Dec. 31: The year in review

Seems like a good day to look back at 2013 and summarize the highlights and lowlights. Although our Christmas letter states most of this pretty clearly, I like the idea of focusing on my blog a little here. Also, our Christmas letter was full of lies.

The most-read 2013 posts

  1. The post about my glass painting adventures had hundreds of visits, according to Google Analytics. Credit for all the visits goes mostly to Sherilee, I think, because she linked to the post on her blog (or Facebook, or Instagram, or somewhere) and probably paid her friends to read it because she would totally do that just to make me feel important. I like that Sherilee girl.
  2. During the September 2013 Blog Challenge, I made a butter cake just so I could post a recipe. It was delicious (I followed someone else’s recipe, so I can say it was delicious without sounding like I’m all I’M THE BEST PASTRY CHEF IN THE UNIVERSE!!
  3. My third most-read post was the story of my quasi-evil mother-in-law.  
  4. My neighbor-friend has a silly kid who sends emergency (and by “emergency,” I mean “tattletale”) comments to her via Instagram. 
  5. Our Christmas letter, posted on Christmas Day, was mailed to some recipients in actual cards, and emailed to others. The rest of them had to read it on the blog. Looozers.

I find it interesting that the five most popular posts of 2013 were all from the last few months of the year. I don’t know what that means. It certainly wasn’t because life got more interesting.

My favorite blog posts of 2013

It’s hard to choose, because the ones that I think are the most amusing are the ones like this, which are just silly pictures I collect. My soapbox ones (like this and this and this) are full of feelings that I feel. I like the story of how Victor and I re-met. I like the one about creating more joy for the world—which I really didn’t even write—because every time I re-read it, I remember that some of those methods are too easy NOT to keep doing every day.

An interviewer I just made up asked me to answer these questions about 2013.

Did you learn any important lessons about life in 2013?

  • It wasn’t a new lesson, but on a number of occasions, I was made aware of the fragility of life and the importance of telling people we love them EVERY DAY.
  • I was reminded that I can’t please everyone and that it’s in my nature to try anyway and I HATE that about myself.
  • I got a better grasp of this sentiment:

“It’s not what happens, but how you react to it, that matters.” (Epictetus)

  • I learned that “your perception is your reality” is frustratingly true, especially when trying to make someone understand that they’re wrong about the things of which they accuse others. At the same time, the idea reminds me to stay more open-minded.

If your life in 2013 were a movie, how would it be categorized?

If my choices are action/adventure, drama, comedy, romance, foreign, documentary, animation, or horror, I’d have to go with none of those and say that 2013 was a dramedy, the least enjoyable movie genre of all. Living a dramedy is normal, but watching it is a big ol’ yawn, amirite?

What events stand out as highlights of the year?

We went to Disneyland for spring vacation… repurposed a room in our house to better fit our family’s current sources of entertainment… I had kidney stones… Jack finished grade school… I finished PTO…

What accomplishments in 2013 are you most proud of?

  • All the PTO stuff. I didn’t do it alone, of course—I had a great group of people at my side.
  • I created (what I think is) a pretty awesome grade school yearbook—a huge feat.
  • I started writing my cancer memoir.
  • My kids aren’t the worst kids in the whole world.
  • I was able to fool Victor into staying married to me for another year. He’s so easy.

What do you look forward to in 2014?

There’s really only one thing I know for sure will happen: Katie will start high school in September, which I am both excited and nervous about.

Have you set goals for yourself or your family in 2014?

I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions, but off the top of my head:

  • Read more books. My attention span this year has been… uh… not… good. I have a big stack of amazing books. There is no excuse!
  • calvinhobbes Set up a new office space in the house. It’ll be small and minimalistic no matter where it is, and I hope that’ll work for me.
  • Work on menu plans. Trying to plan our meals is one of the most difficult things for us as a family. Too many times we’re picking up carry-out food on the way home or making trips to the grocery store nearly every day.  Our conflicting schedules just make it trickier, but I feel like there has to be a good solution for us somewhere.
  • Find more work, hopefully doing something rewarding. Even though I didn’t get paid for my work on PTO, it was mostly fun, and when it was rewarding it was VERY rewarding. I hope to find that in something more reliable than the scarce work I’m doing now.
  • CREATE. I want to make nice things. That’s completely vague and lofty but it’s what I want to do.
  • Exercise more, lose weight, keep up with laundry, reduce clutter, walk the dog, blog more frequently, blah dee blah blah blah.

