Wednesday, December 31, 2008
So as I go into 2009, I am humbled, optimistic, hopefully a little wiser, and definitely out of shape.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Nobody warned me of this side of social networking -- the antisocial part. Until now, Facebooking has been all fun, restorative, entertaining. I've connected up with people I haven't known in years. I see what my West Coast colleagues do when they're not working. I know what my sisters are doing on a nearly daily basis. Sure, these e-relationships aren't deep, but they are meaningful in an amusingly diverting and lightweight kind of way. Not to mention relatively effortless. I can't imagine actually de-friending someone once I made the decision to engage them. I might choose to see less of a person on Facebook, but a de-friend sure seems like a harsh, end-of-the-line measure. On the other hand, it's a quick and easy way to let someone know how you really feel...
Interestingly, I was chatting with the de-friender just a couple weeks ago at a cocktail party. She was lamenting about how all the "housewives in Williston are now on Facebook" and how she doesn't want to know everyone's every move. Little did I know that she was talking ABOUT me TO me. (Since I'm not a housewife, I didn't recognize myself in her resentment.) I could go on about why she was even talking to me if she wanted to de-friend me, but there's too much background to cover there.
So at the end of the day, as I consider the dynamics of adult relationships -- and now e-relationships -- I realize that sometimes they're really not all that much more mature than the issues my 10-year-old daughter reports about her social circles. My advice to her:
(1) address the issue head on;
(2) back off the relationship for awhile and see how it evolves; or
(3) completely move on to more authentic relationships.
Seems like that same guidance appropriately applies to my own life and times -- and that my de-friend has clearly taken path #3.
In a twisted way, I'm grateful she made the split so painless. No ugly confrontation. No second guessing. Just the click of a button that took me a few weeks to even realize, and now I clearly know where she stands. More proof of the new e-world order.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
I've done everything I can to redirect my kids toward creative pursuits, board games, great books, sporting activities, the great outdoors. To some avail. They humor me. They'll go outside for 15 minutes and ride something around, then come back inside because they're "cold". They'll play an occasional game of Backgammon or Monopoly. Mia’s learning to sew. They make their beds everyday and unload the dishwasher. But I know they're really just buying time to get to the "next level".
Tom and I have also set screen time limits -- an hour a day, DSs only in the car, no video games after dinner. But we're weak, and there are days when the kids play all they want -- even sometimes after dinner.
Honestly, my kids don't watch much TV. My daughter might turn on a few Disney sitcoms here and there, but we allow her that downtime. Heck, we watch "The Office" and "30 Rock" every Thursday. But if given a choice between a show or a game, my boys would choose a game every time.
So is this all bad? Other parents often lead me to believe so, with their renouncing of video gaming -- and attitudes laced with righteousness. And the American Pediatric Society says that we should restrict screen time to 1-2 hours a day of "quality programming". (I’m pretty sure Mario Kart doesn’t qualify as “quality programming”.) The Society suggests that screen time can interfere with activities such as being physically active, reading, homework, playing with friends, and spending time with family. These things I agree with, so we do what I consider a decent job trying to balance out game time with real-life time -- piano lessons, taekwondo, tennis, baseball, reading, and so on.
But consider this: Will was completely motivated to learn to read so he could understand his Gameboy games. Mia knows more about animals than most people I know from playing Zoo Tycoon. My kids know how to type. Both of my boys shock me with things they can compute in their heads. They can find answers to questions using the internet. We love spending a Saturday night at the Wii bowling alley. And this morning, after breakfast, we all went to the basement for a rousing Guitar Hero World Tour gig. Some quality family time to be sure.
We have our low moments though: Last night during a small party at our place, Max walked up to Tom, who was playing Guitar Hero, tugged on his shirt and said, "Dad, can I have a turn 'cause I have to go to bed soon." Poor little fella, needing to beg his dad for a turn on bass at 10:00 at night. On the way to restaurants, we also make sure everyone has their DS with them. It simply makes for a more enjoyable dinner out.
