Jenyfer Matthews
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May 25th, 2016
Alive and (Mostly) Well

I’m still alive. After endless delays and waiting around, the pace with which things are changing in my life at present is practically overwhelming. I’m managing to keep up mostly – except for my blog that is.

At the same time changes in my personal life went into warp speed, my work life also went into hyper drive. I have been working l-o-n-g days and most evenings as well. I spend my entire work day online so when I do finally have a little time, the last thing I want to do it spend more time online. Now that the weather is nice, I have been enjoying getting out in my yard and cleaning things up. I planted a small tree to replace the giant one that I had cut down last summer. The tulip explosion is waning at present but the hostas and the peonies are coming on strong. I am very much enjoying watching my garden wake up after the winter and weird spring.

Being outside really helps keep me sane. Now that the weather is turning nicer, I have been able to take a break while at work and get outside to take a walk. It isn’t the most scenic of walks, but it is still nice to be out in natural light and feel the breeze.

I was remembering my years in Cairo this afternoon as I took my work-walk. We didn’t have a car in Cairo and lived in a 5th floor walk up so I got a lot more exercise when living there. I can’t say that walking there was always a joy – there are few sidewalks and drivers view pedestrians as an obstacle so it could be downright scary at times. And yet, I miss it. There is something quite soothing about getting from place to place one step at a time. Moving at a slower pace allows you to be more connected to your surroundings and to observe the little things like flowers or birds or clouds – this is especially true when you leave all electronic devices behind as well.

Unfortunately, walking from place to place isn’t a practical mode of transportation in my current location. Even if things were closer together, there is too much to do in a day! But I am going to make sure that I get outside to walk as much as possible this summer. I’ll walk my way to happiness, one step at a time.

March 28th, 2016
This Girl Knows How to Have Fun

In case you think I was slacking off because I wasn’t posting here, I have proof that I was busy doing other things.

My son asked me if he could dog-sit for a friend while they were on spring break… at our house. I reluctantly agreed. Having the dog as a guest did give me the push I need to fix our pathetic fence.


The fence is old and my son and his soccer ball don’t help anything. I need to go get a bunch of boards to line the inside of the crossbars so that his ball will bounce off instead of popping out the boards, but for now I focussed on closing the big gaps. The latch in the back gate was also broken so I got a new one:


I had to improvise a bit on how to install it because of the way the gate swings but it works – and it is probably the sturdiest part of the entire fence now!

The other home project I have been dealing with is a water leak, somewhere in the roof of my garage. That first made itself known last summer and I’ve been trying to address it ever since. In the process of identifying issues, it was made known to me that the crawl space beneath that area of the hourse really did need a vapor barrier. I knew that it didn’t have one, or any insulation in the floor either, but it wasn’t really clear to me why it needed one. Once it was explained that a vapor barrier did a lot to cut down on humidity, particulary in the basement, I was very much in favor of putting one in. Why didn’t anyone ever explain before!?

I can’t say I was overly enthusiastic about getting in there:


There were cobwebs and once I saw that insulation hanging I remembered there had been a soccer ball sized wasp nest in there at one point. Ugh!

It wasn’t so bad once I got started and it was small enough that it didn’t take that long – about maybe 12′ square. I taped up the joints in the styrofoam insulation boards that were already in there and then laid out the plastic sheeting. I considered raking the dirt to even it out then decided I didn’t really care! I had enough plastic that I overlapped it up the walls a good bit and then taped that as well. I even stuffed some steel wool into a gap in the outer wall I am fairly sure mice were getting in through (not to mention bees) I didn’t even bump my head once!


I was pretty proud of myself for having gotten the plastic put in when my sister asked me what about that drooping insulation? Ugh. Back in I went, armed with my staple gun:

crawlspace after

A job worth doing is worth doing right, right?

I will almost certainly end up getting some rolls of insulation to put in the rest of that floor because that part of the house is always ridiculously cold in the winter. It isn’t so bad to get in there with the plastic down now. As it turns out there is very little insulation in the attic are of that part of the house either. Learning new skills and weatherproofing at the same time: win-win.

The dog sitting? That is going about as well as I expected, with me having to remind my son of his various dog duties. Frequently. However even that isn’t without its purpose – now I have more than enough ammunition to continue to say no when he asks me for a dog of his own!

March 6th, 2016
Tough Lessons

My children are marvelous in many ways, but industrious students they are not. I have tried many things over the years to get them into good homework / study habits but they have stymied my efforts at every turn. Honestly, I was at a bit of a loss because I myself was an industrious student. I don’t recall ever asking my mother for help for any of my assignments with the exception of driving me to the store to get the occasional poster board.

