an oil crust and I wanted a flaky crust so of course I hit all recipes and found a flaky butter crust that is very highly rated. This is where we get down to the recipe that is a metaphor for me. (yes I’m getting to a point, amazing isn’t it?)

The recipe says that I should dice the cold butter. I’m all about butter and fresh eggs, I like to make everything with real butter or use real butter on everything... none of this margarine crap. Being December I have a large stock of butter in the fridge and freezer. Realizing I don’t have butter in the freezer is enough to cause me a panic attack (OK not really but you know what I mean, yes I’m allowed to joke about panic attacks because I literally do have them.)

So I decided to double the recipe because when it comes to a piecrust I don’t want to have “not enough“ and of course I’m making miniature pies and not one pie, so I’m not sure if I might need actually more crust  in the long run. I doubled the recipe which means I needed two sticks of butter - which of course I have -and I had been working this afternoon dicing carrots and celery for the recipe, and I had to go to the locker to get some frozen peas because all I had was canned and I was afraid the consistency would be too mushy. So anyway it’s perfectly quiet in my house because all of the kids are at school, the smallest one is at preschool and I have almost 2 full hours with which to get a jumpstart on these chicken pot pie‘s. Of course they’re going to actually be for tomorrow because the dough has to chill for four full hours. It looks like I really planned ahead but I’m really flying by the seat of my pants here. We have a Christmas program tonight for the preschoolers so dinner can’t be delayed beyond 5 PM at the latest. 

So here’s the metaphor for my life, I start out with these excellent intentions, I am going to dice the stick of butter and I get this whole stick of butter diced and I realize this seriously must’ve taken me 10 minutes. And I add this one stick of diced butter to my dry ingredients and I look at my watch and I think to myself, “that it’s 10 minutes of my life I will never get back.” Did it really take 10 minutes?? I don’t know but at first I wanted to say took 20, and I knew that was definitely not right, so I’m estimating, maybe it took four minutes but it seemed. like. it took. forever. So I look at that second stick of butter and I think well shit, do I really have to dice that second stick of butter that fine? My mind plays over how ridiculous this is, I decide I’m making an executive decision- I’m gonna get the shit done...  I look at the pastry blender and I think “I’m going to use that pastry blender to cut it all up into that dry mixture anyway so why the hell do I have to go through this excruciating dicing up a stick of butter. Nobody’s got time for that, I don’t have time for that, I love me some chicken pot pie but seriously I can do this better and I can do this faster.” So I literally slice the second stick of butter and throw it in the bowl and I look at that and I think to myself “man did I read that recipe and just take it too literally, or did the idiot who wrote this recipe really think it needed to be diced?” I grab my pastry blender, combine the ingredients in no time and I am moving ahead. Now granted the dough’s in the fridge chilling, at this point I have not actually rolled it out and I don’t know if it’s gonna work out. But what I do know in my head, is that I’m the kind of person who starts out wanting to do things “right“ and then after I think about it a little bit I realize that I have better things to do that I will find a way to do it my way which is generally quicker and more efficient and I get it done. 

This is a life skill. It’s an analytical skill. It’s a decision making skill and if you ask me it’s a leadership skill. I’m not tooting my own horn here, but it’s a skill that I’ve always had and I don’t know if I get it from my mom or my dad or from both of them but they have the ability to look at something and say “why are we doing it this way, when if we just did it this other way, it would take a lot less time and we would get the same and result or maybe even a better end result.” And there are a lot of people in life that don’t have that skill. There were people in life who are rule followers just because it’s the right thing to do. I don’t believe in following rules as much as I do believe in following the moral code, and being kind to other people, but always looking at something with a fresh pair of eyes and seeing if there’s a different way to do things.

