It’s all settled: I am mad.

Last week I discovered something new.  And as with most of my discoveries, I’m about a decade behind in discovering it.  Yes, my faithfuls, that game you all left behind your junior year of college–the Settlers of Catan —has only recently found it’s way into my home and my psyche.  And I’m not very good at it.  And that makes me mad.

It makes me mad that I’m always just one settlement, one city, one Development Card away from winning.  It makes me even madder when my seven-year old son steals my Longest Road card for the win.  And I rage–oh how I rage–when my smug, victorious husband walks away–yet again–with the triumph that should have been mine.  He’s already stolen my youth and beauty; must he steal my Settlers of Catan victory, too?


You should know that I am not a competitive person by nature.  I’m a blue-personalitied middle child who could stand to be a bit more competitive, as it would drive me to be a more impressive person.  (I’d be smarter, wealthier, and prettier.)  (And I would have married much better.)  (But that’s a whole ‘nother thing.)  However, when I invest two-plus hours in a board game–two hours that would otherwise be spent sewing, canning, or doing genealogy, no doubt–I want to win.  And I want to win bad.  So when I don’t win, which is pretty much always, I just don’t take it very well.  In the interest of full disclosure, let me define what not “taking it very well” means:

[sociallocker id=”9134″]

  • I find myself yelling–for real yelling–at my husband while he negotiates a trade with our little boy that could jeopardize my next move.  I accuse said husband of taking advantage of said son’s young age.  He accuses me of using my accusation against him to manipulate my son into rejecting said trade, all to advance my own interest.  My son looks at us both with confusion and contempt.  It isn’t pretty.
  • I find myself irritated with my children as they laugh and chatter with each other while I’m trying to concentrate.  More For Real Yelling.  (Who told them they could have fun?)
  • I find myself begrudgingly congratulating my thirteen-year old daughter for her first-ever win, consoled only by the fact that my smug husband didn’t win yet again.  It actually hurts to choke out the compliment to my normally beloved girl. I mask my frazzled emotions as best I can (read:  I storm into the kitchen and tear into a chocolate-chip cookie with one of my Angry Bites.)  (Have I ever told you about my Angry Bites?)  (That’s a whole ‘nother thing.)

And that’s the mild stuff.  The real sound and fury came a few nights ago when Derrick jilted me out of a mightily deserved win due to an alleged “technical error.”  I felt the “error” (whatev) should have been overlooked, since I was playing for only the second time and my oversight was a common one among new players.  Derrick resolved that should the mistake be excused, my victory would be tainted and thus go unrecognized by him.  The choice was mine:  I could stand my ground and walk away with a win–but no bragging rights–or I could concede his point and continue playing with the possibility of an eventual, “legitimate” win (which my first win was, cheater.)  Either way, my hard-fought, eagerly anticipated victory was spoiled.  And boy was I mad.  

After a lengthy internal debate, I gave up my (legitimate!) win and we continued playing.  Of course Derrick won two turns later and immediately announced, with all the magnanimity of an adult speaking to a child, that he would “split the win” with me.  It would seem that securing his own victory made him very generous.  I responded to this proffered gift by rehearsing his own favorite line back to him:

“I ain’t splittin’ nothin’.”  This is how Derrick responds every time I ask him to split a dessert with me at a restaurant.  (Derrick does not believe in splitting food.)  (Even with his wife.)  (But that’s a whole ‘nother thing.)

He said:  “Come on, Jen.  Don’t be mad.  I’m offering to split it with you.”   Oh be still my heart.  Such a sacrifice.

I said: “No.  Take your win.  I hope you feel good about yourself.”

He said:  “Thank you.  I do.”

I said:  “You can never give an inch, can you? ”

He said:  “We have to play by the rules.  Otherwise winning doesn’t mean anything.”  Oh, so noble. Such a purist.

I said:  “Yeah, but when someone’s still learning a game, we always help explain it the first couple of times.  I just didn’t know I didn’t have any city-blocks left.  You could have let me keep my cards after I realized it.”

He said:  “You should have known.  We talked about it.”

I said:  “No we didn’t.”

