Out with a Whimper

I had big bloggy plans for December. I was going to do a year in review for a couple different things, and I was going to write every day — or as close to it as I could get. Heck, at least three times a week!

Yeah, no.

I do have some lists for you, my dear readers. Music and books, as well as the top RPM moments from 2014. On a personal level, it was actually a pretty good year.

Socially, though, it was quite a disaster. Women’s rights took some big hits; and black males lost big time over and over again. I still can’t wrap my head around Ferguson. Or Eric Garner. Or Tamir Rice.

Ebola ravaged Africa. Measles, mumps, and pertussis broke out in the United States. Robin Williams committed suicide.

In the wider world, yeah, 2014 kind of sucked. And it seems (to me) that the lens of social media exacerbates the bad stuff. I guess it feels like that everybody is supposed to have an opinion, and furthermore, share it. It’s exhausting. I burnt out on social media in July, which I believe was right after the Supreme Court decisions that I hated as well as Ferguson, and I checked out for a few days. I think it’s the third or fourth year in a row that I had to do that.

Anyhoo, between being busy at work (mostly good), and a little stressed on the home front (holidays!), I haven’t had time to review 2014 as much as I would’ve liked. But stay tuned. I do have a few things I’d love to remind you about!

Overall, how was 2014 for you?

2014

My Favorite Christmas Music of All Time

Recently, the Washington Post did a small feature on Pentatonix. I was thrilled, because we love Pentatonix. I discovered them two years ago, and promptly shared them with the children.

These guys could probably sing a Taylor Swift song — maybe even a Bob Seger song — and I would willingly listen to it.

Anyhoo, That’s Christmas to Me debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 — IN OCTOBER. It’s the highest charting Christmas album since 1962.

Flora likes it because, in her own words, “They turn ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain’ into a rap!” (Note to self: expose the children to actual gospel music.) Highlights for me include “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Mary Did You Know?”

Two mis-steps, in my opinion: They do a mashup of “Winter Wonderland” and “Don’t Worry Be Happy” — which if you are a child of the ’80s is a deathly ear worm. But the kids love it, so I grit my teeth through it.

They also do a tune called “White Winter Hymnal”, which is terms of Christmas music is an odd little ditty. My searching for the origins of this song turn up a lovely single from Fleet Foxes from 2008. It’s better done by them, in my opinion. The Fleet Foxes can do dark and pretty; Pentatonix are mostly just pretty.

Pentatonix do a version of “Little Drummer Boy” (which is not on That’s Christmas to Me) that actually makes me like the song. For the longest time, it’s been my absolutely least favorite Christmas carol — coincidentally, LDB was covered by Bob Seger on A Very Special Christmas. So.

Also, I know that we are all over “Let It Go” from Frozen, but I got chills listening to the version Pentatonix does. I just think any thing this little group can do with five people is pretty amazing.

Case in point: “Carol of the Bells.”


What carol would you love Pentatonix to make fresh for you?

More Than A Day

The children (plus Niece), Dan and I spent Sunday afternoon at his office cleaning.

Do we know how to have a good time or what?

He had gotten new carpet in his therapy room, and everything on the second floor needed to be moved and cleaned and dusted. It didn’t take a long time, only about three hours, and the children were good. Flora and Michael even teamed up to shred old bills in his admin office.

I mostly carried things up and down stairs. We took home all the Christmas decorations. It was a good, productive, exhausting day. Kate and Niece played together nicely.

At one point, Dan, vacuuming and dusting in his small therapy room, said, “Thank you so much for coming and helping. This really needed to happen.”

I said, “Well, this is my house, too you know.”

And I realized something (after 13+ years of marriage): You don’t marry a person, you marry a life.

I didn’t invent this idea. I grew up in a household where my parents were partners in marriage, child-rearing, and business. When Dan came to me about buying his office building (a house in Crafton), we talked about the pros and cons, and about what it meant for our future. He was committing to private practice, which comes with a lot of work — paperwork, admin, billing, taxes, and so on. It wasn’t just showing up somewhere to do therapy and collect a paycheck.