I am two sticks of butter (there are definitely worse things to be) I started out trying to follow the rules and do as I was told and dicing things up into this perfect little cube, and then I thought “hell no. Life is short and I don’t have time for this.” The more I have lived life and the more kids I’ve had and the older I get I can look back and think of times that I wish I would have just done what I wanted and not what someone else expected. I live by a pretty strict moral code and I don’t ever let someone down on purpose. I juggle many Plates and I wear many hats and I try to do my very best. Society spends a lot of time telling us how we should do things. Society tells us how we should dress and how our house should look and they tell us what color her hair can be and whether not we can have tattoos or piercings. They tell us it’s not modest if you breast-feed in public and you’re crazy if you do cloth diapers. People think essential oils are voodoo and that having an interest in skills like canning and soap making are things for people who “have too much time on their hands.” I’ve been told I can’t work here unless I take my nose ring out. I’ve been told my skirt is too short when the same man hired me wearing that skirt... and the only reason the skirt looks too short is because the smock they gave me was two sizes too big and went clear past my knees, and made it look like I didn’t have any pants on! Some of those times I stood up for myself and some of those times I just followed the rules. As the working mom of a new baby, I was told by others what time I needed to be at dinner. I would get off work and rush to the daycare to pick up my daughter, rush home try to figure out how I was going to wash cloth diapers and wash and sanitize all of the breast pump parts and pack them up for the next day and still nurse the baby and be at dinner on time. I was a new mom and I let other people dictate how I was going to raise my child. I would literally have complete breakdowns and panic attacks over whether or not I could get to someone else’s dinner on time. I started seeing a counselor and the counselor told me that it was my life and I could do whatever I wanted. That was one of the most powerful revelations anyone has ever given me. When it came time to have our second child it was the thing that spurred me to become a stay at home mom. I knew that’s what I wanted, but every single EVERYTHING was telling me that I needed to go to work every day, even if I desperately missed my daughter, and that I needed to run around and try to be all of these places on someone else’s schedule. Everything everywhere was telling me that I should spend my entire paycheck on daycare and health insurance because that’s what everyone else does. When I realized that after having two kids it was actually going to cost me money to work, I knew that wasn’t the life I wanted. I could do without cable TV and new clothes and a whole lot of things just to be home with my kids and teach them, things like life skills. This is not a debate about whether it’s better to stay home or work. Everyone has different deep-seated personal thoughts and feelings about that decision and everyone is an individual person that has different needs. Growing up for me meant realizing that I could choose my own path. And even if that path was not perfect, and even if other people disagree with it, and even if it means making other people upset now and then because they don’t control me or my family, it’s important that I live and raise my kids the way that I want to. Nothing is more important than teaching my kids to be themselves and do what they want to do. Nothing is more important to me then embracing the silly, the goofy, the creative, the things that make you an individual. Nothing is more important than empowering my children to be themselves and to have self-confidence and did not take flak from other people. I believe it’s possible to care about others without caring about what others think. I believe it’s possible to follow a moral code and help others when ever possible without compromising your own sense of self. I believe I can be comfortable in my own skin, with my own body and my own size without needing to be diced into a tiny cube like everyone else. 

At the end of August I finally dyed my hair fantasy colors. When I was in high school, I used to spend lots of time coloring my hair (and my mom’s bathroom counter) with Kool-Aid. I’ve always loved bright colored hair but when I was younger I couldn’t hold down a job with colored hair. I mentioned before, I got my nose pierced when I was 17 and I often had to remove my nose ring for my job. My gift to myself for Mother’s Day after Marek was born was piercing my nose again. Something I always wanted but after a few years I had to take it out so that I could work. Something that the 17-year-old me got back again when she was 30. I’ve always wanted to have rainbow hair. I spent years talking myself out of it, Thinking about where I work or what group I volunteer with or what people I know who wouldn’t think it was proper. More and more people that I knew were starting to dye their hair colors and my daughter wanted to dye hers, and I thought, it’s my turn. I’m finally going to do whatever I want and I’m not going to worry. If an organization doesn’t want me as a volunteer because of the color of my hair, then I guess I wasn’t that important to them anyway. Actually what I found is a string of compliments from total strangers. Little girls who want to talk to me about how I chose the colors and what color they want their hair to be. A bonding experience for my daughter and myself as we spend a Saturday dying our hair and turning our own bathroom counters into splotchy purple and aquamarine artwork. Hopefully I’m teaching her at a young age that she can be who she wants to be. I don’t care if she has a mohawk or piercing or mermaid hair as long as she’s nice to other people and works hard for what she wants in life. 

Those two sticks of butter really got me thinking today. Life’s short. You do you.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Confronting Mortality

Most of the time, I am a pretty upbeat person. I like to be sarcastic and I'm pretty sure that I want most of my friends to be wearing their big girl panties on a regular basis. My favorite high school English teacher turned artist once told me I am a romantic, seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. Sometimes I think something about motherhood changes that romance, puts you down in the trenches. Surrounded by dirty diapers and smelly socks and sticky dining room chairs, you often see more of the reality, the murphy's law of the way things really work. But the view from behind my rose colored glasses is also tainted, sometimes by anxiety. I think that most mothers (most of them that I know, who are honest) suffer from anxiety of some sort. There is so much resting on our shoulders, so many things that could go wrong, so many things we stand to lose that would be our undoing. We can't afford to come undone. Some of us have constant anxiety, some of us have controlled anxiety, or hidden anxiety, or even just postpartum anxiety when our hormones are overwhelming us, the new powerful love we have for another is overpowering.

