Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas: it's time to lower our expectations

There gets to be a time every Christmas season when the magnitude and madness of it all hit home. Often, the first pangs occur when I’m driving home from work in the dark, making my way through the neighborhood streets to my house.  All of the outside decorations on houses, trees, bushes and lawns that just yesterday seemed so perfectly festive and cheery suddenly seem severe and too bright and frantic.  It’s like they’re screaming in desperation, “CHRISTMASTIME!  HAPPY!  MERRY!  HAPPY!  MERRY!” 

Obviously, the lights never change.  I’m pretty sure what’s really happening is my annual and inevitable trip, clawing and scratching, across the border from Trying to Make Everything Perfect for Christmas-ville to Yeah, It’s Not Gonna Happen-town.  It’s me who’s frantic and desperate.

Some years are better than others, but sometimes Christmas just doesn’t come together the way we think it should.  Sometimes there are circumstances – a new baby in the house (lovely in theory, but exhausting in reality), financial woes, the loss of a loved one or a hundred other things - that could really throw a wrench into the finely-tuned expectations of blissful holiday happiness.

 The holiday machine is a juggernaut of incessant demands on our time and our resources of money, energy and goodwill.  It enslaves us to perceived obligations such as attending parties and buying and baking and decorating and mailing – all in the name of getting into the spirit of things.   It’s when you’re dutifully doing it all but still aren’t feeling it that things start to get dicey.

Some panic and throw it into overdrive.  We’re sure that if we kick it up, we’ll get done all those things that “need” to be done and then it will finally feel Christmassy.

Some feel guilty.  We feel like we’re letting people down if we can’t get into full-on Christmas mode. 

And some forfeit any hope of feeling the Christmas spirit altogether.  It’s been a horrible year, and even going through the motions is more painful than anything.

I say Christmas doesn’t have to be glitzy and glossy and bright and cheerful at all, let alone all that, all the time.  I call BS on the notion that it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.   I say it’s time to lower our expectations for Christmas. 

Considering all we go through just to get by, day by day, it’s unreasonable to think that we should be awash in Christmas magic each and every moment of the season.  But, I think if we’re open to it, the Christmas spirit will find us every now and again.

I think it comes to us on the strains of a Christmas song that brings us, even briefly, a warm feeling of comfort.

I think it comes to us in a solemn moment when something inside us stirs as we contemplate the very first Christmas.

I think it comes to us in our dark corners at the end of the day, as we think about the ones we love and our hearts silently wish Christmas happiness for them, even if we don’t think we feel it ourselves. 

For me, this year, it finds me on the commute to the office every work day.  I’m strapped in with nothing else to do for 35 minutes than enjoy my playlist of very favorite Christmas songs.  As I auto-pilot to work, still relatively optimistic about the day ahead, I’m not distracted by my beloved-but-needy children or a business email or an overdue household chore.  Bing and Buble, the little drummer boy and the poor orphan girl named  Maria, the Ave Maria and Feliz Navidad – they bring me the Christmas spirit without asking a thing in return. 

Unfortunately, the evening commute isn’t quite the same.  I’m tired and possibly frazzled from the long day so far and have, still, to re-engage home life where I left off this morning.  And, I have to drive by those damned, obnoxious lights again.  They're still screaming, but I look the other way and ignore their demands for my immediate merriness.  I choose, instead, to relax and let the holiday spirit come to me as it will. And, inevitably, it will.

Here’s to letting Christmas find us in meaningful ways, whenever and wherever it can.  In place of feeling despair over impossible expectations, let us feel peace from expecting less.    

Merry Christmas to all.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mercy me

There’s a mom I know whose parenting style has me confused. Some days I think she’s my hero and then some days she scares me and I’m glad she’s not my mom.
It’s because she’s so, SO confident in all of her parenting choices. I envy her conviction sometimes. She takes some of those really difficult situations, deals with them head-on, and never looks back. It seems like she has so much strength and perspective and vision to always do the right thing. 
I remember once, when her child was going through an especially difficult stretch, the mom resolutely handed out punishment after punishment until it was resolved. Ooooh, and sometimes the punishments were hefty! She once even took away her child’s birthday (let her look at her presents for days until her behavior warranted the privilege of opening them)! Someone must have asked her about it, because I remember her saying any punishment she ever gave her child was fully deserved. She was 100% unapologetic for her system of discipline.
Now, I like to think I run a fairly tight ship, too. My BS tolerance threshold is permanently set on LOW and when it’s breached, I can go from Nice Mommy to Who-Are-You-and-Can-You-Please-Release-Your-Demonic-Hold-on-My-Mommy Mommy in no time flat. I can hand out scathing punishments with the best of them. Okay, maybe not – I don’t know if I could ever be angry enough to cancel a celebration of the day they were born - but I’ve been known to issue some good penalties. And I’ve also been known to retract them.
I recently withdrew a punishment I imposed on our oldest son, within a half hour of sentencing. He got himself grounded because he didn’t meet one of my homework deadlines. Yes, the guidelines were set beforehand and yes, he was fully aware of the consequences of missing the deadline. He had extra homework that night, but the guidelines allow for that sort of thing, so he must have been goofing off. The penalty was justified. And, bless his little heart, he didn’t fight it. He sat right there through the angry lecture and took it.
Afterwards, I got thinking about it. He had been working for hours. Could he have met the deadline? Probably, with some laser focus and zero distractions. But, even lacking those, he really had put in a great deal of effort, and it showed, physically. His face was tired and his body was sagging. 
I normally advocate for following through with guidelines and consequences. (When the kids were little, it was never a bluff when I said,“I’m going to count to three!!”) But that night, even though I was completely in the right because 1) it was an established process and 2)“I said so, that’s why”, it felt wrong. He was normally very dutiful and never maliciously broke rules. He hadn’t handled the extra workload well, but didn’t truly deserve a punishment.
I went back in and rescinded the grounding. And, in answer to his look of shock and disbelief, I told him that I didn’t want to be the kind of parent who can’t see beyond all the rules and regulations. I also let him know that, just as he was going to make mistakes being a kid, there would be times when I would probably make mistakes being his mom, too. And I apologized for being unreasonable with that particular punishment and lecture.
Does that make me wishy-washy? Will I regret it later? Am I setting myself up to be walked all over with regard to following the rules? Will he lose respect for my authority? I’d like to think not. I am hoping what I showed him was 1) that the rigid edges of guidelines can sometimes be tempered when a situation truly calls for it and 2) that even if you don’t have to, because you’re the boss, you can still own up to and atone for your mistakes and 3) mercy.
So, I don’t know – is it better to always be confident that your parenting choices are right (even if it’s only because “mother (or father!) knows best”), or is it sometimes okay to second-guess your own judgment and go back to see if there’s a better way? Is pre-determined, justified, regimented punishment the best way to deal with transgressions, or is it sometimes okay to soften the blow, when there are other factors in play, in order to teach broader and more benevolent lessons?
It's hard to say. But my hat's off and this blog is dedicated to all of my fellow parents who are making their way through, the best way they know how.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Be thankful like you mean it

