Sunday, December 30, 2007

Life After Death

My grandmother has found eternal peace.

Apparently it was an easy passing, and since she had been completely incapacitated by the stroke and the broken hip, all of us are relieved that she didn't have to endure a long, drawn-out end.

As I was explaining to Miss Pink what was going on--my mom had called this morning before church--I said, "We're going to miss her, but now she's in a place where she can walk and talk with no pain, where she's with her husband and her parents and both of her sisters and Jesus and all of the people in the Bible..." and while I was talking I got an image of my grandmother sitting with all those people she loves around her, and it was a comforting thought, to know she would not choose to come back here even if she could. As C.S. Lewis said, the character in the Bible who most deserves our pity is Lazarus. Mamaw lived a long life, had a good death, and now she is with God. For a Christian, that sounds like the best possible place to be.

Oh, and I bet she plays the piano and makes the apostles sing hymns even if they don't feel like singing right that very moment. A word of advice to St. Peter and the gang: she can be very insistent; it's best just to give in.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Egg Doesn't Fall Far from the (Overdramatic) Chicken

Proof that Miss Pink is developing more sophisticated tastes than her simple family of origin?

"I can't eat these chicken nuggets. They taste...overcooked."

After I tasted them and determined that they did not in fact taste any different than nuggets usually do, she claimed that they left a bad taste in her mouth after she swallowed and that she should eat some sour gummy worms instead. Her parents did not agree and politely told her that it was up to her whether or not she ate her nuggets, but she would not get any candy until they were eaten.*

Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth followed. At one point in the drama she offered this insight into her emotions:

"I just...feel like a...ROTTEN EGG!"

Have you ever tried to disguise laughter at an inappropriate time as choking? Because I do it ALL THE TIME.

*Yes, I am aware of the irony at denying a child junk food until she eats her OTHER junk food. But at least nuggets have protein and it was ALL I HAD TO WORK WITH. Plus she had already eaten an orange. Thus endeth my parental justification.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Night

Here it is Christmas night--all the presents have been opened, an amazing amount of food has been eaten, and a wonderful nap was taken (by me). And now I should quit using the passive voice. All that to say: we are having a lovely time here in Louisiana with Justin's family. My kids are especially happy to play with their cousins (other kids are SO much more fun than boring old grownups who are always saying things like "Not now" or "Put that down.")

I hope you are all blessed, and happy, and enjoying your family. We will be returning home on Thursday, and that's always nice too.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Warning: you'll gain weight just reading this

In case you have some extra time this weekend for making holiday treats...[pausing here for you to laugh hysterically] here are a couple of excellent, EASY recipes. Or maybe you might not want to. I just ate three not-too-big pieces of the chocolate candy and I SWEAR my pants are already tighter. However, that has not stopped me from making plans to make more tomorrow.

Pine Bark
(aka Christmas Crack, because it's FREAKING ADDICTIVE)

Line a cookie sheet with foil and cover with a single layer of saltine crackers (1 sleeve will fit a 13 x 9 pan. Relax, anal people who must have everything JUST SO--there can be small gaps between crackers; it will be fine.)

In a small saucepan, melt together 2 sticks of butter (don't even THINK about using margarine!) and 1 c. brown sugar. Bring mixture to a boil and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour over crackers and spread with a spatula to edges of pan.

Bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with 2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips. After 1-2 minutes, they will be soft enough to spread with a spatula. Can be sprinkled with chopped pecans. Cool and place pan in fridge. When hardened, peel foil off the back and break apart. Keeps best in the fridge and tastes like crunchy toffee!

Almond Bark Candy
1 24-oz pkg. white-chocolate-flavored almond bark coating
1 1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 c. roasted salted peanuts
3 c. Rice Krispies
3 c. miniature marshmallows

Melt almond bark in large saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in the peanut butter. While it's melting, line cookie sheets with waxed paper. Add peanuts and Rice Krispies. Add marshmallows and remove from heat. Stir until mixed but marshmallows are NOT melted. Spoon by tablespoon onto waxed paper. Cool completely.

Tomorrow I'm going to bake these cookies that Beck posted on her recipe blog because I love M&M cookies and I've never made them. Every Christmas I try to make something new.

Brown Sugar Christmas Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup shortening (I know - nasty. But cookies hold their shape much better when part of the fat is shortening. Use Crisco vegetable shortening.)
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup red, green and white Christmas M&Ms
(1 c. chopped pecans, optional. I don't like pecans in cookies, so I'm omitting them.)

Preheat your oven to 375.
In a large mixing bowl beat butter and shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with mixer. Stir in any remaining flour, the pecans if desired and the chocolate bits with a wooden spoon.

Drop dough by teaspoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookies sheet. If desired, you can flatten them slightly with fingers. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. This recipe makes 60 cookies. I've never tried doubling it, but it shouldn't be a problem. Store them in an airtight container, with the layers separated by waxed paper.

P.S. Our party was fun even if it had to end early since it was on a weeknight. The top-secret pastries turned out fine (and yes, L, we will make the cherry bons again and you are invited). I learned that while I am not nearly precise enough to be a pastry chef, my husband could have a second career if he ever decides to stop building cabinets. At one point he had to roll a finicky dough out to a 12-inch circle and he measured it for fun--a 12 inch diameter exactly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pre-Christmas Jitters

Let the pre-Christmas freakout begin. I thought I was ahead of the game…until I started thinking about the party for our small group tomorrow night, for which we need to bake and cook and clean and I have to make a trip to the store because the ONE thing on my list that Wal-Mart did not have in stock was maraschino cherries. (Yes, they are essential to my husband’s favorite pastry, cherry bons, and I am not allowed to give out the recipe or the one for butterhorns because they are a family secret. Really. My mother-in-law made me swear not to.) And then there are the gift certificates, and the extra gift bags and wrapping paper we need, and we really have to unpack the gifts from the Amazon boxes and repackage them in as few boxes as possible to transport them to Louisiana. Plus I need to take the car for an inspection and oil change...and Miss Pink needs to be transported to my mom's house for sugar cookie decorating....

It’s really not all that bad. For one, I am not cooking anything for Christmas dinner except sweets. (Like I need those. The scale at the gym is lying to me—lying, I tell you! There is no way I’ve overeaten enough to have gained three pounds. We haven’t even done anything Christmasy yet. What am I going to weigh after the holidays? I DESPAIR.) Also, I just realized that movie gift certificates can be purchased anytime—even the DAY BEFORE WE GIVE THEM. It’s a Christmas miracle!

The butterhorns will be done tonight (plus at least one more sweet) and then tomorrow Justin will make the cherry bons and I will make the seafood casserole which contains a ridiculous amount of butter and cream cheese. And I will go to kickboxing on Thursday COME HELL OR HIGH WATER (or fudge).

If everything turns out yummy I will post the non-top-secret recipes here. Here’s hoping we can all fit back into our pants after next week.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WFMW: Controlling paper clutter

I have many faults as a housekeeper, but hoarding stuff is NOT one of them. I don’t like keeping piles of junk around. If I don’t use it or love it, or if I have more than one, out it goes to bless someone else. As FlyLady says, clutter can’t be organized!

But one type of clutter keeps piling up on me—literally! Paper clutter is so sneaky and when you leave a piece of paper by your computer or on your kitchen countertop, guess what? You’ve just started a pile.

Here are some ways I keep paper clutter to a minimum:

1) I sort the mail as soon as I get it. Bills and important letters go in the mail organizer in the kitchen; junk mail goes straight into the recycling can. I write info from invitations on the calendar and then toss them (same for handouts from school).

2) Our town doesn’t currently have curbside recycling, so I take our used paper and phone books to a green and yellow dumpster by my daughter’s school. I keep a trash can in the garage near the regular trash and one in the laundry room (because the laundry room is near the front door where I get the mail). When they’re full, I put them in the car and unload after I drop Miss Pink off for school. It makes me feel less guilty for the number of sheets of copy paper my kids go through weekly.

3) The hardest part is what to do with Miss Pink’s humongous pile of paperwork. She hates to throw away anything, but especially paper. I let her have one drawer in her bed to fill with current favorites (which she never looks at, but whatever) and when it gets full we have to go through and empty it by half. I cull through her school papers when she’s not looking, throw away all the everyday worksheets, choose the ones that will bring a tear to my eye and file them away, and allow her to choose the rest for her drawer. She’s learning to choose her favorites rather than treating the Target ad from two years ago as if it were just as good as her collage of pink items cut out of magazines.

