Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Once Every Four Years?

Happy Leap Day everyone! It's February 29th, an event that only occurs every 4 years. I hope that's not a commentary on the rest of my day...

Today, for once, I feel like I'm doing things right. Usually, I question or regret at least one thing I do in a day. Most days, I have a running list of questionables. Should I have let her have that meringue? Did they get enough vegetables today? Am I teaching self-control, or just being too hard on them? Am I enforcing my personal boundaries, or just being cranky? The list can go on and on.

But not today. Somehow, today feels ok. The girls ate breakfast. They helped dress themselves. They played in my room while I got dressed. We went to the gym. I watched 2 (!) episodes of Ace of Cakes while on the elliptical machine. The machine had a little fan that blew cool air on my sweaty brow. MeToo didn't cry when we left the gym! Wait, she did, but it didn't upset me so much. We went to the Lebanese market. I bought a  week's worth of produce, bagels, and fresh pita for $25 (!).  We ate a super-healthy lunch. The girls loved it. It was yummy. Everyone's happy. The dogs are patiently waiting for the girls to wake up from naps to go for a walk in the snow. It's snowing! And it's pretty! And I'm ok with it!

What's going on here? The bickering has been minimal. The fussing and arguing has been minimal. What has been present hasn't bothered me too much. I've had more patience than usual. This is a nice change. I'll take it.

I just hope it isn't connected to Leap Day. Because I don't want to wait another 4 years for a day like today!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


What would you do if you heard about a disease that kills 1 million people every year, most of them pregnant women and children? What if you heard that a child died every 45 seconds? Would you be outraged? Would you want to do something?

A Bishop in the Lutheran church of Kenya was one of 14 children born in his family. He's one of only 5 to survive. The other 9 died from malaria.

This disease is preventable with a mosquito net and a little education. All for $10.

You could save a family for $10. Really and truly. $10 covers the cost of a mosquito net, the cost of distribution, and the cost of education to help people understand that malaria isn't caused by cold drinks, eating too many mangos, or evil spirits. Malaria is caused by being bitten by a mosquito, typically between the hours of 10pm and 2am, while you're sleeping. This is simple enough for health-wise and literate Americans. But for Africans living in rural areas, this flies in the face of everything they know. Some fear that a net strong enough to kill mosquitos might also harm their family sleeping underneath it. But education is preventative medicine. There are fieldworkers already teaching people how to recognize symptoms of malaria, and how to use the nets to prevent exposure. Learning it from someone they trust, someone who gives them the net for free, well, ok, they'll try it. They'll put the net over their bed instead of using it to fish. In parts of Africa where the pilot programs are already in effect, the rate of net use for vulnerable populations has skyrocketed. 

The church workers on the ground in Africa are willing to be part of the distribution system for these nets and the education that goes along with them. They're tired of burying the children of their congregations, of comforting the orphans who lost their mothers to malaria.

We don't have this problem in our country. We eradicated the disease decades ago. Africa would like to do the same.

How many more mothers have to bury more than half of their children?

How many families can you afford to save?

(Go ahead, follow the link. I dare you to look at those precious faces and think you don't have a ten-spot to share...)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Second Attempt: Stewardship Monday

So going to bed early helped, even if I did stay awake reading a book. I woke up in a much better mood, even if BestestHusband's 7:15 Acela train to NYC made the wake up earlier than usual.

So here's my second attempt at Stewardship Sunday. On a Monday.

Anyway, the previous week was pretty good. Things had settled down since the post-vacation transition. I managed to not waste too much food, especially since I started out the week with such a full fridge. I'm actually proud of my food-management skills: I got rid of multiple leftovers by feeding them to company. Yes, I fed leftovers to dinner guests. Actually, it was my Pastor. And a fundraiser for the Lutheran Malaria Initiative. They offered to bring over dinner, but I was afraid of gaining an additional meal of leftovers instead of getting rid of a meal of leftovers I already had. I know, silly, but it made sense at the time...

They seemed genuinely happy to eat my "makeover" meal. I'm pretty proud of how it turned out. Or maybe it was all the wine. And the maple vodka. I was pretty tipsy. BestestHusband was pretty happy, too... 

I was hungover the next morning. It doesn't take too much these days. I'm a cheaper date than I've ever been. 

And while most people get taken out to a nice dinner when someone wants to talk them into donating to a charity, we're the type of people who invite fundraisers over to our house, feed them, give them alcohol, and THEN happily agree to give them money. I think we might be doing it all wrong.

But the cause isn't. I'll talk more about the Lutheran Malaria Initiative some other time, but we didn't have to get ourselves drunk to be willing to donate. It's a great project:

Food waste:
2 pork chops
small container of roasted vegetables
4 slices bread
It's a meal's worth, which isn't great. But it could have been WAY worse! And it wasn't! And it would have been way worse if friends hadn't accepted half of a large casserole, then shared it with Pastor. Hmm, he ate two different leftovers from me this week...

M&M consumption:  Excessive. (Sigh)

Patience with the kids:  Better, by the grace of God. Until last night. But then, I had the grace of BestestHusband who let me run away for an hour or so. 

How was your week?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stewardship Sunday Will Be On Monday

Happy Sunday to all!

I'm cranky. Really cranky. Yell-at-innanimate-objects-for-no-good-reason cranky. Nothing-the-kids-do-is-amusing cranky.

For no good reason. Really, I can't blame it on anything, other than myself.

So I'm going to bed.

Sorry, I consider this to be a good use of my personal resources, and I'll try to account for the rest of my resource use tomorrow.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Cold Bottle Theory

I've come to the conclusion lately that parenting is tough. But we're good at finding ways to make it tougher.

