Lexical Jen

Writing about what comes to mind.

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20 years: The Secrets to Our Success


Still wearing my original wedding set. Still love it 20 years later.

This week my husband and I celebrated 20 years of marriage. There was a time when people would think us still in the early part of our marriage, but in modern times this is 3 times or 4 times the national average. When we celebrated 15 years, Rich asked me, “What do you think is the key to staying married 15 years, and is it the same as what you thought it would be 15 years ago?”

There were plenty of sarcastic thoughts that pummeled me first, but in the end I’ve decided on three things. And now at 20 years, they are still true. Before I start, it must be said that God is the key to success. God is present in all three of these things on my list, but there are many God-fearing people who still find themselves divorced, so this list is a little more specific.

1) It helps to make a wise choice in mate at the beginning.
Some people believe that there is one person for one person. This sucks. What if my one person died? What if my one person married the wrong one? Am I destined to be forever alone? Rich and I both think that “choose wisely” is also a good theory. And what’s a wise choice for me, may be a bad choice for someone else. One person may need emotionally stoic while another needs a heart-on-my-sleeve type.  The clown may need a “straight man” to anchor him while the spouse may need more laughter. Whatever it is, don’t go on feelings, love/lust, or things that ebb and flow with the tide. Choose the things that are character traits. Avoid the things that are bad character traits. Choose wisely.

2) It helps if you like each other.
Love is great and that’s good, too. I’m not talking about the doe-eyed admmiration love. But to like someone is to actually enjoy that person’s company. Be friends. Be comfotable in your own skin around someone. Rich makes me giggle. A lot. There are still times after 20 years that one of us will say something that totally catches the other off guard and we start laughing. We like the sense of humor. We are friends. Because we like each other.

3) But the big key is being committed to the institution of marriage.
There will always be a point where things go sideways and it’s totally thinkable that life would be easier apart or with someone else.  It’s that point when you have to be committed to the concept of marriage because it’s that commitment that forces you to hang in there until the rough stuff passes (or you can find a good therapist). This goes well with  item #1. If you made a bad choice in the beginning, this step is harder (and sometimes impossible like abusive relationships).  But violence/danger situations aside, be committed to marriage. “For better or for worse” is there for a reason. He can’t keep a job? She’s a gambler? Someone cheated on the other? Hoarder? Got fat? Got skinny? Whines too much? Drinks too much? Can’t have kids? Doesn’t want kids? Wants too many kids? Whatever it is, when you “fall out of love” or things look greener somewhere else, stay committed to the idea of marriage is forever. Work it out. Talk about what’s going on without getting or being defensive.  And get therapy. No, really. A good therapist (especially who shares your religious views) can go a long way to help get through the fog until you can remember why you chose this person in the first place.

When we said our vows, one line we whispered to each other: “There’s no way out.”

I’ll let you know on our 30th if I still think these three things hold true.

Peace out.


Note: This was originally my post in a Facebook note from our 15th anniversary.  The only chamges were a few references to 15 changed to 20. Otherwise this is unchanged.

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Conversations with The Tatumtots – 2016

The Tatumtots

The Tatumtots.

Over the past few years, I have put snippets of odd conversations our kids, the Tatumtots, have had on Facebook for friends and family to see. Recently, I was encouraged to make some of those odd conversations public. That resulted in many other “yes please” comments, so I finally compiled the best of them. But first:

Meet the Tatumtots:

ajdrinkAnklejbiter: Our 15 year old son.
Genius. Quick-witted. Sci-Fi lover. Asperger’s with an affinity for numbers, space, science, and systems. Also can recite pi to 125 numbers as seen in an earlier post.




girlsRosebud: Our 12 year old daughter.
Heart-stoppingly beautiful inside and out. A natural artist in all forms of media. Major Dr. Who fan and a pretty cool sci-fi geek. Also, a wide-eyed innocence that still amazes me (as seen in an earlier post, as well.)

Neener: Our 8 year old daughter.
The recessive gene child, being red-headed, curly-haired, left-handed, and even born during the recession. A natural actress and comedian, although her funniest moments are usually the ones when she isn’t trying (my favorite is told in this more in-depth About page).

And now, I bring you:

Conversations with the Tatumtots – 2016


Me: “Don’t touch the [inside of the] oven. It will burn your skin right off.”
Neener: “Really?”
Me: “Yes.”
Neener (excitedly): “Cooooool.”
Neener (suddenly frowning, shaking her head): “I mean….oh, baaad.”

Neener: “Can you make me something to eat?”
Me: “What do you want to eat?”
Neener: “Meat.”
Me: “What kind of meat?”
Neener: “The normal kind of meat. Nothing sticky.”

Our toilet that glowed. It was cool.

Our toilet that glowed. It was cool.

Neener: “Can God read minds?”
Me: “Yes. Well, he already knows everything all the time, so he doesn’t have to read your mind because he already knows everything.”
Neener: “So, when you yell at us, ‘Who didn’t flush the toilet?’ and we all say it wasn’t us, God knows who *really* didn’t flush?”