So my ultimate conclusion is that it's just the world we live in now. People are plugged in and charged up. Today's kids are growing up in a Global Super Charged Information Age, and I personally hope mine have all the tools they need to succeed. So if that means a little cyber bowling or baseball, hand over the controller.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
It's not that it's the best cookie recipe in the world. Nor was it created by my great-grandmother or filled with secret ingredients. I searched online a few years ago for an updated sour cream cutout cookie recipe and found plenty.
That said, there are a few things about my recipe worth noting: (1) The cookie itself isn't too sweet, which balances nicely with the frosting; (2) if baked properly, the cookie stays soft and flaky; (3) the cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon extract flavorings give it a subtle, festive, and rather unique flavor.
My kids have come to love Cookie Day as much as I did as a kid. Today, Mia did her best to decorate hers like mine. Will tried to stay in step with his father by creating the goofiest cookies -- or at least by joking about a cookie while he frosted it. And Max spent at least 20 minutes on each of his cookies, creating masterpieces that only he'll eat. I think this is the first day that Tom and I didn't end up frosting the majority of the tray.
Nana's Christmas Cookies
1 C brown sugar
1 C while sugar
1 C shortening
1 C sour cream
1 t lemon extract
1 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t nutmeg
1/2 t cinnamon
5-6 C flour
1. Cream together sugars and shortening; add eggs and extract and mix thoroughly; add sour cream and mix thoroughly
2. Whisk together dry ingredients, and add in parts to the creamy mixture. (You may need to add four to achieve a roll-able dough.)
3. Refrigerate dough for at least an hour. Roll out on a floured surface and shape with cookie cutters, adding flour as needed.
4. Bake cookies at 375 degrees until the edges start to brown.
5. Cool, frost, and decorate.
Confession: I broke rank one year and tried a more traditional sugar cookie recipe, but it didn't really work for me -- you just can't mess with tradition. I didn't admit this to my mom or sisters though. Until now.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
I don't love snow, but when you live in it, you have to find ways to accept it. Acceptance is key; if you don't somehow embrace it, you'd feel pretty grouchy and shut in for almost half of the year here in Vermont. Some say St. John's wort helps; I say a vacation to a warm place in February is paramount.
We've found lots of other ways to cope with winter:
Sledding -- We have a little hill in our backyard that entertains the kids for hours. They especially like sledding in the dark wearing headlamps. On free afternoons, we venture out to the big hills known for great sledding around the area.
Skiing -- With Max on skis for the first time last year, we *enjoyed* days at a lodge about 20 minutes from our house. (I say *enjoyed* because I'm not sure lugging five pairs of skis, boots, poles, and three kids in snow gear up the hill was really *fun*.) This year, we're hoping to do more Nordic skiing and snowshoeing.
Scarves and neck gators: You simply have to add these to the bins of mittens and hats.
Smartwool socks: They really do keep your feet warmer than the average sock.
Baking: There's nothing like waking up to a fresh snowfall and warm cinnamon buns for breakfast...
Arts and crafts: Mia is learning to sew and quilt, and I'm going to start knitting socks this weekend. Max can usually use up a few hours coloring, painting, or gluing something; Tom and Will don't do crafts; they play Wii instead.
Hang out the bird feeders: I love seeing cardinal pairs against the white snow. We don't hang out bird feeders in the other seasons because there's a bear in the neighborhood that tears them down and eats the seeds, and I don't want him ambling around our yard.
Enjoy the summer: You sure don't take the summer months for granted when you live in a four-season climate!
So Tom told me it's my turn to snow blow the driveway this morning. (He says things like that to see if he can get a rise out of me.) I told him I sure would, but I know he'll do it anyway because he kind of likes clearing the driveway. Besides it's 6 degrees out, and I've got socks to knit and Christmas cookies to bake...
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I guess her bell just doesn't ring anymore.
