Saturday, October 31, 2009

Spooky!

Don't ask me how this happened, but for the first time ever we decided to let the kids dress up for the annual costume parade at school. Not one to simply purchase an over priced, poorly constructed costume off the rack (which would never hold up with my two boys), I decided to sit down and design something just for them. Nathan wanted to be a mummy. Not one to embrace horror, I talked to the boys about mummies and pulled up photos so that they had an historical point of reference and not just the desire to scare people.
After coming up with the idea, I made the kids come with me to get the supplies. The costumes were made using a base of karate pants and pullover hoodies, all found at the local thrift store for about $6 total (and they made us take home some free nectarines which was an unexpected treat). I used two double white sheets, $7, ripped and torn into strips and dyed in a giant vat of black teabags, $1. Then each strip was machine-stitched one at a time onto the pants and hoodies. The hooded sweatshirts were pretty big, so the silhouette looks more Michelin Man than Mummy to me, but Nathan and Ben were beyond thrilled at the final outcome!
This is the before-school photo, in which they didn't want to smile so they moved the strip across their mouths. Tomorrow I have additional strips to go across their faces, but for school I did not want them to be too covered. These were a lot of work, particularly as it was kind of a figure-it-out-as-you-go-along type of process. But since those are generally my favorite types of projects, it was a lot of fun as well. The best part is knowing that these are nearly indestructible (a good thing for my wild boys) and that they cost about $8 apiece in materials.
Okay, that isn't true. The best part is really the glowing excitement and admiration in the eyes of my boys when they saw what I had done for them. I never get that when I make dinner or do laundry!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

21%

One of our Resolutions this year was to dramatically reduce our financial obligations and debt. It hasn't been an easy thing to do with paying projects waxing and waning, and unexpected expenses popping up all over. The worst part has been sitting back and seeing clearly how we got here to begin with. It's not pretty, particularly because there wasn't just one big thing that got us here, it was just a simple, barely perceptible slope over several years that led to a pit with no easy exit route. It's nauseating how quickly debt can snowball into a fierce monster ready to ruin you. I know it's a common held idea that debt is a way of life, get used to it. That may be so, but I don't want it to be my way of life. I don't want it to be my children's way of life. We have worked incredibly hard this year to pay off debt. We've spent a lot of time educating the boys on the value of saving up for something rather than pulling out the trusty credit card (go ahead and ask them, they came to the conclusion on their own that "credit cards are evil").
We had some major disappointments, like an unexpected tax bill of over $5,000, which added to the spectacularly huge amount we owe our creditors. But we pushed ahead and trimmed fat from the budget and made some sacrifices at a time when the media and our culture is encouraging us from every angle to spend money to stimulate the economy. We focused on putting every spare cent toward the giant debt monster. We started in earnest in February, and eight months later we've paid off 21% of our debt. This is both encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging because in eight months we've paid off nearly a quarter of our debt! And discouraging because if it takes us a year to pay off a quarter of our debt, that means it could take us three more years to pay off the rest. Ouch. We're reminded of the old adages A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
It's just a lot more difficult than expected, conditioned as we are to getting instant gratification. And it's no secret that we like to be counter-culture, to go against what everyone else is doing, to purposely take the more difficult path. But the idea of getting out of debt, and staying out of debt, is so far counter-culture that it's actually radical and revolutionary and really upsetting many people close to us who think we've gone nuts. But I care less about that than what I see as modern day, legal slavery: consumer debt. So call me crazy if you want, but I will scratch and claw and sacrifice and do whatever it takes to get out from under the debt we've gotten ourselves into, and if takes three more years, then so be it. These are uncertain times, and we're committed to making at least one thing certain, freedom from the bondage of debt! There are so many things we dream of doing, good and noble things that will make the world a better place and impact the lives of people in desperate situations. But these dreams are hobbled by the chains of debt pulling us back. So today we're going to celebrate our 21% because we are getting closer to our goal, toward doing the things we dream of. Maybe being debt-free is crazy to you, but surely living out your dreams is not!

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined. -Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hi Dad!

