And Everything Worked Out Just Fine. The End.

It’s funny how things just keep working out for the best. It’s so cliché, right? I know. But, like stereotypes, which become stereotypes for a reason, perhaps clichés suffer from the same fate. My husband, the cynic, would question, “How do you know it’s the best? How do you know another outcome wouldn’t have been better?” Touché. 

To that, of course there is no answer. So perhaps instead of working out for the best, I’ll just say, they just seem to work out really well. They work out just fine. This is how I’m feeling about life right now. I am sitting in an interesting position where I can see how some things have been through their questionable times and now they’ve worked out for the best, wait, I mean, they’ve worked out really well, while in other areas I am squarely in the ‘I don’t know how this is working out for the best’ bit, but I have this strange calm about them, because of the ones that HAVE worked out nicely. 

The first is my daughter’s pre-school. If you don’t recall, the short story is: removed her from prior pre-school (drop-offs were bad for over a year), with the intention of going to School A or a back-up, School B. But School A didn’t work out because of an assessment Eliana refused to take part in (yes, there’s a whole crowd rooting for her, so go ahead), and we were three families away from getting into school B, which meant we had school Z, for zilch. I made a couple desperate phone calls, but several weeks before school was starting, we still didn’t know where she would be going, if any place at all. And then we got the miracle call out of the blue that there was one opening at one of the schools that we love, due to a child moving last minute. They needed a girl born between March and August. Eliana’s spot. It’s been a very successful venture – while she doesn’t love getting dropped off, she has not shed even one tear – if you only knew the stark contrast from the scenes we had before, you would understand my measure of success. She seems to really like it there – she talks highly about it and some of the other students – something we didn’t get with the last one. I have no doubt that this worked out for the best brilliantly. 

If I take step back, big-picture, for our family, I also feel things are working out rather pleasantly. Early this year, my husband was at a cross-road professionally. He had been deciding between a couple career moves. I knew which route I DIDN’T care for (one of them would have had him traveling 4-5 days a week), but was prepared to stand by him and his dreams and make whatever worked out work. Because under my current argument, had that worked out, that would have been ‘for the best’ also. I know, this kind of messes with your head. One of his paths didn’t work out – it closed down for him. I know it was a real blow to him at the time and perhaps he didn’t see it as such, but I could see that that one really was working out for the best, well, the best for me and our family, which arguably, is also the best for him right now. He is currently pursing his PhD, another life’s dream of his. I had my own set of reservations about this option, but it was my preferred of the two by default because I so didn’t want the other  to happen. One of my concerns was financial. Shortly after starting the program, there was a sizeable stock market crash and we didn’t weather it very well (he’s a finance guy so he manages all of our money). I didn’t panic, but we did cancel the travel plans we had slotted in for the rest of this year – we were going to travel for both holidays – beach at Thanksgiving and skiing for Christmas. I wasn’t wed to either trip – we are very fortunate to be able to travel a lot, so it seemed easy enough to take a break from it. What I didn’t realize was how lovely this would all feel. I have actually enjoyed trying to cut back on spending – it’s like a daily challenge to see how many deals I can get on things we need. We’ve started to discuss holiday plans and it feels really good that we are going to be here. Even with school starting and everyone ramping up activities after summer, it actually feels like we’ve dialed back our family’s pace. Our family metronome has gone from Allegro to Adagio. I didn’t know I wanted that or needed that, but it feels soooooo good. It feels like, despite the stress of financial woes (which, truthfully, are not stressful yet and I’ll get back to you on this when and if they do) and a major upheaval like my husband going back to school for 5-7 years, it feels like everything is working out for the best agreeably. 

There are also a couple areas of life that don’t feel like they are going very well. Namely, my endeavors to make money through my marketing consulting business and my desire for me to spend more time writing and potentially make money in this area as well (make money from writing, now that should be an easy nut to crack, no?). The thing is- because of the mode I am in right now, I can really see these things for the phase that they are – and that eventually, I’ll be able to say how both of these things have worked out for the best, smashingly, even if they don’t work out at all. I just have absolutely no idea what that’s going to look like right now. And that can be really frustrating. Really, really frustrating on some days. Again – I am lucky (I think) to have the luxury to have these picking-the-lint-from-the- belly-button moments about these things while I continue to earn little – not a position a lot of people have. I say “I think” because perhaps if I absolutely had to figure something out (think R.K. Rowlings who, after hitting rock bottom, turned things around with ‘her old typewriter’), then maybe I would. But I will. For now, the only thing I can do is keep on keep’n on. The rest will work out. Even if I have to find bottom first to find my way up…I then just hope I’ll have the good sense to read back on my own blog and remember….

everything is going to be ok

 You didn’t hear it here first.

