It is official.

I am now a Professional Scorer and have spent 90 minutes of my life grading 10th grade TAKS-M tests. My eyeballs were in pain.

But it was really, really cool to be the one coming home to kids who had missed me. I drove up as they were walking back to the house from the playground and the kids couldn't let be get out of PennyVann before I was mobbed with their hugs and stories.


The joys of my first thirteen hour workday

were sullied slightly by this conversation, made at 10:30 a.m. during my morning break:

Gretchen: Hi, honey. I have a break so I thought I'd call and let you know I got here on time and that I haven't quite fallen asleep in training yet.
Dowlan: That's great. Hey . . . what are the symptoms of a concussion?

Yeah. How can you be forty years old and *not* know that? Or not know to Ask Doctor Enterwebz?

Charlie's fine, btw.


Theology, Melody-style

I can't remember many of the details, but the 25 minute home ride from Laura's birthday party included a detailed accounting of the Fall of Man and the tale's direct application to the ethical treatment of roly-polies.


Melody has discovered her inner monologue

She announced to me today, "Mommy, my brain is saying things to me that I didn't know before."

She also woke up one day last week, ecstatic about her dream. She told me all the parts, 'except for the secret part that is only for Dixie to know' and then continued to ramble until she announced, "those are all the parts I can remember anymore. The rest is gone from me."

When I was leaving town, I wondered if Charlie would notice that I am gone. He is in such a daddy phase right now that I could be gone a really long time before it occurred to him. By the third day, he had noticed something was amiss and went up to daddy. "Diet Coke? Mommy? No diet coke. No mommy," and then stood there looking quizzical and signing MORE with his little chubby fingers.

Dixie also missed me so much that she had to call grandma and tell her.


Queenhood: Not all it's cracked up to be

I came home from work today to find my ceiling draped with pink streamers accented with white and pink giant balloons. The shout of, "Surprise!" was oddly accompanied by the white noise of the wet-vac coming from the bathroom.

Apparently, Dixie and Charlie were taking an unsupervised bath that they spontaneously exited without first turning off the water and no nearby adult happened to think to check for that.

We discovered that one of the major downsides of the floor-ventilation system for the HVAC is how large amounts of water seek to recreate Niagra Falls in just such a situation. And, at some point during the cleaning process, I discovered that my in-laws will be visiting next weekend.

Added bonus? Next week I start a new job. I will be gone eight hours a day grading the TAKS test. From there I will go to the chiropractor and then straight on to Sylvan for a couple more hours of work. I will be working ten hours and gone almost thirteen most days of the week. I will work slightly less on weekends. The children will be under the careful watch of daddy during this time.


Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The best thing I can say about my trip home is that John Candy was not my traveling companion.

We'll start here:

That is the plane I didn't catch. See, I have this group of imaginary friends and they were (almost) all meeting up in Sacramento for one fun-filled kid-free weekend. We're broke and I had no misguided belief that I could actually afford this trip, but I kept remembering that my fantabulous sister-in-law Joanne works for American Airlines and has this marvelificent power known as a standby list going for her.

Hemming and hawing, I decided to just go. It was going to cost me less than two hundred bucks for the entire weekend, I always complain that I never get to go anywhere and I start working a full-time job on top of my part-time job next Monday, so why not?

I get there, we have a blast. We craft, go to IKEA, swap coupons and get to eat at the In-and-Out Burger that is so famously referenced in my favorite inappropriate-for-children movie The Big Lebowski.

And then it was time to go home. I knew the odds of me getting the flight I was hoping for were pretty slim, but I have nothing but free time on my hands these days, so I didn't really worry. I was falling asleep on my cannoli's at supper Sunday, so I decided it was time to go pack my stuff and go to bed. After the third packing attempt, I gave up and asked my gracious host Tracy for a cardboard box and the use of her husband's FedEx powers. I knew my luggage and I might be intimately acquainted over the next few hours and was aiming for simplicity. This was the single smartest thing I did all weekend.

By the time I pack, I am wide awake. As an added bonus, this is the first night I have a roommate and the two of us chat for three hours. At this point, It is 12:30 and I am supposed to wake up at 3:00, so I give up and go hang out with the rest of the people who had made this same decision. At just after 4, I arrive at the airport with plenty of time ahead of me to not catch this airplane.


I also fail to catch the one before it or the one after it. Armed with the incredibly bad romance novel that I'd snagged from the meetup freebie section, I hung out in the airport for just over seven hours before the person making airport runs returned with the second group of flyers.