(...and everyone else who may be checking Boy Wonder every morning at the crack of dawn to see if I've posted anything new). Yes, I'm still alive. No, I haven't given up blogging. I've just been busier than normal, with two kids to take care of while Michael is working insane hours round the clock. The project will be over soon and then he'll take a day (or four) off and we'll relax and I'll catch up with all the things I've let slide while I was busy doing the stuff Mike normally does. Although I have to admit, I'm doing a pretty poor job of it. Mainly because one of Mike's primary roles is to take care of me! And I can't do that as well as he does, I'm afraid. But don't you worry about me! I'm okay! This will be over soon. It's nice to know you care! I love you, too. Now take a look at these adorable photos I found of you and 18-month-old Nathan, finish your coffee and get on with your day!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bye Bye Blondie

School picture day is coming, so it was time to take the boys for a hair cut. The last hair cut they had was at the beginning of summer vacation. We spent so much time outside the boys ended up with lots of summery blond highlights. Every year their hair gets darker and darker. Michael stayed very blond until he was in his 20's. I had very pale blond hair until I started coloring it all sorts of colors in college. It wasn't until I was pregnant with Nathan and told I couldn't color my hair that I was shocked to find my natural color had darkened to deep ash blond. I'm quite surprised to find that my boys, who were both towheads, have already turned so dark! Don't they look thrilled to be getting their hair cut?




Both boys, getting their hair cut at the same time. Nathan in the rear, Ben in the front. Nathan always says semi-flirty things to the hairdresser. He'll say things like, "So... you cut hair, huh? Must be a lot of fun. You meet a lot of people here?" When I cut his hair, he just scowls and asks if I'm done yet.



Here's the "after" look, with most of the blond cut off. I told them they didn't have to smile for the photo...

The boys have a lot of matching tee shirts, and I used to dress them in matching clothes a lot when they were younger. Now I don't have to, because they get up and decide together what shirts they will wear! They crack me up, and secretly thrill me! I know if I'd had little girls, they'd be wearing matching dresses all the time. So it's neat that my little boys like to match. For now anyway!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Men in Uniform

Here they are, wearing their new Cub Scout uniform shirts and belts, right before their first Pack Meeting. They received their neckerchiefs, slides, and a few patches at the meeting.

Nathan is so tall! He towered over all the boys, including all the ten year olds. Poor boy, everyone kept making comments about it, kids and adults alike. I need to remember not to make a big deal out of it. But it's hard not to!

They went on a hike in San Pedro this week as well. Michael has been quite sick after working long hours, but it didn't stop him from going along. He thought the hike would be about four hours, but it ended up being eight! Everyone was tired! I stayed home and worked on clearing out Nathan's dresser, packing up everything he's grown out of.
Fun was had by all! Here you can see the rest of the boys' uniform. Eventually we'll get them the navy blue pants to complete the uniform, but all these little things add up pretty quickly so they recommend waiting. I'm cool with that! Especially since he only has two pairs of pants that fit him right now. I bought him some jeans in late August, and he's grown out of them already. What's the hurry? Slow down, stay in your current size awhile little boy!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mr. Rock Soup


With Mike's crazy hours last week and this week, the boys and I have been having somewhat interesting meals during the dinner hour. Like breakfast cereal, baked potatoes, beans, and yogurt. Not all mixed together!
I guess things just get a little lax when I don't have to prepare a big meal for the whole family. When Michael is here, we always set the table and eat together as a family. We've done this for as long as Michael and I have been together. About twice a year we'll have a "picnic" dinner, where we order a pizza and sit in the living room and watch a movie while we eat. But that is the very rare, very special, exception to our normal dinner tradition. But when Mike isn't here to help the kids set the table or pour the water and to wash all the dishes (yes, I married Mr. Wonderful), then the experience of dining together is less about the pleasure of each other's company and more about me being bitter about managing the 5 to 7 pm witching hours while making dinner. Something has to give so I can remain somewhat calm and cool throughout the evening. So if Ben wants Shredded Wheat for dinner, who I am to say no?
Things are hard enough when Daddy isn't here, and I like to do something a bit out of the ordinary in his absence so that they aren't really reminded of what they are missing. Also, I just don't have the energy to do everything I normally do plus what he normally does when he's here. Michael normally does the whole bath/story/bedtime routine (sometimes a two hour process depending on how many chapters the boys convince him to read to them), and many times that is the first time I've had to just sit down the entire day. I relish that time. I live for that time. When he's not here, and I'm responsible for getting the boys in bed, I find I have to cut something from the routine or by the time they are finally snoozing and Michael walks through the door I'm pacing and muttering to myself like a crazy woman, pouncing on him the minute he walks in. So in the interest of domestic tranquility, dinner goes low maintenance when Daddy's not around.

Not too long ago, I found a recipe that is as low maintenance as it could be, yet it tastes delicious. Best of all, the kids love it. They love it to the point they sing songs about it. After the first time I made it, I let them name the recipe. They decided to call it Mr. Rock Soup. It isn't soup, but I'd say it's their favorite thing to eat. And my favorite thing to make because it requires the most minimal amount of effort. When Daddy is working long hours, we eat this often. Mainly when I'm sick of everything else we've got in the fridge in the way of leftovers!

