Saturday, November 30, 2013

Games People Play

There is something about playing games that brings people together.

It is not as direct as a one-to-one conversation. Yet it is not as unengaged as watching two separate screens, side-by-side, with no relationship to each other.

It is conraderie. It is friendship. It is kind-hearted teasing. It is getting-to-know-you-time.

Which is why I'm so thrilled to have many generations together playing cards.

Mark and Donna engage in "table talk" while Lindsey and Mille play by the rules.
Some of my fondest memories of my Grandfather Dolaskie is of his playing the game of spades.
I didn't know him well. He tried to teach me to fish, but I wasn't much into fishing. He wanted to take me boating, but I was afraid of the water.

He tried to play cards with me, but I was too young. So instead, I watched him. For hours. For years.

I watched him be a sly little shit and bluff his children (my parents) into thinking he didn't have the cards he had, and win a hand. I watched him be stoic and non-expressive, then grin like a fool as he counted his points. I saw him laugh to the point of tears, with the ridiculous plays he or others would make, trying to get others to show their hands.

All in the game of spades

I got to know his humor, his stance, his political bend,  his dry sense of humor. All through card games. I can honestly say I never had a direct conversation with the man my entire life. We just didn't see each other that often through my childhood, and by the time I was an adult I was too busy to take the time to get to know him. That was my loss, truly, I had no idea what I was losing.

He was staunch. He was strong. He was weak. He was funny.

All those things I never knew, his entire life.

But now, seven  years after his death, as I sit around a table playing cards with people he'd only met once in his life -- at my wedding -- I think of him.

Because I am getting to know my sister- and brother-in-law and my mother-in-law the way I got to know my grandpa.

Playing games.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Our Mathlete: An Update

Thanks so much to everyone who expressed their concern, well-wishes, advice and commiseration after I wrote about Marissa's struggles with math.

I can give you a couple of updates.

I learned a whole lot about the resources available at our school, or the lack thereof. While we could never afford private schools, I was encouraged to try to open enroll her to Edina or St. Louis Park school districts, both of which seem to have no issue finding resources to give a little extra help to students who need it. Still on the table, but not thrilled with a school change for her, away from friends, and the extra complexity that having kids in two different school systems would bring to our family.

We learned that Marissa is not a terribly attentive student. Her math teacher this year has let us know that her number one goal for Marissa is to pay attention in class. When we talked to Marissa about focusing and listening to the teacher, she said that her friends would get upset with her for not talking with them. We told her that she should tell her friends that her parents will be even MORE upset if she doesn't pay attention, and that they should probably be listening, too. I can only imagine the amount of chatter that happens in the classroom.

Because of this, we know that changing teachers mid-year this year probably won't help. It's not the teacher, it's her lack of focus. We considered whether or not she had ADD. After reviewing the questionnaire for the disorder and talking to her teachers, we decided not to put her through the testing because the chances are so slim that this was the case. Bottom line, she's a social, lovable, happy little girl who would rather spend time with her friends than listen in class.

Mathnasium rocks and is an incredible resource. Marissa loves to go there, loves to work with the various tutors and enjoys the little rewards they get along the way. They started her with 1st grade math, which she has nearly completed after 2 months. She'll be starting on the 2nd grade math curriculum probably mid-winter, and if she continues with Mathnasium through the summer, she'll be ready to start the 3rd grade curriculum next fall...just as she enters 4th grade.

We are incredibly frustrated that she has fallen this far behind and it was on no one's radar but our own.

But she is plugging along. We have noticed considerable improvement in her math skills, and less resistance to doing homework in general, though she still has her moments. She likes to show off her math skills now by writing word problems in her math notebook, which you will find in her hands nearly every evening, making up problems like...

If Daddy had 3,546 jelly beans and he gave 1,252 to Marissa and none to Mommy or Lindsey, how many jelly beans would he have left?

The answer: 2,294, until Mommy stole and bunch and then he had none. (She knows me pretty well.)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"My Child's Greed is Killing Santa" -- An Update

Just in case you thought that my eldest was still in her room, sulking...

She is not.

But we did have a good conversation about the value of money. Someone who read my original post suggested that perhaps Lindsey could save up her own money to buy these Uggs that she wants so badly. Actually, she wouldn't have to save, she's already got more than $200 saved up from the last few birthdays and Christmases. If she wanted Uggs, she could go out and buy them right now.

But she won't, of course, because it would use all her money for a single pair of boots she would grow out of in just a year.

My point exactly.

I think she was actually more upset at learning in a roundabout way that Santa is not actually sending her presents, that parents spend the money for the gifts from Santa and that we are not bottomless pits.

She revised her gift list down and said that Uggs are off the list. Whew.

