And for once I was SuperMom

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Letter to an Insomniac

'Oh, well, I just couldn't sleep last night,' I said.
Her eyes grew wide.
I suddenly realized that I was speaking to someone who had never had trouble sleeping for one night in her life, ever.
I guess, I thought that everyone, from time to time, has a hard time falling asleep.
Even my incredibly emotionally stable husband, sometimes, can't his get his body to fall.
Even my lovely sweet friend, sometimes, can't get herself to stop thinking.
Even my strong brother, sometimes, can't relax in a new place.

I remember that first it happened to me, right after I had a child.  Those first few weeks of such extreme sleep deprivation. So tired all the time.  Even the most awake of us can fall asleep at the drop of a head, with newborn cradled in arms.  I remember my eyes, open, surrounded by a fog of dark, and thinking that adulthood just keeps on.  Even when you haven't slept in days, that sometimes your brain just keeps you awake.  Worries don't go away just because you're too tired to deal with them.

I remember those weeks that it happened to me in college.  So tired, that I think I went a little insane.  Nights built on nights, until I wasn't falling asleep until the sun came up.  The cruelty of those first bars of light.  The sandy feeling of tired eyelids.  Feeling crazy.  Feeling like something was wrong with me because I couldn't let go.

As adulthood marched on I came to know that sometimes you just can't let go.

Sometimes it's as simple as not having any time to yourself.  There's a song lyric, 'do you like you.'  When you're alone, do you like you?  Unfortunately I do.  Sometimes in the wake of children and husbands and guests, I don't get to see me.  I can't check in and think my thoughts.  Then when I lie down next to my husband at night, those thoughts come, they seep out from the space between my brain and my skull.  They climb on a carousel, that brings up some emotions I didn't know I had.  Or sometimes they just keep twirling.
Then I'm not tired.  Those thoughts are twirling.  Those emotions are brewing.  Or not.

Tonight, with glass of red wine to my left, feet stretched out before me, surrounded by a calm blanket of dark, I think I just miss me.

I want to go back to that young woman who was just so tired and wrung out and say, 'hey, hang out with yourself.  You're pretty cool.  Nothing is wrong with you.  Sometimes we just didn't take are of ourselves and our body can't let go until our mind does.'
I want to take her hand and say, 'that mind carousel is normal.  So many people have that.  In fact I kind of worry if someone hasn't had it.  Take some time. Get out of bed.  Climb on that ride.  Listen to the music.  Ride it around a few times.  Let it unravel.  You will sleep.'

So tonight I'll let it unravel.
Maybe I'll sleep.
Or maybe I won't.
Maybe I'll just hang out with myself.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Stolen Time

I'm left with the corners.

Some people love the corners.
The corners of the brownies.  The two sides of crunchy.
The corner piece of the pizza. That one that is mostly crust.  I would like to figure out a pizza that is all crust.  I would eat that.
The corner of the couch.  Pillows supporting you on both sides.
The corner of a child's blanky.  That piece that got rubbed and loved until there was nothing left.

I like some corners.
But not only corners.

It's the corners of my life that are left to me.
The end of the day.
When all I really want to do is sit on the couch (maybe even in that corner) and watch Mad Men with my husband.  Those are the moments left to me.  To drag myself into my studio and magically create.

Gracious, Lara, when you put it like that...
Well, I didn't realize it until I wrote it...

It's so hard as a mother.  So many needs crying out.  So many mouths.  So many people that you actually want to be around.
I keep learning things about my friends.
'I did an Ironman once.'
'I was a ballerina.'
'I hiked the Appalachian Trail by myself.'
'I raced outrigger canoes.'
I hear these awesome feats that my friends accomplished and I am proud of them.  The things we did before our time was taken from us.

In the book Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis paints a picture of a race of bear like alien creatures that only have sex for a short period of their life.  Sex is used for procreation and pleasure, but when their procreative years are over they stop having sex.  (The planet that they live does not have any concept or understanding of sin, all of the creatures live in harmony with each other and themselves.) One of these aliens explains to the main character, Ransom, that things are best experienced when you are given a chance to remember them.  This moment in literature has reverberated in my brain for over ten years, I read Out of the Silent Planet in a literature class in college.  The idea that you only do something for a short period of time and then cherish that particular thing in your mind afterwards, was a huge paradigm shift for me.  If something is good shouldn't you be able to do that all your life?  Especially sex?

Well, with the advent of modern birth control, we don't have to face the same choices that these bear like aliens did, but there are many things in life that I think it's best to wrap this idea around.
Sadly I think that some of the awesome things that we did in our youth are those things.  I was the one who raced outrigger canoes before I had children.  I loved it, I would spend three hours on the water for three days a week.  I was probably in the best shape of my life.  Then I moved to Chicago for graduate school.  When I left I had a sneaky feeling that I would never have an opportunity to race again.  As of yet, I haven't.  I have either lived in a place that was landlocked or just simply, haven't had the time.  I've been able to fondly remember racing; that summer when I was so strong and probably did most of the sun damage I have on my body.

Some things though, we just can't let go.  No matter how many babies need to be bounced.  No matter how many floors need to be swept.  No matter now many people ask of us.
We jam those things in the corners.  Right now, my children are in bed.  My house is somewhat picked up.  My husband is on the phone with his parents.  So I take this time to let some of that pressure that has built up out.  Like that first psst when you pop the top on a soda can.  Just let's the pressure out, so we don't go crazy.  A little peace of time to remind us of who we are, of who we once were.
An hour writing.
A long run...without the jog stroller.
Twenty minutes reading a book on the beach.
Sometimes you're not even alone.
Pushing off on a rock, up the trail.  Strong legs connecting with earth.
Warm sun on your back.  Anytime.
Bare feet in grass.  Always.
Sometimes it's even just looking at your children and remembering your childhood.  Their eyes seeing what yours once did.
Braiding clovers into crowns.
Swinging so hard that you think your feet will touch the sky.

You can roll these moments over in your mind, cherish them.  And every now and then you get to do something a little awesome, all by yourself.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Yesterday was Easter

Yesterday was Easter.
I didn't post yesterday.  I was too busy just being present.
I don't have any fantastic photos.  I was too busy just being present.

