Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year That Was

In my younger years, I had a tendency to get a bit maudlin on New Year's Eve. I imagine it was the hormones, the perceived heartbreak, and the overconsumption of alcohol or, in other words, youth. Now that I'm older and a little wiser, I've set aside my tendency toward the dramatic. I do, however, still like to reflect on the year that was. As I look back tonight on 2012, I've concluded that it was a very good year (cue the Sinatra).

On the family side, we are all healthy and happy. Our immediate family took several trips (including the one I'm on as I write this) that provided excellent family time. My kids are doing well in school, making friends, and loving books. I couldn't ask for much more.

I feel like 2012 was a landmark year for me. So many things began or changed in a positive way, and I feel that life is trending well. For example:

1. I gave up drinking red wine (although not so much by choice) and substantially cut back on my alcohol consumption overall.

2. I started exercising regularly. I hired a personal trainer, whom I see twice a week, and I started swimming for the first time in six years. I have an exercise schedule involving things I like to do, which means I actually do them.

3. As a result of the above two, I'm in much better shape, my lower back problems are a thing of the past, and I've even managed to lose a few pounds. 2013 might be the first year I've needed to purchase smaller jeans in quite some time.

4. I finally took the photography class I'd always wanted to take. In fact, I took two. I learned a great deal, enjoy photography even more, think I've improved as a result, and can't wait to learn more. (For some examples, see here or here or here or click through on the photography subject listing at the bottom of the page.)

5. I converted the dining room we never used to a homework-craft studio where my kids now spend much of their time. The work was satisfying, but I'm most pleased that we turned wasted space into incredibly useful space.

6.  I started this blog. When I started this little thing back in January of 2012, I didn't have a plan, a theme, or any hope that anyone would give a hoot what I had to say. I'm hardly on my way to the New York Times bestseller list, but I have gotten positive feedback from many of you, which means the world to me. I think I have some idea of what I want this to be (even if it's just a little of this and a little of that), I definitely feel I have a "voice," and it seems that even a few of you who don't know me personally choose to read this. I find the whole thing staggering. It has been incredibly rewarding and I continue to learn more about it while improving my writing, which was the original goal.

2012--a year of personal growth, if you will. Corny, but true.

So, as I sip either the remainder of the Martinelli's sparkling cider I shared earlier with my kids or an oatmeal stout I have waiting in the fridge, I will not be maudlin on this New Year's Eve. I will be grateful--for my wonderful family and the time we've spent together in the last year, for the improvements I've made in my own life, and for having been given the opportunity to pursue them. I hope that 2012 treated each of you as well as it did me. May 2013 bring you joy and fulfillment. Happy New Year.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Reward

Being a parent is often a pretty lousy job. You miss an enormous amount of necessary sleep.You never know when you'll be interrupted while in the shower or using the toilet. You're subjected to a great deal of whining, shouting, and arguing. Achieving your primary goal as a parent--making a child feel safe and secure--causes your children to take you for granted. Parenting presents many challenges and, in the moment, often lacks tangible rewards.

Except when it doesn't. Today, my reward came in four words.

After several long days of skiing, my overtired eight-year-old was nearly incoherent but unable to fall asleep tonight. I offered to lie in bed with him until he fell asleep, an indulgence I'd rarely grant him on a normal day at home. We lay there in the dark, still and not talking. I thought he was falling asleep. Then he whispered, "I'm glad you're here."

Me too. And it's worth it.

*     *     *

In a moment of insanity, I have linked this post to the 67th installment of Just Write on the blog The Extraordinary Ordinary. Just Write is an exercise in free writing the moments of your day, and the link to the post can be found here. Mine is a simple post, but I think it captures the spirit of the exercise. If you're new here, thanks for reading. I hope you will consider sticking around for more.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Crush

I've been thinking about writing this one for a while, but I just didn't know how to explain myself. I still don't, but I'll do my best. See, I have a new crush.

