Saturday, November 29, 2008

Finding Yourself (In Prison)

I turned on NPR in the middle of an interview this afternoon. I don't know who the interviewee was, but it seemed that he was an advocate for prisoners who had completed their jail sentences and were being reintroduced into society (usually not very successfully). In the 10 minutes I listened to him, he made a few really potent points...

He said that the five virtues that all religions agree upon are STRONG, CALM, KIND, HUMBLE, and CAPABLE. That when we're faced with hard times, these are the traits that will get us through the chaos, pain, or sorrow. This struck me as a fascinating list. Calm? Capable? Surprising -- I've never really considered those as virtuous -- but so on target. You really can't successfully get yourself through any challenge without these qualities.

Sidebar...I recently read an editorial in our local paper (from a syndicated columnist whom I can't recall), that focused on parents who just want their kids to "be happy". The author wrote that this is a relatively new trend and is leading to an over-indulged generation that can't cope. He suggested that we should want "strong" and "intelligent" for our kids instead of "happy" because happy isn't really going to get you through life. I couldn't agree more. Sure, I'd do anything for my kids to be happy, but hopefully that happiness will be a by-product of first being strong, calm, kind, humble, and capable.

Back to NPR...another point that resonated was that the interviewee said that as people face inner challenges, they often look to spend money or hire someone to fix their problems. Rarely do they truly look inward at themselves. His point was that prisoners don't have any resources other than their own souls, so when they look inward, they do it under the purist possible circumstances, and they end up stronger and more absolute than the average person. Whether I buy this, I'm not sure.

First, I'm admittedly wary of former criminals and their self-actualization journeys. Someone who has done time in the Big House makes me wary. (Guess I need to practice a little Buddha love here.)

Second, therapy sessions have certainly helped me find some clearer paths in the thick of my mind's forest. So I've used resources to help me look inward, and it worked for me. I'm sure I wouldn't be where I am today without some objective third-party nudging. Nevertheless, relying on only yourself for self-discovery sounds like a pretty liberating approach. But it seems like prison or an ashram in India -- where you have absolutely no other options -- are the only places you could do that. So I guess us average people will just need to pay up to find ourselves.

A cop out? Probably. But I'll accept strong, calm, kind, humble, and capable in any way they find me. Some truly glorious personal goals indeed.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks for That Roomba

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S. Of course, in our home we're giving thanks for each other, the wonderful sense of place that we have in Vermont, and a fine table full of traditional food at my in-laws this afternoon. I'm not sure we can give much thanks to our health, as most of us are dealing with a cold, sinus problems, or a fever. I suppose we can give thanks that we'll be able to get over these issues.

For a change of pace, I'd like to go full-on materialistic for a few moments here, and rave about how thankful I am for my iRobot Roomba. If I were Oprah, I'd put this on my Favorite Things list (though I hear she's moving toward more accessible and maybe even homemade items this year).

A Roomba, if you don't know, is a robot vacuum cleaner. I received it for my birthday last July, and it has roamed around our house for probably about 80 percent of the days since then. We have two dogs and a cat (and a young son who likes to cut paper and leaves lots on pieces in his trail), and Roomba helps keeps our wood floors and carpets free of daily dander.

It goes under the sofa and beds. (Our kids call it a "he", but I haven't brought myself to that level of a relationship. Yet.) It turns itself around when it finds furniture or other roadblocks. It navigates over area rugs and room thresholds. If it hasn't roamed too far away, it returns to its charging base when it’s low on power. And it stops itself from falling down stairs. Dust and pet hair begone.

Sure, we have to pull out the big-gun vacuum periodically to clean out the tight spots, but far more infrequently than we used to. Without a doubt, this is a luxury item but one I'd choose over most others.

We have to clean Roomba frequently, removing mostly dog hair from its brushes. Honestly, I had no idea there was so much dog hair in our house. And I'm a little embarrassed by what my house must have looked like Before Roomba because we didn't sweep or vacuum almost every day like we do now.

There was also a time Before Roomba when my husband often fell flat with birthday and other gifts. Pine-scented hot pads from Maine and dangly salmon earrings from Seattle are good examples. But for whatever reason (could be the 25 years that we've known each other), he seems to have turned the Good Gifts corner, and I've been blessed with a greenhouse, an engraved iPod ("Mom, you rock"), and Roomba in the past few years. What a guy...

Disclaimer: I have no relationship to the iRobot company or its employees. I just really like this thing. My 2008 Product of the Year.

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Monday, November 24, 2008


It's school conferences week. We kicked off our tour in Kindergarten today, and the first words out of Max's teacher were "That Max. He's a pistol."