Gosh.  Thanksgiving.  A gleeful and hedonistic start to the Christmas season proper.  We try to rein ourselves in to acknowledge the real reason why the house is overcrowded and the table is bowing under the weight of its delicious burden. Even if we’re perpetually aware and thankful for our bestowments, we take a special moment or two on this particular day to “officially” offer up our gratitude.

The further along I get toward “geezerhood” (thanks, kids), the more I find that it’s not always fulfilling enough to only be thankful.

I once saw a man in the city who had waterproofed himself by tying scraps of different umbrellas (with the metal ribs still attached) to his coat and sweatpants.  Ingenuity out of necessity, for sure, and necessary because this man was outdoors.  I instantly remembered him as I scurried into the house on a recent bitter, cold and rainy day and a wave of warmth and comfort hit me as soon as I opened the door.  My heart had already issued silent thanks before I’d even had time to think on it, but it didn’t make the image go away, because I knew that all my thankfulness wouldn’t help that man in the least. 

Sometimes, when we sit down to too much food at the table, my dad will recount his memories of a host family he lived with in China during his days with the Merchant Marine.  He says that he would look around their dinner table and note that he could comfortably have eaten not only his portion, but everyone else’s, as well – the entire spread was incredibly small.  Every night.  That story sticks with me and always makes me thankful for my food, but none of it helps hungry people to not be hungry.

And so I try – and encourage others also – to reinforce gratitude with action.  Volunteering for various social service projects can be very satisfying.  It usually costs nothing but your time and most towns (even small ones like ours) have a need for helping hands.   

But sometimes there just aren’t any hands-on options available and I’m not always in a position to offer financial support.  Like in the case of the umbrella man.  The best I could do for him and others like him is to relay his story to my boys and use it to teach them about being grateful for what they have as well as to have compassion for those who have not.  Hopefully, it will be something they remember when, someday, they find themselves in a position to turn their appreciation into action.  And if there’s no one with which to share lessons of goodwill?  I don’t know – say a prayer, perhaps?  I just think that any action taken in support of being grateful makes all the difference.  It’s so important to be thankful like you mean it.

Here’s wishing you all a happy, healthy, fulfilling Thanksgiving.

Friday, October 26, 2012

This is how it's done

People have asked me, "How do you manage to do it all?"  I think I usually laugh and mention something about not sleeping much.  And while that's true, it's also true that there's so much more to it.   And I think, since most of my blog posts are based on my experiences after I've had time to process them, that I've made it sound like I've always got it handled.  But I never really feel that way until after everything is said and done.

I'm in the midst of what is a prime example of being up to my eyeballs in....everything.  So I'm posting now, at 12:49AM on a Thursday night/Friday morning, to show what it's like before it's all been resolved.  And we are far from 'resolved' at the moment.  Here's a rundown:
  • C sustained a concussion at his football game on Monday.  They're taking sports concussions very seriously these days (that's a good thing), so we're looking at days of monitoring before he can resume normal activities. 
  • Because  of the concussion, he had to sit on the sidelines of today's game.  I'm sad because he's sad.  But I'm also torn between understanding why he wants to stand with his teammates, and thinking that I could be doing something better than sitting in the stands at a game he's not even playing in.
  • C has a concert at a host school an hour away tomorrow night.  We can't find the dress shirt he needs to bring to school tomorrow.  It might be in his locker.  So it's early up for everyone tomorrow, to see if the shirt is there.  If it is, it will come back home to be washed, dried, ironed and brought back to the school before I leave for work.  And then, after work, there's an hour ride to the concert (which I really can't wait to see), and the hour drive back.
  • Little E had a Cub Scout pack meeting tonight.  That would be pretty benign if I weren't the pack's committee chair and partially responsible for running the thing.  All of the scouts who earned belt loops and pins over the summer received their awards tonight.  It was about a 5 minute affair - for them.  For me, it took days to put everything together.  I'm absolutely not complaining.  That's what it's all about for the scouts.  But it's been my focus for most of the week and, now that it's over so quickly, the inertia has left me kind of twitchy.
  • E also has his last soccer game of the season tomorrow night.  Yup, in conflict with his brother's concert.  Being the little one, he's been so used to being dragged to his brother's commitments.  But we decided to leave it up to him this time, and he wanted to play in the last game.  So he's taking the bus home with a friend who is on his soccer team and the parents (our good friends) are going to get him there and then hold on to him until we get home.  I trust them, of course, but it's something very much out of the ordinary, so it leaves me a little unsettled.  Plus, we're missing his last game. 
  • The weekend involves a funeral, a Scouting event, a Halloween party, a sleepover and a science project.
So, it's 1:35AM now, and I should have been sleeping a long time ago.  But blogging is theraputic, and besides, the sooner I fall asleep, the sooner I have to wake up and deal with all that lies ahead.  And anyway, it's not like I'm up all by myself.  Dear Hubby is wide awake, too, playing with our newly-acquired DirectTV. 