A day later our family was watching the news and a report came on about consumer spending for the holidays. The report said that the average American family was planning on spending around $750 for gifts. Wayne and I both looked over at our formerly greedy girl and said, "That's $750 for the entire family, not one child."

She hid her head in the blanket in embarrassment.

I think she got it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

My Child's Greed Is Killing Santa

For a month or so now my oldest daughter has been mentioning here and there some of the things she'd like for Christmas. A trendy down vest. Acrylic paints and canvas. A Kindle Fire. The Kindle Fire is a bit outside of the norm, but might be doable.

Then she mentioned the Uggs. The same Uggs she asked for last Christmas but didn't get.

Well, it's not that she didn't get them, she got "F'Uggs," or fake Uggs. She knew they weren't "real" Uggs, so authentic Uggs are back on her list at $200 for the style she wants.

I have a real problem with paying $200 for a pair of shoes. I have never in my life spent $200 for shoewear for myself. Ever. And I'm not growing, I've been the same shoe size for almost 30 years now. Our daughter is currently growing about a shoe size a year. We buy her new winter boots every year, and she's going through athletic shoes at a pace of 2 per year because she wears those year-round.

Of course we won't buy her a pair of $200 boots at age 10.

But she says "Well, Santa will bring them."

Now, we are 90% confident that she knows Santa doesn't exist. None of her friends believe anymore, and I think she just says "Santa will bring it" knowing that we won't break the news to her that Santa isn't real.

She started adding up her wish list, computer in front of her so she could look up the prices. $150 for a Kindle Fire. $200 for Ugg boots. $30 for paints and canvas. $65 for a Furby, all the way through her entire wish list.

She added up the list and came up with $285. I corrected her math, and she came up with $485.

"See? It's not even $500," she says.

Who is this child? When is the dollar amount "$500" ever preceded by the words "not even" unless you're talking about a house repair or medical bill?
Santa reviews my daughter's wish list with skepticism. So do I.
She got moody when I told her Santa would NOT be bringing her everything on her list, and that mom and dad couldn't possibly afford to buy all those things for her.

She is currently up in her room, sulking.

So we will have to break it to her that mom and dad ARE Santa, and that's why what things cost DOES matter. And then I think we're going to go volunteer at Feed My Starving Children and have her dad tell her stories of his Christmases growing up, when each child was given one gift. And they liked it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

You're Losing Your What?

My hair. Yes, I am losing my hair.

This is something women in particular do not like to talk about. Sure, men don't like to talk about losing their hair (or losing it in the first place, for that matter), but at least it happens to enough of them that it's kind of normal.

But for women? If we lose our hair we never talk about it.

This past September I noticed that I had an inordinate amount of hair going down the drain when I took a shower. Enough hair in a handful for a small ponytail, I kid you not. Cut a small ponytail worth of hair out of your hair every couple of days and see how much is left on your head.
Crazed, flyaway-haired lady! Aaaack!

This picture was taken a few months after I had begun shedding. The short hairs that were re-growing weren't long enough to stay in a ponytail, so I began looking like a crazed lunatic whenever I wore my hair back. Which, for me, was most of the time. 

At first I chalked it up to...I don't know what. I think I was in denial that it was happening. But then I lost a ton while showering, then combed through my hair just after said shower and lost just as much again.

What. The hell.

So of course I called my dermatologist, because she'd just put me on a new prescription and asked her if a side effect was hair loss. Actually, she informed me, a side effect is hair growth.


I called my endocrinologist and scheduled a blood test, because I know that hair loss can be associated with hormone and thyroid changes.

Every test they ran came back normal.

Curse it...

I happened to mention to both doctors that I had recently made a diet change. I stopped having my protein shake every lunch hour because it turned out I was allergic to some of the ingredients in the shake. Even more ironic, my allergy had been coming out as severe adult acne, which was the reason for the new prescription from the dermatologist. Nasty, ugly stuff that made my self-confidence take a huge plunge and make me feel like an awkward teenager.

Turns out that there are four kinds of grasses in the protein shake I'd been taking: wheat grass, barley grass, kamut and oat grass. Now, grass is actually a great filler -- it's in the majority of protein shakes on the market, a fact I discovered while researching a replacement. But for someone who is as horribly allergic to grass as I am, ingesting the stuff is just as bad for you as rolling in it.

But...there are a lot of good things in that shake that my body really loved too, tons of vitamins and minerals, acai extract, Goji berry, blueberry, and so on and so forth.

When I mentioned that I had stopped taking this shake to my doctors, they both said, "Oooh yes, that can make a difference."

So the good news is that the hair loss is a not a permanent change, and my hair loss seems to have slowed to a more normal rate. The bad news is that I still didn't feel great about myself because it was so scraggly to me. It may have looked okay to others, but I could tell the difference and I was not happy.

