29 February 2012

Today, I am glad that...

...I am not attempting to grow up in the current culture.

I'm so glad I did not have to deal with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, email, cell phones, and internet shopping when I was a teen and young adult.  I'm grateful that I got to figure out who I was with a buffer between me and the outside world.  I worry about kids today, my own especially, who are growing up without that buffer.  The world is too much with them.

I remember way back in 1994, when I got my first email address.  I remember sitting with a co-worker, Jane, who showed me how to use this newfangled technology.  I remember thinking: "OK.  I have this email address.  Who is ever going to send me an email?  This is weird."

I remember when Rick and I made the decision to get our very first cell phones, a big deal for us.  It felt strange to be able to talk to him (since he was the only person I called for a long time) from any place I happened to be.  

I remember discovering the internet, clicking around this unfamiliar place for the first time, and being rather mesmerized by the emerging screens chock full of information.

Now we are immersed, and my children are immersed, and I don't like it.

We can do small things to keep it at bay, to balance its influence.  We can make household rules and we can show them in word and deed what we think is right and good in the world.  But the great big hand of popular culture is huge and grabby and sometimes muffles our voices all together.

I wish my kids could arrive at adulthood without ever seeing a thread of YouTube comments.  That's probably not going to happen, unless I embrace my latent Luddite tendencies and unplug us all for the next 12-15 years.  That's definitely not going to happen.

But I can't help longing for more buffered days for my children.

* * *

24 February 2012

7 Quick Takes: Volume 50

Happy Friday, happy day
Thanks for stopping here to play.

Read a post, or read a few
Won't you leave a comment, too?

Visit our host, the lovely Jen,
Click on some links, now and again.

Here are my 7 Quick Takes.
Thus endeth my turn at being Shakes.


I am totally prepared for Lent this year: I have created detailed, catalogued lists for my family members of all the ways they can be better people.

What, isn't that the whole point?

OK, OK, so that's not the point. It's a temptation, though, to pick things for my kids to do or to give up. It's pure fantasy to pick things for my husband to do or give up. But really, what I want is to mark the season, give it its due. So I will begin Lent 2012 with a few words from my spiritual mentor:

“To keep united to God through the suffering Humanity of His son–that is the aim of Lent. “— Dorothy Day
Suffering is unpleasant business. It's ugly, difficult, hurtful. Usually, we avoid such stuff. But we do suffer. Everyone does. Listen to the news each day, and you'll find a surfeit of suffering. Watch what happens on the school yard and you'll see some there, too. Consider your family, under your roof or far flung, and I think not one of us can do that without recognizing a painful experience or two or several.

It is around us. There is something about Lent that invites us to sit with the suffering, to acknowledge and maybe even embrace it, to pay attention to what it happening around us and to respond with our humanity. So perhaps the point of giving something up is to get rid of the distractions that keep us from really seeing things around us.

As vague as this is, and even though I'm not entirely sure how this will play out in the next 40 days, my Lenten goal is to weed out the distractions in my life so that I can see the people I love ever more clearly and can respond to them out of greater and greater love.

That's on page 7, highlighted in gold, of the catalogued list I made for the kids, too, right after Do Your Darn Chores The Way You Are Supposed To.

That wasn't a very quick Quick Take. Sorry.


I can't believe I'm going to admit to this, but here goes. I have posted before about how the latch on my washing machine broke. I even had a cute little quiz about it. I discovered a solution that did not require a repairman to come into my home.

Well, the other day, I decided I was tired of hoisting weights on and off the top of my washer just to make the damn thing run and I finally called a friend of ours who does "fix it" jobs. He's helped us before. He was here for maybe half and hour and charged me a measly $25 bucks, and now my washing machine works without the help of two large coffee table books and two extremely heavy landscaping rocks.

Now for the part I can't quite believe and don't want to face. I just looked up, on my blog, the post in which I wrote about the washer breaking in the first place. It was late May. I have been lifting weights for eight and half months, multiple times a day, just for clean socks and chonies. And all it took was a phone call and $25 to fix it.

