Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cover That Up, Mister


In the grocery the other day, about 10 yards in front of me, a guy let out a huge, disgusting hack--not into the crook of his elbow, not into his hand, but right into the air where I wanted to look at soup. So I had to hold my breath while browsing.

On my way out of the store, I made sure to find the hand sanitizer dispenser and use it generously. Then I praised myself for taking my vitamins (multi-, Vitamin D, and fish oil) that morning.  

This is what the H1N1 "scare" has made of me.  

I'm not really a germophobe, and I'm probably still a few steps away from becoming one. But I do flush with my foot in public restrooms (except that I use my hands to lock and unlock the door so I'm not sure there's any savings in foot flushing). I wash my hands after spending any time in my kids' schools. I use my own yoga ball and mat in class. I'm kinda into the notion of not shaking hands as a greeting. And I've recently clued in on how many people potentially touch public pens. (I've packed extra pens in my purse now...do I need to pack my own stylus too for those touchpad screens?) 

But I don't yet open doors, dispense paper towels, or turn water on or off with my elbows. I don't leave public bathrooms with a paper towel with which to open the door and then drop the towel on the floor outside the bathroom as a clue to the store owner to put a trash can there. (Can you believe people actually do this???) And I don't sing "Happy Birthday" twice while washing my hands.  

So far this season, I've had only one quick sinus infection (compared with 10 weeks of issues last year). One of my three little darlings had what was probably the H1N1 flu for a week or so. Another had a two-day fever with no other symptoms.  And my compulsive diligent hand-washing daughter has dodged all major viral bullets but a few mild colds. So maybe something's working. Or maybe it's just early in the season. 


Of course, now that I've bragged, we're toast. So excuse me while I go sanitize our toothbrushes...




Monday, December 14, 2009

Praline Bacon


A neighbor writes a recipe column in our local newspaper, and that is where I found this recipe.  She attributes the recipe to Chef Robin Schempp of www.rightstuffent.com. 

I made this for Thanksgiving.  We used it in the appetizer included at the bottom (though I didn't prefer it on the rice crackers), in our green beans, and to nibble on for a couple of days. My 10 year old thought this was one of the best things he had ever eaten. He actually moaned when he ate it.  

Praline Bacon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a wide, shallow dish combine 1-cup brown sugar; one-half cup roughly ground almonds/pecans; 2 teaspoons dry mustard; 1 and one-half tablespoons of coarse ground pepper; 1 teaspoon kosher salt; one-third cup mustard seeds.

Separate 2 pounds of bacon into strips. Dip and press each slice into the sugar mixture on both sides. Lay bacon strips on a large, rimmed baking sheet covered with parchment. Sprinkle excess sugar mixture over the bacon slices in the pan. Roast the bacon until fat begins to render, about 6 minutes. Rotate the pan front-to-back and continue roasting until the bacon is crisp and brown, 8 minutes. Cool; cut bacon into bite-sized pieces.

Sweet Potatoes: Peel and chunk-cut desired amount of sweet potatoes. Toss potatoes in a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes; gently flip the batch halfway through cooking for even roasting. Pour potatoes into a serving bowl and stud with lots of praline bacon.

Cheddar Cheese Hors d'oeuvres: In the bowl of a food processor, chop 1-pound of very sharp white Cheddar cheese. Add 3 tablespoons of milk and pulse until the mixture forms a creamy paste. Meanwhile, caramelized apples by sautéing 5 peeled and chopped apples in 1 tablespoon of butter until soft (but not mushy.) Spread Cheddar on a plain rice cracker; add a layer of apple, top with a chunk of praline bacon.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Knitters and Crocheters Needed

My latest project...please help knit! 



Knitters and Crocheters Needed
Please help make scarves for
Special Olympics Vermont Winter Games athletes!


Goal:  350 scarves by March 1, 2010
Size: 6” wide by 5’ long
Color:  Solid royal blue or royal blue and white
Pattern, needles, yarn weight:  Your choice
Yarn suggestions:

  •         Red Heart Yarn “Royal Blue”
  •         Berroco Comfort “Primary Blue” #9736
  •         Encore #0133
  •         Cascade 220 Superwash “Hyacinth” #81
Please send or deliver completed scarves to:
Special Olympics Vermont
attn: Scarf Project
368 Avenue D

Williston, VT 05495


Scarf pick up available in the greater Burlington area.  Donated yarn also available for people with limited resources in the Burlington area. 


For more information, please contact Patty Pasley at plpasley@gmail.com.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winter Nesting

I found this interesting comment in some research I was doing for work:
"Everyone's body runs a little slower in the winter. We tend to want to sleep more, eat more, and there tends to be an increase in the craving for carbohydrates compared to other times of the year. It's a kind of hibernation tendency, which is the brain's response to shortened daytime hours. In the U.S., the winter holidays coincide precisely with the least amount of daylight throughout the year. So they occur at a time when our bodies are most likely to want to crawl into a cave and go to sleep and do what a bear would do: Eat and sleep."
And sew. 


This seems to be the time of year that I pull out my sewing machine and the projects I didn't finish any given previous winter. The project du jour that Daughter and I just finished was a rag quilt. She received a kit of flannel squares awhile back, which she spent last winter sewing together. Just last week, I put a flannel back on it for her, and she tied it together. The result:








What makes it a "rag" quilt is that the squares are sewn with the seams on the outside. The seams are then clipped and the quilt washed, which makes the seams fray. Traditionally, both sides of a rag quilt are sewn together at the same time, blocks back to back, with one side showing the frayed and the other showing finished seams, but we opted to put on our own back with ties.  It's very cute. And a great project for Daughter and I to work on together. 


Now on to the Christmas napkins we started last year...along with lots of naps and holiday cookies...

(298 words)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Making Food

Even with the year's biggest food holiday behind us, I'm still focused on food. Always. I watched Food, Inc. earlier this week and was not shocked by the revelations of Big Business producing 95+ percent of our meat, but I was nauseated by the disregard the industry seems to have for our health.

One of the more disgusting things I learned from this movie: a corn-fed cow has far more bacteria in its gut than a grass-fed cow. If you started feeding grass to a corn-fed cow, bacteria levels in the cow's stomachs would return to more natural levels in a couple of weeks or so. The problem with all that bacteria? E. coli food poisoning. Oh, but that corn is so cheap, easy to produce, and fattens up our food (and our bodies) so quickly...

All in all, I thought the movie was a little unbalanced in its reporting and focused too much on meat and corn producers. I wished for more information about the mass production of vegetables and the benefits of buying local and natural. Nevertheless, the movie is one to watch. It will make you think twice about many things. No more mass produced meat for me. But I'm one of the lucky people who can afford local and organic. Unfortunately, I can see where a large part of our population won't be able to make the same choices.

On the lighter side of my food obsessions, this is what my storage room holds after the fall harvest:




Two kinds of pickles (fresh packed and brined), raspberry and golden raspberry jams (with some blueberry left from last year), applesauce, tomatillo salsa, tomato puree, picked hot peppers, corn/zucchini relish, potatoes, garlic, and butternut squash. In the freezer, I've also stored blueberries, cucumber salad, corn, zucchini, blanched apples (for pies), and bags of hot peppers.