I'm sure, after this weekend, when I can breathe again, I will have some neat and tidy thoughts about having gone the latest round with this whirlwind I call my life.  To my future self, I give the big, fat finger, because you're too serene and calm and, frankly, I'm jealous at the moment.  Or maybe I'm just cranky and tired.  At times like these I live by seven words that have become a precious mantra:  I will miss this when it's gone.

And there you have it.   Nothing tricky, nothing special.  Take plain, old, ordinary anxiety with some self-induced exhaustion added in, temper it with hope and wrap it up in love. That's how it's done.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Some little thoughts and quick tidbits:

  1. Gotta love a friend who will keep your feet on the ground. I decorated our mantle in a fall theme in prep for a jewelry party I was hosting.  When the ladies arrived, they did some ooh-ing and ah-ing over the decorations.  One friend went so far as to say it looked like something out of a magazine.  Even as I was basking in that compliment, my super-sharp friend, Marlene, piped up: “So.  When did you get out all the fall decorations?  This morning?”  She totally called me out and we both knew it.  I had to laugh and admit that she was right and – poof – with her one gently chiding comment, I was no longer the plan-ahead-interior-design-genius I was letting the ladies think I was.  I was my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-and-hope-it-comes-out-well-self again – definitely the truer of my identities.  And, to my surprise, it was more comfortable that way. Many thanks to Ms. Marlene for outing me.

  1. Sometimes I think I’d like to run a catering service.  And then I remember I haven’t completely lost my mind yet.  But considering the next three entries below revolve around making food, I have to wonder if I’m not closing the gap.
  1. I can get a normal week’s groceries without a list.  But if I’m making something special, I will often jot down the specific things I’ll need…and then forget the list on the dining room table.  But I’ve found that even though I don’t have the list at the store with me, the act of having written it out in the first place is enough to help me remember what I need.  And it’s doubly-effective if I’ve typed it into my phone using that god-forsaken, miniscule, touch-screen keyboard.  Just the effort alone seems to embed the data into my brain.  There must be something to that.

  1. Large, whole beets.  Wrapped in foil.  Baked like potatoes in the oven or on the grill for about an hour or until tender.  Drizzled with EVOO and sprinkled with kosher salt.  Sublime.

  1. Some recipes require that you batter the food by dipping it in an egg wash then dredging it in a mix of dry ingredients, like flour and spices or breadcrumbs.  And sometimes it calls for repeating these steps to make a double-coating.  To avoid turning your hands into a gooey, clumpy mess, follow this rule of thumb:  one hand wet and one hand dry at all times.  Now, this sounds easy, but it’s weirdly discombobulating, or at least it was for me, at first.  Both of my hands wanted to remain simultaneously involved in all steps of the process.  Getting it right required a level of concentration that reminded me a lot of learning to pat my head and rub my tummy at the same time.  But in the end, it paid off.  There was a lot less mess and it went more quickly because I didn’t have to stop to de-gunk my hands every two minutes.  Try it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Parenting in terra incognita: Part II

Continued from Part I

Back when cartographers had to notate unknown regions, they would sometimes write, “Here Be Dragons”.  As much as I'd like to think there really were dragons around back in the day, I think they were used more as a way of saying, "No clue what goes on here; proceed at your own risk".   The parenthood map is fraught with these places, and it can be terrifying to find yourself in the middle of one, as I recently was.

But, after some deep breathing and contemplation, I got a grip and remembered what I’d told despairing friends before: when faced with a decision, it’s not about agonizing whether you’re going to make the right choice and it’s certainly not about second-guessing yourself after the choice has been made, but it’s always about how you’re going to take ownership of the decision in the end, regardless of the outcome. In that mindset, the great unknown seems much less scary. It’s not like I’ll be banished from the realm if it turns out I was (gasp!) wrong. If this new path doesn’t turn out to be the right one for C, we’ll reassess, readjust and carry on. 
And another thing that gave me some peace was to realize that I’ve been here before at this junction of He Needs to Spread His Wings Avenue and I Don’t Know If I’m Ready for This Boulevard. What I thought was a new and scary predicament wasn’t really, except in the details. When C was a baby, we carried him everywhere, and it was so easy to just pick him up and put him down wherever we needed him to be for our peace of mind. But, eventually, he wanted to start walking. So, as much as we knew we’d be out of that comfort zone forever, we gritted our teeth, baby-proofed as much as possible, then let him at it. Later, when he wanted to take the training wheels off, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy– for him or us - but we ran behind, steadying the bike for as long as we could, and there always came that point when we let go so he could figure out the rest on his own. This whole thing with the school? More of the same. It’s as if parenthood were ingeniously designed to reinforce certain lessons by repetition, and holy heck if I’m not starting to get it!
What I have determined is that: insofar as parenting goes, the consequences of our choices don’t necessarily fall solely on our shoulders as parents, nor should they. If we’ve truly acted in the best interest of our kids, then we've set them up so they, themselves, are the ones who determine their success or failure. It’s our job to recognize the signs they’ll give us, telling us what they’re capable of. It’s also our job to give them the tools and security to try it out. But past that, it’s up to them to create what they will with the opportunity.  

And so, here we go. We may not know how it will turn out.  If it's awesome, we'll celebrate.  If it disappoints, we'll take a lesson from it; it won't be the end of the world.  Bring on the dragons.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Parenting in terra incognita - Part I

“Parenting is simple,” said no good parent, ever.  Because it's not, and there are some times when it’s even less simple than others. 

