Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Run Streak? with Strength?

I have still not come up with an adequate New Year's resolution. I like to stack the deck on these things so I know I can succeed (e.g. Drink more champagne! my all-time winning resolution). I'm toying with the idea of completing a big run streak - like at least three months long. To count as a run, I need to put running shoes on and run at least 1 mile. That's not too hard, so I'm adding in another element: strength training.

When I started running a few years ago, I was in great shape. I'd worked with a personal trainer and felt strong. I'm guessing this had a lot to do with not suffering any early running injuries. But fast forward to today, and I'm a mess. the muscles I use for running are in good shape, but everything else just sort of tags along with me.

I have tried to strength train for at least a year, but just never got into it. This time around, I purchased "Quick Strength for Runners" and I've been treating in like it's holy. Of course, it's January 4 and I am still in the relatively easy "week 1" phase of the book. So on top of my run streak, I'm adding the strength workout - and on days when I'm not doing an official workout from the book, I'm challenging myself to 25 sit-ups or the New York Times 7 minute workout. That way, I spend some time each day getting stronger.

Three days in, I can report that I am killing it. Any bets on whether I can go the three months?


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Good Ending to a Hard Day

I wasn't sure how yesterday was going to go. I knew in my head that the electoral college wouldn't save us. Wouldn't protect us from Trump. Wouldn't vote differently than people in their state requested they do. I knew there would be no delay, we wouldn't ever really get to the bottom of Russian interference in our election. We wouldn't try and understand what it means to have a President-Elect who appears to be crushing our government with his appointees. Perry - the guy who wanted to eliminate the Energy Department will run it? A congressperson whose not an economist will  lead OMB? Department of Ed will be championed by someone who doesn't believe in public education? I can't find one silver lining in this - except the Marines seem to be proud their guy is going to lead DoD. I hope they're right.

And so it was that I donned my coat, still wearing my "I'm With Her" button, and set off for work. Even though my head knew how the day would end, with Trump officially getting the nod to be President, my heart is very powerful, and a small piece of it whispered "it's been a very strange few months, anything could happen". I held my breath as long as I could, but in the end it wasn't to be. It isn't to be.

Another day of tears, an upset stomach, and a confirmation that I am never going to get over this election. It's something I will carry with me to the end, like a dead relative. I penned a thank you note to HRC, dropped it in the work mailbox, and carried on.

By nightfall, I was alone with Helen and Connor and it was just what my soul needed. We played a couple of games, ate our favorite cookies out of the cookie exchange box, and listened to a Christmas story that I had downloaded.

Though Connor is not my naturally goofy, happy child - he does pull it out sometimes. We set to work on a robot soldering project, but before that, I lit up our unbelievable gorgeous tree that is filled with so many ornaments and memories. And Connor suggested we have a Christmas dance, so we did. Singing, laughing, and dancing around the room.

After we were a little bit winded, we made some progress on our project, which though he sort of resents having anything to do at night that doesn't involve him moving into a vegetative state, he was enjoying.

And then we sat in a chair together (not many more years for this) and by the time he went to bed, he told me I was the best mother in the world, and probably even the best parent. He doesn't always feel this way, but it's nice to know that sometimes the universe can send me a soft ball - and on a day when I was filled with a sense of gloom, it was perfectly timed.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Doing Good - Donation to Arlington Food Assistance Center - Thank you, Stonyfield!

This is the obvious time of year when we take a moment, look around, and decide what positive change we can bring. It's natural, because in this time of darkness, we're in need of new sources of light.

Stonyfield sent me a gift card for $50 and allowed me to pass it along to a cause my family supported. I have a standing policy that whenever my children donate money to a cause they believe in, I make a matching contribution. Doing this allows them to see their dollars go further, shows them that I support their giving, and hopefully encourages them to find other things to believe in.

We sat around one evening at dinner and talked about the many activities in the area that we could do to help others. In the past, we've adopted families through Arlington County's Secret Santa program.

I also donate annually to a program in Alexandria that provides gifts to foster children aging out of the foster program. I answered an ad on a listserv I belong on a few years ago, and now get direct requests. The charity is Fund for Alexandria's Child.

And the charity closest to my heart is Miriam's  Kitchen - a place  I volunteered at for about 20 years. I still donate to them monthly.

