Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Golly Gee

I get very few comments on my blog. If I ever post a link to it on Facebook or Twitter, those may get comments or get re-tweeted, but few take the time to go through to my original post and comment. Except my family, of course.

I was honored to see that my recent blog post "Are We Teaching Hate?" inspired my dad to write a blog post about his own experiences growing up in Northern Michigan during a time of great change in our country.

Check it out for another perspective. And really, how many men in their mid-60's do you know who write multiple blogs and keep up with family and friends near and far via Facebook and Twitter? I'll guarantee you he'll be one of the coolest guys and best storytellers you'll ever meet.

Monday, January 30, 2012

I Smell Bacon

Did I mention before how much I love bacon?

So much so that this year my dad ordered some special meats for our family for Christmas, including some amazing flavored thick-cut bacon, and Hawaiian chicken breasts.

The Hawaiian chicken breasts are stuffed with a special ooey-gooey cheese and pineapple chunks, then wrapped in bacon. Beautiful, woven bacon that sizzles and oozes into the chicken as it bakes.


But unfortunately, the girls hate these Hawaiian chicken breasts. They particularly hate the oozing cheese.

So, in order to have some more of these, we decided to make an equivalent of these for our girls, with none of that icky stuff that they don't like. And since Lindsey REALLY wanted to help make dinner, I decided to put her crafting skills to work, weaving bacon.

Four strips of bacon the long way, four strips cut in half, then woven together to make a mat of meat. We put the chicken breast in the middle of it, wrapped it around the chicken breast and set it on the broiling pan with the stuff ones.

400 degrees for between 50 and 60 minutes, and voila.

A little sauteed broccoli on the side, and I had four happy, filled family members.

No, I did NOT have to find a special frying pan for this recipe. And yes, I did have to cut the bacon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Are We Teaching Hate?

My youngest daughter came home from school with a book about Martin Luther King Jr recently. Very appropriate, considering that a couple of weeks ago we celebrated his birthday.

I began reading the book to her and got a bit disturbed.

Segregation of schools. Segregation of services. Unequal access to transportation, stores, jobs. Black people being severely beaten and sprayed with water from a fire hydrant, just for wanting equal rights.

Yes, it all happened, in the all too recent past. Yes, it was a terrible time. And we should never forget that we in this country, the land of the "free," did those things as recently as one generation removed from me.

But it never even occurred to my daughter until I began reading this book to her that people with different color skin could be treated differently. She was confused by the term "black."

"Do you mean brown people, Mommy?" she asked. "Because I've never seen someone with black skin. And what about people who are dark peach or light tan? What are they?"

"They" defy classification. We all do, don't we? Let's start treating differently the people who grew up with an Italian heritage but turned out to actually be French but who are actually more Croatian than either of those heritages, shall we? Because that would be my family.

I am all for teaching history lest we repeat it. But now, when diversity is so deeply ingrained in our children, are we doing ourselves a disservice by teaching that it wasn't always this way? Will my daughter look at her classmates whose skin is darker than hers and think of them differently, when she never did up to this point?

The other element that's changing is that "diversity" today is not about who is black and who is white. It is about who is Hispanic, or Muslim, or Indian or Chinese. It is about population growth in a multitude of ethnicities that most of us probably don't even know. Did you know that people of the Karen culture are the largest growing population in the Twin Cities? (Karen is pronounced Ka-REHN and is a certain culture of people who are immigrating here from Burma and Thailand.) The Twin Cities is home to the largest population of people of this culture outside of Southeast Asia. Check out their supporting organization, Karen Organization of Minnesota. What an amazing people. And guess what -- they came to this country to escape many of the same persecutions we did in the 1960's against a certain class of people as well. Ironic, huh?

So I'm not sure what to make of this. I agree that we should pass on the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. He was an incredible leader who transformed our nation. I'm just not sure that age 6 is the right time to teach that hate ran so deeply in this country at one time.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Superhero Day

Yesterday was Superhero Day at Lindsey's school. The kids were instructed to dress up like a superhero, which was defined as anyone that they look up to.