Off the top, you might think the procreation chat would be one of those difficult times.  Well, Yes and No. Yes, because it’s on the awkward side.  But at the same time, No, because we’ve all (apparently) had some experience with the subject and we know what we’re talking about.  We know how much our child needs to hear about it, we know why we're telling them, and we know we're doing right by them.  There’s a certain confidence that comes with parenting from experience.  It’s parenting without a net that gets tricky.

Recently, I wrote a letter to ask the school to consider making a major change to C’s course of study.  We actually started this discussion with the school last year, got stonewalled and backed down.  It was easier path, for sure.  But the same issues resurfaced this year and we wondered if we should let it go, like before, or give it another try.  We chose to go for it.  It took me a day to write the letter – I wanted to be clear about what we wanted; to sound reasonable, yet persuasive.  And this time it worked!  And then I was horrified:

What had I done? 

I thought we knew what was best, but did we really? 

Would this make things better for C, or worse? 

Why couldn’t I have just left well enough alone?

I had no experience in this arena of challenging the school system, attempting to alter my kid’s education, albeit with the best of intentions.  I had no hindsight to assure me it would be fine, no reference by which to gauge how it would turn out at all.  I was in uncharted territory. I suddenly had no confidence in what I was trying to do as a parent. Nothing simple about that.  

Continued in Part II.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Thanks, Mom

It has taken me this long to understand where my mom was coming from. 

Back when I was still living at home and antsy to get out into the big, wide world, my mom laid it out for me:  once I decided to move out of the house, I was ALL out.  There would be no financial support, and I wasn’t going to be moving in and out again at my convenience if things got tough.  I had to be sure I could make it on my own. 

To be fair, she did issue a caveat.  She knew that I’d most likely be moving in with my boyfriend and, the ever-suspicious mom, she did say that they would take me back if he ever hurt me.  And, not ‘hurt’ as in a broken heart.  If we broke up and he kicked me out, I was still on my own.  But ‘hurt’ as in a broken arm – that was a different story. So there was that, at least.  But only that.  At the time, I thought it was pretty harsh.

Nevertheless, I moved out.  I didn’t jump without a parachute, of course.  I had a car, a job and an apartment to share with my boyfriend.  But that’s not to say I didn’t have to learn some things along the way.  

I learned never to shop when you’re hungry unless you want to blow through two weeks worth of your grocery budget.

I learned about the credit card trap and, subsequently, I learned about consolidation loans.

I learned that having good credit is no joke.

I learned that sometimes you have to work at a crappy-ass job - or two - or four, whether you like it or not.

I learned that the weekly ten-cent wing night at the bar next door can help stretch your food budget.  And provide some great free entertainment, to boot.

I learned about consignment shops and flea markets.

I learned that paying rent to live in not-so-ideal conditions always sucks, but that it’s a powerful motivator.

The point is, I learned.   More to the point, I might not have learned these things half so well if I’d thought there’d be a comfy cushion to fall back on.  And I wouldn’t have learned them at all if I’d had things handed to me.  I might not have tried so hard or been so resilient or learned to rely on myself to get me out of trouble.

So, now I understand what my mom was setting me up for.  And it turns out, her intuition about how to create a responsible adult was right.  So right, in fact, that I hope I have the fortitude to do the same with my kids.  Even if, down the road, we can give them the things they need to have a comfortable life, my hope is that we don’t, and that they learn to earn a comfortable life on their own, struggles, lessons and all.


P.S. Yeah, yeah, Mom knows best – usually.  Her suspicions weren’t always spot-on, though.  The boyfriend I moved in with?  He never hurt me, not even once. In fact, he treated me so well that it was a no-brainer to accept his proposal when he finally asked me to marry him 17 years ago :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11: I hope I can do it justice

When I was in elementary school, we were handed a sheet of questions.  There were lots of questions like, “What do you remember about the Great Depression?” and, “What did you think on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated?”   We were instructed to sit with our grandparents and ask them these questions and write down the answers.  We were also asked to tape-record the interview (I still have the cassette, though I’d be afraid to play it, for fear it will break).  What a great project that was.  I wasn’t able to fully appreciate it at the time, but now I realize what a treasure of information my grandparents were.  I mean, they provided the 3-D texture for those events, where school textbooks gave us the flat facts. 

I can still remember the tone of my grandmother’s voice when she was recounting how things were during the Depression.  Even though I was young, I still got a sense of the severity and solemnity of the experience. It was amazing, the detail she could remember.

But my grandfather stole the show. He seemed to have perfect recall of the history he’d witnessed, even if it had been a half-century since the actual event.  And not just the event, but things leading up to it, and the aftermaths as well.  And he recalled it with feeling.  I could tell which events had worried him, or made him angry or sad.  For not having been alive for any of those events, I was able – through my grandfather – to better understand the gravity of some of the things that shaped our country.  Even my teachers were impressed by his interview.  They listened to portions of our tapes and they nodded their heads in approval when my grandfather would throw in extra historical tidbits.  They said he had a tremendous speaking voice (he really did) and I remember being so proud that he did such a good job.

I got wondering if my grandkids will ask me someday to tell them about the day the Twin Towers fell.  I guess, by then, the full impact of that day will have played out.  But that’s hard to imagine because, as of this writing, eleven years later, we’re still trying to navigate the fallout.  Like a Polaroid picture that’s taking way too long to show itself, we can see some of the results, but we fidget and wait for the rest in order to find out what we really have.

Because of this, it’s challenging to explain to my kids when they ask about it.  I’ve had several years of practice so far, but as they are able to understand more, I have less to tell them.  Sure, every year I tell them about where I was and how I felt.  I’ve always tried to make it less terrifying and retell the stories about strength, courage and outpourings of humanity.  But I’m at a loss when I try to bring it back around to tell them what it – and everything since then – has all been for. 

