I couldn’t have said it better, part 2

Ok, Ok, so I’m doing it again. I’m cheating, but here is another essay I just have to share…and I haven’t quite gotten my sh*t together enough to start writing again. But it’s coming. Cool things are coming. Promise. In the mean time, I love this essay on parenting. I actually want to send the link to my last post to this woman and say, ‘hey – you were present enough. It WAS hard. No regrets’. Then again, I think she has things figured out pretty well for herself. This essay makes me cry at least 15 times every time. If it’s too lengthy for what you have time for now, here’s a few lines from one of my favorite parts:

When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be.

I look at the date of this post and I realize that the lessons on parenting, the real lessons, and not ‘what the experts are currently saying’ lessons,  they are timeless. 

I couldn’t have said it better

Since the last time I have written / posted, the holidays (and family) have come and gone, I’ve turned 40, we’ve entered a new year, I’ve thought about giving my son away more than a few times (don’t worry, just to his grandparents) and I’m in some physical funk that would probably require a team of doctors to even begin to figure it out (or I just need more sleep). Yes, lots to write about. But, in addition to my physical ailments, I think I’ve developed some sort of syndrome. Not sure it’s even discovered yet, so I think I’m on to something here, but the syndrome itself precludes me from acting on it, so here I am. What is it? I like to shorten it to JCGMST, because it’s so catchy,  but the more scientific description is that I JUST CAN’T GET MY SHIT TOGETHER. Can’t. Been trying. Can. Not.

SO, in the meantime, this little nugget was forwarded to me by a dear friend and I realized that I never have to write about parenting again because this woman, this most magnificent lovely soul of a writer, just put in one post, all that needs to be said about parenting. Ever. 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/glennon-melton/dont-carpe-diem_b_1206346.html

Enjoy and I’ll be back soon. 

A Different Speed

I’ve been thinking about speeding and thinking about writing about speeding for a long time. I get that it’s kind of a strange thing to think about speeding – it’s more something we DO, than something we think about, but if you haven’t gathered this about me already, I think a lot. To a fault, for sure. I wonder what that says about me that I find over-analyzing fun? 

Anyway, the reason I’ve thought a lot about speeding is because just over five years ago, I moved to this lovely city of Austin. Where weird is good, where gluten-free is the norm, and where people drive really fucking slow. I can be a little weird – that’s certainly relative. I DO eat gluten (gasp!), though I know enough about food and health-food lingo to be accepted. But the driving? I immediately wanted to write about it because I found it so frustrating – but that just seemed darn-right rude. Move to a city and then publicly criticize most of the drivers? Who does that? So, instead, I’ve just been thinking about it for five years. And in the last month, I’ve officially forked over $410 in speeding fines for 2 tickets (I had another one at the beginning of the year for which I forked out another $200 and 6 hours of time for a defensive driving course), so this issue has come to a head. Specifically, I’ve had to admit that maybe I have a problem (deep breath, still kind of hard to write). 

First, let me explain the backdrop on my belief about speeding. I think everyone is wired, like in a biological way, on a few key aspects in life and so it’s very hard to go against these things. I have developed this theory because I am a person who is wired one way, but grew up in another way. For example: Climate preference. I am wired to live in HOT climates – 85 degrees is my sweet spot, I am cold in anything less than 70 degrees and I think anything below 50 is absolutely intolerable. The astonishing thing to most people is that I grew up in Wisconsin. It was 23 years of seasonal hell. Sure, I appreciate the beauty of the first snow-fall and crisp, cold sunny days where the snow crunches under one’s boots, but you better believe that on the finest of winter days, I am wearing at least 5 layers and honestly, I just don’t think one needs to live where one feels the need to be is so heavily protected. 

I also think the wiring comes into play in the big city/small town choice. Linked, clearly, to the central nervous system, I think people are wired for the lively energy, loud buzz and constant magnificent moving machinery of a big city OR the slow-pace simplicity of a small town. I’m a big-city gal and I grew up in a town of miniscule population (3,000 people). I remember my first trip to Chicago when I was in middle-school. I went with a friend who had cousins that lived in the suburbs. We all went into the city for the day and I was speechless from the beauty of the skyscrapers, the sophistication of the inhabitants and the abundance of things to DO there. I felt at home. 

All of this is to say that I think how fast (or slow) one drives is a hard-wired attribute as well. The climate gene, the urban gene and the speed gene. Perhaps not identified yet, but I’m pretty sure they exist. I say this because I think there is a certain speed that everyone is just comfortable driving at and I’ve been, in the past, an advocate of people driving at the speed they are comfortable at, EVEN (deep breath) if that means they drive below the speed limit. While this drives me nuts when I’m behind these people, if I think about it, I don’t want them to speed up if they don’t think they can handle driving at the speed limit. I MIGHT be inclined to make the argument that the speed limit be sort of a barometer for whom we let on the streets,  but as my clearly slow-driving neighbor argued, it is a speed LIMIT and not a speed minimum. Hmmmm. Yes. Semantics will get me every time. Not to mention I have a harder time making the opposite argument because there certainly is something like ‘excessive speeding’, which of course, no speeder thinks they do, present company included. 

