Archive for August, 2011

Five Dollar Post – Pining for Fall

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Around this time each year I allow myself to start really pining for fall.  Here in the Midwest fall doesn’t really set in until early to mid October, so even though the start of September seems like it should bring a change of seasons, I actually have another month of patient waiting to endure before we can finally close the door on summer.  Nevertheless, we’re in the home stretch and it only seems fair that I reward myself with the daydreams of fall that I’ve denied myself these past many weeks.

With that, here is a little account of some of my favorite things about fall.

  1. Pumpkin and butternut squash are everywhere.  They’re inside raviolis and risottos on restaurant menus.  They’re in ice creams and lattes.  They’re roasted as side dishes and whipped into purees with cream and butter.  Mmmm.
  2. The color brown.  I’m all for jewel tones year round, but in the fall I love wearing clothes in shades of brown.  Everything feels warmer and cozier (specifically sweaters) when it’s brown.
  3. Marshmallows.  I have a sort of embarrassing habit.  In the fall and winter I have a penchant for roasted marshmallows.  I stick a couple of big ones on a fork and roast them over the gas burner of the stove.  They’re really good in hot chocolate, but sometimes I just eat them plain.
  4. Football season.  I don’t even like football.  I can sort of follow a game, but what I know about the sport is vastly outweighed by what I don’t know.  Even so, I love the ambiance of a football game.  I love being curled up in our basement in jeans and a sweatshirt watching IEP practice hiking the ball and listening the GAP hail the glories and woes of his fantasy team with each game.
  5. Baseball playoffs.  Baseball is my sport.  I haven’t followed the regular season much this year, partly because my team is in the toilet and partly because pregnancy has greatly diminished my capacity to focus on much of anything.  But I always love the postseason.  I love seeing fans bundled up in coats and earmuffs.  And I love keeping track of each series and who is winning.
  6. Bundling up.  Jeans, sweatshirts, and thick socks.  I love seeing my breath when I walk the dogs each morning.  I love the way IEP looks in his ear-flap hat.  And I love the feel of cozy clothes that are well broken in.
  7. Chili.  I’m a fan of most chilis, but I’m especially a fan of my own chicken chili.  It’s a recipe I made up out of thin air years ago and I’ve tweaked and perfected it over time.  Last winter it reached new heights of deliciousness, and I can’t wait to dust off the recipe this year.
  8. Raking leaves.  Actually, it’s not so much raking leaves that I love (because I don’t).  It’s really watching IEP jump into piles of leaves and laugh at himself.  There’s just nothing about it that ever gets old.
  9. Prancing dogs.  Our poor dogs are not cut out for summers like this.  Anything over 80 degrees is really unpleasant for them.  Over 90 is dangerous.  And over 100 is sheer torture.  They were made for winter and I love seeing their animated spirits bounce back as soon as the morning air brings its first chill.
  10. Wine.  This really has nothing to do with fall itself.  It’s just that for me this year fall means I can enjoy a glass of red wine again, and I’m very much looking forward to that.

Now I just have to wait until all my little dreams come true.  The great thing about these dreams, though, is that I know they all will come true.  Perhaps not as quickly as I’d like, but in due time.

30 Down. 10 To Go.

Monday, August 29th, 2011

30 weeks down.  10 to go.

75% there.

Glass three-quarters full.

Six months and three weeks along.

Two and a half months left.

All of those things are true about my pregnancy today.  But only one of them makes me feel like I’m really getting closer to my due date.  I’ve been pregnant for 30 weeks.  I have only ten weeks left.  That feels like an accomplishment.  Every other version of the same math leaves me feeling as though the end is still not in sight.  So I’m focusing on the first countdown method, because I find myself needing a little pick-me-up in the attitude department.

I should be honest here.  Pregnancy is pretty easy on me.  Other than third trimester heartburn (which mercifully hasn’t set in yet), I get virtually none of the miserable side effects that often come with pregnancy.  I am keeping up with my usual routine, and while I’ve had to dial back the intensity level of a few things, for the most part I feel pretty normal.  So I feel a bit selfish admitting that I’m counting down the weeks to delivery, because I know I could have it a lot worse.  Nevertheless, I miss feeling like my old self.

Wishing these last few weeks away could be dangerous, though.  These are IEP’s last weeks of being an only child.  They are my last weeks of having only one little boy who needs me.  My last weeks of being able to devote myself entirely to him.  GAP’s and my last weeks of outnumbering our children.  Whether or not we are ready, big changes are coming and I would be remiss not to stop and cherish the life that we have had and loved for the past nearly-three years.