We rose early, before sunrise.  We drove to an outcropping of rock that overlooks the Atlantic, and two churches met and worshiped God for the miracle of His son.  I wish I could say the service was lovely.  It was not earth shattering.  I was largely distracted by hefting a thirty six pound five year old off the ground.  Standing, wrapped in a pink fleece blanket, and looking at the backsides of adults didn't seem particularly worshipful to her.
Can't say that I blame her.
The service was different, though.  A simple change of plans.  Instead of in church we meet outside and gazed at his creation.  Instead of a comfortable nine o'clock time, we met at daybreak.
I can get behind that.
The weather was cold.  We were nipped and chilled.  And maybe a bit more alive than inside the safe walls of a church?
But the sun showed up; bright pink, bright orange, and lovely.
My first east coast sunrise.

Afterwards we all made our way to the church building and enjoyed a pancake breakfast.  Pancakes came out slowly, cooked quickly to feed so many hungry and waiting mouths.  Parents waited, fed children first, hosts waited, fed guests first.  No one complained.  This was Easter after all.  We eventually all left full and warmed up.  Sharing this day with our family that we picked, eating with people that we've chosen to do life alongside.  Every church service should start with a meal.

We were home by eight in the morning.  We took our time, played with our kids.  Mid morning we hid eggs while the girls were distracted upstairs.
No one ever tells you that watching and hiding is more fun than doing.

One moment made me rethink it all; the first time my eldest ever did an egg hunt, she didn't seem to get it.  She would refuse the eggs that she didn't like, put them back and look for the 'right' ones.  She didn't end up with very many, I was worried she would be distraught when she saw how little she had compared to the kids that had gone full boar.  She wasn't bothered.  This year?  She was cutthroat.  Cutting her sister off, shaking with the urgency of getting as many as possible.  I thought, 'are we just teaching greed?'
Maybe we are.

Their baskets were simple, a few chocolate eggs, and a paper carrot filled with jelly beans.  And a craft; a ceramic bunny to paint.  They were so excited to paint those little bunnies.  That I did not expect.

A lunch of deviled eggs and salad.  The girls were so excited to peel the eggs that we had dyed earlier in the week.  That I did not expect.

I took my time cooking scalloped sweet potatoes and bacon wrapped green beans.  Celebratory food, a little more butter, a little more sugar than normal.
We headed over to a friend's house and ate and drank more than any one person should in one day.  The few of us who don't have family in the area.
This is the only thing that rings disappointing to me.  This makes me feel a bit like the leftovers.  That my family is gathering on one coast and we are here.  Our holidays with our girls have come to feel too quiet.  I miss the jokes my brothers would sling at me.  I miss the fussing that any of my parents would do over me.  I miss the extra hands to make work light.  I miss the extra mouths to eat the food, and celebrate a little too much butter and a little too much sugar.

The day was quiet, thoughtful, celebratory, out of the ordinary, but not over the top.  No stress.  No panic.  No unrealized Pinterest moments, ruined by children, being, you know, children.  I missed my family.  But I dug deeper into some good friendships.  My children got to do things they don't normally, and got to eat an inordinate amount of sweets.
So did I for that matter.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


Easter usually sneaks up on me.
Um, didn't you give up something for Lent?
Yes, but Lent is so long...
I seem to remember other posts about holidays sneaking up on you.
Look, I need due dates.  How do you think I got through school?
Um, the date of the holiday is a due date.
I mean, I need exact assignments.
Buy stuff for your kids?
Look, okay I just was not on the ball this year.
You're never on the ball?
I was never any good at sports....

Easter usually does sneak up on me.  Maybe it's that lack of spring flavored lattes at Starbucks.  Or that there are no radio stations that switch over to playing Easter music for six weeks.  This has always seemed a little unbalanced to me.  Isn't the death and resurrection of Christ just as miraculous as his birth?  Is it because a birth is more fun than a death?
I can see that.
Maybe we need something to really celebrate in winter.  So our culture turned the beginning of the cold and dark season into a major fanfare, so we would forget what was really about to come.  Easter comes at the advent of a something that is already a celebration.  Spring is a celebration in and of itself.  The warmer temperatures bring relief.  The little crocuses peeking out from the brown ground bring hope.  The nubbly buds on trees astound us that nature knows the turn of the clock better than we do.

Tomorrow is Easter.
There wasn't six weeks of cookie making.  There wasn't six weeks of parties.  There wasn't six weeks of shopping.
All of that preparation gave me a colossal Christmas hangover.  Then the actual day came, I was left with this sense of, 'that was all for this?'
I think we miss the point.
This particular winter has been hard and long.  We still have snow on much of the ground.  Ground that we normally would hide eggs on.  Ground that would normally be bringing forth new life is still frozen.  I didn't bother buying sunny happy expensive Easter dresses this year.  In New England a sundress isn't quite yet appropriate.  We dress in clothes that don't match the weather, pose before bare trees, and declare that it is spring.  I didn't feel like playing this year.

Tomorrow is Easter
There was some quick planning for dinner with friends.  A cake was made.  Eggs were stuffed.  Baskets are filled with candy and toy bunnies.  Coffee is in the pot, ready to be brewed early.
Tomorrow we'll rise earlier than normal, dress warmly, and sing as the sun rises over the Atlantic.
I don't think I'll have a hangover.
I don't think I'll be disappointed in the 'magic' of the day.  I don't think I'll wonder if this was all it was for.
I think it will feel just right.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cleaner Things

It was late, the coffee pot was gurgling away.  A late night cup of coffee, to keep me awake to do creative things?  Nope, instead of the robust brown smell of coffee steaming out, a thin stingy smell of vinegar and stale coffee bit at my nostrils.  I was cleaning the machine, that brings me so much life, a small-ish scoop of baking soda in the basket and a splash of white vinegar in the water, hit brew, and the liquid that is brewed is far from drinkable.
I've used that grade school science experiment kaboom of baking soda and vinegar to clean out the blocked holes in my shower head as well.  The pop seems particularly effective as getting rid of hard water deposits.  Or the scrub brush I jammed in the holes afterward were effective at cleaning hard water deposits, who will ever know?

That particular night I was bit heady from reading too many blogs that espouse the wonderful combination of baking soda and vinegar as a cleaning powerhouse.  I picked up my kettle, if it worked on coffee pots, why not kettles?  
A few minutes later while I was scrubbing the kettle with real soap, with toxic bubbly phosphates and all, I thought about all the times that these all natural cleaners don't work and how, sometimes, you just need some bleach.

