Monthly Archives: June 2011

42 is the Perfect Age!

42.  Not 45.  Not 38.  I’ve determined that my favorite age will be 42 years old exactly.  Don’t think I haven’t thought this through.  At the ripe old age of 19, I started trying to think about what real adulthood would be like and what it was I had to look forward to.  42 seemed like, (and ten years later continues to seem like) the very best age to be.  At 42, you’ve had enough practice in life to get pretty good at it.  At 42, most of society has stopped expecting you to be model thin or stay current with the trends.  (And when you are current, it gets to be a pleasant surprise!)  At 42, your kids and parents are usually both fairly independent.  At 42, you’ve usually had a chance to accumulate some savings, and most people are making a bit more money by that time.  Yet, a 42 year old woman is still young enough that she can, at that point, continue or begin to do or be almost anything she wants to do or be!  To me, age 42 is ripe with promise!

Last week, however, my husband’s step-mom came up for a visit and shared a magazine article she had read.  It chronicled the differences in the newest generation of grandmas.  They’ve put away their baking and needlework for skydiving and rock and roll.  Of major importance, the article said, was claiming your title, be it “grandma” or “ma’ma” or anything else, before the other grandparents got a chance.  One name suggestion made us both roll our eyes:  “Glamma”.  I won’t lie.  I’ve met many grandmothers that this phrase would accurately describe.  Those women with a penchant for the fabulous shouldn’t be offended to be referred to as a “glamma”, but I can’t help but think that only an obnoxious diva would actually ask their grandchildren to use such a ridiculous title.  Can you imagine being the 19 year old boy that has to run and pick up “glamma” from her eye doctor appointment?!

I pondered this, at 6 months pregnant with my newest set of stretch marks creeping up.  “They’re not stretch marks,” a friend reassured me, “They’re BABY marks!”  This seemed ironic to me, as that’s the very same phrase I use to describe the dining table dings my toddler has produced as master of cutlery related percussion.  The dents in my dining set, however, have never really bothered me.  During our engagement, I remember my future mother-in-law showing me the etchings on her own dining table.  My husband’s misspelled papers and frustrating math equations were still prominently displayed from his heavy handed grade school pencil work.  What a treasure!

In many ways, my decorating style has come to reflect my views about age and maturity.  At one time, I lived in a trendy apartment with brushed metal fixtures, every room stocked with coordinated accents from the newest Target display.  Unfortunately, those hippest, trendiest days of my life were often also the loneliest.  Perhaps that’s how I came to reject the cheap modern sterility found in my coordinated department store belongings, and have come to favor the rustic, mismatched, farmhouse decor that seemed so boring in my own childhood.   When we moved away from our trendy apartment, I’ve tried to slowly replace my housewares with some that at least LOOK like they have some sort of history to them.  Weathered edges, beat up trunks, family hand me downs…  I’m probably becoming a bit too rustic for my own good, but I want my belongings to show they’ve been lovingly used.

I’m sure it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black for me to make fun of “glamma”s.  After all, I’m the girl who insists on still going by her college nickname.  (My real name is Amanda.)  But now that I can’t seem to make it through a Sunday morning without some combination of snot, drool, or spit up on my shoulder, I feel the relief of not having to be so hip anymore.  Bectoria was just telling us a story from her days as a case worker, testifying in a very intense hearing.  Mid sentence she looked down to find her beautiful black blouse polka dotted with toothpaste spatters from one of her foster children.  “How can you take yourself so seriously when you’re thinking of that?”  she says.

I suppose that’s part of aging gracefully.  It’s fairly offensive when I talk about age (as the youngest of the Smarty Pants by a slim margin), but anyone can pick out my grey hairs and fine lines if they really want.  I hope, however, that my fine lines remind me of sunny days too full of friendship for regular SPF application.  I hope my grey hairs become evidence of those I’ve loved and worried over.  I hope I can always look at my stretch marks as “baby marks”.  And, I truly hope I age like my mother-in-law’s dining table.