That’s what works for me!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Happy Birthday, Jungle Princess

On Saturday Miss Pink had her 5th birthday party. She was quick to remind everyone that it was not her actual birthday, but just the day of her party (italics entirely hers).

She had a blast. We had the party at a bounce house place, which was worth every penny because the kids had plenty of room to run and play and because I didn't have to clean anything up afterward. It was a "Bindi the Jungle Girl" party because that is her favoritest favorite TV show ever right now. There was a cake--the decorator interpreted my vague description perfectly --that featured hippos in the water saying "Happy Birthday" while surrounded by jungle-y leaves and rainforest flowers. Why hippos? That's what the party catalog offered.

Here are some pictures. First, here she is doing some ballet moves in a bounce house. Check out the leopard print faux-fur trim on her new skirt. I'm not sure she is my daughter. I would never have worn that, even at her age.

Here she is with some of her BFFs, waiting to eat some cake.
Here's my dad holding Mr. Blue, who's tolerating being held because he loves his Papa, but who is ready to JUMP SOME MORE ALREADY.

Here I am with my brother, who hates having his picture taken but graciously consented to do so just for me. Ladies, he's single! (He is so going to hate me for pimping him out to the Internet as a whole, but since all my readers are married women, no harm done. However, if you know a nice girl, email me! lol)
Everyone enjoyed the cake, especially me as you can see here. (God, what a dork. Or was the dork my husband, who took this picture? Still, here I am dorkily publishing it here for you to see! Enjoy! The cake was really good, though.)

Just to prove my husband was there (besides the evidence of embarrassing pictures of me), here we are:
He says the light reflecting off his head could blind someone. Haha! Revenge is mine!

It was a fun party, and Miss Pink loved all her gifts and remembered to thank everyone with minimal reminding. My first baby is now five (or will be tomorrow, on her actual birthday.) I couldn't imagine my life without her, this sweet mercurial quicksilver child who darted into our lives and made us a family. Happy birthday, sugarbear. May your wildest wishes come true.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Maybe someone should get me a Sephora gift card for Christmas

Miss Pink, upon seeing my freshly-moisturized but makeup-free face this morning: "Mommy the red-nosed reindeer..."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Santa's Little Helper

I almost have all the Christmas shopping done. It seems there are two types of people: those who have their shopping done by the first week of December, and those who DON’T. I am one of the Don’ts even though I have always dreamed of being Efficient and Organized enough to get it all done early so I can sit back and enjoy the rest of the holidays sipping a cup of hot chocolate and staring into my husband’s eyes in front of a roaring fire while the children whack each other with the tent poles from one of last year’s presents, a Disney princess tent.

Sorry, reality intruded into that last fantasy. But, you know, me being super-organized and on top of things is about as likely as an uninterrupted evening of cocoa-sipping.

Part of the problem is that Miss Pink’s birthday is next week. So there’s been a party to plan and pay for, and somehow I don’t want to start wrapping Christmas presents until the birthday festivities have ended.

The other problem is: when the heck do I shop for these toys? These children, THEY ARE WITH ME ALWAYS. If I leave them at home with their father, there is wailing and gnashing of teeth (even though if I’m home when they are playing with him, I’m completely ignored except to refill sippy cups). Plus, let’s just be honest, if I have an hour or two to shop, there are places I’d rather be than Toys “Stupid Backward R” Us. I had nightmare visions about having to schlep across town to multiple locations if certain toys were not in stock.

So I turned to the Internet for help. Specifically, to Lo and behold, the toys I was looking for were ALL available, plus a couple more things for the nieces. And they were eligible for free Super Saver Shipping! I could do all my Christmas shopping without setting foot outside my house.

I swear I heard angels singing. [wipes away tear of joy]

In the end, I didn’t go with the free shipping, because I am a pessimist who just read on someone’s blog about Amazon delaying her freely-shipped order until after the recipient’s birthday. I paid $20 shipping, and I am fine with that. I will pay $20 not to go anywhere near a mall parking lot. Today I learned that the order has already shipped. Yippee!

Of course, I still have to pick up a gift certificate and take Miss Pink to pick out gifts for her cousins. Then my sister-in-law called me today and said they want to exchange gifts among the adults after all (way to procrastinate, family.) Two more gifts, check. Plus these certain slippers my husband wants to get his mom—which, yes, I can delegate, but I will still have to remind him. THEN I can get on with the baking and wrapping and packing and visiting Santa and all the other stuff.

So I’m not done with my Christmas shopping—not even that close, actually—but better off than I was this time last week.

I’ll take it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

right now

color: chocolate brown

music: The Very Best of Diana Krall

author: Haven Kimmel

magazine: The New Yorker

movie: last seen: Enchanted

TV show: Heroes, first season

web site: The Pioneer Woman. She has amazing talent with words and photos. Plus, she’s hilarious.

drink: Coke Zero

meal: spaghetti and meatballs

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

WFMW: Tomato paste on demand

If you’re like me, you hate having to open a can of tomato paste for the one tablespoon called for in almost any recipe that uses it. What happens to the rest of the tomato paste? Either I put it in a container in the fridge, where it just sits unused—because how often do I need tomato paste? Certainly not more than once or twice a month—or else I have to throw it away. An entire can, wasted! This is one of the few ways I am frugal—fretting over a 40-cent can of tomato paste. The irony is that I often forget to buy it in the first place, leaving me without an important spaghetti-sauce ingredient. (At least, I guess it’s important. Let’s assume it is, okay?)

Here’s what I do now. After I add the paste to my recipe, I line a cookie sheet with waxed paper and put tablespoons of paste onto the sheet. I pop it into the freezer and by the time dinner is over, it has become little frozen blobs of tomato paste. I then put these into a freezer bag, which stays in the freezer until the next time I need a single tablespoonful. Put it frozen into the pot; it will melt and do its job in the recipe.

Or, I suppose you could buy tomato paste in a tube and forget about it. Still, this works for me!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Recap of Thanksgiving Yumfest

We're back. Well, we've actually been back since Friday night, but we weren't really back into the routine of things since it was a weekend. You know how Mondays are the hardest day of the week as far as motivation goes, the Monday after a holiday is even worse, and the routine is shot to pieces after you travel with kids? Yesterday combined all of those things. While grocery shopping, I considered giving the kids away for free, but doubted there would be any takers. Yeesh. I remembered why I usually wait to get groceries when Justin is home, but since there was very little to eat in the house, including no cereal (and three members of our household can't live without cereal), we had to go.

Today has been much better, since Miss Pink was super excited to get back to school and Mr. Blue had a good old time with his playgroup buddies.

We had a lovely Thanksgiving, though. Every year, I hear about the menu in advance and feel concerned that there might not be enough food. Especially desserts. One can never have too many desserts at a holiday meal, is my considered opinion. Fortunately, my mom and aunt always make extra so there is always more than the original plan.

Our menu was: turkey breast perfectly seasoned by my wonderful brother; honey-mustard glazed pork loin roast; dressing; gravy; candied yams; creamed corn; green beans almondine; roasted potatoes (new, but we all agreed they made a nice change from mashed); bread; and a relish tray that I skip except for the deviled eggs, because really? I'm not using up valuable stomach space for raw tomatoes. Desserts were pecan and pumpkin pies, pumpkin spice cake, oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, coconut cake, Dreamsicle cake (orange-flavored), fudge ripple cake. I think that's all. You know, I'm making myself hungry. I only had leftovers for one meal, after all, and now I'm thinking that might have been a mistake.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Language Explosion Alert: Proceed at Your Own Risk

We’re in the middle of a language explosion around here. Mr. Blue’s vocabulary is expanding--seemingly like the universe, at an ever-increasing rate. At night Justin and I recount the things the words he’s spoken for the first time: “He said ‘medicine,’ didn’t he?” “Well, actually it was more like ‘medsih,’ but yeah.” He says simple sentences now, like “I walk stairs,” or “Mamaw go bye-bye.” With each addition to his vocabulary, my heart swells with pride, like he’s the first kid who ever learned to talk. Now the words are coming out so fast, I find myself thinking, “When did he learn to say that?”