Now, you don't need to rush out to tell my husband. It's not that kind of crush. It's what I've come to think of as a Mom Crush. And no, it's not that kind of crush either. That would be an entirely different type of post (and, I admit, likely a great deal more interesting one). My Mom Crush is on an adolescent boy.

Before you go calling the authorities or locking away your sons, please let me explain myself. To me, a Mom Crush is that affectionate feeling I have for well-behaved, polite adolescent boys, particularly those who are kind to my children or other younger kids. They are the type of boys I hope my son becomes. They are the type of boy I'd be happy if my daughter brought home someday.

Perhaps an example would help. My first Mom Crush was Will. He is the older brother of my son's friend. Will is four years older than one brother and eight years older than his other brother. As long as I have known his family, Will has been friendly, polite and gracious to me, kind to my children, and apparently caring toward his younger siblings. I used to see him playing ball with his youngest toddler sibling during the middle child's soccer practices. To be honest, he seemed much more equipped to entertain a toddler at that time than I did (and he often entertained mine as well--bonus points). I've tried to explain my fondness for Will to his mother, and the best I could do was to say that he's the type of boy I'd like my daughter to date. I'm not sure if she "got it," but she took it as the enormous compliment I intended.

My new crush is named Harry. I think he's thirteen. (Please, please, please do not ever quote those last two sentences out of context.) Harry is on the swim team with my eight-year-old and was my son's designated "buddy" for several swim meets. The coaches invented the buddy system--having thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds assist the under eight crowd--to help the young kids get to their events on time. Many of the big kids never even introduced themselves. Harry did.

Not only did he introduce himself, but for several meets he has come up to us each time one of my son's events has been called to the bullpen. Harry then hovers around, guiding my son through the on-deck process until the event is on the starting blocks. He encourages. He cheers. He fist bumps and high fives. He tells my little guy "great job!" when the event is over. It's really above and beyond the call of duty. At the first meet at which they were matched as buddies, my son said, "It's really nice having a buddy because he encourages you." Exactly. Ergo Mom Crush. I made sure to tell the coaches that Harry was doing a swell job and how much I appreciated it. I told Harry too. I didn't mention the whole crush thing. That would just be weird.

Friday, December 21, 2012

And Then There Were Two

What is it with boys and pants? Or is this phenomenon confined to our home?

My son doesn't have any interest in fashion. He wears whatever I put out for him to wear to school, as long as the pants are the "right pants." Do you know how many pairs of pants he owns that he deems appropriate? Three.

Here's the problem;  his requirements, combined with my requirements, leave us very little to work with. The state of the pants at the end of a school day only exacerbates the problem.

My requirements for school pants:

1. No sweatpants (childhood friends of mine will appreciate the hypocrisy here, as I spent much of high school trying to find loopholes in the school's no-sweatpants policy).

2. No pants with holes in them.

I'd think that wouldn't present too much of a challenge. However....

His requirements:

1. Elastic waistband. He's almost nine years old, so this is a huge challenge in itself. The kid has short legs and, while not overweight, also not a remotely slight build, further restricting the universe of possible pants.

2.  Summer-weight pants. The kid is never cold; he wore shorts through the end of October. Do you know when you can purchase lightweight pants in New England? Not in December, I tell you.

3.  No jeans.

As of this moment, that leaves three pairs of school pants and about eight others in the closet that fail on one of the above criteria. Of the three, one is light khaki. I must have been delusional the day I purchased those.

Recess compounds the problem. I now look forward to rainy days, because it means indoor recess and no grass stains. Compared to most eight-year-old boys, mine is not particularly rough-and-tumble, yet every day presents a new laundry challenge. I'm beginning to think it's some kind of intentional maniacal test of my laundry skills. This week, the light khaki pants had grass stains waist-to-hem (how does he do that?) and pizza grease stains all over both thighs (because what eight-year-old boy would use a napkin?).

All these stains seems to require days of soaking and/or multiple washings before the stains will come out, further limiting the universe of available pants.  Really, the whole thing is becoming a bit exhausting. I'm genuinely excited that school vacation has started, so the kid can just wear sweatpants or pajamas for the next couple weeks.