(This is why you don’t lie to your mom. Cause God knows the truth. Even about your toilet habits.)


Me: “Neener, I saw someone from last year’s Kindergarten class. *Joey.”
Neener: “You mean… mean and naughty Joey?”
Me: “I don’t know. Was he mean and naughty?”
Neener: “Well, I didn’t want to hug him very much.”

Anklejbiter: “I just realized the Earth is 1/3 the age of the universe. That’s really old!”
Me: “Yup. How does that mesh with the Christian Bible creation story?”
Anklejbiter: “It doesn’t.”
Me: “So, what do you do about it?”
Anklejbiter: “Nothing.”
Me: “But, you are a Christian and a scientist.”
Anklejbiter: “Yup. You got a problem with that?”
Me: “Nope. But what about people who say you can’t believe both facts?”
Anklejbiter: “Nobody has told me that yet. So I’m not worried about it.”
Me: “I’ll bet Neil DeGrasse Tyson would tell you that you can’t believe both.”
Anklejbiter: “Well, he’s never come over to our house to tell me that, so I’m not worried about it. Until then, … <shrug>.”


Rosebud's T.A.R.D.I.S drawing

Rosebud’s T.A.R.D.I.S drawing

Rosebud was going on about Doctor Who.
Anklejbiter: “Were there police sirens on Noah’s ark?
Rich: “What? No. Do you think they’d have a police call box on the ark?”
Anklejbiter: “Well yeah! So they could fit all the Time Lords on it. No, wait. They only needed 2.”
Me, whispering in the bathroom: “Two by two, hands of blue.”

Yeah, our house just mashed up the Bible, Doctor Who, and Firefly. We are that cool. Or odd.


“If it’s part of my body, I’ll never break it. If it’s not part of my body, I’m guaranteed to break it at some point.”
– Anklejbiter

(Shocking family secret: Anklejbiter has never broken a bone, despite his many crazy endeavors.)


Anklejbiter to Neener on how to get the coffee grounds into the filter:
“Now, you have to carry it very carefully like a baby made out of nitro glycerin.

Anklejbiter: “I’m a time traveler!”
Youth Leader: “Really? Tell me my future.”
Anklejbiter: “I already did…” (and wanders off)

His sense of humor is subtle, but pretty hilarious.

Neener: “You’re my favorite mom. Of course, you know, you are my only mom. Well, unless God had a wife. Then she would be my other mom. And she probably wouldn’t be my favorite mom, but I’d probably like her a lot.”

Reading Charlotte’s Web with Neener and Rosebud and got to Charlotte’s death scene (in which EB says specifically that she died all alone). This happened:

Rosebud: “Do some people cry when they read that?”
Me: “Yes.”
Neener: “Why would people cry?”
Me: “The thought of dying alone is sad. Would you be sad if you died alone? Wouldn’t you rather have someone with you?”
Neener: “Why would I ever be sad if I’m dying? I know I’m on my way to Heaven in a few minutes. It wouldn’t matter if I’m alone or not cause things would be about to get really happy for me.”

This is what we need – This innocence before fear and anxiety fill our older heads.


Me to Neener: “Are you done eating dinner?”
Neener: “Yes. In the future.”

Well, she's not wrong.

Well, she’s not wrong.

Me to Rich: “Jennifer Aniston has been named People Magazine’s most beautiful woman in the world.”
Rosebud: “Except *I* am.”


Me: “You smell like bon fire. Why?”
Neener: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Or maybe bologna?”
Neener: “Oh… No!!  Toothpaste. I brushed my teeth.”

I was explaining to the kids the concept of not pointing out the sawdust in someone else’s eye when you have a log in your own. Then this:

Rosebud: “You mean like don’t point out the glue on your friend’s hand when you…”
Anklejbiter: “When you have a duck on your head!”

Yeah…. I think they get it. I think.


Me: “Get shoes and socks on.”
Neener: ‘Who needs socks? We have waffles!”
Me: “Um, no we don’t and…. wait… WHAT?!?!?!?”



Rosebud, putting on new flip flops: “They fit like a glove!”
Neener, scowling: “You know not *all* gloves fit, right?”

Rosebud: “In Heaven, you can do anything you want, like fly!”
Neener: “You mean I can even keep my hair in place where I want it?”




Me: “Anklejbiter, put these dishes in the dishwasher.”
He: “Someone already put some in.”
Me: “Is it full?”
He: “No.”
Me: “Are they clean?”
He: “No.”
Me: “Then put these dishes in the dishwasher!”

(Background for this story: White hole = opposite of a black one. All light is pushed out rather than being pulled in. Possibly the other side of a black hole?)

Anklejbiter: “If a white hole were real, wouldn’t it be a great source of infinite energy?”
Me: “No. To being infinite, it would have to pull the energy from somewhere which would make the universe donut shaped, but since there are multiple black holes, that would make donuts inside of donuts so…”
Anklejbiter: “Wait a minute! Did you just out-science me?!?”
Me: “Yup.”
[mic drop]


The actual book

The actual book

Neener: “You know what? This book is missing words.”
Rich: “What are you reading?”
Neener: “My First Dictionary. It’s missing the word ‘turd.’“
Rich: “Why are you looking up turd?”
Neener: “So I can say, ‘Oh no! I’m constipated! I only have one tiny turd. Send help!'”
Rich: “…”

“If you hear the National Anthem when you’re on the potty, do you still have to stand?”