Like every kid, though, he has his own unique names for some things. He calls his toothbrush his “Nemo,” even though he has no idea that’s what the decorative fish on it is named. The blanket he sleeps with is, inexplicably, an “otay.” Anything heart-shaped is a “vah-vah,” and until this week he called a light that can be switched on a “dawdaw.” Monday night Justin told me Mr. Blue said “light” instead, as he turned off the one in his room. (It seems so strange that we can pin down the exact day he started calling it a light.) I felt the pang that I’m already familiar with from Miss Pink’s toddler years. You know they have to learn the real word, but the nonsense one is so cute, you hate to see it go.

Mostly, though, I’m happy to be able to communicate with him the way I communicate best—with words. Of course I loved my children's first few months, but sometimes it was frustrating that the screaming bundle couldn’t just tell me what she or he wanted (and I’d have to haul my shirt up and see if that was it. Again.) Plus, I like newborns best when they aren’t doing anything; if they’re calm and still, it’s a good thing. Any communication from a tiny infant is an urgent call to action. Now Mr. Blue can run around pointing at things, identifying them, and having a conversation with me. “Oh! Pane! [pointing at sky]. Bird. Fower. Want swing, Mama. Where juice? Tank oo. Oh, poopy” (not always accurate, but still helpful).

Then I chase him down (not an easy task), hold him tight, and whisper, “Stay like this. Stay just like this, and don’t ever change.”


Monday, November 12, 2007

Family Heirlooms

Justin’s back (insert huge sigh of relief here). The kids were ecstatic to see him—they rough and tumbled for an hour or so last night, once we were back at our house.

What I didn’t know was that he brought home his late uncle’s prized 1930 Ford Model A. I already knew he was planning to buy it from his aunt. After Uncle Ronald died, Aunt Melba planned to sell it because their son didn’t want it. When Justin told her he’d like to buy it, she was thrilled to keep it in the family. I didn’t mind because we don’t have to start paying her right away; most likely he’ll pay her when he can take company profits.

Very similar to this one on Wikipedia except that the wheels on ours aren't red.

It’s a really cool old car. Everything is original, except the engine has been replaced, but with a refurbished old one that has 2000 miles on it. (And I suppose the tires have been replaced!) Also Uncle R added a starter and an air conditioner, but they are made to look old. The interior is spotless, the original tan mohair. Chloe loved getting up in the rumble seat. I think my favorite part is the rationing sticker from WWII on the windshield. It’s like owning a piece of American history and a family heirloom. As Justin told Aunt Melba, he and his dad didn’t share anything like that to work on, so it’s something he’d like to have from his uncle (they did work on cars together when he was young.) And then Juck’s mom gave him a derby hat of his dad’s that he’d seen his dad wear all of his life. It really goes with the car. Maybe next year for Halloween we can go as a gangster and his moll. Something about old cars makes me want to get into costume.

Also, Justin’s mom gave him his dad’s wedding ring. Justin wants to wear it sometimes, which is fine with me as long as he doesn’t wear it all the time since it isn’t the one I gave him. (He lost his wedding band four years or so ago. He can’t wear one when operating a saw, so he never really got used to wearing it; he used to take it off and play with it constantly.) I don’t know why I don’t want him to wear his dad’s ring 100% of the time, since I’ve never really minded that he doesn’t wear a ring at all. If it had been handed down to be his wedding ring, I think I’d feel differently. Last night we talked about the possibility of him wearing it on his right hand, but he thought that meant he was divorced, and the Internet said that might be right, or that he was a widower, or a bunch of other possibilities, none of which conveyed the meaning we were going for. I didn't want him to be communicating that he's not married, although not wearing a wedding band at all hasn’t seemed to be hazardous to our marriage. (I don’t understand why you’d keep wearing a wedding ring at all if you were divorced. Why remind yourself?) Anyway, I’m glad he has something to remember his father by.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

No Way It's Gourmet

Sometimes I don't know why I even try to cook yummy, healthy meals. I make things like chicken fajitas with homemade guacamole, spaghetti and meatballs, lemon shrimp and rice, sausage-corn chowder...and other things that I would consider reasonably kid-friendly and easy to get on the table without much prep time. Most nights, we have to make our kids eat a minimum helping of each food.

Guess what my kids ate last night willingly and asked for seconds. They were eating like it was going out of style.

Microwaved chicken fingers and green peas.


A discriminating palate is not something that is developed overnight.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

If You Didn't Think I Was Crazy Before...

My husband is gone and I feel much better.

Wait, let me rephrase that. I feel much better than I did yesterday even though my husband has gone out of town. Yesterday and last night and this morning I was a nervous wreck.

His trip to Louisiana wasn’t really the reason I was choking on a huge wad of anxiety. No, he’s gone on trips before and I’ve handled it fine ever since I started participating in the medicating of our society. I was all, “Bye honey, come back soon!” But this newfound independence was really because nothing made me anxious. Things that once would have had me huddled in the corner hugging my knees into my chest and whispering, “I want my mommy,” after I said yes to drugs, caused me to say (and mean) things like, “It will all work out okay.” And then stop in disbelief because did that just come out of my mouth? Am I an optimistic person now?

And I liked it. I really, really liked how I felt—normal! Maybe for the first time in my life!—and as far as I was concerned, you’d have to pry my pill bottle from my cold dead hands.

So things in Casa Hairlinefracture were going along swimmingly, when my loving husband gave me the gift of permanent b!rth c*ntr0l (I’m thinking I might get spam if I spell that correctly.) So anyway, the time came for me to stop taking what I was taking, and I did…and I felt a little weird but not too bad, until this week, when—oh my God, I had sleeping problems and anxiety and buckets of tears and the desire to lock myself up in a cabin in the woods. Just like when I was first diagnosed, which terrified me. Because if I know one thing, I know I never want to go back to that bad place in my mind ever again. Never ever ever.

My doctor said he’d up my dose of Anti-D’s if things didn’t improve and until then to use the medicine that helps me calm down enough to sleep if I need to. Other than that, you’re fine! Thanks for the copay!

I didn’t feel fine. I knew what he was saying was right—he didn’t need to change anything based on one day of anxiety after months of tranquility—but I would’ve liked a little more sympathy.

Which I got from my sweet friends and my husband. I tried hard to stay rational—thanking God that I was at least not curled in the fetal position with my mouth in a silent scream—and formulate a plan.

I called my OB-GYN’s office today and asked for their perspective. “So, when your patients have a really tough time when they go off the pill, what do you suggest?

“Putting you back on it,” she said.* That way I don’t have to change my other medication yet, she explained. If the sudden drop in hormones affects me badly, it’s better to be on the pill to control it. Plus she was very nice and sympathetic. Hooray for good nurses!

So there is a plan. It may not be perfect, but now I am not anxious, and that is definitely a good thing. Even with my husband out of town, I feel more like the optimistic person I’d started to become. I like that girl. I want her to stick around.

*If anyone points out to my husband that he underwent a surgery that many men fear just so I could go back on synthetic hormones, I will HUNT YOU DOWN and KILL YOU. Because happy pills or not, I would not be a good woman to live with if there was any kind of chance that I might get pregnant again. Right now the poor man just wants me to do whatever will make me feel better again.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Just (Don't) Do It

I was a leeetle depressed today. All day long the bad mood persisted, like that little black cloud over the head of a cartoon character. I kept trying to do things to make myself feel better (going to the gym; eating leftover Halloween candy, but not too much, because that would just make me feel worse; taking a nap; washing my disgusting oily hair) but none of it really worked.

I knew what was bothering me: it was this article. In it a professor lays out all the reasons not to go to grad school. All of which I have known in my heart were true, which explains why I haven’t gone back yet. But last week I was driving along sans kids—they were with my parents—and a thought popped into my head: When Liam goes to preschool I could finish my degree. And it made me happy. Because: now I have a purpose in life! I could read books and talk about them, which is pretty much all I want to do in life, except to get as much sleep as possible.

However. There are compelling reasons not to go to graduate school in the humanities, both practical and personal. The best practical reason is that there aren’t enough jobs. “Last year, the total number of advertised jobs in English dropped from 983 to 792, and only about half of those jobs are on the tenure track. Remember that the 977 doctorates produced in 2000-2001 will have to compete with hundreds of job-seekers from previous years, to say nothing of all the adjunct faculty members who are looking for full-time, tenure-track work.”

And those are Ph.D.’s, people! I have no intention of spending years slaving over a dissertation and then end up with no job. If Ph.D.’s can’t get a good job, where do you think that leaves someone with a lowly master’s? Um-hmm. Talk about throwing money away. We’re doing better financially, but not that well.

