Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Someday you will stand where I am standing

My list of thoughts for the checkout girl at HEB (Texas grocery store chain) yesterday:

I see the way you are looking at me with that combination of doubt, scorn and boredom neatly arranged on the taunt skin of your face; conveyed succinctly through the tireless popping of your bright blue chewing gum.

Someday you will love a man (maybe you even know him now). You will build a life together. You will discover that love and hate are not opposites, but are intricately intertwined like the brush strokes of an impressionist painting. From a distance it looks seamless, but up close you see all the hard work that goes into love.

Someday you will wonder what happened to the person you thought you would become. You will remember that you had dreams and ambitions. You used to do things.

It may take some time, but you will discover that this person—this tired, faded person with nubbly legs and a style-less ponytail—is more than you could imagine. You will discover that there are no words, no youthful context for the wondrous unseen parts of your life.

There will be moments in your future that you will carry in your spine: the birth of your first child; the easier birth of your second and third child; the miscarriages. These moments will make you stronger, stand a little taller.

Your mother-in-law will despise you for reasons that are unclear and perhaps complicated. She will always be nice to your face, thus making her contempt both bearable and insidious.

You will come to love and forgive your own mother in new and unexpected ways.

Your children will be the very best and absolute worst moments of the rest of your life.

Someday you too will accept defeat in the battle against age. You will surrender to the absolute inevitability of sagging, wrinkled skin. You won't wear make-up to the grocery store.

In your mind’s eye, you will still be the young woman that you liked the best. And no one, no amount of doubt, scorn or boredom can ever take that away from you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Green thoughts

I think I'm going with lists this week. Today's list is from an article I did yesterday. Think green, people!

A quick tour through the internet to websites like, and Yahoo Green can garner plenty of information about the consumer impact on the environment. Here are some less than festive facts:

  • Americans use over 380 billion plastic (polyethylene) bags per year.
  • Americans throw away approximately 100 billion polyethylene bags per year.
  • It takes 1000 years for polyethylene bags to break down.
  • Plastic bags do not biodegrade, they photodegrade, which means they slowly break down into smaller and smaller bits that can contaminate soil and waterways.
  • In 2007, the amount of paper recovered for recycling averaged 360 pounds for every person in the United States.
  • Each American sends about 300 pounds of packaging to the landfill every year.
  • Each year, Americans throw out almost 180,000 tons of batteries.
  • Batteries are comprised of heavy metals, which include nickel cadmium, alkaline, mercury, nickel metal hydride and lead acid. These can threaten our environment if not properly discarded or handled.
  • Many toys are made with Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC #3 plastic, which is often difficult to recycle.

So here are my green tips that with a little less fuss this season you can be good to the environment and your bottom line:

  • Make a list of everyone you plan to give gifts to this season.
  • Set a budget and a time frame for holiday spending. Knowing exactly how much you can spend and that you will have it all done by a certain date can cut down on the stress of the season.
  • Look at the sales fliers in the paper and search websites for the best prices. Make a plan of what you can buy online and what can be purchased in one-stop shopping trips to the mall or shopping centers.
  • Make a budget for special holiday cooking and make lists of what you’ll need. The key to making this work is sticking to the budget and following your list.
  • Take reusable cloth shopping bags wherever you go.
  • Recycling doesn’t just have to mean your plastic, glass and paper. Try shopping children’s resale shops for toys and games. Often you can find barely used or even brand new items. It can also be a good way to make a little extra money, too, by recycling gently used toys, games and clothes.
  • Consider that perhaps a special outing can be more meaningful than a present and is certainly something that comes with less packaging.
  • Be creative with gift wrapping by using cloth bags, hand decorated paper bags for wrapping paper, or even make part of the gift the wrapping.
  • Batteries can be a safety hazard as well as an environmental hazard. It might be a good idea for the well being of your little one to skip the loud electronic toy (It may be good for your well being, too).
  • When it comes to the must-have electronics for older kids, try to use rechargeable batteries.
  • Turn decorative lights off during the day and at bedtime to save energy.
  • After the holidays, recycle your Christmas tree. Usually they use the trees for mulch, so your holiday spirit is recycled into the New Year.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Career (Mis)Management Monday

I've been thinking about time a lot lately. The irony is that now that I am paid to write, I never have time to write. I don't have time to write my blog, or short stories, essays or get back to work on those novels. Don't get me wrong, I am GRATEFUL that someone is paying me to sit in my dining room while my littlest runs to the potty every five minutes (before I couldn't get her on the thing, now I can't get her off it).