Lindsey has been pondering Superhero Day all week. She didn't know who to be, and I didn't offer any ideas.

Finally on Wednesday she asked if we had a wig of short, black, curly hair. Ummm....no?

"Darn," she said, in all seriousness, "Because I would really like to go as you."

Since she probably wouldn't fit into my clothes, she decided to go as her sister, because she admires her sister, too. Except she decided that Marissa's clothes would be too small for her.

Finally the day came, and Friday morning she is looking through her drawers. She decides to go as herself, because she likes herself just fine, too.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

One Letter of Gratitude

I have the honor of being the guest blogger for a friend of mine, Missy Durant, who recently published her first book, What Matters...Gratitude.

I first met Missy through our daughters, who are the best of friends. I got to know her more personally as our daughters have grown and am humbled and amazed that so much wisdom and positivity can reside in a single person.

Missy's book chronicles her journey of writing a letter of gratitude to 50 people in 50 days. Those letters changed her life, changed her perspective on life and ignited a zeal for the things that matter most in life and began a revolution of gratitude.

She asked me to write an answer to the following question: "If I could only write one letter of gratitude to someone, who would it be and why?"

My answer is, as always, rather personal. If you want to read my response, you'll have to visit Missy's blog, What Matters the Book.

Maybe it will inspire you to write your own letter to someone who means a lot to you.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Moments That Matter

“And then…um, and then…um, and then…”

I sigh inwardly.

I am attempting to listen to my 8-year-old recount some event of her school day. Something that was apparently very funny. But it is being lost in translation.

“Okay, I’ll start at the beginning. So at lunch today…um, ok…”

I contemplate my child’s brain function. Does she suffer from some kind of attention deficient disorder? Is this the result of hours of playing Plants vs Zombies? Is this why she needs to have a piece of technology in her hands while waiting for another piece of technology to boot up?
Playing Plants vs Zombies on the iPad while waiting for Animal Jam to load on the laptop.

I nearly get up from my chair, to go do some household chore like fold laundry or empty the dishwasher, knowing she will dutifully follow me around, attempting to tell me the story of her day.

But instead, I still myself.

I look her in the eyes, something I hadn’t been doing. I had been looking down at my smartphone, checking my personal email while she tried to tell me this story. (Hmmm…I wonder where she gets this need for technology to occupy her…)

I take in her deep brown eyes as they flicker back and forth, searching for words in the air. I watch her expression as she tries to grasp those words, and I wonder if her adorable little pixie chin will stay that shape when she hit puberty and everything about her body begins to change.  I watch her gestures as she begins the story again, admiring her long fingers and the natural grace of her movements.

And then something remarkable happens.

Her eyes catch mine, and she realizes she has my full attention. She looks in my eyes and the story comes to her easily, in one fell swoop.

“At lunch today I was sitting next to my friend Ellie and Charlie was sitting across from us and then Charlie began playing with his food, and pretty soon he had made a little person out of his carrots and his pudding. But then the lunch lady saw it and told him he had to eat it, so he did. It was so funny!”

And she looks at me with expectation, waiting for me to laugh, which I do. I give her a hug and thank her for sharing her story with me.

Suddenly a story that I would have half-listened to for 20 minutes and maybe would have remembered (but probably not) has become a moment. A brief one at that, but a moment that we have shared together, and it tells me so much about my daughter.

It tells me that she has friends, girls and boys who choose to sit by her at lunch. She loves it when these friends make her laugh. Likewise, these kids probably enjoy making her laugh, and that’s a pretty good basis for a friendship when you’re in third grade.

These moments are what matter to me. And I am thankful for them.

*This post was inspired by a book written by a friend of mine called What Matters...Gratitude. If you're looking for inspiration, or an amazing, positive place to make you smile, check out her blog.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why I'm Glad I'm Not Beyonce.

