Monday, December 24, 2012

A season of stealing

Last week I stole a Christmas present from my mother-in-law. I grabbed it right out of her hands. But she started it — she stole one from me first.
No, our family hasn’t turned into a band of grifting shoplifters. I’m talking about our annual Christmas gift exchange.
It’s the kind of party where people bring gifts, everyone draws numbers and then takes turns picking from the pile. But there’s a twist. You can either open a wrapped gift or steal one that’s already been opened.
There’s nothing like a gift exchange to bring out your inner competitor. Three hundred and sixty-four days of the year your favorite aunt is a sweet, law-abiding woman who rescues kittens and volunteers to feed the homeless. But during the gift exchange, watch out. She’ll steal the shirt off your back if it’s up for grabs. Especially if it has a snowman embroidered on it.
Choosing the gift to bring is a big decision. My goal? The more people who fight over my gift, the better. So the present has to be cute, but not so cute that I want to keep it. There’s no guarantee you’ll be able to steal your own gift back. Instead of taking home the pretty holiday serving dish you brought to the party, you’re more likely to end up with a stuffed animal that sings “I Farted on Santa’s Lap,” complete with sound effects.
There are always two or three gifts that everyone fights over. This year the stealing fun began when I opened a set of faux wood skating penguins. Nothing against skating penguins, but I wasn’t dying to take them home. I didn’t have to worry for long. When it was my mother-in-law’s turn, she headed straight toward me. And she took them. She took my penguins. What a stealer, that grandma.
Grandma’s penguins turned out to be quite popular. No sooner had she sat down than her own sister-in-law swiped them from right under her nose.
Grandma’s next gift would prove to be just as popular — a glass beverage container with spigot dispenser, perfect for serving lemonade at parties.
When one of my nieces stole my next pick, I got to choose again. And I knew just what I was going for. Sorry Grandma. The drink cooler was mine ... for about 10 minutes, until a cousin promptly stole it from me.
Two stuffed white cats that sang “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and a dancing Snoopy that wiggled to that Snoopy Christmas song were also stolen back and forth. I am proud to report that the colorful wreath that I brought to the party was swapped three times.
One cousin contingent had perfected their Christmas gift-stealing strategy. Once a gift has been pilfered three times, it’s officially retired. This family teamed up and between themselves, “stole” the drink dispenser two more times so they could end up with the coveted item. It was a move worthy of “Survivor: Christmas All Stars.”
Next year, I’m planning my alliances early.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The evolution of a blog

When I started this blog there was no such thing as Facebook or Twitter, let alone Instagram and Pinterest.

And now there is.

Over the past few months I've transitioned from posting here to my other social media sites. I'll still post my columns on PlanetClaire, but for photos, tweets and daily happenings find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (girlreporter).

Look for me there.

I'll look for you too.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The root of the problem

Recently, my favorite dentist told me I needed a root canal. This was not what I expected to hear from my favorite dentist. I preferred a tender pat on the shoulder and a “See you in six months.”
Instead, he used those two words. Root canal.
Even worse, he announced that he intended to send me off to a different dentist called an endodontist. That’s a fancy word for Dentist Who Does Only Root Canals.
He told me my new endodontist could give me intravenous sedation for my root canal.
This wasn’t bad news.
Last time I had IV sedation was almost 20 years ago when my wisdom teeth were pulled. The dental assistant started my IV and I never even saw the dentist. Still have no idea what he looks like. And that’s OK with me. I don’t want to get to know a bunch of new dentists. Especially ones that Only Do Root Canals.
I asked my favorite dentist if he could come with me to my root canal. Could he assist with the procedure? Could he just watch over the endodontist’s shoulder? Could he hold my hand?
He laughed like I was making a joke.
I was kind of not joking.
On the day of my root canal, I had our oldest daughter drive me to the endodontist’s office. She would need to be my chauffeur for after the root-canalling was done. Apparently, it’s not a good idea to drive yourself home after being doped up with an IV in the arm.
The Dentist Who Does Only Root Canals acted like my root canal was the highlight of his morning.
Here’s the X-ray of your tooth, he said helpfully, turning the computer monitor toward me.
I covered my eyes. I don’t want to see it, I said. I don’t want to know what a root-canal tooth looks like or why it aches like it does.
To make myself feel better, I imagined what dentistry must have been like during pilgrim times. When a pilgrim had an achy tooth, he or she didn’t make an appointment for Tuesday at 9 a.m. with the Dentist Who Does Only Root Canals. There was no such thing as the Plymouth Rock School of Dentistry. I have a bad feeling that pilgrims with achy teeth had only one remedy and it probably didn’t involve an IV to la-la land while reclining in a dental chair with a view of a Zen rock garden.
The sedation was just like I remembered it: IV in and then lights out. The office staff had my daughter help me out to the car after it was all over. I don’t remember much about the ride home, but apparently the sight of “mom on drugs” is hilarious. Or so I heard at dinner that night.
I didn’t care. My root canal was done. Even a pilgrim would be thankful for that.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A model project