And so there was only one thing left to do.

My normal stylist wasn't available for a while, and I just couldn't wait to make a change. So I called a salon in Minneapolis that specializes in cutting and treating curly hair. They cut every curl individually while it's dry so they can see where the hair wants to naturally curl up. THEN they wash it and dry it in such a way that it isn't frizzy and won't frizz as the day goes on. They even taught me how to dry and style it appropriately so I can get the same effect myself.  I LOVE the way my hair curls now, and the shorter length is absolutely freeing.

I had no idea that a diet change or hormonal changes could result is such dramatic hair loss until I experienced it myself.  Hopefully my sharing this can help other women from panicking if they experience this themselves.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Enjoy the Process

I started my third 21-day meditation challenge recently.

The first time -- a bust. I think I meditated a total of 4 times the entire 3 weeks, and hated every second of it.

The second time -- interesting. Got something out of it, felt more settled, and actually kind of missed it when the 21 days was done.

This time -- struggling to stay focused.

I have never had such a hard time staying focused in this. It was hard the first time, but this time around? Even harder.

Before Deepak can even say "If you find your mind starting to wander…" my mind has wandered and I didn't listen to what I was supposed to do if my mind started to wander.


An aging beloved pet...

A volunteer assignment I took on and haven't been committed to completing…

My child's math struggles….

My mind is anywhere but where it is supposed to be, which is nowhere.

But then finally, I settled on one thought which sounds ridiculous but which I've adapted to any situation:


This did not come from some meditation expert, therapist, life coach, it came from a fitness instructor, Chalene Johnson.

THIS Chalene Johnson, of TurboJam, then TurboFire, then Chalean Extreme fame.


Here's the context:

I do Chalene's Chalean Extreme (CLX) strength training program, and it will probably be a program I follow the rest of my life. The theory is low and slow reps, medium to heavy weights.

Try this:

Fill a glass with 8 oz of water, and hold it out straight in front of you. Hold your elbow up to the same height as your shoulder, and keep it steady right in front of you.

Not hard, right?

Now hold that for 10 seconds. 30 seconds. A minute. Two minutes. Five minutes.

See ripples in the water yet?

That's the idea.

It's not about how heavy you lift, it's about how long you hold the rep. You don't need to do 30 bicep curls, you need to do just 12. But by the 12th rep, if that weight was a glass of water it would have ripples in it from the shaking in your muscles because they are so maxed out, because you did the rep so slowly.

Halfway through this workout, Chalene says, "Enjoy the process! It's so much fun building muscle, why would you want to rush it?"

And that's the key to success with her program: do it slowly and enjoy it, or you won't do the whole program. You are building muscle, you are re-shaping your body, why would you want to rush through it and not enjoy it?

Now, apply this to life. Apply this to anything you don't always enjoy.

My kids when they are acting up and bickering: Enjoy the process! They will only be little for a short time. Take a deep breath, be calm, set a good example and parent them while they'll still listen.

Dinner time. Enjoy the process! Look at the vibrant colors of the veggies, listen to the sizzle of the meat cooking in the pan, smell the sauce as it simmers. Instead of rushing through the prep work savor every moment of it.

Laundry. Enjoy the process! Appreciate that your children own so many clothes that need washing, that they are active and healthy to be able to get them so dirty, and be sure to breathe in the clean smell as they come out of the dryer.

Meditation. My mind wanders, I accidentally made a "to do" list,  I did not "go within."

Enjoy the process! It's okay to have your mind wander, it's back where it needs to be now, just enjoy this process of finding stillness in your mind and life.

This is my version of "live in the moment." Live in the moment? I don't know what that means. And I ponder it and then feel like I missed out on something because I didn't "live in the moment." I don't get it.

But "enjoy the process?" These three little words give you room to make mistakes. It allows you to have setbacks. Because it's not about the goal, it's about getting to the goal. Savor every sense while you're doing it, and you're "living in the moment," without freaking out if just for a second you don't.

Now you try it -- how would you apply the mantra "enjoy the process?"

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why I Do What I Do

The thought of sleeping is the furthest thing from my mind.

Yes, I've been up at 3 a.m. the last two nights. Yes, I was single-parenting it the last day and a half.

But I can't even think of going to bed.

Because today was Give to the Max Day, a 24-hour online fundraising event in Minnesota. And every year on this day I am reminded why I do what I do.

Because giving to charity FEELS GOOD.

It warms your heart. It puts a smile on your face. It makes you feel all bubbly inside and you want to hug the nearest person to you, even if that person just spent that last 30 minutes grouching at you because you made her do her homework.

And I am always amazed and humbled by the outpouring of support for my employer, Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare.

The families whose lives we touch, the children who grow to be fully-engaged adults in the world, with jobs and spouses and family and friends, who ask their family and friends to give back because of what Gillette has done for them.

