Monday, March 30, 2009

Where Were You When . . . ?

Certain dates stick out in my mind. Aside from the obvious choices which hold only a personal significance, I can very clearly picture exactly where I was when several key events occurred in American history. See if you can remember where you were when . . .

The Iran Hostage Crisis ended- January 20, 1981
Maybe it's not fair to ask you to remember where you were for this event because you may not have even been a teenager yet. I know I wasn't; it occurred on my tenth birthday which is probably a lot of the reason I remember it. Yes, Inauguration Day is always on my birthday, so it's pretty easy to figure out what I do on my birthday every four years. In 1981, I do clearly remember watching Ronald Reagan's inauguration on television with a group of my peers, and soon after Reagan officially became president it was announced that the hostages had been released. The only odd thing is that I associate the color red with this memory. For some reason, I recall sitting in a green or orange plastic school chair, but in a room with red carpet and walls. That part may not be accurate, though, because my elementary school definitely did not have any red walls. Maybe some of my fifth grade pals can help me out with this. I also remember January 20, 1981 because my cousin Craig finished his service with the U.S. Navy on this day. I really like Craig, except when he had a large, curly, red afro in the early 1970s. His hair scared me so much then that I used to hide from him.

Ronald Reagan was shot.- March 30, 1981

On March 30, 1981, my grandmother picked me up from my elementary school at the end of the day. As usual, she and I flipped on her rabbit ear television set when we got to her house about 3pm. Instead of "Guiding Light" that was usually on at 3pm (Yes, I watched soap operas with my grandmother. Maybe that's how I got so screwed up.), Reagan's attempted assassination was all over the news. I can still replay the video loop in my head that was shown repeatedly of Reagan and James Brady being shot by John Hinckley, Jr. (Yes, I know that I have a rather bizarre visual memory. My husband not-so-kindly refers to me as a "freak" when I can pull up very specific visual images in my mind.) Something about Reagan's attempted assassination when I was ten years old must have stuck with me, though, because I wrote an entire high school research paper about how John Hinckley, Jr. was inspired to shoot Reagan after he read J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

The space shuttle Challenger exploded.- January 28, 1986

I was in Mrs. Robertson's ninth grade Civics/ Economics class. Now I'm really interested in government and politics (Heck, I even majored in Political Science in college.), but there was nothing interesting about this class. All we did every day was read the textbook and answer the questions. The only entertainment came when someone interesting was in In-School Suspension which connected to Mrs. Robertson's class. My guess is that our navy-blue-haired teacher agreed to let a bunch of freshmen watch the Challenger launch because she preferred it over having to actually attempt to teach that day. Our group was kind of paying attention when she wheeled a tv into the class, and the space shuttle launch began. But, before we knew it, the Challenger exploded and our class got very, very quiet. Needless to say, the mood of our class changed dramatically that day.

September 11, 2001

I was teaching fifth grade at the same school where I attended elementary school. A bit after 9 o'clock that morning, one of the media assistants came by my room to tell me that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. She added that the school principal had asked the staff to not say anything to the students. Needless to say, the news that morning grew grimmer as more and more information came to light. If you can imagine, I was trying to lead a class of thirty active fifth graders while pretending that absolutely nothing was wrong. To make it worse, parents kept sporadically showing up to withdraw their children from school. As I told my class, there must have been a lot of doctor and dentist appointments that day. The hardest part was trying to keep it together personally. I was five months pregnant with my second child and very worried about what might occur before I could pick up my first child from daycare at the end of the day. To make the day truly horrifying, though, my dad was scheduled to fly out of Boston that morning, and a close friend since high school lived in NYC. Thankfully, my saintly teacher's assistant, seeing that I was an emotional wreck, took over the class for a bit so I could try to track down my father and my friend. My dad never made it to the airport that day. The hijackings and plane crashes occurred as he was driving, so he didn't turn in his rental car and kept driving along back roads well off of I-95 until he finally made it home. My friend in NYC was fine, shaken, but thankfully okay.

What days and times of your life do you remember very clearly? Where were you for these key events in American history?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Love Letter to a Daughter

Sometimes I think an alien being lives in my house. An alien being who raids my closet, yet complains she has nothing to wear; a person who has curlier hair than mine, but whose locks exhibit a beautiful auburn tint like my grandmother's did; A young lady who is concerned with bad hair days and makeup. A mom who worries about her first born growing up too fast. How did we get here?

It all started so simply...

Then came your first pocketbook...

The dollhouse that I played with as a child...

One of our many vacations at the Outer Banks...


Becoming a big sister...

Surprising me when you didn't like something that I enjoyed so much...

Learning what you love...

Exploring the world away from your home....

And developing roots to remind you about the things that are most important.

Now you are taller than I and possess your own specific talents and opinions. You read non-stop and have hair like mine, but you swim and play soccer like your dad.

Now instead of Barbies and doll houses, we share music and book recommendations. I am thankful that you share your thoughts with me. It is hard to believe that in eleven more years you will be on your own. I pray that you will make wise decisions regarding your future and know that one day it will take a special man to fully appreciate your spirited personality. I realize that you think you can take care of yourself, but, if it's okay with you, I'd like to help you out a little while longer. Please know that I'll always love and support you, even when you make mistakes or decisions that I may not necessarily agree with. I will always be here to hold you, hug you, and listen to you.