It was the middle of a Saturday afternoon when middle daughter informed me that we needed to drive, immediately, to Michael’s craft store in Vallejo.
I need to make my cell model project for biology class, she said. From the urgency in her voice, I had the idea that her biology teacher was about to drive up to our house and demand the cell model right then and there.
It’s not due for two weeks, she admitted. But I need clay, Styrofoam balls, gluesticks and paint, she insisted. And, it’s worth 100 points.
That got me. When moms hear “100-point project,” we don’t mess around.
We headed straight to Michael’s.
Back at our dining room table, our daughter unpacked her supplies and laid out each item. Next she took some clay left over from another project and carefully began cleaning the stray bits of color from each clump.
An hour later, she was still cleaning clay.
I gently suggested she proceed to actually making a cell part.
She suggested a break instead.
“One hundred points” echoed through my head every time I walked by the table surreptitiously eyeing her “progress.” Chop, chop, those vacuoles won’t make themselves, I wanted to tell her. Let’s get a move on, kid.
By the next day, she had finally begun rolling and pinching little bits of clay into various cell parts. When it took her an hour to make two lysosomes, I started to get a little bit more nervous, but I bit my tongue. There was plenty of time, I told myself.
Cell model production continued for the next week. By the final weekend, she’d made good progress, but it still wasn’t done.
That’s when I put her in cell model project lockdown.
You aren’t leaving the house until the model is finished, I told her.
Do not talk to your sister, I told her siblings. She’s on a deadline.
I tried to refrain from critiquing her work. Wasn’t her endoplasmic reticulum “rough” enough? Would the teacher really notice each microtubule was perfectly hollow or that detail on that golgi apparatus?
How long was she going to keep working on it — all night? Would she still be hot-gluing cell model parts while eating breakfast the next day?
On the morning it was due, we got up early to make sure the cell model got to school in one piece. The teacher had warned us in advance about cell project drop-off disasters. Come early, he said. Don’t rush.
I imagined cell models dropping and cracking open like eggs or rolling down the school hallways. Not happening on my watch, people.
Arriving at school, she actually let me walk her to the science classroom where she carefully deposited her project.
“It’d be nice if she got a good grade,” I thought as I drove to work. But there are so many definitions. So many cell parts to identify. So many other clever cell models. Hey, at least she finished it on time.
Later that night, she got the good news.
Her cell had won. First place. A blue ribbon. And 100 points.
I’m sure it was all those beautiful microtubules.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Smile for the camera

It’s time to take the annual Christmas card family photo. As parent of three teenage girls, normally something like this would require all kinds of planning and official notification of the portrait subjects. But I’ve figured out how to pave the way for family photo success.
It’s called a bribe.
Oh, don’t make a face. We moms have all done it. I prefer to think of it as an “incentive.”
I have a go-to spot for such photos: the local pumpkin patch. Yeah, I know, it’s been done to death. But it turns out there’s something about rusted farm machinery, hay bales and pumpkins that makes for an almost foolproof family photo setting. I’m nothing if not consistent.
But first my “incentive.”
Who wants In-n-Out burgers for dinner?, I called out one afternoon.
We’re going to take a family photo at the pumpkin patch and those who cooperate get hamburgers for dinner, I informed our three girls. They grumbled a bit, but at least all three of them got into the car.
Heading over to the patch, I reviewed the requirements for the hamburgers.
I need smiles, I told them. And everyone needs to look at the camera. No crazy eyes, I told one daughter who has a habit of going all googly-eyed when photographed.
Can we get pumpkins?, they asked.
Sheesh, my inner Grinch thought. Weren’t the hamburgers enough for them? And weren’t they a little old to be carving pumpkins?
But I didn’t want to lose the subjects before we even arrived at the patch. This deal could fall apart faster than you could say “Great Pumpkin.”
Fine, I said, but no pumpkin picking until after we take the photo.
At the patch, I herded them toward my favorite old tractor. Come on girls, I said. Don’t get distracted by the baby cows and pigs!, I called out as I stomped past. Photo first!
Everyone grab a pumpkin as a prop, I ordered when we got to the tractor. I knew I had to move fast. All it would take was someone spotting a spider or finding a scratchy bit of hay in a shoe, and all bets were off.
Look here, I said, trying to sound cheerful and commanding at the same time.
Looklooklooklooklook! Smile! Girls! Over here!
The sun is in my eyes, said one.
I’m not standing next to her, said another.
Can I have two hamburgers?, asked another.
I would have said yes to hamburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner at that moment. The perfect family photo was in my sights.
Sure, I said brightly. Just look over here! Look at the camera!
And it happened. Three smiles. At the same time.
Click, click, click.
I think I got it, but let’s get a few more just in case, I said.
I looked at them again.
One daughter was now openly scowling. Another looked like she was going to drop her pumpkin on her sister’s foot. The third informed me she was now blind from the sun.
All right, we’re done, I said, and they scattered into the patch to pick out pumpkins to bring home.
I looked at my camera. If I got just one good one, I’d even throw in some french fries.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Giant mistake

