Saturday, January 24, 2009

Saturday Afternoon Post

I let the weather beat me today. The current temp is 6 degrees, and it's windy, so that brings it down at least another 10 degrees. The kids really wanted to go sledding with friends this afternoon, despite my warnings of frostbite. I honestly couldn't think of many things I'd rather not do. But it's sunny for a change, and that always improves any winter day, so I begrudgingly agreed to take them, thinking that they'd be ready to leave after 10 minutes of downhill fun. I felt pretty grouchy getting everyone ready, and Husband must have realized this because he stepped in and offered to take them. He thought it was foolish that I put warmers in their boots, but even though I hope he wishes he had some too, I'm pretty grateful (and surprised) that he read the situation correctly and dug out his long underwear. They're gone now, and I should be cleaning the house. But I'd rather clean my brain by blogging.


I don't drink coffee, but I am a big fan of (i.e. addicted to) Coca-Cola. I've talked often to myself about trying to break the habit -- I know Coke is probably the root of all my bad eating behaviors. But I like it.

At any rate, I've taken to replacing my 10 a.m. Coke with an occasional green tea. And I've discovered that buying a green tea latte from Starbucks is so satisfying. Why is it that Starbucks has the effect? It's just a cup of tea, but the experience of going to Starbucks, with their hip CDs and Japanese mugs for sale, and leaving with that cup wrapped in that hand protector is so deluxe. So Nancy Botwin. So ungreen. But I like it.

I took Mia and Max to Starbucks after swimming this morning. They had coffee cake and milk. And now they like it too.

I think one of my hens spent the night outside of her hen house earlier this week. I remember noticing her roosting outside late one afternoon -- unusual in the winter -- and she was still there the next morning. Overnight temps had gone down to zero, so I was afraid that maybe she had frozen to the roost. So Tom and I went to check, and she was still alive and not stuck to the branch that is her roost. I went into the pen, grabbed her (by holding her wings down and grabbing her around her body) and tried to put her in the hen house. She took issue and flew over to the other outside roost. So I grabbed her again and forced her inside the house, where she jumped up on to the inside roost next to her sisters and stayed for the rest of the day.

Hens don't seem very smart.


I finished reading Beloved this week. I'd read it once, about 20 years ago, but didn't remember much about it. What a heavy experience that book is. It certainly paints slavery in all its proper shameful horror, and the ghost of the story is terrifying. But man, that Toni Morrison sure can write:

" all of Baby's and women were moved around like checkers. Anybody Baby Suggs knew, let alone loved, who hadn't run off or been hanged, got rented out, loaned out, bought up, brought back, stored up, mortgaged, won, stolen, or seized. So Baby's eight children had six fathers. What she called the nastiness of life was the shock she received upon learning that nobody stopped playing checkers just because the pieces included her children."

I find this humbling, for I'm absolutely sure nothing like this could ever come out of me.


It's been at least an hour, and the family hasn't returned from sledding. Must be because of those boot warmers.

Now it’s time to clean the house.

(646 words)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Presidential Hopes

Aside from the obvious big stuff -- including but not limited to world peace -- I have a few modest hopes for my dearly beloved new Mr. President...

First on the list: Please let him have his Blackberry. In the paper two days ago, I read that it hasn't been decided whether he could use it. Do we need to remind someone that he's The President?

Sidebar: In an editorial on NPR about his refusal to give up his Blackberry, the radio voice tongue-in-cheekingly suggested that he sign up for some endorsement contracts to help pay down the national debt. Aside from the distraction this might offer up to his day job, what a concept! Think of the millions he could pull from some deep-pocket corporations to help pay for other corporations' blunders. The Tiger Woods of politics.

Next, in another news story, I saw that he ate lunch the other day at some chili dog joint in D.C. -- with the other chili-dog eaters of America. I hope he eats lunch wherever he pleases -- especially at places perceived as "joints". We ate at a good Mexican place on 2nd Street last year. I hope someone tells him about that joint.