Like the time our High Efficiency clothes washer started to smell bad.  Which meant that, you guessed it, our clothes started to smell bad.  I, sheepishly, Googled this problem, what was I doing wrong?  Are we that dirty?  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it is a fairly common problem, there is even products created to abate that smell.  Being wary of spending extra money on a cleaning product that might not work I clicked around until I found a blog that told me I could just use white vinegar and run the machine on hot.  I thought, 'that's cheap, I have vinegar, can't hurt anything.'  So I poured half a gallon of white vinegar in there and hit the hot button.  One cycle later our washer no longer smelled.

But then there was the time I made orange vinegar.
Every time I peel an orange I look at the peels and think, this is a valuable resource.
Seriously Lara?
You've no idea how cheap I am.
And I love the way orange zest tastes.
Or candied orange peel.
Really?  I thought only old people liked that?
Yep.  And me.
The last time I was climbing the stairs to clean our upstairs bathroom, the handles of the four different cleaners that I require for a clean bathroom were cutting into my fingers, and I thought, 'there has to be a better way.'
Then I was looking at that orange peel, I think I must have Googled 'how to make cleaner from orange peels.'  Then I found orange vinegar.  The next time I climbed those stairs with all my bottles, a new bottle of homemade orange vinegar was among them.  I eagerly sprayed it on my sink and wiped away.
A few moments later when I was re-wiping the sink with actual bathroom cleaner, I thought, 'maybe this isn't the wonder cleaner that the blogger promised....I remember using vinegar to clean things when I was a kid....what were those things...?  Tile floors...but we only have tile in the....BATHROOMS!!!'
Eureka, I may have found one purpose for that stuff....

I'd like to wean myself off of those disposable Clorox wipes.  The first time I saw them I thought, 'those are so bad for the environment, how could anyone use those?!?!'  Judgment.  
Then I potty trained.  
And, look, you just throw the poop away.  It's all clean and all gone.  It's like that trashy TV show.  you just can't stop.  You know it's bad for you, but you just can't look away.  I keep buying those wipes, and thinking, 'I'll stop when they're all potty trained.'  Or, 'I'll stop when they stop spilling milk at the table.'
I am never going stop.

Still every time I open the cabinets and look at all my different sprays for every different surface, I think, 'there has to be a better way.'
They're just cleaning supplies, Lara.
Yeah, but something about ALL of them bothers me.
Yes, I mean fifty years ago we weren't using disposable wipes for everything!  Right?
Yeah, but I bet if Grandma had them she would've used them.
Maybe.  I've found that some people that have gone before us are much more wise about seeing the consequences.  The big consequences.  Like all the bottles from these cleaning products piled up in landfills.  Like all the toxins that we're wiping over all our surfaces.  All the silly excess, two cleaners where one would work just fine.  Complex products for one specific purpose.
I suppose that just bothers me.
During my semester abroad in college, I did a home stay in a remote village in Tanzania.  At the end of the week when we asked where to throw our little baggy of trash, from our baby wipes and q tips, our host father just motioned at the front yard.  There was no bin.  There was no trash in the yard.
We produced trash.  They, seemingly, didn't.
That stayed with me.
What other things do we have that aren't necessary?

Like when we have two pairs of shoes.  When we could have one.
When we produce more trash, by buying two things, when we could buy one.

If only that orange vinegar could wipe out my bathroom sink better....

Friday, March 27, 2015

Not My Feet

I was bent over in yoga class.  My fingers gently prying at the tips of my toes.  As my feet spread wide, sinking into the pad of the mat, I smiled.
I've always had a love hate relationship with my feet.  They're rather wide.  I am a perfect 8 Wide.  Do you know how many shoe stores sell 'wide' sizes?  Not many.  I've shoved my feet into so many 8's and 8 1/2's, hoping they would stretch to accommodate that extra piece of flesh I have on the outside edge of my feet.  I remember my mom making so many comments when were trying on shoes. I'd only be able to jam my first three toes into adorable pair of sandals, and she would come beside, 'like little pieces of pie.'  Then, 'mine are like skis, long and narrow.'  We've never shared shoes.

Whenever I get a annoyed at my feet, and their low arched inability to withstand high heels, I remember those wide feet are great for running.  They're absolutely perfect for hiking.  Never given me much trouble for walking.  I certainly have spent many hours running, hiking, and walking.  Many more than I ever have wearing high heels.

So why did I smile the other day?
That morning I had just an article on footbinding, a last century practice in China.  The last of the women to have ever had their feet bound are dying.  As with any body modification procedure there are a host of reasons why women chose to disfigure themselves and their children.  Usually it makes them a good marriage prospect.  With both footbinding and female genital mutilation the culture believed that these practices would make women better wives.  Female genital mutilation was believed to keep women from straying and is based on men's sexual preference for a tight vagina.  Footbinding was thought to promote obedience and the ability to bear pain in childbirth.

So why did I smile at my wide feet?
Because there they are.  I don't think anyone considers wide feet a thing of beauty.  I honestly have started not to care.  I am also pretty sure that my husband never noticed the width of my feet.  I do remember a day when we were out shopping and I was trying so hard to find a pair of black pumps that would go with a black dress that I wanted to wear on a date.  His response,
'Honestly, I'm not going to be looking at your feet.'

I grew up in a time and a country (female genital mutilation is still practiced in the Middle East and Africa) where my mother never felt like she had to transform my body to make me a better marriage prospect.  (No matter how hard it was to find shoes for me)  I grew up in a time and a country where there were few match makers, in fact I was encouraged to be 'just myself' and the right person would come along aside me.  In truth that's what happened.

Of course I grew up in a culture that tries to dictate what women's bodies should look like, to be considered beautiful.  I remember in middle school reading that the 'boyish figure' was now in style.  I thought, 'Excuse you, you get to say what  kind of body type is in style, women can't change their body type, how can someone's body be out of style?!'  By middle school I was well on the way to developing the curves I now have.  There was never a chance that my body would ever be considered 'boyish.'  Largely it's fashion and marketers that try to tell us what we think we should look like.  Tall, skinny, fit, etc.  But we get to push back.  I get to say 'that's not how this works, people.'  I get to decide how I feel about my body.

