Thursday, November 29, 2012

I'm Spoiled

I'm spoiled. I've been attempting to stave off a sinus infection for the past several weeks, and the throbbing in my face and teeth finally convinced me to renounce my martyrdom today and call the doctor.

So at 3:30pm, as I was crawling into bed, I called my doctor's office. The receptionist said I could be seen in 30 minutes, or after noon tomorrow. Of course I leapt out of bed and dashed to the car.

And 30 minutes later I had a doctor peering up my nose. I went down the elevator of my large urban medical practice to the pharmacy. I'm writing this as I'm waiting for antibiotics.

I'm spoiled by the instant medical care. I complained of a problem, and it got addressed. Just like that. A $20 copayment and $4.30 for amoxicillin, and an hour after complaining, I'm on the road to recovery.

Most of the world can't even fathom this access to healthcare.

I'm spoiled. I bet you are, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Blogging in Bed

I'm going to bed early. I'm in bed, actually. I probably won't be blogging much over the next few days. Here's why:

I've had a waxing and waning migraine for over 24 hours.
I've had a sinus infection for over 4 weeks. Perhaps I should go in for antibiotics, but I'd rather be a martyr. For now.
My house is full of inlaws, in a delightfully chaotic way. Adding a 2.5 yr old niece to our resident 3 and 4 year olds really is a fun mix.
We're celebrating MeToo's birthday on Saturday. It's a small gathering, but I promised a piƱata and a cake modeled after Neuschwanstein. There is much to do. Like starting them.
There is a birthday banner to finish sewing. Yes, because I'm crazy.

So I will be too busy quietly freaking out to blog much. I promise to make contact on the other side. Hopefully with pictures of an edible Neuschwanstein.

Have a great rest of the week and weekend!

Monday, November 26, 2012

3 Years of Exponential Joy

Three years ago today, at about this time, I was holding a tiny new person. I'd had enough hours to sleep off the effects of her birth. I'd managed the newborn phase of her older sister, so I knew (kinda) what I was getting myself into. But I wondered how I would manage TWO little blessings in my life. I knew I wouldn't be going back to work full time. I knew my role of full-time-employed-person-who-knew-important-stuff would change, and I'd suddenly be a stay-at-home-mom to 2 children. I knew things would change. I knew we'd be ok, and I suspected I'd never regret any of it.

What I didn't yet know about was how each extra child didn't just add extra joy to your family. No, even "multiplication" was not significant enough to describe the difference. I think "exponential increases of joy" is a more accurate description of the change. 

I won't deny that the change was tough. There were some rather dark days at the beginning. Having 2 babies in 2 years is not an undertaking for wussies. Combining that with seismic shifts of self-concept and identity certainly didn't help much. You couldn't pay me enough to go back to those days.

But, as every tough phase of childhood does, it all passed. I learned, I grew. They learned, they grew. They grew into delightful and entertaining little people. And the joy grew exponentially. Here are a few sources of joy that the last few years have brought:

  • Meeting a new little person, and learning that her personality was different from every other person in our family.
  • Learning the role of nature vs. nurture, and realizing that it wasn't all because of me. 
  • Seeing the results of teaching and training, and seeing that some of it could be from me.
  • Having a cuddly child in the house when another was independent.
  • Watching independence grow while having to hold another. 
  • Watching the beginning of a lifelong sister relationship.
  • Watching the development  and growth of that sisterhood.
  • The relief of observing that my children are smarter, cuter, funnier, and more interesting than I am. 
  • Watching beloved dogs grow to accept and love my children.
  • Watching my children grow to love and care for my dogs.
  • Observing a spark of music in my children that is beyond what I could give them.
  • Watching my husband grow in importance in the eyes of my daughters.
  • Watching my husband grow as a result of my daughters.
  • Enjoying the growth in our relationship as a result of parenting our daughters.
  • Nurturing a faith in young hearts that is greater than I'd ever imagine in children so young.
  • Receiving exuberant hugs, kisses, and artwork with a frequency that is sometimes overwhelming.

I could keep going. 

