Thursday, November 29, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 29 (The Crock-Pot)

If I had any self-doubt about my status as a housewife, this post ought to prove that I've accepted the situation. Today, I give thanks for my crock-pot. [I can see my incredulous, disgusted younger self shaking her head.]

Much like the minivan I never thought I'd own but have already given thanks for this month, the crock-pot is a tremendously boring but immensely useful tool that makes my daily life easier. I owned one for years without ever using it. Now I own three, and two sit out on my kitchen counter at all times.

I can cook. I just don't love it. I love to bake, but if we all subsisted on that, we'd have some serious issues. Despite my wishes to the contrary, it seems that my kids need to eat several times every day. My conscience will only permit so many chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and mac & cheese, regardless of how baked, all-grass-fed-beef or organic they each may be. 

Our dinner schedule really is not conducive to cooking either. The kids have after school activities four weekdays that get us home from school by 5:30 or 6:00. The kids usually eat around 6:00.  My husband works late, so we usually eat after the last kid bedtime of 8:30, meaning a second round of cooking and cleaning. In our house of picky eaters, there is only one meal that all four of us will eat--meatballs and sauce (hold the pasta or sub quinoa for the man of the house). We eat meatballs pretty often. You know a good way to make the sauce? That's right, make it in the morning and leave it in the crock-pot until everyone has dined.

What really turned me on about the crock-pot (yes, I just use "turn me on" and "crock-pot" in the same clause), was the release of cookbooks containing slow cooker recipes that did not contain a can of cream-of-something soup. Before that, I wasn't certain that anything but applesauce could be made in the crock-pot without a can of cream of mushroom soup.  I have a few different slow cooker cookbooks and have checked some out of the library, but my go-to one is Make it Fast, Cook it Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking by Stephanie O'Dea from A Year of Slow Cooking. Armed with this cookbook and a crock-pot, I can make a healthy, tasty, non-cream-of-mushroom-soup-based dinner in the late morning or early afternoon while everyone else is at school and work. By the time we start drifting in for our various meals, the food is ready and waiting. I swear, it's like magic.

A magic device that cooks the food while I'm doing other stuff--now how could I fail to be grateful for that? 

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 28 (The Elastic Waistband)

We're nearing the end of November, with only two more days in the 30 Days of Gratitude. I've expressed my gratitude for my parents, my husband, and each of my two kids. Now it's time to get serious. Today, I am thankful for the elastic waistband.

Seriously, is there anything better? If you're a more stylish woman, perhaps you sport your lululemon yoga pants around town. If you're me, you schlub around in your Target sweatpants or Old Navy pajama pants, not that anyone can tell the difference between the two. Either way, you are enjoying the freeing, non-binding beauty of the elastic waistband.

Is there anything better than coming home at the end of the day and discarding your jeans, slacks, or (God forbid) pantyhose for something with a lot more give? Something that lets you breathe. Something that doesn't create those nasty deep gouges in the skin of your midsection. Something that you can wear while sitting.

When I was pregnant and uncomfortable all the time, elastic waistband or not, I had a single pair of soft Lands End maternity pajamas. I wore them every night. The elastic waistband must have been super-elasticky because I was compelled to do a little shimmy, dubbed The Jammy Dance, the second I put them on. Every. Single. Night. One little dance to celebrate the freedom of elastic.

As I write this, I'm wearing a pair of Old Navy fleece pajama pants. My tummy is happy. I am happy. I think it's time for The Jammy Dance. One little shimmy to celebrate elastic, and then I'm off to bed.

Wishing you and yours the wonder of elastic this holiday season. With all the cookies that will be floating around, we're going to need it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 27 (The Fat Man)

little girl sticking out of large Santa bag
Looking for the last of the presents.
It was all Jimmy's fault. It was December 1978, and I was in the second grade. He spoke with authority, but by that time Jimmy was a couple of years into a twelve-year career of copying off me at school, so I wasn't sure whether he was either knowledgable or trustworthy. I chose to remain unsure about the whole thing.

But then I snooped. Under the guest room bed, I found several items obviously intended for me, the only child in our extended family. There was at least a tennis racquet and a Monopoly game; those two items I can see clearly in my mind. On Christmas morning, I found a tennis racquet and a Monopoly game under the tree. From Santa.

The jig was up. I'd seen it coming, but it was still such a letdown.

I don't recall ever discussing it with my parents. I don't remember telling them that I knew the sad, disappointing truth. In my memory, I played along for years. I told myself that it was for my grandparents' benefit. My grandmother was and is a true fan of Christmas, and I didn't want to ruin the joy and fun by letting her know I was in on the secret. In reality, I think it was mostly for me. I loved to believe, and so I sort of did, even though I knew better. I still do, at least a little.

I love the whole idea--a dear, jolly man who brings gifts and spreads the Christmas spirit. I love the elves and the reindeer. I love Twas the Night Before Christmas. I love cookies and milk left out on Christmas Eve. I love full stockings. I love the anticipation. I love the excitement.

It's December 2012, and I have a third grader and a kindergartner. For the last couple years, we have wistfully remarked that this might be the last "real Christmas." The last one where they both believe. My eldest is a smart, curious child, full of questions and critical thinking. I can't believe we've gotten this far. He's also a creative, imaginative child, who wants to believe in magic and the fantastical, and that's why I think we have. I'll bet that there's a little part of him that doubts, but that most of him wants to believe. Please, let us have one more Christmas of the anticipation, the excitement, the milk and cookies.

I have gotten a few questions. I always answer that "I believe," and I don't think that's a lie. A little part of me still does. Santa is the joy, the feeling of love, the spirit of giving, the special sparkle on the month of December. I am immensely grateful that we've had so many "real Christmases," and I hope that once they are in on the secret, we can continue to believe together. To expect that magical and wondrous things can happen. That reindeer can fly. That a fat man in a red suit will fly around the world, delivering gifts to children everywhere. That, once a year, everyone is blessed with abundance and joy.

Yes, I believe.

Monday, November 26, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 26 (Holiday Cards)

Although it's not yet December, Thanksgiving is over and holiday planning has begun for most of us. The first thing on my agenda is to create and order our holiday cards. It's not that I wish to get them out early; I'm just cheap and like to order them this week to take advantage of the sales. I've spent the better part of the last hour choosing photos and layouts, doing side-by-side comparisons of different options. The whole thing is frankly a bit tedious, and my husband rarely gives me a whole-hearted go-ahead on any option.

While I'm feeling a little grumpy about the card creation process, it will be short-lived because holiday card season is one of my favorites. I love to get mail, and I really love to see family photos from all our friends. I don't know when exactly the photo card phenomenon began, but I'm thrilled that it happened while I and most of my friends have young kids. I love to see how the kids have grown and changed each year, and the cards are such a special reminder of all the friends we have scattered around the country.

When the cards begin to arrive (and my husband just brought home the first--on November 26--don't get me started), I stack them on the kitchen counter until I reach some minimum critical mass. After that, I get out the sticky stuff we all used to use to stick posters to the wall and begin hanging up the cards. If there is a photo on it, it goes on the wall. Last year, I exceeded the area I usually fill and had to add a whole extra door. It was great.

For tonight, I'll settle on a final layout and print the mailing label list to get a ballpark number of needed cards. Tomorrow, I'll place my order before the sale closes at midnight (Tiny Prints - 30% off and free shipping). After that, I'll sit back and wait for the mailman to arrive. I can't wait to see all those smiling faces.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 25 (My Sweet Boy)

In 2004, my identity and job title changed forever when my son was born. I became Mom.