I am thankful for this.  Extremely grateful for this.  So excited for my daughters because of this.  No matter how rough we think we have it, no one has ever tried to bind our feet.

Apparently there was a story about an empress who did not have bound feet.  They say she used to rule her husband with her big feet.  I love this.  This image of this regal woman padding around her palace on her big feet.
So there they are, down at the end of my body.  My wide feet.  No one has ever tried to break you.  Wrap you up.  Or make you into something you're not.

They sure would have had a hell of a time if they had.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Texting While Parenting

Apparently being on your smartphone around your kids is a bad thing.  A few of us have read the article that is currently bouncing around Facebook.  A few social scientists watched parents at McDonald's while dining, and recorded the behavior between parent and child, specifically observing those on smartphones.  They found that parents were more agitated with their children while they were on smartphones.

Um, I could have told you that.

But, the experts noticed it, so it must be true.

We have all felt it, the frustration rising in the back of our neck up over our scalp,
'Mom, mommy, mom,' little faces looking up at us while we finish that text.

This was heard in my house today,
'No, you don't need me for the three minutes it takes me to go down into the basement and change the laundry!'
So you go do things. and then while you're showering they have a potty accident.  You get so mad at yourself, but you can't hover over them all day long.  You would hate that.  And resent them.  Truth be told, the children would eventually hate it too.

They are aching black holes of need.  They're most important need?  Your attention.  All the time.

So when they clamor at you while you're on your phone, it's just one more annoyance.

Well, yes.
And, well, no.

I tried to make a phone call the other day.  An actual real phone call.  Like from people that are going to renovate our house.  I couldn't complete it, because every time I tried to wade through their impossible sea of menu choices my daughter's would fight.  I even hung up and tried again.  During that interlude, I yelled at my children.  What did they do?  My two year old looked at me, and then body checked her sister into the wall.
I was so angry I couldn't even laugh.
So that's not okay.  I should be able to complete a five minute phone call without having to put anyone in time out.
But I can't.

I used to play games on my phone when I was bathing them.  Then I'd get angry with them because they would want things while I was in the middle of crushing imaginary candies.  How dare they?  Disturb my game, with their 'needs.'
So that's not okay.  I shouldn't be ignoring my children so that I can play games on my phone.

I have to admit I was late to the iPhone game.  I'm usually on the tail end of technology.  At first I didn't want one. Then I couldn't texts from people.  Or I'd have to switch out phones with my husband, because I needed the GPS to go somewhere new.  And going somewhere new in New England without a GPS is a pants wetting, terrifying experience.  I have 'lost in Massachusetts without a GPS' PTSD.  I am usually a map girl.  I am nerdy for maps.  Having a map for every tiny, curvy road in this state would fill my trunk with maps.  A GPS is a  really good thing here.
Eventually, even though my husband didn't think I needed one, I threw enough temper tantrums and I got a smartphone.
I love that stupid thing.

It is a 'thing' afterall, isn't it?
Just a 'thing.'  While it makes my life easier, it is not more important than my children.

Do I really find a 'thing' more interesting than a human being?  Especially a human being that I brought into the world?
Gosh, I hope not.  I would hate to think I was giving my children issues because I was staring at a phone rather than interacting with them.

My children really are aching pits of need.  They need to learn that they are not the center of the world.  The need to learn that I am not their servant.  These are real lessons.  Lessons that parent's teach.

The smartphone issue is tricky.  We use them for so much now.  I've found that I need to be careful how I use it, when I use it, and for what reason I use it.  They are actual phones, that we use for calling people.  Which does still happen now and then.  That's important.

They have a GPS.  Which as I have pointed out, helps a lot.  Makes my life easier.  Actually can make my life with children a lot easier.  Have you ever gotten lost with your kids in the car?  I have.  Having children with you when you have lost your bearings, just takes the whole experience to a new level.

Let's talk about texting.  I don't know about you, but often texting is just casual conversation.  'This made me laugh, and will make you laugh too,' kinds of exchanges.  There's nothing wrong with these, they're fun and they promote connections between people.  I've found that I need to be aware of them.  Then I become 'that person.'  Like when the nurse asked me to put that down so I could answer questions.  I will point out she had just walked in the room, and I was in the middle of texting my husband to say they were doing more tests and I would be late.  She kind of jumped the gun on me.  That's where we are though.  People are ignoring important interactions because we're texting or on our phones in some other capacity.

I'm not going to come up with guidelines.  Because guidelines are the worst.  Like when the American Association of Pediatrics tells you not to let your one year old watch TV, and I'm like, 'then you come to my house and watch my kid for twenty minutes so I can shower.'  So you plop them in front of TV and then you feel guilty. Then you shower.
This blog is a 'no guilt zone.'
I'm not even going to come up with 'suggestions.'  Because who am I to tell you how to use your phone?
Everyone's life is different.  Some people do a lot of business on their phone.  Some people are wasting a lot of time on their phone.

I think this article is a good place to start checking yourself, before you wreck yourself.  Or your children, for that matter.
Sometimes it's appropriate to text.  So text away.  Sometimes your kid asks for your attention in the middle of texting.  I like this phrase,
"Let me finish this text, and then I can help you."
Then I have to actually put the phone down and pay attention to them.  This is hard.  I find I get caught up in so many distractions in the house that I am often saying, 'let me finish....' and then I never get to them.  There are so many things that need to be finished.
Today I set a timer for myself, I usually set one for the girls.  They kept interrupting my train of thought for nonessential things, so I said,
"Mommy needs to work on this, I am going to set a timer so that I can work on this and then I can help you," by the time the timer went off they were involved in their own game and were no longer clamoring for my attention.
Did I mention I used the timer on my phone?
Now, there's a good use for that thing.

Sometimes texting is inappropriate.
Like at meal times.  Can't you just hear yourself ten years from now, 'no texting at the table!'  Unfortunately that starts with us.

I'm part of a large group text of seven different women.  As you can imagine, my phone blows up quite frequently.  Eventually I turned off my ringer, because I found that one night while I was cooking dinner, between my children, my husband, and the multiple tasks of cooking (chop this, boil this, etc.) I was spinning in circles.  I've left my ringer off, for the most part.  My texts become more like emails.  I pick up my phone, check what is there, answer them, and then move on.  Sometimes I leave it in my purse for hours at a time...