Tonight I substituted tomato sauce for tomato soup in a recipe. I also threw in some chili powder, dried minced onions and garlic powder because it called for a cup of salsa and I only had half a cup before the jar went dry. (You can sense my fine culinary skills at work here, can't you?)

"That's it!" I stated. "Someone has to go grocery shopping."

And by someone, of course, I meant me.

Every once in a while I'll go grocery shopping after the kids are in bed. I'll leave the house around 8:30 and get back between 9:30 and 9:45 loaded for bear. It's amazing how much more efficient you can be when you're not jockeying every other person who had the same idea in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

Tonight, I thought I might not want to get myself ready for bed after I come home, I may just want to fall into bed, exhausted from the day.

So I decided to get ready for bed BEFORE I left to go grocery shopping.

I brushed my teeth. I washed my face of all traces of make up and put my nighttime facial cream on. I took out my contacts. I would've changed into jammies but I was already wearing my signature yoga pants that I put on immediately upon arriving home from work all winter long, so that was already taken care of.

And off I went to the grocery store. I am sure I was a sight. After all, we all know how soft and creamy my skin looks without make-up and how I have absolutely no blemishes at all. My hair looks awesome held back by a headband with curls hanging out in every direction. And don't get me started on how beautiful my eyes look behind my 500-power glasses. Yeah baby!

And I was so glad I wasn't Beyonce.

Beyonce can't take two steps out of any building without someone snapping a photo of her. When she was pregnant (she delivered a healthy baby girl, by the way, name of Blue Ivy Carter) people kept trying to capture pictures of her "baby bump." By the time she finally started looking slightly pregnant she was weeks away from delivering a baby.

From when Beyonce announced her pregnancy at 5 months along. Yeah, right.
Photo credit: www.juicytings.com

I, on the other hand, can leave the house, blemishes and all, naked skin, yoga pants and clunky snow clogs, and no one cares. No one at all.

I am so lucky.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Because That's the Way I've Always Done It

I love bacon.

It's ingrained in my olfactory nerves to LOVE the smell of fresh bacon. Growing up we could smell bacon cooking in our house seven days a week. It is still today a main staple of my dad's diet, though he's cut back to six days a week.

But I've always been confused by one thing.

Why do they make bacon so long when it can't lay flat in a frying pan?

And really, frying pans are round, so usually you can only lie one or two pieces flat in the middle, then if you want to get four or five pieces in the pan you have to curve them around the edges, then keep moving them around as they cook and shrink in size.

It never seemed to make much sense to me.

Over the years, if I found myself in a home goods store I would occasionally browse the cookware section for a pan specially made for frying bacon. You know, a square one, with decent-sized sides to keep the grease in. I have a stove top griddle that's square, but the edges are so short that the grease would be dripping down into the burner with the amount of bacon I cook at one time.

I never did find a bacon frying pan. Huh. Well, perhaps one day somebody will invent one. Someone came up with the PedEgg, right?

And then a month or so ago I had a good friend and our neighbor over for breakfast. I LOVE cooking breakfast for people. It's such a great, casual meal. The requirement was that they arrive in their pajamas or comfy clothes -- no getting dressed crap.

So they came down, enjoyed a cup of coffee, and watched as dish after dish was set on the table. Syrup. Butter. Scrambled eggs. Buttermilk pancakes. Sausage links. And finally, bacon.

"Wow," my friend said, "I've never seen bacon so long!"

"Really?" I said in surprise, "But that's how you buy bacon."

She shrugs. "Well, I could never get mine to fit in my pan, so I've always cut mine in half before frying it."

Oh. My. God.

I am an idiot of a colossal size. It's amazing I hold down a job.

It seriously never OCCURRED to me to cut the bacon in half. It was such a great example of how our brains (or perhaps just mine in particular) hold on to tradition; I had never even thought to question how I cook bacon.

For Christmas I received a shipment of meats from my dad, and in it was a couple of packets of maple flavored bacon. I couldn't wait to cook it up for breakfast with my family.