Plus, two houses, which is why our family was spending a Sunday vacuuming and dusting in Crafton instead of at home.

We’re still learning the ins-and-outs of medical practice. His sister and his mother have been big helps with billing and paperwork. It means long hours for him, and me holding down the fort at home.

But it’s been worth it. Even the stressful weeks when billing has been off, or the insurance has denied more claims than it accepted, or that time he got audited because he had to testify in court. Even when my job has been less than ideal, or the children have a lot of school issues that need to be handled.

When I said, “I do,” I wasn’t just marrying Dan. I was committing my future to his, and vice versa. We were hitching our trains together for the long haul (not a euphemism).

It’s a little scary to think about before you get married, probably. If people who are getting married ask me for advice (those silly people), I tell them to try to find a marriage class (or pre-Cana). It can help you focus on what comes *after* your wedding day. It’s a lot of conversations that you don’t necessarily think about when you are excited about planning your wedding day with the love of your life.

But they are important conversations to have. What are your priorities? Do you both want children, and if so, how many? If it’s hard to have children, what measures will you take (if any)? What about careers? What about careers and parenthood? How much time will you spend with each others’ families? What about seeing friends? Who will take care of what around the house? If you expect the chores to be split 50/50, you need to express that in words.

If I’ve learned one thing about being married, it’s that you need to express things in words.

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Last week, several news outlets reported that the oft-quoted “50 percent of marriages end in divorce” is no longer true, and hasn’t been true since the 1980s, when divorce rates in the United States peaked.

This is good news for marriage. Researchers attributed the drop to later marriages, family planning, and what the article calls “love marriages”. (Does anyone know what this means? I mean, it seems evident, but I’ve never seen it put like that.) Of course, fewer people are choosing to tie the knot, as well.

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And this isn’t meant to be an anti-divorce screed. Dan and I made a series of purposeful decisions and commitments. We’ve had fights and been through some shit. We haven’t considered divorce in any serious way because we know regardless of the shit going on around us or between us, we are better off with each other than without each other.

That is not the case for everyone. I understand that.

It’s taken a long time and hard work to get here. We’ve had bad habits to overcome. We still have to consciously not take each other for granted, and we still have to communicate with one another. I don’t imagine that will end.

I really don’t have any idea how to cap this off. I’m not trying to tout marriage as the be-all, end-all of human existence. Everyone has their own lives to live and choices to make.

I guess I’m just feeling good about my own marriage, and our own choices. And I wanted to tell you about it.

My honey and me

My honey and me

Toys Will Be Toys

I came across this piece at Slate — and I end up feeling a little bad for that little girl.

Her dad, the author of the article, is WAY over thinking her toy interaction and play.

My approach to play has always been… like, way less fraught with this. Did I want to have girls who were obsessed with princesses, or dresses, or pink? No, not necessarily. But I also did not completely shield them from any of these things. Furthermore, as much as I feel STEM fields are where the future jobs lie (STEM and healthcare), I am not inculcating my girls to love math.

Because that would not end well.

Tell a child what to do. Let me know how that goes.

This was my favorite sentence: “I think the onus, unfortunately, remains on individual parents to make sure their boys and girls question every instance of groupthink, whether it’s which toys girls should have or whether Frozen is actually all that female-empowering.”

His daughter is 4. She doesn’t care if Frozen is empowering, she just wants to pretend to freeze stuff and sing “Let It Go”.

Additionally, by attempting to steer a girl away from princesses and dress up, these parents are simply reinforcing that idea that girlie things are worthless! “No, you can’t be a princess because you’re smarter than that.” “No, stay away from pink; it means you’re a weak girl.”

Guys, you’re doing it wrong.

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On a recent Family Movie Night, we all watched Mr. Peabody and Sherman. I didn’t like it. And, part of the reason I didn’t like it was that the two main female characters were mean girls — mean, bossy, bully girls (okay, one girl and one woman).