He said:  “Yes we did.”

I said:  “No we didn’t.”

He said:  “Yes we did.”

I said:  “I’m going to bed.”

He said:  “It’s early.  Come on, it’s Friday night.  Let’s do something else.”

I said:  “I’m going to bed.”

He said:  “Don’t be mad.  It’s just a game.”

I said:  “I’m going to bed.”

And I marched up the stairs, slamming my slipper-covered feet into the carpet as loudly as I could.  (It wasn’t very loud.)  I shut the bedroom door soundly, as slamming it may have lessened my credibility at this point.  I changed huffily into my Mom Power Suit (snowflake flannel pajamas), washed my face, brushed my teeth, and got into bed.

And I lied in bed for a long, long time, unable to fall asleep.  Because I was mad.

And I heard Derrick get into bed two hours later and I still couldn’t fall asleep.  Because I was mad.

And I heard him snoring softly, no doubt dreaming blissfully about his smarmy win.  And I had to listen to it as I lied next to him, wide awake.  Because I was mad.

And after many hours, my anger gave way to boredom which gave way to fatigue and I finally fell asleep.  And I woke the next morning with just one question on my lips for my husband and children:

“Who wants to play Settlers of Catan with me tonight?”

The kids looked at each other and then back at me with large, silent eyes as my husband walked quietly backward out of the room.  No takers.

That made me mad.



My best Valentine’s Day ever….

…was spent remembering my sweet grandmother, Ruth Lorraine Huffaker Christensen, at her memorial service in Caldwell, Idaho.  (That’s just outside Boise, for those of you not lucky enough to be on the Idaho-Utah beltway.)  My “Grandma C.” was truly a spectacular woman.  She was the original Supermom, when supermomming meant canning and gardening, not chauferring and shopping.  She spread her thin budget over her large family by sewing their clothes and making marvelous meals from scratch and yes, a hand-plucked chicken dinner was a joyous Sabbath feast to behold.  And though she raised ten children on very little, she ended up with quite a lot; every one of those children graced her bedside as she passed, and then banded together in the week that followed as they made final arrangements and helped each other to finally let Mom go.  At her service, the adult children spoke as much about the love they felt for one another as the love they felt for their mother.  Talk about a success story.


Have you ever been in a room where love pressed down so thick and heavy you could assign it a color and paint it on the walls?  I have.  (And I would choose red.  A dark, burnished red.)  Have you ever spent Valentine’s Day holding your husband’s hand in a church pew, surrounded by one hundred and ninety-six immediate family members and countless extended family and friends?  I have, and I would choose it over roses and chocolate.  Have you ever spent Valentine’s Day dabbing your eyes in happysad tears while  listening to truly great love stories?  I have, and I would choose it over a romantic movie.  I  heard tales of my grandmother’s love for her children, her childrens’ love for her, and–my favorite–my grandparents’ love for each other, which started seventy years ago and is, no doubt, carrying on even as I sit at the keyboard this fine winter’s morning.

This Valentine’s Day, I thought less about romantic love (eros) and more about selfless love (agape).   I thought about how the eros between my grandparents led to the agape surrounding me at the funeral; how their lifelong commitment actually created the sweet feeling in that chapel.  And it seemed wonderful that I, who had done nothing to deserve a place in this warm room with these warm people, was not only welcome but expected to partake of that feeling.  And it struck me how, before “love” can be felt and written and sung about, it must first be created.  And it struck me how, though the polished-up package of love is attractive, the methods of creating it are less so.  Creating love is hard, and slow, and often unappreciated until years later, when you look around at your one hundred and ninety-six family members and think that someone, somewhere, did something seriously right.

Creating love looks very different than falling in love.  Creating love looks like forfeiting the carefree days of youth for the careful responsibilities of adulthood.  Creating love looks like worries about money and teething and tantrums and two jobs and a worn-down house and sewing patches (again) on your four boys’ jeans because darnit if those kids don’t go through clothes faster than you can keep them on their backs.  Creating love looks like long days and long nights–many good, some bad, but all of them coming at you full force, one after the other, each demanding as much of your scrupulous energy and attention as the last.  Creating love looks heavy, and it looks tired.  But it always looks forward.  And it always looks beyond itself.