I also hope to see him drive himself somewhere. Don't you think your driving skills might suffer after four years (hopefully eight) of having other people drive you around? He'll need the practice.

A few more presidential suggestions:

He goes to a movie if he wants to.
He gets to play basketball with his peeps.
He wears jeans.
A visit to his daughters' classroom on Parents' Day.
Cereal for breakfast.
A White Sox game.
He doesn't feel compelled to dress in local costume when he visits other countries.
He continues to inspire Bruce Springsteen.
A cold beer after a long day.
He hooks up with Prince Charles and talks sustainability.
A visit to Vermont -- the only state former President Bush shunned.

All in all, the journey ahead is so ginormous, so incredibly deep, that I hope he takes time be a dad, a husband, a friend, and a neighbor in addition to the most influential and powerful man in the world. No biggie.

Interestingly, I have great confidence that Michelle will pull off the balance thing beautifully, especially with her mom helping behind the scenes. My hopes for her are that she does something more than read books to schoolchildren. How 'bout becoming the Princess Diana of America? The ambassador for all things charitable? Please, Michelle, lay it out big for all us girls.
Come on up for the rising.
Come on up, lay your hands in mine.
Come on up for the rising.
Come on up for the rising tonight.
(453 words)

Monday, January 19, 2009


More proof that Max is not from Planet Pasley...

I took the kids sledding this afternoon -- on probably one of the biggest hills we've ever been on. When I stood at the top and looked down, a small part of me suggested it might be dangerous. The other part of me put me on a sled and pushed me down the hill. It was a little outside my old body's comfort zone to be sure. And I flipped the sled and got a face full of snow. But I dusted myself off, climbed back to the top, and did it again.

So the kids take turns screaming down the hill, and on one run, Max, on a saucer, hits a little ridge, flies off the sled, and completes two somersaults in the air. I cringe and watch to see if he's still moving. The other kids (both nearly twice his age) are in awe. And from previous motherhood experiences, I expect Max to lie on the ground and start bawling. Instead, the little devil stands up, looks up the hill, and yells, "That was awesome! Mom, did you see me survive that?"

Survive" being the key word because it was the kind of crash that could have caused serious damage.

But I turn off my mom-o-meter, and we all cheer for him. Then Mia and Will take turns trying to steer themselves over that same jump. But nobody was able to finesse it like Max.

So while luck was on our side today, I think my little thrill seekers are going to wear helmets next time. And mouth guards...and neck braces...

(275 words)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Slow Dancin', Swayin' to the Music

I was transported to two different decades within the space of two hours this evening. It all centered around my first middle school dance -- as a chaperone. (Sidebar: Mia asked me not to talk to her at the dance unless she had questions for me. And Tom has asked me not to embarrass Mia.)

First, fast forward too fast into the decade of Mia's teens: My now eleven-year-old daughter invited two friends over to hang out after school and get ready for the dance. They're fifth graders -- seemingly too young to be dancing. But fifth grade is middle school in our district, so I can't deny the inevitable.

They spend quite some time in her room, trying on clothes. When it's time to leave, they race upstairs to start applying "makeup". Partially in an effort to bother them, I brush my teeth in the bathroom and get my digs in about being too young to wear makeup. Mia points out that it’s just her little-girl sparkle makeup, so it's OK. Then she points out that my hair looks bad, and do I want her to fix it before we go to the dance? I don't, but thanks for the vanity check.

We pile into the car, and partially in an effort to be cool, I put on the pop music radio station. They all sing along with unadulterated passion to Britney's current single. I'm happy for them because I remember singing like that to Captain and Tennille. If I had any doubts, it's confirmed in this moment that my daughter is no longer a kid.

At the chaperone prep meeting: Adults should be stationed around all the exit doors in the gymnasium so kids don't try to sneak out to places in the school where they shouldn't be. Only one boy in the bathroom at a time. Girls are allowed in the bathroom in groups, but be forewarned that the bathroom is often a place of "high drama and tears." Also, feel free to stop to any dancing behavior that seems inappropriate.