I’ve remarked to GAP many times recently that I never imagined that parenthood would be this much fun.  I thought I would enjoy it, but I have been surprised and delighted at how truly fun it is.  I believe that adding to our family will only add to that level of fun.  I will find joy in watching IEP take up the mantle of brotherhood.  I will get to be tickled all over again with the many milestones of the first couple of years.  And I will be able to look around at my life, never having envisioned myself as the mother of two boys, and recognize how much I love it and how well it suits me.

However, there is much about my life as it is that I love.  Aspects of that life are going to end, and I’m struggling with that.  From this vantage point I can easily see what I will lose when our second son is born this fall.  But I can’t yet see all that I will gain.  So I am left to take it on faith, to trust, and to believe, that what I give up will be outweighed by what I gain.  After all, it was because we are so head over heels in love with IEP that we wanted to have another child.  I know it will be hard for a while.  I know we will be in over our heads.  I know that there will be stress and hormones and tears.  But I also know that the moment my second little boy is born I won’t ever again be able to imagine my life without him.

Something Tangible

Friday, August 26th, 2011

With some big changes on the horizon (moving into his big boy room in the next couple of weeks, followed closely by the arrival of a baby brother) Nanny wisely decided to incorporate some increased structure into IEP’s weekly schedule.  Moving forward each week will include a designated day for crafts, gymnastics class, field trips, library story time, and cooking.  These are all things that they’ve been doing anyway, but assigning each one a day of the week makes things a little more predictable for IEP, which I think will be good for all of us. 

Wednesday was the first official cooking day, and I’m already thrilled with it.  IEP was waiting for me at the back door when I got home from work (which is unusual), knocking and waving as I approached.  When I got inside he exploded into a chorus of, “MOMMY!! LOOK!  LOOK!  LOOK!!  MOMMY!! MOMMY!!”  He ran to the kitchen counter and pointed very proudly to a loaf of banana bread sitting on a cooling rack.  He requested a seat on the counter and immediately picked up the entire loaf, so that I could get a better look at his creation. 

IEP eagerly told me – replete with hand motions – about how he squished the bananas, cracked the eggs, dumped the flour, and made the mixer spin.  Per Nanny, when he awoke from his nap he couldn’t wait to see the final results and quickly declared, “Banana soup is toast!  Show Mommy!  Show Daddy!”  When GAP got home he was too excited showing off the banana bread to go through the explanations again, but he made it quite clear that he was pleased with the results by sinking his teeth right into the loaf without bothering to ask that we slice off a piece. 

I’ve written before about the benefits of having something to show for yourself, and IEP’s pride and excitement really resonated with me.  As someone who’s been cooking her whole life I know well the feeling of being tickled by the fruits of your labor.  I feel such satisfaction at seeing a cake on a platter, a slice of pie on a plate, a platter of chicken parmesan, or an especially colorful salad that I’ve made.  It’s probably been 25 years since I uttered the phrase “Mommy! Look!” after completing a dish, but a tiny remnant of that sentiment still lives in the back of my mind every time I put dinner on the table.

Cooking may not turn out to be IEP’s thing.  Perhaps he’ll move on to matchbox cars, or painting, or the construction of a treehouse.  But I hope he’ll always find a way in his life to create something tangible.  Seeing his face light up with pride on Wednesday filled me up in so many ways.  And yesterday morning at breakfast I was filled again, more literally though, with delicious banana bread made by my equally delicious son.

Who’s the Fairest of Them All?

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Could you go an entire year without looking in a mirror?  Would you want to?  And further still, do you think it would benefit you in any way to do so?

I ask this question because UCLA grad student Kjerstin Gruys is going to do just that.  One year without looking at her own reflection even once.  (Not even on her wedding day.)  The article on the topic comments that, “Feeling the already constant pressure to look perfect intensified by wedding planning, Gruys’ self-described “struggle with poor body image” made her wonder if a year without mirrors could lead to greater self-acceptance and appreciation for her body.”

Coming on the heels of my recent post about the benefits of vanity, I wonder how this topic will sit with you.  I posited in my earlier post that there are benefits to having a modicum of vanity; that having an interest in our appearance can (when applied in moderation) help drive us to make healthy decisions.  It was a position that was roundly shot down by many of my commenters.  So let’s consider a different perspective.  The premise is this: we are too focused on our looks.  We worry too much about how we appear to other people, and that obsession, for some people, devolves into full-throttle psychological disorders.  By wholly eliminating our access to our own visage, we will minimize our concern with appearances and realize the greater significance of other aspects of our lives.