My son was a great baby and a fantastic toddler. Cute and charming as the day is long. We thought he was so great that we almost didn't get around to having his younger sister. We figured that the first one was so good, why press our luck?

I quit work when my son was born, and we spent our days (at least three seasons of the year) walking/stroller-riding around Lincoln Park in Chicago. Our close friends lived four blocks away. The Starbucks and a great bar/restaurant, each less than a block. A small grocery store, three blocks. Plenty of shopping a little farther. Favorite restaurants down the street. A playground next door, and several others within easy walking distance. He was my sidekick, and we went everywhere together.

When his baby sister was born, he was not quite three years old. I think he took her arrival better than I did initially. He had one very needy day soon after I returned from four days in the hospital after giving birth to my daughter. The thought that I'd disrupted our little dynamic duo, combined with a heck of a lot of hormones, was almost more than I could take.

He got over it pretty quickly and was never anything but adorable with his baby sister. I always joked that the poor girl wasn't going to have any sense of personal space because her brother had been in her face over-loving her since the day she was born.

That chubby little toddler is a real person now. He'll be nine soon. He is still sweet and empathetic, and when not fighting with his sister is the one calming her from one of her fits or lobbying for her with me. He is thoughtful, in every sense of the word. Although an older brother, he often seems at least part only child; he needs his quiet alone time. He loves books and building things. Last week, I heard him telling the entire story of the Odyssey to sister, who opted to have him continue the story rather than have me read to her at bedtime. He is a kid you can trust. While I fear he may suffer some tough dating years as "just a friend," he is a boy parents love and girls will want to marry.

I am cherishing this time period--when he is old enough to be interesting but young enough to still want to spend time with me. He is bright and curious and already knows many things that I do not. We share a love of books, and discussing books with him is one of my favorite things to do.

I know that, in very short order, he will start to pull away from me even more than he already has. I recognize that is how it must be, and I tell myself I will be fine with it. I want him to be independent. There will be three years when we will have only our daughter at home, while he is off at college. It is hard to imagine, hard to think of him having a life separate from mine. He'd better take my calls, because a text is just not going to cut it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 24 (My Camera)

This is a photo of Mabel. I was supposed to be taking portraits of her owner, my friend, for a project. Mabel wanted to be a part of things. Her tangential appearance here is justified because I took this photo with my camera while working on a project for my photography class. Plus, people seem to like dogs.

I'm going to be taboo and admit my gratitude for another material item, this one not even strictly necessary--my camera.

I have always enjoyed snapping photos and during college used to plaster my wall with shots of my friends and me. I eventually moved my party pics into photo albums and brought out my camera only on vacation. Then, my husband purchased an SLR for me as a gift one Christmas, and I was hooked. Still, I worked quite a lot and really didn't know what I was doing, so the SLR got heavy use during vacations and not much in between.

I think the advent of digital photography for the masses and the birth of my first child were a happy coincidence. We rushed out and purchased our first digital point-and-shoot before my son was born, providing me ample opportunity--without the cost of film--to take hundreds of photos of my infant drooling on himself each day. Frankly, it was a bit silly.

Along came baby number 2, and about a year later on another Christmas, my husband purchased a digital SLR for me. I still treated it like a fancy point-and-shoot, still took thousands of photos, but occasionally some were good. [Insert monkeys, typewriters, and Shakespeare analogy here.] Because the photos were almost exclusively of my children, I thought they all were priceless even if others might argue about the quality.

In January of this year, with both kids in school full day, I found a six-week RISD Continuing Education Intro to Photography course that met one weekday morning each week. There's no going back. It's like everything else--a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I now know what most of the digital camera controls do, and my results have improved dramatically. I even fancy myself a photographer now, if only an amateur hobbyist. This means that I tote my camera along most places I go, convince friends to sit for me while I practice portrait photography, and continue to take oodles of photos of my kids.

For the first time I can recall, I have a bona fide hobby. It provides me a creative outlet, allows me to document life with my growing kids, and provides an excuse to purchase all kinds of supplemental toys equipment. I've already made my wish list for Santa.

Catalog Wreath

I said I wasn't going to put up Christmas decorations yet. I said I wasn't going to turn on the Christmas music yet. I lied, at least a little. The Little Drummer Boy is playing as I type, and we just completed our first Christmas-themed craft.

My son went out to meet the mailman today and kindly brought in an entire stack of Christmas catalogs. Catalog season is now in full swing. I dumped all of the day's mail into the recycling bin. Grumbling about the wasted paper, I muttered to the kids that we should try to figure out a project using all the catalogs we'd be receiving. My daughter reminded me that I'd been planning on trying this wreath project at Boxers, Cleats, and Me using an old encyclopedia I picked up at the used book sale. "Why not try it with the catalogs?" she said.  Why not, indeed.

With two very eager helpers, a metal hanger, a stack of catalogs, a cork, wire cutters, and a pair of pliers, I made this.

wreath made from catalog pages

This was super easy, and the kids were genuinely helpful. First, I cut off the hanger part of a metal dry cleaner hanger. I straightened it as best I could, then bent it into some semblance of a circle.

The kids were in charge of catalogs. We used what arrived today--Pottery Barn, L.L. Bean, Fisher-Price, and Dick's Sporting Goods. I particularly liked the color palette of the first two (Christmas stockings, flannel shirts, and such), but we used them all. We ripped the pages out of the catalog, then ripped them vertically more or less in half. That made a giant mess on the kitchen counter, which the kids particularly enjoyed.

I loosely folded each half page into random shapes, trying to keep the results around the same size, then shoved them onto the end of the hanger. I added them to one end, sliding to the center, then did the same from the other side so I didn't need to cram them all the way around. We scrunched them down as tightly as we could.

When I completed one side, I jammed the wire hanger end into a cork to keep the pages on that side from popping off while I finished the second half.  My original plan had been to twist the two ends of the wire together at the end, but I quickly realized that was going to be quite difficult. Instead, we inserted both wire ends into the cork, using a pair of pliers to really jam them in far. I cut a piece of red and white ribbon, tied it around the cork, and hung the whole shebang on the wall.

The three of us are really pleased with the result. The best thing was that we worked together happily for more than an hour, listening to our first Christmas music of the year while we did it. Christmas crafting family teamwork at its best.

wreath made of catalog pages

Friday, November 23, 2012

Left Brain, Right Brain

Until quite recently, I would have characterized myself wholly as a left-brain person. I think I've muddied the waters recently, and I'm not sure that's a good thing.

I have no idea if there is actual scientific fact behind the popular right-brain/left-brain debate, but I think that most of us characterize ourselves predominantly as one or the other. Left-brain people are characterized by logic, analysis, and accuracy. Right-brain people are characterized by aesthetics, feelings, and creativity.

Me? I like order, structure, punctuality, i's dotted and t's crossed. I rarely think outside the box, and I will vehemently defend that the box is there for a reason. This is who I am. Or is it?

Very recently, I began to write this blog. I became fascinated with photography. I even [red-faced] did some crafts. And I liked it. It all satisfied some heretofore unknown and apparently unfulfilled need for creativity.