What words did you use most on your blog in 2013?

Glad you asked! Here’s a word cloud. The bigger the word, the more frequently it shows up in my 2013 posts.


You’ll have to click the image to see a larger, legible version. Here’s what surprised me about my word cloud:

  • “Cancer” is teeny-tiny. I love that.
  • Neither “booze” nor “alcohol” show up in the cloud. Shocking, eh?
  • “PTO” didn’t show up either. Weird.
  • I like that most of the big words are positive, or things that I like (besides the obvious, “home,” “made,” and “think” made me smile).


Stolen from Dana’s FB wall:


And from somewhere on Pinterest:


And from Emily McDowell’s shop:


I hope your 2013 was a good one, and that your 2014 shapes up to be something you might enjoy.


Dec. 30: Month in review

december This was December. No doubt you were aware.

Special days I celebrated this month and how:

  • My father-in-law turned another year older. No one knows for sure how old he is. Apparently his sisters disagree with the date on his birth certificate and have debated his actual birthdate since the beginning of time. Well, the beginning of Wellington’s time, anyway. Aaaanyway… we celebrated like we do every year: we went out for brunch and at the end he paid.
  • It was also our niece Presley’s TENTH birthday this month! How is she already ten years old???
  • Sonya’s husband, Chris, had a birthday too.
  • A bunch of friends had birthdays. Don’t you December birthday people know how much it sucks to be born in December? You shoulda thought of that a long time ago. If I do shout-outs I know I’ll miss some, but here goes anyway: Dorothy, Michael, Cassie, Greg, Jen E, Stephanie, Lisa, Fancy Lori™, Terri, Cindi. I know I forgot someone there. Sorry.
  • Dur, this month was Christmas. Yes, I celebrated Christmas, not because I’m a Christian, but because my family has always celebrated Christmas and I love the traditions of the holiday season. What I do not love is people being jackasses about it being CHRISTmas. I know, I know, Linus has been reminding us since 1965 that Christmas is too commercial and frequently Nativity story-free. But why aren’t we all taking responsibility for that, since few of us actually celebrate ONLY the Christ of Christmas? Why do the “Christians” (quotes because the Sarah Palin types are not very Christ-like, in my opinion) blame the atheists, Jews, and whoever it is that celebrates Kwanzaa (I don’t know any black people who do…) for it? The whole thing is just ridiculous.  
  • P.S. I’ve said “happy holidays” for years because it’s shorter than saying “merry Christmas” and “happy new year.” It’s not because I’m hyper-sensitive to other types of celebrations this time of year; I’m being succinct. So if I say “happy holidays” to you, please don’t accuse me of being the whole reason there’s a war on Christmas. Just be grateful I said something with good intentions behind it. Gah!

Moving on…

I was in the audience:

  • noisy Jack’s music class performed at the mall one afternoon. They didn’t have microphones and, well, have you tried to carry on a conversation inside a mall in December? It was impossible to hear them. They looked cute though.
  • Unfortunately, we could hear them much better when they performed again at a winter concert at the school the next week. I know they’re kids and I shouldn’t be critical, but I don’t blame them for the awfulness; I blame the people in charge. First, the music teachers need to take the songs down a few keys—very few people sound good singing at the top of their range, and none of those people are in the middle school choir. Secondly, kids need to be given more than a week’s worth of class periods to rehearse before performing in front of an audience. The real bummer of it was that some of the kids were quite good and had obviously practiced outside of class, but they were drowned out by the ones who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.
  • On the other hand, it was lovely to have actual Christmas music performed in a public school setting. Maybe people are starting to freak out less about having to be so PC in December??? One can hope.
  • We watched lots of our favorite Christmas movies. They’ve become a tradition in which I find great delight.
  • Psych the Musical: it was big, silly fun.
  • This month we watched both Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. I liked them very much. RDJ wasn’t the worst Brit ever.