May God bless and protect you, my daughter, my first born.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Art Adventures

Yesterday afternoon, the kids and I hit one of our favorite hot spots, ArtQuest, a fantabulous locale where anyone can be an artist. Curly Girl and Car Guy wiled away a few hours checking out the various creative stations, such as the

Recycled Art Center,

Weaving Loom,

and the Zoetrope.

My kids really enjoy experimenting with the awesome art supplies that we don't have at home such as
watercolor pencils

and Kapla blocks.

We do have Kapla blocks at home, but our box of 100 just does not compare to a room full of several thousand pieces of balsa wood complete with instructional books showing all the cool things you can construct with them.

Admittedly, I cringe at the thought of paint and clay in the house. All I picture is the mess they are going to make. So going to ArtQuest enables Curly Girl and Car Guy to

sculpt with clay

and paint.

I even took a page from my children's book and painted a bit myself.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hot or Not?

Disclaimer: Mom, you probably should not read this.

My 7am Facebook update stated, "Angela is experiencing vampire withdrawal since she has finished reading the Twilight series." No, seriously, I am having withdrawal, and it is only going to worsen as the day creeps along. Bedtime may be possibly excruciating since I no longer have strong, cold Edward Cullen to curl up with at night.

But the funny thing is that several friends have commented that they, too, are addicted to the Twilight series. One of them even commented on my status asking, "Is it Edward's beauty? Is it the rampant sexual tension throughout?" I don't know. But is my life so pathetic that I am now living vicariously through a fictional vegetarian vampire's sex life? It's sad, really, I've even dreamed about Edward recently. Funny, Bella isn't there, though, it's only Edward and me.

Perhaps the bigger issue, however, is how the Twilight books differ from the typical romance fare available at the local bookstore. Twilight, Book One in Stephenie Meyer's series, consists mainly of smoldering looks and gentle caresses between the star-crossed lovers, certainly not the typical describe it-in-excruciating-detail-and-put-it-all-out-there approach of the Harlequin romance. When Edward and Bella finally kissed near the end of Twilight, my toes curled, and then I read the passage again. Even when the couple does finally have sex in Book Four, Breaking Dawn, Meyer does not utilize a lot of graphic description and leaves the details up to the reader's imagination. Honestly, for most of us, imagination usually triumphs over real-life every time.

I'm not being a prude here, but perhaps our mothers were right- less may be more. It's all about enhancing the experience. Think about it. Which was better?: The tentative then electrical hand-holding of your first love combined with the is-he-or-is-he-not-going-to-kiss-me feeling, as opposed to kissing a random guy at a party while still holding a beer in one hand; The slow build and foreplay that comes with an actual relationship vs. the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am approach to sex. Just saying, maybe there is something to the waiting.

Our culture doesn't tell us that anymore, though. We hear (and since I have a tween daughter this absolutely terrifies me), "Do what you want. It's great. Have a good time. No strings attached. Don't worry about it." But there are strings attached, emotional strings. We forget to tell our children that you lose a little bit of yourself every time you put yourself in a vulnerable position with another person. How many of us have had to avoid someone on the quad after making a poor decision with them several nights previously? Once you literally put it all out there, you can't take it back. That's all, I'm saying.

Think about it. Our search for sexual liberation and allowing anything and everything to be shown and seen may actually deprive us of a heightened sensory experience. Everyone wants better sex. Perhaps the slow build approach is the way to achieve it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stress Relief

I really made an effort today at relaxing and mellowing out. I contemplated putting myself in a day-long Mommy Time Out, but thought that would do more harm than good since the inmates (the kids) would then be running the asylum (the household). I did experience some success, however, with the following approaches:

1. Think of only one thing at a time, instead of looking at my entire to-do list.

This is really difficult for a type-A personality like myself, but I really, really tried to just think of one thing at a time, such as listen to Car Guy read The Beast in Ms. Rooney's Room, instead of, "We have to get this book read, so I can go over Curly Girl's math, and then clean the kitchen." Breaking down my day into manageable parts definitely helped, so I'm going to try this trick more often.

2. Dig in the dirt.

The kids and I started our garden today. Thanks to a friend's suggestion (Thank you, Debi) we are planting potatoes for the first time. Patrick cut the eyes out of the taters last night, and the kids planted them around the edges of our raised beds today. In anticipation of lots of laughs, I also screwed corn cobs onto the squirrel bungee. You wouldn't believe how much you can guffaw while watching squirrels hang on to a corn cob as they bounce up and down in the air. The best part is that since the squirrels are so busy with the corn cobs, they usually leave our garden alone.

3. Exercise.

I enjoy exercising several times a week, but it has been pushed to the side a bit over the last two weeks. Today I carved out 35 minutes, hopped on the elliptical, and watched part of a chick flick at the same time. It felt great and reminded me that I need to schedule exercise time, instead of waiting for it to magically fit into my routine.

4. Inhale hot tea.

I admit that I live off of caffeine. I have tried to wean myself off of it in the past and managed to whittle it down to one cup of tea a day when I was pregnant. Something about holding and sipping on a warm cup of tea automatically relaxes me, though, and I rationalize my five-cups-a-day habit by knowing that hot tea is much better for me than soda.

5. Make a favorite meal.

I have steeled myself and not baked a batch of brownies. I did decide, however, to make one of my favorite meals, angel hair pasta with sauteed shrimp, for dinner. Just like music, foods can remind you of specific times, people, and places- pasta and shrimp does that for me. So I baked a warm baguette and sauteed some shrimp in butter, lemon, and garlic before tossing them over pasta for a fabulous dinner.

