Saturday, November 30, 2013

And We're Out!

This post is my thirtieth in a row, marking the end of November and NaBloPoMo-- National Blog Posting Month.  I have managed to post something every one of the last thirty days, though I will own the fact that a few days contained much less original writing than others.  In my own defense, I want to say that the fine print on this post a day thing excluded weekends, but I posted seven days a week.  This is mostly because I didn't figure out that weekends were exempt until after I had done weekend posts, but also because of my dedication to my craft.  Yeah, that's it... dedication....craft. Yeah.  

I am glad I was able to exert some self-discipline.  I am chronically helpless in that area, what with the procrastination and the rationalization and all of the other things I have to stop doing to sit down and write. That was one of the reasons I did this.  I wanted to get myself to my desk more, and this exercise did really help.  I also found that the more I wrote, the more subjects suggested themselves to me as good possibilities for the blog.  The more subjects there were, the more I wrote and the more... I think you get my drift here.  

So, good times, good talk.  Thank you to everyone who has read the blog and commented on it and shared it.  The encouragement means a lot to me and I think of you all when I am writing. I don't know if I can commit to continuing to post daily, but I'm hoping to manage five days a week, just to keep in shape.  Now if I could only find a way to make myself exercise as often as I write....

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday: And So it Begins...

This is the second year in a row that I have not worked in a store on the day after Thanksgiving.  Before that, I worked twenty four straight.  That's twenty four Black Fridays.  That's twenty four years of working a retail holiday season.  

Do I have to tell you that I didn't miss it?  That I won't miss working in a store on Christmas Eve, when the fabric of polite customer relations has worn thin and frayed at the edges and the holiday gift desperation is so thick you could cut it with a knife?  I don't think I have to tell you.

This year, inside my little post office at the back of the bike store, people are strangely gleeful as they express their "sympathy" for the fact that the next few weeks are going to be "really crazy busy." What is that about? Why are people I don't even know so smugly happy that I will be ridiculously busy trying to assist postal customers with their holiday mailing needs?  I can see the smirks, the "glad I'm not you" giggles, that are barely concealed as they inquire about how I'm going to handle it all.  "Oh, you know," I say, "one day at a time," and smile angelically before I look over their shoulders and call out, "Next!"

Well, let me say, there are only about three weeks of mailing mayhem to get through before it's too late to get a package to your loved ones in time to tuck it under the tree.  Anyone can get through three weeks of being stressed out and busy for eight hours a day.  I mean, I was pregnant four times, that's 160 weeks, all together, at forty weeks each time.  If I can get through that, especially those last eight weeks every time when it feels like someone is standing on your bladder, (thirty  two weeks all together) then I can get through a three week holiday postal season. 

 And I've done it before-- twenty four years in a row, as I said.  I don't see how people waiting to mail packages can be ruder or less cooperative than the guys who got into a fistfight when one of them tried to take cuts in the line while I worked for a well-known retail bookseller.  Or the women who had a shouting match in the dressing room over the last black sequined tank top (they both wanted the petite medium.)  

In the meantime, today was a gift.  Mike and I spent a quiet day together, and we each got a turn to pick what we wanted to watch on TV without someone crying or shouting, "NNNOOOO!  This is soooooo booorrring!"  We ate leftovers and made turkey sandwiches and had a chance to catch up, like we need to do once in a while.  The girls went with their cousins and Uncle Matt and Aunt Sheli to do some Black Friday shopping at the mall, and then to the movies.  I know they're already looking forward to next year, and so am I.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

There are still dishes in my sink, and dishes that haven't even made it to my sink, but for all intents and purposes, this Thanksgiving is drawing to a close.  I hope everyone had a lovely day and is looking forward to the rest of a fine weekend.  Whether you're shopping or avoiding the malls, enjoying your leftovers (best part of the holiday, I say) or looking for something that has no tryphtophan or carbs, enjoy tomorrow too. Take a breath before the swift slide into December and holly and jingle bells.  Then jump in and enjoy that too.  By the time you look around again, it will be new year.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


This year, as everyone with an internet connection or a television knows by now, Hannukah and Thanksgiving fall at the same time.  The first night of Hannukah is tonight, giving the latke-eating population a chance at an extra night of feasting this week.  Foodie websites have been devoted to how to combine the two holidays-- sweet potato latkes or fried pumpkin doughnuts anyone?-- and even the supermarket clerks are remarking on the fact that this coincidental timing of the holidays won't come around again for 78,000 years or so.  I say amen to that, because, really isn't once every 78 milleniums enough?  And another thing:  will Hannukah or Thanksgiving be celebrated in 78,000 years?  I have my doubts, but those are for the speculative novelists to, you know, speculate about, in their "novelizations" of future history.  Meanwhile we can revel in the fact that this is the year we can reminisce about for as long as we are pulling our chairs up to the turkey and sides and lighting the Hannukkah candles, as in : "Come here, kids, grab the cousins you only see once a year and let me tell you about the year we got cheated because Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fell in the same week.  Oy!  What a year!"

I'm going to let this go for now and get back to my double holiday cooking, but I want to leave you with something amusing in the meantime.  It's a long time until dinner, no matter what you're celebrating...
Here are Thanksgivukkah Playlists from Tablet Magazine and The Daily Skimm, and parodies from  I can't say I love them all, but I offer them for your consideration.  Enjoy!
Images from here (Once in a Lifetime) and here (Thanksgivukkah American Gothic)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why This Jewish Mother is Seriously Digging the New Pope

One of the big stories in the news today is about Pope Francis and his recent apostolic exhortation, a statement of what the Pope believes the Catholic church is called to do during his papacy.  Each pope makes such a statement, so the release of the document isn't such big news, but apparently the content is.  The more I read on Salon and Huff Post and the Daily Beast, the more I realized I had to read his words for myself.  