All I know, for now, is that the events of this day one decade and one year ago changed the course of American history and with it, all of our lives. Exactly how and how much it changed us has yet to be seen.  I’m hoping that, by the time my grandkids get around to asking me about it, I can do it justice.  I hope I can bring home the importance and meaning and emotion of a momentous time, the way my grandparents did for me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

When an omission makes a statement

“I love my kids – they’re my whole world.” Sometimes that statement makes me cringe. Especially if I know that the mom who said it is in a meaningful relationship with the dad. I always hope he doesn’t find out that she’s letting everyone know what’s most important in her life and he didn't even warrant a mention. What IS that? 

It’s a glaring omission. I get an image in my head (it’s unfortunately unoriginal, but hey, it’s what pops up): a small island in the middle of a vast sea. Mom and kids are on the island, hugging. Dad is adrift just off shore, in a rowboat with no oars; close enough to see what going on, but apparently uninvited to join. Oy.

Hubby and I were together for about nine years before we were blindsided surprised by my pregnancy. We hadn’t scheduled kids into our agenda yet, so the idea took a while to blossom into prenatal joy and excitement. I was na├»ve, of course, and was a bit resentful toward the impending newcomer. It felt like I was going to have to take the affections I had for Hubby away from Hubby in order to give them to the new baby. And it made me quite sad. I never wanted to put anyone before the love of my life. 

I learned, to my delight, that love and affection don’t come in limited quantities; that you can always make more. No one has to be shorted in order for someone else to get some. One’s world tends to expand in a family situation, and there’s plenty of room for everyone.

So where along the way - and how - does someone get left out of a proclamation of love, when they were there from the beginning and are still there?

Maybe she thinks, “Oh, he KNOWS what I mean”, or, “Pffft – he doesn’t care”. Hmmm, really?  Quite an assumption there.  OK, maybe he wouldn't have been offended.  But what a missed opportunity to make someone feel special. 

Breaks my heart every time.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Something amazing happened today

They planned a munchie day at work for today where everyone brings in a dish and then shares at lunchtime. I went back and forth for a few days, not sure what I should bring.  I finally decided to make and bring a fresh salsa.

I woke up in a panic at 1AM this morning because I'd forgotten to go to the store for the ingredients.  My first thought was to just throw together the brownie mix I had in the pantry and call it good.  But I really wanted to do the salsa, so I decided to get up early and get to the store so I could make it before work.

It's a tasty snack, so it got the usual compliments, but one lady in particular asked for the recipe.  She said she was going to bring some back to her coworker to try.  Her coworker was on an organic diet as a way to help her fight her cancer, and was interested in anything new she could try.

So I emailed the lady my recipe and got an email in response.  She said that her friend loved the salsa and that it was something she could eat on her new diet.  She thanked me up and down.  I wrote back to say she was welcome and I told her that I'd almost brought something else, but that I guess I'd made the right choice.

She wrote back and said, "You have no idea what you've done - you were guided.  My friend is starting to struggle with the limitations of what she can eat.  We see this as a new gift that will help her stay strong so she can fight her disease." 

What she said - about being guided - made me think back to all the things that led up to that last step of putting the bowl of salsa out on the table in the breakroom.  Had I really been "guided"?   It seems I might have been.  And for an awesome purpose.  To re-inspire someone to keep battling cancer?   Amazing.  Overwhelming.  In itself, inspiring. 

If that's what being guided is, if it leads me to unintentionally and even unknowingly help others, in big ways or small, I hope to always go where I'm led.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I was a hippy beach dude in another life?

Even been in funk? I’d describe it as a temporary condition, just this side of depression. You can still function, still socialize, still laugh, but you can’t help feeling something’s off. Apparently, I was in one and didn’t know it until today when I realized I’d just come out of it. Crazy. Here’s the story:

So, the last time my phone was ready for an upgrade, I was either short on cash or patience or, most likely, both. As such, I was in no mood to scout out the latest and greatest gadget and opted for the free, bare-bones model. It was a clam-shell phone with no touch screen, no data plan, no qwerty. At the time, and for the next year, I told myself I just didn’t need the bells and whistles. Fine and good. Between then and now, C got his first phone and entered into the world of texting. Also, more and more friends started using texting as the go-to way of reaching out. No problem at first, but then I realized that, honestly, texting on a non-qwerty keypad bites.

Then I had one of my not-so-great-in-hindsight ideas: to motivate myself, I would abstain from getting a new phone until I reached a certain weight-loss goal. I figured it would be a suitable reward for my hard work and, by that time, I’d certainly deserve it.

 Fast forward a year, where I found myself no closer to my goal than before. And now my phone was eligible for another upgrade. What to do? Some irrelevant drama ensued, but at the end, I abandoned my goal and my unspeakably thoughtful Hubby got me a new, “real” phone. 

While setting it up, Hubby suggested that I get the Pandora app. Probably the best advice he’s ever offered that I’ve had the good sense to take.

All day today I ran down my data allotment, streaming Pandora from my new phone. In the middle of cubical city, as I listened to my customized station, as one great song after another was piped through my earbuds directly into my brain, I felt myself coming out of the funk I didn’t realize I was in. I had to make sure that’s what it was and, when I did a quick lookback , it’s true: I’d been kind of lost and just shy of feeling awesome for a while there. But no longer.

 So, with help of Hubby and Pandora, I learned some stuff:

 One: I will never again deprive myself of the latest technology if it will mean I’m also depriving myself access to other cool things in the big, wide world.  Even if I think I don't need it. 

Two: I thought that, when I got my new phone, I'd be in a great state of mind because it would have meant that I reach my weight-loss goal.  It turns out that getting the phone first actually LED me to a great state of mind.  And without all the sweating.

Three:  Of all the channels I could have picked on Pandora, I went with Jack Johnson and damn if every last song didn't reach me. In addition to loving all of JJ's stuff, I also discovered some new guys:  Donavon Frankenreiter, Michael Franti and Dispatch.  Apparently I have some kind of connection with beachy, hippy dudes.  Cool.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hitting the books: gay marriage

Bible Thumping

I’m a Catholic with a brain. I get that my faith is based on the Bible. But I also get that the Bible has to be interpreted with some application of common sense.

