Archive for May, 2011


Monday, May 30th, 2011

Happy Memorial Day.  I hope you’re enjoying the end of your long weekend.

As a little reward to myself for blogging through my first trimester (when I really could have used the break) I’m taking a couple of weeks off from blogging.  I’ll be back in mid-June feeling refreshed and full of interesting thoughts.

See you back here soon!

Wherein I Accept My Own Limitations

Friday, May 27th, 2011

I think I started down this path a couple of weeks ago when I opted to read Prep instead of continuing to stall out in my attempts at Anna Karenina.  What I wasn’t ready to tell you then was that my failure with Tolstoy had much to do with being pregnant, and with the fact that lately if I get into bed at 9:30 my typical half hour of reading is always trumped by the opportunity for more sleep.  Nevertheless, I made the decision (for which I continue to be glad as I am now devouring Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto) to accept the fact that, despite my best intentions, I had bitten off more than I could chew.  It seems I have arrived at such a crossroads again.

A couple of months ago I told you about my upcoming cupcake battle with GAP’s family.  When I wrote that post I was eager for Cupcake Wars.  My competitive spirit had been stirred.  I made the first of what I thought would be many batches of trial cupcakes in pursuit of my best contender.  But shortly thereafter that plan was derailed (also by pregnancy).  The first trimester sends my regular sweet tooth into hiding and has me craving salty, savory foods.  The mere thought of multiple batches of cupcakes (and worse yet, frosting – blech!) was enough to make my stomach turn.  As it turned out, my first trial batch was also my last.

I changed tack and decided to submit my entry into the savory cupcake category – I was charmed by thoughts of tiny chicken pot pies and potato gratins tucked into cupcake wrappers.  I would conquer the cupcake battle yet!

As it turns out, that plan has fallen by the wayside as well.  The reason?  IEP.

Early this month I spent six days on the West coast with my sister and her new baby.  It was, as always, difficult being away from my adorable and increasingly hilarious son, but it was an important trip, and one which I wouldn’t trade.  Then, for the first half of this week I was in San Diego for work.  This weekend we will be busy with GAP’s family.  And early next month I will be away for several days again.  This meant that upon arriving home Wednesday night I had two evenings with IEP before the craziness of weekend family plans and additional travel began whittle away at my time with him.

I could have spent those two evenings crafting tiny pot pies (which, for the record, would have been delicious and prize worthy), but making such creations would also have made me, well, miserable.  I would have been guilt-ridden by my divided attention, and would not have enjoyed what should have been a fun culinary project due to the acute pains of being spread too thin.

I don’t like saying “I can’t.”  It doesn’t roll off my tongue easily.  And if we want to get technical about things I could have gotten it all done.  I could have stayed up late, sacrificed sleep, ignored the sage suggestions of my husband to let something slide, and managed to squeeze a few batches of savory cupcakes into two evenings packed with laundry, dog walking, packing, and limited toddler snuggling.  But here’s what’s great about being 33 instead of 23: I don’t want to.

Aging certainly has its drawbacks.  My body doesn’t look like it did 10 years ago.  I have plucked at least half a dozen grey hairs from my head in the past month.  And 11:00 at night feels awfully late these days.  But today I have confidence that was totally out of reach in my twenties.  I have nothing to prove – especially to GAP’s family who has known and loved me for nearly a dozen years now.  I can bow out of Cupcake Wars without a dent to my pride.  I can easily explain that things have been crazy lately and I felt it was more important to spend my free time working puzzles with my son than tweaking recipes in the kitchen.  I can fawn over everyone else’s delicious confections without thoughts of inadequacy swirling in my head.

And let me tell you what – it feels good.

It’s hard admitting what I can’t do.  It’s hard accepting that I have limitations.  But I know from experience that it’s even harder to live a life under the delusion that I don’t.  I’m disappointed to withdraw from a fun family competition.  I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to tell white lies about secret ingredients and playfully trash talk with my sisters-in-law.  But 10-ish years of adulthood and two-and-a-half years of motherhood give a girl perspective.  And what a relief that is.

Thoughts from La Jolla

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Thank you all for your kind congratulations on my little announcement on Monday.  It is an exciting time in the life of our family and I was likewise excited to share it with you.

I’m sorry I wasn’t able to respond to your comments as they were written.  I was in the air most of Monday, making my way to the San Diego area for work.  As you can see from the photo below (taken from my hotel room), it’s miserable here.

