Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Words With Friends


Recently I've been playing a lot of Words with Friends.  I've always loved the official game of Scrabble and decided that I needed another (more mobile) vice to help me procrastinate.  The muses that I had were getting kind of boring.

I started playing Words shortly before Alec Baldwin

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Of Velour, Vodka, & Paint



I've got big plans to close out the year strong...

in velour pants 
eating left-overs
in front of the fire
listening to Enya
reading a book

I deserve it, if I do say so myself.

On the 23rd, I got a terrible

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stress Free X-mas Secret

Don't expect anything too deep and meaningful... 

It is with extreme trepidation that I post this blog, I may even retract it after further consideration.  My reasons are two-fold; Partly, I fear my secret will become so main-stream as to be henceforth irrelevant* and partly because it arguably involves a bit of racial profiling, something I almost always strongly oppose.

How do I avoid the stressful craziness of 
Christmas Shopping?

Firstly

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

FOCUS!

Dishes make for a happy marriage
Well Cyber World (I kind of think of you as my imaginary friends),

I am incredibly unmotivated today.  Like SERIOUSLY lacking focus.  My list of things to do before the holidays is huge and looming and I don't think I've crossed a single thing off.  I tried to start some laundry and wandered down there a little while ago to switch it to the dryer only to discover that I never pressed start. I surfed pinterest for awhile and found this great picture (see right).  I posted something funny on FB and then obsessively replied to comments; I even inserted myself into an iPhone v droid discussion, but other than that, NADA.  NOTHING.

Oh, I did reserve some plane tickets!  Just for my DH and me.  We've gotten away, just the 2 of us, nearly every year as long as my kids weren't nursing.  I am a seriously lucky girl and my mother in law is amazing.  She asks repeatedly, "When are you guys going away so I can keep the kids?!"  She literally takes off work so she can watch our children and we can get away.  Our kids love it and are usually somewhat disappointed when we come back after 4 days (I can't blame them - she really treats them well).  It is one of the many things that I have on my list of, "What I'll Do for My Grown Kids." (which would make a good blog someday)

We've been to Jamaica, Vegas, New Orleans, Vancouver, Atlanta, and when money is tight (like this year), we multi-task and tack our trip onto a conference that my DH already needs to go to.  Personally, those are my favorite trips.  I spend all day reading or site-seeing and then meet up with my DH (sometimes we rendezvous in a BAR!) for dinner and save the best sites for when we are together.  I get some much needed alone time and we get some much needed couple time; Where we remember why we like each other and we get to hold on a conversation that doesn't involve the finer points of the most recent Fairly Odd Parents episode or the awesome soccer moves performed during the last game (admittedly, I do generally have to hear about fantasy football... please tell me that is over by January?!) We do all sorts of things totally impractical with kids, like only use public transportation, go to places that are a little racy, eat at really quaint non-chain restaurants (that don't serve chicken nuggets), and sleep in.  I know, we are living on the edge! Reckless!

I love these trips, even if it is only a long weekend.  I pretty much live from vacation to vacation anyway.  I love planning them and with next summer's cross-country National Park Nomad voyage so far off, I really needed something to live for...

So... come January, I'll leave the deep freeze of Middle America... and I'll hop off the plane at LAX with a dream and my cardigan...  
I may even walk in the sand and dip my feet in the ocean!

Oh Gesh!  The kids just over-heard me talking about plans and my poor 8 year old DD is seriously (and dramatically) distraught that she isn't joining us in LA, even though we are staying by the airport and no where near Selena GomezMy DD is convinced that she was meant to be a starlit and is destined to be "found" if she just walks the streets of "Hollywood" (spoken with an air of haughtiness and arms out-stretched).  And honestly, what worries me more is that I think she might be right.  I should probably sign her up for Children's Theater but keep her really far from Cali.

12/9/11 Update - I should have stuck with doing NOTHING on Tuesday.  The LA trip isn't going to pan out as my DH's portion of the conference got canceled :0(   Ah well, such is life.  I'm not ready to be discovered yet anyway...


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Oh Christmas Card!


Just got the mail and sure enough, an over-achieving Dear Friend (and FM) has already sent their Christmas card. Now don't get me wrong, I'm always excited at this time of year for the family update letters and cute pictures and beautiful cards.  I can nearly feel the love pouring off the wall as its decked with all of those dear people in our lives, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels a bit of pressure.  As soon as the first card arrives, it starts the countdown of how many more days until I must have mine done and will I find a good enough picture and should I write a letter and I don't feel creative and labels or should I hand write the envelopes and do I have a holiday sweater???

Frankly, I can't even think about the Christmas card until the house is decorated with holiday spirit.  Until we've made the sugar buzzed hour long drive while singing Bing & Frank to chop our perfect white pine and until our living room has the warm glow of brightly colored lights, I have promised myself not to even consider (let alone stress) about the Christmas card.

It has all become very predictable.  I start by saying that I'm cutting out the pressure and am not going to do a letter at all this year (I've never actually skipped a year); I just need to take / find a good picture of the family or the kids to send out.  When nothing is acceptable (even though there are 9,000 pictures from the year), I decide to pour a glass of wine and pull out the folder of old Christmas letters that we've written over the years.  When I read through them, it is like a little reunion of the happiest parts of our lives.  Some short snippets on a postcard, some hand-made, and others full color brochures*.  I remember distinctly which ones my DH helped write; more than once I've sat staring at the screen said, "Honey, I can't think of any possible way to spin the year we had into something positive; it was really rather terrible and I don't want to be fake."  He would shift me over in the seat and type, 
"Although many exciting things have happened this year, one "happening" clearly demands the most attention (literally).  That would be our son.  Thanks to being the first grandchild & nephew on all sides, he is never quite satisfied until 5 people are standing around him... equal parts giggle monster and actual monster...
...At the time we actually owned two houses (contrary to popular opinion, public servants living on one full time income are not wealthy enough to own a house in the country AND a house in the city)..."**
And while reading, the year quickly comes into perspective; I can laugh and remember how thankful and grateful we really are.  The reality shifts focus, there may have been a year with a stressful job change, miscarriage, a crazy baby, rushed move, sleepless nights, money troubles, illnesses, or mourning a death -- BUT at this one point of the year, we embrace the sparkly side, even if it is a little tricky to find.  In the words of Aunt Tish, "portals of light even in dark times."

