Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Padding: Helenspeak

We were discussing the need to add knee pads and elbow pads to Connor's birthday list, so that roller skating would be a little less fraught with injury potential. Helen volunteered the following.

"I need elbow pads. I only have knee pads.

"And a bottom pad."

Maybe she actually does learn from the past?


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Happy (Late) Birthday to Me

Mid-may, I completed another year on this earth. Amen and hallelujah. It was a good year, for sure. A coincidence of availability meant some friends and I spent the weekend at a spa in St. Michaels, MD. Despite the fact that no townies were picked up, I believe a good weekend was had by all. And yes, we did try, including my requesting the band at the saloon to play Lynyrd Skynard which they happily did - and my goodness yes I sang right along. Loudly. That was for you, Ellen.

My friends humored me by not abandoning me in that same saloon the following night when, after drinking some fantastic wine, I was walking slower than them, and was pulled by some greater force into the bar. I could not help it. I had to dance to a little Tom Petty. I mean, you just can't get enough of that. Once my friends noticed I was being pulled into this saloon, almost completely against my will, they turned around and decided that yes, a few more rounds and a terrible band were definitely cause for extending our already late night. I knew they wanted to. They just weren't ready to admit it. Until I forced them to.

Little did I know that back home, life was pretty exciting as well. I won't claim to have any knowledge of Ed and the kids rocking out late at night, but I do happen to know that they made me a cake. And not just any cake. They made me this. From scratch.

And yes, I did love it. And Connor did too, because every night since I got home he's had a piece for snack. We've almost eaten the whole thing. He's going to miss it when it's gone.

Thank you, loves of my life. You definitely surprised me.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Love You More Than...

Each night that I put Connor to bed, he gives me a big hug and says "I love you more than ___" and then he fills in the blank with a word like "honey" or "strawberries".

Last night, when I went up to the kids' room before my own bedtime, Helen woke up a little bit as I repositioned her covers. I asked her if she needed to use the bathroom and she said "no." Then she reached out her arms as she often does and requested one last big hug and kiss. Then she said, in a very sleepy voice, "I love you more than school".


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

All the Right Tools at Birth

A plethora of debate surrounds home birth. And there are good reasons that some people choose to birth in the hospital and some people choose to birth at home. I respect them all. I'm grateful for the choices I had.

But sometimes, women don't have those choices. They live in countries without adequate health care systems. They live without adequate sanitation, clean water, or even services such as electricity - all of which I take for granted as I drink my icy cold water, sitting in my cool, air conditioned, well-lit home.

So rather than spend time debating about the business of birth as we seem to do a lot of in this country, women do what has been done for generations. They birth where they live - without question. They do it in unsanitary conditions, with only minimal assistance tools. And they do it with skilled midwives, who bring so much more than a birth bag to the table. (For a first hand account, you can read about my friend Marya's midwife who frequently works in Haiti.)

It was so inspiring for me to read a novel that included the passage of midwifery from grandmother to granddaughter. In the book, Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, the protagonist of the story finds herself in the midst of culture shock as she is first forced to leave her home in the city to live with extended family in a rural area without so much as indoor plumbing and then forced to leave formal education because there simply wasn't enough money to educate her. But she finds herself far from lost. Her grandmother takes her under her wing and passes down her trade - a trade that brought so many healthy babies into the world and continues to do so.

Although she had the bare minimum of physical supplies, she carried some of the same tricks my own midwives carried. For starters, she learned to be a compassionate person who could sit with a woman in labor. She learned to help women trust themselves and push when it was time, and hold back when a cord preventing safe passage into the world needed to be unwrapped. She learned to look past the pain that accompanied birth and find the joy. Most of all, she learned how to hold a birthing woman's hand and be present - something that still makes me grateful to both of the midwives who caught my babies. She even learned how to flip a slimy little baby onto its mamas chest, and then help both mother and baby start nursing.

In the midst of insanity all around her, she brought perfect calm. And though my own births took place under very sanitary conditions, with access to all sorts of back-ups if need by, these midwives in Nigeria had what I found to be the most helpful tools at my own home births. It was so inspiring to read yet another tale of women doing what needs to be done, in whatever way it can be done.