6. Vary the routine.

Tomorrow the kids and I are going to hit one of our favorite creative hot spots- an area gallery with several dedicated rooms where children can create their own art. When I mentioned a possible artistic foray, Curly Girl and Car Guy leaped into the air in excitement.

Here's to a creative, stress-free day tomorrow! I hope you have a relaxing day, too.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Nibbling my Nails

I bite my nails. I always have, but especially when I feel stressed or overwhelmed. As you may have discerned, I have been nibbling my nails quite a bit recently.

My stressed out feeling started last week and has now built to a constant knot in my chest and stomach. I tend to burn the candle at both ends, and I really did so last week. Feeding my addiction to the Twilight series, I stayed up late every night reading Breaking Dawn. Then since I burned the midnight oil each evening, I couldn't drag myself out of bed to write at 5:30 in the morning. I know it sounds crazy, but early morning with my cup of hot tea and an absolutely quiet house is my most creative time of day. Not completing any work before the kids got up and moving each day last week made me feel like I was behind the eight ball all day every day.

Near the end of the last week, I finally figured out why I felt so out of sorts. My husband wasn't home. Thankfully, Patrick started a new job two weeks ago, and he was out of town all last week. When Patrick was previously home during the day, he frequently transported the kids to their afternoon activities, and I gained a few hours to write or enjoy some time for myself. With my husband, thankfully, back at work, I lost that time and have now been rushing out the door again mid-afternoon each day to piano lessons and soccer practices.

To make up for the chaotic week and help relieve my stress, my family gave me the biggest treat possible on Friday night- time to myself. Car Guy and his dad were going to a Cub Scout Camp-In at an area science museum, so my fabulous parents invited Curly Girl to spend the night with them. Yes, I had 18 entire hours all to myself. Admittedly, I just reheated some leftover Sir Pizza and worked until about 11pm, but I got to do so completely by myself and in total peace and quiet. Fourteen years of marriage and two kids later it doesn't take very much to make me happy. I'm pretty low maintenance these days.

Now that my Friday night solitude buzz has worn off, however, I am searching for more ways to destress, and preferably methods that don't involve food. I have been absolutely craving chocolate for the past week and have depleted all of my willpower resisting it. Over the past few days, it was all I could do not to bake a batch of brownies or visit Bruster's for a peanut butter cup sundae (one of my absolutely favorite things in the world- I loooove the combination of peanut butter cups and peanut butter sauce - yum!).

I really need destressing ideas that I can and will actually do. As much as I would love a night out at my favorite restaurant experience, fondue at The Melting Pot, it just isn't in the budget at the moment. I'm also not a bubble bath person- too much sitting still for too long. I have tried and heartily recommend the long, hot shower as stress release approach, though. For now, I'm going to go sack out in my massage chair while I watch "Dancing With the Stars." I know the show is cheesy, but I love it. It allows me to relive my teenage dancing days, while reminding me to add "ballroom dance lessons" to my life list.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sports Fanatics

In our family, we mark time by sports seasons. Every member of our crew plays and/or fanatically watches a particular sport.

Summer encompasses the laid-back summer swim season. Curly Girl has swum in summer league since she was six, and we're hoping that Car Guy will be able to freestyle or backstroke twenty-five meters so he can compete this year, too. Aside from that, we venture to the pool almost every day from June through August. I am just thankful that now I get to sit in a chair and read, instead of splashing around in the shallow end with a toddler.

Fall marks fall soccer for Car Guy and begins the year-round swim season for Curly Girl. Two years ago, when my daughter asked to swim year-round, I wasn't initially thrilled with the idea. After realizing what great exercise swimming offers and watching my husband relive his swim memories (He swam year-round in high school and for a Division I program in college), I now wholeheartedly support her year-round swimming. The only hard part is balancing her three times a week swim practices and weekend meets with Car Guy's weekly soccer practice and weekend games.

It does seem like fall centers around Florida Gator football, though. No, really, all Saturday plans from September through November must be scheduled around Gator football games. Patrick is obsessed with it. Thankfully, I have perfected the art of seemingly listening to a monologue debating the merits of the spread vs. the option, while actually thinking of something else. This past fall, Car Guy really got into the football zone with his dad. Little man insisted on watching the games, cheering, and asking lots of questions about the calls, plays, etc., and his dad loved every minute of it.
I am much happier, however, when basketball season begins. As a Duke Blue Devil, I obligingly follow football season, but know that things will always look up once basketball arrives. Aside from singing the fight song and cheering along with the Cameron Crazies on tv, I get to reminisce about the good 'ole days of camping out for basketball tickets in Kryzewskiville and burning benches after beating Carolina (See bench burning picture from the 1991 season below). Thank goodness my husband is a Duke fan because I really don't think I would have dated him for long, much less married him, if he cheered for UNC. Patrick even says he knew I was the one when I took him to the Duke-Carolina game at Cameron after we had been dating for about two months.

Spring heralds March Madness which is sometimes a fabulous time around here. My attitude toward the national event all rides on Duke's success in the tournament. Yes, I have been known to cry if the Devils go out too early for my liking, but I also already plan to take my kids on our annual Duke indoctrination field trip if we may need to purchase any new Duke victory t-shirts this year.