In my mind, that is the point of these Christmas letters and happy family photos; some people are a little jaded and critical of them, "the yuletide brag rag" but not me.  The world is filled with all kinds of negative.  Obviously no one's family is perfect and always glowing (except ours).  Everywhere I look I'm reminded of the surrounding heartbreak, but if even for just a couple of weeks a year, it is nice to be reminded of the Blessings in life. To read about the successes and see the beautiful portraits and the silly snap shots.

I'd love a world where I am intimately privy to everything that is going on in the lives of those most dear to me but it isn't true.  FB has helped keep in touch with many people but the big picture is often lost in the day to day.  Sometimes I can see someone a couple times a year and still not know that they are at a new role in their company or that their water heater exploded all over the basement or that their kid plays the electric guitar or that they went sky diving.

Unsurprisingly, I say, bring on the holiday cards and pictures and letters and acrostics and poems! Even (especially) if some of them make me laugh and others I skim until I have more time because they are so long.  I love to hear about everyone and see the sweet pictures, so feel free to add me to your list, I'll even send you one back!
(if I even do a letter this year)

*We've done all sorts of things to send out Christmas cards cost effectively.  I liked the post card, the handmade ones were so much work but so cute, but last year's brochure was super funny.  Apart from the fact that it was like we were trying to promote our family, it was very practical and reasonably priced.  We joked about going to the local events and handing them out to prospective friends, ""please consider our family; our email is on the back should you have any questions."  My DS actually said last year, "Mom! Why can't we just take a regular picture for our Christmas card like all the rest of the families?!" 
Poor guy, it isn't easy having a crazy mom.

**Let me clarify that my DH does not use the pregnant pause...  I put those in because I'm just using excerpts from the original letters. Thankfully, my DH is the master of the positive spin.  Also thankfully, these last years, we've needed less spin.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

 
Happy Thanksgiving! 

It is one of my favorite holidays, with the food and family and laughter and games.  Memorial Day is also pretty great with the start of summer festivities, the first BBQs, and the pool opening; and I love the fireworks and live music on the 4th of July; Oh! and St Patrick's Day as the weather is finally breaking a bit and the green parade of leprechauns usher in Springtime...  I'll stop... The point has been made; I just love holidays... especially Thanksgiving (and Christmas with the lights brightening the otherwise darkest of days...)



My Dear Yoga Guru from Northern India is very wise.  Honestly, I could listen to her talk all day.  Along with yoga poses that relax, strengthen, and stretch, she also gives very sound advise.

Firstly, she would like us to pardon the turkey.  That advice is admittedly just straight crazy.  If pushed, I might consider being a vegetarian everyday of my life EXCEPT Thanksgiving.  

Secondly, and especially applicable given my recent response to a messy playroom (and to be honest, my attitude wasn't great yesterday either),

"Don't pick a fight with your family over Thanksgiving"

and it is with that bit of wisdom that I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.  May it be full of peace and patience.  May you (and I) spend the season with love, gratefulness, and blessings overflowing from our hearts.  May every person we meet (from those under our own roof to those eying for the last $199 TV on Black Friday) feel valued and respected and cherished.  In addition to being thankful for the food and the trappings, may we all be appreciative of the strengths and weaknesses, the quirkiness and the quaintness, the helpful habits and the annoying traits, of all those people surrounding us.  May we replace exacerbation and frustration with a very quick eye-roll and genuine laughter (with them, not at them-- especially to my family whom I am sure are quite done with my holiday spreadsheets).

In short, especially on Thanksgiving, may we all (special reminder to me) truly embrace what the OT, NT, Moses, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree upon; the back-stories may vary but the central point remains:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart 
and with all your soul 
and with all your strength 
and with all your mind; 
and, love your neighbor as yourself."

and as spoken by the great Dr. Rupert Simms,
let all the rest of the minutia go...

 Aside to the family I spend time with during this season... I love you all to death and can't wait to give thanks, eat, laugh (with you, and I will do my best to only occasionally laugh at you), visit, play games (my mom sent a new one that seems fun), make crafts (thanks to Pinterest, I've got a good one this year), and eat some more with you. Blessings and Love <3
 *and thank you to my Dear Sister for finding the perfect quote :0)

and now with this self-motivated pep-talk out of the way and an adjusted perspective, 
I'm off to turn up the FP, turn on some music (NOT X-mas), steep a ginger peach tea, 
and cheerfully ready for the festivities.

Also to quote my Dear Guru, 
Shanti Shanti Shanti
Peace individually, collectively, and universally 



Saturday, November 19, 2011

Crazy Clean

Nothing creates a bond that turns siblings into best friends quite like the common enemy of a crazed mom on cleaning day. Today, that crazed mom was me.