That's all well and good. Now I'm a perfectly balanced left-brain container-buying label maker-using person who also likes to take pretty pictures and write some stuff. Except that's not how it's working out. Ever since I've turned on my right-brain creativity, the left-brain things that form my core competency have begun to suffer. I've missed appointments, I've paid bills late, and let's not even mention the state of my filing system. It's like my organized self is losing some sort of internal battle with my creative self, and I don't like it. I feel like some working mothers characterize their guilt: working two jobs and doing neither well.

I had a very satisfying afternoon of cleaning and organizing and felt more like myself. I even paid the bills. I couldn't, however, even think of what to write for today's post. It's like only one side of my brain (or personality) can operate at a time. I'm beginning to think of it like my swim strokes. I was always best at breaststroke and butterfly, which require staggered upper and lower body movements. I can't kick in freestyle because I can't simultaneously move my arms and kick my legs. Just not coordinated enough. Maybe my brain is the same way.

While pondering this tonight, I thought it might be fun to try an online left-brain/right-brain test to see how it characterized my poor conflicted brain. At random, I chose this test: The results?

52% left brain
47% right brain

I'm not sure what the other 1% of my brain is. Maybe just confused. In any event, I was weirdly pleased to see results similar to what I've been experiencing lately. Some might say balanced, others might say conflicted. My answer depends on which day you ask me. What do you think? Am I a left-brain person? A right-brain person? A left-brain person who absorbed her right-brain twin in utero? Or is the whole concept quackery? Stay tuned to see if I will become a jack-of-all-brains or a master of none.

What about you? How do you see yourself? Do the test results support your view?

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 23 (Thankful Lists)

As I mentioned on Day 1 of these 30 Days of Gratitude, Thanksgiving is a quiet affair at our house. It seems, however, that we are beginning to develop our own traditions for the holiday. I never thought about how a tradition begins until we began to create some of our own, and now I see exactly how it happens.  You do something once, the kids remember and expect it the next time, and now it's a tradition. This year, the kids wanted to follow to the letter our lazy Thanksgiving Day of last year, so we did: parade watching, eating, lists of what we're thankful for discussed during the meal, then family movie.

I was very proud that both kids put some real thought into their "I am thankful for..." lists. They each started at bedtime the prior night and read them aloud at the start of our Thanksgiving dinner. They expressed their gratitude for the standard things--family, friends, health, home and books (makes me proud, see Day 2)--but the more unusual things make my day. Here are a few gems from each:

Kindergartner: school, teachers, songs, art, the beach, crafts, blankets

Third grader: imagination, creativity, honesty, color in our world, cooperation, simplicity, pencils, humor

Not only are their lists priceless (and filed away by me forevermore), but they are a very good window in the personality and loves of each child.

I've been working on my thankful list for 23 days now. I imagine that it shows quite a bit about my personality and loves as well--some sincere, some silly, but all real (except maybe that tongue-in-cheek one about my perfect skin). I'm pleased to have participated in this challenge. It has made me reflect deeply upon some very important subjects and has forced me sit down to write something here every day this month. Thanksgiving is over, but the 30 Days of Gratitude continue. Seven more days to go....

Thursday, November 22, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 22 (Water)

For most of my life, I have lived near the water. Lake Erie, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, Lake Michigan, Narragansett Bay. All large bodies of water easily accessible from my homes. I'm not quite sure how I weathered my landlocked years--four years in Durham, North Carolina (summers on Lake Erie, I suppose) or two years in Atlanta, but I did. I think that I was too young and too self-involved to truly appreciate such things when I was in my twenties.

I'm now in my forties, and I live in Rhode Island. In case you're a little rusty on your geography, it's not actually an island, but on a daily basis it often feels to me that it is. My town is on a peninsula. My neighborhood is on a peninsula. My house is at the end of that peninsula within a peninsula. Local friends joke that I'm not a good carpooling candidate because I live at land's end. I do not have waterfront property, but it takes only a short walk to get to it. I drive over bridges, along rivers and the bay all day every day, and it is positively beautiful.


I never know how long we will stay in one place or where our next destination may be, but should we ever move from here, I desperately hope it is to a town on the water. Please, at least let there be a small lake that I can cling to. Living near water makes me happy. Watching the water makes me calm and grounded.


After cooking, eating, and cleaning up Thanksgiving dinner for the four of us, 20-30 minutes remained of daylight. I'd been cooped up inside on a beautiful fall day and rushed to take a short walk before dark. Fortunately, everyone declined my invitation to join me. The sun was setting, the neighborhood was nearly silent, and I wandered over toward the water to watch the sunset. I'm grateful that I did. Not only did I enjoy a gorgeous, quiet few moments alone, but I was reminded yet again how fortunate I am to live near the water.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 21 (Lessons from Mom)

My dad was helping me remake the guest bed at the end of his visit. As I tucked under the corners at the foot of the bed, he began to grumble, "You make a bed just like your mother." (He, apparently, does not like the sheets tightly tucked at the bottom.) My response was, "Of course I do. Who do you think taught me to make a bed?"

My mother is the only person, other than me and including the other people who live in my home, who can locate just about anything in my kitchen. If she ever asks where to find something, I test her and ask, "Where would you put it?" I don't think she's ever answered incorrectly. My kitchen is organized the way my mother would organize it because the first kitchen I knew was hers, and the next several kitchens of my own were organized by her the day I moved in. I do it like she does it, and that's not limited to where I store the plastic wrap.

As I made my mom's pumpkin pie recipe tonight, I reflected upon how much my mom has taught me. Some time ago, I wrote (here) about how I hear my dad's aphorisms reminding me of practical things, like "measure twice, cut once" or "never stand on the top rung of a ladder." I rarely hear my mother's voice instructing me what to do. It's not because she didn't teach me anything. I'm pretty sure it's because she taught me nearly everything else.

Of course, my parents share joint responsibility for the big stuff, for making me into me. However, for the everyday things that I now do mindlessly all the time--keeping this house and family up and running and fed--it was all Mom. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, child care, bill paying...the list goes on and on. With rare exceptions, I do not recall lessons about separating lights from darks or how to make a bed or how much parsley to put in the meatballs. I think I learned first by following her around and then by doing.

However it happened, I am grateful for what I know and grateful that she--without my being aware of it--prepared me to do it all. I'm also rather thankful that she still takes my calls, because apparently I failed a few lessons along the way. Nobody's perfect. Not even Mom or me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 20 (Internet Shopping)

Black Friday hospital visit
The very words "Black Friday" make me twitch. I don't like shopping on a regular day. Why on earth would I want to give up much-desired sleep to hunt for discounts with the general public? If there is one day of the year I will go nowhere near a retail establishment, it is Black Friday. In fact, I pretty much stay in from now until January. Call me a satisfied shopping shut-in. You know what gets me excited? Free shipping.

See, I have all sixteen digits of my Visa memorized. And the expiration date. And the security code. When it comes to shopping, the Internet is the answer. Always, but especially at Christmas.

I first began Christmas shopping online in the late 1990s. I worked long hours at a desk job and lived thousands of miles away from nearly everyone on my shopping list. I'd take a break from contract review and buy a Christmas present while sitting at my desk. The gift would magically show up at its intended destination without my having to pack it in a suitcase or a box bound for UPS. Almost as good as Santa.

It's fifteen years later, and my children are now trained that nearly every box deposited outside our front door will remain unopened. There's no need to get excited about what might be inside, because Mom is going to stash that box somewhere until Christmas. Three large cardboard boxes of 6th birthday presents sat in our foyer for several days last week. The birthday girl knew they were there but was immune.