Spring also means the return of soccer season. Car Guy recently started playing again, and those nighttime February practices sure were cold. After a year's hiatus, Curly Girl is playing spring soccer, too. This year, we had the good fortune of learning about a JV soccer team that is run through a local homeschool athletic league, and my daughter is having a great time playing defense while making some new friends on her team.

How does your family mark the seasons? Sports, gardening, traditions, any other family activities?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Photography Bug

I think I may have been bitten by the photography bug again. I've always loved photographs, especially black and white ones. Several Ansel Adams prints hang throughout my home, and a Robert Doisneau print ventured to college with me and hung in my bedroom for many years after graduation.

Way back in high school and college, I would frequently head outside to see what bits of nature I could capture with my camera. During that phase, I snapped two of my all-time favorite images at a 1990 Pops in the Park symphony by the lake concert.

In the past fifteen years, though, I just haven't taken the time to look at nature through a lens. Yesterday, in hopes of changing my recent lack of creativity, I grabbed my camera and ventured outside. Curly Girl and Car Guy were taking afternoon classes at our local Environmental Center which has marvelous trails and a fabulous Greenway. So while Car Guy was learning about signs of the seasons and Curly Girl was orienteering, I seized the opportunity to tramp through the woods with my camera.

The first signs of spring are just beginning to appear. I absolutely love watching the Bradford pear trees and forsythia bloom, but my favorites are the lavender tulip and pink dogwood trees. I can hardly wait until they really burst forth in another week or two. I hope you are able to enjoy spring and its marvelous beauty, too.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why I Blog

I really debated about the whole blogging thing for quite awhile. I have several friends who regularly blog, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it myself. I kept thinking that it would be too revealing (Do I really want to put parts of my life out there for anyone to read?), too self-indulgent (Maybe some things are best kept stuffed deep in a box and not thought about and analyzed too much), and doubted that anyone would really care to read my blog (Honestly, my life is not that adventurous and exciting. Reading my blog is not going to fulfill anyone's escapist fantasies.).

The opportunity to preserve some family memories for my children finally motivated me to start writing, however. I do not scrapbook. I have all the supplies and materials to do so, but the thought of cutting ribbons and cute templates just does not appeal to me. Furthermore, I have several years' worth of pictures piled up to label and shove in photo boxes or the cheap albums that you just slide pictures into. I do feel guilty about this area of disorganization in my life. I keep meaning to work on the pictures, but I just never get around to it. By this point, the task seems so daunting that I just continue to shy away from it. But I do want to maintain everyday memories, like Car Guy's found-object art and Curly Girl's tutu-dress-up fixation, for my kids and I to reminisce about down the road. Around New Year's, a high school friend, Debi, wrote about creating a blog book from all of her posts from 2008. It then dawned on me that blogging would be a way to preserve our year without involving multi-colored pens and sticky tabs. By the way, Patrick, I would like a 2009 blog book for my birthday next year.

So I started blogging to further avoid scrapbooking, but I keep writing because it is just so cathartic. I do not talk about my feelings. They basically stay locked away inside myself to percolate and rumble around. I have feelings, doubts, and insecurities like anyone else, but I prefer to maintain a facade of "all is well." I'll convincingly tell you that everything is fine even when it very much may not be. I'll live an entire lifetime, sort through, and ruminate over issues completely in my head without involving anyone else. I know, I think too much, but I doubt that is going to change anytime soon. I have found, however, that I can more satisfactorily process my thoughts by writing about them. That's it; I write so I don't have to talk. If I write about it, I can pretend that I actually had a conversation with someone without having to really do so.

I am so much more comfortable communicating via written word than by any other medium. When writing, I can reread a note before sending it, and I'm such a visual person that I love having written words that I can look at again and again. I am also not a good phone-talker. It's flattering when a friend cares enough to pick up the phone and call, but with the kids running around, it is often hard to concentrate on the conversation. Furthermore, I tend to have verbal diarrhea. That's when you don't quite know what to say, so you ramble off on some random topic and before you know it, you have opened your mouth and inserted your foot. A real-life one-on-one conversation with a friend would be great, but hanging out at the soccer field or running in-and-out of the house to the kids' activities, doesn't exactly lend itself to baring your soul to another human being.

Blogging has had one drawback, however. I am not completely comfortable with people mentioning my blog to me in real-life. Old (meaning length of time known, not age) and close friends, you're fine. You've been around so long and seen me in some of my less-than-stellar moments that I'm an open book to you anyway. What I mean, though, are people that you try to maintain the facade "of everything is fine" with, but I guess that comes with the territory of blogging. Remember, I write about it so I don't have to talk about it. But, who knows, perhaps blogging will help me be more open to others and their thoughts and feelings. For now, I'm going to stay in my box, though. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Astronomy Days

My children and I are studying Earth Science and Astronomy this year. I include myself in that because I am gaining an awful lot, too. I have actually learned more science in the three years we have homeschooled than in my entire public school science career. I did somehow manage to avoid science classes in college, but in retrospect I should have ditched the math classes for some non-lab science activities.

I love literature, history, and the humanities. A science person I am not. High school biology and chemistry are a blur, and a close friend and lab partner (thank you very much, Katie) dragged me through and helped me survive the year of high school physics. I still have nightmares about how my pulley just kept collapsing and would not come close to working, and don't even get me started on how screwed up it was that our school had us take physics before learning calculus. Let me tell you that I was not happy when I took calculus the following year and discovered lots of mathematical shortcuts that could have improved my physics experience.