When. Will. I. Learn. That 90% of the time, things are much easier than I fear they are going to be?

What have you waited far too long to take care of? Come on: public embarrassment loves company.


Another confession: I hate Target. I hate shopping at Target. I hate the lights, the smells, the noises, the endcaps, and the shoe department. And I want to know why I feel like the only woman in America who harbors such antipathy.

But I do need to go there today to buy a bunch of stuff. I need a Target mantra to get me through the experience. Any suggestions?


Two of my daughters got pink eye last week. It was gross. Pink eye has got to be one of the icky-est parenting things ever.

Did I give them the appropriate amount of love and sympathy? I don't think I did.

Here's how I know. I got it this week. And let me tell you, if I had known how utterly miserable pink eye is, I would have been a whole lot nicer to them.

This makes me wonder how many other things they go through that I don't fully empathize with. And it gives me a renewed sense of appreciation for how well they do under icky circumstances. AND it makes me feel like a very large wimp, because I just want to stamp my feet and whine about how unfair it is that I got this stupid ickiness in the first place. They are a lot more mature than I am!


Baby birdies update: A few days ago, I posted about discovering a hummingbird nest in our garden. Well, after we were gone all day on Monday, my son went out to the backyard to check on the babies, and they were gone. The nest was knocked down on the ground, but completely intact. 

So we are left to wonder. Is it more likely that the birds got big enough to fly, launched themselves out of the nest and knocked it to the ground in the process? Or is it more likely that a cat got to them? The nest did not look roughed up or harmed in any way. The kids were fearing the worst...but then we all used our brains and decided that perhaps this is just the way of nests and birds...because if the nests didn't fall out of the trees after they were no longer needed, there sure would be a lot of empty nests out there. 

Any bird experts out there who might shed some light on this issue for us?


Nothing makes me feel more like a cliche than parenting a teenager.

Am I really saying things like "You can stay in the band if you keep your grades up" and "This is the time in your life to learn how to do things you don't want to do, so that later on you have more choices about what you can do" and "It's a question of priorities. If you want to be treated like an older kid, you have to act like one, and not like a 6 year old."

Ai-yi-yi. Much as my teenager is trashing about with his newfound teenagerliness, I am kicking and screaming my way into being the parent of a teenager.

When do I get to stop speaking in platitudes?


Speaking of teenagers, I saw this gem on Facebook a few weeks ago. To this father, whoever you are, I salute you and I thank you and I want to be just like you when I finally grow up into my Big Parent Shoes.

* * *

23 February 2012

Where I Make a Fool of Myself in Front of the Kids

The homework scene at my house is daunting, to say the least: five people, large and small, need to get things done on a schedule, need varying levels of assistance from me, and need multiple swift kicks in the metaphorical pants to make it happen.  It's downright crushing sometimes.

Tonight, I was sitting at the table with Kid #1 helping him with scales, while Kid #3 hovered at my shoulder asking me to quiz her on spelling words, while Kids #2, #4, and #5 tried to avoid homework and make noise.  My head was on a swivel, twirling this way and that, trying to respond to everyone, trying to keep everyone on task.  I was a touch overwhelmed.  I think it showed on my face.  I'm pretty sure I had that blank look on face that means my response mechanism is overloaded and my intelligence is compromised.

Kid #1 asked me: "Why are you in a crisis?"

So I launched into a tirade about how hard it is to be me, to shepherd the five of them through homework time, to keep them moving in the right direction.  I raged on: "I'm overwhelmed because it's soooo hard to make sure you are all working productively, to answer all of your questions, to get you to be polite when you're asking for help, to keep the distractions to a minimum, to blah-de-blah-de-blathery-blah....."  I had a pretty good lather going.

Kid #1 looked at me like I was bonkers and said:  "Mom.  I just asked you what a unit price is."

Whoops!  Self-absorbed much, mom?

We all had a pretty great laugh at that, actually, and it was just the comic relief we needed to carry us through to the end of homework time.

* * *

Thank You, Rock-n-Roll!