So I have decided to try something that I haven’t tried before: doing nothing.

Both kids came home with reports cards that were not great. My son’s was worse than my daughter’s and since she is unhappy enough with her grades to be asking for extra help from teachers and peers, I have turned my attention to my son. He is in 7th grade so he is at the perfect age for a little tough love before he gets to the do-or-die atmosphere of high school (don’t even get me started on that).

First, I took all of his electronic devices. He admitted to me that he has trouble limiting his own time spent on them and I had already warned him that I would take them if he didn’t improve his grades. The next thing I did was tell him that I willing to help him when he needed it, but that I wasn’t going to chase him down or fight with him about his homework – if I ask him and he says he hasn’t got anything, then I am taking him at his word. The last thing I did was tell my son that if he continued on his current path that he had no one else to blame and that I hoped he enjoyed summer school (and I told his teachers the same thing).

I suppose that makes me sound heartless and like I’m taking the easy way out. The above strategy is anything but easy for me to execute. I was an honor student and remain a very hard worker. Knowing that he is sharp and watching him merely coast kills me. How can he not care? But my caring more and stressing myself out does nothing but give me acid reflux. He has to learn to do the work for his own benefit, not for mine.

It’s a parent’s instinct to want to shield and shelter and sometimes do stuff for their child, but at some point the child needs to learn to do stuff for themselves. And sometimes failing can be the best lesson there is.

Part of this lesson is mine as well: my children are their own people with their own unique personalities and interests and talents. Where I got good grades, they are both excellent athletes. I love science and they could care less. The older they get, I am having to let go of what I think they “should be” like and embrace what they are like.

It’s easy to love them, but not easy to watch them struggle. And it isn’t easy to resist getting caught up in the ever increasingly competitive atmosphere of high school academics – it is no wonder so many kids burn out. But I’m doing my best to both let them know I am here if they need me but also letting them learn to cope on their own.

February 9th, 2016
What Doesn’t Kill You

I was a away this past weekend for a tennis tournament for the first time in what feels like forever. I booked our hotel room on the recommendation of a friend and overall it was very nice – better than your average hotel room for the price.

It got me to thinking about all the articles I have seen in the last few years about what not to touch / use in a hotel room because frequently things are not as clean as they might seem. Don’t use any glassware, don’t use the bedspread, don’t sit on the couch – I have actually seen article that suggest bringing your own sheets!! Though I have a few rules of my own – I usually keep my shoes on in the room and depending on the look of it, I might avoid the bedspread. For the rest of it, I kind of figure that what I don’t know won’t hurt me.

Some of these germ-scare journalists should travel a little more widely before they start trying to scare people with the hygiene of American hotel rooms. Have I stayed in “scary” hotels in America? Sure. But even the scary hotels in the US are no where near the level of gross I have experienced in Egypt. We had a hotel room there with blood splattered walls from the swarms of mosquitos that infested the room at night through the broken bathroom window, mouse turds in the tub, and jagged edges on the glass toppers on the nightstands. (Oddly enough the same place left bouganvillea blossoms on our pillows) A hotel room where I stayed in Oman was infested with flies. A place I stayed in Thailand had outhouses with squat toilets instead of indoor plumbing. I could go on and on.

Maybe exposure to all those germs actually made my immune system stronger.

Would it be better to travel with a can of Lysol? Probably. But most of the time I’m lucky if I remember to bring my hairbrush / toothbrush / pajamas so thinking ahead enough to pack cleaning supplies is likely never going to happen.

Confession: I used the glassware this weekend and lived to tell the tale.

January 21st, 2016
Progress and Delays

I am going to have to stop apologizing for disappearing – it is what it is. Sometimes I am busy, sometimes I don’t have anything interesting to say, and sometimes I am just speechless / depressed / dejected. So the new normal is that my posts are going to be irregular. For now.

I did start a savings account and I have made deposits these first weeks of the year. Yay, me! I have not yet started a jar for positive / good things that happen and I really, really need to do that – I do need reminders when so often it is the bad stuff that sticks in your brain.

On other fronts, delays seem to be the name of the game. I am trying to be “zen” and just go with the flow but it is difficult when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel and yet the end of the tunnel keeps moving backward. Optical illusion. I am just trying to keep the faith that I will eventually reach it.