We just came home from a great birthday party. The kids had a great time. The parents had a great time. There was no bouncy house. There was no ball pit. There was no juggler. There was a room full of toys, and 6 little girls who like playing together. (4 of the 6 were siblings, so really, only 4 families were there, including the hosts). No one got overstimulated. There were no tantrums. There was a lot of giggling. And time for the parents to hang out and chat. And silence when the food was served.

My friend is a very capable cook. You don't turn down invites to her house. She and her husband produce some pretty spectacular Christmas dinners that we've had the privilege to share over the last few years. Suckling pig. Beef Wellington. Standing rib roast. They know how to put on a feast. (We have quite a few friends like this. You have to step up to the plate whenever you invite them over, but all-in-all, I can't complain.) This is the friend who introduced me to Pama. She's got good taste. But she knew better than to put in that level of effort for a 2 yr old birthday party. Don't get me wrong, the food was delicious. But she kept it simple.

She fed the kids macaroni and cheese. She boiled macaroni, drained it, and melted shredded cheese on top. Sharp cheddar. It was tasty. My 2 yr old ate 3 generous helpings. The girls were silent while they ate. I was happy to finish off HeyMama's leftovers. It was good. It took about 10 minutes to make. Genius. 

My friend is a great illustration of my Cold Bottle Theory. Why get your kids addicted to the multi-step mac and cheese (boil pasta, make b├ęchamel, make crumb topping, bake in oven) that takes over an hour when they're absolutely thrilled with something that requires only a small fraction of the effort? Why introduce your baby to bottles that are perfectly warmed to the exact right temp when mine happily accepted bottles cold, even straight from the fridge? HeyMama was fine with this from the very start. MeToo refused bottles altogether (warm, cold, everything in-between) until she took a sippy cup (cold!) at 6 months. (Perhaps some babies have trouble digesting cold stuff? I don't know. If so, then yes, I can see why you'd warm it up. But this wasn't my experience...)

But think of the ways that we make ourselves do extra steps for things kids don't really care about. Perfectly coordinated party supplies. Designer decor in the bedroom. Touring all of the West Zone schools when there are only 3 you'd let your kid to go to. I mean, if it makes you really happy to go to all the extra effort, than by all means, go for it! Be proud of the outcome! Just know that you did it for fun, not because you HAD to. 

There is plenty about parenting that is important and requires a lot of effort. Discipline. Teaching values. Making time for them when they need it. But I wonder how much of what we do spend time on is the fluff - the stuff that only WE feel is important?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sorority of Moms

We moms are doing it all wrong. 
Follow my local online mommy network, and you'd be horrified at the judgmental comments and insinuations. Sleep with your baby? You're a bad mom. Don't sleep with your baby? You're a bad mom. Don't breast feed? You're the worst of moms. Breasfeed until they're 2? You're the worst of the worst.

We can be a bunch of witches. No one can cruelly condemn a mom quite like another mom. We name ourselves judge, jury, and executioner over trivial matters. You let them watch TV!?! You let them eat Fruit Loops!?! You bought them a Barbie!?!?!?!?!

I propose we start a sorority of non-witchiness. I say we set out to help insulate each other from the rest of the witchy world. We can agree to disagree on most things. But there are a few things we must all agree on:

  1. Compliment heavily pregnant women. Tell them they look amazing. Especially if they don't. It doesn't matter that you're lying. Its not about truth. It's about encouragement.
  2. Cheer on moms with horribly misbehaving children. Compliment their patience. Compliment their child's sass vocabulary. Vocabulary is one sign of intelligence, you know... Kid tantrumming in public? Offer to treat her to a peppermint mocha or margarita. She'll likely turn you down. If she doesn't, you know that your impact was especially profound that day.
  3. Another mom at your office or playgroup show up looking like warmed-over and sleep-deprived leftovers from the last decade? Get together with another parent and buy her flowers. Have them delivered. Don't let her know they're from you. Do let her know they're in recognition of the amazing amount of work she does every day.

My university's motto was "truth even unto its innermost parts". When it comes to moms, thats an awful motto. Ours should be "encouragement even unto its outermost stretch."

Because the truth is that most of society doesn't care about our inner battles of mommy guilt. How we can find a way to feel guilty for any decision we make. How other people openly question any decision we make. And how celebrity moms have raised the bar to have perfectly toned, dressed, and rested bodies within six weeks of childbirth. With frequent trips to the salon, massage parlor, and gym. Society doesn't care that we struggle to dress our post-baby bodies because nothing fits anymore and daycare costs ate up our clothing budget. Society says that if we try hard enough, we can have it all. If we can't keep it all together, we must not be trying hard enough.

Yeah, but we know better. We know that "breast is best" (a phrase that causes angst and extreme guilt for many new moms) means that we wear our oversized breasts in oversized shirts until our child is a year old. Or longer. And we wear the extra weight that helps feed them. And sometimes it doesn't go away when we stop feeding them. We know that moms can be just as productive in the workplace as everyone else. Which is amazing considering the twice daily pumping breaks and unpredictable mid-day trips to the pediatrician's office. And leaving "early" every day to make it to daycare on time so we don't get socked with a dollar-a-minute late fee. And getting less sleep because we were up late organizing all the food and gear bags for work and daycare the next morning - a task similar to prepping for the invasion of Normandy.

We try not to complain about all of these things... We love our children and do it gladly. And besides. No one would really listen to our complaining anyway. Being a mother is supposed to be an indescribable joy that trumps all hardship. 

So I say again:  Encouragement even unto its outermost stretch(marks). 