Paradise aside, this trip has gotten me thinking about the blessings and curses of business travel.  Here I am with enjoying an unparalleled climate, laughs and meals with coworkers, and the luxury of sleeping past 6:00.  And yet at the same time my thoughts drift toward home – toward my husband and my son, both of whom I miss deeply, and toward the tornado-riddled Midwest.

In the midst of these thoughts there is another thought that courses through my head – a thought I have some measure of guilt about: Why can’t I be from here?  Of course, we could move here if we wanted to.  But we can’t move our families and we can’t move our roots.  They are in the Midwest and there’s nothing I can do about that.  There are  many things about the Midwest that I find maddening.  The cold, icy winters and the hot, humid summers.  The politics.  The lack of emphasis on arts.  The poor air quality and the poor public schools.  And yet, the Midwest is where we’re from.  It is home.

I don’t know if we’ll always live in the Midwest.  And in the midst of trips like this, it becomes very easy to imagine a life someplace else.  As avid and eager travelers, GAP and I debate this conundrum often.  We love our life as it is, but we love to imagine our life as it might be in some other place.  We think of all that we would gain, and of all that we would lose.

And this brings me back to my original thought – why can’t we just be from here?  It would make things so much easier.

Worth the Wait

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Thank you all for your responses to Friday’s post.  I really appreciated your concern and advice.  In situations like these it’s hard to separate yourself from the issue at hand and get an objective grasp on whether or not you’re overreacting.  I did end up calling a non-emergency police number and requesting a welfare check at the address I had on file for Amy.  Unfortunately, she provided that address a couple of years ago and the current tenants have only been there since late last year.  So, it’s not a valid address for her anymore.  At this point I think there really is nothing left for me to do.  I’m hoping that it’s all been some huge misunderstanding and that we’ll get some good news soon, but that hasn’t happened yet.  I will certainly keep you all posted.  Now, for some lighter fare.

For the most part I don’t consider myself an impatient person.  However, every now and then I get anxious for something that is weeks or months or years away.  In these moments I try to remind myself of all the things in my life that have been worth the wait.  I’m feeling a little impatient about something lately, so I thought I’d go through this little exercise today.

  1. A marriage proposal from GAP.
  2. The ending of “The Grapes of Wrath.”
  3. Our two-week vacation to Italy in 2006.
  4. The release of the seventh Harry Potter book.
  5. My first trip to New York (when I was 28).
  6. The purchase of our first house.
  7. The ending of “Gone with the Wind.”
  8. Meeting my sister’s new baby (only a week after she was born, but it felt like much longer).
  9. My first trip abroad (to the UK when I was 19).
  10. The birth of IEP.

That last one is particularly salient to me right now, because it is another impending birth that has me eagerly anticipating the future.  To put a finer point on it, we are expecting our second child.  I’m about four months along now, and am due in early November.

In the first few months of a pregnancy the anticipation takes a back seat to many other feelings – exhaustion and nausea to name a couple.  But as I’ve started to feel more like myself, and as I’ve started to feel ever-so-tiny flutters, the abstract becomes tangible and my patience begins to wane.  Nevertheless, I don’t want to meet my baby a moment before we cross the threshold into November.  So in the meantime, I will have to be content with tiny kicks and blurry ultrasound images.

When Does It Become Meddling?

Friday, May 20th, 2011

I come to you today seeking guidance.  There exists a continuum on the spectrum between concerned and meddling, and I’m not quite sure where the midpoint is.  A bit of background for you…

Late last week I e-mailed one of our regular babysitters (Nanny had plans) to ask if she could babysit Sunday evening while GAP and I went out for our anniversary to our favorite Irish pub for some fish and chips and a set or two of live music.  No problem, she said.  Then on Sunday evening, about 30 minutes prior to her scheduled arrival time I surprised GAP with the news that we were going out and to get dressed.  Six thirty came and went.  I called the sitter and left a voice mail.  I texted from GAP’s phone (people often forget I can’t text…).  And then, an hour later I sent an e-mail saying I assumed she wasn’t coming and could she please touch base and let me know what happened.

On Monday I posted a little recap of our anniversary on our private family blog, and mentioned the failed pub outing in passing.  One of our best friends read my post and inquired if the babysitter in question was (we’ll call her) Amy, because Amy had failed to show up for them earlier in the weekend.  Our no-show was indeed Amy.