Twice I had managed to catch about twenty minutes of sleep in an airport chair. I pondered the preponderance of people getting their shoes shined. I eavesdropped on every conversation the guy at the ticket counter had with other stand-by hopefulls. The overlap of two spring break weeks made it the worst non-holiday weekend possible to be in this spot. There were a few open spots that might still be open on Thursday, but Friday seemed more likely. I clearly don't mind bumming off my friends, but this is a bit much. Dowlan had already called to tell me, "Everyone's okay, but the house is . . . not," and I figured I shouldn't abandon him for too long.

Plans B, C and D were devised. None of them made sense in my sleep-deprived state.

My friend Jamie takes me back to her house to nap on her couch, hang out with her remarkably Charlie-like son JJ and research my options for getting home. The next morning, she drops me off at the Sacramento Amtrak station. I tried to take pics, but every shot that looked feasible included people that didn't particularly look like they wanted some over-luggaged stranger to document their presence.

The train ride was so relaxing and fun. I watched the scenery, did kakuro puzzles and chatted on the cell phone. California is just so beautiful and I loved watching it just go by.





I got off the train in Richmond, rode an escalator and found the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).


The ride was fine, except for the part where it goes under the bay and everything gets really loud and shaky and my ears couldn't pop quickly enough. I had to switch which line I was on and kill about two hours at some point, and Powell Street seemed the perfect place. You know that hill that goes up and up and has the trolley going through the middle of it that you always see in movies located in Frisco? I walked up that, lugging my messenger bag and dragging my carry-on. My heart was pounding and my mouth was parched, but I just knew that the perfect meal and more perfect view awaited me.

The meal was amazing. I ate at this Zagat ranked restaurant:


Then I continued up the hill (now on a full stomach) until I reached the top and saw the bay. It was beautiful and completely worth it.


Concerned about my time, I rode the trolley back. That's right, folks. I trudged up and rode down.



Back to the BART:

This took me straight to the airport. I rode a monorail to the terminal. I bought a book, cherished a Diet Coke and flew to Los Angeles. All that, and I am still in California. Along the way, I read the first section The Omnivore's Dilemma, the part on the life of American corn. It starts with the evolutionary history, goes through the Native Americans and colonization, details the revolution to large-scale agribusiness and then iterates all the processing it goes through and uses it has once it is made in to all those bizarre concoctions. I learned useful information, like that there are 38 ingredients in a single Chicken McNugget, most of them are derived from corn. In fact, there is more corn in a McNugget than there is chicken. Same for the fries. Coke is almost exclusively corn.

I arrive in LAX, starving and faced with the choice of which fast food restaurant to eat corn-products at.

I finally get on a plane headed to Austin and scheduled to land at just past midnight on Wednesday, two days after I'd intended to be home. The guy next to me is Very Important and is just jerky to the flight attendants. He hogs the arm rest. He used his iPhone up til the very last second then twitched the whole time that all electronics were required to be off.

I read about organic farming, watched a bit of TV on the MP3 player and, finally, came home.


There's a reason they call it Adventures with Gretchen

One green minivan, a train, 2 light rails, a trolley, one monorail, two airplanes and a silver PennyVann later, I am home.

I have MUCH to tell you.


My eyeballs are starting to twitch

I have now been awake for 28 straight hours. Seven point five of those hours were spent in the lackluster Sacramento airport.

I am still in California.

There are plans to get me home, I just don't fully understand them. The people who have slept say they make sense. I will trust them.


I made it!

I am in sunny California with 12 of my closest imaginary friends. No one brought an axe!


For my next adventure . . .

I'm about to go hang out in the Austin airport and hope I can land a flight to Sacramento to meet 11 of my closest imaginary friends. Dowlan has the kids for four days (five if I get stuck in California without a return flight til Tuesday).

My sister-in-law works for an airline and I am going to attempt to use her stand-by powers. Let's hope I actually get where I'm hoping to go.


Another sign that boyhood is taking over babyhood

Charlie and Melody were playing that childhood classic game Lay on Our Backs on the Couch and Kick Each Other. Inevitably, Charlie fell off the couch and was deeply wounded in his soul. After a decent length of tantruming, he came over to tattle, "Melody kicked."

That's right: Charlie is old enough to tattle.

They match, mama, because they all have stripes



A Tantrum, in series

Mommy said, "No."

Why, oh why, would Mommy say, "No," to me? I must fall to the ground in sorrow.