It's a small stash (for a lot of work), but I'm using a squash for our dinner salad tonight, and that brings me great satisfaction. Earlier this week, we also used tomato puree for a chili, the salsa for samosas, and my boys choose my applesauce over packaged applesauce any day in their lunches. Small steps with large implications: The packaging is reused year to year. Everything but the fruit comes from our own backyard, grown organically. (The fruit came from local farms; next spring, I start my own apple orchard.) And my kids see it all in action--from seed to plate or Ball jar.

To think what I could do with a goat, an olive tree, and a wheat field...

(428 words)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

(Dis)Comfort Food

I'm currently recovering from a sinus infection, so I'm inclined toward things that bring me comfort--blankets on the couch, mindless TV, food like Mom used to make.

Despite my health, I went to Costco near lunchtime today, and I found myself migrating to the snack bar for a comforting slice of pizza and a Coke.

But last time I ate a piece of pizza at Costco, it wasn't very good. Yet today, I went back for more...

Angel: You should get that berry smoothie instead. It would taste better.
Devil: Nothing is better than cheese.
Angel: That berry smoothie even looks better in the picture than the pizza.
Devil: But you've been sick, and your husband is traveling. Go for the cheese.
Angel: Refreshing, healthy...
Devil: Cheesy...

I went for the cheese. After peeling off about 3 pounds--in the interest of better health--I ate the huge, soggy slice, and didn't enjoy even one bite. Why does the devil always win?

(163 words)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dear Will



Dear Oldest Son:

It has been nearly two months since you turned 10, and I'm just now writing you a birthday letter...

Why the wait? I'm not sure. I think it may be because you're such a enigma to me. You live more in the moment than in your head. And I find this mysterious, puzzling--and completely refreshing. I guess I didn't know where to start, until now...

So let's start with onions. You love raw onions. I bet you could eat one like an apple. But what kid loves raw onions?

Second, you think your father is "hilarious" (when I think he's mostly ridiculous). Nevertheless, I love to hear you laugh loud and hard at his jokes and antics.

You've always been our most outwardly affectionate child, yet you turn and push away when I worry aloud about you. "I'm fine, Mom. Just leave me alone." Affection on your terms only, I suppose. (This should come as no surprise given your gender.)

You're clearly stuck in the middle of being a kid and a tween. You're walking around wearing your iPod or chatting online with girls one minute and making blanket and pillow forts with your kid brother the next. You could seemingly care less about clothes, but you looked through all the racks at Target a few weeks ago until you found a purple polo-style shirt. "I just like purple," you said. News to me.

You're smart but incredibly unorganized. I can hardly look at the mess of ragged papers stuffed into your "organizer". But you seem to be standing solid academically in your first year of middle school, and I can see you trying.

Frustrating to me, you show no interest in animals and the natural world--a self-proclaimed "more of a cat person". But you enjoy a PBS "Nature" show as much as the next person. I was so pleased when you saw a snail come out of its shell in slow motion on TV the other day, and you thought it was "cool!" I hold out hope that you'll notice it all someday.

This past year, you've grown taller and skinner. You've clearly expressed your desire for longer hair. And there's always flat-brimmed hat on your head. You also push your sister's buttons constantly and hold stubbornly to your points in sibling arguments. You're both in the same book group at school right now, and the group leader told me that you volunteered to be the first to speak about something in front of the group last week. As usual, you will NOT be overshadowed by her despite her advantages in age.

This next year, I wish for your continued confidence in knowing exactly what you like and want, the everlasting lightness of taking life one day at a time, maybe a little maturity to help you navigate your first school dance and the girls you're chatting with online, and more loud laughs at your dad's bad jokes.

Love,
Mom


(496 lovingly chosen words)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Girls Will Be Girls"

At a recent end-of-season celebration for Daughter's x-country team, two boys stood up, and each gave a gift to two of three coaches. For the third coach, four girls stood up to give one gift; of course, only one of them spoke. Quietly.

Later in the week, at a high school play, the girls, naturally, walked around the theatre in groups, looking for seats, friends, or to be seen. [Except that being seen would be difficult because they all looked and dressed the same.] A boy or two occasionally puppy-dogged behind.

Then it seems that every weekend, Daughter tells me she needs something new: jeans, sweats, boots, ballet flats and so on. My instincts tell me this is because Emily or Alison (of her school pod) came to school with something new.

Ladies. When are you going to stand on your own?

I don't know the answer, but JoAnn Deak in Girls Will Be Girls is going to tell me. This book is a great resource for better understanding the physical and emotional development of girls--in other words, why they do the silly things they do.

JoAnn (I use the first-name familiar because she is such a good friend to me--even though we've never met) refers to the group thing as "amoebas" and the "cocoon of cliques". She says that "surrounding oneself with those who look alike, talk alike, and act alike makes the world feel safer and allows movement away from the influence of significant adults to be more comfortable." Makes sense.

JoAnn goes on to assure me that around age 14, the cocoon starts to feel suffocating, and our girls affiliate themselves with groups (boys and girls) having common interests. Preparing for a more adult like existence, perhaps? By a girl's senior year, she accepts everyone, regardless of social standing or interests. "Teachers and parents temporarily regain their status. It is a very emotional and holistic time."

This information isn't really new to me. I lived it once. But where's the book on how to have enough patience and understanding to get me from now to then? How do I can I bite my tongue when she leaves the house skinny jeans or baggy sweats tucked into UGG boots--just like every other 12-year-old in the school?

Some days I can; some I can't. So on those days I'm really stumped, I visit that wise JoAnn. She helps me realize that everything is on track, normal, and complicated.

People make jokes about how some people need a manual for parenting. But that's me, and hopefully it will get Daughter and me through the tricky years without too many scars, piercings, tattoos, or bright hair colors.

(450 words)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Secret Money




BACKGROUND: At the bank last week, an account manager looked up my accounts online and made reference to three: two checking and a savings.

"Two checking?" I inquired. "Hmmm. Are you sure? Is there money in it? Is it active?" Several other vague thoughts [concerning Husband] went through my mind.

"Yeah, it's active," he said. "And you're listed as the main account owner."

Probing further, we discovered that the account was for our family camp. All legitimate. Silly me to have doubted Husband like that.

Later, I tell Husband this story, and this is what he says:

"Honey, if I were going to have another account, it wouldn't be in the same bank that you use."

Honey, schmoney. Has he actually thought about this????

LAST NIGHT: I tell this same story to some dinner guests, Greg and Tara, and Tara tells me that a similar subject came up in her workplace recently, and one of her co-workers said something to this effect:

"All guys have secret money."

Is this true? In banks? Do they ever actually use it?

I am keenly interested to know if this is a common, unwritten practice. So fess up, men. Anonymously, if you must.

Then I'm going to ruminate on whether I need some secret money too. In a third bank that's different than our family bank and the one where Husband hides his. So don't tell him.

(234 words)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

People Watching

On a morning a few weeks ago, passing through the Burlington International Airport on my way west, I noticed a family -- He, She, and Little Boy -- sitting on a bench together outside the security line. Little Boy had the same short haircut as Him, and She was wearing an ARMY sweatshirt, so my assumption was that He was being deployed somewhere.