I'm not the only one sending packages to our door. My parents, who fly to see us at Christmas, order online and ship directly to us. You rarely can glean anything from the return address either because the box is from so general a location (Amazon--my mom) or so completely random (eBay--my dad). My parents even have a special "do not open" code; they type "XX" after my name on the address. Just last week, we drove home at the end of the day to the excitement of a box sitting outside our front door. One of the kids wistfully remarked, "I hope it isn't an XX."

While hordes of crazies will be up before dawn looking for bargains on Friday, I will be sleeping off the carb overload of Thanksgiving Day. I'll do my shopping just like I do this blog--during school hours or after everyone is asleep, in my sweats or my pajamas, sitting in front of my computer. All I need is the Internet and those sixteen secrets digits, and Christmas shopping will be done. For that, I am thankful.

Monday, November 19, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 19 (Photos with My Kids)

As you may have gathered from all the photos on this blog, I am the photographer in our family. Other than photos of our newborn children--taken by my husband under penalty of death if he failed to do so while I was otherwise engaged--I have taken every photo we have of our kids. Photography is a favorite hobby of mine, and I find my children to be excellent subjects.

The only problem with this system is that we have very few photos of me with my children, most of them taken by a visiting grandparent. Now that I have a tripod and remote for my camera, I occasionally try to pose with my kids. This tends to dissolve into tickle fights and roughhousing, so the results are not exactly spectacular. This brings me to my daily gratitude: I am thankful for our annual family photos.

The annual photos began as a way to capture better quality photos of our kids. I feel that my photography has improved enough that this is no longer the primary driver. Now, I want a photo of all four of us together. If I'm being really honest, after that money shot of the four of us, what I really want are pretty photos of the kids with me. This lady behind the camera wants to be preserved for posterity as spending time with her kids.

little girl's hand around her mother's shoulder

We received our latest batch of photos today. This is one of them. It was as if the photographer knew I'd want to post one--just one!--to the blog, yet knew I didn't want to share their precious little faces. 

I wonder if, looking back on this photo in a few years, I'll still be able to feel the weight of her in my arms or the pressure of her little grip on my shoulder?

*     *     *

If you are in my neck of the woods, I highly recommend Roxanne of J is for Jane for your photos. She is an artist who made prearranged family photos relaxed and fun. Check out her blog, J is for Jane, to see more of her beautiful photographs.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 18 (A Moment)

Soon after I moved to Rhode Island five and a half years ago, I was fortunate to meet someone who would become a very dear friend. Our friendship is made easier by the fact that her two children and my two children are very close in age. It has always made for easy play dates, for both sets of children and for us moms.

Lately, the balance has been upset ever so slightly. My friend's youngest daughter, who is six, is a bit smitten with my son, who is eight. Not typically in a moony way, but in a way that leads her to choose to spend time with him rather than her presumed playmate, my daughter who is her age.

We had my daughter's sixth birthday party today, and my friend's daughters were both in attendance. So was my son. There was serious bonding between the elder boy and younger girl, who both love to draw. At one point, my son was getting a bit bored and rambunctious, so my husband took him outside for a moment, leaving his little friend behind. This is that moment.

girl with hand on glass door

I am grateful for these friends. I am grateful I witnessed this moment, both poignant and hilarious. I'm grateful I had my camera ready, because I am going to cherish this photo for a long time.

Party Favors

As I have mentioned previously (here), I hate nearly everything about the standard child's birthday party gift bag. I hate that they are expected, I hate that they are full of candy for the kids to whine about after eating their weight in cake, and I hate the useless plastic trinkets that I must dispose of surreptitiously while the kids are asleep.

The little miss's 6th birthday party is today. I put my foot down this year and refused to have the party at home. My little crafter wanted to have an arts and crafts party, so we went to a local craft studio that hosts parties, where the kids are going to block print tote bags. I was very pleased that the instructor offered me the option of choosing something useful for the project. I love that the kids will create something that they might continue to use frequently rather than something their parents will be required to store for a while before sneaking into the trash.

Although they each will have a tote bag to take home at the end of the party, I still felt pressure to send the little rugrats home with a gift bag-type thing. With a party theme of Arts & Crafts, I couldn't very well send them home with a cellophane bag of stuff made in China. Here's what we did instead.

party favor boxes from toilet paper tubes

Each child will get a small package to take home. Recognize the packaging? That's right. Toilet paper tubes. You fold them in half lightly, then fold the ends down. You can see a more detailed tutorial here at Sweet Charli. I used the hot glue gun to decorate each with ribbon, then wrote each child's name with a paint pen. My kids drew pictures on the back.

Our little packages contain three small items. First, a bookmark that the birthday girl made.

paper clip ribbon bookmarks as party favors - Flotsam of the Mind

Second, for all but our one male guest (who got some Thomas stickers), a hair clip that I made, again with ribbon and the hot glue gun.

ring of ribbon-covered alligator clips

ribbon hair clip

Finally, bowing to pressure, I completed our little packages with one gratuitous piece of Halloween-sized candy, which I swiped from my kids' Halloween stash.

Party favors complete. We recycled, we used materials we had on hand, and we made most of them ourselves. No trinkets, minimal candy, and no cellophane. Now off to the party!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 17 (Swim Meets)

If this thing sticks, I'm pretty sure that I will not be repeating this gratitude in ten years. However, today I am thankful for swim meets.

I spent most of the day with my eight-year-old son at his second swim meet. The meets are a full-day affair with a lot of sitting around in between events, so my husband and daughter stayed home. That meant that I spent more than six hours with just my son. Priceless.

I don't often spend time alone with either child and, when I do, we usually have switched to man-to-man defense on a gender basis. That means most of my one-on-one time is spent with my daughter. Today's nearly interminable swim meet was special because it was just my son and me. Sure, my son hangs out some with friends, but he's only eight and is still always fairly nearby.

A few months ago, my son would have volunteered that he's "not really a sports kid," because the standard team sports--soccer and baseball--decidedly were not his thing, either from a talent or interest perspective. Swimming has potential. He is enjoying himself and can see his own improvement. He even seems to be pretty decent at it. Today, he improved both of his event times by a significant margin, earning him one first and one second place. For a professed "non-sports kid," this was a big deal, and I loved seeing the pride and excitement in his eyes.

I'll confess that it's fun for me to have one of my children involved in a sport I understand and enjoy. I swam for years and, though I was never great at it, swimming was my thing. Most of my fondest memories of my teenage years revolve around a swimming pool, so it's fun to return to that environment. Plus, it is one of the few athletic endeavors that I know something about. I can give useful tips and constructive criticism, and it is much easier for me to track my child's progress than it would be in a sport I did not pursue.

Plus, I really like the smell of chlorine.

Four outstanding reasons--some better than others--I am thankful for swim meets. It was a good day.

Friday, November 16, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 16 (Love to Learn)

My son left his homework packet at school yesterday. This year, third grade, is the first year for homework at his school, and they focus primarily on training the children to be organized and responsible for getting it done. Guess he failed the organized bit, as when we went to school early this morning to complete the homework, the entire packet was lost forever. However, I couldn't be more pleased at his taking responsibility for doing the right thing and for his inquisitiveness. He is one curious kid.

