Saturday, January 28, 2012

Farewell, Old Friend

It's a beautiful morning in the mountains. Sunny, no wind, 35 degrees at 9:30 this morning. The tree branches are white and sparkling with ice, the lake is partially frozen and stunning. My family is out skiing, enjoying the day. I'm sitting here alone in the rental house, waiting for my Imitrex to kick in so I can crawl back into bed in a dark room, slip into a drug-induced sleep, and hope my migraine goes away. Lousy.

The good news is that I think I have, after more than a year of frequent migraines, finally self-diagnosed the problem and that it is easily remedied. The bad news:  I think the culprit is my much-beloved red wine.

Over the last year and a half, I developed quite a red wine habit. It all began when I complained to my dad that I couldn't (or at least shouldn't) drink an entire bottle of wine by myself before it went bad. He turned me on to the drinkability and long shelf life of boxed wine. A brilliant invention. Over time, however, the box o' wine just became an excuse to have wine nearly every evening while I read my book or worked at the computer. After all, it's on tap! Not to worry. I did not drink to excess nor ever felt that I couldn't live without it. It was just convenient, and nice, and relaxing. Not to mention social, when with my friends.

In September, I had a check-up, and the evil nurse bitch made me stand on a scale. I was aghast when I saw the number that popped up. I knew I'd put on some weight, but...yikes. I knew the nightly stemware full of empty calories was the main culprit, and I stopped the casual evening wine habit that day, still allowing myself a glass during the occasional dinner out or a couple during monthly book club. Without changing my eating or exercise habits, I lost ten pounds. Now that felt good.

Just this week, I was marveling at how great I felt. I've been full of energy, never needing a nap, mostly headache-free, and probably not coincidentally more patient with my kids.

Somewhere around mid-December, I first noticed that I hadn't had a migraine in quite a while. I chalked it up to good luck and the wonders of my massage therapist. I got slammed with a migraine on Christmas, and considered it random. I woke up after book club two weeks ago with a familiar headache and queasiness and attributed it to hormones. Then, on Thursday, we celebrated a friend's 40th birthday at a fancy restaurant, where we shared good red wine with our fine meal. I woke up the next day groggy, queasy, and with a headache.

Mind you, this was not a raucous night out. It was a Thursday night dinner from which we all rushed home to get our high school babysitters home. And I didn't overdo it. It's been a long time since I can recall being drunk. But yesterday it dawned on me, perhaps I'm just too old to drink anything at all. My body just can't handle it. Here I am, two days later, missing time with my family from a headache presumably caused by a couple glasses of wine over dinner.

I mentioned this all to a friend yesterday, and she told me I probably have developed a tannin allergy. It sounded made up to me, so I Googled it. It seems that "red wine headache" (RWH) is a real thing. Articles indicate that no one knows definitively what the cause is, but that RWH most likely is caused by the tannins in red wine, which cause serotonin release, which in excess can cause headaches and migraines. 

It was an aha moment.

I now feel like red wine is my bad relationship. I love it, I think it's doing good things for me, but really it's just causing me pain. Like many bad relationships, it's going to be hard to let this one go. I'm sure I'll have the occasional single glass with friends, since that hasn't (yet) caused a problem for me. Sometime, I'll probably make the "just one more" mistake, which will probably prove my hypothesis by sticking me in bed with a migraine. Hopefully, that will be enough to sever the relationship for good.

In the meantime, I'll need to see if I choose to be substantially alcohol-free or find a suitable occasional substitute. Mixing cocktails by myself at home seems like a cry for help, and I never drink multiple mixed drinks because I'm unable to keep track of how much I've consumed. White wine is ok, but not very interesting. It might be time for beer to make a minor comeback in my life. I've always liked the good stuff, it's filling so you don't drink too much, and at a party it is easy to keep track of what you've had.

Whatever comes next, I'm going to miss red wine. It's a wonderful companion to a good book or a good friend, and it seems to be the drink of choice among my friends. Whatever its benefits, they are not worth feeling lousy and missing out on life by lying in bed in the dark.

Farewell, old friend.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stay Little

"If they could just stay little 'til their Carter's wear out."  One of the greatest advertising slogans ever, in my opinion.

What parent hasn't felt a version of this sentiment?  I know that every time one of my kids moves up a store department (from toddler to little girl, from little boy to big boy), I get a serious pang of regret.  Can my baby possibly no longer be a toddler?  Yes, she will be going into kindergarten.  Is it even possible that my firstborn can't wear Carter's anymore?  Yes, he's a second grader now, not that snuggly little ball of goo he once was.