My, dear. What interesting ovaries... I mean, suspenders.

My, dear. What interesting ovaries… I mean, suspenders.

Neener: “I’ve never been to Disney World… well, unless I was in your tummy.”
Me: “No. But you were in my ovaries.”
Neener: “What’s that?”
Rosebud: “It’s that thing that Dad wears over his shoulders and crosses in the back to keep his pants up.
Me: “No, Those are suspenders.”






Theology, Tatum style:
Neener: “Why did people have to kill Jesus?”
Me: “So we don’t have to spend eternity in hell, separated from God.”
Neener: “Oh. Only Jesus shaves!”
Anklejbiter: “What kind of razor does Jesus use when he shaves?”
Rosebud: “The Bible.”
Anklejbiter: “What? Why?”
Rosebud: “It’s sharper than any two-edged sword. I mean, have you ever been hit in the head with a Bible? It HURTS!”
Anklejbiter: “Uh….”
Rosebud: “It’s like when I hit you in the head with a dictionary.”
Anklejbiter: “Oh, yeah!”


Trying to get out the door to school on time, and Neener can’t find a book.

Me: “Don’t worry about it. We will find it when you get home.”
Neener: ‘….«pause»Um…. We are home!”

Rosebud: “Anklejbiter, did you know if a person shaves, it makes them look younger?”
Anklejbiter: “Really?”
Rosebud: “Yeah. That’s why Donald Trump looks so much younger than Hillary Clinton. He shaves.”

(I swear she did not hear that from her parents!!! No clue where that came from.)

Me: “Neener, what do you want for your birthday?”
Neener: “Fun doorknobs.”
Me: “What are those?”
Neener: “You know doorknobs. The things that open doors. Just… not attached to the door because they are so fun to play with.”


Neener: “I’m up for a game of Celebrity Slugs!”
Me: “Celebrity Slugs?”
Neener: “No!! (Laughs) Don’t be crazy! I said I was up for a game of ‘SLAPPING and Slugs,’ silly!”

Yeah. Because that makes way more sense.


Neener: “Did you know every choice changes the future?”
Me: “I know that. Isn’t it amazing how everything connects like that?”
Neener: “Yes. Like, if we had bought a pot, this conversation would be different because we’d have a pot while we talk.”

Overheard:Anklejbiter to Neener: “Look at that! Look how it spins. Why does it do that?”
Neener: “I don’t know. You’re the genius.”

So there you have it. I’m also compiling the 2015 list, because there were some real doozies there. Stay tuned for those little blasts from the past that include these 3 ditties:
Overheard: “I’d hate to ride my train of thought. It would crash everywhere!” – Anklejbiter
“Daddy, I want to feel your beard on my face while you chomp your food.” – Rosebud
“Mommy? Are boobies just really like teleporters?” – Neener

Until then, Happy 2017.
Lexical Jen


The Cure I Never Asked For

(c) Rich Tatum

The puzzle that is AJ.

Recently, I read an article about how scientists used skin cells to grow tiny brains in order to study autism. For those of you new to my blog: I have a 14 year old son on the autism spectrum with Asperger’s, so I thought it sounded like something I’d be interested in.

The Basics:

  1. Scientists used skin cells in a complicated process to create tiny brain organoids.
  2. They found a gene that, in autistic brains, allowed brain organoids to produce too many inhibitory neurons. (“Inhibitory neurons are the cells in the brain that slow down and stop information [from] eternally shooting around the brain.”)
  3. They surpressed that gene to see what happened:
    “When the expression of the single gene was suppressed, the autistic brain organoid did not have an imbalance of neuron types.”
  4. “This result suggests that there may be a way of restoring the neuronal balance in autistic patients.”

So basically, brains have information shooting all over the place; inhibitors slow it down so our brains can manage information; autistic brains have too many inhibitors which slow some processes even more; supressing that inhibitor-making gene might cure autism. The cure or treatment isn’t coming tomorrow, or even in the next months.  But it’s finally in the imaginable future, and when I imagine it…

I don’t know how I feel about this.

Quite a bit of what makes my son so amazing is how his brain processes information in ways that allow him to make mathematical and scientific connections differently from other people. Maybe “too many inhibitors” have forced his brain to form paths most people wouldn’t (or even couldn’t) and made him pretty stinking amazing with numbers. But if that gene were surpressed and there weren’t too many inhibitors, would he lose that ultra-cool ability?

Or even more ming-blowing: maybe all but the math and science have been surpressed and without the inhibitor, *all* areas of his brain would be connecting like that! (That’s a bit scary-cool, isn’t it?)