I have uploaded and deleted so many games on my phone.  Once I got accused of playing Candy Crush like a fiend.  I deleted it.  I was so bratty though.  I held the iPad aloft, screen pointedly directed at my husband, and hit the delete with more force than the touch screen ever needs.  He laughed.  Even though I was mildly jerky about it, I don't miss it.  I've since then uploaded and deleted Trivia Crack, Scrabble, and Candy Crush (the latter about two more times).

Remember the days of phone that had to stay plugged into walls?  Remember answering machines?  I like the type of interaction and thought process that those promoted.  You have stop and be where you are and communicate intentionally.  We can still use smartphones like that.
This age of instant communication and leaving plans till last minute might not be the best cultural shift we can have.  I know the pull, 'but if I don't answer right now...'
I've noticed though that most things work themselves out.

I have had to be very honest with myself.  Am I ignoring my children to play on my phone?  Am I doing something important?  If I am, why can't they just leave me alone?  Because children are aching pits of need, as parents we can fall into the 'they never leave me alone trap.'  But maybe, just maybe, if we give them some time, they'll leave us alone.
For a bit, at least.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

I Give Up

I gave up.
After a day and a half I filled that pot and brewed it.

Ugh, I have so much respect for people who quit real things like tobacco and cocaine.

Did I mention I gave up desserts too?
Did I mention I didn't really talk to God about any of this?  I just kind of decided.
So maybe I set up myself up for failure.

My thoughts the past few days have been pretty rough.  From an Eeyore-ish feeling sorry for myself; like when you're on a diet and everyone at the party is eating cake, and you don't eat the cake, and all you think is, 'because I'm chubby.'  Or mild desperation, 'how am I going to make it through the day without caffeine.'  To a gray pall in my thoughts, 'I can't do this for 40 days.'

Coffee, people, all I am trying to give up is coffee.  Not heroin.

I realized that so much of my habit is wrapped up in ritual.  My first cup in the morning.  With my Bible.  Just me and my husband, and coffee, and silence.
Some mornings I don't make it.  The pull of the snooze button is strong.  My husband tells me not to set an alarm so that we can 'sleep in.'
But if we sleep in, we wake with the children and I am launched into the day without a moment to think.

'Sleeping in,' isn't the same anymore.

In the afternoon that cup means that I take a minute for myself.  My afternoon break.  Let the kids have some quality time with PBS while I sit and think.  Check the email that I haven't checked yet today.  Make sure Facebook is still there.
I have noticed how much time I spend checking Facebook.  Reading articles from The Atlantic.  Trolling through asinine photos from Buzzfeed.  I would like to reclaim that time.  Take it back for myself.  Take that time back into the painting studio.  Take that time back in front of my computer, instead of passively staring at articles I will forget moments from now, typing words that will record my life.  Words that might help another person through their day.  Words that might make anyone of us pause and think a little deeper about what we are doing here.

Today was a fiasco.  Every moment I turned around something was upending my plans.  I spend most afternoons not really knowing what to do with myself.  This day was no different, and ramped up by the unexpected need to shovel snow of our roof and several potty accidents.
I started to feel that pinch in my forehead.  That desire for a moment.  That slight fog.  I waited until Scott got down from the roof and brewed a small pot.
I wish I had some awesome reason that I've given in.  Some realization that it's not the coffee and it's something else.  It's the coffee and the something else.  The moment alone.  The break.
I've decided to make each cup intentional.  Not just swilling it to stay awake.  Not microwaving it or gulping it cold.  Making each cup a moment.  Time to sit and 'be.'

In the morning I think I will take that time for the Lord.
In the afternoon I think I will take that time for myself.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

No Coffee for You

Ash Wednesday is today.  Th beginning of the Lenten season.  Catholics go to mass and get ash smeared on their foreheads.  Protestants don't even know what it is.
Some of us have started experimenting with Lent.

I did in college and now I am back to it as an adult.
I Lent we are called to fast from something; to give it up to focus on what Christ sacrificed for us.  Some of us add things, like writing notes to loved ones, or more time in prayer.
Last year I fasted from sugar.
This year I looked forward to this time of fasting.  This time of  pushing a reset button.  This winter of endless snow has taken it's toll on me.  Six feet piles of snow arresting my ability to properly care for my children and for myself.  My ability to say 'no' to anything unhealthy has dwindled like the numbers on the thermostat.  It's true that I am usually a bit cold, and when you are cold you need more food, but I should be able to say 'no' when I have a bellyache.  I can't right now, I just keep eating.

I hate that I am blogging about the battle of the bulge.  Again.  I seem to talk about this a lot.  Unfortunately we live sedentary lifestyles in a country with an abundance of food,  which will leave all of us, well, a bit bulgey.

I've been thinking of my New Year's Resolutions, to be nice to myself.  How do I deny myself of things to be nice to myself.  Because isn't being nice to myself putting on a pair of sweatpants and eating a huge bowl of ice cream?  Or just eating it out of the container.  Have you ever noticed it tastes better straight from the container?  Try it.  I speak the truth.
Indulging.  Doing what we want all the time.  Isn't that the pinnacle of being nice to ourselves?  I don't think it is.
Sometimes it is.  What message does it send to my daughters if Mommy never eats pizza?  On the flip side what message does it send my daugher's if Mommy only eats pizza?  Or if Mommy can't not eat pizza?  Like when I've eaten poorly all day and all I really want is some vegetables because my belly aches, but I eat pizza anyway because I cannot exercise self control.  That's bad too, right?
I just read this article.  I love her joie de vivre.  But there has to be a middle ground?  Right?

So Mommy eats pizza some of the time.

Lara I thought this was a post about Lent?
It is, I'm coming around.
In the vein of 'being nice to myself,' I drink coffee like it's my job.  Two to four very large cups a day.
That's not that bad.
Very large cups.
Veeerrrry large.
I can't not have it.
That's kinda bad, right?
Last year I gave up sugar for Lent and I have to admit that it shook some of the stronghold that eating dessert had on me.
I keep thinking about coffee, and then I say, 'No, I can't do that.'  Or someone laughs at me.  Or someone insists it's a bad idea.
So I didn't drink any coffee today.  I replaced it with black tea.
Um, Lara, black tea has caffeine in it.
Not nearly as much, not nearly as much.
Some black teas have as much caffeine in them as coffee.
Hehehe.  Nope.  Black tea has about 35ml.  Coffee, depending on how you brew it has about 170-190ml.  A shot of espresso has about 90ml.  I memorized this when I was pregnant.  Do you see how far down the rabbit hole goes?
I have a problem.
I spent most of the day a bit foggy and tired.  When my brain started to become especially so, right before lunch I thought, 'and then we can have lunch, and then I can have a cup of coffee...wait...NO!"
That stung.
But wait, why Lent?
Because I have never been able to give anything up, ever, unless there was religious underpinnings to it.
So here I go, keeping my promises to God, to myself, and all the people I told.  So I can't cheat.
I am going to be nice to myself by pressing my re-set button.  By finding times where I can say 'no.'  Then times where I can say 'yes.'