Ponder: who even originally wrote the Bible? Men. Arab men. Three thousand year-old Arab men. Call me crazy, but I’m wondering if modern-day Catholic (or other Bible-based religious group) Americans have a lot in common with the original authors. Do you suppose any of our beliefs have evolved to become different than theirs? I'm guessing so, since we no longer stone our criminals, we don't consider it dishonorable for men to have long hair and women to have short hair, and adultery no longer carries a death sentence. Yup, these things are all commands the Good Book (still) gives us.  Yet, somewhere along the way, we decided to tune out these particulars.

How did we decide (and who decided, anyway?)  that we could ignore those directives and still consider ourselves good followers?   Perhaps, at some point, we reviewed the writings and realized that they were based on ancient, outdated points of view and that we needed to do some updating to our rationalization of the text.

Huh.  What an idea.

Dictionary Thumping

You know I love words.  I get great pleasure out of extracting their true meanings and promoting their proper usage.  I’ve been thinking about three words in particular:  Christmas, traditional and marriage.

Christmas breaks down into two parts:  Christ + mas.  Literally, Christ + mass:  mass, meaning celebration, Christ, meaning…well, Christ.  It’s a celebration of the birth of Christ.  A birthday party, folks.

Traditional – customary, conventional, usual, habitual.  

Marriage – a close union, blend or mixture of two things.

So when someone says “traditional Christmas”, it can be taken to mean “a customary celebration”, or “a celebration we do out of habit”.   What it brings to mind is a pine tree with lights, presents, carols, turkey dinner – all of our standard little rituals and customs that we do in order to celebrate the birth of our favorite VIP. 

I know a family that doesn’t exchange presents at Christmastime, choosing, instead, to donate that money to charities.  In my own family, it just wouldn’t be Christmas dinner without lumpia (Chamorro eggrolls) on the table.  Some choose to spend Christmas in exotic places, rather than gather around the hearth at the homestead.    All quite un-traditional practices, but do they diminish the heart of the celebration itself?  Not in the least.  Put another way:  as long as I show up to the party and am mindful of what I’m actually celebrating, then I don’t think the Birthday Boy cares whether I bring traditional cupcakes with frosting and sprinkles or I bring an untraditional fig tart topped with crushed macadamia nuts, drizzled with a chocolate liqueur glaze with a lit sparkler shooting out of it.  It’s all for the sake of the celebration, and it’s all good.  It’s all about the “Christmas” and not the “traditional”.

Then how about “traditional marriage”?   In that phrase, “traditional” is not the subject at all; it’s merely the adjective used to describe the subject, which is “marriage”. 

We can all agree that marriage is a union.  We also agree that marriage should be rooted in love.  How can we impose sanctions on a union based on love?

Love (noun): affection, adoration, friendship, tenderness, feeling, fondness, devotion, passion.  These are the things we want to have the power to red-light or green-light at our discretion?  In these uncertain times, when grim news comes down the wire every day, these are the values that we would rally against?  And why? Because we would stand on tradition?   The words that now come to mind are:  preposterous, ridiculous, unreasonable and outrageous. 

Because I like words so much, I tend to use a lot of them.  But there’s something to be said for coming to the point as quickly as possible.  I think Lenny Kravitz did a great job of it and he did it using only three words:  let love rule. 


Monday, July 2, 2012

Take a compliment, give a compliment

Maybe it’s because I witnessed too many people give insincere, kiss-uppy compliments to one another that I made a subconscious decision to never give out gratuitous compliments of my own. I say 'subconscious' because it wasn’t until recently that I realized I am very, very stingy when it comes to doling out compliments. Oh, I give my kids compliments all the time. It’s good for their self-esteem and all that. But grown ups – and especially fellow womenfolk? Nope. I mean, not even my mom. Not that I don’t admire things about people, but I guess I have a deep-seated fear of coming off as disingenuous and would rather keep my praise to myself than sound fake.

I think I hated that most compliments seemed to place emphasis on shallow, unimportant things.  I would grit my teeth to hear a conversation between two ladies that would start with a squeal followed closely by, “Ooooo! I soooo love your shoooooes!” Dry heave. And no, I wasn’t jealous that it wasn’t my shoes that were being fawned over. I received a designer bag for Christmas and carried it, in part, so that my mom could see that I liked her gift. But I got disgusted when a couple of ladies from work, who never talk to me otherwise, went way out of their way to compliment my bag. Ugh. As if only now that I carried a status symbol on my arm was I interesting enough to speak to. Barf, barf, barf.

After that, I went away for a Girls’ Weekend with six other ladies – some old friends and some casual acquaintances. It was fun and over too soon and before I knew it, I was back home, replaying random moments in my head. It was during this internal lookback that I noticed there were compliments flying every which way all weekend. Not always about important things, but at the same time, not necessarily insincere.  And in the case of the girls that I didn’t know as well as the others, complimenting each other was an icebreaker of sorts. Kind of like when you were in kindergarten on the playground and went around asking people, “Do you want to be my friend?” – but only in a more sophisticated, grown up way. I also noticed that, amongst friends, it can be an amiable and charming way to express fondness and acceptance.

Would I rather be complimented on something I achieved than on an accessory? Sure. Will I still wretch when I hear sugar-coated compliments preceded by double-cheek air kisses? Yep. But I’m learning that, while some compliments can be gratuitous, they aren’t automatically empty. Taken – and given - in the right context, they can brighten a day or even kick-start a friendship. Huh. Whaddya know.

Monday, June 25, 2012

It's an addiction

I suppose all the addictions work the same way.I hear that the heroin addicts keep going back, looking for the euphoria they felt the first time they tried it.I know from experience that I keep reaching into the bag of chips, hoping to score the one with JUST the right amount of flavor dust on it, like I did 37 chips ago. 