The Babka of my childhood:  "Racetrack" from
Canter's Deli & Bakery in Los Angeles.  (Yes, it's a
totally gratuitous coffee cake picture.) 
I have previously identified myself as a Jewish mother in these pages, accepting all of the good and bad connotations that go with that title.  The fact is, I am Jewish, and I am a mom, so the description is apt. (And, Oy!  I do worry about the kids, but also, I'm so proud of them.  Come by sometime for a slice of chocolate babka and a nice cup of tea, and we'll talk.  Or I could make you some chicken soup, you are looking a little tired, dear.)  So what do I know about the Pope?  Well, mostly what I read in the papers. Also, I happen to be married to a Catholic, a man who went to parochial school from kindergarten through college.  In addition, I worked on a masters in philosophy at Boston College, a Jesuit university. Those personal facts may not give me enough street cred to speak knowledgeably about Catholic religious doctrine, but I do know how to read and analyze a document, and, Lord help me, how to offer my opinion of what I've read.  So here goes. 

From what I can gather, after a discussion of spiritual joy and the need to spread such light through the world-- and here, the Pope is kind of a noodge, reminding Catholics that they need to be agents of positive change-- Pope Francis talks about the troubles of the world, identifying the love of money and the spread of competitive capitalism as real evils in the world because they have lead to inequality and exclusion. He speaks of "the idolatry of money" and the "lack of concern for real human beings" and despairs about the growing inequality of the marketplace and the resulting human consequences:

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.... A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.... To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.
"How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly
 homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news
when the stock market loses two points?"

Wow.  This is such a powerful statement of how the pursuit of money caused individuals and governments to forget about what is truly important, not just neglecting and demeaning people, but damaging the environment as well. He goes on to mention that "trickle down economics" does not work, and to exhort everyone, not just his flock, to recognize the consequences of poor policies and to make changes that will make real differences in the lives of people everywhere. 

 Maybe it isn't news that the relentless pursuit of wealth for its own sake is an epic fail for people and for the planet-- yeah, you've heard that commie liberal crap before. But here is Pope Francis, someone that most people would identify as genuinely conservative in all of the best ways, someone with a global audience, who is throwing down and telling the world to get right.

I like that.  

I'd like to have him over for a slice of babka and a cup of tea, because he seems to be so genuine in his wish to heal the world and so sensible in his identification of problems that touch us all, no matter what religion we are or where we fall on the economic spectrum.  But he's a busy, busy man, and it's going to take a lot to get his message out, so I know he won't be stopping by for a nosh.  Wherever she is, his mother must be so proud... 

I hope it is absolutely clear that I mean no disrespect to the Pope or to any Catholic.  I think the statement he made is an astute analysis of the challenges facing the world today and I deeply admire his will to bring joy and love to the world.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

How it All worked Out, or, How Daddy Saved the Day

 Yeah, I've been up since about three thirty, because I knew something was not right. (Like Miss Clavel,  from the Madeline books.)  I knew Fiona was too warm, and I knew she wasn't breathing softly and smoothly, like she should be if she was going to get up and go to school in the morning. So I kept turning it all over in my head.  How would I cover my shift? What would the repercussions be? What if I did send her to school, and then she felt worse, or got sicker?  I had to stay home-- because I should stay home, that was the only thing to do-- but then I would certainly be out of pocket for the pay.  But what was more important, Fiona, or a day's pay?  Back and forth, back and forth.  Mental pacing.  Over and over. You'd think I would have at least put myself back to sleep with it.  I can see your lids drooping over there right now...

As it turned out, I went to work today, but only because Mike stayed home with Fiona, who was, of course, still running a fever early this morning.  There I was, fretting, when Mike's alarm went off and he got up at 4:40 to get ready for work.  "I'm going to need to stay home with her," I said, as he got up to take a shower.
He nodded, I think.  It was still dark.  I listened to the shower run, trying to figure out how early was too early to call my boss and let her know I wouldn't be there.  And what about calling a co-worker to cover the shift? It's always too early to get that call, especially when you have the day off...

Then Mike came over and solved the problem.  "I have a sick day.  I'll stay home and you go to work.  Go back to sleep for a little while."  Best. Husband and Daddy. Ever.  I know, right?  It was like magic.  It's not that he hasn't stayed home with sick kids before, but he has the full-time job with the grown-up wage, so if we have to choose, he is the one who goes to work and I was sure that, this late in the year, there was no way he had sick time left.  He didn't think so either at first, apparently, but he was smart enough to check, given that the time is accrued paycheck to paycheck, and last Friday was payday.  Though you'd never know it now, here on Monday (but that's another all-night fretting session right there.) 

So, even though I didn't get to go back to sleep (see, not really a fairy tale), because all the hushed chit-chat woke Fiona (who immediately said she was better, and was pissed because we said she was staying home) I did go to work and didn't have to deal with any sick-kid fallout.  It was a good thing too, since the post office inside the bike shop was busier than sh*t, because suddenly everyone decided that, with Thanksgiving falling this week and all, it was time to mail multiple packages. This did make the day move right along, proving that time flies, even when you don't get a lunch and are not, technically, having any fun. Fiona texted a couple of times, and was feeling pretty well by the time I got home.  After 24 hours with no fever, she may get her wish to go to school tomorrow.  

There was a small, fairy tale-ish, element that reminded us what we're doing this for, even though Mike and I were both totally wiped out by 8 o'clock.  It turned out that the girls had missed each other during the day.  Yeah, the same girls who will fight to the death over a purple barrette each claimed to have been kind of upset when only one of them went to school.  Fiona asked when Delia was coming home about a thousand times, starting, Mike said, about an hour after she'd left for school. And, as I was cooking dinner, Delia confided that her day was great, except, "Going to school without Fiona doesn't feel right.  It's just, you know, awkward!"  