When my first born son was a wee tot, probably no more than 1, he tried his first tomato.  It was the first time I ever saw him dislike a taste; up to that point, he was a dream eater.  But that tomato caused a facial response worthy of overcooked brussels sprouts and became the first chapter in a long, depressing story called How A Kid Got Picky.

At the time, I thought: "OK, he doesn't like tomatoes.  No big."  But it turns out, it has been a huge road block in his eating life.  Pizza?  Nope: tomato sauce.  Family spaghetti night? Not with my homemade sauce.  Salads?  Well, sort of fine, if you pick out the toms, which of course, he does.  Salsa? No.  Bruschetta?  Uh-uh.  Most soups?  Fail.

As he has gotten pickier over the years, his not eating tomatoes has gotten more and more frustrating for me.  Pizza is such kid-standard fare that the issue comes up frequently.  Pizza is the meal of choice at most birthday parties, soccer team parties, class parties, always leaving me with "What the heck did he eat?  Chips?  A carrot or two?"

I've tried a million times to get him to try pizza again.  We make pizza for dinner fairly regularly, and he will not eat it.  I've encouraged, cajoled, threatened, bribed, stormed, and reasoned.  I've screamed and yelled.  Over pizza.  I've come unhinged a few times, to be sure, and that's never a good thing.

For a long time now, I have suspected that he would actually love pizza if he just gave it a try.  After all, it's now been over a decade since a tomato passed his lips.  Things change, right?

A couple of years ago and at the end of my rope, I tried a new tactic.  Employing my most practiced nonchalance, I mentioned, offhand, that "someday, I'm sure you'll like pizza."  Since then, every now and then I've asked (using my most crafted casualness): "So, wanna try some pizza this time?  No?  OK, no problem.  Someday you will, I'm sure.  You'll love it."  

In his presence, that zen like confidence prevailed.  But out of eye and ear shot?  I've expressed my true feelings, storming mightily at his monumental stubbornness.  I've obsessed over how he will ever truly enjoy college if he won't eat pizza.  I've wistfully longed for a normal kid, one who inhales pizza like a healthy American teenager. 

It's not that pizza is so great.  Bread, cheese, sauce.  It's not the holy grail of nutrition.  But pizza has become a metaphor, a symbol of his refusal to do something I want him to do, of his epic picky-ness, of the pain-in-the-neck hassle of figuring out how to feed him, of the never ending power struggle that food became at an early age between him and me.  (I learned my lesson.  My other kids are far less picky because I got smart about how to feed them and how to handle food with them.)

So back to the Zen Strategy.  I tried it because I had tried everything else.  I didn't really believe it would work.  The only thing it did was pull the plug on the power struggle, and as much as I wanted him to eat the damn pizza, that was enough for me for awhile.

12 years later, my son has joined a band as a guitarist.  After the first rehearsal, he came home with the bad news: the boys order a pizza at every single practice.  "Well, maybe it's time to try it, then!" was my response.

His?  "Yeah, maybe."

At the end of the second band practice, he called me: "Guess what mom?  I tried pizza.  I loved it."

He even gave me the details about how when the pizza got there, he didn't say a thing, acted like it was no big deal, grabbed a piece and shoved it in his mouth.  I love having that little movie playing in my head.  

Thank you, rock and roll, for giving pizza back to my family, for proving that the zen approach to parenting works every now and then, for teaching me to let go.  Thank you for confirming what I have long suspected but also long resisted: take 97% of what you most worry about when it comes to the kids, and stop worrying.  Fake it till you make it.  Fake it until you figure out that it's really true.  Fake it until what you most want drops into your lap.

I know it's just pizza.  But that pizza is teaching me to be a better mother.

* * *

21 February 2012

19 February 2012

Blossoms and Birdies

As previously mentioned, our annual garden tour is coming up.  You know what this means, right?

Weeding.  Weeding.  And then some more weeding.