Things are getting interesting work-wise: some big deals going on and I am in the mix. I was sick over the holidays and was hatching both quilting and home improvement ideas for the new year but we’ll see if I have actually have the time to get to any of them. I am thinking that I will have to MAKE some time for other stuff or I will just burn out completely. Still in thinking mode at this point.

I’d really like to get outside and take a walk after work but it isn’t that appealing when it is not only super cold but also dark (and difficult to see the ice).

January 1st, 2016
Realistic Resolutions

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not much of a resolution maker. I know there are things in my life I need to change but there is nothing magical about January 1 as a start date for making those changes. However, there are a couple of new things I am going to try this year.

One new thing is this savings challenge.


As you can see, things really add up by the end of the year. I may make it a little simpler and just save $30/ week if I can manage it. (I have been getting lots of overtime lately so shouldn’t be so difficult) At that rate, you end up with close to the same amount at the end of the year only just a bit more. More isn’t a bad thing in this case. What I will do with the money has yet to be decided. Travel? Home improvement? Oh, the possibilities!

The other thing I am wanting to try is this:


This one doesn’t cost a thing and I have a couple of pretty blue vintage mason jars I could use to do this. Having a jar like this would have been nice last night when I was sitting in my bed with a head cold and a box of kleenex having myself a pity party.

Happy New Year, everyone. I myself plan to make it a good one.

December 31st, 2015
All I Got for Christmas was Ingratitude and a Cold

I have not truly enjoyed the holidays in a long, long time. There are so many expectations involved with them and guess who is in charge of meeting all those expectations? I try my best to make the holidays fun and special for the children, but it gets harder and harder to do as the children get older and as I soldier on with no one to do anything special for me.

There is something about shopping for boys that is difficult – juvenile or adult. My daughter is always so much easier to shop for than my son. Even when she was more of a tomboy I found it easier. I don’t know if it is because we are both females or what.

Part of the problem now of course is the cost of the items on my son’s wish list. I ended up just winging it and getting him some things that I knew wouldn’t necessarily “wow” him but would be things that he would enjoy for a long period of time. Like two really nice pairs of Adidas warm up pants (which he lives in) and a couple of good books as an antidote to endless video games plus a few other things.

As expected he wasn’t wowed. I was not actually expecting him to tell me that he didn’t like the gifts however.

That thoughtless comment was on top of having recieved a rather thoughtless gift from him as well…. the kind of gift that says “what in this store can I find that costs under $20 and doesn’t look like it came from a gas station?” I know that sounds harsh, and it probably is. But it was the kind of present an enthusiastic 6 year old might pick out but had an entirely different tone coming from a 13 year old.

I haven’t been having a great year, I am feeling pretty low and unappreciated so a disappointing Christmas was just icing on the damn cake.

But wait – there’s more!

My daughter was complaining of a sore throat on the Wednesday before Christmas and by the day after she was no better so I took her to the doctor. Not strep throat but just some viral thing… which she considerately shared with me. I am currently sitting in bed eating Emergen-C, sipping tea, and sucking on zinc tablets in between blowing my nose. I don’t get sick very often, but when I do, I am thorough.

So Happy New Year everyone. It can’t be 2016 fast enough for me.

December 5th, 2015
Side Benefits

Just shy of five years ago, right after I returned from Cairo, I went to the dermatologist with a suspicious looking spot high on my cheekbone, under my left eye. She took one look at it and told me that yes, it needed to come off, but also that I had a lot of other sun damage on my face as well. She recommended I treat it all at once to avoid having to come in and get things burned off one by one as they appeared. After discussing my options, I opted to use the Efudex cream because while it was the most aggressive it was also the fastest (Efudex is essentially a topical chemotherapy cream that only reacts with damaged, pre-cancerous cells). I treated my face and chest and that cream was certainly effective. I was a walking scab for two weeks, at which point the doctor recommended I stop treatment. I think even she was shocked by how much of a reaction I had.

However, when everything was all healed up, I had a lovely new complexion.

Fast-forward to present day… Having had a few small spots burned off in the last couple of years and anticipating a change in my health insurance coming in the new year, I decided to be smart and proactive and requested the Efudex treatment again from my current dermatologist. She was somewhat surprised by the request because the treatment is fairly unpleasant and few people REQUEST IT, but she agreed and told me to use it 2x/day for three weeks. I started it two weeks ago.