I think that most parents regret the loss of the little ones their kids once were.  Many seem deeply saddened by the fact that their kids are growing up.  The thing is, I am not one of those people.

Oh sure.  I'd give anything for one more day with my son as a toddler.  He was spectacular--that portly, sunglass-wearing little man about Lincoln Park, my sidekick.  And my daughter?  So much of the first year of her life is such a blur that I'd give my left arm to do parts of it over so I could pay better attention.  So often it seems that my second-born arrived fully formed--walking, talking in full sentences, and ordering us around--that I'd love a reminder of her tinier, cuddly self.

Perhaps I'm not distant enough from my children's infancy and toddlerhood, but I am thrilled to have it behind me.  Yes, new baby smell is the best, except when the baby is spitting up and worse all over you.  And nothing is more peaceful than a sleeping baby.  Except they don't sleep all that much, and neither did I.  The forward-tilting toddler full-speed-ahead walk is one of my favorite things.  Except that they are often doing it toward something dangerous or breakable.

Little kids are cute and wonderful and hugely rewarding, but they also are really hard work.  These days, I am not housebound waiting for a baby to nap.  I can go on a trip without a level of preparation that would rival that for D-Day. We all can put on our own clothes, bathe ourselves, and (usually) use the toilet.  I don't need to push anyone on the swings.  I can, but I don't have to.  And--watershed moment today--even the little one can sled down a big hill and march herself back up, pulling her sled behind.  There are harder times ahead with less tangible things my children will need from me, but the phase of high-level basic maintenance is over.

While I'm ecstatic that I usually sleep through the night now, the best part of my children's growing up is that they are so much more interesting.  They are little people now, and they are so fascinating to talk to.  The five-year-old reads to me now, and you haven't understood the civil rights movement until you've heard her explain the bus boycott.  My second grader recommends books to me, and he knows stuff that I don't know.  He's not even eight yet, and I already fail to question his knowledge when he asserts something in a field of his interest (it probably took me a decade to acknowledge that his father is always right about facts, trivial or otherwise).  There are days when I feel like the dumbest person in the house, and I think that's pretty great.

I always loved babies and little kids.  Then I had my own.  I loved them and I loved being with them, but it was tiring and frustrating and isolating.  Now, I love who they are becoming.

I think I am better suited to this part--making them better humans--than I was at the basic maintenance part.  I feel I have more to give.  I just hope I do a good job, because there is a lot of potential there.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


The young skinny girl is a mother of three. I didn't see that coming. With her twenty-something figure and her clingy leggings, I pegged her as a full-time student. Instead, her subject for photography class was her refrigerator--covered in Christmas cards, magnetic letters scattered about, three different little girls peering into it.

The other equally young only-slightly-less-skinny girl is a mother of an eight-year-old and stepmother to a ten-year-old. She lamented how her kids are growing up, listening to pop music, doing their own thing. She took photos of the orchid on her kitchen table.

The youngest, most artsy looking of all, who already knew the teacher and is part of RISD's certificate program? She didn't even follow directions and took blurry photos of her cat.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not being smug. I'm not saying that my work was better than theirs. I'm just surprised. No matter how many times we are told not to judge a book by its cover, or a person by her looks, it is human instinct to do it anyway. We do it automatically, without thinking. And, to a person, I was wrong about every one.

The other thing I was wrong about? They don't all know more than I do. They were confused. They asked stupid questions. They took some uninteresting photos. Perhaps more than misjudging everyone else, I misjudged myself. I just might be able to do this. I might be an older dog, but perhaps I still have a few new tricks to learn. I just won't be learning them in leggings.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Unexpected Surprises

I took 555 photographs for my photography homework assignment.  Some are horrible--so dark that all you see is blackness (and I wasn't trying to be metaphorical).  Some are so washed out that it almost hurts my eyes to look at them.  Many are inexplicably blurry.  But you know what?  Some of them are not bad.

Now, I don't mean "not bad" to a professional.  Or an artist.  But for a beginner, who is just figuring things out, not too shabby.  At least that's how I feel now, before I see those that my hip, young, artsy classmates produce.  I'm not confident that I can find the assigned nine best to discuss in class and twenty next best to send home with the instructor for further grading, but I'm pretty sure there is at least one that's not embarrassing.

The first thing I tried to photograph was a wine glass, bottle of wine, and a favorite book atop my copper top table.  The primary reason I started here was convenience;  I had all the items right inside my house and didn't even need to go out on a rainy day.  At first, the contrived nature of the whole thing really bugged me.  I'm more of an outdoor/candid type of girl.  However, by the time I tested my mettle by photographing the set-up by candlelight, I really rather liked it.  These truly are some of my favorite things, and one of my favorite ways to pass the time is with a book in one hand and a wine glass in the other.  If the teacher is looking for my passion about a subject, short of certain humans, I can't do much better than this.