When he realized he would be unable to complete his spelling homework last night, he feverishly asserted that he needed to do some kind of word or spelling work to make up for it. I (half-jokingly) told him to pick up the dictionary and learn three new Q words. By the time I had completed his sister's bath, he was itemizing various definitions of quadrilateral, quintuplet, and quagmire. I love words and was particularly pleased with quagmire, leading me to exclaim many times that, "Leaving your homework at school has put us in a bit of a quagmire!" (I said I love words. I didn't say I was funny.)

I requested he look up two more Q words that had come to mind, quotidian and quatrefoil. As a high school teacher of mine used to say, I know that I knew but I know not now. My son handled quotidian for me, but then we began the bedtime process.

Tonight, while I was preparing dinner--and by dinner, I mean cereal--my daughter walked into the kitchen and handed me a small pencil drawing of a four-leaf clover shape. Confused, I asked what it was. She told me, "It's a quatrefoil. We have a metal inset of a quatrefoil at school." I'll be damned.

quatrefoil: an ornamental design of four lobes or leaves as used in architectural tracery, resembling a flower or four-leaf clover

I am grateful that I have inquisitive children who love to learn, and I love nothing more than when they teach something to me.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 15 (Sharing Childhood Favorites)

During dinner tonight, I had to remind my kids that an adverb describes a verb (or action word) and often ends in -ly. We weren't reviewing homework. We were doing Mad Libs. I was told that cacophony was not what was meant by "funny sounding word," so changed it to boo boo. I was reminded that acid and toxic sludge are "liquids," begged to differ that an electric chair was a "type of furniture," yet conceded that a bullet-proof vest was an "article of clothing."

Mad Libs

All three of us had a great time. They thought the resulting stories were hilarity of the highest order. I secretly enjoyed both their creativity and sneakily teaching them the difference between an adjective and an adverb. What I most enjoyed, however, was sharing with my kids something I enjoyed as a child. Yes, kids, believe it or not, like you, Mommy once thought using toilet as a Mad Lib noun was the height of cleverness.

While I enjoy joining my kids in doing things they have discovered, there is something special about simultaneously resurrecting a childhood memory and creating new ones with my kids around a book, game, or pastime. By far my favorite is sharing with them the same summer vacation I took as a child (more on that here). Next on the list is rereading favorite childhood books, especially if we have my childhood copy. After that is a large bucket of kid stuff, even the kind that I don't remember until I see it.

Take, for example, Wooly Willy, which my son was playing with during the Mad Libs. Who's Wooly Willy, you say? That's ok, the name would have meant nothing to me either, but you know this guy, right?
Wooly Willy

I found him for fifty cents at Michaels. Fifty cents to relive a childhood memory with your kid? Not a bad deal.

We love to play Uno, and the kids spent the better part of a week playing Uno with my parents during one vacation. Guess what I remember? That's right. Playing Uno with my grandparents.

Uno cards

While playing it more than twice in a year is mind-numbing, I was thrilled when we received Candy Land as a gift several years ago. See that board? It's the real Candy Land board--not that garish, cartoonish, overcrowded, headache-inducing monstrosity that most kids have today. Just looking at it makes me happy. I can even get over the fact that it is a retro release.

Candy Land board (retro release)

How best to express my gratitude for all this? Well, I'm thankful to my parents for keeping so much of my childhood stuff for so very long. I'm thankful for the continued existence or retro release of so many of the silly things I enjoyed. But mostly, I'm thankful for the time spent laughing with my children.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 14 (Babysitters)

Melinda, Rachel, Nicole, John, Caitlin, Ruby, Lindsay, West, Gabby, Kelsey, Simi, Kat, Madison, Laura, many others, and more to come. Call this one a punt, but today (and always) I am thankful for babysitters.

Even at its most splendid, parenting is not a union job--no required breaks, not even for a meal. Worse than "not required," if you don't assert your break time, find someone to cover your position, and pay her wage, you aren't getting a break. At least, I rarely would.  My husband doesn't have a 9-5 job, often works late hours, and travels frequently. If I want to get out of my house during the week and school is not in session, a babysitter is my only hope.

Fortunately, whether because they are acclimated to the situation or because babysitters are a lot more fun than I am (sword fighting! board games! TV! candy!), my kids are nearly always happy to have a sitter. Unlike I did as a child, they do not con the sitter into letting them stay up past their bedtime (which is probably best, as I'm still trying to get over that Fantasy Island episode where the little girl morphed into a jaguar). They usually work a dessert into the evening and they persuade the weaker ones to let them watch TV, but those are trade-offs this parent is willing to make.

To be honest, it seems like a situation in which all parties win. The kids get to play with someone more fun who will let them get away with stuff, I get to leave the house and talk to grown-ups, and a teenager gets to make some cash. When I put it that way, I wonder why I don't hire a sitter to manage the dinner-to-bedtime window every night.

Let's it two hours every weeknight, which is ten hours per week. At the local going rate for babysitters of $10 per hour, that's $100 per week. With 52 weeks in a year, that's $5200 annually (without taking into account the unpaid time off for holidays and vacation). As any parent who has suffered through the dinner-to-bedtime witching hour knows, $5200 is a small price to pay for the sanity to be gained by fleeing during those two hours. Excuse me while I craft my want ad.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Japanese Maple

This is my backyard. When it is January, barren, and cold here, remind me to look at this. I'll need to be reminded what I like about this place.

red Japanese maple

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 13 (My Fierce Baby Girl)

And though she be but little,
she is fierce.

My baby girl turns six today. She is a beautiful, bright, clever, fun, outgoing, creative, and sweet little girl. But mostly, she is a force to be reckoned with. She is independent, confident, willful, and strong. So strong, that sometimes I think she willed herself into existence.

As I mentioned previously, my husband and I both are only children, and we took our time deciding to have a second child. We decided. The next day I was pregnant. It was as if my daughter had been waiting around somewhere for the two of us to get our act together and wasn't wasting any more time getting into the world.

A few weeks into my pregnancy, a routine bathroom trip proved to be not-so-routine. In fact it was alarming, and I rushed to the obstetrician's office. The urine test said I was not pregnant. Definitively. The doctor even asked if I had taken an at-home test and was certain I'd been pregnant. I had and I was. We made an appointment to return the next day for a blood test and ultrasound.

My husband and I spent the next twenty-four hours justifying the certain outcome. It was so early. Something obviously had been very wrong, so better that it ended now. It wasn't meant to be.

Except it was. 

The blood test confirmed I was pregnant, and we saw the peanut's little heart beating on the ultrasound. She was fine. Even the obstetrician couldn't hide his shock and joy. She was meant to be.

She arrived on schedule and has been challenging us ever since. She spoke early and well, and the words we heard most often were "do it myself." She has never been a child that peters out. She goes full stop until she hits a wall, and then she hits it hard. Her emotions are rarely middle-of-the-road. She is gleeful and delightful most of the time; when she is not, she is distraught or enraged.

When I was at the end of my rope with a fiercely independent toddler, my husband reminded me that, while frustrating in a toddler, independence is a fine quality in an adult. One of my oldest friends, herself small but fierce, demanded that I do nothing to break my daughter's spirit. I'm not sure if I could, but I'd never try. It is who she is, and I agree it will serve her well in life.

On the way to school this morning, my daughter requested that I play one song over and over. She belted out the lyrics with gusto. I couldn't have chosen a more apt theme for her or this day than she did, Helen Reddy's 1971 "I Am Woman."