I'd like to say that I did if for the kids; they've been bickering a bit and their relationship needed a boost, but in reality, it isn't a strength, but I have an extraordinarily low tolerance for crap in my own home.  No need to get all self-conscious, it honestly doesn't bother me in other people's homes.  I was raised this way (with a low tolerance for crap) and I've routinely been known to accidentally throw really unflattering melt-downs when my house, and hence my psyche / inner chi, are a mess.  There are definite triggers:
  • stepping on Matchbox Cars / Legos / Polly Pockets / Squinkies / Littlest Petshop / marbles / darts
  • drinks, dishes, & snacks left in sticky piles as if our suburban split level came with a brownie to clean up after us.
  • garbage on the floor (seriously!  There is a garbage can within arms reach but the klennex is on the FLOOR?!)
  • dirty socks on the couch (just gross)
  • drawers crammed and unable to shut with what was previously perfectly clean & neatly folded clothes
  • art projects, homework, magazines, books, or random scraps of paper (especially candy) left lying all over
  • lack of sleep & hormones (In the spirit of honesty, my blow-outs might possibly tend to be a little bit cyclical)
  • the list goes on, but these are ones that popped in mind today.
It was my DH who first saw the pattern years ago and decided that something needed to be done.

messy house + lazily laying around  =  psycho wife
orderly house + cleaning up (before relaxing) =  much more lovey wifey

The Goal:  fewer cleaning sessions that start like this***

Over the years, we've grown into a comfortable spot (the kids might consider it more like a military base).  I have fewer melt-downs ( a couple a year rather than a couple a week) and we are all a bit happier for it.  I try to lower my expectations and the other members of the household try not to pull any triggers.  Generally speaking, if someone stops by the house, it is basically straightened.  There may be laundry in the family room in the process of being folded or an unmade bed or or a couple of pots air drying in the kitchen, but for the most part, it is straightened (don't mistake that for clean which is a whole other thing).  This doesn't happen by accident. I have a instituted a fairly strict multi-part system adopted by asking everyone with a clean house how the heck they kept it that way*:

--  Use phone time with friends to be productive.  I'd love to embrace the old-school friendships of my Dear Grandma and "just sit down and enjoy the visit" but it frankly isn't practical.   Pick-up little stuff and swifter the floors/corners while chit-chatting; multi-task and do all of the simple stuff while catching up.  The time goes by super fast and when the phone call is done, the house is much better.  It is amazing what can get done in only 10 minutes.  As a side note, make sure these things are quiet.  A friend should never need to know that you are multi-tasking.  For example, avoid doing the dishes or starting a load of laundry or cleaning toilets.  You also shouldn't need to exert much effort, like carrying in the groceries, or painting the hall.  Good tasks are things that take no concentration or effort:  dusting, sweeping, wiping down counters, organizing the junk drawer, clipping coupons, and picking up, sorting, &/or putting away laundry.

--  It is motivating to clean with a sound-track.  I made a playlist on my ipod called: Cleaning (a link is here with a couple of the songs but beware, most of them show my age and all of them are super cheesy).  It contains a group of songs that get me motivated to live simply and clear out my life.  An hour of music is a good beginning; at the start of the playlist, feverishly clean for exactly one hour.  Putting a limit makes one's time more productive (eventually, try to exercise a bit while cleaning).  When those songs are over, the beds are made, dishes done, shoes away, floors swept/vacuumed, chaos moderately averted, and sanity partially restored.

--  On the good days, when I haven't just accidentally screamed about the current state of affairs until I am hoarse, we have a cleaning party.  By the time kids can walk, they can put things away.  Tell them where it goes and they need to march (hop, skip, jump, or gallop) it over to the bin and put it away.  Most kids don't enjoy cleaning but are better in a orderly environment.  If I am having fun, they are usually having fun.  Albeit the cleaning goes slowly, but if it is a game (with music), it works just fine.  As a side note, I usually don a British accent (mine is terrible and sometimes turns Southern or Australian) and pretend to be Mary Poppins, or butlers in a grand mansion.  Sometimes my DD hops everywhere like a bunny and calls me sire.  I also learned not to make them clean up a mess from a child that I insisted they invite over, but their own friends, they clean up after, generally without my help.

--  Keep a garbage can and laundry basket nearby and whatever doesn't belong in that room, put in the laundry basket.  Carry the basket from room to room, all the while putting things into it and taking things out.  My DS is really good at running things up and down to the right rooms.  I was reminded by another FM to never under-estimate the power of a race, especially for boys.

--  Regularly people come over and ask for a copy of our Family Expectations.  It hangs proudly on our wall and was devised shortly after a seriously dramatic (and embarrassing) melt-down by yours truly.  My DS and I had gotten particularly frustrated with each other over expectations and he felt like there was always "something else" and I felt like he was doing barely anything but complaining. Our DS needs thourough expectations and a list; he comes by it honestly, I love lists and need to physically cross things off.  He also functions better with consequences and rewards.  We've been using various degrees of this list for about 6 years (in the beginning it was a much more simple checklist and a marble jar, later it turned more detailed and had money attached).**

--  Our family loves electronics and nobody (even me) relax in front of them until the house is in order and our work is done.  Electronics / Screens (even Pinterest, FB, the Blog, or a book) are not begun until the house is as it should be, not perfect, but acceptable.  It is our family's relaxing reward for a job well done.

Publicly displaying my neurosis like this makes me a little sheepish. I try really hard to appear laid-back and not so high strung (I doubt I'm pulling it off).  In college I attempted to deny my instincts and never made my bed, but eventually, my true colors came through.  I love people who live on whims and glide through the day, I'm just not cut out for it.  I get really stressed and more than a little crazy when my life isn't organized.  Rather than driving him nuts, thankfully, I found a DH who rarely rolls his eyes at me; he at least feigns genuine when he tells me that he loves our orderly home and would not want it any other way.  My kids are better when our lives are orderly.  I don't know if it is because I am better and I hold a barometer for our family or if they are genuinely just better.  Either way, our life feels happier****.