None of them were looking at or talking to each other. All three were just blankly staring at the security line, as if that held some interest.

I thought it strange that they weren't getting in final hugs or goodbyes. They were just sitting there looking completely lost and hollow.

I was halfway through security, when they stood up and walked Him to the line. I wondered if "This might be the last time we see Him" was going through their minds. I turned to watch Little Boy and Her walk away from Him, still distant from each other and not talking. I think they had no idea what to say to each other. Little Boy's eyes were brimming and red, and he was clearly trying very hard to hold it all in. I had to turn away, for my eyes started to brim at the sight of such sadness.

Granted, they're just one of thousands of families torn apart by war politics. But I sure hope that guy comes home alive someday so they can hug, kiss, and cry some happiness.

(245 words)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"My Many Colored Days"

Some days are yellow. Some are blue. On different days I'm different too. You'd be surprised how many ways I change on different colored days.

On Bright Red Days how good it feels to be a horse and kick my heels!

On other days I'm other things. On Bright Blue Days I flap my wings.

Some days, of course, feel sort of Brown. Then I feel slow and low, low down.

Then comes a Yellow Day and Wheeee...I am a busy, buzzy bee.

Gray Day....Everything is gray. I watch. But nothing moves today.

Then all of a sudden I'm a circus seal! On my Orange Days that's how I feel.

Green Days. Deep deep in the sea. Cool and quite fish. That's me.

On Purple Days I'm sad. I groan. I drag my tail. I walk alone.

But when my days are Happy Pink, it's great to jump and just not think.

Then come my Black Days. MAD. And loud. I howl. I growl at every cloud.

Then comes a Mixed-Up Day. And WHAM! I don't know who or what I am!

But it all turns out all right, you see. And I go back to being...me.

********************************************

Wish I'd written this--it's one of my favorite books. Instead, I have to give credit to the great Theodore Geisel, who has also left us with such classics as Go Dog, Go.

It's early-ish in the morning right now, and I'm on the opposite coast from the one I live on. I've just finished a four-day conference that I help organize. This year, we hosted 500+ people at a historic hotel in downtown San Francisco. It was a great success, this software conference. Everyone left happy, my company hit a home run with its customers, our employees had a phenomenal time. You get the picture. Personally, I'm just glad it's over, so I can go back to being Me.

No doubt, I'm a certain Me at work who is surely different than the regular Me. But at this conference, in particular, there are a lot of situations in which I'm not particularly comfortable for which I need to rise to the occasion. It puts me in a sort of mixed-up Me kind of place.

I'm not the person who enjoys being thanked in front of a clapping crowd of people I mostly don't know. My feet hurt after a full day running around in "professional" shoes and tailored pants. I don't really like the dance parties. I'm not interested in being around those people at cocktail parties who over-appreciate the free drinks -- and, in my case, spill them on you. I find small talk inane; I want to know the stories of and by people, not "How are you today?" or "Are you enjoying the conference?" But it's a little socially weird to bypass the small talk and get right to the best song written in the past decade, whether flu shots are being oversold, or how you ended up where you are.

Fortunately, I experienced a few moments of real with people I respect and enjoy. Attendees at our event enjoyed themselves and learned a great deal. Those who like to dance, danced. And there is joy in that.

So as I stop whining and head home, with a good book in my hand, song on my iPod, and thick, comfortable European shoes on my feet, it is all turning out all right you see, as I go back to being Me.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Super Moms Rule(d Out)

A couple weeks ago, a USA Weekend insert in our paper featured a cover story titled "6 Super Moms Share Their Top Tips." Out of curiosity, I looked at the article. I wanted to see how to be a Super Mom, of course. Plus, that mom on the cover with her daughter looked really happy...



Here's what I learned:

  • Super Moms do yoga with their kids before breakfast.
  • Super Moms do lunges and crunches while holding their babies.
  • Super Moms shop at J. Crew or Ann Taylor instead of spending on designer fashions.
  • Super Moms use moisturizers that come with UV protection and a touch of color.
  • Super Moms stick with classics like black trousers and a crisp white shirt -- and customize with jewelry.
  • Super Moms feed their 2 year olds ethnic food.
  • Super Moms add rosemary and Parmesan to their popcorn.
  • Super Moms take their play groups to retirement homes around the holidays.
  • Super Moms review the expiration dates on their first aid supplies.
  • Super Moms don't give up on challenges.

As I said above, this article ran a couple weeks ago, and I still can't stop being annoyed by it.

First, what's with the label Super Mom? Are there also Garden-Variety or Lesser Moms?

Second, these are lamest and most superficial set of Mom tips I've ever seen. Where's the tip about how to best clean up cat vomit? Or how to get your kids to remember their coats? Or how to make a wholesome dinner from pepperoni, carrots, and yogurt?

Third, these tips cannot possibly bring true happiness, success, or superness. I'd bet my next paycheck that I'm just as super wearing unaccessorized sweats and eating plain popcorn.

Backing up a little, I'm sure the editorial content of USA Weekend isn't of critical standards, so I shouldn't have expected much. But I didn't expect to get so fully bonked on the head with a big rubber mallet of vacuous blabber.

Oh, Mr. Media. When will you stop trying to make us all feel so incomplete and ordinary?

I can't get this song out of my head:

"Little Boxes" (by Malvina Reynolds)

Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses all went to the university
Where they were put in boxes and they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and there's lawyers, and business executives
And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course and drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp and then to the university
Where they are put in boxes and they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dear Max


Dear Max:

You turned 6 a few days ago. It was a low-key birthday -- cupcakes at school, presents, pizza, and Beatles Rock Band -- and you seemed very happy. So I'm glad we didn't plan for more.

You are a funny little 6 year old. I'm pretty sure you don't think you're 6; rather, you were born 9 in your mind. Like Will. You've never seemed like a little boy. Physically, you've always had great balance and coordination. Mentally, your amazing memory is your gift, to be sure. Emotionally, you're as steady and predictable as a train schedule. And when you walk into a room, people smile. Probably because of the rascally look in your raven-black eyes.

That all said, you have your quirks. You make paper underwear. You won't wear shirts with buttons or zippers. No interest in group activities such as soccer or Cub Scouts (though you did give in to t-ball this past spring--because Will plays baseball, I'm sure). You have little interest in friends or playdates beyond those of your brother. No dirty hands or maple syrup drips on your shirts from your morning pancakes or waffles. Like your sister, you seem to prefer order to chaos, and I don't think we'll have struggles with you over homework, as you're completely on task with all things related to school. So far. You don't strike me as a typical absent-minded, off-in-another-world adolescent boy.

Games, games, games are your world. I'm not sure we've done right by you as parents by allowing you so much access to video games. But you're #3 -- you've been granted the Many Freedoms of Birth Order -- and the World of Kids is a new place these days, so it all is what it is. I have visions of your college days including lots of late nights in some online gaming world or playing poker.