"No." I am two, and my life is the worst it will ever be.

I wonder if she is still watching?

She's watching!

But she brought the camera.

Hey, that thing has buttons!

No! What am I thinking? She said "NO" to me. I can never trust her again.

I bet I'm pretty cute in those pictures, though.

Look! Green stuff is poking thorugh!




We got a few more veggies planted this week and still have a few more to go. Then the herbs, with flowers saved for last. Being impatient for produce to play with, I went to Sun Harvest, a local grocery store with produce that tends to be more local, very fresh and quite cheap. We bought apples, pears and berries and came home to make applesauce, pear butter and strawberry/blueberry/blackberry jam. The applesauce has already disappeared. I haven't had real sugar in so long that the jam just amazed me.

The girls are so amazed that you can actually make the foods you buy at the store.


I have conquered the grocery store.

I have been putting this off for weeks now. Sure, I made quick trips here and there for the essentials (milk, apples and Lean Cuisines) but I was resisting the big trip to the big store with the oversized cart and even bigger pile of coupons.

Melody and I ventured forth at about 11:45 today to arrive home right at 2:00. Her determination to not step on the cracks, push the basket and dance through the somewhat crowded aisles slowed things considerably.

I totally rawked the store. My total (before sales) was 157.92. Sales saved me 8.33 and 30 coupons brought my total down to 87.51. That's right--I saved 70.41, or 44.6%.

It took forever to scan all those coupons. While they were going through them, Melody and the bagger had quite the lengthy conversation. Melody gave a detailed explanation as to why she doesn't want to eat dogs and cats, starting with how furry they are.

At the store, I bought a new toothbrush for each girl. Melody was so excited that she carried them throughout the trip. When we got home, she couldn't wait to show Dixie, who shared in her ecstasy. Dixie had a surprise for Melody as well. While we were gone, she had found a beetle, named it Natasha, and made it her pet.

Dixie, being Dixie, found neither singular event to be quite awesome enough, so she wanted to combine the two events to make her day even better. That's right, she decided to brush the beetle's teeth, starting, naturally, with Melody's toothbrush.



While in a store today, Dixie got all excited. Luis (of yesterday's incident) was there and she pointed him out to me. Kid is at least eight.

Also, Charlie has a new word: basketball. Only, in his voice, it really sounds like 'bastard'. Today, he was mad that it was someone else's turn. He was running around in public, shouting, "Bastard! Bastard!" at his father.


God help us all

Dixie: Hey, mom. I met this guy Luis and I gave him our phone number and told him to call me sometime. So if someone calls and says, "Hey, I'm calling for Dixie," then just call me or come get me if I'm doing something."


Apparently, I have what we call a 'bulging disc'

The chiropractor started treatment yesterday and I'm already detecting some improvement. For 30 minutes a day, four days a week, five weeks I get to go lie on this table to stretch and relax until I feel better. Pretty rough stuff, eh?

Icing on the cake: I am not allowed to clean my house during this time. I am supposed to give my husband and children lists and directions. And when it is all said and done, I will be out of pain for the first time in years. Sure the $3295 price tag may land me an ulcer, but, beyond that, I'm having a really hard time finding the down side to any of this.

The new rule

According to logic, the time change meant that my children who were waking up at 7:30 would now be waking up at 8:30. We were going to have to wake them up at what their bodies think is 6:30 but is now considered 7:30.

That's not quite how it worked. They are now all awake by 6:00, which feels like 5:00. I'm not sure who is waking up first because they are all awake by the time news of their awake-ed-ness reaches our end of the house.

I fell asleep on the couch last night, and woke up around 6:15 to find myself sharing that couch with two cats and three children. Were they all asleep, this might have gone okay. In one last ditch effort at more sleep, I moved to my bed. Ten minutes later, I found myself making a new rule for our home: No playing harmonica in bed.

Good morning.


We just got back from our date

and I found a pearl in my oyster! It was so exciting! It is creamy colored, almost perfectly round and the size of a peppercorn. Better yet, no dental work was harmed in its acquisition.

It was a great anniversary, despite the completely awful day that it was. I did get a new set of wheels for the occasion. After I came out of the chiropractor this morning, I noticed that PennyVann was hissing at me. Closer inspection showed a tire cracked and deflating and you can't just replace one, of course. So my anniversary gift was set of front tires and another $180 credit card bill to go with it. They nicely enhanced the orange roses he and Charlie picked out for me last night and the artwork the girls made by gluing dead crushed leaves in patterns on paper. Oh, and the large rock Dixie found in the yard and glued to her paper.