You know what I did? I said that out loud. “I don’t like that these female characters are bullies and mean girls. I just want you to know portraying girls and women like that in a children’s movie offends me. I don’t like the message.” (I also didn’t like Mr. Peabody. He was a smug, pretentious know-it-all. But, ya know, he was a dog. So.)

Girls can like pink and math. Smart girls can also be pretty girls (and vice versa). Girls can play with Legos, and Barbies, and LPS, and do science experiments at the kitchen table.

Having an attitude like the author’s sets our girls up for a false dichotomy. Limiting their choices to STEM-only is just as limiting as saying, “You’re a girl so you can’t play with cars.”

And instead of fretting, talk to your children. I do it all the time. Teach them to think critically about the shows they watch and the toys they play with and the school work they like (or don’t like).

Flora HATES math homework. She loves science and social studies, and reading books. So I focus on math with her because that’s what she needs to work on. But she’s not bad at math because she’s a girl. She doesn’t want to practice; practicing math takes focus, which Flora is famously lacking.

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I asked my girls what they wanted to be when they grew up on the ride to work this morning. Flora wants to be an ornithologist. Kate went into goofy mode; she wants to be a turtle. She also did a word problem about selling turtles.

Children can do anything. It’s up to us as parents to show them the options, and then stand back and let them be themselves. Instead of worrying about them playing with dolls.

What do your children want to be when they grow up?

Kate and Flora, future ornithologist and pet store owner

Flora and Kate, future ornithologist and pet store owner

Number 4

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My dear Michael,

I have so many words — much like you — I cannot even think where to start. You don’t worry about starting; you wake up, and start talking, and you don’t stop unless you are pouting or asleep.

You would think I would get used to your chatter. It still surprises me, usually on a Saturday morning before I’ve had coffee.

You have thoughts. You have opinions. You have questions, although not as many as your big sister Flora. You want to have conversations. That’s exactly what you will say. “Can we have a conversation?” The other thing you say most often is, “Mommy, watch this.” And I really do have to get better about stopping and watching that. I vow to do better. After all, you are suddenly 4, and I am starting to realize all you children just keep getting older. Pretty soon, you won’t be asking me to stop and watch. So I better get it in now.

You like building toys (Lego and Duplo), cars, super heroes. You like to pretend. You like your sisters, and you get upset when they don’t want to play with you or share with you. You are able to play independently, you just don’t always want to. You are paying Kate back in karma points for all the times and ways she has harassed Flora. You like routine.

Your teachers at daycare LOVE you. We recently took a field trip with your preschool class to a pumpkin patch. As you sat for story time, I spoke with one of your teachers. “Michael is such a sweet boy,” she told me. “He’s polite and helpful. He’s such a nice little boy. Is he like that at home?”

No, I told her. No, he is not like that at home.

And you aren’t — you have temper tantrums, you fight with your sisters, you tell me I’m dumb. But not all the time. You are sweet, and helpful, and polite, too. But you aren’t afraid to be angry, or sad, or stubborn. You also give hugs and kisses, very often unprompted. You will throw your hands around my neck or climb up on the couch for impromptu cuddles.

I probably spoil you a little bit. I lay down in bed with you waiting for you to fall asleep. Some days, I ask the girls to *please* share and *please* play with you just so you won’t have a fit. Although, I am trying to get better at letting them have their space from you. But you are my last baby; thus, I baby you. I’ll have to keep an eye on that.

You won’t wear anything with buttons. You’re not the greatest eater, although it’s more out of distraction than dislike of food. When you are hungry and focused, you will demolish a meal and have seconds. You are agile and active without being hyper, although you do sometimes bounce off the walls.

You are hard to put into one word. But you are fun and funny, and you are sweet, and you are my boy.

Happy birthday, my boy. And many, many more.

Love,
Mommy

The 4-year-old

Happy Birthday to Me!