I tell ya, I had just read 'Twas the Night before Christmas to Max right before I read that bog, and I wouldn't trade the wonder on his face during that story for anything. I love the intrigue, magic, and fun that Santa -- and the season itself -- brings to our house. Mia knows "the truth", and when she found out, she thought she had been let in on life's biggest secret. She wasn't upset or let down. Instead, she was tickled that she had such an advantage over her brothers. She was also thrilled to realize that it was me who made her wooden horse barn, not elves.
At age 9, Will still claims to believe. He doesn't ask any questions; I think he may not want to know the answer. He did tell me a few years ago that while he did believe in Rudolph, "there's no way he can have a red nose. It's impossible." [Yet it's possible that he flies? I didn't press that issue...] This year, when I asked him if he'd go visit Santa Claus with Max, he said no because he isn't into the fake Santas. Just the real one. So my guess is that this is Will's last year on the Polar Express.
Max is in the full swing of the fantasy. I'm not taking him to see Santa though because I'm pretty sure he won't sit on Santa's lap if Will won't. (That's just the nature of the brotherhood.) But we're reading all the stories and watching all the movies. ("Elf", "The Santa Clause", and "A Christmas Story" are our favorites.) The kids are buying each other gifts -- with their own money for the first time. And it's likely Cookie Day this weekend.
So even after Santa is outed for everyone, we'll still watch the shows, eat the cookies, carefully choose gifts for one another, and do what we can for those in need. We'll cherish the opportunity to remember the joy in traditions -- and such singular phrases as "You cotton-headed ninny muggins" (courtesy of "Elf"). And contrary to Grinchmommy's allegations, we'll experience understanding and acceptance from the spirit of giving that only this season brings.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Without a doubt, my favorite time of the day is bedtime. Not because the kids are out of my hair, but because of the time we read together before they fade off. It's also the time of the day when all work is unconditionally put aside for a good book. That doesn't happen often (enough) for me.
Our current routine is that I read to Max first and tuck him in, then the older two and I head off to whatever fantasy we're living in pages. With Max, I have the chance to relive stories and picture books that have become family favorites over the years:
How I Became a Pirate
Muncha Muncha Muncha
There's a Cow in the Cabbage Patch
The Carrot Seed
The Mitten and most other Jan Brett stories
We're Going on a Bear Hunt
Felicia Numeroff's circular tales
My Many Colored Days
The Magic Tree House series
Max has also added a few to the list himself:Anything written by Mo Willems -- the Pigeon series, Leonardo the Terrible Monster, Knuffle Bunny
Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies
The Mercy Watson series
For the older two, top picks include the following:
The Peter and the Starcatchers series (at the top of both kids' lists)
The Tale of Despereaux
The Miraculous Journal of Edward Tulane*
The Charlie Bone series (We're in the middle of Book 6 now)
Trumpet of the Swan
The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, and The Diamond of Darkhold series
The list of books we still need to read is pretty long, so I hope they don't mind reading with me when they're eighteen. We haven't tackled Harry Potter yet; mostly because I've already read them all on my own, and Mia thinks she's not interested. I'm determined to bring her around to Hogwarts, Dumbledore, the Sorting Hat, and J.K. Rowling's seven-volume brilliance however.
So yes, Mia's right. I can't give bring myself to give away any of our books (and my second childhood) yet. Wonder how long it will be before I blog about finally letting go of them...
*When we were reading Edward Tulane, we came to a rather sad part of the story, and I started to cry. "Just take it slow mom. Calm down. It'll be OK," the kids told me. Who's the parent here???
Saturday, December 13, 2008
I just took a loaf of this out of my oven a short time ago. It's has a beautiful carmelly crust, and the inside will be moist and de-lish, I'm sure. We've been using this recipe since it was published, and it has never disappointed us.
Like the title says, you don't have to knead the dough. You mix the flour, salt, yeast, and water in a bowl one day. Cover it and let it rise overnight. The next day, you fold it onto your countertop, add a little flour, let it rise again, then bake. The process is contrary to what you would expect to do to make a near-perfect loaf of bread. The only challenge is that you have to plan ahead. It also doesn't keep for more than a day or two, like most homemade loaves.