I did a bad thing. It was during the baseball playoff games last week. I’m not into professional sports, but even I noticed all the sports fans going gaga when the Giants and the Cardinals were duking it out for a spot in the World Series.
My husband, the Giants fan, was definitely interested.
He started taping day after day of baseball games on our TV. Hours of pitching and hitting were recorded on various channels at various times.
Meanwhile, my new favorite shows like “Revolution” and “Call the Midwife” were getting pushed to the bottom of the recordings list, sandwiched between multiple innings of Major League Baseball and a 12-hour “Lost” marathon the girls taped.
There was too much willy-nilly recording going on, I said to myself. The list must be culled, I decided.
I started hitting the delete button on the remote.
Goodbye “Adventure Time,” so long “Survivor” and sayonara “American Pickers.” Delete, delete, delete.
Clearing out the recordings list felt good. It was like cleaning out a virtual closet. Look at all the hours of recording space I’m making room for, I thought. Isn’t efficiency a wonderful thing?
Can we delete this old baseball game? I asked my husband. It’s been on the list forever.
No! he said. That’s Matt Cain’s perfect game.
What about this other baseball game?
Definitely not, he said. That’s the 2011 World Championship ring ceremony. I was at that game, he said.
I am guilty of hoarding a few shows myself. I may or may not have recorded the entire British royal wedding of 2011, the day-long river boat procession from the Queen’s jubilee earlier this year and
60 minutes of ooohing and ahhhhing over the crown jewels.
A few days later, I went on another deleting binge, zapping episodes of “Switched at Birth,” “The Amazing World of Gumball” and some “X Factor.”
I scrolled down the list looking for more easy pickings.
“Which of our girls taped a ‘Cheers’ episode at 4 p.m. today?” I wondered. Sheesh, these kids are supposed to be doing homework, not watching ’80s sitcoms. I really should have a talk with them about this.
As soon as I hit the button, I had a bad feeling. Something about baseball came to mind. Could I ... did I ... possibly … just delete part of a Giants playoff game?
That “bad feeling” feeling was getting worse.
I could be in big trouble here. Should I confess now? Maybe no one would notice, I thought.
Yeah right.
About an hour later, my husband yelled out, “Who deleted the baseball game?”
I was busted.
“Um, was that the ‘Cheers’ episode?” I called out, while hiding upstairs.
“Yes!” he said sternly. “You just deleted the last two innings of th

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chill out.

Over the past few months, I had heard the sounds of death in our home, and they were coming from our kitchen.
About every four hours or so, it sounded something like this: “KaaaaaLUNKALUNKALUNKA…kalunk.”
All eyes were drawn to the white elephant in the room — our 17-year-old refrigerator. When your fridge starts making a choking noise, you know it’s bad.
But like a patient who doesn’t want to admit she’s got a terminal disease, I pretended not to hear them. Maybe the noise would go away, I thought.
I should have been careful about what I wished for. The noise stopped all right. And so did most of the cold air in the fridge.
It was the soft ice cream that got my attention. No one expects to open a freezer and find soupy mint chocolate chip.
This is not a good sign, I said to my husband. Last year, he managed to bring our teenage stove back to life. Would a similar rescue be possible?
He shook his head.
I already looked it up, he said. A new motor would cost about $500. No one wants to invest $500 in an appliance approaching its third decade.
I took a look at our rapidly defrosting chicken, pizzas and Eggo waffles. I knew where this was going.
We needed a new fridge and we needed it now. We headed over to Home Depot.
I guess it’s no surprise that fridges have gone high-tech. It turns out that today’s “ice box,” as my grandma called it, has multiple “chill” zones, ice makers, water filtration systems and computer panels.
And LED lighting. LED lights are big, said the refrigerator sales guy. With a regular fridge, the light is located in the back, causing “shadows” to fall across the food. Not with a LED-lit fridge, he said.
Big deal, I thought. Who ever worried about shadows on the food in your fridge?
And then I opened the door of LED-lit fridge. Cool, blueish light flooded the interior. It was like watching a UFO from “Close Encounters” landing. There were LED lights on the side. LED lights on the top. LED lights in the back. The LED lighting would make our food look like it belonged in a “Bon App├ętit” photo shoot. It would probably make it taste better, too.
In an attempt to get over my newfound LED light obsession, I concentrated on cubic feet. With three teenagers, maximum fridge and freezer room is a must. We have been known to return from a Costco trip with 10-pound bags of frozen chicken and fish, sacks of French fries and cases of Lean Cuisines. An economy-sized appliance was definitely out of the question. We needed the big daddy of refrigerators.
Unfortunately, our nonexistent new fridge savings account wouldn’t cover the extra cost for both LED lights and a jumbo-sized freezer bin.
We’ve had our new refrigerator for about a week now. Sure, we don’t have LED lights, but we have solid ice cream.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Get up and go