I don’t altogether disagree with that position.  I am sure that there are better things for me to worry about throughout the day than whether or not the bottom eyeliner on my left eye has smudged yet or not.  (It smudges every day, but only the left eye.  So strange!)  If such trivialities were removed from my life for an entire year, I can see how I might become less concerned with appearances overall.

What I think will actually be more interesting, though, is for Gruys to note and document what changes she observes in other people’s behavior toward her during this year.  She still intends to wear makeup and has learned to apply it by feel.  Presumably she will still wear matching clothes and style her hair as well.  But with less attention paid to all of these endeavors, will she find that she is taken less seriously?  Will people in public treat her differently?  Will she find that, on the whole, all the time she previously spend focusing on her appearance was wasted?

On another note, I’m a little confused about the sheer mechanics of this exercise.  Within the confines of your own home it would be easy enough to remove or avoid  mirrors.  But what about in public?  Every ladies’ restroom I’ve ever entered has a mirror hanging over the sink.  How will she wash her hands without, even if inadvertently, catching a glimpse of herself?  What about seeing your own reflection in the window of your car as you unlock it?  What do you say to your stylist after having your haircut?  “Thanks, but I can’t tell you whether or not I’m happy with what you just did”?  The practical application of this experiment seems a bit unrealistic to me.

And this brings up the most important point.  This experiment is just that, an experiment.  It is a gimmick to test a hypothesis (and to score a book deal).  For those purposes I can understand going to some length to contrive a life without mirrors.  But if life without mirrors isn’t reality, wouldn’t the more worthwhile exercise be to consider these same questions of vanity and obsession within the natural environment of our lives?  I’m sure the point here is to take the idea to its logical extreme in order to test a theory.  I doubt that Gruys will end the year with a decision to swear of mirrors for good.  But I think the lasting value of her experiment will be to determine how she allows the personal or societal pressure to focus on her looks to influence the way she lives her life.  I hope I am reminded of her story when the book (to be cleverly titled “Mirror, Mirror, Off the Wall”) comes out, as I will be curious to her perspective in hindsight.

Paging a Creative Solution

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

My favorite page

I suppose I think it’s a shame.  I’ve been mulling it over for several days now, trying to decide what, exactly, was my stance on the decision of the House of Representatives to end its 200-year-old page program.

I was never a page, so I don’t have any personal nostalgia attached to the news.  Nevertheless, I feel a bit sad about it.  I read that, “After nearly 200 years, the House page program that allowed high school students to serve as messengers and learn about Congress is ending, rendered obsolete by the Internet and email in cost-cutting times,” and it took the wind out of my sails a bit.

Apparently the program costs around $5 million per year to run.  And apparently with so much communication delivered electronically now (including the news that the program would be ending), the House just didn’t feel it could justify the cost.  I get that.  This is not a time to be wasting money solely in a nod to tradition.   But why not find something else for these eager and civic-minded kids to do?

I’ve read one after another article in recent years about how today’s teens and college aged kids are narcissistic and utterly self-absorbed.  If that’s really true, doesn’t something like the page program seem like a perfect antidote?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful for these kids to continue to have the chance to get away from home for a summer, become a part of something much bigger and much older than themselves, and learn a lot about how our legislative branch works?  So what if they aren’t needed as errand boys and girls anymore.  That doesn’t mean there’s nothing for them to do.  I wish that, rather than chuck the thing altogether, someone had come up with another use for the pages.  I’m not a Washington insider, so I haven’t the foggiest idea what needs are unmet, but I can’t imagine that there’s nothing in Washington that a group of smart, motivated kids couldn’t tackle.

It’s not that I’m advocating keeping the page program out of some sense of hanging onto the past.  Perhaps there is a token of that – it’s always sad to see something that once thrived wither and die on the vine – but more than anything I think it’s a lost opportunity.  It’s a lost opportunity not only for the kids who won’t get to serve, but also for our country which is giving up on an opportunity to inspire young people.  (Despite the fact that this summer likely wouldn’t have been a very inspiring one on Capitol Hill…)

Congress has proven many times over recently that creative thinking isn’t their forte, so perhaps it’s asking too much to suggest that they come up with a better use for the pages.  But I have a hard time believing that all the value that changed hands through the page program (in both directions) over the past 200 years can be wholly captured by e-mail.

“Situation” Style Subsidy

Friday, August 19th, 2011

If you are anything like me, you try to keep any aspect of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” at an arm’s length.  If you do get into close proximity to anything “Jersey Shore” related you try to make sure that you have your irony hat affixed firmly to your head.  I know that the antics of the show’s cast fall squarely into the guilty pleasure zone of a lot of Americans, but they just don’t do it for me.