We spent the long weekend in New Hampshire, so I was anxious to get some of the scenic outdoor photos I typically prefer.  There was a pretty little creek nearby, as well as a picturesque gazebo still decorated for Christmas.  Most of the first day photos I took are a disaster.  Nearly all are overexposed.  The snow completely stymied me.  I went back and tried both areas again today, when it was six degrees outside, so you know I'm dedicated.  I dressed in my ski gear, dropped my family off at the mountain, then headed closer to our rental to try, try again.

I improved.  I really did.  I think I'm starting to learn something.  Most important of all, I had a great time.  Considering that the temperature was in the single digits--and I despise the cold--that is quite a statement.  However, the most surprising aspect of the whole morning was my subject matter.

I went back to the creek, which was gorgeous with rushing water, icy branches, and the occasional bird.  Then I noticed the trash.  Some schmuck had left a Starbucks Frappucino bottle wedged in the stump of a tree.  At first, I started taking photos to demonstrate the nasty, disrespectful thing someone had done by littering in this beautiful place.  Then the strangest thing happened.  I started to see the beauty in that piece of garbage.  The bottle was covered in ice crystals, and in its own way was incredibly striking.  It wasn't until I walked away, after spending fifteen minutes happily close-up with a piece of someone else's garbage, that I noticed the irony of the whole thing.

Sure, I like the snow and the ice crystals.  But I like the irony of the Yuppie litter too.  Somehow, it wouldn't have been nearly so interesting if that bottle had been a Miller Lite instead of a Starbucks Frappucino.

Assigned lesson one:  exposure controls, one subject on two different days.  Learned lesson:  Amazing things can be found not only where you know them to be, but in all kinds of unexpected places.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Just a Mom

I started an Introduction to Photography class today. I have always been interested in photography and have wanted to learn how to do more than point-and-shoot for at least a decade. With the class and this blog, I am finally directing some of my energy toward creative pursuits, which is not something I have ever done (nor do I know if I have the ability to do with a great degree of aptitude).

I listened attentively as we reviewed the syllabus. I enjoyed the teacher's discussion of aspects of the history of photography and composition. I took notes furiously when the details of exposure control were introduced. But once he described the assignment, my mind went into a distracted creative freeze. We are to photograph one subject in depth on at least two days, using the basics of manual exposure control. Forget learning how to manually operate the camera; I spent most of the class anxious about what to photograph.

Seeing that in print make me realize how stupid it sounds. I can't decide what to take a picture of?  How silly. But it's true. For me, it needs to be easily accessible, able to be photographed in different light at different times of day from different vantage points, and--most challengingly--should be something meaningful or interesting to me if I'm to "bring something" to the photograph. No pressure there. The vast majority of photographs I've ever taken are drunken party pics and photos of my kids.  I had a brief period in my early married life when I tried to be a photographer of beautiful things, but much has changed since then.

The spiral notebook I took to class pretty well encapsulates the changes. Beneath the extraneous electronics cables in my husband's desk, I found a single spiral notebook to take to class. Half of it was already written in. Page one, dated 2/11, contains a chart of 5 columns labeled Time, L, R, Wet, and Dirty, with times, numbers and Xs scattered on the page. A repeated variation of this chart appears on the next nine pages. Page two, dated 2/19, is entitled "2-wk check-up" and lists the following:  "gas, mark, migraine meds, public."

My first child was born on February 5, 2004, and as any recently new parent will recognize, my spiral notebook was previously devoted to my newborn's nursing and diaper changing schedule. I've blanked on some of the items to discuss at his check-up, but I am certain that the gas was his and the migraines were mine. The chart continues for a few pages after the two-week check-up, and the remainder of the notebook pages are devoted to planning my local Newcomers group's family activities and Halloween party when I was a Board member 2008-2009.

This notebook is who I've been since 2004--a mom. Not a professional or a creative individual. Just a mom. With both kids in school full-day and still happily unemployed, I'm trying to expand my horizons beyond "just a mom," but I'm out of practice. I can schedule activities, cook, clean, drive a minivan, read to kids, play board games, bandage simple wounds, and offer unlimited hugs. It's the other things I've forgotten how to do. It's the other things I'm working on. And I suppose it's those other things that I'll need to photograph on two different days this week.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Actual Joys of Parenting

Most of my public comments about my children are bitter and sarcastic.  You'd probably think that I didn't really care for the whole motherhood thing if you knew me only by my Facebook posts.  To be honest, a lot of it really isn't a thrill--the laundry that's never done, the picking up that never lasts, the special hell of shopping with my kids.  And don't even get me started on the fighting.