Author’s Note:  Learning to love well used hand-me-downs is a great way to stretch your budget, lead a simpler life, and create a home that tells a story.  I’m always looking for new ways to use old stuff!  How do YOU work those “well loved” pieces into your home, your style, and your life? 

Categories: Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Don’t You Love Advice You Didn’t Ask For?

An older couple pulls up next to me in the parking lot of Office Max while I’m loading up the minivan to leave. The gentleman goes inside, and his wife immediately rolls down her window to talk to me. I’ve just completed a quick print job for 4SmartyPants and happen to have my 4 munchkins in tow. Noticing the volume and ages of children I’m strapping into seats, she feels the need to inquire if they are all mine. “Are those ALL your children?” Having heard this question more times than I care to count, I jump into my usual response mode. (Seriously, people must think they are the first ones to point out to me that I “have my hands full.”) “Yes, they’re all mine.” I answer her politely. “I can’t believe you even left the house with that many. How old are they?” Deep breath, she doesn’t know I get this all the time and it got old a long time ago. “Well, there are things to be done, and we can’t just hide out at home all the time. The twins in the back are 3, the little pumpkin in the middle is 2, and the baby is 9 months.” She doesn’t stop there, “And you’re having another one?? When are you due?” Still, this isn’t out of the ordinary, and I will likely be asked this again before the day is over, provided I spend anymore time in public. “I am due with #5 in October, it’s a boy.” Now it takes a turn for the worst, “I don’t know how you do it, that must be exhausting. You know, you really need to have your tubes tied after the next one is born. It’s not really fair to these kids not to have more attention from you. Does your husband help at all?”

She survived, if you’re wondering. I didn’t harm her physically, or even lash out verbally in anyway. I’ve gotten pretty good at fielding comments like these from people who seem to think they know what I should be doing with regard to my family and how. I can be sweet and civil long enough to get out of the conversation.

If you have children, you’ve certainly been there. Maybe not the exact situation, but something equally infuriating. Why do certain people think they have the right to tell you how you ought to be handling matters with your children? And even if you’re married without children, you’ve been given marital advice from someone who observed your life for possibly just a brief moment and thought they knew best what you should do.

It’s frustrating, for sure. Whether these people mean well or are just know-it-alls who think they’ve got it together, it’s hard to hear their words of wisdom, especially if you weren’t looking for any. Here’s my method for dealing with these helpful friends: who cares? My husband and I have been entrusted with this family, and we are responsible for making the decisions that affect it. No one else. We are choosing to raise our children according to our own convictions and discernment. There have been times so far when we haven’t known exactly what to do about a particular situation or event, and when those times presented themselves, we sought out answers, either advice from trusted friends/family or through books. Apart from that, I’m generally uninterested in how anyone else thinks I should be raising my children. BUT…. part of my “who cares” method also involves not making a big deal out of the fact that people are always quick to advise me. So they stuck their nose where it didn’t belong. What am I going to do? Rip them a new one and make them feel like trash? It might make me feel better for an hour, but I highly doubt that it’s going to cause that person to suddenly become someone who keeps their great ideas for others to themselves. They will walk away either defensive or embarrassed, but it won’t transform their personality.

Sure, it’s not their place to offer unsolicited advice. But ultimately, the ball is in my court with regard to how I respond to/feel about/process the event. I can let it get under my skin and dwell on the fact that I didn’t deserve what they were dishing out, or I can blow it off and choose to continue making my own choices and have confidence in my ability to raise kids (or be married) without their unwanted wisdom. (And to tell you the truth, half the time I think to myself “Have you ever met YOUR kids? NOT exactly the way I’m hoping mine will turn out. Thanks anyway!) If I intend to be fabulous in every aspect of my life, (and I do) I need to walk away from these situations feeling like despite the rudeness and insensitivity of the person in question, I was kind and polite and didn’t allow myself to develop a “victim” complex. So what? These are my kids, what do I care what SHE thinks, she isn’t raising them? They are happy and healthy, and I am doing a great job.