Gifts I gave and/or received:

I’m not going to list every single thing that was under our pagan, unJesus-y tree this year, but here were some of the biggest hits:

  • The kids got an Xbox One for our newly-created media room (formerly my office). It’s super-creepy when I walk in there and “Hi, Jennifer!” appears on the TV.
  • Another media room addition was a wireless printer, which I am looooving—I can print from my iPhone or iPad anywhere in the house. Why didn’t I get one sooner? So convenient.
  • I hand-painted more glass goodies for gifts.
  • Totally not exciting but still awesome: vacuum cleaner! Everything in our house constantly has a fine layer of Lucy-ness, and this new little wonder picks it up surprisingly well.
  • I discovered these sports fan glasses on Etsy and had a pair made for one of our nieces. I think they’re way fun.

This month’s good and bad:

  • There was much whining about this last month, and here’s some more: Victor had to work on Christmas Day. Pfffftt. We did everything on Christmas Eve, and when he got home the next day we went to Wellington and Darlene’s for a traditional turkey dinner. It would have sucked a lot more if not for the Xbox and the company of Mother Mary.
  • I got my office cleaned out and the kids’ media room stuff moved in. Instead of tossing all my office things into boxes and moving them  into the hallway, I actually sorted every drawer and shelf. I threw away TONS of stuff, donated about the same helpamount, and organized all that was left over. It’s not perfect, but it’s closer than it ever has been. I think the hardest part of organizing, for me, is making decisions. I start out with piles like “file,” “shred,” “toss,” “donate,” and then as I go I add more piles, like “give to [specific person],” “sell on eBay” (which I probably won’t do), “put in a scrapbook,” “store somewhere, ANYWHERE else,” “file in that home organization binder I keep thinking I’ll create but never get around to because it requires too many decisions.”
  • I floated a couple times this month. I’m enjoying floating more than ever, and truly feel refreshed and renewed for days afterward. If you haven’t floated, I recommend it. Highly.
  • Victor is super-sicky today. He’s running a fever, doing the cold sweat thing, and generally feels miserable. This afternoon my throat started feeling scratchy, and now I’m worried I’m coming down with the same thing—just in time for a very non-memorable, now-all-our-plans-are-cancelled New Year’s Eve. Stoopid germs.

newsy bits from in and around our family:

  • Katie’s done with the first major phase of her braces! In mid-February she’ll get the spacing appliance removed and have the railroad tracks put on her top teeth. Brace yourself (haha)—she’s a big baby when in pain.
  • Jack told me today that his favorite food is ramen noodles, drained of all moisture and with no seasoning whatsoever. What is wrong with that boy??? Blech.
  • A while back I mentioned that my last post-cancer treatment checkup had shown some weird stuff. I wasn’t being intentionally vague, but some of you have asked about it since and I want to clarify with a bit more detail. Here goes.

    cancersucks My regularly-scheduled January 2013 CT showed a single lymph node that was several centimeters larger than the scan in July 2012. The radiologist recommended a PET scan, which showed no new cancer growth—they decided the lymph node was enlarged for no apparent reason (totally normal in a person who hasn’t had lymphoma, but a red flag for someone who has). I was advised to have another CT in six months.

    Even though my cancer was still in remission, I was frustrated because January 2013 was supposed to be the last of my 6-month checks. I desperately wanted to get my port removed, but figured I should keep it since I had another checkup on the calendar. I went in for a CT in July 2013 and there were 4-5 enlarged lymph nodes. Some of them were two and three times what they had been in January 2013—but we’re still talking millimeters/centimeters; it’s not as concerning as it might seem (apparently). Still, given my history, my oncologist said we would keep our eyes on those nodes. On the radiologist’s recommendation, we scheduled a PET scan for January 2014.

    Again, this is frustrating because I can’t have my port removed yet—and I have to go to the chemo room every six weeks to have it flushed and I HATE being back there, even briefly—but also because I just want to be DONE with cancer. Grrrrr.

    My next PET scan will be January 23, and I’ll see my oncologist on the 28th. Think good thoughts, please.

I likes to share the silly stuff:

I know I just posted silly pics the other day. Here are a few more.