We have left many messages for Amy asking her to confirm that she’s okay.  I called the emergency contact numbers I had to check on her, only to find disconnected numbers and outdated voice mail boxes.  I called the university where she’s enrolled and talked to the Dean of Students, whose emergency contacts were no more fruitful than my own.  Another friend of ours checked the Highway Patrol logs to confirm that her name wasn’t listed in any accidents.  It wasn’t.  Then yesterday morning she failed to show up for a fourth friend of mine for a date that had been set a couple of weeks prior.

The long and short of it is this: we’re worried.  She has been watching IEP on an as-needed basis for two years.  She babysits for my good friend at least weekly.  She has never been more than five minutes late.  She has never failed to respond to calls or e-mails.  This is highly out of character for her.  And yet, I’m not sure how far to take my concern.  If she were our regular nanny, or a close friend, or a relative I’d have called the police days ago.  But she isn’t.  So at what point does my well-intentioned concern cross the line into intrusive meddling?

I want to do the right thing.  But I’m not sure what the right thing is at this point.

Mickey Mouse’s Get Rich Quick Scheme

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

When you learned of the death of Osama bin Laden, what was your first thought?  Actually, scratch that.  What was your tenth thought?  What was going through your mind the next day as the story unfolded and the details (many erroneous – tsk, tsk) spilled forth?  Did you weigh out whether or not you felt happy about the death of another person?  Did you marvel at the bravery and strategic mettle of our armed forces?  Did you shake your head in disbelief as you tried to put yourself in President Obama’s shoes with such a huge decision on the line?  Or did you see dollar signs?

I’m not a sociologist or a social worker or a shrink, but I’d wager that those first three responses were totally normal – universal even – given the magnitude of what had happened.  On the other hand, if you’d told me that within a handful of days you’d filed trademark applications for the name “SEAL Team 6″ (the illustrious group that executed the bin Laden raid), I might have, ever-so-politely of course, suggested that you were a sociopath.  And yet, that is exactly what the Walt Disney Company did.

Yes, my friends, in the wake of this national moment most of us grappled with a buffet of conflicting emotions.  We sorted out fact from rumor.  We sat in disbelief that this man, who had so long seemed a phantom, had actually been found in the flesh.  But while the rest of our heads were still spinning, Mickey and Donald and the gang trotted their way straight to the patent office and made sure they’d get a sweet payday out of the deal.

I’m no fool.  I know that Disney is not all princesses and fairy dust and Mouseketeers.  It is a behemoth, and an immensely profitable behemoth at that.  The Magic Kingdom may peddle a dream of childhood innocence, but the magic word here is “peddle.”  As in “sell.” As in “they’re not giving anything away for free.”  Not Disneyland admission.  Not movie tickets.  Not stuffed, flammable dolls of Minnie or Simba or Ariel.  So it’s not like I’m living in a dream world believing that Disney exists merely for the good of humanity.  But this?  I found this move a little unseemly even for a mega-corporation.*

Beyond my moral aversion to this news, I question both the legal viability of such a trademark as well as the business wisdom.  From the legal perspective, how can a corporation trademark the name of a U.S. military organization?  Surely names like Army, Navy, and Marines are owned by the federal government, that is if they do not supercede ownership altogether.  Does Disney really have a case here?  I asked a lawyer friend this very question and his answer was: absolutely.  He surmised that something as big as “U.S. Navy” is probably already trademarked,  but such a small and heretofore not-so-famous military squad may well not be.  And there’s nothing to stop Disney from laying claim to it if they get there first.

As for the business wisdom, I wonder what Disney’s intentions for this trademark are.  Will they merely ring up royalties any time a news outlet mentions the name of the SEAL team in question?  Or will they plaster it on lunchboxes and action figure sets available in every Target and Toys R Us nation wide?  If it is the former, wouldn’t royalty-paying types just take care not to use the name “SEAL Team 6″ (which, if we’re being persnickety, and clearly I am, was technically dissolved in 1987 and renamed United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group)?  And if it’s the latter, is there no concern that today’s lunchbox-toting set has zero recollection of September 11th, and further that their parents may be reluctant to purchase such toys for fear of thrusting the concept of terrorism at their kids too early?  Perhaps the opportunity cost of filing an application was too low to worry about such pitfalls.  Certainly products aimed at an older demographic (movies, video games, etc.) are more likely commercialization candidates.  But I still question whether the mere presence of a viable target market validates the creation of a product that, when you get right down to it, ultimately profits from acts of terrorism and revenge.