When you're without your siblings, you're rather quiet, easy going, hardly noticed. You also play shy in social situations, but you are no wallflower. In any family discussion, your voice is heard -- loudly and clearly. In school, your teachers also tell me your voice is heard -- more often than they would prefer, actually. (You also say "actually" a lot.) When you called the class bully a "turd" last year in Kindergarten, we knew you'll have no problem holding your own in any social structure or conflict. I just hope that hutzpa doesn't get you in too much trouble.

My hopes for your next year are that you can establish a solid first-grade groove at school, enjoying learning and succeeding at new responsibilities like homework. I hope you can establish some good friendships that are all yours (e.g. not Will's). I hope you don't provoke bullies. I hope you still reach out to hold my hand when we're walking out to the garden together. Of course, staying healthy is always at the top of the wish list. And I hope you hold strong to your "Party of One" happiness and stride. It's a perfect way to tackle being 6.
Love,
Mom

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ode to Julia

Below is my ode to Julia Child, after seeing the delightful movie Julie and Julia a few weeks ago...a tomato galette from Baking With Julia:


While the galette looked pretty, Husband and I both agreed that we prefer a flatbread to a galette in this sort of a treatment. Galette dough is rather sweet and buttery -- though easy to make and roll out. I would also have preferred feta cheese to the called-for cheddar.

(Did I just say I preferred something over cheddar cheese? Shame on me, I know.)

The cornmeal we used in the dough was also quite grainy, so certain bites felt like they were bruising the fillings in my teeth. But that's no fault of the recipe, of course (or maybe, of coarse...)

I wish I could tell you the tomatoes were from my garden, but they've fallen to the late blight. So these tomatoes are from Farmer Paul Mazza. The basil we used was from out back however.

So while we enjoyed but didn't love the galette, I did love the movie. The blogging theme hit close to home, the acting was terrific, the historical view of cooking was very interesting, and the story was sweet. Go see it.

(204 words)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Product Alert: Waste-Free Lunch Kits

From http://www.citizenpip.com/shop.html:



This year we're going to work toward reducing our lunch waste -- plastic utensils, plastic bags, juice boxes. The boys have agreed to use these handy lunch kits; Mia wants something a little more fashionable.

I can't comment on the quality of usefulness of the kit yet, as I just ordered them. They seem a little spendy until you start adding up the cost of all the individual accessories from other companies. I also found a 10% off coupon code online, and those always help a little. So once we try them out, I'll let you know if we are actually able to give up Glad bags.

Friday, August 21, 2009

No Flying in Your Underwear

Remember way back when Max was making paper diapers in Kindergarten and bringing them home for each of us? Well, he has graduated to first grade this year, and apparently he has also graduated to underwear:




This, he brought home from day camp last week.

"What is this?" I asked.

"Underwear," he told me in the most matter of fact of ways.

"What's on the front?" I asked, worried it might be a stain.

"It's a 'No flying in your underwear' symbol," he replied, again, as if this was the most normal thing in the world. (Which it's clearly not...)


So that's the advice of the day. No flying in your underwear. Especially a pair of underwear made out of red construction paper. It might not hold up to the elements.


(After paper diapers and underwear, I wonder what's next...)


(140 words)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Time Out Revelations

I enjoy hanging out with my kids. I've discovered, however, why parents send them to sleepover camp for the summer. Quiet, calm, clean, less laundry, lower grocery bills, fewer decisions. A different pace altogether. And the satisfaction of knowing they're having far more fun than they would at home.

As you might guess, Husband and I have completely enjoyed the break. Feels like we've reconnected in some ways. Like, for instance, just spontaneously going out to dinner when we feel like it. And talking to each other while we're out. Little One is still home, but he's at day camp on weekdays and easy to be with in the evenings. Yes, he is bored and misses his brother and sister somethin' terrible. So do we, but after the first day or two, the peace settled in, and now we're ready to put down a deposit for next summer's camp.

We've received letters from Mia almost every day. They're not detailed -- more like "Miss you. Love you. Having fun. Gotta go." Will wrote once, and his letter was more revealing: "I hope the first night is the hardest because I missed you so much I cried...and I made the archery team." In Mia's letter yesterday, she noted that Will did a disco dance in front of everyone, so it appears he has adjusted.

Any worries? Nope. The camp is well staffed with people who have been there for years, so I'm sure there aren't many situations they haven't seen before. They did have 25 kids sick with some 24-hour flu-like bug, but we dodged that bullet.

We pick them up in four days, and I can't wait to hear the trials and tribulations of the adventure. But the time apart seems to have been a needed evolution for all of us. So with school just around the corner, so our summer ends. Peacefully, happily, refueled.

(315 words)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer Camp


We dropped #1 and #2 off at two weeks of sleepover camp yesterday. This is a first for them -- and for us. We've never been away from the little darlings for any time of length. #3 is still home with us, but he's scheduled to go to daycamp. It's going to be far too quiet at home.

Mia has been worrying about this camp since we made the plans in February. On the night before she left, she had a pit in her stomach and shed a few anxiety tears. Of course. I gave her a big pep talk about what a great experience it will be for her to be the master of her own domain for a couple weeks. Choosing her own food, activities, clothing, and so on without her parents hovering over her or telling her what to do. Her response:

"Most kids talk about how much they don't like their parents, but I want you to hover over me."

We made the decision to try sleepover camp for a couple of reasons. We thought it would be good for our high-anxiety daughter to see that she can survive away from home. We wanted the kids to get that classic, singular summer camp experience about which others speak so fondly. And Will was excited that the camp offered archery.

The camp is actually packed with activities, so they should have no trouble keeping busy. Having been around for 102 years, it seems like a traditional program, with "colors" in the morning, taps in the evening, and cabin chores. Interestingly, it's also a "technology free" zone, so no iPods, cell phones, and the like. The kids also can't make phone calls (i.e. "come get me" calls) home, and I can't call them. I suspect this is to keep the homesickness--and from-homesickness--in check.

So here's where Mia will sleep for the next 13 nights:


And here's Will's cabin:


Drop off yesterday went fairly well. Mia welled up and tried to attach herself to my hip. But we made the break, and getting into the car, Max broke up the melancholy with this:

"Well, looks like I'm the only one now."

He apparently wasn't too broken up about leaving his brother and sister. Husband and I, on the other hand, were a little stunned by the experience. We spend today guessing what the kids might be doing every hour. I've already sent postcards, and Max wrote a couple more out this evening. While I'm planning that the hole will fill itself up with all the projects I haven't had time for all summer, 13 days feels like a long stretch right now.

But hey. I've already found some time to blog -- a luxury given the chaos of our summer. The dogs also got a walk yesterday, and I got in a swim this morning. So maybe this camp thing will work out for everyone after all. Stay tuned.
(492 words)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What Is the What? Book Review

I recently finished reading Dave Eggers What is the What, a biographical (but semi-fictional) account of a young Sudanese man's freaking horrific life and the atrocities of life for people in that country. The book is considered fictional because the subject of the biography, Valentino Achak Deng, couldn't remember all the details of certain events or conversations when he was young, so he and the author ad libbed. They claim the historical events are all accurate and true however.