Tomorrow I’ll post my YEAR in review. You are on pins and needles waiting. I know this. 


    Dec. 28: Funnies

    Time to clean out the “images I’ve been collecting from around the ‘net” folder. Lucky you.


    Walla Walla used to have a store called “City Zoo Pet & Video.”
    This one’s way better.







    Julie Andrews friggin’ ROCKS.














    I’m working on my month in review and might even get it posted before January. Maybe I’ll make that my new year’s resolution—that way if I fail, I’ll get it over with quick. Brilliant plan, eh?


    Dec. 25: Merry Christmas!

    I hope your day has gone well and Santa brought you everything you want in spite of that horrible war on Christmas no one even knew we were having. Here’s our Christmas letter for 2013, with Katie and Jack photo goodness at the end:

    Dear [your name]:

    This is probably the only Christmas letter you’ll receive this year that will not end with you sarcastically clapping at someone else’s accomplishments. You’d think having nothing to report would mean I shouldn’t bother writing a letter this year, in which case, HI! You must be new here.

    So yeah, not much changed for us in 2013. Victor still works his same job at which he was given no promotions or recognition worth mentioning. I still work occasionally, also with no promotions; in fact, I kinda got fired from my volunteer job. Katie (almost 14) is in eighth grade and Jack (12) is in sixth. They don’t have jobs.

    Like last year, Katie competed in cross-country running and Jack played tackle football. They continue their piano lessons, too, in adherence to our Rule for the Well-Rounded: one athletic activity = one artsy-fartsy activity. Both kids attended classes this year that were supposed to teach them about being more responsible: Katie got babysitter-certified and Jack learned not to answer the door in his underwear. Katie’s orthodontic treatments have begun, as evidenced by the tiny rubber bands all over our house.

    We occasionally left Portland, visiting some of our favorite spots in California, Oregon, and Washington, and checking out new places too. The highlight of our travels was spending spring break in Disneyland, our first fly-to-get-there trip in waaay too long.

    Other memorable experiences this year: graduation from elementary school (Jack) ... Darlene & Wellington’s 50th anniversary celebration ... singing for the middle school talent show (Katie) ... a fabulous community theater production of Spamalot ... Relay for Life ... poker nights ... My Fair Lady at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival ... football football football ... Outdoor School (Jack) ... pub trivia nights with our geek friends ... a David Sedaris show ... and lots of RE-ing—repainting, reupholstering, repairing, recycling, reminding, relaxing, rehearsing, rehydrating, revising, recalculating, recuperating, refusing, refraining, restraining, retaliating, and retaining (a lawyer).

    And the things we hope never to experience again: SWAT activity in our neighborhood ... taser burns ... football injuries ... falling-down-the-stairs injuries ... kidney stones on vacation (Jen) ... root canals ... tattoo infections (Katie) ... cancer treatment follow-up checks that necessitate further follow-up checks ... Windows 8 ... the kids’ extracurricular schedules of Fall 2013 ... and Movember.

    As always, we share some of the things actually spoken in or around our house this year:

    “Was I a sexy baby?”

    “That is not how Yoda said it. If you’re gonna nerd it up, get it right.”

    “The smallest drawer in your dresser is for those things you don’t use very often, like belts and gloves and, in your case, underwear.”

    “Hi! How come my poison didn’t kill you?
    Wait, forget I ever said that.”

    “Are we really driving 30 miles out of the way just to eat fast food?” (Um, it was In-N-Out. Totally worth it, but-cept if you’re a vegetarian… so… sorry for the detour, Mother Mary!)

    “Are you all packed for Outdoor School?”
    “Yes, except for my rubber spider.”

    “I haven’t heard Mom curse in, like, three days.”

    “Nothing like taking a long car ride with the family to make us wonder why we ever thought kids would be a nice addition.”

    “We’ve lived here for 15 years and never knew there was a 30-foot waterfall in the neighborhood?” (It’s true, there is!)

    Jack, reading a fortune cookie: “You will live a long, preposterous life.”

    Happiest holidays from our family to yours, and best wishes for a new year full of the things that bring you joy.