But first, I cut it in half. Guess what, it still tastes just as good as the long pieces.

It's not what you say, it's how you say it

"Mom," says Lindsey in a serious tone, with a grave look on her face. "I'm excited to go back to school, but there's a boy in my grade who is kind of naughty and I'm not looking forward to seeing him again."

"Really?" I say cautiously, with a hundred questions swirling in my head. Does he tease her? Is he pulling her ponytail? Does he trip her in the hall? I can feel the momma bear in my chest ready to pounce. I know who this boy is: he isn't in her class but is in her grade. I see him every day at their after-school program when I pick up Lindsey. He always seems to be playing nicely with the other boys, but then those 30-second interactions can be deceiving.

"He's just not very nice," she says. "He's always saying, 'What the BLEEP!'"

"You mean he says a bad word?" I ask.

"No," Lindsey explains, "He says 'bleep.' But it still isn't very nice."

"So his actual words are 'What the BLEEP?'" I confirm.

"Yes," she says. "He's really mean."

We finally settle on the fact that it isn't what he says but the circumstances under which he says it which makes him mean in her mind. My advice to her is to avoid him, something she's apparently been pretty successful at doing up to this point anyway.

Those kids who say "bleep," though. Boy, what troublemakers.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

So I Guess We Have a Nanny

I never really saw us as a "nanny" family. Sure, there was the summer of 2008, when my husband's nephew's soon-to-be wife watched our kids all day, every day, for the entire summer. But she was family, well, almost, and has truly become family since that experience. So I wouldn't really call her a nanny.

But then this fall we ran into a problem.

We missed the deadline for signing the girls up for Minneapolis KIDS, the before and after school program at their school. Lindsey made it in luckily, but Marissa only made it in for the afternoon -- the morning was booked solid and she was number 19 on the waiting list.

With their school day starting at 9:40 a.m, it wasn't possible for either of us to flex our workday enough to make this happen once our commutes were taken into account. And really, what were the chances that we would be able to find someone willing to drive to our house to watch our daughter for an hour and a half? Every day?

Well, it was our only option, so we had to give it a shot.

I placed an ad on SitterCity.com and emailed a boatload of other Lake Harriet parents, asking for recommendations or resources. I found out that a woman just a block from us runs a daycare out of her house -- who knew?! So that was definitely an option, but it would mean Marissa would have to catch the bus from her house to school.

No bus, Marissa insisted. Especially without a big sister along to help her. And really, Marissa had only recently graduated from a daycare setting where she was constantly surrounded by toddlers, I wasn't happy about putting her back into that kind of environment again.

We kept searching.

I had a couple of people bite on the ads, but once they realized it was only for an hour and a half, they weren't interested. We did get one occasional babysitter out of it for evenings and weekends, she is LOVELY. Seriously, what 29-year-old married chemist with a masters degree wants to babysit other people's children? This one does, she loves kids so much. I suspect that some day soon she'll be having her own, but she's having too much fun playing in the lab right now to take the time.

Finally I thought of Katie, a woman I had met in social media circles. We were first acquainted on Twitter, and then had met at a couple of local social media networking events. She is looking for full-time work but, like a lot of college grads, opportunities are few and far between right now. She had already babysat the girls a couple of times, and they loved her. I tweeted her.

"Katie, by chance are you taking babysitting jobs?"

"Yes I am." was the reply. And we went from there.

Katie comes to our house every morning a little before 8:00, and she drives Marissa to school about 9:15. We bought a booster seat for Katie's car so we didn't have to worry about remembering to put one in there from one of our cars every day. It gives her a steady job, but also lots of free time for applications and interviews.

We all love it.

Marissa gets special one-on-one time with an adult, something she has been deprived of moreso than Lindsey, being the second child. When we discovered two weeks into the school year that Marissa had gotten the "homework teacher," as other parents described her, homework was able to be done in the mornings, with Katie's supervision. And when she started lagging in reading skills, she got extra reading time with Katie.