Autism Is a Spectrum

On one end, there are people whose family would give anything to have even a moment of connection with their autistic child. A cure like this might be what they’ve been hoping or praying for. Perhaps the greatest literary or scientific mind of the century is just waiting to be heard, and if this new gene information leads to a cure then for them, I’m happy.

On the other end of the spectrum are people like my son. There is no end of communication when talking about one of the areas where his autism has triggered a fascination. Still…

I wish he could read facial expressions and body language as naturally as others do.
I wish normal sounds and lights didn’t send him into brain overload that shredded the rest of his day.
I wish he could quiet his brain at night so he could sleep better.

These are only a few things; there are still so many other issues we deal with daily. Hourly. But a cure? Or even a gene therapy? Whoa.

My Prayer (That’s Never Been Prayed)

Here’s a secret: In 14 years, I’ve never once prayed for my son to be healed of his autism (and I’m a total believer that God could do that). I’ve thought about praying for it, but I have never been able to bring myself to actually pray for it because deep down, I don’t know what that would mean for him.

If his pediatrician told me tomorrow that there was a cure, I’d be nearly frozen with indecision. He’s 14, so I’d talk to him about it. But what if he wanted the cure?!? Or what if he didn’t? I don’t even know which way to encourage him.

His Thoughts

I talked to him about it this week. I explained the experiment and asked him if he’d want the cure. His response?

“I don’t know what the autsim is causing. Some of the things I do… like my math skills or my ability to remember pi to about 127 digits… I’ve heard other kids can’t do them but I can because of my autism. I don’t want to lose those cool abilities. But I’d like to lose the parts that make things harder. Like how I can’t write about what I’m thinking or understand what people are saying with body language. But if having the ability to write and get body language means no more math and science super skills? Then no. I don’t want a cure like that. I don’t want to take that chance.”

He’s right: we don’t know what it means for him to be cured. What we do know is that even though parts of life are hard for him, he is spectacular the way he is.

Why mess with that?


Humble Pi

(c) Rich Tatum

Pi imagined by my daughter, Ellie

At the time of writing this, it is 3/14/15 – Pi day of the century.

My kids and I had a lovely time spending Pi Day at Grand Traverse Pie Company. My 14-year old son recited pi here and there for strangers. There was even a contest for how many digits you could say in 15 seconds where the video had to be uploaded to @GTPie on twitter. AJ recorded a video, but in order to say as many digits as he knows, he had to go impossibly fast and still couldn’t say all he knows. (Recently, someone had counted about 135, so I knew it was quite a lot.) Still, it was fun. And yummy!

At home, I went out to twitter to see other entries but found very few. We did stumble across one that @GTPie had retweeted by “pi genius” Aaron Craft at Ohio State. Always excited to hear other people say pi, AJ listened to it with me. Aaron ended at 63 digits (and that is amazing, so Aaron deserves huge kudos.) I looked at AJ and he was nodding and smiling. “He should be really proud of himself! He did really well.”

I got all proud mama and said, “Let’s record it, too! You know more than that guy!”

He surprised me with a shrug and a “No thanks.”

Whoa. Wait. What?

I stepped back and wondered about his own nearly-double-the-number ability. He’s 14! Don’t kids this age live for the moments that they do something like this — something that can give a college man a run for his money? He was reciting it left and right at the Grand Traverse Pie Company. Stage fright? No. Not AJ. His speech teacher can verify that.

I asked him why he didn’t want to put up a video. He looked right at me and giving me a wise head tilt said, “That other guy did a great job and I don’t want to make him feel bad.”

Excuse me while I choke on the humble pie my son just force-fed me. Wow. My 14-year old son didn’t want to make a college man feel bad.  (And, as it turns out, now a professional basketball player.)

I checked myself and realized he was right: I wanted him to do it for the wrong reasons. AJ’s saying 120+ digits doesn’t come from a place of showing off. It comes from a love of the number pi and all things math. He tells people pi because he wants other people to love it and feel the way he feels when he says it. We have discussions about pi and the ramifications of random  and infinite things in the universe and that often leads us to the infinite nature of God.

I changed my heart, though. I ate the humble pi(e) and learned from it. I told him I wanted others to share in the joy of pi. And I do. In the end, he agreed to record himself saying 127 digits because as much as he loves pi, he also loves his mama.

Now, I share this with you, not just because he’s awesome, but because I want you to see the grin on his face while he’s doing this. I want other pi people to watch it and say, “Yes! There are more of us! Pi lovers: UNITE!”

This is the impossibly fast version. It has not been sped up.

Maybe you know someone else who loves pi. Let us know!

(side note #1: AJ actually prefers tau because Vi Sweet’s “Pi Is (still) Wrong” video was quite convincing.

side note #2: When I looked up Aaron Craft, I found out he’s a Christian. TheLantern.com has an article where Aaron is quoted, “That’s [Romans 5:8] the biggest thing that keeps me humble and keeps things in perspective for me.” Romans 5:8 reads, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this; while we are still sinners, Christ died for us.” These two pi guys (AJ and Aaron) are like peas in a pod.)


My Two Lessons from Teaching 8th Grade Science

We only have so much time before we send them out.