    Victor, Jennifer, Katie, and Jack Manullang
    Lucy and Millie too



    Dec. 15: a look at our tree

    tree One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is enjoying the tree late at night, after everyone else has gone to bed. Sometimes I’ll play Christmas music, other times I’ll keep things quiet. Either way, it’s peaceful, just looking at the light cast on the walls. This is the only time I actually appreciate the halo effect that LASIK caused—it makes the tree even more glow-y and nice.

    More than anything, though, it’s our ornaments that I like to look at. Each one of them has special meaning to our family. I made collages of just a few.


    1. A 50th anniversary Disneyland ornament from 2005 is a reminder of the year I went there three different times. Best. Year. Ever.
    2. A Queen’s Guard bear from Harrod’s, a memento from our trip to London in 2001, was bought so we would never forget the tasty-ish $50 sandwiches we ordered at the Harrod’s deli, as well as our incredibly poor currency conversion skills.
    3. Lucy! This was our first ornament honoring our giantest puppy ever.
    4. Jack’s first Christmas. There’s no picture because he was goofy-lookin’ at six weeks old. I’m on the hunt for one of our funniest pictures we took of him on Christmas Day 2001 because he looks like such a goblin in it. I’ll share if I find it, I promise.
    5. My oldest ornament is from 1976. We third graders painted them, and our teacher calligraphed our names and the year for us. Bethany Elementary, hollaaaaaa!
    6. Our musical Charlie Brown ornament was a gift to Victor because it’s his favorite Christmas special. Don’t most of us oldsters have happy memories of that special? I remember putting on a puppet show version of it in sixth grade. TVJA, hollaaaaaa!
    7. Victor and I visited the Cayman Islands in 2007 for our tenth anniversary Disney cruise. Another memento from that port is my anniversary ring. It’s slightly more valuable, so I wear the ring and hang the turtle on the tree instead.
    8. The most special of our ornaments is one we bought in honor of Scout in 1997. Hallmark’s puppy series just happened to be a beagle that year. When Katie was little, this was the hardest ornament for her to put away at the end of the Christmas season—she always asked to keep it in her room year-round. If we’d let her, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t still have it. (Have you seen the pig pen in which she lives???)
    9. The Yankee ornament is in honor of my dad, the biggest Yankee fan there ever was. It’s not dated, but I bought it in 2005, the year he died.


    1. We have lots of Mickey and Minnie ornaments; in fact, much of our tree consists of Disney ornaments of some type.
    2. We also have several Scout ornaments. She was a special girl.
    3. The “our new home” thing is a weird key and dated 1997, when we bought our house. That year was a big deal for us—we got married, adopted Scout, and built a house.
    4. Elvis Stitch is one of Victor’s favorite Disney characters. I love the sparkles on his jumpsuit.
    5. Katie’s first Christmas ornament has a picture because she was adorable at 11 months old. Yes, we know it makes us terrible parents to compare our kids this way. Oh well.

    We’ve created a bit of a tradition for decorating the tree each year too. We put on Christmas music, and Vic and I start the decorating by wrangling the always tangled colorful garland (visible in some of the pics above) and lights. Then I sit and unwrap each ornament and hand them over to Katie, Jack, and Vic to hang them on the tree. It’s fun because we do the whole “I remember this one!” thing, or re-tell the stories about them, or ask ourselves why we keep some of them year after year. I occasionally pare down our collection, but more often we end up adding to it each year.

    When we became a family in 1997, our tree had a few special ornaments but was mostly matchy-matchy with lights, garland, and bows. I love how it has evolved. Someday I’m sure we’ll go back to having a beautiful themed tree, but I’m going to enjoy our nostalgic trees for as many years as I can. 


    Dec. 9: Scary stuff

    nightmare I’ve said before that one of the reasons I enjoy crime shows like Law & Order, SVU, CSI, The Closer/Major Crimes, etc., is because they’re so completely different from the things that happen in my life (thank Buddha). On “my” shows, the crime has usually already been committed when the title sequence begins, and they go right to the whodunnit part—that’s the fascinating stuff. True, the shows are formulaic—you can count on that first or second person of interest showing up at the end in handcuffs—but I still love ‘em.