I married a car lover. Not only does he love classic American-made cars, he comes from a family that owned an auto parts store, the inventory of which was always a complete mystery to me.
I’m definitely missing the “I love cars” gene. To me, a car is just a really expensive appliance on wheels that inhales gas at $4 a gallon. An older car is always one turn of a key away from not running, after which it ends up occupying valuable real estate in your driveway or garage for months. Or years.
If you ask me, any car that’s not being used on a daily basis is no better than a giant hunk of steel that might be better off recycled.
Car enthusiasts are probably shuddering in horror at reading this. Blasphemy! A classic car is a jewel that must be preserved and cherished, they’ll say.
Give me a nice Honda or Toyota, I say. Something with airbags and power steering. And Sirius radio.
Car guys think nothing of buying and selling cars like they’re swapping baseball cards. They see an old car and can’t wait to get elbow deep in grease.
I see an old car, and I think DMV paperwork and smog fees. I know, I have no imagination.
For a long time, we had typical “mom and dad” kind of cars — a minivan and a truck. Then an older Corvette came to live in our garage. She’s cute enough, but hardly practical. You can’t schlep three girls to volleyball practice, 4-H meetings and Girl Scouts in a two-seat convertible.
A few years ago, my husband and father-in-law became infatuated with a 1960s Mustang. They bought it as a “project” car, and soon enough, I was keeping track of four cars in the family. Four registrations, four insurances, four gas tanks to fill. Next, our oldest daughter inherited Grandma’s old Toyota, and then there were five.
Lately, I have been bugging my husband to sell the Mustang. I had to tread carefully. Asking any Huffman to sell any car is a delicate operation. You don’t just come out and say it. You have to work up slowly to the idea. Otherwise, the Huffman will go “Punxsutawney Phil” on you. If he sees you with a “For Sale” sign anywhere near one of his cars, he’ll go underground and it will be a whole year before you can talk to him about it again.
However, it turns out that a friend of a friend of a friend also likes Mustangs, and the two men started talking about buying the car.
After one phone call, my husband brought me his laptop to show me a photo. Look at this 1983 Mustang convertible the guy owns, he said. It has only 64,000 miles on it. We can trade our Mustang for some cash and this Mustang, he said.
Wait, I said. I thought the idea was to get rid of the Mustang.
Yeah, he said. But this is a really good deal, he said, staring at the picture of the car on the monitor.
I knew better than to say anything.
Maybe the new Mustang will have four seats.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A life of leisure

My parents are newly retired and enjoying it very much.
Me, I think they may have gone a little overboard.
They’re taking vacations to national parks I’ve never been to. They’re driving all over the Bay Area to visit old college friends whenever they feel like it. They’re volunteering at church and planning Air Force classmate reunions. They go for daily walks. Sometimes they’ll even walk — get this — twice a day.
My dad has been known to drive to Dean & DeLuca in St. Helena just to buy fancy mustard.
I know, crazy, right? Fancy mustard? Come on. It’s not like it can make that grilled salmon taste really amazing or anything. Not at all.
What is this new retiree world they’ve entered? And why can’t I come along?
When my mom calls to chit-chat about her day, I feel even more sorry for myself.
I’m not going to Yosemite or Glacier National Park.
I’ll never see my college friends again.
Welcome to my Big Fat Pity Party. If you’re retired, you’re not invited.
My mom, the new retiree, likes to go visit her neighbors, more retired people. I think the last time I went to socialize with a neighbor was sometime back in 2009. These days, I manage a wave as I drive in and out of our court, but I am sadly deficient in my neighborhood networking.
Now that they’re retired, my mom and dad aren’t worrying about hoarding the 18.5 sick hours they have to last until the end of the year. If one of them gets a cold, they just sleep in. And then later they can take a nap. Or two.
If I took a nap at work, I might not have a job to wake up to.
When my parents go on vacation, they call it a “trip.” Apparently, when you’re retired, every day is a vacation day, said Just Jealous Jennifer Huffman.
There’s no retirement in sight for me. Sometimes I think I may not survive 2012, let alone make it to any so-called retirement age.
To top it all off, I’ve also got the government taunting me about retiring. I get a yearly Social Security statement that lists the amount of earnings I’ll be eligible for when I turn 67.
Oh, Social Security, do you have to be such a tease? I don’t need an annual reminder of what I’m eligible for 25 years from now. Leave me be. I’m still working for The Man. And I mean that with affection, Napa Valley Register.
I need to stop this rant right here. The truth is, my mom and dad rock.
Whenever I text one of them about picking up one or more Huffman girls — and it always seems like it’s at the last minute — they hardly ever say no. My mom and dad are always asking if we need help with anything. They even feed us every Thursday night at our weekly family dinner. My dad usually grills something.
Next time, I’ll have to ask him to use that mustard.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Birchbox of beauty

I don’t like surprises. Surprise means I am unprepared — and probably wearing the wrong shoes or without enough cash.
No, I like to know what’s going to happen to me. It gives me that illusion of control, which is particularly essential when you are the mother of three teenage girls.
However, I recently found one surprise I actually like.
It’s called Birchbox.
Birchbox is a makeup sample subscription. To the men reading this column who are tempted to stop reading at the word “makeup,” hold on just a minute. If there is a woman in your life, you need to know about Birchbox.
For $10 a month, the Birchbox subscriber receives a selection of four to six makeup samples. A neat brown box arrives on your doorstep with little packages of goodies like perfume, eye shadow, lip gloss, moisturizer, skin cream or nail polish.
The items aren’t just thrown into the box, either. The Birchbox elves actually wrap the samples in colored tissue paper tied with a ribbon. It’s like opening a present.
Each month has a theme, like “Jet Set,” “Holiday,” or “Glamour.” And what woman doesn’t want a little jet setting, holiday or glamour in her life?
Birchbox customers fill out a profile that helps tailor each delivery to their interests and age, but you never know what you’re going to get each month. And that’s the fun part.
The eye shadow brand you read about in a magazine, that moisturizer you’ve seen at Nordstrom but didn’t want to pay $48 for, sparkly eyeliner, lip gloss that comes with a funky Q-tip applicator, and designer perfume. It’s all in the Birchbox.
Birchbox knows we women love samples. We love smelling and sniffing shampoos, dabbing and dipping designer face creams, swabbing and swiping shadows. It’s like each little sample contains a promise — a promise of a new look, a new you. Life is ordinary enough, but a new eye shadow is enough to perk up any mom’s day.
What’s even better than a box of makeup samples? Swapping your samples with someone else’s samples. My co-workers Michelle and Jillian are also into Birchbox. One day we brought in our boxes and did a little beauty bartering.
I made everyone try the Q-tip dispenser lip gloss. (Verdict: Looks good on, but the applicator is odd.) We insisted that 20-something Jillian take Michelle’s bright blue glitter eyeliner.
Are you still with me, men? Besides a great gift idea, there’s also Birchbox for men. Why not get in touch with your metrosexuality? Your dry skin and the people you shake hands with will thank you.
There was one problem with my Birchbox. A certain Huffman decided to help herself to a few items in my Birchbox without asking. After a scolding, I resorted to hiding my Birchbox treats, which makes it hard to impulsively sample my samples.
So when her birthday rolled around, I made a strategic decision. I got the Birchbox thief her own three-month subscription.
I’m hoping she’ll leave my lip gloss alone now.