Smartie Pie

A few weeks ago, my daughter (3) was sitting on the counter. She and dada were having a bonding moment and he gave her three big smooches in a row on her head. She giggled and inquired, “Dada, why are you giving me so many kisses?” He replied with, “Because you are sooooo cute!” 

Part of me cringed inside. I didn’t want to cringe – it was a beautiful moment. He was saying what he felt. She loved the attention. I didn’t say anything then, deciding I would just let it be. But it swirled around my head for a couple weeks and I knew it had to come out. I brought it up (you know how husbands love this – when you bring up some moment, like, “remember 2 weeks ago when you said xxxx?”) and explained to him that it accentuated the importance of being cute in winning her fathers love. “You could have said, ‘Because I love you.’” He, perhaps rightfully so (?), looked at me like I was a little crazy. “You don’t get it, do you?” I asked, but didn’t need to. “It’s just that I don’t want her growing up thinking that being cute is the most important thing,” I continued, “but maybe I’m just being a bit overly sensitive.” “Yes, I think you are” he stated. It is not the first time I’ve been told I’m “too sensitive”, I “think too much” or I am “too feminist.” 

I can’t help it. I am sensitive. I think a lot about the things happening around me (thus, this blog). I am a feminist. And my family can benefit from all of these things. Or be driven crazy by them. Or both. 

I dropped the topic with my husband. I call it “planting a seed.” It will not be the last time we talk about it, but truth be told, I also didn’t push it because I am really trying to figure this one out for myself: the role of beauty in my children’s self confidence. Both of my children are beautiful and they have both garnered a lot of attention from passer byers for their looks, especially Eliana, who is so petit. She is a miniature version of miniature and her fine little features, coupled with her big brown eyes are remarkable – she is “beautiful”, “cute” and “gorgeous.” I, myself get overwhelmed by her beauty, but then, I am her mother. They are both blessed to be so beautiful – being attractive provides for a lot of advantages in our world. I want them to know they are beautiful and I want them to feel beautiful and I want them to own beautiful – something I have struggled with (clearly). 

When we are 3, or even 5, knowing and believing we are beautiful is easy. It gets harder. So, in particular, I want my daughter to also own smart and funny and feisty and fill in the blank with whatever she wants to own. Max too, but society is better set up for allowing him those things. For her, I just don’t want ‘pretty’ to top her list of priorities. I, of course, tell her all of these other things, along with being beautiful, but there just seems to be something very important about that father-daughter relationship, if you want to believe anything about psychology over the last 50+ years. So I guess I just want Hubbie to say the right things. I want him to do the right things and to promote the right things. I guess I want to….um…..control things. I know, I know…I can’t. And I shouldn’t But I can absolutely educate, which is how I see my role in this. I’ll present my case to him, he can interpret and do what fits for him. After all, he married a feminist, so he kind of knew what he was getting himself into. I think. 

Then in the middle of all of this thinking about beauty and self-confidence, this film popped into my space: Miss Representation. Part of me is sad because I feel like this movie could have been made 20 years ago when I was in college, and it’s still, if not more relevant today. I do, however, think there have been some positive strides and attention for women too, just not enough. I also think that a very big part of being a parent is allowing my children appropriate doses of media for their ages and when I can’t control it anymore (because that time will come quickly), helping them understand the media and all of it’s images and personalities. To help them understand what it is and what it isn’t.  But I also think there is something to the responsibility of those producing the images in our media. I think the messages we send out in our world affect a collective consciousness which, in turn, affects how we see and treat people. And how we see or treat ourselves. 

So, I’ll go to the movie. I’ll blog some more. I’ll make a difference however I can. The biggest difference I can probably make is for the two little beings in my house, who provide even more inspiration for me to change the world we live in. Even if it’s one kitchen-counter conversation at a time.