But, you know what? I’d still do it if it was what I really wanted to do. Today I was pouty, like the Mean Professor Guy had taken my candy away. (Sadly, it is still here, in a humongous bowl on top of the refrigerator, and I wish someone would take it away. [Okay, technically it’s the kids’ candy. Details.]) I took this to mean that I did really want to go back to school and it was just Unfair of someone to be so Rational with me that I couldn’t argue back. Except that wasn’t what it was about.

At one point late in the afternoon I realized something. I said to myself, “You just want to go back so you can write papers and get grades. You want validation. You want to be able to say you are Doing Something, you are not just a stay-at-home mom. That’s why you want to go back.” (Yes, I know I am strange for talking to myself. I do it all the time, though.)

And what I told myself was correct, I think. Because I don’t want to go back to school to teach, even to teach college students (although that would be better than teaching anything else.) Here’s where I say what you’re not supposed to say, because it’s Impractical and Impossible and a Pipe Dream: I want to write. Not just a blog that three people read (although thank you for reading and commenting, I do appreciate it); not just Bible studies for the church, although I love those too. I want to write for a living, and whether that means fiction or freelance writing or some combination, that’s what I want to do. When our pastor was teaching on the Biblical meaning of “vision,” he asked us to look at where our passion and our talents intersected. All signs kept pointing to “Write,” over and over, every time I thought about it. It was kind of like God was poking me in the forehead: “How many times do I have to tell you, silly girl?”

The thing of it is, if I go back to school to get a fine arts degree with an emphasis on creative writing, guess what I’m eventually going to have to do. That’s right, write a novel or a bunch of stories. Guess what I can do when the kids go to school, and not even have to pay a university for. Guess what I’m scared to try to do, but you know what? I’m going to do it. I have a purpose, and it may not seem like much, and it doesn’t pay well at all, but it’s time to stop putting it off.

Or at least it will be time next year. God, I obsess about things way before it becomes necessary, don’t I?

But I do feel better about the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

WFMW: Library Elf

This is my first Works for Me Wednesday, in which I share something that...well, works for me to make life a little easier. I've enjoyed reading others' posts on previous weeks and have picked up some clever tips, so I thought I'd participate.

I never used to have problems turning my library books in on time, or renewing them as the case might be. Until I had kids (well, one child who checks books out) and then I lost the ability to remember since we go once a week and that means the books are due on different dates. We have stacks of books and the due date cards always seem to get lost. I did have an online account, but if I forgot to check it…you can guess what would happen. Those library fines can really add up (especially the $1 per day for movies!)

Then I took the advice of the librarian and went to Library Elf. If your library is connected to their site, they will email you a few days before your books are due (they are affiliated with libraries all over the US and Canada, and some international ones as well). You can see what books you have checked out (I count to make sure in case one is hiding under the couch) and connect to your library’s database to renew. They will also email you when you have a hold ready, if you use interlibrary loan like I do.

I don’t think we’ve had one overdue book since using Library Elf. And that works for me!

For more Works for Me Wednesday tips, head over to Shannon's site Rocks In My Dryer.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Random Bits

There is a new book review here. It's time for me to write another one and I'm not sure what to write about this time. Such creativity I have.

Mr. Blue is in that amazing state of toddlerhood where new words pop out of his mouth all the time, at the rate of two or three per day. Some of his favorites are "root beer" (which actually sounds nothing like root beer, but I understand him), "balloon," "Booya!" and "mine," (which sounds exactly like mine, and which he says about as often as you'd expect.) He can have conversations with you now, as long as you want to talk about cereal, a ball, blocks, a puppy--basically anything he wants to call "mine."

My favorite thing he says? When I've been gone and he runs into the kitchen to see me, stops abruptly, and says in his deep voice, "Hi Mama."

Miss Pink is learning to read simple words (as opposed to memorizing books and using context clues like pictures to guess the words, which she's been doing for a while now.) It thrills me to hear her sound out words and see how excited and proud she is for herself. I don't actually remember learning to read, so this is a lot of fun for me. I've always been careful not to push her--early reading doesn't actually predict future school success--but right now I can honestly say that my children love books and being read to, and that is something I'm very proud of.

Okay, I will stop bragging now.

It is bothering me, how much candy corn I can eat, even when I don't actually want any more. I didn't even like the stuff as a kid, and's addictive. And please tell me you eat it one color at a time!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Somebody's Got My Number

My son is very observant for a toddler. Case in point: last night while a commercial was on, he studied the woman with long brown hair sighing ecstatically while savoring her Dove chocolate.

Then he pointed at me and said plainly: "Mama chocklik."

Does the kid know me or what?

Monday, October 15, 2007


My father is in his hometown, visiting my grandmother, who is in the hospital after a massive stroke.

My grandmother is 89. My grandfather died about a year and a half ago. I knew she would go downhill fast after we lost him. It’s strange, because they seemed so old to me when I was a child, and for years after that they seemed exactly the same. Only in the last few years—since I became a parent, I realize as I’m writing this—they got noticeably slower and feebler, but they still managed to take care of themselves. Until they couldn’t take care of him, and now it looks like she can’t be independent any more, either.

Independence is a trait I associate with both of them. (Along with neatness and stubbornness.) Taking that away is like taking away the person I know.

My relationship with my grandmother is not a typical grandmother-granddaughter relationship. She is just not a grandmotherly type. (I don’t remember her ever cuddling with me or holding me on her lap, for example.) The most typical grandma-type thing she does is to try to convince you to eat more. It was always tempting, since she and my grandfather were both excellent cooks.

She loves to argue, to analyze, to settle the issue, to win. My father says she could argue with a fencepost. If she were a young woman today, she would probably become a lawyer. She would have been good at it. Nothing gets past her. I am guessing, but it seems that from a young age she burned with ambition to get an education, to be somebody more than a country bumpkin. She has a lot of pride. Since she was a young woman—a religious young woman—in the 1930s, she didn’t go to the big city to make her mark. She became a schoolteacher, married a man who was a country preacher like her father, started a family, and later held a county office which I can’t remember the name of, a job she loved and resented leaving when her husband took a church in a bigger town. She must have felt stifled and thwarted. All that ambition and energy tied up in being a homemaker and a pastor’s wife. It’s a wonder any of the people she bent her will on survived.

But they did. My father and my uncle became successful in their professions. They did not disappoint her or become estranged from her. They love her but in a different way than they loved their father. I love her the same way. I admire her, respect her for her goodness—for she is a good woman—but she is not restful. As I said to my mother today, my grandmother is complicated.

My grandmother’s story is one I will never fully understand. Not least because she is determined not to look at the past or herself in any way that would conflict with the way she has decided things have to be.

I’ve never forgotten that when I was reading The Grapes of Wrath for the first time, she railed against the “immorality” in the book and the way the preacher was portrayed. “It was lies, all lies,” she complained. And I’ve never forgotten the way my father, by asking seemingly innocuous questions, extracted the truth from her: that her own family had lived like the Joads, as migrant farm workers who picked fruit and slept in empty chicken coops, and that her shame about these things was the real source of her indignation about the book. She disliked it not because Steinbeck had lied about the Dust Bowl experience, but because he had told the truth and she couldn’t admit it to herself.

At this point in the relationship, I can’t grieve what I didn’t have from my grandmother. I suppose in some ways I am more like her than I want to admit. (It was a revelation to me when my dad told me during my postpartum depression that my grandmother had had panic attacks for several years and took Valium during that time.) She did not have the resources that I have. She did the best she could—she took being a parent seriously, she believed that what she taught her children would impact them for eternity. Her world was black and white and she lived accordingly.

And now my prayer is that she will find peace, if not in this life, then in the next.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I Just Can't Resist Those Darn Book Memes

I got this from Mary.

The below listed books are the top 106 books most often marked as being “unread” by LibraryThing users.