I wanted to read this book because when I first moved to Vermont nine years ago, I was surprised to see some very tall and very dark-skinned young men (since, after all, Vermont is the second whitest state in the nation). I learned they were "Lost Boys" -- refugees from the Sudan who had come to Vermont for an education. The stories in our paper about the men were fascinating. I was especially taken with their plans to trade cows for wives.

Later -- a year or so ago -- I watched "God Grew Tired of Us", a documentary about the lives of four Sudanese refugees finding their way in America. I laughed seeing the men experience an escalator, an airplane, electricity, and a refrigerator. But their story isn't really funny.

Neither is What is the What. Kids shriveling and dying in their footsteps, eaten by lions, shot at by angry villagers, or recruited for guerrilla warfare at age 9. But the politics and history behind the war in the Sudan was fascinating. Seems a lot of the problems stemmed from oil -- hmmm, think of that? And I know government oppression and murder shouldn't be a surprise, but to think of what these children went through -- being forced out of their villages and hiking and across hundreds of miles of dangerous lands with no food, clothing, or shelter. And surviving to live in encampments for 10-15 years before being given the opportunity to go to America.

In America, I'm not convinced that Achak's life was better. Without giving away a good part of the story, his life was pretty tough. His girlfriend was killed, he worked very hard for little money, he was robbed and assaulted. The poor guy kept persevering and hoping though. He is currently in school in Pennsylvania and has started a foundation that uses proceeds from the book to build schools in the Sudan. (See http://www.valentinoachakdeng.org/history.php for more details.) How someone finds such strength is beyond me.

But as Achak reminds, we're really all the same. Just trying to get by with what we got:

"The refugees created a life that resembled the lives of other human beings, in that we ate and talked and laughed and grew. Goods were traded, men married women, babies were born, the sick were healed, and just as often...went to the sweet hereafter."

So no matter where we are, what demons are chasing us, or what we have or do, we're all usually just eating, talking, laughing, and growing. There were times when I'm sure Achak was and is just as happy as I am. Everyone is or isn’t, I suppose. No matter what cards they're holding.

So should you read? Of course. It's historical, foreign, frightening, vital, inhuman. And unfortunately, true.

(544 words)









Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NY State of Mind

Ah, vacation. We recently returned from a nine-day spin through Michigan to visit friends and family. A needed break in the daily routine.

To get to Mich, we usually drive across northern New York then straight across Canada. About an hour into the drive, any drive, my head usually bobs off. But the drive across New York on this Friday morning -- July 3rd -- kept me wide awake as the sights of Americana flourished from town to town. This route begs for some photo journalism. Some of my favorite observations:

--"Pee Wee's Used Goods: Toys, Tools, and Tarps" -- Tarps?

--"Ruth's Baked Goods" -- Under a small tent on a indistinct town corner, Ruth was setting up a table and unloading bins of breads and such from a worn pickup. Since she was wearing a long grey dress, I assumed she was Amish or something. I would've loved to stop, but our driver typically breaks only for bathrooms and meals.

--Anglers putting on waders for a morning fish.

--Sad houses, happy houses: Sad ones often had old Fords, worn campers, or rusty appliances in their yards. Happy ones had color annuals and/or carefully tended vegetable gardens. I always love a good show of Home Pride.

--A wind farm: In the middle of a string of country towns, a significant number of huge, eerie windmills stand. I've seen acres of windmills in California, but these in NY seem bigger, and they all spin at the same rate. While I love the idea of a wind farm, the mills still seemed out of place and so highly industrial out in this pasture:



--Finally, shortly before we left New York and crossed a bridge to Canada, we passed through Waddington, the "World Carp Capitol" -- How does a town get such a distinction?

(307 words)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lazy Me

I've been a little lazy about blogging lately. Mostly because I've spent the past two weekends here:



Looking at this view:



And enjoying the kids doing stuff like this:



And this:



And this:



This is Camp. A family cottage on Lake Champlain where we spend as much time as possible in the summer. Last weekend, we didn't have cable or internet out there. A liberating weekend it was. We taught the kids how to play euchre, walked the dogs, and set up the badminton court.

This weekend, cable was installed, so the kids watched a little morning TV. Nothing more. No internet, but [unfortunately] we're trying to get it running so we can [fortunately] work out there during the week. The yin and the yang of internet service.

This weekend: Our first chicken BBQ with the in-laws, more euchre, more badminton, checkers, UNO, and a little rock painting. I also finished a book and started another. The dogs and I got another morning walk. Thing is, when you spend a weekend like this, it's hard to think of anything interesting to blog about. My mind isn't racing, and the only thing that fires up is the grill or a bonfire on the beach. So it may be a slow e-summer. Nice and slow...

(212 words)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Brain Waves, Part 1

I've been fascinated lately by a couple of cerebral subjects:

First, that positive stimuli have a much harder time being accepted into the brain than negative.

Second, that technology is changing our brains and the way we operate.

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Today, I tackle the former.

For me personally, this interest all started a little over a year ago when I heard a presentation by psychologist Rick Hanson who studies the psychology, neurology, and "contemplative wisdom". He co-publishes the Wise Brain Bulletin and speaks about how to consciously incline your brain toward being more receptive of positive experiences. Seems that ol' flight or fight instinct has a pretty strong pull, so our brains tend to emphasize negative experiences over positive so that we can more readily get our spears ready when a sabre-toothed tiger approaches.

But we don't want to spend our entire lives in a defensive mode, always on the lookout for threats, do we? Except that the part of your brain that processes negative stimuli is stronger than the part that processes the positive, so that positive part needs exercise. Dr. Hanson suggests that we need to consciously register positive experiences to help train our brain to receive them and remember them more fully. This, in turn, will incline our brains toward a more wholesome state, which is an inherently healthier place to be. "Use your mind to change your brain to benefit your whole being -- and those you touch" says Wisebrain.org.

To add more grain to the silo, the lead story in the May 2009 The Sun magazine is an interview with Barbara Frederickson, a psychologist who studies positive emotions and author of a new book, Positivity. In tandem with Hanson, she says that "negative emotions are necessary for us to flourish, and positive emotions are subtle and fleeting; the secret is not to deny their transience but to find ways to increase their quantity...balance negative feelings with positive ones."

This task, however, as Frederickson and colleagues have mathematically determined, is not a 1:1 proposition. Instead, they claim is takes three positive events to every one negative event to reach a tipping point.

From her research, Frederickson says she definitely changed her parenting by trying to better balance negative reactions in her sons' days. In the marriage ring, she says that research suggests married couples who share a 5:1 positive:negative emotional experience ratio are in stronger relationships. 1:1 usually means a doomed union.

I knew marriage was harder than regular ol' life...

So what do we do about all this?

"Negative experiences can demand our attention so much that is takes self-discipline, willpower, and practice not to focus solely on them, and to look at all that's positive in our situation, as well. Negativity doesn't always feel like a choice; it feels like it just lands on you, and you have to deal with it. Positive emotions, I think, are more of a choice," advises Frederickson.

Great. Another thing to think and worry about (negative #1).

But, reader, a few suggestions Fredrickson gives to help positivity along naturally: pay attention to kindness (positive #1), go outside in good weather (positive #2), and rearrange your life around your strengths (positive #3).