"If I have to, I can do anything. I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman."

Yes. Six years old. Hear you roar, Peanut. Thanks for proving them wrong when you were still the size of a soybean. We are forever grateful you are here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 12 (A Walk in the Woods)

I am grateful for the nearly 70-degree mid-November day here in New England, which allowed me to go hiking around the woods with my kids.

kids walking in woods

kids with hands in stream

kids walking in the woods

kids running across meadow.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 11 (My Parents)

November 11, 1967.

Forty-five years ago today, my parents were married.

On this anniversary, I want to express my overwhelming gratitude for my parents and to my parents for all they have done for me. The problem is that it is truly overwhelming me; I'm having the damnedest time putting it into words. Usually, I have an outline of a blog post in my head before I begin to type. I've been stewing over this one for several days, and all I have is a jumble of thoughts. Here, in no particular order, are those thoughts.

*     *     *

Dear Mom & Dad,

Thank you for loving and respecting each other. The fact that you have been together happily for all this time made my life much easier than that of many of my friends and provided me with an outstanding example of how to build a lasting relationship.

Thank you for always being parents. I don't for a second recall your trying to be my friend, and I've never felt that I was the more mature, responsible person in our relationship. Not everyone is so lucky. To this day, most of what I learned about how to behave, I learned from you. Most everything I learned about being a parent, I learned from you.

Thank you for making our home a place that I wanted to bring my friends and a place that I wanted to return to once I had left it.

Thank you for all the knowledge, large and small, you've shared and questions you've answered. Thank you for still taking my many calls and questions.

Thank you for your confidence in me. I hope it was well-placed.

Thank you for my education. I hope you don't feel I am squandering it.

Thank you for being people with whom I want to spend time. Many people tolerate their family; I enjoy you.

Thank you for giving me more than I ever needed without indulging me.

Thank you for (usually) trusting me to make good decisions. Most of the time, I did a pretty good job.

Thank you for being people whom I am proud to call my family. I always was, and still am, excited to have my friends meet or spend time with you.

Thank you for the piano lessons. Thank you for cheering through so many swim meets. Thank you for having me learn golf when I was young. Thank you for all the driving.

Thank you for being wonderful grandparents and in-laws.

Thank you for all the work you do every time you come to visit. You still take care of me.

Thank you for standing up for me and teaching me to stand up for myself.

Thank you for being the only people I want to see when I'm feeling lousy.

Thank for being excellent role models. You are the definition of "good people."

Thank you for being the best parents a kid could ask for. I am genuinely blessed to have you as my parents.  Happy anniversary.  I love you.


When I tried to explain to my kids that Nana and Papa were celebrating a big anniversary, I had to count the decades on my fingers. While I instinctively thought this was 45, it didn't seem that 1967 could possibly have been that long ago.  Then I remembered that I'm 41. My how time flies.

If you know my mom and dad--and I'm pleased that many of you do--please be sure to wish them a happy anniversary today. I think they do nearly as good a job at being married as they do at being parents, which is a pretty damn fine example.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 10 (My Perfect Skin!)

I haven't been home all day, and I'm heading out for a big IMAX night on the town in thirty minutes, so please pardon the brief and flippant nature of today's gratitude. I promise that tomorrow's post will be a great deal more thoughtful and heartfelt.

While at the hair salon this afternoon, I took them up on the offer of a free make-up touch-up (an understatement if I've ever heard one, since I had none on to begin with). The make-up artist (her term) kept exclaiming what "perfect skin!" I have.  I was not aware of this fact. How have I gone through more than forty years and no one has made me aware that a part of my body is perfect? I wish I'd known!

In light of this new information, I would like to express my gratitude for my perfect skin. Or perhaps for all those teenage dermatologist appointments. Or perhaps for the make-up lady's effusive load of s**t.  Whatever the case, with her boatload of products and applicators, I don't need to hide in a dark theater to hide the dark circles under my eyes, and I look like myself but better. It's all good.

I am also grateful, in advance, for the babysitter and rare night out with my husband. Now that the grilled cheese is on the table, I'd better run up and find an outfit commensurate with my superb skin.

Happy Saturday.

Friday, November 9, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 9 (The Blog)

This is my 100th post on Flotsam of the Mind. When I created this blog and published this post on January 3 of this year, I couldn't imagine what I'd have to say or who would possibly be interested in reading it. The answers were, respectively, quite a lot and many more than I would have guessed. Most of you never saw the first post because I only shared it with about ten people that I consider my inner circle. Only a later dose of bravery made me share the rest with all of you that I know personally and promote the blog to those I do not.

I am grateful for the creative outlet and the excuse to learn something new. I'm grateful for each of you who takes the time to read what I have to say--here or on the Flotsam of the Mind Facebook page--comments on either, and shares things you like with your friends. It has been a much more fulfilling experience than I would have guessed. Thank you.

Internet Privacy

I read yet another article explaining that we all need to be very careful about what we post on the Internet. It gave amazing statistics about the percentage of employers or potential dates who will Google you before proceeding. I'm certainly not looking for a date and I try not to express myself in any way I think would be offensive to others or hurt my future job prospects, but I figured it was worth investigating. After all, I have an Internet presence now (if only a small one), and I wanted to be sure that the information I was sharing publicly on the blog was all that was public. It was not.

When I Googled myself, I found all sorts of references I didn't know were there. The only thing that bothered me--and it bothered me greatly--was that Googling my name resulted in several of our family photos appearing in the Google Image results.

I am very careful to keep information about my children out of the public domain. I do not use their names or include (remotely recent) photographs of them on Flotsam of the Mind. I post their photos and talk about them incessantly on Facebook, but I use the available privacy settings and keep my Friends list to people I actually know. I use Picasa to share photos and as my offsite backup, but I use privacy settings there and instantly block anyone (other than my mother) from following my web albums. I was therefore very disturbed to see my children's smiling faces in Google Images.

If you post anything personal anywhere online, I would recommend you Google yourself to see what comes up. In case you share my concerns and want to make some changes, here are the steps I've taken:

1. Confirm that all Facebook settings are marked Friends Only. Double-check the existing photo albums. (I set links to this blog as Public, and that's all.)

2. Delete all Facebook profile pics and cover photos that contain my children. I love sharing those and using them that way, but by definition these photos are available to the public.

3. Make sure the privacy setting on each Picasa Web Album is Limited or Limited, anyone with the link. If the latter, you can still email the album link to friends or relatives and they will be able to access it and share with the provided link. Do not make albums Public.

4. I noticed that my Pinterest username appeared in the Google results. I use the same username for other accounts I would not want others to be able to access, so I changed the Pinterest account to something entirely different.

5.  If you use Picasa and have a Google+ account, these two items are now linked. Your Picasa photos will show up as your Google + Photos. As mentioned in (3), use your Picasa privacy settings. In Google+, change the privacy settings to share only as much as you want. There is a feature on Google+ where you can view your page as the public does. Use it and hide any information in your profile, photos or videos that you do not want public.

I went a step further and deleted my Google+ account. I am a firmly entrenched Facebook user and only created a Google+ account to promote the blog. The only information I posted there were links to blog posts. I really never took the time to understand it, and few of my friends use it. I purposely did not link my Blogger account (where this blog is hosted) to my Google+ account because I did not want to mix my public and private information. Google+ really didn't give me that option with respect to Picasa. I've already spent an enormous amount of time uploading years of photos to Picasa and I really wasn't using Google+, so I threw it from the train. In Google+ parlance, I "downgraded" my account, meaning I eliminated my Google+ account (a Facebook equivalent) but not my Google account, which also contains Gmail, Blogger, Picasa and most likely a whole host of other things I'm not yet using.