Happy Birthday to Me!

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot

This morning, all three of my children had nutella toast.

Two of my three children bit their bread into the shape of guns, and shot me.

My boy said, “Mom, hands up.”

I put my hands up.

“Bang.”

“Michael,” I scolded. “You can’t shoot once someone puts their hands up.”

I can’t believe those words came out of my mouth this morning.

Seems like really basic stuff.

I don’t pretend to understand what white men with guns see when they see black boys. I am stunningly naive about racism. I really have to get over this. So I can talk about it with my children.

So that they don’t shoot when someone has their hands up.

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In lieu of me being able to do anything except cry, I’m sharing this with you.

A Mother’s White Privilege

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I posted this to my Facebook as well, prior to the grand jury decision in Ferguson:

As a mom who has struggles with this, I’m glad someone took the time to write this post.

What I want my children to know about being white in America

The other night, M and I were looking at a picture of something. There was a little African American girl in the image. “I don’t like brown girls,” M said. I was stunned.

We talked about it, as much as you can talk about this kind of thing with an almost 4-year-old.

“Brown children aren’t different than white children.” “Don’t you like Brandon? And your teacher Heavan?” Both “brown” people at M’s daycare. “It’s okay not to like a brown crayon. It’s not okay to not like brown people because they are brown.”

It was calm on both our parts. M agreed that he liked Heavan and Brandon. But, man. Start early. Don’t be colorblind. Color matters.

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And this is the song that happens in my head when this shit goes down.

I know no one cares about my opinion on this. But staying silent doesn’t work for me. Not about this.

An Unsolicited Review of Mockingjay: Part 1

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*No spoilers*

It must stink to be a movie critic.

A couple of the reviews I read about Mockingjay said similar things: “Jennifer Lawrence is good enough to elevate a bad movie.” “Katniss is a drama queen, but I guess she’s allowed to be.”

Do critics get to just enjoy movies? Do they get to be entertained just to be entertained? Or do the movies have to have deeper meaning? Do they have to be based on true stories, or have unlikable characters, or end badly in order to be deemed worthy of a critic’s praise?

I am not a movie critic. I am an unabashed fan of The Hunger Games books and movies. If you want to dismiss the books as YA, that’s fine. Likewise with the movies. You read and watch what you want to, and I’ll read and watch what I want to. Cool? Cool.

I was completely sucked into Mockingjay. Edge of my seat. Chills. Reacting to Katniss’s reactions. And I’ve read the books. I know what happens. And I am still utterly captivated by the films.

Each of the actors — not just Jennifer Lawrence — embodies his or her character. Josh Hutcherson is heartbreaking as a slowly falling apart Peeta. Liam Hemsworth plays the wounded, cynical Gale to a T. Julianne Moore is chilling as the ruthless President Coin.

And Elizabeth Banks. Holy cats, that woman can act. As the ineffable, ever-loyal Effie Trinket, she almost steals the movie from Lawrence as far as I’m concerned.

The movie is not a word-for-word adaptation of the book, but it does a heck of a good job at getting at the meat of the action. Lawrence, as Katniss, brings us a reluctant symbol of rebellion. Her first “propo” is a disaster — awkward, badly acted, completely lacking the conviction that President Coin and her allies want from Katniss.

The way Katniss moves from that passionless symbol to the embodiment of the Mockingjay is convincing, to me. The way her allies — Haymitch, Plutarch, Prim, Finnick — get her to assume the mantel that Coin is obviously so hungry for Katniss to take on… it may be a little better done in the movie, because it doesn’t all take place in Katniss’s head.

Suffice it to say I was completely, utterly captivated. So much so, that when I thought the movie ended, I dropped a hissed curse word into a silent theater.

Sorry about that.

Clearly I will be back for the final installment, secure in the knowledge that they can do it again. I’m buying my tee-shirt now.

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Random Thoughts: The Anywhere But Here Edition

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More than half-way through the week, and here’s some stuff that is going on.