To the Fair

A rabbit joined our Dr. Doolittle–wannabe home last year. Named Bonnie the Bunny, she’s a cute little thing with black-and-white fur and those soft velvety ears that bunnies have a patent on.
Bonnie lives in a rabbit shantytown in our backyard and receives daily visits from the youngest Huffman. She leads a leisurely life, noshing on bunny pellets and fresh veggies while taking a break for the occasional bunny bath.
But this past week, that all changed. Bonnie was off to her version of The Show — the Napa Town & Country Fair.
Gone were the cushy days of lounging in her private hutch. Bonnie went from being the only bunny on the block to the equivalent of a bunny cattle call at the fair’s 4-H showmanship competition.
There are rabbits galore at the fair — white bunnies that look like they’ve popped out of a magician’s hat, black bunnies, brown bunnies with long floppy ears, big fat bunnies that are supposed to be super-sized, and bunnies with fur that’s so long and shaggy it looks like they need a haircut.
Before and after the showing, the bunnies at the fair reclined in their temporary two-story bunny condos. Each cage was decorated with a hand-painted sign announcing the home of “Pinkie,” “Socks,” “Fastrada,” “Amber,” and others.
On the designated day and time, the 4-H kids put on their white pants and shirts and got ready for rabbit showmanship.
This isn’t some kindergarten show-and-tell. It’s a complicated process with an inch-thick bunny breed book and specific steps. You have to show off the bunny’s eyes and ears. You have to prove your bunny is bug-free and that your bunny has all of her toes. You have to wiggle the bunny’s tail for her to make sure it’s not broken.
At one point the bunny owner is supposed to flip the bunny over onto his or her back in one motion and expect that the animal will just lie there without complaining.
And just when you think you’ve gotten this bunny thing down pat, the bunny judges may throw in a trick question such as “Who is the president of the American Rabbit Breeders Association?” This stuff is not for wimps, I tell you.
Before the judging, one experienced rabbit raiser practiced her showmanship routine. The younger 4-H rabbit raisers gathered around to watch the master at work.
Using her hands, she formed her bunny’s little body into a fluffy ball shape that judges expect to see.
I’m training him to hold his pose, she said, removing her hands.
The bunny remained frozen in position. Not even a whisker quivered.
She actually tickled his head to see if he would move.
No dice.
She was a real live Bunny Whisperer. The 4-H kids stared at her in awe.
Later that morning, the judges announced the showmanship winners. Our girl had won a shiny belt buckle and two blue ribbons, which she promptly hung outside Bonnie’s cage.
Here was proof. She was no longer just Bonnie the Bunny. She was now somebunny.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

August Birchbox

I am sadly behind in my Birchbox postings, so here is my attempt to catch up... my August Birchbox....

Still loving Birchbox!


Last week, I went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Nope, I’m not an alcoholic. In fact, I rarely drink. But my brother “identifies” as being an alcoholic, as they say in AA. While our two families were on vacation together, I went with him to a meeting.
It was my idea to tag along, but I was a little nervous. Would there be dramatic speeches or tears? Would I have to say something? Would the AA members see me as an imposter and demand to know what I, essentially a non-drinker, was doing at their meeting?
The truth was that I wanted to support my brother. We have lived thousands of miles away from each other for years, so I wasn’t around him in the months before he decided to stop drinking. I didn’t know he had a problem until he told me he had started going to AA.
As someone whose idea of a drink is a Shirley Temple, I have no idea what that kind of addiction is like. I was curious about the meetings he goes to as often as twice a day. What is this AA thing all about?
The first thing I noticed is that AA members are darn friendly. No one was hiding in the corner or skulking around. Everyone greeted us visitors with eye contact and a handshake.
They looked like people you’d see at the library or at the post office. Regular people.
This was a town with a population of less than a thousand people, but 18 of them had gathered in a small church basement in the middle of the week to talk about their addiction.
It turns out anyone can join AA. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking, said the leader of the meeting.
And a coffee pot. Apparently no self-respecting AA meeting is without coffee and some kind of cake.
In keeping with the “anonymous” part of AA, only first names were used. The speaker for the meeting, a man in his late 60s with black and gray hair, stood up.
I had my first drink when I was 5 years old at a family party and I didn’t stop drinking for more than 30 years, he said.
This man described his drinking days: living on Skid Row, panhandling in Haight-Ashbury during the 1960s, being thrown in and out of jail, doing drugs, breaking into homes and more.
I tried not to let my jaw drop as he spoke.
I got rolled so many times, it’s a wonder my throat never got cut, he said. I’m so grateful for AA, he said. Without it, I wouldn’t be here today.
I looked over at my brother. He held his AA “big book” in his hands and nodded with a small smile on his face.
Another woman who spoke looked like she could be the innkeeper at a B&B or someone’s grandmother. She talked about being in jail for a DUI. It’s no fun. Even other prisoners look down on a drunk in jail, she noted. She’s been sober for more than 20 years.
A younger guy wearing skinny jeans and Vans sneakers sat next to my brother. This looked like a guy you’d see at a Green Day concert or hanging out at Chefs’ Market.
I was searching for that perfect combination of alcohol and life, he said. I thought that if I could just figure that out, I could keep drinking.
It was impossible, he said, shaking his head.
Later, some members received sobriety “chips” marking their length of sobriety — some as long as 30 years.
The guy in the Vans stood up to receive his chip. The group applauded and shouted his name.
He had been sober for five months that night.
How long have you been sober?, I whispered to my brother.
Two years and four months, he said. He showed me an AA coin that he carries in his pocket. It had the number “24” on it.
One day at a time, he said.
After the meeting we walked out into the dark parking lot. I was overwhelmed. I came to the meeting wondering if I was making a mistake. I left thinking I wanted to go back.
That was a really powerful experience, I told my brother. I was amazed at their stories, but I was completely awed by the compassion and support of the group.
These people were nearly destroyed by addiction but survived. And look at them now.
I’m glad you came with me, he said.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