    Every once in a while they’ll show the crime being committed. Sometimes they show all the stuff leading up to it, like a person watching someone without them knowing, or someone being chased, or a bad guy waiting to pounce on a victim. I don’t like when they do that. That stuff scares the shit outta me. That stuff goes into my brain and pops up every time I’m by myself in the dark. That stuff haunts me.

    The first time I remember seeing something that stuck with me that way was after watching the second of the three Brady Bunch episodes in Hawaii. Remember how the tiki makes all that bad stuff happen to them? When we know the tarantula is in the room—and the boys don’t—and we see it heading toward Peter—and he doesn’t—and it starts to crawl on Peter—and he’s sleeping away, dreaming nice Brady dreams? I had nightmares about that for months. And by months, I mean that I watched that 35+ years ago and I still have nightmares about it.

    And the delightful Little House on the Prairie, the show where the scariest thing that ever happened was when Pa couldn’t make it home with Laura’s penny candy because his horse only had three shoes? There was an episode in the later years of that show in which a new and boobalicious girl was stalked and raped. I KNOW! (here’s a pretty good and very analyze-y account of this unexpected plot.) I watched that one when I was 12 years old while babysitting at a neighbor’s; the kids had gone to bed and I was waiting for their parents to get home, so I turned the channel to Little House. That show was always a nice way to pass the time… it always had been, anyway.

    The episode started like most; that mean ol’ Mrs. Oleson was getting kids in trouble. The stalker/rapist watched the girl walk across the meadow from low in the grass, and we were given his point of view. When they showed glimpses of his face, he was wearing a clown mask. A CLOWN MASK. And so began my fear of clowns.

    As the horror of the episode went on, I was terrified but couldn’t turn off the TV, as though knowing the ending would make it better somehow. By the time it was over, I was shaking, and when I got home and went to bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about the clown, about how the girl didn’t know she was being watched. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I was afraid to tell my mom about how scared I was because I thought she’d be mad at me (I was an idiot), so I kept quiet. I didn’t even tell anyone about it at school the next day; in fact, it took me weeks to talk about it. Those weeks were spent getting little sleep, having nightmares when I did finally sleep, and being in constant fear when I was alone.

    I don’t remember who I finally talked to about the episode, but eventually I was able to NOT think about that stalking clown. I still had occasional nightmares, but my bank of horrors by then contained the tarantula AND the clown, so it was a crapshoot which would play the main character in my dreams each night. They had to fight for screen time with Cruella DeVille, too, who was still in my nightmare bank from years earlier, as well as the abominable snowman from the Rudolph Christmas special.

    Years later, I had nightmares while reading The Firm. When we knew that everything Mitch did was being seen and heard by his employer, but he didn’t know, it felt so sinister and creepy. Around that time, a movie also invaded my dreams: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle—same thing; the ominous stuff just terrified me. I hated the things are not what they seem-ness. I didn’t make a habit of reading books like The Firm (which never set out to be scary) or seeing psychological thrillers like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, but just the little bit I was exposed to gave me horrifying, incredibly realistic dreams that, after finally and desperately waking me, made me stay awake until morning.

    Once I was married and rarely alone at night, my nightmares pretty much disappeared. My subconscious knows that the guy next to me would, if necessary, pull that dull machete out from under his side of the bed and throw it at whoever’s trying to git me. My dreams are still way too vivid, but I feel safer now. I think that’s why the crime shows don’t usually work their way into my dreams. I can watch them without worrying I’ll pay for it later by waking up in a cold sweat.

    Last night was an exception, kinda. My dream began at a high school reunion. While walking around downtown, we went into a building and, for some reason, had to go into a stranger’s apartment when he wasn’t there. (Isn’t that what YOU do during your high school reunions? Or are you not crime-fighters?) We heard noises and discovered a trap door in the floor, so we pulled up the carpet and opened the door to find a woman that the guy had been holding captive for years. Straight outta L&O: SVU, right? Super scary and sinister. Until the first thing the woman said when we pulled her out was “Oh man, I gotta poop.”

    Great. Now my 12-year-old’s sense of humor is taking center stage in my dream life.

    I guess it’s better than a clown.



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