I'm happy to share this with you. I tend to buy up ground beef in enormous 10 lb bulk increments and cook it all at once, freezing it in 1lb sections. When you do this, dinner is more than half done when you've got a recipe calling for ground beef! You could also use ground turkey and it tastes just as great.

Mr. Rock Soup
  • 1lb lean ground beef

  • 1 16 oz container of tomato salsa (use the heat level you prefer - we're all fans of spice 'round here)

  • 1 8 oz can tomato sauce (I like the kind that is only tomato, no sugar or salt, etc.)

  • 1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed, drained

  • 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni

  • 2 cups water (fill up your now empty salsa container to get 2 cups & every last drop of salsa!)
Cook meat until no longer pink in large saucepan, drain. Or, if you're smart, take it out of the freezer and toss it in the pan.

Add everything else. Mix it up. Bring it to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (If you don't get around to stirring it because, for instance, you had to spend that 15 minutes separating the children who were intent on having a Light Saber duel to the death, it's still going to come out okay).

Serve it up and sit back and enjoy the praises!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

BSA

Oh my. We've gone and jumped into complete foreign territory for this Mom. Nathan and Ben have joined the Boy Scouts of America.
They are both Cub Scouts. Ben is a Tiger Cub and Nathan is a Bear Cub. Somehow they both look so much more... wholesome, don't you think?
Tonight we collected their hats and books (in the photo), and tomorrow I'll pick up the rest of their uniforms. They are so excited! Especially because of the hike planned for this weekend. 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of Boy Scouts of America, so it's a great year for them to join.
My Dad was in Scouts, and my cousin Josh recently earned the rank of Eagle Scout. My Mom's brother was a Scout as well. Michael was in Scouting for many years, as was Michael's father. Mike's Dad seems to think that his father was also a Scout, but there is no way to know for certain. Michael's maternal Grandfather, who is turning 100 in a few months, was also a Scout, and a huge Scout advocate who looked forward to the day he'd have sons of his own. And then he had six daughters! Many of Michael's uncles and cousins were also a big part of the programs. It's very much on both sides of our families. With a heritage like that, it was only a matter of time before my boys joined up. We just needed to wait until they were both old enough to join so Ben didn't sit at home crying in his pillow thinking about all the fun big brother was having without him...
I think this is a great thing for the boys, especially at this age when they'll get to do so many activities with Daddy. I'm still just trying to figure everything out... it's a complete foreign language to me! There are words like neckerchief, Akela, and Webelos that I've never even heard of. But I'm trying, honestly. It's slightly uncomfortable for me to be a part of such a big organization, with ranks and patches and uniforms... I'm just not a joiner, you know? But I see the value in this, especially because they'll be learning things I could never teach them! It's all good! But of course, the best thing is taking a look at the giant smiles in the photo above. For that, I'd do anything!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Say cheese!

You know that one super annoying family member at every gathering that forces everyone to gather 'round and take a photo to document the occasion? The one where everyone says Oh no, here comes crazy Aunt Sally with the camera again... Yeah, well, in my family, that person is me. With Michael's sister Heather and her family here in town for the week, we had to have a big dinner at the in laws which included four of the five Chase siblings (the youngest sibling Heidi and her family live in Virginia so they couldn't exactly make it). There was grumbling of course (you know who you are, Uncle Mitch!), but someday, someone will thank me. Even if it's just me, thanking me.

Oh! We did the same exact thing four years ago with the same family members right after we moved here from Hong Kong. I know this, because I forced them all to take a photo back then, too! And here's the proof:

Sure, they grumbled. Especially because the nephews had already changed into their jammies out of the nice clothes they were wearing when we all went out to Buca di Beppo. But I'm sure someone is bound to be grateful this photo exists! Right? Okay, I am!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hell Week (and everything you've ever wanted to know about Michael's job)

