Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The time I almost got kidnapped.

Racing with my brother Josh, 1993.

Every Wednesday, my kids' school gets out an hour early to give the teachers some extra preparation time. I remember when I was little, attending a school in the same district, we were also released an hour early on Wednesdays.

As a kid, I thought this policy was just about the best thing ever. But as a mom, it stresses me out a little because I have to remember that my children will be home an hour earlier than normal on that day. And yes, I have forgotten once or twice!

I know I'm not the only mom who has -- in fact, my own mother forgot to pick us up on an early release day, too.

My twin brother Josh and I were in first grade, about the time the above picture was taken. We lived in the same residential tract as our school, but we were still too young to walk by ourselves. So, our dad walked with us most of the way each morning, and our mom picked us up from school each afternoon.

I remember on this particular Wednesday, we got out of class as we always did and I headed up to the front of the school. Normally, Mom was already there waiting in her car by the time we came out. But not this day.

I was a very worried child, so I started to panic a little inside. She's probably on her way, I assured myself.

The minutes ticked by. Any second now. I had faith she would show, but it was quickly waning.

The playground slowly emptied as children found their parents, hopped in their respective cars and drove away. Soon, all the buses had departed, too. Even Josh was worried now. It seemed Mom had forgotten us! Horrified by this realization, we started crying.

We were just about to go back into the school to ask a teacher for help when a man pulled up in an old brown car. At that moment, I noticed there was another kid who was still waiting there, too. He was older than us, probably in third or fourth grade. I assumed this man must be his dad.

The man pulled up and got out of his car and the boy got into it. The man then asked us if a parent was coming for us, though he he surely must've noticed our tear-streaked faces and knew the answer to that question. THEY WERE NOT COMING.

Strangely, at that moment, he simply told us he would take us home. He didn't offer to walk us back to the school's office and didn't even ask if we wanted his help. He just directed us to get in his car.

Well, lucky for us, our parents had discussed "stranger danger" with us prior to this incident, so we didn't oblige him. We first nicely told him, "No, thank you." But he kept pressing the issue. "Get in, and I'll take you home!" I remember him saying. He even seemed a little angry about it. We adamantly refused.

At this point, my insides were starting to collapse in on themselves and I was pretty certain we were going to be kidnapped. The tears were really rolling now. We were surely going to be forced into this stranger's car, and then? Who knows where we'd end up! I felt sicker than ever.

Just then, Mom came barreling around the corner in The Green Car, an ancient boat from the 1970's that had olive green paint, velvet seats and only lap belts for restraints. Never had I been more thrilled to see The Green Car in my life!

Mom hopped out and we screamed, "Where WERE you?!" She sheepishly apologized for forgetting to pick us up. At the time, it seemed like she was about an hour late, though I'm now pretty certain it was no more than 15 minutes.

The man nervously explained to her that he offered to take us home, but we wouldn't get in the car. He even laughed about it a little. I felt embarrassed.

On the drive home, Mom interrogated us about that guy who was trying to take us home. "Why didn't you get in the car with him?" she asked. We answered that he was a stranger and we were taught never to go with a person we didn't know. She was proud of us, I could tell.

Thinking back, he probably wasn't a kidnapper or anything of the sort. But he WAS a stranger. Now that I'm a parent, I can hardly imagine telling a child I didn't know to get in my car. But I can imagine forgetting to pick up my child.

Actually, a few years ago, I did.

I didn't normally pick up the kids in the afternoon, but the neighbor who carpooled with us asked me if I could. It was an early release day to boot.

I was nursing Clara when my neighbor called, asking if I was having trouble picking up the girls. In horror, I yanked Clara off my boob, threw her and Carson into my van and raced over to the school as fast as I could, all the while apologizing to my neighbor for my colossal mistake.

On my way there, the school called to notify me they had Audrey and her friend in the office. The lady was very nice about my forgetfulness. I was relieved that they were safe. I had imagined them wandering the streets, crying as I had at about the same age 20-something years prior. I couldn't bring myself to consider anything worse than that.

When I arrived, the girls were both tear-stained and fuming with me as I had been with my mother when she made the same grave error before. "How could you forget us!?" Audrey asked, indignant. I sighed and calmly said, "Well ... I'm a mom. I have a lot on my mind. And I was feeding Clara, and I just forgot! I'm so sorry!" I imagined my mom saying something similar to me. It somehow seemed funny now.