Since I approach science with quite a bit of fear and trepidation, I am always looking for classes and activities to add to our family's experiences. Today, Curly Girl, Car Guy, and I attended Astronomy Days that was organized by our local Parks and Recreation department. It was great, and we had so much fun.

Car Guy performed an experiment where he dropped spheres of different weights and sizes into a tub of cocoa powder and baking soda to form craters. He then measured the craters' widths and depths to infer why the objects formed craters of varying sizes.

Curly Girl sweetly assisted her brother as he created a true-to-scale model of our solar system. For the record, Car Guy is rather bent out of shape and upset about Pluto no longer being classified as a planet.

Both kids shot off some rockets and played with some cool expanding ball thing (How is that for some advanced scientific lingo?) meant to mimic an expanding universe.

We also developed telescope envy and learned about an astronomy shop that we want to visit in Raleigh.

Unfortunately, it rained non-stop all weekend and forced the cancellation of the star-watch parties associated with Astronomy Days. I am woefully in need of some star-spotting assistance. When the kids and I trekked outside one night last week to do some sky-watching, we experienced some success (Orion's Belt, Bellatrix, Beetlegeuse, Castor, Pollux, Canis Minor), but those were about all the stars I could identify. I have found out that a local observatory has public viewings on clear Friday nights, though, so the kids and I are going to try to hit that in the next few weeks.

I think we may have discovered a new hobby over here. It is so peaceful to look at the stars. On a warm spring night, I can hardly wait to venture to a secluded spot in the country, toss a blanket in a field, and lay back to look at the stars. Even if no one else in the family is up for a jaunt, I may just go by myself.


Hi Everyone,

I have adjusted some of the settings regarding Comments. Now you should be able to enter a comment under your name without logging into or having a Gmail account (Thank you for reminding me about this, JKK). You should also be able to comment as Anonymous or any other name (I'm thinking of my husband here who enjoys using names such as Tinkerbell and Mighty Mouse when we go to a restaurant that calls you for your food or table by name.) If the "Make a Comment" section still acts ornery, let me know, and I"ll see what else I can figure out.

Thank you all for reading!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"No Swords at the Table" (Part 2)

When you are expecting your first child, you have all these blissful daydreams about cooing, snuggling, and playing with your newborn. Remarkably, your eyes never tear up at the thought of projectile vomit and diaper blow-outs, though. Parenting is never quite what you think it will be. To add to my previous "No Swords at the Table" post, here are

5 More Unwritten Rules of Parenting:

1. You will turn into your mother.

No matter how many times you think, "When I'm a parent, I will never do such-and-such," you will. Despite your best efforts not to channel your parental role models, you will say, "Do I need to pull this car over!" and any other number of parenting comments. Even more, your house- from the laundry room to the bathroom- will turn into the house you grew up in. A few weeks ago, I just stood and looked at my pantry in awe. I now have my parents' pantry, chock full of soup cans, bread crumbs, pastas, and all sorts of other actually useful items. My husband and I have certainly come a long ways from the days of only having beer and Ramen noodles in the fridge and pantry.

2. Always check pockets before doing the laundry.

I frequently forget to do pocket-checks, so hopefully this will remind me to improve my pre-laundry routine. The obsessive-compulsive person that I am checks my pockets when I undress, so I incorrectly assume that everyone else does, too. I cannot tell you the number of rocks, matchbox cars, and coins that I have found in our washer and dryer after doing laundry. The worst offense occurred this past Monday, though, when Car Guy left a tube of Chapstick in his pocket. When I discovered the hot balm in the dryer, I did the stupidest thing I could have possibly done. I opened it and promptly covered my hands and legs in very hot liquefied Chapstick. Not a good thing. Needless to say, that evening I reminded everyone in the family about the importance of checking their pockets each evening.

3. Support your children's hobbies, no matter how strange they may be.

Strange hobbies, that is, not your children. Every child embarks on some rather odd undertakings from time to time. If it isn't collecting rocks from the yard, it's having a mock battle with a large tree branch as Car Guy attempted the other day. If it isn't creating notebooks of fashion designs, it's writing in Dwarvish and Elvin as Curly Girl has been doing lately.

Car Guy's fascination with designing seize towers, airplanes, cars, or anything else from recycled materials has been one of the most interesting hobbies my children have taken on, though. Car Guy gets so into his "found-object art" that I have caught him rooting through the recycling before it goes down to the curb. So he no longer goes dumpster diving, we now keep a staging area of recycled items in the garage for him to use. For Christmas this year, Car Guy even received a box full of trash as a gift. I know that sounds bad, but he loved it and started jumping up and down and screaming "Trash, trash, yeah" when he opened the box. His "found-object art" has come with some drawbacks, however. He does occasionally make items for family members to wear, such as the Sapphira costume he made for Curly Girl when he wanted her to act out Eragon with him. Knowing Car Guy's love of recycled materials, family members now save their toilet paper and paper towel rolls for him. Yes, it is a bit embarrassing to leave your cousin's house carrying a grocery bag full of toilet paper rolls. We also constantly run out of tape because Car Guy has used it all on his creations. But, when you see how proud your child is of his creations, you ignore the irritation and embarrassment and just keep buying tape and bringing home your family members' bathroom cast-offs.