In sports, Hell Week is generally the week at the beginning of the training season where sunrise to sunset (or longer) is spent doing nothing other than engaging in that sport. My little brother started playing football his freshman year of high school, and at the end of Hell Week all traces of middle school boyish pudginess were wiped out, revealing a toned, muscular, and grunting young man. I've mentioned before that we are just not into sports, but the idea of Hell Week can certainly be applied to the world of the theater during the load in or strike of a show. Load in is when the crew loads the set into the theater, and striking the set is when it's all torn out (generally a much faster process).
When we lived in the San Francisco Bay area, Michael was the technical director for a good sized theater company, producing about five or six shows per year. During the week of load in and tech (when the lights are hung and focused, and all things technical are ironed out) he generally lived at the theater. During the nearly two years we lived there, Nathan was a toddler and then Benjamin was born. I was no fool - during Hell Week I took off with the kids at stayed at my parents' house where the pressure of dealing with small children 24/7, sans husband, was relieved by doting grandparents more than willing to play with the wee ones so I could get a much needed nap and a full eight hours of sleep at night (a luxury beyond comprehension to parents of little ones).
The time we lived in Japan and Hong Kong was a bit different. He didn't have a new show to load in every two months, he had an entire theater to build and then one major show to load in that would run for five years.
The title of technical director can mean a few different things. When a theater is being built, the technical director's role is generally to interface with designers and architects to make sure that the structure itself will have all the things necessary to fit it out for a show, like the right number of electrical outlets at the right power level, large enough ramps leading to the stage door for big trucks, and appropriate HVAC considerations. This is Michael's favorite thing to do. He is quite good at it and has been called in for many projects all over the world to give his input in this way (yes, I'm biased, but really, he is good at it). Unfortunately, there isn't a huge demand for more theaters to be built, especially in America. Which is why he has worked on projects in Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, and China, where suitable theaters appropriate for modern stage spectacles just don't exist in abundance.
When there is already a structure in place, such as the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, there may be a technical director who works directly for the theater. That person would interface with the touring companies who travel all around the country. The tech director would make sure that what the touring company plans to use will work with what the theater has, and make sure that things go smoothly on the technical side of things. Michael hasn't really done too much of this.
The third thing a technical director may do is to work directly for a theater company (which is different than a theater itself) and interface between the director, designers, and the theater where a show will be mounted. The show director may say they want a character to be lifted into the air on a giant tire (Think Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats). The designer may draw up a lovely barn-sized tire that looks like it is free-floating, no visible wires or other apparatus to show it's flying by any means other than magic. The technical director would then create CAD drawings to show how to build the tire, hire a scene shop (or use the theater company's if they have one) to build the tire, and figure out how to get that tire to life up into the air in a very safe, yet magical manner. This has been a majority of Michael's experience (although he's never worked on Cats), and similar to the type of work he's currently doing. This is the reason we have moved so often during our 13+ years of marriage - we go wherever the work is!
What he's doing right now is managing just one element of an enormous production. The production itself has its own technical director who is managing all the hundreds of other elements going into the production. In the past, he has worked directly for this particular company and been the technical director for similar productions. However, about eighteen months ago we started our own company which allows people to hire the company rather than Michael directly. This benefits us in many ways.
First of all, there have been many jobs Michael has had to turn down because the job was only for three months. A three month gig is great if you're single or married with a working spouse who has their own health insurance. But in our case, we're a whole family, and I'm a full time mom who does some freelance copywriting. Our youngest son has congenital heart disease and a kidney defect. He's doing fine, but it's not the type of thing we'd ever risk taking a job that wouldn't provide health insurance, even if the job was the chance of a lifetime. But having our own company means we get our own group health insurance, and Michael can take as many three or six month, or even one week jobs he wants. This is also very attractive to many theatrical companies, as paying a contractor is a better deal for them (no overhead, they don't have to keep a staff, they can hire only as needed). It's a win-win situation. It's also helpful in making sure Michael is reasonably compensated for the frequently crazy-long hours he works. He's always worked on salary. This is nice when things are kinda slow and he's only doing 40 hours a week. But when things kick into high gear and there is a firm opening date with four months worth of work to get done in only two months and he ends up working for twelve or more hours a day, seven days a week for two months straight (which means Hell Week stretches into Hell Month)... well, being on salary isn't that attractive. Especially when you calculate the equivalent hourly pay if you take the full salary and divide it into actual hours worked. Now we can bill based on a set number of hours, and if additional hours are called for, we can bill for them.

Now that I've gone and answered just about every question you could ask about Michael's job (without disclosing some of the names of the companies and productions), let me just tell you that this week has actually been Hell Week. The kids aren't toddlers anymore and they are in school, so no more slipping off to the Grandparents when Mike is MIA, lost in the loading in. But I can always fit in a quick nap during the day now!
Twice this week Michael has worked over 32 straight hours as they've been putting the final touches on their show element and then actually going over and installing it and testing it in the field. He is a very hands-on manager. If he's got a crew out there working, then he's out there alongside them. After his first 32 hour marathon of work, he drove himself home, talking to me on the phone the whole way (I was half listening/half praying that he wouldn't nod off). This afternoon he was wrapping up a second crazy-long shift and when I calculated that he'd been awake for over 36 hours, I roped his sister Holly into driving out with me to bring Michael and his car home, without him actually having to get behind the wheel. I barely made it onto the freeway before he was passed out, sawing logs, in the fully reclined passenger seat.