Picture of Miss Clavel, from here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Feverishness and Guilt

Fiona, feeling fine
So, last night, Fiona woke me up at about one thirty in the morning, and even as I was waking myself up and trying to focus on the words she was saying, I could tell she was talking very fast in the hot, breathy voice that always accompanies a fever.  Well, accompanies a fever for her.  Each of my kids has a "tell" that lets me know they are really sick, not just tired or having a round of allergies.  Delia's eyes get very cloudy, and the the area under her eyes is a transparent purple.  Usually that means she is going to fall deeply asleep or throw up, or both,  some time in the next two hours.  My oldest son had a pinched look, as though he weren't getting enough air, which was fitting, because he also battled asthma symptoms and carried an inhaler at least until junior high.  My younger son got pale, and extremely cranky.  The crankiness also comes over Fiona, and Delia gets kind of weepy.  All of this has always made me cranky and kind of weepy too, not only because I suffer when my children suffer, but because so often, sick children present a gigantic logistical challenge.  Oy!

That's bad, right?  It's bad to not only feel sorry for the sick kid but to feel sorry for yourslf too, because you have to go to work tomorrow, even though it looks like your kid is going to have to stay home.  Because no one can cover for you, or you've had to miss too many days already, or because you just flat-out won't get paid, and then the whole family will suffer next week if you miss this shift.  And by "you," I mean me.  I confess that I own this particular badness, because as I look back on my life as a mom, I realize that I have spent days and nights hoping a fever will break, not only because I want my kid to be better, but because I really don't want to have to call out, or to call in a favor, or to call and ask someone who doesn't owe me a favor to help me out, or to switch shifts, or to work 10 days in a row because I had to switch shifts, because someone had to do me a favor.  I also own the badness of sending a kid without a fever, who might be better off at home for the day, to school, and then spending the day at work feeling guilty and keeping my fingers crossed and sending up thank you prayers every hour I didn't get a call from the school. 

I hate being that mom.  The mom whose kid feels under the weather and walk like zombies through the school day.  The mom who might be sending a germ bomb to school, just to be sure that we can eat next week.  And I am not always that mom.  When I had the good fortune to have a job with sick days, I never took them for myself.  I went to work with a fever, if necessary (hello germ bomb!) to make sure that I could take off when the kids were sick.  I worked all weekend most weeks, when I knew someone could cover for me at home, so that I could be more flexible during the week, especially during cold and flu season, which, if you have kids, you know runs year-round. 

And tomorrow, I will stay home if Fiona is sick.  I already dread the call-out, the work-around, the anxiety of trying to figure out how I will cover any lost hours.  But what I dread even more is the possibility of spending eight hours feeling like I did the wrong thing for Fiona, by making her go to school sick. 

She's sleeping soundly now, cool as a cucumber and breathing lightly.  It looks like we've turned the corner, but I won't really know until she gets up.  And yes, my fingers are crossed, and I'm sending up a prayer.  For her, of course, and for me too.   We could both use a break...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Break for Some Poetry

 As the post-a-day program wears on-- I have to say I'm pretty psyched that I have managed this long-- I am forced to rely on the words of others yet again to get this done.  Today I was paging through some poetry books at the library and thought I would pass on a couple here that I really like. 
 The first is Keeping Things Whole by Mark Strand.  I love the way this poem conveys the idea that we are just part of the greater goings-on that make up the world.  Somehow, these lines:
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

always make me pause and think that I am a small, yet integral,  part of things, and that, to me, is a great relief, and therefore, very comforting.

The next one is a love poem, Litany by Billy Collins.  He is a great poet of the contemporary world, and a very astute observer of human action and emotion. the poem uses references to lovely things in the world to show that each of the two partners is important.  The end of the poem is the part I like best:
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.

And, for something completely different, there is this, in its entirety, by Dorothy Parker, the wit of yesteryear, commenting sadly on love and how it can fool us:    
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
I think anyone who can find a word that rhymes with Romania deserves to be remembered forever.

Top quote from this totally awesome page of quotes about poetry. Cocteau image from here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Rainy Days and Fridays

It is raining today, something that warrants news coverage here in the Phoenix metro area.  There were on-the-spot reporters in yellow slickers out on the highways and byways today, before it was even light, with updates:  Still raining.  Back to you, Pat.

That's okay.  We're used to the tempest in a teapot when local news shows get ahold of something as juicy as a weather story.  Here, there are so many days when, ho-hum, the weather is lovely, and all the certified meteorologists can say is something like, "don't strain yourself having fun outside in the beautiful weather."  The real weather challenges here, of course, are the hot days, which seem to drag on through the eternity of May to September.  There's really nothing to say then either, except, "Sorry, folks."  But during that time we also have monsoon season, which breaks things up a bit, bringing thunder, lightning and some impressive storms that can drop a lot of precipitation or formulate as dust storms which the newscasters now call "haboobs." Usually with a straight face, though sometimes you catch them wanting to chuckle like twelve-year-olds.  I like that. 

The kids seemed more than a little discombobulated this morning, figuring out jackets and umbrellas and stuff.  Fiona had no interest in wearing a jacket.  "Look, Mom, these are long sleeves!  What else do I need?"  She eventually agreed to put on her jacket,  partly because it's new, so she hasn't worn it before, but mostly because Delia was raving about hers. "It's so soft and it has pockets, secret pockets, on the inside!"  Delia also declared that she is way too old to use one of the Dora:  Esta Lloviendo! (it's raining!) umbrellas we keep on hand for these newsworthy rainy days.  "I'll only use this plain pink one,"she said, seizing it from the closet.  "You mean mine?" I asked, but I let it go and grabbed one of Mike's many appropriate jackets. 

He still has quite the supply of gear for all sorts of weather, so I have jettisoned most of mine.  When we moved back to the desert, I donated all but the one classic pea coat, which will still be in style when the girls go to college.  Perfect for Harvard, I can't help thinking.  And I have a "good" raincoat to wear with dressier clothes, which, as a mom,  I really don't have anymore. I guess I should just throw that coat on over my yoga pants and the t-shirts I steal from Mike and act like I'm doing some kind of high-low fashionista-running-out-for-a-latte-thing.  I think all I would need to really pull that off is a pair of big dark sunglasses...oh, and a much smaller ass. Otherwise, I'm all set for the weather. 