So this past Friday, I commenced, and made a fair dent in one area.  On Saturday morning, I put "1 hour of weeding" on my to-do list, and promptly got so busy, it almost didn't happen.  But the hour finally came at 3:15, after transporting Sam to band practice, running various bank/post office/grocery store errands, and selling girl scout cookies at Lucky's for two hours.  I was tired, yo.  Didn't want to weed at all.  But I forced myself to get down on my hands and knees in the dirt and do battle with invasive grasses, oaxalis, and fallen apples.  The last 15 minutes were the hardest, but I kept reminding myself that I am at the beginning of a long road, and if I don't establish a little discipline now, I'll be in a world of hurt later on.

So I kept going.  When I finished, I stopped working and started sitting.

I sat on our back lawn, sipping the homemade lemonade my seven year old daughter had brought out to me, and let the garden come into view.

I take this place for granted.  I forget that I have a private paradise right outside my back door.  But yesterday, in the late afternoon, as the fog rolled in, I remembered.  I grabbed my camera and took some shots of some gorgeous apple blossoms.

And then look what I found:

That right there, ladies and gentlemen, is the tiniest, most perfect little nest you've ever seen, with two baby hummingbirds inside of it.

If I hadn't forced myself to that one hour of weeding, I would have missed both the blossoms and the birdies.  Instead, I weeded, even though I really, really, really didn't want to, and I was richly rewarded.  I'm pretty sure there's a life lesson in there somewhere, but I'm too excited about the hummingbirds to think about it.  And my kids!  Well, I haven't seen my children this excited in a long time -- especially Cenzo, who took the picture above.

Thank God for my little paradise, and for the man who created it for us.

* * *

16 February 2012

The Natives Are Getting Restless

The native plants, that is.

It's that time of year again, folks!  The time when Rick starts to obsess over our garden in anticipation of the annual garden tour we participate in.  It's a big deal.  First of all, our own garden is one of the stops on the tour.  Second of all, each year, some of the gardens Rick has designed are also on the tour: for 2012, there are two.  And third of all, the tour coordinator hires me each year to produce the booklet that every registrant receives; I'm on my 8th year of doing this project.  This 80-odd page guide contains descriptions of each garden, maps, lists of designers, lists of native plant nurseries, and various native plant resources.   If you've ever heard me refer to the one big project I work on each year, this is it:

This is also the time of year that...

...Rick decides to take on some large scale project in the garden that most people would spend 2 months planning and 5 or 6 months implementing, giving us exactly 2.5 months to make it all happen.   He's got a few in mind for this year.  I listen, smile, nod, and make a mental note to stock up on the Prozac.

...the kids remember how much they hate the garden tour because they lose their parents for 3 months and because they hear far too much about mulch, gravel, vegetable beds, piles that need to be moved, and Eriogonoum umbellatum.  And Eschscholzia californica.  And no, that is not misspelled.  10 points to anyone who knows what that is without using Google.

...we lose entire days off of our lives when we spend hours upon hours tidying up and arranging one area of the garden just so, only to return a few days later and find one of Tallulah's "pirate ships" or one of Vincenzo's teepees has sprung up like magic, causing our blood pressure to immediately spike, our panic buttons to all go berserk simultaneously, and our vocal cords to seize up rendering us speechless, which is good because otherwise we would scream ourselves hoarse anyway.

Tallulah builds her pirate ships by creating a random placement of crates, planks, flattened boxes, blankets, couch cushions if she can get away with it, and anything else she can find, and then stocking it with books, puzzles, stuffed animals, and dishes.  Sometimes she covers the whole shebang with multiple blankets draped across our courtyard.  It looks like the encampment of a crazy person when she's through.  Which, in a way, I guess it kind of is.

Vincenzo's teepees are decidedly more palatable, and yet -- still heart stoppingly frustrating when we are trying to get things "show ready."

Teepee by Vincenzo

We will come up for air at various points between now and May 6th.  At least one time when I've sent the garden guide off to the printer (March 9th) and at least a couple of times to eat and throw food at the other kind of natives we are responsible for, several times to enjoy a Guinness, one time in early April to shake our fists at the heavens and curse ourselves for saying "sure, we'll do this again!" and once or twice to drive the kids to something soccer-related.

It's that time of year again, for our annual California natives roller coaster.