Anyone want to join my club?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Death of Rosemary

She's been through a lot. She always bounced back, holding herself taller and stronger, and giving of herself, as only Rosemary could. Until this winter. She didn't handle the turn of the seasons so well. We thought she'd be happy in the girls' room, with the big sunny windows. I'm ashamed that I couldn't help her more, but alas, her time had come.

This past weekend we had to come to terms with the passing of a loyal and much-loved... rosemary plant.
Oh Rosemary...

If only we lived in Texas, we could plant her in our yard and watch her thrive. My Mum had a huge rosemary bush in her garden. The dogs would rub up against it and smell yummy. And the psychology building at UT Austin had a HEDGE of rosemary out front. You could rub your hand along it as you passed and smell its herby perfume. For you non-Texans reading, yes, Austin has hedges of rosemary. And rivers of beer. And spigots of chocolate fondue in every kitchen. You could even upgrade to Mexican chocolate, with its hint of cinnamon and cayenne - mmmm. Ok, so maybe not the beer and chocolate part. But Austin is pretty awesome, and any state that can grow giant hedges of my favorite herb is a land of fairy tales in my book.

I'm sad to admit that she died. She's been a loyal food-flavorer for quite some time now. So I cared for her remains this weekend. Dust-to-dust, ashes-to-ashes; she's in the compost bin now. Except for her leaves. They're in a large baggie in the pantry. She will continue to give, and continue to be appreciated by our family for quite some time.

Oh Rosemary, what has become of you?!

Oh, a lot of rosemary.

Oh, and have you ever heard someone say, "Oh, grow mint. It's impossible to kill!" Well, they're wrong. We killed our mint again. Another case of dust-to-compost bin. And a little baggie of leaves in the pantry.
Here's our mint.
We managed to kill it.

But the Boston Ivy? It must have sucked the CO2 away from the herbs, because it's growing like gangbusters. That's the plant I brought in on a whim, not really even caring if it survived. Go figure...

Survival of the fittest. Ivy gets the entire window to herself.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Change of Seasons

Today marks a changing of the church seasons - we go from celebrating Christmas and Epiphany to preparing for Easter. Despite the lengthening days, Lent is a dark season. It's a time to reflect on and mourn the evil parts of our nature and an inescapable death, and ready ourselves for the joy of knowing forgiveness and everlasting life. 

Many people prepare by giving something up. Like chocolate. Or wine. Or Facebook. Our church encourages people to take something on:  volunteering, giving a gift, adopting a new habit that changes our daily routine and helps to set aside this season as unique.

Historically, I've given up chocolate. That was always hard. But I find the taking on to be much harder. It makes you give more of yourself. I'm still searching for what I'll take on. I have a few ideas, but am waiting for inspiration to help me choose.

To all who celebrate this changing of the seasons, I pray you'll find these upcoming weeks to be fulfilling.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sticking My Hand in a Blender

I typically try to stay out of political debates. No one has time for nuance. There are only loud voices yelling half-correct mean-sounding statements.

The only child in me finds the confrontation anxiety-inducing. The Texas gal in me finds the tones of voices used to be uncivil and quite distasteful. The semi-educated person in me is embarrassed to admit that I haven't read all of the primary source material and don't know what's half-correct and what's just mean. I find our current expression of modern politics to be absolutely detestable for these reasons.

There are reasons that I'm a registered Independent. BestestHusband would say that it spares me a lot of robocalls around election time. He might be right. But that's obviously not the main reason...

I'm a preacher's kid from Texas. I was raised in the Bible Belt. In my experience, the people there are friendly, generous people who care deeply about our society and want to ensure a bright future for our future generations.

I was educated in a liberal arts university in New England. I was (and am) surrounded by a lot of smart people. In my experience, they are well-read and passionate people who want to make the world a better place for future generations.

Why can't we all just get along?

I get offended when the people who share my cultural roots are called ignorant, small-minded, and bigoted.

Likewise, I get offended when the people who share my current life are called elitist, socialist, and anti-American.

I'm guilty of fence-sitting. Call me a pansy for not picking a side. But I don't like my options. And I can't manage to convince myself that one side is "right" and the other is "evil".

But I'm going to stick my hand in a blender. Yes, I'm going to willingly do something stupid and painful. I'm going to comment on the Affordable Care Act as it applies to providing women's reproductive health and contraception options. More specifically, I'm commenting on the religious exemption.

In general, I agree with those who think that all women should have access to affordable family-planning options, including birth control. I think that, in instances that you don't want to conceive children, preventing conception is a good idea. I believe that children are a gift from God. I also believe that fertility is a gift from God. If have the gift of fertility but don't want your family to resemble the Duggars, you might want to consider available family-planning methods. I personally consider it to be good stewardship of my uterine resources.

The problem with some of the birth control options out there is that the biochemists behind these drugs aren't exactly sure HOW they work. BestestHusband works in drug discovery, and says that this isn't uncommon. Most of us only care about IF a drug works, not HOW a drug works. (The HOW doesn't help sell a drug, so drug companies don't always do the extra research to get that data. And some of the research is so difficult to do with our modern ethics and research design that they just cut their losses. ) Unless we're talking about birth control. BestestHusband and I discovered this for ourselves. We considered multiple options after having MeToo. (Just because I CAN get pregnant 6 weeks after having a baby doesn't mean we think it's a good idea.) We looked at the primary documentation for multiple options on the market. Does it prevent conception and a pregnancy we're not ready for? Or does it prevent implantation of a fertilized egg that's rapidly becoming a small person, and end a pregnancy that's already started? One is considered to be good stewardship of uterine resources. The other is considered to be abortion. (A fine line, but an important line to us.) The literature on some of the options was unable to provide clear evidence either way. The ASSUMPTION is that they prevent conception. This is what most people would prefer to hear. Including us. But my scientist hubby works in research and writes articles. He can read between the lines. So to maintain a clear conscience, we had to rule out options that would otherwise be quite convenient and effective. 