Despite missing a fantastic gourmet Thanksgiving meal the day that she was born, the entrance of MeToo into our lives was a huge blessing. And I give thanks for that day, 3 years ago today. 
Happy Birthday MeToo!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Kolaches in Boston

It's quite difficult to find kolaches in Boston. I looked online. All I could find were people talking about how difficult they were to find here. So sometimes, one must take matters into one's own hands.

Growing up in Texas, kolaches were a big deal. Grandma made them for special occasions. And there were some bakeries here and there that we'd stop at to get some. It was high praise for a bakery if my dad declared, "those are some gooooood kolaches!"

So, while recently flipping through the Homesick Texan cookbook, I stumbled on a recipe for kolaches. They looked just like I'd remembered. So I had to try making them myself. 

While I remember them being made with prune filling, I opted to buy premade cans of apricot and raspberry. I wasn't so sure about mixing preschoolers with prunes...

And here's the result.

I used bread flour, as I'd somehow run out of all-purpose flour, so they ended up being huge! They were at least twice as wide as I remembered them. But they were good. They're more doughy than sweet, although the filling is quite sweet. They're best when fresh, so I distributed them among friends to avoid eating 12 tablespoons of butter in 2 days. But I'll be making them again soon. 

We're still trying to figure out what our family traditions will be around the holidays. So far, they consist of getting together with friends at Thanksgiving and me working the day after Thanksgiving while BestestHusband and the girls start to decorate for Christmas. But I feel like kolaches should be one of our traditions. It's a part of Texas German-Czech heritage that is so easily lost living in Boston. And a memory I want my girls to have. 

And now that I can make them, I feel like I have a certain mom cred. Hard to explain, but... Growing up, there were always a few ladies at the church who would bring things to potluck dinners and their food would disappear first. Mrs. Smith was known for her chicken'n'dumplins, Mrs. Jones was known for her sausage, Mrs. Brown would make tamales, etc. You wanted to get in line early to make sure you actually got some. I've always wanted to have The Thing that I could make. It's like church-lady street cred. And I feel like maybe I have it now. Maybe...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Bedtime Prayers of Thanksgiving

Heard tonight at bedtime:

MeToo:  "Dear Jesus, thank you for money. And Mandy. Amen."
HeyMama:  "Dear Jesus, thank you for video games. Amen." Daddy, can we get an iPad?

I'm not sure when my children became so materialistic, but they picked an odd day to display it.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all, a good night!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Hat

We took a trip to the playground this morning to let the girls get some sun, burn off some steam, and prep for a trip to a chaotic pre-Thanksgiving grocery store. They played on the playground for a while, then decided to play in the baseball field. They ended up repeatedly rolling down a hill.

MeToo ended up covered in leaves. They clung to her knit hat and somehow made their way down the back of her coat. She was unhappy about that. She yanked off the hat and handed it to me to fix.

I picked the leaves off of the hat and held it in my hands. It was made of basic off-white yarn, probably acrylic. It was simple in design, but quite warm. My grandmother had made that hat. She made it when HeyMama was very tiny, and the hat was comically large. She made it before she forgot how to knit. But now she's gone. And MeToo has grown up to fit into the hat perfectly.

I'm thankful for family members that make things. I like to think that Grandma knitted and purled love into that hat. I can see it in her hands, with the rings she always wore. I can see her knitting it in her favorite chair. Her love cradles MeToo's little ears and holds in her wispy blonde hair. MeToo won't remember my Grandma, she was a tiny baby when they last saw each other.  And HeyMama will only remember the pictures and the stories that "Grandma Rose", the reason for HeyMama's middle name, typed up of her childhood adventures. But I can show them the hat she made for them - tangible proof that someone loved them. 

I used to think that intentions mattered more than actions. But now I know that's not true. Actions can produce evidence of love that endures long after the gift-maker is gone. I'm blessed to have a home that is full of things made by loved ones. We have quilts, furniture, scrap books, and other odds and ends. I can touch the objects and feel the love that went into them. And for that I am thankful. 

The Hat

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Preparation for Thanksgiving

I didn't take part in this year's Facebook challenge to list one thing every day in the month of November that I'm thankful for. It's not that I'm not thankful. It's more that I have poor followthrough.

In fact, by the time I finish this blog post, I will have gone off on at least two tangential google searches, gotten a drink of something, and certainly used the bathroom. And maybe sent an email or two. It's a marvel I get anything done in life, really.