It's a tough life, but it's a good life. Wait, no. It's a really tough life, but it's a great life! And we are so incredibly lucky and blessed to be living it. It's uncommon for people to have a dream at 15 or 16, and then go on to live that dream, to make a fine living doing it. We've had the most incredible adventures in places all over the world. We've met fascinating people and made fast friends everywhere we've been. We don't own a home, and our house is furnished with semi-disposable Swedish furniture from IKEA. But there is no house in the world that I would trade for the amazing life we've had as a result of working in show business. And we're young yet, plenty of time to get saddled with a mortgage, a dog, and a picket fence...

I know this is more of a novel than a blog post, but no one is ever satisfied with my normal quick description of what Michael does for a living. Now I've got somewhere to point them that explains it in finer detail. Whew! Now I must sneak in and slip into bed without waking Michael. Not that there's a chance of that actually happening. The house could be burning down and mariachi band could be playing in the bedroom and I bet the poor guy would still be sound asleep!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cousins

Michael has three sisters and a brother, Mitch. His oldest sister, Holly, lives right around the corner from us, and Mitch and his wife live about three miles away. His two other sisters, Heather and Heidi, both live out of state. The last time the entire family was together was in 2001 for Mitch's wedding. We've had a few visits from Heidi and her family, and a visit from Heather and her family, but never both Heidi and Heather at the same time! One of these years...
This week Heather, her husband Layne, and their three children are here on vacation. They live in Utah, which has a big Autumn break from school this week. Unfortunately, their visit has coincided with Michael's "Hell Week" load in of the show he's been working on. So they haven't had any face time with Uncle Mike! They decided to go to Disneyland for a couple of days, so of course the boys and I had to join them, after school of course!


Here are all the cousins along with cool Auntie Holly waiting to board the Toy Story Midway Mania attraction at Disney's California Adventure. It's an interactive, 3-D ride that my boys really love. Please note the three boys in the back row, Nathan and my two nephews. Don't they look thrilled?? Nathan is about to turn nine, but he's got the teen WhatEVer look down pat.



But here they are, when they were young and sweet and cute! This was taken after Mitch's wedding in 2001, back when Nathan and our nephews were the only Chase cousins! Now there are seven cousins. This was the first time these cousins met... we'd returned from Japan just days before 9/11, and Mitch and Jamie got married on 9/15.


I have to laugh when I see this photo, as we were the recipient of many items of hand-me-down clothes from these two boys, including the very outfits they are wearing in this picture! Thank you, generous Auntie Heather, for sharing all those great clothes!
Now if what you want is cute, then let me present Benjamin and our niece! Our niece is one year older than Ben. Look at those stunning curls! She's such a beauty. Ben had an amazing head of curls until he turned three and his hair went straight like his Mama's. Sigh. Why did my straight hair genes have to dominate over all the curly genes that both Mike's family and my own family were blessed with? Anyway, these two sure are cute.

And just in case that wasn't quite cute enough for you, here they are when Ben was 10 months old and our niece was just a couple months shy of two years old. They were the same size then, and now Ben is just a tiny bit taller than her.

This photo comes up every so often on our screen saver, and my heart seizes every time at the memory of this day so long ago. Heather and the family were down here to celebrate their middle son's birthday, and we put Ben and our niece in high chairs next to each other and they just sat there chatting in a language only they could understand, holding hands. So precious!

I wish all the cousins lived closer together or that we had the opportunity to let them get together more than once every couple of years. My family is quite small, and when I was growing up we lived many hours away from them. We only saw my cousins at major holidays, switching sides of the family each year. My cousins, however, all lived closer together and they have many shared memories of everyday life and major milestones that my brother and I simply don't. Michael has a huge family. A dozen aunts and uncles and hundreds of cousins, and he and his siblings grew up quite close to many of them. I'm so glad I married into Michael's family so I can have the experience of having more family than you can count!

I remember shortly before Michael and I were engaged, his Grandmother Chase passed away. I went with him to the funeral, and noted that the large church was packed. It was almost a fire hazard with all the people crowded in. There were no available seats; every aisle was filled with kids sitting on the floor and the walls were lined with people standing. I turned to Mike and marvelled that his Grandmother must have been a very popular person to have so many friends who would come to her funeral. He chuckled and then told me that every single person in the room was a relative. Coming from such a small family (I have a total of eight first cousins if you count both sides of my family) this fact was more than I could wrap my mind around. I'm still slightly stunned, fifteen years later!