A couple of things to consider:

If someone wants advice on parenting/family, they will ASK for it. If they have not asked, chances are they will not be receptive to advice. Keep it to yourself. Just because what you did worked well for your family, doesn’t mean others need to adopt your methods.

If the person offering you unsolicited advice is a friend or family member, and it is a recurring issue, it is entirely appropriate (and necessary) to let them know in a very polite conversation or email that it is making you uncomfortable and that should you feel you are in a situation that would benefit from their knowledge and wisdom, you will approach them to ask for it.

Don’t sweat the small stuff! (And this is small stuff, in the grand scheme.) It won’t benefit you, and you’re better than that anyway. There will always be people who think they know better than you how you should run your life. Who cares??!! They don’t get to run it, you do! And your level of amazingness will increase each time you choose to let it roll off your back and move on.

Have you experienced some unwanted wisdom? How did you handle it?

P.s. Any advice offered on this blog is considered solicited, if you clicked a link to read it! 🙂

Categories: Family, Parenting | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

Words of Whimsy

I love how kids talk. Kid speech is made from a simple formula that is one part adult language plus one part imagination. It is directly reflective of the understanding of the world around them. From simple figures of speech twisted by their innocent lack of knowledge of the world to complete statements that give you a little glimpse of their world, when kids talk you are in for a treat, for certain.

When my daughter began singing all the usual children’s songs and nursery rhymes, I always got the biggest kick out of her singing the “ipsy dipsy spider”. What a truly dippy spider to want to go back up a drain pipe that had only just washed it away! And did you know? All these years, I had thought they were just spelling the name of some dog named Bingo. I had no idea we were singing “ich-ich-ich-e-o”!

The recent Disney movie series “Pirates of the Caribbean” has brought me joy both as a parent and even years back as a social worker. Once, when I was transporting three little boys through some of the worst Seattle traffic, the youngest broke up the tension by asking the other two “have you guys seen the movie “Pirates and a Can of Beerin’”? My eldest even got in on the action after a recent trip to Disney World when she began singing “ho-ho-ho-ho a parent’s after me.” Makes so much sense having just gone through ten days of what she could only have seen as her parents’ endless attempts to keep kids rounded up!

Like I said above, I also love when children give us those brief glimpses of how their growing minds are making sense of this great big world. My children know that when I stop for a latte, it’s not because I need my morning 16oz. It’s because, mommy needs to get rid of her “cranky pants”. And for the everyday human condition, be advised that when you sneeze you say “hup-tew” and you use “tew-qips” to clean your ears. I remember once having two foster children in my home who sang their ABC’s two completely different ways. One separated “M” and “N” in the alphabet by singing “L-M-O-P” and then adding “Y-N-Z” at the end. The other sang the song in its traditional fashion with one small twist being “H-I-J-K-I’m a little “P’”. The funny thing was that neither of them noticed the other singing it a different way.

We can also learn from kids when we hear the inconsistencies between grown-up reality and their interpretation thereof. I have always known that I can, at times, talk a little fast. When I do so, my words become somewhat unintelligible if one is without an understanding of the context in which I am speaking. This fact was perfectly illustrated to me when one of my little ones began calling our local grocery store the “squishy store”. (If you don’t understand the connection, begin thinking about ten things at once, only one of which being your grocery list. Now say “grocery store” five times fast… Now you’re with me!).

For the remainder of this blog post, all grammarians should click away. I assure you that nothing I say from here on will be to your liking. Rather than risk the upset, I recommend clicking over to Stephanie’s post and commenting to her why you still use plastic cutting boards.

Okay. For the rest of you, let me pose this challenge… Instead of having such rigid structure around your speech, why not use some words of whimsy to bridge that little divide between reality and imagination? I have done my share of public speaking, and know that using silly wordisms isn’t appropriate for all situations. I also understand that it’s important to teach and model proper grammar. What I am merely suggesting here is that we incorporate “words of whimsy” that are reflective of childhood nostalgia. Incorporating these words into our everyday language might just steal back some of that wonderment that we lost when making the leap into adulthood. Doing so allows us to season life with color and fun enjoyed by adults and children alike.