We only have so much time before we send them out.

Earlier this year, I mentioned I was getting ready to go back into the for-hire work force after thirteen years of stay-at-home mommying. Well, I did it! Starting in mid-September, I became an officially licensed substitute teacher. I’ve taught from kindergarten to high school, science to gym, and even special education. In each class, I learned things about both myself and the kids. Most of these things I’ve kind of known for a while, but it wasn’t until recently that I really was reminded to put these into play.

I found myself teaching 8th grade science, and in two different periods had boys that caught my attention more so than others. In each case, while part of my head was quickly screaming, Troublemaker!, something else told me to pause and see what was happening. I learned a lot from my interactions with these two guys, so here are the lessons of Malcolm and Wash (names changed).

Kids can rise to the challenge, and often want to.

A squirrely thirteen year-old walked into class and just by the look in his eye when he sing-songed, “Hello, Mrs. Tatum,” I had a feeling he could be trouble.

“Hello, Malcolm,” I said back. He hadn’t seen me look at the seating chart, so his eyes got pretty big.

“How did you know my name?”

Now this is where creative license in sub-teaching comes in. I told him, “It’s right here – Mr. Book wrote that you are going to be super helpful to me today.”

He got a huge smile on his face, but the girl next to him was all, “No he did NOT!”

I grabbed the paper and ran my eyes back and forth and sighed. “Oh, my bad. It’s just the seating chart. But I can certainly write it on the lesson plans, you know, about how helpful you were. You are going to be helpful, aren’t you?” While the girl rolled her eyes and shook her head, Malcolm actually gave me a long, sideways glance. I just gazed back at him and waited for an answer.

“Yeah. I can do that. I guess.” Wouldn’t you know it – he was great. He didn’t try anything crazy and helped me out when I needed someone to hand out papers or point out where something was kept. At the end of class, I went ahead and wrote him down like I said I would: Malcolm was super helpful today.  And he walked out of that class with his head a little higher.

In that case, I countered behavior I thought might happen. Perhaps he was always going to be a good kid, but by setting the bar high from the first hello, he started off trying to meet it.

Related to that (but slightly different) is what I saw when I had a kid already causing a problem:

Never underestimate the effect of believing in a kid when everyone else has written them off.

“Wash” was gearing up to be a troublemaker for me. He had a lot of energy and randomness. He also had a mouth that kept going. Whether he was upset or making a joke – the class heard about it. It was as if his mission was to disrespect both me and the other students, but he managed it in a way that was not concrete (no swear words, non-violent). He just kept cracking jokes or he would say things simply to frustrate others around him, especially studious Simon next to him. The other kids starting informing me that Wash was “always like this.” “He’s always a pain.” “He never pays attention.” “He’s always acting naughty.” “You should put him on a naughty chair on the other side of the room.”

I watched his face as the comments started to come in and I could see flickers of pain behind his eyes. He was hearing them. He was believing them. He was giving up on himself. As other kids started to finish work, I allowed them to move to other tables around the room and work in small groups. Wash got up and walked to one of those tables but I called him back.

“Why can’t I be back there with everyone else?”

“They have demonstrated an ability to follow my directions and work quietly when told to do so. You have not yet demonstrated this.”

Suddenly a few kids interjected with, “Never going to happen!” And, “That’s because he can’t.” And, “Don’t hold your breath.” Wash’s face fell again. I walked over to him and held up my hands to silence the room.

“I think they are wrong,” I said. “I think you can do it. In fact, I know you can. So, my one-time deal to you is this: For the next 10 minutes, sit at your desk, be silent, and work on the assignment. This doesn’t mean be silent and don’t work. It doesn’t mean get all the work done but be noisy. It’s a three-part deal. Sit. Silent. Work. I think you can prove every other kid in here wrong. I know you can do this. You know you can do this. If, at the end of ten minutes, you have managed to do that? I will let you go back to one of the other tables with the others. Is this fair? Can you prove me right and them wrong?”

He grabbed his book and papers and nodded slowly. “That’s fair. And I know I can do it.”

And he did.

Just before the ten minutes were up, I knelt next to his desk and looked him right in the eye. “I knew you could do it and I’m proud of you. You have really impressed me with your ability to take this challenge and knock it out of the park. Thank you. You can join the others at the tables.”

When he got back to the tables I half-expected the original behavior to come back, but the whole class was pleasantly surprised. He worked with the students on a group activity. All the questions he asked were appropriate and related to the lesson… and whispered. He went above and beyond the challenge I’d given him. At the end of the period, I congratulated him again.

I don’t know if I’ll see Wash again. Like a leaf on the wind, I don’t know if he continued flying high through the day or if he went to the next class and landed in his usual pattern. However, I know that for forty-five minutes he did something that amazed those around him. Even when no one thought he could do it, he was awesome – and he knew it.

Now, both of these experiences were written specifically about kids, but I think they may be cross-generational. Coworkers. Family members. Friends. Sure… it might not work in every case, and it certainly doesn’t always work as easily as it did for me in these two cases (I also had to have a kiddo removed from a class on my first week).  But I have to remember not to just write off someone too quickly just because they might be difficult.