There. We've hit our 1:3 tipping point. Life is good now. Except that I need do some extra work on my marriage.

(554 words)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Appointments



Daughter has recently taken to decorating the doors of the bedrooms in our house. Not with your normal run-of-the-mill door decor, mind you. Being of a pragmatic nature, she has made everyone mail pouches, nametags, and "In" and "Out" signs. Like she is somehow channeling Lucy of the Peanuts.

On her own door, we are all supposed to make appointments to enter her room:



"To make an appointment, write your name the date and time in the correct boxes (below). Once it is time for your appointment, please knock softly and I will check you off and I will let you in. I only make exceptions of mom (sometimes dad), pets, and urgent needs. I will be happy to help even if it's just a visit. Thank you."

Her brothers follow these instructions diligently, but I usually ignore them and just enter her room at will. So up until a couple of days ago, there was another note on her door saying that even parents need to make appointments -- "and that means you Patty Pasley." She apparently has given up on me because that note disappeared today.

This all makes me wonder about her destiny. What in the world will she be? Something that requires instruction and attention to detail, it seems. All I know at this very moment is that it's a good thing for our pets that they don't have to check in. The "correct boxes" would be hard for the cat to reach.

(236 words, some borrowed)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

American Classics

Piano recitals last night. Mia has been playing for four years; Will, three. They both made it through their songs despite the jitters. Mia, in fact, opened the show.

Mia playing The Entertainer:




Will playing The Pink Panther Theme:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pastoral Here and Gone


Husband thoughtfully left an article on my desk for me to read -- a short story in the NY Times Magazine about a professional couple in suburban Georgia who cashed out and bought a 76-acre farm, Nature's Harmony, on which they now raise pesticide- and medicine-free, grass-fed chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows, and sheep. He knew I'd seize that concept and start planning our own farm. In my head.

"We need to get rid of these computers. They're ruining our lives. We need a farm."

He looked at me -- like he often does -- with a "Yeah, right" kind of look. "Computers are not ruining our lives. They're paying the bills. Did you notice that the people in the article weren't making much money?"

But they're growing grapes for wine and enjoying their meals like I may never.

Says farm father, Tim Young: "There's this whole way to make money in the world but not really do anything to contribute. I feel like what we do is important. But it's not financially rewarding. Who cares? As long as you can make it on your own. Let me tell you something, we're going to eat well."

If only I had the nerve to break free too. But there's this thing called College x3 that dominates my future planning and sends me back to my daily responsibilities at my laptop...

******************************

So I read this article, then go to the laundry room for some housekeeping. I had a load of wet clothes to dry, and I considered hanging everything on the clothesline outside. Drying clothes on the line is one of my favorite pastimes. I get calm with the notion that Mother Nature and I can work together so harmoniously. I give her something to do, and she responds with some warm sunshine and a breeze that dries my clothes. No fossil fuels consumed, and my clothes, sheets, and towel smell really fresh. (Putting this on my list of favorite things to do is a little dorky, I know. But it really does give me peace.)

It's damp outside today from yesterday's rain. So I go outside to check the temps and air to see if the clothes will really dry today. And the air smells like shit. Shit being spread on the dairy farm fields right behind us. It's gross. It's strong. I scowl, and my dreams of being a farmer disappear like an organic, free-range chicken in the jaws of a fox.

And I dried my clothes in the dryer today.
(422 words)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Merrily We Roll Along


Lots of fussing with unruly fourth-grade boy hair yesterday morning, as Will primped for the fourth-grade Beginner Band and Chorus concert. A percussionist, he was to perform two shows, one for his schoolmates during the day, and one for parents in the evening. He was also to sing a couple songs with the Chorus. For the day show, he (1) took a shower; (2) wore his Mother's Day outfit plus a paisley tie to school (with strict instructions on how to hang the clothes on a hanger when he changed into shorts and a t-shirt); and (3) put gel in his hair.

I asked him if he was nervous about this concert.

"No. I'm like the best kid in the band, Mom."

It's good to be confident.

At the evening show, we arrived early so he could set up his xylophone and drum. As I sat in the audience and watched the kids prep, I saw one young girl walk over and fix Will's hair, and he didn't push her away like he does me. Hmmmm....

We went on to listen to such family favorites as "Hot Cross Buns", "Merrily We Roll Along", "Skip to My Lou", and "Bingo". I know these songs were easy for Will, as he has been playing piano for three years. But I couldn't really tell if he was actually the best kid in the band, given that he only had to hit a drum to the beat. I could tell that he thought he was, though, as he played his instruments with ease. He also had the esteemed role of holding up a rubber chicken during "Aunt Rhodie's Appetite", while staying on beat on the bass drum.

So begins our path of parents at band concerts.

Sidebar: When I pulled his nice clothes out of his backpack for the evening show, the pants were folded but not on the hanger. The shirt was on the hanger, but the first button on the left was in the third button hole on the right. Fortunately, I think both were made of low-wrinkling material.

(346 words)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Horsing Around -- Or Not

My daughter rides horses. Big horses that weigh hundreds of pounds more than she does. She has been riding nearly four years and is one of those people that has no horse fear and some kind of extra horse sense. Have you ever really realized how big their heads are?

One day at the farm, she was brushing a big horse, and she wanted to cross over to the other side, going under the horse's head. I watched her reach down and give the horse a little scratch on its front leg, as if to say, "I'm comin' under." That was the day I knew she was a real horse person. I probably would've taken a wide walk around the back to try to avoid getting kicked. Being kicked doesn't even cross her mind.

We have conversations frequently about whether she can have a horse. I'm not in favor of the idea, for I have no clue how to care for a horse. I'm sure her riding instructor Tina would board and deal with our horse, but I have enough other things to think about and pay for. I haven't completely ruled out the option of leasing a horse once Mia is able to work at the farm to help pay for part of the lease. But I've been waiting to see if her enthusiasm for horses holds tough once the teen years hit.

Today, that enthusiasm may have taken a ding. She fell off for the first time. On to her head, complete with a short blackout, which was a big area of concern for Husband and me, of course. When I picked her up from her riding lesson, she was sobbing and her head hurt. Tina said she thought the helmet took the brunt of the fall, but the fear of a concussion was real -- especially given all the media hype over the death of Natasha Richardson. Plus, a teacher at Mia's school recently died of head trauma after falling from a ladder in the auditorium. So our anxiety over head injuries is a little heightened.

More than anything, she was shaken that it had happened and already worried about next time. She did get back on the horse for a walk around the ring today, and says she'll go back next week, but not with the same certainty, I'm sure. I asked her what made her get back on, and she said it was because I've always told her that's what you have to do when you fall off. I wonder if that's really good advice. After all, it's the grandmother of all advices, isn't it?

We watched her all evening or any signs of a concussion, and I think she's fine. Not bouncing off the walls by any means, and she got herself emotionally worked up again before going to sleep. We will likely wake her up in a few hours to make sure she wakes up (advice from nurse grandma and doctor grandpa). I also asked that next time she falls, she sprains something and keeps her head out of the way. She didn't think that was funny.