This is one of the issues behind the religious outrage behind a narrowly-applied religious exemption. Not only are some birth control options seen as preventing implantation of an already-dividing egg, some are known abortifaciants. And then there are also surgical abortions. The law would require very religious people to pay for something they consider to be a sin. How would you feel if you were told, "I know you think that this is an affront to everything you believe, but you must pay money to provide this to everyone who works for your organization. You're not a church and you serve people outside of your faith. So you don't get the same exemption as a church or synagogue."

Imagine this in a different scenario. Imagine that the NRA manages to get a law passed that would require all employers to pay for firearms training and a gun for all of their employees. Now, many people in my non-hunting neck of the woods might say, "That's ridiculous! Guns kill people!!! I'm not paying money so everyone can have a gun! Children will die!" They would protest that their beliefs are being trampled. That they're being forced to pay for something that is morally wrong. The pro-gun people might reply, "No, the right to have firearms is in the Constitution. It's a basic human right. How could you deny a person the chance to protect themselves and hunt their own food? And what about those who can't otherwise afford guns? Don't you care about giving equal access to safety and fresh meat?"

Or maybe you don't mind guns, but are passionate about feeding your children an all-organic or vegetarian diet... Imagine that when you enroll your child in public school, you discover that you must pay a monthly lunch fee. Due to the high rate of allergies in students these days, children are no longer allowed to bring in their own food. They must all eat from the school cafeteria menu. You might say, "That's insane! There are unregulated substances in that food! We don't eat animal products! I don't want that for my child! Why can't I feed her the food that I feel is healthiest for her? This goes against all of my dietary beliefs!" But the other side might say, "But this is the best for the student body as a whole. What about all of the children with allergies? What about all of the low-income children who need subsidized meals? We can only afford to feed them if everyone pays in to the system. Don't you care about the health of the kids with allergies? Don't you care about the children who come from low-income families? You must not care much about other people's kids..."

So to my religious friends, the anti-exemption people aren't evil. They just want all women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health services, even if they work for religious charities or a church-affiliated school or healthcare center. They see birth control as something that can disrupt cycles of poverty and prevent a broad range of social ills. They might be right. 

And to my pro-Planned Parenthood friends, the broadened-exemption people aren't stupid women-haters. They just don't want to pay money for something they consider murder. They see the issue as one step away from the government telling churches who they can hire and what they can teach. They might be right, too. 

Can we all agree that we all value women and their reproductive health? And can we all agree that our current healthcare situation is not ideal? 
I think last week's decision on allowing some religious exemptions is a good start (get ready for some references!): (see the last footnote)
They don't cover all religious organizations, and that's where the ongoing debate stems from.

So how do we all stop shouting mean half-truths at each other and serve the needs of women without observant Christians and Jews feeling like they're breaking the 6th Commandment?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Time For A New Savings Account

The house is calm and peaceful this Presidents Day - it's just MeToo, the dogs and myself, and they're all napping. Ah, peace and quiet...

BestestHusband decided that today was the day he'd take HeyMama skiing for the first time. This hasn't been a great winter for skiing. It's been great for me - mild with barely any snow. But those aren't great ski conditions.  So they went somewhere close and cheap for a few hours of ski intro, and prayed they'd find something other than rocks on the ground. 

Of course, close and cheap are all relative. 90 minutes away is close for skiing. And I'm not sure what the grand total of the "cheap" is yet. But you don't start skiing to save money. You do it to find a reason to look forward to winter. 

I'm happy to stay home with MeToo. She's too young for skiing. And I'm just too ME for skiing.

Here's the thing: I know how to ski, I just don't like doing it. 

Everyone says, "Oh, if you'd just going skiing with ME, you'd have a good time!" No. No I won't. Lots of people tried. They all failed. BestestHusband is smart enough not to push the issue. He knows how I am about cold. And being physically out of control. And constantly battling gravity and my under-developed sense of balance. 

It's not an issue of not knowing how. Growing up, my father was a chaplain at a large university in Houston. Every year, we'd drive a few van-loads of college students to New Mexico to go skiing. We'd all sleep on the floor at a local church and spend our days on the ski slopes. It was fun. I took lessons. I was pretty good. I did the hard slopes. I just didn't love it. And as I've gotten older, and less-tolerant of cold, and less-tolerant of being out of control and off-balance, I love it less and less. 

Some people say, "Oh, if you just buy the right type of gear, you won't get cold. You'll have more fun." But I haven't yet found the ski bubble that prevents any of my skin from being touched by cold. Or the gloves that distribute a burst of heat to my left middle finger that turns white after 5 minutes in temperatures under 45 degrees. When that technology is reasonably-priced, let me know. I'll reconsider my stance on skiing. 

Until then, I suspect we'll be a skiing family. I'll be happy to have the girls not inherit my dread of winter. Well, BestestHusband and the girls will be the skiing family. I'll be the spa-ing part of the family. Time to start saving those pennies...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Stewardship Sunday

Well, it's Sunday again, time to account for the management of the many resources I've been gifted with over the past week.

This week was a toughie due to conflicting demands and events.
Three weeks ago, I determined to account for food wastage.
Two weeks ago, I determined to waste less time on the internet.
This past week, I realized that I need to be way more patient with my girls and view them as gifts, not responsibilities.
And somewhere along the way I reported on my Peanut M&M addiction.