Watch them. Talk to them. Hear them.
Then try something.

Lexical Jen



Yeah. Firefly. :D
Going Old School


Using Facebook for Messages Without New Messenger

(I know there are some people that have no problem with the new Facebook Messenger app. I welcome you to my blog, but this post is probably not for you. Maybe I’ve written something else you’ll like. Feel free to look around.)

I’m not using the new forced Facebook Messenger but I’m still able to send and receive message on my phone and tablet without any problems. No, I haven’t hacked the system. No, I’m not using a different app. Yes, I’m just using Facebook. And it’s easy. A few extra steps, but easy.

Many people are up in arms about the forced move to the new Facebook Messenger (August 2014). I think many of us have forgotten that before the Facebook app for phones and tablets, Facebook was only a web program. You had to have a web browser to use it. Having a Facebook app and a Facebook Messenger app doesn’t change the fact that Facebook is still a web browser program and therefore all of Facebook’s features can still be accessed through any web browser – including the messenger. The biggest difference between app and the browser interface is with the browser interface on a phone or tablet, you don’t get instant notification on peoples’ statuses like you would with the Facebook app.

As long as you have a web browser, you can remove the forced Messenger app and still get to your messages. Also, if you leave your Facebook app installed but only discard the Messenger app, you’ll still get notifications like you always did. You just have to take a few extra steps to get to them. (In fact, it’s really so easy that I’ve considered getting rid of the whole Facebook app and doing this just so I can quit feeling like Pavlov’s dog every time the Facebook pop tells me someone said, liked, or commented on something. But that’s a different and future post.)

Here is how to go from finding out you’ve got a message to reading that message without ever installing a new app. (I’m using Android, but ios and Windows Phones also have browsers so the theory will be the same).

1. Get a message through Facebook app.
Or don’t. Maybe you just want to send a message through Facebook. Go to step 2.

2. Find your web browser



3.  Search for and log into Facebook.com


4. Tap on the message icon and choose a message to read.
Yes, my mommy loves me. *blush*



5. Reply if you want to.


6. Some browsers allow you to create a shortcut to a webpage on your home screen. This can remove a couple of the steps and make it easier next time.
I only know how to do this in the Google browser so here are the directions for that: In the Google browser, press the android options button. It’s not on the screen, it’s one of the physical-esque buttons. Usually it’s one of three: Back, Home, and Options standard on most Androids). It looks like 3 or 4 horizontal lines.

fbm06I got a message!

There you have it. All the notifications of the Facebook app without having to use that forced Messenger program.

You’re welcome.

Lexical Jen





(This post is regarding technology which may have change since it was posted – August 2014.)

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My Handwritten Blog Post

Go LexicalJen!A New York Times article, “What’s Lost As Handwriting Fades,” has been making the rounds in a few of my circles. While the article points to the link between writing by hand and things like improved reading ability, better retention, and easier time spelling, what caught me was a simple phrase, “…they also remain better able to generate ideas… .”

Generate ideas?  Well, I’ve been feeling a bit stagnate in my writing, so I thought I’d write by hand and see what came out. I found something that wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. The doodle. So now I present to you, My hand-written blog post:

My Hand-Written Blog Post

Here’s my challenge to my readers:
Let’s see your handwritten post/status/tweet – do you doodle? If you write a post and then rewrite for spelling and other mistakes, your doodles won’t transfer, so let’s see the whole mess. Or am I the only person who doodles when writing something by hand?

#HandWrittenPost <–use that if you take my challenge!

Lexical Jen


How Pitching Cats Taught Me to Fly

Yesterday, my little sister pushed me out of the nest.

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom since 2001, but before that, I was bringing home the bacon and frying it up in the pan. Well, not really. We had no kids yet and were clueless as to how much the next several decades would cost. So, I actually brought home the pizza rolls. However, if I wanted bacon, I’d pay a nice restaurant to take care of that mess for me… and add a soup and salad.

But, I wax nostalgic.

Now, for the past 13 years, I’ve been raising our three kids full-time. I’ve also done some design work from my comfy easy chair. What I haven’t done is a job that absolutely required that I change out of my pajamas by any certain time (although I’m sure my mom would disagree).  The family plan has been once our youngest started going to school all day I would get a job. And while I’d been slowly getting used to the idea and putting together job options in my head, I hadn’t done anything concrete yet.

Until yesterday.

See, in August I will register my youngest for Kindergarten and it’s an all-day, every day class, and as I sat thinking about it, I realized it was time to reboot my non-motherhood career.  But I found myself  afraid, panicked even, to leave the cozy nest of motherhood that I’d built. Who would hire me? What if I get rejected?  How do I prove that 13 years of parenting left me with any marketable skills? Maybe I should just wait a little while longer. It’s still summer; there’s no rush.

Enter the middle-child with a first-child mentality (probably because there are 9 years between us).