I may be wearing rose colored glasses, but I can still see the very dangerous, scary, and real things that moms face everyday. I can still have that fear of losing a child. That fear of having a child being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease or illness. The fear of a child being abducted. Or in this case, the very-real and very looming fear of having a simple, routine, surgery... on Monday.

I've never had surgery. Yep. I know. So many of you probably laugh or scoff at the fact that I could find surgery as such a frightening prospect. It's not actually the surgery itself that worries me. It's the what-if. The maybe. The *statistical possibility* that I could perish from this earth by the hands of a skilled surgeon in a routing procedure, just eight minutes from my house. It's the thought that I could be taken from my family when I have SO MUCH LEFT TO DO. At the very least, it's that I could have complications during or after surgery that could lead to a much longer than *usual* recovery. More pain. More Procedures. More Issues. Anything that would prevent me from taking care of my kids. Anything that would force me to rely on others to get these things accomplished, others who I AM SURE would not be able to do it the way I need it to be done. At the very most, it's the very real fear that I could DIE in two days. I could become a body, a shell, a mother who wasn't done raising her children. A person who had so much left to accomplish. A person who had so much more love to give. A person whose time ran out.

Some of you will stop reading right here. Some of you will think "yep, she is definitely crazy. Off the deep end. Overly dramatic. Can't "deal" with Life's difficulties. But maybe, just maybe, some of you will understand. Maybe some of you have been in this place, this place where you are alone at 8pm with tears just rolling down your face because "what if i just kissed my kids goodnight for the last time ever?" or "What if I die and E is only four and he never remembers how much I love him? What if he can't remember that I sang to him, or that I painted his nails, or that I used to love his artwork and saved and laminated every precious piece?" What if I don't get to see A's spring dance recital? What if I never get to see then go to Junior High? To High School? To Prom? What if I never get to make tacos again? What if I never get to sew the kitchen curtains I have on the sewing table, or if I don't ever get the Little Free Library painted and put up? What if I don't get to take them camping ever again, or make s'mores? What if I don't get to see them off to summer camp, or I don't get to take them to the lake again? Who will keep all three kinds of cheerios in the cupboard or know that they like Whales instead of Goldfish? Who will know that A doesn't like Ketchup and that they like Horseradish Mustard? Who will know what size shoes to buy them, or what dresses A hasn't played violin in yet? Who has their medical history memorized, knows their vaccination schedule? No one else has ever taken them to the doctor or the dentist! Who will know that I have that cool Nature workbook hidden from them until summer? Who will know that A needs a kite to take to school and that M still needs a spare pair of glasses ordered this month? Who will teach E how much I loved him when he can't even remember me?

And here, on Easter eve, while everyone sleeps, I am in a panic about how I can't sleep for the next two nights because really I need to start writing all this down!!!!! No one else knows how to pay the bills! (They're all online!) No one knows the pin number to the debit card. No one knows which clothes get dried and which ones need hung up! No one knows the phone numbers for the soccer coaches. No one knows how to file the taxes. No one knows my last wishes. No one knows that I don't want to be unplugged in two days because I am NOT READY TO DIE!

These are the things that keep me up at night. These are the things that make me terrified or at least slightly distressed about Monday. I need to remember to take pictures with the kids on Easter because that might be the last day they ever spend with me. I need to remember not to yell at them for stupid things tomorrow. I need to remember to get the Easter books out and read them and OMIGOSH I haven't written enough in E's baby book! A is the only one who has any completed scrapbooks! Who will make sure E gets to his field trip on Wednesday and A has a what she needs for her field trip this Friday?

Eventually I make myself feel better by deciding that I won't die. You can't make me. No matter what you do, no matter what mistake the surgeon makes, I won't die on Monday because I can't. Because I am too tough. Because I will fight and scream and kick my way back. Because I have too much to do.

But then I think about how truly God is in charge, and I can't probably fight that. And then I get really ANGRY because what kind of God would want me dead? What have I done? Or better yet, what have my Kids done to deserve that? I think of all the people who have died before me who, seriously, didn't want to die either. And they were probably much tougher than soft old me who can't even get their gallbladder removed without considering that it might be the end. Approximately 9000 of my friends piped in to tell me they had theirs taken out, many by the same surgeon, and all of them are here to tell about it. But what if I am like that one friend... that one friend whose bowel was nicked, who almost DID die. Whose possessions were signed over, whose family grieved, who almost died eight minutes from his own house during a routine gallbladder surgery.