At the beach!

In late July we met my parents, brother and his two kids at the beach for a week.

We stayed in a big beach house that fit all of us - we even had a "Kids Zone" downstairs for the under 18 crowd. 

It was perfect.

Here are some pics....

 Grandma and Grandpa who made the beach house possible!
 Ava and cousin Phoebe aren't afraid of north coast cold water!
 Allie, Danny and cousins at breakfast.
 Ava and Phoebe catch some air...

 I'm usually the one behind the camera but here's me and the girls.

 Big sister Annabelle (and Dad) joined us half way through the trip...

Nailed it.

We’re in the middle of a major painting project at our house this summer, but it has nothing to do with the walls.
Our girls have gone crazy for nail polish.
Blue polish, black polish, pink polish. Polish with rainbow glitter, polish with gold sparkle, polish with iron dust. You name it, we have a little bottle of it.
We grown-ups might think we’re being daring by getting a tiny flower painted on our big toe. But teens take nail art to a whole new level. Each finger might be painted a different color. Their hands flash neon, green or white with stripes, polka dots and decals.
And the days of regular old nail polish are over. Today there’s crackle nail polish, strawberry-scented nail polish, magnetic nail polish, nail polish paint pens and nail polish tabs that you stick on instead of paint on.
It’s like their nails are their own mini art installations. Or graffiti. The oldest Huffman has been painting mini canvases on her nails, the latest featuring her favorite characters from the movie “Up.” I’m thinking she could make big bucks for her college tuition as a nail technician.
The combination of three teens and nail polish can get explosive. The other night I ended up refereeing a fierce argument over a bottle of “Pistol Packin’ Pink.”
Calm down, girls, I said. It’s light pink. How different could it be from this other bottle of light pink?
I swear all six of their eyeballs simultaneously rolled at me for that comment.
Carefully negotiated trades between sisters have been brokered between their individual nail polish collections.
“If you paint my left hand, you can use my new white nail polish,” said one to another.
We weren’t always a nail-polish-friendly home. I am referring to what has become known as “the bedspread incident.” A few years ago, a bottle of dark pink polish somehow ended up dripping on Mom and Dad’s light blue bedspread. At the time, a certain Huffman thought she could prevent Mom from noticing the stain by simply covering it with a hand towel. As if.
The spill resulted in the confiscation of all nail polish in the home and a painting ban of several months.
Besides the bedspread, I’ve found drips of nail polish on the walls, on the bath towels, on the bathroom tile and in the sink. Note to any kids reading this: Nail polish does not come out of towels. Or carpet. Or the dog’s hair.
Naturally, there’s more to nail polish than just the bottles themselves. If you’re knee deep in nail polish, you need all kinds of accessories like cotton balls, Q-tips, tiny manicure scissors and nail polish remover. I should be buying acetone by the gallon.
The other night, the youngest Huffman showed off her latest manicure — black nails with white tips.
I wish I had more nails to paint, she said, as she admired her work.
What if you had four hands? I asked her.
“That’d be awesome,” she said.

Root Canal part II

What's worse than a root canal?
Two root canals.

It's been almost two weeks since my you-know-what.

My tooth still hurts.

I went to my regular dentist today for the permanent filling. I told him it still hurts.
He said we'd need to watch the tooth because I might need to see Dr. Root Canal again.


Is there some speical saint you can pray to about a tooth?

I could use a good saint about now. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Root... canal

Root Canal.

Ugh. I hate even typing those words. My dental phobia has been documented in my column but that doesn't mean I'm over it.

Today my favorite dentist tells me I need a root canal. This is not what I expect my favorite dentist to tell me. I prefer a tender pat on the hand and a "see you in six months." 

Instead, he uses those two words: root canal. 
Even worse, he's sending me to a different dentist called an endodontist.  That's a fancy word for Dentist Who Does Only Root Canals.