Helen recently did a few lemonade and jewelry sales with a friend as well as giving some of her own money (and my match) to donate to Animal Welfare League of Arlington. She was thrilled to bring her donation a few weeks ago, in part because it meant she could play with and see the cats and dogs at the shelter. It was a fun way to spend an hour.

And finally, Helen fleeced us out of every piece of spare change in the house (including the coins I find in the laundry, which I consider my tips) in order to support Shareplay, a charity founded by one of her school teachers.

Connor's Boy Scout troop collects food for the Arlington Food Assistance Center and apparently that action sunk in - because as we were naming all of these other charities, he piped in with AFAC.

We talked about whether we wanted to donate to something new for our family or something we already support, whether we wanted to do something for people or animals, and where we wanted the charity to be (international, national, local). Once we decided we wanted to do something for families in Arlington, we talked about the different ideas we laid out, and landed on AFAC.

We started with the $50 gift card from Stonyfield. To that, I added $20. Then Helen said she'd like to contribute $2 of her own and Connor wanted to contribute $5 of his own. We added that together, and with my matching contributions for their donations - we discovered we had put together $84. Helen then upped her amount to $5 - giving us $90 to donate to AFAC.

We went on their website and chose items from their food list that we'd like to donate.

It was super easy, and we had an email thanking us almost instantly.

"Thank you for your donation to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). If you have questions about your donation, please contact our Development office at, or by phone at (703) 845-8486."

ProductQtyUnit PricePrice
Fresh Eggs

          Thank you, Stonyfield. You might have started our new holiday tradition that includes the kids in the donating end of giving!


          Monday, November 28, 2016

          My tiny pies

          I made possibly the two best apple pies of my life last week. One, I gifted to Helen's class. One stayed at home for my own Thanksgiving meal. Both were consumed in short order. When I take a home baked good up to school I always hear a variation on the same message I heard at Helen's class.

          • "You mean, you baked that - in your OWN OVEN - at home!" and 
          • "Can you give my grandma the recipe? She knows how to bake, too."

          Earlier in the year I had gifted the class red velvet whoopie pies, which I baked as I was preparing to run Marine Corps Marathon. They were delicious. The filling involved removing seeds from a vanilla bean, which I happened to have at home. I wasn't sure I could top them - but the pie was a good encore.

          I am super sad that I didn't take a photo of the whoopie pies with filling, because they were gorgeous. But now they're gone.

          I had a bit of apple pie filling left, so first Helen and a couple of friends made a few pop tarts. Then I decided to see if a cupcake pan could be used to bake pies. This was mostly ill-advised, though still a decent project.

          Naturally, even after heating them up a bit, it was hard to extract them from the pan. I'm not sure if there's a tool angled correctly to help me, but mine didn't do the trick. They were mostly OK, but still a bit messy. They tasted delicious.

          Four looked pretty good coming out; two were kind of a disaster.

          Helen and I took the little pies to our neighbor and I said "I know we're all still hurting" and, because my neighbor is pretty old, she told me "I'm still crying daily". Which I get. I'm past that phase, but that's because I've reached the "I am not leaving so hate me all you want, you are GOING to give women equal rights some day" phase of this mess. She's retired. We all know this might have been her last chance to see a woman in the oval office.

          My neighbor later emailed and told me she couldn't believe something could be so delicious. I've decided that I'm going to keep dropping baked goods off at neighbors. I think we still need some signs that we're going to be OK.


          Wednesday, November 23, 2016

          Easy Cookie Baking - Krusteaz Mixes

          I am a from-scratch baker, through and through. My only regular exception is brownies, because I'm somewhat convinced that box brownies are better than homemade brownies.

          However, I like the idea of Helen and Connor making cookies without me - and they're not going to be able to execute my regular chocolate chip cookie recipe. The stove top element makes it just a wee bit too dangerous and difficult.

          Enter - boxed cookie mix. In the past week, we've tested Krusteaz Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookie and Snickerdoodle Cookie. Since the whole point of this exercise it to make something tasty, yet simple enough for my kids to pull off, we went one step further than we needed - and made pan cookies. I think my kids could plop even scoops of dough onto a cookie sheet, but it's easier to drop all the dough into one pan and spread it out.