Should I write each child a note? Should I give them life advice, and tell them how much I love them and what I adore about each of them and point out all their good qualities that I hope never ever change? Should I fill their Easter baskets tonight like it will be the very. last. time? Gosh, who will fill their Easter baskets? Who will know that A wanted roller skates and M wanted baseball cards and certain lego sets and the Show 17 for PS4? Who will know that E wanted Cranky the Crane and that each kid wanted their own garden gloves? Who will know which American Girl books A has already read? Who will take the library books back to the library? Who will answer my phone and my text messages? Who will be the Girl Scout Leader, who will Volunteer for Safety Town, who will cancel my autoships on Amazon? Who will save my jewelry for my kids, and know which pieces I made so that the kids might cherish them or give them to someone who will know?

These are the reasons I have needed, and continue to need Unisom every night until surgery- or like last night and the night before- or I will be wide awake from the time a nightmare wakes me up at 4:30am until the time the kids get up at 6:30.

My husband snores away, apparently unaffected by the turmoil that is about to be thrust into our lives. And I can barely think straight because my mind is bombarded by all the things I haven't had time to tell them. Is this how all mother's approach surgery? Or going on vacation? Or practically anything that takes them away from their children or could be life threatening?

Tonight after everyone went to sleep, it was still light outside. I lay in the hammock and watched the clouds rolling overhead, five squirrels in the tree next door, people going about their business, kids playing, people talking, and all I could think about was "this could be the last time I really, truly, look up at the sky."

It Ain't Easy being Mortal.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cookie Chaos (Who am I kidding, my life is always like this)

There's something that happens during cookie season, if you're a scout leader, a cookie coordinator for your troop, and even sometimes if you are a cookie mom with inventory on hand. You go a little crazy. And I don't mean the cookie sales crazy that you see as an innocent bystander. I mean the internal "I'm trying to keep it together while constantly tallying and subtracting and balancing bank deposits and inventory and cookie supply and demand information in my head." I've already gotten there, on day two of cookie sales, when usually I don't get there until a couple of weeks in. I am disturbed. My brain won't shut off. The house has long ago fallen apart, and I just need to clear my head.

Blogging, is the way to clear your head. I don't get to do it much anymore, but this morning, on Sunday, I decided I would just sit down and dump my brain, pour my heart out, and feel much lighter.

I realized that I needed my laptop, which was in the van, in the locked-up-like-a-fortress garage, and that I wasn't dressed. I tried to get dressed, which became a huge chore. My jeans are all dirty. Like so dirty I won't tell you how many times I have worn my favorite one pair of jeans without washing them. Nope. Won't say. Can't tell. So I gathered all the jeans up to wash a load, at which time I realized I needed to throw in the new boy scout uniform pants of M's. I use the term "new" lightly. I am trying to be money conscious (always) and so instead of dumping the ridiculously outrageous $24 on a pair of blue pants, I found a pair on ebay for $10. M doesn't like jeans and has been begging me to buy him uniform pants because they are more like khakis and less rigid. Sometimes jeans make him freak out with the rubbing on the skin and the rawness on the waist. So I found the $10 pair on ebay. Then they arrived. Then I saw that the seller did not disclose the poorly hemmed bottoms, and the fact that they were 4" shorter than any average. They were also really washworn and not nearly as new blue as the photo showed. I spent the morning watching M in the tub while I used the seam ripper to tear out the hems and then discovered that even if they are now long enough, they have been worn and faded enough to have two very white-ish horizontal lines across the legs where the hems were folded. Ugh. In the process of getting these pants ready for the wash I thought I would open A's new swimsuits. I never buy Justice clothes. They are too much for me and I usually have a great friend (two actually) who sell used Justice clothes at a price I can handle, and then I don't have to shop. But I saw an advertisement for a cute swimsuit that's right up A's alley, and I thought, I will get that as her "good swimsuit" for this spring. So I ended up ordering two suits and a rashguard that matches both. She has a used Justice suit that was a size 12 and it surprisingly fit her perfectly. It's the only justice suit she has, she normally wears a 6/7 in suits and I thought we might finally get into an 8 this summer. She's slim. But since the Justice suit I have is a 12, of course I ordered all size 12's from Jutice. They swam on her. We were both so sad. I wanted to return them and exchange then for an 8, but of course they are "online only items" and the return form is just a return form, not an exchange form. And I call Justice and they "don't process returns" but would be happy to make my life a living hell by placing a whole new order where, you know, I pay them again with my unlimited funds and then later on (you know like two months from now when they get through their "processing time" i can have my original money back. Good times. I may lost it just a bit and tell the woman on the phone that if she can't process a return I don't want their junk and I will just send it back. Yeah. This is because I am supposed to be blogging by now but I haven't even gotten dressed.