I cook the loaf in my Romertopf clay pot, which I think helps hold its shape and moisture. My husband, a man of more traditional bread-baking convictions (and skills), prefers to put it directly on a pizza stone in the oven. Either way, you will end up with a loaf that tastes like it came from an artisan bakery. Obviously, I hope you give it a try and enjoy it as much as we do.
Friday, December 12, 2008
So my two older kids go to bed tonight giggling uncontrollably because their dad tells them that he's giving them a "swift kick in the ass" for Christmas. They think this is the funniest thing they've ever heard, and they tell him the same. Then they brush their teeth, and I lie down with Sweet Mia (like I usually do), and Darling Will comes in and tries to crawl in Mia's bed with us. Mia says, "Get out of here Will, or I'm going to kick your ass." Then they both start laughing like there's no tomorrow. And I do too because it's fun to cuss. And now they know it too.
So I'm downstairs blogging, and I suspect they're upstairs still laughing in their pillows.
All under the Moonlight in Vermont.
(From Wikipedia: "Moonlight in Vermont" is a popular song about the U.S. state of Vermont.
It was written by John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf and published in 1943. The lyrics are very unusual for an American pop song of the 1940s, because they do not rhyme and are impersonal, focusing mostly on the sensory appeal of the Vermont countryside while alluding briefly to romance. The lyrics are also metrically subtle: Each verse (not counting the bridge) is a haiku.)
(231 words, thanks to Wikipedia.)
Monday, December 8, 2008
My blog-friend honeypiehorse recently wrote about needing to buy a new pair of underwear while traveling, and the most accessible pair was "fabulously expensive":
I also needed some new knickers while traveling last week, which I picked up at a Gap Body store on a "Buy 5 for $20" deal. Not fabulously expensive, but all five were not necessary. (I'd also recently purchased a pack at Costco.) But I splurged anyway, and as I was doing the laundry this morning, I found myself proud of my stack of underwear. They're all relatively new and clean. No holes and such. Made me feel like my life must be in some semblance of control because a pile of old, worn knickers is an indicator that you (1) don't have enough time, energy, or cash to shop, or (2) you've given up.
So while this blog really many not go anywhere important or interesting, I thought I'd give some thought to underwear this morning. I won't mention anything about my husband's underwear, for my guess is that he'd find a way to disengage my blog if I did. My kids' underwear is so cute, though -- especially those early pairs! To think how tiny they once were...
I know a few people who change their underwear twice a day. That means that they need a stockpile of at least 14 pair. My family changes only once a day -- at night during the PJ change. I haven't found the need for a clean pair after sleeping yet.
Is it OK to share underwear after a child has outgrown it? I have accepted and used hand-me-down underwear for my kids without any second thoughts, but my mom thought that was weird and a little gross. But the underwear was clean and stain free, so why not? (I've tried to avoid using "stain" during this post, but it has a useful and almost unavoidable purpose in a discussion on underwear.)
On the other hand, underwear -- especially the child variety -- really isn't very expensive, so maybe I've taken thriftiness to an objectionable level in my "reduce, reuse, recycle" convictions. I wouldn't want underwear hand-me-downs myself, so I probably shouldn't impose them on my children...
Against these conclusions (and apparently my better judgment), I've also passed underwear down. They were like new, however, because my daughter has strong hygiene practices and because I usually throw away any underwear that needs to be cleaned before it goes into the washing machine. Nevertheless, now that this blog has helped me agree with my mother, I won't make the mistake again of assuming someone else wants our used undies.
Wikipedia features an impressive history and display of "common contemporary types and styles of undergarments". I didn't know that a male thong was called a "tanga" or that demand for boxers is "easing off in favour of hipster trunks similar in design to the swimming trunks worn by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale." Interesting.