And that got me thinking, this Valentine’s Day, how just two generations after my grandmother’s, our society–so eager to celebrate the raptures of “love”–seems confused about how to create it.  We seem slow to understand that the best kind of love is started by choice, not found by chance, and–like the hand-plucked chicken dinner–it is started from scratch.  Falling in love is reactionary; creating love is courageous.  Your friends fall by the wayside, your parents fade into the background, and it’s you and him and you and him, every morning and every evening and on Friday nights too–those same Friday nights that were once spent dating and dancing and laughing loudly with girlfriends. Eros is worshipped by a media who wants to watch love unfold against a Hollywood soundtrack.  Agape is patted on the head then forgotten in a corner, because its soundtrack is a baby wailing in the playpen and the click of a young husband’s lunchbox, closed and handed to him as he leaves in the early dark for his morning shift at the plant.

I think our human nature wants the bouncy soundtrack before the softer sounds; we want the Finish before the Start.  And when the eros exhausts itself, we forget to wait…wait…shh, just wait for the agape.  And then we miss out on both.  Because I’m guessing that the warm embrace of agape I felt in that chapel is simply one side of a coin which, when flipped, bears the heat and intensity of eros on the other.

And so this most romantic of holidays had me thinking about how romance–that thrill surrounding the giddy half-truths and fuzzy edges of a person we kindasorta know–is such a beautiful way to start love and such a lousy way to finish it.  And how eros is about Us, Now, but agape is about Everyone, Forever.  And so this Valentine’s season, I pay tribute to my grandparents for being romantic enough to fall in their own little love and brave enough to build a love big enough for us all. I thank eros for starting it and I thank agape for finishing it.

But mostly, I thank my grandmother.  For all of it.


The risk of giving your eight-year old son purchasing power

is that he might spend thirty dollars on this.

Meet Steve.

Steve is a Minecraft figure, and has been the object of Ethan’s desire for the past two months.

I am not still not sure what Minecraft is, but I know it has something to do with the many hours my son spends hunched over the iPad while I, myself, am hunched over facebook, yelling “just a few more minutes on that game, buddy” every now and then to make us both feel better.

Steve does not do anything.

He does not move.

He does not make noise.

He does not shoot lasers.

He is not a good snuggler.

Steve simply stands six inches tall.

And he cost Ethan thirty dollars.

Meaning that, over the last few months, Ethan has stockpiled his meager allowance and finally saved up enough to buy this non-toy.  We told him he could spend it on anything he wanted, since his sisters get that privilege on occasion as well.  But we did not foresee Steve–the tiny, silent, immoveable, non-action action figure that cost thirty dollars.

I tried to talk Ethan out of it.  Derrick tried to talk Ethan out of it.  We tried to explain to him that thirty dollars was a lot of money and that he could get a real toy with it–like a new Lego set or an Awesome Nerf Gun (or Three Awesome Nerf guns.)

But Ethan wanted Steve.  He begged us to let him spend his hard-earned(ish) money on Steve.  He passionately reminded us that we promised him he could spend the money how he chose.

Yes, we had promised him.  What could we do?

We got online and ordered Steve.

And I paid the $9.95 shipping fee because I couldn’t bear to squash Ethan’s triumph by telling him he’d have to save up another ten dollars to have Steve mailed (which, according to my estimates of Ethan’s earning power, would take us into the latter part of August.)

Typing in $39.95 in the “amount due” box, I pushed the lump in my throat down by assuring myself that when Steve arrived in the mail, he’d be somehow bigger or brighter or better.

He was not.

He stood six inches tall and did absolutely nothing.

Except stand on Ethan’s desk and, according to Ethan, “protects him” at night.

And although Ethan “paid me back” with thirty one-dollar bills, that $39.95 for this six inch piece of plastic still came out of my checking account.

And it hurt.

Somebody over at Minecraft is laughing at me.

And they’re laughing hard.

As they should.

(p.s. Steve doesn’t laugh, either.  Just smirks at me every time I walk by him forty dollars poorer.)