Now, fast backward 25 years: I'm slow dancing at arms' length with Joey Randolph to ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky." Note: The theme of Mia's dance is "The 80s", so this could be why I'm flashing back. Girls are dressed in Flash Dance, and a few of the boys have their collars turned up -- at both my dance and Mia's.

Fast forward again to now: Middle school dances don’t seem to have changed much – at least not here in our neck of the woods. For some reason, I was expecting grinding and crotch grabbing. But the dance I'm chaperoning is basically the same dance I went to way back when. Few kids -- mostly girls -- really dance. The younger girls start off a good song with a few moves, but they don't carry it to any conclusion. The boys start up a feeble mosh pit when a Green Day or Smashing Pumpkins song comes on. I see only one young man grab his crotch. Nobody tries to sneak out the side doors, and no drama in the girls' bathroom. It's all so much tamer than my motherly mind-gone-wild imagined.

The DJ (a guy in a misguided button-down shirt, Dockers, and a tie) plays three slow songs. These are the songs most kids are waiting for, though only a few of them give it a spin. Or rather, a slow swaying rotation. The older couples test the rules of engagement and stand close. The younger couples dance with elbows locked, his hands on her waist; hers on his shoulders. And they do everything possible to avoid looking at one another. I'm proud of those who have the nerve to try it and glad my daughter isn't one of them.

As the evening progresses, the energy level in the school escalates (probably due to snack bar sugar shots), so I stay on the lookout for that bathroom drama, as any chaperone worth her weight would do. I do witness what appears to be a quarrel between a girl I know and a boy whom she has told me is her boyfriend. My guess is that the boy doesn't know he has been claimed, so that could be what triggered the quarrel. But the guidance counselor is on it, and a few minutes later, the couple shakes hands and heads back into the dance. (They shook hands????) That was the extent of the drama.

Back home, Mia tells me that she was happy I was at the dance. She did speak to me a few times and explained that she thought I might have been lonely standing off in the corner by myself. Lonely? No. Bored? No. Shocked? No. Nostalgic? Yes.

I was happy I was there too. It really was delightful to watch the kids navigating the murky waters of middle school relationships. No evidence of alcohol or smoking. A few questionable outfits. A lot of old-fashioned fun. And the funny thing is, I'm sure those kids don't even realize how old-fashioned their fun is. Joey Randolph and I know, though.

(855 words)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sit, Fish. Down, Fish.

Another quick walk down Parents' Lane. I have a few other blogs in the works, but this one takes precedence because it happened last night, and it made everyone in the family laugh so hard that we all started laughing at each other laughing.

It's hard to admit, but my son Will doesn't really like animals. I've never really trusted people who don't like dogs, for instance, and now I've spawned one. When our dogs come busting into a room, Will turns his body away and disregards them. He never pets or shows them any affection. How can that be? Claims he's more of a cat person -- another reason to wonder about him.

My mother reminded me that Will's disinclination may have started in his early years when we visited the children's Farm Barn at Shelburne Farms -- one of the most beautiful barns and loveliest places I've ever seen: The kids would pet and tend to the farm animals, and we'd often take a picnic lunch along. When the sandwiches and chips would come out, so would the chickens. They free range about the barn and are not shy about asking for a snack. On more than one occasion, a young Will was terrified by a chicken encroaching on his lunch.

So last night, we were talking about a vacation to Florida that we're planning next month. Mia and I REALLY want to go to Discovery Cove, an attraction in Orlando where you swim with dolphins, snorkel around pool-reefs, and hang out in an aviary. But it would be REALLY expensive (by our standards) to take the whole family, so I'm trying to gauge how much interest the boys have in the adventure.

MOM: "Will, would you like to snorkel in some pools and see some fish?"
WILL: (with a supremely serious look on his face): "Well........are the fish trained?"
MOM: "What do you mean 'trained'?"
WILL: "Well, they won't bite me, will they?"