On my first draft of this post, this was the section where I was going to justify my speeding. I felt it was part of getting to acceptance of the problem. I was right on that, but much to your benefit, I have been talking about all of this among friends, and I’ve realized that my arguments sound pretty ridiculous when voiced out loud. My whole ‘drive at your comfort level’ argument really sounded obnoxious when I presented that one in front of my book club – 12 highly intelligent women who all presumably like me a little bit on some level – but who were happy to put me in my place. That was like a sweat-lodge: I had to purge a lot of beliefs and notions I had about it as I ranted like a crazy person. The book for that month was “In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.” In all other areas, I agreed with the author, I still wasn’t with him (yet) on the speeding.

There were actually other speeders in that group, and over the last 6 weeks (since court) I’ve bonded with others and we all concur on one point: we are APPROPRIATE speeders. I really want to cling to this idea because I really think I AM an appropriate speeder, but I do recognize that enforcing ‘appropriate speeding’ is a little trickier. And so when I finally dropped that argument, and with countless hours of scoul scraping (it’s been painful) this is where I got to with staying within speed limits: I don’t like people to tell me what to do. I’m not sure anyone does, but speed limits, in particular, seem a tad arbitrary – where I’ve been picked up twice, the speed limit changes from 30 to 35 within blocks of each other and it’s actually faster downtown, which makes no sense to me. It really bugs ME to follow rules that don’t make sense to ME – because I am so important. Or so my ego believes. Interestingly, I ask my children to do this every day. I can reason that my rules make sense (I am not a strict mom by any means), and they DO to an adult, but to my children? Not always. So, the speed limits are arbitrary to me. To a police officer? To the judge? The people who actually matter here? Not so much. It’s pretty simple. It’s their rule. Follow it. 

While following arbitrary rules is slightly painful, it’s more painful for me to be paying these exorbitant ticket prices (in TX, you can pay more money to avoid it going on your record, an injustice for sure, but one that has been working out for me), so I have been working on re-wiring. That’s right. Just because I believe we have the climate gene, the urban gene and the speed gene, doesn’t mean I believe we can’t live another way. San Francisco, for example is the town closest to my heart, but it is arguably downright chilly for much of the year. I know plenty of people who prefer small towns, but live in big ones and vice versa. No one DIES from this. And then there’s this big one: As a Buddhist, it does seem a tiny bit contradictory to insinuate that happiness is tied, even in the slightest, to our external circumstances or constraints. And in fact, this is much what a spiritual path is about: re-wiring our habits and thoughts that create our unhappiness. It just took an interceding party (the police) to make me unhappy about speeding, otherwise, it suited me just fine. It takes an interceding party (the police) to keep people from doing lots of things that suit THEM just fine. Yes, I get it. 

Back to the night of book club, a self-proclaimed slow-driver (she told me she uses her cruise to ensure she stays at the speed limit when I told her I was having to use mine a lot to stay at it) and I were arguing back and forth about speed limits and she kept saying, “it’s fast enough”…”that area? 30 miles per hour is fast enough”, “65 is more than fast enough on a highway through town”, etc. etc. Her words were like a slow-working esthetician, annoying and painful. However, as I’ve been working on the re-wiring, staying conscious of my speed at ALL times (I took an oath in court to not be picked up again within 6 months, so paranoia has been high), using my cruise control in particularly challenging areas, I keep hearing her words in my head. I know the re-wiring is working because lately I’ve been answering her, even as other drivers speed past me, saying yes, it is. It wasn’t that I was in a hurry before, it’s just that I was just trying to get everywhere faster; going my own speed. But I live in Austin now. It’s a small-ish town, relatively speaking from where I and so many people who have moved here come from, and it’s a great place to be. And yes, it is, indeed, fast enough.

pretty sneaky, sis

Little sister (3) has been watching her big brother (almost 6) learn to read and sound out words. The other night she asked me to come over and ‘help her with some of the words.’ I obliged, of course. It was a Read-and-Seek book, and this page had pictures of some of the items in the book with the words next to them. 

She pointed to the first one, “B (b-sound) –  Air –  Bear.” She looked at me for my approval. Since there was a picture of a bear right next to it, I wasn’t all that impressed, but entertained that she was doing this ‘sounding out’ routine, so she was encouraged.

Next picture, “B (b-sound) –  Ell –  Bell.” I nodded, but she didn’t care what I was thinking anymore, she was just impressed with herself. 