* * *

The tour is wonderful.  Bringing Back the Natives.  Click through and register to attend.  There will be no same-day registration this year, so reserve your spot early!

* * *

15 February 2012

Warning: Dr. Suess Ahead

The kids were out with Rick this weekend, and they saw an ad for The Lorax splayed across the broadside of a city bus.  The ensuing conversation:

Kid #1: "Dad, can you believe that?  The Lorax is rated PG?"

Kid #2:"What?  How can a Dr. Suess movie be NOT GOOD for little kids?"

Kids in general:  "WHAT?  THAT'S CRAZY?  Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, what's wrong with The Lorax?  Why? WHY DAD?????

Dad: "I don't know."

Kid #2: "What is there, Inappropriate Rhyming?"

* * *

After all, everyone knows that rhyming, in the wrong hands, can be dangerous.  That's why I don't let my kids read or write poetry until they are old enough to date.  Or at least old enough to clean the kitchen without my having to call them back 5 times to finish the job correctly.

Actually, maybe that will help me determine if the kids can go see The Lorax: if you're old enough to empty the kitchen drainer-catchy-thingee, you can see the movie.

* * *

14 February 2012

A Real Bargain

My daughter -- seven years old -- asked me if a bargain and a compromise are the same thing.

I thought about it for a minute and then said that they aren't exactly the same because you can use the word "bargain" to describe a great deal you got on something you purchased.

Then I said that a bargain can be like a compromise, and I gave this example.

"Say you wanted 5 cookies, and I wanted a clean kitchen. We could make a deal, a bargain, that I would give you 5 cookies if you cleaned my kitchen."

And the future high stakes negotiator popped right back: "No--that's not a bargain. I'd only do it for ten cookies."

I think she gets it.

* * *

09 February 2012

Yay for Pink Eye

A text conversation excerpt.

* * *

7:45 am

I just had to totally restrain myself from yelling at 
Jimmy.  He's a nightmare in the morning in terms 
of getting out of the house.

Breath mama breathe.

You are zen mama.  Nothing can penetrate 
the peace and calm that is you.

Not even Jimmy getting out of the 
house in the morning.

8:46 am

It was when he started cleaning dog shit out 
of his shoe over the floor that I just about exploded.

Ok.  Dog shit can penetrate the 
peace.  You get a pass on that one.

Thank you.

12:51 pm

F***ing pink eye!

Ugh. I once had it with all 3 kids at 
the same time.  It's such a drag.

And gross.

I wouldn't have procreated if I'd 
known about pink eye.

That and pushing kids on swings.  
Hate that too.

1:00 pm

Pushing the swings makes me nauseous.

You mean nauseated.  Otherwise, you 
are the cause of the nausea.


You sound like your spouse.


When you get out of school for pink eye:

This is what you get.

1:56 pm

Yay for pink eye!

* * *

Yay for texting with Mamas!

* * *

05 February 2012

I Totally Get It

I learned something about myself today, with respect to my three daughters. I can't leave their hair alone. This is most painfully obvious at Mass, where I sit in close proximity to one, two, or all of them.

You know those mama monkeys on nature programs who are forever picking stuff out of their babies' fur?

Well, today I realized that I understand why they do that. Because they can't stand the thought of someone else seeing that piece of bark or fuzz or whatever in their precious baby's hair.

I totally get that.

I swear I don't eat whatever I pull out.

* * *

03 February 2012

7 Quick Takes: Volume 49

It's Friday.
I'm frozen.
I'm frightful.
I'm free.

Please visit Jennifer, the host of 7QT, and visit the links to some of today's other Quick Takers.


Over a year ago, I decided to paint ceramic mugs for my kids as a gift for Christmas, 2010.  That December, I spent many hours painstakingly creating unique designs for each of them.  Christmas morning, they were delighted by the colorful, personalized cups...which were painted with the wrong paint.  In a few days, it was all rubbed off.

OK.  Lesson learned.  Get the right paint.  I promised the kids I would re-do them.  I never did.