Nevertheless, I was tickled to read this article about one of the show’s main characters, “The Situation.”  As most people under the age of 40 know, Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino is a big fan of his abs.  As such, he is also a fan of lifting his shirt to show them off, frequently revealing the waistband of his Abercrombie and Fitch boxer shorts.  What can I say?  He’s a class act. 

Abercrombie goes to extraordinary lengths to maintain a particular brand image – an image based in no small part on the six-pack abs of its models.  Yet the company finds itself nervous about the erosion of that brand image due to their increasing connection to “The Situation.”  So, in a move that is as funny as it is probably hopeless, they have offered (quite publicly) to pay “The Situation” to stop wearing their clothes. 

I laughed when I first read this news.  As a marketing professional I know well the finely tuned dance that brand cultivation can be.  It’s easier to manage in the B-to-B world than it is in consumer markets, so I can only imagine what stress-induced gymnastics this “Situation” situation has caused the marketing folks over at Abercrombie.  Offering to pay someone to quit wearing your brand is unconventional, and likely would not have been particularly successful if done in private.  By making this offer publicly Abercrombie has signaled that “The Situation” doesn’t represent them.  They don’t even need him to take them up on their offer.  That is the genius of their move.

However, once I got past the initial chuckles, something about it didn’t sit right with me.  The thing is this: Abercrombie and Fitch has intentionally and publicly insulted someone.  They have effectively said, “We think you’re tacky and we don’t want you near our brand.”  Granted “The Situation” is a grown man capitalizing on the media fascination with his show and is cultivating a brand in much the same way that Abercrombie is.  But this still feels a little bit below the belt, and I think the reason for that is that it feels disingenuous of Abercrombie. 

Abercrombie’s models are highly likely to be wearing not a single stitch of Abercrombie’s clothing in many of the retailer’s seasonal catalogs.  It markets itself on a particular image – an image of toned bodies and lives of leisure.  If he were better looking in the face “The Situation” actually has exactly the type of physique that Abercrombie might put in the center of a black and white beach scene photo spread.  Whether or not they want to admit it, Jersey Shore types are their target market.  (This isn’t Brooks Brothers we’re talking about here…)  So to turn around and claim superiority hits a false note.

It’s not that I really feel badly for “The Situation.”  These days he’s laughing all the way to the bank.  But I find myself tsk-tsking at Abercrombie and Fitch.  They make a mint off of tanned and toned teens aspiring to have abs just like Mike Sorrentino’s, yet they’re willing to throw him under the bus to try to claim the high road.  And it is that move – while strategically clever – that ironically places them squarely on the low road, at least in my mind.

Service and Sacrifice

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

I had a different topic in mind for today, but I’m interrupting our regularly schedule programming because this is more important.

Yesterday while checking in on Facebook I noticed a link posted by my good friend and fellow blogger Aidan at Ivy League Insecurities.  Aidan is currently in the midst of a month-long blogging sabbatical, so I was surprised to see a post from her and immediately clicked over.

I will let you read Aidan’s post yourself, and I hope you will because I think it is valuable, but I will give you a little foretaste.  I’m sure you heard in the news recently of the 30 Navy SEALs who were killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.  It was the largest single-day loss off life for American troops since the war began nearly 10 years ago.  As it turns out, one of the troops killed in that tragic event was the brother of the fiance of one of Aidan’s girlfriends.  When Aidan reached out to her friend to ask what she could do the friend requested a blog post dedicated to her fiance’s brother.  And that is exactly what Aidan did.

When a war has dragged on as our war in Afghanistan has it is easy to grow numb to the depressing statistics that roll through our media month after month.  It is easy to hear the numbers without attaching names or faces or grieving families.  And so I think it is important that, from time to time, we take the time to learn the stories of the soldiers who have sacrificed their lives in service to our country.  It should be painful.  It should be uncomfortable.  It should hurt.  These soldiers are more than talking points for politicians and fodder for cable news pundits.  They are people who have given their lives in service to our country, which is more than any of us have done.

Please click here to read Aidan’s post.  And if you feel so moved, please leave your condolences for Sgt. Hamburger’s family in the Comments section there.  And please, if you do nothing else, give some thought today to all of the families who continue to grieve the loss of their loved ones.

The Mother of Invention

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Apparently I should challenge myself more often.

I enjoy cooking and I like to think I do a pretty good job of it.  I make dinner from scratch nearly every weeknight (although pregnancy has seen me slack off a bit more than usual) and I’ve developed some decent culinary skills in the past 10 years.  However, I’ve come to realize that I’m in a bit of a rut, and that rut has been enabled by weekly grocery trips.