The kicker? This was our first week back after a magical week with Nana and Pawpaw. The trip to Texas was pretty great for the girls. They were spoiled rotten (this is a grandparent's prerogative, nay, JOB!) My parents did a fantastic job. The girls were not happy to be back home to a world of running errands, entertaining themselves, and the energy and available time of two adults instead of four.

It was rough on all of us. There was the 24/7 re-re-re-testing of all of the rules of the house. (Just to make sure I hadn't forgotten them?) There were a few 50+ minute tantrum sessions. There was a lot of whining. And bickering. And throwing of oneself on the floor in protest. (That's a different process from tantrumming in this household...)

So I too frequently used checking my email/blog stats/Facebook to lower my blood pressure. And I ate WAAAYYYY too many Peanut M&Ms. Way way too many. But I was conscious of doing this as I did it. I'd like to tell myself that I was truly prioritizing increased patience, so I let myself use the other things as coping strategies. Maybe. I like to tell my patients that AWARENESS of errors is a prerequisite to the CORRECTION of errors. So I'm optimistically telling myself that I'm still on track for getting better... Ok, maybe I've just got LOTS of room for improvement.

Food waste:  I honestly can't think of anything I threw out this past week. I mean, there were a few mushy spots on produce that I cut off, but I think overall we've been good. The big test will be this upcoming week:  my fridge is overflowing with food, and I cooked a lot more for Sunday Dinner yesterday and today.  So the test will be whether or not I can effectively manage my leftovers and find recipes to use up the ingredients that I started using yesterday. Wish me luck!

How was your week?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Homesick Texan

So I had grandiose plans of posting a blog about one of my dogs with photos that truly captured a well-rounded doggie personality. Some people might question if either of my dogs has a well-rounded personality... I just know that I didn't get the chance to find any pictures. So maybe another day.

I'm busy tonight doing a bit of pre-cooking for tomorrow's Sunday Dinner. We're having friends over, so I'm inspired to try new recipes from a cookbook I got for Christmas, the Homesick Texan Cookbook. This thing is for real. As I read through some of the chapter intros this morning, I kept blurting out things at odd intervals, like: 
Fried crappie! (it's a fish, people)
Brown-sugared pecans!
Peach cobbler!
BestestHusband kept giving me the look that says, "I know I was marrying someone a bit different, but geez lady, what is this all about?!"
This cookbook has some legit-looking recipes. I'm trying five of them over the next two days, so I'll have to get back to you on if they really taste like home.

But the smell of BBQ sauce currently bubbling away on my stovetop is heavenly. The miles and years are starting to melt away. 

Where's my French Horn?

It's midnight. Why am I still up?
I'm waiting on the flans. They've got 15 more minutes.
The BBQ sauce is in a Bell jar in the fridge.
The rub for the brisket is prepped. 
The onions and garlic are sliced and in the fridge. 
I'm working on the Texas Caviar. It should be done when the flans are. 
My kitchen smells like heaven. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Puppy Love

Nine months before HeyMama was born, we adopted our first children: sheltie puppies named Mandy and Cameron. We didn't know I was already pregnant with HeyMama at that time, which is probably good. I'm not sure I would have willingly taken on pregnancy and dog training simultaneously. And morning sickness + dog smell = misery. But I think in retrospect, getting two dogs was one of the smartest things we've done for our family.

Lots of couples get a dog as their first "child." Now, as one mom on my local mommy list serve so helpfully pointed out during a debate about the presence of dogs in public, dogs are not really children and they can't be viewed as such. I guess that's why mine didn't enjoy breastfeeding so much... Kidding! I mean, DUH! I know they're not children! But that doesn't mean they don't demand love, attention, and a significant time and energy investment to help them be well-adjusted and happy family members. And they do ease you into the world of responsibility that prevents you from going out every night after work. And teach you about consistency in discipline. And child-proofing your home. And how to keep things in perspective when your belongings get destroyed. And your rug gets pooped on.

We didn't set out to get two dogs. We drove to the foster-family's house to choose one of the two. But we couldn't decide between them. And the poor skittish things were so happy together. How could we separate them?

Well, getting both was a decision I've never regretted. (BestestHusband occasionally does when he looks at vet bills...) They exercise each other by playing in the house. They entertain each other, and us. They keep each other company. And us. And they each have their own distinct personality that is a wonderful addition to our family.

I'll spend a few posts introducing you to Mandy and Cameron. They won't get mad at me when they're older for posting pictures of them on the internet...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Show Me Some Love!

It's Valentine's week. I introduced some girls that could really use a demonstration of kindness and love. I shared pictures of my anatomically correct gummy "Cupids" that BestestHusband gave me. I talked about the humiliation that parents accept from their children in the name of love. Now I will continue the Valentine's theme. 

Do you love me? Or even like me a little?

Yesterday was my 50th blog post. Some of you tell me in person, emails, and FB posts that you love reading my blog. I'm honored, flattered, and thrilled to be a good part of your day. That's my goal, to highlight or share a bit of joy and encouragement every day. We all have days where it's hard to find. Some of us get in ruts where we don't see it for weeks. And certainly we know of friends or family who could use a bit of joy in their day. 

So I'm entreating you to show me some love and share some Joy. Share my blog with others. Go to your favorite post right now and share it on Facebook and Twitter, or email it to everyone you know. Or just the people you think will like it. And every time I write something that makes you smile, pass it on.

I have delusions of becoming a Blogging Bazillionaire. Getting a book deal or 4. Getting flown around the world to visit you and do book signings. Oh wait, Pioneer Woman already did all of that. (Quick Digression:  Pioneer Woman's coming to Boston in March!!! I can't wait!!! I'm totally getting my copies of her books autographed!) So far I've earned 13 cents on the ads to the right of my blog posts. That's just from page views. (I'd get more if people checked out the ads.) I'm on track to earn a dollar by the end of the year!