See, by the time I got to THIS paragraph, I'd already gone off to find a recipe for mashed sweet potatoes. I think I've narrowed it down to ones with maple syrup instead of chipotles. I think I'm in charge of kid-friendly side dishes, and chipotles aren't always kid-friendly... Oooh, I just found a recipe with cardamom and orange liquor. That looks interesting too...

ANYWAY, my point was that I'd have more luck listing things that I'm thankful for if I actually sat down to do it all in one sitting. So, in not-a-consistently-hierarchical order, here's the beginning of my list. 

I'm thankful for:

  1. A faith that provides hope, comfort, joy, and an internal compass to guide me through life's adventures and challenges.
  2. A family that supports me, encourages me, challenges me, and gives me new reasons to be thankful every day.
  3. An education that gave me bankable work skills, challenged my view of the world, and taught me to always keep my eyes and mind open to new views.
  4. A vocation that challenges me emotionally, creatively, and sometimes intellectually. And allows me to help people. 
  5. Enough confidence in myself as a clinician that I can rejoice when patients rejoice, and cry when patients cry. 
  6. A group of friends that have become family.
  7. A handsome, brilliant, and all-around-good husband.
  8. Two adorable, entertaining, and loveable children. Most of the time.
  9. A local Mommy community to answer questions and reassure me that I'm not completely insane. Most of the time.
  10. The YMCA gym with babysitting, for when I am going insane.
  11. Flannel sheets.
  12. A down-filled duvet.
  13. Forced air heat.
  14. Heated tile bathroom floor.
  15. Down coat.
  16. Cashmere scarf.
  17. Giant warm mittens. (can you tell it's gotten chilly here lately?)
  18. A comfortable home that has room to grow into. This is not a common thing in our city.
  19. A yard, with room for a garden.
  20. A workplace within walking distance.
  21. Another workplace that allows me to walk to a train through one of the most beautiful urban gardens in the world.
  22. A safe neighborhood in a usually-safe city.
  23. Guaranteed education for my girls.
  24. Dogs. 
  25. A preschool that provides excellent care and enrichment for my girls, and supports their growing faith lives.
  26. Sunsets over our back yard.
  27. A patio to eat on in the summer and watch the sunsets.
  28. Woods behind our house that give shelter to deer, coyotes, foxes, and other fauna.
  29. Rapid internet access to any information we need to find. Like sweet potato recipes.
  30. The ability to walk to places, like parks, stores, libraries, and restaurants.
  31. Freedom.
  32. Dansko clogs. In marbled burgundy patent leather.
  33. Plenty of weather-appropriate clothing for the girls and us.
  34. Friends who hand a lot of it down to us.
  35. An in-unit washer and dryer to keep it all clean. 
  36. A spare bedroom to pile it all up in until I can fold and sort it all.
  37. A palate that was expanded by persistent parents, travel, and adventurous friends and husband.
  38. Cookbooks.
  39. Booze.
  40. Chocolate.
  41. Chocolate-flavored booze.
I could keep going and going. 
The challenge is to find something to be thankful for every day, not just at Thanksgiving, and not just in November. But November is a nice opportunity to sit down and focus on the many things for which we can give thanks.

So tomorrow, as I'm trying my hand at pumpkin empanadas, I will give thanks for pumpkin. And a functional kitchen. And family who taught me to appreciate home-made things. And... may the list go on and on.

Monday, November 19, 2012

School Report #4

We kicked off our week with another school visit. Bright and early, we visited the Hernandez School, or Escuela Rafael Hernandez K-8. The Hernandez is unique, as it conducts all educational instruction in both English and Spanish. The kids start out alternating 3 days of Spanish instruction with 2 days of English instruction. In 3rd grade, they switch to alternating 2 weeks of instruction in each language. Literacy begins in the child's home language, but children are expected to become functionally bilingual. This would be a marvel in our household, which is firmly monolingual.