This is the point when we all launched into hysterics. While the moment can't be adequately translated into print, just think of it -- trained reef fish! It brought me to tears, and the family had a big fat family laugh. When all was said and done, Will thought maybe he'd go snorkeling, but he wouldn't let a bird sit on his arm. A cat person through and through.

(394 words)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mama Mia

Mia was born eleven years ago very early yesterday morning. She was born with a dimple on her cheek and a crease in her forehead, evidence of a suspicion or analysis of everything in her world -- people, activities, food. As she grew, she didn't tackle anything until she was sure she could master it; talk to anyone until she was sure she liked them; or taste anything until she was sure she would like it.

She's still just like this today.

To help prepare for life, she asks more questions than a trial lawyer. I've always said that anything that pops into her head comes out her mouth and into my ears. She usually starts a sentence with "Mom?" And when she was young, I was sure she said my name about 400 times a day. Today, it's only 100 because she's at school for most of the day.

"Mom? Is driving hard?"
"Mom? When you go to college, who feeds you?"
"Mom? Is a grocery checkout person a good job?"
"Mom? How does a credit card work?"
"Mom? What's insurance?"
"Mom? How do you break up with a boy?"

And a special one from the family archives:
"Mom? When you got pregnant with Max, where did you and Dad mate?"
"What?" I asked, in shock.
"I mean, did you do it in the backyard? Why didn't I see you?"

(This question came up during a heavy Animal Planet period in her life and initiated a very interesting conversion about reproduction that essentially ended with "That's gross!")

The gifts that she brings to the world are her compassion, her smarts, her love for animals, and a very high moral compass. She's crazy about school. She loves to read. She embraces her extracurricular activities -- piano, taekwondo, swimming, horseback riding -- with gusto and joy. And at her current age, her girlfriends are the center of her world.

As a fifth grader, she is in middle school and integrated in classes with sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. Accordingly, we're seeing more interest in fashion and pop music and hearing more about boys. She goes to school dances and asks constantly for a cell phone. She's becoming prone to very sad tear-stained breakdowns when she is disciplined, and her parents embarrass her more frequently these days.

There is nothing about her that is relaxed, laid back, dorky, or complacent.

So as we go into Year #12, we're bracing ourselves for the yin and yang of adolescence. The love and hate, silence and noise, highs and lows. And while it will surely be exhausting and challenging, my hope for her is that anything that pops into her head will continue to come out her mouth and into my ears
(454 words)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Just Look at Them and Sigh, and Know They Love You

People! Could we please stop being so exasperated by our children? (I don't mean people, as in you, reader. It's more of a call to the broader parenthood rank and file, including myself.) Yes, kids argue, they challenge, they get poop on things, they don't eat mixed food. But one of life's dirtiest tricks is that they're with you for only about a quarter of their lives. My daughter for example, is likely to be physically gone in seven years. Probably emotionally gone in about four. And you know how quickly those years fly by. So let's have a little shift in our collective thinking and griping, and focus on the kid positive. We don't have much time.

Sure, I'm generalizing to the nth degree here. But think about how often you hear people complain about parenthood. I'm reacting specifically to a “mom’s view” column in our local newspaper that groaned yesterday about taking a family vacation. “My headache starts in the car on the way to the airport,” wrote the author. While I know she’s just trying to write an entertaining article, it’s really too bad that she couldn’t have written something like “Our adventure started in the car…”. Sure didn’t seem like she enjoyed her vacation.

Parenting negativity all began with my first pregnancy and that book What to Expect While You're Expecting. It scared me with all its notes about things that could go wrong during a pregnancy, birth, or thereafter. I couldn't even read it. Sure, those early baby years are a shock to the system. You are tired, confused, overwhelmed. But babydom only lasts for one short year! Love it while you have it!

The toddler and pre-K years are still a time of disorder and deprivations. But by the time a kid's 5, you're already nearly 1/3 of the way done. (Assuming, of course, your child[ren] follows the typical go-to-college-at-18 path).