After all this, several family photos from a single Picasa album still appeared in the Google Image results. They seemed to be the only problematic ones, so I just deleted the entire Picasa Web Album for now. As I write this, the images still appear in Google Images even after the deletion. I'm hoping that once Google crawls the site again, they will no longer appear. If they do, I have found Google instructions for requesting removal of images. It looks like a real pain, so I'm hoping to avoid it.

While I'm at it, I'm going to delete the Twitter account I created once and never used. I spend enough time on social media as it is, and I'm a Twitter holdout. I tried to delete this account once before and apparently failed, so I'm hoping for better luck this time.

Any other suggestions for things I've missed?

Google yourself now and consider ways to remove information you do not want to appear there. If you need help finding the privacy or other settings I've mentioned here, let me know and I'll explain or provide help links in the comments.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 8 (Outerwear)

boy in the snow
My son, standing outside our back door, a couple winters ago.
The weather in New England turned cold this week, and we had our first snow last night. Two days ago, just in the nick of time, I ordered all new winter jackets, snow pants, boots and long underwear for the kids. The price tag made me wince, but it was worth it. Today, I'm grateful for performance outerwear.

I grew up in the Midwest and have always hated the cold, so it is rather absurd that I now live in New England and have a family that skis. But that's where we are, so we need to make the best of it, and without good outerwear the four of us would be cooped up inside this house from November through April. No one wants that. So, unlike I do with the rest of the children's clothes that I buy from Target, Old Navy, and on sale at Lands' End, when it comes to winter gear I shell out money for the good stuff.

You know what happens if the kids are warm outside during January in New England? They go outside and play! And they often stay out there quite a long time.  You know what they are not doing if they are outside? Being underfoot and whining that they are bored. I'd say that's priceless.

Occasionally, I need to venture out into the cold with them, and that's when I'm the most thankful for advanced textile technology. Being able to build a snowman, sled, try to ski, and--where I live--watch a soccer game in October without freezing is a gift. It's all due to capilene and SmartWool, Polartec thermal fleece and Gore-Tex, and every bit of it makes my life better.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 7 (My Other Half)

magnolia bloom

I will be the first to assert that I can do it all on my own. If push came to shove and I had to take care of this family alone, I could. I would. But I don't. And I'm deeply grateful.

At Christian weddings, you often hear that "the two shall become one." Even setting aside the cleaving that appears in some translations, I always thought this statement seemed a bit over the top (although admittedly poetic). Experience has proved otherwise.

My husband has now been a part of my life for more than twenty years. Although we would be close to thirty when we married, we met when we were still teenagers. We have known each other a long time, and we know each other well--so well that he often knows me better than I know myself (which is annoying). More importantly, we know each other's strengths and weaknesses, talents and the lack thereof.

In a long relationship like ours, you can't each do everything. You decide who does what. Sometimes it is a very conscious decision, like favoring one person's career over the other or deciding that one will stay home with the kids. Most of it is not that way. Over time, you learn who is most likely to keep the electricity on and who should make the investment decisions; who should help the kids with their reading and who should help with math; who should drive and who should look at the map. You fill in each other's gaps. One person doesn't have to worry about everything because someone else is doing his part. Two capable and independent individuals become one functional unit, both practically and emotionally. When one is weak, the other is strong.

I am grateful for my other half.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 6 (Facebook)

It was a nutty school holiday/election day/parent-teacher conference day around here.  The only thing I accomplished today was getting each of us where we needed to be at the correct time (and I nearly blew that). No dinner cooked, no blog post prepared. Luckily, I'd already written an earlier post about gratitude, so today I'm thankful that I had this one in my back pocket.

From March 28, 2012, my gratitude for Facebook: Click here for the post.

Sorry for the repost but, let's be honest, only my mom was reading this back then anyway.

Monday, November 5, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 5 (Me Time)

autumn path

It may not be appropriate to be grateful for a purely selfish reason, but I'm going to give it a try because this one's a biggie for me. I am grateful for Me Time. (I don't usually think of it in capital letters, which is corny, but for easier reading I thought I'd give it a try.)

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably have gathered that things are going well these days. I'm in a good place, both physically (see here) and mentally (and here). I credit most of that to Me Time. With no job and both kids in school full day, I have found time to develop some new hobbies and interests, take some classes, exercise regularly, and read more. The results are tremendous.

I knew I was in pain, but I didn't know how sluggish I felt until I started exercising regularly; now I feel neither. I didn't know how much I missed learning things until I took some photography classes and tried to learn to blog; now I feel more engaged. I didn't know I was creative until I started taking photos, writing, and tackling the occasional home decor or craft project; now I've discovered a whole new aspect of my personality and ways to satisfy this urge to create something. I always knew how much I enjoyed a good book; now I have time to read more of them.

I know there are times when my husband and children wish I focused more on them than on these things. I try to confine most of my Me Time to alone time, but it does trickle over, especially in the hours after the kids go to bed. I try to moderate and give my family my full attention most of the time, but I don't always succeed. However, while they may be tired of seeing me in front of the computer or with a camera in hand, I think they would agree that I'm better for it. I'm happier. I'm nicer. I'm a better me. And it's all thanks to Me Time.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 4 (Minivan)

This one is so embarrassing that I almost didn't post it. I warned you that this month wasn't going to be all sweet and poignant, so I'll just jump in with a blush and both feet and say it--I'm grateful for my minivan.

Like many of you, I swore I'd never do it, but its appeal and convenience couldn't be denied. We've had a minivan with all the bells and whistles for a year and a half, and it already has 25,000 miles on it.  It's like my second home. I spend 45 minutes in the car each morning, just getting the kids to school. And I have to pick them up too! After school, we shuttle up and down the road to afterschool activities, very few of which are closer than 20 minutes from our house. While I'm waiting for the next pick-up or appointment, or while the kids are at gymnastics or piano lessons, I often can be found in the minivan--seat pushed back, windows cracked open, book in hand.

I only have two kids, but the third row of seats means we have room for carpooling. More importantly, each kid gets a row, reducing arguments and excessive touching. My son seems to think the third row is his second home as well; it's usually filled with shirts, books, magazines, and Bionicles. I make him clean out regularly, but it's hard to keep up with him.

The media options are lifesavers. We listen to audiobooks, the kids watch DVDs when we take road trips, and my daughter deejays from the backseat by shouting iPod requests. When I am permitted, I always play music from either the satellite radio or the iPod that lives in the glove compartment.

To appreciate the amount of time I spend in my minivan and the convenience of it, it might help to provide an inventory of items that can be found there at this moment:

umbrellas (3)
folding chairs (2)
reusable grocery bags (many)
travel potty
soccer ball
pen and paper
lotion, Aquaphor and lip balm
contact solution (for after my car naps)
iPhone car charger
audiobook from the library
books (7; 2 are mine)
rag for spills
tire gauge
maps (because I like to see the whole trip, not just use the GPS)
picnic blanket
magazines (2)
Lego creations (who knows)
trash bag
water bottles (2-4 at any given time)
empty snack containers
wireless headphones (2)
extra booster seats (2)

That doesn't even account for the items that come in and out all day, like backpacks, lunchboxes, snack bags and coffee mugs, clothing changes, and store returns.