Not exactly what a mom hopes to hear at her child's first educational checkup. But she did laugh and shake her head. I could only apologize.

He is apparently quite the entertainer whenever there's a captive audience at hand. (I warned them of this on his pre-K paperwork.) His teacher also busted him under the projects table trying to cut his hair last week.

To his credit, she said he's amazing in math and is progressing on task with early literacy and writing skills. He is also "not mean" and "doesn't need any behavior modification." Those are positives indeed. But he does talk ALOT. She thinks that could fix itself with a little "maturity." I'm not so sure...

To my surprise, she showed me pages in his writing journals, and he is actually building words, thoughts, and pages. I found it fascinating to read things like this: FRDNRWEWNTTOALSFRIZ

Translation: For dinner, we went to Al's Fries.

I envision that pink little mind working hard to think about the beginning and ending sounds of words. How exciting is that? I would've never guessed he could do it. In a few weeks/months, he'll add spaces in between those words and start adding vowels. I could've spent a couple of hours talking over the process of learning with Max's teacher, but she cut me off after 30 minutes due to other parents waiting in the hallway.

Did I ever mention that I've always wanted to be a teacher? There's a good chance I may have missed that boat. I didn't really realize this until about 10 years ago after my own kids were born and I had the chance to reconnect with lure of literacy. Instead, I got caught in the
corporate tides. (Not a complaint; I have a great job.) But hey, there's still time, and you never know where the tides may take you...

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Babies in Trees

Yesterday, an Abenaki Native American woman visited Max's class. The topic came up at dinner tonight:

MAX: "I don't know how this happened, but a real Indian came to my class."

MOM: "What did she tell you about?"

MAX: "About how to pull another kid up on a horse."

MOM: "Did they do that for hunting?"

MAX: "No."

MOM: "What else did she tell you about?"

MAX: "You know those things that you carry a baby in? Well they didn't have those back then. They just put the baby on the horse...And sometimes they even put it in a tree."


Oh, the things that stick in a Kindergartener's head...

We didn't get any further explanation about the baby in the tree. Mia and Will wondered if the Indians just left the baby there and came back for it later. Or if it fell out of the tree. Max didn't know. And he didn't seem concerned about it.

So Mia and I Googled “Indian babies in trees” and found a poem and a picture of a papoose hanging in a tree, and it all made a little more sense. What a cool way to spend an afternoon, hanging in a tree with the birds singing all around you.

Where this story really leads me isn't in the wonder of hanging in a tree but rather…thank goodness we have Google to clarify those all those things that are left hanging in the chronicles of a five year old.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Notes to Self

The Workday conference ended yesterday, and so did my lack of life hopefully. Thanks to my generous company, I enjoyed an amazing afternoon in the spa at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. I haven't done such a thing in years. It's really funny how some nice lotions and warm towels make a person feel so much better.

More importantly, as my shoulders (and my mind) were letting go of the rocks that had built up within, many reminders about balance and self-preservation came to light as I was being shined up and rubbed down. So I wanted to write them down and check back in a few months to see if I actually achieved any of them. Of course, I could write them down on a traditional piece of paper, but I thought I'd share in hopes that you might be inspired to pay a little attention to yourself and the life around you too.

Here goes...

  • Let the dogs take me for a daily walk.
  • Blog.
  • Knit socks.
  • Plan a night out with Tom for our 19th anniversary that we missed last month because I was sick and stressed.
  • Schedule massages.
  • Go to a yoga class.
  • Play family games.
  • Bake things.
  • Read "Beloved" for myself.
  • Read "The Giver" with the kids.
  • Plan a vacation.
  • Find a few things to enjoy in my work.
  • Check out Jason Mraz's music (because I really dig his single "I'm Yours"--it makes me feel in love with everyone I know.)
  • Host a holiday party.
  • Get back on a monthly lunch plan with my friend Anne.
  • Update the kids’ photo albums.

And finally, eat brown rice. The wholesome answer to everything!

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Good Days, Bad Days

In my head, the success of a day is measured by whether the dogs get a walk. On most days -- at least as of late -- they don't. I'm in the Month of Insanity at work, so my kids are raising themselves, and the dogs are misbehaving (digging holes, eating rugs), and Tom is on the road. The dust is definitely piling up, and even Max told me the other day that one of our bathrooms needed cleaning. (That's rough when the 5-year-old notices...)

So yesterday, I walked the dogs! We've had lovely 60-dgree weather all week, and I've barely looked out the window. I had no business choosing the dogs over business, but I couldn't stand it any longer. I even invited my friend Daria to join us, so I was able to squeeze in 30 minutes of social. Bonus.