I also have delusions of being a global phenomenon. I apparently have readers in Russia, Ukraine, Germany, France, Burma, and the Netherlands. Have friends in other countries? Please feed my ego and get them reading my blog. Blogger keeps track of it, and checking it is a favorite form of procrastination. 

So please comment on my posts. I'll comment. And show my love right back.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bringers of Humility

I've always been a fan of Gustav Holst's The Planets. The movements are named after the planets in our solar system, and include:
- Mars, the Bringer of War- Venus, the Bringer of Peace- Mercury, the Winged Messenger- Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity- Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age- Uranus, the Magician- Neptune, the Mystic
He included all of our known planets, with the exception of Pluto. But Pluto got demoted, so Holst is right again.

He's inspired me to refer to my children as the Bringers of Humility.

There's nothing like small immature humans to knock you down a few notches. Especially when you birthed them and have the privilege of raising them. (Actually, birthing them has nothing to do with it. Raising them pretty much handles it. But pregnancy was a great intro to the loss of control and feeling of exhaustion that parenting brings...)

We had a busy morning planned. Why did I do that again? Oh, because there's not enough hours in the day for days to NOT be busy. I wanted to work out at the gym (for the first time in weeks), then we were headed to Harvard so MeToo could participate in a research study in one of the human development labs. My Master's thesis was possible because of helpful strangers that allowed me to record their children, so I figure it's nice for me to pay forward the favor. And, stupid as it is, there's a little part of the back of my brain that thinks that this will be good for the girls someday. Maybe they'll fondly remember going to Harvard and want to apply there someday. Maybe Harvard will somehow remember how cute, adorable, funny, precocious, spirited, curious, and observant they were and want to give them scholarships to attend. I know this is all silly. My mantra has always been "Harvard is as Harvard does." It's not the best school around, and certainly isn't the best for everyone. BestestHusband definitely doesn't want the girls to go there. He doesn't even want them to go to its geekier neighbor down the river, despite going there himself. But I digress... 

While HeyMama was playing with a research assistant in the toy room, MeToo went into the study room with all of the video cameras and I followed one of the researchers to the control room behind the curtain. I could watch all of the action on a computer monitor. 

In the toy room, MeToo had been her most charming self. She played with puzzles. She played with shape sorters. She interacted nicely with everyone. She was winsome. She said cute things. And all of the research staff understood her remarkably intelligible and complex sentences. What a good mother and Speech Pathologist I am!!!

But she was different with the cameras on. She wasn't bad, but she wasn't her most charming self. She played nicely with the researchers, she followed their instructions. But she started criticizing their toys. "I wanna diffent toy." (Translation:  I want a different toy. This one is lame.) When she said this, they brought out a new toy. Then 10 seconds later, the verdict came again. "I wanna diffent toy." This went on for about 5 minutes (they needed to collect a certain number of data points, and it took a while...). Then she gave up on their toy collection. "I wanna seeul bah." They didn't hand out cereal bars on command. "I wan see Fwehwah." Her sister continued to play next door in the toy room. "I wan see Mama." No response. So she headed for the exits.

What happened to my charming and winsome little darling? No longer the good mother and Speech Pathologist, I was the mother who had too many overstimulating toys and obviously did nothing to expand her 2 year old's attention span. 

Ok, so the toys were lame, by design, of course. But I felt the need to explain to the researcher watching the computer screen with me that the girls had just spent a week being entertained by grandparents. Spoiled by grandparents. They didn't usually need so much entertainment and external stimulation. They were creative little girls who could play with odd jingling boxes for hours on end. Really! They truly were genius little creatures functioning on the far right end of the bell curve! I'm not a bad mother!

I can lay out structure and provide experiences to help them develop appropriate skills and behaviors, but really, I have little control over their behavior. This is humbling. And will continue to be for decades, I'm sure. 

Working in geriatric rehab, I meet many people who have crushing and incapacitating health problems. And people who have been healthy for 8 decades only to slip on the ice and face a future of dependence. This is hard for anyone. But it seems to be the hardest for those who have never had children. Ok, sure, there are exceptions, like the narcissistic lady with 8 children who was the one who made my life the toughest any time she landed in our fair institution... (Hey Jenny, remember her?) But the pattern seemed to be there. Humility finds you sooner or later. And the longer you wait, the harder it is.  

Another digression:  a dear friend is an OT, and has worked with a lot of stroke patients. She thinks that women deal with hemiplegia (one sided-weakness) much better than men do. She has known women to take care of themselves quite well with only one functional arm. Many of her patients, years earlier, had managed a household with a baby in one arm. So doing things one-handed came naturally. Who knew that having kids could help you after you have a stroke?

So I'm telling myself that humility is good for me. I'll be much better off for experiencing it now. And tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that. And the weeks, months, and years after that... 

What's the most humiliating thing you've known a kid to do? 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Treats

So my darling BestestHusband went on a business trip to Germany a while back, and found a fun candy store there. He brought back cranberry-flavored gummy bears. And they were good!

He said that they had just about any type of gummy candy you could imagine. Well, they went way above and beyond my expectations. Way way beyond. How he managed to keep these a secret all this time is impressive to me. I think I would have had to show someone immediately:

(I should warn you, this candy might need some kind of rating like R or XX... clear the children from the room...)

HeyMama asked what they were.
I said, "Hearts and cupids."

HeyMama asked where their diapers were.
I said, "They're going bare-bummed." Because apparently Cupid is still working on potty-training.