For some reason, it's more fun to share the pain of motherhood rather than the joy.  For one, the negative moments are the ones that create my need to vent to friends.  When I'm really at the end of my rope and close to selling the kids to any passing gypsies, it's nice to hear from other parents that I am not alone in these thoughts.  Somehow, it makes me feel less evil.  Of course, if properly delivered, the negative moments also are a lot funnier than the positive ones.  How will I get a chuckle out of my friends by telling them how sweet and wonderful my kids are?  But that poem my son wrote about the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad lunch I packed a few weeks ago?  Now that's funny (and didn't require a bit of creativity on my part).

Of course, there are golden moments in parenthood, and I don't just mean the long-haul view that I'm trying to make successful humans who not only won't pee on the floor but will be respectful of others, financially support themselves, and find happy relationships that fulfill them.  No, there are those little nuggets that make me stop and revel in the joy of parenting.  Lately, I've noticed that the best of them fall into two categories.

Category one are those rare times when the kids are getting along, playing nicely, and acting like the idealized siblings this only child conjured in her mind when she decided to try for a second child.  Older brother patiently teaching younger sister to build Lego Bionicles, encouraging her and applauding her success.  Or telling her how to spell a word.  Making up a game only they understand.   Giggling.  Mostly it's the giggling that gets me.  In those moments, I envy them their sibling-hood and desperately hope that those are the moments that will prevail into adulthood, when they can text each other about their crazy mother and share a collective eye roll.

Category one I expected.  Category two has been the most pleasant surprise.  It is the special joy I get from my kids' loving the things I love.  Sometimes my son, who greatly favors his dad in looks and temperament, is a bit of a mystery to me.  But he loves books and libraries like I do, and we are both happy as can be to eat lunch together without talking, each reading our books.  I could spend all day talking to him about Harry Potter books, loved when he recommended Percy Jackson to me, and cannot wait for him to read A Wrinkle in Time.

With my daughter, our shared love is music.  I've aged out of being the only person dancing in a crowd, but I love she has not and remember when I used to be that little girl.  I get a special little thrill out of the backseat iPod dictator demanding that I play Johnny Cash or her singing every word to The Sound of Music. Like her mother, significant parts of her clever little brain are already wasted on a vast array of song lyrics.

Maybe I'm constantly seeking my own characteristics in my children, and that's why I love these particular moments.  I cannot relate to the creative side of my son, who works out his problems by drawing pictures and writing poems.  I'm even farther afield from my little princess, who always has a matching headband for every outfit (including pajamas) and loves nothing more than "being fancy."  Maybe it's just that, like with a good friend, it is fun to have shared meaningful interests to discuss, raising our conversation above my nagging them to get dressed, clean up, sit still, and try new foods.  My kids and I are constantly developing our relationships with each other, and these are the moments that make me slow down and take notice.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lego Organization

For an updated version of this post with better photos, see this post.

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Like most little boys, my son becomes absorbed by his current interests.  Unlike most kids, his interests each last for a period of years.  In nearly eight years, he has been interested in cars, then dinosaurs, then Legos. The whole Lego thing has lasted for three years and shows no signs of abating.  It's a hobby that I'm happy to encourage, but the volume of Legos is rather overwhelming.

It was his idea to begin organizing them.  It started with, "I really need some trays to sort my Legos."  Then the trays multiplied.  Then the trays became drawers, and the drawers multiplied.  The desire for organization is his, but the maintenance of the system seems to fall on me, as he can't seem to look at a pile of Legos on the floor without building something.  Secretly, and when not under the time pressure of an imminent visit from our housekeeper, I rather enjoy color-sorting Legos.  Adding order to chaos is a good thing.

Knowing my son's passion for Legos and my passion for organizing, several people have asked me how we organize Legos.  For those inquiring minds, here's the answer.  Don't judge.

1.  The Legos are organized by color into 10-drawer rolling craft carts.  I recently labeled them, as they weren't usefully translucent, and I couldn't resist alphabetizing the drawers (I doubt this will last).  The benefit of the craft drawers is that they can be easily removed and moved to a work area.  The unit also is on casters, making it easy to move it (or remove it, when the Lego aficionado misbehaves).  I bought ours at Sam's Club, but you can find similar ones at Michael's, Jo Ann Fabrics, and a bunch of other places.