What are words of whimsy? Not baby talk, but real-deal, all the way grown up words. Any words, really. To make a tiny transformation toward whimsy, do what Mac does and add “very” to everything. I love it when she is so excited in agreeing to something that she just can’t help herself but to use the term “very, yes!” When you become more comfortable with the idea of using words of whimsy you can begin taking words that already exist in our vocabulary and then changing them slightly to add more meaning and color. As an example, Buddy the Elf uses the word “purpley” to compliment a woman wearing a pretty, purple dress. It’s always fun to add the “e” sound to the end of any word. A friend of mine likes to make things very “glittery”. She also happens to be a cheer mom which gives new meaning to the word “cheery”. Between you and me, sometimes when I walk into a room full of sunlight, I can suddenly become very “singy”. Also, just as cheeks are “rosy”, a pretty garden can be very “gardeny”, with tomatoes that are tomatoey and pesky sticker bushes that are very “stickery”.

I also love using words that my family, friends and I make up on the fly. When shirts are very frilly, or lacey, or flowery, we comment that they’re “floofery”.  NOTE:“Floofery” is an identical cousin to the word “fluffery” as they mean exactly the same thing. I live in a household with a toddler and a baby, where food and sticky stuff can be found in any number of places. It’s not uncommon for someone in my house to describe an arm of a sofa, or the floor or a toy as “sticky-jickeys”. When we fall down it’s called taking a “tumble bumble” and when we drop something, it’s called a “pumble-bumble”. Sometimes we can wink at the most frustrating situations by saying we’re getting “befuttled”. One of my most favorite words of whimsy is used when we are loving one another in some way or showing our “heartliness”.

When beginning to incorporate words of whimsy, it’s more than okay to borrow from the terminology of others. I know I have! In my home, we use our “thinking caps” to concentrate and “listening ears” when paying attention to someone. If we’re using a little bit of something we’re using a “smidgin’”. When something’s awesome, it’s “supa-dupa” and when we get all dressed up or are fancy in any way, we are showing our “fabulocity”. Using words of whimsy can be especially helpful in matters that are less than fabulous. You’ll quickly notice that it’s hard to stay too befuttled about something when venting with the word “fuzzbuckets”. When I was working for CPS, I would describe the oddest behaviors as “funktified”.

If you’ve made it to the end of this blog post, I thank you for not writing me off completely. You’re well within your right to be thinking to yourself “Bectoria, this is sheer nonsense”. To which I would say very truly yes! For what is whimsy if not for a little nonsense? I truly believe that to get to the meat of life, the very best parts, we must not take ourselves too seriously. If you agree with me that all of life could use a little whimsy and humor, then embrace the tomfoolery of it all and begin incorporating your own words of whimsy into your everyday life. Chances are that in so doing, the sheer wonderment of it all will bring out a smile in everyone you encounter.

Writer’s Note: I’d love to hear stories of the words of whimsy you and your loved ones use in your everyday lives either already or as a result of this blog post! One thing is for sure, they’ll be just as supa-dupa as the imaginations that thought them up!

Categories: Family | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Have Somebody Over!

They haven’t talked about it here, but I feel the other three SmartyPants  deserve to be bragged on for doing some good in the neighborhood.  In a world where people are increasingly depressed and lonely, our garages and fences are getting bigger and the front porch has gotten smaller and smaller.  Rather than sit around and wonder what happened to “the good old days,” these SmartyPants and their families are working with porchculture.org to bring hospitality, vulnerability, and those kind of “more than surface level” friendships back to our area.

I had to laugh, however, when Stephanie’s husband recently spoke at my church about the project.  “Opening up your home isn’t convenient.  People are going to come over and make your place messy!”  Oh, Stephanie’s husband, as if that were EVER the problem at the Fife residence!