Seriously, the Best Brownies

Let’s be clear, I’m not really a recipe-sharing type. So, when I offer one up, you best be pay’n attention. If you’ve ever read my blog before, you know I don’t like to cook. I purposely mention it often so in the event you end up at my house for dinner, your expectations are set appropriately low. Baking, however is another matter. I have always enjoyed baking, though I took a hiatus from it for quite some time due to a silly thing like trying to eat healthy. But with two small children, both now of an age where I have ‘let go’ of my sugar rations (Tae Kwon Don’t), I’ve reinvigorated my love of making confectionary goodies. One of the things I like about baking is that it’s necessary to follow instructions – measuring and proper ratios of ingredients are key to success. Unlike cooking, where a test of a good cook is the ability to cook without a recipe, or ‘to use one for inspiration’ as my good-cooking friends say, I don’t know anyone who bakes from the hip. This suits me well because a) it’s actually pretty hard to screw up when following a recipe to a T, and B) if something doesn’t turn out, it’s clearly a problem with the recipe, and not me. And follow instructions, I do. In this recipe you may notice that it tells you to stir vigorously. I work up a small sweat. It also tells you, after all else, to beat for 40 strokes. Oh yes, I do. In my head, not out loud. I do have some pride. Now that that this recipe has worked for me a few times, I might get crazy with the number of strokes – I may try less, if I’m feeling really zany, maybe more.

I should say that while I like baking, I have to be realistic about my constraints on time and complexity, given I am often baking with two “helpers” and don’t generally find a whole afternoon to devote to kitchen creations. So this recipe, which I am sharing today, is great for several reasons. First, it’s totally fool-proof. How do I know? I have made it 3 times. This is my test – if I make something once and it turns out, it’s “promising” – it could totally be a fluke, so I hold back the full-on optimism. That is saved for the second success. While improbable, planets could technically align twice for the same recipe. But if I can make it three times and have it turn out well three times, then it becomes “mine.” It is deemed one of the things “I make”. “I make a great cocoa brownie,” I might say. If I was in a group of domestically-gifted people, where I would be feeling really insecure and may need to say something like this.

The other reason it’s great is that you can actually do something else while you make it. I wouldn’t go crazy and wallpaper your bathroom, but I did manage to read a Real Simple article (I know, the irony is a killer, isn’t it?). You see, you basically put most of the ingredients on the stove and wait for everything to melt together – double boiler style, so there is even very little risk of burning anything. The trickiest bit (remember, I follow directions) is that you are supposed to stir from time to time (like after each page of the Real Simple article) “until … the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test.” I find this a bit moronic because if you test it after you’ve gone too far, well, burn by brownie batter probably doesn’t hurt any less, but like I said earlier, I’ve done this three times and it’s fool-proof. BUT if you don’t like licking cocoa batter off your finger, this may not be the recipe for you.

Finally, a note on the reason I like this recipe so much is that it’s the ooey-gooey kind of chocolate brownie and NOT the cakey kind of brownie because if I wanted cakey kind of brownies, I would just make chocolate cake.

So there you have it, something domestic on my blog! There is a first for everything, though it is likely to be the last. I have an aversion to all things ‘wholesome’ (more about this another time), and this is veering towards that path, so I’ll likely stick to less useful blather, but in the mean time, enjoy the brownies.

Death by Steve Jobs

I’ve alluded to this before, but I think a lot about death. I sometimes attribute this to being Buddhist, but really, I’ve always thought a lot about death. About my own, about losing those that I love, about how lucky I’ve been to be sheltered from it because I also often reflect on the heartbreak and tragedy it brings. I’ve written very long blog posts about death, never to publish them because death is… messy. It is so simple and yet, so complicated. One of the most interesting things about death, I think, is that we call the ones who are left behind the “survivors” when, in fact, I am certain that these are the victims. Dying is easy* – dealing with death is hard.

It seems appropriate, however, today, of all days, to write about death – the day that the world lost an incredible one of us. I also find it interesting that when people are great in life, their death seems to have as much, if not more of an impact as their life. I say more because death is the one thing that truly humbles every one of us. In this humility, we are acutely aware of own humanity. It forces us to reflect on our own lives, on the lives of others. “We” lost a public figure – a man who did think differently and whose ideas changed our material world, whose character may have changed our emotional one. But a few lost a father, one lost a husband. Their grief is the same grief shared by every person who has ever lost a father or a husband. Or a wife or a sibling or a child. So then “we” empathize with those most affected by the loss of an individual, and we can look at the ones we love through the lens that lets us all see what’s important. That we are alive. It’s the tougher of the two options, but wow, isn’t that great?