The school itself was impressive. The classrooms were large, surprisingly large. The school had lots of space, including an auditorium, a gym, AND a cafeteria! They weren't all smooshed into one multipurpose space like in other schools! They had a full-time PE staff, with competitive sports, including track, for the 4th graders and up. The outside play yard/playground was the biggest I've seen so far. They had gardens, and a plot in the local community garden. Music and performance arts seemed to play a big part of their curriculum and culture. We saw the children practicing for a performance they'll be giving tomorrow. We observed dance and instruments, as well as singing. 

The school is considered a "Discovery School", which means that they can deviate from the standard BPS curriculum. They employ an "expeditionary learning" model of teaching, which from what I can tell, sounds like it's more hands-on and collaborative. (I still need to do more research on this concept.)

The school is an exciting prospect. It would be a challenge for all of us, both the girls and BestestHusband and myself. The language and cultural divides would allow for a significant amount of growth. And this school, with its bilingual education, is something that we could not provide for the girls anywhere else. The 'burbs don't provide the opportunity in public education, and our finances can't provide it at a private school. 

It's considered a city-wide school, so walk zones and BPS reorganization won't affect our ability to go there. The only thing that controls us is the lottery. I'm pretty sure this school will be high on our list.

School Report #3

So I visited my third school in as many days on Friday, the Beethoven school. This school appears to be much more popular. The tour group was large. They had a lot of questions.

The school was large. It was oldish, not as old as the first two I saw. They too did a lot to make brick walls more cheerful. But there was just a lot more space for everything. It didn't feel as cozy, quaint, and cramped as the other schools. It just felt like a school. With an actual auditorium. It's hard to articulate beyond that...

The principal was non-nonsense. She was older than the others I've met. And I got the sense she'd been doing this a long time and was good at it.

The test scores from the school are good. It's a popular school. My girls would fit in there. They would get a fine education. We'd never have to worry about it. It would be much like the elementary schools I went to.

But it's out of our walk zone. It probably won't be available for MeToo after the school re-draws zones and changes the lottery program. It's nice to have as a referent - to compare other less-popular schools to. But I don't think we should rank it highly, because I don't think it's a durable solution for us. It's too bad...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

School Report #2

I visited our second elementary school today, Phineas Bates Elementary.

After a hectic day where I worked at 2 different hospitals, I rushed to preschool, picked up the girls, stopped by the house to pick up a container of much-anticipated celery (!?!), and dashed to the other side of Roslindale to find The Bates. We found it. It wasn't too far away, as it is in our 1-mile radius "walk zone".

A teacher met us at the front door. The doors were locked, and we had to ring a doorbell to be let inside. BestestHusband mentioned that the school is in a higher-crime area and has gone into "lockdown" on several occasions. Lovely! 

Once inside, we saw the familiar trappings of an old-school Boston school building, with ugly brick walls and "quaint" windows and trim. Somehow, they did a lovely job of making it look cheerful and inviting. We met first in a Kindergarten classroom. The girls were invited to join in at the play area. They dove right in. The walls were papered with artwork and educational tools. I loved the room. It was full of action, even when we parents were sitting quietly. MeToo wandered around looking at all of the displays and teaching activities. When it was time to take the tour, she cried. She didn't want to leave that room. So the teacher of that class invited all of the kids to stay and play or color. My girls cheerfully waved me off and dove into the crayon box. I loved that teacher. 

The school was much like The Kilmer. It was boxy. It had multiple levels with old stairwells. It had a large playyard and good playground structure. But it had an additional Cafetorium, a mixed-use room that had a curtained stage to create a largish auditorium. 

This school had a large number of partnerships to augment the educational basics, using external community partners to provide additional resources and activities. The student population was not as white as the Kilmer. Or, more importantly, it wasn't as West Roxbury-ish as the Kilmer (ie. more affluent, with more dual-parent families, regardless of race/nationality). In other words, more was offered because the students needed more. The MCAS proficiency average was 22 points lower than the Kilmer, but the SGP (student growth percentage) was also 8 points lower. So the data also suggests that the student population struggles more, and the teachers aren't overcoming it as well. But the school had Advanced Work classes for 4th and 5th grades, equivalent to the Gifted and Talented programs that BestestHusband and I recalled so fondly from our childhoods. In fact, it's the only school in Roslindale that offers Advanced Work classes. So, given likely changes to BPS school assignments, if we want our girls to get AW opportunities in the later grades, it's good to start out here to make sure we can get in.