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Snow More

When I was in high school I was raising money for a trip to Mexico.  We followed a common model and sent letters out asking for donations.  We got a response from one women that if we did her ironing for her she would donate a dollar an item of clothing.  I volunteered, being quite unsure of my ability to raise money by just asking, earning it seemed reasonable.

I received the pile of clothes and set to work.  After a bit I noticed that they were all t-shirts.  T-shirts that smelled of closet.  I had the sneaky thought that she had pulled a bunch of old clothes out of her closet and made up a job, to teach us kids a lesson.  I bit my lip as I ironed and felt more than a little bit insulted.
As a child of a single mom I was not unused to work.  Many of our Saturdays were spent cleaning the house, in fact it was the only time that my Mom would order pizza.  I remember pulling the chairs down off the kitchen table with shaky arms and tired legs, to get ready for that rare treat.
I suppose a teenager that is willing to iron a pile of clothes might also not be the teenager that needs to learn that lesson.  Mostly I felt patronized.
Who irons t-shirts anyway?

This winter has felt a bit like that pile of t-shirts.
Last winter was bitterly cold.
Not only has this winter been bitterly and unbreakingly cold, but it has been full of snow.
Last winter I learned that I wanted a heavier coat for New England's particular brand of cold.  So I got one for Christmas.
Last winter we learned that our house is full of cracks and needs insulation.  We're in the process of getting a grant to fill in those cracks and get that insulation.
Last winter we didn't get out at all because our youngest child would just cry in the cold.

This winter feels just a little bit insulting.  Not only is it cold, and we re-learn where the cracks in the house are, that small children can't quite handle the cold, and that a down coat is a true blessing.  But we've learned what it's like to be housebound for days on end.  That even when the blizzard goes away our sidewalks are gone and we can't walk anywhere.  (My husband and I share a car, I rely on walking every day, if I want to leave the house with the girls.  I live within walking distance of a lot, but currently there are no sidewalks and narrow roads covered in ice slush.)
I've learned what outfits that I can wear thermal underwear underneath without looking like an L.L.Bean model.
I've learned that to go grocery shopping without a pack of panicked New Englanders buying bottled water and batteries can feel like a luxury.  I've learned that my friends are kind and will offer to give me rides.  I've learned that children are a bit more resilient to being housebound for days on end than I would expect.

Yesterday when the Army was digging out my street (I'm not kidding), it was bitterly cold, so I walked out to ask the soldiers if I could bring them a cup of coffee.  The soldier pulled the bandana down from his mouth and smiled,
"Thanks, but people have been bringing us coffee all day long!  We've got two Boxes o' Joe back there!"  He used his thumb to point to the front end loader that was shoveling snow off of our sidewalk at the end of my street.
I've learned that I live on a street full of nice people.  New Englanders are known for their road rage, I expected a full Army crew of trucks and machinery would incite some kind of gesturing.  I found that they brought them coffee instead.  That makes me relax a little.
I've also learned that all my neighbors have snowblowers, and every single one of them has blown out our driveway and sidewalks.

I suppose that while this winter has patronized me.  I've learned that overall we will hunker down and continue on.  We will find a place to put the snow.  We will offer each other coffee.

But I do declare if one more person, tells me to 'stay warm,' I will send the blizzard their way.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Soup Tales

"I love soup," a roommate of mine said a few years ago.  I had just moved to the Chicago area from Southern California and it had yet to get cold. I thought it was kind of a weird thing to say.  I mean, soup, right?  That food we feed to the elderly and the sick?
Then it got cold.  I got it a little more.
Then I had a family to feed.  I got it a little more.
Then I had to start to watching my weight a little closer, because I turned 30.  I got it a little more.

I love soup.
Especially when it's cold.  Here in New England it's cold for a good six to eight months of the year.  I give soup a break in the warmer months, but about October that hot brothy food starts to sound good again.  Then I stop again in April when I am a bit tired of eating dinner from a bowl.  Probably my family is as well.

Soup is also a great 'dump' meal.  You just take what you have in the kitchen, throw it in the pot, and throw broth over it.
There is a basic recipe for soup starting with a mirepoix; chopped up carrots, onions, and celery.  If you are cooking a creole, latin, or southwestern soup swap out the celery for red or green peppers; onions, carrots, and peppers are referred to as the 'holy trinity' of creole cooking.  Celery gives the soup a more French or European base.  I always keep carrots, celery, and onions around in the winter.  They're a good staple to have on hand in general.
How big should I chop them?
That is a whole sweet onion, four stalks of celery,
and about four carrots.
Keep in mind when chopping that you will be eating
with a spoon, so whatever size looks
 good in a spoon.  So, fairly small.

After you've assembled your mirepoix which you can throw in the bottom of a crock pot or saute in the bottom of a stock pot, you can consider what you want the rest of the soup to be, including a carbohydrate, a protein, and more vegetables.  You can add those to the pot keeping in mind how long they need to cook.  A trick I have learned recently is that you can throw meat raw and whole into the crock pot or stock pot and then just 'pull' it before serving.  That way you save the step of sauteing or chopping it separately.  Who likes to chop raw chicken?  I am not enamored of it.
The plastic containers with green lids are frozen
homemade chicken broth.
These are the ingredients for a basic lentil soup.  After I threw my mirepoix in the crock pot, I added a couple of chopped potatoes, two cans of broth, some garlic, and two cans of diced tomatoes.
Turn on high, stir a few times throughout the day, come back about 6-8 hours later, there is supper.

I did have to add a bit more water, which if you throw in a bouillon cube that water essentially turns into broth.  Bouillon is not as good as homemade broth, but watery soup is terrible.