Next picture, “B (b-sound) –  Ike –  Bike.” Ok. My curiosity was tweaked. That could have been one of several words next to the bike. It could have been bicycle….

She noticed me sit up and really pay attention. She proudly pointed to the next picture,

“S –  wan –  Swan.”

uh-oh, busted. The word was bird, but I most certainly applauded her effort (and in her defense, who puts bird next to a picture of a swan? You use every-day birds like swallows or finches for that, not swans! geesh.) And I’ve enjoyed the recurring chuckle every time I think back. so great. 

Smoke, Mirrors and Las Vegas

I am just returning from a trip to Las Vegas, which by most accounts has got to be one of the stranger places, if not on the planet, then definitely in our country. I fall into some in-between class of people who really don’t belong in Vegas. I am neither smart enough nor dumb enough to really enjoy Las Vegas. I am not smart enough to calculate my odds and re-calculate my odds based on what just happened. I also have zero memory – I can’t remember if I took my vitamins this morning, let alone if the Ace of some suit has already been played, a skill which is key to many card games. So that would leave me with something overly-simplified: the slot machine. This mind-numbing activity appeals to me as much as tossing my money into a toilet and then ingesting it. But even if one isn’t into gambling, there is still a lot on offer, the ads will tell me, in this town, or I correct myself, in this 4.2-mile strip* of a town. And as of yet, even with my ambivalence to the gambling mecca of the world, I don’t see much reason to venture off of this glitzy strip, which at least does offer that – glitz – and some great people watching. So why would a person like me go to Sin City? The same reason millions of people visit Vegas every year – business. I personally jumped at the opportunity to go because, well, I’ll go almost anywhere if I get a free trip away from my kids for a few days where I get a whole room just to myself, flights without other beings to take care of and dinners that I don’t need to eat by 6:00 pm. But generally speaking, conferences, tradeshows and large-scale meetings are, over and over again, lured to the affordable snaz of Las Vegas. Along with bachelors and bachelorettes, people from every industry are invited in to learn, conduct business and, in their free-time, entertain every possible vice a person might have. Why not? No reason, for sure, it’s just what makes it….weird. I live in a place where the tag-line is Keep Austin Weird. It speaks to the hippie-like nature of the town and at least some of it’s inhabitants. But Las Vegas is a different weird to me – it’s a weird I can’t quite figure out. Like how I rarely see anyone smoking, but the whole place smells like smoke. It’s how buildings and signs are built at angles so that it’s almost impossible to determine how close or far they are. Things that looked close are kind of far, things that seemed far are one walk-way across. It’s an alter-territory, there’s something not real, not right about it all. It’s kind of unsettling, kind of fun. Kind of weird. 

I should mention that approximately 9 ½ weeks ago (no relation to the movie), I took a 10-week no-alcohol oath. It’s related to me taking on another round of The Presence Process, but I had several reasons attached to it (will undoubtedly blog about this very soon). The alcohol abstinence has varied in its level of difficulty, as different social and life circumstances have pointed out to me, my “trigger points” to where I particularly enjoy alcohol. Las Vegas is definitely One. Huge. Alcohol. Trigger. Upon arrival, within 5 feet of the check-in desk was some sort of glowing cocktail bar. “What am I doing here?” I thought. Oh yes, working. Las Vegas and booze go hand-in-hand, of course because alcohol helps us ‘loosen up’ and ‘lose apprehensions’. It’s a vice to induce other vices. It’s a partner to Las Vegas like the nurse to the surgeon. Las Vegas could still be Las Vegas without it, but it wouldn’t be nearly as effective. Don’t get me wrong – I am not dissing alcohol or Las Vegas, I’m just saying, it is kind of weird. Not drinking made me realize absurdity in how we use alcohol to release inhibitions, but also to enhance times that are already fun or nice…and make them more fun or nice…to a point, of course. So then you take an over-the-top over-glitzed place like Las Vegas, and you put it on the rocks. And it’s an even nicer over-glitzed place…we pay to make ourselves enjoy it even more. We spend money to go there and then we pay more money (considerably more, depending on where we go, though, there are plenty of discounts to be found too) to drink to release inhibitions for activities like, gambling, so we can pay even more…for fun.  Kinda weird.

Logistically speaking, there is a strange phenomenon with time that happens in Las Vegas. Opposite the New York Minute (which does not apply in the Casino, New York New York), the Las Vegas Minute is actually the equivalent of 30 minutes, normal time. Even sober, without the distortion of any time blurred by a buzz, or losing any time to gambling, I had entire hours disappear from my life with virtually nothing to account for it. It takes an eon to actually get anywhere on this infamous strip. Short distances, or sometimes only seemingly short distances, are marred by a labyrinth of walk-ways, moving sidewalks, convoluted “paths” through casinos and questionable and confusing signage. All, of course, is intentional to lead you to places to spend money – casinos, restaurants, retail shops. I’ve never made my shopping habits a secret, so I didn’t always mind the diversion, but there comes a time in every LV tourist’s life when you just want to go from point A to point B – when you just want to actually get somewhere…to catch your show or your much-needed reservation. The endless diversions can be maddening, yet it’s also what we love about this city of lights. 