I got thinking about that over the last few weekends, when our activities seemed more like celebrations of the onset of summer:ball games, watering the veggies and flowers, swimming, outdoor get-togethers in blooming gardens, having meals on the patio because it’s still warm and light enough at the dinner hour.At times like these, it seems like anywhere you look is a perfect photo op – a blaze of day lilies, perhaps, or sun-kissed loved ones , or a lush summertime landscape.On these kinds of days, the air is sweet and warm, hazy and intoxicating (and does it have a tinge of purple in the evenings?).Even our food is brighter, juicier and tastier, pairing exquisitely with grape- and grain-based drinks.These kinds of days energize me.I’m inspired to do whatever it takes to indulge in all that summer has to offer. I feel like I’m on an effortless pursuit to create, socialize, nurture, have fun, beautify and even organize! Even if that means cleaning around the house so the inside is as inviting as the outside - I’m all for it! And it seems like everyone around me feels the same. Oh, and did I mention flip flops? When one takes a pause to appreciate the decadent opportunities and gifts that present themselves on these rare and perfect summer days, upstate NY and Utopia are one in the same. 

But I realize it’s a fleeting taste of heaven because then, there are the other days.There are the plodding-along days that would look like pretty much like a straight line if you hooked them up to a seismograph, measuring for earth-moving activity. And then there are the days of zero gumption.Those are the days when you’re in your PJs at 4PM not because it’s a warm and fuzzy stay-in-our-jammies day, but because changing just didn't happen.Or brushing your hair.Or teeth. On these days, you’re on that sorry wheel of miserableness because the house is annoyingly disheveled, but you’re not about to do anything to fix it, so it gets more out of hand as the day goes on and you get more annoyed.Even the Internet and TV are jerks because no one is posting anything good on FB and there’s nothing good on 280 channels. And meaningful human contact? Not likely to happen on a day like this. Have you ever had more than one of these days in a row?Me too - yikes, right? 

You have to admit, at least from an energy expenditure standpoint, wallowing in an uninspired low is easier than, well, doing anything, really. So what is it that comes along and gets us going again? For me, I think it's believing that a great day is right around the corner. Okay, maybe not the next corner, but maybe the one after that. Sometimes, it's the remembrance of a sweet, golden summer's day when all is right with the world and knowing that another one isn't all that far away that keeps me on the chase. Since the first time I stopped to take notice of one, I've wanted another and another. By some grace, I've had the wherewithal to realize that I've been granted a lovely collection of those kinds of days. And yet, I want more and so I set my sights on them, time after time, all the while hoping that my gratitude for what I receive will be a sufficient counter-balance to my greediness. 

Andy Grammer says, "You gotta keep your head up/So you can let your hair down...", the old metaphor tells us to "reach for the brass ring", but my favorite bit of wisdom tells us to "keep on keepin' on". It's all about the pursuit of joy; a worthwhile addiction if there ever was one.  

So, in case you've been so saddled by the journey that you've forgotten where you're headed, good news - you're here! It's summertime in the great Northeast. Get out there and feed your happiness jones! And if you're doing something fun, hit me up so I can come, too!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Yin to My Yang

So tell me if either of these scenarios sounds familiar.  

Scenario one: You, Hubby and the kids all have hectic itineraries. You’re all scheduled to be in and out of the house in crazy combinations of dates and times. The kids are young yet, so it’s really up to you and Hubby to keep things straight and make sure everyone is juggled with precision. Except…Hubby seems to be about as clueless as the kids about when things need to be done. You find that having to remind him when he needs to cart which kids to which events is yet another thing that falls solely on your shoulders. You have inwardly and/or outwardly been very angry with him for not being on top of the household schedule like you are. After all, he lives there and those are his kids, too, right?

Scenario two: It seems like you’re the straight guy of the two parental units. It feels like you’re the one who nags about homework and chores and bedtime, while Hubby is the one who gets the good cred for wrestling with the kids and throwing them up into the air (and catching them, of course!) and making funny faces and hilarious bodily noises and getting the kids to belly laugh with his ridiculous antics. You have inwardly and/or outwardly been angry with him for making you look like the heavy, like a big, fat party pooper. After all, you’re taking care of all the important stuff and he just gets to play. In the eyes of the kids, you’re the meanie and he’s the fun one. It’s unfair and WTF?!?!

Both scenarios absolutely played out at our house. While Hubby and I rarely fight, I sure started a few good ones out of my frustration with these situations. Then two things happened, though not in the order I would have liked.

 The first thing that happened is that Hubby took in all of my griping and bitching about the imbalance of it all and decided to make a change. He took it up on himself to make a calendar of everyone’s commitments and post it in a central area so we can all see what’s going on. He updates the calendar regularly and now sometimes even beats me to the punch when we’re talking what’s happening on a certain day. He also started taking care of some of the serious business with the kids. He assigns chores and keeps to bedtime deadlines and hands down discipline, if needed.

 The second thing that happened is that I changed my perspective. I got to thinking about how I got mad at Hubby because he wasn’t as good at something as I was (managing the family’s schedule) and then I turned around and got mad at him when he was better at something than I was (having fun with the kids). Did someone say something about unfair? It finally occurred to me that the fact that we don’t have the same strengths didn’t have to be a bad thing.  We weren't on opposing sides: we had each been contributing our strongest skill sets toward the same goal.  Where I might have lacked, he stepped up; where he was unsure, I led the way.  He was the yin to my yang.  We bolstered each other's talents and natural inclinations and, by being good at different and separate things, we 1) didn't step on each other's toes (you know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen) and 2) we were able to cover a lot of ground as a parental unit.  And, in the end, our family got the benefit of the best we both had to offer. 