The instructions are simple:
Bold those you’ve read.
Italicize books you have started but couldn’t finish.
Add an asterisk* to those you have read more than once.
Underline those on your TBR list.
Like Mary, I used two asterisks for those I’m sure I’ve read three times or more.
And because I can't do anything without commenting, I commented in parentheses here and there.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment (will try again when I have a little more time, like when my children are in school or maybe when I'm 80)
Catch-22 (I have no idea why I have never read this; it's on all the classics lists but doesn't appeal to me at all)
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights*
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: A Novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick (I REFUSE to even try)
Ulysses (once was enough, thanks)
Madame Bovary*
The Odyssey*
Pride and Prejudice**
Jane Eyre**
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies
War and Peace* (seriously, I read it twice when I was in high school)
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveller’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin**
The Kite Runner (if you've read this, do you recommend it?)
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged (never read Ayn Rand either. The characters sound so self-important!)
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (I know it's beloved by many, but it bored me silly)
The Canterbury Tales (read excerpts, not the whole thing)
The Historian
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (I want to reread it)
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
Middlemarch (thought about doing a master's thesis on this; thankful I didn't)
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange (I'm intending to read this, but it sounds hard to understand)
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King**
The Grapes of Wrath*
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility**
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park*
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Hardy is SOOOOO depressing. Ick.)
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections*
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time*
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury*
Angela’s Ashes*
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-Present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (read it in college, can't even remember what it's about)
The Scarlet Letter (just read, finally)
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon* (I might have read this more than twice in my Arthurian obsession)
Oryx and Crake
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey (unlike the rest of Austen, have only read once)
The Catcher in the Rye**
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Aeneid
Watership Down*
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit**
In Cold Blood
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers (I read an abridged kids' version; does that count?)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Battle of the Nerds

I may have to turn in my nerd card.

Because: my husband beat me at computer Scrabble last night.

People. This is HUGE. We both went into it thinking that I had a substantial advantage, since I am the English teacher, avid reader, and all around word nerd. So when he had sat there for fifteen minutes pondering the screen, I kindly pointed out to him the word "BENCH." Because otherwise the game would have taken seventeen hours, and I don't have that kind of time.

That put him up 16 points and he never looked back.

How did he win? Well, on the computer version we downloaded from Yahoo! Games, there is an official Scrabble dictionary that lets you test words to see if they are acceptable. My sweet darling would start typing random letters that didn't even sound like words, as long as they contained the most high-scoring letters. And lo and behold, some of them WERE words. In other languages.

That's how he came up with "QOPH." 26 points or something close to it.

It's a letter in the Hebrew alphabet, if you were wondering. (The one person who is still reading. I mean, Scrabble? Who freaking cares, right?)

I don't want to play that way, because I get bored typing all possible combinations of my tiles in AND because it should be against the rules. You couldn't do that with regular Scrabble!

Don't even get me started on the Hint feature. It gives you the letters you need to make crazy-high scores and all you have to do is figure out the word with the computer's help. (GAZABO was 41 points. GAZEBO I know, GAZABO just sounds WRONG.)

He's not allowed to use the Hint anymore. I almost caught up with him using only my amazing brain so next time I may have to play it his way just to keep my superior nerd status intact.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment to play against the computer.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

My One Recurring Dream

I have a rule about dreams, which is: do not discuss them. No one cares what nonsensical thing you dreamed. (The corollary to this rule is: do not use them in a short story. Just don’t.) Of course, I violate this rule all the time, but only with my husband, and only if I dreamed something really weird. But I have to write about this, because I don’t understand why I am having a particular recurring dream. Maybe someone reading this will understand me better than I understand myself (it could happen!)

In these dreams I am younger than I am now, and unmarried. But I want to get married. I want to find someone, fall in love with him, and spend the rest of my life with him. I am always, in the dream, desperately worried that this will not happen and I will end up dying alone and no one will notice. Usually there is some guy (either fictitious or someone from my past) who is a possibility, but there is always some obstacle preventing us from getting together. I always wake up without having “caught” the guy, and for a few seconds I feel completely bummed, until I realize that there is a man lying next to me with whom I have already fallen in love, married, and had babies with. An enormous sense of relief follows. Then I wake Justin up and inform him that he is not allowed to divorce me or die, so that I will never have to date again. (Just kidding, I would never wake him up to tell him that, but he knows how I feel about this.)

Why in heaven’s name would I be so agitated in a dream about finding a love I already have? I don’t think I have conveyed the depth of the anxiety I feel during these dreams. They certainly aren’t pleasant fantasies that explore the idea of “what might have happened if I hadn’t met Justin, would I have ended up with that guy?” No--in fact, I’m not even that interested in the “dream guy” for himself; it’s more like he’s a security blanket for me to say “I’m married.” Is that what I secretly think of marriage? I don’t think so—of course there’s the added benefit of never having to find a date for any event, but marriage is so much more than that for me. I do love spending time with my husband—he’s my best friend, and sometimes we still can’t stop talking after we turn the lights out even though we know we need to get some sleep—but I value my time alone, too. Still, I guess there’s a big difference between being alone and being alone.
And I guess on some level I’m afraid of being alone.

See, I didn’t mean to get all serious with this idea. It was supposed to be more of a “look how crazy my brain is” post. And to prove I can write a post that's not about my kids. Who knew I would end up blubbering about my “abandonment issues” or whatever.

Sorry about that.

In the end, I guess what matters is that I wake up happy to be in my life instead of the one my brain has conjured up while I sleep. I’m happy with the man I chose. I’m happy he’s the one who tells me, “I’m here. You’re not alone.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Dorks Need Love Too

My daughter has a little notebook with a picture of Tinkerbell on it in which she has decided to write the wisdom she has gathered in her four years of living, written in her shaky preschool printing (with a little spelling help when requested).


Some reflect her religious training: "i LOVE jESUS"; "THE LORD IS A SPECIAL HEART."

Some make her sound more like the Buddha: "LOVE ALL THINGS"; "EVERYTHING IS A WORLD."

There are Oprah-esque affirmations: "YOU CAN BE WHAT EVER YOU WANT"; "YOUR BODY IS BEAUTIFL"; "THINGS cAN BE AS GOOD AS YOU tHOUGHT" (has she been reading The Secret?)

But the absolute best one is near the beginning. It says simply: "DOORK LOVE."

She read it to me while I was brushing my teeth and asked me, "Mommy, what's a dork?"

I didn't want her to use it as an insult on the playground, so I told her it was somebody who acted silly all the time.

"Like Daddy!" she confidently proclaimed. I choked on my toothpaste; she didn't understand why I was laughing.

He may be a dork, but I am certainly a dork too, so together we do have DOORK LOVE 4-EVER.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Banned Books Week

Sickness update: It wasn't poison ivy. It was hives caused by the fever she had. We realized this when the red welps would disappear after Benadryl and others would show up in different places on her body. I was afraid she had developed some horrible allergy, but the nurse knew right away what it was. Luckily both kids are fine now.
Sept. 29-Oct. 6 is Banned Books Week. According to the American Library Association, at least 42 of the Columbia Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the targets of challenges or bans. If these attacks had been successful, the top twenty-five of the list would've looked much different. (Challenged/banned books are italicized.)

1. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, James Joyce
7. Beloved, Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, William Golding
9. 1984, George Orwell
10. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
11. Lolita, Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
13. Charlotte's Web, E.B. White
14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
15. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
21. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
22. Winnie-the-Pooh, AA Milne
23. Their Eyes were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison

Trying to imagine the world without the italicized books on this list is, for me, like trying to imagine the sky without the sun. Yes, I know these books contain material that requires maturity to understand, but none of them are full of gratuituous sex, violence, and exploitation --they are works of art that grapple with the ugly, as well as the beautiful, parts of human nature. I don't want my ten-year-old reading Lolita. But neither do I want it unavailable for others to read and discuss.

Most of the books that are challenged right now seem to be books written for children or teens. Some of them deal with death or sex. And we as parents may not feel comfortable with the perspective found in some of these books. (As a Christian, I probably wouldn't let my child read Curses, Hexes, and Spells, for example, but would have no problem with Harry Potter.) But guess what? It's MY responsibility to be familiar with what my child brings home from the library or is reading for school. It's my responsibility to read the book for myself before I hit the ceiling (I mention this because of some friends I have who are totally anti-Harry but who've never cracked the cover of the books). It's my responsibility to decide if I should tell my child to save this book until she's older, or if a discussion is all that's needed to mitigate the book's values with my own.

As Judy Blume, author of many of the controversial books for teens, said, “[I]t's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”

I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it. Freedom of speech is a right I hold sacred.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fear This

I was writing a long post about how I have cleaned out the closets this week and I had not yet faced the facts about how boring it was when Miss Pink ran in complaining of itching on her arms and legs. She had an alarming-looking rash forming so I called the doctor's office and told them I think it's poison ivy since she noticed the itching after she came inside from recess. They confirmed that I need to give her Benadryl, use cortisone cream, etc. etc. I got her comfortable watching cartoons and then Mr. Blue woke up. He had a fever and threw up twice in the next hour.