Thankfully, another mom had seen Audrey and her friend roaming the streets looking for my car and walked them back to the front office of the school. Notice how she didn't try to put them in her car, because that's just asking for trouble. Rule #1 of Being Lost is STAY PUT and Rule #1 of Being a Child is don't get into cars with strangers. So you're probably not going to get too far if you try that on a kid who's been taught better.


It's interesting to be a parent and reflect on your childhood. You see so much of your parents in yourself. It's both humbling and humorous. I was so outraged when my mom ABANDONED my brother and me at our school, even though it was an honest (and really insignificant) mistake. And then, my own daughter was similarly offended when I did the exact same thing to her. Someday, she too will forget to pick up her child at school (thanks to that cursed Early Release schedule), and she'll recall my mishap and finally forgive me.

It's the circle of life. It moves us all.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday Favorites: Iron Mantis Pest Control

I love almost everything about Arizona. We have the most beautiful skies in the world (especially at sunset), heavenly weather during the fall and winter months and the intoxicating smell of orange blossoms in the spring.

But the one time of year I go from loving to just tolerating this great state of mine is during the summer. Because let's face it -- the heat here is brutal.

And, aside from being incredibly uncomfortable, the warm weather also brings out all the little critters that I despise. Namely, roaches and SCORPIONS.

Last year, we bought a new home in an area that used to be a grove of orange trees. Scorpions tend to like orange trees, so I'd heard there were quite a few of those satanic beasties in the area. I vainly hoped we could avoid them, but no. Sure enough, after a few months of being here, we started seeing more of them. Mostly outside .... but, one did find its way into my kids' playroom.

That's when I said NO MORE! I'd have to get pest control. I cannot and will not live in fear for my life in my own home.

Lucky for me, I have a great friend from high school who started his own company locally, Iron Mantis Pest Control.

First off, such a clever name and branding, right? Unforgettable.

I LOVE how I get a text message notifying me a few days before I have service. Of course, it's very easy to call and reschedule if there's a conflict, which I have done with no problem. They are always so accommodating.

When the technicians come out, they're right on time, super-polite and very efficient. They can treat the interior and exterior of my 2200-square-foot home in about 15 minutes.

After a few months of treatment, I hardly ever see bugs around my home anymore. And when I do, they're dead. It's great! No more noisy crickets outside my bedroom at night, no more disgusting roaches trying to make their way in, no more icky earwigs and no more creepy spiders!

However (and if you follow me on Snapchat, you might remember), about a week ago, I did find a lone scorpion in my bathroom. He was hanging out on our bathroom vent and I caught sight of him in our mirror while brushing my teeth before bed! It sure freaked me out, but I knew what to do. I called Iron Mantis the next day and they came right out to spray for me. They have a 100% satisfaction guarantee and will come out for free should you find any bugs between treatments.

They also offer nighttime blacklight treatment where they'll go hunting for the scorpion nest and eliminate the problem at the source. If I find anymore, I'll definitely be utilizing this service!

Some of the other critters Iron Mantis exterminates include ants, roaches, termites, bed bugs, bees, wasps, spiders, silverfish, carpet beetles and mice/rats. Basically, if it crawls/flies and annoys you, they've got you covered.

Iron Mantis also uses "green" pest control if you have chickens outside or other safety concerns. They incorporate organic plant-based solutions to deter the bugs, which is just the coolest! But rest assured, their traditional spray treatment is also safe for children and pets if you choose to go that route.

Icing on the cake -- if you're already under contract with another pest control company, Iron Mantis will pay your cancellation fee up to $150 so you can make the switch! Sweet.

I hoped I would never have to use a bug guy in my life, but in Arizona, it's just the way things go! Especially when it comes to scorpions. I'm glad I have a pest control company I can trust, who does a good job and treats me well. So, if you're in the Valley of the Sun and are seeing any unwanted visitors in your home, give Iron Mantis Pest Control a call and they'll give you a free pricing quote based on your home's size. They'll annihilate all the buggies for you!

This is a sponsored post. All opinions expressed are mine.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What do I do with all these $&@! papers?

In two weeks, my kidlets will be heading back to school. I love this time of year with its new beginnings, fresh haircuts, spiffy new clothes and sharp pencils. I can just smell that brand-new box of perfectly-pointy Crayolas now!