All this gets me thinking about balance. How do you balance it all? This past Friday littlest fell asleep on the couch while I pecked away at the laptop. She stirred a little after 45 minutes and I went to sit on the couch and hug her as she woke up. Except she wasn't waking up, just snuggling up for more of a nap in mom's lap. As she fell back to sleep, my mind ran through all the millions of things I could be doing while she sleeps: working, updating my blog, loading the dishwasher, folding the laundry.

Her head laid in my lap and her fingers were curled around my wrist and for the first time in a long time I just looked. I looked at those still tiny little fingers and I didn't think about whether her nails needed to be trimmed. Her feet flexed in her sleep and I watched those little jellybean toes as they curled and uncurled. I pondered those impossibly long eyelashes.

I listened to her breathing and once I got to hear a contented little sigh. I just sat still and I didn't blink. I don't know how to balance it all and there never is enough time. But for a few minutes on a Friday afternoon I stopped the clock.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I wonder what she is thinking...

This is actually an inside joke with my sister A. from a long ago road trip to Oklahoma (you see A LOT of cows driving through the flatlands of Texas and Oklahoma).

So this is my existential question for week: What do cows think about?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Once upon a time, no more gollies. The End.

That is one of the first stories My Middle Girl ever told (sometime in her early two's). Her big sister had just told an elaborate bedtime story involving lots of imaginary friends. When it was Middle's turn she said, Once upon a time, no more gollies. The end. Then she reached up and turned out the light.
She has this amazing mind and is curious about everything. Last night she drew pictures of colorful swirls and explained to me that these swirls are how she is feelings inside. Trapped in her little restless body is a mind full of swirling emotions. I know this feeling.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ah, to be a princess...

I wish everyone this kind of rest and relaxation this weekend!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A whole other side to anal retentiveness

I married into a family of control freaks. My mother is one, too. I have discovered that I am a bit control freakish myself. Over the years, as I have precariously straddled two these two families while creating my own (no wonder so many marriages fail), I have learned a few things about the need to control.

There are those that need to control the actions of others, like my father-in-law. There are those that need to control the emotions of others, like my mother. And there those that just need to control their little corner of the world, like me.

The other thing I have discovered is that most of these compulsions to control are completely futile. Successfully controlling others actions or emotions does not bring happiness, as is so clearly demonstrated by both my father-in-law and my mother (two woefully unhappy people).

I am slowly learning to relinquish that need to control. Except, yesterday I was in a heated battle to control my daughter's bowel movements (or at least control exactly where they ended up).

My three-year old is mighty. She is funny and smart and strong and stubborn. She is honest to a fault, grumpy until she has her morning cup of milk and always in the mood for a party with loud music and beverages. She is a tiny carbon copy of her dad (just with different beverage choices and less facial hair). I am totally powerless in the face of either of them when they are determined.

So my littlest one comes very naturally by her need to control. However, when I say my daughter is anal retentive, I really mean it. We'll see who "wins" today.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday Wisdom

I am trying something new today, maybe I'll make it a regular thing: something to ponder, words far wiser and lovelier than my own. No matter what our original intentions, I suspect we blog and visits blogs for more than just entertainment. I think sometimes we are seeking our own true voices.

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A rose by any other name

Since the girls and I were on our own last weekend, we headed an hour northeast to spend a couple of days at my sister's house. My girls call it the CatCowDog Farm, because it is a cute old farmhouse with a lot of cats living on the front porch, surrounded by pastures of cows, and when we come we bring the dog. My other sister lives a few miles down the road and came with her eleven year old daughter, who my girls absolutely adore. She has infinite sweetness and patience with her little cousins as they play hours of hide-and-seek and "babies" and "school."

This particular weekend my oldest niece, who is pregnant with her first child, came to spend the evening on the farm with her husband. She was radiant and sporting quite a belly. It was funny to see this beautiful 30 year old woman who in my mind's eye is still a little girl, like my girls. As she pulled up her shirt to show off her big belly, my memory flashed back to the two-year-old who used to walk around with her shirt pulled up to show a chubby baby belly. She would call it wearing her "doot."

My parents were at the farm that day, too. My dad puttered around, a restless younger soul trapped in his aging body. My mother rested on the couch, inserting the occasional comment into the conversations going on around her. As my niece showed off her belly and talked about feeling better after months of "morning sickness," my mother pipped in with a warning not to gain too much weight. "My pregnancies were my undoing. I never got my figure back."

I know she meant well. My level-headed niece knew she meant well, as my mother went on to admonish her not to gain another ounce. My nephew-in-law immediately came to his wife's defense, but my wise niece just smiled and let her grandmother's thinly veiled criticism roll off her pregnant belly.