Last week the Family P skipped town for a few days.  We’d been planning to escape the heat and enjoy a change of scenery.  So our usual Sunday grocery trip was significantly curtailed and only included a few basics that we needed to get us through Wednesday.  I took it upon myself to create dinners for Monday and Tuesday nights from things we already had on hand.

I’ve given myself this challenge before and it doesn’t always pan out so deliciously.  I’ve ended up eating cottage cheese, baked beans, and leftover biscuits.  Blech.  But last week I guess I was inspired.  On Monday night we had a pasta dish with broccoli, chicken and a white wine and mascarpone sauce.  On Tuesday we had BLTs on challah with homemade fried okra.  Both meals were both wonderful, and wonderful departures from our typical go-to menu rotation.

Wednesday evening as we left town I got to thinking about my culinary adventures from the prior nights.  They didn’t require any more time or skill than dishes I normally make.  They didn’t require that much more creativity.  But there was something about them – something about the challenge at hand – that made them more fun, both to prepare and to eat.

I’m not usually one for extrapolating broad meaning out of specific situations, but this one got me thinking about other ruts in my life.  I wonder if there are other aspects of my daily routine that I would find more rewarding if I broke out of my normal patterns.  What if I hopped on a rowing machine at the gym instead of the elliptical?  What if I took the back roads to work instead of the highways?  What if I turned on some music when I got home in the evenings?  Some of these changes might not delight me as my menu shake-up did, but others might.

The old maxim goes that necessity is the mother of invention.  Last week I experienced that very phenomenon.  However, I am very blessed and rarely find myself needing anything I don’t already have.  It isn’t often that I’m called up to invent.  But my kitchen adventures last week made me realize that perhaps I should force myself to invent more often.

A Day Off

Friday, August 12th, 2011

I’m taking today off from work, so I figured I’d take the day off from blogging as well.  Hope you’ve had a good week, and I’ll be back on Monday!

A Fighting Chance

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

I’m skeptical of any married person who claims that she doesn’t fight with her spouse.  No two people are so perfectly aligned that they never disagree, never hurt each other’s feelings, or never sense friction of any kind.  I think I’m even more skeptical of people who claim that they do disagree, hurt each other’s feelings, and sense friction and still don’t fight.  Something about that just doesn’t feel genuine to me.

Of course there is a continuum here.  What I call a fight you might call a discussion.  What you call a fight I might call a hostile screaming match.  What I call cooling off you might call the silent treatment.  And so on.  But the commonality here is that there is conflict, no matter how civilly or heatedly it is expressed.

When the two conflicted adults don’t have children, their fighting style is mostly a personal choice.  Provided it’s not done publicly there’s not much place for anyone to say what is the “right” way to fight.  If yelling and screaming gets the anger out of your system and the issues out on the table (and your partner is game for it), then who am I to claim right or wrong?  If a calm conversation is both cathartic and productive, then more power to you.

The kicker, though, is when kids are in the picture.

Questions abound.  Should our kids know that we fight?  Should we let them see us argue?  If they know we’ve had a fight should we put on a happy face when we’re in front of them, or is that disingenuous and stressful for them?  A post yesterday on NYT’s Motherlode asks these very questions.

The social worker quoted in the article says just what you’d expect her to say – that what matters most is that kids learn how to manage their differences; that they learn how to do so in a loving fashion and with respect; and that they learn how to voice their own needs and opinions.  This all sounds quite manageable in shrink-speak, but I wonder if it isn’t a great deal harder than that in real life.

GAP and I aren’t “fighters” per se.  We disagree and argue often enough – we are both strong-willed and opinionated.  But we don’t yell or scream.  Ever.  We don’t get huffy with each other in front of IEP, which for the moment I think is the right call.  He’s too young to understand that conflict between Mommy and Daddy is normal and healthy and I don’t want any occasional tension between us to ever frighten him.

But what of the future?  What about four or five years from now when he’s in elementary school, perhaps getting into playground spats with friends from time to time, has several siblings he has to get along with, and needs an example of how to settle an issue effectively?  How then does our example affect him?

Like most parenting issues, as the mother of a two-year-old this one is new to me.  So much of what I will learn about raising a child is out in the future still.  And, like many other parenting issues I’m sure we will screw this one up, at least a couple of times, before we get the hang of it and figure out what works in our families.  Nevertheless, I wonder if there is some path – whether wide or narrow – within the boundaries of which I can walk with some assurance of safety.  Even though I know I’ll make mistakes in this realm, I hope that they will be minor.