The other thing I find bazaar, and this is a timely discussion with all of the Occupy Wall Street movements going on, is that nowhere, in my experience, is the spectrum of wealth on display so blatantly in one small area. Everything is high end…offering just a taste of what 99% of the people who visit there can not afford. There are incredible showcases of opulence and wealth. As we entered the Venetian, I was reminded of the splendor of the Vatican. Seriously, I imagine people discovering the Venetian 1,000 years from now, explaining how all the money was taken from the poor to build opulent palaces in the name of…not God, but the other thing we worship in our society: money. I can’t help but think it’s these immense displays of wealth, a touch of the high society that is flaunted for the Las Vegas visitor of every income level, that draws those said visitors to the doors. Those few who can afford the ultimate in luxury, it is on offer in doses only the super-rich could find over-indulgent. The gambling tables and over-priced entertainment call to the wealthy with the same luxurious velvety voice as those who will never ever be able to afford a room, but can afford an over-priced hamburger in the food-court that you’ll find just outside the area where your eyes first travel. It’s almost like leveling class lines, but in a sort of taunting way, because, ultimately, Las Vegas does level class lines – she wants to take everyone’s money, just the same. And take it, she does. 

I paid an exorbitant amount of money to see a show that I’ve heard about for over a decade: The Blue Man Group. The blatant strangeness in something like blue men seems to fit right in with the oddities of the place. Along with magicians and comedians, all touting their slight of hand and wit, seeing something beyond ‘normal’ seems the thing to do here. But I am not a sucker. I went to the Half Price Ticket Booth. In hindsight, I am convinced that no one pays the ‘face value’ to see any of these shows, but since it’s Las Vegas, maybe they do. The Blue Man Group at half the price seemed like a deal, until I actually saw it. It has to be said: WTF? I had a moment with this show – just as the Venetian took me back to the grandiose of the Vatican, this show took me back to a childhood classic: The Emperors Clothing. I sat, from the beginning, with as much anticipation and excitement as the next person to see this show we’ve all heard about for decades. My colleague and I decided to splurge on it based on it’s seeming to be one of those things to check off one’s life To-Do lists. See the Grand Canyon, The Eiffel Tower and The Blue Man Group. The Grand Canyon and the Eiffel tower lived up to the hype, but this show was astonishingly boring. Yet people around me cackled and cawed – one woman, in particular, who was sitting behind me, ended up being more entertaining than the show itself. She gave me solace that at least some people were enjoying the show as much as I was supposed to be. Let me say here, too, that I am an appreciator of the arts – I love dance, art, theatre and all the rest. I consider myself pretty open minded when it comes to being entertained. For a while, I blamed myself, thinking I was being too judgmental or was stuck in some kind of analytical, or maybe, sober mode…”let go”, I told myself, “let go and just enjoy…take in the colors….the blue men on pipedrums (which was one of my favorite parts)”. And there were a few moments of pure brain-stimulating, toe-tapping entertainment…but not nearly enough in this 90 minute escapade to make it worth even half of what I paid…let alone it’s supposed double-price face value of the tickets. I decided I had “let go” as much as I could…it just wasn’t a good show. I still think it was the price that people paid, along with all of the hype, that made people convince themselves that what they saw was funny. The only potential I saw in the whole thing was that, I thought that perhaps, within their own show, there were several elusions to the question, “what is art?” which then could be turned around and applied to their own show. The thought that they were, in fact, questioning themselves and in turn everyone who would sit through one of their shows brought me some solace that perhaps me and the Blue Men were on the same wavelength in the end. Lovers of irony. 

And irony is where I’ll leave my tale of Las Vegas. My first child was conceived in this town (for another work conference that I attended with my husband), so this place of insanity actually holds a place in my heart. You weren’t expecting that one, were you?. Some dear, dear friends of mine – very spiritual and down to earth people – got married here. They, like so many others, attracted by the more-affordable luxury. There is irony hiding around every corner. A wry smile. A wink that makes one blush. A velvet hook that may lure you in, but that may be spat out and left behind as one continues on with “normal” life again. Leaving the weirdness for the next tour bus behind you.

  

* Love this (from Wiki): “The Strip lies within the unincorporated townships of Paradise and Winchester.”  Of course it does.

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.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Best-Cocoa-Brownies-108346

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.