But, back-to-school also signifies the return of those dreaded piles of paper ... "Welcome Back" packets, school reminders, returned homework and projects, permission slips, you know the drill. And don't forget, you undoubtedly already have stacks of bills, coupons, receipts, and other miscellaneous sheets of paper of your own collecting somewhere in your house. And let's not even get started on junk mail.

Don't be ashamed -- we all have our loose paper piles. Some of us are just better at hiding them than others.

Here are five simple tricks to controlling those annoying stacks of paper that clutter up your life and drive you bonkers!

Get a paper organizer.

I recently got so fed up with the veritable paper fire hazard in my home that I decided it was time to do something about it. I'd been using those office paper trays that stack up, but they were taking up valuable space on my kitchen counter. Plus, I wanted a method that would enable my kids to organize their papers they collect, too. I went to Hobby Lobby and found these adorable wire paper hangers for the wall next to our "command center" (what I affectionately call our computer desk). I picked up two of them so we have a pocket for each kid, plus one for the grown-ups.

Here's a similar item you can purchase from Amazon if you aren't close to Hobby Lobby.

Throw away the junk! This one seems so simple, but I still struggle with it at times. When you get junk mail, put it straight in the recycling bin! You've already decided it's junk, so don't make a home for it on your desk or kitchen counter. I've made a habit of looking through all the mail, sorting out the important things, and then tossing the rest immediately thereafter.

Another pro tip: be sure to shred anything with identifying information on it, like credit card offers or bank statements.

Use a filing cabinet.
I think filing cabinets are a household necessity, right up there with a vacuum cleaner! Every adult needs one, even if it's small. Fact is, life's going to give you papers you need to keep, at least for a little while. I'm talking about interest statements, insurance documents, medical bills, warranties, or even just cute things your kids have made, and a filing cabinet is perfect for this. Just make sure to go through your files once a year so it doesn't get too full and ... well, disorganized!

Scan what you can.If you've got a scanner -- and I'd be willing to bet most people do -- use it! Scan those old photographs, certificates and art projects straight into your computer, and then, throw away whatever you don't need anymore. And if you do intend to keep the original, scanning provides you with a back-up copy in case your hard copy gets lost or destroyed.

Go paperless.
I don't know about you, but I'm much more likely to check my e-mail than my snail mail. Yes, I'll admit that I sometimes go days without stopping by the mailbox! This is mostly because I so often check it only to find junk. I've opted to have the important documents (like bank statements and bills) sent to me by e-mail.

Many financial institutions and utility providers have the ability to send you statements and bills by e-mail, and some even incentivize you for "going paperless!" This trick has really helped cut down on the amount of paper coming through my door.

What about you? What tricks do you have for keeping the paper monster at bay in your home?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Lady Liberty is weeping.


America is sick. She's laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines and heavily sedated. The doctors don't know if she's going to make it. The prognosis isn't good.

I am sitting at her bedside, holding her hand and imagining the unthinkable -- life without our beautiful nation as we know her. Only 240 years old, she's a young country. Too young to die. The world needs her. We need her.

I need her.

She's been ailing for a long time now, riddled with continual infections of selfishness, pride and hatred. But she began a sharp downward spiral earlier this year with the Republican nomination of Donald Trump -- a narcissistic, lying bully who wants to disable free trade and abolish liberty. He's a man of conflict who, in addition to being racist and quick to anger, has no clue what he's doing. Yet, he's running for President, and he's garnered way more support with his sharp-tongued rhetoric than anyone thought possible.

Then, the Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton, a woman known for talking out of both sides of her mouth, a proven liar who will say anything to get elected. Another narcissistic, incompetent bully whose motivations are self-serving. A snake in the grass.

But, America took a turn for the worse this week. It began when Clinton got off with a mere slap on the wrist for actions just short of espionage. Her negligence and selfishness could very well have cost America her security, endangering lives in the process. Top secret and classified intelligence likely leaked out to our enemies in thousands of e-mails, all because she didn't feel like using her federal, SECURE e-mail account for official matters.

Meanwhile, the FBI director stated that although Clinton's actions were "extremely careless," they didn't warrant prosecution. Never mind that the law clearly states the opposite.

Her power and wealth saved her. And yet, like Donald Trump, she's won the support of nearly half of Americans.