Update: I just took the light khaki pants out of the washer. All the grass stains and all the grease stains are gone. But there is a hole in one knee. Make that two pair of pants. Sigh.




Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You Really Like Me - An Award


A crazy thing happened a couple weeks ago--two bloggers nominated me for an award. I don't think I've been awarded anything since high school, and those were all a variety of Biggest Nerd Award, so this was pretty nifty in my little corner of the world. According to what these generous ladies told me, liebster is a German word meaning dearest, beloved or favorite, and the Liebster Award is given by bloggers to other bloggers and is intended to showcase exceptional blogs.  I'm feeling all blush-y. 



One of the nominations came from Karen at Dogs Don't Eat Pizza. Karen and I have been friends since college and started blogging at about the same time, so she might have felt obligated to say something nice. She said of Flotsam of the Mind: "Written by one of my best friends and favorite people. She and I are pretty much the same person, we've figured out. She has a great writing style, amazing photographs and fun crafting ideas."

More amazingly, the other nomination came from someone I do not know. That really floored me (thank you, Cris!). Cris at Crazed Fitness said of this blog: "I love her spin on life.  It's funny and true.."

Wow. [Insert Sally Field "you really like me!" reference.] 

Here were the instructions that came with the nomination:1. Add the award icon to your blog.2. Link to your nominator to say thank you. 3. Each blogger should post 11 facts about themselves.4. Answer the questions the tagger has set for you, & create 11 questions for your nominations to answer.5. Choose 11 up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers, go to their blog, and tell them about the award.

I'm going to cheat a little. I've already given you twelve random facts about me in the About section of this blog, so you can read those here. To make up for cheating on the first part, I'll answer both Karen's and Cris's questions. Deep breath. Here goes....

Answers to questions from Karen at Dogs Don't Eat Pizza

1. Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging to improve my writing skills.

2. What is the most important thing you've learned since you've started blogging?

I learned that there is so much to learn, and I enjoy doing it. Not only have I focused on the writing required, but I've learned bits about design, marketing, and coding.

3. What are you most proud of in your life?

Tough one. I think I'd have to say that I'm most proud that I am capable and independent. I can get things done (often without help).

4. If you could start blogging all over again, would you change anything and what would it be?

I would have liked to have a better page design and photographs in the beginning, but I didn't know enough to do that at the time. It's still a work in progress.

5. Dog person or cat person?

Neither. If I could find a pet that didn't shed, didn't need to be walked or have me carry its feces around in a bag, took care of itself like a cat but loved me like a dog, then I might consider getting a pet. 

6. What is the best piece of advice you've ever received (about blogging or otherwise)?

From my mom, regarding my relationship with a certain boy whom I eventually married: "If it's meant to be, it will be." I thought it was completely pointless and annoying at the time, but she was right.

7. What is your favorite food?

Ice cream.

8. What is your favorite movie?

Gone With the Wind. 

9. Coffee or tea?

Coffee. Pete's Italian Roast. Black. One Oxo travel mug each morning.

10. How would your friends describe you?

I think I'll leave that to my friends.

11. What do you enjoy in your free time?

Photography, swimming, reading.

Answers to questions from Cris at Crazed Fitness

1.  What is your other job, when not blogging?

Mom. I used to be a corporate lawyer.

2.  If you could live anywhere in the world, cost being no object, where would you live and why?

I don't have a specific geographic location in mind--either a house with lots of windows on the beach where it is warm year-round or in a house with a wrap-around porch on a lake (again, where it is warm). Warm is the objective.

3.  What got you started blogging?

See #1 above.

4.  What topics, if any, are off-limits for your blog?

Although I talk quite a bit about parenting and my issues with it, I do not include my children's names, photos, or any personal information about them. 