As a member of the From Left to Write book club, I received a free copy of the book Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, by Christie Watson. That book inspired this post. But there is oh so much more to the story. I definitely recommend it. And, if you're the first person to email me that you want it, I'm happy to give my copy to you. You can even read the first chapter here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ed versus the Builder

A few weeks ago, I started ripping cabinets off the wall of our gross bathroom. Then Ed got serious about demolition and removed the toilet, ripped out the old gross linoleum floor, only to discover another layer of plywood and another layer of even older, grosser, linoleum. I guess you can never have enough of those things.

Connor wasn't sure ripping the floor out was was a good idea.

Ed then spent several evenings watching YouTube videos about laying tile. That is completely annoying if you're me. I like them as much as Ed probably likes it when I watch YouTube videos on how to do the Kirtchener stitch. Regardless, I guess they're useful. Ed also went to the local tile store to talk about tiling with a guy there and take a class.

I decided that I was more management for this portion of the project, so the kids and I headed off to Claude Moore Colonial Farm. (Shhh...I bought lots of supplies for more natural dyeing!) We saw some cows, chickens, and pigs. Then we ate lunch and Ed joined us, but only for a couple of hours. He had work to do.

Next, Ed did this to the bathroom. I wondered when the part where the bathroom looks good was going to happen. Ed probably wondered when the part where he would get some help was going to happen. I already knew the answer to that last question.

 Next, Ed painted. Finally, he had a little help.

Then, he laid down the sub-floor. Isn't it obvious that he loves his work?

The floor seemed to be in good hands, so I took his staff to National Train Day.

We had a lot of fun.

Ed learned to use a wet saw. I'm not sure that was very fun, although Helen seemed happy enough to learn the trade when we came back home.

And then construction on our screened in porch started, and the race to finish began. Stay tuned and place your bets now.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Name that Guinea Pig

On Friday the 13th, I turned 38. After attending parent-child class with Helen, I went home with her and baked cookies while Connor went over to a friend's house. According to Connor, he wanted to go to his friend's house because he hardly ever got to see him, but he got to see me all the time. Fair enough.

After getting Helen all sugared up with the cookie dough, I handed the reigns over to our au pair and headed out to a spa in St. Michaels with friends. Over the course of the weekend we would (1) eat at a fancy restaurant; (2) shop in the cute - chain store free town of St. Michaels; (3) enjoy the spa; (4) visit a saloon - twice (no townies were picked up, though one woman in our group got pretty close!); and (5) go sailing. Not a bad weekend, for sure.

And I needed it, because I had, in a moment of weakness, told Ed he could acquire guinea pigs for me from the kids as a birthday present.

And acquire them, he did.

Here's photographic proof.


When I was growing up, I always had a dog. I always wondered how kids ended up with strange rodents for pets, and now I know the answer. Helen and Connor desperately want a pet they can interact with, but I desperately don't want either a cat (I'm terrified of them) or a dog (too much care). So, that brought Ed and I to guinea pig.

But here's the best part of the story.

Connor named the guinea pig he picked out "Sparkle".

Helen named the guinea pig she picked out "Pussy".

Which makes me the owner of guinea pigs named "Sparkle Pussy". I'll let that sink in a minute.

Helen is too stubborn to just accept a name change, so I'm trying to call the guinea pig by another name, hoping it sticks.

Because really, I don't need anything in my life named Sparkle Pussy.


Monday, May 9, 2011

A Lesson on Time Management

Randy Pausch has a relatively famous time management lecture.

Finding that lecture and coming to the realization that time was finite (it should be obvious, I know) changed my life. I went from feeling discombobulated much of the time to feeling like I could manage everything I needed to.

You should listen to the lecture, but I'll share with you the point in it that was the most important for me. It's Covey's time management grid.

The grid asks you to divide tasks into four quadrants. First, divide tasks into those that are "IMPORTANT" and those that are "NOT IMPORTANT". Now divide them into "URGENT" and "NOT URGENT". And now use that grid to decide how you're going to spend your time.