Both of them fell asleep on my bed before dinnertime. Miss P woke up with a fever as well, which I think must be unrelated to the poison ivy, which means she has the same bug Mr. B has, unless she has Fifth Disease, but the treatment is the same--Benadryl blah blah blah --oh the running commentary a mother has in her head when her children have even the most minor of illnesses.

Now they are both awake but still feeling crummy and I am a little afraid of what the night will bring.

Edited to add: He has thrown up two more times. Yay. You know your life has irrevocably changed when your kid throws up all over you and you think, Good, at least I don't have to clean the couch.

She definitely got into poison ivy. When she asked me what poison ivy is, I said it was a plant with three leaves and she said, "Oh, so it was the green one in that tree by the playhouse [at her school]!" She is always picking flowers and leaves so I guess this had to happen.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Why I Am Sending A Movie Back to Netflix Unwatched

Normally I would not send the movie back unwatched. We paid for it, we should watch it! But we can't get another movie until we send this one (The Departed) back, and I just don't think we are going to watch a 2 hour and 31 minute movie. That would mean we would have to stay up past midnight (GASP!) No. Not worth it. If I'm going to watch a movie that long, it had better be the Lord of the Freaking Rings (the original working title, I hear). Sorry, Mr. Scorcese.

I think I am going to start ordering episodes of TV shows I am interested in but didn't get to watch, like Heroes and Psych.

Next in the queue: Looney Tunes Golden Collection, v. 2. You can't go wrong with Bugs Bunny.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

To Quit or Not to Quit, That Is the Question

The other day I said to myself: why not give up The Dream of writing fiction? Why do you want to do it anyway? (I was speaking to myself in a pretty mean tone of voice.)

Because I like to read good books, I said timidly, and I would like to give a good book to someone who would like to read it.

But you don’t love writing fiction enough to do it every day, Mean Me said. If you did nothing would stop you.

Sad Sack Me said: But I still want to. I do take a stab at it every few months. I write other stuff in the meantime, to keep my hand in. And when Mr. Blue’s in preschool…

There’ll be other excuses then. Besides, what great difference would another middlebrow novel make in the world? Not that I’m saying you should quit writing completely. You can keep the blog, and the lessons you write for the church (judging from what people tell you) help more people than a novel ever would. You’re just making yourself dissatisfied if you think success = publishing a book.

I don’t, Sad Sack Me protested. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to be published. It was cool to get a story published in a Real Literary Journal (even if my pay was 1 copy of the magazine). But mainly I want to do this hard thing, to make up stories to get at a deeper truth about the most complicated of things: human beings. I’ve always wanted that, ever since I was a little girl. Why would God give me the ability to write (I know I have the ability, if I can shake off this crippling perfectionism) and the desire to write, if He didn’t want me to do it?

Mean Me sighed. Have it your way, she said.

(And then tonight I picked up the [recently deceased] author Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Circle of Quiet, in which she says that during her thirties, she couldn’t write until the children were asleep, and then she was so tired she would often fall asleep with her head on the typewriter. A decade during which she, a published novelist, sold nothing she wrote. So she decided to quit, and having made that decision, burst into tears. Then she realized that in the back of her mind she was thinking about how to write about failure. She opened the typewriter back up and said she was going to have to write whether she ever published anything again or not.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Adultery and Birthdays

The only reading material I had to take to the gym with me was The Scarlet Letter, which I somehow never read as a student or teacher, so I'm reading it now. Its fast pace really made the time whizz past, let me tell you. (sarcasm alert) I read two chapters and as a reward let myself read the new People magazine. Good thing I'm not actually an intellectual or I'd have to turn my card in, I guess.

I couldn't help thinking as I paged through looking at scantily clad actresses what the Puritans would have made of People. If committing adultery back then got you sent to jail and sentenced to wear a scarlet A (also narrowly escaping execution), look what it gets you these days: nobody thinks anything of it! In some ways, it's good that things have changed, but it looks like the moral pendulum really has swung too far in the other direction.

I also wanted to mention that my husband's 39th birthday is Sunday (the real 39, not the 39 that people stay at when they don't want to move out of their 30s). I had a great idea, I thought, to have a surprise birthday party for him, because he wouldn't be expecting it for the 39th, he'd think it would be next year. But first I had to wait for school to start, because I'm doing well to plan the DAY ahead when both kids are hanging on to my legs making unreasonable demands like, I don't know, food and stuff. And then I forgot about it because woo-hoo, SCHOOL has started! And now his birthday is here and I didn't plan a party. I truly suck at planning things.

However, I will make it up to him by taking him shopping* tomorrow (just the two of us while the kids are having fun with friends) and making a bread pudding for dessert Sunday (my brother is cooking; I would cook but not after a full day shopping and church on Sunday--who do you think I am, Superwoman?)

So even though he doesn't read this blog, happy birthday, Justin!

*He is excited about this. He likes to shop. Yes, I am married to the perfect man. No, you cannot have him. (I just have to remember we are shopping for HIM, not me.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Things I Am Loving Right Now

1. Lean Cuisine paninis. The best healthy frozen food item ever. I realize this is not saying much (Lean Pocket, anyone?) but seriously, these are good.

2. Working out. I met with a trainer last week and developed an exercise plan that involves strength training, aerobic exercise, and Pilates. The best thing about it is that with something different to do every day, I don’t get bored (something that has always been a problem with my attempts in the past.)

3. Miss Pink’s preschool teacher and the entire Pre-K experience. Miss P loves school so much, and that makes me happy.

4. Fiber One Oats and Chocolate bars. Yummy! I don’t even eat one every day, but when I need chocolate, these are a good fix. They have a few more calories than the 100-cal. granola bars, but are more filling (due to the extra fiber) and more chocolatey.

5. Mr. Blue’s skyrocketing language ability. He’s a pretty quiet guy around other people, but at home, he’s talking enough so that we can have a conversation of sorts (usually involves a dog, ball, or balloon). The teething pain has also stopped, so that means we are down to 264 fits a day, now mostly when I help him fasten his own car seat or take the house keys away from him (because a guy just wants to put the key in and out, in and out, while the door stands wide open, and why can’t his mom understand that?)

6. Miss Pink has entered a wonderful, cheerful, helpful stage and I am pinching myself to make sure I am not dreaming.

7. The weather. 72 degrees right now. Enough said.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Literary Meme

Here's a review I wrote. I've been waiting to link to it and to post the rest of the meme it came from. I've included the books they came from in case you don't feel like racking your brain or Googling the names. :-)

1. If you could host a party with seven literary characters , who would they be and why?
Elizabeth Bennet Darcy and Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice); Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing); Odysseus (The Odyssey); Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (mystery series by Dorothy Sayers); Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables).

2. Who is your literary role model?
Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)

3. Which literary house would you most like to live in?
Pemberley (P & P) because I love old English manor houses.

4. Which literary couple would you most like for parents? Ideally I would choose Atticus and Marmee (Little Women). But if they have to be married to each other, then Charles and Caroline Ingalls (the Little House books).

5. Pick three literary characters you would most like to have as siblings.
Whew, tough one. I eventually settled on Jane Bennet (P & P) as the perfect sympathetic older sister, Harry Potter (duh, like you don't know what book) as the caring, chivalrous brother; and Lucy Pevensie (Chronicles of Narnia) as the spunky younger sister.

6. Who is your favorite literary villain?
Xenia from Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride. The way Atwood tells the story, we're never entirely sure what motivates her malicious acts (sort of like Iago in Othello). If other people are happy, Xenia wants to steal something from them.

7.Name a character that most people dislike, but that you do not. Why do you like them?
I don't know what other people like, but: the father in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. He lies to his autistic son (and does something worse but I won't reveal it because that would be a spoiler). However, he had a lot of frustration and no help from his wife. He feels a lot of remorse.

8. What major character deserves a book all to themselves?
Jane Fairfax (Emma.) It's so clear Emma underestimates her out of jealousy. Joan Aiken wrote one but I heard it wasn't good.

9. Which character do you identify with most in literature?
Anne Shirley. Aside: I have been told that I look like the actress who played her in the movie. Before we got married, my mom advised my husband to watch the movie for keys to my character.

10. If you could go into a novel, which one would it be and why?
Definitely not anything scary or depressing. And I'd be a social upstart in a Jane Austen novel. Let's say Little Women. I'd have a great time with Jo.