Then come the school aged/soccer mom years where the exasperation (including my own) often comes from being "too busy" shuttling kids hither and yon. But after age 9 -- around third/fourth grade -- you pass the age when your future time together is less than the time you've already had. A cruel awakening.

I can't comment on the teen years yet, but from family and friends, it seems that you simply resign at this point. Maybe that what makes the split endurable.

But wouldn't it be life's greatest treasure to be able to live it all in the moment? To somehow cherish that kids argue, challenge you, get poop on things, and avoid mixing their food? To remember vividly and lovingly every annoying or destructive thing they ever said or did?

I've over-dramatized and over-postulated on all of this, to be sure, and I really have little evidence to back up my argument other than a half-baked sense that the culture of parenthood reinforces feeling agitated and overwhelmed rather than feeling lucky and grateful. Nevertheless, I'd like to suggest that we put a lid on whining about the daily rigors of parenthood, and most simply, savor it while we have it. I could very well just be talking to myself here, but it's worth remembering that experiencing parenthood as an incredible journey (rather than hours missed for other things) seems like a far more fulfilling approach in the long run -- that is really quite short.

(563 words)

"My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it." -- Mark Twain

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Vacationing at Home

I thought long and hard about going to a yoga class this morning. I've been off the yoga-class circuit for over a year now, choosing an occasional DVD-led stretch instead. I really need to get back to a class though because for me, yoga leads to all sorts of good things like health awareness, stress management, and general thoughts of peace and harmony.

Thing is, I traded yoga for the chance to vacuum and start a pork chili in my slow cooker. And I couldn't feel more content with that choice.

For the past 10 days, I haven't worked. I did cheat occasionally and respond to an email or two because have an often unhealthy relationship with my work, and I find it difficult to shut it off. (This is casualty of both working from home and having an obsessive personality.) After about four days off, though, work became easier to pay no mind to. While I find it a little sad that it took four days, it was really liberating to feel the difference when I was finally able to make the break.

During my time off, we rarely left the house. It was too cold for outdoor activities on most days. So we stayed inside and played. I put away all the holiday decorations; I cooked; knitted; read; watched movies; blogged; walked on the treadmill; organized things that have dogged me for months; noticed funny things about the kids; took a family field trip to a science museum; played a little Guitar Hero. Basically, I did things that give me comfort -- and that I can't seem to find time for on a normal day (or on a vacation). And boy, I sure feel refreshed and unbound right now. So much so that the kids are going back to school tomorrow, and I'm not even looking forward to it.

So back to that yoga decision this morning. Yes, I should've packed up and dragged myself to the gym, but I couldn't yet deal with the scheduling -- the fact that I had to be somewhere at a specific time. All that starts tomorrow when we wake up to an alarm and have to catch the school bus at 7:35 a.m. sharp. Then I'm back at work and back on schedule. I'll just try to make yoga part of that schedule -- and laugh at the irony.

As far as getting back to work, I feel no burdens about that. I'm not saying that I'm anxious to get back in the saddle, but I have a few projects that need some attention, and I'm ready to finish them off. For the first time in about six months, I don't feel my life is being driven by work, and I will go back to work with a self-commitment to be more diligent in having on and off time. Makes me a happier (and probably better) worker anyway.

Finally, two notes to self: (1) vacations at home can be great vacations, and (2) work-home boundaries are extremely beneficial to both work and home (surely a common knowledge but usually a difficult practice).

(521 words)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Porter, Pils, and Me

I saw the movie Marley and Me this afternoon. (Read the book a couple years back too, so I knew what I was getting myself into.) The movie was mildly entertaining, tugging at heartstrings wherever possible. (I cried more reading the book.) Funny thing is, I should've written that story, for I lived it almost to the chapter.