Almost everyone would agree that tasks that are both URGENT and IMPORTANT should be done first, and tasks that are NOT URGENT and NOT IMPORTANT would be done last (if you even got to them). But what about the other two groups - do you spend your time on the tasks that are URGENT and NOT IMPORTANT first or on tasks that are NOT URGENT and IMPORTANT first?

The answer? Choose the things that are IMPORTANT and NOT URGENT before those that are not important. In fact, consider crossing everything you have classified as "NOT IMPORTANT" off your "to do" list entirely. That way, everything you spend time doing, you consider important.

I'm not saying I live by this entirely. I get caught in the weeds all the time, but working toward it has improved my ability to focus on work at work and home at home. And most of all, I love my job and my family. The coexist in an acceptable way for me.

The second thing I've had to learn as a mother, is that time is finite, and demands are infinite. And along with this, trying harder doesn't always mean I can accomplish everything I want to. I feel like this is a lesson I learned the hard way. You see, I used to believe that if I just tried hard enough, anything at all was possible. Well, as it turns out, my first defining moment as a mother was learning that indeed, I just could not produce enough milk to feed Connor. I worked really hard, and by the time Helen came around, I could've fed a couple of babies, but with Connor, I just could not do it. At the time, this was devastating to me. But in hindsight, I'm able to look back and say that I gave Connor everything I had. I did the best I could, and I can't imagine a finer kid. We were totally made for each other.

I've grown a lot as a mom since I first took this job. What I know most of all is this. Being a mom is really hard work - and there are lots of right ways to do it. I try to do it in a way that eliminates stress for me, and that means I have to give up on being perfect regularly.
I hope your Mother's Day was as terrific as mine. Helen was so excited, she cried for me at 6:00 AM, gave me a big hug, and then went back to sleep. Ed installed much of our bathroom over the past week and he and the kids greeted me with breakfast in bed. Connor asked me about midway through the day if he could make a candle. When he was finished, he ran into the craft room, created some wrapping paper, taped up the candle, and presented it to me. I love that candle. And for a week now, Helen has been squirreling away random treasures of her and putting them in a big "Mother's Day box". She gave that to me in the morning, and I loved every scrap of paper in it.


This post was inspired by the new book "Good Enough is the New Perfect", by Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple. I am solidly in the "good enough" camp, rather than the "never enough" camp. I know I've let a million things slide since I had Connor, but I regret few of those things. I received a free copy of the book as a member of the "From Left to Write" book club. If you want the book, let me know and I'll happily pass it along to you.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Homemade Friday: Felt Mice

Prior to Spring break, all of the children at Connor and Helen's school planted grass gardens. In Helen's class, we felted small eggs, and in Connor's class, the children felted larger eggs. The parents in Helen's class then added a little mouse made from felt to their child's basket. Naturally, Connor wanted one as soon as he got wind of Helen getting one.

I love making these little critters.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Good Sleeper Award

Yesterday, Helen looked me right in the eye, and very seriously said "I hope that you can sleep through the whole night tonight, and in the morning I can give you a good-sleeper award". To say I was taken aback, would be an understatement. While it is true that I am no longer the sleeper I once was, I wouldn't blame that condition solely on myself.

I responded by telling her that I, too, hoped I could get the good sleeper award (the provenance of which, I am unclear about). I then told her that in order for me to be eligible for the good sleeper award, I would need her help. You see, the previous night she had been up crying (for no apparent reason) at 2:00 in the morning. I lay down with her to help her go to sleep, only to be wrestled back down whenever I tried to make my escape from her rather crowded bed. The exercise exhausted me.

This morning, after both Helen and Connor had managed to sleep through the entire night without calling for me, I did, indeed, manage to get the coveted good sleeper award. I was more grateful for the sleep than the prize, but I appreciated them both.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Professional Frosters: Moms Love (Sprinkles) Cupcakes

In the past week, Helen has had a change in career plans. She has now decided she will be a nurse, rather than an engineer. I'm not exactly sure what brought about the change in career hopes, but I'm hoping to steer her toward midwifery. Then, I could live out my retirement days vicariously through her. Awesome.