Christmas 2011.  I bought more cups.  I bought some Ceramcoat paint, because I figured, based on the name, that this paint was good for ceramics.  I painted another couple of cups.  I realized quickly this was also the wrong paint.  I gave up in disgust.

OK. Lesson learned.  ASK QUESTIONS.  So this time, when I went to Joann Fabrics, I asked someone to direct me to the right paint for ceramic mugs.  BINGO!  I got the right kind of paint.  I still haven't painted cups for the kids...yet...but I did one for my nephew for his birthday last week:

This was a ton of fun to do, and reminded me how much I need a creative outlet in my life.  To the children I gave birth to: I promise yours will be done by Easter!  ♥


Son #2's observation regarding Little T:
Mom, it's the strangest thing, but whenever I see Tallulah at school, she's calm, she's behaving, she's doing everything her teacher tells her to do.  She's not screaming or kicking or being wacky at all!
Yeah, well, that tells you a little bit what she can be like at home. 


But then again, this is also the child who said to me the other day:
Mommy, I want to thank you for four things.  Thank you for taking me to the park.  Thank you for taking off this bandaid and for taking off the other bandaid.  And thank you for making my dinner.
And the next day she gazed at me with a little smile and said: "Why is my mother so wonderful?"

What's a little kicking and screaming when it comes with words like that??


She also recently asked me, upon seeing a work crew digging a large hole on a street corner: "Are they burying a dead body?"

Methinks it's time to monitor the 5-year old's media intake a little bit more closely.


In honor of Valentine's Day coming, I'd like to recommend a very little, but very lovely book for young children.  This is one of our favorites:

So sweet.  Plus, the little girl in the story has perhaps one of the greatest all time little girl story names ever: Cornelia Augusta.  Love that.


You know what I love about my 7 year old?  When she is yammering away and talking a blue streak and when I think I can't take it anymore, I can look at her and say: "OK, stop talking now."  And she laughs.  And she stops talking.  And she doesn't get upset.

My wish for every mother in the world is a child with a temperament like hers.


A friend of mine sent me a text last night with a bit of advice for getting through my day.  I was expressing my concern to her about how I was going to shepherd my kids through the process of doing homework, doing chores, making and eating dinner, and showering and getting ready for the morrow.  She sent me an Act of Faith from a book she has called Small Steps for Catholic Moms:
Instead of focusing on the outcomes of your activities today, focus simply on your state of soul as you do them.  As you work, don't sin.
Those few words shifted my perspective on what my family needed to do.  And since I'm not afraid of the word "sin" -- don't we all do things we wish we hadn't done, especially when it comes to our children? -- I was able to read those words and focus differently on the evening that lay ahead of me.

Let's hope I remember them again today.

* * *

02 February 2012

A Morning Bouquet

I took my dog for a walk this morning.  The sky was bright and clear, the air brisk and warm at the same time.  By all accounts, it was a glorious time to be outside with a good and loyal dog.  I gathered a photo bouquet:

Sounds lovely, doesn't it?

Well, it was.  But it was also a little wonky.  My good and loyal dog is terrible on leash, so who was walking whom was very much a question.  It was more of a frenzied jitterbug than anything else.  My joints hurt by about half way down our block.  She had a fabulous time, investigating, with vigor, every interesting plant, pile, leaf, person, car, canine or random ball we encountered.  I bounced along behind the leash, arm outstretched, teeth rattling around in my head, vowing again to get some obedience lessons scheduled.

Ever walk by tree or a pole with a dog?  Why do they always go the opposite way around than we do?  WHY?

So yes, I took some pretty pictures on my "relaxing" morning walk.  While negotiating a 75 pound black lab who was jumping out of her skin with excitement and while delicately carrying a plastic bag of dog poop, which nearly hit me in the head during a couple of spin-arounds I had to do to avoid tripping over the leash.

Also, have you ever tried focusing an iPhone camera with one hand while being yanked hither and non by the leash in your other hand?  It's almost a contact sport.

A 20 minute walk, and I'm exhausted.  At least I have some pretty pictures to look at while I recover.

* * *