We would like to forget that two generations ago, people who were born with the conditions Gillette treats would be shuttered away in institutions, easily forgotten by society.  But remembering that makes what Gillette does even more remarkable. These are children who overcome incredible challenges to become…ordinary. Everyday, "have a nice day" kind of ordinary.

What a blessing.

And what a blessing to fundraise for this cause, to talk to donors who have been moved by the mission and choose to give, to hear their reasons and their stories of how their lives have been changed, either directly or indirectly. To have them give in amounts unfathomable to me, and have them say, "it is only a token of what Gillette has done for me."


Okay, so maybe it's the adrenaline, the lack of sleep and the excitement over the day, but still, there is just something magical about being a part of something so moving.

So here's just a snippet, you can't begin to imagine the challenge of capturing in 30 seconds what Gillette does:

Moving Forward > from Gillette Children's on Vimeo.

And now, the story behind the story.

Moving Ellie Forward from Gillette Children's on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Whoop! Whoop! Mom of the Year Award

This fall both Marissa and I caught a cold. She had it first, passed it on to me, I got over it and then realized she still had it.

Actually, what she had was a cough. Her nose wasn't running anymore, her head wasn't stuffy, but her cough was lingering on and on.

We sent her to Girls on the Run practice as usual, thinking that the fresh, cold air and exercise could help clear out the lungs once and for all. But it didn't get better. We kept sending her to school, since she wasn't feeling too poorly, wasn't running a fever and just had this nagging cough.

Finally, this past Sunday her cough got to the point where she was gasping for breath. She had circles under her eyes from the strain and disjointed sleep, and her sides hurt from the coughing.

So Monday I stayed home from school with her and took her to the doctor. The pediatrician decided to do a whooping cough test, even though she thought it would come back negative. They put what looks like a Q-tip on a very, very long flexible wand so far up her nose I thought they were going to tickle her brain. God bless Marissa, she did so well during the test even though she was super scared to do it. She's a much better kid than I was at that age, that's for sure.

The doctor sent us out the door with a prescription for Zithromax and said that we would treat it like whooping cough until we knew for sure if it was or wasn't. In the meantime, Marissa could go to school until we got the test results, especially since she wasn't running a fever.

I should clarify -- she wasn't running a fever at the doctor's office. The pediatrician asked me if she'd been running a fever and I said no, even though the battery on our electronic thermometer had been dead for months and I hadn't been able to actually get a temperature on her this entire time. The first of a series of "mom of the year" award-winning moves.

So she and I spent the rest of the day Monday snuggling together, watching movies, reading and enjoying each other's company. It was actually quite nice.

Tuesday morning Marissa awoke and said she had a headache and didn't want to go to school. She didn't feel warm (using the hand-on-forehead scientific method still), so we gave her some ibuprofen and sent her on her way. We did have her skip Girls on the Run, though.

Same thing Wednesday. Doesn't feel like going. Gave her ibuprofen and sent her anyway.

Same thing Thursday. Doesn't feel like going. Get her up and dressed and she and I head to Bruegger's since it's free coffee day, a fundraising event for Gillette. While there I missed a call from her pediatrician's office. I pick up the voice mail and hear that the test came back positive for whooping cough. Not what I expected.

In the next hour of phone calls here's what I learn about whooping cough:

  • It is a reportable disease, meaning the pediatrician has to notify the state about this diagnosis.
  • The treatment is antibiotics but she is still highly contagious during the first 5 days of treatment. Even though she's been on Zithromax since Monday, she must stay out of school the rest of the week.
  • Not only should she stay out of school but she needs to stay out of all public places.
  • The entire family must be treated with antibiotics as well so we don't develop it.
  • Her cough is expected to last another 3 to 4 weeks. 
  • Anyone who has spent more than 10 hours with her in close contact (like my sister who was just visiting from Indiana over the weekend) must be notified and should contact their doctor.
  • She can and did develop whooping cough despite being vaccinated against it because the vaccine is no longer 100% effective. Why isn't it? Because so many other families don't vaccinate their kids against it, per the pediatrician.
I also learned that whooping cough is an annoyance for kids Marissa's age and healthy adults, but can be deadly to little babies and those with compromised immune systems, which is why it is monitored so closely. Had Marissa been around any little ones in the past 2 weeks? Um….yeah, we had her cousins over for dinner one night, the littlest one is only a year old. Crap.

For days Marissa had been saying she didn't feel like going to school and we'd been sending her. Parents of the year award coming our way, both of us.

So if you're looking for us this weekend, we'll be right here in our house, quarantined, the four of us. I think some books and movies are in our immediate future. Maybe some apple pie. Hey, I have to earn back that "Mom of the Year" title, right?