So again, it's another school I can see the girls going to. Tomorrow I'll visit a third school. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

School Report #1

So I did my first school visit this morning.

Boston has an interesting public school system, where you don't send your kid to a neighborhood school. There is no such thing as a neighborhood school. There are dozens of elementary schools in your "zone" and a lottery system where you rank the schools by preference and hope that your lottery number is good enough to get your kid into a school at the top of the list. You find out in the spring which school your child will attend that next fall. Of course, if you're on a waitlist, you may get in after school starts. Or not at all. It's hard to know, really. It's a bit nerve-wracking for parents like me who like to plan in advance. Or like to feel like we have some semblance of control over our children's education.

We applied last year for K0, which is like public preschool. Of course we didn't get in. 

So this year we're back to try for K1, which is 4 yr old kindergarten. We may not get in. But I want us to at least try. My plan is to visit as many of the schools as possible that are either close or interesting. There are quite a few to visit. Currently, there are 3 zones across Boston, and you attend schools within your geographic zone. This system will remain in place for the 2013-2014 school year, the year that HeyMama could potentially enter K1. But that system will change for the 2014-2015 school year, the year that MeToo could potentially enter K1. We don't know what that system will look like. We may not know until after we register HeyMama for schools. So there will likely be a smaller pool of schools available for MeToo to register for. We're not sure what those schools will be yet. And we may not for a while. The school district may continue the practice of prioritizing younger siblings to be in the same school as the rest of their family members. Or they may not. So we could potentially have 2 kids, just one year apart, attending different schools. The whole thing is like a multivariable equation where the variables shift and change at undetermined intervals. Needless to say, Boston parents are stressed. 

So I visited the Kilmer lower school today. The school is across 2 campuses, with K1-3rd grade at the lower campus and 4th-8th grades at the upper campus. These campuses are 2 miles from each other. But it's still all the Kilmer School. Ok... I did not see the upper campus, but I heard it's very recently renovated. The lower campus, that I visited today, is not newly renovated. Built in the 1940's, it's a bit old-school. Both in appearance, and as I learned from a mom who sent both of her kids there, in practice as well. She describes the school as "structured", with high expectations for performance and behavior. She described standards that are higher than those mandated by the state. The school had the best 3rd grade MCAS reading scores in Boston, and some of the highest in the state. And, unlike other elementary schools, it offers multiple "specials", including art, music, drama, and phys ed. Optional string instrument classes start at the 2nd grade for a nominal fee. Now, growing up, we just called those things "classes". They were just part of the curriculum. (Joy, you're not in the 'burbs anymore! Get over it!) There was no indoor gym, no auditorium. But apparently, this is also normal for BPS. They had a nice school yard, with a fun playground structure. It was in a quiet residential neighborhood. The classrooms were all cheerful, orderly, and vibrant. I could see the girls learning a lot there. Apparently others can, too. It's a popular school. There are 2 classrooms for K1, with a total of 44 seats. In any given year, up to half of those seats can be filled with siblings of older students there. And there's always a wait list.

It's a school that I would be thrilled to send HeyMama to. But it's a bit further away, out of our "walk zone" (an area that is a 1-mile radius from our house and grants some preferential seating to kids in a school's neighborhood). So any school assignment changes would likely take it out of the running for MeToo the following year. Dang.

The Assistant Principal and I had a wonderful conversation about why we wanted our kids to grow up in a city school. We can offer our kids educational enrichments at home. They won't suffer academically, regardless of where they go to school. They will travel and see the world to learn history, geography, art. But we can't offer them the life lessons of growing up with kids that are different from them:  kids that speak different languages at home, kids that come from different religious backgrounds, kids that struggle with the challenges of poverty and broken homes. There is something to be learned from growing up in a diverse city that we can't provide as parents. And isn't that my job as a parent? To provide my kids with as many advantages as possible? I know it sounds strange, but perhaps putting my children in urban schools actually does give them more than putting them in homogenous and safe suburban schools would. I don't know...