I am treating my face, neck, ears, chest, and the backs of my hands. I am happy to report that nothing much is reacting anywhere but my face, and even that reaction isn’t as extreme as it was last time. My forehead is largely clear as are my temples and the sides of my cheeks and my ears (that is a happy surprise). I have a few scabby spots high on my cheekbones under my eyes. The worst of the reaction is around my mouth and chin, and oddly enough my bottom lip. I say it is odd not because I don’t think your lips can get skin cancer but because I am not actually putting the cream on my lips. Having layers of your bottom lip peel off every day doesn’t make it super easy to eat however, so a side benefit of this treatment is that I have lost that pesky 5 pounds I’ve been fighting with for the last year (plus a bit extra).

Fortunately, the lip issue didn’t start until just after Thanksgiving!

This treatment isn’t much fun for sure, but I am glad to see that the sun damage I still had isn’t as extensive as before which means the first treatment worked well. I can only hope that this round of treatment is equally as effective and that I won’t have to go to this extreme again for a very long time, if ever.

Not knowing exactly what to expect in terms of my reaction, I made arrangements to work from home for the last two weeks of my treatment. Most of my work requests come in by email and I would say that 95% of my job duties are accomplished online. I have been pretty busy the last few weeks but there are some down times here and there and being at home has meant that I can get some other stuff done in those moments.

Which also helps to distract me from my discomfort and my hunger pangs. (It is very difficult to avoid touching your bottom lip no matter what you eat)

For instance, my dishwasher wasn’t draining earlier in the week. I don’t know anything about dishwashers but my sister suggested that maybe the filter was clogged. I did a google search and watched a couple of YouTube videos and then took my dishwasher apart. Um, yuck. I am not quite sure how old the dishwasher is, but by the looks of it, the filter had never been cleaned, ever. Ugh.

dishwasher filter2

dishwasher filter

I ended up chipping a lot of the caked on detergent muck with a butterknife and then soaking the filter and various other pieces in a vinegar solution in my canning pot overnight. The next day I pulled the dishwasher out of the cabinets, disconnected the drain hose underneath to drain the standing water. Just that part was a huge challenge because there isn’t a lot of room to work under a dishwasher and the clamp was mounted in the most awkward way possible. I ended up using a penny and the sheer force of my stubborn will to get the clamp undone! I was able to bail out the standing water, clean out another two cups of detergent muck from the bottom of the machine before I put everything back together (remembering where all the pieces went was like doing a puzzle!). I remounted the clamp on the drain hose in a much more sensible way while I was at it!

I did a short rinse cycle to make sure that my kitchen wouldn’t flood and yay – it worked! The inside of the machine was a bit sudsy after that cycle but it did indeed drain. Since I was on a roll, I cleaned the inside of the door with baking soda to remove stains and then ran the dishwasher again with a cup of vinegar to further clean off any residue. Seems to be all good to go now.

The success with the dishwasher gave me the confidence to tackle another item I’ve been avoiding – investigating the trap under my kitchen sink. My sink drains slow from time to time and the joins of the pipes under the sink had crusty residue bubbling up around them from the inside for lack of a better way to describe it. Once again I got my canning pot out and I took the pipes apart. They were entirely clear, which was slightly anti-climactic I must admit. There were slightly scungy so I soaked them briefly in bleach before I put them back together again. The bonus part of that job is that I cleaned out the cupboard under my kitchen sink at the same time.

Since I was on a roll I also cleaned the inside of my oven. The window in the door was particularly bad and has been bugging me for a while. It looks pretty good now except that there are drips inside the double panes of the window in the door – how does that happen? I found a video on YouTube for how to take the oven door apart to get inside the window to clean that up so guess what I’ll be doing next week when I’m working from home again?

I guess another side benefit of this skin cancer treatment is getting some (very overdue) cleaning projects done…

November 18th, 2015
Be a Butterfly

I feel like I’m always apologizing for being absent, but this last year has been a very weird time. I have good days and bad days, up days and down. Some days I feel like I’m holding on to my sanity by my fingernails alone. I’ve had rough patches before and managed to continue to update my blog, but these days I’m also going to work every day and frankly that just isn’t that interesting a topic to write about.

And in the midst of my personal pity party, the world continues to implode. School shootings, suicide bombers, terrorist attacks. They seem to happen so frequently now that we’re becoming desensitized to it all. At least I know I am. Part of it is just a coping mechanism of course – you can only let your heart hurt for so long before you need to let it scab over.

Yet the Paris attacks really touched a nerve with me, which of course was the point I suppose. All those people just going out on a Friday evening to enjoy their weekend, many of whom will never go home and see their families again. No more cafes, no more concerts, no holiday cheer. Just over in an instant.