1. I had two posts published this week. Neither of them here. They are over at a site curated by my friend Emily Levenson. Birth Diverse is “a sacred space for mothers and fathers to share their stories of how their little ones entered the world.”

Gabriel’s post was published Monday; Flora’s post was put up today.

When Emily had first contacted me, I asked if she wanted to hear about all four labors. She was game. It’s true, I didn’t write much about Gabriel’s labor, per se, but I still wanted his story to be part of my story-telling. His story will always be part of mine.

1b. Dear lord, the photos I found! That’s what labor looks like people. No makeup, no grooming, swollen with IV fluids. I mean, in the image with Flora, at least I’m not in a hospital gown. Look at her little wee face! You can see that she was sunny-side up if you examine her eyes and forehead closely. She had a bruise for the first week of her life.

2. I am naming my left hip Gertrude because it is acting like it’s 75 years old. After a two-week hiatus from regular exercise under orders from my chiropractor, I am testing Gertrude again to find out what she is capable of. I have to modify everything I was doing. No impact, limited range of motion, lighter weights. BUT, it’s mostly working. I worked out last night and while I’m sore today, I am not in pain. And that’s an important distinction.

3. I volunteered to be on the school advisory board at my girls’ school, and I am on the STEM committee of the board as well. When I was explaining to my MIL that I had to run back up to the school one evening (and I took the children with me), she quipped, “Why don’t you get a dog, too?” I know, MIL, I know.

Anyhoo, I’ve been working on curriculum questions for teachers and students. I put out a call on my social media streams about having people in STEM careers come speak at the school. I got a fast and enthusiastic response from many people in diverse fields! I’m currently working with the school to schedule a day or week of talks. Which is exciting! And time consuming.

Children doing experiments

image source

4. Yeah, mom and dad. I’m on the STEM committee of my school’s advisory board. You read that correctly.

5. Last night, the children and I went up to Barnes and Noble for the school’s family night. It was, for me, a little too chaotic. I wanted to watch Flora perform on her violin and with the chorus, and that did not work out at all for me. Kate and M were too eager to shop and too hungry to deal. I caught some of her violin concert on video, but NONE of her chorus performance.

Sorry, babe.

6. This morning was a clusterfuck and I was sincerely wishing for the week to be over. BUT, we are descending Everest now. Starting tomorrow I get to have some fun with friends, children, and Dan — at different times and in different combinations. And then next week is a three-day week.

7. Which reminds me: I need to do my Thanksgiving shopping this weekend. Guess I better figure out what I’m bringing to dinner! Probably something involving squash as I have about six at home from my CSA.

What are you bringing to the Thanksgiving table?

Becoming a Better Baker

Five years ago, if you had asked, I would’ve said that I was a good cook but not a good baker.

What I meant was that I was a confident cook and an insecure baker. Cooking, on top of the stove, or even baking casseroles or pasta dishes, I felt secure in my knowledge of putting together recipes. I wasn’t afraid to experiment or substitute ingredients; I wasn’t afraid to try new things. And after adopting new recipes, after one or two times, I was comfortable making it from memory.

On the other hand, if I was going to bake cookies or muffins, I would obsess over a recipe. I had to double check every step and every ingredient. How much sugar again? How much flour? Baking powder or baking soda? Or both? And how much? I hovered over the oven, worried about cooking something too long and burning it.

Over the years, though, and especially starting about two years ago, I started baking more. A lot more. Currently, I bake almost every weekend.

And I love it.

Part of loving it, of course, is the fact that I know what is going into the baked goods. I’m not a rabid whole-foods, clean-eating kinda mom, but it’s nice to be able to pronounce all the ingredients in the cookies I’m giving my children.

Another factor is cost: almost three dozen chocolate chip cookies are super cheap when I’m baking them from scratch. All they cost is time, and if I can manage that well (not always a given), I’d rather bake the cookies or brownies than buy a giant box of granola bars from Costco.