11. Name 3-7 books that you rarely see on others' book lists that are high on your own. I answered this in the review. These are books that I never hear other people mention, that I reread every so often and recommend to others. (Obviously, Austen is a favorite, but lots of people love her; ditto Flannery O'Connor and Alice Munro.) For nonfiction, it would be The New Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman.

12. What is your least favorite of the books that are considered "classics?"
A tie between Paradise Lost and Moby Dick, both of which I refuse to read.

I've learned something about my long-term literary taste. It is classic and comforting, without a lot of bleak postmodern posturing, and includes a substantial dash of wit. Books that make me laugh mean a lot to me. Something to think about as I write my own stuff.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Don't Make Me Go Back, Please!

In our Sunday school class, the assistant pastor's lessons on “chazown”—the Hebrew word for “vision” or “dream”—have made me think about my plans for the future. How am I making my life count?

“Without a vision, the people perish.” If not in literal death, then their happiness dies. They are miserable.

Last Sunday’s lesson, and accompanying video, was on chazown in the workplace. Now as a SAHM, one might think I could tune out when anyone talks about the workplace. But I do have a workplace. The home is my workplace, and running it for my family’s benefit is my job.

Not to mention that I do want to do “work” as more commonly defined when the children are older. However, I’ve realized that I don’t want to teach school again. When the video showed people spray-painting things like “I hate my job” and “Hopeless,” I thought about how hard it was to teach and the visceral emotion I experienced was: I don’t want to go back.

For a few years, I’ve said when asked that I’d teach if it became an economic necessity. Right now, my salary would be offset by the cost of two kids in daycare, so it doesn’t make financial sense for me to work (or to go back to grad school). And since I never reached the point at which teaching becomes an intellectual joy, I have never craved going back. But today I took it a step further: I don’t want to go back at all. And so I won’t plan on it. (Never say never, but I’m thinking only if Justin couldn’t work ever again—or if he died, God forbid—and I couldn’t find any other kind of job.)

I like to teach, but only when my students want to learn. We all know that teachers in today’s schools have to be really dedicated because of all the obstacles to learning that their students face. I guess what I’m saying is, I’m not that dedicated. And so I shouldn’t be teaching. Because kids deserve teachers who want to be there—I certainly hope my kids’ teachers have a more positive attitude toward teaching than I do. I highly respect the teachers who have chosen to stay in a system that is often frustrating and ineffectual. As for me, I can’t do it. I could handle being paid so little if I had respect from the students and, more importantly, the parents; or I could handle the disrespect if I were taking home a better paycheck. The schools just aren’t where I need to be right now.

Where do I need to be? For me, the answer is: at home with my kids. (Please note: I am speaking only for myself here, not saying that every mother needs to be home full-time with her children.) One fabulous teacher I worked with had stayed home for five years with her twin sons, then returned to teaching once they entered kindergarten. Three years later, she tendered her resignation, saying some words I have never forgotten: “I’m just tired of using up all my patience with my students and having none left for my kids.”

This spoke to me, because I know how horrible a mother I’d be if I were teaching all day. You talk about crabby—I’d be snapping everyone’s head off. How stressed I’d be having to fit in everything I didn’t have time to do while I was at work. How much grading and planning I’d have to do in my off-hours, taking time away from my family. It would be awful.

I’m not saying that anyone except me would be this way while teaching. Most teachers I know have been teaching for several years before they have kids, and having tried-and-true lesson plans makes a huge difference in the amount of time you put in. I’d be starting from scratch again, which would be very stressful for me.

Some moms who work hate their jobs, and I feel for them. I hope they can find something they like better. Everyone needs a purposeful activity that they love doing, that makes them feel fully alive. I know it’s important that I be here for my kids, and I’m glad I’ve chosen to do that, but I’m not the kind of person who can make motherhood a full-time job for the next twenty years (it will always be part of my chazown, and I think that’s true of every mother I know, whether she works outside the home or not). When my kids are in school, I do want to find something meaningful to occupy my time, whether it’s a traditional job, a work-from-home job, or just doing a lot more writing that no one pays me for at first, but I practice enough that I do get some things published (and paid for). Whatever happens, I’m planning to hone my skills and keep my eyes open for opportunities when they come along. If I know anything, it’s that we all have a purpose uniquely suited to our gifts and abilities.

In the meantime, I'm going to think some more about my goals for making our home the best place it can be for our family.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Back to School

Today was Miss Pink’s first day of school. She was very happy about it, although she let me know last night that she was “going to be a little nervous at first.” I assured her that nervousness was perfectly normal, but that I was sure she’d soon be having so much fun that she forgot to be nervous.

Of course, that’s exactly what happened. She’s in the Ponies class—it’s one of the three-day pre-K classes—and because of My Little Pony, finding out she’s in that class made her say, “My dream came true!” I like her teacher a lot; I think she’s really good with young children. This morning Miss Tammy had a stuffed animal at every child’s place to be their buddy for the day. Play-Dough was set out, and (wise woman!) all the girls had either purple or pink.

With a teacher who understands little kids that well, I feel Miss P will do just fine. She’s a sweet child who, although socially uninhibited, loves to follow directions and help any way she can. (This has just started kicking in during the last three months, if any despairing mothers of three-year-olds and early-fours are reading. We’ve had our struggles—just not so much at school!) She loves to learn, and although I can’t guarantee that all her classroom experiences will be as much fun as preschool, I hope she continues to love learning for the rest of her life.

She’s certainly taught me a lot. I had no idea I would learn so much from my children. And she is my firstborn: my first teacher in the mother-child dance. I know I’ve often failed her, but every time she forgives me. She teaches me about innocence, finding beauty and excitement in the mundane, creativity, curiosity, and so much more. It’s a school I’m thankful I’m allowed to attend.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

100 Things About Me

Since no one answered my question about the new Bond, I'm just going to pretend it was rhetorical--or, better yet, unanswerable.

Here's a meme no one tagged me for, but I wanted to see if I could come up with 100 moderately interesting things about me, because whenever I try to think of anything on the spur of the moment, I seem to myself to be the least interesting person who ever lived. I know this cannot be the case since people do not run screaming from me, hiding themselves from the Worst Bore Ever. It turns out that like most of us, I like to talk about myself. Who knew!

Anyway, enjoy (or not, as the case may be...)