The Endodontist said I can have IV sedation for my root canal. 
I'm happy to hear this.
 Last time I had IV sedation was when my wisdom teeth were pulled. The nurse started my IV and I never even saw the dentist. Still have no idea what he looks like. And that's OK with me. I don't want to get to know a bunch of new dentists. 

Especially ones that Only Do Root Canals.

I asked my favorite dentist if he could come with me to my root canal. Could he assist with the procedure?  Could he just watch over the endodontist's shoulder? He laughed like I was making a joke. 
I was sort of not joking.

I'd like to pretend this isn't happening to me, so if I never post again about my root canal, you'll understand.

Root Canal.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

An overdue Father's Day post

Presenting... a long overdue Father's Day post!
A few weeks ago we headed to Bodega Bay for a day for dad.

Oldest Daughter was with her boyfriend on a graduation trip to Disneyland so there were only four of us that day. 

We found a few spots to take some pics.

Happy Father's Day DJ!

They may not always act like it, but they love you :)

 This was taken at Bodega Head. It's an overlook with amazing views... but sheer cliffs and no railings. Definitely not safe for little kids.

Alfalfa and horses

Grandpa Donnie's neighbors suddenly got about six horses (and one mule). When the girls heard this they immediately headed out into the alfalfa field to see the animals.

Those horses were thrilled to see the girls pulling handfuls of alfalfa to feed them over the fence.

One horse was really grabby so Ava made a point to feed the horses the big guy was squeezing out.

There is always something new at Grandpa Donnie's house.

 This guy had a net mask to protect his eyes. They were weepy.

 The dog loves running in the field.

Wake up call

The oldest Huffman girl just turned 18. Yep, there’s no denying it. We are now the parents of two children — and one newly minted adult.
At great personal risk, on the morning of Oldest Daughter’s birthday, I ventured into her room before I left for work to wish her a “happy birthday.”
I rubbed her back to wake her up, but I think the only reason she opened her eyes was because she knew it would be bad juju to yell at her mom on her birthday.
Later, I texted her from work.
Happy birthday, I wrote.
You are now officially an adult. This means you can vote. Or be on a jury. Or become a Marine.
I got no response.
I take it that means she’s not ready to enlist just yet.
My child-free co-workers helpfully pointed out all the other things our daughter can do now that she’s 18.
“She can buy cigarettes,” said one.
“She can get married to a scary biker dude in Reno,” said another. Or gamble and play the Lotto.
Wow. Thank you, co-workers, for suggesting those amazing options for our new 18-year-old. I now have a fresh set of worries to be anxious about.
I figured while I was at it, I might as well binge on the parent-of-a-new-18-year-old anxiety and get it out of my system.
I found this list on a Yahoo board: “100 Things You Can Do Now That You’re 18.”
Oh, there are some wonderful new “choices” in which our new adult can now partake.
For example: Change your name, get a tattoo, get a piercing, buy spray paint, sue someone, be sued, purchase liquid white-out, pawn something, adopt a child, be on “Jerry Springer,” get a hotel room, buy nitrous oxide and skydive.
The list got even better.
A new 18-year-old can also: Chew tobacco, go to an adult jail, purchase Nicorette gum, buy a monkey, carry a gun and rent a port-a-potty.
Some weren’t all that bad:
Our daughter can now get a Netflix membership, buy insurance, donate blood, get a non-prepaid cellphone, begin earning credit and move out of the parental units’ house.
Some were downright aspirational:
She can become a mentor, become an undercover cop, work full-time, lease an apartment, rent a house, finance a car, be a manager and start her own business.
Maybe I should come up with my own list: “100 Things Your Parents Can’t Wait For You To Do Now That You’re 18.”
Samples: Stop teasing your sisters. Make your bed more than once a month. Take your little sister to the mall. Write thank-you notes without endless reminders from your mother. Explain what a “meme” is. Start paying rent.
But I think Nos. 96 and 100 from the Yahoo list are what our daughter will like the best:
“Make your own decisions” and “Have the freedom and independence you didn’t have before.”
Congrats, kid. I mean, congrats, young adult.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Shower power

My good friend Donna White designed and hosted a baby shower this past Sunday.
Feast your eyes on this baby girl cuteness!