Rain images from this page and this page and this page.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Let Me Just Say A few Words (A Work Rant)

Let me just say right here and now that I am not the person who sets the postal rates.  And let me also just say I already know that, whatever is in the package you have come to mail, it cost less than the postage.  I know this because the people who just mailed something ahead of you told the very same story. I'm not even going to wonder aloud about why all of you are mailing cheap crap all over the U.S.(and sometimes to foreign countries) especially when you think the postal rates are so exorbitant.  
Image from this page 

Let me also just say that there is no "slow boat to China" rate available.  And when I say that your package is going to take upwards of seven days to arrive wherever you are paying through the nose to send it, that is the cheapest damn way we can do it. Apparently, the postal service decommissioned pack mules some time ago, so your mail has to travel by some mechanized means of transport.  So yes, that's the cheapest way, I'm sure.  

What I'm not sure of, is when the postal rates are going up, because, like I said, I'm not the person who sets those rates.  The big guy with a bunch of packages behind you in line, and the chick behind him--who is already late getting back to the office from mailing stuff for her boss because she stopped and got herself a pumpkin spice latte before she came in here-- yeah, neither of them want to listen to you stand here and speculate with me about what the new rate is going to be and whether it means that you should buy a couple of rolls of stamps, just to be on the safe side. You're going to have to make that call yourself, pal.

And let me just say, that even though you've seen them on TV, not every box is an "if it fits, it ships" kind of a box, and all of those boxes are priority mail, so please don't ask me to "just send it the cheap way" if you bring your parcel up to the counter in a priority box, with a priority label slapped on it and priority tape holding it closed.  Flat rate doesn't mean cheap, necessarily, it means the rate is always going to be the same-- until postage goes up, and no, I still don't know when that is.  But if you have to get your inexpensive present to the birthday girl in two days because you forgot to mail it last week and you don't want your daughter-in-law hinting to the kids that, if Nanna really cared, she would have gotten the gift there on time, it's gonna cost you.  Probably more than the gift, so everyone says.  

But let me just say, that at least that gal, the one who wants it to look like priority mail and get there as fast as priority mail, but still wants to pay the slow boat to China rate-- she may be annoying, but at least her box is packed and ready to go.  If you bring an unwrapped present and an address on a slip of paper, and stand at the counter offering it to me, your package is not ready to go.  In fact, let me just say that it's not a package until it's in a box that is taped shut with a completed address label on it. It's just stuff, with aspirations to travel.

So, let me just take a minute to talk about public helplessness.  For the record, I'm not talking about people who genuinely need assistance and deserve our good will.  And, let me just say that I think there are two circles of hell for this kind of thing.  In the first are the people who are just kind of clueless:  the people, usually younger, who come into the post office and don't know what they need to do to mail a package, or even a letter, and ask questions like:  
Do I have to put the address on?  
Where do I put the address, on the front?  
Do you really need the zip code?  Oh, okay, um...I think it has a nine in it?  
Do you sell self-addressed stamped envelopes? 
Let's see... yes, yes, yes, and hell, no! 
Picture from here

But I understand that these people probably just lack experience as postal consumers and this might be the first time they're having to use something besides e-mail. Clearly, some people are just not down with the package mailing concept. That's why the people behind you in line are sighing loudly and asking if they could just, real quick, get a priority box so they can come back later.   That's why the people behind you in line are groaning and playing Fruit Ninja on their phones.  That's why I'm boxing your gift and taping your package, and even filling out your address label, if necessary.  For the people behind you.  You're welcome.

In the second, inner circle, are the able bodied people who act or appear helpless in order to have others take care of things for them and the people who seem to expect that their problems, desires, etc.  will somehow be solved or fulfilled as needed.   That's right, it's you, Mr. "I sell stuff on eBay, but I can't inconvenience myself to put something in a box and write a legible address on it," you're the guy I'm talking to.  You're the one screaming the loudest about the postal rates, packing your stuff without any bubble wrap (have you seen what they charge for that stuff?), then pitching a fit when something happens to your package because you sent it "slow boat to China."  And you're the one who came in with the address on a scrap of a post-it, so poorly written that you had to check your "smart phone" to look at the order again, without once stepping out of line to let the little lady behind you buy her Holy Family Christmas stamps.  There is a special fiery place reserved for you.  It's right next to the gal selling handmade earrings and putting them in such tiny packages that there is nowhere to apply the postage without covering the address.  But that is part of another rant...

Let me just say that I need you to step aside, because every once in a while, there is someone who waits patiently, chats pleasantly, and expresses delighted surprise that the cost to mail their item is lower than he expected. "Isn't that a bargain? Can you get it there any faster if I pay a little more?" some trim old man will ask, then tell his slightly younger wife how excellent it is to be able to still pay so little to send their grand kids a couple of trinkets they picked up at the thrift store, and so fast too!  It's the same exact rate I told the gal before him, who was cranked because it was more than the cost of what she was sending.  But this guy is happy and he's whistling a bit as he walks out of the shop.  It seems that your attitude about everything in life depends on your perspective.  Just saying...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why You Don't Want to be My Friend

I've been thinking a lot about the post I wrote the other night about my mom friends.  I woke up thinking that I really didn't do justice to friendship by reducing it to meeting people you see regularly and happen to have a few minutes to talk to. (To be 100% honest, I actually woke up thinking that I needed to brush my teeth because I had been sleeping with my mouth wide open, but that might just be too much information.)
from this page

I also realized that I was only thinking about this thing from my own perspective, and blithely assuming I would just be able to charm someone and make friends if only I could chat with them for a few minutes on a regular basis.  Oh really?  Doesn't that fail to account for how people might feel about meeting me?  Just because our kids are in class together and they might be friends doesn't necessarily mean that we will become besties.   I am really sorry for this callous attitude toward friendships, but I think it proves what I often fear:  I am not a very good friend. 