          The only thing you need to do in preparation for these cookies is to leave a stick of butter on the counter.

          1. Gather ingredients - box mix, 1 egg, 1 stick of butter.

          2. Mix them all together. (Helen can now run the stand up mixer on her own.)

          3. Spread the dough in the pan and with the Snickerdoodles, spread the cinnamon and sugar packet on top.

          4. Bake for about 20 minutes.

          5. Let daughter take funny picture before diving in.

          These cookies received solid accolades from both of my kids - and I've been sneaking several myself.

          After making the batch of chocolate chunk cookies, I put together a small plate of them for my neighbor, which Helen delivered along with some errantly delivered mail. She and I had shared tears over the election a few days before this and I figured she could use a little pick-me-up.


          Disclaimer: I received several boxes of cookie mix to test. All opinions are my own. I'm looking forward to the kids grabbing the rest and making them up! However, do not think I have abandoned my typical bake-from-scratch ways. I made the two most delicious pies of my life a few days ago, which I'll be bragging about in this space soon.

          Tuesday, November 15, 2016

          A little history

          My mother's mother spent her life raising a house full of children - which could not have been a small task. She was industrious in ways that I could probably not even imagine today, because I don't have to. Her children showed up for mass on-time, clean, and based on some of the stories I have heard - must have been a source of pride for both her and my grandpa. She taught her children to do the right thing, which included my mother making what I still consider to be extraordinary sacrifices when another family in their community faced terrible circumstances. At the same time my grandmother was teaching her children right from wrong, she encouraged her daughters to learn to drive, giving them independence she didn't have. I never met her, but picture her to be a very strong woman. Part of her life, women were not allowed to vote. She probably never dreamed of a woman becoming President.

          My mother spent part of her life raising a (smaller) house full of children and did fulfill her mother's wish that she learn to drive. My mother had help from my dad raising her children - help that I don't imagine my grandmother received (though I'm sure my grandfather did some of the child-rearing). My mother's children (my sister and I) also showed up for mass on-time, clean, and I think made her and my father proud. She also taught us to do the right thing, and though we struggle, we do know what the right thing is in most situations. She is also a very industrious woman and her skills include making dresses that were not only extremely memorable and special to me, they have been extremely special to Helen. At the same time my mother was teaching my sister and me right from wrong, she had a job outside the home (part-time, part-year, typically). This job gave her access to income and spending choices that she might not have felt she would have absent that job. At that job, she ultimately made an awful lot of (mostly) male bosses look good. It could be tremendously stressful and she somehow managed to balance work and family in extraordinary ways. She is a very strong woman. As I watched how hard she worked, something deep inside me told me that I was never going to do her job, I was going to do something more independent. She has been able to vote her entire lifetime - but there have been no women in the House and Senate for a good number of those years she could vote. It breaks my heart that she may never see a woman become President.

          I spend a significant part of my life raising a (same size as my mother) house full of children. I have access to a tremendous amount of assistance including my parents who have been on-call to help in childcare emergencies or wants for my children's entire life. I have had live-out nannies, live-in au pairs, a team of babysitters, and friends who provide me great assistance. I have assistance cleaning my house. Ed bears a ton of childcare and household responsibilities and I'm certain has cooked more meals than my father and grandfather combined - despite the fact that he's been on this earth many fewer days than my grandfather was and my father has been. My children are (mostly) clean, compassionate people who bring me great joy and pride. I, too, try and teach them right and wrong. I have worked every schedule imaginable to accommodate my changing desires and family, but throughout all that time - I have spent most of  my career directing my own work. I have opportunities available to me that were not available to previous generations of women. I make enough money that I could reasonably expect to be able to support myself and my children. I was represented in the Senate by Nancy (Landon) Kassebaum (Baker) from the time I was five until I turned 24. I remember being told that girls can be anything they choose and I also remember the crushing realization that sometimes making certain career choices would be met with great resistance. I hear America loudly when it rejects women in power - despite many examples of some women being very powerful. If nothing else, this campaign has provoked many conversations with friends who have amazing careers about the various forms of sexism that still permeate our days. I am also a strong and industrious woman, though it shows in different ways than it did for my mother or grandmother. I am not certain I will ever see a woman President.