Much like the celebration itself that ensued after bin Laden’s death, this situation leaves me feeling icky.  So today I will force myself to be thankful for free speech and a free economy.  Because in moments like these it’s their dark side that shines the brightest.

*That is not to say that I think Disney is a fundamentally a bad company, or that I wouldn’t patronize them.  On the contrary, we, along with GAP’s entire family, are already planning a trip to Disney World for next year and I am quite looking forward to it.  Nevertheless, I find this particular decision unfortunate and unsavory.

Then and Now

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Then we had been married less than a day.  Now we have been married seven years.

Then we were 26 and only thought we were adults.  Now we are 33 and realize we’re still not really adults.

Then we made each other laugh.  Now we still make each other laugh.

Then we were in graduate schools and had entry level positions.  Now we have actual careers.

Then we had no house plants, pets, or children.  Now we have no house plants, two dogs, and a little boy.

Then we had just moved into our first apartment together.  Now we have lived in our house for five years.

Then we road-tripped to Cardinals spring training and listened to Atlas Shrugged on cd the whole way there and back.  Now we are planning a trip to Ireland for later this summer.

Then we were still the youngest generation in the family.  Now we have seven nieces and nephews.

Then we had not taken our baby to the emergency room in the middle of the night for croup.  Now we understand how to get him through it at home.

Then I had no idea how to host a dinner party without getting in over my head.  Now we are a comfortable host and hostess team.

Then we thought that a handful of standup comics were the funniest people we knew of.  Now we laugh harder at our two-year-old than anyone else in our lives.

Then we were in love.  Now we are still in love.

Over the weekend GAP celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary.  While much about our lives has changed in the past seven years, I think most of the really important stuff is has stayed exactly the same.  Happy anniversary, GAP.  I love you.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Friday, May 13th, 2011

I take my vitamins.  I walk my dogs every morning.  I go to the gym about three times each week.  I don’t drink coffee and rarely drink soda.  I eat my vegetables.  I get regular checkups.  And yet, the best thing I’ve done for my health in the past six months may have been the decision to stop eating lunch alone in my office and start eating in the company cafeteria with three coworkers.

As it turns out, our health is the product of a much greater combination of factors than merely what we eat and how often we exercise.

While trolling The Huffington Post yesterday I came across this article about how the Mediterranean diet isn’t just about food.  As a longtime disciple of fish, vegetables, and olive oil I was intrigued.   After World War II a group of researchers began the Seven Countries Study, which evaluated the health of more than 12,000 participants.  According to the article’s author, Georgianna Donadio, the study accurately identified that “certain Mediterranean lifestyles and dietary patterns were connected with good health.”  But the study failed to look beyond the food-based components of the Mediterranean Diet and further evaluate the lifestyle as a whole.

“…the Mediterranean Diet is not just about what people eat. It is about the values, habits, relationships, quality of how food is grown and the quantity of how food consumed by these particular groups — not just how or what they eat. … The whole health of an individual is about the physical, emotional, nutritional, environmental and even spiritual components that create our overall state of health. Our dietary choices and habits can be seen as a metaphor of what the overall or whole picture of that individual’s health is expressing. We eat how we think, feel, work and behave, all of which are influenced by our environment, values, age, financial and education levels and even by our gender.”

This explanation got me to thinking about a passage I read nearly a year ago in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.  Gladwell begins the book with a description of an Italian immigrant community in Pennsylvania in the mid-1900s.  The first generation immigrants in the late 19th century kept many of the old country’s culinary ways, but as their roots grew deeper in America they adopted many of their new home’s tastes.  A young physician was alerted to the strikingly low incidence of heart disease and other comorbid conditions and began to study the community.  What this physician found was a dietary and exercise culture like that of any other Pennsylvania community, as was their genetic makeup.  A thorough analysis of the community pointed to the town itself as the source of such good health.  Gladwell points out that it was the transplant of the paesani culture of Southern Italy – the intergenerational families, the civic organizations, the unifying effects of the church, and the neighborly culture – that insulated these people from the pressures (and ailments) of modern life.

These kinds of studies fascinate me.  It seems we are always looking for the short answer or the quick fix.  How easy it would be if the silver bullet to good health were contained in some tiny pill.  How easy it would be (relative to the truth, that is) just to adhere to a regimented diet and exercise plan.  But in today’s world, you know what is hard?  Participating in a community.  (And I’m not talking about Facebook or the blogosphere here!)  It’s hard to reach out to people all the time.  It’s hard to let other people reach out to you.  It’s hard to carve out time and effort for your friends, neighbors, and relatives.