I know I'm kind of selfish sometimes, because I hear myself talking about, you know, myself, and I realize that maybe I don't give other people a chance to share things.  And while I see plenty of grey out there in the world, I tend to think about most things in kind of an analytical black and white, this or that kind of way.  I see alternative ideas, but reject them quickly and just assume everyone is with me.  Are you with me?

When I do think deeply about things, I'm not good at sharing the process.  I'm not one to bounce ideas off of others, though others seem to want to bounce off me all the time, and that's not bad.  Unfortunately, once I've weighed in with my viewpoint, I can get kind of persuasive and preachy if someone disagrees with me.  For myself, I like to think first and talk later, so I'm not good at discussing things as I go along.  

from this page
And that's just when I'm talking to people.  My real problem is that I tend to be neglectful and I'm not good at initiating plans for getting together.  (No wonder I casually equated forming friendships with meeting people at places (like the schoolyard) that I was already going to anyway!)  My introverted nature (that's what I'm calling this selfishness these days) craves quiet and need time alone.  Sometimes I just need to sit and stare into space to recharge the old batteries.  With kids and other family members depending on me, my batteries wear down pretty fast.  

But this doesn't mean I don't love the friends I have.  In fact, this makes me value my current mom friends (indeed, all my friends who have hung in there with me) even more and reminds me that I really hadn't given us all credit for the connections we've made. We all have busy lives that are full of things other than friendship, but this reaching out, this connection, is something that really enriches every day life in a serious way.  

Because if you can't talk to someone, even for a few minutes, and share what's going on, and have a laugh about it, or get some good advice, life is a lot harder than it needs to be.  

Thanks for sticking with me, friends.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I'm Just Gonna Play a Video

Haven't really been feelin' it today, so when I was supposed to be writing, I spent time looking at stuff on the internet.  Hey, it's something I'm really good at, and sometimes, you just have to go with it.  Here are a couple of kind of inspiring things I found.  They are called kinetic typography and they focus on really cool messages by making the words come to life, literally.

See you tomorrow.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mom Friends

Fiona asked me the other day why I wasn't friends with the moms of kids in her class, like I am with the moms of Delia's friends.  I really didn't know what to say, because there isn't really a reason, but there are some explanations, beginning with how we all got to know each other. Mainly, I got to be friends with "the moms," as Fiona calls them, because we were all sitting together waiting to pick our kids up and we all kind of bonded over that.  Our family had not been living back in Scottsdale that long when Delia started kindergarten, and we really knew no one here with school aged kids-- except for my true bff Alex who has three boys a little older than my girls, but I knew her way before we had these kids, and I'm not sure that counts-- so when Delia started school, it was all new.  Plus, Delia simultaneously made friends with the kids that belonged to the moms I was hanging with, so it was easy to talk about what was going on, and to make plans to get together outside of school because the kids also wanted to hang out.  Another factor was that we live walking distance from the school, so the moms saw us around the neighborhood, and often offered us rides home, and then to school for pick-up time, because, in Arizona, the school year starts in August, when the days are 100 degrees and above and even a short walk can be exhausting.  It was also easy to have them stop in at our house here and there after school, since we were close by.  So, I guess, I got to be friends with these moms for the same reason most of us end up married to people we meet at work, or school, or church:  access.  It's easier to make friends with someone when you share interests, and you can't make friends with people unless your paths cross pretty regularly.

Now that we've all known each other a while, we talk about lots of stuff that goes beyond our kids, and we support each other and have a really nice network of families.  We have gone through job changes and family health issues together and we've vented and laughed and bitched and cried together.  We've seen our kids grow and change together over the last couple of years.

It's not that I don't want to be friends with moms from Fiona's class, because I have met a few women I like really well.  But a couple of things have changed since Delia started school that make it harder to fall into the natural rhythm of getting to know new people.  One thing is that, this year, the school district has developed a new policy of "kids only" inside the school yard during school hours as part of its safety and security program.  So now, instead of walking the kids onto the playground and standing around chatting while the kids play before the bell rings, parents walk the kids just up to the school gate or let them out of the car in the parking lot drop off lanes. Without the opportunity to congregate in the morning and get to know each other, there isn't an effortless exchange like there was when Delia started kindergarten.  On this same note, I realize that I wasn't working when Delia started school, so I was there on the schoolyard to pick her up every day, opening up another possibility for meeting other parents.  Now, I work part time, so I am only there in the afternoon a couple of days a week, and then, I tend to spend the time catching up with the moms I know-- my mom friends-- instead of striking up new relationships.  A mom can only spread herself so thin, after all.  
Fiona, 3 year old "wing-girl"
And finally, I can't discount the fact that, when Delia was in kindergarten,  I always had Fiona with me, and there is no better ice breaker than an active, chatty three year old, except maybe a labradoodle puppy.  She was a great "wingman" for making mom friends.  

I also have to be honest then, and take some of this on myself.  I'm not really good about putting myself out there and being a joiner.  I'm pretty strongly in the introvert camp.  I mean, I'm a writer partly because I like to sit by myself and think.  A lot.  And I'm much older than a lot of these moms (like, I could be their mom) and I admit that this even made it hard for me with the mom friends I have made.  Yeah, you caught me, I am whining in self defense.  

I have tried to step up my efforts to help in Fiona's class, so I have volunteered for Art Masterpiece, and I did go on the field trip to a farm in October, and I helped out with the fall festival (oh, wait, that was for Delia's class, so it didn't really help me meet kindergarten parents...)  I did see a promising sign a couple of weeks ago.  I was walking to school to help with a kindergarten party/art activity, when one of the kindergarten moms stopped and offered me a ride the rest of the way.  Our kids are friends, so we had plenty to talk about and it was fun to work in the classroom with her.  We've just become Facebook friends, so I think that's a start...