4. Listen "attentively" to your children babble about topics that fascinate them.

Being a parent means becoming engrossed in whatever topics your children are interested in at that moment. Aside from his trash fixation, Car Guy is obsessed with cars, especially BMWs. He will speak at length about the characteristics of the different BMW models. Sometimes, I really get tired of hearing the play-by-play of every vehicle we see on the roads. Admittedly, I frequently half-way listen and nod my head while letting my mind wander elsewhere. Yet, I dutifully "listen" and hope that he will want to keep talking to me as he grows. At a more innocent age, Curly Girl pined for the Teletubbies and Barney. Now those interests have morphed into discussing the merits of Nick vs. Joe Jonas. I just hope that listening attentively now transfers into deeper discussions in the future.

5. You won't care if your children wear costumes in public.

This doesn't count on Halloween when everyone wears costumes. I mean wearing costumes out and about on a regular day. My kids have a long history of dressing-up. In the early elementary years, Curly Girl spent lots of time dressed up in my old, itchy dance recital costumes, and she even sometimes dressed up her brother. Car Guy is a big costume guy and has a closet-full of costumes to prove it. Some days he is a cowboy; other times it is Superman or a Ninja turtle. Yes, I have let him wear his costumes in public, and he was especially cute when he modeled his Incredibles costume at our local burger dive. It just doesn't bother me if he wears his costumes out and about. The only people who turn their nose up at him are those people who don't remember what it is like to be a kid, and I don't care about them anyway.

Being a parent is never what you expect it will be. Children make your best-laid plans go awry. But that's okay because often the best things are the unexpected ones.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"No Swords at the Table"

Yes, I said it. The other day I actually said, "No swords at the table" to my son as he came to dinner clothed completely in his gladiator costume- chest plate, helmet, and sword. I certainly did not find "No swords at the table" in any parenting book I have ever read. But there are lots of unwritten rules of raising kids that no one tells you about before the little ones are born. So for those of you who are thinking about having kids, have sweet infants that you can never picture doing anything wrong, or if learning about real kids is a form of birth control for you, here are

5 Unwritten Rules of Parenting:

1. Boys turn everything into a weapon.

Before having children, I told my husband that we would never have weapons, including any form of toy weapon, in our house. Our family members wouldn't need or want weapons; we were going to be all about "peace, love, and understanding" (with a nod to one of my favorite Elvis Costello songs). Well, I have eaten my words. Seven-year-old Car Guy now possesses a wide array of toy hatchets, muskets, pistols, holsters, battle-inspired costumes, and light sabers, along with a dedicated weapons baskets to store them all in his room.

2. What sounds good in theory doesn't always work in practice.

I, too, pored over the parenting books and magazines looking for the one magical trick to create perfect children and a harmonious home. But you know what, that trick doesn't exist. A few years ago, a friend informed me that her family was going to run democratically with everyone, including the children, having an equal say in family matters and decisions. When hearing this I just sort of snickered to myself and thought, "Yea, we'll see. I've been there. I've tried happy and sad M&Ms, time outs, stickers, positive reinforcement, you name it. Some of it worked some of the time, and some of it worked none of the time. The only thing that succeeds is consistent discipline and hard work on the part of mom and dad." Feel free to try out those new-fangled child-rearing theories, but the tried-and-true old-fashioned ones are tried-and-true because they work.

3. Your children will magnify every negative trait you have ever had.

As my children got older, this rule shocked me. When you are cradling your infant in your arms, you can't imagine that he or she would ever backtalk or intentionally disobey you. But let me tell you, your children will do all that and more. To make it worse, they look like little versions of their parents when they are up to no good. I always found my quick temper and tendency toward bossiness with lots of sarcasm tossed in to be adorable until those traits came right back at me via Curly Girl and Car Guy. Believe me, it is not a pretty sight to view yourself in the mirror of your own children.

4. You will do unimaginable things just because your children will love them.

Since Car Guy has been a toddler, I have done some things that I swore I would never, ever do. I have accompanied him to several Nascar race shops, gone on a tour of a racetrack, developed whiplash on the Indy Speedway at Magic Kingdom, and attended an extremely long, noisy session of short-track racing complete with monster trucks and a demolition derby all in the name of entertaining my son. I have also noisily cheered at the pig and duck races at the state fair, dressed innumerable Polly Pockets and Barbie dolls, and faced dehydration at mid-summer swim meets to bring a smile to Curly Girl's face. My husband even bravely accompanied Curly Girl to a Jonas Brothers concert teeming with screaming tween girls last summer all just to give his daughter a happy birthday. A college friend even recently signed herself and her daughter up for a mother-daughter hip hop dance class. Hey, when it comes to making your kids happy, you'll do almost anything.

5. Your life will change.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a pregnant friend say, "My life isn't going to change after having this baby. I'll still get to go out." No, you don't have to cloister yourself in your house after having a baby, but your life will change. You can no longer just hop in the car to go to dinner and a movie. Life will take some planning now. You will no longer be number one; your child will. Furthermore, babies may not be so welcome at your previous haunts. Hear me on this, "Babies do not go to bars."

You see, parenting is fraught with many unwritten rules that no one bothers to tell you about. I'm still mulling over some more of these and will probably blog about them next time.