Tom and I had two before-kid dogs, Porter (black) and Pilsner (blonde). (Pilsner was originally adopted by our roommate, but he ended up with us because we didn't have the heart to split the dogs up when lives took us down different paths.) They were littermates and largish dogs, weighing 70 and 65 pounds, respectively. Their mix was never clear. Porter looked a little like a Gordon Setter, and Pils a Golden Retriever/Lab.

What one dog didn't think of, the other did. I can't tell you how many days we'd come home and they'd be casually sitting in the front yard, paws crossed, because they dug under or jumped over the backyard fence. Pilsner destroyed two couches. He was known for jumping out the sun roof of a car and following you in a store. They both seriously tested the limits of life at least six times. And I mean seriously -- dashing across busy roads; lost in the woods; jumping into rivers fed with spring runoff; eating ant traps; catching a collar on a fence while trying to jump over (we found the collar hanging on the fence with no dog in it); broken leg; the stories go on and on.

Then came the kids. Both dogs were unimaginably gentle with the babies, though we were sure we heard them both say, "Oh no, not another one" each time we returned home from the hospital with a screaming bundle. Mia, our first child, gave them patience by climbing on them, pulling ears, tails, fur. Her first full sentence was "Mia ride the Porty dog" while she was sitting on Porter's back, bouncing up and down on him.

They traveled across country with us in an RV -- when Mia was two and Will one. They weren't welcome on the trails in the National Parks we visited, so that created some apprehension while we went hiking and they stayed in the rig, drooling all over the windows, eating whatever they food we mistakenly left out, and sitting on the tables.

In Vermont, they loved swimming in Lake Champlain in the summers. Unfortunately, they took to roaming about freely in our neighborhood, and we received many a call from neighbors who found them. Pilsner even made it about five miles down the road to our neighboring town one day.

We lost Porter to a tumor when he was about 12 years old. As far as we know, he had never been sick. We discovered he had the tumor on a Monday, and he had to be put down seven days later. The Marley movie sadly replayed almost every detail of that day for us.

Pilsner finally met his fate a little more than a year later when he was doing what he loved best -- roaming the neighborhood. It was a snowy Sunday evening in March, and he walked in front of a car in the road right in front of our house. His hearing was failing, so I imagine he didn't hear the car. But as our vet told us, that was a better way for him to go than the strokes or slow failings that many pets suffer.

Boy, they were good dogs.

We've replaced them with two more dogs, Kip and Kobe -- both rescue dogs. Kip is about four years old. A border collie mix from one of the Carolinas. He's red, sort of smart, very loyal, and high-strung, just as you would expect from a border collie. Kobe, a black lab mix, is eleven months. He was brought to New England from Georgia, and he's not very smart at all and eats anything, which causes lots of bad gas. This doesn't make him very attractive sometimes, but we give him enzymes to help his digestion. He's overly loyal and affectionate, but he's still a pup. So we're hoping he settles down a bit.

They're both good dogs too. But nothing can really replace those first two. Kip and Kobe are certainly better behaved dogs than Porter and Pilsner. Or, more likely, we're better behaved owners. We've learned that crating dogs, sending them to a kennel/camp when we vacation, and installing a wireless dog fence in the yard leads to a significantly less stressful pet owner experience.

So Kip's outside barking at the dark. Kobe's probably eating bird seed or frozen sticks. And I close this blog with an internet "Dog Philosophy" story that a friend emailed me a few months back:

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home. As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.

Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, 'I know why.' Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation. He said, 'People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?' The six-year-old continued, 'Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.'

Live simply.
Love generously.
Care deeply.
Speak kindly.

If a dog was the teacher you would learn things like when loved ones come home, always run to greet them. Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride. Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy. Take naps. Stretch before rising. Run, romp, and play daily. Thrive on attention and let people touch you. Avoid biting when a simple growl will do. On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass. On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree. When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body. Delight in the simple joy of a long walk. Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. Stop when you have had enough. Be loyal. Never pretend to be something you're not. If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently. Enjoy every moment of every day. That's what dogs teach us.

(1261 words)