100 Things About Me

1. I’m short—only 5’2”.
2. When I was younger, I always wanted to be 5’6”.
3. Now the only time I care is when I have to get the stepstool out to reach the top cabinets.
4. I majored in psychology.
5. I thought I was going to become a counselor, but I didn’t.
6. Because I realized I take other people’s problems too much to heart.
7. I realized this when I had a volunteer job at a crisis hotline.
8. I became a teacher, and I didn’t love that as much as I thought I would.
9. Mainly because I hadn’t had any therapy then, and I thought everyone had to like me and I had to be the BEST TEACHER EVER who changes student’s lives like in sappy movies.
10. I think I would be a much better teacher if I went back to it now.
11. But I’d rather not. In fact, I’d much rather not.
12. I have two halves of two different master’s degrees (education and humanities).
13. At this point I do not have plans to finish either one.
14. Let’s talk about something else. (I have a short conversational attention span.)
15. I don’t find a massage particularly relaxing. I don’t hate them, it’s just not a real treat for me.
16. If I let them, my eyebrows would take over the top third of my face.
17. Once I was not a jewelry person (I only wear a watch, and my wedding and engagement rings.)
18. I’m starting to get over that. I have my eye on a certain necklace I want, probably for Christmas.
19. I am going to ask my parents for an iPod for Christmas.
20. To use while working out, since going to the gym has somehow taken over my life.
21. Yes, my parents still give me Christmas gifts (although less now that they have grandchildren, and that’s how it should be.)
22. Autumn is my favorite season.
23. Unfortunately, I live in Texas, where autumn lasts about 2.7 minutes in October.
24. I love coffee ice cream, coffee candy, Frappuccinos—basically any sweet coffee-flavored thing, but I don’t drink coffee.
25. Because I always burn my tongue when I drink hot drinks.
26. I do not have a compulsion to redecorate my house often—maybe once every five years I want to do something major like repaint or buy a piece of furniture.
27. But I leave it alone—even the knick-knacks and decorative items—in between. Because I still like the way it looks.
28. My closet, on the other hand, gets cleaned out ruthlessly every season.
29. And then I get more clothes! Yay!
30. I like to cook.
31. I browse web sites and cookbooks for fun.
32. I do NOT like to clean up the kitchen after I’ve cooked.
33. I’m a recovering perfectionist.
34. Which explains how my house looks the way it does.
35. If I had to choose only one store to shop in ever again, it would be Target.
36. I know, how original of me.
37. If I could only shop in one clothing store and money was not an issue, it would be Nordstrom. 38. Money will always be an issue. Oh well.
39. I have had one pedicure in my whole life.
40. I am going to have another one as soon as I can.
41. Pretty toes made more of a difference in my mood than I would have thought possible.
42. A manicure, on the other hand, is a very bad idea.
43. Partly because I bite my nails.
44. Partly because I’m always scraping dried food off the kitchen floor with my fingernails.
45. That was a lovely image, wasn’t it? You’re welcome.
46. I often give advice to people who are singing lovelorn songs on the radio. (“You just need to dump him already!”) I know this is irrational, but it just seems wrong to let them wallow in their ignorance without at least saying something.
47. This must be left over from my desire to counsel people (see #5).
48. And the radio can’t argue back, after all.
49. One of my greatest regrets is that I did not study abroad.
50. I did get to visit London when I was in college.
51. Oddly, it felt familiar, like I had once lived there.
52. That’s probably because I’ve read many books set in London.
53. I really, really want to go back, and to other places in Europe.
54. My family came over from Ireland, so I especially want to go there.
55. I would never in a million years go skydiving or bungee jumping.
56. I don’t particularly fear heights, just falling (I can’t explain it, but they are not necessarily the same thing).
57. Some of my worst nightmares have involved falling.
58. Someday I want a library in my house full of books and a perfect writing space.
59. My beverage of choice is Coke.
60. But I’m trying to be healthier, so I’m limiting myself to one a week.
61. But I’m still drinking diet drinks, because I need the caffeine.
62. I’m a terrible liar.
63. I am most comfortable “one on one” or in small groups of people.
64. But I have no problem speaking in front of a crowd.
65. Even without preparation.
66. Because when I was young my dad would put me and my brother up on the hearth and give us a topic and have us talk about it for a few minutes. If we didn’t know what we were talking about, we just had to act like we did and keep talking.
67. This stood me in good stead in graduate school, which is full of people trying to out-BS each other.
68. I failed the driver’s test on my sixteenth birthday. For parallel parking improperly—something the driver’s ed teacher was too impatient to teach me.
69. That birthday sucked as a result. (I should’ve gone the next day or something.)
70. To this day, I will drive around the block rather than parallel park.
71. I’ve had several “incidents” while parking, including hitting stationary vehicles and a light pole at Target, and scraping the side mirror against our garage.
72. When I was in college I drove into a mailbox.
73. Then a few months later I backed into a different mailbox.
74. It’s a wonder I don’t have a phobia of mailboxes.
75. Except for parking, I’m not that bad of a driver, but if given the opportunity to ride and not drive, I will always accept.
76. My favorite fast food place is Chick Fil A.
77. Parties make me nervous.
78. My first memory is of lying in my crib looking at my stuffed dog. (That means I was about 18 months old, my son’s age now. I wonder what he will remember from now, if anything.)
79. I feel like we need a dog at some point for the kids, but I am personally ambivalent.
80. I only had one dog growing up and it wasn’t the best experience (poor Max).
81. I’m a “mid-morning” person—my ideal time of day is 10 am-1 pm.
82. My favorite color is green.
83. Because it makes my eyes look greener.
84. My eyes are my favorite facial feature.
85. Taken together, my first and middle names mean “little truthful one.”
86. Given #1 and #62, I guess that’s accurate.
87. I don’t set an alarm because the baby wakes me up around 7 am every day.
88. My favorite music is big band/swing.
89. I like other types of music, but I can’t deny that I gravitate to the old stuff.
90. I love to watch musicals in the theater, but not movie musicals.
91. I was born in the town my husband grew up in.
92. My favorite chocolate bar is a Toblerone.
93. I don’t like dark chocolate. I’ve tried, since it’s better for you, but I just don’t like it.
94. My favorite cartoon character is Bugs Bunny.
95. If I could change one thing about my personality, I would become more assertive.
96. I don’t much like breakfast except on Saturdays.
97. I suffered post-partum depression after my son was born.
98. I went on an antidepressant and an anti-anxiety medication, and went back to therapy until it was pretty clear it was all chemical, and the meds were working.
99. Thank God the meds work. I plan to stay on them AT LEAST until the children are in school.
100. Life is good. Hard sometimes, but still good.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Feeling much better today. But I need some assistance.

Will someone familiar with Casino Royale, the latest James Bond movie, please explain why this is supposed to be a “prequel” yet it is full of the latest technology (understandable; Bond movies have to be full of cool stuff) and references to it being post-Cold War and 9/11? Because it MADE ME CRAZY when I watched it last weekend. Why go back to the beginning if that's what you want to do?

That's all for now.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Weirded Out

Ever wake up in a strange mood because you dreamed strange things the night before? Sort of like a stain the subconscious left in your mind when it was in charge. Clean up after yourself, subconscious--I don't like dealing with your mess!

I'm generally against telling my dreams to anyone except my husband, because no one really cares about anyone else's dream. Suffice it to say that it felt like I dreamed ALL NIGHT LONG. Some dreams weren't nightmares, but had a weird mood about them--one was about a gypsy love potion a wife buys to use on her husband, and another was about the most gigantic garage sale of clothes I have ever seen. Like, it filled a warehouse. What's wrong with THAT? I should only have been bummed that the dream wasn't real!

One dream, though, was about a serial killer being tracked by his father, a cop. He was trying to kidnap a little girl and his father was desperate to stop him (I guess I was another cop or something). Now that was a yucky dream. I sometimes have dreams like that--in which I am trying to protect an innocent person from harm. I am always very afraid that I won't succeed. I can't think about the bad things that happen to children for very long.

I'm also feeling bad for a good friend of mine. She is dealing with something that cannot be fixed overnight. I wish I could do something to help her, but all I can do is listen and care and pray. And wait with her for things to get better.

I think it was Anne Lamott who said something about we need shiny miracle tools to fix the bad things in life, and we look in our tool box and all we have are these rusty, broken-down tools like kindness and empathy and hope. And somehow it's enough.

Anyway, I went and worked out and that helped. It DOESN'T help that there's no chocolate in the house. Who didn't buy any chocolate? No one needs to be that healthy! (Oh right, it was me. Oops.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Why I Am Becoming an Exercise Addict

So I've been going to the local fitness center with a two-week free pass. This is the second week, and I've been going almost every day, for--wait for it--an hour at a time.

I haven't worked out for a hour four times a week since one semester in college when I was REQUIRED to take an aerobics class. I haven't worked out for more than an hour a week since Mr. Blue was born.

It's kind of addictive, to tell you the truth.

What could make an admittedly slothful person go to the gym so much? And like it, even when she is just a leeeetle sore everywhere below the neck and above the knees?

Three words: FREE CHILD CARE.

I make the appointments for the upcoming week with the Kids Klub people (don't get me started on "kreative" misspelling of names), which reinforces the idea that I really DO have to get up off the couch and go. Then at the appointed time I drop them off, with their labeled cups and snacks, and...ah. Kid-free time. I used to have to work out during Mr. Blue's nap time/Miss Pink's TV time. I resented it because it was my only free time, and I'd rather spend it reading blogs writing the Great American Novel than (bleah) working out. Then the piles of clean laundry and dirty floors were always lying there accusingly, saying, You should be taking care of us instead of prancing around in Spandex (I agreed about the Spandex).

Today at the gym I read two copies of Us magazine on the stationary bike. The 30 minutes just sped by--nothing like brain candy to make time fly. Then I did some lower body exercises, stretched, and called it a day. By that time I was happy to pick the kids up, feed them lunch, and play with them until Mr. Blue's nap time.

And now I have more time to waste on the Internet. What's not to like about that?

P.S. Unintentionally funny blurb from Us stating that Jordin Sparks, the American Idol winner, and Ugly Betty's America Ferrara look alike: both have long dark hair, big smiles, and both "claim to embrace their curves." Subtext: "They CLAIM to, but we the editors know that nobody over a size 4 can ACTUALLY love their body. And here are 900 pictures of girls who starve themselves/throw up after meals/are genetic freaks to show you how you SHOULD look!"