5.  Who is your favorite author and why?

I don't think I could begin to narrow it to one. I love Anna Quindlen's non-fiction, because she says what I would say in the way I would say it if I had her talent. I love Stephen King and have read nearly everything he's written; mock if you must, but he can write dialogue like nobody else. I love Anne Lamott's take on most things.  In college, I was a huge Faulkner fan, although I confess I'd really have to work at that these days. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner is one of my favorite novels. 

6.  What is your favorite style(s) of music?

Country, 80s, classic rock.

7.  Do you listen to music during your day?

Constantly. In the car, Sirius/XM or my iPod. In the kitchen, Pandora.

8.  What is your favorite hobby?

See #11 above.

9.  What inspires you?

Can I pass on one? I might have to think too hard on that one.

10.  What is one goal you have for 2013 that you will do anything to make happen?

I want to continue to improve my photography.

11.  If you had to capture who you are in either a picture or 20 words or less, what would it look like or say?

Although I am so much more, many days it feels like this. This is me as The Laundry Fairy.

woman wearing wings in laundry basket

Here's where they probably are going to revoke this swell little award nomination. Of the many blogs I follow--which focus primarily upon books, photography, DIY, parenting, and humor--none meet the requirements of less than 200 followers. I am still new to the blogging game, don't yet have a community of bloggers that I hang with, and learn of most blogs when they win a blog award or are mentioned on another blog I follow. Needless to say, I will not be endearing myself to the blogging community by failing to pay it forward.  Potential blogger friends:  I would if I could. 

If, after learning more about me, you have blogs you follow that you think I might like, please let me know in the comments. If there is something you're just dying to know about me that hasn't been answered, put your request in the comments. If you're tired of hearing all about me, I understand.  I'll stop talking now.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Count Me Out of This "Debate"

I consider myself a reasonable person. I am not particularly political, if for no other reason than I don't feel hugely passionate about most issues. I'm a bit of a fence-sitter.  When I do come down firmly on one side of an issue, I often can see the other's side point of view, making it hard to engage in too vehement a debate. When I do disagree with someone, I try to be accepting of his point of view, as long as it is argued with reason and not invective.

Not this time. I'm going to have to sit this one out.

Like many people, I have been deeply affected by the events in Newtown, CT. I seemed to have been spared the anxiety that has plagued some parents, but I continue to be deeply saddened by what happened. I have not watched a single television item about the tragedy and have only read one or two headline articles each day. I haven't saturated myself with information, but yet I cannot stop thinking about it. About how wrong and how sad it is. About what it must have been like. About what it must be like today in that town.

Even with my limited news exposure, I've seen enough on my Facebook News Feed to see that it has rightfully renewed discussions about gun control, mental health care, and media coverage of this type of tragedy. Of course, none of these things are singly to blame, but we'd all be better off with positive changes across the board on these issues. Who wants more guns, less care for the mentally ill or the glorification of what happened?

Apparently, there are some. And this where I bow out of accepting the other side's view. This is where I am going to need to block out those people because it creates an unhealthy amount of anger for me.

On the day of the shooting, while others were posting prayers, one person posted that he was sure everyone would soon be whining about the gun industry's being to blame. I ignored it. Today, while trying to remain upbeat and complete our final preparations for Christmas, I saw another post to the same effect, and it made me snap. As if anyone's primary concern at this moment should be for the gun industry. You have got to be kidding me.

To those who think the rest of the world is looking for scapegoats or deep pockets by calling for gun control, please keep your opinions to yourself. At least for a little while. While I firmly disagree with your position, I will be happy to debate the merits of your assertion when twenty-six families have had time to mourn. When I can get the images of someone opening fire with a semi-automatic weapon on a first grade classroom out of my head.

Until then, have some compassion and keep your opinions to yourself. This is not the time.