I was raised by a mother who expected her six children to take better care of her than she did of them. My childhood tasted of salty potato chips, hand-cranked ice cream, the sweetness of candy from the corner store and resentment. As I grew up, my resentment was hardened by hormones and heartbreak until it became a pit of anger in my stomach.

I now see my mother through the eyes of my own motherhood. It's not an easy job. For someone who is mentally ill, mothering is nearly impossible. There was a time when hearing my mother pick on her granddaughter would have had me seeing red. But this year spent back in the bosom of my family after a long absence has mellowed me. Motherhood has mellowed me, too.

As my anger has dissipated this year, I've wondered what I should call the feelings I have for my mother now. Is it love? But as the sun slanted across the warm kitchen at the CatCowDog Farm, as my niece and I smiled knowingly at each other above my mother's oblivious head, I realized something. Perhaps the absence of my anger, my companionable silence instead of my scorn, perhaps that is love.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Brain Fried Monday

I've been threatened with death lately for not updating my blog. Brain not working. Must use interesting picture. Must update blog. Can't think of witty description for picture.

Friday, October 31, 2008

You like me. You really, really like me.

Okay, it's not an Academy Award. But it is nice that my dear blog friend Pseudonymous High School Teacher thought of me. So I'm gonna pass the love along.


The rules are:
  1. The award may be displayed on the recipient's blog.
  2. Add a link to the person from whom you received the award.
  3. Nominate up to seven other blogs.
  4. Add their links to your blog.
  5. Send a message to each of those you awarded to tell them about the award.
I nominate the following blogs that always give me a smile or a laugh and without fail something to ponder. Two of the blogs don't even know I exist, so I guess you could say I have been stalking a couple of these blogs. Let's call it Stogging, (unless that means something awful that I am not aware of):

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What I really want to be when I grow up

I had to smile when one of my favorite bloggers, RockZee, commented on my last post: "That seemed to take off rather quickly." Thank you all for the positive feedback, but truth be told I should have gotten off my ass and done this long ago.

This recent little freelance success has been eighteen years in the making. Or perhaps even twenty-two years! I headed off to college in 1986, with absolutely no ambition other than to punish my parents for making me go to college in West Texas rather than follow my boyfriend to school in California. (Sadly, that boyfriend dumped me ONE WEEK before graduation, but that is another story.)

I decided sometime during my freshman year that I would major in marketing and open a wedding consulting business someday. I find this rather hilarious now. I enjoyed planning my own wedding about as much as I enjoyed childbirth.

I spent three years meandering through marketing classes and struggling through statistics 101. I eventually married someone on a whim, mostly out of boredom, and dropped out of college. Through a circuitous route that involved divorce, moving in with my parents and the desperate need to move out, I came to work for a small weekly newspaper as a receptionist. One day the only reporter quit, and the newspaper owner knew cheap labor when he saw it and made me the new reporter.

I loved it. I went back to school and got a BA in journalism. Then I decided sticking to the facts wasn't for me, so I went to graduate school and got an expensive MA in writing. To help pay for all these pricey dreams I went to work for three crazy professors of education at Fordham University. Next thing I knew, I was teaching at an all boys high school in the Bronx. I loved that, too. I then taught at an exclusive girls school in Greenwich, CT. I didn't love that.

So after years of meandering, mothering and finally growing up a little bit, I have stopped dreaming and decided to just do it (Nike may be onto something). I have been pretty passive with my career path up to this point. I did some research over the last couple of months about freelancing, made a business plan and then got to work sending out my resume/clips. It feels like I have been holding my breath for the last two weeks as I embarked on my first truly intentional career path. I'm exhaling this week and taking it all in.

Now I want to hear YOUR stories. How did you end up doing what you are doing?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The difference a week can make

I think I might, maybe, actually be able to say I am sort of a freelance writer now. I have accepted one writing job and I am talking to two others. They are not in any way, shape or form glamorous writing jobs. They are mundane writing tasks that someone wants to pay me to do from my home (between filling sippy cups and cajoling someone to sit on the potty).

It feels a little bit like when I first got married and saying I was someone's wife seemed so strange. Being Mrs. Newlastname didn't seem very real, afterall the day before I was just regular me.

It looks like I won't have to resort to sending half my hard-earned substitute teaching paycheck to daycare yet. We'll see what this week brings!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Recently a study by the University of Michigan revealed that the brain is not truly capable of performing many tasks at once. While it may seem like you can talk on your cell phone and drive at the same time, the authors of the study discovered the brain is actually switching from task to task. The brain puts one task down, so to speak, and takes a moment to pick up another one.

This job switching takes time. The study noted that the several tenths of a second it can take your brain to switch from one thing to another can add up to dangerous time. Take the aforementioned driving with the cell phone. During the time your brain is focused on the call, the car is still moving without it actually being under your control. That half second is enough time for an accident to occur. Scary thought, huh?