(523 words)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

On Happiness

The Sun magazine publishes quotes on its back page every issue. The May issue's quotes addressed happiness, and I found a few I wish I had said:

"I have to tell you something. I cannot help being happy. I've struggled against it but to no good. Apart from an odd five minutes here and there, I have been happy all my life. There is, I am well aware, no virtue whatever in this. It results from a combination of heredity, health, good fortune, and shallow intellect." -- Arthur Marshall

"To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer, to not love is to suffer, to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy then is to suffer. But suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore to be happy one must love or love to suffer. Or suffer from too much happiness." -- Woody Allen

"It's good to be just plain happy; it's a little better to know that you're happy; but to understand that you're happy and to know why and how...and still be happy in the being and the knowing, well that is beyond happiness, that is bliss, and if you have any sense you ought to kill yourself on the spot and be done with it." -- Henry Miller

"Hoping to live days of greater happiness, I forget the days of less happiness are passing by." -- Elizabeth Bishop

(250 mostly borrowed words)



Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wild Pitch


After a late finish to a baseball game tonight, Will came home and went straight to his bedroom for PJs. I was in there already with Max, and with only one look at Will's face...

"What's wrong?"

He burst into big tears. "I was pitching tonight, and one of the other kids starting laughing at me....I pitched to two people didn't throw any strikes."

It was his pitching debut, and he took himself out of the game. I have a feeling he won't step up to the mound again. All because of an insecure little wiseass kid bully who needs to be hit by a good, hard wild pitch. Shit like this breaks my heart and does not take me to a place of compassion for those who need a solid infrastructure and positive role models.

I offered up the wisest things I could think of (when really I wanted to unleash some f-words): that kid's just plain mean, and mean people suck; that maybe Will's naturally a first baseman and not a pitcher; that pitching takes a lot of practice. Then Husband (who had no idea Will was upset during the game) pointed out that in the post-game relay race, the kid fell on his face and started crying because he lost the race for his team. That gave us a whole new line of karma material to work with.

I have half a mind to complain to the kid's coach about his player’s bad sportsmanship, but I won’t be a whiny, overbearing, overprotective parent.

The only thing I can do that makes any sense is to offer Will a place of safety, support, and encouragement where he's the greatest oldest son on the planet and can burst into tears and let it all hang out and still feel worthy when he experiences the injustices of being a kid. Still feel worthy. That's what I want most for my boy.

Tonight, I think we helped repair his hurt feelings with a warm shower and some apple strudel toast. Because I think the feelings may have been under some stress from being tired and hungry. Tomorrow, maybe we'll practice throwing wild pitches. (Kidding...mostly.)
(363 words)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Weighed Down

The Heavy

What happened to the purple finches that were building next under our second-story deck? Did the cat get them, as I figured she would?

If I were to raise pigs, would I be able to butcher them? Would I want that much pork in my freezer? Or should I just give up eating meat altogether because I don't really ever prefer it. Except for a Saturday lunchtime burger at Al's Frys.

When I eat a salad for dinner -- and relatively reasonable meals the rest of the day -- why do I weigh more the next day? (Maybe those Saturdays at Al's?) Do I really need to start running? Because I don't like to run.

I took the day off yesterday to work exclusively in my garden. I still snuck in every now and then to check email. Pathetic, really. This laptop needs to be put away where I can't see it sometimes. It's the devil.

I gave $50 to VPIRG (Vermont Public Interest Research Group) yesterday to support legislation for wind and solar energy projects instead of our aging and outdated nuclear energy plant that is falling apart. The nice kid at the door worked hard for the money. Husband made some unwelcome comment about the generousness of my generosity.

Time for summer vacation. Mia and her friends are ready to eat each other, and Will forgets everything at this time of the year.

The Light

Max thinks his bus driver's name is Puddin' Taine. And I can't convince him otherwise.

If I really think about it, this one Light weighs more than all the heavies combined. I love knowing a Kindergartner.

(270 words)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tell-All Pic



Above you see my three little darlings before we went to Mother's Day brunch today. I wanted to take this picture because their personal clothing choices tell you something about each.

Mia dressed like she would any day -- nothing out of the ordinary for her. PREDICTABLE.

Will (who likes dressing up) found some pants in the bin under his bed that were at least a size too big; "They're fine. I just put a belt on." Out of a favor for me, he also ran a brush through his unruly hair. ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR.

And Max just put the collared shirt over the tie dye. He doesn't like shirts with buttons or collars, so this was a real sacrifice for him. (He took it off as soon as we were seated at the restaurant.) PARTY BOY.

Funny little bunch.

Mother's Day Moments

Max's class made a Mother's Day cookbook for their mothers. Max's contribution was a recipe for Hot Dogs:

Ingredients
Hot Dogs
Ketchup
Mustard
Hot Dog Buns

Directions: First you go to the grocery store and you buy the hot dogs and the buns. Go home and cook the hot dogs and the buns on the grill. When the hot dogs have black spots on them, they're done. Then you put the hot dog on the bun and eat it with ketchup and mustard.

Sounds about right. (Except that I don't eat hot dogs, but I won't tell him that.)

Mia gave me a gift that she had won at school. A speaker from The Wildlife Federation visited her class and gave prizes for answering trivia questions. The question she answered was "What absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?" She correctly answered "trees" and won the grand prize of gardening swag. So I got the garden tools tote and a package of poppy seeds, which she was very proud to give me.


Will wished me a Happy Mother's Day when he woke up, hair going every which way.

Husband gifted me another tote with some L'Occitane soaps and creams in it, an amazon.com Gold Box purchase. "It was a good deal." He said he'd give it to his mom if I didn't want it. Yesterday, he also followed through on "two roses bushes of the same color", a *hint* I dropped last week -- because I'd buy them anyway for two pots outside my garage.

Altogether, while the gifts are nice, of course, it's really the thought behind them all that... cracks me up.

*****************************************************

My blog friend
Laura tagged me to write 5 things I enjoy about motherhood -- then tag five different mothers to do the same. But, other then Laura and Naturelady (who Laura also tagged), I don't really know five other moms in the blogsphere that I can tag; my readers are mostly anonymous (though I know who you are!). But if you are a mom, take a minute to think of one of two things that make it all worth it to you. Leave a Comment if you'd like, or just be indulged for the moment.

Here are my reasons:

1) I love reliving the kid stuff -- reading books, playing games, going to school, weekend mornings in your PJs forever, boxed mac and cheese.

2) I love that they think I know everything. "Mom, how can you tell if it's going to rain?" "Why do people have wars?" "What's the difference between baking soda and baking powder?"

3) I love folding their laundry, watching the clothes over the years go from the cutest thing you've ever seen to long and trendy.

4) I love watching at the three of them from a distance -- because they're funny and full of life and all mine.

5) I love it when my kids say things that show they have a clear and caring understanding of the world around them. Like, when Max (age 5) told me last week that he should take a shower instead of a bath because it takes 40 gallons of water to take a bath. Or when Will understands that a complicated plot in Star Trek involved a black hole and time travel. Obviously. Or when Mia knows that trees use carbon dioxide and give oxygen.

I love that somehow, this parenthood thing seems to be working...