Like so many others, I feel helpless to do anything about it. I’m not prepared to condemn and reject every Muslim on the planet as a would-be terrorist any more than I think every fundamentalist Christian is a porn-addicted child molester. I lived in the Middle East for a little more than a decade and I know that the vast majority are just people like any other. People use a variety of excuses to explain their vile actions but it all just boils down to one thing: evil. None of these actions are actually coming from any sort of loving God.

Rather than curl up in a ball and weep for our world, I’m going to think globally and act locally instead. There is nothing I can do to influence world politics or sort out the tremendous political mess of the Middle East or the immigration crisis in Europe. But I can perform random acts of kindness in my own space. I can compliment a stranger’s sweater or earrings or smile. I always enjoy a compliment so giving them is a small but effective way to brighten someone else’s day.

I am not particularly in a holiday mood either, but I’m trying to jump start that by giving to others. I took a “wish” off the Sharing Tree at work – for a movie gift card for a lady who loves romantic comedies. It made me feel as good to get that gift card as I hope it will make her to receive it. I’m going to find some other ways to spread holiday cheer in the next few weeks.

I’m hoping that these small acts will create a butterfly effect – if everyone who I touch then touches someone else imagine what could happen.

October 26th, 2015
Not My Forte

I put 721 miles on my car this weekend driving to 3 different “away” soccer games over the course of three days for each of the children.

Both the kids have been playing travel soccer for going on four years now so you would think that I would be better at managing all of the details that go along with it, yet it is a rare weekend that I don’t forget something.

For instance, Friday afternoon was really nice, but it cools off a lot when the sun goes down. Do you think I remembered to bring myself a jacket for the game? I didn’t realize I’d forgotten it until we were an hour away from home. How could I forget a jacket? It is ALWAYS cold and windy at soccer fields. Lucky for me the game ended up being inside. I knew it was supposed to rain on Saturday for my son’s game but not only didn’t it occur to me to bring my rain boots, but I also didn’t think about bringing along any towels for the boy to sit on in the car or any extra clothes for him to change into. In fact, we didn’t do an equipment check before we left the house so we got 2.5 hours away and almost all the way to the game field before we realized he’d forgotten his cleats! Lucky for him there was an outlet mall at the exit next to the field and the cleats that the Nike store had were on sale. However, it did POUR for most of the game so he was entirely soaked – and cold – for the 2.5 hour ride home.

Sunday’s game went mostly without incident – and I’m glad I remembered my jacket that day because there was a cold wind blowing. I did however forget my camera.

I recently read the latest installment of the Bridget Jones series (Mad About the Boy) in which Bridget Jones is a widowed mother to two young children and is constantly messing things up as she tries to get them to school on time, get their homework done, feed them and generally manage as a single parent while also trying to start dating again. The book was funny, but it also resonated with me. I’m basically the Bridget Jones of sports moms.

This weekend’s foibles were fairly low-level as far as it goes – the forgotten cleats could have been a disaster if not for a conveniently located sports store. Even though that could be argued to have been my son’s responsibility / fault, in the end that sort of stuff always blows back on the mother. It isn’t the first time we’ve had that sort of equipment emergency either – we once got all the way to Ohio for a tennis tournament and discovered my daughter had forgotten her tennis shoes (another conveniently placed outlet mall saved her butt). Once I myself set her tennis bag on the ground near the back of my car, got distracted, and then drove away leaving her bag in the parking lot (later recovered intact!) We have frequently been late to arrive for the warm-up for soccer games because I’ve underestimated the travel time needed. I seem to be the only parent who never quite knows what division / league / rank the team is playing or competing at – in fact, I am usually only barely keeping up with who has a game where and at what time on a week by week basis.

Worst soccer mom ever.

Because I like to think of myself as being competent, organized, and efficient, I was feeling slightly demoralized at the idea that other parents probably don’t see me that way at all. I’m sure I come across as disorganized and flighty. All the other soccer moms seems to have it under control – getting to the games on time in their shiny new SUVs, with all their equipment ready to go, and sometimes bring cookies besides and here I am tearing into the parking lot at the last minute in my ancient VW Golf and freezing my butt off because I forgot to bring a jacket.

Then I decided it didn’t really matter. My child is on the team, not me – so long as they do their part I guess it should be good enough that I get them to the field on time. It was never my dream to be a perfect soccer or tennis mom anyway.

Mission accomplished.