I package up the RETURN and take the load of jeans and boy scout pants down to wash. At which time I am interrupted by kids who want to talk about Spirit Week. Which starts tomorrow. Because on Friday when I picked them up from school, M gets into the van and says "I can't wait to see all the costumes you are going to sew this weekend for us" and I think he is confused because HALLOWEEN IS NINE MONTHS AWAY and I swear I thought I got a year before I have to do that again. Then a paper is thrust at me with excitement and I see that on top of the TWO cookie booths we are running this weekend, the birthday party, and the Girl Scout meeting to prepare for World Thinking Day, we now have Super Hero Day, Disney Day, Mismatch and Crazy Hair Day, School Spirit Day, and Blast to the past day. I digress. (That's the moral of the story, you see.)

So the kids get told that their mother is offering no assistance for Spirit Week. It's every big kid for themselves. Their outfits have to be decided and laid out the night before. Mom isn't sewing, buying, or crafting ANYTHING (hear me, ANY. THING.) for Spirit Week. That's not very nice of me, is it. Not very spirited. But I grew up when Spirit Week was in high school and the participants were self sufficient enough to figure it out with minimal help from parents. I want my kids to start this self-sufficiency early, like they are starting Spirit Week early. I explain to them that they can create their own super hero! Won't it be fun! and M starts literally crying, and telling me that his teacher told him he has to be a boughten super hero and that it has to be a real one not a made up one (which I absolutely know isn't true, but he takes things very literally and is always concerned that he will be in trouble) and so eventually the tears get calmed and today we are tearing the house apart (more) to find costume pieces. We have one spiderman glove and one spidey suit. The mask is missing but I declare that *not my problem* because It's not my job to keep track of masks and the only real reason there is one glove and a suit is because of my attempts to organize and keep things in labeled bins (which means those two important pieces were in the costume tote where they were supposed to be.)
A Plays along beautifully and creates her own superhero, Called "Anime" pronounced AnnaMae.... who is a Japanese Anime Artist who can draw things and snap her fingers so that those things come to life. She finds an Indian/beaded/silkish gown from the Goodwill Halloween Costume buying spree, puts her hair in pigtails and sticks pencils in them, and takes paper and colored pencils in hand. I'm so proud of her own creativity and my lack of involvement that I go right down and put on a t-shirt and my clean pair of unflattering black fleece pants, my sweater slippers, and slip outside to the Fort-Knox Garage to get my laptop from the van. In my haste to finally get home last night, and out of my clothes and into my bed, I didn't pull the van up far enough in the garage so the back hatch is too close to the door so I can't open it to get the laptop out of the back, but eventually I get the laptop into the house and onto the sticky and overcrowded dining room table.

I open it, I log on to blogger, and I am READY! M comes out and says "are you hungry mom? I will make you some cereal" (So sweet is he. Always my helper. He loves me, this I know.) I tell him, "sure buddy, I would love some rice chex!" and I thank him and sit down. And he says "Hey mom, we are out of milk." So I have him just make his own cereal and I will run up to Caseys in a few minutes and get more milk. (you know, I was JUST out in the van. Seriously. JUST.)

"Anime" comes out in full costume, and suddenly wearing the pink pair of glasses that she *lost at school* two months ago, that I cleaned her locker and her desk and crawled under part of the dirty bleachers in the gym and looked in the smelly lost and found box and begged the office to look out for and posted on the school facebook page. They are ON HER FACE as if they never left, and she is a nonchalant about it as though I didn't just go on a month-long rampage looking for them. I just look at her incredulously and say "where did you get those glasses" and she responds with "I don't know, I just found them somewhere." Yeah.

All of this, and I haven't written a word. Then E tears himself away from Planes Fire and Rescue long enough to have an argument with me about why he wants to watch more music videos on You Tube, and then to ask for a snack (he hasn't had breakfast, we don't have milk) and he announces that he will eat pretzels for breakfast and I say "fine. Eat whatever. I don't care." and start to write.

THIS, Is why I never get to write. This is my life.