Of course, when 4:30 p.m. rolled around -- with three work projects, a taekwondo class, dinner and a pie for a school fundraiser still on the docket for the evening -- I wasn't so sure that dog walk was worth it.

Today's a new day though. No dog walk yet, but I did fix a picture that had fallen from its mat. It hangs in our entry way, and has been skewed for a couple of months now. I've looked at it every day, and every day, I've rolled my eyes at myself for not fixing it. It's done now, and my head is just a little clearer.

I also took a little time out today for a book club kickoff with a team of readers in Will's class. (We're reading Because of Winn Dixie, written by one of my favorite authors Kate DiCamillo.) I was pretty stressed when I left the house, but 30 minutes with four cute and curious fourth graders fixed that. More clarity.

Followed by a 10-minute rock session listening to Pete Yorn, and I was almost ready to walk the dogs. But the emails started piling up and the deadlines starting poking at me. No dice for the dogs. But I'm not giving up on calling it a good day. They didn't get their walk, but that picture got fixed, book club got started, and I'm offering up some of my favorite advice to myself: Appreciate what you did get done today, not what you didn't.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rock the Vote

Kids today.... least my kids...seem so much more politically aware than I was at their ages. They've been talking about the election for weeks. Local candidates have visited their school. They've made posters that hang in their school hallways. Mia is studying the electoral college in her enrichment math program. And today, Mia and Will are both voting in mock elections. I don't remember any of this from my childhood. The only thing political that I remember from my formative years is this:

"Grandma, what's the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?"

"It doesn't matter. You're a Republican." End of conversation.

Oh, she's rollin' in her grave today!

So this morning, I reminded the kids to vote sensibly today.

MAX: "Who are you voting for, Mom?"
ME: "Barack Obama."
MAX: "Who did Dad vote for?"
ME: "Barack Obama."
MAX: "I thought he voted for Pollina." (Our independent candidate for governor.)

This is funny, of course, because Max is five, and he knows the names of our candidates -- even if he's a little confused on who's running for what.

Maybe it's Vermont that makes politics so accessible. "Vote for [Me]" signs are everywhere. We often see candidates -- even gubernatorial ones -- waving to cars on street corners. Heck, the hotel where Howard Dean announced his run for the presidency a few years ago is just down the street. We love our politics here.

So Will and I sung the Schoolhouse Rock "Preamble" song this morning. And the kids asked me whom I was voting for. I told them, in my best Martin Luther King, that I was voting for Hope, Change, and the People. It's truly an exciting day, and I hope with all my heart that I feel the same tomorrow.

I'm going to I'll listen to a lot of Bruce Springsteen today...

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween Letdown -- or Not?

I'm afraid Halloween was a bit of a bust this year due to my sinus infection, Mia's virus, and Will's headache. (Geez, we sound like a bunch of delicatos, don't we?) Our favorite holiday passed by without frosted pumpkin cookies or cupcakes, our "scary dinner", the spider web strung around the house, and the black curtains I usually hang on the front porch. I felt a little bad, but I had to go with the good old "there's always next year" approach.

We did manage to set up our Halloween village, carve pumpkins, and rally for the "hayride" in our pickup truck with friends. (My friend Daria has some good pics of our trick-or-treating crew on her blog: Will was a skeleton guy, Mia a wizard, and Max a clone trooper.

After a week of lying on the couch, Mia tried to mobilize for trick-or-treating, but she made it to only three houses. Will went home with a headache after about seven houses. (I fed him a hamburger, and he instantly recovered. Wish I would've done that before he went out...) Max finished off the night with the rest of the kids, running a mile a minute up and down the long driveways in our neighborhood. At the last house, he finally told Tom he was ready to go home. In bed by 8:00; probably sleeping by 8:03.

After the festivities, the kids immediately filled up bowls with candy they didn't want and put them on the porch for the Great Pumpkin. We discovered about four years ago that if you do this, the Great Pumpkin exchanges your candy with a gift. I only know of one other family that does this, and it's interesting that the kids (Will and Max) haven't realized that this isn't a global tradition. Or even a local one. I would think that if this only happens at your house, you might catch on...

On the other hand, if you catch on, maybe you don't get that gift anymore!

So despite the lack of our typical Halloween celebrations and our fragile states of health, the day came and went, and everyone was still happy. I started collecting all the Halloween decorations today to make room for the turkeys that Max has started making. We already have four hand turkeys, a toilet paper roll turkey, and a turkey that he colored and glued together yesterday. I haven't pulled out the paper plate turkey idea yet...maybe next weekend.

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