2.  Other drawers (yes, that's a second cart to the right in the above photo) contain divided trays for separating and containing colors if there are not enough to warrant an entire drawer.  I bought these at Target.  I believe they are the Itso line.

3.  Instructions are kept in plastic sleeves in three-ring binders.  They appear in the order of the index at the front of the binder.

4.  Each binder contains an index, which is alphabetized by theme and in numerical order within theme.  The index is also helpful for letting shopping grandmothers know what he already has.

5.  The binders are kept with the other Lego books and reference materials.

6.  Current completed work is displayed on shelves. 

Unfortunately, the child is also into Lego Bionicles.  His "big gift" for Christmas was an 11-pound box of miscellaneous Bionicle parts I bought on eBay.  The number and variety were enough to tip him over the organizing edge.  The Bionicles, which used to exist in a single box, are now sorted by color, type, and (I think) release date--the little general directed his grandmothers in that sorting process--and we are awaiting our next two sets of craft drawers.

So, there you have it.  My husband thinks that we are both lunatics, and he's probably right.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


I miss my men friends. I used to have many of them, and they were as critical to my sanity as were my female friends, while providing a little something indefinably different.

Of course, all those boys-now-men who meant so much to me in high school, college, law school and the early work years are still dear to me. We have the same text-email-Facebook-Christmas card relationship that I have with many of my female friends. Once in a blue moon, we even talk on the phone. Every few years, when one of us is in the other's part of the country, we meet for drinks or dinner. Since we are friends from Before, it's ok that we meet alone.

It's the Before and After that are the difference--before or after marriage and parenthood. I will always have the handful of guys who have meant the world to me for years, but I don't foresee making any new male friends, unless a lovely gay couple moves in next door. I can hardly imagine asking one of the local dads to join me for a drink, or to come over to my house to drink wine and watch a movie with me when my husband is out of town. It just isn't done. What would people say?

It was bad enough Before. Can men and women really be friends? To paraphrase When Harry Met Sally, doesn't the sex part always get in the way?

The answers to those questions are "yes" and "maybe sometimes." Sure, some of those wonderful male-female friendships were complicated at times by unreciprocated feelings. We're human. And we drank a lot and stayed up all night. But my friendships, while occasionally challenged, were no worse for the complications.  n some ways, looking at it twenty years distant, they were enriched by it. You haven't really shared your feelings with someone unless you've had to have The Conversation.

I've been a stay-at-home mom for nearly eight years and worked in an all-female company for a short time before that. That means it's been almost ten years since I even had the opportunity to make a male friend of my own--not a friend of my husband's, my friend's husband, or the mailman (the only other man I encounter reliably). While I have a wonderful man who shares my life, a spouse is a friend of a totally different kind. We still share laughs and talk about interesting things, but we also share children, a house in need of repair, financial planning, and a calendar. In other words, responsibilities.

Friends are an escape from and a support system for the day-to-day stuff. Men and women are different--they experience different things and experience things differently. Having friends of the opposite gender is a blessing. I'm blessed to have those that I formed before the age of 30, and regret all of those I'll never now make.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Riding a Bike

It's not like riding a bike. Writing, that is. It takes practice, and I haven't had much in a long time.

I first realized this when I was putting together a scrapbook for my high school friends and tried to write a meaningful introduction to the book. Rusty doesn't begin to describe it. At that time, one of my friends suggested I blog to keep up my skills, and I laughed at her. What did I have to write?  And who would possibly read it?

Well, the latter question remains to be answered, but I sense that I have at least ten dear friends and family who might read my blog, if only because they already like me and will be at least vaguely interested in most anything I have to say. As for what I have to write...well, I seem to have a lot of thoughts that cannot be expressed in a Facebook status update, which is what passes for my writing these days. I don't have a theme, unless "random things that occur to Cynthia" counts as a theme.

I would probably be best served by starting a journal, and was recently inspired to at least consider the thought by a friend who has kept a lifelong journal and is using the material to write her memoir. However, I know my limitations. I'd never do it. I tried to keep a diary once around puberty. I abandoned the project pretty quickly and, when I looked at it a year later, was mortified by what I'd written and dropped the whole Hello Kitty notebook into the trash can.

I don't think that my thoughts or writing skills are truly worthy of public consumption, but at least the fact that someone out there could read it will force me to do a bit of self-editing. There's no trash can for the Internet--it's out there, as they say.

The other thing that persuaded me to try this is that I truly enjoy the online interaction with thoughtful friends, so perhaps this will provide another outlet for that. If you ever take the time to read this and have something to share, I'd love to hear from you. We'll just pretend it's a discussion over a bottle of wine, and we'll all have a better time.