Any parent could have told them that multitasking is an illusion. While I may be simultaneously making dinner, unloading the dishwasher, helping with homework and thinking about the topic for my next blog post, I have a headache to prove that the synapses in my prefrontal cortex are sizzling under the demands. My life is lived in ten minute snippets of time. The path of unfinished tasks around my home tell the story of my fragmented life: a pile of half-folded laundry there; the computer opened to a half-written email here; the lonely grocery list sitting on the counter while I drive to the store.

The busy lives we weave together are not seamless. There are days the threads of our many tasks get tangled and snarled. But more often than not, we are putting down one and picking up the next thread with great skill. I have the deepest respect for the endless demands of all us multitasking parents. Just don't drive while talking on the cell phone!

Germans Don't Do Compliments

Did you ever see the Becks beer commercials featuring uncomfortable, emotionless Germans on dates or trying to perform Romeo and Juliet? The tag line was, "Germans don't do romance. Germans do beer."

That has been my life for the past 14 years with my husband of German descent. I've learned to see his affection and regard for me in other, less obvious ways. His getting the car detailed the morning we brought home our first daughter was his way of saying, "You are amazing and deserve the best." He figured out by daughter #2 that jewelry says it better.

You can imagine my complete, well, awe this morning when My German Husband gave me an outright compliment. Our daughters received their report cards yesterday and they were pretty darn great. Okay, they are only in kindergarten and second grade, but we are very proud of them just the same.

So, as I announced my first official paying freelance gig, my husband said, "You know, I've been thinking. The girls' reports cards were so great and that is all because of you, everything you do. Don't kill yourself with this substituting thing."

There were tears glistening in his eyes, no less. My mouth dropped right open. This is turning out to be quite a day!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Running into Her

She meant her words to be kind. As I stood there at age eleven in my baggy leotard in the empty dance studio, her words seem to reverberate off every mirrored wall."You have a great heart and a deep soul, my Bess," she said in her thick German accent. "But, a dancer you are not."

It was true that it took me longer to get the steps down than the other girls. "I need to practice harder?" My eyes searched her lovely, wrinkled face, trying to discern her words.

Miss Gray sat down gracefully on the piano bench and took my hands in hers, they were soft and covered with age spots. "Your mind understands the music, but your body does not follow."

I looked down at the worn wooden floor, the tears stinging my eyes as I finally understood what she was saying. All the practice in the world would not make me a better dancer. A world renowned ballerina had just told me so.

I walked home from the Fine Arts Center that day a changed child. It was not that I had great aspirations to dance--at the time I thought I wanted to be a lawyer someday. Yet, I had never had a door so firmly closed in my face or a mirror held up to starkly show my true abilities before.

That event skewed how I perceived myself for a long time. I was told that I wasn't good at ballet, but I'm afraid what I heard was that I wasn't good. My already fragile self esteem (whose isn't in sixth grade?) took a blow that day.

The years between the dejected ballerina and the woman I have become were ones spent searching for the strong, confident woman I wanted to be. I looked for her through an endless supply of beauty products from the grocery store or expensive department store cosmetic counters. I looked for glimmers of her in childhood pictures and stories of my younger antics.

My teenage years were difficult ones, though I would not contribute that solely to Miss Gray’s honesty. What she said was true and the blow she struck was made upon an ego already in jeopardy. It was perhaps a defining moment, but just one of many moments in a time full of a dizzying array of emotions.

My early twenties weren’t much better. I think I did a better job of seeming confident. The low self-esteem hovered just below the shiny veneer. I wore the mask of a flirtatious drinker, hiding my doubts in cute outfits. There were glimpses from time to time of the smart, considerate, caring person I hoped to be. But it’s funny how those lousy feelings eat away at all that is true and good in a person.

I never imagined that my first real look at the confident woman-in-waiting would be on the running trail. I started tentatively with mostly a need to dispel my nervous energy. I avoided the popular running trails, choosing instead the rag-tag streets around my apartment. Back then I was working full-time and putting myself through college. I lived in Austin, Tx, a veritable running mecca, and I thought everyone running around the crowded trails of Town Lake was training for a marathon. Then one day I just did it. I headed for one of the scenic trails and before I knew it I had covered four miles. My lungs wanted to explode and my legs were shaking, but I felt great. Better than great. Better than drunk.

It wasn’t about the distance; it was more the extraordinary thing that happened to me while I ran: I didn’t care what anyone else thought. Each step took me further from the self doubt, each run made me stronger. One day I just ran into her, the confident woman who was fast on her feet, dancing in her running shoes.