But more than that, she just plain has fun. They play. They dance. They practice yoga. I find crazy, silly videos on the iPad that the two of them made together. (I would post one but don't want to embarrass Katie!)

All this time I always said that Katie babysat her. But Katie will tell you she is Marissa's nanny.

That word.

It has such connotations, doesn't it? Of wealth. Of parents too busy to bother raising their own children. Of privilege. Of spoiled children. At least, those are the connotations that have been associated in my head, thanks in part to television and the fact that I never knew anyone growing up who had a nanny.

But truly, she IS her nanny. She spends time with her every day. And now, when Marissa draws pictures of our family, there are five of us (okay, six including the dog, when she includes the dog.) Mommy, Daddy, Lindsey, Marissa, Katie and Dax (sometimes, not in the picture below).

And that's pretty cool.

P.S. If you want to read Katie's perspective on what it's like to be a nanny, she wrote a guest post just this past week on the blog Minnesota Joy. Check it out!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Holiday Break Entertainment

For some reason, during this past holiday break my children have been playing together like best friends. I shouldn't sound so surprised, but anyone who's followed this blog knows the challenges we've had in getting these two to get along.
Yet they've been incredible lately, making up new games and entertaining each other to no end.

I give you the following examples.

I found these little buttons all over their room and the hallways upstairs. I was escorted upstairs to take the elevator. We stood outside Marissa's room and pushed the "up" button. She then opened her bedroom door, we entered and closed the door, then pushed which floor we wanted from the inside of the room. There was even a special bar to hold on to as the elevator moved us up the floors. She re-opened the door and we went into the hallway, now on the 29th floor of the building.

I hadn't realized our house was 29 stories tall.

Another time I was treated to a fashion show, compliments of the trunk of dress-up clothes that had been a birthday present for Marissa when she was 3 or 4. And the clothes are meant to fit 3 or 4 year-olds, not 6 and 8 year-olds.

I was given photographer status and escorted to my seat in the front row so I could have a clear shot of the models as they walked the runway and waved.

Finally, there are the squishies that have been resurrected from Lindsey's room. Lindsey had gotten a load of them for her birthday this past spring and promptly stored them in her room and forgot about them. Until now. Now they talk to each other, they take each other to the hospital where other squishies are given nurse and doctor status and care for the injured squishies. They are driven around by Disney princesses in a Barbie car or Dora van to their various appointments and playdates.

In the meantime, Wayne and I sit in close proximity to the action, reading or otherwise engaged, and enjoy the quiet moments of sisterly laughter and imaginary play.

How sweet it is.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Faves of 2011

Everyone else is doing it, guess I may as well jump off this bridge, too.

Top blog posts of 2011, some of which were written in 2010.

The Definition of Wild Abandon This one is tops because people keep Googling "the definition of wild abandon" and getting to this very short post. I don't think it's what they want, but it does the job in a single photo. Wild abandon? Got it.

The Less Than Ideal Workplace In which I stand on my blogbox about overcrowding in the Minneapolis Public Schools. We did eventually get approval to put an addition on. By the time it is built it will accommodate the student population of 2011, even though it will open in 2014, which has even higher projected enrollment levels. Don't get me started.

A Love Story to the End To honor the memory of my feisty and smart-ass aunt who lost her battle with cancer this past winter. I thought of her immediate family members all this holiday season, and imagine that her loss is felt all the more this time of year.

A Party of Princesses Seriously, who can resist these adorable photos of 6-year-olds in princess dresses?

Life in Even Numbers Every two years I realize how quickly the last two years flew by. At least I have pictures and a blog to record the passing of time, and reflect on it with a smile.

I Have Not Done My Patriotic Duty This one's from 2010 as well, but it seems appropriate considering we're coming into another election year. Which is worse, not voting or being an uninformed voter? I suspect that the majority of us are actually uninformed voters, based on the crud that gets covered on broadcast TV. And by the way, yes, TV is still Americans' #1 source of "news." Sad.