And dinner.

I choose to use homemade broth whenever I can, because there are health benefits to real broth.  I try to avoid processed foods whenever I can, and canned broth is a processed food.  As is bouillon.  You will never add as much sodium as is contained in these foods, because you are concerned about your heart health.  Manufacturers are not concerned about your heart health, they are concerned that you will buy their product again, so they add lots more salt than you would.  (This same principle works with sugar.)

At the end of the cooking time I added a link of kielbasa.
But Lara that's processed!
I know, it's also tasty.  And one link added to a doubled recipe of lentil soup probably isn't going to kill me.  Or maybe it is.
I have started to double soup whenever I make it, and then freezing the leftovers.  I love it for lunch.  Soup feels like a nutritional magic bullet.  Especially in winter.  Broth based soups can be low in calories,  high in nutrition, and hot.  Hot is important when you have just had three feet of snow land on your house.
I would love to hear your favorite soup recipes!  After six to eight months of soups I find myself repeating my recipes a lot.  I'd love some new ideas!

Basic Lentil Soup
Feeds 4-6
Half sweet onion (chopped small)
2 carrots (chopped small)
2 stalks celery (chopped small)
1 cup lentils
2 potatoes (chopped into one inch chunks)
2 cups chicken, veggie, or beef broth
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 - whole kielbasa link (optional)
Layer onions, carrots, and celery in the bottom of a crock pot.  Add potatoes, and lentils.  Add your broth and tomatoes.  Turn the crock pot on high.  Come back in 4-5 hours and add kielbasa.  Come back in 1-2 hours and eat it.

You might want to check on your simmering stew more if it's your first time using a crock pot.  Crock pots vary.  A general rule is High for 4-6 hours or Low for 8-10 hours.  My lentils have a hard time cooking in time, I think I am starting them too late in the morning.  Like at 10am rather than 8am or 7am.  Earlier the better.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Don't Say That

"And what do you do?" She asked me.
"I'm at home with my kids," I replied.  She had just told me about the job she had.  The job she got right out of college.
"Well, that's hard work too," she said in a 'kind' tone.  Unfortunately, I almost burst into tears.  That's just so insulting.
I had this exchange with a young woman during a Super Bowl party at my house.  I've had this exchange before.  Someone you've just met tells you what job they have, and then in turn asks you you what you do.  When you say that you're a stay at home Mom, there's a fumbling silence and then they say something conciliatory.  Something like, 'that's important,'or 'that's hard work,' or 'well, that's the most important job.'

I am sure that this exchange never happens to doctors, nurses, lawyers, or teachers.  Or really a host of other occupations.  Just to mine.

If what I do for a living was really viewed as that important or that difficult, no one would feel like they have to tell me that what I do is important.
Is it because I don't make any money?
Is it because children aren't valued?
Because children don't make any money?
Is it because the traditional roles that women take aren't valued?
Is it because our highest cultural value is individual autonomy?
And children take that autonomy away from people and Moms give that up over and over again?

Think about it, though.  What images do these phrases bring to mind?
Mom jeans.
Mom haircut.
A woman that has given up.  Someone that no longer takes care of herself.   Someone that has subsumed her needs for others.  Both are derogatory as well.  They insinuate that looking like a mom is a bad thing.

The phrase MILF exists because it's a given that if a woman has become a mother she is no longer attractive.

Just as soon as I get comfortable with the choice that I made to stay at home to raise my children, something like this conversation comes along.  Or medical forms.  Have you ever been at doctor's office filling out the form and had to check 'Unemployed.'  Then when it gives you all the reasons to be employed there is nothing for you?  You can be retired, disabled, or a veteran, but a stay at home mom is not one of the honorable choices.
As a culture we highly value individual autonomy and earning power.  If you are someone who does not earn money you are of questionable value.  If you are someone who greatly interferes with someone else's individual autonomy you also are of questionable value.

Children interfere with individual autonomy.  The constant needs of an infant make you give up so many of your own needs.  Sleeping.  Eating.  Anyone that needs a lot of care.  We treat the elderly the same way.  Caring for children and the elderly are some of the lowest paid jobs.  People who major in Early Childhood Education have one of the lowest returns on their degree.  In fact people who care for the elderly or small children are often not expected to have much training or a degree.

What about a person that has chosen to care for those people with no payment in return?
I know that there are lot of assumptions that get pinned on me the second that I say I am a Stay at Home Mom.  That I am uneducated.  That I didn't know any better.  That my husband made that choice for me.    None of these are true.  Unfortunately when you have that little baby, when you fulfill the need to reproduce, that is inherent in all of us, you realize that someone needs to take care of that little human being.  Some women decide that they want to do it themselves. Some women decide that they don't want to or can't, so they go back to work.  A lot of women do the math and realize that day care costs as much as they would make.

I don't usually write posts like this, the 'stop saying this or that' kind of posts.  Most people are just trying to make conversation and are trying their hardest.  Rarely do people want to hurt others.  If someone offends you take a check with yourself, is it them or my anger?
This post does come from my anger.  I have been uncomfortable with my choice to stay home, I have spent a lot of time and money earning a Bachelors degree and a Master's degree that I am currently not using.  Except that maybe I am.  Maternal educational level is the main predictor of a child's success.  That's why so many development projects are focused on educating women.  If women are educated babies live longer and better.
I keep thinking,  'I should go back to work.'  But at the end of the day, I want to spend my days with my kids.

And I am really tired of complete strangers talking down to me.
So stop telling me that it's 'hard' or 'important.'  I know that.  I don't want my kids raised by someone else, I want them with me.  Don't degrade me by assuring me that my choice is all right.
I know it is.
I made it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Not So Resolute

New Year's Resolutions are a subject that I usually examine with a fair helping of snark.
Lara, you examine everything with a fair helping of snark.
Yes, I know, but don't most look at resolutions as a time to improve themselves?
I usually just think, 'Ah, another occasion in my life where I can give myself a good ass kicking. Just what I needed.'

I'm also usually a little bit late about it.  Just like I am with advent.  People start posting things about their resolutions, or telling me about new goals that they are launching on.  And I think, 'Oh crap, I just recovered from being all organized about advent, and I really just wanted to sit here and watch the Rose Parade in my pajamas.'
But apparently everyone on the internet is more awesome than me.
And I don't really feel like giving myself a good ass kicking.
I don't want to make unrealistic goals about losing weight.
I don't want to make unrealistic goals about creating awesome Montessori boxes for my preschool age daughter.
I don't want to make unrealistic goals about making art or writing.