The Clinton e-mail scandal had me all up in arms, ready to blog my fingers off. But then, within a day of each other, two black men were shot at point-blank range by police, and both incidents were caught on video. Those Clinton e-mails faded fast from my mind because human life always takes precedence.

I must admit, prior to this week, I was mildly concerned with police overreach and acknowledged a possible undertone of racism in connection with police shootings. But, like many others, I said, "Let the law decide if the officers were justified in shooting the suspects." I washed my hands of it, basically. And why wouldn't I? I'm a white woman with no dog in the fight.

However, after I watched those videos, I realized I actually have a duty to be upset in situations like this. Like those men who were shot and killed, I am a citizen of the United States. Their liberty is my liberty. And when their rights are in jeopardy, so are mine and so are yours. When people in power have too much control, we all suffer.

Those men will never know justice. They can't defend themselves in a trial of law. They're dead. Their sentences have already been carried out.

I watched America, gasping for air and clutching her chest, not knowing how she could survive much longer, when she coded.

Last night, at a peaceful protest against police violence in Dallas, snipers shot and killed five police officers. Officers who loved their community, who put on their uniforms knowing it carried the risk of death. They were there to protect those protestors so they could exercise their right of free speech in a safe manner. They were just doing their job. They were innocent.

They didn't deserve to die.

Why is America so sick? It's because the hearts of her people are hard and cold. They have given up on "liberty and justice for all" and instead, they only pursue it for themselves. They're prideful, selfish, impatient and unkind, and they exemplify these characteristics through violence.

But by harming others, by taking their lives in pursuit of their own pleasures, they're not augmenting their personal liberty -- they're diminishing our collective, capital L Liberty. The same Liberty those revolutionists gave everything to secure 240 years ago. The Liberty embodied by the beautiful statue at Ellis Island, the one who says:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

Your wretched refuse from your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me."

Liberty is for all, but it's our responsibility to allow it to prevail. It takes work and it takes unselfishness. We encourage and grow freedom by helping others and allowing them to choose for themselves. When we act against each other in violence and aggression, forcing one another to bend to our will, we smother our collective freedom. We communicate to those in power that we can't be trusted to choose righteousness on our own and we need them to tell us what to do.

Lady Liberty is weeping over America today. God is weeping, too. And I am weeping with them.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Free printable: These are the good old days.

I'm a planner-type person.

I like to know what's coming, I'm a control freak fond of predictability and I often pine for the future.

As a result, I frequently forget to live in the present. I'm working on soaking up as much "here and now" as I can, but rest assured -- the struggle is REAL.

Often, I think about how my oldest child can't babysit for at least three more years, and how I still have to potty train my youngest, and how retirement is, like, eons away and I get all antsy, thinking, HURRY UP ALREADY. As if life needs to get to some far-off point before I can achieve happiness or something.

Of course, that's not true -- there's plenty to be grateful for this very minute. There's so much bounty to enjoy, so many memories to savor, so much beauty to soak up right now. The future will be chock-full of goodness too, just as yesterday holds its treasures. But tomorrow will always be a day away.

So, let's enjoy today.

I write this blog post as a reminder for myself more than anything. You probably have this whole patience and gratitude thing figured out.

But just in case you're currently stuck in a rut, here's a tangible reminder for you.

During a spark of inspiration yesterday morning, I remembered the series finale of The Office, when Andy said, "I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them."

And it dawned on me: THESE are the good old days. Thus, a printable was born.

If you are like me, impatient, hurried, wondering when you'll ever arrive, print this baby out, put it in a frame and place it somewhere you'll see it. Often.

And remember -- you're already in the "good ol' days."

Go here for blue; here for pink. Once you're there, click on the down arrow at the top of the screen to download the file. Size is 8x10.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dancing, mermaids, your best girls ... what's not to love?

It's summer, and if you're anything like me, you're seeing an awful lot of your kids these days. Like, maybe just a smidge TOO MUCH of them.

Not that our children aren't adorable and the smartest and the very suns around which we revolve ... but, it's probably safe to admit we'd all like a little break from them for some grown-up girl time.

Well, look no further! If you're in Arizona, I request you join me at an epic LADIES ONLY DANCE PARTY in just two weeks. Here, you will release your inner mermaid and shake your tail fin with wild abandon a welcome distance away from your cherished litttle hellions angels.

Behold, I give you ...