*DISCLAIMERS:  This system didn't really come into full effect until our youngest was 4.  One of my favorite Frugal Mentors told me that my life will come back into focus when my youngest is 4.  She was totally right for me.

**The family expectations list doesn't work for all kids.  My DD was over-whelmed (partly because she could barely read).  She is naturally a very orderly child and does this stuff anyway just to make me happy, so we don't use the list very much for her.  It was originally laminated so that it could be carried around, crossed off with a dry erase marker, and then cleaned every day.

***My DD is not thrilled that I included this picture from when she was 2 but it illustrated my point so well.  In reality, she is a good cleaner and doesn't complain, she just gets the job done.  This picture was from the day after Halloween and she had a very rare, sugar hang-over melt-down.  In the scrap-book is a picture of her happily smiling and dressed as Pinky-Dinky Do and then right next to it is this picture, with the day after effects of Halloween.

****I want to make it clear that it is my lack of ability to cope that has made me orderly.  Just because my house is rarely in shambles, doesn't mean that I have my act together (my poor kids will attest to that today).  The reality is that in the midst of chaos, I'm absolutely insufferable.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Feigning Happy

Years ago, as a new mom, I was a total mess.  I had pretty severe postpartum depression; this was back when even successful celebrities hid the reality of their "baby-blues" and other moms gaped in horror at the mere hint of  being unhappy; as they hugged their children close, assuming you were about to throw any child within arm's reach off a balcony.  I loved my kids and my family but everything was just off.*

Parenthood (and life) was very different than I thought it would be.  Our first born was rarely happy (to be honest, neither was I) and we were always exhausted.  We were broke; my DH was in grad school (a place I longed to be); I had been good at my job but was now only part-time; I loved God but was frustrated by how judgmental and filled with minutia "the church" had become.  I had been reflective, creative, and fun before kids and then had these babies who sucked me dry (literally and figuratively).  I was embarrassed to be depressed and wanted to be happy and elated with these adorable healthy children, but felt like a shell of who I had been.  Plato's shadow.  I couldn't imagine why my DH would want to come home from his successful job to this life of chaos.

The early years are much of a blur (probably for the best), but I distinctly remember a time when my DH wanted to give me a break and took both kids for the day to see his grandparents downstate.  I should have been excited (or at least relieved) to finally be alone but instead, I was incapacitated.  I didn't call a friend, or catch up on sleep, or clean the house, or read a book, or do a project, or go shopping, (this was pre-Pinterest and FB), or take a bubble bath, or get a pedicure, or start a blog, I literally just sat down and cried.  I sobbed the entire day.  I got out colorful markers and tried to write a list of things that I liked to do, or should do, or even needed to do but ended up dehydrated and staring at a blank sheet of paper.

After that day was over, I was determined not to be a person who lost their entire identity in their children, or even spouse or job or "the church".  From then on, I made a change.  I mentally visualized what a scrapbook of a happy family life looked like, and over time, incorporated those things:
  • I signed myself up for a stained glass class (it still hangs in our LR as a constant reminder). 
  • We invested in a gym membership with child-care and got myself back into shape (honestly it was more like a resort, just walking in was a relief, not to mention that I was able shower in peace - the irony of a public shower being a luxury is not lost on me).
  • We listened to lots of fun music and had parties in the living room.
  • My DH surprised me with an Audible subscription for my birthday so I could listen to books on my Palm Zire (that really dates this story) while driving to work, cleaning the house, or using the elliptical.  
  • I started taking tons of digital pictures, especially of the happy times. I wanted to make fun and lasting memories with the kids so we went to children's museums and parks and hikes.  We took art classes together and went to the zoo.
  • On the many long evenings without my DH, the kids and I ate salmon outside on the patio and played games and read.  I invited other spouse-less people over for dinner and laughed and drank life-preservers (an OJ & rum drink that I made up to cope with life) until it was dark.
Life (mine in particular), was much better but it was still rough.

Admittedly, most self-help books don't do it for me, but I had read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People years before and thought it deserved a re-read / listen.  It is different from the self-help genre as it is really just principles that successful people use, even if they aren't written down.  Pre-kids, I liked to write, so that's what I did.  On January 1st, 2006 (my DD was 2), I sat down and wrote my mission statement, in relation to my role as a mom and wife.  It sits in front of my desk and I re-read it every week to stay focused.  My mission gave me purpose and soon, rather than feigning happiness, I became genuinely happy, not instantly, and there are still hard times but they are in perspective.  Our marriage is stronger.  Our kids are more disciplined.  My part-time job became fulfilling.  Our home, fun and relaxed and a place we all want to be:

One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is best expressed in the choices one makes. 
- Eleanor Roosevelt

I am choosing to be healthy, happy, passionate, & balanced in every area of my life:  body, mind, heart, & soul.

PHYSICALLY - through regular exercise, conscious eating, and a healthy lifestyle
MENTALLY - through reading for fun and for reflective insight, both current and classic
SOCIALLY / EMOTIONALLY - through laughter and deep friendship
SPIRITUALLY - through prayer, meditation, and worship

INTEGRITY - and honesty will stem from the deepest part of my being and course through every aspect of my life.
CHARACTER - My principles, values, and demeanor will not be waned by fear or money or unmet expectations or the weather
GOD - God will be my constant; He will be my encouragement and my strength and my peace

RELATIONSHIPS - friends & family will feel loved, accepted, valued, & respected; I will generously help with my skills & abilities.
UNDERSTANDING - I will listen to understand completely and judge rarely in my marriage, family, friendships, and work.
GROWTH - I will provide space and flexibility to change and grow naturally, without drama or a battle.