I love my life, I truly do. I am surrounded with people who love me, even if they also sometimes drive me entirely insane. We are healthy. We have a warm place to sleep, even if it's a disaster.

The laptop is surrounded by dirty dishes, the paint for the Little Free Library I haven't gotten to paint yet, the Mod Podge and supplies leftover from the Pinewood Derby car two or three weeks ago, Three opened cereal containers getting stale, a role of paper towels, an IH tractor, an open container of pretzels with a missing lid, a letter that my recent PAP came back clear, The offending list of Spirit Week activities on yellow paper, A hanger, and a bowl of slowly rotting blood oranges that my kids HAD to have and then REFUSED to eat. I look on the floor and I see a page of Christmas Stickers, a piece of aluminum foil, a non-winning scratch lotto ticket, a ring from a milk jug, a foil peeled back top from a to go butter container, a sprig of grape stems with no grapes attached, and a green top from a squeeze applesauce container, one child slipper, and a ziploc bag of markers.... all within two feet of my person. Where do I start? Who can I hire? How would I pay them?

Maybe I just need to eat some Girl Scout Cookies?

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Girl Scout Camp - From the Inside Looking Out

This is an expanded version of a Blog Post I recently wrote for Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois regarding my experiences at their STEW Overnight Leader Training event at Camp Dean in Big Rock. I hope you enjoy the unedited and original version. I enjoyed writing it so much that it ended up being three pages long 😬So I decided to post the full version on my own blog.


Camp Dean- STEW- From the Inside Looking Out

In 2016, My sister and I took my three kids to attend the Arbor Day Tree Planting event at Camp McCormick. I am a leader and girl scout mom from Girl Scouts of Central Illinois (GSCI), the council just south of GSNI. At the Arbor Day event, we were approached by smiling leaders who told us all about the Annual STEW Leader Training event at Camp Dean. The leaders were excited and enthusiastic. They had a neat display and handed me a great flier and a registration paper. I explained that I wasn’t from the GSNI Council, thinking that this event surely wouldn’t be available to me, and instead I was met with even MORE excitement, and a very inclusive invitation to come across council lines, AND BRING MY FRIENDS! I left Camp McCormick that day with a glowing, warm, happy feeling. I am sure many of you can relate to that, and understand “This is what it means to be a Girl Scout.”

I am a mom to three kids, then aged 8, 6, and 3. One Time in the last Ten years, had my husband and I been able to leave our kids for more than one night. I had never gone anywhere by myself since having kids… and I needed this. Desperately. I needed to go to Girl Scout Camp. My grandma’s saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way” motivated me, and I was going to find a way. I wouldn’t know anyone at the event. Not one person. But I had met those leaders at Camp McCormick who were all so excited to meet me, and I am not a shy person. I am a Girl Scout Leader, and in fact, a lifelong girl scout and a former leader’s daughter. This event was for me.

I made extensive plans to have someone else pick up my preschooler and my older kids from school. I coordinated who would watch them each day of the weekend. I put STEW on my calendar, ordered my STEW Tshirt, and chose my top class choices for the STEW Event. I chose Night Games, Girl emPOWERment, Look Ma No Pans!, Nature at Play, and Traditional Girl Scout Ceremonies. And I waited for September.
Camp Dean

I had never been to Camp Dean. Camp is about 1 hour and 15 minutes from my home. I set out on Friday (by myself! A Free Mom!) When I arrived at Camp I was so excited, I loaded my wagon and headed to Dean Lodge. There were no assigned sleeping arrangements, so I could choose if I preferred a cabin or a tent, and because I love to tent camp, I went for a tent. I found an open tent with only one bunk taken… and claimed a bunk
Friday Night at STEW. Crafts, Gorp Bar, New Friends, Night Games Class