          Helen is too young to have raised children though she has told me she will have two of them. She attends school in one of the highest ranked districts in the country and is growing up in a world where we understand girls and boys are often treated differently by virtue of their gender. We (meaning adults) talk about it, a lot. We also understand (largely) that this is not a good thing and that women should have the opportunity to succeed and not face systemic bias. Even at her young age, she understands that women have not had their due. She sees it when we read books about famous scientists - and she has a hard time finding the women. She sees it when people use "he" as a gender-neutral pronoun, and by sheer force of will, she has actually gotten Ed to stop reverting to "he" all the time. Pokemon can be girls, too. She is looking around and starting to evaluate how fair the world really is - and she discusses the things she sees with me often. I try and assure her the world is changing - and sometimes even explain to her how we got to where we are. There is not doubt we have made progress. She is a leader, a protester, a teacher, and a very opinionated person. She also brings tremendous caring and thoughtfulness where she goes along with a gift for synthesizing information. Hers is a voice that should be included. She is industrious, often solving her own problems. She is my heart and my soul. And I think she deserves to see a woman become President and watch remaining barriers fall.

          Because at some point, we're going to have to either stop telling girls they can be anything they want, or come clean and let them know there are some jobs that are never going to be open to them.


          (And while I thought I *might* have passed the bursting into tears phase of this grief, I discovered yesterday when I was out walking that I'm not quite there. A passerby saw my "I'm with her" button, we started talking, and then we shared a few tears.)

          Saturday, November 12, 2016

          The speech

          Yesterday, I sat with Connor and Helen and watched Hillary's concession speech. I'd seen it live, but wanted them to be able to watch it. Mostly, I wanted Helen to see how strong Hillary is. She does not quit. And although I sensed Helen would love the ending of the speech, I didn't quite grasp how much.

          For those who haven't seen it, the speech ends with this:

          "And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable, and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams."

          It was at this moment that Helen looked Connor straight in the eye, told him Hillary was talking to her, pumped her fist into the air and agreed vehemently with Hillary. She looked so strong. She looked so happy.

          It was just what the doctor ordered. I wish I could've recorded it.

          Although I didn't show them Tim Kaine's speech (I wanted the full impact of the moment to belong to Hillary), I appreciated his remarks greatly. Most meaningful to me was his opening:

          "I'm proud of Hillary Clinton because she has been and is a great history maker in everything she has done - as a civil rights lawyer, and First Lady of Arkansas, and First Lady of this country, and senator, and Secretary of State. She has made history. In a nation that is good at so many things but that has made it uniquely difficult for a woman to be elected to federal office.

          She became the first major party nominee as a woman to be president and last night won the popular vote of Americans. that is an amazing accomplishment. It is an amazing accomplishment."

          I'm still not past the "bursting into tears" phase of this grief. In time.

          Friday, November 11, 2016

          What moms do

          I have reminded myself at least a hundred times in the last 24 hours that moms have one common trait - and that is: we get back up.

          Lots of things knock us down - unkind words to our children, school systems that don't understand our children, hearing our children cry, and hearing our children explain in perfectly reasonable ways why something was unfair to them. We fall down, we get up. Rinse. Repeat. We get up because a little girl is looking up at us wondering what the hell happens when we fall.

          The election results on Tuesday were a blow like no other. Straight to the gut. And what's worse? I basically brought my daughter into the fight to feel the pain, too.

          I was so sure that we were going to be on the winning side, that I shared my excitement with Helen. I took her canvassing, I talked up Hillary, I tried to convey the importance of the situation. But what I didn't tell her, because she's 9 and surely deserves a few more years of believing in fairness and open societies, is that sometimes  - maybe even often, when you put your heart on the line, someone or some powerful force squashes it.

          My unwillingness to remember, maybe my wanting to ignore the fact that we live in a society of incrementalism, meant that Helen shared my expectation and her heart was crushed alongside my own.

          Of course Hillary wasn't going to win. Getting her nominated was the best we were ever going to be able to do - and that was a huge leap forward.

          Geraldine Ferraro made it on the ticket as the VP nominee in 1984 (I remember this, but in no way was I able to grasp the importance); 32 years later Hillary made it on the ticket as the Presidential nominee. Dear Lord, please don't make me wait 32 more years to actually get a woman elected to VP or President - because that's too long for Helen. She'll pretty much be my current age then, and I assure you she will have felt sexism in a hundred ways by then, she will have made career choices based largely on her gender, and she will have set dreams aside.