School yard pic from this page

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Like Brushing My Teeth While eating Oreos...

I was going to warn everyone to just look away if they saw our family on the news accompanied by a haz-mat crew and a clean-up team.  I thought that when the girls' room was finally declared a federal disaster area, and the money from FEMA came in, there might be some local coverage.  Apparently though, you cannot get federal cleanup funds for one of the bedrooms in a two bedroom apartment. Even a bedroom occupied by two little girls who refuse to recognize the need to pick anything up, except under threat of painful death. Since the rest of the place isn't quite in the disaster relief category, I guess I'll just have to continue to kvetch at the girls while I clean up without the benefit of federal assistance.  

It would have been nice to use the funds for a new vacuum though.  Maybe someone makes one that doesn't cough and splutter when it sucks up beads and bobby pins and the tiny rubber bands that the girls are using to make necklaces and bracelets on those "looms" that are all the rage right now.  And don't get me started on the hairballs.  If I didn't know that the girls had 100 percent human DNA, I would assume that they were somehow part Persian long-hairs or Bernese Mountain dogs, because the vacuum is always rolling up big balls of blond and auburn hair.  With the way the girls blow their coats, I am constantly threatening pixie cuts. 

I guess part of what gets me down is how quickly their room can go from clean, or at least clean-ish, to utterly messy.  I say clean-ish, because I am not bleaching my cleaning rags or swiping all the surfaces with anti-bacterial cloths, (except in the bathrooms and the kitchen, where I am definitely anti-everything that's even remotely bacterial),  so I don't consider myself a fanatic.  And because we live in the desert, I have had to make my peace with the dust that re-settles instantly on every surface as soon as it is dusted, and the sand and tiny gravel that clings to all uncarpeted areas. Dishes in the sink will not drive me to distraction.  No, for better or worse, I am only of the neat and tidy, clear surfaces, everything-in-it's-place school of clean, but I still can't seem to catch a break.  I just finish in one room, returning it to what I feel is a normal, orderly state, when I turn around to see that the mess has reappeared, even larger, in the next room.   And there seems to be an endless stream of clutter that emanates from the girls' very beings.  It's not just in their room, it follows them in a swirling cloud, like that kid Pigpen from the old Charlie Brown cartoons, except with actual objects replacing the dirt.  So there always seems to be stuff everywhere, even though I am picking up constantly.  It's as if I live in one of those cartoons that say that cleaning up when kids are home "is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing." 

To preserve my own sanity, and the girls' lives, I've ruled that their stuff must stay in their room, and issued orders that they must put away one project before starting another.  I know they do this at school, as I have helped with art class and seen both girls pick up infinitesimally tiny scraps of construction paper under the watchful eyes of their smiling teachers, just to have the privilege of starting their math assignments.  I scream that there will be no dessert for the rest of the year if things aren't neat, and they barely wait until I close my mouth before they ask if they can go watch Dog with a Blog.  When I finally do explode, (actually, I get very quiet, and start to drool just a little as I hiss at them through clenched teeth) they will slink into their room to pick up.  A few minutes later, I'll hear some giggling mixed in with the usual bickering and settle down a bit, thinking they have finally gotten the idea.  Nine times out of ten though, when I go in to check on them, I find that their room is even worse. Yes, they have finally pulled toys and markers and books, etc. out from under the bed and behind their desk.  But only to play with! 

I know that the girls are still pretty young, and I shouldn't quite expect that they will spontaneously decide to put their stuff away, no matter what I threaten or promise.  I have to hope that the example of cleared surfaces and vacuumed floors will imprint on their psyches eventually, like it did on mine. And now, working as a team (they handle the complaining and reaching into tiny spaces, and I do the actual putting back and throwing away) we do get the room done. I've noticed that they seem to like it neat, and they even try to maintain it.  For a minute or two.

Burglary cartoon found on this page.  Pigpen, the copyrighted Charles Schulz character, found here. Cleaning e card found here.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Number of Things You May Not Know About Me

Recently, at least recently in my circle of acquaintances, a game of sorts has been circulating on Face book, in which one of your friends "tags" you by giving you a number and then, you reveal that number of things about yourself. That, right there, is the limit of my understanding of the game, and I could be wrong, because I figured that much out for myself, by looking at the posts of others who identified themselves as "tagged."  And we all know how effed-up you can get when you kind of half understand something your friends (who also only half-understand it) are talking about, and then you act on that limited second-hand "knowledge."  If you doubt me on this, think about how you heard about sex stuff in fifth or sixth grade, from the kids who had older sisters and brothers and plenty of misinformation to share.  I know people who are still recovering from mistakes they made based on that kind of bad intel...  

I think you are also supposed to go on and "tag" people by giving them numbers, to perpetuate the whole wacky cycle of self-revelation.  In the spirit of that confessional enterprise, I will start by saying that I didn't get the part about tagging others, and failed to do so.  I feel kind of foolish about this, as now it is so clear. But not super bad about it, the way I felt when I failed to continue a chain letter in fourth grade, despite the fact that it contained specific threats of death and misfortune for my entire family and future descendants if I didn't copy it out completely and mail it to three friends and three strangers within six days.  My mom told me the whole thing was fake and silly and threw all the copies I had started in the trash.  "The only bad luck 
you'll have," she said, utterly exasperated, "is if you don't get your homework done, because then you won't get to watch TV for the rest of the week."  It was Monday, so I gave up and eventually forgot about the whole thing. Though now that I think about it, that might explain a couple of dozen things that have happened over the last two decades.  