So in this free association on underwear, a few things have come to light:
Why is underwear referred to as a "pair"?
Used underwear shouldn't be paid forward.
I still don't feel the need to change underwear more than once a day.
Underwear really is disposable.
The state of one’s underwear may give clues to their state of life.
"Knickers" is a cool word.
I'd love to know if, after giving some thought to underwear, you have any flashes to add to this list. (And I mean "flash" in the enlightenment sense of the word not in the lack of underwear sense.)
Saturday, December 6, 2008
I had been in California a few weeks ago; went home to Vermont for Thanksgiving week; then back to California the first week in December. Due to time zone differences, I usually don't get enough sleep when I travel. I've been fighting a cough, congestion, and sinus issues for about 10 weeks now. And suffice it to say, I was just plain dog tired.
On December 5th, I was scheduled to fly home for hopefully an extended stay before my next business trip. I had stayed at my friend Amy's house the previous night, and our plan was to drop me at a BART station where I'd pick up a train to San Francisco International. Breakfast at the airport.
Due to a run-in with some old friends at Amy's kids' school, she dropped me off a little later than we both had planned. At the station, I had to wait about 12 minutes for the train. At the airport, I boarded the wrong AirTrain and ended up at the rental car hub instead of my terminal. Then at my terminal, the quick check in didn't work for me because by now, my flight left in less than 30 minutes. My only option: The live check-in agent at the front of a long line of people.
So I'm pretty certain I'm missing my flight. I step up to the counter, hand the agent my information. He takes a quick look at it, shakes his head, and tells me with a slight chuckle that he can't check my bags in because I’m way too late.
I tried very hard to stay controlled, but my tear ducts let loose (damn those tear ducts), and tears started rolling down my face. I was having an adult-onset meltdown. Hungry, tired, thirsty, and wanting terribly to be heading home -- completely "out of bullets" as my friend Romy says.
"What do I do?" I snuffled. The agent typed away at his keyboard for about three full minutes without looking at me. I tried hard not to full-on sob at his counter. And I tried not to be too embarrassed that I was crying over something that wasn't a hugely serious issue.
"Any of the flights to the East Coast will arrive too late to get you into Burlington tonight." My only options are to fly to Philly and stay the night, or schedule a flight out of San Francisco the next day. I wiped my eyes and took Option 2.
So I BARTed back to Romy's, and my outlook improved. I scheduled a red-eye home instead. Bought some cozy sleeping clothes for the flight. Enjoyed a gorgeous afternoon in the Bay Area. Happily visited with other friends in the evening. And boarded a flight shortly before 10 p.m., wearing my airplane "PJs" and primed for sleep with Dramamine. I even purchased the airline-standard pillow and blanket to help be that much more comfortable for the sleep coma I was planning for.
My travel karma still hadn't recovered however, and I spent a more typical night on the plane. No comfortable position in 30-40 different attempts. Earplugs sticking to the pillow and falling out. Neighbors not turning off their television screens. No noticeable effects from the Dramamine. And the fleece blanket creating enough static electricity to rival a wool sock in a dryer.
So as I write this blog, I'm sitting in the airport in New York, waiting for my Burlington air shuttle. I'm still dog tired and my hair is probably standing on end in places from static, but I've shifted gears a bit and am now counting December 6th, today, as the day I'll return a more normal and manageable pace. After a nice Saturday afternoon nap at HOME.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Today, I've joined the eDark Side. It started with LinkedIn in the early fall. I signed up to see if I could offer any support for recruiting for the company I work for. The HR team convinced me that LinkedIn was the latest rage in recruiting, so I thought I'd see if I could help. Unfortunately, I haven't recruited anyone, and I haven't discovered any other value in LinkedIn yet. But I haven't given up hope.
Next came this blog. As I mentioned in my very first post, the blogsphere forces caught me by surprise. I never imagined myself as a blogger, but here I am. And so far, I'm planning to stay. I really enjoy the writing, even if nobody reads it.