          We are crushing yet another generation of girls. And that is too high a price to pay to keep the myth of men being better than women alive.

          Soon, I will get back up. I will find a winnable fight and do the work to win it. Because that's what moms do. Every day.


          Wednesday, November 9, 2016

          Election 2016

          This was it. It was the year we were going to finally prove that women could be anything they wanted to be.

          To say I was "all in" for Hillary would be an understatement. I felt so much hope and confidence - and as the polls started shifting even further towards her favor in the weeks before the election - and there was talk of her trying to run up the score - I was almost gleeful.

          It was real. It was going to happen.

          I was finally going to exorcise those demons that have haunted me repeatedly - with the earliest one coming in 7th grade as he assured his friend he wouldn't be last chair in band because there was a girl playing trumpet now.

          And then Comey made his ridiculous announcement that more emails had been found that might be related to a case the FBI had already cleared Hillary of criminally. To think these emails would contain something would take a lot of imagination, but people wanted a reason to hate her - and they hopped on board. Not surprisingly, there wasn't anything new in these emails. But the polls were dipping and what looked like a possible democratic senate had turned back to a republican senate. Was it the straw that did her in? Probably not. But it didn't help.

          I wore a Hillary t-shirt and button pretty much everywhere I went (excluding a wedding) for the days leading up to Tuesday. I smiled often. I was in love with life.

          My internet went down on Monday so when Helen went to play practice that afternoon, I went to the Starbucks and started dialing voters in North Carolina from there.

          I took my kids canvassing on the 9th assuring them that Hillary's ground game was the best in the business and we were going to be part of tipping the vote in her favor.

          I came home and made calls to Nevada.

          We were doing this.

          We were going to be winners.


          Only that's not what happened. And someday, I'll write something more thoughtful, but today is a day of such deep sadness, I sometimes feel like I can't quite catch my breath. I've cried. I've puked. I've talked to friends and family.

          I've held Helen as she cried. I have told here under no uncertain terms that we did support the right candidate. Our country would be better with Hillary at the helm. She did win the popular vote and she did win our state.

          And even though my heart has broken into a million tiny pieces that may never come back together - I am so very proud of supporting Hillary from wire to wire.

          This is me walking to school with the kids, purposefully taking the busy streets home on Friday.
          This is me on Sunday, after running 8 miles with a white, male, moderate Republican who told me he was going Hillary. If he was going Hillary, along with other smart, white, male moderate Republicans I know - there could be no path to the Presidency for any other candidate.
          This is the last sign we saw as we exited our "get out the vote" site.

          This is us, trying to find every last Hillary voter in Arlington-  a county that split 75-25 for Hillary.

          And this is us, full of optimism that we could share in the joy of victory.
          I have no appropriate words. I can tell you, the glass ceiling is alive and well, and it sucks.


          Halloween 2016

          I totally failed at Halloween this year, being that the one requirement is to get a photo of both kids together. But alas, they went their own directions, I was recovering from running a marathon, and I was too busy congratulating myself on getting Connor to and from piano at an abnormal time to figure out the camera thing.

          Connor made plans to go trick-or-treating with a buddy of his. He wasn't certain about his costume, until he attended Boy Scouts where they hosted a zombies versus scouts event. He won third place for his zombie costume, which made him decide it was a quality costume. I was excited about this costume because the base of it was one of Ed's many pairs of lawn mowing pants. What are these? Jeans with big holes in the them. How many pairs does one need? Many, according to Ed's closet. Connor ended up wearing the costume three times - to the scout party, a music department party, and then to school and for trick-or-treating on Halloween.

          Helen decided before our trip to Florida a few weeks ago that she was going to be Hermione. Her grandma Lynn gifted her a cloak like the one Hermione would have worn (were she an actual person, and not a book character). We added a white shirt of Connor's and a tie of appropriate coloring along with a magic wand. And...viola - we had Hermione!

          The candy haul was embarrassingly large - and possibly the worst part about it is that since I was still recovering from running, it didn't even look that attractive to me!