I don’t mean to insult anybody, but if you follow my posts on here, I’m just assuming you have at least some of the same sloppiness issues I do.  I’m going to assume that you, too, have scheduled a dinner two weeks in advance just so you’d have time to deep clean the house.  I’m going to assume you’ve experienced a minor panic attack when your mother-in-law called to say she’d be there in an hour.  And if you’re like me, on your messiest days it’s at least crossed your mind that a neighbor could drop by and be so shocked at your squalor they call Child Protective Services!

My dear FlyLady calls this “C.H.A.O.S.” or “Can’t Have Anybody Over Syndrome”.  She offers all kinds of great tools to help you get your life back and have company.  (A favorite of mine, is her Crisis Cleaning Podcast.  Try it next time you get that unexpected call from your mother-in-law!)

But, honestly, I think the problem runs deeper than that.  Let me ask you this: how clean is clean enough?  Have you ever walked into a tidy house while your host apologized profusely for not cleaning her messes?  Dirty underwear on the couch might be a bit offensive, but what family with young kids DOESN’T have at least a few toys on the floor and a few dishes in the sink?  What telecommuter doesn’t have at least a couple paper piles lingering here and there?  And is there ANY woman without hired help that doesn’t have at least a little visible dust on the furniture?  These things don’t make you slob!  They just make you busy!

I hate to say it, but making apologies for our messes (particularly our non-messes) just makes others feel uncomfortable.  I’ll never forget a few years ago when I used to pedal wares for a well known direct sales company.  One of the greatest thrills was my privileged inside look, not only of a person’s home life, but of the dynamic they had with the friends and family they would invite to a “shopping party”.  Without fail, a stressed hostess made for an uncomfortable, grueling, and downright awkward event.  Her pain staking efforts to provide just the right refreshments and have her home just perfect for all her friends would make her frazzled and her guests quiet and fidgety in their chairs.  (Consequently, I made a much leaner profit on those nights!)

I’ll never forget the time, however, when I vended a party for a woman who did not clean, and did not apologize for it.  She asked everyone to bring a refreshment to share.  We all obliged, clearing counter space in the kitchen to accommodate our offerings.  The main living area was cluttered with half done craft projects, papers waiting to be sorted, DVDs that just never made it back into the entertainment center, picture frames that still held stock photos, and the layer of dust you’d expect in a home with very few clear surfaces.  Guess what?  It was one of my best parties ever!  Everyone invited showed up.  Everyone treated her house like it was their own.  Folks lingered as long as they possibly could with no one hurriedly rushing in and out because they felt the need to “make an appearance.”  Her home looked just like mine… but I’m usually too timid to let folks see.  And although no one who attended was biologically connected, a sense of family permeated her event.

We’re all imperfect, and while I write mainly for those who are organizationally challenged, even our tidy friends have challenges to overcome.  I’m not going to say to just embrace who you are and keep your house a wreck, but, at the same time, it just doesn’t happen overnight.  Please, please, PLEASE, stop putting life on hold while you’re working on getting the house clean.  It’s too short.  As a woman, there’s nothing quite like having the kind of friend that can see your house when it’s a wreck, but YOU have to let people in to find that kind of friendship.

Life’s too short to be lonely.  My challenge this week is to invite somebody over and not clean everything.  Obviously, you’ll want to handle the really gross stuff, but try the baby step of just leaving some dust, or a toy pile, or a project in-process out to junk up your space.  You may be surprised how this eases the pressure with a first time house guest, and lets you both be a little bit more yourselves.

And if your challenge is not tidiness– maybe it’s unwanted weight, or a social quirk, or even an illness–how can you show yourself a little more grace, and let someone else (who might even judge you) a little closer?

Do you have a story of how sharing an imperfection improved one of your own relationships?

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Coming Soon…

…the 4SmartyPants Store! Are you ready to show off YOUR Smarty Pants?

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Categories: Crafts, Whimsey | 1 Comment

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