We constantly bemoan the busyness of our lives.  As a working mother this genuinely resonates with me.  But studies and anecdotes like these always grab my attention.  There are incredible health benefits to friendship and community.  We may think that we are just fine going it alone – or even going it only with our immediate family.  But we are likely wrong.

I’ve yet to read a study indicating that strong friendships and strong communities are overrated and not worth the work.  If I ever do, I’ll be sure to let you know.  In the meantime, I think I have some reaching out to do.  Or at the very least, I should go eat lunch with my work friends.  I have to look out for my health, you know.

Realistic, Flexible, and Tolerant

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Last year I was something of a New Year’s Resolutions maven.  I laid out my resolutions on January first and lived up to each of them all year long.  It was incredibly satisfying.

So far, this year has been different.  At the moment, I’m one for nine.  (I have actually been pretty good about carrying reusable grocery bags.)  Here we are, more than a third of the way through the year and I have only one victory to my name.  I still have plenty of time to make good on most of my promises, but there’s one in particular that has been a real struggle and I have a strong suspicion that it’s not going to improve.  My nemesis this year?  Reading.

This particular failing hits me hard because my reading goal for last year – to read more nonfiction – was a smashing success.  I devoured one nonfiction title after another.  As a lifetime reader of novels up to that point I was both invigorated by and impressed with my ability to find such strong affection for a new genre.  Not only did I like trying something different, but I liked having a reading goal for the year.  I established a new reading goal for this year – to read literary classics – and was eager to replicate last year’s success.

By this time last year I’d finished about five books within my goal category.  My tally this year: none.  I’ve been 20 pages into Anna Karenina for about three months now.  Every time I pick it up I enjoy what I read, but can’t seem to plow through more than three or four pages at a time and finally stalled out completely a month or so ago.  It’s completely depressing.  I’ve had some big distractions lately which make my failure slightly more tolerable.  Nevertheless, I’m still disappointed in myself.

The silver lining to all this, though, is that I’m about to permit myself a paradigm shift.

I don’t like not reading.  And for whatever reason Tolstoy, Cather, Dickens, the Brontes, Shakespeare, Proulx, and Franzen aren’t doing it for me right now.  As long as I keep myself boxed into this category, reading just doesn’t appeal to me.  Since not reading at all is not a path I’m willing to take (that would be a bigger failure than merely flaking out on my classics goal), I’ve decided to change tack.  And I have my new niece to thank for that.

I flew out to the West coast last Friday to visit my sister’s tiny and darling lump of a baby.  Since I wasn’t especially enthralled with the book I had brought along I started perusing her shelves when I got here.  Without much thought I picked up her copy of “Prep.”  For reasons I can’t adequately articulate, but which almost certainly relate exclusively to misperceptions about the quality of the writing and the relevance of the subject matter, I didn’t read it when it hit the bestseller lists about five years ago.  Something about being in vacation mode permitted me to indulge myself of a book with a pink grosgrain belt displayed across the dust cover.  But within the first 10 pages I was hooked.  Not only did I quickly discover how brilliant Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing is, but I remembered how great it feels to get lost in a book.

I bring this all up today because in the life of this blog I’ve been a big advocate of goals.  I still am a big advocate of goals.  I think it’s important to identify the things about ourselves that we wish were different and earmark them for improvement.  However, I also think it’s important to be realistic, flexible, and tolerant when we fall short of our ambitions.  In this case I’m choosing a lesser of evils.  Better to read what engages me (within reason, of course – no Danielle Steele around here) than not to read at all.  Perhaps later in the year I’ll find myself with renewed vigor for the classics.  But for the moment I’m happy to be devouring something unexpected, fun, and wickedly clever.  For the moment it was more important to renew my vigor for reading in the first place.

Westward Ho!

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Happy Friday!  I am winging my way westward today to visit my sister and her tiny, sweet baby.  This means that last night, when I usually would have been blogging my little heart out, I was scampering around doing laundry, packing, snuggling IEP, and various other planning-related things.  I will be back on Monday with something worthwhile to say, but for the moment all that comes to mind is baby talk, which I’m sure only interests my new niece.  So I’ll spare you all my goo-goos and ga-gas and come back when I can use my real words!

Have a wonderful weekend.