Perhaps reflecting on the loss of a man such as Mr. Jobs, whose life has impacted our world so greatly inspires us to be better,  but I think that what better means is that it actually inspires us to be us, more human, more connected. Death is happening all around us, every day, but when it happens to someone like Steve Jobs it reminds us that life, no matter how big and boldly it is lived, is fragile. It is said that the reason the Buddha chose to die was to teach impermanence – that no matter how enlightened one is, they are not free from the cycle of life. Steve Jobs was a great man – but really, his life was no more precious or valuable than our own. The same potential resides in us all. Thanks, Mr. Jobs, for reminding us of that. He did change our lives and how we use technology, but perhaps his greatest gift is right now, our collective nod to one another and our appreciation for life.

*clarification: I don’t think the process of dying, of leaving this physical world, is easy at all, I think it’s very very hard. What I meant here was more the after-math of death.

WholeFoods has the Most with the Least

First up, if WholeFoods was a person, I would approach her, nervously, with pen and paper in hand. While asking for her autograph, I would try to act cool – make small talk while bumbling over my words – maybe throw in some lingo about sustainability or something, just to let her know we are kindred spirits. Then I would say something like, ‘I’m your biggest fan’. WholeFoods would probably freak out and run the other way. But I would not care and my obsession would continue.

And anyway -

Yesterday I was skimming my dinner planning down to the wire, which is something I usually do, but I was cutting it particularly close. I don’t like to cook, so this particular daily task often ends up in last place in terms of brain space. Way at the bottom below Facebook apps (I generally don’t like these either), checking my linked-in inbox and alphabetizing my CD collection.  I knew what I wanted to – grill some WholeFoods sausages…fast, easy and perfect to pair with a salad, the only thing I make well (and I know, salads don’t really count as cooking….unless you pair it with a nice sun-dried tomato and basil chicken sausage). I was cut a break – my kids went to play next door so I had the opportunity to run to the store to purchase said items, which I had neglected doing earlier in the day. I decided, while I was there, I would also attempt to make some potatoes the way my husband likes them made – fried with butter – I almost NEVER cook with butter, much to his chagrin. So I made time to run through the produce department too. It then occurred to me, however, how tight I was cutting dinner time and I swung by the frozen foods area and picked up some frozen hash brown potatoes to fry in the butter. Dinner prep rolled along nicely and while I was cooking the potatoes (in butter), I wondered if I needed to salt them. I grabbed the package to look at the ingredients, and as I reached for the package, I thought, oh no! I didn’t even look at the package that I was buying, I wonder how long this list of ingredients is going to be and how bad I’m going to feel about buying frozen potatoes! While I don’t like to cook, I do like to eat(understatement) and I am a stickler for good quality, fresh food, which is why I am a WholeFoods shopper. This is also to my husband’s chagrin – WholeFoods does not jive with his frugal ways, but he supports my shopping habit because he doesn’t do any cooking himself, so he realizes he doesn’t have a lot to say in this area. Anyway, I read the ingredients of the hash browns: organic potatoes. That’s it. One ingredient. Whew. This is why I shop at WholeFoods! I know I can find this at regular grocery stores, but the point is I have to look. Because I don’t really like to cook, I survive on simple shortcuts to get my family fed, but I try to avoid too many frozen foods or mixes, particularly those bought at typical grocery stores, because of one simple fact: their ingredients lists are overwhelming. Too many items and I need a phd in chemistry to understand what half of them are. Case in point: When visiting my mother over the summer I wanted to make a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich – something else I can “make”. Her cupboard contained Jif and Smuckers. I’m addicted to reading food labels, so I checked them out. The ingredient list on Jif was scary – there were at least 5 ingredients and some of them unidentifiable and lots of soy. In peanut butter? WTF?

WholeFoods has its share of long ingredients lists – but I find most of the list to be identifiable and an understandable ingredient in whatever it is. I know I could do better – I could always eat healthier (I know the ingredients lists for lots of cookie brands too!) – I could make more things from scratch. But WholeFoods supports my ‘healthier’ lifestyle by keeping it simple. While I read most labels, when I shop there I know I don’t have to take the time on every single thing and it won’t end in ‘total junk’ territory. It’s got to be said: they really are keeping it real.

BTW – they didn’t produce this video – but I’m sure they wish they had. And yes, if you are keeping track, this IS the 2nd time I’ve posted it. What can I say? I’m their biggest fan.