The whole day felt like the plot of a National Lampoon vacation. My chiro appointment had taken forever because the current treatment simply is not working. He took new x-rays and will come up with a new plan of attack by tomorrow. I start a new job in a few weeks and it will involve sitting at a computer for eight hours a day while I grade TAKS tests. It lasts just over a month and the pay is great, but I am daunted at the thought of just how much that is going to hurt. I come out, find the tire, go home, switch vehicles and head to church. I arrive only forty minutes late. The study was great, the baby shower was nice, then I zoomed back north to get Dixie. By then, the back pain was so bad that my hips were zapping each time I moved my head, my feet were tingling/numb and my thumbs involuntarily moving.

Work was just an exercise in frustration. I think my pain and general grumpiness have made it hard to be the good teacher I know I am.

I get home and my daughters are playing in the front yard in their Easter dresses. You know, Easter hasn't happened yet, right? I get them re-dressed, try three times to call the friend who is sitting and am getting dressed when the kids all go outside with out an adult. I follow after them, realize that it is just best to strap them into their carseats and then go back to finish my primping. While I'm out, Dowlan finishes dressing and comes outside, locking the door behind them.

Neither of us have keys.

I am livid. This is the second time he has done this on the way to a date. I, fortunately, had already stuck the cell phone in my pocket. I call the friend who has a spare key, but she is no where near it. Dowlan breaks into the house. I grab my stuff, call the sitter to say that we're coming after all, and we head off. A mere 8.5 of the 9 miles into the trip, she calls to say that she has food poisoning and can't watch the kids, but since we're so close, she might as well try. We're only going to dinner, right? How long can it take?

Two hours. That is how long it can take. While kind, sick Valerie has a total of five small children, five and under.

Dinner was amazing. A bit of the way into it, I asked Dowlan this. "When you were a boy, thinking ahead to what your future would hold, did you ever imagine that you would be sitting across the table from your wife, sharing your anniversary, as she ate a tray of a dozen of one kind of whole dead animals, followed by tearing apart and ravishing the tiny bodies of another type of animal then paying for it with a gift card won at a church Three Amigo's tortilla toss?"

He didn't have much of an answer.

But the Pappadeaux's dozen raw oysters for 3.95 followed by the 1.25 lbs of crawfish boil for 3.95 made for incredibly fine dining. You get a free dessert on an anniversary and the créme brulee made me shiver. It was just that good.

The restaurant was crowded and noisy, so not much talking happened, but we really, really needed that. We're both so stressed right now that we don't intersect very often.

Six years. We've made it six years.


Yesterday, I had to take Charlie out of the church service because his meowing was getting out of control.


So much for my glowingly perfect motherhood

Charlie: Love Daddy. No Mommy. No Sisters. Daddy!

It was the kind of stay-at-home-mom day worth staying home for

I woke up, packed lunches while Dowlan made breakfasts and then saw Dixie off to school. I made my indulgent gourmet coffee and sat down at the computer for a bit to pay bills and catch up while the breakfast-eaters ate breakfast. I hopped up, did dishes, cleaned the kitchen, started laundry, folded another load, then got the other two dressed to go to the park.

Melody put on her formal red and black Christmas dress. I reminded her that we would be at a park and that she needed pants and a shirt to wear, so she compromised by putting a pair of too-short orange leggings underneath. We grabbed the gardening tools and a bucket, put them in a basket and headed out the door.

The sun was shining and the wind was blowing as we found our friends in the park. We hung out under a tree while the kids climbed all over a large pile of dirt. Melody was finally convinced of the inappropriateness of her chosen attire, so I dug into the box in the van that has the spare changes of clothes only to realize that the only remaining girl outfit is in size 24 months. No worries, however--the pants made slightly baggy capris on her tiny five-year-old frame.

The kids played and the mommies chatted for a good bit. Charlie alternated between boy, frog and cat and endangered a few squirrels. We shared homemade Rice Krispy treats with friends. Then we fed a few of the reluctant ducks. Then we took off around the pond and the kids played on the giant rocks in a little shady area. Charlie inched closer and closer to the water. First a finger, then a stick, then a toe, then one whole Elmo light-up shoe and then the other.