To make up for all that, I'm calling a do-over.  I've decided to reveal a few more things here.  Since I tagged myself, I'm not sure of the number, but I'll do my best.  My life is basically pretty boring, so there just aren't a lot of hidden dark corners I can clean out, but here goes:

1.  I once had to walk home from the day care center in the settling dark, in a snow storm in Maine, carrying baby Delia.  There was too much snow on the ground to push her stroller, so I had to leave it.  I was wearing a down jacket and she was wearing a snowsuit, so it was tough to keep her from sliding out of my arms.  To avoid totally dropping her when I slid in a snow drift, I thrust her way up in the air and fell on my knees, ripping my jeans and getting completely soaked in the slush.  She was fine, but I was crying and really shaken.  I made Mike pick her up for weeks after that, always making some excuse, but not telling him why, until the thaw started in March.

2.  After getting into the one of the colleges of my dreams when I was seventeen, I got pregnant and flunked out by spring.  I went from student of the year at my high school to pregnant teen drop out in less than a year.  (Too bad there was no reality TV then, I could have made a fortune.)

3.  Here's another real downer, but it is something about me.  I had to flee my apartment with my sons when they were two and four years old, taking their stuff in big black trash bags, because their dad, my first husband, was a physically abusive psycho.  He used to call to check up on me every couple of hours, (no cell phones then) so I had to wait until he called, act like everything was fine, then call the people who were helping me, so that we could get out before he called again.  When he found out I went to my parents' house, he came over and pounded on the door, threatening to kill us all, until they said they were calling the police. I went the next day to get a restraining order.  I was 22.  

Wow, now to shake off the negative, let's completely change the subject:

4.  At home, Mike and the girls call me "Moo-Shu."  Like the Chinese restaurant pork dish.  As far as I know, none of them have ever eaten moo-shu, but the name got stuck in Fiona's head when she watched an episode of Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman on PBS Kids, where the cartoon pooch kept yelling, "Don't forget to pick up the moo-shu!"  Moo-shu also seems to stand for some mommy-lovin', as in when Fiona says, "Come on, Mommy, give me some Moo-shu!" and settles into my lap for some cuddles.  

I guess my number was four, because now I am exhausted... and to make up for last time, I'm tagging you all, friends.  Pick a number and tell me some stuff.  

Chain letter picture from here, a blog I've never read, but I really liked the image.

Friday, November 15, 2013

And Now, a Word from the Champion Procrastinator of All Time

So here I am again, almost at the very end of the day, staying up way past my bedtime because of this (self-imposed) blog-post-every-day deadline.  It is amazing to me how quickly I fall into the work habits I've had since junior high.  You know, piddling around all day, "thinking" about my assignment, looking up books and articles for "research," writing a paragraph or two, then erasing them (now I just hit backspace until the false start disappears), walking away, doing a few other things that absolutely do not have to be done today, then finally, when I can't wait any longer, I sit down and write, having created the pressure I seem to need to get something on paper.  

That's just messed up.   I have long wondered if I can justify all of this by claiming that my best work is actually produced in a sleep-deprived semi-stupor.  Nah!  We all know it's really just a lack of discipline.  

And speaking of that, I am amazed at how much time evaporates when I am sitting in front of a computer.  I take my laptop to work at the post office, because I keep thinking I will have time to write.  And I do, though now, as the holidays approach, work has gotten a lot busier. I actually came home today and told Mike that all I'd accomplished at work today was, you know, work. But really, if I used my time wisely, like my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Berrier (and my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Koch, and my sixth grade teacher Mrs. Holliday, and my seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Little-- I think you get the idea...) kept telling me I should, I could get a lot of work done in the moments between postal customers.  

Part of the problem is that I don't even have to get up to wander away from my work.  Just click on a different screen.  Oh! Look at everything new on Face book in the last twenty minutes.  Oh! Look at all the cool stuff on Etsy since I checked this morning.  Oh! Look, new e-mails-- can't let that in-box fill up.  Now, I've discovered the joys of wasting time on, I mean listening to, Spotify, the streaming radio thingy. I listened to a hundred songs today.  Really?  Am I twelve?  Now I'm not even getting my spices alphabetized or my underwear drawer organized while I avoid writing.  I've reached a new bottom level of non-productivity.  At least I've achieved something, I guess.


Brainstorm! Get this new strategy:  I'm going to plan to do surf the internet for hours, answer e-mails and listen to streaming radio.  All by the end of the day, so that there's some time pressure, too.  I think I'll find myself wandering away from that stuff to write in no time.  I mean, as long as I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing, I can get a lot done. 

 I'll let you know how this works out, as soon as I get around to trying it.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

So Much to Learn Every Day

We went to our parent-teacher conferences today. There was nothing surprising, thank goodness, because, in a way, chatting with the teacher is like getting on an airplane.  In both cases, it is good to be able to report later that the whole thing was pleasant, and basically uneventful.  We heard nice things about the girls, and each of the teachers said something like "keep up the good work," and we smiled and laughed and shrugged off the praise, but we savored it too, because validation can be fleeting when you're a parent. The girls are still young and new to the whole school racket, so they are still eager to please, but I know, from experience with my older children, that this can change later on, as kids get tired and bored and more pressured by life beyond school. So I don't take the good stuff lightly, but I try not to make too much of it either. 

The day got me thinking though, about what I really want the girls to learn.  Reading and math skills are essential of course, but certainly they are not all there is to learn. I have recently read this study , this book,  and a few follow up articles, that talk about what traits seem to predict success for individuals.  Intelligence is a factor, sure, but once you get a bunch of intelligent people together, like at med school, or NASA or whatever, there are still some who will do better than others.  Those people apparently have something called "grit," which actually sounds like something kids get immunized against, not something we want them to have.  But listen, grit is "perseverance and passion for long term goals," which translates to something like resilience-- the ability to bounce back from setbacks, or being able to handle failure and keep going.