TEAM - My family will be part of my team, with varying personalities and leadership roles, but working together as a unit
MARRIAGE - Time and energy will be spent dating, loving, and enjoying my DH; listening and growing with him.

PARENTING - I will love, guide, nurture, and protect my children, sometimes from themselves; allowing them to be individuals with purpose and integrity.

ENVIRONMENT - I will travel, enjoy, protect, and care for nature and Earth.
ORDER & CLEANLINESS - I will facilitate an atmosphere that is organized, clean, comfortable, safe, and happy.
FRUGALITY & MODERATION - Money, time, energy, food, space, & belongings will be used wisely, efficiently, & without waste.
PROACTIVE - rather than being reactive, I will be responsible for my future by making plans and considering the impending natural consequences of my choices.

January 1st, 2006 (31 years old) 
my mission is not new, but now on paper, something tangible, my mission has been given a voice.

*I did not make it through my PPD without medication.  My DH pulled me into a hug one day and told me that it was heart-breaking to see me like this.  He held my hand and brought me to my doctor and we discussed options.  I was fortunate to have friends and family for support but very few who had been through this before.  It was something that from the inside, I honestly didn't know the extent or more aptly was unable to objectively see myself or the situation.  I was simply putting one foot in front of the other (which is apparently NOT what normal happy moms do).  It was hard for me to tell the difference between over-tired / over-whelmed / unmet expectations / selfishness / incompetent parenting and TRUE DEPRESSION; I kept thinking that I just needed to buck up and get over it but couldn't. I hated the medication as I felt like I was in an emotionless fog but it was much better than my melt-down filled, un-medicated existence.  Eventually, I was weaned off but probably would have been unable to make the changes necessary without medication to help ease the transition.  Now, when I see a new mom with that all to familiar vacant look that goes straight to her soul, I can't help but talk to her, and encourage her that she isn't alone, and that it is okay to get help and most of all-- with time and some effort (& sometimes  medication), it will get better. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dynamic!

Feigning Middle Class in Suburbia is having a grand re-opening. I realized today (while wasting time and definitely NOT doing laundry) that the blog design was original and from 2007 with only moderate tweaks here and there.  It was pretty and simple and very me.  Times have changed and my blog deserves a more streamlined and hip* look.

The default view is "magazine" although, if you prefer the old-style, the "side bar" option is probably the closest.  Flipcard is also kind of fun.  It takes a little getting used to but over-all, it seems easier to read.  The preview only shows the first paragraphs, so click the post title, picture, or date banner to read more...

I'm not sure that I really get why a chosen blog opens into a whole new screen, but they can still be shuffled through chronologically with the little arrows at the top left of each blog post.


For those fellow bloggers who have been afraid to transition to the new Dynamic Views, I was too!  They just sat there taunting me for weeks!  The name itself is just scary!  It feels very final when hitting "apply to blog" although after it is done, there is an option to "revert to previous template".  I didn't try it because I happen to like the new one but at least there might be options.  Here is my take before making this dynamic major life-changing decision:
  • Dynamic is Better:  
    • There are more options to personalize the look.  
    • I love how much easier it is to see old posts
    • It seems cleaner and easier to navigate. 
  • Dynamic is Different:  
    • no longer are there options to adjust the width 
    • those fun little gadgets / add-ons are not supported, yet (word on the google street is that someday they will be)
    • the picture used on the side bar is automatically chosen, not picked by the Blogger.  I believe it is the first picture of the blog, but I could be wrong.
    • I was really excited about the option to use my own background picture but it doesn't seem to work the same as the ones that they supply.  Instead of staying stagnant, it continually repeats when scrolling down the page.  It is kind of quirky and annoying so I used a stock picture for now.
  • Dynamic is Worse:  
    • There doesn't seem to be an option to edit posts right from the blog.  Sometimes after glancing over my writing, I realize that it could have been worded better or there is a grammatical error.  At this point, I need to go into Blogger, find the post, and correct it from there.  It seems crazy but I honestly don't see another way.  (SEE REVISION)
    • There is also not an option to preview the blog before posting (also seems crazy, but it is true!)
    • NO GADGETS WORK
    • The stats are off.  The numbers seem right over-all but each blog is hard to tell if it is popular or not.

*do chic people still use the word hip? or since I've used the word hip does it make it decidedly not so?! 

11/19/11 - REVISION! Happy to say that next to the blog title they (whoever they may be) have added a little pencil and can now easily be edited!  

1/25/12 - I've given up on Dynamic Views for now.  The stats are all off, I miss the gadgets.  I will go back someday, but for now, I'm sad to say that the negatives seem to out-way the positives. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Minivan Confessions

(the Suburban / PBS version of Taxicab Confessions)


The carpool of 10-year-old boys have just finished soccer practice, under the lights, and in the rain; they are streaked with mud and happy as can be.  Everyone is laughing and boisterously singing along with the pop and hip-hop on the radio... until...

"Sexy and I Know It" by LMFAO comes on...  

at which point, one of the boys from a neighboring school appallingly groans, "Ugh... that reminds me...  I had the most traumatic day of my life at the Robert Crown Center today!  Boys, you'll learn things you never wanted to know.  Puberty isn't even the start of it...  I can't even talk about it..."

My dear (and MUCH younger) 8 year old daughter proceeds to inquire what Robert Crown is and the boys, nearly in unison, respond with things like, "You don't want to know... you'll see in 5th grade... hold on to your innocence..."