Happy parenting!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Teen Angel

Yesterday, I enjoyed a completely relaxing afternoon and evening. After dropping off Car Guy at my parents, I leisurely read trashy tabloid magazines as I had my hair cut. Then I chilled out all by myself in my house before going to dinner at the fun and funky Mellow Mushroom. My steak and bleu cheese pizza was fabulous, but the best part of the dinner was the pint of Ace Perry Cider that washed it down. After getting home and tucking the kids in for the night, I curled up on my bed to watch "Chocolat" before I dozed off to dreamland with the windows open on a heavenly spring evening.

Aaaaah...pure relaxation. I especially enjoyed the "Chocolat" part of the evening. I just love that movie- quaint French village, chocolate, Johnny Depp. Oh, yes, Johnny Depp- my favorite part of the movie. I freely admit to having a celebrity crush on Johnny Depp- you know, hot, artsy, bad boy with a heart of gold Johnny Depp. I also entertain a thing for Patrick Dempsey, as in tall, dark-haired, handsome with just a hint of stubble Patrick Dempsey.

Do you remember your first celebrity crush? I clearly remember picking up Tiger Beat magazine at the store as a tween and early teen. Aaaah.... the cute boys, the celebrity gossip. My first celebrity crush was Shaun Cassidy. Now don't laugh, he and his feathered hair were hot in the late-'70s and early-'80s. The other day I dug through stacks of mix tapes and albums in the garage to unearth my old Shaun Cassidy album, complete with "Da Doo Run Run." Alas, the pull-out poster that formerly hung on my wall was no longer in the album cover. I definitely had a thing for Shaun Cassidy and never missed him in an episode of "The Hardy Boys" on tv.

I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still Da doo ron ron ron da doo ron ron.
Somebody told me that his name was Bill

Da doo ron ron ron da doo ron ron.

The tween girl in my house has definitely ventured into the "boys are cute" celebrity crush stage. The Jonas Brothers, especially Nick, seem to be the current object of desire. Curly Girl liked the JoBros before, but after her dad took her to their concert for her birthday last summer, her mild attraction blossomed into Jonas Brothers mania. Yes, I do like the JoBros and have been known to drive around with the windows down blasting their tunes in my mini-van. I'll even admit to thinking Joe (in the center) and Nick (on the right) are rather cute.

So who was your first celebrity crush? Leif Garrett, Donny Osmond, Andrew McCarthy? Who? Come on, spill the beans. Everybody wants to know.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Life List

"In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love."- Mother Teresa

I have been in such an introspective mood lately, so much so that I repeatedly ruminated over the thoughts in my head as I ran today. So instead of working off some stress to the sounds of U2, I pondered the meaning of life for forty-five minutes. What was I thinking?

I fully admit that I have a fabulous life, a life that many people would probably envy. I have two great kids who I spend time with every day; I work part-time from home on my own schedule; I don't worry about the annoying details of life, like fixing the sink or paying the bills; I am happily married and secure in my marriage. So what in the world am I doing pondering what I don't, or think I don't, have?

You see, I live the life I never thought I would have. Growing up and in college, I always pictured myself as a jet-setting artsy career woman, and if the mood struck me, I'd toss in a husband and maybe some kids for good measure. But along the way, thanks to my husband, those dreams changed. Now I own a life filled-to-the-brim with small things done in love, such as planting gardens and reading to my children, not the grand, exciting acts that gain worldly adoration and acclaim.

But as much as I love being with my family, there are things that I want to do just for me, just for myself for no other reason than because I want to do them:
  • Read and be able to intelligently discuss the literary classics (I am making decent progress on this by classically homeschooling my children.)
  • Visit all the grand museums of the world (I've already checked off the museums of Paris & NYC.)
  • Travel, travel, travel (I've hit much of the US, Canada, the Caribbean, England, France, Belgium, and Germany, but it's been awhile since I've left the country and I'd love to jaunt all over the world with my family in tow.)
  • Venture to Africa and Asia on humanitarian mission trips
  • Renovate and live in an old farmhouse
  • Be fluent in a language other than English (My French was pretty good for a while, but has since gone woefully downhill, and my attempts at German in college progressed horribly. I think my best chance is going to be learning Spanish with my daughter.)
  • Earn my Masters. A Ph.D. would be cool, too, but just because I'd like the Dr. title in front of my name.
  • Complete a triathlon on my own, not as part of a team
  • Be a published author (I know, I'm already published. But that's just literature guides that teachers use in their classrooms. Creating a novel or an interesting book of essays would be fabulous.)
Realistically, I know that life is all about seasons. I don't have to do everything now. I am currently in the throes of my parenting season, a time that I will never be able to regain. If nothing else, parenting teaches us all about delayed gratification- with our kids and with ourselves. Part of being a mature parent involves putting your children's needs ahead of your own wants. But here is my question: At what point is your own delayed gratification, not as a parent, but as a human being, no longer acceptable? At what point do you trade in some of your time with your family to do something completely for yourself that you want to do just because you want to do it? Where is the line between being egotistically self-serving and painfully selfless?

The dilemma comes in dreaming of having a life filled with the "great things," but sometimes feeling like you are drowning in the "small things." Small things are necessities; they provide all of us with stability in a world that often feels out of control. Admittedly, our society doesn't value full-time parenting as much as we should, often making those of us who have chosen that path feel like we aren't living up to our potential. But, that's okay, I'm willing to live with being looked down on by some people to spend every day doing the "small things in great love" for my family. I realize that before I know it, it will be just Patrick and I staring at each other across the kitchen table while the kids are living their lives on their own. Then, hopefully, I'll have plenty of time to check off the items on my Life List, the ones I haven't already completed, that is.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Triathlon Time

Yesterday, I registered for a triathlon. Actually, it's more of a "we" registered than a "me." After deciding that I needed reinforcements, my daughter, husband, and I signed up to compete as a team. Curly Girl will swim, Patrick will bike, and I will run.