This is my friend Mandy Nielsen, actress and comedienne extraordinaire, in all her mermaid glory on the Santa Monica pier. She is hosting this shindig, and trust me -- she's one of those girls you want to be BFF's with. She's hilarious, fabulous and fun!

Dance Dance: Mermaid Bae is happening at Jester'Z Improv (Mesa Riverview) on Thursday, June 30 from 8 - 11 PM. Ladies 18 and up welcome -- no mermen or merbabies allowed. You can expect a live DJ spinning today's danciest hits, a braid bar (complementary fishtail braid during the first hour), photo booth and more! And yes, there WILL be dancing ... lots of dancing. Be prepared to glisten!

Mamas ... I beg you to take some time for yourselves and COME TO THIS. It's only three hours and your precious treasures will be sleeping soundly during all of it, so no mom guilt allowed!

This is you! Photo from here.

Don your most mermaid-esque attire -- sequins, colors, shimmer and anything else that says "aquatic beauty" to you and get your fins down to Jester'Z on June 30! Ladies -- let's make some WAVES!

RSVP and get your tickets here.

This post is sponsored. All expressed opinions are mine.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Why my kids are having an unstructured summer.

"What are your kids doing this summer?" the moms in my neighborhood ask each other.

In response, I hear choruses of sports camps, dance camps, music lessons, swim team, art classes, cooking classes, reading challenges and summer school, yet I'm over here like ...

"Uh, Audrey's still in piano lessons, and ... that's all!"

from WiffleGif

*awkward stares and chirping crickets*

I can't usually bring myself to tell people what my kids will REALLY be doing all summer, because Mom Guilt is real and it often prevents me from divulging any of my embarrassing secrets.

But Mom Guilt is dumb, so today, I'm here to bare my soul and help those of you in my same boat to feel a little better about yourselves.

This summer, my kids are simply doing whatever the heck they want to within the confines of this home.

For starters, it's a bazillion degrees outside, and we've got a toddler-aged non-swimmer in the family. So yeah, we might go to the pool a handful of times (at the expense of my sanity). But for the most part, we will be in this house where toys, books and other activities abound, and where my kids are mostly responsible for making their own entertainment until they go back to school on August 10.

When I was a kid, summer was about pure freedom. It meant television, video games, Disney movies, swimming, reading, coloring pictures, choreographing dances, board games, imaginative play and an endless supply of Otter Pops. Sure, we sometimes had to tag along to our little sisters' swimming lesson, or Mom would get a burst of ambition and decide to take everyone to the library, or a neighbor would invite us over for a playdate. But for the most part, we were home, and we loved every second of the non-obligatory fun we were having.

Nowadays, if you tell people you're going to hang out at your house and plan absolutely nothing -- no camps, no classes, no elaborate trips -- for the entirety of the summer, you're seen as some kind of lazy parent who has zero concern for your children's futures.

Well, I think that's silly.

My kids get plenty of structure nine months out of the year when they are in school, and also every Sunday at church. They don't need me or some other adult telling them exactly how to spend their time when they're on summer break. Emphasis on BREAK.

Plus, there are a multitude of skills to learn from unstructured play: problem-solving, decision-making, creativity, critical thinking, independence, communication and compromise, to name a few. There's even scientific research that says childhood play helps develop the brain's prefrontal cortex.

Yes, my kids will still have to get dressed, brush their teeth, make their beds and help out with any chores they're assigned (by me). But that leaves hours of blessed free time for them to just be kids. Heaven knows they don't get enough of that time during the school year.

At this point, several of you are surely thinking, "My kids are enrolled in 14 classes/camps/lessons/groups this summer, so Jenna hates me and she's judging me to be a bad mom and ..." well, that's your Mom Guilt talking, and you need to tell it to shut up because that's not what I'm saying at all.

I'm only saying that MY kids won't be in any fancy camps or classes this summer, and this is why: they don't need it. They're going to be absolutely fine if all they learn over the next two months is:

-How Harry Potter and his friends managed to get past Fluffy in The Sorcerer's Stone
-How to construct a structurally-sound tower using every MegaBlock we own
-All of the words to the Animaniacs! theme song
-The best hiding spots for Hide and Seek
-The basics of human buoyancy
-How to perfectly roast a marshmallow
-How to whomp someone at MarioKart

I'm not the least bit worried about them.

The Foote family is bringing old school summer vacation back. Bring on the Otter Pops.