Back at Dean Lodge, everyone was abuzz with laughter, chatting, and two of my favorite things, CRAFTS and GORP! There was a make your own GORP bar! I spent the evening chatting with ladies and making crafts, excited to find some crafts that I had seen on Pinterest but hadn’t had a chance to test out yet. I met a leader and class facilitator who owned a TOTE of glue guns, and I knew I was in the right place. I also met my tent buddy, who was also a leader and class facilitator. The first night I discovered leaders that enjoyed similar books and TV shows as I do. It was above all of my expectations already. I attended a Night Games class that taught us all about Games to play in the dark with our girls, from the famous Snipe Hunt, to more educational games like Night Eyes. There is nothing as refreshing as sleeping under the stars, and although it was cool at night in the fall, we had beautiful weather and I scooted my cot to the edge of the tent so I could stick my head out the front and look up at the sky. This was a peace and quiet, a back to nature, and a time with other strong women that I really needed as a busy mom and volunteer.
"Look Ma, No Pans!" and lunch with GSNI CEO Fiona Cummings
My Saturday STEW classes were amazing. I was getting to know people; leaders were excited to see someone from another council, to bounce ideas off each other, to make new friends. I was pleased to find my tent mate teaching my cooking class at lunch. I’ve done a LOT of campfire cooking, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was still so much I could learn, and that I wouldn’t feel like I was doing  the same things over again. We worked as a team, making meals in the unit house kitchen and cooking them over charcoal and wood. We made Chicken Quesadillas, Cucumbers and Garlic Hummus in Pitas, Tabouli, Refried Beans with Polenta, Chocolate Cake cooked in an orange rind, and banana boats. The food was amazing. I learned new skills and tips, for example… did you know you can buy premixed liquid cake batter in a zipper bag? Great for camp, just unzip and pour! And nonstick aluminum foil, where have you been all my life?

An unexpected part of our lunch, and it turns out of STEW in general, was being joined by GSNI CEO Fiona Cummings. I’ve spent my whole life in scouting and I had never met a Girl Scout CEO. Fiona wasn’t just there. She didn’t just “drop by” camp. She was WITH us. She was camping with us, cooking with us, listening to us, and really sharing the experience with us. Fiona came to my lunch class and I was honored to talk with her, laugh and have fun. She is so approachable and fun, and truly listened to what leaders need and want.
Nature Abounds at Camp Dean

While at Camp Dean, I noticed a lot of fun things that I had never seen at the two Girl Scout camps I had been to in my lifetime. Gaga Ball. Large outdoor musical instruments made from PVC and Wood. The Mud Hole. Fiona explained to me that it was important to encourage leaders to bring their girls camping, and that GSNI could help leaders by providing activities that the girls can do that don’t require lots of planning and packing by leaders. We talked about just “being” at camp, and about how nice it was that leaders didn’t have to worry about planning and orchestrating an activity for every moment they are at camp. This really struck a chord with me, and gave me a new confidence to take my own girls to camp at the council level. Fiona also gave me a GSNI Big Book that day. I was pleased to spend time with her and to see her throughout the rest of my stay at Camp Dean.
Amazing Food, Beautiful Scenery, and Finally Understanding a Compass
STEW taught me how to use a Compass (first time in 30+ years that anyone had tried to teach me how to use one!) and we did a neat activity that we could do with our girls, placing a starting flag in the ground at our feet, following directions on a pre-printed card with our compass, and placing flags at various stopping points, that formed a shape of a heart or a square if we had followed directions correctly. The Traditional Ceremonies class was so helpful. I hadn’t received any leader training about planning ceremonies. The only thing I was drawing on were my memories of ceremonies from when I was a child (that was too long ago) and internet resources. I learned that there are red sashes and white gloves for flag ceremonies! I left with a new confidence for teaching ceremonies to my own troop, and ideas as to the resources that my own council might have, which I was previously unaware of. The Girl emPOWERment class was one of the hardest. It really dug deep at the self esteem issues that plaque our girls and women. I experienced and participated in an affirmation bath, which is one of the hardest things I have ever, ever done. There were a lot of tears flowing that day, but I left renewed. I’ve since taught my own troop Flag Ceremonies and Etiquette, Bridging Ceremonies, and also taken them overnight to a council camp.

Other leaders were taking classes in Crate Stacking, Creating PVC Camp Kitchens, Car Camping, Letterboxing, Knitting, Archery, Boating, Pie Iron Cooking, Vegan Cooking, and the highly coveted Dutch Oven Cooking (which I was told was taught by the queen of Dutch Ovens) There were even women learning to sew and quilt in the lodge, they made amazing fall leaf quilted wall hangings. Geocaching, Digital Photography, Camp Songs, Team Building Games. There was quite literally something for everyone, even an experienced scout or leader. STEW gave me new skills and, more importantly, renewed my confidence to teach these skills to my own girls.

Saturday Night Murder Mystery Theater and Ice Cream Bar

Saturday night was my very favorite at Camp. The STEW Team brought in a Murder Mystery Theater. I had not been that excited in a long time. It’s one of those things I have always wanted to try, and the consensus among other leaders was the same. Dean Lodge was a place of excitement and mystery. The Mystery Shop’s production of Chained Melody was a highlight of STEW. It was fun. It was challenging. It was TEAMWORK. We were divided into large teams that filled Camp Dean Lodge. I am proud to say that my team (with Chatter, Barb, Kendra, and Christa) Solved the Mystery Theater. Out of all those teams, our team WON! And that night I made even more new friends. Friends who I stay in touch with today and hope to see at STEW this fall. In Fact this year at STEW, I will be TEACHING a class on Girl Scout SWAPS. I hope to meet you there!