So there you have it. I am a stereotype, but a stereotype who is grateful for the luxury and convenience of my suburban home on wheels.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 3 (A Good Night's Sleep)

cartoon rollover plan for childhood naps

I am grateful for a good night's sleep.

Occasionally, I'll hear a person remark that he wishes he didn't have to sleep because he'd be so much more productive. I never get this type of person. I'd be thrilled to eliminate eating and bathing; sleep is not only a requirement but a luxury to me. I've always needed a decent amount of sleep to function well and, over the infant and toddler years, I learned that I also need sleep to keep me from being impatient and unpleasant. Much like a toddler, a tired me is a cranky me prone to tantrums. Also much like a toddler, someone in my house occasionally will tell me that it's time for me to take a nap, and I always rejoice at the opportunity.

Now that my kids are older, sleep is not as hard to come by. Barring the occasional illness or kindergartner who can't sleep and wants to share that information with me at 3 a.m., my kids no longer wake me up at night. What has really turned the corner of my restfulness is the fact that both my early risers (usually) will now entertain themselves (or each other) in the morning in a reasonably quiet manner. They might be up at dawn, but I'm not. Thank goodness.

Today, a Saturday, I woke up at the imminently reasonable time of 8:30 a.m. This almost justifies my staying up past midnight to read the night before, but it also means I feel good, act well, and can enjoy my family more. As with most things, I failed to appreciate a good night's sleep until I went several years without one. Even without the 30 Days of Gratitude, each morning I wake up after 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, I am grateful for it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 2 (Books and Libraries)

I just returned from helping to set up the local public library's annual book sale. I am fatigued and musty but reminded of how very grateful I am for books and libraries.

library bookshelves

My children and I are all voracious readers, and it is one of the special things we share with one another. Although they are each reading more advanced books, the three of us still crack up regularly at Elephant & Piggy's hijinx. We always have one audiobook in the car; right now it is the second in The Mysterious Benedict Society series. My daughter is delving into Beverly Cleary's Ramona books on her own, while we are slowly working together through my childhood copies of The Little House series. I can't begin to keep up with what my son reads. Graphic novels are big with him right now, and he just completed The Mark of Athena, the fourth in Rick Riordan's series sequel to the Percy Jackson books. I read all five of the first series upon my son's recommendation, so I suppose I'd better get started on this one.

The problem is that my to-read pile/shelf/list is beginning to get overwhelming. Book club just keeps picking new ones, and the library keeps calling me in to pick up those I requested. I bought four more books for myself while sorting today. It's a sickness. I can't stop. As addictions go, I'd say this is a pretty good one.

Books allow us to learn, to escape, to reflect. Libraries make them accessible to everyone. I can't imagine if we had to purchase every book that we read at our house (although we do that too), as I think we collectively have about forty checked out of the library right now and are at the library at least once a week. But we are fortunate--we can buy books. Many people cannot. Nothing breaks my heart more than statistics about children without access to books. To me, books rank pretty highly after food, clothing, and shelter. It also doesn't hurt that they keep my children quiet and entertained for extended periods of time, and they provide me a little quiet time to think about something other than my to-do list.

Speaking of that, I think I'll wrap up this post and see if I can get twenty minutes of reading in before school pick-up and the weekend begins. I'm reading about vampires and witches, and it's a good one.

What are you reading these days?

Tissue Paper Jars

Before Halloween, I saw a very cute idea for decorating pumpkins over on Young House Love. They cut tissue paper circles and adhered them to the pumpkin with Modge Podge. As I spent a few storm-induced days trying to entertain my kids and delay having to carve our pumpkins, I urged them to try the idea. No one but me was interested.

When I was cleaning the kitchen after some empty-the-freezer-in-case-we-lose-power-inspired baking, I had a similar idea that sold--tissue paper jars.

tissue paper-covered jars

I should briefly mention that, until now, I had no idea what Modge Podge was or why one would want to use it. I had seen a recipe for homemade Modge Podge online, which seemed an easy way to try it. The complex recipe:  one part white glue, one part water. Put in jar and shake.

modge podge in jelly jar

I handed the kids a stack of Dollar Tree tissue paper I keep on hand for wrapping gifts and told them to cut small pieces. Once that was done, I painted some Modge Podge on a washed empty glass jar (I didn't trust them with a gaping jar of liquid glue). They stuck on the pieces in their own design, and I put a coat of Modge Podge over it to shellac the whole thing.

One kid carefully put all the pieces on flat. The other sort of globbed handfuls onto the jar. Surprisingly, both worked. The final coat of Modge Podge flattened out the bumps and affixed the clumped paper to the jar, resulting in a more textured effect for the globbing approach.

The kids are still debating what treasures they want to store in their jars, but I think they looked beautiful as candle holders or used as nightlights. Here, I have a battery-powered faux tea light in each.

tissue paper covered jars as candle holders

So, crafty friends, what else do I want to do with my jar of homemade Modge Podge?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 1 (Friends)

Halloween is over. Time to start Christmas shopping.

Really, let's not.

Let's not forgot about November, and please hold off on the Christmas music until after Thanksgiving.  In this house, we still have a 6th birthday to celebrate, not to mention that little thing called Thanksgiving.

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was a chaotic (or at least often tipsy) event with my mom's large family at my grandparents' house. Here, it's pretty quiet; our families don't live nearby, and they all travel to see us soon thereafter at Christmas. Thanksgiving means I cook all day, spend ten minutes eating with my husband and two kids, and then do dishes. It's a bit anti-climactic, really.

This is one reason I've chosen to participate in the 30 Days of Gratitude started by my friend Karen on her blog, Dogs Don't Eat Pizza. If you'd like to hear more about her justification, you can read that here. Karen and I first met when we joined the same sorority in college. Neither of us are what I think of as sorority types; maybe that's why we found each other. We bonded during LSAT prep class, became summer roommates during law school, and were co-workers at the same law firm for a couple years. Our lives recently have come together yet again, as we frequently share information as parents, bloggers, and those on a quest for accurate spelling and grammar.

Back to the 30 Days of's just what it sounds like--a daily acknowledgement of one bit of gratitude. I don't promise that it will always be sweetness and sincerity here on Flotsam of the Mind. After all, on Thanksgiving, immediately after giving thanks for my family and our health, I praise the geniuses who invented the dishwasher, the washer and dryer, and the microwave.

I will, however, start off on a sincere note. Today I would like to give thanks for my friends--those nearby, those scattered far and wide, those I meet for coffee, and those I instant message. As an only child who hasn't lived near family since leaving for college, I rely on my friends a great deal. They sustain me. Each and every one of you, wherever you are and no matter how infrequently we are in touch, means the world to me. I wouldn't be able to do it without you.

little girls holding hands

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For the rest of the month, I'll continue my regular posts as well as those for the 30 Days of Gratitude. In a pinch, my gratitude posts may appear only as an update to the Flotsam of the Mind Facebook page, so if you haven't yet Liked that page, you can do so here.

If you'd like to join me, Karen, and some other bloggers in the 30 Days of Gratitude, feel free to blog about it, post a comment here or on the Flotsam of the Mind Facebook page, or as your own status update on Facebook. Even on our darkest days, we all have something for which to be thankful, and taking a moment to share it with others is a great way of reminding ourselves.

Happy November.