At this point, we decided it was time to head to the other side of the pond where our cars were parked. Along the way, my bread bag blew off and I got to scale a wall to go fetch it. When I returned to the top, no Melody was in sight. My friend Emily and I called her name and looked about. I decided to go to the bottom of the hill to strap Charlie safely in his car seat. The last thing I needed to lose one and find the other. Halfway there, I realized that Melody was in her car seat, already buckled.

I installed the boy into his spot, threw the stroller in the back and realized that I had just enough time to run through the grocery store before getting Dixie from preschool. Of course he fell asleep on the way, so I tossed him back into the stroller and we made a circle through the store for strawberries, oranges, apples, yogurt and toilet paper.

The problem with shopping with the stroller isn't getting all the groceries, it is getting out with them. So I bought a reusable bag to hook on the back while Melody fed her Buddy Bucks into the machine and got her stickers. We made it out just in time to go grab a Dixie and come home, moving the sleeping boy one last time for the day.

And now the boy is napping, the girls are playing and I'm about to fold more laundry after I sit another minute or two. The groceries are in, dinner is thawing and I'll soon go wash the park out of my hair and head to work for a couple of hours. On days like these, I can almost pretend that I am one of those good stay-at-home moms who has it all together.

Deal for the day

It is 49¢ hamburger and 59¢ cheeseburger day at McDonald's.


It's as exciting as watching your odometer roll over

I remember driving slowly down a neighborhood street with my high school boyfriend, camera in hand, waiting for this odometer to roll back to zero.

This morning, I have been refreshing my blog page to watch it hit 80,000 on my stat counter. (My loads dont count.

Summary Chart

Thank you for allowing me that gratuitously self-serving moment. Back to your regularly scheduled web surfing.


The family garden

I have run into a few Mormon families lately and, while I don't agree with their theology, I think their commitment to family, planning ahead and being a community are pretty admirable. I especially like the idea of a dedicated Family Night. Working evenings with a sporadic schedule doesn't really make that feasible right now, though.

So I decided our family needs a project to work on together. We need to have a sense of purpose, independence and accomplishment. And because the summer coincides nicely with the end of Dowlan's unemployment compensation, I decided that growing our own vegetable garden was a doubly great plan.

Before our house sprung up on this piece of land, it was an open field. We have about 1-2 inches of brown clay on top of a solid layer of limestone. When Dowlan and I were first married, one of our main sources of entertainment was throwing the rocks in our yard across the street into the ditch in hopes of getting them all out before sod was laid. After several weeks of an hour or more of rock tossing a day, we started getting rid of the rocks underneath the dirt. Dowlan got a steel bar about three feeet long and would pound it into the ground to break up the sheet of rock. Once it was in smaller pieces, we would dig it up and send it to join its rocky brethren across the way.

Every year, we have tilled this area and added more dirt and removed more rocks. Some years we actually got stuff planted, some years we just got the dirt played with. Six years into our life here, we finally started off our spring by going out and saying, "Huh. This is starting to resemble actual dirt," and so we only added another 150 lbs of dirt and manure this time.

On Sunday afternoon, we got the dirt played with and also got new landscape fabric, mulch and rock rings around our trees. Last night, we got the new dirt added in and tonight was the start of planting. The girls and I went on an adventure to go buy seed, then we met the boys at Chick-Fil-A (and were disappointed to discover that kids no longer eat free on Tuesday nights).

We came home, made rows, and planted lettuce, spinach and cabbage as the sun went down. Hopefully, we'll get at least a bit in before the sun fries them. We have a ton of other stuff to get in as soon as we get a bit closer to spring.

The girls are so excited. I know they'll be incredibly disappointed when they realize both how long this really all takes and that this means they'll be expected to eat more vegetables, but it has been a successful endeavor so far.


Shh! Don't tell anyone!

It has been another wild weekend. Three birthday events, the marathon that is Sunday morning rehearsal/class/church/lunch/LIVE performance, dinner out with James at his favorite restaurant (the McDonald's with the tree playground) and a ton of yardwork.

We're exhausted. Even the kids slept til almost 8 and I woke up feeling as if I'd spent yesterday afternoon in that circle of Hell where Dante describes them as pushing rocks uphill (or at least back and forth under the fruit trees in our yard).

I just went in and asked the girls, "How much do you love me?" Melody apparently loves me, "One hundred times to the sky and one hundred times back," while Dixie loves me, "Nine hundred and forty-two times."

I asked, "So how much more would you love me if I said you didn't have to go to school today?" Melody said, "Fifty-two more times," and Dixie agreed.

So hookey it is. Don't let the pre-k teachers find out.