There are 2 more schools that I plan to visit this week, with more scheduled over the next month. I'll report in regularly, mostly to just help myself organize the info. Sometimes choice can be a great thing, but at the moment, it feels like quite a burden.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Airing Dirty Laundry

If you read some blogs, you might get the idea that the blogger lives in a world where the house is always clean, the food is always gourmet and organic, and the cute clothes on the children are always hand-made.

This is not that blog. You don't want to read those other blogs. You want to know that other people out there live lives that are more chaotic and disorganized than your own. You want to see other people's failures so that you can feel a bit better about your own.

Oh, you don't? Well, sometimes I do...

So I'm posting my week's laundry failure. It's not really a failure, I mean, I managed to get all of the clothes clean in a 36 hour span. But not necessarily sorted. Or folded. Or put away.

But I did manage to make a pretty menacing mountain of laundry.

In the beginning, there was a basket of clean laundry, and a collection of socks.

And then a dry rack of work clothes and some more clean laundry came along.

And then the laundry basket disappeared.

And the mountain continued to grow.

There's a quilt still in the dryer that will soon be added to the mountain. I plan on sending out an avalanche warning. I think the spare bedroom will be off-limits to children and pets until I can get this monster under control.

I hope you feel better about your own laundry habits. Happy Tuesday!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Little Surprises

Some things are for certain. Like laundry. 
Some things are surprising. Like the speed at which laundry multiplies. 
Good gracious. Bunnies have nothing on the multiplicative power of laundry.

But life is still full of little surprises.

Like finding the Virgin Mary at the bottom of the girls' laundry hamper.

Where else would she be? I mean, why NOT in the bottom of the laundry hamper?

Maybe it's because I'm doing laundry after midnight and even BestestHusband and the dogs have gone to bed. But it made me smile. 
It's a nice reminder that even in the mundane, joy hides, waiting for you to find it. This week was full of little joys: 
  • I found encouragement and support in strangers, even after a difficult mommy confession.
  • I found friendliness and trust in other strangers, who took a chance and accepted a random offer of hospitality.
  • I found thanksgiving and grace in the news that a church friend's child, born with birth defects that could have been fatal, will be testing out of early intervention, and is just as healthy and well-developed as any other child his age. 
  • I found hope and excitement in a new project that will share the joy of the upcoming Christmas with others who might be in need of a little joy. 

The week was a busy one. It was good stewardship of my time that prevented me from writing more posts this week. This upcoming week will be busy, as well. I'll visit 3 different elementary schools to try to decide where to send HeyMama next year. There's a party, some swim lessons, and trips to the playground. There will be a lot of the mundane. Like more laundry. (For Pete's sake, will it ever end?!?!) But I have no doubt that there will be plenty of joy. Maybe even at the bottom of the laundry hamper.

Have a great week!

It multiplied again! Yikes!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Maybe Sunday isn't the Best Pick

So I'm starting to think that Sunday isn't the best day to sit back and reflect on my week. Perhaps Monday isn't reliable, either...

I don't watch much TV. Except Sunday and Monday. Call the Midwife is on. Then, Revenge. They've become addictions. I never used to understand the ladies who scheduled their days around their afternoon soap operas. And now I schedule my week around a show of my own. Lame, I know. But they're really fun shows! Call the Midwife is good. Really good. Revenge is just fun. And then Monday has Dancing With the Stars. And then Castle. Ok, so they're not the most profound of offerings, but they are a lot of fun. And they make me not want to to escape my escapism to write about how my week was and how to improve upon it for the next week.

So maybe I'll switch to Stewardship Saturdays. Sundays aren't really so productive anymore.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bedtime Prayer

Heard tonight during prayer time (translated from preschooler dialect):

MeToo:  "Dear Jesus, thank you for Mama... and Daddy... and Mandy... and Cameron... and HeyMama... and undies... and jammies... and pants... and shirts... and good stuff.......... and Mama... and Daddy... and Mandy... and Cameron... and lights... and flashlights... and toys... and flowers... and books... and butterflies..... and um...... and um.........."
Mama and Daddy:  "AMEN!"
MeToo:  "Amen."

I'm glad she gives thanks for the small joys of life, but she was starting to do a visual inventory of the room, and we didn't want to spend the next 20 minutes in there.

Thank you Lord for bedtime. Amen.