But then one of my friends told me that she sat down and made some goals at the beginning of the year and then she achieved them.  So that's kind of a good thing.  I'm not very good at being organized about things.

For a community group that I am in we were asked to come with spiritual goals for the year.  My husband and I had a discussion about it, his question was, 'how are spiritual goals different from the rest of your goals?'  I felt comforted.  During the group when I shared that I didn't particularly have 'spiritual goals' and didn't really want to make them up, it was asserted that no one wanted me to just make some up.

Um, wait, excuse me, Lara, January is almost over.
I know, I know that.  Wait for it.

In that group we talked about how New Year's Resolutions sneak up on everyone.  Apparently the internet lies and everyone just wants to sit around in their pajamas on New Year's Day.  You just make it through Christmas and, then, bam, fix yourself, you sloppy mess.  The thought that maybe all of January should be spent thinking about your past year and if there is anything you want to improve.

Did you read that?  I said 'if.'  That's right, maybe you're not a sloppy mess.
We don't kick our own asses here at this blog.

The other day I jumped off my Spin bike after class.  My eyes hit the mirror, looking at that midsection that has been a source of discontent for as long as I was aware it was there.  I start wishing I'd done an abs class instead.  Then the thought occurred to me that I just exercised to a level that would make some people throw up.  Why wasn't I nicer to myself?  What if I appreciated my body instead of wishing it away?  What if I thanked my body for what it has achieved rather than being frustrated with it for what it is not.  And may never be?  So as I stretched my quads, holding onto the handles I said, 'thank you.'  I almost cried.  Almost cried, right there, in that basement Spinning studio.
Apparently I have some baggage right around here.

This I have taken into this meditation for this January.  A sense of appreciation rather than a sense of destruction.  Maybe instead of beating myself up, and thinking that somehow 2015 will be magical and if I write down a list of things that I don't like about myself that by the time the ball drops on 2016 I will be awesome.
What if I already am awesome?
Okay, I'm not.  But I'm not a sloppy mess.  I guess there is some stuff I'd like to see get done....

For my body:
Be nice to it.  Work out a lot, because it makes my body happy.  Drink more water.  Eat more fruit and vegetables.  Put less poison in it.  Make my husband hug me a lot, because hugging yourself just isn't as fun.

For my children:
Be nice to them.  Pay attention to who they are.  Get them outside more. Squeeze them as much as I can.

For my husband:
Be nice to him.  Tell him how much I appreciate him.  Realize that he has needs to.

For my career:
Be nice to it.  Do more.  Make more art. Write more.  Get my art in a venue.

How are you going to be nice to yourself this year?

Monday, January 19, 2015

More Than Just a Dress

My first day in public wearing pants was January 1st.
My last day wearing a dress was December 31st.
The jeans were a little tight that first day.  I'm not sure if that is because I have grown unaccostumed to denim or because I've spent the last week of December in my kitchen, hiding from my children and eating all the candy that my family sent me.  Which I am sure is a diabolical scheme to make me the chubbiest person in the family.
Or because I spent an entire month in leggings and yoga pants.
In fact the first time I pulled on a pair of leggings in early December I thought, 'I hope this doesn't backfire.'

At some point I realized that I was going to become a rock star to my 'I must wear a dress' five year old daughter.  I inwardly cringe every time my little girl insists on wearing something super pink, sparkly, and girly.  I fight with myself over how often to re-direct her or just give in and buy the copies of Fancy Nancy.  I have realized that her insistence on pink is a form of feminism.  'I am a girl and I will wear pink!'  A celebration and an assertion of what she believes defines female.

A few years ago I was running errands with a friend for her wedding.  When we visited her tailor, he made some off hand comment about women how sad it was that women, 'didn't want to wear foundation garments anymore.'  I felt a little embarrassed for womankind when he said that.  Like we were all collectively losing our classiness.
Now that comment makes me more than a little bit angry.  How would he feel if he was required to pour his portly figure into some Spanx or a bustier.  Uncomfortable?  Would he be in pain?  Probably.  Which is why women don't want to wear 'foundation garments.'
I am thankful that I live in an age wear daily wearing of a corset is not expected.
Where fashion's ideas of what is beautiful is not deforming my body.  Or some fat old tailor's ideas of what a woman's body should look like.

Once you become focused on what a person wears, to cover up or increase their attractiveness you begin to deny them of their humanity.  They become an object to control shape or form rather than an actual person.

Each selfie that I took I was pleasantly surprised that I did look good.  When I caught a reflection of myself out of the corner of my eye I was pleasantly surprised at the form I saw.  Dresses are flattering on women.  Our body shape makes sense in them.  I became a little more gracious to my form.  Everyone has a bit of a muffin top kind of crease when tights or leggings cut into their midsection.  Be nice to yourself.

I didn't find myself counting down the days to wearing pants, maybe because I allowed myself to wear pants in my house.  I actually thought I would incorporate dresses and leggings into my everyday wear.  I haven't.  Jeans and yoga pants are just too damn convenient for my life right now.  A side effect of this challenge is that now that my wardrobe has been opened back up from the three dresses I could wear to all the clothes I have I suddenly feel like I have an insane amount of clothes.  I found myself wandering around the mall with those crazy after Christmas sales, gift cards in hand, thinking, 'but I don't need anything.'  When does that happen?
But the challenge to wear a dress every day of December was not just a clothing challenge

I did find myself thinking about other women.  Hoping that this would all amount to something.  I find myself so powerless in the face of injustice.  The main thing that grieved my heart about leaving Kenya was the loss of ability to personally empower people.  We were able to give our houseworker a job when we left, we were able to send our guard to mechanic school for a hundred dollars, and we can't do that anymore.  That is what I miss.  This challenge gave me a taste of that again.  Of course I have to turn the money over to International Justice Mission and hope for the best, but I do hope for the best.  I do trust them as an organization.

I was able to reach my goal of raising $300 and my team was able to exceed their goal of $1000, and raised $1,100.
While I know that is only just a drop in the bucket, it's more than there was before, and more that I've ever rallied for an organization.
A very good start.