He will probably always be the one the kids think is more fun.  Well, truth be told, he is more fun, by far.  But it's me they ask for when they want to be sung to sleep.  I might still be the one who can keep the master schedule in my head at all times, but he'll always be ready and willing to execute the logistics any time I ask.  When the clouds of selfishness and  self-pity are lifted, the view is truly clear and bright.

I only wish I had gained my new way of seeing things before I harried poor Hubby as much as I did.  But in the end, we both learned and grew from the experience.   Ha!  I write this as if it was something that has run its course.  It hasn't.  We're still in the thick of it and it still demands our attention and energy.  But now that we've righted the ship, I think we're in for some smooth sailing. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hybrids, Hair and Hope - Part III: Hope

Continued from Parts I and II

I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like I've taken an emotional beatdown from the all the doom-and-gloom over the economy.  

There were times when the news was downright horrifying.  How many stories were there about families who went from comfortable, dual-income living to dual-unemployment, burning through their life savings in a matter of months and facing foreclosure?  I read a story about a mom who said money was so tight and food was getting so expensive that meat and fresh produce were luxuries that she and her kids couldn't afford anymore. 

Close to home, people we knew lost their jobs and our local food pantry was adding more new families each week.  Our own family was affected and Hubby and I had to make some tough decisions about how to stay afloat financially.  I told our kids so many times that we were going to be careful about how we spent our money that they started asking me if we were going to run out.   That was my biggest fear, too.

When the-tightening-of-the-belt begins in earnest, it takes some fortitude to face the new limitations.  Stick to the budget - no extras at the store, no eating out.  Toys, clothes and entertainment aren't even in the budget, and cross your fingers that the cars won't need fixing and that no emergencies come up.   You hope you're just riding out the storm, but you wonder: what's going to come along and change things for the better?  The future seems like a grey unknown and it all starts to feel like a too-heavy coat that you can't take off.  But the worst of it is the feeling of isolation.  We don't tend to broadcast our personal financial statuses, especially when they're not going well, so at those low times, we feel like we struggle alone.

Then slowly, the silver linings start to show themselves.  No eating out means healthier meals and finding new homemade favorites.  No entertainment budget means more family game nights or other snuggly stay-home activities (and really, what could be better?).  "Back to basics" starts to seem like more of a smart concept and less of a punishment.  

I was at this point of starting to accept our circumstances and making the best of things when I looked around and noticed that not only weren't we so alone in the world, but that we were also in good company!   From out of nowhere, it seemed like everyone was making do and getting by.  But not with oppressed spirits.   People were flying their frugality flags loudly and proudly!  They began to wear their thriftiness like a badge and become card-carrying penny-pinchers.  

The very best part: everyone wanted to share their tips and tricks for getting through the rough spots.  They shared their couponing strategies (heck, they even made a reality show out of it!), their upcycling ideas and countless other pointers on how to cut costs.  From the least of ideas that only serve to make life a little brighter (like letting our hair grow and braiding it when we couldn't afford the salon) to revolutionary ideas designed to help us stretch a dollar (like fuel-efficient cars), it's been a grand testament to our organic, ingrained desire to take care of each other when the going gets tough.

I think it speaks to the resiliency of the race - the human race, that is.   Okay, so maybe we let things slide from time to time and get ourselves into a world of trouble.  Maybe we go through rough patches where we seem collectively apathetic.  Toward everything.  But by our very nature of being human, we're not perfect.  I know, as one individual, I tend to run in cycles between being (occasionally) awesome and (more frequently) ridiculous, with a vast expanse of ordinary in between.  But I always like to think I'm making my way back to awesome by learning from my mistakes and finding ways to do things better.  Extrapolate that across all the other individuals on the planet, and you've got a world of folks who try, and sometimes fail, and try again to be the best they can be.  For both myself and the rest of the humans, I'd like to think we're on an upswing.  I like to think there's hope for us, yet.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Hybrids, Hair and Hope - Part II: Hair

Continued from Part I

If you pay attention to what people are posting on Pinterest, you can't help but start to notice what's trending.  From entertaining ideas to home decorating to recipes to shoe styles, people are pinning what they think is cool and before long you're realizing that it's all the rage to do your kid's next birthday party in rainbow colors.

So that's how I noticed that a retro-classic concept in hair design is making its return:  the braid is back.  The last time I remember it being cool to braid your hair (off the volleyball courts and softball fields) was in the 80's, I think.  With nary a French braid on the radar, today's braided styles are all about creativity (the one in the picture is called a waterfall) and range from the cute to the sophisticated (think of braided up-dos for brides).   I even managed to find a style that was age-appropriate for me and rocked it to work last week.  Fun!

A website I saw was showcasing "Hunger Games inspired styles" and it showed lots of braided hair.  I also noticed that some of the female characters on my favorte HBO series, "Game of Thrones", are wearing braids.  I'm not so sure, though, that Hollywood is altogether responsible for the rebirth of this trend.  I got thinking about it after reading an article on AOL's Daily Finance page:  The Hair Index: What Your Cut Says About the Economy  (the slideshow at the end of the article is a hoot!).  It raised a question for me:  is our fashion influenced by the country's economic health?

Now, hearing someone in Washington say America's fiscal fitness is on the uptick doesn't exactly boost my confidence in my own financial stability .  It's still expensive to stock my fridge every week (let's not even mention filling up the gas tank!), and I still have enough "what-ifs" in the back of my mind that I can't do much "discretionary" spending without feeling guilty.   I'm going out on a limb and guessing that most people I know and most people they know feel the same way. 

And what do we do when we're feeling miserly?  We cut back and find ways to make do.  Have you noticed the increasing popularity in the concept of repurposing?  Folks are finding ways to put their old items to new uses instead of buying new.   It's the definition of making do.  Braiding is like repurposing for hair:  you've already got the materials, you get something new and fresh and it costs you nothing! 

 It's just a theory.  Maybe the big braid revival wasn't a product of our frugality, but I'm thinking the fact that we latched onto it might very well be.  (Continued in Part III)