She was fine with this concept.

Whew. Someday she'll be horrified that we had these in the house. Until then, she'll tell her preschool teachers that Daddy gave Mama heart and Cupid candies for Valentine's Day.

Um, yeah, they're anatomically correct.
(I still can't get pictures to rotate. Turn your head for full effect.)

They come in multiple poses and flavors!

Nothing says "Happy Valentine's Day" like red-hot hearts and gummies with genitalia.

Those crazy Germans.
The name of this one is obvious if you look closely...

Here are the hearts. 
"Flaming Hearts", if BestestHusband's German is correct...

I have to give BestestHusband credit for a memorable gift. 

The rest of the gift is an event planned for the future. What did I give him? "Pirate Booties" according to the girls. (I only buy BestestHusband snack foods as special treats. Poor guy...) The rest of the gift is backordered, and the opening will be an event in the future.

What was your most memorable Valentine's Day gift?

You Need an Attitude Adjustment Young Lady!

Yesterday was one of those days. The transition back from vacation has been hard on all of us. The girls went from having two full-time entertainers to being stuck with me. And having to run errands. That's tough. And I went from having two full-time child entertainers to being responsible for two quarrelsome preschoolers. That was tough. It was all around a tough day. There was a 51 minute tantrum. And I lost count of the timeouts. If you want more evidence for the existence of a loving and merciful God, look at my girls. They're still here. And I'm still here. That's an act of God. I was ready to run screaming from the house by 2pm yesterday.

I actually found myself using the words, "You need an attitude adjustment, young lady." Yes, to my 3 year old. Yeah, classy. And productive.

In reality, those words should have been directed at myself.

As I walked to the train station this morning, I thought about attitude and perspective. I treasure those 20 minutes on either end of my commute. I have the privilege of enjoying some of the most beautiful urban wilderness in the country. Maybe even the world. I see wildlife. I hear birds instead of cars. I get exercise. In the middle of the city. What a gift! I am so lucky!

I could complain about the cold. Or the gravel that gets in my shoes. Or the fact that Boston is such an expensive place to live that my family only has one car, so I have to take the T to work. But instead, I choose to see it as a gift.

Why can't I do the same with my girls?

Other people describe them as adorable, funny, precocious, spirited, curious, and observant. My descriptions for them yesterday were cranky, whiney, quarrelsome, and punky. Perhaps my descriptions were technically correct. The did have a rough day. Including a 51 minute tantrum. And one of them is occasionally known to poop on the rug. But if I only see the bad, how can I foster the good?

I've come to the realization that lately, I see them as responsibilities more than I see them as gifts. True, they are both. But if I only see the responsibility, I miss out on the gift.

I've been given some questionable gifts in the past. Like the ugly turquoise suede skirt that I was given for Christmas when I was 11 or 13. Today, I'd rock that turquoise suede skirt happily. But back then, I cursed my Grandma's addiction to the Home Shopping Network. Girls my age did not want turquoise suede skirts.

These girls are not that suede skirt. They are beautiful and delightful. They are everything I've ever wanted. (well, along with their father...) They are the dream of every childless couple in the world. And I've been considering them "responsibilities."

Shame on me. I need an attitude adjustment.

Now, I have no delusions that this will make them better behaved. They will still exhibit typical toddler/preschooler behavior. And that consists of a lot of limit-testing. And sass. And that will still require a lot of patience on my part. 

But if I can focus on the trees of the Arboretum and minimize the gravel in my Danskos and finger-whitening cold, I can certainly focus on the gracious gift that my children are to me and minimize the ego-withering defiance and eardrum-rupturing squabbles. I suspect we'll all be happier.

Wish me luck. I think this will be more difficult than cutting back on my internet use.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Imagine for a moment...

Imagine for a moment that you are 16 again. 

But instead of holding car keys, or a French Horn, or a tennis racket, or a football, you're holding a baby. YOUR baby. You made the decision to have and raise your baby, and you want to do what's best for her. 

But there are a few complications. You're still in school. But maybe you can drop out and get a job... You don't really have any job skills. And not too many people seem to be hiring... Who would take care of the baby while at work? Hmm, you have no family to help out. Good riddance, you never got along well anyway... You don't know much about babies. Or parenting. You never really had much parenting to learn from in your own family...

Oh, and you have no where to live. You've been sleeping on friends' couches for the last few years. But none of them are much interested in having a crying baby around. 

And you have no money. And you need to buy diapers. And food. 

And you're still only 16. What do you do?

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a home for kids like you? Where they helped you finish school. And gain job skills. And learn how to take care of your baby. And manage money. And make solid plans for your future. And provide counseling and psychological support for all the baggage that got you to where you are in the first place. And help you find a new place to live when you're 21. And generally just help you learn about structure and consequences and making smart choices for your life. 

Wouldn't that just be amazing?

If you live in Massachusetts, that's not just a fairy tale. It's called Ruth House. It's a real place. 
And if you agree to submit to the program, you can learn all the skills and gain all the tools you need to be able to support your little family. On your own. Oh, it's not a quick and easy process. It takes time, and can be a struggle. But the staff knows this, and provides what you need to do it. 

Ruth House is a service of Lutheran Social Services (LSS). You don't have to be Lutheran to get the services. Religion does not determine what help you get. It only serves as the basis for why LSS exists in the first place. Lutherans support the services. Non-Lutherans support the services. Non-Christians support the services. LSS just does great work. Lots of it. It played a huge role in my life 30+ years ago

I saw that work first-hand again this morning. I was at Ruth House. I met an alumna. When she moved there with her daughter, she spoke no English. Years later, she is a poised, articulate woman who helps run multiple non-profit organizations in the area. She hopes to finish her undergraduate degree next year. Yes, I said RUN MULTIPLE NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS. In perfect English. Ok, mildly accented... She is the epitome of a success story. She's married. She owns a home. And credits Ruth House for helping her get there. 