I have been wanting to attempt a triathlon for a year or two, ever since a series of women-only super-sprint triathlons started in NC last summer. Last year, I had actually been training for an August event when I slipped, fell, and stumbled ungracefully off one of our two deck steps and seriously sprained my ankle. That put me out of commission for six to eight weeks last summer which meant no training for a triathlon.

I was inspired to check out triathlons after my husband completed several triathlons over the past few years. Instead of the stressful, intense venues I had pictured, the events were supportive, friendly affairs. So, in anticipation of attempting a triathlon, I swam, or attempted to swim, laps a few times near the end of last summer and discovered that swimming is much harder than it looks. It always looked so easy. My daughter swims competitively now and Patrick swam Division I in college, so I thought the sport really couldn't be that hard. I was wrong and learned that is going to be a big leap from my previous jump-off-the-diving-board approach to actual lap swimming. I still want to improve my swimming skills, but it is probably best to hand that leg off to my daughter for now.

When registering as a team, I very clearly specified to my husband that he had to actually train for his cycling leg of the race. For most people, training seems like the obvious thing to do, but this is not true for Patrick. Several years ago, he got a wild hair to sign up for a triathlon in our area. Now this would be great if he had decided to do so more than two weeks prior to the triathlon. Yes, I said two weeks. For some reason he thought that since his twenty-year-old body could complete triathlons on minimal training, his thirty-five-year-old body could do so, too. Disregarding my begging and pleading, he stuck to his guns and went to the triathlon. Let's just say that I wouldn't even take Curly Girl and Car Guy to the event since I was so sure the day would end in a medical emergency for their father. Well, Patrick swam (after learning that the muscular guy competing beside him was an ex-Navy Seal), but then clearly ignored my plan of just finishing the day alive when he decided to keep pace with other riders during the bike leg. After that debacle, I was thankful when he agreed to stop racing without attempting the run.

The triathlon bug had bitten Patrick, however, and he was determined to complete an event in the near future. The next season he trained, complete with getting chased by two large German shepherds while biking up a very steep hill near our house, and did complete both events he entered. Since I felt better about my husband's conditioning, I did actually take the kids to the events. One even included a trip to the beach with a dicey ocean swim where several people were pulled out of the water, as well as a beach run in wet sand.

But, I did actually enjoy the events and thought I could maybe, possibly do that. Besides that whole competitive thing of not wanting to be outdone by my family members kicked in. My husband had completed triathlons, and Curly Girl even finished a youth triathlon, complete with barfing at the finish line, a few years ago.

So, I don't think I'm ready for a full triathlon this year (I'm too chicken to do the swim), but I can swing one leg of the event. So, I'll start there. This summer I'll focus on running, then add in some biking and swimming for 2010. And now that I've told everyone about it, I feel more committed than ever. I think I can ... I think I can....I think I can...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow Day

We had a snow day today! Yea! For the first time in several years, we received enough snow to actually go sledding. Growing up, it seemed like we got a decent snow about once a year, but for some reason that hasn't happened in recent winters (I know, blame it on global warming.).

Playing outside today brought back so many snow day memories. When I was about four or five, my dad had a huge round Coca-Cola sign that we used as a sled. Riding in it was like being on the tilt-a-whirl at the fair as we slid down the huge hill beside our house. For some reason, I always remember sledding at night, though. When I was a teenager, I lived by a golf course which had lots of great hills. Whenever it snowed, I would walk to a friend's house on another part of the course, and we would spend the entire day on the hill behind her house or head over to the driving range with all the other kids in the neighborhood. At the end of the day, I'd trudge back home in time for dinner before I collapsed into bed for the night. What great memories!

I love to glimpse the new-fallen snow before anyone traipses through it or drives down the street. To try to memorialize the peaceful scene, I grabbed my camera and headed outside early this morning to take some pictures of the quiet, serene scene.

The quiet was over, though, when Car Guy woke up and looked out his window. He could hardly wait to put on his unworn snowsuit and head outside. Since we live on a hill, our driveway is great for sledding. After digging the sleds out of the back corner of the garage, we all took turns sliding down the hill, making snowballs, and enjoying the morning.

I have learned the hard way, however, that it is best to sled down the driveway. Several years ago, for reasons that I no longer remember, I elected to slide down the hill in our front yard, instead of selecting the obvious choice of the driveway. All was going well until I hit a bump near the bottom of the incline and flew into the air. Once I hit the ground, I crumpled up in a fetal position and lay in the snow in pain for several minutes, as my dear, attentive, ever-concerned family members stood at the top of the hill doubled over in laughter. No, my husband and daughter never came down the hill to help me, and I had to then crawl back up the hill by myself. Turns out, I broke my tailbone during that little stunt and will never, ever, ever sled down the hill instead of the driveway again.

Luckily, we did not have any sledding injuries at our house today. Almost all of the snow melted off of our driveway in the afternoon sun, though. So it looks like we won't be doing any sledding tomorrow.