If you disagree with me, please do not respond in the comments. I will delete it. If you have been one of the people concerned this week about the gun industry, I will be blocking your posts from my Facebook feed. I think it's insensitive and inappropriate, and I just can't listen to it anymore.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sadness I Cannot Speak

Charlotte, 6

Daniel, 7

Olivia, 6

Josephine, 7

Ana, 6

Dylan, 6

Madeleine, 6

Catherine, 6

Chase, 7

Jesse, 6

James, 6

Grace, 7

Emilie, 6

Jack, 6

Noah, 6

Caroline, 6

Jessica, 6

Avielle, 6

Benjamin, 6

Allison, 6

And six adults who cared for and taught those children. Those six- and seven-year-old children.

I have nothing to add. No political statement to make. I am heart-wrenchingly sad, and I need to say it. I can't speak it. I can't speak the words out loud without choking up and crying, so I'm saying it here instead. How does someone go on after that?

I have a six-year-old. My six-year-old came home from school on Friday. Those children listed above did not. Twenty of them. Twenty families who are suffering in a way that I cannot conceive. When I think about it, I become nauseous and have to stop, because how can you comprehend something like that? I cannot, and so I keep reading and rereading the list of names. Imagining what they were like. Trying not to imagine the horror of that elementary school yesterday. Trying not to imagine their families and classmates today.

Trying to understand how one goes on.



Friday, December 7, 2012

Portrait of a Book Club

When moving to a new community, the first thing many people do is join a church. I join a book club. That is where I first create my community around a shared belief system, the love of books.

My photography class final project assignment was completely open-ended. I wanted to do a project that was meaningful to me, but I didn't want to take photos of my children. That would hardly be more than my everyday activity, and I wanted to stretch my abilities. I tend to prefer to take photos of inanimate objects, but I pushed myself in that regard as well. I decided to create a portrait of my book club.

Surprisingly, without a great deal of persuasion required, ten women took time out of their lives to allow me to photograph them. My only request was that I photograph each reading a book in her home. I wanted to capture each of them in her natural habitat.

I joined this book club the second month I lived in Rhode Island. A few have left, and several have joined since then. We have been static for about the last two years, and these women have become my friends. I have always considered them to be intelligent, witty, beautiful people. It was only after staring at their faces for hour upon hour during the editing process that I fully realized what outer beauty they each have as well. I have been so comfortable with and impressed with these women for such a long time now that it never occurred to me to consider how they look in addition to who they are. After this project, I admire both their inner and outer beauty, as well as their lovely homes. I did my best to try to capture something of how I see each person in the photo I chose to present.

Here is my portrait of our book club.

woman reading by window

book in hands

woman reading outdoors


woman reading with dog on her lap

close-up of woman wearing glasses reading

woman in colored slippers reading a book


woman reading a book in front of a yellow wall


woman in argyle socks reading a book

woman reading a book in front of a window


barefoot woman reading in a papasan chair

woman lying on bed reading a book

 (For those of you who don't recognize me, I'm the last photo. Self-portraits are a pain, by the way.)







Thursday, December 6, 2012

When is There Too Much Me in Mommy?

If you read this blog on the blog page (www.flotsamofthemind.com), you may have noticed the description under my ultra cool photo. Among other things, it says that I can be found here "trying to find the me inside of Mom." That's all well and good, and I doubt anyone would deny me that, but when do I cross the line? When does wanting "me time" become selfish or insensitive?

My daughter came home sick from school on Monday, and she won't be returning this week. It's most likely just a virus, but one that has given her a very high fever for several days--the type of fever causing her to hear and see things that weren't there. It was a little scary (for both of us), and the worst of it was when we went to see the pediatrician on Tuesday evening and nurses kept peeking in with concerned looks and cold compresses. An hour and a half later, after some Motrin and a juice box, the kid was practicing piano. It's been a strange one--seemingly over it, then not, apparently horribly ill, then not.

In the midst of my concern for my daughter's health and trying to make her as comfortable as possible, I still was trying to finish putting together my final project for the 12-week photography class I'd taken. The final class, with the presentation of all final projects, was Wednesday night. Somewhere around mid-afternoon Tuesday, it became apparent that my attendance at the event was by no means guaranteed.