(565 words)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Just One Small Act a Day

Saw the movie Earth today, a rainy Saturday, with Mia and Max. Husband took Will to Star Trek, which they both enjoyed, so us other three went on our own movie trek to a modern-day Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.

The documentary is actually footage from The Planet Earth television series. It's edited to show the drama of the changing of the seasons in different hemispheres. Some of our most memorable scenes were baby Mandarin wood ducks jumping from their nest in a tree, a humpback whale baby and mother migrating to their summer feeding grounds, the tragedy of an exhausted elephant being attacked by a pride of lions, and cranes trying migrate over the peaks of the Himalayas. The scenery was incredible, of course, though I found the editing a little choppy. I spent most of the movie wondering how in the world photographers were able to get it all on film. It takes a brave person to film 30 hungry lions in the dark.

Another memorable moment: "Mia, is that a cheetah or a leopard?" I asked.

"It's a cheetah. Leopards live in the jungle and have rings around their spots."

She sure set me straight, but I was pretty proud of her for knowing something like that. Last week she also noted that an elephant on TV was an African elephant because its ears were shaped like the continent of Africa. Years of playing Zoo Tycoon, watching Animal Planet shows, and just paying attention to all things animal, I guess. I'm sure I learned these things at some point, but I think the part of my brain in which animal facts are stored must have been taken over by the ability to schedule things. Sadly.

A final point of interest from the movie: The boreal forest, where the northern hemisphere changes from arctic to forest is a nearly unbroken ring around the globe. It hosts something like a third of the world's trees and produces a whole lot of our oxygen. This one particular image -- of a ring of trees around the upper part of the planet -- reminded me of earth as an integrated whole. I'll avoid espousing about needing to save our planet -- we all know this. But I can't help myself in reminding that we're living in a time of change, and just one small act of care a day adds up.

(400 words)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The End of Busy

I ran into my neighbor at the grocery today. She's an older woman -- retired, kids and grandkids all living in other places. I've always found her very sweet, pretty, and friendly. She used to keep a garden across street at the end of our driveway, but it was a big undertaking so she's letting it go. I don't see her much since she doesn't work on that garden anymore, as her house is up a long driveway in the woods. In years past, we'd inspect the maple sap buckets her sons would hang from their maple trees in the spring, but they haven't sugared in a couple years. "The boys are just too busy with their families now," she explains.

She raised her three kids in our neighborhood, along with the people from whom we bought our house. She also worked at the high school for some time, though I can't recall what she did. Every time I do see her, she's always interested in what my kids are up to.

"How old is the baby now?" she asked me today.

"He's in Kindergarten, can you believe it? He is starting to get involved in things like tee-ball...complicates our schedule...". Yada yada yada.

Then she gets a sad sort of look on her face. Like she remembers those days so clearly and is really lonely without them.

I ask about her grandkids, and two are in Vermont (but not in our town) and two are in Georgia. She seems genuinely sad to tell me this too.

She has been watching for frog eggs in her pond so my daughter can collect the tadpoles when they hatch (and watch them grow [die] in a tank). She also mentions that she heard a bunch of kids playing/yelling in our yard the other day, and she thought it was such a wonderful sound.

I'm afraid of being her someday.

Listening to kids playing and wishing they were mine. Knowing that mine are busy with their own lives and not close by.

Clearly, I need to keep tabs on this fear so that co-dependency issues don't stunt either my "growth" or that of my kids. And clearly I need to keep blogging for the next 20+ years so I have something to fill my time in my golden years. Or there's always golf, knitting, and travel.

OK. So I won't worry about it. That's pointless. But I will aim to remember the look on my neighbor's face so that I can better "let it be" and not wallow in being "sooooo busy." In fact, I'd like to take that word "busy" out of my vocabulary because everyone is busy, and it connotes something frustrating and exasperating. And I'm not frustrated by being busy. I like it.

Sidebar: My great aunt Elizabeth's nickname was Busy. I think her parents gave her that nickname when she was young, and we never called her anything but. And from what I remember, she was indeed busy. She wore an apron a lot, so I've always assumed she was busy cleaning. Or playing her organ. Or traveling around the country on bus tours. I wonder if she liked being Busy. She died 12ish years ago, so I can't ask.

So tomorrow, I'll pack lunches, herd kids out the door, work a little, then fill an hour with a craft project in Max's Kindergarten class. Then more work for a few hours. William will be home with strep, so maybe we'll read a chapter in the Harry Potter book we're enjoying together. Then lunch and a long-overdue haircut. Followed by more work. After the bus drops Mia and Max off, we'll tackle homework and an early dinner then taxi to the horse farm for riding and the ballpark for a game. After bedtime, it's likely I'll work a little more. Busy? No. Well, yes, but let's go with engaged, complete, and happy instead.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Apple and His Tree

In the car yesterday, Mia was telling me about a situation with her friends at school.

"What are you going to do about that?" I asked her.

Will chimed in: "Mom, you should be a therapist." And he started mocking me: "Tell me how you feel about that."



"Hey," I warned. (With an internal grin because his comment was funny -- and oh so right on. The kid tagged me big time.)

He did backtrack on the attitude and said he'd definitely visit me to tell me his feelings, were I a therapist.

"No you wouldn't," I said. "You don't now."

"Yeah, I don't really have any feelings," he replied, in a sort of candid, carefree manner.

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If I worried much about Will's emotional balance, this would be a serious trigger. Maybe it should be.

But rather, my reaction goes like this: How can this kind of stuff possibly be genetic? Because it is. Without commenting publicly on Husband's composition, if you knew him, you'd know exactly what I mean. I will only go so far to suggest that he's not always be interested in analyzing how he feels about a given situation.


Not unlike his oldest son, who we now know simply doesn't have feelings. He's more of a "Mom, I'm fine" kind of guy. (A classic boy-man answer if there ever was one.)

"But it's my job to worry about you," I explain.

"Well, just stop."

Have I mentioned yet that he's only nine? To think of what's to come...

Aside from this apple and his tree, having sons (this one in particular) has surely helped me better understand the fundamentals of Husband. I could offer up many comparisons, but I'd rather let Husband keep some of his dignity, anonymity, and character (I use this term loosely) by not airing everything I know about him online. All I can say is that boys will be boys. No news here, huh?

Suffice it to say, the apple-tree connection is both fascinating and a mystery. I mean, if we were to talk about "nurture" here (which I don't think we are), I've surely had a influence. A significant one, since I would argue that I do most of the nurturing in our family. So where do I show up in this little man? Only slightly in his appearance, I'm afraid, as he looks a little more like my family than Husband's. The rest is all Dad. All nature.

Now in the spirit of objective journalism, I will admit that the pendulum swings equally as far on the girl side of the family. My daughter demonstrates very little of her father's make up -- except for bits of her appearance. She's all me -- and more -- by both nature and nurture. Bless her heart.

It's hard to tell where the Little One falls on the Mom-Dad spectrum. If I were to make a guess today, I'd say he's a 45:55 right now, with leanings in the Dad direction -- especially since he worships and emulates his older brother. So it's highly likely he'll be telling me to leave him alone in a few years.

I wonder how I'll feel about that.

(532 words)