This is what I’ve learned over the past two years.

1. The formula for baked goods is pretty much the same: butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla; flour and baking soda. Sometimes baking powder, too. Then, just pick the flavor: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin? Applesauce muffins? Vanilla cupcakes with orange frosting; chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting?

2. Baking soda and baking powder are not interchangeable. I didn’t learn this the hard way, thank goodness, but I was curious at some point, so I looked it up.

3. Keeping a well-stocked baking pantry just takes some attention. Like I said, flour, sugar, vanilla, eggs, baking soda, baking powder. Baking chocolate or cocoa. Confectioner’s sugar for icing and frosting. A hand mixer is great to have.

4. Brown sugar gets rock hard. I haven’t tried this tip yet, but keeping a slice of white bread in a ziploc bag with the open sugar is supposed to keep that from happening. Otherwise, stick it in the microwave with a damp paper towel for a minute or so. It’ll soften up.

5. Butter cream frosting is stupid easy to make. So is whipped cream.

6. Shortbread cookies aren’t stupid easy, but they are probably the easiest cookies to make. Although I’m still working on making them look pretty.

7. Parchment paper.

8. Sometimes I bake with whole wheat flour. The key to this is to not use 100% whole wheat flour. It can be up to 50% of the flour used. After that, it makes things too dense.

I sent homemade chocolate chip cookies to school with Flora for her birthday on Tuesday, and man, I really felt like Super Mom. (It doesn’t take much, people.) She said that everyone really liked them.

I’ve even gotten to the point that I’m willing to experiment a little bit. One of my recent brownie experiments didn’t really work the way I wanted (although they did *taste* good), so I’m going to try version B this weekend.

I never would’ve done that five years ago.

image sourcechocchipcookies

What new skill have you developed over the past five years?

Double Digits

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Dearest Flora,

“Technically,” you said to me as sat on the edge of your bed to say goodnight last night, “I don’t turn 10 until 11:11 p.m.”

You are a precise 10-year-old, concerned about rules and propriety, correct information, facts.

You are independent, intelligent, and inquisitive. You read voraciously and ask questions endlessly. You also like quiet alone time, watching TV and playing on the DS, and making LPS videos. You make lots and lots of LPS videos. And you draw — no blank pad of paper is safe.

You get moody and irritated sometimes — Kate can still get under your skin like no other. You got cranky with me when I made you put on a nicer outfit for school today.

You are doing well in school, academically and socially. You love science and social studies. You have good friends whom you enjoy being with, and you are friendly to everyone. You asked to go back to violin after the summer off, and you joined chorus. You also played soccer again, and you are a good, tenacious defensive player — and you are *fast*.

Zombie Flora

Unless you are being a zombie. Then you drag one foot.

Aside from your inquisitiveness, my favorite thing about you is your goofy joy. You love showing me novelty tee-shirts. “Look, Mom!” you’ll say. “Be Alert. The world needs more lerts.”

And you will laugh and laugh.

Novelty Teeth and Little Brother

Novelty Teeth and Little Brother

Your biggest worry right now is puberty. You have a lot of questions about physical changes, one of the biggest being “WHY?” I’m glad we got The Care and Keeping of You, Part I, because it gave you all the information you wanted, and you came to me with any left over concerns.

Your biggest loves are “weird but true” books, LPS video shoots, Rhett and Link, and (new this year) Nancy Drew. Your biggest hates… well, I don’t know that you hate anything per se. You are not fond of math homework (too bad), noises your sister makes — ironic, since you walk around the house WHISTLING and you sing in the shower — or being told you have to do something. You are slowly adjusting to chores, which I give you credit for. It’s a big change!

All I can say is: stay true to you, my dear Flora. You are totally and completely fantastic. I love the person you are, and the person you are becoming.

Flora in glowstick glasses

My Goofball of Joy

Happy 10th birthday, rainbow baby.

Love,
Mom

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