Another thing I can’t say enough about…. The food at Camp Dean. There was an ice cream bar, a Taco Nacho Bar, Fresh Baked scones and fresh fruit for breakfast (yogurt and berries and granola!) Everything was delicious. (Kudos to Julie Schmale!)

Sunday’s Date Was September 11th. We started the day by cleaning up our campsites and helping close down the buildings around camp. I learned how to clean composting latrines! We were able to choose teams that we wanted to join as part of the National Day of Service. My group went with Camp Dean Ranger Guy to clean out a storage shed on the camp premises. We organized lifejackets, bunk mattresses, cooking utensils, and many other camp items in the large storage shed to make room for a truck that needed to be parked inside for the coming winter. We got rid of things that were no longer needed and swept the concrete floor. Then we helped Ranger Guy to setup the PA System for the upcoming Scouts Own Flag Ceremony and skit, where we honored those who fell on 9-11. It was another emotional time at camp.
Cleaning the Shed During National Day of Service at Camp Dean's STEW Leader Training Camporee 2016

As a leader and a girl scout mom, I often watch camp through the eyes of my 9 year old daughter. When I pick her up from camp, it seems like she has grown inches each year, and she has stories to tell for hours. I like to pick her up all by myself, without her siblings present, so that we can have a few hours after camp to just chat about all the excitement that happened. Until Camp Dean, I hadn’t truly been an overnight camper at Girl Scout Camp since 1983. When picking my daughter up from summer camp, we get to talk about the fun times at camp, and sometimes the hard times at camp. Maybe disappointment from an activity they were going to do but didn’t happen (weather or heat perhaps.) or maybe an interaction with a new friend that didn’t go as well as we hoped. Maybe there was a bee sting, or a fall, or bug spray in the eyes. The way you felt when you were really scared to get into that canoe but you found out that you LOVE canoeing! Or that time your whole unit got caught in the rain and had to run back to the unit house and sit on the floor soaking wet to have hot dogs for supper when you knew all the girls closer to the Lodge were having something better.
Girl Scout Camp... Then and Now...

Time after time, we have discussed how even things that didn’t seem to go “just right” at camp, become memories, and sometimes very funny ones. Sometimes we meet a new friend because of circumstances that we didn’t see coming. Sometimes we get over our fears or realize new strengths that we didn’t know we had. There might be tears at camp, and much joy. Camp can be an emotional place, and each time I feel that we come back changed. Maybe we ARE a little taller and maybe our smile IS a bit broader. Camp Dean and STEW gave me that feeling from the inside-out, for the first time since 1983. I wasn’t just seeing it though my daughter’s eyes. I was remembering my own camp experiences, looking back at my camp memories, and adding to them. Even the hard memories from 1983- when Brownies couldn’t go down the Camp Mudslide, there was pepper in my scrambled eggs, I went “In” the “Out” Door in the Food Hall, and there was a snake under my cot that required the Ranger’s attention.

GSCI Troop Leader
GSCI Service Unit Event Registrar
Lifelong Girl Scout and Leader’s Daughter

Footnote:  My family was very happy to see me when I got home from camp. My kids had lots of questions about what I did, who I met, and where I slept. I was as excited as my 9 year old daughter gets after camp, and I told them all about it. I also ripped off my bandana (Camp Hair, Don’t Care) and begged to take a very long, very hot shower. I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of my children not only survived, but my husband really stepped up his game and his confidence with the kids over that weekend. Ever since spending a weekend away, his ability to do things for the kids magically increased. While I was away, he took them to Walmart, out to breakfast, and many other fun things were done. I was pleased. The big kids each owned their own Pokemon shirt when I returned. They were very pleased. The smallest one was wearing his big brother’s clothes…. But they were all happy, healthy, and excited to see mom. I think the weekend alone with daddy was good for everyone (Daddy too!) and I know the weekend at Camp was amazing for me. I can’t wait for 2017’s STEW Event. Hope local leaders will consider joining us!

 **I can't determine the exact year I attended Girl Scout Camp at Camp Tapawingo as a Brownie. I believe I was 5 or 6, and It may have been 1984 or 1985. I was just guessing dates.

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