Wake up call

Some teens are into sports and athletics. Others go for music or theater. But there’s one thing that almost every teen loves to do: sleep in.
Have you ever tried waking up a teen on a Saturday morning? Good luck with that. They’re like hibernating bears — nothing can shake them from their coma-like slumber.
If teens had their way, they’d stay up all night and sleep in past lunchtime. Their body clocks would synchronize with Mid East time zones while the rest of us stay on Pacific Standard Time.
Are you, too, having trouble getting your teen out of bed these days?
Here are some strategies you might consider:
• Try the “Zen mom” method.
Rub the teen’s feet. Pat their back. Say “good morning” in a cheery “happy mom” voice. If the teen actually opens one eye, give them a nice big smile. Side note: This is the most pleasant but least effective way to wake up a teen.
• Get serious.
Using your best “I mean business” voice, go to their room and say, “It is time to wake up, NOW.” Return to the teen’s bedroom every
3.5 minutes. Repeat until the teen is sitting up. Make sure the teen’s eyes are actually open when they do sit up.
• Send in the dogs.
Get the family dog to go into the teen’s room and start licking their face. If the dog can howl on command, that’s even better.
• Bring on the bacon.
Open the teen’s bedroom door and then start frying some bacon in the kitchen. No teen can resist the smell. They may sleepwalk to the kitchen, but at least they’ll be up.
• Pull the blankets off the teen and off the bed. Caution — beware when using “blanket removal.” This strategy is very effective but can backfire. It may wake up the teen but can put them in a really bad mood they’ll take hours to recover from.
In an attempt to wake up one particularly zombie-like teenager on a Sunday morning, I decided to get creative.
I climbed onto her bed and started bouncing up and down. Then I started singing. This is harder than it sounds.
First, twin beds are narrow. I could have fallen off and broken an arm.
Second, I could have broken one of her arms while I was jumping on her bed. How would I explain that in the ER?
Lastly, have you ever tried jumping and singing at the same time? Madonna and J-Lo make it look way easier than it is.
One day last summer I came home from work around 2 p.m. It was awfully quiet in the house. Too quiet. What did I find when I opened our teen’s bedroom door? You guessed it — a certain someone sawing logs.
I wish I could say I had a moment of motherly reflection while gazing at our daughter.
Nope. Her head and body were covered by three layers of blankets.
The only thing I could see was two bare feet.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June 2012 Birchbox

I have loved almost every item received in my monthly Birchbox. 
The June box was filled with SIX goodies!

 This month's theme is "Jet Set."

 Inside the tissue was the makeup tint, fragrance and shampoo and conditioner sample from Oribe. Perfect for an overnight stay somewhere this summer!
 The one perfume sample is a roller ball -- my favorite.
The coolest item is the funky Cynthia Rowley bandaids! They are printed in cool patterns and photographs.
Super FUN!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pam Reid on ticks


More from my biggest fan Pam Reid:

Jennifer Huffman:
Re your column in today's Register, we have to wonder why you, or anyone with a modicum of intelligence, would allow & tolerate any thing, person, or animal that brings lfeas & now ticks, into your home.
Your daughters' reactions are normal.
Your reactions are unbelievably abnormal.
You are putting your entire family in jeopardy by allowing them to make room for ticks, & then compounding the dangers by introducing poisons into the air everyone is breathing into their lungs.
In Napa, no one will dare to say dogs carry too many germs in addition to harboring fleas, ticks & who knows what else. Why the denial? Because humans have, outside of Napa State Hospital (Asylum), have gone off the deep end & now worship the flea-infested, tick-infested drooling, pooping dogs!
Pam Reid

Ticked off

Our girls are grossed out by many things — spiders, when a sister chews with her mouth open, most cooked vegetables — but there’s one thing they really hate: Ticks.
Unfortunately for them, we have a dog. A dog that likes to walk in grass and weeds. And we all know what ticks like to do when a dog walks through their neighborhood — hitch a ride.
It must be tick season, because our dog seems to be hosting a tick convention on his back. For the past few weeks, we’ve found a number of the little blood-suckers either on him or lounging nearby.
A recent tick sighting at the Huffman house went something like this:
“Ewwwwwwwww,” Daughter No. 1 howled. “What is that?”
“It’s a TICK,” Daughter No. 2 screamed.
“A tick?” yelped Daughter No. 3.
“Mooooommmmm!” they all yelled.
This is Dad’s clue to go buy a tick treatment called Frontline. The Frontline box is covered in all kinds of deadly warnings. Apparently just one drop of this poison is enough to exterminate an entire generation of the evil bugs.
Any tick hanging out on a dog treated with Frontline should write his tick will, make peace with his tick maker and say his tick prayers. He’s not long for this warm, furry world.
Within a day or two, the ticks start dropping from the dog. Finding a Frontline victim is not a pretty sight. For some reason, the tick swells up in a squishy purply-black ball.
When one of the girls finds such a tick, it’s like they’re witnessing the end of the world.
“It’s a tick and it looks like a grape!” they yell, while dancing around doing the heebee-jeebees.
They’ll go on and on about how gross it is, but they won’t stop looking at the tick, which only makes them wail even louder about how “disgusting” it is.
I don’t need to stare at a dead tick. I simply grab a big wad of paper towels, scoop it up and toss it in the trash. Then take out the trash immediately because ticks have something like 19 lives and they seem to find a way to crawl out of the trash in search of another warm body.
There’s only one thing worse than finding a tick on your dog or the floor. Finding one on your kid’s head.
If you do find a tick has clamped onto your child, do not panic. Do not scream in horror. Do not announce loudly, “You have a tick!”
Look at your spouse and mouth “She has a tick,” while pointing at her head and making a scrunchy “ewwwwww” face.
Some people get rid of a tick by drowning it in rubbing alcohol, burning it with a match tip or coating it with Vaseline. I’m not sure if any of these actually work. I just grab it with a pair of tweezers and yank the sucker off.
After that, we can drop it on the floor and let the dancing begin.


I'm waayyyyyy behind in blogging but I have one good excuse. Oldest Daughter graduated from high school earlier this month!  
Other moms warned me how busy graduation and the end of high school was, but did I believe them? 
And then it happened to me. 
Ceremonies, banquets, baccalaureate practic, baccalaureate, graduation practice, graduation, grad night, grad party, grad sleepover, DISNEYLAND!!!!
Yeah, it all wore me out.
Here are a few pics.