I feel like a better parent would have been ok with that. A better parent would have been happy to sacrifice something superficially unimportant because of a sick child. But I really wanted to be there. Really, really wanted to be there. I'd enjoyed this class--something I'd always wanted to pursue--immensely and had learned a great deal. I'd spent many hours and involved several friends in my final project, and I wanted to share my work. I also wanted to see what my classmates had done. 

It's just a hobby. It shouldn't have been so important to me. But it was. And then I began to feel guilty.

Fortunately, my daughter was feeling significantly better by class time. I wouldn't have left her with a babysitter, but I felt that my husband could hold down the fort for the few hours I'd be gone. He juggled his work schedule to help me get there, and I was tremendously appreciative. Some of my classmates did amazing work, and it was exciting to see it and discuss it with them. Because it was the final class, it also was nice to chat briefly after class with these people I'd gotten to know through their photographs. I didn't miss anything at home, and I wasn't needed. I didn't need to feel guilty at all.

And yet, I still do. Should I? I don't know. I suppose you can be the judge.

Both kids are in bed now, and I have a long list of things to do. Laundry, Christmas shopping, Christmas cards, holiday baking, just to name those things on the top of the list. I may get to them later. Anticipating one more day home with a very interactive home-in-an-abundance-of-caution little girl, I'm going to snatch more me time while I can. The first things on my agenda are a beer and an episode of Grey's Anatomy. After that, maybe I can get something done before catching up on all the sleep I missed. A better parent would shop for her kids' Christmas gifts, but I'm just going to veg out. I have to admit, I don't feel guilty about that, but a little part of me feels guilty for not feeling guilty or doing a better job to catch up on things. 

Perhaps it's just the fatigue talking, but I do feel like many of the mothers I know feel guilty about one thing or another. Too much of this, not enough of that. Why is that? And am I a crappy mother for being concerned about attending a continuing ed class when my daughter was burning up? I don't have the answers for these questions. If you do, I'd appreciate if you'd share your wisdom. If you need me, I'll be the one in front of the TV.







Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Photo Project Teaser

Sorry for the recent hiatus. In addition to working on my final project for my photography class and fretting about (but accomplishing nothing related to) Christmas, I had a sick little girl for the last few days. The little one seems to be over her illness, and I presented my final project tonight, so I hope to find time to write a couple posts that have been percolating in my brain the last few days.

I also hope to post the photos from my final project. I did portraits for the project, however, and don't want to post anyone's photo without her authorization. Until then, it will have to wait.

Except that I just can't resist showing something. Since this one is nameless and faceless, I feel free to post with abandon.

book

While the woman in this photo has a lovely face and I feel I captured some flattering photos of her and her face, I loved this photo too much to omit it. The beautiful way she holds the book, combined with the stunning light through her window, made this a favorite of mine. The illumination of the book depicts how I feel about books, as if a wondrous light is released every time I open one. Except for The Bridges of Madison County. No wondrous light, just a couple hours of my life I will never get back.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 30 (Age)

I wouldn't dream of wearing a bikini. I'll never again wear a miniskirt. My knees pop and my back aches. I need makeup to cover the dark circles under my eyes. I'm not as young as I once was, but that's alright with me.

Aside from the obvious--that getting older is better than the alternative--I am pleased to be in my forties. I believe that age and experience have made me more confident, with less self-doubt or concern about what others think of me. I believe they have made me more compassionate. With experience comes empathy. I believe they have made me wiser. I don't think I know it all, and that is the most useful form of wisdom I know.

Do I wish I could have the knowledge and confidence of forty with the body I had at twenty? Of course. But I haven't run across any wish-granting genies, so that's not going to happen. I don't have a choice. If we did, the twenty-year-old me would have chosen to remain as she was. This forty-something me will choose to do the same. I can't stay up all night anymore, I can't hold my liquor the way I once did, and buying a pair of jeans is a dreaded event. Instead, I'm older and wiser and little worse for wear, but I'm happy for the trade-off. Just imagine how great I'll be at sixty.