One thing I know for sure: bad stuff happens.  Small bad stuff and big bad stuff.  As parents we can prevent some of it.  That's why we teach kids to wash their hands, look both ways when they cross the street, and scream bloody murder if a stranger approaches and asks if they want to check out a puppy inside a creepy-looking van.  That's why we buy car seats and medicine in bottles with caps we can't even open, especially when the kids and everything else give us a freaking headache.  But what about the other things, like feeling left out on the playground, or not getting a part in the school play, or throwing the pitch that turns into the other team's home run?  This "grit" I'm talking about is the ability to deal with crap like this that kids go through every day, stuff we can't protect them from unless we become those weird stalker parents who seem to haunt their children's lives, running around fixing things for them all the time.  

The best thing we can do, apparently, is the hardest thing for many of us: we have to let our kids be disappointed and frustrated and we have to let them know that they can get over it and-- even more difficult, because sometimes it is hard to know that ourselves--  help them develop strategies to cope. It's like a workout for the character. The more they exercise those coping mechanisms, sometimes as simple as learning to wait to take turns or work now to have a reward later, the better they get.   (Hey, that kinda makes parents into personal trainers, and doesn't that sound better than being a stalker?)

And it turns out that there is a better way to "coach" this stuff too.  This article, and another more recent one (now you know why I can't get my writing done, I'm too busy reading) recount studies that show that simply telling kids they're smart or that they are good at something is not the best thing we can do.  Who knew? (Also, I will follow up and find out if telling kids they are adorable lovey sugarpies is still okay.  I haven't read a study on that.) Instead, we should praise our kids' effort and determination, because that will help them learn that, even if they fall short in something, they can keep trying for better results.  Apparently, kids who are just told that they're smart or just plain awesome tend to give up more easily when faced with frustration or failure. So the smartest person in the room may not be the one who thinks he's the smartest, but the one who thinks she can accomplish something if she sets her mind to it.

And that comes around to what I really want for the girls.  Smart is good, but it isn't everything.  The new core standards around here are reading, writing, and resilience-- and math and science too, because you never know when you'll need that stuff at med school, or NASA.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Quote Unquote

One thing I know for sure, and that is that other people are smarter than I am.   I have always loved looking through books of quotations, and I always have pages in my notebook filled with sentences others have written that seem to express my thoughts exactly.  This is partly because I've always believed that 
I don't see any fine print anywhere that says someone else can't put your thoughts into words for you.  And who am I to argue with Marcus Aurelius?

For today, I have started ten posts and backspaced all of them into oblivion because I really can't settle down and think of what I really want to say.  So I've decided to let others say things for me, and get back to writing tomorrow.  Here are a few more selections from my notebooks, and from my virtual notebook, Pinterest.  

Something to think about from minds better than mine.  See you tomorrow...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Moving Forward, Looking Back Just a Little

This morning was just like a Monday even though it was Tuesday, thanks to the Veteran's Day holiday this week.  I like a three day weekend as much as anyone does, but you still get that faintly sickening Monday feeling when you get up Tuesday morning, plus you kind of feel disoriented all day, because after all, it's Tuesday, but you're doing Monday stuff.  

Tuesdays are already kind of crunched for us anyway, because Delia has practice for the primary grade chorus, The Eighth Notes. It meets an hour before school starts, which means our day has to start an hour earlier too. Usually, Fiona and I walk Delia to school, drop her off for singing, then turn around and go home, only to come back to school for Fiona to get into class on time.  It always makes her kind of cranky, even when we are lucky enough to get a ride from Janet and Jennessa, our friends who swing by and pick us up on the way to school, saving us the morning walk.

She still looks little here, but she knows she's big.
This morning though, Fiona woke up before Delia, sauntered into the living room and said she'd decided she was going to computer lab when Delia went to singing.  Since computer homework is required, and not all kids have access to computers away from school, the lab is open for an hour before school starts every day.  We have a computer, so the girls usually do their work at home and we don't worry about going to school early, unless we have to, like on Tuesdays.

 "So just drop me off with Delia, then I'll go to class when the bell rings, " she said casually, as though she planned the schedule every morning.

"Are you sure?  We can get a ride when it's time for you to go to school.  Are you sure?" She remained steadily focused on an episode of Arthur on PBS. "You can do your homework at home.  Are you sure?"

"Mom," she was clearly exasperated with my back-talk. "I'm a big girl.  You're always telling me to be a big girl." She put up her hand, with the palm facing me, to dispense with any further questions:   "I'm sure."  Then she disappeared to pick out an outfit and make noise in her room to wake Delia up.

"Are you sure?" I called after her.  "I'm not coming back for you, you know." No reply.  "If you decide to stay, you'll be there until school's over."  Of course, I was talking to myself. 

Now, this is the same girl who slips into our bed every other night, claiming to be cold, or wide awake, or just lonely. 

This is the same girl who wheels her baby dolls around in a pink polka-dotted perambulator while talking on a toy cell phone to their pretend Dad, the big yellow M&M, insisting that they need "freshened" air, even though she only walks them around inside the house. This is the same girl who is my youngest child. My baby.
And I'm sure this is why it smacks me so hard when she says she is big.  I have always wanted the kids to be independent.  We never talked baby talk, and I'm not very patient, so there are a lot of things I've expected my kids to do for themselves.  I felt like I was scooting all of them along, from the first step to the first word to the first day of school.  Moving through the list of firsts makes me happy and proud and it made me feel like we were on track and moving forward.   And moving forward is always a positive thing, right?

I don't think about it most of the time, but every once in a while, like this morning, it hits me:  her firsts are my lasts.  I'm not going to have another kindergartner starting school, learning to go in on her own and start her own day.  I am still proud, of course, but also a bit sad thinking that she has her own day now, and her own thoughts. Some spaces in her life are already out of my reach.  I know that this is the way things are supposed to go, and I'm glad Fiona is moving forward.  I want her to be independent and confident on her own, but I guess I want her to miss me just a little, at least for now.

So I was glad that, even though she wouldn't let me walk her all the way into the computer lab ("I'm fine, Mom, just go") she did turn and look back one more time before she went in.  She flashed a smile as she turned the corner and said, "See you after school, Mommy."

That's my little girl.