I wanted to clean the counter tops – my little sister dragged me to the table. I thought I should make the kids lunch. My little sister reminded me that they’d eaten and pushed me into a chair. I was feeling a little peckish – my little sister told me I could eat when I was done. My kids came to tattle on each other. My sister sent them away, pulled up a chair next to me and pushed me — pushed me to register on a website, and pushed me to finish filling out my application to become a substitute teacher. I tried to take advantage of every distraction so I wouldn’t have to do this. It was too much! I was too scared! I wasn’t ready! Understanding this about me, she also protected me from my own freaking out. She wouldn’t let me get a drink. She wouldn’t let me fix food. She didn’t even let me hide in go to the bathroom. And when I thought I couldn’t breathe any more, she would scratch my head for me – a thing we both find comforting – and tell me I was almost done.

She didn’t let me decide this was too big of a step after 13 years of parenting (and nothing but parenting). In fact, she reminded me of all that I’ve done to become qualified:

I’ve spent 13 years with my son who has Asperger’s and spent more time communicating with teachers than any other type of adult because of all the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) stuff, bully issues he’s prone to, and situations he gets himself into. Situations like triggering a school lock down, not arriving home on the bus, and melt-downs complete with autistic rocking and mentally shutting down. I’ve been teaching him social skills. Oh, and with all the homework I’ve had to sit through and scribe (per his IEP), I’m getting pretty good at algebra and trigonometry, spelling and grammar, and plant cells and genetics.

Then there are the 10 years I’ve spent with my older daughter. Her first 4 years of school were in a Chinese immersion class, so helping her with homework involved learning a little bit of a foreign language with a whole new writing system. Let’s not forget the math facts that had come so easily to my son yet, my daughter couldn’t seem to get a handle on them. We were writing them in sand, salt, and play-dough. We were singing them, rhyming them, and sometimes just resorting to drill-and-kill. (My pacifist daughter couldn’t kill any of those facts.) Same for spelling; turns out, she’s an artist, so visual cues helped a lot. You wouldn’t believe some of the things I drew to help her learn to spell, but here is one of her favorites:

PITch the CAT across the PIT and then CATch it." width="658" height="533" /> PITch the CAT across the PIT and then CATch it.

PITch the CAT across the PIT and then CATch it.

I know… I don’t want to be the guy catching that cat, either. But where as she used to spell those two words as “pich” and “cach,” she’s never had a problem with them since. She also noticed that it could also be a ditch and, “Hey! It’s got a TCH, too!”

And finally, I’ve spent 5 years with my younger daughter who had a severe speech delay – more than a 60% delay when she was 2. She could maybe say 10 words, but no one (including me) could understand her. (Although this video of her talking to Grandpa would convince you that he knows exactly what she’s saying.) More IEPs. More teacher meetings. More homework. And now she talks so well you would never know there had ever been an issue. (Thank you, teachers who worked with her!)

Thinking back on all I’ve done in the past 13 years, I see that my sister is right: I can do this. I can communicate with many different types of people on many different levels. I can manage a group of people. I can problem solve with the best of them. I can listen. I can teach. I can mentor. I’ve already been doing it on a smaller scale. It will be different, but I got this.

So, thanks little sister…. Here I am, world – out of the nest, plummeting toward the ground, but relearning to fly.


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I Am Undefined

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“A Distinct Lack of Clarity in Thought…”
by Rich Tatum

I was trying to write my bio to go along with a guest post for a friend’s blog and found myself totally stumped. I got as far as:

“Jennifer Tatum is a mother. She lives with her husband and kids in the Pacific Northwest.”

I stopped cold thinking, But I’m more than a mother, aren’t I?

I shouldn’t think of myself as being just a mother, but I don’t know what else I am. My friend, Caryn Rivadeneira, wrote a book that I think I should read: Mama’s Got a Fake I.D.: How to Reveal the Real You Behind All That Mom. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while,  but this odd panic always sets in and tells me that if I try to “reveal the real me behind all that mom,” I’ll find myself… missing  — like there is nothing else left. Probably all the more reason I need to read it.

Panic aside, What’s behind my mom I.D.?

I want to say I’m a writer, but 1 poem published 20 years ago and 8 public blog posts does not a writer make. Sure I’ve written 100 other things, but if I’m the only one who’s seen them then I don’t think they count. And Facebook statuses? Sure, people seem to get a kick out of my snippets of conversation from my kids, but when I wrote, “Jennifer Tatum is a writer…” it seemed untrue. Perhaps I haven’t owned this new thing I’ve started. Perhaps I fear that, like so many other things in my life, it will keep me occupied for a few months and then I’ll get distracted by something shiny and forget to write for a month. For a year. Forever.

And “Jennifer Tatum is a helper…” is so vague. I help my kids with — well, everything. I help my sister get from the store to her house because even with GPS, she gets lost and calls me at 2 am to ask me to guide her home. I help my mother trouble shoot her computer problems. I help a friend who can’t drive go Christmas shopping. I help the elementary school’s marathon club. I even worked at a Help Desk for years! Need help? Ask me.  But it doesn’t describe me well.