But earlier this week, Connor and Helen got to try their hand at a different career entirely: frosters at Sprinkles Bakery. This could be a pretty fantastic career for me, should they choose to do it, because it's no secret, I love cupcakes. Connor and Helen? It appears they love frosting.

And they have just one tip for the fabulous folks at Sprinkles, who so generously allowed them to frost cupcakes and then sent us home with a box to enjoy - MORE DECORATIONS!

This is the Sprinkles decorated "mom" box. It's available next week, in celebration of Mother's Day. And I can attest...moms do love cupcakes! At least this one does.
This is the Connor and Helen decorated family box. And just to be clear, Connor actually said "I only took one of each decoration so that there would be some left for the other children. In other words - this was him being conservative!

Thank you, Sprinkles, my kids had a great time piling frosting on your cupcakes and checking out your party room. I'm thinking of hosting Helen's bday there - with a "If You Give a Cat a Cupcake" theme. Thanks also for the delicious cupcakes. My favorite is still the peanut butter chip and Connor's favorite is still the cinnamon cupcake, but the vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, and lemon in our take-home box tasted fantastic. The store manager could not have been nicer to Helen. In Helen's mind, they are BFF for sure!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It's Official: Helen Takes After Me

It has been true since birth, Helen is a lot like me. She's small. She's (ahem) stubborn. She finds happiness. She even likes sanitizer...a lot. Sadly, she also has no sense of direction.

We have lived in our current home for most of Helen's life. Yet still, when she is inside, she has no idea where the front of the house is and where the back of the house is. She is constantly standing at the wrong door when she's waiting to be released, and regularly confirms which door is which before heading there with her shoes.

This past weekend, Helen woke up from her nap and asked Ed where Connor and I were. He told her we were playing out back.

Her response? She walked right to the front door, went outside, and sat down on the front porch. And waited. Ed saw her there and asked what was going on. She looked at him and asked "Am I at the wrong door again?".

Yes, Helen. You are at the wrong door. Again.

I'm sorry, Helen. You come by this trait honestly. There are generations of women on my mom's side of the family who can't figure out directions.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

End of an Era: The Power is Off

Back in the Jimmy Carter era, people received substantial subsidies for investing in alternative energy, such as solar panels. On top of federal tax credits, Kansas offered a state tax credit. That was all my dad needed to move from being a gas dependent chump to a man who could brag about the generation of energy on top his home. I remember more than one engineer admiring those beauties.

Unfortunately, before solar energy could really take off, the subsidies ended (compliments of a Ronald Reagan energy policy that favoried nuclear over solar). This caused significant shrinkage in the industry, which meant fewer people able to repair aging systems. At some point, my parents' unit was struck by lightning and from then on out, everything was a little haywire.

The biggest inconvenience was that the shut-off for the system didn't work correctly. The way the system was supposed to work was that in winter, it would heat the main floor, the basement, and then the water. In the summer, it would heat the water. By the end, I don't know what it really did.

I do know, that once the shut-off didn't work properly, my dad implemented a more manual system to override the aging infrastructure of his beloved system. And thus, one of two memories of my father that will never, ever have the opportunity to grow faint was born. Over, and over, and over, my sister and I heard the phrase:

"Did you check the solar?"

And, even though we were reminded constantly, I think the most common response my dad got from us was "oops!" followed by a dash to whatever piece of the unit we were supposed to switch off when certain conditions had been satisfied.

This past week, that era ended. My sister and I held a moment of silence when those panels were stripped from our childhood home. I would say that my dad finally gave up and had the unit removed from the home. But I think the opposite happened. The panels were cloudy and not working very efficiently, additional problems surfaced, and whatever bragging rights used to exist no longer presented themselves.

In other words, my dad outlasted solar energy.

Good-bye, solar panels. This issue might have been the only thing my dad and Jimmy Carter ever saw eye-to-eye on.