The place inspires me. Over the next several months, I hope to help you get to know Ruth House, too.

Want to show some real love on Valentine's Day? Give something more permanent than roses. Show the girls some love that doesn't come their way very often. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Stewardship Sunday

It's Sunday again, time to account for my resource management over the last week.

Last week I concluded that I waste a SIGNIFICANT amount of time on the internet. Well, vacation helped prevent that this last week. Dial-up internet on a computer in the girls' room meant that there was no "quick checking" of email, and certainly not during the hours that I had the least interruptions (ie. when the girls were sleeping). So I did a really good job of not wasting time on the internet. Then I came home and was drawn to the computer like a moth to a bug-zapper. It was truly a deadly compulsion. 

I heard about a study recently that linked a smoker's environment to his/her urge to smoke. In other words, when they saw the places where they usually smoke, they suddenly needed to smoke. (I'll spare you the academic references...) This is me with internet-checking. I see the office/spare bedroom with the computer, and suddenly need to go in and log on. How to counteract this classical conditioning situation with a bit of behavior modification? 

My first real job after college was teaching children with autism at a private school that provided an all-ABA*-all-the-time curriculum. So in theory, I have a bit of experience with behavior modification. But in reality, I learned the most about therapy from my fellow teachers (Hi Melissa!) and the parents of the children I worked with. One of these mothers, an energetic Polish lady, once told me, "You can't just take away a bad behavior, you have to replace it with a better behavior." Good advice for her son's hand-flapping then, and good advice for me now. 

So my plan for intervention is to replace my computer time with housework. My house typically has tumbleweeds of dog fur growing and tumbling in every room (this is the downfall of hardwood floors). And dust. And clutter. And the list can go on and on... And why do I claim to have a dirty house? Because I don't have time to clean it. Well, wasting 90 minutes a day on the computer does leave me with little time to keep a hygienic environment. So let's see if we can do a bit of a switcheroo. And if I want to procrastinate from cleaning, I can just go play with the girls. Sounds like a win-win, either way. 

So we'll see how this goes...

Ok, time to evaluate our food waste. Our dogsitter/housesitter never got my message about eating our food. So we had some throwing-out to do. The good news is that BestestHusband has an iron stomach and can eat food that I would have thrown out a week ago. And he did that today, which prevented some waste. 

We did throw out:

  • a mix of tomatoes and cheese that would have been good on pasta or bruschetta (too horrible to photograph)
  • 2 cucumbers (they were shriveled and slimy)
  • the bottom 1/3 of asparagus stalks from a whole bunch of asparagus (they were shriveling, but we ate the top 2/3 of the stalks tonight)


And I think that's about it. Not too bad. The real test will be next Sunday when I have to account for my time use. (Gulp.)

How was your week?

*Applied Behavioral Analysis

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thanks, Mr. Fariss

So I capped off our vacation week with some good old VHS nostalgia. My parents had transferred some tapes to DVD, but two of them were copyrighted by the professional videographers. So I watched them in their original format while I packed two suitcases and four carryon bags.

And suddenly I was 14 again, wearing a sweltering black wool uniform and plumed hat that left an indentation in my forehead. The music is etched in my subconscious, and I could hum along to all of it. I have no doubt that in 15 more years, I still will.

One of the great things about Texas' obsession with High School football is the bleed-over effect onto programs that provide halftime entertainment. In my years at our school, the football team wasn't great, but the drill team, cheerleaders, and marching band all won regional and state awards.

I was in the marching band. And that meant I was under the direction of Jack Fariss. He was an institution in our town. Some called him Papa Jack. I'm a grownup and I'm still afraid to call him that. He's Mr. Fariss to me, and always will be.

He knew how to make a difference in people's lives: take a group of kids, challenge them to do something really hard, and push them until they could do it really well. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of pushing, because teenagers are a notoriously lazy and stubborn bunch...

The list of things I learned from Mr. Fariss could go on for a very long time, but here are a few highlights:

"Practice like you want to perform"
"Fake it 'till you make it"
"Take care of your stuff!" (in other words, don't let you problems in the rest of your life interfere with your band life. Just deal with it and be ready to show up and perform)
"On time is 15 minutes late!" (if he gives a downbeat at the top of the hour, you'd better be there early.)
Use your peripheral vision. (This helps keep marching lines straight. It also helps keep the big picture straight in the rest of your life.)
It's easier to do the right thing the first time than be lazy and have to Mile March later.
Sometimes you just have to move fast.
You have to practice to be good.
You have to practice more than you want to to be really good.
You don't have to win 1st in State to be proud of what you created. (although 3rd in State was pretty nice)

Hours spent on a sweltering practice field taught a lot about work ethic. And about how to be a small but accountable member of a big group.

But I would be remiss if I didn't address the topic of music education.

Band provided exposure to music. Good music. The kind of music you pay lots of money to hear in symphony halls across our nation. We heard it. We played it. In the process, we learned a lot about music. How it's played differently across different cultures. How it evokes emotion. How it can make your heart swell when you play it well.

I had more classical music exposure than my college classmates who went to expensive private schools. And better work ethic...

I attribute this to Mr. Fariss.

Education budget cuts threaten band programs. Threaten kids' chances to have a Jack Fariss of their own. I can't help but think that this is bad thing for the future of our nation...

Did you have your own Jack Fariss?
If you knew the real Mr. Fariss, what do you still carry with you?