--and then the minivan goes excruciatingly silent--

except for a stifled chuckle from yours truly...


as a side note, my DD just came out of bed to ask me if way back in the 70's people could see in color... 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sweet Shots Forever

I'll admit to being a little more than camera happy.  My poor kids have confided that they feel their every breath is documented for posterity (my DD loves it, my DS tolerates it).  Routinely friends from the community will say, "I almost didn't recognize you without your camera!"  My first Canon DSLR was a splurge thanks to a very generous holiday bonus from my boss 5 years ago. I've been obsessively using it with moderate creativity ever since.  I take pictures (just as a hobby) of my family, friends, events, and for the elementary school yearbook.  I have no off-switch and tend to just like my own pictures better than the ultra posed professional ones. 

Photography is a cherished medium to me.  My mom has taken pictures for years, and as a child I looked through our photo albums for hours.  I love that 20 people can be at the same place and every picture, every angle, every perspective is captured differently.  I love looking through other photographers pictures of the same event.  I love seeing a glimpse of life through their eyes.  It feels like one of the only concrete ways to literally walk in their shoes.  I particularly adore these glimpses when they come from my kids.  I can't wait to look through their pictures from a vacation and see what they find interesting, or funny, what they love, their view of me, my DH, and each other.

My style of photography has always been kind of intimate (I often hold the camera myself and take those pictures where our heads are super close and our faces fill the entire frame - and then wonder how we get lice).  I've been blessed with kids that smile easily.  I've owned a zoom for years but rarely use it and never quite articulated why.  I simply knew that I found it a little cumbersome and when I look back on the pictures, they are never my favorites.  Occasionally I bring it to baseball or soccer games.  I used it a couple of times on vacation to get a close-up of a mountain goat on a cliff or see if that blob of brown in the distance really is a grizzly, but other than that, it never leaves my camera bag.  I have DFs who use their zooms all the time and I love the way that their pictures turn out.  It has just never been me.  

Saturday I went to the most amazing photography class with a DF (said with a tinge of melancholy because another DF that I haven't seen in YEARS was supposed to come as well but couldn't because her child got sick - sometimes putting ourselves last as parents really sucks).  Anyway, it was a class specifically taught on how to best use my beloved SLR while photographing children.

Sweet Shots with Amy Tripple gave me the cliche' Oprah "Ah Ha" Pause, and not just because she is my friend.  In fact, I think it is harder for a friend to ignite life-changing insight than a stranger.  She plainly explained some things in her class that I kind of knew but didn't fully understand and other things that I didn't know at all.  She was clear and witty (and endearingly self-deprecating), but most importantly, after being in her class I've embraced a certain personal style that was nearly there but not quite solidified.   

Amy encouraged the class to obtain a prime/fixed lens.  It went against my instinct to get a lens that doesn't even have the option to zoom.  The SLR and the class are expensive so I was really leery to spend even more money.  I bought the cheapest one that I could find.  I absolutely love it.  I may never put back on another lens again! I feel like the pictures I am capturing are real and genuine and it is how I am interacting with life.  Although I may physically not be in the picture, it is the smile that my kids are specifically giving to me.  I am not capturing the experience from a distance, I'm right in the middle of it. It is as close to the reality of the moment as possible for me-- only with a extra little fuzzy background and some well placed borders. 

Many thanks to you my DF Amy!  
I have a whole new enthusiasm for documenting happy memories again.

View of the World - My DD says this is them looking down on the world together. Not a posed photo, just a moment that was sweet and I never want to forget

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lice - The Check

It is that time of year.  I am making my annual (or really weekly) public service announcement / plea:

PLEASE CHECK for LICE!!

When my children (or anyone for that matter) walk in the door of our house, they remove their shoes, hang their coats, and wash their hands.  In addition, I usually do a quick lice check.  I know this seems a little obsessive, and it is, but I hate being sick and I NEVER want a repeat of The Great Lice Infestation of 2009.  One day my DS was frustrated by it and I said (equally as frustrated), "Get used to it because I will be checking your hair every single day that I see you until you walk down the aisle to get married and then I will teach your wife how to do it!"

Frankly, I want a grain alcohol dipping vat but the logistics and legality are tricky.  I will admit to not checking everyday for lice, but I always check after they shower and more often as the weather gets cooler and hats and coats are more prevalent.  Lice is a part of growing up, especially with an affectionate daughter, and honestly not too bad if you catch it quickly.  Lice is horrifically awful if it goes unchecked.

That little speck
above my finger is a nit
I've had "write the lice blog" on my to do list for a couple of weeks and actually wrote a really solid draft but just hadn't found the motivation to make final revisions.  Being "a writer" is often a burden.  Sometimes, I'm pretty sure that life just wants to give me material.  I even remember saying to someone, "I'd love to post the lice blog but what I could really use are some pictures for illustration."  It was like I mocked the blogger gods right to their face.

Shockingly, I know first hand that it is officially time to check for lice because when my DD got home today, we did our little routine and sure as SH__, there in her hair were 2 adult bugs.  She has only a few nits so this is VERY recent and not a bad case at all.  Now some of you are in my DD's class or spent time with us in a bouncy house this weekend, please don't freak out!  We will get through this, we just need to work at it. That said, it is Picture Day and I hope nobody shared combs. Yuck.


1)  Breathe Deep and pour a glass of wine (really not necessary but everything goes better with a glass of wine).

Adult Head Lice:
Size of a Fruit Fly
I'm really zoomed in
2)  Start with the huggy child who has longer hair and loves to share.  Stand under a good light and look through the hair.  Look for very small (smaller than a grain of sand) white specks very near the scalp (within a 1/2").  These specks are fixed to the hair shaft and don't move easily when you pull on them.  If they easily brush away, it is just flakes.  Less often, you will find bugs that look like fruit flies with no wings.  It easiest to look when blow drying their hair after a shower.