Shortly after the blog took shape, I turned to Facebook. Tom started up his Facebook page a few years ago, and I was honestly turned off by the whole notion. Who cares? I thought. But for whatever reason, I tuned in and turned on. For the first couple of days as a newborn Facebooker, I was obsessed. I loved checking out all my new friends' profiles and statuses, and changing my own. I was a little disturbed by how consuming it was. But my husband, in his old-pro wisdom, assured me it wears off after awhile, and he was right. Now, there are days I don't even check Facebook. Not too many in a row though.
I often wonder why Facebook intrigues me. I was happy not being connected. I was content not knowing what my "friends" were doing every day. I didn't mind not being in touch. But since I don't have much time or space for a real social life these days, I'm guessing that Facebook must be filling some void.
So what's next? I'm afraid it might be a Blackberry. My latest plan is to get Tom a Blackberry Storm and transfer his current BB to me. Once again, I can't explain the change of techno heart. I can only admit that I like it.
Yesterday, when I was flying to CA, I realized that I forgot to charge my cell phone before I left. So I planned to charge it in the airport. But when I got ready to plug in, I discovered that I had a Nintendo charger with me, not a Razr charger. This was vexing, for I needed to call Romy to find out if she was picking me up at the airport or if I was taking a train to her place. The solution of course: a pay phone. I haven't used a pay phone in years, and this seemingly simple activity required me to get change for a dollar, spend the whole dollar on the long-distance call, and call back two more times when Romy didn't answer (requiring change for two more dollars). I now pledge to give my cell phone the attention and respect it deserves. Tom shall never need to remind me to carry it -- fully charged -- again.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Community service is one of my top 10 ways to spend time. I’ve been involved in Meals on Wheels (MOW) for eight years -– driving for three years and coordinating the routes and drivers’ schedules in my town for the past five. I also sub when a driver can’t make it. As the coordinator, I serve as the contact for people who need meals, set each month’s driving schedule for the volunteer drivers, recruit new volunteers, and communicate with the drivers about changes in the routes. In a typical month, I spend about six hours doing this.
As a driver, I pick up the meals –- a hot lunch -– from a local church where an amazing group of women cooks 100+ meals every day for four towns. I then deliver the meals to the homes and apartments of mostly older people who have trouble staying on a decent diet or cooking for themselves. Part of the service is making sure the “clients” are OK, as the MOW drivers are sometimes the only people they see or talk to in a day. I haven’t had any incidents where a client needed immediate help, but one of the drivers on my route found a client no longer alive a few years ago. (Thankfully, someone found him…) Delivering takes about two hours, and on average, I drive about once a month.
There are days when it isn’t easy to fit MOW into my schedule, and it feels like a burden. But I always finish the route feeling content, happy, and fulfilled in a fundamental way. (I believe the Buddhists call this a “wholesome state”.) All this for less than 10 hours a month! (Interestingly, the roadblocks that originally made my MOW commitment seem like a burden suddenly become the burden themselves.)
In addition to the personal reward, I love that MOW gives me a chance to be a volunteering role model for my kids. This isn’t the reason I’m involved, but I hope it will inspire my kids to donate their time when they’re able. I've taken all three of them with me to deliver over the years, but they stopped wanting to come after one too many awkward hugs from the clients.
Something must have gone right though, because Mia is already coming up with idea after idea for her 8th Grade Challenge in three years –- a middle-school requirement that students run a soup-to-nuts project that benefits the community beyond their school or home. I mentored an eighth grader a couple years ago who cooked desserts and delivered meals with his mom as his challenge. To date, Mia isn’t interested in MOW for her challenge; I guess that’s “mom’s gig”. She seems to be leaning toward collecting or making something for children in need – books, quilts, pillowcases, stuffed animals.
At the risk of being preachy, I write this blog in hopes that it will encourage someone (other than Mia) to be a brothers’ keeper. For even just a few hours a month, the help or support you give someone could make a big difference in their lives. I guarantee it will make a difference in yours.