In the past, “Jennifer Tatum was a computer technician.” And I can still do wonders with software and hardware, but no one pays me for it and I can’t say that I’m a technician right now. Although, I do have three computers hooked to two monitors because two of the computers are laptops with broken screens and the CD drive has to be removed and traded back and forth … uh… tech talk. But to say that’s what I am? No. It doesn’t seem accurate, either. I don’t identify with that.

Oh! “Jennifer Tatum is a level 120 Archer, a dual sword wielding Paladin, a wizard, a pirate, a stinker, an elf, and an alien.” Because I’m a gamer. I have played games for over a decade. In fact, I have beta tested multiple games, and if I could do that all the time, I’d be a happy gal but I’d never get anything else done. My kids think it’s the coolest thing ever to see my name in video game credits.  But it’s not a career. It’s not who I am or what I do. Besides, Gamer Mom in a bio on a blog that has nothing to do with gaming? Outside of geekdom, it carries no weight.

I had an easier time writing my obituary in a creative writing class in college. Of course, I had 20 years less experience so it was easier to know what I was. So much has happened since then, and my life has taken so many twists and turns. Child, sister, friend, wife, mother, aunt. But also Christian, helper, cast member, techie, singer, nurse, geek, reader, writer, teacher, artist, chauffeur, mathematician, chef, linguist, mechanic, gamer, …

Come to think of it, I haven’t faded into nothing. Maybe I’ve just become so many things that “Jennifer Tatum is simply undefined.” Turns out, I’m OK with that.

Lexical Jen



Note: For more info on Caryn’s book,
you can check it out on Amazon,
or at her website, carynrivadeneira.com.


Congratulations Are In Order

(c) Rich Tatum

“I tried to be good, but I got distracted.”
– Minion T-shirt text

A few weeks into the school year, I realized I was setting my son up for failure every day when he left the house by telling him the things moms typically tell kids.

“Do well in school.”
“Get your work done in study hall so you don’t have homework.”
“Eat your lunch.”
Or even, “Have a good day!”

Some days he’d succeed at those typical things. But some days he’d get a D on a test.
Or do nothing in study hall and come home with hours of homework.
Often, he forgot to eat his lunch.
And he’s a teen — he doesn’t always have a good day. Really, who can?

And when he walked in I’d ask, “How’d you do on that test?”
“I blew it.”

Or, “Did you get all your work done in study hall?”

In addition to the typical teen short answers, he also felt like he was letting me (and himself) down. Yes, he should accomplish these things, but I didn’t want the first thing he heard every day coming home to be a reminder of how he’d failed. So, I decided to make the first thing he hears every day be congratulations of a success.

The first time I did it, he walked in with way too much homework expecting me to be disappointed but instead I said, “Congratulations! I’m so proud of you!”
“Congratulations for making it through the day without having a tree fall on you.”

He looked at me like I was crazy. And then smiled, shook his head and walked away.  But the next day he walked in and I greeted him with, “Good job today not getting hugged to death by a boa constrictor!” And he laughed.

Once he got over the shock of being congratulated every day, he started getting in on it. “Hey mom, what’s my goal for today?”
“Um, Don’t lose your pants.”
“You got it. I can do that.”

Here are some of his favorite successes he’s had this year:

“Congratulations for…

…not getting run over by gummy bears!”

…not getting eaten by rabid clowns!”

…not being killed by dancing demon bunnies!”

…not getting pixelated!”

…not getting caught in a volcanic explosion!”

…not getting eaten by leprechauns!”

…not choking on a milk truck!”

…not getting killed by ping pong balls!”

…not getting run over by stampeding cows!”

…not defying gravity floating off the earth!”

And his all time favorite, “Congratulations on not being eaten by aliens!”

Not only does he have at least one moment of total success every day, but it also has led to more conversation with my teen. The creativity of coming up with these bizarre goals has sparked the storyteller in him. When I tell him, “Congratulations for not turning into a robot!” he will respond with something like, “Thanks! It was close. There was a nanobot invasion at school today and half the kids in my history class were turned into maintenance robots, but I managed to build an EMP blaster during science and saved the school.”

And that’s a much better answer to, “How was school?” than “Fine.”

I recently asked him what he thought of all this. His answer was profound for a 13 year old (especially one with Aspergers):

“I like doing this because no matter how many other things I screw up in during the day, I know that I will always succeed in at least one thing. And it also reminds me to set at least one realistic personal goal a day. I might not be able to make it all day without getting distracted (even though I try hard), but I know I can make it a whole day without blowing up the solar system.”

Wow. Well then, congratulations certainly are in order, aren’t they?

On a side note, after nearly 150 days of doing this, I’m starting to run out of ideas. If you have some crazy goals for my son, feel free to share in the comments. I’d probably love to use them.

Lexical Jen
Update: This post from 2014 is still relevant. My son, now a sophmore in high school, still loves it and participates. He’s even given me a goal once or twice. We even have a middle school daughter who is now getting in on the fun! So, here’s to the third year of congratulaing our kids on the wild and previously unimaginable.