3)  Check often and check well.  Pay special attention to above the ears and the nape of the neck. If you don't know what to look for or your eye sight is terrible, shoot me a text or stop by.  I am always able to do a quick check and tutorial.  It is my life-long vow, to be here for anyone who needs a lice check.  Seriously.

4) Please don't wait for the school to check children.  School is not actually the most likely place to "catch lice" and by ethical code, they can only spot check students.  The school's duty is not: safety, education, and pediculosis capitis detection (although most school nurses will gladly check if asked).  It will take parents to break the cycle.  As much as I would love to have a grassroots approach and open a Lice Check Booth at Fall Fest, The PTA President is skeptical. *(SEE RETRACTION BELOW)


If NO Lice or Nits Are Found-  Avoid Getting Them by Simple Tips: 
  • Don't share combs, hats, hair bands, coats, pillows, towels, sports equipment, etc.  
  • Wear hair short, braided, or in a ponytail (some DFs will forever buzz their boys)
  • Use Fairy Tales lice repellant.  The website is also very informative.  I buy it at Ulta.
  • My in House Lice Kit
  • One DF has everyone wear a hoody to the movie theater and rest it on the back of the chair so their head doesn't come in contact with the chair.
Random Pediculosis Capitis Info:
  • Lice actually prefer clean hair
  • Lice don't like hair that has product in it or is blow dried so adults rarely get lice (unless you are like me & don't use product or a blow dryer).
  • Lice usually spread by head to head contact or sharing items that were on a head; it is very unlikely that they will crawl or jump or shimmy or gallop or fly (unfortunately, they don't drown so they can spread in pools)
  • Head Lice do not spread disease
  • Thankfully, head lice only effect the human head, not coarse hair, "other hairy areas", or pets.
  • An adult louse lays about 5-10 eggs / nits a day
  • Nits take 7-10 days to hatch and then another 7-10 days to become reproductive
  • A hatched louse can only survive for 24 hours without being on a head.
Even if no lice or nits are found, be prepared and go buy a nit comb and some Fairy Tales products.  It is a little Y2K of me, but I think the $30 is well spent.

If Even One Louse or One Nit is Found:
Go get a box of Kleenex, a Large Glass of Wine, and Read the Following Post:

*RETRACTION OCT 21, 2011:  Let it be known that I took poetic license with this statement.  In reality, the revered and highly respected PTA President did not say she was skeptical of a Lice Check Booth at Fall Fest (it could be called "Pick the Nit" - and volunteers could dress as the Grim Reaper?! - sorry back on topic).  I apologize for tarnishing her good name with such falsehoods.  BUT, the District Nurse is NOT supportive of the idea.  I actually talked to her today while she was checking my DD's hair (who was totally clean) and the nurse (who is a lovely woman and I adore her) told me, "I appreciate your enthusiasm but the PTA really can't get involved for confidentiality reasons."  -- Probably best if she doesn't know that I wrote a whole blog about it.  Despite the feigned anonymity of this blog, I've never been a real "confidential" type person.

Anything but LICE!

Okay, so now you've checked, found some nits or lice, finished crying, poured a much larger glass of wine (or started a pot of coffee), and want to know what to do because denial and sobbing don't seem to be helping:
What you Need to get Started
  1. It really isn't that bad.  Try to stay calm.  It is a lot of work and monotonous but you will survive.  Pull on big girl panties, put everyone in Good Will clothes, find a couple of old towels, and get to work.  Call, text, or message me if you need support.
  2. First off, get rid of the lice.  It is a good practice to keep lice products in the house just in case but honestly, olive oil lice treatment works as well as anything.  I'm not big on pesticides and the oil slows and suffocates the lice and more importantly makes the nits easily slip right off the hair with the nit comb.  There are plenty of sites online that talk about various methods; one doesn't need to go au-natuale but it works for us.*
  3. Put a old towel around shoulders.  Saturate the hair in olive oil (or other lice remover/killer).  Comb the olive oil through with a wide comb to make sure it is really in there and to get out the knots. 
  4. Put a plastic bag or shower cap over the head and move to the next family member.  Personally, if we find one nit / louse, I just put the olive oil on all of us (not the same if you use pesticides; use pesticides sparingly).  Since olive oil is so harmless and actually helps your hair, it isn't bad to do every now and again even just to be safe. The oil needs to stay on for a couple of hours.
  5. While heads are wrapped and marinating: remove all sheets, blankets, mattress pads, coats, etc.  Everything needs to be washed in hot water and put in the dryer on hot.  
  6. Pack all stuffed animals and pillows that can't be washed into garbage bags.  They need to stay in there for 2 weeks, the incubation period of nits/eggs. This step is not to suffocate the nits/lice as much as to keep attractants and crap to a minimum.
  7. Vacuum everything really well: couches, beds, floors, pillows, cushions, chairs, the car, backpacks, etc. The goal being to vacuum up any unhatched nits or a random unattached louse.
  8. By this point, you will be tired but ready to nit comb the first person.  Start with the individual with the shortest hair.  It will go quicker and there will be fewer nits; it will also give the others more time to soak. 
  9. Find a well lit spot, not over carpet.  It should be someplace very easy to clean later.  Get a chair that is at a comfortable height to avoid bending too far.  If you can put a TV in front of them, even better.
  10. Take a small metal nit comb and go through every little bit of hair in very small groups. Go multiple directions.  Pay special attention to above the ears and the nape of the neck. Wipe the nit comb on a paper towel (I personally prefer a paper towel to a bowl of water) to get off the nits after each swipe (Figure 2.b - they will look like little black specks).
  11. Continue through the whole head a couple of times until the nit comb is repeatedly coming out clean.  If it is a bad case, this will take awhile.
  12. Wash the hair REALLY well with dish soap to cut the oil and then wash with shampoo.  I blow dry the hair afterwards.
  13. Repeat steps 6-11 on each person.  Save the worst for last.  You will be really good at it by that point and it will go faster.
  14. Soak all combs in rubbing alcohol for at least an hour when you are done.
  15. Put clean sheets on the beds.  Some people keep their pillows in a garbage bag with a case over it.  When we had the Infestation of 2009, we did that.  If there are only 2 bugs, that is over-kill.
  16. Neurotically check for lice multiple times a day.  If even one nit is found, redo the olive oil treatment, rewash, and vacuum everything (honestly, I redo the olive oil every couple of days on anyone who had a nit the previous time, just to be safe).
Figure 2b - Little Black Specks are Nits
A Couple of Other Things:

No need to be too stressed or over-whelmed.  I've seen remarkable women reduced to tears over lice.  It is a lot of work but not awful.  We've had the roto-virus and that is way worse and spreads like wild-fire.  This is simply a really thorough house cleaning  (and to be honest, I kinda like the stuff all packed up).  If there isn't time to get to a certain room, just don't let anyone into that room until it is done.  The first time, the playroom was off limits for a couple of days until I could get to it.  I know several families who literally just locked the playroom for 2 weeks and everyone stayed in a couple of rooms until the risk was over.  Focus on the rooms that must get done.  Take your time.  This isn't a race to exhaustion.

Please don't be embarrassed or feel like you need to keep it a secret because of the crazy stigma associated with lice.  Lots of people get lice and you will need the moral support of friends and family.  Diligently fix the problem so that it doesn't spread, don't be ashamed for having it.  Keeping lice a secret is actually what is helping it continue to spread.  I'm not sure why it seems so different from strep throat or the flu.  Clean people get lice just like healthy people get viruses. 

After the house is clean and the nits are at bay, some dreaded phone calls / emails need to be made (I go the email route as I'm too tired to make phone calls).  It is never fun to tell people that they may also have lice because their child was with your child.  Let school** or church know, chances are if one child has lice others have it as well and until everyone resolves it, the problem will just keep coming home.  It is a courtesy from one parent to another.

Clear The Oracle.  Cancel playdates, carpools, and don't feel the need to rush back to school and work. Eradicating lice takes a lot of energy and is a big deal.  It will take time to resolve.   A couple of days off will be good for everyone.  My DS speaks of Lice 2009 as the "glory days".  We all stayed home for 3 days and watched TV and played video games but everyone felt great.  It doesn't NEED to take 3 days; it is possible to have a clean head in one night and return to life as normal the next day, but that seems really ambitious, even on a light case.

I hope that the louse was caught quickly and the clean-up is fast and easy, but if not, Stay Strong my DF.  Imagine the virtual mom stripes earned from this battle!  It is the Everest of Parenthood.  It isn't glamorous.  It is exhausting and over-whelming but at the same time heroic.  If you need a Sherpa to hold the nit comb, bring an emergency bottle of wine, or check your head (even the mere mention of lice makes me super itchy) -- I'm here for you.

*To clarify:  I'll be honest, Medical Professionals often seem to recommend pesticides and frown on the natural alternatives.  The olive oil doesn't necessarily kill the lice or nits (it is supposed to eventually suffocate them), it just makes it really easy to pull them out of the hair (way easier than anything else I've tried and I've tried a ton of stuff).  In 2009, I first killed the lice with a natural lice killer (followed the instructions on the bottle) and did the nit comb, THEN I used the olive oil.  This time, with only a few, I just did the olive oil a couple of times.   The olive oil is so easy that I can actually nit comb my own hair (this time nobody but our DD had any), and it is fast .  If it is a bad case, I recommend first a natural lice killer (or pesticide), then the same night, olive oil to get out whatever was missed the first time.  Don't count on the lice killer to work, you NEED to hand pull out all of the nits.  If the lice killer isn't totally effective, that is how you breed the super bug.  The egg or bug survived the chemicals and is now stronger than ever and you need to start all over.  It is better to take your time at the beginning than repeat this over and over.

**Common practice is that the school will send home a letter to everyone in your child's class, alerting other parents to be on guard for lice and giving general information (our school is small so even sent out a school wide email).  The nurse will also check your child before they can return to class.  The nurse will recheck again in 2 weeks.  I usually redo the olive oil treatment at least once a week for 3 weeks even if she appears clear, just to be safe.  Especially because it can reoccur.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Unfortunately,

I have so much more nonsense to drivel!
I have some abysmal news my cyber-world friends.  After only a couple of months, my real paying job needs me.  I'll be going into the office more often.  It will not be back to 30 hours a week but it will be considerably more than the 3 that I've grown accustom to (before judging me too harshly for using a preposition to end a sentence, please read this article).  

I should be happy (and I am) but I've loved my brief life in the spotlight as a world- renown blogger; I don't mean to brag but, people in Russia, Germany, France, Spain, Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom, Greece, Singapore, Netherlands, Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Philippines, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkey, India, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Latvia, and the land down under / Australia have visited my blog site at least once.  It will be hard to return to my relative anonymity after all this fame and recognition; While walking to school after publishing, at least one person nods in my general direction.  They may not say anything, but I know that they read my blog and are giving me mad props.

But alas, do not cry in your non-fat yogurt banana smoothie, I will still write; I feel that I've just scratched the surface of my literary prowess.  Unfortunately, the laundry will need to take priority to my art.  

(<3 and a special thanks to my Small but Loyal Posse who have encouraged me since the very beginning <3)